First Principles

Fascism 101 with Professors Vittorini and Solzhenitsyn

How can you tell if you have the soul of a fascist? If you are alive and breathing, you are in danger of it.

Didn’t you catch that stink?” says the big man to his fellows in the compartment on a train in Elio Vittorini’s novel, Conversations in Sicily. He is burly and blond, of Lombard and Norman blood, though a native Sicilian all the same.

“What stink?” says a man who is returning to his native Sicily after 15 years, immersed in memories and gloom.

“Didn’t you catch that stink?” the big Lombard says again. A young man, yellow with malaria and wrapped up in a heavy cloak, nods. A very small and withered old man makes a whistling sound, as if in approval.

Finally, the man understands. “You mean those two in the passageway?” They had gotten off at the last stop.

“That stench, yes,” says the big Lombard. Everyone in the compartment exchanges glances. For the two in the passageway, one With Mustaches and one Without Mustaches, had been speaking within earshot about another passenger. That man, a poor farm worker, had been complaining about the wretched oranges he was hired to pick and could not sell, because nobody wanted them anywhere. He had no bread and cheese for his lunch—only oranges in a sack, which he peeled and swallowed down in bitterness. His young wife beside him would not even take one.

“The kind of fellow you have to arrest,” said Without Mustaches.

“You have to do it,” said With Mustaches. “You never know.”

“A man dying of hunger is always dangerous,” said Without Mustaches.

“Right about that. Capable of anything,” said With Mustaches.

“Robbery,” said Without Mustaches.

“That goes without saying,” said With Mustaches.

“Pulling a knife on you,” said Without Mustaches.

“No question,” said With Mustaches.

“And political delinquency,” said Without Mustaches.

And they looked into each other’s eyes and smiled, recalling people they knew whom they had denounced; the barber, the landlord, the butcher, the owner of the delicatessen.

That was the stench from the corridor that the big Lombard was talking about, the stench of fascists, professional informants, denouncers, people who made their living by surveillance, catching people in crimes against the political correctness of the day. 

For that was the dictum of Benito Mussolini: “Everything within the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” Everything must be swallowed up in politics. Nothing must be permitted to enjoy a non-political or pre-political or beyond-political existence. Not even language, not even the names of towns and villages could escape the hand of Fascist politics: Girgenti, for example, had to become Agrigento, because that was the Italian for ancient Agrigentum, and Mussolini, his head turned by fantasies of Roman glory, wanted to bring his country back to the days of the Caesars.

What kinds of people want to put the deeds and words of others under surveillance, eager to find fault, and quick to destroy a man’s reputation or run him out of his livelihood? Who has the spirit of a fascist?

Not the big Lombard, who dares to speak his mind and who does not mince words. He would allow to any man the liberty of thought and speech that he claims for himself. Not the man with the oranges, who suffers real hunger and poverty, and does not have to cast himself as a star in a political psychodrama. They are men like With Mustaches and Without Mustaches, self-satisfied, hardly individuated, loyal to no person or place or culture, ready to immerse themselves in the collective thing that Mussolini held forth for them in his mad dream.

Or they are like Rusanov, the cowardly apparatchik in Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward. Admitted to the ward for a quick-growing tumor on his neck, Rusanov tries to throw his official weight around. He complains about the doctors and the nurses, threatening to bring them under investigation. He despises most of his fellow patients, especially one Kostoglotov, whose history resembles that of Solzhenitsyn himself. Hovering near death of stomach cancer, in and out of the ward for a year after having spent nine years in the labor camps for dropping some derogatory comments about Stalin, Kostoglotov has seen how the Soviet system rests upon a pack of lies, and he dares to say so. Rusanov intends to deal with Kostoglotov as soon as he can leave the hospital.

That doesn’t happen, though. A few days after Rusanov is admitted, the political earth heaves up beneath his feet. It has been one year since Stalin’s death. But there have been no parades, no public lamentations, no commemoration. Suddenly, Stalin and his lackeys are no longer in favor. Worse still: Rusanov learns that one of the people he denounced to the authorities, a man with whom he and his wife had shared an apartment, did not die in Siberia after all. He is alive, and he has been set free. He may seek revenge.

Rusanov does not regret ruining other people’s lives. He does not regret sneaking, back-stabbing, posturing, defaming, substituting the politically correct for what is simply human and decent. He is afraid of payback. Kostoglotov is not a Christian, as Solzhenitsyn was not a Christian yet when he spent his time in a cancer ward in Tashkent, in 1954. Kostoglotov has a moral sensibility that pierces through the slogans, the propaganda, the follies, the empty promises of “progress,” and the airy fantasies of materialism. He does not say that a different political system would be better. Almost anything would be better, but that is not the point. The point is to learn again how to live a genuinely human life.

How can you tell if you have the soul of a fascist?

If you are alive and breathing, you are in danger of it, because it is an ever-present temptation to drown your sins in oblivion as you lose your individuality in a group, a herd, a mob, a “movement,” or to dress up your pride and envy in political colors, and turn hatred itself into a virtue. Indeed, the more social you are by temperament, the greater your peril.

Beyond that, how can you tell? Vittorini and Solzhenitsyn, who lived through it, can instruct us.

Do you watch others, to find fault?

Do you seek occasion for enmity?

Do you believe that “the personal is the political”?

Do you speak evil of people behind their backs?

Do you enjoy—perhaps too much—being part of a political movement?

Do you believe that political urgency absolves you of ordinary human duties, such as the duty to protect your enemy’s good name, or the duty to be loyal to a friend?

Do you expose other people to opprobrium?

Do you act as if every decent person must believe as you and your comrades believe, and say what you say?

Do you enjoy having other people live under a reign of terror, wherein one false step can cost them their livelihood?

Do you feel a frisson of glee when someone takes that false step?

How about it? We are all frail. But when I see people behaving just like With Mustaches and Without Mustaches, just like Pavel Nikolayevitch Rusanov, all while crying out against Fascism, I wonder if they know anything about history. They seem to know little enough about themselves.

First Principles

Gun Control Is Dead

There’s simply no way Americans will tolerate being disarmed in the face of soaring violent crime, riots, and a neutered police force.

This summer has answered the question, “why would somebody ever need an AR-15 or a high-capacity magazine?” As the Left continues to advocate for ending private ownership of military-style rifles, Americans can also see that powerful rifles are turning up in the possession of violent rioters and looters. In this video, one can clearly see Raz Simone, then a noted leader within Seattle’s “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone”, handing out an expensive, tricked-out AR-15 to a complete stranger. Simone somehow went from an Airbnb host to a Tesla-driving, arsenal-distributing mogul in the space of a few weeks. 

As shown in this video, a militant left-wing militia group called NFAC (literally, “Not Fucking Around Coalition”) staged an armed protest in Kentucky during which an accidental discharge wounded three people. Their black attire and paramilitary appearance bore a chilling resemblance to their predecessors-in-spirit from 1930s Italy.

Why do these leftist protestors suddenly have access to expensive weapons? One answer may be China. 

In May, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized approximately 10,000 assault weapons parts in Kentucky. According to the Epoch Times, U.S. customs officials have seized a staggering 5,300 gun parts shipments from China in 2020, up from 31 shipments in 2019. For emphasis, that’s not 5,300 parts that were seized, but 5,300 shipments of parts that federal authorities intercepted.

On a bipartisan basis, law-abiding whites, blacks, Democrats, and Republicans see the rising violence as a threat to their families. In deep-blue Minnesota, for example, gun stores are emptying out, particularly of ammunition, as fearful citizens wait as long as four hours to purchase a gun. Across the nation, background checks, which were well on their way to an all-time record earlier this year, have almost doubled when compared to this time last year. 

The AR-15 uses .223 caliber ammunition and manufacturers can’t keep up with the current demand. One out of every five firearms purchased in the United States is an AR-15. The National African American Gun Association (NAAGA) saw a surge in membership of approximately 5 percent in just 36 hours after the George Floyd video surfaced. In that same 36 hours, sales to NAAGA members of .223 caliber ammunition increased by 27 percent. 

When faced with a mob of arsonists and looters, the AR-15 with a standard capacity magazine is the appropriate tool to protect people and property.

Then, of course, there is the McCloskey incident which seems to confirm that leftist politicians really do want to make citizens helpless in the face of the mob. 

In June, protestors entered the private, gated community of Portland Place in St. Louis, Missouri. According to Mark McCloskey, protestors told him, “we would be killed, our home burned, and our dog killed.” Every part of the interior of Portland Place is private property. McCloskey ordered the trespassing protestors to leave. They didn’t. McCloskey invoked his rights under Missouri law to brandish a legally owned AR-15 to fortify his demand that they leave.

The Goerge Soros-backed St. Louis prosecutor, Kim Gardner, seized the McCloskey guns—Mark McCloskey’s AR-15 and Patricia McCloskey’s nonfunctioning handgun—in a perverted application of a Missouri law making it a crime to use a gun to intimidate people. The law expressly exempts brandishing a gun to deter a persistent trespasser. To prove a violation of section 571.030(4) of the Missouri criminal code, Gardner must prove that both firearms were “readily capable of lethal use.” 

According to a report by a local St. Louis television reporter, Gardner sent both firearms to a crime lab. When Patricia McCloskey’s small handgun proved inoperable, a member of Gardner’s staff, Assistant Circuit Attorney Chris Hinkley, requested that the firearm be reassembled so it could function correctly. The lab technicians complied. After the reassembled firearm proved operable, Gardner then charged Patricia McCloskey with a crime. 

As the criminal statute requires proof that the weapon was, “readily capable of lethal use,” the tampering with the evidence as-seized constitutes a conscious attempt to defraud the court. Gardner will lose her case against the McCloskeys and, we can hope, she will face consequences for tampering with evidence in order to frame Mrs. McCloskey.

Americans clearly see local politicians ignoring or even encouraging rampaging mobs. 

In Denver, a politicized city government ordered its police to withhold protection from peaceful pro-police demonstrators so that Antifa/BLM protesters could assault them without consequences. In Kirkland, Washington (near Seattle), private business owners brandished AR-15s and other weapons to protect their businesses from looters and rioters. 

Just months ago, former Vice President Joe Biden, a beneficiary of taxpayer-funded secret service protection, lectured Americans that nobody needs an AR-15 and a high capacity magazine. Biden indicated he intended to appoint Beto O’Rourke to lead gun control efforts in a Biden Administration. O’Rourke famously promised to take away Americans’ AR-15s. “If I win, I’m coming for them,” Biden said of privately-owned AR-15s during his endorsement of O’Rourke’s gun confiscation policy.

Biden’s plan for a “buyback,” a euphemism for confiscating private guns, is a nonstarter. His plan will require all gun owners “who possess assault weapons or high-capacity magazines” to select from two options, either, “sell the weapons to the government, or register them under the National Firearms Act.” 

Biden also plans to create a bureaucratic veto for all gun purchases. Currently, if the FBI fails to adjudicate a background check for a gun purchase in a timely manner, the dealer may complete the sale after three business days. Biden would close this “loophole,” which will allow the federal government to slow or veto individual gun sales simply by doing nothing. Biden would also eliminate all online sales of guns and ammunition.

Americans don’t feel safe. Paternalistic, privileged white liberals are terrifying middle and lower-income communities with calls to defund the police. There’s simply no way Americans will tolerate being disarmed in the face of soaring violent crime, riots, and neutered police force. When faced with a mob of arsonists and looters, the AR-15 with a standard capacity magazine is the appropriate tool to protect people and property. 

This year has reminded us that the Second Amendment has nothing to do with hunting. Gun control is dead.

First Principles

Antifa and BLM: The Greatest Second Amendment Promoters Since the NRA

Come November, does anyone think that folks who just spent $1,000 or more on firearms are going to vote for the vertiginous Joe Biden who would take their guns away and leave them unprotected?

Burn stuff up, Portland! Lay waste to yourself, Seattle! Sherman redux, Atlanta! And New Yorkers, just keep on supporting de Bozo.

All you Disgruntled Bernie (isn’t that redundant?) supporters, hunkered down in your parents’ basements, Facetiming in your black balaclavas, please keep on organizing those “peaceful protests” on Twitter and Facebook. Please!

You Soros-funded lackeys, masquerading as part of the justice community, please keep on bending the law to your Marxist needs. Go ahead, defund the police. By all means!  

Your plans are working, though not in the way you hoped: In June alone, the FBI processed nearly 4 million applications for firearms purchases . . . each approving the sale of one or more guns.

And apparently there’s a massive demographic shift in those gun buyers:   While election cycles tend to drive sales up if liberals might come to office, this contemporary surge is driven specifically by first-time gun buyers.  

In a check of pawnshops outside the Washington, D.C. area, to make sure that the gun buying surge wasn’t a reflection of yuppies with too much money, store managers in Charles Town, West Virginia and Hagerstown, Maryland reported that folks who cannot afford to buy new weapons have swept up all the used handguns, all of the used ARs, and all of the used 12-gauge shotguns. Even .22s are scarce!

Ammunition sales are also skyrocketing and so is the cost of ammunition. The cheapest .45 caliber ammo outside of D.C. was 45 cents a round—if you bought 1,000 rounds. 

In the past it was said that a de facto conservative is a liberal who just got mugged by reality; it now seems that de facto conservatives are liberals and independents rich or poor, who just bought guns for—no-kidding— defense of home and family. And these new gun owners are not about to give them back, especially in light of the internet-driven chaos launched by Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and other outriders of the Democratic Party.

Come November, does anyone think that folks who just spent $500 to $1,000 or more on firearms for honest-to-God personal defense are going to vote for the vertiginous Joe Biden who would appoint the skateboarding-wannabe-Latino, “Beto” O’Rourke, to take their guns away and leave them unprotected? Really?

Melania, it’s safe to assume, can start picking out her gown for the second inaugural ball.

First Principles

Build the Family

Americans should seek to extend the blessings of family life to more people. Sophie Lewis and her feminist allies, now including Black Lives Matter, blow the smoke of a pernicious ideology that instead seeks the family’s destruction.

Social transformation continues at a breakneck pace. Ideas germinating in leftist fever swamps have become public dogmas in a matter of a generation—or a couple of weeks—or the last few hours. Thus, the calls by Sophie Lewis, and most recently Black Lives Matter, to abolish the family cannot be ignored.

Lewis’s book Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against the Family renews the feminist call for the abolition of the family. Simone de Beauvoir, founding mother of modern feminism, said in a 1972 interview: “I think the family must be abolished” and replaced “with communes or with other forms which have yet to be invented.” The list of feminists who followed Beauvoir is long. Revolutionaries from Black Lives Matter have hopped on board, hoping to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” and replace it with “extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another.” 

Moderate family abolishers merely hope families will wither away into irrelevance without much pushing. For these moderates—“moderate,” by my desperate standard—progressive steps must be taken to weaken the authority of parents over children, to thin out family loyalty, and to detach husbands and wives. 

Others, more radical like Beauvoir, think family should be proscribed by laws backed by force. Families should be mocked and dishonored as “comfortable concentration camps” (to use Betty Friedan’s lingo). A public opinion shaped by Black Lives Matter radicalism would not permit anyone to trace social ills like poor education, murder, or crime to family breakdown. 

For Lewis the radical, every time is a good time to abolish the family. On George Soros’ Open Society website, she argues, “the coronavirus crisis shows it’s time to abolish the family.” At The Nation, her acolytes chime in: “Want to dismantle capitalism? Abolish the Family.” A fawning interview at Vice captures the spirit: “We can’t have a feminist future unless we abolish the family.”

Her rhetoric aims to put those who would defend the family on their heels, making them own every horror that has ever originated in a family. People are not safe in their own homes, so the coronavirus stay-at-home order consigns women to “intimate partner rape” or children to “psychological torture.” Far from being a haven in a heartless world, family life, for Lewis, is “child abuse, molestation, intimate partner rape, psychological torture, and more.” Being in the home “genders” all concerned, as housework comes to mean more. 

The family, according to this view, is a pressure cooker, a source of repression. People come to think that they have responsibilities or duties to other people. This makes them vulnerable or angry. Worst of all, it oppresses women, who would never take on such duties unless tricked by the patriarchy. 

A Blinkered, One-Sided View

Such ills would disappear, for Lewis, with “full surrogacy.” Full surrogates would not just carry a baby for another. We would all be surrogates for each other, spontaneously, and with great dedication. We would inhabit bigger, broader systems of care that fully provide people with the support and love that today they expect from blood relations. Liberal feminists before Lewis have embraced this “surrogate” family for a generation, in the hope of creating what they call Intensive Care-Giving Units (ICGUs). While some feminists would allow the blood-tie to remain at the heart of such units, for radicals like Lewis full surrogacy transcends blood. 

These are not the mere ravings of academic cranks. David Brooks, weathervane of the respectably woke, now agrees that “the nuclear family has been a mistake” and should be replaced by virtuous group living. 

First, the pretense. Air sometimes gives destructive agency to fire, so let’s abolish air! Radicals try to make defenders of family life own every misfire of every family while denying the contributions of families to sustaining and nurturing life. Anyone who makes such arguments is no well-meaning reformer, but a fanatical revolutionary with no interest in making anything better. 

In fact, it turns out that family misfires are all on her side. Subcultures in America have long moved in the direction of the abolition Lewis embraces. Fewer families form in the mean streets of Baltimore or in the hollers of Appalachia than ever. Has there been some major movement toward peace, greater trust, less violence, brotherhood, and human happiness in these parts of our country? Have decreases in family contact led to more upward mobility or happiness or justice? No. Instead crime, misery, dashed-hopes, and violence beset these communities. Lewis and anyone who endorses her ideology must own this misery, and they ought to be made to blush if they have consciences. 

There probably has never been and never will be a human association more crucial to civilizing human beings than the biological family, especially when it is duly limited in a political community. Certainly not the university. And not the New York Times editorial page. The choice isn’t between the oppressive family and liberated Elysian Fields; it is between the mostly good family and the Killing Fields

The Truth About Family

Why? Human beings thrive when they can trust others with their lives and honor. Families build themselves in mutual reliance, and by habit and experience, they build such trust. Mutual reliance shows that all those who are interdependent in the family are also responsible for someone other than themselves. And thus they come to love someone other than themselves. Who do you call in times of illness or distress? Who but a strong, virtuous husband or brother will protect a smaller, vulnerable woman from predator or thief? Who can you count on when you contract cancer or have your dreams crushed or when you are an infant? 

If you have no one, your life is very poor indeed. Those with families are most likely to have someone. The COVID-19 lockdowns reveal these truths to more of us every day. 

Americans should seek to extend the blessings of family life to more people. Sophie Lewis and her feminist allies, now including Black Lives Matter, blow the smoke of a pernicious ideology that instead seeks the family’s destruction. That ideology distracts us from our true problems, while exacerbating them. We must clear the underbrush of anti-family ideologies to address the real problems confronting Americans. 

Lewis screams “too much marriage,” when in fact it is “not enough.” She says “abolish.” In reality, we must build. 

First Principles

Battery Wagner: An African-American ‘Glory’ in the Fight for Freedom

Without the participation of African Americans, the war to save the Union “as it was” could not have been transformed into a war to save the Union “forever worthy of the saving”—without slavery.

July of 1863 was a critically important month in the American Civil War. During the first three days of that month, two great armies clashed at Gettysburg, resulting in a decisive Confederate defeat. On July 4, Vicksburg, the last Confederate bastion on the Mississippi, surrendered to Major General Ulysses S. Grant. Both were great Union victories that ultimately helped to restore the Union.

But there is a lesser known battle that occurred on July 18 of that year: the Union assault on Battery Wagner, one of the forts defending Charleston Harbor. Although a Union defeat, it marked a major milestone in the history of the United States: the transition of African-Americans from servitude to citizenship.

The assault of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, one of the first all-black units of the Civil War, was portrayed in the movie “Glory.” Suffering a casualty rate of 40 percent, the performance of the 54th illustrated the fact that African-Americans were willing to fight—and die—for their freedom. Accordingly, the 54th Massachusetts constituted the vanguard of a force of African-Americans that would help save the Union and end slavery.

Ultimately, some 180,000 black soldiers served in the Union army. They constituted 120 infantry regiments, 12 regiments of heavy artillery, 10 batteries of light artillery, and seven cavalry regiments. At the end of the war, they constituted 12 percent of the Union’s military manpower.

The former slave and great abolitionist Frederick Douglass had called for arming blacks at the very outset of the war. Writing in his Monthly of May 1861, Douglass argued that the way “to put an end to the savage and desolating war now waged by the slaveholders, is to strike down slavery itself, the primal cause of that war.”

He called for unleashing a “liberating army” on the slaveholders and denounced the hesitation of the government to employ “the sable arm.” Instead, Union forces were returning escaped slaves to their masters. “Would to God you would let us do something! We lack nothing but your consent,” Douglass wrote. He concluded: “Until the nation shall repent of this weakness and folly, until they shall make the cause of their country the cause of freedom, until they shall strike down slavery, the source and center of this gigantic rebellion, they don’t deserve the support of a single sable arm, nor will it succeed in crushing the cause of our present problems.”

Abraham Lincoln would come to share Douglass’s view regarding the psychological impact of enlisting black troops in the Union cause. As he wrote to Andrew Johnson, the Unionist governor of Tennessee, in March 1863, “the bare sight of fifty thousand armed, and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi, would end the rebellion at once.” 

But in the beginning, Lincoln was constrained by prudential considerations: His hesitation regarding both emancipation and the arming of black soldiers was based on his need to maintain a working coalition between his Republican Party and “War Democrats,” who were willing to fight to restore the Union but who did not want to interfere with slavery.

Congress authorized the enlistment of black troops by means of two pieces of legislation: the Second Confiscation Act and the Militia Act, both enacted July 17, 1862.  But even with congressional authorization, the black-recruitment enterprise had to overcome a great deal of resistance, including the prejudices of many Northern whites. 

Among the contradictory arguments put forward by those who opposed the policy were the assertion that blacks would not enlist in the first place; that they were too cowardly to fight; that arming them would unleash their “savage nature”; that they lacked the intelligence to be good soldiers; that whites would not serve alongside them; that their presence would demoralize white Union soldiers; and that arming them would stiffen the backs of the rebels.

In addition to facing the prejudices of white Union soldiers, black soldiers faced a special danger from the Confederates, who saw them (including free blacks) not as soldiers but rather as escaped slaves engaged in servile insurrection (and their white officers as inciting servile insurrection). The Confederate Congress made this crystal clear in its joint resolutions of April and May 1862, prompting Lincoln to issue an Order of Retaliation.

Although pressure from the Europeans, whom the Confederacy needed to court, forced the Confederate government to back down on that policy, Confederate officers on the scene sometimes acted on their own, either refusing to take black prisoners or fighting under a black flag, a signal that “no quarter [is] given or expected.” The most infamous example came at Fort Pillow in April 1864. Half of the fort’s garrison was made up of black soldiers, and while one-third of the white soldiers were killed, two-thirds of the black soldiers died, many after they had attempted to surrender. A similar event occurred during the same month at Poison Springs, Arkansas.

In 1892, Norwood Penrose Hallowell, the colonel of the 55th Massachusetts, captured the meaning of what the black soldier had accomplished during the war against great odds: 

We called upon them in the day of our trial, when volunteering had ceased, when the draft was a partial failure, and the bounty system a senseless extravagance. They were ineligible for promotion, they were not to be treated as prisoners of war. Nothing was definite except that they could be shot and hanged as soldiers. Fortunate indeed it is for us, as well as for them, that they were equal to the crisis; that the grand historic moment which comes to a race only once in many centuries came to them, and they recognized it.

Although “Glory” served to open the eyes of Americans to the role of African-American soldiers in the Civil War, the movie conveys some historical inaccuracies. Some are minor. Others less so. Most seriously from the standpoint of historical accuracy, the 54th, portrayed in the movie as made up largely of runaway slaves like John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman) or Private Trip (Denzel Washington in a role for which he won an Academy Award for best supporting actor) was in fact, a regiment of freedmen, like Thomas Searles (Andre Braugher), recruited not only from Massachusetts but New York and Pennsylvania as well. Two of Frederick Douglass’ sons were among the first to volunteer for the 54th and Lewis Douglass, the elder son, served from the outset as the regiment’s sergeant-major.

But historical inaccuracies aside, “Glory” contains a deeper truth, which is illustrated by a story recounted by the Greek historian Herodotus. At the beginning of Book Four of The History, Herodotus tells of the return of the nomadic Scythians from their long war against the Medes, during which time the Scythian women had taken up with their slaves. The Scythians warriors now found a race of slaves arrayed against them.

Having been repulsed repeatedly by the slaves, one of the Scythians admonishes his fellows to set aside their weapons and take up horsewhips. “As long as they are used to seeing us with arms, they think that they are our equals and that their fathers are likewise our equals. Let them see us with whips instead of arms, and they will learn that they are our slaves; and, once they have realized that, they will not stand their ground against us.”

The tactic worked. The slaves are bewildered by the whip-wielding Scythians, lose their fighting spirit, and flee in terror. The implication of Herodotus’s story is clear. There are natural masters and natural slaves. A slave has the soul of a slave and lacks the manliness to fight for his freedom, especially if a master never deigns to treat him as a man.

At the time of the Civil War, most Southerners believed that blacks were naturally servile. The Southern/Scythian view was reflected in a comment by Howell Cobb of Georgia: “The day you make soldiers of [Negroes] is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”

But there was doubt about their manly spirit in the north as well. Even supporters of the effort to raise black troops expressed uncertainty. In “Glory,” a reporter from Harper’s Weekly asks Matthew Broderick’s Colonel Robert Shaw, “will they fight? A million readers want to know.” Shaw replies, “a million and one.” 

In this scene, Broderick’s Shaw is paraphrasing a letter from Captain William Simpkins of the 54th Massachusetts, written just before his death during the regiment’s assault on Battery Wagner: “this is nothing but an experiment after all; but it is an experiment that I think it is high time we should, try—an experiment which, the sooner we prove fortunate the sooner we can count upon an immense number of hardy troops that can stand the effect of a Southern climate without injury; an experiment the sooner we prove unsuccessful, the sooner we shall establish an important truth and rid ourselves of false hope.” This illustrates the fact that in 1863, even elite New England abolitionists were uncertain of the abilities of African-Americans as soldiers.

While the material contribution of African Americans, both freedmen and former slaves, to Union victory was substantial, their participation in the war to achieve their own liberty was important for its own sake: to make it clear that they were not the natural slaves that Southerners, and indeed many Northerners, believed them to be. “Who asks now in doubt and derision, ‘Will the Negro fight?’” observed one abolitionist after the assault of the 54th against Battery Wagner. “The answer is spoken from the cannon’s mouth . . . it comes to us from . . . those graves beneath Fort Wagner’s walls, which the American people will never forget.”

In his Peoria speech of 1854, Lincoln said “Our republican robe is soiled, and trailed in the dust. Let us repurify it. Let us turn and wash it white, in the spirit, if not the blood, of the Revolution . . . Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it . . .  If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union; but we shall have so saved it, as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving.”

Without the participation of African Americans, the war to save the Union “as it was” could not have been transformed into a war to save the Union “forever worthy of the saving”— that is, without slavery. And without that participation it is unlikely that African Americans could ever have achieved full citizenship and equality in the United States.

First Principles

I’m Not Descended From Jefferson. Keep His Memorial

The American Left’s attempt to erase history is an egregious form of tyranny over the mind, and just like Jefferson, we must fight it with all our might.

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped.” When George Orwell wrote those prophetic words in 1984, he couldn’t have imagined how quickly they’d be implemented in America.

The latest salvo in the Marxist Left’s attempt to destroy our history is a New York Times article titled: “I’m a Direct Descendant of Thomas Jefferson. Take Down His Memorial.” Written by Lucian K. Truscott, the case is completely unoriginal and intellectually dishonest and only serves to rehash the tired “let’s-erase-the-Founders-because-they-owned-slaves” argument.

Though the Left’s war on the Founders is an abomination, it serves as a good example of a classic leftist tactic: the appeal to emotion. 

Truscott’s article brings nothing new to the table, but because it’s written by a descendant of Jefferson’s, the reader is supposed to take a step back and say “Wow, if even a descendant of Jefferson favors destroying his memorial, I guess there’s some point to it.” It offers little in the way of reason.

The hypocritical thing about these appeals to emotion is that the Left only accepts them if they further their own policy goals. Does anyone think for a moment that the New York Times or Washington Post would publish an article titled: “My family was murdered by an illegal alien. Here’s why we should stop illegal immigration”? Maybe ask Kate Steinle’s family about that.

Truscott claims that Jefferson doesn’t need a memorial in D.C. and argues Monticello is enough because its exhibits on slavery reveal him “with his moral failings in full, an imperfect man, a flawed founder.” It’s ironic that Truscott cites Monticello as a good memorial, considering Jefferson’s former estate does the exactly the opposite of what Truscott claims. Monticello’s exhibits don’t simplistically characterize Jefferson as an evil, irredeemable slaveholder—much to CNN’s chagrin, I’m sure— but as a complex individual with both positive and negative traits; a man renowned for his genius, inventiveness, and rhetorical skills.

Despite Truscott’s reprehensible effort to poison his ancestor’s legacy, Thomas Jefferson deserves to be memorialized for his vital service to our nation. He wrote the Declaration of Independence, which in itself would have been enough to earn him a proud and much-deserved place in the history of our nation. But he also wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which guaranteed freedom of religion in Virginia and was the inspiration for the First Amendment (another thing the Left is now busily trying to dismantle). Among his other accomplishments, he established West Point as America’s military academy, doubled the size of our nation with the Louisiana Purchase, fought a successful war with the Barbary Pirates, and—inconveniently for Truscott and other detractors—Jefferson also abolished the slave trade.  

America As Uniquely Evil in the World

The last point is especially vital because Truscott insists that, though Jefferson wrote in the Declaration that “all men are created equal,” he “never did much to make those words come true.” This is a disgusting lie. 

Yes, slavery continued to exist until Abraham Lincoln (who, coincidentally, is also on the Left’s hit list) issued the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment was ratified. But the fact that Jefferson ended the importation of slaves to American shores from overseas was a huge gain for the anti-slavery forces and certainly directed momentum toward the eventual eradication of slavery.

In establishing our nation, Jefferson and the other Founders also put slavery on a course to ultimate extinction. They could not have insisted on its abolition when drafting the Constitution, because they knew the slave-holding southern states would never agree, and the nascent nation would have been destroyed before it was even born. Yet they ensured that a future generation would have the ideas it needed to fight to abolish the evil of slavery and—at the cost of over half a million American lives—eventually, it did.

Truscott specifically, and leftists in general, don’t really care about the individual legacies of the Founders. Not even the greatest Founder, George Washington, is exempt from their fury, even though he freed his slaves in his will, guaranteeing that the sick and the old would be taken care of by his estate, and ensuring that orphaned slaves would be taught “reading, writing, and a useful trade.” But instead, Washington is also on the chopping block along with Jefferson, with more and more leftists calling for his blacklisting from our history.

What underpins all of the Left’s historical assumptions is the idea that America is uniquely evil; they ignore the evils perpetrated by almost every other society throughout history. 

They never discuss how the Ottoman Empire abducted Christian children from their crying parents, enslaved them, forcibly converted them to Islam, and then sent them as Janissary troops to massacre their own people. They don’t mention that the Aztecs sacrificed 80,000 human lives to dedicate the Great Temple at Tenochtitlan, killing 14 victims a minute. Neither do we hear much about the Mongols, who murdered millions of innocents in horrific fashion and destroyed flourishing cultures

In the Left’s view, none of these crimes against humanity matter—only the West is guilty, with America being the worst among a band of criminal nations. 

This is the great irony in the neo-Marxist worldview; they fully embrace moral relativism but only when it suits them. They insist that there’s no black and white, only gray. They ignore the crimes of liberal icons like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who placed 120,000 Japanese-Americans in internment camps and openly admired Joseph Stalin, one of the worst butchers in human history. They idolize Che Guevara, ignoring his crimes and his calls to nuke the United States. They praise Communist Cuba, which has a horrendous track record in human rights and subjects its citizens to grinding poverty.

Communist crimes are downplayed, and any atrocities are justified as necessary for “the greater good,” the justification of all blood-soaked psychopaths in every period of history. Is it any surprise that the Left today justifies rioters’ destruction of minority neighborhoods by declaring that “property can be replaced”? It’s all for the greater good! 

The Left’s Power Play

The Left’s war on history was never about righting historical wrongs, otherwise the Marxists wouldn’t currently be destroying statues of Lincoln, the Great Emancipator who ended slavery; of Ulysses Grant, who fought tooth and nail throughout his life against both the Confederacy and the Ku Klux Klan; and, most absurdly, of Frederick Douglass, an ex-slave and one of the most influential abolitionists in our history.

Rewriting history is all about gaining power. If the Founders were evil, then surely the fruits of their labors—the Declaration, the Constitution, freedom of speech, freedom of religion—are all tainted by association. Surely we should give power to our new benevolent dictators to erase everything that came before, and remake our nation in their own image. If this sounds like too much of a slippery slope argument, stop and think: could anyone have imagined only four years ago that increasing numbers of leftists would want to destroy the legacy of George Washington, the father of his country?

The Jefferson Memorial lists several of Jefferson’s quotes on its walls, but the one most appropriate for this moment is the quote directly under the dome: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Marxists’ attempt to erase history is an egregious form of tyranny over the mind, and just like Jefferson, we must fight it with all our might. The Left may succeed in tearing down the Memorial, but Jefferson’s words are eternal.  

First Principles

A Reign of Error

What we think about things can be as important as the things themselves, because it forms our moral stance toward the world. But what if our thoughts are in error?

At the end of The Unheavenly City: The Nature and the Future of Our Urban Crisis (1968), Edward Banfield presents a prospect regarding race relations that seems to have been fulfilled since his tumultuous years and ours: a reign of error.

Let me set the stage. America had become the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and the wealth was making its way to the lower classes also. Thus the main “accidental factor” that had locked Americans in a vicious cycle of white discrimination and prejudice on one side and low standards and attainments for blacks on the other would be largely alleviated. Such prejudice, said Banfield, writing during the years of urban riots, was already in decline.

By any reasonable criterion, he was correct about that decline. Consider, for one example, our nearly universal acceptance of interracial marriage. Such acceptance was unimaginable when “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? was nominated for the Academy Award for best picture of 1967, largely on account of its message (for a much superior and gut-ripping film on interracial marriage, racial animosity, and rank injustice, see 1964’s “One Potato, Two Potato”). More than 1-in-6 new marriages in the United States are interracial. That alone, I had once thought, would suffice to put those animosities to rest, as it had done between other embittered groups.

Why have improvements in our material circumstances and markedly improved attitudes about race not settled the problem, even now that for tens of millions of people interracial marriage is a family affair? Banfield warned that such things might not be enough. 

Improvement causes expectations to rise, and that means bad actions will appear more perverse, injustices more unjust. 

“To a large extent,” Banfield says, “our urban problems are like the mechanical rabbit at the racetrack, which is set to keep just ahead of the dogs no matter how fast they may run.” Such is the case when we define poverty by ever-rising standards, so that although the level of material privation that my parents and my wife’s parents knew when they were children is now a thing of the past, we still have the problem of relative poverty, whereby people will feel less content than my parents felt, because we measure our welfare by comparison with what other people have.

Relative poverty, if it were a matter of extrinsic circumstances alone, might be eliminated by a redistribution of goods; that was the reasoning behind the welfare system. But perhaps it is not so easily cured. Banfield, who had written about a dysfunctional village in southern Italy in The Moral Basis of a Backward Society (1967), never forgot that man was a moral creature and not just a passive thing acted upon by forces from without. We possess moral codes, he says, “certain styles of life that are learned in childhood and passed on as a kind of collective heritage.” 

In America, one’s social class depended upon two moral factors: the “ability to imagine a future,” and the “ability to discipline oneself to sacrifice present for future satisfaction.” But the lower-class individual, white or black, lacked those abilities. 

He “suffers from feelings of self-contempt or inadequacy, and is often apathetic or dejected,” . . . “suspicious and hostile, aggressive yet dependent.” He “resents all authority . . . and is apt to think that he has been ‘railroaded’ and to want to ‘get even.’” The lower-class household is usually headed by a female, and the boy so raised “is likely to learn at an early age to join a corner gang of such boys and to learn from the gang the ‘tough’ style of the lower-class man.” 

Such a boy will have a strong taste for risk and violence, nor will he want to marry or to settle down to one mate. It follows, then, that government initiatives which, despite the best of intentions, encourage the formation of female-headed households, or make it harder or to all appearances unnecessary to domesticate the strongest, most aggressive, and most spirited young men and direct their energy toward productive ends, will confirm the self-thwarting pathologies of the lower class: “Overgenerous welfare programs may destroy more incentives to look ahead and provide for the future than improved job and other opportunities can provide.”

So it is that what we think about things can be as important as the things themselves, because it forms our moral stance toward the world. But what if our thoughts are in error? 

There is less violent crime in our cities now than there was 30 years ago (in part because of our dreadfully high rate of incarceration, including self-incarceration behind gates and guards). But people still register the violence. Mass media causes an atrocity in Boise to be known in Perth, when most of the people in each city could not find the other city on a map. 

Persuaded that their cities are war zones, people retreat to their havens, and the streets are abandoned to the most antisocial. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Jane Jacobs said much the same thing in The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). When you think that your streets are unsafe for children, they become so: for children are eyes, and they are everywhere and unpredictable, a strong deterrent to serious crime.

This is how “a false public definition of the situation may,” says Banfield, citing the sociologist Robert K. Merton, “evoke new behavior that makes the originally false definition come true, thus perpetuating a ‘reign of error.’” The decline in racial prejudice “counts for little if the Negro thinks that white racism is as pervasive as ever.” The opening up of his opportunities “counts for little if he thinks that ‘massive’ government welfare, housing, and other programs—and only these—can help him.” 

The original error, shared by many people who wish him well, may cause him to “do things that are counterproductive (for example, to cut himself off from ‘white’ schools, jobs, and politics and to enter the fantasy world of black separatism).” Indeed, it would be better for him, says Banfield, to put the best construction on things rather than the worst, “for a self-fulfilling prophecy of the unimportance of racial factors would be as great a blessing as its opposite would be a curse.”

One way to determine whether racism or a destructive perception of racism is at work is to control for race and separate groups by perception. The fabulous success of Nigerian immigrants to America is powerfully suggestive. It is not simply that the best and brightest are leaving Nigeria for America—explaining why Nigerian-Americans have higher educational attainments than any other ethnic group in the nation. It is also that they come without the burden of history. Nigeria is a deeply divided country, with plenty of Islamic terrorism. But the Nigerian does not arrive in New York thinking, “Here I will be despised for my race,” or, “Every light-skinned person I meet might be the great-grandchild of slave owners.” That story is not his story. 

Instead, the Nigerian immigrant is likely to assume that most people will like him if he treats them cheerfully, and they will be glad to see him succeed, and this assumption contributes to his chances of success. It enters his behavior. He has no wicked past to forget.

Banfield seems to have had little religious sensibility. The true aim of life lay beyond what he could imagine. It was not—and is not—success in this world. It is friendship with God and man. In what soil does friendship flourish? Gratitude, modesty, generosity, self-denial; the willingness to see the best in your friend and to overlook or to forgive the worst; and, of paramount importance, the knowledge that if God should give us what we justly deserve, none of us would see salvation. 

If we do not know that, we dwell in a reign of error indeed.

First Principles

The Great Fireworks Rebellion of 2020

It could be that the Fireworks Rebellion of 2020 was the shot heard ‘round the country that signaled the defenders of America are paying attention—and unwilling to tolerate much more.

If Donald Trump’s Independence Eve address at Mount Rushmore was a battle cry for the republic, millions of Americans seemingly joined forces with the president the next evening with their own sort of ammunition: fireworks.

Lockdown orders and “social distancing” decrees canceled official Fourth of July fireworks displays across the country—the latest in a long list of cruelties inflicted on the public to suffocate freedom and joy—but fed-up patriots from sea to shining sea were having none of it. 

Families and friends gathered in defiance of government bans on well-attended gatherings to celebrate our nation’s founding. Then, as the sun set, Americans lit up the skies with red, white, and blue bursts of pride in a not-so-subtle rebuke of leftist mobs intent on destroying our nation’s past, present, and future.

A news helicopter in Los Angeles captured one spectacular sight. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of pyrotechnics exploded above the city’s skyline in a loud, colorful middle finger to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who had closed public beaches and prohibited the use of fireworks as well as instructed his 4 million constituents not to congregate with anyone outside of their household in the futile fight to “stop” the spread of coronavirus. Angelenos responded by launching an “overwhelming” number, one reporter observed, of contraband fireworks; residents were warned not to call 911 to report the illegal celebrations because police couldn’t keep up.

Americans across the country acted similarly as social media accounts noted an uptick in fireworks activity from previous years. 

Fireworks stores and wholesalers reported unprecedented sales. One Indianapolis-based company reported a 300 percent increase in sales, leading to a “crazy, record-breaking year.” There was more anecdotal evidence: Singer Katy Perry tweeted that her 2012 song, “Firework,” was No. 33 on the iTunes hit list, its highest ranking in eight years.

Obviously, families and neighborhoods organized their own displays to replace banned community celebrations, but it also was a statement—the lovers of the country are not going to be silenced by the haters. 

For every sycophantic Facebook post honoring Black Lives Matter, there is a new handgun purchase or a new Tucker Carlson viewer or a new fireworks aficionado. The saboteurs in charge of Big Tech, Hollywood, and academia are running headlong into a growing counterinsurgency of regular Americans who won’t go down without a fight even if, for now, it’s in the form of colored roman candles. Silent skies and compliant citizens on July 4 would have been an ominous sign; instead, we let freedom ring.

The 2020 election won’t be a national debate about policy; it won’t center around the likeability of the major candidates or if a bleach-bit email server is a bigger disqualification for the Oval Office than a few failed marriages and an embarrassing tape recording from a decade ago. The election will determine whether we keep the country we have, or lose it to the powerful interests attempting to pull us asunder. 

Anyone paying attention knows that’s not hyperbole; the risk is real, and it’s not certain that another Trump term will be enough to delay what might be inevitable.

The contrast between the two presidential candidates’ holiday weekends could not have been starker. The president took off from South Dakota at midnight East Coast time on Friday, arriving back in Washington a few hours before dawn. He and the First Lady participated in another full day of celebration on July 4, including a Salute to America event at the White House, which was lit up in red, white, and blue.

Biden, on the other hand, couldn’t manage to emerge from his basement bunker to meet with Americans or even deliver a prepared speech to a select group of supporters. His campaign posted a pre-recorded video filled with the sort of shameful race-baiting that would make Al Sharpton proud. If there was any doubt the Democrats are fueling a deadly, destructive race war to win power in November, Biden’s video erased it. In the introduction, Biden condemned Thomas Jefferson as falling short of American ideals for owning slaves and “excluding women,” but George Floyd received a nice cameo while Biden mourned how Floyd’s “murder” proved the existence of “systemic racism” in the country. Lots of pictures of Black Lives Matters protestors; no photos of the American flag.

In a tweet the next day, Biden made this promise: “We’re going to beat Donald Trump. And when we do, we won’t just rebuild this nation—we’ll transform it.”

If he appeared to be on the ropes a few weeks ago, understandably weary from dealing with impeachment, the double-whammy of coronavirus and economic collapse, and the intensifying race war—a period of nonstop calamity that would have buckled nearly any other president—Trump likely rebounded over the weekend. The media desperately tried to spin the Mount Rushmore speech as a failure, a sure sign it was a success. Democrats continue to show Americans their contempt for our history and Founders: Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a rumored potential Biden running mate, said she supports a “national dialogue” about the removal of statues honoring historical figures, including George Washington, and accused the president of “talking about dead traitors.”

In his exceptional column Monday, American Greatness writer Eric Lendrum accurately described this year’s election as the “Civil War Election.” 

“Now it is beyond clear, as articulated by both candidates, that only one party truly loves our country, while the other is ashamed of it,” Lendrum wrote. “One party is campaigning on building on the past to create an even more glorious future, while the other seeks to tear down what we have already built so that we can start from scratch. Not since the election of 1860 has there been such a complete polarization between the two rival factions in American politics.”

Some might object that only Democratic leaders, and not rank-and-file Democrats, are ashamed of the country. But that’s not the case. According to a Gallup survey last week, only 22 percent of Democrats are “extremely proud” to be an American—an all-time low and a whopping 34 points lower than the results from 2013. Seventy-six percent of Republicans are “extremely proud” to be an American, a 10-year high. America’s subversives are right next door. 

Whether it’s tea or bus seats, fed-up Americans find a way to let those in power know when enough is enough. It could be that the Fireworks Rebellion of 2020 was the shot heard ‘round the country that signaled the defenders of America are paying attention—and unwilling to tolerate much more.

First Principles

The Cancellation of David Starkey

Say one wrong word in the year 2020, and you may be next.

In 2020, you can destroy your whole life with a single word.

On Thursday, David Starkey, the distinguished 75-year-old historian who is familiar to many TV viewers because of his frequent appearance on TV discussion programs, panel shows, and documentaries about the British monarchy (especially the Tudors) and Magna Carta, was interviewed online for 53 minutes by Darren Grimes, a 26-year-old commentator who rose to prominence as a leader of the Brexit movement. 

It was a very friendly exchange. Both Starkey and Grimes are gay conservatives who grew up in modest circumstances in small towns in northern England. Grimes, promoting the interview on Twitter, described Starkey as a “hero” of his. 

It was a fascinating exchange, too. Starkey, let it be said, is a prize of contemporary British culture—a top-flight historian with the rare ability to convey the thrill and drama of history to the general public. In debates, he’s invariably sharp and witty, exhibiting a deep knowledge of British history and politics, a fresh and original take on the subject at hand, as well as rare wisdom and solid moral sense. As for his books, I recently began reading Six Wives, about the spouses of Henry VIII, and while I expected an engaging read about a topic with which I’m quite familiar, I found a riveting book full of convincingly revisionist insights. 

But on to the interview. Starkey and Grimes discussed topics ranging from climate fanaticism (Greta Thunberg, said Starkey, “is like a mad medieval child saint”) to Thomas More to Winston Churchill to politically correct historical revisionism at British universities and on the BBC. But the emphasis was largely on the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been imported into Britain from the United States. 

On this topic, Starkey was his usual brave, outspoken self. He lamented that blacks in Britain have tended to import “the worst side of American black culture”—not Martin Luther King’s emphasis on “the content of our character” but Al Sharpton’s cult of “violence and victimhood”—and that among these imports is a fixation on slavery, even though British blacks are mostly Caribbean in origin, and not the descendants of British-owned slaves. In any event, asked Starkey, why keep going on about slavery when we don’t go on about, for example, the longtime denial of rights to British Catholics? 

Starkey further noted—as many others have, of course—that Black Lives Matter is concerned only with black lives that are taken by whites. And he described taking the knee to rioters as “the most obvious gesture of submission.”  

And then there was the part of the conversation that led everyone in the UK to jump down Starkey’s throat and that Grimes quickly cut out of the posted interview. Here was what Starkey said: “Slavery was not the equivalent of the Holocaust. Otherwise, there would not be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain, would there? An awful lot of them survived.” 

Canceled!

That evening, BBC Radio 4’s “Six O’Clock News” reported on Starkey’s remarks in predictable fashion.

Starkey, said newsreader Rajini Vaidyanathan, “has long been known for stirring up controversy. This isn’t the first time he’s used racist and offensive language.” She described his comments in the interview as “laced with bigotry.” She then introduced a tape of Starkey’s “damn blacks” remark by saying: “A warning to listeners: the clip you are about to hear contains racist language.” 

Starkey and Grimes had discussed BBC’s reflexive and mendacious left-wing slant, and Vaidyanathan’s text was a perfect example of it. 

Vaidyanathan didn’t spare Grimes. She identified him as a “right-wing commentator who describes his website as a safe space for racist and homophobic views.” This is an outright lie. In fact, Grimes has never characterized his site in this way. On Friday, he posted on his Twitter account a letter from his lawyers to the BBC and to Vaidyanathan indicating that he was contemplating legal action. 

Meanwhile, all over the UK, Starkey was being canceled. Under pressure, he resigned his honorary fellowship at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, his visiting professorship at Canterbury Christ Church University, and his seat on the board of trustees of the Mary Rose Trust, a Portsmouth-based charity; the Royal Historical Society also voted to ask Starkey to resign. In addition, History Today dropped him from its editorial board, and HarperCollins announced that a book by Starkey that had been scheduled for publication in September would not be coming out after all. 

Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, issued the following statement: “We support and promote freedom of speech in our academic community, but we have zero tolerance of racism. Dr. David Starkey’s recent comments on slavery are indefensible.” This was ironic, given that Grimes, during his interview with Starkey, had contrasted Cambridge’s sudden, rude withdrawal last year of an offer of a visiting fellowship to Jordan Peterson with its ready expression of support for Priyamvada Gopal, a fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge, after she tweeted, on June 23, “White lives don’t matter. As white lives.” and “Abolish whiteness.” 

Contrast the statement about Starkey with Cambridge’s statement about Gopal: “The University defends the right of its academics to express their own lawful opinions which others might find controversial and deplores in the strongest terms abuse and personal attacks.” In other words, Cambridge didn’t even give Gopal a slap on the wrist; its only criticism was reserved for those who had found Gopal’s blatant racism objectionable. 

Racist or Not?

Was Starkey’s reference to “damn blacks” racist? Reacting to his remark on Twitter, people like Piers Morgan and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid insisted that it was. Lefty columnist Laurie Penny agreed: “Starkey has a track record of racist twatbaggery. He’s a second-rate historian, a third-rate hack and a bully, but he’s treated as a national treasure.” 

Even Grimes, plainly terrified of being dragged down into the maelstrom with Starkey, cut him loose, issuing a statement in which he said that he hadn’t been listening carefully enough to Starkey’s words when he talked about “damn blacks,” that he “should have robustly questioned Dr. Starkey about his comments,” and that in any case “no interviewer is responsible for the views expressed by their guests.”

Grimes’ clear implication was that the mob is right: his hero is, indeed, a racist.  

Is he? In the past, Starkey’s chief offense on this score has been that he’s been far franker than almost any other British intellectual on such subjects as Islam and “gangsta culture.” For his unfiltered comments on these topics, he’s been slammed by Laurie Penny and other leftists as a racist. But these are only a couple of the many topics on which he refuses to pull punches. He’s savaged the Catholic Church as “irredeemably corrupt” and compared the Scottish Nationalist Party to the Nazis. Although a supporter of the monarchy, he’s called Queen Elizabeth anti-intellectual; although he’s a gay man who played an active role in the gay-rights movement, he’s expressed mixed feelings about same-sex marriage. 

But what about the “damn blacks” line? For me, it immediately brought to mind the infamous question tweeted by Ann Coulter during a 2015 presidential debate. In response to the candidates’ rote declarations of their undying dedication to Israel—which she read as cynical pandering to Jewish voters—she asked: “How many f—ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?” 

Is Ann Coulter anti-Semitic? Not on this evidence. Grammatically, of course, the word “f—ing” in her sentence does indeed modify “Jews.” Its real purpose, however, isn’t to describe Jews but to express exasperation. Yes, she’d have been better off saying “How f—ing many” instead of “How many f—ing.” Or just leaving the word “f—ing” out entirely. Or not tweeting. But then, Coulter is a shoot-from-the-hip type, whose appeal lies largely in her bluntness. 

And so is Starkey. And I think the “damn” in his sentence got there by way of pretty much the same kind of mental process that put the word “f—ing” in front of “Jews” in Coulter’s tweet. It’s an intensifier, intended not to characterize blacks but to add a bit of a jolt to the sentence. What matters, it seems to me, is that what Starkey was saying was, quite simply, true: as evil as slavery is, genocide is worse. 

But what matters to the cancel-culture crowd is that Starkey, an opponent of political correctness whom they’ve had in their crosshairs for a long time, finally slipped up. In the briefest of breaks from his usual eloquence, he put a single word in the wrong place and thereby gave them a clean shot. And they took it. 

And now this masterly historian—whose books I’m glad I snapped up on Amazon a few weeks ago, because (who knows?) they might well be withdrawn from sale at any moment—has been fitted with a large scarlet letter “R.” He’s not the first, and he won’t be the last. And he is, it must be said, in very good company. Say one wrong word in the year 2020, and you may be next.

Lincoln's Address at the Dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, November 19, 1863, lithograph published in Chicago by the Sherwood Lithograph Co., 1905, 41.2 x 50 cm.
First Principles

The Apple of Gold and Frame of Silver

America’s 16th president on how the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution fit together.

All this is not the result of accident. It has a philosophical cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these, are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle of “Liberty to all” — the principle that clears the path for all — gives hope to all — and, by consequence, enterprise, and industry to all.

The expression of that principle, in our Declaration of Independence, was most happy, and fortunate. Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our free government, and consequent prosperity. No oppressed, people will fight, and endure, as our fathers did, without the promise of something better, than a mere change of masters.

The assertion of that principle, at that time, was the word, “fitly spoken” which has proved an “apple of gold” to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn, and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple — not the apple for the picture.

So let us act, that neither picture, or apple shall ever be blurred, or bruised or broken.

That we may so act, we must study, and understand the points of danger.

First Principles

‘Liberation’ and the Dismantling of Liberty

The only way “liberation” may be pursued is through the systematic dismantling of liberty as it was understood at the founding of this nation 244 years ago this weekend.

The original idea of liberty in America was fairly narrow. “Liberty” referred simply to the state of affairs enabled by a limited government that protected the natural rights of its citizens. In fulfilling that commitment, citizens were enabled to pursue ends conducive to their own happiness and flourishing. 

But as government steadily expanded, so too has the menagerie of “rights” Americans demand the state recognize. Today, we are told healthcare is a “right.” Marriage is a “right.” Abortion is a “right.” Education is a “right.” These ideas would have puzzled people in the early republic. These new “rights” are the product of a movement away from God-given natural rights in favor of civil rights.

When activists say “Healthcare is a right,” what they mean is that health care should be a right. In other words, they are inventing a new right through the use of rhetoric. These new rights aren’t God-given natural rights.

The very possibility that a new right to privacy (or healthcare, or education, and so on) can be imagined shows the place from which these rights derive: the power of the state. Under the new order which began in earnest with the New Deal, the state doesn’t merely protect rights—it creates them. Having abandoned the historical concern with natural rights, liberals pursue an ongoing expansion of civil rights which can only be achieved through a steady expansion of state power. 

A government that can create a right can also take it away. And when such a situation obtains, the constitutional vision of liberty has been lost. The past six months have been a stark demonstration, illustrating just how perilous that state of affairs can be.

This loss of the older form of liberty (a precondition that enables the individual to pursue happiness) restructures the relationship between the individual and the state when it comes to the question of happiness. As various limitations to the individual pursuit of happiness come to light, the state invents new rights (and obligations) to dismantle them. In bestowing these rights as a means to actively advance some individuals’ prospects for happiness, the state itself accepts a new role as a guarantor of happiness. Over time, this enables a public perception that the absence of individual happiness is evidence of governmental failure. Or worse, as we see in cases like the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” the existence of personal dissatisfaction is confirmation that the founding principles of the nation are lies.

From Liberty to Liberation

The danger inherent in our historical moment is illustrated by the fact that we hear less and less about liberty and more and more about liberation.

For example, the “About” section of Black Lives Matter’s website makes no use of the word liberty but has repeated references to liberation. It boasts a “continued commitment to liberation for all Black people.” They also inform readers that they “embody and practice justice, liberation, and peace with one another.”

The fact that this sentence does not promise just and peaceful interaction with “others” in general, but rather with “one another” hints at the intolerance of the movement towards those who refuse to endorse the organization. Inviting readers to “take action,” the site reminds us that BLM is not only a “liberation” movement, but a hype fashion movement as well: “Join the Movement to fight for Freedom, Liberation and Justice by signing up for updates, supporting our work, checking out our resources, following us on social media, or wearing our dope, official gear.

On the off chance the Biden campaign is reading this, you can get said “dope gear” here.

On the “Mission and Principles” page of the Women’s March site, we find the same kind of blather. No mention of liberty. But liberation plays a prominent role in the group’s “Unity Principles,” which promise “a new understanding of the connected nature of [their] struggles and a vision of [their] collective liberation.”

Another example: in calling for the decriminalization of all sex work, the Democratic Socialists of America explain that this is a necessary step “toward the goal of liberation.” The liberating power of such a move may come as a surprise to many, given the sex industry’s notorious involvement in human trafficking. But let’s not get wrapped up in the details: this is liberation we’re talking about.

The embrace of “liberation” by the Left is instructive, especially given their careful avoidance of liberty. So, what is the difference? Liberty is a pragmatic idea—one of this world. It is not happiness. It is not satisfaction. It is a tool for pursuing these things. The attainment of happiness or satisfaction through the exercise of liberty is never guaranteed. To acquire those things, the person with liberty is required to do something himself. Liberty is something that is exercised by the individual. 

The End Goal of “Liberation”

The proper role of government is to protect the natural rights of citizens that enable them to pursue the blessings of liberty. But the state itself does not pursue liberation or happiness or satisfaction, not for itself and not for its people. Not only would that be presumptuous, but it would also be wrong.

Free persons will locate happiness in different places and conditions, so it is they who must use their rights to pursue their own happiness. If the state were to dictate what happiness means and how it must be pursued, then liberty would cease to exist. As it stands, we’ve made significant “progress” toward that goal. And the peculiar absence of the word liberty from the leftist parlance of our day makes clear that for them, it is not a goal at all.

Liberation of the kind they seek is a transcendental idea—it is not of this world. Unlike liberty, which serves as a means, liberation is an end. That end seems to be universal happiness, universal satisfaction, and perfect justice. No such society has ever existed. These are the characteristics of a utopia. Those who know some Greek will remember that translated into English, utopia is “no place” or “nowhere.” We call the perfect society with a universally happy people a utopia because it is impossible in this fallen world. 

Strictly speaking, the end goal of liberation is an “other-worldly” state. As an end (rather than a means), liberation implies the roles of the people and the state. In contrast to liberty, which is independently pursued by free individuals, liberation is a historical endpoint which will be achieved by the state on behalf of its people. The people on the streets from BLM, Antifa, and other groups only pursue liberation indirectly: the chanting, the sign-holding, the destruction of images and property; they do nothing to actively promote more happiness or justice. Instead, those vicarious forms of agitation and violence work as coercion, applied to the state in an effort to force it to do the legislative work of “liberating” them. 

Of course, the idea that universal happiness, equality, or justice can be achieved through the exercise of state power presupposes that one particular ideology has the proper understanding and definition of those concepts. Put differently, the totalizing autocracy that would be necessary to enforce “liberation” of the kind these groups agitate for would need to actively silence and expel competing ideas of human happiness and fairness. As such, the project of liberation is clearly at odds with the values of diversity and pluralism (two ideas over which it claims sole patronage).

For these reasons, whenever you hear anyone using the term liberation, it should be cause for alarm. Ever notice how when you learn a new word, you hear it in conversation for the first time a day or two later? You already know the word liberation, but its shared etymology with liberty make it seem benign and unworthy of concern. 

Make a point to listen for liberation though, and pay attention to the context in which you hear it. Now you will hear it. A lot. And when you do, understand that the only way liberation can be pursued (of course, a utopia can never be achieved) is through the systematic dismantling of liberty as it was understood at the Founding of this nation 244 years ago this weekend.

In other words, it can only be pursued through control. Over you.

If you do the math above, you’ll see I’m talking about the Revolution that fought for liberty in 1776—not the current revolution that, in looking back to 1619, seeks liberation by demolishing the vision of freedom that was imagined by our forefathers and advanced by patriots in every American generation since. Long live the real American Revolution of 1776, not this fake revolution we’re experiencing now. Long live American liberty!

First Principles

Why You Have a Constitutional Right to a High Capacity Magazine

Even as the very scenario that demonstrates the need for high-capacity magazines unfolded in St. Louis, the Colorado Supreme Court endorsed the view that you don’t need one.

With no police or security within sight, Mark and Patricia McCloskey stood with their backs to their house wielding a small pistol and an AR-15. The “peaceful protest” featured a screaming scrum of hundreds smashing down the gate to a privately-owned neighborhood as they poured onto the privately-owned street just a few feet from the McCloskey residence. Considering the many buildings the mobs in recent weeks have burned, the victims they have assaulted, and the neighborhoods they have destroyed, the McCloskeys determined to remain physically safe, if terrorized. The mob screamed at and taunted the McCloskeys. But it dared not assault the armed homeowners.

Less than 1,000 miles to the west, at almost the precise moment, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld a Colorado law banning the very magazine Mr. McCloskey used to load the weapon with which he defended his home from the mob. Seldom has history presented such a dramatic split screen. 

Even as the very scenario that demonstrates the need for high-capacity magazines unfolded in St. Louis, the Colorado Supreme Court endorsed the view that, “the fifteen-round limit was not only based on a valid, reasonable, safety concern, but is reasonable and does not impose on the constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms for self-defense or defense of home or property.” 

Earlier that month, only a few short miles from the Colorado Supreme Court, shopkeepers watched helplessly as vandals and looters rampaged through their downtown area. How do mobs honor the memory of George Floyd by looting $25,000 in merchandise from a small business? George who? No such high-minded principle guides these mobs. 

We’ve been told we don’t need “weapons of war,” to protect ourselves because the police will do that job. Let’s be honest: against such forces the police can’t even protect themselves. Not since the post-Civil War reconstruction era have mobs conquered not one, but two police installations in major metropolitan areas. We don’t have to hypothesize about a potential breakdown in civil order. We have one. When the mobs have the political winds at their backs, the police are easily overwhelmed. 

What might the mob have done to the McCloskeys had they not produced a credible firearm deterrent? The McCloskeys reported seeing at least one handgun in the mob. They recounted how the mob threatened to burn down their house and harm them. This wasn’t an NRA fantasy invented to justify opposition to gun control laws. It happened. From June 29, 2020 onward, all bans on private ownership high-capacity magazines should be deemed unconstitutional.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled, “people almost never fire weapons in self-defense using more than two or three bullets, and Plaintiffs [failed] to present any evidence at trial that any person in Colorado has ever fired even close to fifteen rounds in self-defense.” Indeed, the McCloskeys never fired their weapon. So, by the logic of the Colorado Supreme Court, they had no need for the standard-capacity magazine for their AR-15. Heck, by that logic, the Colorado Supreme Court would have people like the McCloskeys use a toy gun with no bullets. Of course, it’s easy to see from a distance whether an AR-15 has a magazine loaded. Without a magazine, the AR-15 is just an expensive and ineffective club. It’s the very presence of that high capacity magazine in the McCloskey AR-15 that made firing it unnecessary.

Amid the growing calls to defund the police or “train” them to be more ineffective, the FBI’s background check system is overheating with record firearm purchases—3,900,000 last month alone. 

Now is a bad time to be disarming homeowners. Anonymous benefactors appear to be arming the mob with rifles pre-loaded with the very high capacity magazines the Colorado Supreme Court says we don’t need. In March, the Chinese were caught attempting to smuggle a shipment of illegal automatic weapons into the United States. According to law enforcement, “The Chinese dealers believed that the illegal weapons were going to be used by violent American gangs…About 2,000 fully automatic AK-47-type weapons from China were brought into the United States through the port of Oakland.” 

The day after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against individuals defending themselves, the Chinese were caught (again) smuggling 10,800 more assault weapons into Louisville, Kentucky. One publication asked the obvious question, “Is China Smuggling Guns into the U.S. to incite violence?” It’s certainly harvesting a “powerful propaganda opportunity” in the chaos and violence in the wake of the George Floyd riots.

Too many times in the last month, police have abandoned their citizens to the ruthless mob. Like a tool, every gun has a specific purpose. An AR-15, credibly loaded with a standard-capacity magazine, is exactly the right tool to hold off a violent mob threatening a home, a business, or bodily harm.

First Principles

‘Through All the Gloom, I Can See the Rays of Ravishing Light and Glory’

Why this American Founder believed July 2, 1776, would be “the most memorable epocha in the history of America.”

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia after a lengthy debate adopted a resolution in favor of declaring independence from Great Britain. The language of the Declaration of Independence was approved on July 4, which Americans have celebrated ever since as Independence Day. But John Adams, who sat on the committee appointed to draft the document and encouraged Thomas Jefferson to be the principal author, had a slightly different idea about which day his countrymen would remember. In two letters dated July 3 to his beloved wife, Abigail, Adams explained why he believed July 2 would be celebrated as “the most memorable epocha in the history of America.”

Here is an excerpt from Adams’ letters. Happy Independence Day!

Philadelphia July 3d. 1776

Yesterday, the greatest question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never was nor will be decided among men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony, “that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, and as such they have, and of right ought to have, full power to make war, conclude peace, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which other States may rightfully do.” You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the causes which have impelled us to this mighty revolution, and the reasons which will justify it in the sight of God and man. A plan of confederation will be taken up in a few days.

When I look back to the year 1761, and recollect the argument concerning writs of assistance in the superior court, which I have hitherto considered as the commencement of this controversy between Great Britain and America, and run through the whole period, from that time to this, and recollect the series of political events, the chain of causes and effects, I am surprised at the suddenness as well as greatness of this revolution. Britain has been filled with folly, and America with wisdom. At least, this is my judgment. Time must determine. It is the will of Heaven that the two countries should be sundered forever. It may be the will of Heaven that America shall suffer calamities still more wasting, and distresses yet more dreadful. If this is to be the case, it will have the good effect at least. It will inspire us with many virtues, which we have not, and correct many errors, follies and vices which duces refinement, in States as well as individuals. And the new governments we are assuming in every part will require a purification from our vices, and an augmentation of our virtues, or they will be no blessings. The people will have unbounded power, and the people are extremely addicted to corruption and venality, as well as the great. But I must submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe.

Had a declaration of Independency been made seven months ago, it would have been attended with many great and glorious effects. We might, before this hour, have formed alliances with foreign States . . .

But, on the other hand, the delay of this declaration to this time has many great advantages attending it. The hopes of reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by multitudes of honest and well-meaning, though weak and mistaken people, have been gradually and, at last, totally extinguished. Time has been given for the whole people maturely to consider the great question of independence, and to ripen their judgment, dissipate their fears, and allure their hopes, by discussing it in newspapers and pamphlets, by debating it in assemblies, conventions, committees of safety and inspection, in town and county meetings, as well as in private conversations, so that the whole people, in every colony of the thirteen, have now adopted it as their own act. This will cement the union, and avoid those heats, and perhaps convulsions which might have been occasioned by such a declaration six months ago.

But the day is past. The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.

You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction, even although we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not.

***

Watch American Greatness Managing Editor Ben Boychuk read from Adams’ letters and briefly discuss their importance on a recent episode of the 4Esoterics podcast. Subscribe to the 4Esoterics on iTunes and follow the show on Twitter @4Esoterics.

Bonus 4Estoterics from Judah Friedman on Vimeo.

First Principles

Grim Lessons from Aristotle on the Causes of Civil War

Why aren’t we challenging our cozy assumptions that things can’t get worse?

Is the United States headed for a civil war? Every new partisan battle feels like the battle to end all battles.

But contemplating apocalyptic violence and massive upheaval brings doubt: even with all the current acrimony, could it really be the case that the most successful nation on earth is spiraling towards internal war? Isn’t intense partisanship a hallmark of American democracy? At what point does intense partisanship threaten to devolve into civil war? And how would we know—especially when so many of our intuitions are bolstered by unfounded hopes and the assumption that things can’t change?

Let’s step away from the moment’s heat and look at things from an outsider’s point of view. Aristotle is a helpful guide. Not only did the ancient Greek philosopher think deeply about the numerous civil wars that took place in the tumultuous world of ancient Greece, but he also grasped a profound point that’s easily lost on us: civil wars don’t show up like some surprising and alien virus attacking an otherwise healthy body. Civil war takes place because familiar forces wear down the healthy civic bonds that hold citizens together until some crisis finally triggers action. 

That’s what makes reading Book V of the Politics so unnerving. When we consider the seven long-term causes Aristotle identifies as having the potential to transform otherwise peaceful citizens into would-be factionalizers, it’s startling to find that so many of the well-known proclivities of our contemporary ruling class are exactly those that Aristotle thought would undermine political cohesion and make civil war more likely.

Changing the Political Landscape Through Demographics 

Aristotle understood that there is some truth behind the claims such as “personnel is policy” and “demography is destiny.” Character and cultural norms structure basic expectations about how people should live together, and so inevitably influence political views. Indeed, this was the idea behind the prediction of an emerging Democratic majority in American politics: “fast-growing” and “dynamic” populations would result in a progressive lock on power precisely because the cultural norms of those groups would motivate left-leaning voting.

What Aristotle reminds us, however, is that quickly transforming a political order through demographics can be incredibly dangerous. For it dispenses with the notion that politics is a realm for discussion about justice and the good and instead inaugurates a process whereby citizens invested in the existing constitution are simply overpowered. Stunningly, many who rule in western liberal democracies have deliberately embraced this tactic.

Andrew Nether, the now-famous former advisor to Tony Blair, made the point bluntly: while the huge increase of migrants to Britain was given cover by talk of economic benefits, the actual goal was to “rub the Right’s nose in diversity.” Nether, like the other globalists who embraced such explicitly non-political means to effect major political change, was well aware that this upheaval would produce discomfort, create fissures, and sow the seeds of conflict.

Unjust Distribution of Wealth 

The reason so many politicians accepted such change was, as Nether indicated, the promise of increased communal wealth. That is a powerful reason: for procuring wealth has always been, and surely always will be, one of the main reasons people seek membership in any community.

But the mere increase in total GDP achieved through immigration has not led to a shared sense of economic security: for our decision-makers flooded markets with cheap labor at exactly the same time that they incentivized offshoring, cheered on technological creative destruction, and introduced rafts of regulations that increased living costs and inhibited business formation. As a result, as the extreme cases of California and New York illustrate, our rulers have ended up promoting the very conditions that Aristotle took to be the most volatile: a political situation featuring a few dynastic oligarchs who feel entitled to power, a far larger group of vulnerable poor who believe they’re being treated unfairly, and a struggling middle class that otherwise might have acted as a buffer between them.

Unjust Distributions of Honor 

It’s a mistake to fixate exclusively on these familiar issues of wealth distribution. Commentators too often assume that money alone explains human action in the political realm. Aristotle reminds us that this is dangerously myopic: people don’t come together in a political community merely to achieve a basic income; they make the effort of living together because they believe they’ll have the chance to enjoy beautiful things and attain some level of respect. Aristotle documents many cases where rich citizens, who have plenty of money, unhesitatingly initiate civil war against other rich citizens because they believe their wealthy adversaries were making it impossible for them to find proper respect in their community.

We should take note. Honor is not some archaic value, and our own cultural elites obviously dole out major awards, highlight positions of prestige, and publicly celebrate specific kinds of citizens for emulation and approval. Indeed, anyone who leans Right has long learned to live with the fact that most cultural honors are reserved for progressives. Nevertheless, though this partisan distribution of honor was always perceived as unjust, it was tolerated: for those on the Right could still go about enjoying their lives, cheering on and supporting their own heroes overlooked by elites. But times have changed.

Progressives in positions of cultural power are no longer content merely to reserve honors for the Left; they have decided it is time for those on the Right to be actively dishonored.  All public statues and symbols revered by the Right must now be toppled and desecrated. Conservatives and Republicans must be “deplatformed” from college campuses, corporate boards, and social media because they should not only be deprived of the honor of speaking but need to be publicly shamed.

Arrogance

Such shaming is closely related to what Aristotle called “arrogance.” This isn’t merely a matter of believing oneself to be better than others. It’s a disposition to enjoy humiliating those with less social status, and it’s not hard to understand why Aristotle took it to be a cause of civil war.

The arrogance of elites doesn’t merely signal to others that they are unworthy of participation in the community—that’s accomplished by dishonoring. Rather, it shows that elites care nothing of the suffering of those beneath them in the social hierarchy.

Now you would hope that our own American upper class would at least be wise enough to be discreet in its arrogance for the sake of social harmony. But, astonishingly, we live in a time when our credentialed class flaunts it.

Watch any of the popular comedy or news shows designed to flatter college graduates who are desperate to prove their membership in the managerial professional class. They openly mock the general populace for its stupidity. They whole-heartedly laugh at the backward manners of fly-over country. They celebrate casting cherished icons in pee or feces or flames. They know full well these acts will cause pain in those for whom those symbols have meaning. Making people feel humiliated is the cruel goal of their humor and art.

Fear

In fact, things have gotten so out of control that a vocal contingent of the Left won’t even stop with dishonoring and humiliation. They wish to produce some level of terror in the heart of anyone who questions their views. Consider how extraordinary it is that David Plouffe, a famous, elite democratic advisor felt completely comfortable tweeting, “It is not enough to simply beat Trump. He must be destroyed thoroughly. His kind must not rise again.” What does that communicate to Trump supporters?

And it’s not as if even more direct actions, such as hounding people out of restaurants, are reserved only for those who question fundamental values of the Left. Even those who disagree with the Left on some fairly technical policy matter (e.g. Net Neutrality of the Internet) are considered fair targets of public harassment, doxxing, threats of job loss, physical menacing, and social isolation.

Indeed, the groups now setting up violent autonomous zones in Seattle and Portland declare that by simply owning a home or running a business, one has sinned and is therefore marked for attack. The message in all of this is clear: even basic goods like wealth and safety that initially motivate membership in political society should be taken from those who depart from the new orthodoxy.

Contempt 

One might wonder: how could highly educated professionals not expect some pushback from such gratuitous cultural shaming, humiliating, and even scare tactics? The answer is that they sincerely believe there is an insurmountably large competency gap between themselves and everyone else. Much like ancient oligarchs, our cultural elites have what Aristotle calls “contempt” for those beneath them. They genuinely believe that “deplorables” in the lower social ranks are simply too disorganized, chaotic, and emotion-driven to amount to anything, while they see themselves as supremely competent and judge their coordinated decision making as indisputably beneficial for the common good.

Perhaps there was a time when average people had such high regard for the competency of elites that they wouldn’t have minded a few hurtful excesses of status signaling. The problem, however, is that many Americas are increasingly having their own deep doubts as to whether our powerful institutions are filled with people worthy of their vast influence.

All things considered, how impressive was our foreign policy establishment in comprehending the threat of China? How inspired has the performance of the CDC, the NIH, and the FDA been over the last 30 years, let alone in this current pandemic? How much quality education is being delivered given the levels of debt students incur? How farsighted were our elites in predicting the actual effects of global trade? How scrupulous have the FBI and CIA been in upholding the highest standards of integrity while wielding unimaginable power? How consistent have our elites been in even being able to live by the same basic rules they set for the rest of us?

Superiority  

With growing contempt for our elites, an ever-increasing number of Americans are beginning to think that their own judgments and mores, while admittedly untutored and uncultured, are superior to those in charge.  When the “thought leaders” selected by our major institutions seem psychologically incapable of comprehending a world beyond whatever greasy professional pole they’re climbing, average people turn away from such “experts” and actively back those who ignore them.

Aristotle didn’t think that these seven factors guarantee civil war in some kind of deterministic formula, and he also had interesting ideas about mitigating them that could be explored in further essays. But surely this astonishing list of familiar spectacles should give us pause.

If Aristotle is right that these are the sorts of things that make civil war more likely, why shouldn’t we be worried? Why aren’t we challenging our cozy assumptions that things couldn’t get worse?

First Principles

Fathers and Sons, American-Style

This is why men can’t talk about their fathers. Our reverence cuts too close to the very core of who we are as men.

Men love to talk about the big subjects: politics, war, religion, and football. There is, however, one subject that is taboo among men—the subject of fathers. Men rarely talk about their fathers with other men. The subject is too sensitive, too fraught with our deepest hopes and fears. No matter who or what we have become, there is almost always one looming presence in a man’s life—a father. By contrast, the absence of a father in a son’s life represents the opposite: a void of incalculable loss.

American society has always held out the promise to fathers that the lives of their sons will be better than their own. This is part of the American Dream. The greatness of our society for several hundred years is that it has delivered on that dream for the vast majority of Americans. Only in America can the sons of farmers, factory workers, bus drivers, waiters, carpenters, janitors, and mechanics become doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, professors, entrepreneurs, and presidents. 

To be a father in America offers enduring satisfactions. American fathers typically live to see their sons exceed their own accomplishments. What could be better than that?

To be a son in America, however, is a more complicated matter. Ironically, no matter what one’s life accomplishments, no matter how much one has exceeded the economic and social status of one’s own father, American sons often feel inferior to their fathers. The medical doctor who is the son of a barber, the lawyer who is the son of a plumber, somehow feels that he is not quite the man that his father is or was. Why this should be so is not easily explained.

In America, the relationship between fathers and sons is one of high expectations. We also live in a culture that values and honors hard work regardless of profession. High-powered and wealthy lawyers can talk to plumbers precisely because such men often remind them of their own fathers. Deeply ingrained in the American psyche is the idea and the reality that by working hard and living one’s life in accord with certain virtues one can achieve just about anything. Our history even teaches us that the child born in a log cabin to poor parents could one day grow up to be president of the United States. 

No matter who one’s father is, whether he is a bank CEO or a street sweeper, whether his work collar is white or blue, we live in the long shadow cast by his expectations for us. Sons are expected to surpass the accomplishments of their fathers. I often meet men of wealth, power, and high social status who are still driven by deeply rooted insecurities that they haven’t lived up to the expectations of their “working-class” fathers.

In the end, though, there is something much deeper at play here. What sons fear most is that they don’t have their father’s moral character. Great fathers come in many forms, but they all share common virtues that stand as a looming presence in a son’s life. As young boys, we see how hard our fathers work, we see what it means to live a life of honesty, justice, integrity, fortitude, and courage. Not all grown men are virtuous all the time, but they almost always are in the presence of their children, and that’s the only thing that counts in the life of a child. Sons see their fathers as anchors whose virtues provide the necessary moral weight and stability that is required in the life of a boy. A good father never fails to be there for his children. 

Most importantly, the relationship between a father and son goes to the very heart of what it means to be a man. 

Manliness, rightly understood, is a virtue, and for most boys, the deepest symbol of what it means to be a man is embodied in the person of his father. Every boy has a father who defines what it means to be a man, for better or for worse. What young boy doesn’t think that his father is brave or gallant in some way? Fathers give sons that first and lasting glimpse of what manly honor is and why it matters. 

In the end, it comes down to this: a good father shows his son how to be a man. This is why we all live with the fear that we haven’t lived up to the moral expectations of our fathers. It haunts us. This is why men can’t talk about their fathers. Our reverence cuts too close to the very core of who we are as men. Boys love their fathers too much to talk about them. 

As a son, I live and will probably always live in the shadow of my father—even after he is gone. As a father of two sons, I live with the happy expectation that they will surpass me in all that they do. The wheel turns, and so it goes. 

First Principles

Tales of Endurance and Enduring Tales from My Father

If there is hope to be found, a significant portion of that hope must lie with America’s fathers. Fathers like those who taught their sons and daughters to carry on.

Picture this scene.

A bored adolescent boy, half-listening to his teacher drone on about some uninteresting grammar lesson, tears his notebook paper idly into little pieces, amassing a small pile on his desk. Watching the clock tick away the seconds, he grows in his conviction that the day will never end. 

As the teacher diagrams yet another sentence on the blackboard, the boy’s synapses start firing—not because he develops a sudden interest in the lesson, but because he has noticed the flattop of the boy sitting directly in front of him. What a perfect spot on which to place the little pieces of paper! Surreptitiously, when the teacher isn’t looking, he begins placing the scraps on the head of his classmate, making inward bets as to how many he can fit before being discovered. 

So engrossed is he in the task at hand that he fails to notice that his miscreant acts have already caught his formidable teacher’s attention. 

“Harold! What are you doing?!” The young man in front of Harold whips around to see just what Harold had been up to that so riled the teacher. And, as the boy turns, tiny pieces of paper flutter and litter the floor around them.

This is the tale with which that now-grown boy used to regale me when I was a girl. The best part though? The blue eyes twinkled with delight as he joyfully exulted in the rest of the story—the teacher made Flattop Boy pick up the pieces as well!

My Dad is a superb storyteller. He has the timing, the words, the descriptions, the punchlines all down to a T. When he was expansive, car rides with dad surpassed the stuff of fairytales. And the laughter! I well remember begging him, “Just one more! Please? Dad?!” before bedtime or 50 miles from a destination. Made-up stories of the bungling burglars Fromm and Snerd and the intrepid siblings Jody and Judy provided wild entertainment for my siblings and me on many of our never-ending road trips.

These stories went beyond the purpose of entertainment. Some that held my rapt attention edified, taught, or gently remonstrated. I have a vivid recollection of sitting in a church pew one Sunday as my pastor-father retold the events of an ancient day on Mount Carmel and some flummoxed followers of Baal. The story leapt off the pages of Scripture and unfolded before my eyes, and I laughed as I saw with my mind’s eye Elijah mocking the fools.

Fathers sometimes get a bad rap. They have a whole genre of groaner-jokes named after them! They are kings of the thermostat, purveyors of the wallets, boyfriend guards, and deliverers of corporal punishment. They are sometimes the shadowy lurkers of our childhood memories—not as understanding as mom and far more stern. They have become the butt of jokes and the numbskull in marketing schemes. 

But our Father in Heaven seems to think highly of them and has placed much on their shoulders, so maybe we should give them some more respect in our consideration.

As God retells the story of His people’s deliverance from the Egyptian stronghold (a tale told for a purpose), He reminds the fathers of the nation of Israel: “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul . . .  You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” 

It’s as if the Truth should be imprinted on our very selves, and it should so consume us that our dealings with our children are constantly interwoven with the heavenly wisdom found in those pages. The lesson taught is clear: the more we adhere to eternal values, the greater peace, joy and meaning is to be found. It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to see that with love of the “jots and tittles” comes great rewards.

A stark juxtaposition to that occurs when we survey the smoking, littered landscape of America today in the current moment. The streets of her cities cry out, bricks lay alongside broken glass, we see mobs of angry people congregate with their fists raised at one another, police officers are spat upon, looters congratulated, and a rogue group of misfits lays claim to a large section of a western city. We wonder at the causes, and we wonder at the future.

The Greatest Generation is an easy one to laud. Sent to war at a young age, their slim shoulders were weighted with the hope of the world. We applaud their purpose, their fortitude, their action in the face of great fear. They came home with scars both visible and invisible and built the nation with astounding dexterity. But we never stop to wonder: Who were those boys’ fathers? Who raised the strong to be brave and selfless? 

That generation of men had seen another war sweep the world before it. And then they endured a Depression so great that it remained the shaper of their private constitutions. These were the men who looked at their infant sons and daughters and thought, “I will raise you to endure.”

If there is hope to be found, then, a significant portion of that hope must lie with America’s fathers. Fathers like those who taught their sons and daughters to endure.

It is these sorts of fathers that we need again today. The world needs you to look at your young sons and daughters and to determine, “I will raise you to be moral, to be strong, to be loving, and to be fearless.” Aside from the hope that awaits us beyond the grave, this is where hope is to be found. Turn back to the church. Search the pages of Scripture for wisdom. Be so consumed by what you find there that you have no choice but to teach it to your children, as you rise and as you walk by the wayside. Make it your earthly purpose to raise the next generation.

Maybe, like my father, you can even charm your children occasionally as you impart the lessons  history tells us will grow strong spines and clean hearts.

First Principles

Language, Freedom, And Law

In Bostock, the Supreme Court has taken the fateful step to assert that a common word, vital to social relations, can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this week in Bostock imposes on Americans a rule of greater import than any ever asserted by any government. Its adoption into law of a meaning of the word “sex” that is at war with that of the dictionary, of biology, and of common use, and enlists the U.S. legal system against the way of life of most Americans. As a matter of law, the Bostock decision, like so many others since Dred Scott—e.g. Plessy, Lochner, Brown, Roe, Kelo, Obergefell—rewrites the Constitution and statutes to reflect the opinions of elites currently in power.

But even in Dred Scott, in which the court very broadly hinted that the Declaration of Independence’s word “men” did not apply to negroes and hence that they have no rights under the Constitution, it did not actually redefine that word.

Only in Bostock has the court taken the fateful step to assert that a common word, vital to social relations, can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. And, having done that, the court takes the side of those who assert the primacy of will over nature. 

Thus has the court removed the protection of the law from the way most Americans think and speak, making us liable to civil and possibly even criminal penalties. No totalitarian regime has ever explicitly mandated the meaning of words.

But the court’s decision changes the meaning of “sex” only to the extent that the rest of the country takes it as more than a particular case’s resolution. 

Respect for the court is the only reason to treat its rulings as valid generally. But respect must be earned and can be squandered. That was the point of Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist 78 and of Alexander Bickel’s The Least Dangerous Branch six decades ago. The Supreme Court has done a lot of squandering. The proper response to a court decision that does not deserve to be followed comes from none other than Abraham Lincoln regarding Dred Scott: respect its holding in the case at hand, but reject root and branch the reasoning that would apply it beyond the case.

Lincoln pointed out that the court exists for the body politic’s health, not vice versa. Justice Roger Taney’s court had said that negroes “have no rights that the White man need respect.” In Bostock, Justice John Roberts’ court said that “sex” means anything that anyone wishes it to mean. 

The U.S. legal system exists to enable ordinary human beings to deal with reality in its own terms, including that all humans are equally human, and that humanity consists of males and females. Today, what amounts to a decree henceforth to call men women and women men lest we suffer legal consequences deserves disrespect just as much as Taney’s implication that blacks are not human. Both propositions are patently false as well as dysfunctional. Why should anybody respect them?

Today, President Trump has as much right as President Lincoln to order the executive branch to disregard the court’s opinion—in this instance, to continue to use the word “sex” as the dictionaries and biology define it. 

But the most authoritative reaffirmation of reality must come from Congress, by the votes of the people’s elected representatives. No one can predict how they will vote. And we can be sure that avoiding roll call vote on repealing or affirming a ruling on the meaning of “sex” is high on nearly all legislators’ priorities. But we can be just as certain that roll call votes, followed by primaries and general elections—that is, representative government—is the only manner by which cultural conflicts may be decided that may allow said political system to retain legitimacy.

In roughly two decades, America’s political system has burned through the legitimacy accumulated during the previous two centuries. There is precious little left.

First Principles

John Roberts and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamer Robe

Intelligence invests in illusion when the need for illusion is deep.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, ruling that the Trump Administration failed to comply with federal regulation procedures. 

In an opinion for the 5-4 majority, Chief Justice John Roberts explained, “we address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.” Justice Clarence Thomas, the sole African American on the high court, thought there was more to it.

“The majority today concludes that [the Department of Homeland Security] was required to do far more,” Thomas wrote. In effect, the majority was holding the decision of the Trump Administration to a higher standard than President Barack Obama’s “executive action” that established DACA illegally in the first place. The decision, Thomas wrote in his dissent, “must be recognized for what it is: an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision.” 

The chief justice has some prior experience massaging the law in order to arrive at a politically desirable outcome. Where he was unwilling to read into the true intent behind the technical noncompliance of the Trump Administration on Thursday, he was more than willing in 2012 to patch up the illegal-as-written federal subsidies in the Affordable Care Act. 

It stands to reason that Congress meant for those provisions to apply in every State as well,” Roberts wrote as he upheld Obamacare. Though Congress had failed to write the Affordable Care Act in such a way as to let the federal government provide health care subsidies in every state, Roberts reasoned nevertheless it must have meant to. Thus, the chief justice was willing to aid the legislative body from the bench. 

To argue his case, Roberts cited the dissenting opinions of his colleagues, who argued that Obamacare would collapse without federal subsidy in all states, as evidence that congress indeed must have intended to subsidize them all. As Brett LoGiurato of Business Insider explained at the time, “He’s basically telling his colleagues: I’m right, and your words prove it.” 

As the late Terry Jones told King Arthur (Graham Chapman) in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”: I didn’t vote for you. And we don’t vote for Supreme Court justices, either, which makes it particularly frustrating when they function as a robed politburo. In Roberts’ case, as Max Bialystock told Roger Debris in “The Producers,” “that robe is you!” 

The amazing politburo robe also suits Justice Neil Gorsuch. Shortly before Roberts’ executive order on DACA, Gorsuch essentially rewrote the 1964 Civil Rights Act. For Ken Masugi, Gorsuch “took a knee”—which is true but incomplete. 

Gorsuch and Roberts are intelligent men, but as Saul Bellow said, “a great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” The illusion here is the veneration of Nancy Pelosi, CNN, and the Washington Post. To have the veneration, as recent rulings confirm, Supreme Court justices will cave to just about anything. 

In strictly non-legal terms that even a deplorable Trump supporter might understand, they combine bullshit and chickenshit to arrive at the desired political end. Perhaps Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine could donate some gear no longer in use, but the real need here is for a spine transplant. And now abide ignorance, casuistry, and cowardice, but the greatest of these is cowardice. Or maybe it’s a three-way tie.  

In the argot of DACA, foreign nationals illegally present in the United States are “Dreamers.” They all want to be brain surgeons and help baby pandas, apparently. But legal immigrants and legitimate citizens know better. Upholding DACA relieves the Dreamers’ lawbreaking parents of all responsibility. 

Likewise, DACA draws down U.S. taxpayer dollars for foreign nationals, with zero compensation from their own governments in Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador. A nation in fathomless debt, getting worse by the day, thus relieves corrupt foreign governments of responsibility for their own citizens. These considerations do not, however, move Roberts to give the Trump Administration a pass when it comes to legal technicalities. 

Those wearing an amazing technicolor dreamer robes can go right on emanating in the penumbras when it suits them. But at least Justice Clarence Thomas has been on to their game from the start. 

First Principles

Kangaroo Nation

We ruin reputations, we tear down monuments to our flawed benefactors, we destroy lives with a glee and a certitude that would make the old inquisitors blush.

The premise behind much of the protesting we hear in our time from women, African Americans, gays, and other groups granted the special status of being in the minority (how that applies to women, who make up more than half of the population, is hard to see), is that they are to be believed when they tell their stories of oppression. Nay, more.

Even to express a doubt in any specific case is tantamount to violence. One might say, in the case of women—who, with the obvious and important exception of rape, are much less likely than men to be the victim of every single category of violent crime—that the very claim is a sort of wish-fantasy, salt to an insipid life, so that they may see themselves as actresses in a drama of high meaning and great danger.

Be that as it may, the premise is nonsense. When one speaks the truth, one wants to be heard, but one does not cry out, “Believe me, or else!” 

Take out of the picture every political consideration. Imagine that you are dealing with two persons in a controversy. The one who says, “If you don’t believe me, you are wicked and hateful,” or, “If you don’t believe me, I will burn the house down,” shows himself instantly to be unworthy of trust. 

Always choose against the manipulator.

 “All men are liars,” says the psalmist in a moment of deep gloom. We need not go so far. Plenty of people tell bald and flat lies. But at best, our relationship to the truth is uneasy. We exaggerate. We overlook what weighs against us. We see the mote in our brother’s eye and miss the beam in our own. We leave ourselves nooks and crannies for our less admirable motives, while searching out the motives of others with a microscope, or a kaleidoscope. 

We remember what we like and forget what we don’t like. We rush to judgment. We draw connections that are merely possible, and we treat them as certain. We commit the fallacy of the single cause, ignoring other causes that may be more important. We incline one way rather than another, like bowling balls of unequally distributed weight: the original meaning of the word bias. Our passions get the better of our reason.

There are plenty of instructive moments in Cervantes’ great epistemological epic, Don Quixote. That Knight of the Mournful Countenance and his illiterate squire Sancho Panza have come to the court of a mischievous duke, who has read the first installment of the good man’s imaginative adventures. He decides that he and his courtiers will grant Sancho what Don Quixote had long promised him: the governorship of an “island.” They plan to set the peasant up as governor and see how he handles the cases that arise.

The knight’s advice to Sancho illustrates none of his madness. It is filled with humane kindness and wisdom in the ways of men. “Let the tears of the poor find more compassion in you,” he says, “but not more justice, than the testimony of the rich. Seek to uncover the truth amid the promises and gifts of the man of the wealth as amid the sobs and pleadings of the poverty-stricken.” 

Sympathy is to be quiet in questions of truth. “If some beautiful woman comes to you seeking justice,” he says, “take your eyes from her tears, listen not to her moans, but consider slowly and deliberately the substance of her petition, unless you would have your reason drowned in her weeping and your integrity swept away by her sights.” 

But sympathy is to be alive and warm in questions of punishment. “Remember,” says the Don, that the guilty man “is but a wretched creature, subject to the inclinations of our depraved human nature, and insofar as you may be able to do so without wrong to the other side, show yourself clement and merciful,” for then he will be most like God, whose mercy shines brighter to us than does his justice.

We are now the reverse: a nation of kangaroos and kangaroo courts. 

How many millions of people have been certain about events to which they were not witness, and about characters they have never met! How many millions of people have not the slightest doubt that—to use an example—the absence of women from the top ranks of mathematicians is attributable to some systemic evil, rather than to a dozen other causes that are either natural or not worthy of blame? How many millions of people are quick to place the words of their political opponents under the worst conceivable construction, while granting to themselves and their friends the widest latitude for expression? 

We are not, I would say, a particularly virtuous nation, but we seem quite unaware of it except where other people are concerned. We are like people dwelling in a sewer, complaining that our neighbors stink.

But that would not be quite so bad if we were apt to consider Don Quixote’s mercy. Then, though we might be quick to condemn, and though we might often condemn the innocent, we would at least be clement in punishment. But we are not so. It is as if a culture has a certain fund of moral condemnation, like a river. The narrower the channel, the more violent the flow. The fewer sins we recognize, the more violent our condemnation, and that is especially so when we can direct the current against the sins that other people commit. 

We ruin reputations, we tear down monuments to our flawed benefactors, we destroy lives with a glee and a certitude that would make the old inquisitors blush.

We know what the remedy is. It tastes bitter. It is epistemological humility: being slow and careful in judgment. Everyone you meet is at best but groping for the truth, with spectacles an inch thick, and sometimes, when the subject is their field of special inquiry, they are blinder than ever. It is moral humility: recognizing that almost everyone you will ever meet, yourself included, is neither a monster nor a saint, but a muddle of motives, some of them pretty good if you don’t look too closely, some of them not so good. That includes men, women, children, rich people, poor people, Europeans, Africans, Asians, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, the orthodox, the heretics, the unbelievers, everybody.

“But what about justice!” my reader may cry. Yes, justice. Do we really want God to consider us as the sinners we are, with all our stupidity, our stubbornness, our negligence, our hardness of heart, our willfulness, our treachery, our mendacity, our lewdness, and our selfishness laid bare, to be granted what it all deserves? Do we think God can be fooled by the lies we tell ourselves?

First Principles

Property Rights Matter Even More Than Lives

Everything unique to an individual, whether physical things or rights of conscience or data, belong to the individual. A government created out of the consent of the governed that fails to protect these rights is an unjust government.

Actually, property does matter

In the midst of the rioting and looting that’s taken place in Minneapolis, New York City, and other major cities—as businesses are robbed and buildings burned to the ground—some have justified the lawless behavior by saying, “It’s just property.” As though people’s livelihoods and lifetimes of investments in time and money, mean nothing. Even more troubling, the “it’s only property” mentality is dismissive of one of the basic tenets of our republic.

In his Second Treatise on Government, British philosopher John Locke, who heavily influenced our Founders, wrote: “The first object of government created by the consent of the governed is to protect the right to property.” 

In my book, Restoring Our Republic, I dedicated an entire chapter to the idea of private property, which is an essential part of every healthy republic. It is our desire to protect our private property that Locke once explained is the impetus for mankind willingly to subject themselves to the social contract in which we forfeit our personal sovereignty in the state of nature and come into voluntary and just associations.

Private property, the right to it, but also the protection of it, must be the rule for a free society. It is not just a theory tossed around like a football. It is the backbone of our freedom in this country and an innate part of what makes us functioning, flourishing human beings. In the words of James Madison, property “embraces everything to which a man may attach a value and a right; and which leaves to everyone else the like advantage.

But it’s not only the troubling images of our major cities burning that should spark a debate about property. We also ought to have been inspired to it by the big tech companies’ cavalier attitude toward free speech that was rising to the surface just before the rioting.

At issue is more than just the legal definition of what these companies are: it is also a debate about property rights. Madison wrote that “As a man is said to have a right in his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.” Our inherent, natural, transcendent rights to freedom of speech are property unique to every individual. Property also includes a person’s opinion and his right to communicate those opinions freely. Therefore we must have a conversation about data sovereignty when discussing tech companies. Similarly, a person’s religious beliefs and his freedom to profess and practice them are sacred rights of property—with conscience being “the most sacred of property.” Everything unique to an individual, whether physical things or rights of conscience or data, belong to the individual. A government created out of the consent of the governed that fails to protect these rights is an unjust government. 

So don’t tell me property doesn’t matter. It is foundational to who we are as a free people and the protection of those rights must be real in fact, not some illusion of protection. Those who have been entrusted to protect and defend our rights and refuse to do it are betraying the trust of the American people.

In times of chaos and uncertainty we must focus on the fundamentals of what we actually believe. We are now at a pivotal point in our nation’s history. What we are seeing in the streets today is less about the tragic, unnecessary, legally indefensible deaths of African American men and women, and more about a revolutionary effort by groups that view America’s founding principles as anathema to their own. In short, this is a campaign to accomplish nothing less than the shredding of our individual rights. Confronted with this madness we need to renew and restore our republic and its principles, before our cities and our inherent rights are burned to the ground. For out of their ashes, only an order completely antithetical to our founding can possibly arise.