Yes, dear reader, that is a deliberately outrageous title, although it invokes one of my favorite maxims, “Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.”
I think this supports your point, David, but prompted less by reasoning than impulse: I am not discriminating in my television viewing, but, frustrated when Trump seems less persuasive than he should be, I turn off his speeches and interviews. I didn’t really want to vote for him, but to vote any other way was to betray America to a nominee and a party of grifters, liars, and if not actual traitors then a good imitation. But within the first day he did many sensible and surprising things – and it continued. He was surprising, directed, somewhat idealistic but also practical. Energy independence – at last someone who understood its value, the importance of energy! So, his feckless opposition won and here we are – having thrown away an incredibly important position. (Remember how Pelosi told us when Palin campaigned, we couldn’t drill our way to independence? Is it always 2008 or 2012 for those people?)
Talk of his totalitarian streak was absurd; he was bombastic, the force of his will and personality dominate any scene. But his belief that a buy-in from Europe was necessary for true partnership and for NATO to fulfill its mission was that of an honest partner; he thought Israel should be able to decide where its capitol was, he took seriously the North African sentiments – expressed before but not taken seriously – that they had other fears and other fish to fry, they weren’t solely defined by Palestine. He thought Congress should take responsibility and the states should not be ridden over in a national power grab, he accepted the division of adversaries – the executive needed to stand up to foreign powers and the states should be responsible for keeping law and order, even if he found some mayors and governors frustrating. This gaudy entrepreneur argued for prudence – lowering the price of the presidential plane, fighting waste and increasing productivity. He accepted a structure that didn’t make him king. He was not a tall Fauci and he hadn’t the Doctor’s Napoleon complex. He understood schools’ influence, money and policies should arise from local entities. He backed de Vos as she increased choices for parents and justice in controlling campus crime. He valued the blood of our soldiers in a way that Biden never has.
More perceptive people got out of his speeches the energy and vision I appreciated. Of course, I’d rather a leader acted like a statesman than sounded like one and it would have been nice if idiots on the other side didn’t reduce everything to ad hominem. His defended himself – fiercely, quickly, angrily fired back before all the lies or nasty memes became immersed in the wide subconscious. Of course, you are right, a more systematic, rational presentation would have been useful; it also might have raised the level of discussion to policy (where I suspect much more than half the nation would have stood with him). Unfortunately for us, the Churchills and Lincolns of the world don’t come around that often. And even a well-formed argument isn’t a skill America values as it once did. (I taught freshman rhetoric for years. Sure, we read Orwell, sure we talked about the fallacies, but I don’t think I knew and certainly didn’t teach the formal structures that help a writer solidify and reason an audience to agreement.)
I insisted on facts and objectivity and always assumed a knowable and falsifiable truth. The following segues shamelessly to another tempting arena, demonstrating erratic organization.
An interesting take-down of CRT in terms of the Enlightenment/Romanticism is spelled out in the American Enterprise podcast, hosted by Thiessen and Pletka, “WTH is critical race theory? How a philosophy that inspired Marxism, Nazism, and Jim Crow is making its way into our schools, and what we can do”:
“. . . The real security crisis today, for the entire world, is the campaign in the West to vitiate the essential idea of nation-states with secure borders and sovereignty. This is both a domestic and an external security struggle for America. It’s part of the same crisis that is our current politics.”
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 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.