A few weeks ago on my mother’s birthday, anthropologist Henry Harpending died. Steve Sailer wrote a thoughtful obituary of sorts for him on Taki’s Mag that also reminds us that we live in interesting times: “The Scientist vs. the SPLC.” Sailer also commemorated the man on his blog by quoting Harpending’s lively account of hunting Cape Buffalo: “Henry Harpending, RIP.” May his memory be eternal.
I suspect that his University of Utah replacement will not follow in his footsteps. It’s sad how often I have occasion to think, “Sic transit gloria mundi,” but that has probably been true for most men throughout history. It’s even sadder how often I wonder whether we are entering a new dark age.
When I was growing up, the adults in my world seemed pretty unanimous in thinking that defacing a dollar bill in any way was against the law. Later, I started noticing more and more writing on bills, and I eventually concluded that the illegality of defacing currency must involve counterfeiting. “Call Brandy for a good time” or “Cheeseheads Rule!” clearly are not attempts to trick anyone about the value of the bill upon which they are written. I assumed that those tut-tutting adults were just generalizing a specific prohibition from confusion. So, I read the following article on McClatchyDC about what Americans may do with their dollar bills with much interest: “Ben & Jerry’s co-founder tempts Secret Service by stamping messages on money.”
As I read the story, I thought about how such controversies should be the meat and potatoes of politics. For both sides (the Secret Service and StampStampede.org) have reasonable positions that are grounded in our law and traditions, though each proceeds from and focuses on a particular perspective and interest. Issues and disagreements like this are intrinsic to human society. Unfortunately, they seem so petty to us latter day Americans because our political arguments have shifted toward fundamental principles. In the Kulturkampfalter, our society debates its very understanding of the Good; the dominant American beliefs about morality and human nature are “to be decided.” This is a sign of profound national sickness. In a healthy society, Ben Cohen’s challenge to the Treasury would be front page news.
A blessed synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel to you!
I’d like to share a short excerpt from L. Scott Smith’s essay, “America’s Lost Sense of Community”: “Is American Community the Result of Its Constitution?” The main point:
The truth of the matter is that America’s sense of community is not now, nor has it ever been, predicated upon the Constitution. Robert A. Dahl, Yale University political science professor, notes that a constitutional system is a reflection of a people’s identity and needs “to be tailored to fit the culture, traditions, needs, and possibilities of a particular country.” For this reason he maintains that the American constitutional system “is probably not suitable for export to other countries.” He points out that, although our Constitution and the institutions it created were in place for over a half century, the Civil War still occurred, thanks to “the extreme polarization in interests, values, and ways of life between the citizens of the slave states and those of the free states.” The professor observes that he “cannot imagine any democratic constitution under which the two sections [North and South] could have continued to coexist peacefully in one country.
If the American people are the chicken and their Constitution the egg, then for Professor Dahl the chicken came first. It will not do to ascribe the sense of community ot the power of a single solitary document, even one that is foundational. A scheme of government, including a declaration of rights, is a reflection of a people’s traditions, habits, mores, and customs, and arises from deep within their very soul.
The founding stock created the American regime according to their own values. Let’s call that W.A.S.P. privilege. The various immigrant groups in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought their own ideas about community and governance, and the country transformed as a result. The New Deal depended on those New People. The drastic demographic changes of the last fifty years are having their effect, as well—slowly transforming us into the Brazil of North America. It ought not to be necessary to remind people that São Salvador looks a lot different from Boston.
Today my father told me that he had listened to an interesting lecture by Steven Pinker wherein the professor defended the American tradition of free speech. I responded by saying how sad it was that a noted intellectual has to defend the “controversial” notion of free speech in contemporary America. Yet, America today is not the America of yesteryear, and the change is not simply or even principally a matter of generational change. A people makes a nation; change the people, and you change the nation. By electing a new people, the American elite are creating a new country—what Lawrence Auster called America 2.0. I suspect that such was the plan all along—the plutocrats of Brazil have far less obstacles in controlling their fragmented society, a significant portion of which consists of habitually servile and occasionally violent halfwit proles ready to run amok when an elite faction requires a crisis that will not go to waste. How our managerial class must envy those white masters of the brown masses. As long as they can escape the occasional bloody coup and calm proletarian rage with just enough pão and carnavais (only enough to placate the mules—one wouldn’t want to waste resources), they have it so much easier—without that annoying Anglo-Saxon insistence on due process or that Germanic civic engagement that complicates inside business dealing, which the Protestant types quaintly call “corruption.” So, let’s flood the country with hordes already tamed by the husbandry practices of oligarchic societies while we prevent a negative reaction by the natives through dishonest but effective brainwashing. As the butcher trains livestock to behave complacently to make his job easier, so the elite have convinced Americans that “diversity” is a great good—good for the butchers, that is. Divide and conquer 101. Welcome to the America of the future (or, more precisely, a possible future, which will occur unless radical measures are instituted).
Mark Christensen has an interesting article on Social Matter: “The State Reborn: Abandoning a Liberal Mythology.” Christensen reviews Italian fascist criticism of liberal political theory. From the essay:
The conclusion is simple: the nature of the state is that sovereignty is conserved. Due to its role as the central sovereign power, the state – or rather, the people who make it up – must develop a common set of normative values in order to operate. Because the state cannot brook opposition to its legitimacy to rule, it must therefore promote and inculcate these values in the population. Liberalism’s distinguishing feature – that it imposes no common good on its citizens – is revealed as a sham. Secularism is not neutrality; it is how the state defends the faith of Social Progress against its more mystical competitors.
As Kristor and others like to say, there is always an established religion. Contemporary Westerners, however, appear unaware of their own devotion to their tribe’s sacred idols.
David Horowitz provides sage counsel for Republicans concerning the election: “How Not to Fight Our Enemies.” I would like to believe that it is common sense and common decency that one ought not to indulge bullies, ne’er-do-wells, and the mob. Alas, the American media and political establishment have proven otherwise. We live in an age of wicked lies and unbelievable stupidity.
I recommend Bonald’s article on the Roman Catholic prolife scene: “I’m not pro-life; I’m anti-abortion.” It is characteristically sensible. Bonald raises a great point for those Seamless Garment types:
. . . No one complains that environmentalist organizations don’t devote any of their attention to making health care affordable, or that the National Rifle Association has no plan to end homelessness, or that the Anti-defamation League isn’t doing anything to fight pornography. There are a lot of ills in the world. Doesn’t it make sense that we allow a division of labor, with multiple organizations to tackle different issues, each one drawing the support of those who–for whatever reason–feel particularly passionate about a particular issue? If someone decides to spend his life introducing lower-class kids to Shakespeare, or something like that, would we reproach him for not also having a scheme for world peace? Why, then, are we so hostile to someone wanting to devote his attention to what he believes is mass murder? In any case, it’s not true that anti-abortion activists qua individuals have no interest in other issues. The question is whether anti-abortion organizations qua organizations should have such interests. I say the answer is no.
Demanding pro-life organizations take on a raft of other issues would surely compromise their main purpose. It unnecessarily divides people who agree on abortion but disagree on other issues. What’s my plan for eliminating the scourge of unsupported unwed mothers? Shotgun weddings. Should I demand the folks at The Distributist Review get on board with this before we work together against abortion? Only if I don’t really care much about abortion. More importantly, the original purpose of restricting abortion would quickly get sidelined by the other issues. If we can’t criminalize abortion until all expectant mothers have the support they need, then criminalizing abortion has stopped being a genuine policy position and become an eschatological hope. Even if we decide to pursue both ends in parallel, abortion would quickly be dropped, because organizations would start admitting members who don’t take the “pro-life” position on abortion but make up for it by being “pro-life” on many other issues.
Daniel J. Mahoney has an insightful essay in the Intercollegiate Review: “The Healthy Boundaries of Democracy.” A selection:
“Progressive” thought is defined by the view that liberty and equality are unproblematic, and that the great task before democratic peoples is to maximize them, to make the world ever more “democratic” and egalitarian. The solution to the problems of democracy is said to be more democracy, as the philosopher John Dewey famously proclaimed at the beginning of the twentieth century. True democracy must move to the left, becoming ever more inclusive, tolerant, egalitarian, and relativistic. To realize the democratic ideal, we must reject antiquated truths and insist on extreme equality and unlimited personal choice (think “the right to choose” or the self-reinvention central to “gender theory”). In this view there is no such thing as loving democracy (or liberty and equality) too much.
What could possibly be wrong with such an uncompromising commitment to the “democratic” ideal? To begin with, progressivism (and extreme libertarianism) forgets the goods, habits, and traditions that make a free society cohere. Elsewhere I have called them the “conservative foundations of the liberal order.” These goods—healthy family life, a moral code rooted in religion and natural law, prudent and far-seeing statesmanship, the rule of law, a respect for legitimate institutions, love of truth—were largely taken for granted by the Founders of the American republic. As the philosopher Michael Polyani put it in the 1960s, the best of the liberal tradition, including the American Founding, presupposed an “authoritative traditional framework” that could protect, nourish, and inform “the new self-determination of man.” Liberalism, properly understood, presupposes the continuity of civilization. It undermines itself if it demands “liberation” from all moral restraints.
At its best, liberalism must include a self-consciously conservative dimension. Rational self-mastery and the freedom to choose, goods cherished by liberals and conservatives alike, do not mean that individuals are radically independent, that they are completely sovereign over themselves and the world. Progressivism is that crucial moment when liberalism succumbs to an ethic of absolute autonomy, when it liberates human beings from an order of nature or justice above the human will. It is that moment when liberalism subverts itself by negating the goods that truly allow it to flourish.
I considered myself a classical liberal as a teenager, but I began to reject the Anglo-American liberal tradition during my first month at college. While I value certain aspects of liberalism, I cannot see how one may have the tempered liberalism that Anglosphere “conservatives” frequently champion as the best political arrangement. Liberal regimes appear to unfold according to their basic principles, which esteem human equality and liberty and deny the existence and/or the intelligibility of the (natural) human good. Because such principles conflict with reality, liberal regimes are inherently unstable. So, the mixed regimes of nineteenth century Britain and America that the English speaking Right holds up as exemplars of strong societies were not balanced, constitutional orders but rather a stage of social decay with many admirable but fleeting qualities. History appears to confirm this insight of political theory in that there has always been a significant presence of radicals in the modern English speaking world. Consider the Unitarians of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the multitude of sects and communes in the nineteenth century, the rhetoric and ideals put forth by abolitionists and suffragettes—indeed, there is nothing new under the Daily Kos sun. The glaring exception appears to be “homosexual ‘marriage,’” as I cannot find any precedent for it before the last century. Yet, the revolutionaries have been attacking traditional Christian marriage since the misnamed Enlightenment. In every way, it seems that the wackydoodle fringes just have to wait for the larger society to “catch up” with their progressive stance. Indeed, their positions are progressive—because their features characterize a more advanced stage in liberal evolution. Leftists mistake this particular evolution for the general advance of human civilization (the existence of which I seriously doubt), but they are correct in judging the “correct side” of liberal history.
Thus, I doubt that conservatives can salvage liberalism or its pantheon, including the chief among its gods, democracy. Abandon the trap; reject the bait—hook, line, and sinker. Let us rather orient ourselves according to what sage men call perennial wisdom and swim in the currents of the ages.
Radix Journal has posted a Chronicles article by Samuel Francis from A.D. 1998, “Into the Dustbin.” Francis laments the incessant infighting of the Right and attempts to find the origin of its dysfunction. He concludes that the Right is by definition the losing side of history—championed by losers. I am not convinced by his argument. “Reaction” or counterrevolution has had quite a few “successful” periods, though the leftward trajectory of the modern era is obvious enough. The strength of the essay is Francis’ recognition of the importance of conserving a concrete social order:
In the United States, prior to the 1930s, it was not so [that the Right was a band of dysfunctional losers]. The Right back then was the organized political expression of a dominant social and political class, a class that sported at its top families like the DuPonts and at its bottom such happy warriors as Sinclair Lewis’ George Babbitt and his friends. It was a class that dictated the tastes and manners of the day, was determined to keep immigrants out of the country, maintain the Constitution and the Free Enterprise System, put America First, preserve the white, Christian, Republican character of the nation, and crush the Bolsheviks and labor agitators wherever you could find them. As a ruling class, it was an amalgam of the Old Stock Protestant Establishment and the plutocracy that rose to national power after the Civil War. However poorly defined its ideas and however vapidly expressed its ethic, it was nevertheless a real class that really had something to conserve, and it generally knew that it could not conserve it unless it also conserved the social and cultural fabric through which it exercised social power.
In the Great Depression and New Deal, this bourgeois ruling class was effectively dislodged from social and political power. Its top ranks, if they survived at all, soon allied with the emerging managerial elites in state and corporation, and its bottom ranks, stripped of any real prospect of preserving or restoring the social order in which they had played a significant part, simply drifted. It was mainly those middle and bottom ranks of the old bourgeois elite that for the next forty years would effectively define “conservatism” and the Right as they were known to the generation between Herbert Hoover and Barry Goldwater. Unable to articulate its own ideas and values very effectively, it welcomed ideological allies in journalism and the academy that could express them, but the journalists and the academics were not for the most part of the same class or culture. Hence, the “conservatism” they defined displayed all the symptoms of rootless intellectualism and attracted all the odd and awkward personality types that could not fit anywhere else and would not fit with each other.
Once “conservatism” is decoupled from the social order and the social class that it naturally represents, it becomes simply one more ideological ghetto, angrily hunting down and kicking out those who deviate from its sectarian commandments and every now and then hurling a few mudballs at whoever passes by, and the kinds of personality it tends to attract are precisely those that are unable to work together for any serious purpose. It ceases to defend authentic tradition because authentic tradition has ceased to exist in a coherent form, and what it defends is “traditionalism.” It ceases to defend authentic liberty because the rooted liberty that once pertained in the defunct social order is no longer meaningful, and what it defends is “libertarianism.” It ceases to defend the people, culture, and institutions of the old order because they too have ceased to exist coherently as a fabric or have been conscripted into the new order, and what it defends is simply a pallid ghost of what was once a living civilization.
Wise words there, but the essay does not explore the vulnerability of that social order. Why did it crumble so swiftly? Was it inherently weak or contradictory, or was the fall of Old America an unhappy accident of history? Such questions are for those loser-ish intellectuals to answer, I suppose.
In surveying the past, we find that some societies disappeared through internal or external destruction, while others transformed so completely as to become something different. They all, however, came and went. One could thus argue that any previous civilization was a failure because it ceased to exist, but that is misleading because it does not provide useful distinctions between, say, the Roman polity (even given its significant evolution) and the Third Reich. One could argue that the former endured, in one way or another, for over two thousand years while the second barely made it to its second decade. Human political achievements are frail and, it seems, universally mortal. Yet, some have greater success—in temporal endurance, in human flourishing, in influence—than others. So, political study should be able to analyze the advantages and arrangements of regimes in order to distill some general political principles. With such knowledge, we might be better prepared to evaluate history’s winners and losers—and to chart future paths while keeping in mind that any planned venture depends, to some extent, on fortune. But that’s the sort of thing that a loser would say.
If you have not already gormandized enough at the political trough this campaign season, you may be interested in reading Tucker Carlson’s article last month on Politico, “Donald Trump Is Shocking, Vulgar and Right: And, my dear fellow Republicans, he’s all your fault.” It is one of the best mainstream commentaries on Trump that I have read (along with David Frum’s “The Great Republican Revolt” in The Atlantic). Selection:
But the main reason Trump could win is because he’s the only candidate hard enough to call Hillary’s bluff. Republicans will say almost anything about Hillary, but almost none challenge her basic competence. She may be evil, but she’s tough and accomplished. This we know, all of us.
But do we? Or is this understanding of Hillary just another piety we repeat out of unthinking habit, the political equivalent of, “you can be whatever you want to be,” or “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”? Trump doesn’t think Hillary is impressive and strong. He sees her as brittle and afraid.
He may be right, based on his exchange with her just before Christmas. During a speech in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Trump said Hillary had been “schlonged” by Obama in the 2008 race. In response, the Clinton campaign called Trump a sexist. It’s a charge Hillary has leveled against virtually every opponent she’s faced, but Trump responded differently. Instead of scrambling to donate to breast cancer research, he pointed out that Hillary spent years attacking the alleged victims of her husband’s sexual assaults. That ended the conversation almost immediately.
It was the most effective possible response, though more obvious than brilliant. Why was Trump the only Republican to use it?
I have always liked Carlson; he strikes me as genuine and sensible. Moreover, his Daily Caller is a colorful little place in D.C., and they do a fine spread of munchies for events. I do miss Carlson’s bow ties, however. He should have stayed with it; why cede sartorial ground to the Left (Paul Simon—and not the interesting one)?
Open Culture has a post on Neil Halloran’s short animated film, The Fallen of World War II: “The Staggering Human Cost of World War II Visualized in a Creative, New Animated Documentary.” The graphic accounting of human destruction is sobering:
May their memory be eternal!