Archive for the ‘Liberty’ Category.

“Winning”

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.

. . .

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.

Bill O’Reilly’s Nostalgia Factor

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Censure the President

Our so-called constitutional conservatives treat the national charter the way a certain kind of Christian treats the Bible: They like to carry around copies of it, to wave it at their rivals, to talk about it, and to treat it as a kind of magic item — but if you should suggest they actually read it or apply it, well, that sounds awfully idealistic.

It is painful, and a little embarrassing, to listen to conservatives try to rationalize President Donald Trump’s plainly illegal attack on the government of murderous Syrian caudillo Bashar al-Assad. Each rationalization is shallower and sillier than the last.

. . .

One of the things that are supposed to distinguish conservatives from progressives — and once did — is an abiding respect for, even a cherishing of, process. Woodrow Wilson and his ilk despised the Constitution, just as our would-be political-speech police despise it today, because it stands in the way of what they believe to be the right thing. And no doubt it sometimes does stand in the way of the right thing — the point of the Constitution is to create a political order with a particular character, not to ensure that we get our preferred outcome in every federal matter. To see conservatives adopt the outcome-above-order attitude in a matter as important as launching a preemptive war in Syria is dispiriting.

Congressional Republicans have two choices: One, they can censure the president and insist that no further action be taken without legal authorization. Two, they can stop calling themselves “constitutional conservatives,” because those who knuckle under now are no such thing.

Censure the President

Ozymandias

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The Wickedness of Judas

We should never think ourselves beyond the wickedness of Judas. Proximity to Jesus does not always mean intimacy with Him.

. . .

Greed is grasping. It’s really not so much about possessions but control – about having such means at our disposal that we do not need to rely on others, or even God. It is “practical” in the worst sense of that word.

. . .

Judas fails to repent. No doubt, he feels remorse over what he has done. And this is no small thing. In the tangle of his heart he still bore at least some love for Jesus. But notice: he returns not to Jesus but to the chief priests – to his coconspirators. To them, he acknowledges his sin. Judas possesses not repentance but regret. By repentance we look to the good God, to the Redeemer, to the one Who is Mercy. In His light, we reject sin. By regret we look to ourselves, turn further inward, and close ourselves off from the reconciliation and healing that come from God alone.

One of the Twelve

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Culture of Death in Europe

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.

. . .

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!

. . .

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.

Is the West Lost Forever?

Ozymandias

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Fathers Need Children

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.

. . .

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.

. . .

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.

. . .

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?

On the Outside, Looking Out

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American Carnage – Opioid Addiction

There have always been drug addicts in need of help, but the scale of the present wave of heroin and opioid abuse is unprecedented. Fifty-two thousand Americans died of overdoses in 2015—about four times as many as died from gun homicides and half again as many as died in car accidents. Pawtucket [Rhode Island] is a small place, and yet 5,400 addicts are members at Anchor (Recovery Community Center). Six hundred visit every day. Rhode Island is a small place, too. It has just over a million people. One Brown University epidemiologist estimates that 20,000 of them are opioid addicts—2 percent of the population.

. . .

At the turn of the nineteenth century, scientists isolated morphine, the active ingredient in opium, and in the 1850s the hypodermic needle was invented. They seemed a godsend in Civil War field hospitals, but many soldiers came home addicted. Zealous doctors prescribed opiates to upper-middle-class women for everything from menstrual cramps to “hysteria.” The “acetylization” of morphine led to the development of heroin. Bayer began marketing it as a cough suppressant in 1898, which made matters worse. The tally of wrecked middle-class families and lives was already high by the time Congress passed the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in 1914, threatening jail for doctors who prescribed opiates to addicts. Americans had had it with heroin. It took almost a century before drug companies could talk them back into using drugs like it.

If you take too much heroin, your breathing slows until you die. Unfortunately, the drug sets an addictive trap that is sinister and subtle. It provides a euphoria—a feeling of contentment, simplification, and release—which users swear has no equal. Users quickly develop a tolerance, requiring higher and higher amounts to get the same effect. The dosage required to attain the feeling the user originally experienced rises until it is higher than the dosage that will kill him. An addict can get more or less “straight,” but approaching the euphoria he longs for requires walking up to the gates of death. If a heroin addict sees on the news that a user or two has died from an overly strong batch of heroin in some housing project somewhere, his first thought is, “Where is that? That’s the stuff I want.”

. . .

Difficult though recovery from addiction has always been, it has always had this on its side: It is a rigorously truth-focused and euphemism-free endeavor, something increasingly rare in our era of weasel words. The face of addiction a generation ago was that of the working-class or upper-middle-class man, probably long and intimately known to his neighbors, who stood up at an AA meeting in a church basement and bluntly said, “Hi, I’m X, and I’m an alcoholic.”

The culture of addiction treatment that prevails today is losing touch with such candor. It is marked by an extraordinary level of political correctness. Several of the addiction professionals interviewed for this article sent lists of the proper terminology to use when writing about opioid addiction, and instructions on how to write about it in a caring way. These people are mostly generous, hard-working, and devoted. But their codes are neither scientific nor explanatory; they are political.

. . .

Addiction plays on our strengths, not just our failings. It simplifies things. It relieves us of certain responsibilities. It gives life a meaning. It is a “perversely clever copy of that transcendent peace of God.”

The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous thought there was something satanic about addiction. The mightiest sentence in the book of Alcoholics Anonymous is this: “Remember that we deal with alcohol—cunning, baffling, powerful!” The addict is, in his own, life-damaged way, rational. He’s too rational. He is a dedicated person—an oblate of sorts, as Seeburger puts it. He has commitments in another, nether world.

American Carnage, by Christopher Caldwell

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Communism and Socialism

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Credentialism and “Meritocracy” and Philosopher Kings


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.

. . .

[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.

America’s New Mandarins – The paths to power and success are narrowing. So is the worldview of the powerful.

Statolatry

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The President is not my King or my God

[George] Washington was, as David Boaz put it in his excellent essay of that title, “the man who would not be king.” He would not accept a title or an honorific, and established the excellent republican practice of referring to the chief executive simply as “Mr. President.” George Washington did not need the presidency — the presidency needed him.

. . .

The presidency today is a grotesquerie. It is a temporary kingship without the benefit of blood or honor or antiquity, which is to say a combination of the worst aspects of monarchy with the worst aspects of democracy, a kind of inverted Norway. (King Olav V, the “folkekonge,” was famous for using public transit.) It is steeped in imperial ceremony, from the risible and unworthy monkey show that is the State of the Union address to the motorcades and Air Force One to the elevation of the first lady (or, increasingly, “First Lady”) to the position of royal consort; our chief magistracy gives the impression of being about five minutes away from purple robes, if not togas.

. . .

But the president is not the tribune of the plebs. He is not a sacred person or the holder of a sacred office. He is neither pontifex nor imperator. He is not the spiritual distillation of the republic or the personification of our national ideals and values. (Thank God Almighty.) He is not even primus inter pares like the chief justice of the Supreme Court or the Patriarch of Constantinople. He is the commander in chief in time of war (which, since we have abandoned the advice of Washington and Eisenhower, is all of the time, now) and the chief administrator of the federal bureaucracy. That is it.

He is not a ruler.

But men demand to be ruled, and they will find themselves a king even when there is none. (Consider all of the hilarious and self-abasing celebration of Donald Trump as an “alpha male” among his admirers, an exercise in chimpanzee sociology if ever there were one.) But they must convince themselves that they are being ruled by a special sort of man; in ancient times, that was the function of the hereditary character of monarchies. In our times, it is reinforced through civic religion, including the dopey annual exercise that is Presidents’ Day.

Abolish Presidents’ Day – It is time to roll back the imperial cult.

Statolatry and Ozymandias

See also “The President is not my “boss” nor my king nor my God. Rubes

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“Facts” and “Values”


“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

Statolatry

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