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You Kant Be Serious

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The Romantic movement pushed back particularly hard against Enlightenment ideals,” thunders Steven Pinker in his new book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, a near 500-page clarion call to assemble for battle under the banner of reason and logic, which I agreed to read and review for an irrational reason. I did it because someone very close to me asked me to do it and I went against my own rational instincts—the voice of reason!—flawed and fallible a human that I am. The Romantic movement also gave us Shelley and Chopin, but let’s put that aside for a moment.

I don’t dislike Pinker. I just find him mind-numbingly tedious. He is a rock star among the pink haired crowd, for his forcible advocacy of liberal ideas, atheism, reason, and quantification. Numbers and data should define life because that’s rational, and not emotional. Anyone arguing against this is, by definition, irrational, because humans should be like Vulcans. Pinker has forceful fans on Twitter. One of them criticized a hapless humanities professor who dared offer a critique of Pinker, in the following manner:

I’m not sure that is a useful metric to quantify the impact of an intellectual argument. After all, plenty of pornstars these days get more retweets on average than the good professor. Nevertheless, I made a promise and my promise I shall keep.

What is this book about? By the time I finished, my temples grey-er and throbbing with a barrage of derivative research and pages after pages of graphs, I still wasn’t sure. What is the purpose of a book starting with the warning that “Foremost is reason. Reason is nonnegotiable?” Is this a history of enlightenment? I am not sure Pinker is a historian capable of tackling such a diverse period of time, which includes, as he mentions, an intense period of romanticism—a reactionary movement against the idea that rationality defines existence. Pinker calls himself a liberal and is worshipped as a liberal by liberals.

As I’m sure he is aware, one of the greatest liberals of all time, Lord Byron, who wanted to spread Western values to the Ottoman provinces (much to the discomfort of the far more rational practitioners of realpolitik in the British Empire) was a Romantic himself who opposed science, practiced occult, and found solace in opiates and failed romances. The Byronic hero was a broken but stoic man, carrying the burdens of the Original Sin, doomed to perish in a dark heroic death as he reflected on his failed quest. Pinker’s hero, Immanuel Kant, himself warned against this reason-emotion dualism, in a book, curiously titled The Critique of Pure Reason. Pinker somehow fails to discuss misgivings about pure reason on the part of Francis Bacon, David Hume, John Locke, or Jean-Jacques Rousseau. All of them were thinking and writing during the period Pinker calls the Enlightenment and the majority of them were liberals.

Pinker barely touches upon the conservatives, like Burke and Hobbes, and doesn’t have a thing to say about Metternich or De Maistre. De Maistre, for example, blamed the Reign of Terror squarely on rationality. On the murder of Marie Antoinette, Burke lamented, “. . . little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her, in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards, to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.”

Keats or Nate Silver?  
Pinker laments that humanities need to be scientific. Humanities are of course based on faith, according to Pinker, and therefore an enemy of reason. “The most obvious is religious faith. To take something on faith means to believe it without good reason, so by definition a faith in the existence of supernatural entities clashes with reason.” Imagine Bach’s “Matthäus-Passion,” or Bernini’s “Rape of Proserpina,” or Keats’ “Ode on Melancholy,” and then replace it with metrics or graphs. The Nate Silver-ization of the Renaissance.

Some of the accusations were straightforward. “Intellectual magazines regularly denounce ‘scientism,’ the intrusion of science into the territory of the humanities such as politics and the arts” or, “Intellectuals hate progress. Intellectuals who call themselves ‘progressive’ really hate progress. It’s not that they hate the fruits of progress, mind you: most pundits, critics, and their bien-pensant readers use computers rather than quills and inkwells, and they prefer to have their surgery with anesthesia rather than without it.” Outstanding allegations, and might I add presented without citations; extraordinary for someone incessantly harping on about data.

But there is more: “The ideal of progress also should not be confused with the 20th-century movement to re-engineer society for the convenience of technocrats and planners, which the political scientist James Scott calls Authoritarian High Modernism. The movement denied the existence of human nature, with its messy needs for beauty, nature, tradition, and social intimacy.” Right, so Enlightenment and progress are just a continuous outgrowth of the cherry-picked “good” parts of history, and all the bad that came with rationality is just due to pesky technocrats. “Science is commonly blamed for racism, imperialism, world wars, and the Holocaust.” Not strictly true. Pure rationality, sure, but not science. Science is merely a process to achieve rational goals. Nazi eugenics was the logical progression of rationality, determined to clean human stock of undesirable genetics, something logically now practiced in super-liberal Iceland by means of abortion to cleanse society of people with Down Syndrome.

The rationality Pinker defends would logically dictate that within the next 200 years there will be a mad rush for resources and territory, as the population growth in certain parts of the world is unsustainable, given that those same parts of the world are also hopelessly backward. The fate of humanity, therefore, hinges logically either on a global war or some other means of culling. In that case best not be like the Elois, or count on our species colonizing outer space To be serious about that, all gender studies research should be defunded at once and the money should be spent on space research. Pure rationality would dictate that humans should be more Hobbesian. Whatever one thinks of these solutions, Pinker should spell them out. He doesn’t, so it’s dishonest. Some might agree with that Darwinian outlook, but don’t think a majority of liberals would like that future one bit.

A Cult of His Own
It’s not that I disagree with Pinker on the facts. I very much agree with his opposition of postmodernism—the idea that there’s no natural truth, and everything is socially constructed. Ironically, postmodernists never test their assumptions of a socially constructed force of gravity from a five-storied rooftop, or go to a Shamanic healer while having a bad bout of appendicitis or psoriasis. Postmodernism is an anti-science and society ruining cult, and
Pinker rightly argues against it. But Pinker then proceeds to form a cult of his own, a cult of scientism, where there’s only one single way to approach truth, the path of empiricism, observation, and deduction. For a man of evidence, his faith in the “one true path” is revealing. Pinker’s idea of the achievements of humanity is to parade the achievements of science, which he calls the rational way, without taking responsibility for the repeated failures and terrible injustices it has wrought. Phrenology was settled science once, as was the idea that space is filled with ether.

With his manifesto, which has the bulk of a dictionary, Pinker joins a new band of academics, who define every human decision by its lack of proper information and processing of rational thoughts. If only the hoi polloi knew that society is in the pink of health. “The 21st century, an age of unprecedented access to knowledge, has also seen maelstroms of irrationality, including…the promulgation of conspiracy theories, from 9/11 to the size of Donald Trump’s popular vote.” Au contraire, one might argue it was ultra-rational that Trump supporters saw through the liberal social engineering and mindless foreign interventions. In a toxic election, a bunch of people chose an uncouth, comically macho billionaire, who instinctively wanted to cut down immigration, and slap smug Europeans buck-passing their security on American taxpayers, and stop Quixotic foreign interventions to promote democracy in the most feudal, cancerous regions of the world, instead of a cold Rosa Klebb-esque careerist who wanted to double down on a quarter century of failed policies. Who are the rational ones here?

And climate change voodoo has run its course. No rational person on the Right denies the climate is changing. They dispute that the rate of climate change is as apocalyptic as portrayed by the green Al Gore lobby and that man-made causes are behind all or even most of it. Just because conventional wisdom supports climate-change activism doesn’t mean that the views of activists are settled science. Craniometry was once settled science as well as conventional wisdom across the civilized world. To his credit, Pinker agrees with the idea that there’s too much hysteria on climate change. He writes, “Not only have the disasters prophesied by 1970s greenism failed to take place, but improvements that it deemed impossible have taken place. As the world has gotten richer and crested the environmental curve, nature has begun to rebound.” Fair enough.

He continues: “Cities are less often shrouded in purple-brown haze, and London no longer has the fog—actually coal smoke—that was immortalized in Impressionist paintings, gothic novels, the Gershwin song, and the brand of raincoats. Urban waterways that had been left for dead—have been recolonized by fish, birds, marine mammals, and sometimes swimmers . . . Carbon intensity for the world as a whole has been declining for half a century.” I hope Pinker convinces his own side of that. Liberals, the supposedly pro-science faction, are the ones who believe in 72 different genders and rally against genetically modified crops. Conservatives do not line up to buy healing crystals or vagina beads from Goop.

The Limits of “Progress”
By the time I was into the second act of the book, I was feeling envious of the fate of Hypatia. What is the purpose of such a book, which provides derivative research and data? Encyclopedias do that. Great Power wars are arguably going down. Pinker, no international relations theorist, touches upon nuclear deterrence once and leaves it at that, undeterred as history to him is teleological and inexorably progressive. Civil wars meanwhile increase, the Arab Spring turns to a long winter, and post-Cold War states slide into authoritarianism. Terrorism isn’t something to worry about, as the numbers show terror attacks are down. No mention of the enormous daily surveillance and burden on the taxpayer to prevent such regular acts of terror. Pinker doesn’t cite the latest bleak research on the increasing failures of integration and ghettoization in Europe and the enormous correlation of second-generation migrants with Jihadism. Neither does he mention increasing crime in Western cities due to the weakening of law enforcement.

Why do Europeans worry? Guess they are not rational enough. For someone so reasonable, Pinker hovers dangerously close to the Leninist theory of false consciousness. What to do about Islamism? “Obviously a new Islamic Enlightenment will have to be spearheaded by Muslims, but non-Muslims have a role to play.” Ah. Simple.

I don’t disagree with the data given, I just failed to see the purpose of the book. Yes, the world has gotten better than when Vasco Da Gama landed in Western India. So bloody what? It is inevitable that progress happens with time. Science and technology progressed from Pagan Greek and Romans to Abrahamic Europeans. During the same time, classical civilizations like India and China sunk into oblivion even without having any qualitative difference in economy with their European counterparts. When Pinker says Enlightenment, he doesn’t mean a historical analysis of Enlightenment. He seems to mean a lazy caricature of it from which he can then simplistically cherry-pick and connect to “all good things” since 1700. He attributes those good things to systemic changes, while discarding all the bad, including eugenics and world wars, to individual evil. That’s not an argument, that’s a fallacy. Pinker does a classic post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Surely Pinker knows that correlation doesn’t mean causation and doesn’t justify patterns of history.

Imagine someone standing on a summer dawn in 1905, in some sunlit meadows in Edwardian southern England. Life couldn’t have seemed better. Science and technology progress was better than ever, the spirit of scientific enquiry was worshipped throughout Europe, trade was internationalized under Pax Britannica and enforced by a peerless Royal Navy, communication was for the first time truly global due to revolutionary changes, travel all around the world was free and safe, and there was overall a great power peace for almost a hundred years. The rest, as they say, is proverbial.

The fact remains, that life cannot be quantified or metricized. Polls failed to predict Brexit and Trump’s win, or Arab Spring, or the breakdown of Pax Americana after a quarter-century of unipolarity, and they overlooked the renewed great power rivalry. There were once marauding hordes destroying priceless artifacts in dark ages Europe in the name of religion, when Baghdad and Tehran were proper civilizations. They are doing the same in the Middle East now, just in the name of a different religion. History is cyclical, and data dudes are myopic, parochial, and naïve if they think it is destined only to get better.

What’s the purpose of this book, as it is clearly a terrible history of enlightenment? In Pinker’s own words, “. . . life has gotten longer, healthier, richer, safer, happier, freer, smarter, deeper, and more interesting. Problems remain, but problems are inevitable.”

Well, thanks for that, captain.

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A Tragic Tale of Nation Building

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Few Americans today have heard of Edward Lansdale, one of the founders of modern counterinsurgency theory who was something of a cause célèbre in the 1950s and 1960s for his involvement in championing the rise to power of Filipino leader Ramon Magsaysay and the doomed South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem.

Review of The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam by Max Boot (Liveright, 768 pgs., $21)

Lansdale was made famous by the public’s association of him (in the first case undeserved) with the main characters in two contemporary novels and subsequent movies, The Quiet American (1955) and The Ugly American (1958).

In his latest book, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, noted author and historian Max Boot explores the life and times of this enigmatic figure, bringing his unique journey to life for a new generation of readers. Boot, the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, came to the idea of updating Lansdale’s story during the writing of Invisible Armies, Boot’s work on the history of guerrilla warfare. The result is an exceptionally well-written, captivating tale of one of the most distinctive characters in American Cold War history.

Lansdale grew up in a middle-class family in Michigan and southern California and became an advertising executive after attending college at UCLA. He served as an intelligence officer with the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency, during World War II. Lansdale remained in the Philippines when the war ended, in no small measure due to his amorous relationship with Pat Kelly, an attractive Filipina widow who would become a lifelong friend and eventually, after the death of his first spouse Helen, his second wife. Boot is the first historian to gain access to Lansdale’s numerous letters to Kelly, providing a window into his innermost thoughts on any number of issues, both personal and professional. Boot has also leveraged recently declassified documents to provide a more complete picture of Lansdale’s more controversial assignments, such as his leadership of Operation Mongoose, a U.S. government operation to overthrow Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the early 1960s.

Lansdale grew to love the Philippines and its people. A chance meeting with Ramon Magsaysay in Washington, D.C., led to Lansdale’s return to the Philippines as his personal advisor. Magsaysay lived with Lansdale, now seconded to the CIA, for a time and became his close compatriot and friend. Magsaysay turned out to be exactly the sort of incorruptible, courageous, honest nationalist that counterinsurgency advisors dream of to turn around a country in the throes of rebellion. Lansdale advised Magsaysay in his role as Secretary of National Defense. Their campaign against the communist Huks emphasized psychological warfare and civic action. Lansdale and Magsaysay worked to minimize civilian casualties and gain the trust of the people. Magsaysay used his administrative authority over the army officer corps to get rid of corrupt officials and promote competent leaders. It took only eighteen months for Magsaysay and Landsdale to turn around a failing war effort.

Lansdale then promoted Magsaysay as a candidate for president of the Philippines—a position the latter attained in 1953 with the help of Lansdale, who acted as a quasi-campaign manager and who worked to ensure a free and fair vote. Magsaysay’s election all but ended the Huk rebellion as a political force. Harassed and on the run, their platform for reform co-opted by Magsaysay, the Huks were a spent force. Landsdale had helped to defeat a communist insurgency in the third world—and without a massive infusion of American aid or troops. It was a singular achievement for U.S. intelligence in the early period of the Cold War.

Could Lansdale duplicate his success in America’s next battleground, Vietnam? Lansdale believed that insurgencies could only be defeated by creating effective state institutions; in other words, by nation-building. But the larger lesson is counterinsurgency works when you find a Magsaysay to implement it; it does not when you are stuck with less charismatic, less honest, and less effective leaders. Lansdale developed a close relationship with South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem, but the latter lacked Magsaysay’s ability to relate to the common people and thereby gain legitimacy for his administration. The authoritarian Diem built a one-party state that lacked popular backing among large segments of the South Vietnamese populace.

In 1961 Lansdale came to the attention of President John F. Kennedy, who offered him the position of ambassador to South Vietnam or failing that, commander of the military advisory group. Lansdale declined both positions, but the president’s favor stirred jealousy in the ranks of Washington bureaucracy. After helping to draft an interagency task force report on Vietnam, Lansdale was all but excluded from implementing it. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had little use for someone who couldn’t provide a path to victory using quantitative inputs and systems analysis. Lansdale’s influence on the Vietnam War waned and his later tours in Saigon were overshadowed by the massive ground war that followed the infusion of U.S. ground troops into the conflict—a step he had counseled against but could do nothing to prevent.

Even as talented a figure as Lansdale could not change the arc of history already heavily slanted against Diem’s regime. American diplomatic and military officials subsequently made matters much worse by failing to embrace the psychological warfare and civic action components of counterinsurgency warfare, by attempting to fight guerrillas with conventional military forces backed by massive firepower, and eventually by Americanizing the conflict. Even had U.S. leaders followed his advice, it is unlikely that Lansdale’s presence could have changed the ultimate outcome in Vietnam. Diem’s unwillingness to bolster his government by engaging the people of South Vietnam and bringing them into the political process undercut his legitimacy and ultimately doomed his regime. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that American backing of a coup against Diem in 1963 eliminated what little chance South Vietnam had of stabilizing politically.

When Lansdale returned to Vietnam in 1965, ostensibly to lead the pacification effort, he was marginalized by other U.S. players in Saigon, more intent on protecting their bureaucratic turf than on cooperating to conduct the kind of “hearts and minds” campaign with which they fundamentally disagreed. Lansdale ended his final tour in Vietnam in the summer of 1968, a Cassandra doomed to understand the realities of the war in Vietnam but incapable of making anyone in power in Washington understand.

During his career, Lansdale fought as many battles with the U.S. government bureaucracy as he did with communist guerrillas. He operated best when given broad authority and a small but capable team while stationed far away from Washington, D.C. His more conventional supervisors resented his independence and reluctance to follow orders. Lansdale was as unconventional as the wars he was trying to wage and win; a maverick hailed by some as the “Lawrence of Asia” and by others as a reckless operative who needed to be reined in. His inability to find a way to ingratiate himself with senior leaders at Defense and State eventually sealed his fate.

Even Lansdale’s work in the Philippines was overturned by the tragic death of Ramon Magsaysay in a plane crash in 1957. The Philippine government quickly returned to its previous dysfunctional state of corruption and incompetence.

The true tragedy in this period was the failure of democracy to take root in the Third World in Asia, an outcome that Lansdale had done his best to forestall but which in the end he was powerless to avert. In a 1964 Foreign Affairs article Lansdale wrote, “The great lesson was that there must be a heartfelt cause to which the legitimate government is pledged.” The unstated truth was that such causes and governments rarely have need for U.S. assistance in combating insurgencies in the first place.

The Road Not Taken is highly recommended reading for historians of the Cold War and military leaders, Foreign Service officers, and intelligence personnel wrestling with America’s current challenges in the small wars of the 21st century, as well as general readers looking for an exhilarating story of a fascinating character in American history.

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2016 Election • American Conservatism • Book Reviews • Conservatives • Donald Trump • Elections • Hillary Clinton • Political Parties • Post • The Media

Inside the Billionaire’s Blue-Collar Campaign

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I thought throughout the 2016 presidential race that if it were a 1980s coming-of-age comedy, the Trump campaign would be the scrappy underdogs from the down-at-its-heels camp about to lose its lease while its well-funded, blow-dried adversaries came from the posh, preppy camp across the lake. Whatever you think you know about the Trump campaign, prepare to be astonished.

“Let Trump Be Trump,” by Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, is an underdog story. Their book is a uniquely engaging inside account that is as bracing as the candidate and the team it describes.

This is a serious book, not another campaign tell-all full of score-settling digs and salacious errata. The authors provide a welcome departure from the peevish tone of so many recent campaign books. Instead, they offer an honest inside look at the Trump campaign that conveys the team’s gritty blue-collar work ethic, the camaraderie, the loyalty and the can-do spirit that transformed them from a punchline to a political juggernaut. Read the rest at RealClearPolitics.

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Standing Up to the Bully in Asia

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Steven W. Mosher’s  new book, Bully of Asia: Why China’s Dream is the New Threat to World Order, couldn’t arrive at a better time. Mosher is a leading scholar of China, who has written a retinue of books on the subject. With the recent publication of Graham Allison’s Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? and with President Trump’s ongoing Asia trip, the topic of China’s rise is ripe for discussion.

The critical difference between Allison’s work and Mosher’s is that Bully of Asia relies heavily on Chinese history to illuminate China’s strategic intentions today. Allison, by contrast, likens the competition between China and the United States to that of ancient Athens and Sparta, which led to the quarter-century-long Peloponnesian War and ended in the destruction of the Athenian Empire. While Allison rightly draws universal and eternal lessons from Thucydides, Mosher looks more carefully at China’s particular experience for a fuller picture and, specifically, to China’s Warring States period for a snapshot of China’s distinct strategic outlook.

While no earthly state is exempt from universal lessons of human experience, a nation’s peculiar culture is also derived from its particular historical experience. So it makes more sense to consider how Chinese strategists would make inferences from their country’s bloodiest period, as opposed to limiting our understanding by boxing them into inferences drawn from the history and experiences of the West. What is universal is universal. But what is particular to China cannot be understood within artificial categories extrapolated from Western experience.

Our strategic culture differs from Chinese strategic culture, which Mosher explains has been dominated by cold realists for thousands of years. America’s strategic culture, once rooted in its own kind of realism, has been hijacked by postmodernism and globalist utopians. If present American strategic culture is informed by the wistful claims of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, then Chinese strategic culture is predicated on painful memories of the Warring States period, the “Century of Humiliation,” and the terror of Maoism.

When China looks around the world, they see every state as potential fuel for their meteoric rise. When America looks to the world, they see partners seeking to cooperate in an American-dominated international system. Given the disparity in outlooks—and the rise of China’s power—Americans would do well to abandon the naïve sentiments of the idealists and notions about an inevitable “end of history” that culminates with the global embrace of liberal democracy. Instead, we should return to an understanding of realistic American strategic concepts such as “peace through strength.”

Throughout Mosher’s brilliant work is a common and vital theme: culture matters.

Mosher uses the recently deceased Chinese political dissident (and prisoner), Liu Xiaobo’s criticism of the Chinese Communist Party’s “bellicose nationalism” as an example of how China’s culture is being warped to favor an aggressive and competitive relationship with the rest of the world. Mosher believes “[a] Great Wall against truth has been erected in the minds of the Chinese” which results in most of China’s population “uncritically accepting [the] Party’s propaganda.” This has happened to such a degree that, “[the Chinese people] mistook the illusions spun by a dictatorial regime intent upon its own aggrandizement for actual reality.”

It’s clear why China, on pace very soon to become the world’s largest economy (in GDP terms), would risk its future by threatening Taiwan (and therefore the United States) rather than leaving well-enough-alone. It’s a cultural thing, which Mosher calls “Han chauvinism.” Trying to understand it in Western terms won’t do.

Mosher’s perspective matches nicely with renowned geostrategist Edward N. Luttwak’s 2013 criticism of China’s strategic culture. Luttwak accused the Chinese Communist Party of suffering from “Great State Autism,” which meant China was not actually listening to what the United States and other states were saying to them. Instead, Chinese foreign policy was crafted according to an internal logic that contained, “highly simplified, schematic representations of unmanageably complex realities, which [are] thereby distorted to fit within internally generated categories, operations, and perspectives.” In short, if one wants to understand Chinese intentions in foreign affairs, one need only listen to what Chinese state media tells its citizens to believe.

To get a working sense of China’s alternative worldview, just ask any Chinese citizen if he believes the 1999 U.S. bombing of the Chinese consulate in Belgrade during the Kosovo War was an accident. I’ve yet to meet a Chinese citizen—regardless of his background or political orientation—that doesn’t believe the most deranged, anti-American conspiracy theory about purported American guilt in that instance. In the Chinese mind, the United States destroyed China’s consulate to keep China down. In reality, the consulate bombing was the result of bad intelligence. It was a simple screw up.

With all this in mind, Allison’s conclusion in Destined for War—that the United States must move out of China’s way in Asia and mind its own business to prevent the breakout of another apocalyptic Peloponnesian-style war—strains credulity.

If the idealists in the American foreign policy community get their way and the United States retreats from Asia, the Chinese would not merely run roughshod over the region; they would almost certainly expand into other parts of the world (since they would feel that Chinese regional hegemony was secure). It should be obvious that making China feel more secure at home would result in greater Chinese adventurism abroad. This is all bad for American security and interests, given China’s “internally generated” worldview.

My own view dovetails with David P. Goldman’s answer to China’s rise—and it seems Mosher’s conclusion in the Bully of Asia supports it, too: to preserve peace, prepare for war. Moreover, we have to be willing to threaten trade and to “play the Taiwan card” to make the Chinese more pliable. Mosher goes one step further and argues that the American foreign policy community’s China watchers need to open their ranks and allow for other viewpoints on China’s rise to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, as American Greatness has reported, the establishment will actively resist having their sacred cows in policy slaughtered by outsiders like President Trump and Steven W. Mosher. It remains to be seen if the Mosher worldview can break through the toxic miasma of the Swamp.

Whether this view penetrates or not, it is the correct one. It’s time to stand up to the bully in Asia. You can start by buying Mosher’s book.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

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Administrative State • America • Book Reviews • Center for American Greatness • Cultural Marxism • Donald Trump • History • Post • Progressivism • The Culture • The Resistance (Snicker)

It Did Happen Here—How Fascism Came to America

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Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 satiric novel about a fascist takeover, It Can’t Happen Here, has made a furious comeback at the expense of the maligned Donald Trump. That it is an act of supreme political ignorance for anyone to think Lewis’s novel somehow foreshadows the rise of Trump has not prevented such ignorance from manifesting itself. We see the mentality at work in a number of publications and, for a week following the 2016 election, the book was reportedly sold out on Amazon.

This poor excuse for literature could have been spun out of the pages of yesterday’s Washington Post.

Lewis (1885-1951) is not as bad a writer as he often reads. And one reads him for his cultural observations anyway. His Babbitt and Main Street offer devastating insights not just on small-town America but into a low side of the American character, a boorishness that made “Babbitt” a common noun. Other observers of America, such as Tocqueville, also noted this unfortunate quality in some Americans. Lewis delivers these shots from the perspective of a Progressive-era intellectual, who had moved from small-town Minnesota to Yale and then, in 1910, to his base of operations in Washington, D.C. The first American to win the Nobel Prize for literature, Lewis had nowhere near the gift for language as the most recent Minnesotan to snag the honor. Even so, Lewis does have some glorious moments.

A Demagogue of Demagogues
In
It Can’t Happen Here, Lewis portrays a 1936 Democratic Party nominating convention divided among several possibilities, including the incumbent Franklin Roosevelt and his labor secretary, Frances Perkins. (The real 1936 Democratic Convention renominated Roosevelt by acclamation. In his acceptance speech, FDR denounced “economic royalists” and the “new industrial dictatorship” as betrayers of the spirit of 1776 and enemies of equality, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.)

In Lewis’s convention, Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a senator from the midwest, wins the prize with a platform of repression and expropriation, assisted by a thuggish gang, the League of Forgotten Men. Deftly dispensing homespun wisdom, Windrip “denounced all ‘Fascism’ and ‘Naziism,’ so that most of the Republicans who were afraid of Democratic Fascism, and all the Democrats who were afraid of Republican Fascism, were ready to vote for him.” Windrip defeats his feeble Republican opponent (who flees to Canada) and a third-party “Jeffersonian” candidacy from FDR.

Once in office, the demagogue quickly dispatches his opposition through delegitimization, exile, imprisonment, mass executions, and, above all, intimidation. Congress, the courts, the parties, the media, unions, churches, the military, universities, and businesses all crumble, unless they join Windrup. He abolishes the States and institutes regional governments and concentration camps while plotting wars with Mexico and other countries. In the new order, blacks and Jews suffer a great deal, with Catholics not far behind.

He replaces the old establishment with new, reliable political allies from those who had been losers. (In a hilarious moment in the book, Windrip offers FDR the ambassadorship to Liberia, which he declines.) With the aid of his secretary of state, Lee Sarason, Windrip devises a new political religion with worship of the corporate state, war, and a new steering wheel logo along with a new national anthem (one, presumably, that would not cause Windrip’s enraptured followers to kneel in protest).

‘I’ve Done Better Books’
The reader looks upon this state of affairs through the eyes of a Progressive small-town Vermont newspaper editor, Doremus Jessup. He has predictable political and intellectual views—leading a comfortable life with wife, two sons and two daughters, and two mistresses on the side. But his talk and his editorials land him and his family into trouble.

At first he goes along, but as things develop he soon sees a number of intolerable things: first the new regime murders his son-in-law; next he finds one son pleading with him to shut up so he will have a chance at a judgeship; and finally he puts up with his other daughter using her allurements for the sake of the underground opposition. Jessup then winds up in a concentration camp, where he survives only through favored treatment by old friends. We last see him in the fields of Minnesota working for the resistance and fleeing Corpo bands.

On the national level, Windrip falls victim to a palace coup by his appointee Sarason. But subsequent White House same-sex orgies give rise to a military takeover, demanding a moral restoration and a war on Mexico, plunging the nation into civil war.

It’s all there on the surface, as the Dickensian names reveal. Sarason, a Saracen, Berzelius “Buzz” Wind-rip, a Beelzebub and bacillus, and Doremus Jessup who could be an Adoremus (we adore ) or Oremus (let us pray) Jesus—which embodies Lewis’s contempt for religious naïveté which, in his view, condemns all utopians. One biographer provides this telling account of Lewis’s meeting with the Communist-dominated League of American Writers which had gushed about his novel. A derisive Lewis mocked them:

Let me tell you, it isn’t a very good book — I’ve done better books — and furthermore, I don’t believe any of you have read the book; if you had, you would have seen I was telling you all to go to hell. Now, boys, … stand up, join arms… and sing, “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus.”

Even Worse Than the Left Thinks
What Leftists today don’t see in 
It Can’t Happened Here is that fascism has come to America through the Progressives, in particular the Democratic Party. Jonah Goldberg wrote a daring book making this argument, Liberal Fascism, which astutely describes the fascistic elements of Progressivism. Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural is replete with examples: his comparison of himself with Jesus, his call for moving populations from city to country, and the disturbing military allusions, with citizens to obey as privates in an army with FDR as the commander-in-chief.

What befell ethnic Japanese during World War II could happen to any group, without the excuse of wartime exigency. Such Progressive arrogance also shines through in campaign references to “experimentation” and to the era of enlightened administration.

But such Progressive ambitions had an even more brutal harbinger in a far worse novel, Philip Dru Administrator: A Story of Tomorrow, 1920-1935. The didactic screed was published anonymously in 1912 by Edward Mandell House or “Colonel House,” as he is known. House went on to become a close adviser to Woodrow Wilson and gave the president-elect a copy of the book the November Wilson was elected. The short utopian/dystopian novel’s hero is a West Point graduate who yearns for action and battle, and as well “human emancipation” against the greed and corruption of politics.

In a west-east civil war, Dru’s army vanquishes the forces of the corrupt President of the east. The unassuming hero reforms the Constitution and the country along progressive principles and then surrenders his dictatorial power as “Administrator” of the republic. Dru and his bride then leave on their honeymoon, sailing out of San Francisco Bay, both having recently acquired knowledge of Slavic languages, to a destination “unknown.”

Upon publication, the novel’s author was often assumed to be Theodore Roosevelt. But young Walter Lippmann in his New York Times review in 1912 had a better insight. While ridiculing the book’s literary qualities, he gave an eerie warning: “[I]f the author . . . is really a man of affairs, then this is an extraordinarily interesting book. It shows how utterly juvenile a great man can be . . . . If he is really an example of the far-seeing public man, then, in all sincerity, I say, God help this sunny land.”

Fascist visions and military coups have ever been the fantasy of the Progressive Left. It is no surprise that Leftists denounce others for spoiling their dreams.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

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America • Book Reviews • civic culture/friendship • Cultural Marxism • Education • feminists • Free Speech • Identity Politics • Post • Progressivism • The Culture • The Left

The World is Your Oatmeal

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When Lisa De Pasquale first informed me she was writing a new book about the Left, I was concerned for her mental health. Fortunately for all us but those on the Left, she’s kept her head; and, buoyed by her common sense, conservative principles and—something sorely lacking in her quarry—a sense of humor, Ms. De Pasquale has produced an enlightening satire of the Left’s benighted worldview: The Social Justice Warrior Handbook: A Practical Survival Guide for Snowflakes, Millennials, and Generation Z.

As is customary in satirical musings, there are two levels to plumb. First, there is the obvious mirth, wherein the hypocritical and the haughty are skewered and brought down to size. In focusing on SJWs, De Pasquale has found a plethora of overly self-esteeming poltroons ripe to be hoisted by their own petards. For example, in “Choosing Your Food Philosophy,” savor this tasty bite she takes out of culinary cultural warriors:

Nose to Tail

If you live in California or other progressive location, consider a food philosophy that incorporates locally-raised, organically-fed animals. Embrace the offal! Offal is the organs and entrails of meat products. You may receive some judgment from vegetarian friends, but remind them that using and respecting the entire animal is part of the Native American tradition, as well a necessity in other cultures. For example, many Native Americans boiled the full stomachs of buffalo for a tasty grass-fed stew. In modern society, this might include foie gras or pâté prepared by a bearded chef with a tattoo of a butchered pig diagram.

Scrumptious, no?

Our first course of amusement consumed, let us move to a few of the deeper truths beneath. De Pasquale’s satire of the SJWs. (No, I’m not going to reveal them all, but rather serve you and the cause of American Greatness by allowing you discern these deeper truths for yourself—after you buy her book.)

One: the Left believes politics isn’t just a part of life; the Left believes politics is life. This is why SJWs inject politics into every facet of human existence—because they believe it is already there. Unconvinced? Try sitting down and eating a hot dog (or offal) beneath the glare of a vegan wanting to link arms with you in solidarity with something or other at an NFL game. Or just try celebrating a blessed event:

Planning a Coworker’s Baby Shower

Coworker: She said she’s having a boy, so I thought we could decorate the conference room with blue balloons.

You: We actually don’t know the fetus’s gender, so we should use a color that doesn’t follow traditional gender roles.

Coworker: What color should we use?

You: Oatmeal.

Two: though normal folks disliking cranks bitching at them, SJWs egotistically persist because of their presumed status of enlightenment above and beyond that of the rest of us. Consequently, attempts to engage SJWs in a rational discourse prove impossible, because any disagreement with their ideas is viewed as an attack on their illusory sense of superiority. And, oh, do they not dig this.

Three: Elitist SJWs and their comrades in academia, the media, and corporate America have institutionalized their insanity. Never mind that pesky First Amendment with its recognition of our God-given human rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion. SJWs and their enablers seek to stifle any and all criticism as well as contrary ideas as “hateful,” “racist,” or “[fill in the blank] phobic.” Of course, this amounts to the very fascism and oppression the SJWs claim to be resisting, even as they happily foist these things upon the rest of us. Chillingly, as Ms. De Pasquale’s book reminds us despite its humor, the SJWs’ liberty eroding “political correctness” is predominantly enforced by the private sector.

In reading De Pasquale’s book, I was reminded of a saying my late father used to like, “Some people are only happy when they’re miserable.” SJWs are miserable people bent upon imposing an equality of misery upon the freest, most prosperous, and powerful nation in human history, SJWs and their Leftist cohorts reject “American Greatness” and prefer an American grayness. They won’t be content until the world is no longer your oyster but is, instead,  your oatmeal.

Friends, this is a cursory and by no means comprehensive review of the amusements and truths in De Pasquale’s The Social Justice Warrior Handbook. So snag it and read it.

While you can….

 

 

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2016 Election • America • Book Reviews • Donald Trump • Hillary Clinton

S*** Happened

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Ernest Hemingway once settled a bet by writing this six-word short story—“For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”

Review of “What Happened” ­by Hillary Rodham Clinton (Simon & Schuster, 512 pp., $30)

Now comes Hillary Rodham Clinton to best this feat of literary genius. The entire story of her election loss is offered on the cover of her new book in just five gulping words: “What Happened: Hillary Rodham Clinton.”Alas, a book publisher would never allow even the most prodigious of writers to tell a story in five words, so the next 469-pages shimmy the phalanx of copy editors, proofreaders, and sentencemen and somehow make it through.

The book is a pulp and ink microcosm of Clinton herself. A circumspect and erudite point-maker suffocated and slathered in focus-grouped fluff and self-help slop.

Pinioned by planning, Hillary’s core message is hydra-like, becoming at least 30 others by the time the blame is portioned out to any and all but herself and her haplessly hipster high command. There’s Russia, there’s email, there’s sexism, racism, a canter of progressive pieties and boogeymen—even mystagogue Alex Jones—but never the bruising reality of why Donald Trump is number 45. She even manages to spell Wisconsin as “misogyny.” Sack the proofreader, Mrs. C.  

The hard-boiled message, once strained through limestone, laments democracy’s major flaw: everyone gets a vote. Those who weren’t “with her,” nor felt “stronger together,” are beyond redemption—“deplorable,” if you will.  

In one revealing passage, we see Hillary confronting one of her potential kindred spirits—a young woman convinced, it would seem, of Trump’s nefarious plans to issue an executive order corralling fertile women into state-sanctioned sex slavery. The fan sheepishly admits she didn’t vote. Hillary’s derision for the subject borders that of mania, with each word goose-stepping across the page before cooling upon the realization that someone may be reading this. Hillary tickles the nonvoter with feathered disappointment, a rapid climbdown from the imminence of “Clockwork Orange”-style clamped eyelids.  

But what afflicts Hillary is not her entirely her fault. She and her Belmont pals seldom pass through Fishtown. And clearly have no plans to take a detour.

Written in gluten-free, self-help style, What Happened could be titled “How to Sin Without Amends and Incense People.” But, like every work of that sadly burgeoning genre, the kernel of truth radiantly lacking is that of naked introspection.

Hillary’s gargantuan loss bears precipitously on her buckling popular-vote crutch. She may have wheezed 3 million more votes than Trump, but this security blanket must be snatched from the Great Mewl if the Democrats are to pull free of their self-inflicted morass. Trump won the popular vote in 30 states. Hillary’s “moral win” is owed to California, whom swathes of the hinterlands wouldn’t mind ushering into a Calexit.

Throughout the narrative of her book, Hillary’s smarts undo her. She is politically capable, motored, and cognizant. In her defense, the fabulist claque surrounding Clinton abets her unraveling. Unwilling to shoot from the gut, she hamstrings herself with Millennial-inspired maladies which trade shoe leather for data. With the coherence and collection of Thunderbird wine, she is rendered neither fish, nor fowl, nor good red herring. From tribune of the white working-class in 2008, to avatar of the Ruling Class; public defender of the putrid; town crier of the tony Taliban.

Like a pack-a-day smoker insisting his perforated lungs are resultant of juju trickery, Hillary cannot admit of the populist intifada which devoured her doomed bid. Three of the last four presidential candidates vowed to blanket Washington in napalm. Hillary offered hot sauce.

Bernie Sanders is proffered a pep talk, despite being the prizefighter horse-traded for the palooka, yet still unwilling to bear-trap Hillary’s throat when those meddlesome emails encircled their sender.

What happened? Well, 7 million manufacturing jobs left the United States in NAFTA’s wake, a social dysentery soundtracked by endless winless conflicts dealing death to thousands and maiming more, Wall Street lamsters hoovered up bailout cash, and millions saw their own American Dream foreclosed.

Has Hillary learned anything? No. The populist squall is reduced to a soupçon of white noise, while FBI Director James Comey’s investigation into her emails amounts to a “shivving.” She would have won, she lies, if not for meddling by that pesky Comey.

“This is what happens in George Orwell’s classic novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ ” writes one of Hillary’s word Sherpas, “. . . when a torturer holds up four fingers and delivers electric shocks until his prisoner sees five fingers, as ordered. The goal is to make you question logic and reason and to sow mistrust toward exactly the people we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, experts . . . ”

What does she mean? Well, the clodhoppers left to shoot dope and trade food stamps in desolate post-industrial America should trust the experts who’ve shipped the jobs abroad and the bodies back home. Those with credentials like her own. Those with spreadsheets, and data, and white papers. Those with intricate knowledge of soppressata, capicola, and striata baguettes—“ham sandwiches” to you and me.

What happened? In this case, you can judge a book by its cover.

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American Conservatism • Book Reviews • Donald Trump • feminists • First Amendment • Free Speech • Identity Politics • Libertarians • The Culture

Milo Yiannopoulos’ ‘Dangerous’: A Manifesto for the Transgressive Right

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When the Richard Strauss opera “Salome,” based on Oscar Wilde’s play of the same name, first premiered in the United States, critics dismissed it as tasteless and boring: nothing but schlock produced for the shock value.

The truth, as composer and academic Robert Greenberg observes in his “Great Works” course on “How to Listen to and Understand Great Opera,” was quite different: the critics were scandalized by the opera, but knew that they couldn’t possibly say so, for fear of their outraged reactions selling tickets. So the best option was to pretend the show was boring, which couldn’t possibly warrant an audience’s interest.

I suspect that precisely the same impulse is at work in the liberal reviews of Milo Yiannopoulos’ new, self-published book, Dangerous. “Oh, Milo. You’ve done the impossible. Written a book that’s largely…boring,” yawns USA Today with practiced condescension. “Ironically, in helping elect Trump, Milo and those like him made themselves obsolete: America now faces greater problems than the mean-spirited s—tposts of a preening hack,” concludes Gizmodo in its own incredibly bitter take on the book. I presume CNN did not get the memo on this last bit.

Nevertheless, if Oscar Wilde himself is watching from the afterlife, one can only suspect it pleases him to see another ostentatiously transgressive gay man’s provocations meet with this obviously fake yawning by equally obviously triggered people. For myself, having read Dangerous, I can say conclusively that if this book didn’t scandalize its Leftist readers, they must have either skimmed it or not paid attention. This book is many things, but it is most definitely the opposite of boring.

Not that the liberal reviewers are being completely dishonest. There is merit to their claim that parts of the book feel recycled from Yiannopoulos’ speeches, or that he goes to great lengths rehashing some old controversies. For the sake of full disclosure, in fact, I should admit that I came to know Yiannopoulos personally through one of those old controversies: namely, #Gamergate. And while I remain as tickled as ever by Milo’s searing and accurate takedown of the “fourth wave feminists” who tried to turn their shameless baiting of socially awkward and largely powerless men into a noble struggle against Patriarchy, or harassment, or something, it is certainly true that the case against the likes of, say, Anita Sarkeesian probably needs no repetition in 2017. When it comes to the anti-#Gamergate feminists and their SJW allies, I can only echo Gizmodo’s sentiment that the mean-spirited s—tposts of such preening hacks are now mercifully beneath our notice.

However, despite the occasional bit of recycled material, Dangerous is still worth reading: not just for college-age would-be Milos looking for a hefty repository of “hate facts” and skillfully presented right-wing argumentation to employ against the sensitive Leftist souls and/or not-so-sensitive Leftist brickbats in their local Antifa I mean, college—but also for seasoned right-wing ideologues. That said, the two groups will not benefit from the same sections of the book. The teenage and college-age s—tlords will be most enamored with Yiannopoulos’ volleys against the Left, which older right-wing intellectuals will probably find too obvious and familiar (if still terribly funny), and thus, the younger readers will probably get the most out of those sections of the book. However, for those who have been on the Right for a while, I would argue that Yiannopoulos is even more worth reading, and it is to them that I will address the rest of this review. Because it is in his sections detailing his disagreements with various factions on the Right, from CPAC, to the alt-right, to “establishment conservatives,” where Yiannopoulos really attempts to do something daring and original: he crafts the first manifesto for a Right that has shed being conservative in favor of being transgressive.

One of the most interesting points in the book comes early on, when Yiannopoulos fingers one man who he sees as his antecedent. And unlike what you might expect from other right-wing authors, he doesn’t choose, say, Bill Buckley, or Rush Limbaugh, or Ronald Reagan, or even (given his British roots) Margaret Thatcher. Who does he pick?

Well, here’s Yiannopoulos: “If you want white nationalism, go listen to Richard Spencer. I’m the conservative Lenny Bruce, finding boundaries and raping them in front of you. (Lenny Bruce would overdose all over again if he saw what stuffy prudes we consider controversial comedians today.)”

Later on, in his chapter on trolls, Yiannopoulos laments a trend among his “heroes,” one of whom, once again, turns out to be an unexpected sort for a normal conservative:

Even the rebellious heroes of my youth have gone soft. In 1997, Marilyn Manson was outraging Christians and social conservatives. The Antichrist Superstar should have been a Trump fan. He was practically built for it. It was a real let down when he came out with a music video in which he decapitated a Trump look-alike.

Now, needless to say, Lenny Bruce and Marilyn Manson are far from the people your average college Republican would cite as inspirations for their current political views. And really, there’s no particular reason why anyone in decades past would think they should have been.

Were those people wrong? Yiannopoulos certainly thinks so, as his chapter on “Why Establishment Republicans Hate Me,” or more specifically, in his absolutely vicious evisceration of a group he refers to as “Debate Club Conservatives.” Milo defines that group this way:

There’s something…noble about trying to preserve the standards of decorum that existed prior to the 1960s, when a single swear word on TV could lead to a boycott campaign. That worldview is completely understandable for conservatives (and even most liberals) over 65.

If you’re under 40, however, it’s likely that you fall into the unfortunate, slightly laughable group I call Debate Club Conservatives. And it’s time to snap out of it.[…]

There’s another reason why the DCC attitude is so damaging to the conservative movement: most people aren’t political obsessives. They don’t care about your 14-point refutation of Obamacare. They want to hear things that relate to their own experiences, not abstract policy debates.

And what in people’s own experiences does a transgressive Right understand that the Debate Club does not? Yiannopoulos explains, using the example of Ben Shapiro:

Shapiro is thinking of a world where only politics matter. To him, political correctness is a problem because it suppresses facts relevant to current affairs—and that’s it. For most other people, the stultifying rules of political correctness go far beyond the suppression of facts; it’s the suppression of jokes, banter, and yes, the suppression of rudeness.

Political correctness interrupts everyday human experiences, threatening to turn every single personal matter into a public one. You can no longer slip up in conversation without worrying if the person you’re talking to is going to tell the whole world what you said, potentially ruining your life forever (need I provide a personal example?). The internet’s erosion of privacy with the resurgence of politically correct taboos is a terrifying combination. That’s why so many people are drawn to Trump. 

Now, Yiannopoulos doesn’t delve into history to make his case as much as he could, which is unfortunate. But what this point seems to suggest, and I believe correctly, is that the instant modern day political correctness became a dominant cultural force (most likely during the ’90s), conservatives were effectively gang pressed into common cause with figures like Marilyn Manson, Lenny Bruce, and every other person who laid siege to good (i.e., politically correct) taste.

The instant public virtue was weaponized by the Left, it became necessary to defend public vice, because otherwise the definition of “vice” would be expanded to cover anyone its new politically correct masters didn’t like. The Left actually understood this when it was in the transgressive position, and implemented it by having groups like the ACLU stand up for the rights of neo-Nazis and Communists in the same breath.

Conservatives, by contrast, seem reluctant to do the same, or even to acknowledge the necessity. One very notable exception, aside from Yiannopoulos, currently sits in the White House. Further, while Yiannopoulos most likely wouldn’t care for the association with a figure like Samuel T. Francis, given his oft-professed disdain for practitioners of white identity politics, nevertheless he more or less adapts Francis’ idea of “anarcho-tyranny” for a cultural rather than a political context in his argument that the Right and the merely deviant now share the same interests. And after seeing the disgraceful #CNNBlackmail episode, can anyone doubt that he is at least partially correct?

Now, lest you think that Yiannopoulos wants to run the DCC’s or the purveyors of propriety out of the GOP completely, I do have to let him reassure you before proceeding:

Conservatism needs its great thinkers and its brilliant minds—the Debate Club brigade —to persuade voters who are already open-minded. But we also need provocateurs and clowns, to grab the attention and challenge the biases of those who don’t want to be challenged.

No movement has ever survived with just moderates and intellectuals, and no movement has ever survived with just hellraisers.

As the dubious episode surrounding Yiannopoulos’ own so-called “fall from grace” shows, however, the conservative movement is scarcely in danger of being overrun by its hellraisers. Rather, its established guardians in Conservatism Inc., seem absolutely determined to force the Right to remain a Debate Club brigade dominated by only moderates and intellectuals, or to die trying. It is only thanks to the hellraiser in the White House that they are not getting their way.

For Conservatism Inc., figures like Yiannopoulos are what the original (and I would argue, superior) American mascot Brother Jonathan was to the caricatured British John Bull: a clown of English origins who nevertheless proves to stand for the pluckiest parts of the American mind. And by the way, isn’t it interesting that the original, pre-Uncle Sam symbol of America was the 19th century equivalent of an internet troll? Along with the anonymous s—tposter Publius, I’d say Yiannopoulos and his followers are in good company.

To be sure, not all right-wing hellraisers have to like the same people Yiannopoulos does, or even like Yiannopoulos himself. But for those of us who want a hellraising contingent on the Right, we must ask ourselves whether we can tolerate forming a coalition of people whose deviance from the politically correct norm is inspired by everyone from Lenny Bruce and Marilyn Manson, to Joseph de Maistre and Julius Evola, to Abraham Lincoln and Harry Jaffa? That is a question I can hardly answer in this (already overlong) review, but I can offer one simple observation:

If such a coalition were to form and congeal, then from the perspective of the Left, it would be truly Dangerous.

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2016 Election • Administrative State • America • American Conservatism • Americanism • Book Reviews • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Declaration of Independence • Democrats • Donald Trump • Hillary Clinton • Lincoln • self-government • separation of powers • The Constitution • The Leviathian State • Trump White House

Coarse Correction: The Real Significance of the 2016 Election

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About a year ago, the respected Harvard political theorist, Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., wrote an op-ed about Donald Trump for the Wall Street Journal titled, “Why Donald Trump Is No Gentleman.” Mansfield made the case that the appellation “gentleman” is one used so rarely these days that we forget, even, to note its opposite.  

He also wrote:

The outstanding person in this election is Donald Trump, in that he attracts the most attention, but the outstanding fact is the voters behind him who excuse Mr. Trump for his ungentlemanly behavior….

Incapable as he is of appreciating the gentleman, Mr. Trump earns the disdain of the promoters of gender neutrality. Mr. Trump’s resistance to political correctness, however, has the coarseness of a male [this months  before the Access Hollywood tape]. Or what used to be the coarseness of a male. Now that women are practicing to swear like sailors, Mr. Trump is a reminder of male superiority in the department of vulgarity. Surely no woman would have run his campaign.

Mansfield’s essay, then, invites consideration of the coarseness of his female opponent. She was after all the embodiment of vulgar pandering to sex preference. In fact, his penetrating essay implied that Trump had a good chance of beating Hillary Clinton precisely because he was willing to be crude and in that contest, he could outmatch even her.

The subhead of Mansfield’s article tells the tale in more detail: “Like Machiavelli, [Trump] makes clear that winning dishonorably is better than losing honorably.” Can a citizen survey the field of honorable candidates, losers or near-losers, all—be his name Romney, McCain, or Bush—without revulsion and fear for the future of republican government? Could any of 2016’s supposed gentlemen candidates have beaten Clinton by flipping those Midwestern states and Pennsylvania?

Two weeks after Mansfield’s article appeared, Trump named Kellyanne Conway his campaign manager. In that sense a woman did run (and win) Trump’s campaign. It seems that the coarse candidate made the very course correction that Mansfield implied was impossible: the Machiavellian candidate’s truthfulness about political correctness needed political protection (not to speak of wisdom) in Conway’s form.

How did Trump stump the smartest campaign masterminds and conquer Lady Fortune? For one thing, he delighted more than conservative voters with his skewering of media figures and intellectuals. His keen insight was that Americans, whatever else they may think, do not like to be told what to think. And as his recent tweeting shows, the all-important proxy war with the media as the front for intellectuals continues into his presidency with Trump standing in as the unlikely champion of the people.

In this light, consider anti-Trump pundit George Will’s onetime praise of Trump who, Will then noted, “believes that excess can be a virtue” and in that belief “is as American as Manhattan’s skyline…. Brashness, zeal and elan are part of this country’s character” (quoted in The Art of the Deal, 1987). That was then. But the Will of the Trump era not only renounced Trump but the Republican Party that embraced him as well.

Mansfield narrows Trump’s attack on political correctness to questions having to do with women, but Trump included racial and ethnic identity politics as well.

Haven’t all card-carrying conservative intellectuals at some point denounced affirmative action and identity politics as corrosive of the souls of citizens and of the common good? After all, how does a judge in San Diego even get a case about a New York-based Trump University? More to the point, how did this adherent to a policy of favoring one identity group over others become a judge in the first place?  Why isn’t calling out a “Mexican judge” turnabout as fair play? It’s not as though he hit a girl.

If a candidate won’t defend his own interests, using all weapons at his command, why should the public think he will zealously defend their common interests, especially against pseudo-aristocratic racial/ethnic claims of privilege? It is scarcely egomania, let alone “white nationalism,” to defend oneself from fire coming at one from a safe space. Why are low blows and insults tolerated when they are directed at Republicans, but “unpresidential” and “beneath the dignity of the office” when they are repulsed in equal measure? In fact, Aristotle makes it clear that permitting an injustice to oneself is a vice.    

With these things in mind, I turn now to a book written by three distinguished conservative intellectuals who again combine their talents to produce what may well be the most insightful book written on the 2016 election. In Defying the Odds: The 2016 Elections and American Politics, James Ceaser (University of Virginia), Andrew Busch (Claremont McKenna), and John Pitney (Claremont McKenna) resume their quadrennial series on American presidential elections, going back to 1992 (Pitney having first joined for the previous book).

As I wrote of the 2012 edition, their latest deploys witty prose in combining “the best in political journalism with the most relevant political science scholarship—in other words, a citizen’s perspective but with statistical and empirical support and, above all, historical . . .” background.  Their focus on progressive striving to overcome natural rights and conservative gestures at defending those rights is surely unique in contemporary political science on campaigns.

Not coincidentally, a former student of the two Claremont coauthors, Heidi Cruz, emerged the most impressive spouse in the campaign.

But for all their seriousness and the seriousness with which they attempt to take Trump (and pro-Trump sources such as the Journal of American Greatness and its successor, American Greatness, “Flight 93” author Publius Decius Mus, and Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams) they end up missing Trump’s significance for American politics.  

Review of James Ceaser, Andrew Busch, and John Pitney, Jr., Defying the Odds: the 2016 Elections and American Politics (Rowman & Littlefield, 216 pages, $29.95)

Ceaser’s concluding paragraph (he stands in for all three authors) epitomizes the book’s strengths and weaknesses: “No one . . .  had been more of an outsider. No one had disrupted his own party and the conventions of politics more. No one had, in a single election, laid low the reigning dynasties of both his own party (the Bushes) and the other party (the Clintons).” Just before this, however, they write, “Although it was clear what Trump was against, it was never quite clear what he was for.”

They were unsure, for example, whether Trump would bring about a new form of identity politics, “white nationalism,” or instead call for a new emphasis on “citizenship and the nation.”

In a similar vein, Ceaser sometimes lapses into a kind of moral equivalence between Trump and Clinton—considering both anti-constitutionalist and “authoritarian.” Certainly, these authors should understand that the rise of intellectual elites (e.g., the Clintons with their Yale law degrees  and Obama as the first president with both parents holding Ph.D.s) distorted recent politics.

Trump’s ‘Political Friendship’

While Machiavelli always enlightens, Aristotle provides even better insight into the Trump campaign. Aristotle (Politics V.6) explains, “Oligarchies change most often in two most obvious ways. One occurs when they treat the multitude unjustly, for then any champion is sufficient, especially when it turns out that the leader comes from the oligarchy itself….”

Moreover, though neither Ceaser nor Trump uses this language, the America of failed promises we are now presented with is properly labelled a majority faction, which threatens individual rights and the common good, as seen in the constitutionally dubious waging of futile wars, promoting of illegal immigration, and preference for globalist policy over American interests. With the threat of yet another Bush or Clinton, prime causes of their current discontents, Americans turned as in 1860 to the unlikely candidate most likely to throw off “the slave power,” as the Decius once put it.

Thus Trump opposes identity politics, not by singling out groups, but instead by showing how an American identity is superior to all others (and especially to divisive sub-groupings of Americans). Trump’s patriotism is what Aristotle called political friendship, a kind of friendship of virtue. It is the unity of purpose, individual and national, that Lincoln described in the Gettysburg Address.

Thus Trump opposes identity politics, not by singling out groups, but instead by showing how an American identity is superior to all others (and especially to divisive sub-groupings of Americans). Trump’s patriotism is what Aristotle called political friendship, a kind of friendship of virtue. 

Far from being its enemy, such a “populism” becomes essential to preserve constitutional government, just as clearly as identity politics destroys it. It promotes a higher identity that unites rather than divisive sub-identities that set us against each other. And this is why the political correctness of identity politics is a necessary step to build that enduring faction known as the administrative state. That kind of authoritarianism and anti-constitutionalism is wholly assumed by Clinton. Quite the opposite with Trump.

Ceaser’s characterization of Trump as “post-ideological” misses that Trump is in fact pre-ideological—he thinks in terms of the whole American nation, not in terms of the groups that comprise it. Trump is more like Lincoln at Gettysburg than Madison in Federalist 10.

In a similar way, Trump was clearly the strongest candidate of a weak (not strong, as the conventional wisdom held) Republican field. His serious opponents were pretty much either parochial governors, callow senators, or yet another Bush. The man with “New York values” was, ironically, the only national candidate.

With this Trump in mind, I make my own observations about 2016, including a few major differences with Ceaser:

  • Their comparison of 1992 and 2016 doesn’t work, because George H.W. Bush ran away from Reagan, and Pat Buchanan despises Lincoln.
  • Modifying  the charge that 2016 was “perhaps the most uncivil, vulgar, scandal-flecked campaign in living memory” one should recall the impeachment and trial of Bill Clinton, the political attacks in the anti-Goldwater campaign of 1964, and the Truman campaign of 1948.  
  • A Clinton television ad featured young kids in front of a TV watching Trump at various campaign moments. That played two ways.  I saw the way liberals treat their kids: Dump them in front of a TV without adult supervision.
  • Trump proved himself the best Catholic in attendance at the Cardinal Dolan-hosted Al Smith dinner, speaking truth to power by launching an impolitic attack on Hillary Clinton for her support of abortion rights, to the boos of the assembled audience. Trump won the Catholic vote.
  • Choosing Mormon Evan McMullin as a possible anti-Trump spoiler in Utah was itself a form of low identity politics, showing how corrupted and anti-American their partisan opposition to Trump had become.
  • Making America great again requires a stronger military, so no one should have been surprised by his cabinet and National Security Council adviser picks.
  • Besides demolishing the leading members of party establishments, Trump would redefine the Republican Party as the workers’ party, and welcome back black men as Republican voters (they cast 13 percent of their votes for Trump).
  • Finally, there is the matter of FBI Director James Comey’s various interventions or non-interventions, which continue to reverberate. Our authors write,

If third parties, FBI directors, Russians, and racists are not really satisfactory explanations for Trump’s win, can anything else be offered to help understand this surprising election? An alternative story might be built around world trends, rioters, a weak president, and rampaging progressives.

While there is much in that, the real alternative story of 2016 is Comey as a representative of the administrative state, which Nixon had made his concern. We still don’t know the extent of Comey’s attempts to go well beyond his investigatory obligations to exercise political influence.

Just as the left makes every attack on the administrative state an attack on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, so every Republican Administration becomes for the media and Democrats a replay of Nixon and Watergate. Nixon tried to rollback the Democrats’ successor to the New Deal, the Great Society.  Republicans still haven’t learned the meaning of Watergate, which was far more a political crisis engineered by partisan Democrats than a constitutional crisis brought about by Nixon. Republicans have yet to recognize that their Machiavellian enemies in the bureaucracy, media, and politics brought about Nixon’s demise. Trump has seen that crisis early on in his presidency, embodied in James Comey, and is gamely fighting it..

Content created by The Center for American Greatness, Inc is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com

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2016 Election • America • American Conservatism • Book Reviews • Conservatives • Cultural Marxism • Defense of the West • Greatness Agenda • political philosophy • The Culture • Trump White House

The Gift of the MAGA: An AG Symposium on Great Reads for the Greatness Agenda

 Darren Beattie

Martin Ford’s book, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, is unsettling, and unsettling in just the right way for anyone who is serious about Making America Great Again. Indeed, Ford makes a convincing case that advancements in information technology,–simply put, automation–have already and will continue to have a profoundly disruptive impact on economic, social, and political life.

Ford’s account of how information technology has transformed the relationship between capital and labor is especially relevant to the development of the bleak economic conditions that President-elect Trump intends to address. For example, in the post-war “Golden Age” (late 1940s to early ’70s when America was great) the effect of technological advancement, say, in the auto factory, was an increase in the productivity of the laborer and hence the value of the laborer’s work, which translated into higher wages and high employment. In stark contrast to this auspicious scenario, Ford shows how automation in IT dramatically increases the capability and productive capacity of many industries, but does so in a way that effectively renders many workers obsolete—just look at the incredibly market values, for instance, of major tech companies compared to the meager number of employees.

In one sense, the rapidly accelerating automation of the work force (and not only low-skilled) underscores the tremendous importance of Trump’s positions on immigration and trade, especially outsourcing. It is simply absurd that we have been importing unskilled immigrants precisely during a period of rapid automation of unskilled jobs, for instance. In another sense, however, the challenges posed by automation suggest sobering limits to the degree to which sound and patriotic trade and immigration policies alone can fix things. Such policies are absolutely necessary, but not sufficient, and will serve to buy us time as a country to address the challenges of automation with the big and bold thinking that Trump has exemplified, and which, more than any specific policies (which are all great, by the way), will prove the indispensable ingredient in Making America Great Again.

Darren Beattie is visiting assistant professor of political science at Duke University.

Ben Boychuk

Remember, Christmas in the Orthodox tradition runs through January 6, so you still have plenty of time to bestow your friends and loved ones with the Gift of the #MAGA.

If the gift is a somewhat better understanding of the Greatness Agenda—a strong border, economic nationalism, and an America-first foreign policy—then until Publius Decius Mus or any number of American Greatness writers publish their books in the next year, we’re left with what the market already has to offer.

On immigration, one of the best books to frame the question in terms of consent of the governed is Citizenship Without Consent: Illegal Aliens in the American Polity by Peter H. Schuck and Rogers M. Smith. The book is more than 30 years old and hopelessly out of print, but you can still find used copies on Amazon for a reasonable sum. Schuck and Smith make the rather unremarkable claim that “permitting a democratic community the power to shape its own destiny by granting or refusing its consent to new members is essential.” That their view is at once neglected and yet controversial today tells us much about the paltry state of our politics. But their argument is also the one we need to have right now.

On economic nationalism, we’re really talking about the Republican Party’s painful re-thinking of free trade. Here I would suggest two books to get the discussion started: The Myth of Free Trade by Dr. Ravi Batra and American Made: Why Making Things Will Return Us to Greatness, by Dan DiMicco. Batra’s book is a little more than 20 years old now, but it distinguishes itself as a fairly straightforward case against the bogus global “free trade” regime that has steadily hollowed out our middle class. DiMicco is the former CEO of Nucor and was the Trump campaign’s advisor on trade, so if you want to understand where Trump is coming from, DiMicco is a good place to start.

Finally, a brief word about “America First,” which is a much-maligned term in our politics today. For a lively history of the idea and the political movement in the United States, check out Bill Kauffman’s America First!. Kauffman is an unapologetic isolationist, but if you read his book with open eyes and a charitable mind, you might come to see why the term shouldn’t be such a term of abuse. (Feel free to skip the lame and tendentious introduction by Gore Vidal, however.)

Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness.

 

F.H. Buckley

If we’re to pick a book that explained the election, then Peter Schweizer’s take-down of the dragon lady of the Clinton Cash machine was the book of the year. But as it is almost too obvious a choice, let me mention a lesser-known book that spoke to an issue quite as important as public corruption, the manner in which our Judeo-Christian heritage has shaped our Western political traditions. Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism shows how our democratic institutions and ideas about personal rights derive not from Locke but from our religious beliefs that we all have souls and that salvation is individual. The Voltairien who seeks to efface this reveals his ignorance of our history and culture, and today’s progressive epigones have shown how easily Godless liberalism can descend into oppression and illiberalism. Those raised in a religious tradition will understand this, and when Solicitor General Verriilli told Justice Alito that a college which opposed same-sex marriage might lose government funding, he revealed for all to see the threat to religious liberty. In the end, the greatest of swing blocks, Catholic voters, broke plus 2 for Trump and plus 10 for white Catholics. Let me spell it out for you: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan.

F.H. Buckley is a law professor at George Mason University. His most recent book, The Way Back: Restoring the Promise of America (Encounter) explains the urgent need for legal immigration reform.

 

Chris Buskirk

When Whittaker Chambers published Witness in 1952 it became an instant best-seller and a foundational book for the incipient conservative movement that would give birth to National Review three years later.  The book was immediately understood to be a classic and it became a guiding light for generations of American conservatives. It is also the book that my father made my mother read during their engagement in mid-60s so that she could better understand him and how he understood the world.

But that seems wholly appropriate—because Witness is as much a personal spiritual reflection as it is a commentary on the state and fate of Western Civilization. Chambers, for those not familiar with the story, was an American communist and a spy for the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s. His spiritual and political move from Left to Right began in 1936 when Stalin’s purges revealed to him the truth about communism: it is oppressive, soul-crushing, murderous, and inhumane in all its forms.

Chambers begins the book with a letter to his children. Over the years I have told people that if they don’t want to read the whole book, they should at least read the introductory letter. Not one who read the letter did not go on to devour the whole book. Such is the power of Chambers’ writing to tell the story of humanity through the experiences of one man.

Much of the book is devoted to what Chambers describes as “The Great Case”—the espionage trial of Alger Hiss. Hiss was a Harvard trained lawyer and a member of what we would call today the Beltway Elite. He was also a communist spy. After Harvard he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. before joining white-shoe law firms in Boston and New York. He then held a number of positions in FDR’s alphabet soup New Deal agencies before becoming an adviser to Secretary of State Cordell Hull and attending the Yalta Conference near the end of World War II. It was at this conference that Roosevelt agreed to accept Soviet hegemony in eastern Europe. (This then became the subject of a classic expose by Chambers in Time Magazine called The Ghosts on the Roof.)

Yet Witness is much more than a book about Cold War spying. The spy story becomes Chambers’ lens for an examination of human nature in all its glory and tragedy. He explained it this way and I can do no better:

For it was more than human tragedy. Much more than Alger Hiss or Whittaker Chambers was on trial in the trials of Alger Hiss. Two faiths were on trial. Human societies, like human beings, live by faith and die when faith dies. At issue in the Hiss Case was the question whether this sick society, which we call Western civilization, could in its extremity still cast up a man whose faith in it was so great that he would voluntarily abandon those things which men hold good, including life, to defend it. At issue was the question whether this man’s faith could prevail against a man whose equal faith it was that this society is sick beyond saving, and that mercy itself pleads for its swift extinction and replacement by another. At issue was the question whether, in the desperately divided society, there still remained the will to recognize the issues in time to offset the immense rally of public power to distort and pervert the facts.

At heart, the Great Case was this critical conflict of faiths; that is why it was a great case…

Chris Buskirk is the publisher of American Greatness and the co-host of the Seth & Chris Show, heard daily on 960am/KKNT in Phoenix.

 

RJ Caster

In the introduction to Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future he lays out a scenario where the reader imagines himself in a face-to-face in an interview where he is pressed with the question, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” No matter what settled opinions the reader believed before opening the book Thiel’s line of questioning will force him into a contrarian mindset right from the start. This masterfully primes the reader to receive what many might consider Theil’s own “contrarian truths.”

These contrarian truths include many assaults on conventional thinking. For example, monopolies he explains, are “not just good for the rest of society; they’re powerful engines for making it better.” Similarly, while the general consensus holds that competition is good, Thiel shows that competition can lead to eating profits, detracts from future research and development, and creates the ruthless people of the sort most assume would be more likely to be found as heads of monopolies. Thiel argues, further, that globalization is not only to be frowned upon (a sentiment embraced by more and more people these days), but is dwarfed by intensive progress (or 0 to 1 progress) pushed by technological advancement. Vertical progress (doing new things) will always beat horizontal progress (copying things that work).

It is in the middle of the book, however, where the most important aspect for a successful startup is revealed: discovering and keeping secrets. Thiel points out that secrets still exist out there and the next startups not only have to find them, but they also need to keep them secret while surrounding themselves with people who can learn and keep those secrets and who have the same drive the founders.

2016 has been a year that challenged our collective conventional thinking. History has not been kind to those who want to maintain the unthinking status quo and people should read Thiel’s Zero to One if they want to understand the driving force behind the events across the globe. Bookstores are filled with books about entrepreneurship, business, being successful, but not many can be considered a true union of philosophy, business, politics, and history. To understand the man devoting tremendous amounts of money for fellowships to encourage kids to skip college, read Zero to One and see how a disruptive contrarian plans to make American businesses great again.

RJ Caster is a former Congressional staffer and current digital campaign strategist.

 

Steven F. Hayward

I have no idea whether Harry Jaffa or Walter Berns would have approved of Donald Trump. I can easily imagine them splitting on this question as they did on so many others. Jaffa, early to see the importance of Barry Goldwater in 1964, would likely have approved of Trump because of his potential to disrupt the complacency of the Republican establishment just as Goldwater did, while I think Berns would have thought Trump to be an irredeemable demagogue. In his very first book, Freedom, Virtue, and the First Amendment (published in 1957), Berns worried about the demagogue “who plays on the vilest passions of citizens in order to win political power.”

But I am not certain of these guesses. I can easily see Berns looking past the crude and demagogic aspects of Trump to see the potential of Trump’s patriotic populism, even if this involves understanding Trump better than he understands himself. The Berns book most appropriate to the present moment is his last book, Making Patriots. Here Berns argued that patriotism “is not natural, but has to be taught, or inculcated, or somehow acquired.” And while Berns dwells on the necessary intellectual sources of patriotism, he also understands the project requires a certain amount of willfulness, which only Trump seemed to convey in adequate measure in the course of the long campaign. At the end of Making Patriots Berns worried about the powerful and menacing anti-American strains of thought within our intellectual class, which begs for an assertive resistance—more assertive than was currently being offered. If nothing else, Trump’s victory represents the necessary first step of repudiating our intellectual class. Berns would surely have enjoyed the collective liberal freak out over Trump.

Abraham Lincoln was the point of intersection between Jaffa and Berns, and you can make out the echo of Jaffa’s great insights about Lincoln in Berns’s lyrical chapter on Lincoln in Making Patriots. If Trump represents for Berns the prospect of demagoguery, Lincoln represents the prospect of what the American founding makes possible and even demands of us. This is the tighter focus of Jaffa’s work in his two greatest books, Crisis of the House Divided and A New Birth of Freedom. The contrast between Jaffa and Berns on this issue corresponds to the difference between Hobbes and Locke (at least as Jaffa understood them). Berns’s worry about the demagogue is rooted in his fear of Hobbesian civil disorder. Jaffa seldom worried about the demagogue in his writing, instead orienting our view toward the rigors of statesmanship, which is a higher thing than philosophy. William Allen asked Jaffa not long before Jaffa died if a philosopher can be a hero in the same way as a statesman. Jaffa said the answer was “No”; the statesman pursues honor, while the philosopher pursues wisdom. It is precisely Trump’s plain sense of honor—both his own and the nation’s—that would incline Jaffa to give him the benefit of the doubt. But he would feel more confident still if Trump would read Crisis of the House Divided and Making Patriots.

Steven F. Hayward is Senior Resident Scholar, Institute of Governmental Studies, UC Berkeley, and author of the forthcoming Patriotism Is Not Enough: Harry Jaffa, Walter Berns, and the Arguments that Redefined American Conservatism.

 

Roger Kimball

The philosopher James Burnham’s Suicide of the West: The Definitive Analysis of the Pathology of Liberalism, first published in 1964, was long out of print when a new edition was brought out in 2014. In some ways, the book is a period piece. A product of the Cold War, written by an ardent Cold Warrior, many of its examples are dated. But in its core message it is as relevant today as ever. At the center of the “pathology” Burnham anatomizes is an awful failure of understanding which is also a failure of nerve, a failure of “the will to survive.” “Suicide” and “pathology” may seem like hyperbolic terms, Burnham admits. But it is part of the pathology he anatomizes that such objections are “most often made most hotly by Westerners who hate their own civilization.” In his view, the primary function of liberalism was to “permit Western civilization to be reconciled to dissolution,” to view weakness, failure, even collapse as not as a defeat but “as the transition to a new and higher order in which Mankind as a whole joins in a universal civilization.” Sound familiar? Burnham excoriated “that jellyfish brand of contemporary liberalism—pious, guilt-ridden, do-goody—which uses the curious dogma of ‘some truth on both sides’ as its principal sales line.” He was, one admirer noted, “the living embodiment of what would later come to be known as political incorrectness.” I am sorry James Burnham is not with us today. An ardent champion of “the absolute value of the single human person,” he would be celebrating the extraordinary opportunity we have been vouchsafed, at the last possible moment, to make America great again.

Roger Kimball is an American art critic and social commentator, is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the publisher of Encounter Books.

 

Julius Krein

In The Managerial Revolution: What Is Happening in the World (1941), James Burnham explains the economic and intellectual history of the new “managerial” society that supplanted entrepreneurial capitalism over the course of the twentieth century. Closely connected with this economic transition is the shift from parliamentary and constitutional government toward administrative bureaucracy. Any work of this type will contain some anachronisms and mistaken predictions, but many of Burnham’s insights may seem more relevant now than at the time of writing, as the trends that he identified have only accelerated since then.

While rising “populism” receives significant attention today, our understanding of the composition and interests of the so-called “elite” is severely lacking. On one hand, “Conservatives” typically denounce the “adversary culture” and “postmodernism/relativism” of today’s intellectual elite, yet too often remain blind to the economic realities behind political and social transformations. “Progressives,” by contrast, protest rising inequality, yet ignore important differences between today’s elite and that of prior periods, specifically the separation between ownership and control that prevails in managerial arrangements and distinguishes them from classical notions of capitalism.

This failure to understand the nature of the current political and economic “elite” explains why so many politicians and intellectuals of the left and right have failed to understand voters’ dissatisfaction with the status quo. Reading Burnham is essential to correcting this misunderstanding and for developing better responses to present policy problems.

Julius Krein is the editor of American Affairs, a forthcoming quarterly journal of public policy and political thought.

 

Seth Leibsohn

The saying “the book was better than the movie” is now more than commonplace. But what does one say about a book that is better than its multiple reviews—all of them highly positive? Whatever that is, the book is Tevi Troy’s Shall We Wake the President?: Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office. The subject of a great many reviews now, all positive, none of them quite do it justice. Best I can add is to tie this symposium’s question to Troy’s book: In contemplating the Greatness Agenda, we were asked “What book should one read if one wants to get smart about the things we need to do in order to make America great again.” This one.

Troy, a cultural and presidential historian, is also a veteran of the DC think-tank community and several domestic-policy offices under former President George W. Bush. He has turned all his learning toward an easy-to-read (and fun) manual not only for future presidents, government officials, and administrators in both the private and public sector, but for “we the people,” citizens as well. Whether dealing with acts of God or with acts of man, no country can be great when it is unprepared in the face of disaster and, as we become more and more susceptible to those disasters (as Troy demonstrates we are), we need to pay more attention to what we can do to be prepared—in every sense of the word—for such events.

In Shall We Wake the President?, Troy marshals history, Hollywood, politics, anecdotes, statistics, and advice in a book that could just as easily be titled Semper Paratus: How To Keep America and Americans Safe. If that theme and Troy’s advice don’t inform the greatness agenda, nothing else will.  

Seth Leibsohn is a contributing editor at American Greatness and the co-host of the Seth & Chris Show, heard daily on 960am/KKNT in Phoenix.

 

Jesse Merriam

One of the best ways I can recommend spending the Christmas Break is drinking a glass of eggnog, doused with a heavy shot of bourbon, while reading Professor George Hawley’s Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism.

Published nearly a year ago as a diagnosis of the fractured conservative movement, the book now reads more like a prognosis of the future of American conservatism, forecasting what will emerge from the crumble. I read the book shortly after my Christmas Break last year, in an effort to understand what was happening to the Republican Party. As a constitutional scholar and legal theorist, I was apprehensive about spending so much time reading a work so far outside my specialty. But my apprehension was soon assuaged by Professor Hawley’s stunningly lucid prose.

You will find in this book an incredibly erudite and even-handed coverage of a dizzying array of intellectuals – radical libertarians, paleoconservatives, and dissident right thinkers – all of whom have been purged by a conservative movement that has become increasingly preoccupied with currying favor with the Left, so as to adjust to a changing America and be on “the right side of history.”

Reading this book after the election, you will now see in this book not only an explanation for the Trump phenomenon but also the intellectual infrastructure for the Trump platform. Indeed, Professor Hawley’s timing could not have been better, as he has been interviewed over the last couple of months by various media outlets seeking to understand the election.

Moreover, you will see in this book precisely why America has been losing its greatness: A political system, in which the two major parties converge on issues on which millions of Americans diverge (e.g., trade and immigration), and in which the party of conservation mimics the party of progress, cannot secure greatness. Greatness requires representatives tethered to the electorate, bound by and with the root and anchor of the nation’s heritage.

I could think of few better ways to prepare for the coming gift of Making America Great Again than by ruminating with Hawley’s compendium of conservative critics about what American conservatism should look like in the 21st century.

Jesse Merriam, Ph.D., J.D., is assistant professor and pre-law Advisor at Loyola University, Maryland.

 

Ken Masugi

Conservatives should read more classics, it often (and rightly) has been preached. These great books would be lifetime companions, trans-political and thereby more authoritative in their political teaching.

The classic work that best explains Trump is Aristotle’s “philosophy of human affairs,” as described in his Politics (Sachs translation) and Nicomachean Ethics (Bartlett translation). The middle books (3-6) of the Politics inspired both Madison (see Federalist 10) and Jefferson (his praise of farmers) and advise how to create middle-class republics as not only the most stable but also the most just political communities. But unless these political communities produce virtuous citizens who are also good human beings they fall short of being good republics.

While the entirety of the Politics and Ethics describes the fostering of good human beings, the peak of this noble enterprise is Book 9 of the Ethics, in its description of the best republic and the highest and rarest friendships, those of virtue, that is, human excellence. These are the citizens Lincoln eulogized in the Gettysburg Address, whose sacrifice links our time with that of the founding fathers. When Trump speaks of “government of the [virtuous] people,” as he did at Gettysburg, he means restoration of this classical horizon to our consciousness and action. It will not sound fantastic once you (re-)read Aristotle.

Ken Masugi has been a speechwriter for two cabinet members and for Clarence Thomas, when he was Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He has taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy, James Madison College of Michigan State University, the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University, and Princeton University.

 

Mackubin Owens

The United States has been blessed throughout its history to have avoided the sort of civil-military crises that have afflicted many other states during both war and peace. The main reason for this record is the universal acceptance of the principle of civilian control of the military. This doesn’t mean that U.S. civil-military relations have always been healthy. But the country has been spared from coups or military domination of domestic politics. Today, however, another potential problem has arisen: the gap between the very small minority of citizens who serve in the military and American society at large.

Warriors and Citizens: American Views of our Military, edited by Kori Schake and Jim Mattis, examines this gap and its consequences by exploring the attitudes of Americans toward their military. On the one hand, the military is the most respected institution in the United States. On the other, most Americans have little or no knowledge of the military and often do not know anyone who is serving.

The contributors to Warriors and Citizens attempt to ascertain the depth of this societal civilian-military gap and the implications for future civil-military relations and military professionalism. Can policy address the current civilian-military gap and if so, what policies are most likely to enhance healthy civil-military relations?

Mackubin Owens is dean of academics for the Institute of World Politics in Washington DC, a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia, and editor of Orbis, FPRI’s quarterly journal.  Dr. Owens is also a Marine Corps veteran and a recipient of the Silver Star.

 

Gladden J. Pappin

“If we do not succeed in tightening the dangerously loosening bonds in the Western world between human communities and the political action of their governments,” writes Pierre Manent in the headline essay of Democracy Without Nations?: The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, “the divorce between the nation and democracy will be no less dangerous for democracy than for the nation.” For many years, Americans who admired Manent’s criticism of the burgeoning European superstate had the luxury of adopting those criticisms from afar. But the prying apart of human communities and political action has been proceeding steadily in the U.S. as well.

American federalism, it is true, has allowed the preservation of state and local self-government alongside the construction of a national government. Yet the effects of our trade and immigration policies have been disparate across different American communities—distributional effects which have been largely ignored.

When trade and immigration policy are presented as matters of economic rationality rather than political action, their ties to democratic decision-making become weakened (e.g., through the president’s trade promotion authority). Since the European Union proceeded more quickly down this road than the United States has done, the problems described in Manent’s essays may have seemed further from our own when they were published in English in 2007. But the trends described by Manent are global, and their domestic stakes are clearer than before. The time for reading Democracy without Nations? is now.

Gladden J. Pappin is research assistant professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, and political theory fellow of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. He is the associate editor of American Affairs, a forthcoming quarterly journal of public policy and political thought.

 

Julie Ponzi

While I have long understood the revolutionary character (or should I say the counter-revolutionary character?) of Progressivism—that system of thought imported from Europe to supplant America’s original and truly revolutionary central idea as articulated in the Declaration of Independence—it was only during the last year that I came to understand the necessity of pushing back against it in such a way as to lend it zero legitimacy. I came to that realization as a result of reading Michael Walsh’s seminal work, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace:  The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West as well as his earlier work (published under the pen name, David Kahane), Rules for Radical Conservatives:  Beating the Left at its Own Game to Take Back America. Prior to reading these books and the emergence of Donald Trump with his forceful rejection of leftist tropes, I was attached to the quaint (and very unreasonable) opinion that one could fight the unreasonable Left with reason alone and still win.

The divisions on the Right during the last election cycle have convinced me that there is a real lack of understanding about the nature of the opposition we face. Principles of reason and good-faith when applied to debate with the Left, while well-intentioned, are often misguided because they are honored only by one side. Contrary to received opinion about the nobility of remaining “above the fray,” in political (as opposed to intellectual) combat, this posture does not make us admirable martyrs to the truth. It makes us gullible, naive, and worse—it makes us guilty of shirking our duty to the next generation of American patriots.

Julie Ponzi is senior editor of American Greatness.

Publius Decius Mus

In a recent interview about my amateur career as a pro-Trump intellectual, the first question was: what issue was the gateway to your journey away from Beltway “conservatism” and toward Trump?

My unhesitating answer: income inequality. This is not supposed to be of concern to conservatives. In a country where even the poorest have enough on which to live, and often much more, we are told to let unequal talents play out as they may and not worry about the result.

Yet I worry. F.H. Buckley’s The Way Back: Restoring the Promise of America explains why, better than I possibly could. First, while not abandoning alarm over inequality, Buckley explains that mobility is actually the more fundamental concern. Mobility is the lubricant of a classless society. Without it, we have patricians and plebs, de facto if not de jure, with all the attendant injustices and costs.

The Way Back was not written as a Trump book; it was completed before Trump even announced his candidacy. Yet it is the indispensable guide to our times. Buckley describes with unfailing accuracy the socio-economic arrangement—top plus bottom versus middle—against which Trump voters rebelled. And he delivers on the promise of his title, showing how to deliver “socialist ends through capitalist means.”

There’s a phrase that once would have made my hair stand on end. Back when I was a “conservative.”

Publius Decius Mus, or “Decius,” is a Contributing Editor of American Greatness

Mike Sabo

Essential reading for those looking to Make America Great Again is Ann Coulter’s fiery polemic Adios, America! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole. Through an oftentimes hilarious and sometimes shocking investigation, Coulter makes the case why our bipartisan immigration policy has been an utter disaster for the country.

As she argues, rampant illegal immigration and mass legal immigration are slowly eating away at the fabric of our nation, driving down wages and producing rampant crime. Programs intended to bring in the best and the brightest from around the world are now vehicles by which entire generations of families are brought to our shores with little regard for our national interest.

Returning the principle of securing the common good back to the center of our politics—which was the central principle underlying President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign—is the book’s most important theme. Voters have consistently rejected “comprehensive” immigration reform such as the infamous bipartisan Gang of Eight bill, because they know that such schemes benefit political elites at the expense of the public good.

Having read the book “cover to cover,” hopefully Trump follows through with correcting the manifest problems Coulter outlines.

Mike Sabo is a recent graduate of the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College. He and his wife live in Alexandria, VA

Richard Samuelson

Our basic government textbooks need to be updated. They still teach that there are three branches, separations of powers, checks and balances, and the like. The trouble is that we have, in fact, four branches, and the fourth branch—the Administrative branch, seems to grow more and more powerful by the year. Seizing on decades old language in statutes, this branch regularly produces new laws, disguised as new “regulations” or “interpretations” to meet what members of America’s would-be “ruling class” regard as new threats to the republic.

In Constitutional affairs, the “living constitution” is a way for an elite group to change the Constitution when the people either reject an amendment (as in the ERA) or when no amendment is even in contemplation. More and more our statutes are being used similarly, reworked to meet what our governing class regards as today’s challenges. An honest civic textbook would recognize that.

The trouble with this new mode of governance is that it entails a rejection of the founders’ constitution in its essence. The laws under which we live are no longer passed by the men and women we elect, but are, instead, written by a tenured elite, a kind of post-modern robe nobility. As this fourth branch has grown off the constitutional books, so to speak, it is getting out of hand.

Even more than James Madison, John Adams was, among the founders, Mr. Checks and Balances. Moreover, his analysis of politics suggests that in every society there is, in fact, an elite or aristoi. In a good constitution, they are recognized officially in the constitution as such (Adams believed that the Senate fulfilled this role, creating an order of offices, not of men ) and, with such recognition, kept in check, so that, following a political jujitsu, their ambition serves the republic, rather than their own ambitions. As C. Bradley Thompson notes in his fine study, John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty, Adams believed in a “mixed and balanced” constitution, combining the House, Senate, and executive armed with a veto with the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers.

An Adamsian analysis, grounded in his Defence of the Constitutions suggests that the biggest problem facing the republic today is that our would-be aristoi are starting to run free, outside any constitutional mooring. Adams also suggested that when an aristocratic order gets out of hand, the people are inclined to turn to a would-be tyrant as a savoir. To return America to its constitutional moorings, the administrative state must be brought into the scheme of checks and balances.

Richard Samuelson is an Associate Professor of History at California State University, San Bernardino, and a fellow of the Claremont Institute.

Dennis Teti

If President Trump could instruct every member of his administration to study (not merely read) one book that explains the crisis he was elected to address, it would be a now out-of-print book, written a quarter century ago: The Politics of Budget Control: Congress, the Presidency and the Growth of the Administrative State by John Marini. (It should be supplemented by Charles Kesler’s I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Future of Liberalism, which shares Marini’s analysis, brings it forward into the Obama presidency, and recognizes the crisis now upon us.)

Marini’s book does no less than establish the groundwork and premises for the popular uprising we can call Trumpism. Given the Constitution’s silence on the word “administration,” Marini takes us through a careful account of the struggle between the Executive and Legislative branches to control the administration of government. The hinge on which American political history turns proves to be the Progressive challenge to the founding principles of America: limited government, separation of powers, federalism, and popular consent. These are political consequences flowing from the Declaration of Independence’s self-evident truth that all human beings are created equal with respect to the natural rights with which they are endowed by “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.”

Progressivism, an Americanized version of the German idea of Historicism championed by Woodrow Wilson, held that this nation, disordered by limited and politically divided government, must be made “rational” by science applying administrative rules promulgated by technically trained and tenured experts. Starting with the New Deal, then a second impulse through Johnson’s Great Society, and ending in Obama’s proclaimed transformation of America, Progressives put in place agency after agency to override and substitute for private decision-making by citizens and direct the entire society and economy. The national institutions of education, media and entertainment, finance, business, and law spawned a new elite class of the knowledgeable and wealthy united by politically correct thought patterns and open contempt for working class people. The purposes of centralized government grew more and more radical, beginning with the redistribution of private wealth, extending to the subversion of the traditional family order, and assaulting civil society with bizarre claims of a “diversity” made up of autonomous individual “identities” without “natures,” only constructed “selfs.”

President Nixon was the first to try to halt the Progressive expansion of centralized administration, recognizing that he uniquely spoke for a national popular majority to reduce the size of the administrative state and its exploding budgets. As Marini shows, Nixon’s strategy was faulty and he was prevented from carrying out his project by panicked bureaucrats who enlisted Congress in stopping him cold. As a result, administrative control now moved sharply toward Congress whereas all of Nixon’s successors until Obama knew there was a persistent majority that wanted spending reduced and bureaucracy limited. Yet its decentralized power structure renders Congress incapable of crafting long-term administrative budget plans on its own, resulting in uncontrolled spending under Democrats or Republicans.

Trump’s election can be understood at the deepest level as the majority’s desperate determination to move past the crisis of the administrative state which culminated in such Obama-created measures as Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Bill, both of which created a myriad of new federal agencies to seize control of the health care, banking, and investments sectors of the nation. Trumpism is nothing less than a profound but prudent conservative movement to reassert majority control over the meritocracy that drives the administrative state and to restore limited government grounded on equal natural rights. President Trump and his administration could do nothing better than to study this book in order fully to grasp the need for, the difficulties, and the nobility of the task to which they have been called: curtailing the administrative state and restoring government by the people.

Dennis Teti has over three decades of political service in Washington, including 11 years at the Department of Housing & Urban Development and 14 years in Congress (including 6 years on House Budget Committee staff under then-Chairman Paul Ryan).

 

Tevi Troy

One of the best books ever written on American politics is Daniel Boorstin’s “The Genius of American Politics.” Boorstin, an historian and former Librarian of Congress, understood that American politics were fundamentally different from European politics. According to Boorstin, there is no American political philosophy that could be exported elsewhere and adopted by a nation that lacks our openness, our freedom, and our lack of ethnicity at the root of our national character. This does not mean that America is not great. Boorstin has a deep love of America and explains many aspect of American greatness in the book. Despite our greatness, though, he argued that “our institutions cannot be transplanted to other parts of the world.” Effectively, Boorstin made the case that America was so exceptional that it could not be replicated.

Boorstin’s book is a welcome tonic following an administration that explicitly rejected the notion of American exceptionalism—remember Obama’s “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” At the same time, Boorstin is also a perfect complement to an incoming Trump presidency, which is led by a man who via his best-known slogan demonstrates his belief in the greatness of America, but is also wary of tilting at windmills abroad.

Tevi Troy is a presidential historian and former White House aide. His latest book is Shall We Wake the President? Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office.

Book Reviews

Shall We Wake the President

Dr. Tevi Troy has quite literally written the book on how American presidents handle crisis. Dr. Troy worked in the George W. Bush White House as a domestic policy advisor before his appointment as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Troy brings scholarly rigor, real world experience, and a lively writing style to a subject he knows well.

As head of the executive branch of government, the president is government’s first responder in times of national peril. Troy artfully tells the story of how past presidents have handled crises with an historian’s attention to detail and a conservative’s care for the constitutional issues such unusual situations can raise.

Shall We Wake The President should be required reading for anyone contemplating a career in politics, but also offers compelling stories and insights for the most casual observer of American politics.

We asked Dr. Troy some practical and theoretical questions relating to the issues discussed in his book. His answers are below:

1. How much can the President actually do in a domestic natural or other disaster?  Aren’t the response teams—be they FEMA or ATF or National Guard or you name it—trained and ready to go without, say, his interference?  Might it depend on the political nature, i.e., if there’s a riot or refusal to comply with law?

Presidents obviously cannot show up personally and wrest weapons out of the hands of rioting civilians.  There have, however, been some instances of politicians making a difference in defusing unrest.  In 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Mayor John Lindsay in New York and Senator Robert F. Kennedy visiting Indianapolis addressed crowds in black neighborhoods and helped calm things down.  

Furthermore, presidential inattention to civil unrest can be disastrous.  Lyndon Johnson was actively involved in most areas of his presidency, but seemed oddly passive in the face of urban unrest.  Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served as urban affairs adviser to Richard Nixon, recalled that upon entering the White House in 1969, the Nixon staff “was presented with pads of forms to be used in calling out the National Guard. Blank spaces were provided for date, time, and place.”

  2. What President was most crisis tested and prepared?  Who is the model?

I give a lot of credit to Ronald Reagan for his handling of the Tylenol poisonings in 1982. These poisonings killed seven in the Chicago area and contributed to a widespread panic.  Reagan was able to do what many leaders cannot: take mediated action. He let Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Tylenol, take charge of the situation; the company withdrew their potentially poisoned product from shelves, and safely and efficiently managed the fallout. Later, when Johnson & Johnson chairman James Burke came to a meeting in the White House, Reagan praised him, saying, “Jim Burke of Johnson & Johnson, you have our deepest appreciation.” The president added that Burke had “lived up to the highest ideals of corporate responsibility and grace under pressure.”

3. What President was the LEAST prepared? People of a certain age might think of Jimmy Carter’s handling of the Iran hostage crisis. Are there other, lesser known cases that deserve greater attention?

Woodrow Wilson gets the dunce award in my book.  675,000 Americans died in the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, without President Wilson saying or doing much of anything.  The one thing he was asked to do was to stop troop shipments to Europe, which were spreading the disease among US servicemen. Wilson’s refusal contributed to the spread of the deadly disease.  Worse, the transports could have been stopped without much of a harmful effect, as World War I was winding to a close at the time.

4. How have public expectations of the president expanded over time?

Expectations have changed immensely over time due to two main factors.  The development of advanced communications and the growth of government.  During much of the 19th century, if a crisis took place, most people would not even know about it.  In fact, after an 1811 earthquake in Missouri, President James Madison did not find out about the extent of the damage for six weeks after it happened.  Once you had instantaneous communications, and more importantly, the spread of images of affected people via TV, there was more of a sense that presidents needed to get involved in disasters.  And the development of a large federal government involved in so many aspects of our lives led to greater expectations that the government would get involved and solve problems that arose.  

5. Is the role of the Presidency larger than what was envisioned by the Framers of the Constitution? If so, how?

There is no doubt that the Framers had a narrower view of the role of presidents in disasters than we take today.  In the 19th century, there was a bipartisan consensus that disaster response was not a federal responsibility.  Following the 1889 Johnstown flood, President Benjamin Harrison responded to a request for help by saying that it was the state’s responsibility, explaining that Pennsylvania residents had “a State Board of Health, and unless the governor should request it, Surgeon-General Hamilton could not interfere.” On the Democratic side, in 1887, Grover Cleveland vetoed a bill to appropriate money to provide seeds to drought-stricken counties of Texas, saying that he could “find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution.”

6. What type of crisis most taxes a president?

I think a crisis in which presidents are helpless is the most taxing.  Presidents are the most powerful men in the world, and are used to taking strong action. If there is a major hurricane or an earthquake, all of the resources of the federal government can’t do anything to stop it, or the attendant loss of life.

7. What crises do you see on the horizon that future presidents must be prepared to address?

The most predictable crisis in the world is an economic crisis based on our unsustainable $20 trillion in debt.  At some point, other countries in the world will not purchase our bonds, which would lead to an economic collapse far more severe than the housing crisis of 2008.

8. The executive must, in some sense, be the first responder to major crises but how does the President fulfill that responsibility without infringing on the rights and responsibilities of Congress and of the states?

This is a tough question.  I would be loath to tell an incoming president not to respond to a crisis and to say that it is a state responsibility.  Such a move would be politically disastrous.  But I think a president can slowly start to explain why certain crises should require presidential attention, while others are best handled at the state level.  If a president begins to lay the groundwork for such an approach, over time we could potentially get to a better and more rational place where not every crisis lands on the president’s desk.

America • American Conservatism • Book Reviews • The Culture

America Through Shakespearean Eyes

shakespeareamericaIn a recent essay for American Greatness, Decius dismantles Jeet Heer’s witless attack in The New Republic on “intellectuals for Trump.” He shows that like most Progressives, Heer has absolutely no understanding of the teachings of Leo Strauss, which currently animate both pro- and anti-Trump intellectuals.

To begin with, Decius takes issue with Heer’s characterization of the debate between the so-called East Coast Straussians and West Coast Straussians. Here is Heer:

Is America … grounded in ancient philosophy or was the American founding … built on the low but solid ground of early modern philosophers like Hobbes and Locke? Does the survival of America depend on the virtue of the people, as West Coast Straussians believe, or in the maintenance of constitutional norms, as East Coast Straussians believe?

Decius acknowledges that Heer is right on a superficial level, but he goes on to note:

Heer veers closer to the truth when he attributes to the East Coast school the view that America is “built” on modern philosophy. Actually, their view (at its most extreme) is more radical than that: it is that America is nothing but modern philosophy, a theory set to flesh, Locke acted out on stage. Contra Heer, the West Coast school does not deny the obvious and unquestionable influence of early modern philosophy on the American Founding. But it does insist that America is more than a theory. And it provides evidence that the Founders were influenced by others beyond just Hobbes and Locke. Specifically, there were four intellectual-spiritual bases to the American Founding: ancient political philosophy, early modern political philosophy, the study of (ancient, medieval and modern) historical examples, and Christianity and the Bible.

In April, I wrote a short essay on “Shakespeare and America” for the Foreign Policy Research Institute that touches on these issues. My argument was and remains that the United States is unique but still a distillation of Jerusalem, Athens, and New Atlantis. Novus ordo saeclorum with a lot of help from the ancients. Herewith the essay.

***

April 2016 marked the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, who is not only the poet of the English speaking people but also their political teacher, as Homer was the political teacher of the Greeks and Virgil the political teacher of the Romans. Although he wrote long before the Founding of the United States, American politics owes much to Shakespeare as well. During his visit to America in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that even in the meanest cabin on the American frontier of the time, one found two books: the King James Bible and the works of Shakespeare.

So what could Americans learn from a poet who wrote about kings and dukes and Roman nobles? The fact is that Shakespeare explores a number of themes that have influenced not only British, but also American politics: the nature and limits of political life; the effect on politics of Christianity, classical philosophy, and modernity as represented by Niccolò Machiavelli and Francis Bacon; the meaning and practice of statesmanship; the best polity versus real polities in the form of England, Italy, and Rome; the link between individual character and the political regime; and the relationship among poetry, politics, religion, and philosophy.

The division of Shakespeare’s plays into histories, comedies, and tragedies often obscures the fact that all of his plays—including the comedies— are political, in the sense that they are treatments of the human condition under different constitutions. The human beings he describes seek completion within a political community, whether it be an ancient city such as Athens, a timocratic regime such as Rome, a commercial republic such as Venice, or a monarchy such as England in transition from a medieval polity to a modern one.

As Allan Bloom has written,

Shakespeare devotes great care to establishing the political setting in almost all his plays, and his greatest heroes are rulers who exercise capacities which can only be exercised within civil society. To neglect this is simply to be blinded by the brilliance of one’s own prejudices. As soon as one sees this, one cannot help asking what Shakespeare thought about a good regime and a good ruler. I contend that the man of political passions and education is in a better position to understand the plays than a purely private man. With the recognition of this fact, a new perspective is opened, not only on the plays but also on our notions of politics . . . The poet can take the philosopher’s understanding and translate it into images which touch the deepest passions and cause men to know without knowing that they know.

Bloom understood that Shakespeare’s plays are about public men sharing a public world with other citizens or subjects, who make choices that have political consequences. Shakespeare wrote at a time when an Englishman could seek guidance regarding the best life for man and the political arrangements most conducive to that life from three philosophical possibilities.

In his introduction to Shakespeare as Political Thinker, John Alvis writes that these three philosophical possibilities can be seen as roads intersecting in Shakespeare’s England. Two led to the past; the third led to the future. The first road led to Athens via Rome—the guides on this road were Virgil, Plutarch, Aristotle, and Plato, the second road led to Jerusalem—its guides were Hooker, Fortescue, John of Salisbury, Aquinas, Augustine, Paul and the Evangelists, and through the mists of time, Moses. The third was a new road under construction, leading to the modern scientific and technological state of New Atlantis. The guides on this road were Machiavelli and Bacon.

The opening paragraph of Federalist 1 suggests that the United States chose the road to New Atlantis: “…it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country to decide, by their conduct and example, the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.” (Emphasis added.) But it is clear that the Founders also took their bearings from the other roads as well, especially the road of classical political philosophy. Their choices of pseudonyms during the debates over the Constitution illustrate their debt to this tradition as related through the works of Plutarch in particular.

Here is how Plutarch described his enterprise in his “Life of Timoleon”:

Using history as a mirror I try by whatever means I can to improve my own life and to model it by the standard of all that is best in those whose lives I write. As a result I feel as though I were conversing and indeed living with them; by means of history I receive each one of them in turn, welcome and entertain them as guests and consider their stature and their qualities and select from their actions the most authoritative and the best with a view to getting to know them. What greater pleasure could one enjoy than this or what more efficacious in improving one’s own character?

Shakespeare’s plays serve the same purpose: to educate his viewers by having them confront a variety of men and women living under various constitutions/regimes. Thus his plays serve the truth: “minding true things by what their mock’ries be.”

From Shakespeare, Americans learned the relationship between the human soul and political constitutions. The Greeks divided the human soul into three parts: nous, the intellective, reasoning part of the soul; thumos, the spirited part of the soul, concerned with honor and justice; and epithumeia, the appetitive part of the soul, concerned with basic human desires and subject to the passions.

For the Greeks, various polities each reflected a part of the human soul. In this taxonomy of regimes, the noetic part of the soul was seen in rule by the one; the thumetic part of the soul in rule by the few; and the appetitive part of the soul in rule by the many. Each form of rule had a good and bad version, the former based on rule for the benefit of the entire polity and the latter rule on behalf of the ruler alone. Thus the good form of rule by the one was kingship; the bad form tyranny. The good form of rule by the few was aristocracy; the bad form oligarchy or plutocracy. The good form of rule by the many was politeia or a balanced constitution; the bad form was democracy or ochlocracy: mob rule.

This taxonomy led the Greek historian Polybius to suggest that all political regimes were subject to the anakuklosis politeion, or “cycle of constitutions.” Kingship—rule by the one on behalf of the whole deteriorates into tyranny. The virtuous few—the aristoi–depose the tyrant, but over time aristocracy deteriorates into oligarchy. The oligarchs are overthrown by the virtuous many but a balanced constitution deteriorates into democracy, and the cycle then repeats itself.

One sees a version of the anakuklosis politeion in Shakespeare’s sonnet, “The Rape of Lucerne” (Lucretia) and his Roman plays. Lucretia’s rape by Sextus Tarquinius, son of the last Roman king, leads to her suicide, which in turn compels the aristocrats to expel the Tarquins and establish the Republic. In Coriolanus, we see a timocratic regime that is nonetheless at war with itself. Julius Caesar overthrows the republic and his adopted son, Augustus defeats Antony and other leading men to establish a cosmopolitan empire, the decline of which we see in Titus Andronicus.

What the American people in general and the Founders in particular learned from Shakespeare’s Rome was the instability of democracy, which served the passions, not the reason of the people; the dangers of demagogues; the importance of the rule of law; and the necessity of institutions—in this case the Constitution—to tame the ambition of great men while tamping down the passions of the people. Thus this warning against demagogues from Federalist 71:

There are some who would be inclined to regard the servile pliancy of the executive to a prevailing current, either in the community or in the legislature, as its best recommendation. But such men entertain very crude notions, as well of the purposes for which government was instituted, as of the true means by which the public happiness may be promoted. The republican principle demands that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they intrust the management of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men, who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests. It is a just observation, that the people commonly intend the public good. This often applies to their very errors. But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.” (Emphasis in the original)

Shakespeare taught the English speaking world the deficiencies of most polities, suggesting thereby how deficient constitutions can be improved. The timocratic Roman Republic of Coriolanus is full of men motivated by thumos but deficient in other characteristics. The commercial republic of Venice feeds the epithumeia of its citizens but thumetic men are lacking; this means that the Venetians must depend on outsiders such as Othello—who do not share their religion—to defend the city. The Vienna of Measure for Measure is a city of extremes: it is characterized by bordellos and convents. It is a city that needs to be taught moderation.

And this most of all is what America seems to have learned from Shakespeare: that a balanced constitution that accommodates the souls of all of its citizens and moderation are necessary for a healthy polity. By working through the entirety of partial, partisan regimes, Shakespeare’s readers and audiences can get a sense of the best practicable regime. And as we survey the world today, that best practicable regime appears to be the American Republic.

America • Book Reviews • The Culture

Election Day in Dreamland

opiate addiction dreamland quinones

 

Barney Frank famously said, “Government is simply a word for the things we decide to do together.” Whatever one may say about the ultimate shallowness of that reflection, it has some application when it comes to America’s opiate crisis. Heroin, it turns out, is just a name for something we do together. Sam Quinones explains in Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic that this epidemic now ravaging “flyover country” is the result of ill conceived policy prescriptions, some well intentioned, that have shaped contemporary America. The book is widely acclaimed for good reason.

 

In order to understand the increasing decay of working class, primarily white American communities, Quinones weaves together an account that looks to the transformation in medical practice regarding pain, the increasing effects in every part of the United States of uncontrolled Mexican immigration.  He adds to this the decline of economic opportunity in the heartland thanks to deindustrialization, a decreasing need for middle management and small retail business (disintermediation), and globalization. Since Bill Clinton was wrong in proclaiming an end to the era of big government, big government has had a lot to do with fanning the flames of America’s opiate epidemic. Now that this crisis is ablaze, there is much that it must undo in order to help the people beat those flames down. Yet Quinones describes much while prescribing little, which may be sensible modesty in one who knows the ravages of overprescription.

As the 2016 election draws near, however, we should take what political lessons we can from Quinones’ massive and multi-faceted investigation. Ever since the invention of morphine more than 200 years ago, scientific medicine has promised that here, at last, is a pain killer we can trust is safe, effective, and non-addictive. First we had heroin, then Dilaudid, and now Oxycontin. Each has had its turn in the imaginations of doctors and patients as a wonder drug giving us all the benefits of previous opiates without the costs in addiction, drug-dependent behavior, and overdoses.

But it is as if man was cursed to labor, rather than to feed on the lotus. We have been fooled again and again. American medicine is not, most international surveys show, the best in the world; but American doctors are the most responsive in the world. If our regulations are such that they can make good livings dispensing relief from the cares of this world in child-proof bottles then enough of them, Quinones shows, will do just that.

Likewise, if we crack down on the prescription pills, a new dope peddler quickly moves to fill the gap. The old dope peddler who trafficked in opiates sold “powdered happiness,” powder heroin that was, comparatively, much-diluted. He thought in terms of “killing the competition” not through customer service or a better quality product but through turf wars. The old dope peddler wanted to belong, and if death or prison was the price of belonging to his gang, he measured his manhood by his willingness to pay that price without flinching.

That was before.

The new dope peddlers Quinones describes are the Xalisco boys: young men from Xalisco, a forsaken corner of Mexico, exceptional only in the quality and purity of the black tar heroin produced in the surrounding hills. The Xalisco boys, being hard working immigrants, get the job done. Their product is pure, they deliver quality, and it is cheap, too. Moreover, they are not attached to place or territory within the United States: America is just where they come to make money.

Quinones shows how these dealers live Poor Richard lives in the U.S. with long hours, outward conformity to the laws and mores of the U.S., and ceaseless attention to their customers. The Xalisco boys strive to make money in America in order to be big men in Xalisco, with large families, big and ever-expanding houses, and splendid local festivals. They do not bother to fight for turf. For in America they are not attached to any patch of dirt. They respond to competition from each other or from the more violent cartel or gang linked drug dealers by moving beyond their reach. And no community, no matter how isolated or homogeneously white, is beyond their reach. Whiteness, as anyone with sense has always known, is no magic prophylactic from the effects of cultural, political, and societal rot. With a car, a prepaid cellphone, and a few dozen balloons of heroin easily moved across the effectively open border, their business is portable and their supply creates its own demand. The Xalisco boys are not Mexico’s best people, but in America, apart from the fact that the make their money by selling illegal drugs, they pretty much behave as if they were.

And why are the people Americans derisively call “hillbillies” alternating between hillbilly heroin (oxycontin) and the real thing from Mexico? When work is hard injuries are common, and virtually every career ends with a diagnosis of disability. When work is unavailable, opiates offer the quickest and strongest substitute for accomplishment–especially when the bonds of family are already broken down, like so much else in our once thriving culture, by the ill-effects of a nihilistic popular culture of immorality. Increasingly unaffiliated and unchurched, as the secularism of the cities is pumped to them via media and even government intervention, flyover America finds ready comfort in opiates in place of the opiate of the people. And both varieties of heroin are so cheap and accessible that one can sustain addiction for a long time on food stamp cards and shoplifted merchandise from Walmart whose employees, like the Xalisco boys, have no turf to protect.

What does this doctor (of political science) prescribe after waking up from Dreamland? First, the Federal government needs to concentrate on the aspects of the problem which it can handle most effectively. Control the border. Keep people and products that are supposed to be out, out. Second, make sure that the regulation of healthcare focuses on health and not on consumer satisfaction, especially not the easy satisfaction that comes from pills. And, finally, even though it is hard to see how government can instill virtue in towns where good jobs for men have been thin on the ground for four decades, remember that, as Calvin Coolidge once said, “cheap goods mean cheap men,” and not every job that immigrants can do better than Americans is a job we Americans need or want to have done.