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  • Archive for the 'Political Philosophy' Category

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 2nd December 2014 (All posts by )

    Richard Epstein, The flawed 75% tax solution from Hollande and Piketty:

    The basic question is why would anyone assume that major shifts in tax rates should have only relatively modest effects on the production of wealth. No one would say that about a cut in market wages of over 50 percent. So why assume otherwise in a tax context?

    Posted in Big Government, Economics & Finance, France, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Quotations, Taxes | 6 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 21st November 2014 (All posts by )

    David Harsanyi:

    No, the president didn’t kill the process all by himself. Bush did it! Reagan did it! True or not, twenty years from now, the minions of some Republican Napoleon will be screaming ‘Obama did it!’ And they’ll have a sad story or a chilling warning that will justify why it’s ok. Because all legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States – unless the president says it’s super important. Then anything goes.

    Posted in Current Events, Immigration, Obama, Political Philosophy, Politics, Quotations | 21 Comments »

    Election Day

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 4th November 2014 (All posts by )

    Election Day in California is pretty dull because California is a one party state with Democrats and their illegal alien voters running things.

    ya vote

    “We don’t need no stinkin’ voter IDs !”

    Elsewhere there is excitement. Voting machines in multiple states are changing GOP votes to Democrat.

    The Cook County Board of Elections Deputy Communications Director Jim Scalzitti said the machine’s failure was “a calibration error of the touch-screen on the machine,” and that Moynihan’s votes were not actually registered. Scalzitti said that voters are always asked to double-check their votes before they’re counted.

    The same “error” is occurring in North Carolina and Maryland, the latter a state where the Democrat governor is in trouble with a GOP challenger close in polls.

    Naturally, that is where voting machine “errors” will cluster.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Chicagoania, Elections, History, Illinois Politics, Obama, Political Philosophy, Politics | 28 Comments »

    Jews Should Use Alinskyite Tactics Against Anti-Semites

    Posted by Jonathan on 30th October 2014 (All posts by )

    Caroline Glick makes good suggestions for Jewish student groups contending with campus anti-Semites:

    Educational efforts are of little value in contending with thugs. But this doesn’t mean that there is nothing to be done. Groups like Block the Boat for Gaza, Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voices for Peace, Adalah, the Arab Resource and Organizing Center and Direct Action for Palestine need to be investigated.
     
    Where does their money come from? Who are their leaders? What are their ties to terrorist groups? What are their ties to organized labor? What are their ties to politicians? What is their tax status and what do their tax returns say? If members of various groups are intimidating Jewish students then there should be restraining orders against them. Criminal complaints should be filed against them. Their tax-exempt status should be challenged.
     
    Jewish students should be demanding that Students for Justice in Palestine be expelled from their campuses along with other hate groups, like Jewish Voices for Peace. Jewish alumni should be organizing to withhold all donations from universities that permit anti-Semitic groups to operate on campus. And Jewish lawyers should be filing lawsuits against universities and other institutions that enable the operation of anti-Semitic groups on their premises.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Current Events, Israel, Jewish Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics | 19 Comments »

    Peter Thiel on Political Correctness, Courage and the Corrosion of Conformity

    Posted by Lexington Green on 29th October 2014 (All posts by )

    “The core problem in our society is political correctness.”
     
    “We’ve become a more risk-averse society,” he said, “we’ve lost hope in the future.” The problem isn’t one of intelligence, but of character. “We live in a world in which courage is in less supply than genius.”

    “The Wisdom of Peter Thiel“, from First Things — RTWT.

    Incidentally, I recently read Thiel’s book Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. It is very good.

    I see significant overlap between Thiel’s message and some of the themes in America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century-Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come. I hope to write more about this soon.

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Society, Systems Analysis, Tradeoffs | 8 Comments »

    “Why Partyism Is Wrong”

    Posted by Jonathan on 28th October 2014 (All posts by )

    This is one of David Brooks’s better columns.

    Politics is obviously a passionate activity, in which moral values clash. Debates over Obamacare, charter schools or whether the United States should intervene in Syria stir serious disagreement. But these studies are measuring something different. People’s essential worth is being measured by a political label: whether they should be hired, married, trusted or discriminated against.
     
    The broad social phenomenon is that as personal life is being de-moralized, political life is being hyper-moralized. People are less judgmental about different lifestyles, but they are more judgmental about policy labels.
     
    The features of the hyper-moralized mind-set are all around. More people are building their communal and social identities around political labels. Your political label becomes the prerequisite for membership in your social set.

    There is much to this, though I would disagree that “people’s essential worth is being measured” by their politics. It would be more accurate to say that among nonreligious people politics is becoming a substitute for religion, an idea not unfamiliar to readers of this blog.

    Where Brooks falls flat is in eliding the easily observable fact that the social politicization he discusses is much more characteristic of the American Left than of the Right. But there’s an election coming and the Democrats are set to lose big, so it’s time to anticipatorily attribute the outcome to societal problems rather than the policies of the losing party. Still, he makes good points and his column is worth reading.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Political Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Society | 8 Comments »

    Received Cynicism is a Bigger Problem than Anti-Americanism

    Posted by Jonathan on 24th October 2014 (All posts by )

    Rush Limbaugh was speculating today about the causes of anti-American sentiment in disaffected young people like the NYC hatchet jihadi. He attributes the anti-Americanism to leftist ideas and historical ignorance endemic to our schools. I think this is correct to some extent.

    However, the jihadis and other violent anti-American Americans are extreme outliers. The vast majority of people on the Left are not nearly so hostile to American institutions and culture, though they tend to hold grievances against this country and its political system and culture that conservatives do not. Limbaugh makes the typical culturally tone-deaf conservative error of attributing to anti-Americanism that which could better be attributed to cynicism and ignorance.

    The USA is a political, economic and cultural wonder, but you need some history to appreciate this fact and our schools no longer teach it. If you don’t know much history, facile cynicism and the tendentious explanations of people who really don’t like the country become plausible. It’s difficult for someone who understands the origins of this country’s institutions and traditions to become a jihadi. It’s even more difficult to become a jihadi if you also understand the intellectually convoluted roots of modern Islamism.

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Education, History, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Rhetoric, Terrorism | 28 Comments »

    “Scottish referendum: A useful lesson in the limits of fiery activism”

    Posted by Jonathan on 21st September 2014 (All posts by )

    Janet Daley:

    As it turned out, virtually all of the polling in recent weeks had been wrong. In the end, the vote wasn’t very close: it was a clear and decisive No. Whatever poll respondents had said – or been afraid to say – about their intentions because they felt coerced or intimidated by the aggressive tactics of the other camp, when it came to it, they were free to do as they pleased.
     
    This is a salutary lesson in the limits of militant political activism: you can bully people in the street, shout them down at public meetings and dissuade them forcibly from displaying posters or banners you don’t like. You can, with the help of your friends and comrades, create what seems to you, inside the bubble of mutual congratulation, to be an unstoppable momentum.
     
    But making people afraid to voice contrary opinions just reinforces the delusion into which political tribes so easily fall when they are waging war. And, even more dangerously, it leaves them utterly out of touch with the slow-burning resentment they are creating in the opponents they are so determined to crush. The inviolable privacy of the polling booth puts paid to all that: the ordinary citizen, who may well have had his anger and resolve strengthened under fire, gets his revenge.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Civil Society, Political Philosophy, Politics, Polls, Predictions, RKBA | 9 Comments »

    Don’t Panic: Against the Spirit of the Age

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 21st September 2014 (All posts by )

    Cold and misty morning, I heard a warning borne in the air
    About an age of power where no one had an hour to spare …
    – Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression, Part 1

    Imagine that you just stepped out of a time machine into the mid-1930s with a case of partial historical amnesia. From your reading of history, you can still remember that the nation has been beset with economic difficulties for several years that will continue for several more. You also clearly remember that this is followed by participation in a global war, but you cannot recall just when it starts or who it’s with. A few days of newspapers and radio broadcasts, however, apprise you of obvious precursors to that conflict and various candidates for both allies and enemies.

    As mentioned several times in this forum, I adhere to a historical model, consisting either of a four-part cycle of generational temperaments (Strauss and Howe), or a related but simpler system dynamic/generational flow (Xenakis). That model posits the above scenario as a description of our current situation and a prediction of its near future: a tremendous national trial, currently consisting mostly of failing domestic institutions, is underway. It will somehow transform into a geopolitical military phase and reach a crescendo early in the next decade. It cannot be avoided, only confronted.

    Nor will it be a low-intensity conflict like the so-called “wars” of recent decades, which have had US casualty counts comparable to those of ordinary garrison duty a generation ago. Xenakis has coined the descriptive, and thoroughly alarming, term genocidal crisis war for these events. Some earlier instances in American history have killed >1% of the entire population and much larger portions of easily identifiable subsets of it. Any early-21st-century event of this type is overwhelmingly likely to kill millions of people in this country, many if not most of them noncombatants. And besides its stupendous quantitative aspect, the psychological effect will be such that the survivors (including young children) remain dedicated, for the rest of their lives, to preventing such a thing from ever happening again.

    I will nonetheless argue that no matter how firmly convinced we may be that an utterly desperate struggle, with plenty of attendant disasters, is inevitable and imminent, we must avoid both individual panic and collective overreaction.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Current Events, Environment, History, Human Behavior, Immigration, International Affairs, Islam, Latin America, Leftism, Media, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Personal Narrative, Political Philosophy, Predictions, Religion, Rhetoric, Science, Systems Analysis, Tech, The Press, USA, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 7th September 2014 (All posts by )

    Megan McArdle:  Are Liberals the Real Authoritarians?  See also Ed Driscoll, with several links and excerpts on this topic.

    Why Sally can’t get a good job with her college degree

    Happy families know their history.  See also the family meal and benefits of family dinners.

    Study suggests that waiting on experiences can be pleasant, whereas waiting on things just tends to be frustrating.   (But what about things that are purchased in order to have experiences?…is waiting for the delivery of a boat really that different psychologically from waiting for a boat-charter vacation?)

    Pioneering 3-D printed houses in Amsterdam (with video)

    Thoughts about blank-slate theory and its consequences

    To train a horse and ride it to war.  Thoughts on chivalry, feminism, and horsemanship.

    The biology of risk.  Hormones and the Federal Reserve, among other things.  A couple of years ago I briefly reviewed The Hour Between Dog and Wolf, written by the author of this article, John Coates.

     

    Posted in Education, Human Behavior, Leftism, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Urban Issues, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 4th September 2014 (All posts by )

    Richard Epstein, Rand Paul’s Fatal Pacifism:

    There is nothing in libertarian theory that justifies dithering at home as conditions abroad get worse by the day.

    This point has been one of the main differences among people who consider themselves libertarian. Libertarian isolationism in response to threats of aggression from overseas is like a self-defense strategy in which you let an assailant shoot at you before you think yourself justified in shooting back. In reality you sometimes have to take preemptive action if you want to survive. Life isn’t a court of law where you have the luxury of due process before deciding if you are justified in punishing the accused. An individual, group or nation that behaves in a way that reasonable people see as threatening should have no expectation of being left alone by potential victims.

    Posted in International Affairs, National Security, Political Philosophy, Politics, Quotations, War and Peace | 64 Comments »

    The revolution we need might be starting in Britain.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 30th August 2014 (All posts by )

    A “Seismic Shock is coming to the British political system.

    Douglas Carswell, a prominent Conservative MP has announced he is switching to UKIP. a new political party that has been attacked as “racist” and has been attracting a larger constituency from the British traditional voters.

    A new political party has appeared in Britain called UK Independent Party. It has been called racist and a number of other things that might sound familiar to Tea Party members here.

    For example:

    News reports about the rising primary school population in England fail to mention the ‘elephant in the room’, said MEP Paul Nuttall.

    “It is accepted that primary schools have increasing numbers of pupils, which causes all manner of problems, but what is frequently not referred to is why we have such a boom in numbers.

    “And the answer is unlimited immigration into this country. It hits some areas harder than others but there cannot be many primary schools in the country which have not been affected at all,” said Mr Nuttall, UKIP Education spokesman.

    Why is this controversial ? In the 1990s, the Labour Party opened the floodgates of immigration from Pakistan. The Conservatives have mentioned reducing this but have done little about it.

    Steven Woolfe, UKIP Migration spokesman, attacks Conservatives for ‘lying to electorate’ on promises to cut migration, adding that ‘it is no wonder their own MPs are losing faith in them and they are haemorrhaging support to UKIP.’

    “These shocking figures today show that the Government does not have a handle on immigration. The Conservative Party promised to cut net migration to tens of thousands and yet it has shot up by a staggering 68,000 in just one year. It is quite simple. They lie to the electorate. They lie to try to keep votes. Well they are being found out.

    This is one reason why UKIP is hated. For example, of the 1400 young girls made sex slaves by “Asian” men, several were taken from foster parents because they had voted for UKIP.

    A couple had their three foster children taken away by a council on the grounds that their membership of the UK Independence Party meant that they supported “racist” policies. The husband and wife, who have been fostering for nearly seven years, said they were made to feel like criminals when a social worker told them that their views on immigration made them unsuitable carers.

    Sounds like the Tea Party to me.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Big Government, Britain, Civil Society, Conservatism, Elections, Europe, Health Care, Immigration, Islam, Political Philosophy, Tea Party | 5 Comments »

    Deirdre McCloskey speaking on how the rich got rich, and how everyone else will too, at the Illinois Policy Institute, August 20, 2014

    Posted by Lexington Green on 18th August 2014 (All posts by )

    deirdre_mccloskey_image

    This will be an excellent event. Deirdre McCloskey talking about her most recent book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World.

    Her topic: How the rich got rich and how everyone else will too.

    Get tickets here.

    This is the message of America 3.0 as well, though we have our own spin.

    The Illinois Policy Institute always puts on good events — including a modest charge for a great event and a very nice open bar.

    This Wednesday, August 14, 2004, 6-8 p.m.

    I hope to see you there.

    Here is a short video of Deirdre McCloskey speaking, as a teaser trailer for the event.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in America 3.0, Announcements, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, History, Political Philosophy | 2 Comments »

    Medicine as a government benefit.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 3rd August 2014 (All posts by )

    Obamacare is having serious trouble as I have discussed. The success stories, like California, are an example of what I have called Medicaid for All.

    “It’s a total contradiction in terms to spend your public time castigating Medicaid as something that never should have been expanded for poor people and as a broken, problem-riddled system, and then turn around and complain about the length of time to enroll people,” said Sara Rosenbaum, a member of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, which advises Congress.

    Most of the new enrollees are Medicaid members and those enrolled in “private insurance” learn that they have severely restricted choice of doctor or hospital.

    Now we have a new development.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Economics & Finance, Health Care, Medicine, Political Philosophy, Science | 5 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 24th July 2014 (All posts by )

    Richard Fernandez:

    But if Obama and his supporters are ruling out the obvious, so too are many of the president’s critics who hope that at some point — perhaps when he misses 500 out of 500 — that he’ll suddenly realize that he’s doing it wrong. They’re hoping for this because the common perception is that the world is stuck with him until 2016. But perhaps he won’t notice he’s missed the last 1,000 shots for the very same reason that caused the blunders already committed.
     
    The one crisis that Peter Baker omits to mention is the inability of the American political system to diagnose and fix itself. It lies in the circumstance that Baker can realize the world is falling apart without being able to put his finger on why. It is exhibited in Alan Dershowitz’s perspicacious insight that Israel has been put in an impossible position while remaining a pillar of the Democratic cheering squad. They can enumerate the problems but they don’t know what it means.
     
    The feedback loop is kaput. That is the key. But no one in Washington seems capable of divining where the smoke on the ceiling is coming from because it’s coming from them. The significance of the dog that did not bark in the night is that nobody in establishment DC is barking. It means things will only come to a head when the theater actually starts to burn.

    Posted in Israel, Middle East, National Security, Obama, Political Philosophy, Politics, Quotations, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    Thoughts on the Politicization of Absolutely Everything

    Posted by David Foster on 9th July 2014 (All posts by )

    One reason why American political dialog has become so unpleasant is that increasingly, everything is a political issue.  Matters that are life-and-death to individuals…metaphorically life-and-death, to his financial future or the way he wants to live his life, or quite literally life-and-death…are increasingly grist for the political mill. And where that takes us is that:

    People who disagree with your agenda are “attacking” you or “robbing” you.  How commonly do you hear dissent described in precisely those terms nowadays?

    When the government controls everything, there is no constructive relief valve for all this pent-up tension.  It all boils down to a “historic” election once every couple of years, upon whose outcome everything depends.  They’re all going to be “historic” elections from now on.  That’s not a good thing.   (link)

    I’m reminded of something Arthur Koestler wrote, in his great novel Darkness at Noon.  Rubashov, the protagonist, is a dedicated Communist who has been arrested during the Stalin purges of the 1930s.  (Although Stalin is never named in the novel, he is only referred to as “Number One.”)  During the interval between his arrest and his execution, Rubashov has plenty of time for thought and reflection:

    A short time ago, our leading agriculturist, B., was shot with thirty of his collaborators because he maintained the opinion that nitrate artificial manure was superior to potash. No. 1 is all for potash; therefore B. and the thirty had to be liquidated as saboteurs. In a nationally centralized agriculture, the alternative of nitrate of potash is of enormous importance: it can decide the issue of the next war.  If No. I was in the right, history will absolve him, and the execution of the thirty-one men will be a mere bagatelle. If he was wrong…

    Rubashov of course was incorrect in his assertion that “If No. I was in the right, history will absolve him, and the execution of the thirty-one men will be a mere bagatelle”…even if the dictator had been correct on this specific issue, the system of top-down rule and suppression of dissent absolutely ensured that there would be other issues, with potential for equally or even more disastrous outcomes, on which he would be wrong, and his wrongness would guarantee catastrophe.

    When everything is centralized, the temptation to deal with dissent in a draconian manner becomes overwhelming.  Just as Rubashov (at that stage in his thought process) justified Stalin’s ruthless suppression of dissenters on agricultural policy, so do many American “progressives” today seek the silencing of  those who disagree with their ideas. It will not be surprising if they escalate their demands to insist that dissenters should not only lose their jobs or be imprisoned, but should actually be killed.

    Posted in Book Notes, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 12 Comments »

    Shall It Be Sustained?

    Posted by David Foster on 4th July 2014 (All posts by )

    For this Fourth of July,  Cassandra has an excellent post: Independence in an Age of Cynicism.  I recommend the entire post and all the links; read especially the third linked essay, which Cass wrote in 2008:  Why I Am Patriotic: a Love Letter to America.

    For the last several years, on July 4th I’ve posted an excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet’s poem Listen to the People.  The title I’ve used for these posts prior to 2013 was It Shall Be Sustained, which is from the last line of Benet’s poem.

    Narrator:

    This is Independence Day,
    Fourth of July, the day we mean to keep,
    Whatever happens and whatever falls
    Out of a sky grown strange;
    This is firecracker day for sunburnt kids,
    The day of the parade,
    Slambanging down the street.
    Listen to the parade!
    There’s J. K. Burney’s float,
    Red-white-and-blue crepe-paper on the wheels,
    The Fire Department and the local Grange,
    There are the pretty girls with their hair curled
    Who represent the Thirteen Colonies,
    The Spirit of East Greenwich, Betsy Ross,
    Democracy, or just some pretty girls.
    There are the veterans and the Legion Post
    (Their feet are going to hurt when they get home),
    The band, the flag, the band, the usual crowd,
    Good-humored, watching, hot,
    Silent a second as the flag goes by,
    Kidding the local cop and eating popsicles,
    Jack Brown and Rosie Shapiro and Dan Shay,
    Paul Bunchick and the Greek who runs the Greek’s,
    The black-eyed children out of Sicily,
    The girls who giggle and the boys who push,
    All of them there and all of them a nation.
    And, afterwards,
    There’ll be ice-cream and fireworks and a speech
    By somebody the Honorable Who,
    The lovers will pair off in the kind dark
    And Tessie Jones, our honor-graduate,
    Will read the declaration.
    That’s how it is. It’s always been that way.
    That’s our Fourth of July, through war and peace,
    That’s our fourth of July.

    And a lean farmer on a stony farm
    Came home from mowing, buttoned up his shirt
    And walked ten miles to town.
    Musket in hand.
    He didn’t know the sky was falling down
    And, it may be, he didn’t know so much.
    But people oughtn’t to be pushed around
    By kings or any such.
    A workman in the city dropped his tools.
    An ordinary, small-town kind of man
    Found himself standing in the April sun,
    One of a ragged line
    Against the skilled professionals of war,
    The matchless infantry who could not fail,
    Not for the profit, not to conquer worlds,
    Not for the pomp or the heroic tale
    But first, and principally, since he was sore.
    They could do things in quite a lot of places.
    They shouldn’t do them here, in Lexington.

    He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces

    The poem is very long, and is worth reading in full. The full text was published in Life Magazine; it is online here. The Life text may be a little difficult to read; I posted an excerpt which is considerably longer than the above here.

    Benet’s poem ends with these words:

    We made it and we make it and it’s ours
    We shall maintain it. It shall be sustained

    But shall it?

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, History, Holidays, Poetry, Political Philosophy, USA | 3 Comments »

    Book Review: That Hideous Strength, by C S Lewis

    Posted by David Foster on 24th June 2014 (All posts by )

    That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis

    —-

    This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner. There may have been a time in the world’s history when such moments fully revealed their gravity, with witches prophesying on a blasted heath or visible Rubicons to be crossed. But, for him, it all slipped past in a chatter of laughter, of that intimate laughter between fellow professionals, which of all earthly powers is strongest to make men do very bad things before they are yet, individually, very bad men.

    Mark Studdock is a young on-the-make sociologist, a professor at Bracton College, in an English town called Edgestow. He is is far more interested in university politics than in his research or teaching. and as a member of the “progressive element” at the college, he strongly supports Bracton selling a tract of property to a government-sponsored entity called NICE. The NICE is the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation,which Lewis describes as “the first fruits of that constructive fusion between the state and the laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes of a better world.”  What excites Mark most about the NICE is this:

    The real thing is that this time we’re going to get science applied to social problems and backed by the whole force of the state, just as war has been backed by the whole force of the state in the past.  One hopes, of course, that it’ll find out more than the old freelance science did, but what’s certain is that it can do more.

    Trigger Warning: There is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  It contains things that will offend technologists and believers in human progress…social scientists…feminists…academic administrators…bioscience researchers…and surely many other categories of people.  It will probably also offend some Christians, for the way in which Christian theology is mixed with non-Christian magic. By the standards now becoming current in American universities, this book, and even this book review, should be read by no one at all.  But for those who do not accept those standards…

    The Basic Story. Mark has recently married Jane, a woman with strong literary interests and with vague plans for getting an advanced degree. She has recently started having disturbing, indeed terrifying, dreams, which suggest that she has a clairvoyant ability to see distant events in real time. Afraid that she is losing her mind, Jane seeks advice, and is told that her dreams are actually visions, they are very real, will not stop, and are of utmost importance:

    “Young lady,” said Miss Ironwood, “You do not at all realize the seriousness of this matter. The things you have seen concern something compared with which the happiness, and even the life, of you and me, is of no importance.”

    Miss Ironwood warns Jane that extremely evil people will seek to use her gift, and that she would do well–both for her own interests and those of the entire human race–to join the community of which Miss Ironwood is a part, located at a place called St Anne’s. Jane responds quite negatively to the invitation, afraid that membership in the St Anne’s group will limit her autonomy. She is not interested in the dreams’ meaning; she just wants them to go away.

    Mark, on the other hand, responds enthusiastically when he is invited to take a position at the NICE, temporarily located at an old manor called Belbury.  One of the first people he meets there is the Head of the Institutional Police, a woman named Miss Hardcastle (picture Janet Napolitano), nicknamed the Fairy, who explains to Mark her theory of crime and punishment:

    “Here in the Institute, we’re backing the crusade against Red Tape.”  Mark gathered that, for the Fairy, the police side of the Institute was the really important side…In general, they had already popularized in the press the idea that the Institute should be allowed to experiment pretty largely in the hope of discovering how far humane, remedial treatment could be substituted for the old notion of “retributive” or “vindictive” punishment…The Fairy pointed out that what had hampered every English police force up to date was precisely the idea of deserved punishment. For desert was always finite; you could do so much to the criminal and no more. Remedial treatment, on the other hand, need have no fixed limit; it could go on till it had effected a cure, and those who were carrying it out would decide when that was.  And if cure were humane and desirable, how much more prevention?  Soon anyone who had ever been in the hands of the police at all would come under the control of the NICE; in the end, every citizen.

    Another person Mark meets in his first days at Belbury is the acclaimed chemist William Hingest…who has also come down to investigate the possibility of a job at Belbury, has decided against it, and strongly advises Mark to do likewise:

    “I came down here because I thought it had something to do with science. Now that I find it’s something more like a political conspiracy, I shall go home. I’m too old for that kind of thing, and if I wanted to join a conspiracy, this one wouldn’t be my choice.”

    “You mean, I suppose, that the element of social planning doesn’t appeal to you? I can quite understand that it doesn’t fit in with your work as it does with sciences like Sociology, but–“

    “There are no sciences like Sociology. And if I found chemistry beginning to fit in with a secret police run by a middle-aged virago who doesn’t wear corsets and a scheme for taking away his farm and his shop and his children from every Englishman, I’d let chemistry go to the devil and take up gardening again…I happen to believe that you can’t study men, you can only get to know them, which is quite a different thing. Because you study them, you want to make the lower orders govern the country and listen to classical music, which is balderdash. You also want to take away from them everything that makes life worth living and not only from them but from everyone except a parcel of prigs and professors.”

    Nevertheless, Mark decides to remain at Belbury, and is drawn ever-deeper into its activities–which, as only those in the innermost circles of that organization realize, are not only consistent with the goals of the 20th-century totalitarianisms, but go considerably beyond them.  The NICE seeks to establish a junction between the powers of modern science and those of ancient magic, accessing the latter by awakening the medieval wizard Merlin and using him for their purposes.  At the same time, Jane–despite her reservations–becomes increasingly involved  with the company at St Anne’s and is entranced with its leader, a Mr Fisher-King. (His name comes from the Wounded King in Arthurian legend.)  The St Anne’s group is aware of the truth about NICE and its ultimate goals, and exists for the primary purpose of opposing and, hopefully, destroying that organization.

    I will not here describe the war between the forces of Belbury and those of St Anne’s (in order to avoid spoilers), but will instead comment on the characters of some of the protagonists and some philosophically-significant events in the novel, with appropriate excerpts. Hopefully this will be enough to give a sense of the worldview that Lewis is presenting in this book.

    Mark Studdock. His character is largely defined by his strong desire to be a member of the Inner Circle, whatever that inner circle may be in a particular context.  The passage at the start of this review where Mark agrees to engage in criminal activity on Belbury’s behalf is proceeded by this:

    After a few evenings Mark ventured to walk into the library on his own; a little uncertain of his reception, yet afraid that if he did not soon assert his right to the entree this modesty might damage him. He knew that the error in either direction is equally fatal.

    It was a success. Before he had closed the door behind him all had turned with welcoming faces and Filostrato had said “Ecco ” and the Fairy, “Here’s the very man.” A glow of pleasure passed over Mark’s whole body.

    That “glow of pleasure” at being accepted by the Belbury’s Inner Circle (what Mark then thinks is Belbury’s Inner Circle) is strong enough to overcome any moral qualms on Mark’s part about the actions he is being requested to perform.  Lewis has written a great deal elsewhere about the lust for the Inner Circle, which in his view never leads to satisfaction but only to a longing for membership in another, still-more-inner circle. In That Hideous Strength, there are concentric Inner Circles at Belbury, which Mark does penetrate–and each is more sinister than the last.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | 12 Comments »

    The Limits of Expertise

    Posted by T. Greer on 19th June 2014 (All posts by )

    I originally published this essay on the 18th of January, 2014 at The Scholar’s Stage. David Foster’s recent post on “credentialed experts” has prompted me to resurrect it here. I have not otherwise changed it from the original.

    —-

    Last month Tom Nichols, professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College  and a well regarded authority on Russian foreign policy and American nuclear strategy, published a thought-provoking essay on his blog titled “The Death of Expertise:”

    …I wonder if we are witnessing the “death of expertise:” a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between students and teachers, knowers and wonderers, or even between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.

    By this, I do not mean the death of actual expertise, the knowledge of specific things that sets some people apart from others in various areas. There will always be doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other specialists in various fields.

    Rather, what I fear has died is any acknowledgement of expertise as anything that should alter our thoughts or change the way we live. A fair number of Americans now seem to reject the notion that one person is more likely to be right about something, due to education, experience, or other attributes of achievement, than any other.

    Indeed, to a certain segment of the American public, the idea that one person knows more than another person is an appalling thought, and perhaps even a not-too-subtle attempt to put down one’s fellow citizen. It’s certainly thought to be rude: to judge from social media and op-eds, the claim of expertise — and especially any claim that expertise should guide the outcome of a disagreement — is now considered by many people to be worse than a direct personal insult.

    This is a very bad thing. Yes, it’s true that experts can make mistakes, as disasters from thalidomide to the Challenger explosion tragically remind us. But mostly, experts have a pretty good batting average compared to laymen: doctors, whatever their errors, seem to do better with most illnesses than faith healers or your Aunt Ginny and her special chicken gut poultice. To reject the notion of expertise, and to replace it with a sanctimonious insistence that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, is just plain silly.
    (emphasis added) [1]

    I encourage visitors to the Stage to read Dr. Nichol’s entire piece. It was prompted by what has become a common experience every time he (or fellow UNWC professor and former NSA employee John Schindler) decides to publish a new essay or speak publicly about a pressing issue of the day. Soon after his work is published a flood of acrimonious tweets and e-mails follow, declaring that he does not really understand how American intelligence agencies, the Kremlin, or the Obama administration actually work

    Most of these responses are misinformed. Many are simply rude and mean. They are not an impressive example of what laymen commentators can add to America’s political discourse. Dr. Nichols suggests four rules of thumb for engaged citizens that he believes would improve matters:

    1.The expert isn’t always right.

    2. But an expert is far more likely to be right than you are.

    3. Your political opinions have value in terms of what you want to see happen, how you view justice and right. Your political analysis as a layman has far less value, and probably isn’t — indeed, almost certainly isn’t — as good as you think it is.

    4. On a question of factual interpretation or evaluation, the expert’s view is likely to be better-informed than yours. At that point, you’re best served by listening, not carping and arguing. [2]

     ·


    The trouble with this advice is that there are plenty of perfectly rational reasons to distrust those with political expertise. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Management, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Predictions, Science, Statistics | 21 Comments »

    The Rule of Credentialed “Experts”

    Posted by David Foster on 14th June 2014 (All posts by )

    Lead and Gold links an article by Noemie Emery:

    They had a dream. For almost a hundred years now, the famed academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex has dreamed of a government run by their kind of people (i.e., nature’s noblemen), whose intelligence, wit, and refined sensibilities would bring us a heaven on earth. Their keen intellects would cut through the clutter as mere mortals’ couldn’t. They would lift up the wretched, oppressed by cruel forces. Above all, they would counter the greed of the merchants, the limited views of the business community, and the ignorance of the conformist and dim middle class…Their stock in trade was their belief in themselves, and their contempt for the way the middle class thought, lived, and made and spent money: Commerce was crude, consumption was vulgar, and industry, which employed millions and improved the lives of many more people, too gross and/or grubby for words.

    These attitudes, Emery notes, explain the passionate attraction that so many academics and journalists felt toward Barack Obama:

    Best of all, he was the person whom the two branches of the liberal kingdom—the academics and journalists—wanted to be, a man who shared their sensibilities and their views of the good and the beautiful. This was the chance of a lifetime to shape the world to their measure. He and they were the ones they were waiting for, and with him, they longed for transcendent achievements. But in the event they were undone by the three things (Fred) Siegel had pegged as their signature weaknesses: They had too much belief in the brilliance of experts, they were completely dismissive of public opinion, and they had a contempt for the great middle class.

    Much of the “expertise” asserted by people in the academic-artistic-and-punditry complex is entirely imaginary, as far as the organization and management of social institutions goes.  L&G cites one of my old posts at Photon Courier:

    In university humanities departments, theory is increasingly dominant–not theory in the traditional scholarly and scientific sense of a tentative conceptual model, always subject to revision, but theory in the sense of an almost religious doctrine, accepted on the basis of assertion and authority. To quote Professor “X” once again: “Graduate “education” in a humanities discipline like English seems to be primarily about indoctrination and self-replication.”… 

    Becoming an alcolyte of some all-encompassing theory can spare you from the effort of learning about anything else. For example: if everything is about (for example) power relationships–all literature, all history, all science, even all mathematics–you don’t need to actually learn much about medieval poetry, or about the Second Law of thermodynamics, or about isolationism in the 1930s. You can look smugly down on those poor drudges who do study such things, while enjoying “that intellectual sweep of comprehension known only to adolescents, psychopaths and college professors” (the phrase is from Andrew Klavan’s unusual novel True Crime.)

    See also L&G’s post How We Live Now: The Rule of Inept Experts.

    I  believe that the overemphasis on educational credentials has played a major part in shifting the power balance between Line and Staff in organizations of all types…here, I am using “Line” to refer to people who have decision-making authority and responsibility, and corresponding accountability for outcomes, while “Staff” refers to people who analyze, study, and advise, but are not themselves decision-makers.  It was once pretty well understood that one should not take a person whose entire experience is in Staff positions (however exalted) and put him in a high-level Line position, where the consequences of failure will be very serious, without first having him gain experience and prove his performance in lower-level Line positions where the consequences of failure will be less-devastating to the entire organization.  This seems to be much less well-understood today, the ultimate example of course being the career path of Barack Obama.

    Fred Siegel, mentioned in Noemie Emery’s article, is the author of the very interesting book The Revolt Against the Masses, which is on my (long) list of books that need reviewing.

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Book Notes, Business, Civil Society, Management, Media, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 17 Comments »

    “Government Employee” is Not a Synonym for “Saint”

    Posted by David Foster on 4th June 2014 (All posts by )

    A good piece by Glenn Reynolds at USA Today: Greedy Socialism.

    The reality, of course, is that government employees, be they cabinet officials or low-level clerks, are motivated by the same kinds of desires that motivate people in other walks of life: money, security, power over others, creativity, status, ego-feeding and public adulation, in addition to the satisfactions of doing good work and providing value to others…with the individuals weights of these factors of course varying from person to person. The principal-agent problem does not disappear just because the agent works for the government.

    I particularly like this passage from Glenn’s article:

    The absence of a bottom line doesn’t reduce greed and self-dealing — it removes a constraint on greed and self-dealing. And when that happens, ordinary people pay the price. Keep that in mind, when people suggest that free-market systems are somehow morally inferior to socialism.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Leftism, Political Philosophy | 2 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 8th May 2014 (All posts by )

    David Horowitz, Why Republicans Need the Tea Party:

    So how do we fight fire with fire? How do we go from a party that is eager to explain to Democrats why their policies won’t work but reluctant to call them out for who they are, to a party that will go toe-to-toe and hammer-and-tongs with them and defeat their politics of personal and political destruction? Another way to put this is: How do we develop a political weapon that matches and neutralizes theirs, in particular the claim that we are waging a war against women, minorities, and the poor?
     
    Actually, it’s not that difficult if you are willing to be aggressive, if you are willing to match their rhetoric and be called extremist for doing so. Every inner city in America of size is run by Democrats and has been for 50 to 100 years. Detroit is a good example. It is 85 percent black. Fifty years ago it was per capita the richest city in America, the industrial jewel of an industrial superpower. Fifty years ago Democrats came to power in Detroit and began implementing their plans for social justice.
     
    Fifty years of progressive policies and Democratic rule has bankrupted Detroit, and ruined it. A third of its population is on welfare. Half its population is unemployed. Its per-capita income has plummeted so far that it is now the poorest large city in America. It has been depopulated. More than half the people who lived there are gone. Everyone has fled who can. It is a giant slum of human misery and despair. And Democrats did it. Democrats are Detroit’s slumlords and the authors of the racist policies that have reduced a once great city to its present squalid state. Democrats are cynical liars and rank hypocrites when they claim to be interested in the well-being of minorities and the poor, whose necks bear the marks of their boot heels.
     
    Fighting fire with fire means throwing the Democrats’ atrocities — their exploitation and devastation of black and brown Americans — in their faces every time they open their mouths. It means accusing them of destroying the lives of millions of poor black and Hispanic children who are trapped in the public schools that don’t educate them — schools the Democrats run as jobs programs for adults and slush funds for their political campaigns. It means taking up the cause of the victims and indicting progressives for their crimes. The one thing it does not mean is business as usual.

    Posted in Conservatism, Elections, Leftism, Obama, Political Philosophy, Politics, Tea Party | 13 Comments »

    Never Again

    Posted by Jonathan on 28th April 2014 (All posts by )

    Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

    For background on the above link, see here (via The Optimistic Conservative).

    Posted in Europe, History, Israel, Judaism, Leftism, Military Affairs, Political Philosophy, War and Peace | 1 Comment »

    Income inequality: Social justice or crony capitalism?

    Posted by Kevin Villani on 26th April 2014 (All posts by )

    The political movement Occupy Wall Street has shaped the tax and spending proposals of the Obama administration’s budget and political debate on the premise that our capitalist economic system is rigged to favor the top-earning “one percenters.” But income inequality can result either from capitalism or politics, each for better or worse.

    Historically, political elites focused on enriching themselves at the expense of the general public: In 1773 patriots threw the tea into Boston Harbor of the East India Tea Company, granted a “royal charter” in 1600. The U.S. system was founded not just on the principles of democracy but on limited government complementing private market capitalism that encouraged individuals to “pursue happiness” — accumulate wealth — on merit rather than political connections. Support for the less fortunate was provided by family members, religious and other charitable organizations.

    Believing (wrongly) that class envy against the new economic elites — innovative entrepreneurs — would cause revolution, Karl Marx offered the socialist alternative “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” with politics supplanting merit. Despite totalitarian methods universally employed by governments seriously pursuing the socialist model leading to the murder of tens of millions, one historian recently concluded that communism reduced workers “to shiftless, work-shy alcoholics.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Crony Capitalism, Economics & Finance, History, Political Philosophy, Public Finance, Taxes | 15 Comments »

    The Old Shell Game

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd April 2014 (All posts by )

    Saw a bumper sticker today that said, “I’m a member of the 99%, and I vote.”

    …intended to imply, surely, that members of the 99% (based on income) have common economic interests on which they should be voting together.

    But a professor of environmental studies, on the one hand, and a welder working in the oil/gas industry, on the other, do not have common economic interests, even if their incomes are exactly the same. Quite the opposite..the professor is likely to profit from a more restrictive approach to energy infrastructure, whereas the welder is likely to suffer economically from those same policies.

    An inner-city couple concerned with getting their kids a good education does not have common interests with the local head of a teachers’ union striving to maintain antediluvian policies and consequent low standards, even if they are in the same income bracket.

    The game the Democrats and their media sycophants are playing is this: to try to focus public attention on generalized income-based class conflict in order to divert attention from the preferential treatment given by government to certain groups at the expense of others.  The hope is that if sufficient anger can be generated and directed at “the rich,” people will be less likely to reject those politicians who want to cripple America’s energy infrastructure, leave the public schools to continue their multigenerational wrecking program, etc etc.

    Posted in Education, Environment, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 10 Comments »