Even the sainted William F. Buckley derived no small part of his appeal from the fact that he could always one-up any condescending liberal egghead. That was a big part of his legacy. At a time when the media wanted desperately to paint conservatives as paranoid, anti-intellectual bigots in the George Wallace mode, Buckley’s sesquipedalian erudition served as a kind of reassurance.
But Buckley brought something else to the table: civility, self-deprecation, and a playful wit that could be intellectually devastating without being humiliating. Even when he explained that Robert F. Kennedy was ducking his invitations to appear on Firing Line — “Why does baloney reject the grinder?” — liberals had to chuckle in admiration.
It’s that touch which has largely gone missing of late. Intellectually, Buckley was a passionate believer that liberalism was the Enemy. But liberals themselves were merely the opposition (Gore Vidal notwithstanding).
Where did that come from? Again, much of it is a product of the times, stemming from new technology, economics, and other deep-rooted causes. But I want to focus on one. Over the last decade, conservatives have developed a severe case of Alinsky envy.
It is one of the oldest insights into human nature that envy corrupts the soul. (Aquinas defined envy as sadness for the good of others.) But Alinsky envy is corrupting in a different way. For years now conservatism has convinced itself that the Left wins by, in effect, cheating. They lie. They only care about power. They demonize and slander their opponents. I’m not going to sit here and claim that there’s zero merit to that argument. There’s a lot of merit, even if it’s often an exaggeration.
My objection is the conclusion conservatives draw from it: We’ve got to take the gloves off and play by the same rules! Alinsky’s rules! As David Kahane (eye roll) puts it: “Become what you behold.”
A whole cottage industry on the right has thrived around this argument, and on the whole, it’s grotesque. You cannot argue that your enemy is evil and uses evil means and at the same time argue, “We should do it too!”
It’s particularly hypocritical given that Alinsky envy blossomed alongside obsessions with conservative purity. It is a circle that will not square: Our ideology has a monopoly on virtue, but in order for virtue to triumph we must act like people we claim are virtueless. The effort to make this argument work is inherently corrupting because it inexorably replaces ends with means. “Winning” gets redefined before our eyes into anything that fuels our ecstatic schadenfreude over the suffering of our opponents. Whenever Trump did something indefensible the “defense” “But he fights!” would pour forth.
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Bill O’Reilly grew up in Long Island before the city started to decline, but he is incontestably a product of the nostalgia-besotted working-class worldview that Giuliani tapped into. He doesn’t call himself a conservative, but a “traditionalist.” And his vision of tradition isn’t Burkean, Oakshottian, or Hayekian. He doesn’t harken to Russell Kirk’s Mecosta, but to Levittown. And to an extent that’s fine. America could use a bit more 1950s Levittown morality. Sean Hannity, born in New York City but raised in Long Island, is another who largely fits that mold. More broadly, as I’ve written dozens of times, Fox News was always more populist than conservative, but its populism is often infused with a New York sensibility.
This was always the core of Donald Trump’s act, even when he was a proud Democrat. A bridge-and-tunnel billionaire, he always had a chip on his shoulder about New York elites. It wasn’t quite the same Irish-Catholic chip that O’Reilly had, but the similarities are more interesting than the differences. O’Reilly’s intellectual insecurity drives him to churn out gimmicky histories, written by someone else. Trump’s spills out in boasts about his grades and his superior brain. They both insist they’re the smartest man in the room and that people who disagree with their meniscus-thin judgments are not just wrong, but bad or stupid.
Trump’s nostalgic appeal to Make America Great Again using common sense to defeat the pinhead elites combined with his implied promise to humiliate his enemies with his strength and will was simply a variant of O’Reillyism. Indeed, Bill O’Reilly was the John the Baptist of Trumpism long before Donald Trump appeared on the political scene.
I should say that I wish Donald Trump were a Rudy Giuliani, and I hold out the barest glimmer of hope that he could turn into one. But my suspicion is that he is a creature who mimicked the aesthetics and style of a Giuliani without anything like his discipline or expertise. And that in itself is a sign of the toxic corruption of celebrity conservatism that David French describes. Too many people think being a conservative is all about the public posture, the performance in front of the camera and not the performance on the job.
Archive for the ‘More Education than Judgement’ Category.
It is disconcerting for the citizen to be faced so starkly by the fact that ambitious mediocrity is now the main characteristic of those who rule him.
Our Ruling Class and the Clerisy
Islam is a religion, not a race, and, what is more, it is thoroughly multiracial, with all races represented in its ranks. To oppose ISIS and seek appropriate measures to prevent the spread of its influence and power is no more racist or ‘Islamophobic’ than opposition to the terrorism of the IRA in the 1970s was racist or ‘celtophobic.’ Opposition to barbarism and the terrorism it practices is a mark of civilization, not racism.
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Europeans have embraced the culture of death, contracepting themselves out of existence. Europe is not suffering from a population explosion but a population implosion. With a shrinking and aging population, unwilling to reproduce itself, immigration becomes a necessity. One cannot have a sustainable economy, still less a continually expanding economy, if the number of producers and consumers is shrinking. A culture which seeks self-gratification instead of the self-sacrifice needed to raise children is doomed to self-destruction. It has no future. It has no future for the plain and simple reason that it has no children. In this sense, it can truly be said that the future belongs to those who forsake selfishness for the selflessness of parenthood. The meek really do inherit the earth!
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As one who subscribes to–nay, as one who submits to—the Permanent Things, I would say that the “West” is not synonymous with the Permanent Things, nor do the Permanent Things depend on the survival of the “West” for their permanence. On the contrary, the “West” is dying because it has turned its back on the Permanent Things.
The Permanent Things are grounded in a reverence for God and for the Church that He established, and also in a reverence for the traditional family which is the bedrock of all healthy culture and the seed with which it plants itself into the future. When the love for God is gone and the family has been abandoned, there is no future. The secular fundamentalist “West” is decaying because it is decadent, and it is dying because it has embraced the culture of death.
What will be left when the secularist “West” is dead will be the Permanent Things. Christianity is alive and well, and thriving and growing, in Africa, Asia, China–and yes, even in resurrected embryonic form in Europe and other parts of the “West.” Europe and the “West” might be committing collective suicide, but Christendom is always new, as it is always old, because it is the Permanent Thing.
This is the great paradox of our time: In 2017, it has never been easier for us to satisfy our wants, but we seldom have been more dissatisfied. In the United States, in Europe, in Latin America, and even (more quietly) in parts of Asia and in Australia, there is a sense that things are not going quite right, that the old order — not only in politics but also in commercial and religious life — is dead on its feet. People have turned to leaders and movements of very different kinds — Hugo Chávez, Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter, black-mask anarchism — in search of alternatives. In a sense, they are all the same: Those who had felt themselves to be on the outside looking in are now on the outside looking out.
Once, the question the ambitious and dissatisfied asked themselves was: “How do I climb that ladder?” Current tastes run more toward smashing the ladder and the hierarchies for which it stands in the name of . . . whatever: feminism or anti-feminism, black liberation or white nationalism, global justice or national sovereignty.
We spend our days surrounded by great miracles and minor irritations.
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We do not have a problem of privation in the United States. Not really. What we have is something related to what Arthur Brooks (“the most interesting man in Washington,” Tim Alberta calls him) describes as the need for earned success. We are not happy with mere material abundance. We — and not to go all Iron John on you, but I think “we” here applies especially to men — need to feel that we have earned our keep, that we have established a place for ourselves in the world by our labor or by other virtues, especially such masculine virtues as physical courage and endurance. I suspect that is a big part of the reason for the exaggeratedly reverential, practically sacramental attitude we current express toward soldiers, police officers, and firemen.
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The newly unemployed man of 40 seeking to reinvent himself is not in the most promising position.
Two things are going on here related to American unhappiness: The first is that as our economy becomes less physical and more intellectual, success in life is less like war and more like chess, and extraordinary success in life — i.e., being part of the founding of a successful new company — is a lot like being a grandmaster: It is an avenue that simply is not open to everyone. It requires talents that are not distributed with any sense of fairness and that are not earnable: Hard work is not enough.
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But the marriage and family that once was a source of security is today a source of insecurity, an unstable and uncertain thing scarcely defended by the law (it is far, far easier to walk away from a marriage than from a student loan) and held in low regard by much of society. Again, this works differently for men than for women: A single mother is still a mother, but a father who lives apart from his children and their mother is not a father in full. If he is not fixed in this world by being a father and a husband, and if he has only ordinary, unexceptional employment, what, exactly, is he? Self-sufficient, perhaps, and that isn’t nothing. But how does he stand in relation to other men, to his neighbors, and to those who came before him and will come after him? His status is vague, and it is precarious.
And there is the paradox within our paradox: The world is wondrous and beautiful and exciting and rich, and many of us have trouble finding our place in it, in part, because it is wondrous and beautiful and exciting and rich, so much so that we have lost touch with certain older realities. One of those realities is that children need fathers. Another is that fathers need children.
But these are what my colleague David French calls the “wounds that public policy will not heal.” Our churches are full of people who would love to talk to you about healing, but many have lost interest in that sort of thing, too. And so they turn to Trump, to Le Pen, to Chavismo (which is what Bernie Sanders is peddling), and, perhaps, to opiate-induced oblivion. Where will they turn when they figure out — and they will figure it out — that there are no answers in these, either?
And what will we offer them?
Just as the defenders of Chairman Mao formed a cultural revolution to suppress anyone’s thought but his, so too have the Obama supporters refused to face the truth about his regime. Religions and cults have their gods. They have their messiahs. For the religion of political correctness the messiah is named Obama.
Former Moral Preeners in Chief
The sentence “diversity is a cult” makes no sense. It is like saying that “sweetness is a cult” or “studying French is a cult.” There is nothing wrong with sweetness or studying French, or with weight-lifting, watching baseball, breeding dogs, or a thousand other things that people do. Anything good, however, can become the object of a cult-like devotion. So some men and women devote their whole lives to picking heavy things up and putting them down. Sexual intercourse is a good thing, or else God would not have commanded Adam and Eve in the beginning to be fruitful and multiply; but it is also probably the single thing that has, all the world over and from prehistoric times to our own day, most commonly been made the heart of a cult.
We might call man homo religiosus, so fertile and febrile is that factory of idols, his imagination. Chesterton had it right: the man who ceases to believe in God does not then believe in nothing. He will believe in anything, and shower upon that object the devotion that is due only to the divine. That includes his obedience. The man who will not obey the God whose commands will set him free does not then go his own way. He can be found straightaway bowing and scraping slave-like before a false god – a tricked-up political thug like Mao, a moronic and inhuman ideology like Nazism, Mother Earth the womb and tomb of all, anything; and will with a clear conscience offer up other people to placate the deity.
But before I say, “Some people run the danger of turning diversity into a false god,” I would like to know what we mean by the term. Replace it with synonyms. I cannot imagine people crying out, “We want variety!” Or, “We want in a certain human group an appreciable variance from the norm in some particular respect!” Put it in those ways and you take all the emotion out of it; nobody is inspired to tears by variety, or by an appreciable variance from the norm.
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There is nothing either good or bad about “variety,” “divergence,” or “deviation from the mean” per se, because without a subject the terms have no meaning. If you are building a championship baseball team, you need players who possess a visible diversity of skills and body-types; you cannot win with nine shortstops. But “gender diversity”? Not if you want to win. It is healthy for a man to have a variety of friends. It is not healthy for him to have a variety of wives.
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But perhaps, after all, diversity refers to a certain political project, adhered to with an intensity that reminds one of crowds singing hymns at a revival. If so, regardless of whether the project in question is just, my colleagues should admit it, if for nothing else than to let us know what they are talking about, and why they are so eager to take up an inquisition against someone who declines to join.
Moral preening and Ozymandias
Does America Really Need More College Grads? – George Leef
The Chinese imperial bureaucracy was immensely powerful. Entrance was theoretically open to anyone, from any walk of society—as long as they could pass a very tough examination. The number of passes was tightly restricted to keep the bureaucracy at optimal size.
Passing the tests and becoming a “scholar official” was a ticket to a very good, very secure life. And there is something to like about a system like this … especially if you happen to be good at exams. Of course, once you gave the imperial bureaucracy a lot of power, and made entrance into said bureaucracy conditional on passing a tough exam, what you have is … a country run by people who think that being good at exams is the most important thing on earth. Sound familiar?
The people who pass these sorts of admissions tests are very clever. But they’re also, as time goes on, increasingly narrow. The way to pass a series of highly competitive exams is to focus every fiber of your being on learning what the authorities want, and giving it to them. To the extent that the “Tiger Mom” phenomenon is actually real, it’s arguably the cultural legacy of the Mandarin system.
That system produced many benefits, but some of those benefits were also costs. A single elite taking a single exam means a single way of thinking:
The examination system also served to maintain cultural unity and consensus on basic values. The uniformity of the content of the examinations meant that the local elite and ambitious would-be elite all across China were being indoctrinated with the same values.
All elites are good at rationalizing their eliteness, whether it’s meritocracy or “the divine right of kings.” The problem is the mandarin elite has some good arguments. They really are very bright and hardworking. It’s just that they’re also prone to be conformist, risk averse, obedient, and good at echoing the opinions of authority, because that is what this sort of examination system selects for.
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[T]his ostensibly meritocratic system increasingly selects from those with enough wealth and connections to first, understand the system, and second, prepare the right credentials to enter it—as I believe it also did in Imperial China.
And like all elites, they believe that they not only rule because they can, but because they should. Even many quite left-wing folks do not fundamentally question the idea that the world should be run by highly verbal people who test well and turn their work in on time. They may think that machine operators should have more power and money in the workplace, and salesmen and accountants should have less. But if they think there’s anything wrong with the balance of power in the system we all live under, it is that clever mandarins do not have enough power to bend that system to their will. For the good of everyone else, of course. Not that they spend much time with everyone else, but they have excellent imaginations.
“What the Natural Sciences Do Not Explain”
The underlying assumption of our public discourse today is that facts and values are radically distinct. “The plane crashed” is a statement of fact, and therefore “real.” Crash evidence is tangible. Nobody can argue with debris. On the other hand, “Don’t kill the disabled” is a statement of value. It’s an expression of opinion and sentiment—so the logic goes—and therefore not “real” or “true” in the same solid sense. For example, the importance of protecting disabled persons is an admirable and widely shared view; surely that’s obvious. But some people might disagree. Some people might argue quite sincerely that disabled persons are a waste of precious resources, and we’d be better off without them. Some people did argue that way in Germany in the last century, with great effect.
Of course, for most of us, murdering the disabled, starving the poor, or deliberately targeting innocent civilians in war is an appalling idea; a crime against humanity. But apparently sucking the brains out of unborn children, or trading in their body parts, is not so appalling. It may even be “good,” because we already do it. We not only do it, but we also build a fortress of pious-sounding chatter about reproductive rights to surround and bless it.
This is the kind of obscenity that comes from reducing a nation’s politics to a clash of allegedly equal values. What it masks is a transfer of power from proven traditions of moral wisdom to whoever can best lobby the media, the courts, Congress, and the White House. It’s the reason [the philosopher Alasdair] MacIntyre warned that today’s barbarians “are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament.”
“Facts” and “values” and darkness at noon, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput
It is one of the astounding ironies of our current era that universities, which have long been billed as havens of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, places to experiment and rebel before you grow up, now employ armies of bureaucrats to regulate the sex lives of their students. These administrators hand out condoms and invite students to lectures by professional dominatrixes, while at the same time holding secret tribunals to punish men who engage in what can best be described as regrettable drunken hookups with their female classmates.
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The earliest foundations for the notion that rape is widespread on campus — indeed, according to statistics provided by activists, women are in more danger at Harvard than inner-city Detroit or Syria, for that matter — came from feminist scholars in the 1970s. Catharine MacKinnon famously wrote that “the similarities between . . . rape (and battery) on the one hand and intercourse on the other . . . makes it difficult to sustain the customary distinctions between violence and sex.” For a particular generation of feminism, all sex was basically rape.
Not to mention concern for their souls….
1. Table of the Day I
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During the 34-year period between 1980-2014, the number of public school students increased by 22.6% (and by 9.25 million). Over the same period, total staff headcount increased by 50.1% (and by 2.1 million), led by an 88.1% increase in school district administrative staff and followed by a 54.1% increase in instructional staff which included a 63.1% increase in school principals and assistant principals. The total expenditures for America’s public schools more than doubled between 1980 and 2014, from less than $300 billion 1980 to more than $600 billion in 2014 (both in 2015 dollars). On a per-student basis, the cost to educate a student in US public schools increased by more than 75.5%, from $7,204 in 1980 to $12,642 in 2014. Meanwhile, reading and math test scores for 17-year old public school students have been basically flat since the 1970s.
As my AEI colleague Andrew Biggs commented on Facebook about the table above: “If you think more resources will solve our educational problems….”