Xi and Me

It turns out that Xi Jinping and I have something in common: we are both fans of Goethe’s Faust. Indeed, Xi is said to even know the work by heart.

I wonder what aspects of Faust have been particularly meaningful to Xi, both personally and as relates to his current job as Dictator.  Here’s the passage that immediately came to my mind on learning of Xi’s Faust-affinity…

As a reward for services rendered, the Emperor grants Faust a narrow strip of land on the edge of the sea, which Faust intends to turn into a new and enlightened society by reclaiming land from the sea…along the lines of the way that Holland was created, but in a much more intensive manner. Faust’s land-reclamation project goes forward on a very large scale, and is strictly organized on what we would now call Taylorist principles:

Up, workmen, man for man, arise anew!
Let blithely savor what I boldly drew
Seize spade and shovel, each take up his tool!
Fulfill at once what was marked off by rule
Attendance prompt to orders wise
Achieves the most alluring prize
To bring to fruit the most exalted plans
One mind is ample for a thousand hands

Faust’s great plan, though, is spoiled (as he sees it) by an old couple, Philemon and Baucis, who have lived there from time out of mind. “They have a little cottage on the dunes, a chapel with a little bell, a garden full of linden trees. They offer aid and hospitality to shipwrecked sailors and wanderers. Over the years they have become beloved as the one source of life and joy in this wretched land.”

And they will not sell their property, no matter what they are offered. This infuriates Faust…maybe there are practical reasons why he needs this tiny piece of land, but more likely, he simply cannot stand having the development take shape in any form other than precisely the one he has envisaged. Critic Marshall Berman suggests that there is another reason why Faust so badly wants Philemon and Baucis gone: “a collective, impersonal drive that seems to be endemic to modernization: the drive to create a homogeneous environment, a totally modernized space, in which the look and feel of the old world have disappeared without a trace…”

Faust directs Mephisto to solve the problem of the old couple, which task Mephisto assigns to the Three Mighty Men… who resolve the issue by the simple expedient of murdering the pair and burning down their house.

Faust is horrified, or at least says that he is:

So you have turned deaf ears to me
I meant exchange, not robbery
This thoughtless, violent affair
My curse on it, for you to share!

To which the Chorus replies:

That ancient truth we will recite
Give way to force, for might is right
And would you boldly offer strife?
The risk your house, estate–and life.

Xi seems resolved to ensure that the ancient pattern recited by the Chorus will be the one that rules in China.  And there are plenty of influential people in America who reject progress we made in evolving beyond this ancient and brutal pattern..by building a wall consisting of free speech, due process of law, separation of powers, and a written constitution, and fighting to defend that wall.  Such people evidently want to demolish the wall and let the ancient pattern be firmly emplaced here as well…apparently under the assumption that they will be the ones who ultimately direct the Mighty Men.

See Claudia Rosett’s related post: Xi Jinping’s Tianamen Vision is Coming for Us All.

My review of Faust is here.

The America Political Chernobyl

The meltdown wasn’t caused by engineers but by the Soviet political system’s dogma.

 

Nothing enrages my family, friends and colleagues more than when I assert that contemporary US political divisions are the same as those since the beginning of recorded history: ideology, race, and religion, rather than (easily ignored) Trump tweets (or the political spin thereof). So I will proffer that his tweets were divisive in that they challenged Progressive Democratic beliefs regarding these factors, but neither should be accepted on faith if America is to avoid an economic meltdown.

 

Empires and State Religions

The Soviet System’s accomplishments from Stalin’s time – industrialization and WW II, urbanization, restoration and expansion of Imperial Russia, etc., and the space achievements under Khrushchev were so impressive that American intellectuals generally agreed with Khrushchev’s “we will bury you” right up to Chernobyl in 1986. The plant failed because the Soviet system of top-down authority and suppression of the truth forced operators to ignore the inevitable failure and instead follow orders that guaranteed a meltdown.

 

Gorbachev’s glasnost” (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in response to the disaster removed the pillars of the Soviet system – adherence to beliefs given the status of religious dogma – causing it to collapse, something  Austrian economists had considered inevitable. Russia restored the Orthodox Church, but without any historical political legacy based on individual sovereignty, it morphed into a kleptocratic autocracy and a return to Russian Imperialism and military aggression.

 

Whether or not China discovered America in 1421 (or had a greater Empire than the Incas) it was a mercantilist empire several centuries ahead of the British in scope, science and technology, requiring “tribute” (kowtow) in return for protection and trade. Religion wasn’t an obstacle to entrepreneurial capitalism until Mao replaced de fact religious freedom with communist ideology in the early 20th century. China’s economic liberalization begun in 1978, that eventually led to a flowering of entrepreneurship in China’s attempt to restore and expand its earlier mercantilist empire, was accompanied by some religious freedom. Had political liberalizations followed, China’s demographics – a population four and a half times that of the US – might have already buried us.

 

Churchill may not have saved the British empire in the world wars, but the Empire saved his little island nation. At its 1920 peak it controlled about a quarter of the world’s land mass and population. Britain is a protestant Christian nation, which most analysts conclude fosters property rights and capitalism. The Church of England seceded from the Roman Catholic Church to eliminate the sovereignty of the Pope common to European empires at the time. The British legacy of democratic government and individual freedom and responsibility, the cornerstone of a market economy (admittedly at times too crony and mercantilist) is the source of its economic success and that of its former colonies, including the United States.

 

Uniting church and state elevates political ideology to infallible dogma accepted on faith. The U.S. Founding Fathers, following Britain’s lead, founded a Christian nation that guaranteed individual freedom of religion but forbade the formal establishment of a state religion.

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Four Views of Government

1–If the king did not, without tiring, inflict punishment on those worthy to be punished, the stronger would roast the weaker, like fish on a spit.

–the laws of Manu, 1500 BC

2–Government is not reason, it is not eloquence,—it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant, and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.

–Often attributed to George Washington, although there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that he actually ever said it.

3–The speaker at a meeting, Grant, asks: “What is the prime knowledge acquired by our race? That without the rest is useless? What flame must we guard like vestal virgins?”

Members of the group give various answers: fire, writing, the decimal system, the wheel.

“No,” says Grant, “none of those. They are all important, but they are not the keystone. The greatest invention of mankind is government. It is also the hardest of all. More individualistic than cats, nevertheless we have learned to cooperate more efficiently than ants or bees or termites. Wilder, bloodier, and more deadly than sharks, we have learned to live together as peacefully as lambs. But these things are not easy..”

–from Robert Heinlein’s novel Tunnel in the Sky, in which a group of high school kids are stranded on a planet galaxies away, and have come to accept the idea that they are probably never going to be rescued. After a period of choosing their leader by acclamation, they have now decided to hold a formal election for that purpose.

4–Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.

–Congressman Barney Frank, also Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, and (in somewhat different form) Barack Obama.

My Assertion: The first three quotes all have elements of truth and provide useful perspectives on the problem of government; the fourth one has no such redeeming value.

(I’ve been thinking about a post along these lines for a while, finally motivated to do it by a discussion at Sarah Hoyt’s blog.)

Your thoughts?

 

 

America’s Civil War 2.0: It’s Deja Vu All Over Again

 It’s official: The Biden “return to normalcy” is more divisive than Trump’s tweets. America is now arguably more polarized than any time since the Civil War because of wide and deep disagreements over all three of the major sources of civil strife: ideology, race and religion. A large minority, more than prior to the Civil War, believe this will result in bloodshed. Tribal conflicts have been the order of the day since the beginning of recorded civilization. The development of nation states in Europe during the second half of the last millennium sometimes suppressed, other times magnified such strife.

Democratic politicians caused the first race war and are on the cusp of starting the second to overturn the existing political order of limited government, minority protection and opportunity based on individual merit that for over a century has defined America’s Exceptionalism and been a deterrent to the growth of their progressive administrative state.

The Cause of America’s First Civil War: A Disease of the Public Mind

The US has generally succeeded in uniting diverse populations because its Founding Documents protect individual rights regardless of race or religion, and the minority from majoritarian control. The majority of the original 13 colonies in the US were founded on the principles of religious freedom for various Christian sects. (By 2050 the number of Muslims is projected to double to about 8 million, a potentially politically divisive issue only if they reject America’s Founding principles and laws.) The US has assimilated virtually all races.

But it took a bloody Civil War to initiate the extension of Constitutional rights to slaves and their descendants. Battlefield deaths were at least one hundred times greater in America’s Civil War than the 7000 battlefield deaths in the Revolutionary War. Initially inclined to accept secession as the South’s Constitution emulated the libertarian US constitution but for the exclusion of slaves, the Northern Republicans formed a constitutionally dubious “nationalist” campaign to “save the union.” General Sherman’s “Total War” to impress and terrorize the civilian population with the moral superiority of the North created enmities that persist to the present. Both Northern policies set a precedent for subsequent inter and intra national wars around the globe.

Why did it take a Civil War? Less than 4% of slaves imported to the Americas ended up in what became the United States, the only country that fought a war (losing about 10% of its population) to end the practice. The War wasn’t fought over the issue of the abolition: only about 5% of Northerners were abolitionists, the same as in the South. Although most people North and South now recognized slavery as morally wrong, disagreements arose over the viability of various exit strategies (Lincoln’s plan to return slaves to African Liberia would have resulted in much higher mortality than slavery. Parenthetically, mortality rates were lower in the South than in African generally, much lower than in South America, and lower than for Northern slaves.) More free blacks owned slaves (7.5%) than did Southern whites (6%). Historian Thomas Fleming concluded that a Disease of the Public Mind, deep hatred caused by Southern Democratic segregationist politicians’ steadfast refusal to negotiate a future extension of rights to what they claimed were “racially inferior” African Americans made war inevitable.

What do Democrats Mean Today by “Our Democracy”?

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“Believing Untrue Things”

AVI:

Believing Untrue Things

More Motives on Untrue Things

Summary: People believe in the truth of ideas that don’t withstand even casual empirical scrutiny, e.g., that American police kill more black people than white people every year. Why do so many of us believe in and even defend vehemently the validity of bogus ideas when contrary evidence is easily found?

You can find many examples of this kind of thing in Amazon reviews of controversial books such as Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean:

5-Star Reviews

1-Star Reviews

The respective authors of the five-star and one-star reviews appear to inhabit separate factual universes. In one universe James Buchanan was a distinguished laissez-faire economist and originator of public-choice theory. In the other universe Buchanan, the Koch brothers and other prominent libertarians were members of a racist conspiracy. How can people on one side of a controversy remain ignorant about the other side’s arguments and even basic facts?

AVI suggests possible explanations that are worth reading, as always. I think the main problem is the poor quality of our primary and secondary educational systems, particularly in the teaching of history, math and basic statistics. Another big problem is the ignorance of journalists who were educated in our lousy schools, and modern journalism’s clickbait business model that incentivizes the promotion of controversy and conflict even more than was the case back in Front Page days.

Discuss.

“You Play with My World Like it’s Your Little Toy”

Watching a series of European bureaucrats…pompous, arrogant, and extremely unattractive European bureaucrats…asserting the need for a global ‘great reset’, I was reminded of the above line from Bob Dylan’s song.

In America, too, of course, we have politicians and bureaucrats demanding a Great Reset.  And Dylan’s song, of course, was directed at armaments manufacturers, not at world-resetting politicians and their operatives. Nevertheless, I think the phrase captures well the arrogance of those who believe they have the knowledge, insight, and authority to reorganize the lives of everyone on the planet.  And in their view of things, there isn’t any ‘my world’ for the individual; there is no sphere of individual autonomy and agency which is not to be made available for their interference.  It’s all their world.

In 1931, a book titled The Conscription of a People was published by Katherine, Duchess of Atholl.  It was “a blistering, well-documented indictment of the savage collectivization of life in the Soviet Union.”

The title of the book provides a perfect description of the worldview of the Resetters.  The entire population is to be drafted into an army, assigned to whatever battles and tasks their rulers..far beyond their ability to influence..think most fitting.

 

An Amateur Observer Sums Up

Pundits describe a fractured Republican party: the cult of Trump versus policy conservatives. This narrative compounds wishful thinking with ignorance of life outside the beltway, but has some truth. Trump, some say, is considering nurturing a third party.

The Republican establishment thinks they are more Republican than the Trumpists and have decades of battle scars to prove it. But they need him – whether he runs again or campaigns for others or is a strong voice. But for him the structural support of a party with a century and a half’s institutional memory can be helpful; most voted consistently with him. When Biden swears in 1000 appointees before his first full day in office, I worry that any Republican splits weaken a future Republican president’s hand. It is true that some of Trump’s best bets were ones the establishment would never have considered, but it is also true minor posts took a long time to fill.

The Trumpists need to accept that all of the people pulling back are not the sorry excuses for Republicans of the Lincoln Project, though they may not want to share a foxhole with them. Trump could have handled the last two months better and in not doing so, he irritated some, like McConnell, left to pick up the pieces. McConnell may be a Rino but he got those appointments through because he knew what he was doing. However, the establishment needs to remember, Trump nominated and backed them, their strengths came from their abilities rather than political resumes.

The establishment needs to be honest with itself. For decades the party promised and didn’t deliver, risks weren’t taken. They must acknowledge where Trump’s strength lay – at least in terms of the people I read, the people I know. It was policies. His actions – and boy did he act – in a Republican tradition. A good many people first voted for Trump as the better of two bad choices and came to see him as a transformative president. Some that hadn’t in 2016 said they’d crawl over broken glass to vote for him in 2020. Sure, some found him offensive, some had buyer’s remorse. He engendered turmoil and tension, though often in response to the wolves that circled him. (A baying that hasn’t stilled as he leaves the White House.) A resonant fact, however, is that many more voted for him in 2020 than in 2016. And the reason for most was, I suspect, what he’d done. Whether or why he lost, with 74 million votes he’s a force.

He was volatile and transparent. He wounded and was wounded. We winced at ad hominem attacks on his staff. He entertained. We were used to laconic heroes, but here was a man of action but also of emotional responses. But the four years – how and what he accomplished, the assumptions that made of his tenure a coherent whole – embodied instincts true to human nature and its potential. And that whole was conservative, American conservative.

He seemed to possess endless energy to push back while striding forward, he persevered. And his focus was on what counted: internationally, improving the United States’ ability to respond quickly and forcefully, to expand its frontiers; domestically, reducing the government’s (especially the national government’s) impositions and cleansing the unAmerican doctrines of tribalism parading as political correctness. In doing so, he implicitly respected his constituents. Are these not what they wanted, had wanted?

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Amazon and Me

I have to confess to a lot of dissonance with the current conduct of Amazon.com – being that I have a huuuuge number of books up there on Amazon, buy an equally huuge number of books from them, and as an indy author among many, went into enthusiastically providing content for their launch of the Kindle e-reader early on. The Kindle was seen (correctly, in my humble opinion) as a means to economically route around the whole indigestible bolus of providing print copies of books to interested readers through traditional publishing, a means which involved discounts to a distributor, print costs, shipping costs, storage costs, return discounts and return charges … it cut out that whole cycle of shipping and accounting for concrete (in the metaphorical sense, not the literal) copies of printed books, in favor of … wheee! Text files downloaded to a reader device! Instanter! No shipping or warehouse fees, no dependency on the eccentric whims or availability of a local bookstore! No return fees, for possibly and eventually a sullen little trickle of royalties three or four months after the original sale! Freedom! Our books, straight to the reader! I did a talk early on, to a book club in a small town in South Texas, where there was nothing much for 170 miles in any direction for any but perhaps small religious bookstores, now that drug stores and the like no longer even have the wire racks of paperbacks stocked by small distributers the way that they used to do. I think that most of the readers at that event bought the Adelsverein Trilogy on their Kindles – all that they needed to do was order the book, go outside (remember, this is at least a decade ago) and bam! They had their book! Was the 21st century great, or what?!!

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Smashing the State

There won’t be any surprises in this one for anyone who knows me at all well, but I’ll try to at least make it entertaining.

My very first lasting memory of a news event with political content took place on the afternoon of Sunday 21 January 1968. A B-52 with four hydrogen bombs aboard took off from Thule AFB and crashed somewhere in the Arctic, location unknown.
Ten days later, the Tet Offensive began.
Nine weeks and one day after that, Dr King was assassinated.
Nine weeks less one day after that, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.
Twelve weeks to the day after that, I first saw real human blood shed live on television via cameras above the intersection of Michigan and Balbo as the Chicago police attacked demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention.

I was eight years old.

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Quote of the Day

J. E. Dyer:

This is a profound crisis for America. In my view, it has reached the level of the question of slavery, which was too big an issue to be settled by conventional expectations for courts of law and social and political transactions.
 
In 1861, there were many Americans, as there are many today, who didn’t see the question as being that much beyond the scope of ordinary remedy.
 
But it was. For what it’s worth, I don’t foresee an armed battle erupting over the 2020 election, per se. That’s partly because there’s no obvious way to organize one. Unlike the situation of the Civil War, there’s no territorial division to make options plain.
 
But the spiritual divide between Americans who don’t perceive a crisis (or whose intention is to provoke one and benefit from it), and Americans who do perceive one, could not be deeper. Either there must be a fight, to authenticate the 2020 vote and ensure that it produces a new president only if it was really honest and fraud-free, or there need not be a fight, but only a formulaic consultation which cannot possibly establish the meaningful absence of fraud.
 
If the choice is supposed to be the latter, voting is meaningless anyway, and no one is under moral compulsion to agree to be governed by its “outcomes.”

Worth reading in full.

Apropos of nothing, really: The Browder Boys

Jay Nordlinger’s National Review article has stuck in my mind – an interesting family history of curious (in both senses) people and how complicated man and his loves and choices are. I know nothing about math and little about American communists, who seemed (and seem) to me quite foreign.

But the Browders were broad in their abilities: perhaps the effect on of Russia and America, communism and western values, might draw observations, especially if readers are more familiar than I with their lives. Bill Browder “goes around the world campaigning for “Magnitsky acts” — laws in honor of the murdered lawyer” who had represented him, battling Putin who was behind Magnitsky’s persecution and death. His grandfather is probably not a familiar name today, but he represented the Communist Party in America for decades and was famous for what we may (I’m sure my parents who were more his contemporaries would) see as absurd, the concise argument: “Communism is 20th-century Americanism.” The generation between – three sons – were remarkable American mathematicians.

The complexity of human nature? What we learn from our parents and what we believe and how we rebel? How remarkable talents are handed down and how some families are able to cultivate those talents? How math can deliver real answers and politics become fuzzy as consequences, empirical evidence, is ignored? Oh, well, at least this may entertain as we await Tuesday’s verdict on our culture – perhaps a temporary one but important nonetheless.

The Politicization of Yelp

I noted recently the steps of twentieth century nations toward the abyss of totalitarianism; these were summed up in a Firing Line conversation with Richard Pipes.

First, clear the stage for a one party state, then give omnipotent power within the state to the political police, and finally enforce that power with deadly terror and “re-education” camps.

The last decades revealed the United States is not immune to the use of “political police” when the swamp – bureaucracy, media – is aligned with the executive, breeding a “one party state” (whether of city, state or country): governmental oppression of Tea Party and religious groups – using the great power of the IRS as well as EPA, OSHA, etc. – or arresting a hapless filmmaker after Benghazi, etc. Power changed, and the Russia hoax demonstrated swamp power alone could baffle and thwart executive and legislative power, leaving them at the mercy of institutions they theoretically led and funded.

Then, in the petri dish of covid isolation and a presidential election summer, “woke” power grew. A friend e-mailed Yelp’s classification punishment for establishments bucking Portland’s politics. The service seemed useful if easily weighted, but some anarchists perceptively saw its potential as a map to bring the unwoke into line through violence. Clearly Rioters Trash Portland. . . But Black Owner Just Got the Last Word was the logical consequence. Of course, Yelp, as many grander and prouder institutions before it, lost credibility – but that was intended. Only the party, eventually, remains. Still, real men, real Americans, lead:

But Jackson will have the last word. Not only are people of good will planning to eat at his restaurant as never before, but he told Fox News that the attack “solidified my Trump vote. I’m done with this weakness and we need some real strong leadership.”

However the next paragraph is also telling; men like Jackson are fewer as the models and narratives that give us courage are destroyed as well:

Day of Ragers also targeted the Oregon Historical Society, bashing windows and ripping out several historical items, leaving them trashed on the street.

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Contracts Breeched: Freedom Cancelled

A previous post mentioned trust and the responsibilities of government to keep up their share of their contract to provide safety and the kind of order property rights demand. Such trust comes easily when our respect is internalized. Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards both spoke of teaching the young “virtuous habits”. In the America in which I grew up that kind of respect was internalized – and not just in towns of 500 in the Great Plains – Thomas Sowell talks of his boyhood in Harlem with such affection. This too, is critical of the broken contract of so many politicians with their citizens surrounded by the rubble of riots.

In Property and Freedom, Richard Pipes examines “property” in terms of land, but also money and goods; what is “proper to man” – including his inalienable rights. I’ve found his journey to follow the historical development of different societies’ definitions of property and man’s relation to it interesting.

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“Follow the Science” on the Corona Virus Pandemic

The Lincoln – Douglas Debate Rematch

As House speaker Nancy Pelosi publically alleged, the Republicans are “domestic enemies of the (deep) state.”

The central campaign issue of the 2020 U.S. Presidential election has been the response to the Corona Virus pandemic, which roughly follows along party lines. Based on the administrative state’s scientific “consensus” Democratic politicians generally argued for a nationwide lockdown of most “non-critical” economic activity as a civic responsibility of all citizens, enforced by state police powers. Republican politicians generally question the “consensus,” reject a one size fits all statist solution, and (mildly) complain about the violation of constitutionally protected individual rights.

In the 1858 Lincoln Douglas debates, Douglas, the incumbent Democratic Senator and Committee Chairman who had extended slavery into Kansas and Nebraska based on majoritarian democracy, i.e., the majority of white male voters, believed in the scientific theory that slaves were inferior and hence property. Lincoln argued that slaves had the same inalienable individual rights as all Americans that “government of, by and for the people” could not take away.

Douglas maintained his incumbency, but a few years later Lincoln became POTUS and in defense of his principles engaged in a Civil War that sacrificed a tenth of his population and devastated the country. The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments protecting former slaves were passed before Southern Democrats rejoined the Union, further enhanced by the Civil Rights Acts of the early 1960s proposed by a Democratic President but passed only with large Republican support. While the demographics have since shifted dramatically – the Democratic Party is now 40% people of color – the philosophical divide remains unchanged. Contemporary Democrats still argue the state is sovereign, subject to a majority coalition, but governed by an administrative state.

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Saving American Democracy for the Zombie Apocalypse

Within weeks of the 2016 presidential election, the New York Times launched the campaign against President Elect Donald Trump as a racist autocratic Threat to Democracy, followed by the main stream media. Democratic candidate Joe Biden presented a ho hum globalist foreign policy as redressing President Trump’s threat to foreign democracies, conflated with his anti-capitalist domestic policy.

What does “Democracy” Mean to the Democratic Party?

European populations attracted to communism after the devastation of WW II were encouraged, sometimes with the subtle help of America’s CIA, to choose “social democracy,” i.e., a democratically elected central government that provided a welfare state financed by a market economy, over Soviet communism. America adopted social democracy in the 1960’s not out of desperation but capitalist material abundance.

Today after almost six decades of Great Society welfare over three quarters of all democrats are now “democratic socialists, i.e., they prefer socialism to market capitalism. The young party leaders demand “racial and social justice,” a political Jacobin revolution. Democratic officials have actively supported the demonstrators and rioters in the streets celebrating the Meltdown of Capitalism orchestrated by the Marxist Black Lives Matter and ANTIFA groups demanding a majoritarian “peoples’ democracy” like that of prior communist totalitarian regimes.

How Progressive Democrats Became Zombies

Since the takeover of Cornell University and others at gunpoint, most universities implemented black studied programs that indoctrinated the Charlottesville premise that America was born to slavery and American racist oppression never ended, causing the current income and wealth gap with whites. Thomas Sowell, one of the greatest economists of the past 60 years, who is black and was present at Cornell at the time, has a lifetime of scholarship exposing the fallacy of this premise.

The “Cold War” against Soviet communism lasted from 1945 to 1990. The Communist Party was outlawed in the United States in 1954 with progressive political support out of fear that voters could be too easily seduced by the meretricious promises of socialism – where income equality is achieved by impoverishing all but its leaders – without understanding the inherent totalitarianism that led to communist atrocities under Stalin and Mao, murders and deaths measured in the tens and hundreds of millions. The claim by democratic socialists of western democratic countries with a socialist economy, e.g., Sweden, is a myth. 

A century of progressive mis-education explains the zombies’ attack on capitalism. Primary education peddles soft socialism while universities are populated by “effete intellectual snobs,” the label given by VP Spiro Agnew to “national masochists” i.e., intellectuals who would bring national ruin, written a half century ago by the New York Times writer William Safire. American historians have generally been biased against market capitalism. The term “Robber Baron, first used by the New York Times in 1859 to describe Cornelius Vanderbilt, was popularized during the Depression by a disciple of socialist/progressive writer Charles Beard. America’s dark history has been made hopeless to many millenials through the lens of socialist sympathizer Howard Zinn and racist through the lens of the New York Times 2019 revisionist 1619 Project, with the Democratic Party re-writing its’ own racist past. Economists have been the most easily seduced by the attraction of state power, finding “market failures” at both the macro and micro level to justify their intervention. The Austrian economists Schumpeter and Hayek recognized socialism’s masochistic appeal to “intellectuals” who felt that they could run the world better than those chosen to do so.

After the Zombie Apocalypse: the Pigs Rule

Accusations of autocratic behavior by Trump are mostly in response to micro-aggressions of politically incorrect tweets and comments. Coups that overthrow representative democracy from the right generally start with the armed military taking over the media, the bureaucracy, the universities, the unions and all the other sources of political power. The idea that President Donald Trump could direct any of those sources of political power is ridiculous: the deep state has been trying to take him down since he took office. (If the accusations against his AG had any merit, the Democrats would have conducted a real hearing instead of a five hour show trial – a bit long by Stalin’s standards).

Democrats on the other hand are the Party of the deep state. It has been cultivating those sources of political power for a century, and now controls them with the “carrot and stick” method that was so successful for Mexico’s one party PRI for almost a century, suppressing free speech. It’s only a small additional step from social democrat to one-party democratic socialism.

Winning this election (fairly or not) provides the Democratic Party the opportunity for one party rule if their agenda faces any serious opposition. They have already discussed many tools at their disposal, e.g., eliminating the Electoral College, further lowering the voting age to 16, packing the Supreme Court (again), mail in ballots, etc. But Barack Obama’s demand at John Lewis’s recent funeral to end the filibuster and announce four new (almost assuredly democratic) senators from the new states of Puerto Rico and the District of “Columbia” (to be renamed of course) in the name of racial and social justice would likely be more than sufficient, maybe even just the threat.

What Good is the U.S. Constitution?

The founding fathers didn’t anticipate political parties, so it isn’t an obstacle to one-party rule. Franklin’s Republic of limited powers was replaced by an all-powerful administrative state rather like Hemingway’s character went bankrupt: “gradually, then suddenly.”

The first necessary condition was to amend the constitution. The end of the Civil War enabled the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments extending voting rights to blacks. The 16th Amendments in 1909 enabling a federal income tax and the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1912 provided the funding for President Woodrow Wilson’s entry into the European war and “make the world safe for democracy” the rationale. The direct election of Senators in the 17th Amendment of 1912 limited potential state opposition. All these changes shifted power to the federal government.

Second, the specific enumerated powers of the Constitution have been mooted through Supreme Court political nominations, legal manipulation and intimidation producing “creative” decisions subsequently protected by a convenient legal doctrine of stare desisis, i.e., protection of past progressive Court victories that enable meretricious populist promises. Supreme Court resistance to the New Deal withered in the wake of FDR’s failed attempt to pack the Supreme Court. The subsequent Great Society of the 1960’s, also designed by socialists and implemented by FDR’s protégé President LBJ, substituted federal government funding and decision making not only for states and localities, but for most of civic society and eventually the family.

Four quotes from H.L. Menken of about a century ago sum it up:

  1. Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
  2. Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses.
  3. Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.
  4. Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Kevin Villani

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Kevin Villani was chief economist at Freddie Mac from 1982 to 1985. He has held senior government positions, has been affiliated with nine universities, and served as CFO and director of several companies. He recently published Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue on how politicians and bureaucrats with no skin in the game caused the sub-prime lending bubble and systemic financial system failure.

Quote of the Day

Helen Pluckrose, quoted in Spiked:

Despite what the backing of prominent institutions might imply, I think these woke causes are supported by only a minority of people. It is not so uncommon for society to work this way. Look at theocracies, where perhaps only five per cent of people are theologians who teach the core values, but they are accepted by wider society as a benchmark for showing goodness and virtue. People either accept it without really understanding it, or just refrain from arguing with it. There are definitely parallels between that scenario and society today.

Nowadays non-leftists hesitate to express non-leftist views publicly, either from fear of retaliation or because they don’t think it’s worth the hassle. Leftists probably feel the same way. However, the situation is asymmetrical because so many prominent institutions and big businesses are controlled by leftists or by people who are afraid not to make at least a show of fealty to leftist ideas.

How Much Do Black Lives Matter?

Ask Mr. Jones

Mr. Jones – the title of a movie released last year now playing on Amazon Prime – discovers that the New York Times’ Moscow Bureau and its Pulitzer writer Walter Duranty is covering up Stalin’s starvation of 4 million Ukrainians (16 million relative to today’s global population) to protect the gloss of socialism, later explaining “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs”. All the other journalists except Jones apparently go along for the same reason. The death toll of socialist ideology would reach 100 million (300 today) during the next several decades in the pursuit of Utopia. There were no omelets.

Only a few thousand (almost all black) deaths have as yet resulted from prior Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement protests, but this is only the beginning. The question is, what is their leaders’ version of Utopia and how many lives are they willing to sacrifice to achieve it?

Socialism, Fascism and Crony Capitalism are Sisters

Over the past several centuries two systems of political economy, socialism and capitalism, have competed. The distinguishing characteristic of all socialist variants is the authoritarian hand of politicians, whether or not “elected.” The distinguishing characteristic of capitalism is the invisible hand guiding the competitive market. Neither system promises “equal” outcomes: capitalism “fair” outcomes based on individual merit without eyesight to discriminate by color or sex, socialism in theory based on need as determined by politicians and bureaucrats.

Jonah Goldberg in Liberal Fascism (2008) argues that fascism is a sister to Soviet socialism. What the U.S. has called “crony capitalism” has different features than the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini, but includes authoritarian control over business and markets. Similarly, the welfare state democratic socialism has different features than Soviet socialism, but shares state control over income. The Progressive Movement in the U.S. has historically used the authoritarian political hand to benefit not just the rent-seeking cronies at the top (politicians, the intellectual elite, etc.) but also the working and under-class. The competitive market system that remained somewhat out of the state’s reach produced most of the income and wealth that funded this progressive largesse.

What is Racial and Social Justice?

Political power – in the hands of the Democratic Party – was indisputably the source of racist oppression from its founding through the Great Society. The black/white wage gap has remained unchanged since for those employed. What has changed is black participation in the labor force. The old generation of eminent Black economists Tom Sowell (90), Walter Williams (84) and Shelby Steele (74) have, in hundreds of books and thousands of articles, many addressing the issue of race in America, argued that the Great Society has been the source of income and wealth disparities by creating dependence on the welfare state, massive penalties for marriage (raising the percent of live births outside of wedlock from 10% to over 70%) and work (a marginal tax rate over 100% on earned income), restrictive policies such as minimum wage, and opposition to charter schools.

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American Has an Autoimmune Disease

An autoimmune disease is an illness that occurs when the body tissues are attacked by its own immune system.  The US today has this condition big-time.  Historically, the condition has arisen and reached toxic levels in other countries; as an example, France, during the run-up to the Second World War and even during the campaign of 1940.

General Edward Spears, who was Churchill’s military liaison with France, was told by Georges Mandel, the combative interior minister, about the mayor of a district in Paris which had been bombed who went about the lobbies, screaming:  I will interpellate the Government on this outrage as soon as the chamber meets!  Mandel expressed his contempt for this kind of behavior, saying sarcastically “Paris is bombed by the German?  Let’s shake our fists at or own government.”  Spears notes that “The other way, that of silently going off to collect a gun and have a shot at the enemy, was a solution that occurred only to a few…How Hitler must have laughed, I told myself.”

A few months earlier, an interviewer asked Paul Reynaud, who had just become Prime Minister of France, about his long-standing and bitter rivalry with Edouard Daladier.

Nevertheless, ”the interviewer  said, “Daladier is certainly a man who loves his country.”

“Yes,” Reynaud replied, “I believe he desires the victory of France, but he desires my defeat even more.”

This may have been a bit unfair to Daladier, who was far from the worst of the leading French politicians of the day. But it gives an accurate impression of the state of things in the late Third Republic.  And it may actually understate the state of things in America today, where for many politicians and journalists, the well-being of America and of Americans doesn’t seem to enter into the equation at all compared with the search for political advantage.

The obsession with political power, and with the denunciation of opponents, is not today limited to politicians, journalists, and ‘activists’…it has spread to a large proportion of the population.  Millions of Americans, it seems, are in a state of visceral rage against not only Trump, but against any and all of his supporters.  There is no activity, of any sort, that is safe from volcanic overflowings of political rage…not even knitting, as strange as that may seem.

It often seems impossible to find any point of entry for an attempt to get Progs to reconsider their beliefs, in however small a way.  I’m reminded of something written by Arthur Koestler, himself a former Communist, on the subject of intellectually closed systems:

A closed system has three peculiarities. Firstly, it claims to represent a truth of universal validity, capable of explaining all phenomena, and to have a cure for all that ails man. In the second place, it is a system which cannot be refuted by evidence, because all potentially damaging data are automatically processed and reinterpreted to make them fit the expected pattern. The processing is done by sophisticated methods of casuistry, centered on axioms of great emotive power, and indifferent to the rules of common logic; it is a kind of Wonderland croquet, played with mobile hoops. In the third place, it is a system which invalidates criticism by shifting the argument to the subjective motivation of the critic, and deducing his motivation from the axioms of the system itself. The orthodox Freudian school in its early stages approximated a closed system; if you argued that for such and such reasons you doubted the existence of the so-called castration complex, the Freudian’s prompt answer was that your argument betrayed an unconscious resistance indicating that you yourself have a castration complex; you were caught in a vicious circle. Similarly, if you argued with a Stalinist that to make a pact with Hitler was not a nice thing to do he would explain that your bourgeois class-consciousness made you unable to understand the dialectics of history…In short, the closed system excludes the possibility of objective argument by two related proceedings: (a) facts are deprived of their value as evidence by scholastic processing; (b) objections are invalidated by shifting the argument to the personal motive behind the objection. This procedure is legitimate according to the closed system’s rules of the game which, however absurd they seem to the outsider, have a great coherence and inner consistency.

The atmosphere inside the closed system is highly charged; it is an emotional hothouse…The trained, “closed-minded” theologian, psychoanalyst, or Marxist can at any time make mincemeat of his “open-minded” adversary and thus prove the superiority of his system to the world and to himself.

In attempting to debate with “progressives,” one often encounters this kind of closed-system thinking:  there is absolutely no way you are going to change their minds, whatever the evidence or logic.  (I don’t think this is true of  all  “progressives”–otherwise the situation in America today would be even more grim than it actually is–but it’s true of a lot of them.)

But today’s Progressivism is not a coherent intellectual system with definable axioms like Marxism or a Christian theology; it seems much more a cluster of emotional reactions.

Certain Progs have gone so far out on the limb that there seems no hope they could ever come back; this certainly is true of most commentators on CNN and MSNBC…they will just become angrier and more extreme, and it will all be broadcast to millions as long as their owners (AT&T and Comcast, respectively) keep the money flowing.  But what about ordinary people, those whose lives do not center (or at least previously have not centered) around politics?…Is there any sign that some may be willing to reconsider some of their beliefs, specifically in the midst of the Cornavirus crisis?  I have seen comments by people saying they have friends who have recently been willing to reconsider their support for open borders, or for offshoring most American manufacturing to China, in the light of current events.  I haven’t seen much of this, personally.  What I see is more people who are so completely aligned with their ‘side’, that they view events largely through the light of how they can be interpreted to support that side.  These are often people who were not particularly interested in politics or political philosophy  prior to recent years.

This isn’t one of my more coherent posts, but I’d like to discuss: Can the American autoimmune disease be cured?  Why did it develop and get so bad?  What, as individuals, can we do to help with the cure or at least the mitigation?

“The Irish Antifa Project”

Along the lines of Project Veritas comes a promising new endeavor by right-of-center Irish students:

In December of last year a Twitter account was set-up. Titled “Irish Students Against Fascism”, it described itself as an aspiring antifascist organising hub to physically, socially and professionally harass individuals engaged with conservative or nationalist politics on campuses.
 
Very soon the account garnered well over a thousand followers, with retweets from the Union of Students Ireland’s official account among other leftist activist organizations. The account boasted of an impending website dumping incriminating material relating to students on campus, particularly in Young Fine Gael, and invited individuals to contribute over private messaging.
 
What has been unknown until today was that, from the very onset, the page was operated by students involved with The Burkean. The account was set up with the intent of performing long term investigative work into antifascism in Ireland, as well as its insidious and often blatant links with civic society, journalism and politics.
 
Put politely, antifascism is the euphemism given to the work done to destroy the lives of people with right leaning sympathies. While traditionally associated with left republicanism, it is these days more often than not linked to Ireland’s ubiquitous NGO complex, as well as well-funded activists heavily networked within the world of journalism, politics and the private sector.
 
Many young people on the Irish Right have long claimed that there is institutional bias constantly working against them. However, it is only now that we can definitively say that this is not the case.
 
There is no institutional bias against young conservatives. There is an outright conspiracy against them…

Read the whole thing.

Will America Vote to Drink the Kool Aid, Committing Mass Suicide?

Presidential candidates are talking about every issue except the one that matters most for America’s future: “American Exceptionalism.”

President Obama, a former professor of constitutional law, rejected the notion of American exceptionalism. Conservative writer Jonah Goldberg in Suicide of the West (2018) argues that the political abandonment of American Exceptionalism is eroding liberty, society and prosperity. Parenthetically, Taleb, Skin in the Game (2018) concludes (pg. 86) ”the west is currently in the process of committing suicide” by tolerating the intolerant. The “mass suicide” metaphor became a reality when religious cult leader Jim Jones told his followers in 1975  “I love socialism, and I’m willing to die to bring it about, but if I did, I’d take a thousand with me” which he did in Jamestown, Guyana three years later. “He wanted the world to think this was some uniform decision, that they willingly killed themselves for socialism to protest the inhumanity of capitalism” but armed guards made sure the reluctant chose the Kool Aid and exited the Johnstown dystopia for the promised socialist utopia in the next life.

Suicide of the West

Goldberg’s history of politics and human nature begins with humans first walking upright, concluding in 2017 with U.S. domestic political choices. Ideas promoted by John Locke and bequeathed by the British that the state is the servant of the people, are the core of American exceptionalism as opposed to the opposite ideas of the Frenchman Rousseau that individuals are the servant of the state, the governing principle of authoritarian socialist economies and in practice social democracies as well. What’s exceptional in the U.S. political system bequeathed by the Founders are the strict limits on federal powers in the two written documents, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. This is the cornerstone that allowed the many secular and religious institutions of civil society to deepen as a pre-requisite for and complement to entrepreneurial market capitalism, the source of virtually all human economic progress.

In the American version the state guarantees “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” whereas the French national motto “liberty, equality, and fraternity” is an oxymoron. Individual liberty erodes at each stage as decisions are elevated from the marketplace to private, local, state, federal and ultimately international governing bodies. Competitive market capitalism’s “creative destruction” and entrepreneurial innovation produces relative winners but benefits all, whereas political favoritism comes at the expense of the typically poorer less politically favored.

The Deep State is Sovereign in a Democracy

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, political theorist Francis Fukuyama argues that “American Democracy Depends on the ‘Deep State’” run by professionals protected from politicians. Progressive President Wilson used entry into the war as the means to create the “modern” sovereign state” to which Fukuyama refers under the motto to “make the world safe for democracy,” never mentioned in the Founding documents. What took a Revolution to produce was protected only by the willingness to adhere to paper documents that Wilson basically ignored.

Individual dependence on the modern pater welfare state corrodes the institutions of civil society and inevitably leads to identity politics, tribalism and cronyism. With the state the master, many democracies evolve into one party rule, e.g., the communist “peoples’ democracy” of China, North Korea, East Germany or in capitalist countries the PRI in Mexico (in spite of a Constitution modeled after that in the U.S.) and Peronism in Argentina where the party is the master of the state. The rightist regime in Chile brought in the Chicago Boys to help implement free market reforms that produced a growth miracle, but that proved difficult to sustain as subsequent socialist governments burst that bubble.

The 2016 Presidential Election

In 2016 candidate Trump promised to drain the swamp and “end America’s endless wars” – both direct attacks on the deep state, particularly the military-industrial-congressional complex (Eisenhower’s original censored version) that manages the economy as well as foreign policy and military adventure. Reagan promised to roll back the deep state but failed. Clinton declared “the era of big government is over” but it barely paused. The Tea Party, composed of older more conservative voters tired of Republican false promises of limited government, launched a grass roots political campaign to limit government, which also failed. Once the state (or the Party of the state) is sovereign, the process has proven irreversible through political means.

That leaves the Supreme Court. Candidate Trump committed to nominating conservative Supreme Court Justices who would stay within the original intent of constitutional limits, the primary issue cited by his supporters. The abortion issue is a ruse, a litmus test for progressive precedents to trump constitutional intent.

The U.S. deep state is immune to accountability. A recent docudrama The Report tells the story of CIA torture after 911. The Agency lied to two Presidents, lied and stonewalled Congress over 8 years, violated the separation of powers and squashed the biggest seven thousand page Congressional oversight investigation in history. Only the stature of Senators Feinstein and McCain eventually got the Report released, but no one was held accountable, sending a clear signal that the deep state was immune. When President Trump alleged (later proven by the Mueller and Inspector General Reports – in spite of deep state resistance) that the intelligence community was involved in election rigging in 2016 and a subsequent coup attempt to remove him from office when that failed, Senator Schumer warned him: “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.” Impeachment is (only) one way.

The 2020 Presidential Election

On domestic policy, progressives arguably fared better under the Trump Administration than they would have from any of the other Republican candidate (e.g., victories on the budget and trade protectionism) and better than conservatives during the Obama Administration. Many conservatives (including Goldberg) join progressives in abhorring Trump’s personality and attacking his character (questionable, as is that of his political antagonists, e.g., Congressman Schiff). His lies and exaggerations may stretch the limits of political discourse, but the main stream media has regressed to Infamous Scribblers. The biggest cause of Trump derangement syndrome – and his source of political support – is likely his politically incorrect speech.

But Supreme Court appointments remain the existential issue for progressives and conservatives alike (as the Kavanaugh Hearings demonstrated), although limiting the power of federal government leaves progressives with free reign at the state and local level where they have had substantial success. Even “popular democracy” in big states like California is rigged by the state, forcing the oppressed to ‘vote with their feet’ leaving progressive states like California and New York with deficits, which then seek federal bailouts.

The electorate is divided along generational lines, with democrats appealing to younger liberal voters and republicans to older conservative voters. Lowering the voting age to 18 dramatically increased this demographic (why Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi proposed lowering it to 16). Yet current Democratic candidates are divided among the ”electable”“moderate” 78 year old (by inauguration) Joe Biden campaigning as the former VP of a decidedly immoderate administration, authoritarian Michael Bloomberg who is almost a year older that Biden, socialist Bernie Sanders who is more than a year older than Biden, and Progressive Elizabeth Warren who would be 70 by inauguration. The young intolerant radical anti-capitalist progressives/socialists will undoubtedly be in control should victory be achieved by any of these elders following Taleb’s thesis (pg 69) that in a democracy the intolerant dominate.

What explains the strong Democratic appeal of 18-29 year old voters? Goldberg (pg. 340) quotes theologian Eugene Peterson: “humans try to find transcendence-apart from God – through the ecstasy of alcohol and drugs, recreational sex, or … crowds (i.e., mobs or cults).” Millenials are less religious than older voters and sex has declined relative to past generations. Non-college graduates have turned to drugs – 70,000 deaths annually.

Promises of debt forgiveness and free stuff by Socialist Sanders – and Warren – obviously appeal to the typically deeply indebted college educated. But so does their attack on business. Once taboo, socialism is now chic on college campuses as anti-business progressive ideas pervade college professorial ranks, particularly among historians and economists. This goes back to the early days of progressivism as socialist/communist historical myth makers accused business leaders of being “Robber Barons,” vastly over-stating the extent of American cronyism. Economists have generally under-appreciate the fragility and benefits of capitalism focusing instead on “market failures” real or imagined requiring government intervention, to be expected by a profession started by a German educated progressive to train Americans in the visible hand (fist) of state economic management

So millenials may be lured to join the cult and drink the Kool Aid: as an aging baby boomer, I’ll cling to religion and, Inshallah, sex and alcohol (bourbon, of course).

Kevin Villani

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Kevin Villani was chief economist at Freddie Mac from 1982 to 1985. He has held senior government positions, has been affiliated with nine universities, and served as CFO and director of several companies. He recently published Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue on the political origins of the sub-prime lending bubble and aftermath.

The Integrity of the Dialectic Must Be Preserved.

We begin with a general lament by Max Boot.

Kids, don’t become like Donald Trump. Study history. The fact that so many Americans know so little about the past means that we as a society are vulnerable to demagogues. “Don’t know much about history” is a catchy song lyric but a dangerous motto for a democracy.

Historians may not want to admit it, but they bear some blame for the increasing irrelevance of their discipline. As historians Hal Brands and Francis Gavin argue in War on the Rocks, since the 1960s, history professors have retreated from public debate into their own esoteric pursuits. The push to emphasize “cultural, social and gender history,” and to pay “greater attention to the experiences of underrepresented and oppressed groups,” they write, has been a welcome corrective to an older historiography that focused almost entirely on powerful white men. But like many revolutions, this one has gone too far, leading to the neglect of political, diplomatic and military history — subjects that students need to study and, as enrollment figures indicate, students want to study but that universities perversely neglect. Historian Jill Lepore notes that we have ditched an outdated national narrative without creating a new one to take its place, leaving a vacuum to be filled by tribalists.

Put another way, democracy dies in a darkness brought about by, inter alia, writers at influential newspapers. Consider, for instance, the 1619 Project from New York’s Times, which somehow wrote about slavery and secession and emancipation without asking any history professors.

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Not-Really-Summer-Anymore Rerun: Coming Soon, to Places Near You?

(Summer is now officially over, but I thought this story from Rose Wilder Lane, whose work I reviewed and excerpted a couple of days ago, was worthy of a repost)

In 1926, Rose and her friend Helen Dore Boylston, both then living in Paris, decided to buy a Model T Ford and drive it to Albania. Their adventure is chronicled in the book Travels With Zenobia.  (Helen’s nickname was “Troub”, which stood for “trouble.”)

Acquisition of the car–a “glamorized” 1926 model which was maroon in color rather than the traditional Ford black–went smoothly. Acquisition of the proper government documentation allowing them to actually drive it–not so much:

Having bought this splendid Ford, my friend and I set out to get permission to drive it, and to drive it out of Paris and out of France. We worked separately, to make double use of time. For six weeks we worked, steadily, every day and every hour the Government offices were open. When they closed, we met to rest in the lovely leisure of a cafe and compared notes and considered ways of pulling wires…

One requirement was twelve passport pictures of that car…But this was a Ford, naked from the factory; not a detail nor a mark distinguished it from the millions of its kind; yet I had to engage a photographer to take a full-radiator-front picture of it, where it still stood in the salesroom, and to make twelve prints, each certified to be a portrait of that identical car. The proper official pasted these, one by one, in my presence, to twelve identical documents, each of which was filled out in ink, signed and counter-signed, stamped and tax-stamped; and, of course, I paid for them…

After six hard-working weeks, we had all the car’s papers. Nearly an inch think they were, laid flat. Each was correctly signed and stamped, each had in addition the little stamp stuck on, showing that the tax was paid that must be paid on every legal document; this is the Stamp tax that Americans refused to pay. I believe we had license plates besides; I know we had drivers’ licenses.

Gaily at last we set out in our car, and in the first block two policemen stopped us…Being stopped by the police was not unusual, of course. The car’s papers were in its pocket, and confidently I handed them over, with our personal papers, as requested.

The policemen examined each one, found it in order, and noted it in their little black books. Then courteously they arrested us.

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Summer Rerun—Hoffer on Scribes and Bureaucrats

Nothing is so unsettling to a social order as the presence of a mass of scribes without suitable employment and an acknowledged status…The explosive component in the contemporary scene is not the clamor of the masses but the self-righteous claims of a multitude of graduates from schools and universities. This army of scribes is clamoring for a society in which planning, regulation, and supervision are paramount and the prerogative of the educated. They hanker for the scribe’s golden age, for a return to something like the scribe-dominated societies of ancient Egypt, China, and the Europe of the Middle Ages. There is little doubt that the present trend in the new and renovated countries toward social regimentation stems partly from the need to create adequate employment for a large number of scribes…Obviously, a high ratio between the supervisory and the productive force spells economic inefficiency. Yet where social stability is an overriding need the economic waste involved in providing suitable positions for the educated might be an element of social efficiency.


and

It has often been stated that a social order is likely to be stable so long as it gives scope to talent. Actually, it is the ability to give scope to the untalented that is most vital in maintaining social stability…For there is a tendency in the untalented to divert their energies from their own development into the management, manipulation, and probably frustration of others. They want to police, instruct, guide, and meddle. In an adequate society, the untalented should be able to acquire a sense of usefulness and of growth without interfering with the development of talent around them. This requires, first, an abundance of opportunities for purposeful action and self-advancement. Secondly, a wide diffusion of technical and social skills so that people will be able to work and manage their affairs with a minimum of tutelage. The scribe mentality is best neutralized by canalizing energies into purposeful and useful pursuits, and by raising the cultural level of the whole population so as to blur the dividing line between the educated and the uneducated…We do not know enough to suit a social pattern to the realization of all the creative potentialities inherent in a population. But we do know that a scribe-dominated society is not optimal for the full unfolding of the creative mind.

–Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change

(This essay was published in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Hoffer was talking here not principally about the United States but about what were then called “underdeveloped countries.”)

(2019 update)  Also, Francis Bacon noted four hundred years ago that one reason for sedition and mutiny in any polity was breeding more scholars than preferment can take off…A modern translation of might be “graduating more PhDs than have any hope of getting tenure,” or, more generally, “graduating more people with degrees, and especially advanced degrees, than can use those degrees to pay for the cost of getting same.”

The extended Bacon quote:  “Therefore the multiplying of nobility, and other degrees of quality, in an over proportion to the common people, doth speedily bring a state to necessity; and so doth likewise an overgrown clergy; for they bring nothing to the stock; and in like manner, when more are bred scholars, than preferments can take off.”

Summer Rerun–Author Appreciation: Rose Wilder Lane

Rose Wilder Lane, born in 1886 in the Dakota Territory, was the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House on the Prairie” books. Lane is best known for her writings on political philosophy and has been referred to as a “Founding Mother” of libertarianism; she was also a novelist and the author of several biographies.

In her article Credo, published in 1936, she describes her political journey, beginning with the words:

In 1919 I was a communist.

She was impressed with the idealism of the individual Communists she met, and found their economic logic convincing. But when she visited the Soviet Union in the 1920s, she became disillusioned. And, unlike many visitors to the USSR, she did not conclude that Communism was still a great idea but had just been carried out poorly; rather, she began to grasp the structural flaws with the whole thing.

In Soviet Georgia, the villager who was her host complained about the growing bureaucracy that was taking more and more men from productive work, and predicted chaos and suffering from the centralizing of economic power in Moscow. At first she saw his attitude as merely “the opposition of the peasant mind to new ideas,” and undertook to convince him of the benefits of central planning. He shook his head sadly.

It is too big – he said – too big. At the top, it is too small. It will not work. In Moscow there are only men, and man is not God. A man has only a man’s head, and one hundred heads together do not make one great big head. No. Only God can know Russia.”

This man’s insight prefigures Hayek’s writing about the role of knowledge in society, not to be published until 1944. His comments, her other observations while in the Soviet Union, and her own thinking about the way that economies actually work convinced her that:

Centralized economic control over multitudes of human beings must therefore be continuous and perhaps superhumanly flexible, and it must be autocratic. It must be government by a swift flow of edicts issued in haste to catch up with events receding into the past before they can be reported, arranged, analyzed and considered, and it will be compelled to use compulsion. In the effort to succeed, it must become such minute and rigorous control of details of individual life as no people will accept without compulsion. It cannot be subject to the intermittent checks, reversals, and removals of men in power which majorities cause in republics.

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National Conservatism

Here is Peter Thiel’s keynote address at the National Conservatism Conference, if you haven’t seen it yet. His accusations about Google’s disloyalty are front and center. I’m not sure what to think about that particular part. There’s no doubt that Google has a socially liberal, internationalist bent that favors cooperation with China at the expense of domestic interests. On the other hand, if we’re singling out companies and industries that have pursued profits that undermined American values, there are plenty to go around.

Most of his other points are spot on. As a nation we chose bits over atoms, and it did not turn out well for a large segment of America. He has some scathing comments about the American dream and higher education that are hard to argue with, while approaching a nihilism that we don’t normally associate with conservatism.

The conference was organized by Yoram Hazony, political philosopher and author of the excellent book The Virtue of Nationalism, that I highly recommend.