Archive for the ‘Philosopher Kings’ Category.

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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Idols and False Gods in America

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.

The Tyranny of Political Correctness

Former Moral Preeners in Chief


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Safety, Risk and Innovation

The Complacent Class (Episode 1/5)

Compare today to the 1950s. At that time, a typical apartment in New York City rented for about $60 per month, or, adjusting for inflation, about $530 a month. … Or to put that 1950s rent in perspective, the U.S. median wage at that time was about $5,000 a year, so a typical New Yorker spent as little as 10 percent of salary on rent, or perhaps even less to the extent that New Yorkers were earning more than other typical Americans.

The Complacent Class,” by Tyler Cowen (page 43)

The New Era of Segregation (Episode 2/5)

American Culture and Innovation, Produced by Marginal Revolution University

Also see:
How did we become such bumps on a log?
Complacent or Crazy?
A top economist says Americans are not nearly as ambitious or innovative as they think
The future will be good for matchers and bad for strivers
Complacent or Pathological?
NPR Interview
Have Americans Given Up?
The Art of Manliness podcast
How America Gave Up on Change

Ozymandias and Statolatry

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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.


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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


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First-World Problems….

People on the Left and the Right have been boycotting huge businesses like Uber, Budweiser, Under Armour and Nordstrom. Are they doing it for the right reasons or are they just being “special snowflakes”?

. . .

I get it. The current political landscape has put Republicans and Democrats on constant defense. Regardless, I thought Americans were stronger. If we boycott every company that has maintained a political stance supporting something we disagree with, we’d pretty much have to stop using everything except for natural water and air. Why is the story of Adolphus Busch’s legal immigration to the U.S. upsetting people? Is a company really being boycotted for providing ride-sharing services at a time when taxi drivers refused to?

When the reasoning behind your protest lacks common sense, are you legitimately boycotting or just being an overly-sensitive snowflake? These boycotts are first-world problems, and Americans should be embarrassed by them.

Boycotters on the Left and the Right should be embarrassed


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Public School is a BARGAIN!

1. Table of the Day I

. . .

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….”

Friday afternoon links

Also seePublic School Is Often The Most Destructive Institution In American Life

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School and Bullying

I’ve seen a new attack from liberals on social media in the last few weeks as they try to paint Republicans and school choice advocates as being horrible, angry elitists who want to take funding away from students. This is mostly centered around Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s secretary of education.

All of a sudden, liberals who want the choice to end a human life want to vilify parents who want a choice in which type of institution best suits their child’s educational needs.

Whether DeVos is qualified to become the education secretary will continue to be heavily debated on social media. But for anti-school choice advocates, I’d like to share a story with you about my children.

As the mother of 16- and 9-year-old boys, I’m very familiar with the public education system. I grew up attending public school during a time when bullying was common but rarely discussed. When my oldest child attended school, it seemed it had progressed to a new stage that shocked even me. Bullying progressed with the help of technology and, as I wrote in 2014 for the Good Men Project, is so easily captured on cell phones and shared immediately that it stays with our children for their entire lives.

. . .

Parents know what is best for their children, and they deserve a choice. Whether that’s a charter school, a private school, home schooling or public education. Vilifying parents who want to make their own choices for their children is absurd. The real problem is telling parents they must allow their children to be placed in bad situations at a public school because someone else thinks that’s what is best for everyone.

But don’t tell a liberal that “choice” is a good thing unless it’s the “choice” to end the life of an unborn child.

One reason we need school choice you never hear about: Bullying

Also see “Public School Is Often The Most Destructive Institution In American Life

Statolatry, Ozymandias

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