The Nation looks at the Green Question

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Click here for the issue

In 1999, I toyed with the idea of setting up a website called “The Nader Question.” It would have asked whether Ralph Nader ought to run as an independent candidate in the 2000 US presidential election, and have featured short statements pro and con by various commentators, as well as giving readers the opportunity to post their own replies. If it were a hit, after the election this site would morph into “The Green Question,” a forum set up along similar lines devoted to presenting contrasting views on whether US nationals who find the Democratic Party consistently too cozy with the Power Elite to merit their support ought to coalesce behind a new party under a “Green” label.

“The Nader Question” would have been in many parts. For example, should the Democrats have moved left, and if so was such a run a logical step in an effort to push them left?  The first question could have been answered negatively by someone wanting the Democrats to move further to the right, to continue on their Clinton-era course, or to go out of business altogether.  The second could have been answered negatively by someone regarding campaigns by candidates outside the two major parties as pointless, by someone regarding them as so unpredictable in their consequences that such a run would be as likely to make the problem worse as to make it better, or by someone supporting the idea of a campaign but deeming Mr Nader an unsuitable candidate. It should be easy to see that many such questions would be open to just as wide a variety of answers.

The state of blogging platforms at the end of the twentieth century, combined with my lack of entrepreneurial spirit, scanty computer expertise, even scantier connections to political and media figures whose writing might draw the public to such a site, and nearly non-existent financial resources combined to discourage me so that “The Nader Question” never got off the ground. I hadn’t thought about “The Nader Question” in many years, not until looking at the latest issue of The Nation magazine. It examines Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s campaign from several angles, much as “The Nader Question” would have examined Mr Nader’s candidacy.

Columnist Katha Pollitt and Nation Institute fellow Joshua Holland argue that Dr Stein is unlikely to make an impression on the race, and that voters who cast one of over 100,000,000 ballots for one of the major party candidates will somehow be more likely to influence subsequent national policy. Difficult as it might be to imagine circumstances in which this would happen, it is even more difficult to restrain laughter when Mr Holland claims that the United States opposed the military coup in Honduras in 2009. That coup was led by officers of the Honduran Air Force, a service all of whose aircraft are supplied by the US defense firms.  These aircraft cannot fly without spare parts and other materials provided at regular intervals by these companies. No officer of any air force is going to join an enterprise which, if successful, will ground his or her aircraft.  The idea that the leaders of the coup did not act with firm assurances from the Obama administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, that if successful they would continue their dealings with their aerospace contractors in the USA, is simply a joke.

Seattle City Councillor Kshama Sawant argues that there is a perverse relationship between the Democratic Party and the right wing, that the Democrats regularly provide cover for policies that the public would not accept if proposed by the Republicans and that this relationship has been a necessary a condition for the increasing consolidation of power in the hands of the financial elite in recent decades.  A vote for Dr Stein, and continued support for parties to the left of the Democrats, is an indispensable step towards breaking this link.

Other pieces that do not bear directly on the question of whether voters should support Dr Stein shed light on it indirectly. Four pieces deal with the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet: a 1976 essay by Orlando Letelier; Naomi Klein’s recommendation of the essay; a memorial by Susan George of Letelier‘s work in exile against the Pinochet regime; and Peter Kornbluh’s call for the US government to release the documents it still keeps secret which cover the assassination of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt in Washington, DC in 1976 by agents of the Chilean secret service and the collaboration between US administrations under presidents from Gerald Ford through Bill Clinton to keep the particulars of the assassination from the public and to continue security cooperation between the US and Chile.  The active roles the Carter and Clinton administrations took in this cover-up, along with the refusal of the Democrats who held the majority in the in the US Senate for 8 of those 14 year and in the US House of Representatives for the entire period to do anything to stop it, and finally the Obama administration’s continued embargo of these documents, show that Ms Sawant is not entirely wrong when she says that the American right could not perpetrate its worst misdeeds without the assistance of the Democratic Party.

Bryce Covert argues that the welfare reform act signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 has been a disaster for low-income Americans and that we must hope President Hillary Rodham Clinton will undo its worst provisions. This does seem rather like trying to escape bankruptcy by hoping that the thief who impoverished you will refund your stolen goods. It’s true that HRC’s opponent, Don John of Astoria, has shown no inclination to make a change for the better in the welfare system or much of anything else, but neither is HRC likely to do so unless the political reward of doing good outweighs the political cost. If welfare recipients and those who are directly interested in their well-being either do not vote or vote for the Democrats no matter what they do, then they have no political incentive to do anything for them. They won’t act without such an incentive, not because they are evil, but because there are so many other things they could be doing that might perhaps be good and would certainly bring strong political rewards that they will not find the time to do unprofitable good deeds. Only a left of center movement capable of seriously inconveniencing Democratic politicians, a movement partly working inside the party to reward it for moving left and partly working outside the party to impose a costs on it for moving right, can make it rational for the Democratic Party to pay real attention to issues like welfare. That’s how the welfare state was created in the first place, in a time when the labor movement not only gave the Democrats the backbone of their party’s organization but also included major unions that regularly considered endorsing candidates to the Democrats’ left.

The cover story is an interview with Senator Bernie Sanders, who of course urges those who backed him in the primary to throw their allegiance to HRC in the general election. I had assumed that the Sanders campaign would end up like the Bill Bradley 2000 campaign, gaining some publicity and intriguing poll numbers in the early going, only to collapse when people started voting. Mr Bradley did not win a single statewide contest, losing every primary, every caucus, and every state convention to the Tennessee Turd, then-US Vice President Albert Arnold “Al” Gore, Junior. I was glad when Mr Sanders won enough votes to show that a very large percentage of the Democratic voter base was so desperate for a change from the Clinton approach that they would vote for a 74 year old Jewish Socialist with a thick Brooklyn accent and only tenuous ties to the Democratic Party.

A candidate in Mr Bradley’s mold, a party regular with a substantial record in high office, a celebrity background as a professional athlete, and no habit of donning labels that large segments of American society regard as equivalent to treason, could well have taken the Democratic Party this year away from the Finance First approach that the Clintons fastened on it almost a quarter-century ago.  I backed Paul Tsongas in 1992, because I thought the time had come for a Finance First approach; I preferred him to Governor Bill Clinton, because Tsongas tried to combine Finance First with as much of the New Frontier/ Great Society liberal agenda as he could. Had Tsongas won, I suspect that the party would have been more flexible in later years, using Finance First in the early 1990s when it made sense, but turning to other priorities as the country’s circumstances changed. A powerful force outside the party would still have been needed to actuate those turns, but at least the party’s leaders would have remembered where the intersections were.

The Atlantic, October 2016

840Molly Ball suspects the political consulting is largely a scam; James Fallows cannot imagine what will happen when Hillary Clinton and Don John of Astoria meet in a televised debate; Iraq War advocate Peter Beinart can explain public distaste for Iraq War advocate Hillary Clinton only by accusing most of the country of misogyny; Jeffrey Goldberg hopes that President Hillary Clinton will send her husband to charm the Israelis and Palestinians into making peace (a result that can apparently be achieved without any substantial change in US policy, let alone in the neoliberal world order; all it takes is personal charm, and a little persistence, and the Palestinians willingness to pretend that this is the country from which they have been living in exile); Derek Thompson claims that American business is becoming less innovative because of the growth of monopolies.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, reviewing the TV documentary series O. J. : Made in Americareminisces about the O. J. Simpson murder case. As a college student attracted to militant black nationalism, Mr Coates had been exasperated by the support so many African Americans showed for Mr Simpson, a man who had never shown the slightest interest in any form of the African American freedom struggle. Here’s an interesting paragraph:

Two things, it seemed to me, could be true at once: Simpson was a serial abuser who killed his ex-wife, and the Los Angeles Police Department was a brutal army of occupation. So why was it that the latter seemed to be all that mattered, and what did it have to do with Simpson, who lived a life far beyond the embattled ghettos of L.A.? I vented in the school newspaper. “Since Simpson’s practices show he clearly has no interest in the affairs of black people,” I wrote, “the question becomes why do blacks have any interest in him?” In those days, I conceived of African Americans as a kind of political party, which needed only, in unison, to select the correct strategy in order to make the scourge of racism disappear. Expending political capital on O. J. Simpson struck me as exactly the opposite of the correct strategy. Looking back, I realize what eluded me. I had lived among black people all my life, but somehow I had come to see them as abstractions, not as humans.

Mr Coates goes on to discuss the way in which the case and its aftermath brought a strange unity to African Americans, not the unity of a political party but a unity with political implications. Putting the case in its historical context as the next major event in race relations in southern California after the Rodney King matter, he says:

The beating of Reginald Denny was vengeance for the beating of Rodney King. And vengeance for King played a role in Simpson’s acquittal, according to one of the jurors, Carrie Bess. But revenge only partly explains Simpson’s last great escape. What I couldn’t fathom in 1994 was a reality that black people around me likely sensed and that Made in America brings into deeply discomfiting focus: that Simpson may well have murdered his ex-wife and her friend, and that the jury got it right in declaring him not guilty.

At the time, I thought that Mr Simpson had certainly murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, and that the jury was probably right in acquitting him. The investigation was botched at a hundred points, and, after all, the only question a jury has to answer is whether the case the prosecution has presented is adequate to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the accused is guilty of the charge. I didn’t believe that the evidence and argumentation the prosecution gave the Simpson jury met that standard, and the acquittal seemed right to me for that reason.

Once as tragedy, once as farce

The recent announcement that the New York State Attorney General’s office is looking into the Trump Foundation, one of Don John of Astoria’s more dubious enterprises, reminds me of Marx’s famous dictum that historical situations occur twice, once as tragedy, once as farce. The Clinton Foundation is tragic; it has done a great deal of good, but as a project of people who are planning to return to the White House has also become a lobbying venue. Not only do its connections to the State Department during HRC’s tenure as Secretary raise eyebrows, but its practice of running its own projects rather than distributing money to established charities and the substantial amounts it has spent on luxurious gatherings of its super-rich donors are red flags.

The Trump Foundation, by contrast, lacks the grandeur of scale and the mixture of heroic achievement with moral ambiguity that are essential components of tragedy. It is simply farcical, a scam that has enabled Mr Trump to obscure the fact that he does not give nearly as much money to charity as a person who is as rich as he claims to be typically would.

The same could be said of the Trump and Clinton campaigns respective practice regarding information about the health of their candidates. Since cellphone video surfaced of HRC having some kind of medical episode the other day, the Clinton campaign’s unwavering insistence that any questions about her health are signs of derangement on the part of those asking them has become laughable, but I would still say that her apparent physical decline and her refusal to level with the public about it do attain to the dignity of the tragic. HRC is a major figure in the last quarter-century of history, and that she and Bill Clinton were as youthful as they were when they first appeared on the world stage did mark a transition from the Cold War era to the present time. That Clinton-world obdurately insists that she is still in her prime therefore represents, not an individual shortcoming on her part, but the difficulty with which the entire Baby Boom generation admits that the sun is setting on the period of history in which leadership rightfully belongs in its hands.  So the tragic scale of HRC’s pretense that nothing is the matter with her health comes not only from the threat of another presidency, like that of Franklin Roosevelt in 1944-1945 or Woodrow Wilson in 1919-1920 or Chester Arthur in 1883-1885, in which the White House palace guard refuses to admit that the president is gravely ill and thereby creates uncertainty as to who is really in charge, but also from her place in history.

As for Mr Trump, what he has made available to the public about his health is a statement from a guy who looks like this:

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As the man said, once as tragedy, once as farce.

The two foundations and the candidates’ health are in the news today. If we cast our minds back a few weeks, we will recall Mr Trump saying that as president, HRC would appoint left-of-center federal judges, and that no one could stop it- “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know- but I’ll tell you what, that will be a horrible day.” There was a great deal of parsing and analyzing this remark, though it seemed clear to me that it started in Mr Trump’s head as a joke about political assassination from which he recoiled when he heard it (“that will be a horrible day.”) Mr Trump’s opponents rightly expressed dismay at a potential US president making jokes about political assassinations.

Mr Trump’s tendency to say whatever pops into his head is suitable for a character in a low farce, not for a US president, and this joke about political assassination shows why. But what of HRC? She also has publicly joked about political assassination. Although in her case, it was not the hypothetical assassination of an opponent, but an already-accomplished assassination which she was instrumental in bringing about:

Considering the lack of provocation for the intervention that overthrew the Gadhafi regime and the catastrophic consequences of the Libyan war for the whole of North Africa, to say nothing of the gruesome manner of Colonel Gadhafi’s death, it is difficult to watch this gleeful boast without revulsion.

Still, low and coarse as HRC’s behavior might have been in this moment, it still qualifies as tragic. A phrase like “war crimes,” as in “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole,” does betray a certain lack of imagination. “Crime” names something inescapably small and grubby, and death as the result of crime is an unworthy end to one bearing the dignity of a human being.  War is the greatest of evils, but there is a greatness even in its evil. Thomas Aquinas developed a concept which he called “the law of the fomes of sin,” that even the darkest sin mimics the law-governed structure of God’s living creation. Nowhere is the law of the fomes more compellingly demonstrated than in the spectacle and efficiency, the awe-inspiring scale and undeniable bravery, with which even the most unjust of wars is waged. Responsibility for an unjust war is, therefore, a tragic guilt, not a farcical one.

Healthy skepticism

Recently Rod Dreher posted about his concerns for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s health. I commented as follows:

I join other commenters in wishing HRC a speedy recovery, and in being willing to believe the official story.

As for the issue, if (God forbid!) a president dies in office, the vice president takes over. Provided the vice president is competent and broadly in sympathy with the policies of the administration, that is not in fact a major national crisis, however much talk it may inspire, however much angling for jobs among Washington types it may inspire. Likewise, if a president becomes disabled and signs over the powers of the office to the vice president under the 25th amendment, that is no crisis. It just means that the vice president is earning his salary for a change.

What is a crisis is what happened in the White House in 1883-1884, 1919-1920, and 1944-1945, when the president did become incapable of carrying out the duties of the office and the palace guard closed ranks, denied there was a problem, and created a situation where it was not clear to anyone who was making decisions there. The same thing happened in Britain in 1953, when Churchill had a stroke and deputy prime minister Anthony Eden was also ill, and does happen with some regularity around the world. (Remember Leonid Brezhnev’s colds?) That’s why the real issue is the refusal of either major party candidate to release their health records, and their retainers’ increasingly absurd insistence that neither of them has any health problems at all. It is so clear that each of them is surrounded by people who are prepared to do exactly the wrong thing if they should fall seriously ill while serving as president. Especially clear about HRC, of course, but who can doubt that the people around Don-John of Astoria would behave in exactly the same manner?

Mr Dreher is far more interested in the state of HRC’s health than I am. The post linked above is the second of three he has put up about it in the last 24 hours. (I also commented on the first, in that case cautioning against over-interpreting the particular directions in which HRC wobbled when she was having her episode yesterday. Mr Dreher expressed suspicion at my note of caution, requiring me to add a further comment.)  Mr Dreher’s third post links to pieces by Damon Linker, David Goldman, and Peter Hitchens’ late (but still less interesting) brother.

Mr Dreher explains why he is so exercised about the particulars of this story in these paragraphs:

The Clintons lie. That’s what they do. Their pattern is:

1. It didn’t happen.
2. OK, it happened, but it wasn’t a big deal, and we’ve got to get back to work doing the business of the American people.
3. Only haters say it’s a big deal.

We saw the same pattern emerge from the Clinton camp over the course of Sunday afternoon, regarding Hillary’s serious health episode. Presumably we are now not supposed to be concerned about whether or not she is leveling with the American people about her health situation because if you start asking those questions, Trump will win. Therefore, we must not ask those questions, and demonize anyone who does. You see the same thing in institutions with serious wrongdoing to hide, for example:

1. Priests did not molest those children.
2. OK, priests did molest those children, but it was only a few, and it shouldn’t distract from all the good work of the Church going on right now.
3. Only anti-Catholic bigots say it’s a big deal.

Apply this pattern to any similar situation involving a public figure or an institution, and you’ll see the same thing.

Mr Dreher covered religion for the Dallas Morning News in the mid-2000s; he was Roman Catholic when he started working that beat, and became Russian Orthodox after writing his umpteenth story about Roman Catholic bishops covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests.  So I understand his sensitivity to coverups, and the urgent need he feels to uncover whatever has been covered up. In this case, however, I think he is getting ahead of himself.

 

The Old Right’s New World

This Labor Day weekend, I made an attempt to catch up on the magazines that have been accumulating around here for the last couple of years. I did come upon some things I wanted to note.

For example, in both a column about his personal evolution on questions of immigration policy the July 2016 issue of Chronicles and an article about the electoral prospects of the Libertarian Party in the July/ August 2016 issue of The American Conservative writer Justin Raimondo presents the same quote from Murray Rothbard’s speech to the 1992 meeting of the John Randolph Club:

The proper strategy for the right wing must be what we can call “right-wing populism”: exciting, dynamic, tough, and confrontational, rousing and inspiring not only the exploited masses, but the often-shell-shocked right-wing intellectual cadre as well. And in this era where the intellectual and media elites are all establishment liberal-conservatives, all in a deep sense one variety or another of social democrat, all bitterly hostile to a genuine Right, we need a dynamic, charismatic leader who has the ability to short-circuit the media elites, and to reach and rouse the masses directly. We need a leadership that can reach the masses and cut through the crippling and distorting hermeneutical fog spread by the media elites.

I don’t fault Mr Raimondo for presenting this excerpt twice, not only because the pieces are quite different from each other, but also because it is so uncannily like what he and other admirers of Mr Don-John Trump seem to see in their presidential candidate. I am an undisguised social democrat, and do not see much evidence that a tacit commitment to social democracy characterizes the policy-making of either the Democratic or Republican Parties in the USA.

Nor do I think that Mr Trump’s campaign represents a particularly strong challenge to the elites where they are in consensus; on immigration, the one issue where Mr Trump’s position has been fairly consistent and sharply at odds with the leadership of the Republican Party, I tend to agree with those observers, ranging from Slate magazine on the ultra-relaxationist left to John Derbyshire on the ultra-restrictionist right who say that the likeliest outcome of a Trump campaign is an electoral defeat that will push restrictionism to the margins for years to come. I grant it is possible, indeed rather likely, that Hillary Clinton will be such a shockingly bad president, leading the USA into pointless wars and so on, that the Republicans will win a huge landslide in 2020. That would give the Trumpians just enough time to establish themselves as a major part of the Republican Party, and not enough time for the entrenched elites to push them back out.  In that case, the president who follows the Clinton Restoration may have little choice but to throw a sop to the restrictionists every now and then. However, that’s a long way from the kind of epochal change Rothbard prophesied and for which Mr Raimondo hopes.

There are some other interesting bits in recent issues of my favorite “Old Right” reads. In the May 2016 issue of ChroniclesSrdja Trifkovic reviews Dario Fernandez-Morera’s The Myth of The Andulusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews Under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain (2016,) which along with Sylvain Gouguenheim’s Aristote au Mont Saint Michel (2008) and Raphael Israeli’s Islamic Challenge in Europe (2008) represents a powerful scholarly riposte to happy-talk about Islam. Professor Trifkovic himself is rather fonder of unhappy-talk about Islam than may seem strictly necessary, but even at his angriest he is less obnoxious than are aggressively ignorant Washington figures such as Madeleine Albright and George W. Bush who have spent the last couple of decades setting themselves up as the authorities on what constitutes “true Islam.” No matter how hostile he may be to Islam, at least Professor Trifkovic doesn’t purport to speak as the arbiter of its orthodoxies.

In the June issue of Chronicles, Gerald Russello reviews Barry Alan Shain’s The Declaration of Independence in Historical Contextwhich builds on the thesis of Professor Shain’s 1996 book The Myth of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought. Professor Shain argued in that book that the principal influence on American political thinking in the late eighteenth century was Calvinism, and in his new work collects documents that illustrate the extent to which the Declaration of Independence is a Calvinist tract. That thesis may sound familiar to readers of this blog, though I have so far been only vaguely aware of Professor Shain’s work. That looks like a gap in my erudition that I will need to fill post haste!

The August issue of Chronicles included a remarkably charming bit of light literary writing by Derek Turner, of all people. Mr Turner discusses Samuel Johnson and James Boswell’s famous tour of the islands and Highlands of Scotland, comparing their experiences with some recent observations of his own as he visited the same areas.

The September issue of Chronicles features Aaron D. Wolf’s discussion of Don-John of Astoria. Mr Wolf theme is that the word “conservatism,” as used by Republican luminaries who attack Mr Trump for his lack of ideological formation, is an empty one; Mr Wolf appeals to the late M. E. Bradford’s critique of all ideologies, branding every attempt to discover a totalizing set of political values as a reversal of history, an imposition of the present on the past in order to justify whatever one’s favorite political movement happens to be doing at the moment. Like Bradford, Mr Wolf values an attitude of respect for the particular, for particular places, particular times, particular customs, particular people, as an antidote to the brutality that so regularly finds a cloak for itself in the abstract and general language of ideology. Bradford could describe himself as “conservative” because that attitude of respect led him to want to conserve things, not because the word named a program that he was committed to carrying out though the heavens fall.

Don-John of Astoria is no more a conservative in the Bradfordian sense than he is in any of the ideological senses that the recent leaders of the Republican Party have tried to attach to the term, and Mr Wolf does not try to claim that he is. But he does close his column by finding a redeeming quality in the rise of Mr Trump:

Trump’s statement [that “if you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country”] resonated with a great many of the American people, whose impulse is conservative (regardless of party and ideological affiliation,) and who had to be convinced by ideologues of both political parties that their impulse is immoral and contrary to “conservative” values.

Given that milieu, it’s no wonder that the only candidate who could break through with an argument for immigration sanity was a man of Trump’s character, whose narcissism makes him immune to their ideological attacks.

So it is precisely in the characteristic that would most have horrified Don John of Austria that Don-John of Astoria makes his contribution to the latter-day Battle of Lepanto to which the anti-Islamic writers of Chronicles imagine the West to be heading, rallying the forces of Christendom by throwing a series of self-aggrandizing tantrums.

The July/ August issue of The American Conservative includes not only the Justin Raimondo piece mentioned above,  but also an essay by David Cowan about economist Frank Knight, a pioneer in the study of uncertainty as the precondition for innovation and growth. Along with that is an excerpt from Knight’s work.

The September/ October issue of The American Conservative features Samuel Goldman’s review of Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatismby George Hawley. Professor Goldman’s review is full of gems; I’ll quote these four short paragraphs from the middle of the piece, since they seem to form the heart of his case:

Hawley begins with the observation that the historic pillars of the American conservative movement—limited government, an assertively anti-communist foreign policy, and quasi-Christian moralism—have no necessary connection. Beginning in the early ’50s, these elements were packaged together by a group of intellectuals and activists led by William F. Buckley. The story is often told as a process of addition, in which disparate constituencies were brought into a grand coalition. Hawley emphasizes that it was also a process of exclusion, as unsuitable ideas and characters were driven out.

All students of the conservative movement know about the marginalization of Robert Welch and other leaders of the John Birch Society. Hawley reminds readers that the purges did not begin there. National Review was established partly to distance conservatism from the anti-Semitism that bedeviled the Old Right. Its founding manifesto was also a statement of protest against so-called New Conservatives of the 1950s who accepted the New Deal. Secular-minded anticommunists like Max Eastman were theoretically welcome in conservative circles but found their ostentatiously pious tone intolerable. In its first decade, the conservative movement was defined as much by who was out as who was in.

This process of self-definition did not end with the nomination of Barry Goldwater, the first movement conservative to seek the presidency. Since then, Southern nostalgists, critics of the U.S.-Israel alliance, opponents of the Iraq War, and offenders against the movement’s code of racial etiquette have all been treated to quasi-official denunciations. Skeptics of supply-side economics have also been encouraged to make their homes elsewhere. This magazine has its origin in some of those disputes.

One result of this boundary-policing is a “true” conservatism of striking narrowness and rigidity. Its less recognized corollary is the development of a diverse ecology of ideas outside the movement’s ever shrinking tent. Some of these uncultivated growths are bitter and even poisonous. Others might contain the tonic that the right needs to recover its relevance.

“Some of these uncultivated growths are bitter and even poisonous. Others might contain the tonic that the right needs to recover its relevance.” Indeed, many of those the bitter and even poisonous growths flourish in and around Chronicles magazine, and the attention I’ve paid to that magazine so far in this post should suffice to show that I believe that healing tonics may sometimes be distilled from bitter and even poisonous growths.

In the May/June issue of The American ConservativeAlan Mendenhall reviews Paul Gottfried’s Fascism: The Career of a Conceptin which Professor Gottfried neither neglects fascism’s connections to the political left nor denies that it was, after all, a creature of the far right.  That may not sound like much, but lesser writers do often resort to sleight of hand to disassociate labels they accept (and Professor Gottfried does accept the label “rightist”) from odious labels (and no label is more odious than “fascism.”)

The March/April issue of The American Conservative includes Richard Gamble’s review of John Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea.  Evidently Professor Wilsey argues that the USA should let go of religious ideas that incline it to militaristic enterprises around the globe, but adopt religious ideas that will incline it to humanitarian enterprises around the globe. As a student of the thought of Irving Babbitt, Professor Gamble recognizes in this proposal an exchange of one indulgence of the expansive temperament for another, and sees in the apparently benevolent expansive humanitarianism the barely-concealed potential for warfare. He calls instead for what Babbitt endorsed, a truly humble policy that is founded in self-restraint and self-denial.

 

There are two types of multinational federations: Those that end peacefully, and those that end violently

In a few days, the United Kingdom will hold a non-binding referendum, advising members of parliament either that the majority of voters would like to remain in the European Union, or that a majority would like to withdraw from it. Every party with more than one MP has a leader who is committed to remaining in the EU, and the classes to which MPs belong are dominated by economic interests which benefit from British membership in the EU. Therefore, unless Leave wins by a vast majority, as there is almost no chance it will do, the results are unlikely to precipitate British withdrawal from the EU. A win for Remain will lead to self-congratulation by advocates of British membership, to vows of continued resistance by opponents, and to no significant change. A win for Leave will probably trigger a leadership contest in the Conservative Party, the winner of which will be a prime minister who makes a great show of going to Brussels and presenting various demands for the European Union to reform its institutions. When those demands are either granted or politely taken under consideration, that prime minister will declare victory, claim to be a reincarnation of Alfred the Great (or more likely Winston Churchill, since historical literacy in the UK isn’t what it once was,) and go on with business as usual.

None of this is directly my business, as I do not live in the UK and am an American citizen. However, it does strike me that, throughout the history of the world, there have been many multinational federations. Some of these have labeled themselves as empires, famously including the Holy Roman Empire and the Dual Monarchy of the Hapsburgs; others as movements embodying a nationalism transcending borders that were dismissed as historical accidents, like the United Arab Republic under Nasser or Yugoslavia under Tito; some as the vanguard of global revolution, like the Soviet Union; etc. What they have in common is that their formal bureaucratic and legal structures were tolerable to the people of their member states as long as the underlying realities of economics and Realpolitik supported them. When economic circumstances and the power relations among the federation’s constituent parts shifted, those formal structures broke down and the federation itself ended. Since economic circumstances and power relations continually change, it is safe to assume that all multinational federations will sooner or later collapse, and that the primary distinction among them is between those that dissolve peacefully, like the Soviet Union or the United Arab Republic, and those that dissolve violently.

Among federations that dissolve violently, there is a second distinction to be drawn. Some dissolve as a consequence of wars they have fought and lost against outside states; others dissolve as a consequence of wars among nations within the federation. Outside states usually involve themselves in these internal wars as sponsors of the various sides.

If the current goings-on in the UK are any indication, it seems unlikely that the European Union will dissolve peacefully. How might a violent dissolution of the EU play out? The principal geopolitical division in Europe is between the Western section, naturally dominated by Germany, and the Eastern section, naturally dominated by Russia. When the European Economic Community and NATO were formed, Germany was divided, defeated, and occupied, as weak as it could be, while Russia was the nucleus of the USSR, an empire of nearly unlimited reach. These institutions then served to sustain a balance of power between the two halves of Europe. Now, Germany is the undisputed mistress of western Europe, while Russia is still isolated and relatively impoverished. Under these conditions, a set of institutions that commit the United States of America and the members of the EU to a perpetual alliance with Germany against Russia can serve only to unbalance the European system and make general war more likely. Every time in history when Germany has been strong and Russia is weak, the Germans have grown reckless pressing their claims in the East, ultimately provoking the Russians to war. There is little reason to suppose that matters will play out any differently this time.

If Russia undergoes an economic and political resurgence soon enough, then perhaps Russia will be able to contain Germany’s ambitions before they take the situation to its usual cataclysmic outcome.  If that resurgence continues long enough, and is accompanied by a relative decline in Germany’s fortunes, perhaps the European Union will end as Yugoslavia ended. As Germany sponsored Croatia and other states in their anti-Serbian efforts leading to the destruction of Yugoslavia while the powerless Russia of the 1990s looked on, so in the future Russia might sponsor anti-German efforts on the part of various EU member states, leading to the destruction of the EU while a weakened USA looks on from across the ocean.  This scenario would be as likely as an outright war between Germany and Russia to involve a large-scale thermonuclear exchange and therefore the destruction of civilization.

Of course, simply because the UK is going through rather an unfortunate bit of political theater right now does not mean that it will not be possible, at some future date, for the members of the European Union to escape peacefully. It might be more difficult than one supposes, however. A German government unrestrained by the need to maintain a coalition that includes the Social Democrats might very well charge hard enough into the former Soviet republics, pressing NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia for example, that there might not be time for a peaceful breakup. If the USA is led by so hawkish an administration as that which Hillary Clinton has promised to conduct, then such a danger would be very close by.

If that danger is avoided, there would likely be some warning before EU member states erupt in civil war. One would like to suppose that member states would withdraw peacefully rather than fight civil wars to postpone departure. What might prevent peaceful dissolution would be a sharp cleavage in economic interests between social classes in the member states. Should a time come when it is clearly not in the interest of most people in certain EU member states to continue in the federation, while it was as clearly in the interest of the elites in those states to continue, then civil wars on the Yugoslav model would be very close at hand.

A links post, like in the olden days

Biswapriya Purkayastha, alias “Bill the Butcher,” creator of Raghead the Fiendly Neighborhood Terrorist, posted this ravishingly beautiful prose poem on his blog last week. Maybe the opening will hook you into following the link and reading the whole thing:

I was lost in the forest at night, alone, and I called to my ghost; and at last, my ghost came to me.

I asked my ghost, “Why, when I was lost and I was calling, did you take so long to come? I have been wandering alone and blind through the dark, and I could have harmed this body beyond repair.”

And my ghost settled before me like mist on the ground, and reached out to touch me.

“I was gone far,” it said, “looking along the paths of the forest, and the things that dwell therein.”

“And what did you see?” I asked my ghost, and saw that it still hung away from me, as though reluctant to come home to my body.

“I saw pain and hunger,” the ghost said. “I felt death and the terror of many small scuttling things. And I saw on the fringes of the forest, villages; but the villages lay empty, burned by fire and disease until the living fled and the ghosts of the dead, unable to bear the loneliness, fled after them.”

“What else?” I asked, for I knew the ghost had more to tell; it was my ghost, and it had dwelt within me since the moment I was born.

“And I saw on this path, before us, five images in the shape of women; but women they were not.” The ghost paused, and I could feel it look away into the jungle with its eyeless eyes. “They had skulls for faces, and were clad in robes made of the night. And the first of them had a flame in her hand, for she was the spirit of passion and the heat of vengeance, and she would burn you to ashes if she found you; not because she would want to, but because it is her nature.”

“And the second?” asked I.

It just gets better from there, it really is a gorgeous bit of writing.

It’s certainly at the opposite extreme from the sort of thing I encounter that sometimes makes my daily habit of looking at things on the internet feel like this:

2016-04-04-PLTM300

I am very fond of this installment of The Periodic Table of Videos. My favorite moment comes when the Prof says, “I’ve no idea how this sample got to London. It was brought to me in London, in Max’s bag.”

At The American Conservative, Alan Jacobs worries about the extent to which Americans have taken up, as a favored hobby, hatred for those whose political views differ from theirs.  He recommends pieces in this topic by blogger Scott Alexander (an essay that made its way into the DNA of Weird Sun Twitter,) journalist Lynn Vavreck, and scholars Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood.

The “Archdruid,” alias John Michael Greer, is occasionally brilliant; this essay about “The End of Ordinary Politics” builds on his theory that the distinction between hourly wages and salaried employment marks a class division that explains much of American social life, and that the US political elite has little comprehension of or curiosity about the economic interests of wage laborers. The Archdruid holds that the kind of partisan hostility that Alan Jacobs, Scott Alexander, and others lament is largely explicable as the result of tactics representatives of the salaried classes deploy to keep wage laborers off the political radar:

I’m thinking here, among many other examples along the same lines, of a revealing article earlier this year from a reporter who attended a feminist conference on sexism in the workplace. All the talk there was about how women in the salary class could improve their own prospects for promotion and the like. It so happened that the reporter’s sister works in a wage-class job, and she quite sensibly inquired whether the conference might spare a little time to discuss ways to improve prospects for women who don’t happen to belong to the salary class. Those of my readers who have seen discussions of this kind know exactly what happened next: a bit of visible discomfort, a few vaguely approving comments, and then a resumption of the previous subjects as though no one had made so embarrassing a suggestion.

It’s typical of the taboo that surrounds class prejudice in today’s industrial nations that not even the reporter mentioned the two most obvious points about this interchange. The first, of course, is that the line the feminists at the event drew between those women whose troubles with sexism were of interest to them, and those whose problems didn’t concern them in the least, was a class line. The second is that the women at the event had perfectly valid, if perfectly selfish, reasons for drawing that line. In order to improve the conditions of workers in those wage class industries that employ large numbers of women, after all, the women at the conference would themselves have had to pay more each month for daycare, hairstyling, fashionable clothing, and the like. Sisterhood may be powerful, as the slogans of an earlier era liked to claim, but it’s clearly not powerful enough to convince women in the salary class to inconvenience themselves for the benefit of women who don’t happen to share their privileged status.

To give the women at the conference credit, though, at least they didn’t start shouting about some other hot-button issue in the hope of distracting attention from an awkward question. That was the second thing relevant to my post that started happening the week after it went up. All at once, much of the American left responded to the rise of Donald Trump by insisting at the top of their lungs that the only reason, the only possible reason, that anyone at all supports the Trump campaign is that Trump is a racist and so are all his supporters.

The Archdruid isn’t a Trump supporter and does not deny that Mr Trump’s appeal is at least partly racial, but he focuses on the questions of economic status that have drawn so many white wage-earners to that particular loudmouthed landlord when they might have chosen to throw their lot in with any of a number of other race-baiting demagogues.

Speaking of Scott Alexander, here’s a bit of speculation from him about where religions come from. These paragraphs are from the middle of it:

If we were to ask the same New Guinea tribe to follow Jewish food taboos one week and American food taboos the next, I’m not sure they’d be able to identify one code as any stricter or weirder than the other. They might have some questions about the meat/milk thing, but maybe they’d also wonder why cheeseburgers are great for dinner but ridiculous for breakfast.

People get worked up over all of the weird purity laws and dress codes in Leviticus, but it’s important to realize how strict our own purity laws are. The ancient Jews would have found it ridiculous that men have to shave and bathe every day if they want to be considered for the best jobs. One must not piss anywhere other than a toilet; this is an abomination (but you would be shocked how many of the supposedly strait-laced Japanese will go in an alley if there’s no restroom nearby). I have been yelled at for going to work without a tie and for tying my tie in the wrong pattern; wearing sweatpants to work is right out. And once again, this gets even longer if you you let the more modern/rational rules onto the list – Leviticus has a lot to say about dwellings with fungus in them, but I recently learned to my distress that landlord/tenant law has a lot more.

Once again, if we made our poor New Guinea tribe follow Jewish purity laws one week and American purity laws the next, they would probably end up equally confused and angry both times.

So when we think of America as a perfectly natural secular culture, and Jews as following some kind of superstitious draconian law code, we’re just saying that our laws feel natural and obvious, but their laws feel like an outside imposition. And I think if a time-traveling King Solomon showed up at our doorstep, he would recognize American civil religion as a religion much quicker than he would recognize Christianity as one. Christianity would look like a barbaric mystery cult that had gotten too big for its britches; American civil religion would look like home.

Insofar as this isn’t obvious to schoolchildren learning about ancient religion, it’s because the only thing one ever hears about ancient religion is the crazy mythologies. But I think American culture shows lots of signs of trying to form a crazy mythology, only to be stymied by modernity-specific factors. We can’t have crazy mythologies because we have too many historians around to tell us exactly how things really happened. We can’t have crazy mythologies because we have too many scientists around to tell us where the rain and the lightning really come from. We can’t have crazy mythologies because we’re only two hundred-odd years old and these things take time. And most of all, we can’t have crazy mythologies because Christianity is already sitting around occupying that spot.

I have a weakness for maps that purport to describe what people are like in various locales, such as this one, which I saw here and which comes from this article:

 

Minority voting

Writing for The Atlantic, Matthew Delmont considers “What African Americans lost by aligning with the Democratic Party.” It’s a brief piece, but makes important points about the limits of the Democratic Party’s collective vision of race relations in the USA, and the ways in which those limits have exacerbated regional and class divisions among African Americans.

I would just like to add one point. It would be illogical for African Americans to vote otherwise than as a bloc supporting one party with 90% or more of their votes. Illogical, because in each of the fifty states and in most other jurisdictions around the USA, African Americans are a numerical minority. Say African Americans constitute 10% of the vote in a given state, and that there is no ethnic bloc voting in that state. If African Americans give one candidate 5.1% of the vote and the other 4.9%, that .2% difference will matter only in the most closely divided election. It will hardly be worth any candidate’s while to address issues of special concern to the African American community in pursuit of so small a reward, especially since white voters tend to be quick to see any effort to appeal to African Americans as a sign that politicians are neglecting their interests. Even an African American vote that divides 6% to 4% will give politicians little incentive to risk alienating the touchier segments of the white vote by focusing on specifically African American issues, since many or most undecided African American voters would be concerned chiefly with issues that are as important to whites as they are to African Americans.

By voting solidly for the Democrats, African Americans do lose the interest of the Republicans, and do wind up tied to some unattractive politicians. But they also constitute the single most powerful voting bloc within the party. In the Deep South, where whites vote almost as solidly Republican as African Americans vote Democratic, the institutional Democratic Party is a space where African Americans can influence events on a national and international scale. This in turn gives African Americans in those states an incentive to value loyalty to the institutional Democratic Party. We saw the results of this several weeks ago, when Bernie Sanders, who joined the Democratic Party only last year after decades in politics as an independent, lost every southern primary by enormous margins to Hillary Clinton, who, having been Secretary of State under the current Democratic president and wife to the Democratic president before him, is as much a symbol of the institutional Democratic Party as is any red, white, and blue cartoon donkey.

Ethnic bloc voting is not peculiar to African Americans and to whites in the Deep South, of course. It is the norm wherever the largest ethnic group does not form so large a supermajority of the voting population that it can be confident it will dominate whatever government emerges from an election. In the northern states of the USA, a significant percentage of whites vote for the Democrats, knowing that while African Americans might have more influence and more representation in Democratic state governments than in Republican ones, most of the leadership will still be white, and whether the leaders are white or not, they can hardly hope to stay in office long if they alienate a significant percentage of the otherwise-available white vote. In southern states, where African Americans are a much larger percentage of the population, if a quarter or less of whites voted Democratic, that might be enough to install a Democratic state government. Most of that government’s support would come from African American voters, and so its first order of business if it were to survive would be to address itself primarily to the concerns of African Americans.

I remember public discussion in the USA leading up to and away from the Iraqi elections of January 2005. Before the elections many experts warned that elections in Iraq at that time would, in effect, be an ethnic census, in that Shia Arabs would vote for the Shia coalition, Sunnis would vote for the Sunni coalition, and Kurds would vote for the Kurdish coalition. After the election, observers pointed out that precisely this had happened. Much of that commentary hinged on the phrase “at this time.” An election held “at this time” would be little more than an ethnic census. I wondered what time might come when it would not be so. The hated Steve Sailer likes to quote an August 2005 interview in which Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew said that “In multiracial societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion.” I first saw him quote that in August 2005, when that Iraqi election was still fresh in my mind, which is one of the reasons why that line made an impression on me (and why I am still in the habit of reading Mr Sailer’s blog.)

If African Americans ever do break away from the Democrats, it’s hard to see where they will go. Wherever they do go, it will probably be in their best interests to go there as a bloc, since demographic trends don’t suggest that African Americans will be a supermajority of the USA’s population any time soon. Indeed, all current trends suggest that the African American share of the population will continue to decline throughout the remainder of this century.

Trump voters want to live in predominantly white neighborhoods

The other day, Texas Senator Ted Cruz won a very wide victory in the Republican caucuses in the state of Utah, dealing a heavy defeat to loudmouth landlord Donald Trump. Most Utahns, including the vast majority of the state’s Republicans, are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons. Many commentators have tried to find in this result some aspect of Mormonism that makes Mr Trump’s anti-immigration message unappealing, speculating that the LDS movement’s nineteenth century experience as an unpopular religious minority has sensitized its members to Mr Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Some observers have placed a very different interpretation on the Utah results. So, Rod Dreher quotes at length from a correspondent who argues that Mr Trump attracts votes from people who either live in predominantly white neighborhoods and are worried that their lives will become less pleasant if those neighborhoods become largely nonwhite, or who live in predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods and believe that their lives would be more pleasant if they lived in predominantly white neighborhoods. Since Utah is more than 90% white, predominantly white neighborhoods are not particularly scarce in the state, and so these concerns are not the powerful vote drivers they are among downwardly mobile whites in the South and in urban areas.

Who will pick up the pieces of the Republican Party after Trump’s defeat?

It seems pretty obvious to me, at this point, that Donald Trump is going to be the Republican presidential nominee and that each of the other candidates is trying to position himself to be the man who leads the Republican Party out of the wilderness that will follow the defeat Mr Trump will suffer at the hands of Hillary Clinton.

I’ve been tweeting at various people about this.  For example:

and:

and:

and:

Ted Cruz hasn’t done significantly better so far than did Rick Santorum in 2012 or any better than Mike Huckabee in 2008, neither of whom emerged as the heir apparent for the next cycle. So his continued presence represents a hope that Republican voters will be slower to coalesce around Mr Trump than they were to coalesce around Mitt Romney in 2012, John McCain in 2008, George W Bush in 2000, Bob Dole in 1996, or George H. W. Bush in 1988, and that he will be able to win some of the states that won’t vote for him. That seems a forlorn hope, since Mr Cruz has drawn almost all of his support from evangelicals, and in no remaining state are there enough of them to put him over the top. His current standing would not seem likely to entrench Mr Cruz even as leader of the far-right counter-establishment, let alone as nominee-in-waiting for the 2020 election.

John Kasich also has to hope that states keep voting against Mr Trump, and if they do he can plausibly hope to be the beneficiary of that opposition. But, there is really no reason to suppose that Mr Trump’s support on the remaining primaries and caucuses will spike any less dramatically than did Mr Romney’s in 2012. If Mr Kasich’s bid ends with him having lost every state but the one where he is governor, he’ll be a punchline, then a trivia question, then a lecturer at the Kennedy School.

Many diehard anti-Trump Republicans have been touting House speaker Paul Ryan as a potential nominee if the Republican convention does not produce a first-ballot winner. Unlikely as that scenario is, a couple of weeks of discussion of it may be enough to qualify Mr Ryan as this cycle’s runner-up, and therefore as the de facto leader of the opposition to the Hillary Clinton administration.