First Principles

The Battle Between Something and Nothing

There need be no cultural war when one of the contenders fails to show up, supposing that he still exists.

I’m no prognosticator, but in any conflict between Something and Nothing, my money is on Something, every time.

I have recently read of one of the wiser uses of money squeezed from American taxpayers. A feminist professor was sent to Afghanistan to reveal to the natives the glories of battling the patriarchy, or something. I can imagine her bringing along boxes of bumper stickers, “Question Authority,” to be pasted on the posteriors of mules as they pick their way along the mountain precipices.

Or perhaps it would be Velcro tags reading “Coexist,” to be applied to prayer carpets, as new and improved Muslims would prostrate themselves not to Allah, the one, the only, but to the great ectoplasm, diffuse through all faiths indiscriminately, like fog, or to the Great Eggplant, looking only for “sincerity.”

“Why, O ye devotees of the goddess Kali, did you murder that man upon the highway and steal his goods?”

“It is how we practice thugee.”

“I see. But are you sincere about it?”

“We never let a day pass without worship.”

Anyway, the feminist did not bring to the Afghans the glories of Western paeans to freedom and brotherhood, from Goethe and Schiller. She did not bring to them Western art, immersed in the goodness and beauty of the natural world, from John Constable or Winslow Homer. She did not bring to them Western devotion, made manifest in Christian hymnody—I wonder, for example, what Muslims would think of a Palestrina Sanctus. 

No, instead, she brought them a piece of junk from that confidence man supreme, Marcel Duchamp: his notorious and stupid “Fountain,” a urinal. Apparently the women in the audience stared at the thing in incomprehension.

Had a 30-pound urinal been made of pure platinum, it might have paid for a day of American operations in Afghanistan—though I rather think not. Perhaps we should simply have dropped from our airplanes thousands of platinum urinals, and waited for the Afghans to surrender in sheer confusion, or to die of helpless laughter.

We may not care for the specifics of it, but the Afghan people do have a culture. Whether we Americans have one still, I am not sure.

I have just read the Quran in its entirety, in one day. It is fierce, like fire, and single in its aim, like a sword. People who do evil, and that means especially people to whom the Quran is revealed and who reject it, can look forward to a variety of experiences in Hell, which are recounted with a relentless frequency, a delight in their retributive cruelty, and all the gusto of the physical: iron collars hung ’round their necks, scalding water poured down their throats, thorns and thistles to eat, and fire, always fire, hundreds of references to torment and fire.

Coexist? Do it in Hell.

I am not a Muslim. I am a Christian—a Roman Catholic. But I live in a land whose people have forgotten what it means to be a people: to be united in a common heritage that goes beyond the minimal strictures of law and the exigencies of labor; a heritage of story, art, song, and worship.

In its broadest terms, it is the heritage of the ancient Greek and Roman world, infused by Jerusalem and baptized by the Christian faith, and then incorporating into itself the energy and the cultural characteristics of German and Celt and Slav and many a nation besides. It is a heritage that is regularly traduced, when it is not simply disregarded, by such professors as the woman with the urinal, and by the politicians who put her up to it.

Suppose I were to say that we should be careful about immigration from Muslim countries. I would be reviled as an “Islamophobe,” and perhaps as a racist, though I do not see what “race” unites Berbers in North Africa, Indo-Aryans in Iran, Southeast Asians in Indonesia, and so forth. Given the Quran, the onus probandi rests upon those who would have us believe that they who accept it as not simply a sacred text but as the sacred text—and a text, moreover, that is self-referential at every pass, admitting, like the sun beating upon desert sands, very little shade of interpretation—can gratefully become full citizens in a civilization based instead upon the Bible; and, in a variety of ways, upon Socrates and Cicero and that great ancient world of rational investigation and insight into the divine. The heretic Averroes could become such a citizen, perhaps, and Avicenna too, but those rationalists have become more important to Western medievalists than to contemporary Muslims.

But there is a way in which Muslims, or anyone for that matter, might easily make themselves comfortable in the West, and that is as clear-eyed conquerors staking their claims among self-defeated people. There need be no cultural war when one of the contenders fails to show up, supposing he still exists. The Quran is no book for jaded sophisticates, or for silly saleswomen peddling a urinal and political slogans they picked up in a college seminar.

Every year, we graduate from our colleges millions of young people who have never heard of the Prodigal Son, who can’t puzzle out a poem by Tennyson, and whose general notion of the history of the West was that it was all the same everywhere and very bad. They would like to assure Muslims that they would have fought on the side of the Turk and not Godfrey of Bouillon—well, they would not put it in those words, because they have no idea who Godfrey was and where the Turks came from and why they fought and when.

Were I a Muslim, I would nod and smile. Victory, without firing a shot.

First Principles

Distinguishing Between American Tragedy and Farce

The self-abasement that now characterizes the American Left’s approach to understanding America is rooted in a failure to distinguish between tragedy and farce.

Seeing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) solemnly intone the Constitution reminds one of Shakespeare’s depiction of the murderous Richard III reading the Holy Bible before awed countrymen (some of whom would be his victims). Is it any wonder President Trump’s comedic talents at his rallies seem refreshing to cynical observers? Was it ever really plausible for his 2016 call for Russia to help investigate the missing Hillary Clinton emails to be taken seriously—literally instead of comically?

True, America is divided, but is it nonetheless impossible to distinguish between tragedy and farce? Comedians choose who will laugh at them. The politically correct—be they at colleges or, now, in our corporations, boardrooms, and politics—find nothing funny.

But what would the schools, comedians, or politicians say about the greatest joke of all—the founding American idea that all men—that is, all humans—are created equal. Yet that joke has become the basis of a powerful nation, admired and feared.

Our Civil War, the bloodiest in our history, was a ferocious struggle over this “joke.” Why didn’t we get the joke and expose it, thus saving the nation much death and misery? Do we practical Yankees and dreamy Southerners lack a sense of humor and are we therefore doomed to laugh in the wrong places? Trump has no problem laughing at the inherently ridiculous.

The Spirit of Equality vs. Monarchy

Equality can’t be literal. At best, we’re human and see people of different ages and sexes, athletes, geniuses, criminals, fools, the whole lot of humanity. We can’t really see like God. Our self-interest and vanity blind us. Without necessarily any religious belief, however, Democrats assume they have God’s perspective. But like their French revolutionary forefathers, they have banished God and replaced him with a new calendar, allegedly based on “science” (but is in fact a euphemism for atheism).

In the spirit of equality, Americans have always rejected an established state religion, with at least the same vehemence with which they have rejected monarchy. But despite religious differences they understood the political and social need for belief in a common God. The Left has used this entirely reasonable, religious standard to renounce any religion or preference for private, religious approaches to political and social issues. Freedom of religion has been reduced to freedom of worship, within the confines of a church or other structure. Thus, the Left will always use common American language and understanding against its underlying reasonableness.

As Americans disdained kings, equality has reflected our democratic tastes and belief in “republican” virtue—that is, citizen character—as a replacement for dominating government. And in turn, hasn’t the Left adopted monarchy in practice with its re-election of FDR for four terms?

Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, where he compared his election to a divine choice and his legitimacy to that of a commander of armies, has remained the presidential standard for most presidents from both parties. (A contrast between it and President Reagan’s first inaugural is highly instructive.) The habit of monarchy, which has gone on now for over four score years, is hard to break—even, as Harry and Meghan are discovering, for a ceremonial monarchy.

The Left has used American common sense as a weapon against itself, resulting in a new state religion of political correctness to go along with its longer-standing project of re-adopting monarchy.

In this way, the Left can claim the loyalty to the Constitution, religion, and democracy that ordinary folks respect when, in fact, they have eviscerated it in the name of “science” and its peculiar version of democratic centralism.

Love and Power

Equality of the passions, in particular, private passions once reserved for the family, and rule of the intellectually respectable cognoscenti or elites, becomes not only compatible but even necessary. Science and persons of science purify politics and rejigger messy democracy on behalf of evermore powerful, efficient statecraft.

Thus, the passion of love can attach itself to any number or kinds of objects. Greed, of course, remains unacceptable as an anti-social passion. Conversely, acquiring political power is not only acceptable but mandated, if on behalf of social improvement or reform. Obstructing such power is a danger to the people.

Moreover, the passion of love, the most powerful of all passions, can transform itself into that most dangerous passion, the passion of demanding to be loved. What an absurdity!

Yet the ancient political philosophers insisted that a citizen’s love of fellow citizens form the capstone of political life: friendship is the completion of justice. Self-sacrifice is celebrated and a glorious consummation of the love of fellow citizens, past and present.

This is not mere political theory but a reflection of American political practice, in the Revolution, Civil War, and the last century’s world wars. It mirrors as well the political practice of England, as class barriers were replaced by patriotism, enshrined in memory by Shakespeare’s Henry V in his Agincourt speech.

Crises may show human greatness. The greatest political crisis, the Civil War, with the abolition of slavery, resulted in the reconciliation of the Constitution with the intentions of the Declaration of Independence. Are our imaginations so poor that from this lesson we can’t draw other inferences from the underlying principle of human equality besides the need to abolish slavery? What of the return to self-government, government by consent, and therefore limited government as our first priority as equal citizens?

The inability to own slaves and therefore maintain plantations and the way of life they fostered represented a dramatic change in the entire national economy. Moreover, it signaled a legal change toward work, property ownership, and ultimate citizenship for freedmen. It spanned the distance between Lincoln’s first and second inaugural addresses and pointed the way ahead.

“You Work, I Eat”

Not only in times of political strife do Americans decry partisanship and praise unity. There is a constant refrain to, “Rise above politics, compromise and choose the common good, as reason and self-interest prefer.” Outside of crises, isn’t there the more subdued mood of ordinary life that shows Americans in possession of charitable hearts, Lincoln’s “better angels” of our nature? Americans demonstrate this all the time, in their generosity, their giving, their volunteering whenever there is an acute need.

The most practical way to the next step away from equality as merely anti-slavery in the historical sense is to ask, “What is the essence of slavery, whose abolition the war was ultimately fought to end?” And we note Lincoln’s answer: “You work, I eat.”

He also added,

This is essentially a people’s contest. On the side of the Union it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men; to lift artificial weights from all shoulders; to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life. Yielding to partial and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the Government for whose existence we contend.

I am most happy to believe that the plain people understand and appreciate this.

The “plain people” rejected both tyrannical and slavish attitudes in those around them. Freedom was not just their right, a license for what they want for themselves, but also a cheerful duty.

Supposedly tougher-minded philosophers, most prominently Karl Marx, dismissed such bourgeois banter. But they found that their dismissals of equality, the equality of natural rights, forced them to find substitutes for Plato and Aristotle’s praise of civic friendship: in Marx’s case socialized humanity, socialism. Lincoln’s “you work, I eat” definition of slavery reigns in Marx’s utopia.

Yet, many would make the abolition of slavery a harbinger for supposed equal rights for women, alleged alleviation of racial and immigrant discrimination, and much later, in our day, gay rights. Not only the Left views each of these cases as derivative of the correction of the inequality of slavery, thus further confusing our understanding of our history, institutions, and human nature.

Lincoln’s call for national unity based on recognition of national failure becomes the font of the new American consciousness. All the other alleged failures weigh down the American soul and demand continuous self-abasement.

These causes fired the Progressive Revolution that still governs us through the intellectual and institutional elites that opine and govern in its name—universities, bureaucrats, think tanks, and journalists. Freedom is not their main concern: coerced love is. That takes “you work, I eat” to an even higher level.

First Principles

The Frightening Road To Leftist Utopia

The utopian Left believes human nature can be conquered; that they can annihilate the old Tao—and create a new one, based on their emotions.

Here’s a question to which I never hear a coherent answer: “What will the world look like when the Social Justice Left has won?”

I know what kind of world I want: a world of communities and individuals. Communities with different values. Individuals with different values, some of whom I can avoid because I don’t like their values—or whom I might befriend even though I don’t like their values. I want maximum personal liberty. Our respective values and beliefs make us different, and I want a world of difference. Otherwise, we have a world of eternal oppression.

What kind of world does the Left want, and how might that play out, in reality, when the Left has vanquished people like me?

Many leftists, “progressives,” and “modern liberals” are utopians—almost millenarianists. They believe society can be transformed, and mankind perfected, that human nature can be demolished and rebuilt—once people like them have sufficient power.

Utopianism always means more government, more top-down solutions, less individuality, less community. You’re told what you may say and think, what words you may not use, what behaviors you must approve, what scientific facts you must deny.

The road to Utopia never gets there. It’s an infinite road, full of marching prisoners—patrolled by snitches who report, and enforcers who punish any deviation.

Utopians talk of “loving acceptance of all people.” That’s the most intolerant concept imaginable. It means forcing people to suppress whatever private values they might have and adopt the “non-judgmental” values of their betters. Implicitly, it means letting others dictate what’s right or good—or letting them decree that such concepts are mere constructs.

The banner of inclusiveness and diversity bears the slogan, “Shut up.”

You might know that two and two make four, but an all-powerful government (call it The Party) could force you to say two and two make five, or whatever other number The Party dictates for the moment. You might continue to think that two and two make four, but you’ll not be allowed to say it—and you’ll eventually be buffaloed into defending a lie.

That will make you angry, of course. Ever notice how so many people on the Left seem perpetually angry? Maybe I would be angry, too, if I were constantly repeating lies that I knew were lies, but that I felt I had to repeat because I wanted to look good to my leftist friends.

The Left wants power over you.

That is all.

The utopian Left doesn’t really care about people of color, women, gays, etc. It doesn’t matter how black you are, how gay you are, how Hispanic you are, whatever: If you belong to a protected group, and you betray the Left, you are outcast. You and your family will be shunned and defamed by the “woke,” maybe even physically terrorized and economically destroyed.

If you are not allowed your values—if you must shut up if you disagree with The Party—you are not a person. You are an artifact. A thing. The leftist agenda, in a sense, denies your very humanity, by denying your human nature.

I believe—perhaps naïvely—in a natural order. A Tao, if you like. I can’t tell you where it originates, but it exists. Maybe the Tao comes from a creator; maybe from a “Life Force”; maybe it’s evolution; maybe it comes from nothing. Whatever its source, man has a nature, and a natural way—just as a frog, a bird, or a yak has. Part of man’s nature is reason, whence comes independence of thought, diversity of values and preferences.

The utopian Left believes human nature can be conquered; that they can annihilate the old Tao—and create a new one, based on their emotions. Sure, some of us might behave wrongly, they think, but human beings are potentially good. They can be made good, they can be corrected of their errors, the Left believes—but the only means to that end is force, force to the utmost. To “perfect” society, we must grant our betters the power to make us what they please.

Get this straight: these people hate you. Former President Obama wasn’t kidding when he said he proposed to “fundamentally transform America.” That is what he and his kind want.

What would you think of a man who said, “I intend to fundamentally transform my wife”? Not, “I’m going to encourage her to change a certain bad habit she has,” but “I intend to fundamentally transform her.” You would conclude that he hated his wife, had no respect for her. Would he “fundamentally transform” a person he respected?

The Left wants power over you. That is all.

Utopians will never perfect society because they stand on nothing. Right now, they’re pumping their legs like Wile E. Coyote when he has run off the edge of the cliff—and hoping they can keep moving forward into thin air. Inevitably, though, they will plunge into the abyss. That would be funny—except that they are determined to drag decent people down with them.

First Principles

Remembering the Farming Way

We need to pause sometimes and remember who these dinosaurs were and what they have contributed. For a while longer, a few are still with us, a sort of collective keyhole through which we can look back into a now unremembered American past, whose codes and mores we simply abandoned—and to our great and present loss.

Almost all the pragmatic agricultural wisdom that my grandparents taught me has long ago been superseded by technology. I don’t anymore calibrate, as I once did when farming in the 1980s, the trajectory of an incoming late summer storm by watching the patterns of nesting birds, or the shifting directions and feel of the wind, or the calendar date or the phases of the moon. Instead, I go online and consult radar photos of storms far out at sea. Meteorology is mostly an exact science now.

Even the agrarian’s socio-scientific arts of observation that I learned from my family are seldom employed in my farming anymore. Back in the day, when a local farmer’s wife died, I was told things like, “Elmer will go pretty soon, too. His color isn’t good and he’s not used to living without her”—and tragically the neighbor usually died within months. Now I guess I would ask Elmer whether his blood tests came back OK, and the sort of blood pressure medicine he takes. I don’t think we believe that superficial facial color supersedes lab work. Farmers did because in an age of limited technology they saw people as plants, and knew that the look and color of a tree or vine—in comparison to others in the orchard or vineyard—was a sign of their viability.

I grew up with an entire local network of clubs and get-togethers, and ferried my grandparents to periodic meetings of the Walnut Improvement Club, Eastern Star, the Odd Fellows, Masons, the Grange, and Sun-Maid growers. They exchanged gossip, of course, but also vital folk and empirical information on irrigation, fertilizers, and machines.

The point was to remind us that “we” (i.e., the vanishing rural classes) needed to stick together—especially given glimpses of what the country would be like in the 21st century. When one of us died or got sick, people showed up with flowers, food, and offered help—whether the use of a tractor, or truck or hired man to “get you through this.”

Now? Zilch.

I don’t know any of my neighbors. Most are recent immigrants from south of the border, many here illegally. The land is almost all leased out to or has been purchased by large corporations. The old farmhouses are also rented and often poorly maintained: a sort of rural skeleton, with the flesh gone and the bones flaking apart. I hear from our coastal elites all about diversity, community, and caring. But out here, no one believes there is much diversity. Community does not exist. And as for caring, it is about making sure you get home at night without a drunk driver forcing you off the road—or worse.

So Much for Diversity or Community

I don’t know where exactly all my Armenian, Greek, Japanese, Mexican, Portuguese, Scandinavian agrarian friends of my childhood went, but they and their offspring are all long gone. And it is mostly rich versus poor left now, with little in between in California. I’m not sure massive illegal immigration is going to lead to the sort of communities that legal immigration and family farming once built. I once remember locals saying things like, “We can’t find the damn key to our house. Never had a need for it,” and, “Say, did you see that stranger two weeks ago prowling around the ditch bank?”—as if such a rare occurrence demanded neighborhood consultation.

Now? Rural houses have walls, fences, barbed wire, cameras, and fierce pit bulls. I feel like it is North Africa circa AD 430, and the world is retreating into rural makeshift fortifications. And the occupants—few of them farmers—are armed to the teeth. The local sheriffs by needs appear in raids against the Norteños and Sureños gangs, equipped like the 82nd Airborne.

[Hiatus: I was just interrupted writing this by a loud noise outside the front door at 6 a.m. A drunk driver swerved off the road—as is an almost a monthly occurrence—tore out an almond tree in our orchard, and tried to keep driving for a bit before his car conked and law enforcement appeared. A kind and professional highway patrolman, speaking Spanish, is now booking him in the front of the house. The driver seems quite drunk (in the early morning no less), doesn’t speak English, and, along with his passengers, gave me a nice frown when I walked out, in apparent recognition that he destroyed my property and has not a bit of contrition, much less any intention of paying me anything.]

The science and culture of family farming are about gone. I used to worry when my grandfather got the flu: who will run the farm? And how without him, given his stored wisdom that was never written down? He himself used to lecture about the bankruptcy of a neighbor, “He was a good enough farmer, but no one counted on his son getting killed in that accident and a cancer in his lung.” I learned that often just health and constitution meant success while fragility and illness failure. Continuance was always in the balance.

The Solid Constitution of the Farmer

To extend the farming logic, one ingredient in Donald Trump’s success appears to be his underappreciated constitution that somehow defies the logic of septuagenarian preventive medicine.

I had a Swedish grandfather like that whose lungs and esophagus were scarred and shriveled from gassing in World War I, who made a hardscrabble living by raising what he ate and breaking horses, and yet his constitution made it to 80—before the ancient scar tissues and cysts in his gassed mouth finally went malignant. We pried him off his 40-acre pasture and took him to an oncologist in 1968, the first doctor he had visited in 30 years.

Agribusiness wisely does not depend on the health of a paterfamilias, much less the regimens it once took to keep him going. Protocol is on the internet and managers are university trained in the sciences of hydrology, genetics, and plant chemistry. I can often spot a rare vestigial family-owned and operated 100-acre almond orchard by its less impressive, less tidy look, in comparison to the garden-like corporate-operated tesserae of the same size as part of huge 10,000-acre mosaics.

So the health of a single middle-aged male farmer used to determine whether the farm thrived or failed. The males I grew up with used all sorts of creams, balms, ointments, folk remedies, and embraced strange regimens about eating, when to go to bed, and when to get up. These habits were felt essential to ensuring trees were pruned or grapes picked. I never could figure out why locals wore either railroad engineer overalls, or matching khaki pants and shirt, or blue shirts and jeans that variously reflected their own idiosyncratic theories about how to endure the scorching summer heat, or frosty winter mornings, or to protect from wasp stings or sand burrs.

I don’t particularly miss the endemic grouchiness of agrarians, reflective I suppose of the tragic nature of family farmers. Even when a neighbor produced three tons of raisins per acre and in a rare year of good prices no less, he would sigh when complimented, “Well, I did alright, at least good enough.” And when the rain took his crop and the market prices dropped even in the midst of shortages, you would hear, “I’m done for and about had it with this farming business.”

In other words, much of the natural and human knowledge I picked up on a five-generation small farm in Central California is no longer applicable to the 21st century in the age of social media, the internet, huge wealth, globalization, open borders, and the transformations of the arts of farming into the sciences of agribusiness.

Or is that assessment entirely true? Aren’t there occasional vestigial insights?

Vestigial Insights of a 20th-Century Farmer

Call them philosophical reflections or perhaps reminders of the tragic view of human existence of the last 2,500 years in the agrarian West since Hesiod that still remain invaluable in our rich and faceless society.

One is the idea of hubris incurring nemesis. Farmers taught me to save in good times, because they would not, could not last. If religious—and most were—they assumed an omniscient God watches over us and tempers the good with the bad. A healthy son, a banner plum year, a new shed meant “watch out!” Such good luck could not last, especially if one took such good times as a referendum on one’s own talent or brilliance—which, human nature being what it is, one usually and catastrophically did.

Nemesis then followed haughtiness. The wise instead sought balance (to hide from the jealous roaming pagan goddess Nemesis): to remain cautious and humble when things were good, and defiant and resolute when they turned awful.

I still remember their wisdom of unintended consequences, irony, and paradox. Sometimes farmers who never smoked, drank, or ate too much dropped dead of strange cancers or wasting diseases. Model peach orchards of hardy stock on occasion were sickened by bacterial gummosis. Beautiful two-story Victorian farmhouses of the 19th century burned down right after expensive restorations. That edged legacy still haunts me. I’m as afraid of good times as of bad, as if the two faced off on some baleful teeter totter, each having a commensurate turn, raising us higher and then taking us down.

I still cannot shake agrarian wisdom even in our suburbanized world. Watch out for fast-talkers and know-it-alls whose speech substitutes for real accomplishment, a lore that I guess evolved from the solitary nature of farming when people worked days alone, had few with whom to talk, and failed or succeeded by how much they got done—all and only visible to the naked eye. Not talking to a single person for an entire day while pruning or tractor driving or irrigating is no longer a normal experience.

Sometimes agrarian genes are outright curses. Why cannot a person lodge a legitimate excuse? Aren’t there extenuating circumstances?

Excess of Independence as Corrective to Today’s Acedia 

Most of my near own disasters over the last 60 years were needless and self-inflicted and came from foolishly “pressing on” in order that I didn’t “let someone down”—as if one always had to finish pruning the entire vine row with the flu, or disc the entire 20 acres with pink eye.

I would hear in my farming brain “You gave your word.” “You said you’d do it.” “What if everyone did that?” Or rather I heard what had been instilled by others.

And so when I had a dull ache in my groin, I went to fulfill a speaking engagement for an educational consortium touring in Muammar Gadaffi’s nightmare of a country and ended up in shock with a ruptured appendix in Libya, in a desperate search for a surgeon. (I found one 26 hrs. later).

A reluctance long ago in Greece to tell the archaeological director of an excavation that my urine was turning pink soon led to a staghorn calculus, a severed ureter, and an iffy flight back to the United States for an emergency operation.

Getting Middle East malaria or dysentery was usually because I didn’t want to seem to “house up” as they said on the farm. Farmers believe, apparently, that there is some natural force in the universe that rewards continuance when in fact they often make their own plight worse by not taking simple precautions. I remember a 70-year-old farmer showing me a “small” bruise on his back from falling out of his cab: his entire back from neck to belt was bright purple.

I once begged my 66-year old father not to patch old telephone wire (the remnants of a shared rural country line) on a 25-foot high, 70-year-old shoddy extension ladder. He badly broke his foot. When one does that in his sixties, and is a bit too heavy, it can devolve into all sorts of other imbalances. But he did fix the wire and the phone.

By the early 5th-century AD, “Rome”—already a crumbling Mediterranean hegemony—was a world away from the Italian agrarian state of the 3rd-century BC, in customs, values, and outlook: richer and more cosmopolitan, but unsustainable in its excesses, disunity, and rootlessness.

In our own late imperial days, honor the independent truck driver, the farmer, the guy who runs the 24-hour 7-Eleven store, and the owner-welder in a fabrication shop. We need to pause sometimes and remember who these dinosaurs were and what they have contributed. For a while longer, a few are still with us, a sort of collective keyhole through which we can look back into a now unremembered American past, whose codes and mores we simply abandoned—and to our great and present loss.

First Principles

The Punishing Agenda of the Anti-Punishment Movement

Punishment is a public declaration of moral standards. It is an extension of natural law. Descend into the anti-incarceration activists’ amoral abyss, and you abolish the very fabric of our ethical tradition.

On November 29, 2019, a man now called the London Bridge terrorist slaughtered British student Jack Merritt. While the killer has been named for a famous London landmark; his victim has been all but forgotten.

The killer’s family was quick to condemn the London Bridge terrorist’s actions. The family of his victim—not so much.

David Merritt, the late lad’s dad, got busy condemning those who wish to condemn that killer and his ilk to life in a cell. By December 2, Merritt the elder was already penning op-eds about clemency and leniency for criminals like the man who murdered his son.

Such minute-made forgiveness would have been Jack’s wish, asserted Merritt rather presumptuously—for how can the living speak for the dead?

David Merritt, then, proceeded to minimize what was murder with malice aforethought by dismissing what his son’s killer did as a mere “tragic incident.”

Just how obscene is the progressive mindset can be gleaned from what Mr. Merritt wrote:

If Jack could comment on his death—and the tragic incident on Friday 29 November—he would be livid. We would see him ticking it over in his mind before a word was uttered between us. Jack would understand the political timing with visceral clarity.

He would be seething at his death, and his life, being used to perpetuate an agenda of hate that he gave his everything fighting against . . . What Jack would want from this is for all of us to walk through the door he has booted down, in his black Doc Martens.

That door opens up a world where we do not lock up and throw away the key. Where we do not give indeterminate sentences … Where we do not slash prison budgets, and where we focus on rehabilitation not revenge. [Emphasis added.]

Anti-punishment ideologues like Merritt, incorrectly and condescendingly conflate punishment with “hate” and vengeance, and restitution and “rehabilitation” with justice.

They typically treat us to facile flimflam such as that “the desire for vengeance cannot become the foundation of jurisprudence.” By this verbal manipulation, these ideologues disingenuously advance a definition of justice that precludes incarceration and instead equates that object with restitution and rehabilitation alone.

Compared to David Merritt’s woke sentiments, the family of the London Bridge terrorist was mundane in its proper and civilized expiation.

“We are saddened and shocked by what [the killer] has done,” said the family. “We totally condemn his actions and we wish to express our condolences to the families of the victims that have died and wish a speedy recovery to all of the injured.”

But there was apparently no need to apologize. Speaking for his dead son, David Merritt appears already to have made peace with Jack’s ripper.

In their extreme versions, anti-punishment ideologues like David Merritt often plump for complete penal abolition.

Driven by parental and pedagogic progressivism, Jack, of blessed memory, had “devoted his energy to the purpose of a “pioneering program” called “Learning Together,” which aims “to bring students from university and prisons together to share their unique perspectives on justice.”

The imperative to offer up young lives to this or the other manifestation of Moloch is a progressive impulse—an obscene one, at that.

If young Merritt’s murder proves anything it is that Cambridge University’s social-justice outreach, “Learning Together,” is a costly indulgence, as Jack was murdered on the job.

More generally, the movement for restorative justice holds that problems plaguing the criminal justice system are reason enough to abolish it. Oddly, the movement’s position is starkly utilitarian, and bereft of principle.

Incarceration, assert proponents of “no-fault” forgiveness, doesn’t reduce rates of re-offense and doesn’t bring back the dead. Ergo, abolish it we must and heal the criminal in the community. After all, responsibility for individual evil actions lies really with “society.” Justice, say the activists, is therefore best sought by a redistribution of wealth and resources.

But, contrary to such pinko propaganda, our prisons aren’t loaded with choir boys.

The London Bridge killer was no victim of the system (although he claimed to have been fat-shamed or bullied for nurturing a prison paunch. Boo hoo). Rather, it was Jack Merritt who was the victim of a system that had automatically released a man with murder on his mind on a kind of meritless-reprieve scheme, and despite the man’s vow to do violence.

When just a teen, this killer plotted to attack the London Stock Exchange. He then fooled those around him by feigning remorse and a desire to reintegrate into British society.

From the dizzying heights of Platonic theorizing, libertarian anti-incarceration theorists typically point out, quite correctly, that crimes are committed against individuals and not against the amorphous entity called “society.” Solutions, they say, should, therefore, focus on making criminals pay restitution to their victims.

Here on terra firma, however, the prosaic fact is that when more dangerous offenders are incarcerated, fewer innocent individuals suffer.

When fewer violent criminals are apprehended, more innocent individuals are harmed.

If innocent individuals are incarcerated—a horrible thing against which jurist William Blackstone railed in 1769, saying “the law holds that it is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer”—they are harmed.

Although I would not argue against compelling criminals to do penance shaped by their victims, some libertarian anarchists want to see punishment replaced by a system of financial restitution.

But in cases (and there are many) where criminals can’t remotely repay victims for the harm done (especially in violent crimes), this means the consequences to the criminal won’t be remotely proportionate. In effect, by rejecting proportionate punishment for what is usually disproportionately paltry “restitution,” libertarian abolitionists are endorsing systematic injustice.

The object of so-called libertarians should not be a simplistic move to reduce the involvement of the state at any cost, not if it means freeing guilty offenders. Rather, it should be to reduce prison population by freeing innocent people whose activities, lawful by natural-law standards, the state has criminalized. Whether punishment makes people feel good, whether it reforms the criminal or safeguards the public is immaterial, although I would argue that a society with a moral code is safer in the long run than one without it.

Punishment is a public declaration of moral standards. It is an extension of natural law. Descend into the anti-incarceration activist’s amoral abyss, and you abolish the very fabric of our ethical tradition.

Fortunately, David Merritt’s meritless advocacy for a man who swore to murder again is moot. That killer was dispatched at the scene of his crime, his descent into hell hastened by the city of London’s police force.

First Principles

The Inertial States of America

Nothing unites us now, not religious faith, not cultural memory, not a common understanding of virtue, not the natural goodness of manhood and womanhood, not children, not the elderly, nothing. We do not seek “the naked bedrock of character and capacity,” because they are judgments against us.

I often file things that I read in my growing collection of 100-year-old magazines—in bound volumes, six months apiece, 1,000 large pages in small font—under the category, “Different World.” Such is an article from The Century Magazine, January 1900, called “Fellow-Feeling as a Political Factor.”

Its author knew a lot about political warfare, having long fought the machines in his native New York. Those who worked the levers of the machines were about to try to ruin him by promotion, pushing in that summer’s Republican convention for his nomination as candidate for vice-president. But things did not work out as they had planned. President McKinley was shot to death in 1901, and their worst nightmare, Theodore Roosevelt, rose to the highest office in the land, and he was determined, with his boundless energy, to put its powers to use.

“Neither our national nor our local civic life,” he says, “can be what it should be unless it is marked by the fellow-feeling, the mutual kindliness, the mutual respect, the sense of common duties and common interests, which arise when men take the trouble to understand one another, and to associate together for a common object.”

The objects he had in mind were not abstract. They were things like building the New Croton Dam to bring potable water to the largest city in the world, or storming San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, or mapping glaciers with John Muir in Alaska, or driving herds of cattle from the prairies to the stockyards in Chicago. In other words, they were the kinds of things men in large numbers no longer do.

Roosevelt had that bluff manliness that sat well with men who worked hard, spoke their minds frankly, kept themselves clean, and sought out the zest of difficulty or danger. Such men formed an aristocracy without distinctions of income, creed, race, or class. When he explains what he means by fellow-feeling, he turns to his own varied experiences as a young man fresh from Harvard, traveling west:

Outside of college boys and politicians my first intimate associates were ranchmen, cow-punchers, and game-hunters, and I speedily became convinced that there were no other men in the country who were their equals. Then I was thrown much with farmers, and I made up my mind that it was the farmer upon whom the foundations of the commonwealth really rested . . . Then I saw a good deal of railroad men . . . I grew to feel that, especially in their higher ranks, they typified the very qualities of courage, self-reliance, self-command, hardihood, capacity for work, power of initiative, and power of obedience, which we like most to associate with the American name.

So it goes on. His point is well taken. It is good for a cow-puncher’s son to go to Harvard. It may be better for the Harvard scion to go out west among cow-punchers, and not just for the rich boy, but for the nation, that we might be one in truth rather than just on paper; and the rich boy will learn a great deal in the bargain.

“There is no patent device,” Roosevelt says, “for bringing about good government.” No jiggering of the electorate will do it. No legislative machinery will do it. Wise laws will help, and foolish laws will hurt, but “the betterment must come through the slow workings of the same forces which have always tended for righteousness, and always will.”

That is the Progressive Roosevelt you are hearing, who today sounds as if he were a member of the John Birch Society. If we are not righteous—and Roosevelt implies that the moral law is what it has always been—then any unity we boast will be fragile or factitious.

Where is now our righteousness? Hollywood was always part in the shade; it is now pitch dark. Our schools make up in soul-smothering routine and inhumanity what they lack in knowledge, and the morals are worse still. We have reversed the wisdom of Solomon and now saw children in half, to satisfy the feelings of their irresponsible parents.

What happens, though, when men come together as Roosevelt suggests? Here the boy is father to the man, as Teddy always would believe. So he praises the public school not mainly for the uniformity of instruction, but for what happens in the schoolyard outside:

When in their earliest and most impressionable years Protestants, Catholics, and Jews go to the same schools, learn the same lessons, play the same games, and are forced, in the rough-and-ready democracy of boy life, to take each at his true worth, it is impossible later to make the disciples of one creed persecute those of another.

The rough-and-ready democracy of boy life: that is gone. There is no boy life. We make sure of that, and our polity suffers for it.

Athenian democracy depended upon the gymnasium, which functioned as school and athletic arena and military training ground. When you are stripped for the arena, you can’t tell rich man from poor, but you can tell the strong from the weak, and the brave from the timid. The boy who stands up for his rights or, better still, for the rights of a smaller boy against a bully, wins the esteem of his fellows, and if he had in Teddy’s time to win it with his fists, so much the better. Nowadays, a boy of no special intelligence or athletic prowess will hardly ever be in the company of a large group of boys doing something interesting or risky. He will not be noticed at all, unless perchance he begins to put on lipstick and a skirt. Then we throw him a party.

But this boyish democracy is or should be a foreshadowing of the grown man’s democracy to come. A man, says Roosevelt, who has the good luck to be compelled to work alongside masses of men in a condition where caste or class does not apply will see true democracy in action. “Every mining-camp,” he says, “every volunteer regiment proves it.”

The goal assumes pride of place, and the men subordinate all other considerations to its attainment. They choose as leaders those who will get the job done. They associate with other men of like mind. The intensity of their interest in the work—Roosevelt uses the word with its powerful sense of having a mighty and personal stake in something—causes them “to disregard, and, indeed, to forget, the creed or race origin or antecedent social standing or class occupation” of the man beside them, friend or foe. “They get down to the naked bedrock of character and capacity.”

As I said, it was a different world. Nothing unites us now, not religious faith, not cultural memory, not a common understanding of virtue, not the natural goodness of manhood and womanhood, not children, not the elderly, nothing. We do not seek “the naked bedrock of character and capacity,” because they are judgments against us.

We are the Inertial States of America. I wish it were not so.

First Principles

Peace(makers) on Earth

Surely there are rabbis and pastors who might come together to arrange a sort of exchange program of qualified, background-checked, good-hearted men.

During the Christmas-Hanukkah overlap of 2019, the annual festive season for both Christians and Jews was marred by violent reminders that in a hatred-infested world, our fears as well as our joys may intersect. A church shooting in Texas and a machete attack in New York bloodied our respective sacred celebrations.

In a variety of ways, Jews and Christians both have responded to such incidents in the past, according to conscience and temperament. All have lamented; all have prayed; some have prayed and raged.

And some have prayed and prepared.

When I first took a concealed carry class in South Carolina, I met a number of people who fall into the latter category. I found that several classmates were specifically pursuing carry permits in response to the Emmanuel Church massacre in Charleston, either on their own initiative, or at the request of their pastors. Church security was mentioned as a secondary motive by several other classmates, and our instructor reminded us of the procedure required to carry legally in a church setting (including permission from the church leadership, as required by federal law).

This is a manly, wise, and American response to the threat of violence. Get trained, get armed, stand ready. We are right to do as the pilgrims did in old New England when, to prepare for worship, “each (set) his arms down near him.”

So far, so good. And as we have seen most recently with the heroism of Jack Wilson at his Texas church, it can also be effective.

Of course, as celebrants at a service, our minds are supposed to be on spiritual things. Some traditions even encourage listening to what the pastor or rabbi might be saying, and it can be hard to maintain condition yellow during a sermon on the “Perseverance of the Saints.” (Though there is a nearly 400-year-old tradition among Presbyterians of doing so, going back to the Scottish Covenanters).

Still, one closes his eyes for prayer now and again. And it occurs to me that I have friends who worship the Almighty, not on Sunday mornings, but on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. We may have important doctrinal disagreements, but we share a revulsion at religious murder and a man’s sense of duty to protect the innocent.

It’s well that Jewish synagogues and temples, and Christian churches, should have designated marksmen to respond to violence against their congregations at worship. But it occurs to me that this sad necessity brought about by the evil of mankind, might also be an occasion to remind one another of more comforting truths.

What if, as we trained to defend worshipers from homicidal madmen, we were to make a point of crossing religious lines? What if arrangements were made between congregations for some Saturday worshipers to serve as volunteer guards on a Sunday morning, now and again—and some Sunday worshipers to stand ready, to protect a Sabbath service?

Surely there are rabbis and pastors who might come together to arrange a sort of exchange program of qualified, background-checked, good-hearted men.

The first true interfaith order of chivalry it would be. Its seal might show Gabriel Possenti (unofficial patron saint of handgunners) and Imi Lichtenfeld (founder of Krav Maga) shaking hands.

And the perfect theme verses, I think, are to be found in 2 Samuel 10: 10-11. In this passage ancient Israel’s general, Joab, has detailed two forces to meet two foes—and to watch one another’s backs:

And he said, If the Syrians be too strong for me, then thou shalt help me: but if the children of Ammon be too strong for thee, then I will come and help thee. Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God . . . ”

Wouldn’t it do all of us good to watch one another’s backs—and to see someone else, motivated simply by human decency, watching ours?

First Principles

Why Conservatism, Inc. Is Powerless Against Socialism

The truth that socialism is bad does not excuse conservatives from having to come up with a plan for America’s future. The alternative to socialism still has to be appealing—it can’t just be “not socialism.”

As America enters a new decade, a political realignment is happening. The Left, traditionally the party of the working class, now represents urban, liberal elites more interested in the latest permissive fashions than they are in what they see as the parochial concerns of their less affluent countrymen. In reaction, conservatism has aligned to an increasing degree with the working class.

Is this a lasting shift or a final gasp of dissent from liberalism? Only time will tell, but for the country’s sake let’s hope for the former. In spite of Donald Trump’s campaign to “Make America Great Again,” American conservatism today is not worth taking seriously. MAGA may have served as a kind of national awakening, but a host of conservative nonprofits, think tanks, pundits, and news outlets comprising “Conservatism Inc.” have worked tirelessly to restore the pre-2016 status quo.

For obvious and compelling reasons, American conservatives have begun to reject the elite “consensus” of Conservatism, Inc. Reason number one: it hasn’t done much actually to conserve anything.

Americans have seen millions of jobs leave the country and entire communities change or die out in mere decades. While wealth has trickled up to a tiny minority, common life has become more precarious for the average person.

Birth rates are way down, and basic milestones from getting an education to starting a family are increasingly unaffordable for young people. This is not exactly the portrait of a thriving nation. Yet the people in charge keep fiddling with the knobs while insisting that everything is fine. The system, they assure us, is working as intended.

But the voters never chose any of this stuff.

Many Americans have begun reacting to the excesses of leftism, and the negligence of official conservatism to stop it, by electing flagrantly offensive populists. These new conservatives have more in common with Teddy Roosevelt and Benjamin Disraeli than with Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. To the “forgotten” conservatives, decades of “fiscal conservatism” haven’t made their lives any better, and the establishment’s inability or unwillingness to confront social liberalism have made them strangers in their own country.

Dissent as a Commodity

This is a problem for the institutions that comprise Conservatism Inc., which is less a movement than a corporate enterprise. To prevent change, Conservatism Inc. has attempted, with some success, to capture the rebellious energy of the Trump movement and turn dissent into a product. Indeed, like the activist Left, Conservatism Inc. sells a commodity: outrage, not virtue—the feeling of winning without anything to show for it.

Rather than encouraging dissent, Conservatism Inc. merely keeps the status quo intact while making rebellion into a spectacle.

This spectacle follows a now familiar pattern. In 2015-2016, it became popular for conservative figures to make fun of “sensitive” liberals by confronting them on college campuses. The act of “triggering the snowflakes” to expose their “irrational” and emotional drives soon became a humiliation ritual. Then it became a commodity. Conservative figures who opposed Donald Trump in 2016, such as Ben Shapiro and others, made triggering snowflakes and “owning the libs” part of their brand. Some did this while embracing Trump in name, even as they remained hostile to the Trump movement and what it stood for.

Some anti-Trump “conservatives” openly oppose Trump and his supporters, but others read the temperature of the nation and figured that the best course of action was to join Trump’s side while doing everything possible to water down the MAGA movement until it was just a reflection of the status quo. These conservatives jumped on the Trump Train for the same reason they treat political confrontation like a circus act: they saw a career opportunity.

In three years, they have largely reduced the dissident energy of the Trump moment into an embarrassing and unappealing corporate spectacle.

Groups such as Turning Point USA think that using memes to defeat the Left constitutes political action, which goes to show how serious they are about fighting the culture war. Rather than addressing the problems that young Americans face, they try to appeal to them by aping an idea of what Millennials and Gen Z are into—hip hop music, “meme culture,” and so on. The result is anything but cool.

If someone can explain what this nightmarish display has to do with conservatism (not safe for work, or your soul,) I would love to know.

A Political Dog and Pony Show

In a sense, Conservatism Inc. needs the Left the way a “baby face” needs a heel (the bad guy) in professional wrestling. Without the leftist enemy to humiliate and “trigger,” Conservatism Inc. wouldn’t have any commodity to sell. In this way the Left serves an important and essential theatrical purpose. Confronting the Left with essentially harmless “memes” and ritualistic “debates” consisting of trite talking points is essential to the spectacle, however inept it might be politically.

It’s all a show, but there’s also a deeper kinship in play.

Like a trust at work to squash enterprising new competitors, Conservatism Inc. is more hostile to challengers on the Right than actual leftists, with whom they have formed a silent compact to keep the status quo—that is, rampant progressive experimentation married to corporatism—intact. They are more concerned with keeping free markets loosely regulated than with preserving morals and protecting the family from the forces that besiege it, whether it’s new forms of social perversion or vulture capitalists and pharmaceutical companies.

They share values in common with the Left, the way two professional wrestlers, ostensibly enemies on the stage, work toward the same end. This is why when it matters, Conservatism, Inc. will denounce fellow conservatives with controversial viewpoints as racists and bigots, rather than talking to them earnestly about their concerns. The punchline is that they do this while styling themselves brave and beleaguered champions of free speech.

Conservatism, Inc. doesn’t engage with people who fall outside the “script,” which has a pretty obvious formula: trigger leftists, call them “snowflakes,” claim victory. and move on. There’s less entertainment value—not to mention there are dangers of being exposed as fraudulent—in engaging with conservatives who challenge what they’re selling.

So they’ll talk to leftists who support late-term abortion but smear conservatives who are concerned about demographic change. They’re more concerned with maintaining the reputation of being “respectable” conservatives—that is harmless pundits who follow the terms of discourse set by the Left—than with actually conserving the nation.

The Dated Ideology of Conservatism, Inc.

Cringey spectacles of “dissent,” not surprisingly, have failed to turn young people away from socialism.

A recent poll found that 36 percent of Millennials now approve of Communism. When confronted with this kind of information, Conservatism, Inc. has little recourse but to blame young people with diminishing economic prospects for their sense of “entitlement.” Haven’t they heard of Holodomor? Are they not aware that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants to steal their hamburgers?

Conservatism, Inc. is preoccupied with the concerns and priorities of a previous era. Young people are not moved by Cold War anxieties about international Communism. The threat of socialism appears to them less a concern than the very real material precariousness in which they now live. Gen Z is facing the real prospect of growing up to be poorer than their parents, and for Millennials and the often ignored Generation X, this already is reality. Housing, health care, and education have become prohibitively expensive, millions of good jobs have already left the country and laborers across the skill spectrum face global competition from visa holders and outsourced labor. This doesn’t account for the assault on their culture and communities by Leftists hellbent on reconstituting the nation.

Conservatism, Inc. has no response to the problems America now faces because it’s not trying to solve them. It’s an enterprise, not a political movement, and it uses fig leaves of dated ideology to cover up an underlying emptiness.

Conservatives can agree that Ronald Reagan was a good president for defeating the Soviets (maybe not so much for the amnesty). Back in the Cold War, dogmatic free market capitalism, foreign interventionism, and “rugged individualism” made some sense because socialism really was America’s enemy.

But times change. Conservatism, Inc. is still hung up (almost exclusively) on the threat of socialism while Americans have grown more concerned with mass immigration, rapid cultural shifts, and vanishing economic opportunity. The irony is that Conservatism, Inc., in refusing to take these concerns more seriously, is making socialism more appealing to young people.

The truth that socialism is bad does not excuse conservatives from having to come up with a plan for America’s future. The alternative to socialism still has to be appealing—it can’t just be “not socialism.”

The conservatism of Conservatism, Inc. doesn’t reflect where most Americans really are. The “movement” remains fervently libertarian—fiscally conservative and socially liberal—while conservatives increasingly reflect the mirror image, economically liberal and socially conservative. This gap will surely continue to grow. Admonishing people for feeling like their lives have gotten worse can only work for so long.

Then again, Conservatism, Inc. is powerful. Conservatism is in flux, but power remains firmly on the side of the status quo ante Trump. In its current state, conservatism remains a joke—a corporate spectacle that is unequipped and unwilling to respond to the threats to America’s continued existence.

The Left isn’t losing any sleep because conservatives know about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s secret plot to end meat consumption and commercial air travel. If anything, it tells them that conservatives aren’t serious. They wouldn’t be wrong in this opinion. Conservatives should be concerned by that.

First Principles

Revealing the Real Cause of Deep State Corruption

America is threatened by a loss of its constitutional system. The threat does not come from the current occupant of the White House, but from those who would seek to expel him.

What could possibly explain the transparent nonsense that is the attempt to impeach and remove President Donald Trump? The farrago of exaggerations and outright lies that the leadership of the Democrats in the House of Representatives are currently peddling makes little sense.

Impeachment was a remedy crafted by the Founders to remove a corrupt official who put his or her interests ahead of those of the country. But when a president has managed one of the most successful economic recoveries in modern times, and when he has succeeded in reducing taxes, regulations, and in reforming the federal judiciary, that president doesn’t seem like a problem the Constitution’s Framers sought to cure.

Could it be, instead, that those seeking to remove President Trump are themselves the beneficiaries of the kind of corruption the framers feared?

The idea is gaining some currency, as some observers have begun to suggest what we are witnessing is a distraction by the “deep state,” to shift our attention away from the revelations of the extreme misconduct of our entrenched bureaucracy in our intelligence, foreign service, and law enforcement agencies during the Obama Administration. The misconduct is detailed in Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s recent report and could be the subject of prosecutions by U.S. Attorney John Durham.

There is much merit in that analysis. It makes good sense to understand the smokescreen of impeachment as a means of obscuring what appears to be the extraordinary corruption of the Biden family and former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, or even the “pay to play” assertions concerning the Clinton Foundation, the concealing of which is the best explanation for Hillary Clinton’s shenanigans regarding her “homebrew” server which was used to shield her misconduct from public view.

If, as President Trump maintains, he is the sworn enemy of such corruption, it certainly would make sense for those who have benefitted and continue to benefit from a misuse of the power and largesse of the federal government to fight him tooth and nail.

Punishing such corruption would be reason enough to support Republicans if they are sincere in their effort to do this. But understanding a deeper cause of the rot that has beset our national government is also necessary.

What makes it possible for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) to claim they are protecting the Constitution? The Constitution they purport to be safeguarding bears no relationship to the original understanding of the actual document.

How can Pelosi refuse even to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate unless Majority Leader McConnell permits Democrats to implement Senate proceedings, such as the calling of witnesses who did not appear in the House, or provides her assurances of “fair play,” such as were denied President Trump in the House’s hearings?

How could this strategy be something concocted by liberal Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe? How could other purportedly respected liberal law professors such as Noah Feldman and Pamela Karlan support the transparently absurd impeachment theories of the House Democrats?

Could it be that the explanation for this is also something of an answer to the question of why so many Democrat officials of blue-state cities are emboldened to defy our immigration restrictions, or why blue state officials believe they can ignore the federal government’s laws on cannabis, or even the Constitution’s Second Amendment protection of the right to bear arms?

Is there a parallel between Pelosi’s flaunting of the Constitution and its structure and President Barack Obama’s decision that he could implement DACA without the benefit of federal legislation?

What is it that has made the federal Constitution so plastic, that has empowered so many Democrats—many of them educated at our finest law schools—to believe that the clear constitutional provisions regarding the separation of powers and the limitations on the federal government could be ignored?

We are, it would seem, reaping the harvest of the seeds sown by the New Deal and the Warren Court, by Roe v. Wade, by Obergefell v. Hodges, and by a jurisprudence embraced by our elite law schools in the course of the last two generations. Those cases, and the law professors who approved of them, and the law students they educated, came to believe that our Constitution was outmoded, and that it was the job of enlightened jurists and jurisprudence to amend it without benefit of Article V.

On the theory that the Constitution’s framers supported slavery and the deprivation of the franchise to women, it is no surprise that some frank justices such as Thurgood Marshall could argue that deference was simply not due to the original understanding of that document. The abandonment of that deference, then, is what led to the court essentially rewriting the 14th Amendment to let it advance the policies it favored. These grievances with the original document, they argued, permitted them to make new constitutional law and to reallocate the constitutional responsibilities between the state and federal governments.

Once one abandons the original understanding as a means of advancing the rule of law, however, the way is opened for any Supreme Court justice, bureaucrat or legislator convinced that he has access to a higher truth than the Constitution’s Framers or the sovereign people who ratified their work, to ignore the strictures of our fundamental law and to promote arbitrarily whatever policies are ideologically or personally more pleasing.

That arbitrary behavior, however, is what leads to corruption, an abandonment of the rule of law, the ending of popular sovereignty, and ultimately to tyranny. This country is threatened by a loss of its constitutional system, and of the morality that the Framers believed must undergird it. The threat does not come, however, from the occupant of the White House, but from those who would seek to expel him.

First Principles

Two Fundamental Contradictions that Doom the Left

The fate of all humanity, not just that of America, depends on debunking these two fundamental premises of the Left, both of which are easily contradicted by facts.

The American Left relies upon two moral imperatives to attract supporters and demonize their opponents: saving the planet and fighting racism.

In both cases, however, the Left’s chosen policy solutions stand in opposition to well-established facts. Moreover, these facts that doom leftist policies to failure are not subtle. They don’t require convoluted explanations. Anyone with common sense may grasp them, which is why the Left must rely on deplatforming and cancel culture. It is why they must accuse their critics of being “deniers” and “racists.” They cannot argue the facts.

Contradiction No. 1:
Ban Fossil Fuel Without Any Viable Alternative

Instead of addressing genuine environmental challenges, such as poaching of endangered species, overfishing the oceans, or grossly unhealthy air in cities like Beijing and New Delhi, America’s Left instead has focused almost exclusively on combating “climate change.”

But their remedy, “decarbonizing” the economy by eliminating fossil fuels, ignores the indisputable fact that fossil fuel production must rapidly increase in order to meet the demands of a growing world economy.

For everyone on Earth, including Americans, to consume half as much energy as Americans currently consume, global energy production would have to increase to 2.5 times its current output. Meanwhile, in 2018, biofuel, solar, and wind energy combined supplied just over 3 percent of total energy produced in the world.

Reasonable people can disagree over the so-called “carrying capacity” of the planet. Maybe mining the moon, the asteroids, and the ocean floor will yield more mineral riches than humanity could ever need. Maybe high-rise organic agriculture, aquaculture, synthetic (but hormone and antibiotic-free) meat, and total water recycling will fulfill the nutritional needs of 20 billion people without degrading land and ocean ecosystems. Maybe fusion power, or satellite solar-power stations, or carbon-neutral biofuel grown in tank farms could provide abundant energy. Maybe inviting megacities will attract billions of people to move off the land in an entirely voluntary migration, taking pressure off the wilderness.

To get from here to there, however, fossil fuel is absolutely necessary.

The alternative is global energy poverty, leading to every environmentally undesirable consequence imaginable: stripping the forests for wood fuel and game meat, poaching beautiful endangered species to earn money for food, trawling the oceans for the last bits of protein, incessant wars over resources, and unchecked population growth to cope with life on a ravaged planet.

This dark scenario is what will happen if fossil fuel use is precipitously eliminated. Environmentalists need to support investment in breakthrough technologies, not cancel pipelines and shut down drilling operations. Soon enough, renewable energy will be economically competitive with fossil fuel. But for now, more energy, of all kinds, is desperately needed to deliver prosperity to billions of people.

Affordable energy equals prosperity equals literacy equals female emancipation equals voluntary family size reduction equals zero-population growth sooner rather than later. That is the equation that should motivate environmentalists, not the impossible demand to eliminate the use of fossil fuels before cost-effective alternatives emerge.

Contradiction No. 2:
Demand Racial Quotas Without Requiring Equal Standards

The United States over the past 50 years has engaged in one of the most radical demographic transitions ever experienced by a nation at peace. In 1965, when mass Third World immigration began under the Hart-Celler Immigration Act, the percentage of Americans self-described as white was 84 percent. As of 2015, America’s white population had declined to 62 percent.

But that is only half the story. The most common age of a white American in 2018 was 58, whereas the most common age for Asians was 29, African Americans, 27, and Hispanics, 11. In 2014, for the first time, racial and ethnic minority babies became the statistical majority of U.S. children under 1 year of age.

Also beginning in 1965 was the laudable passage of civil rights legislation designed to eliminate racism in America. But over time, these laws went beyond demanding a color-blind society to demanding affirmative action to ensure that minorities are proportionally represented in all American institutions, from academia to corporations and even to the arts and sciences.

When “minorities” constituted 15 percent of America’s population, enforcing proportional participation in literally everything may have been a crude way to combat racial discrimination, but the consequences were limited. But when the “minority” becomes the majority, the consequences will be far-reaching.

Can America’s research universities, corporate labs, government bureaucracies, public utilities, military and law enforcement, etc., operate at maximum efficiency if all personnel at all levels have to display proportional representation of all ethnic groups?

The Left’s remedy to racism in America—to the extent it even still exists—is to enforce these ethnic quotas in all American institutions. But this ignores the indisputable fact that there are significant differences in average academic aptitude between ethnic groups.

One of the most objective measurements of scholastic aptitude is the SAT test administered to high school seniors. Scores on this test are highly correlated to future success in college and lifetime earnings. Average SAT scores differ sharply among ethnic groups. In 2018, for example, the average SAT score differed among ethnic groups as follows: Asians, 1223; whites, 1123; Latinos, 990; blacks, 946.

The bare minimum SAT score required to get into MIT is 1500. In 2018, that score was achieved by 7 percent of Asians, 2 percent of whites, and less than 1 percent of blacks and Latinos. To cite a more mainstream example, a score of 1250 is considered the bare minimum to get into UCLA. In 2018, that score was achieved by 46 percent of Asians, 23 percent of whites, 9 percent of Latinos, and 5 percent of blacks.

The implications of these facts are discomforting, and any solution is controversial. But the Left thinks the solution is to exclude more highly qualified people and blame all disparities on racism. Not only does this result in America’s institutions being staffed by less-qualified people, but it also foments justifiable resentment among those excluded, and equally justified insecurity among those preferred.

Confronting the Truth with Compassion and Courage

It is easy to follow the crowd and demand an end to fossil fuels. It is easy to blame differences in education and income on racism and demand mandatory quotas. But these are not solutions. Without apology but also without rancor, opponents of the Left must expose these contradictions and offer practical solutions.

Those who understand the unavoidable necessity for fossil-fuel development need to reject accusations of being “climate deniers” and offer forceful counterarguments using facts and logic.

Instead of carpeting the earth with windmills, invest in renewable energy research. Solve the electricity storage challenge, without which renewables have no hope of replacing conventional energy. Invest in fusion energy or biofuel that can be grown in tank farms. Support space exploration and industrialization, so energy and raw materials may be sourced from other terrestrial bodies in the solar system. Support environmentally safe extraction of minerals from the ocean floor. Recognize that fossil fuel is absolutely necessary in the short run and demand honesty from the Left, along with their allies in academia and the media.

As America becomes a multiethnic  nation, those who truly care about everyone, regardless of ethnicity, need to remind the Left of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

If the Left claims “colorblind” and “meritocracy” are “code words,” don’t just tell them to shut up. Expose their true agenda. For decades, they have spread a message of victimhood so they could keep people dependent, staff their government assistance bureaucracies, and, more recently, replace teachers in colleges and universities with grossly overpaid “diversity, inclusion, and equity” administrators.

Worst of all, their leftist dominated unions have destroyed our public schools, especially in low-income minority communities. Maybe they should fix that before they keep on screaming “racism” at every failure they encounter.

The fate of all humanity, not just that of America, depends on debunking these two fundamental premises of the Left, both of which are easily contradicted by facts. Doing so will eventually doom the Left to irrelevance. Not doing so, on the other hand, dooms us all.

First Principles

The Lights of Hanukkah and Christmas

May the light deliver us from the darkness of pride, arrogance, and hate.

The lights of Hanukkah and Christmas reveal themselves in both the ratio of a spiral and the golden ratio of the curves of a candle. The lights shine from the gold of a candelabra and the glory of a chosen people. The lights shine unto all people, guiding a path to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

The lights allow us to work, to continue the work of God here on Earth, so we may make gentle the life of this world. 

The work is ours alone to do, not because it is a rite necessary to enter the world to come, but because it is true and righteous altogether. 

The work taxes the soul—the work tests the spirit—even when the labor is easy because the work is a constant struggle against doubt. 

The work is a testament of hope, not certainty, because the man who thinks he knows everything is too blind to see the smallest speck or the biggest beam. He shields his eyes from the dangers of the Sun but refuses to open his eyes to the divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He sees the light of the universe, but refuses to search for the light of providence.

Blind to religion, the man of reason is just as devout as the man who is deaf to all religions except his own. 

He is a Gentile who believes there is no salvation for Jews. He is a Protestant who believes there is no reprieve for Catholics. He is a Muslim who believes there is no redemption for Christians and Jews. He hears what he wants to hear: the sound of his own voice echoing across a dead sea of nothingness.

May the light deliver us from the darkness of pride, arrogance, and hate. God bless us, every one!

First Principles

Agenda Moms and Child Martyrs

Like too many children today, Greta Thunberg has become a martyr for her parents’ cause.

Greta Thunberg, the world’s most polarizing young activist, has found herself in stormy seas lately.

In some ways, Thunberg seems undeniably impressive—having successfully channeled the most crippling features of her autism spectrum disorder to speak with authority on the climate crisis. After being named Time‘s “Person of the Year,” Greta seemed at her zenith as the youthful face of the School Strike for Climate movement. She was in Turin, Italy, addressing a large crowd that had come to her press conference, when—in a radical departure from her usual nation-shaming speeches—she uttered what was perceived as a call to violence against world leaders.

“We will have to put them against a wall” Thunberg thundered. “They will have to do their job!” The apparent dog whistle generated a swift backlash, much of it from a previously fawning media.

Forty-eight hours later, Thunberg apologized for her remark. Then she announced she would be taking a “break” from her activism for an indeterminate time. Many critics applauded her unceremonious exit from the stage. While one can’t be sure her stepping back was voluntary, the remarks that led up to her departure certainly weren’t a mistranslation, either. (Thunberg’s second language is English.)

Ultimately questions surrounding what led to Thunberg’s impolitic remark become irrelevant. At the moment, Thunberg is no longer of use to those entities behind her movement. So, for a while anyway, there will be no more yacht trips, no adulation from throngs of people around the world.

One wonders how a 16-year-old girl with a diagnosed developmental disorder absorbs and processes that kind of rejection so close on the heels of adulation. For that matter, how would any child?

Remember Joan of Arc

Like too many children today, Thunberg has become a martyr for her parents’ cause. Opera singer mother Malena Ernman and actor father Svante Thunberg were both coping with careers in decline when their then 11-year-old daughter’s Asperger’s Syndrome impaired her ability to function. Both had been active in Sweden’s leftist causes.

Two books and a couple of world tours later, and magically Greta was heralded a saint of the environment, her proud parents glowing from the sidelines. Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaids Tale, described her as the Joan of Arc of the environment during a November 1 podcast of “The Extinction Rebellion.” Atwood’s description could not have been more tragically apt. An unwavering commitment to virtue, even a secular and controversial one, carries the risk of extreme sacrifice.

For comparison: The Maid of Orléans was burned at the stake in 1431. The French heroine had been captured by Anglo-Burgundians shortly after she saw King Charles VII ascend to the throne, thanks in no part to her military victories. In a spectacular display of ingratitude, and fearful of Joan’s growing power, Charles refused to negotiate for her release from his opponents. Abandoned by her own sovereign, Joan faced her fiery execution bravely. She is said to have uttered “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” as the flames enveloped her.

If Thunberg’s superpower is her autism diagnosis, Joan’s source of strength was the angelic voices she frequently heard. But as Thunberg just learned, these supposed mystical abilities could not save her from the machinations of adults advancing their own interests. Joan was 16 when she led her regiment into Orléans; by 19 she was dead. Thunberg should consider herself lucky.

Child Conscripts for Grown-Up Political Fights

Thunberg is a proxy for adults who are not brave enough to fight their own battles. Her youth and disability make it tough to criticize her without seeming to be bullying. Trump would have been wiser to direct his mocking criticism toward her parents. As a teenage girl, Trump is quite right that she should be at movies, reading books, and most importantly, going to school.

Greta’s parents, reputedly linked to Antifa, have had her pose in a t-shirt that promoted the violent anarchist organization. The photo was widely circulated. After receiving blowback, they claimed the photo was doctored, but made no such claim when their own photos, with them wearing identical shirts, surfaced later. Thunberg is too young to grasp that wearing an Antifa shirt is different from wearing a shirt promoting a favorite band.

Now that Thunberg’s advocacy is detrimental to Antifa’s cause, what will her support of that group mean for her future?

In our overly politicized society, “Agenda Moms” are quickly assuming the role once held by stage mothers. Sometimes they are one and the same.

For all the criticism and ridicule Melania Trump receives, she is a contrasting example of a conscientious mother. While President Trump’s adult children are more than capable of defending themselves, 13-year-old Barron is not. Melania knows this. She intervenes, as a mother should, when necessary. Children are not to be mercenaries for adult ideology.

Nor are parents the only ones who press children into service in this way. After the Parkland shooting, schools all over the country encouraged students to join in “The National School Walk-Out” in support of gun control.

Clearly, many teachers abused their in loco parentis authority. Children too young even to know about the Second Amendment or why it is in the Constitution were making placards they could not yet read. Many others “walked out” with little or no formal instruction beyond the opinions of their teachers (and the knowledge that skipping class in this instance was encouraged rather than punished).

Neutrality in the classroom is no longer the norm, and it is becoming commonplace for a parent to call a school district over political diatribes and electioneering in courses not even tangentially related to the subject matter.

Provocative Statements, Appalling Attacks

The exploitation, conscious or unconscious, of children for political agendas is not limited to the Left. Some of the president’s supporters can be called out as well, for using their children as surrogates.

Case in point: a video showing the violent beating of a 14-year-old boy, allegedly for wearing a MAGA cap to school on November 21 of this year, went viral. The child’s mother released the video on the advice of her attorney after the school district failed and the district attorney likewise refused to charge more than a misdemeanor for an assault so severe that the boy had to be hospitalized. The attack was appalling, and many were angered that the school’s tepid response might empower further attacks on Trump supporters and their children.

But that was not the end of it. Not long after, a Trump-supporting mother posted a public complaint on Facebook that because she wore a MAGA cap to the school pickup line, other mothers wouldn’t invite her son to play dates anymore.

Her motive is suspect. She is free to support the president; nevertheless, a sensitive parent would think twice about so vocally doing so in a school setting, because the impact on a child is all too predictable. Adults can assess choices and consequences, and should be capable of self-defense. A 14-year-old or a preschooler is not, nor should a child be forced to bear the consequences of an adult’s lack of self-awareness. The MAGA cap, like it or not, is a provocative statement often worn precisely to elicit the attention it gets.

Where Is Child Protective Services?

Children are natural magnets for attention. This magnetism is seductive for parents. The attention a child receives can create a glow in which parents are all too happy themselves to bask.  In our overly politicized society, “Agenda Moms” are quickly assuming the role once held by stage mothers. Sometimes they are one and the same.

Prepubescent drag queen Desmond Napoles was the toast of New York City in 2018. Billed as “Desmond Is Amazing,” he performed on several morning talk shows. He was interviewed and praised by local media and by much of the LGBTQ community.

During his time in New York, he was videotaped at a Brooklyn gay bar, 3 Dollar Bill, dancing as Gwen Stefani. He wears a crop top, a blond wig, and heavy makeup. He gyrates in a stilted manner. The adult men in the bar hoot, throw money, and applaud almost too enthusiastically for comfort.

Let’s stop enabling the substitution of adult agendas for adult responsibility and common sense.

Desmond’s mother, Wendylou Napoles, repeatedly has claimed that Desmond is autistic. He was 11 when the Brooklyn video was recorded. During a “Good Morning America” interview, his answers appeared scripted: rife with buzzwords about artistic expression and being a representative of the gay community. Wendylou and her husband do not work: Their sole source of income is their 12-year-old son. Desmond has been performing in drag since he was 8. His mother claims that drag helps him cope with “autism’s symptoms.”

The Daily Wire called out the abuse, and hundreds of concerned people called Child Protective Services. Ben Shapiro’s criticism is right on point: Had this been a little girl, the parents would be in jail.

Astonishingly, despite the outcry, CPS would not stand against New York’s powerful LGBTQ community, which showered Desmond (and his parents) with praise. It was a sobering reminder that self-appointed leaders of political movements do not always represent the true best interests of all their members and that our government can and will fail in its most critically important role of protecting the weak whenever politics trump basic common sense and humanity.

In June, convicted pedophile Tom Carroll applauded Desmond’s erotically charged performances and made sexual comments on his blog. Wendylou pretended to be appalled and incredulous that a pedophile would sexualize her son even though she and her husband choreograph his lewd performances and write the suggestive jokes he tells. Autism advocates have shamefully remained silent, even as Wendylou posted photographs on the “Desmond Is Amazing” website—photos that include convicted murderer and former “Club Kid” Michael Alig. Desmond’s exploitation should have merited a protective agencies intervention long ago.

Children Don’t Need to be Weaponized

One of the joys of parenthood is that of occasionally getting to live vicariously through your children. But as parents, we need to remember that the responsibility of caring for children supersedes the joy of our reflected glory. In this emotionally charged climate, personal political beliefs seem to be trumping our parental instincts.

If adults have trouble distinguishing personal identity from ideology, why do we think children can?

Political action committees and political organizations, much like the entertainment industry, have only one objective: the promotion, profit, and advancement of their short and long-term goals. Political agendas make lousy security blankets and teddy bears.

Let’s stop enabling the substitution of adult agendas for adult responsibility and common sense. Children need unconditional love and the firmly grounded guidance of their parents and guardians who are charged, above all things, with protecting them. What they don’t need is to be politically weaponized by the very people who should stand tall between them and exploitation—especially as the nation heads into what seems likely to be the most contentious and potentially violent election year in our history.

First Principles

How Christianity Transformed Political Life

The season of Advent anticipates not only Christmas Day but the return of Christ. Requiting that eternal, personal love for a fallen humanity is our ultimate earthly purpose.

William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is a play as complex as it is dark. Nonetheless it is a comedy as well as a dazzling drama—full of both horror and humor, with a happy ending. Attempting to condense its subtleties does no justice to the lessons its audience learns as they experience the range of emotions and prospects for tragedy and salvation of its central players. As political philosopher Harry V. Jaffa observed, “Shakespeare is Plato writing after Christianity.”

Just by focusing on the 45 lines of Act I, scene 1, we can anticipate how the rest of the play teaches us about the way Christianity transformed political and personal life. Christianity’s transcendent, otherworldly goals for human life forced a reevaluation of political life that risked a kind of fanaticism—the longing for a Heaven on Earth that might produce a Hell on Earth. For what Shakespeare presents is an ancient world that longs for something more than the pagan gods they worship and the realm of brutal, tyrannical politics.

The title The Winter’s Tale reminds us of Christmas. We anticipate a joyful play about the celebration of Christmas, the birth of Jesus. I once saw a performance whose musical accompaniment throughout was “Amazing Grace.”

The tragicomedy opens in Sicily with a genial conversation between two leading politicians of Bohemia and Sicily: Which country offers the most pleasing entertainment for its guests? The King of Bohemia has been visiting his childhood friend, the King of Sicily for nine months. While decades of political duties separated them, they kept in touch through correspondence and ambassadors.

One would assume the play is about contemporary Bohemia and Sicily. For Shakespeare’s audience these two nations raise pressing religious issues. Central Europe’s Bohemia is the late 14th century birthplace of the Protestant Reformation, some 150 years before Martin Luther. The island of Sicily is a Catholic kingdom, whose Mediterranean location places it in the path of an expanding Muslim empire.

In 1571, some 40 years before the play’s first performance, Christian navies, some based in Sicily, defeated Muslim forces in the decisive Battle of Lepanto, saving Italy from Muslim invasion. These two kingdoms are at the heart of world-historical political and religious conflicts—Protestant versus Catholic, Christian unity versus Muslim expansion, the West versus the East. For an Englishman, the situation is perplexing—he might be a member of the Church of England, an enemy (or adherent) of the Pope, one who recalls the terror of the Spanish Armada of 1588, or someone who even sees Islam as a balance against Spanish Papists.

The visiting Bohemian praises Sicily’s young prince Mamillius (about age 7) as, “a gentleman of the greatest promise that ever came into my note.” The Sicilian responds that “they that went on crutches ere he was born desire yet their life to see him a man.” The King has a worthy successor, but even more is portended by these words.

Here is the first biblical reference of many that fill the play: a clear parallel of the Sicilians with the elderly and devout Simeon and prophetess Anna at Mary and Joseph’s presentation of the baby Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:25ff.): “And it was revealed unto [Simeon] by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Moreover, Simeon prophesies to Mary, his mother, “this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against. (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

The Sicilian sets us up for a tale of a Christ-like young man who will fulfill the hopes of the Kingdom, but then the play begins to confuse us. This is not contemporary Europe, with all its tensions and terrors. Instead, we find ourselves in a pagan world in which Christianity is marginal if at all present. This is a Winter’s Tale without a Christmas. And some of the main players are far worse than Scrooge.

Mamillius strikes one more as a Young Sheldon than young Jesus in the Temple. Far worse, his father is a mad and jealous tyrant, who, suspecting adultery, orders his boyhood friend the King of Sicily assassinated while also ordering his wife and newborn daughter whom he insists is a bastard thrown into fire.

The Bohemian flees, taking the King’s counselor with him. Urged for clemency, the King relents and commands that the babe be sent out of the kingdom and left to its fate on some foreign shore. Then he insists on a public trial of the Queen (who is Russian royalty) for treason and adultery. This is a Christmas Story with only Herod and the Slaughter of Innocents, and Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus that emphasizes the Savior’s dubious antecedent foreign female ancestors (Matthew 1:1-18).

Seeking to justify his rage by appeal to the Delphic Oracle, the King is thrown into further frenzy when the Oracle declares him a tyrant, the Queen innocent, and the King doomed to die without an heir. After first cursing the gods, he then repents of his outrages, after hearing the shocking announcement that his grieving son is dead and seeing his Queen drop dead before him at the show trial he demanded.

In the meantime, one of the King’s loyalists sorrowfully deposits the baby, together with gold and her name, Perdita (“the lost one”), on the faraway shore of Bohemia. The loyalist is attacked and eaten by a bear, but Perdita is rescued by a peasant and his son.

The second half of the play begins in Bohemia, 17 years later. It is as fantastically comical and musical as the first is barbarically tragic and austere. Romance, gaiety, a sheep-shearing festival, and one of the slyest villains of Shakespeare, the witty petty thief (and minstrel) Autolycus entertain us. Perdita, who apparently knows nothing of her origins, has grown into a stunning young woman, a shepherdess who wins the heart of the son of the King of Bohemia.

We see dialogue and action concerning reconciliation, betrayal and loyalty, nature and bastards, superstition and true religion, eternal life, and resurrection—all illumined by the highest form of love—or agape—that is only hinted at. The model human is no longer the ancient world’s cunning thievery of Autolycus (the name of Odysseus’ father) but the loving thievery of Christ, who stole away the sins of the world and was crucified between two thieves.

The Winter’s Tale depicts a pagan world governed by irrationality—and thus not ruled at all—and by swings between brutality and sensual pleasure that long for a purer world that the love of the everliving God prepares us for on earth and in heaven.

The season of Advent anticipates not only Christmas Day but the return of Christ. Requiting that eternal, personal love for a fallen humanity is our ultimate earthly purpose. Without consciousness of that personal debt we cannot govern our lives and truly be free from the tyranny ruling our souls or from the tyranny that comes from other men. We cannot otherwise be self-governing.

Shakespeare brings his audience into his story so that he may lead it. ultimately, toward the only greater story. This purpose is disclosed by the key figure Paulina, who exercises control over both the King and Queen of Sicily: “It is required/You do awake your faith . . . .”

First Principles

The Death of Meritocracy

Call me whatever you like. I know who I am. Merit is the great equalizer.

The myriad of accusations, epithets, and insults flying around the media lately has caused me to ponder how our publicly expressed values seem to be changing. Perhaps this is driven mainly by the Twitterati, the pandering politicians, the universities, and the media. Perhaps, the vast majority still hold to their “quaint” ideas about ethics even if kept to themselves. I hope so.

Merit, which I define to include character, achievement, capability, and attitude, seems to be taking a distant back seat to identity. It is no longer defensible solely to judge people on merit because any disliked result as it applies to identity seems to have become “ist”—racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-anything.

Look no further for an example than New York Mayor Bill De Blasio’s push to eliminate the purely merit-based admissions test for their specialized high schools.

Today, there is a substantial body of people who stand ready to condemn those who choose to embrace merit to the exclusion of identity. To my mind, that is undermining the very essence of what has made this country great.

Merit is the great leveler. Merit allows for social and economic mobility. This is not to say that selective assistance to those disadvantaged by forces beyond their control is wrong. Some of the factors defining merit are innate, but proper education and counseling can elevate individuals well past some limitations of nature or circumstance.

But merit is still critical to many pursuits in life. In 1970, Senator Roman Hruska of Nebraska urged his colleagues to confirm Richard Nixon’s nomination of G. Harrold Carswell to the U.S. Supreme Court. Responding to criticism that Carswell had been a mediocre judge, Hruska argued:

Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeis, Frankfurters and Cardozos.

I suspect most people find that reasoning idiotic at best. A Supreme Court justice is not quite the same as your local dry cleaner.

I grew up in a solidly middle-class family in New York City. We lived in a rent-controlled apartment and did not want for any essentials. My father was a salesman. I was born with an innate aptitude for math and science; just the luck of the draw and genetics. My parents, well aware of the importance of a good education, took me to a test for what we would now call a magnet elementary school. I did well and attended there from kindergarten to sixth grade. My performance there got me admission to an excellent private secondary school. My mother went to work as a public-school teacher to finance my attendance.

From there, the program at my school and my achievements in math and science earned me a ticket to one of the truly elite technical universities. I obtained two degrees with distinction, went on to business school, and pursued a career that included three tracks: information technology, consulting, and venture capital. I am now retired. Bottom line: I received no special assistance, not even scholarships. I earned what I obtained.

Throughout my schooling, I had a number of minority classmates but never much considered that there was any significance to that. As with any classes, there were more and less gifted students, more and less motivated students, and different personalities and attitudes. During my career I feel comfortable asserting that my focus was entirely on merit and not identity. I often had an extremely diverse set of colleagues; as an investor we worked on deals throughout the world. I had investments in a half-dozen companies led by women CEOs.

Yet some would label me a racist (though probably not a sexist) because I do not hold a pie-in-the-sky view of different populations as equally capable or suited to maximize individuals’ potential. In other words, I can judge any individual by his or her merits, but do not subscribe to the theory that there are no genetic or cultural differences among groups. My judgments may be incorrect, but I am entitled to them in the abstract. I submit that the same applies to most Americans when given a chance.

Demonizing people who have opinions about racial, ethnic, or sexual groups is not only wrong, it is highly counterproductive. This is not to say that it is wrong to expect that nobody allows those opinions to significantly impact their interpersonal interactions in destructive ways. But it is to assert that a benefit of the doubt is due to people absent any bigoted action.

I deny being racist, simply because I believe that we have a domestic black culture that is too permissive with regards to out-of-wedlock births and absent fathers. I deny being racist, just because I believe that too many Asian families put too much pressure on children, even though the positive results are quite evident. I deny being racist, just because I believe the “N” word is totally permissible in an educational context. I deny being racist because I believe the concept of “white privilege” is itself racist because of its broad and blind brush. I could go on.

The worst part about flinging around epithets such as racist and sexist is that demotivates progress. If people felt appreciated for their open attitudes when dealing on a person-to-person basis, they would not be hesitant to engage for fear of later being attacked.

The excesses of the #MeToo movement clearly have erected barriers between colleagues of the opposite sex. Whatever happened to a simple “please don’t do that anymore” that generally solves most problems? Some people don’t get hired for fear they will sue for discrimination even in the face of poor performance.

By not acknowledging and addressing the cultural issues, especially with inner-city blacks, the teachers’ unions maintain a grip on the anti-charter school movement when there is clear evidence of the demand for charters and the frequent success they achieve. Would the unions be as influential if they were (plausibly) labeled racist for denying opportunities to blacks? The voices that are taking an objective look at the situation are too often silenced for fear of being demonized for speaking the truth.

Call me whatever you like. I know who I am. I can differentiate between a group and an individual. I can see issues that seriously affect the statistical distribution of merit levels within a group. But they should be a call for action, not a basis for condemning those who see them. We had best not let Twitter or the talking heads on TV deal meritocracy a fatal blow in the name of identity. Merit is the great equalizer.

First Principles

We Must Not Ignore Christian Persecution

Editor’s note: The following are remarks delivered on November 26 to the 2nd International Conference on Christian Persecution in Budapest, Hungary. The mission of the event is “to find answers and solutions to the most neglected humanitarian and civilizational crisis of our time.”

Dear Mister President, I am here to say thank you for what you and your government have done to help Christianity. Hungary is the first country within the European Union that has actively promoted Christian based human rights.

This means most and above all, the protection of human life from conception to death. It also means the protection of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, the protection of the family, and of religious freedom.

Hungary is also, one hopes, not the only country in the European Union that has a targeted program to help Christians around the world and especially, Christians from the Middle East.

It is quite frustrating to us that we don’t hear of any such programs in our own rich countries.

The way priorities have shifted is very worrying. No one seems to take the streets for religious freedom and peace anymore.

The West seems to be more worried about global warming and animal life. But where have we come to, if plants and animals are more valued than human beings?

Even the Pope has declared a climate emergency! Of course, we all want to live in a healthy environment, but how can we accept and tolerate the most atrocious artificial proceedings, when it comes to our own species?

What on earth is more unnatural, unhealthy and traumatizing than hormone treatments for egg harvesting in surrogate moms for surrogate children? Or the traumatizing procedures for sex changes? What could possibly be more unnatural or unhealthy to body and soul than ripping babies to pieces to get them out of their mother’s womb? And the horrible practice of euthanasia happening in Europe today? All this while we insist on eating organic food?

We all know which countries have absolutely no problem, even with research seeking to manipulate the human germ line or genome.

This is not organic, this is barbaric, and it is absolutely unacceptable and incompatible with Christian morality. This is another form of Christian persecution.

Hungary, however, is standing up to this. Poland, too. And by sheer miracle, the United States under Donald Trump and Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro have abandoned the culture of death and are also promoting Christian-based human rights. We must hope and pray that other country leaders will take courage and follow their lead.

Long live Hungary and praise our blessed Mother Mary, praise Saint Stephen the patron of this country, and long live President Orban and all the political leaders who have put their career into service to save Christianity.

First Principles

Leninism: The Highest Stage of Progressivism

As the talk of socialism becomes more widespread on the Left, particularly within Democratic party politics, and as anger at President Trump boils over, the advocacy of political scientists will become even clearer: first, Progressivism, then socialism, and ultimately, Leninism.

Everyone knows the universities are on the political Left. Political science is part of that problem, though it isn’t nearly as corrupt as some other disciplines. While many professors hold their partisan biases close, those inclinations all too often appear in curricula and scholarship and inevitably reach the classroom.

A contrary example both of the theory and practice of politics, because its focus is on advancing the principles of the Declaration of Independence, are the panels and scholarship sponsored by the Claremont Institute—recently honored at the White House with the National Humanities Medal.

So Claremont has its work cut out for it. How far will the  Left take political science? We all know as well, when the political Left wants legitimacy, it does not turn to the people but to academics, as it has in the impeachment inquiry. Factions within the political science profession, bored by the dominant behaviorist and quantitative approaches to the discipline, have agitated for more connection between scholarship and its policy implications.

One example is the journal Perspectives on Politics, launched in 2003 as a publication of the American Political Science Association, the professional association of political science founded in 1903 in the midst of the Progressive era. The journal’s distinctiveness lies in its avowed “attention only on work that in some way bridges subfield and methodological divides, and tries to address a broad readership of political scientists about matters of consequence.” What this amorphous language actually means is plain: In these pages, the Left is free to indulge its pleasures and fantasies.

As the talk of socialism becomes more widespread on the Left, particularly within Democratic party politics, and as anger at President Trump boils over, the advocacy of political scientists will become even clearer: first, Progressivism, then socialism, and ultimately, Leninism.

Recently the brilliant scholar of Russian literature, Gary Saul Morson, once again illuminated the extremism of our intellectual class in his essay, “Leninthink.”  Morson reminds us that “Lenin did more than anyone else to shape the last hundred years.” That includes the intelligentsia and activists on the American Left, too: power must never be restrained by law or reason. This is why George Orwell, who knew this type well, declared, “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that . . . .”

If this doesn’t sound like all on the Left today, don’t forget, as Morson observes, “The whole point of Leninism is that only a few people must understand what is going on.”

All of this serves as a preface to considering the cover (with minimal reference to the contents) of the latest issue of Perspectives on Politics (PoP), which bears the portrait of Vladimir Ilych Lenin. Well, sort of. I had taken the artwork to be Jackson Pollock’s “Autumn Rhythm” or some variant of it and therefore appropriate for the December issue. Only in a short note is the painting identified as “Retrato de V.I Lenin en el Estilo de Jackson Pollock VII-1980 (Portrait of V.I. Lenin in the Style of Jackson Pollock VII).” Lenin lurks in the leaves.

The issue does not focus on Lenin per se, or Russia or totalitarianism. So the cover must somehow illuminate its theme: “Perspectival Political Theory.” The artwork and contents are related in a couple of ways: The author or artist, “Art & Language,” is a collaborative project, as is the Perspectives’ perspective on political science’s mission. The Spanish museum where the original painting hangs recalls the Spanish Civil War’s struggle between Communism and fascism. As for the artwork itself, I can only speculate, as “Saturday Night Live’s” Fr. Guido Sarducci did on his search for popes in a pizza.

Is this the sheen off Vladimir Ilych’s dome? Are those the corpses of Tsar Alexandria and his family? Stalin’s mustache? Do we experience the soiling of pants fright at a machine gun aimed at us? Or is the “portrait” a kind of chaos that is brought to order by the steely will of its subject?

For all this speculation, we need not speculate at all about the contents of the journal, which emphasizes the “pluralism” of political theory approaches. “[O]ur philosophical view is close to Nietzsche’s,” the editors claim. They cite his On the Genealogy of Morals: “There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective ‘knowing’ . . . .” (Emphasis in original.)

Articles on “perspectival political theory” include “Reparations for Police Killings” and “Peace as a Minor, Grounded Utopia.” Good to know that open-minded professor Nietzsche, beloved of the Nazis, was open to pacifism or Weimar. But then I didn’t think that Lenin was either. Evidently Leninists are now welcome among their perspectives but still not Straussians.

The editors of PoP see no irony in their dogmatic relativism.

Thus, two recent issues of PoP devoted to the “Causes and Consequences” of Trump are predictable views of deplorable political science. (One exception is this article, “Building a Conservative State: Partisan Polarization and the Redeployment of Administrative Power,” whose co-authors include Sidney Milkis and Desmond King. They argue that Trump is building a conservative version of the administrative state, not deconstructing it. One problem is that they overlook the consequences of Trump’s judicial appointments. No portrait of Trump appears on the cover of either issue—only a photo of the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., and a festooned campaign hat of a Trump supporter—albeit with no MAGA or America First in sight. It makes more sense to turn to John Marini or Michael Anton, both reflecting the political science of the Claremont Institute.

But I digress from the object of contemplation, this portrait of Lenin “in the style of Jackson Pollock.” And here may lie another lesson, brought out by Louis Menand’s reminder of the role of Pollock in the CIA’s attempt to bolster western intellectuals against the Communists.

As elites chose sides in the Cold War, the CIA eagerly put on tour artists and intellectuals of a leftist bent to show intellectuals abroad that America was open to people of their tribe. Menand explains how someone might rationalize this collaboration: “Abstract Expressionism stood for autonomy: the autonomy of art, freed from its obligation to represent the world, or the freedom of the individual—just the principles that the United States was defending in the worldwide struggle.” Menand recounts a more sensible way to reflect on art:

Thomas Hart Benton, the leader of what was known as “American Scene painting,” and a populist who hoped to make American painting as prestigious as Europe’s. Benton left New York in 1935 and returned to Missouri. He thought that the East Coast art establishment had been taken over by Communists. “Communism is a joke everywhere in the United States except New York,” he said. This was not the sort of artist the cultural Cold Warriors went out of their way to promote. His Americanism was much too pure.

Not on account of any “Americanism,” I doubt that the CIA is currently subsidizing the American Political Science Association, as it did Jackson Pollock. Why would it need to? After all, the logic of the administrative state commends collusion against enemies of the Left, as we see with the current events in Congress.

First Principles

The Foundations of the ‘Administrative/Deep State’

Reversing the administrative state will take a major effort. Recognizing that it exists and that it is not merely unconstitutional but in fact anti-constitutional is at least a beginning.

We hear a great deal these days about the “deep state,” especially as it applies to the Trump Administration. The president’s supporters use the term to describe the entrenched federal bureaucracy and what they believe to be its efforts to derail the president’s policies. Until recently, the president’s critics have dismissed the idea of a deep state as a crazy right-wing conspiracy.

But, in fact, the deep state is a particularly virulent form of the “administrative state,” which has been described by such scholars as John Marini, Ronald Prestritto, and Paul Moreno as a perversion of constitutional self-government. Essentially a “state within a state,” it substitutes rulemaking by unelected bureaucrats for legislation passed according to the constitutional process.

The administrative state is far more than the permanent bureaucracy about which many Americans complain: a realm of wastefulness, inefficiency, and red-tape. It is a “fourth branch of government” that fits nowhere within the scheme of the Constitution as understood by its authors. It is enabled by Congress’s unconstitutional delegation of its legislative powers to the executive, leading to the creation of the pestilent “alphabet agencies” that plague American life.

The Very Definition of Tyranny

Embracing the idea that the only legitimate government is one based on the consent of the governed, the Founders believed that a law could obligate citizens only if a constitutionally established legislature elected by the people passed it, and that a judicial decision could obligate citizens only if a constitutionally appointed judge exercising independent judgment rendered it. But entities such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) make their own rules, enforce them, and then adjudicate disputes.

In Federalist 47, James Madison wrote that the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judicial, in the same hands “may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” It was to avoid this dangerous accumulation of power in a single branch that the Founders embedded separation of powers in the Constitution. But by exercising executive, legislative and judicial powers, these administrative agencies are constitutional anomalies that violate the separation of powers.

The administrative state is the legacy of Progressives such as Woodrow Wilson, who rejected the Declaration of Independence as the cornerstone of American Republican government and the Founders’ view that the only purpose of government is to protect the natural rights of its citizens. Instead, the Progressives embraced the idea that the purpose of government is to ameliorate the human condition; they saw the Founders’ Constitution as a hindrance to this enterprise.

In pursuit of their goal, the Progressives sought to separate “politics,” the realm of ends, from “administration,” the realm of means. But in doing so, they replaced the Founders’ limited conception of politics with an essentially unlimited one.

Government By the Experts, For the Experts

Meanwhile, the actual administration of governmental affairs was to be entrusted to scientifically trained and disinterested experts, insulated from political pressure. Of course, in practice, the “neutral” and “disinterested” experts within the “independent” bureaucratic agencies soon became active agents for particular interests and ideological impulses, mainly client groups of the Democratic Party.

Ironically, as Philip Hamburger has shown in his remarkable book, Is Administrative Law Unlawful?, the Progressives’ view was in fact reactionary, reaching backward rather than forward. He shows that the institutions of the administrative state essentially are the equivalent of royal prerogative commissions and tribunals such as the Star Chamber and High Commission established by King James I.

Although the most complete description of the administrative state is to be found in the work of such political philosophers as Marini, Prestritto, and Moreno, the workings of the administrative state can be discerned in the disciplines of economics and public policy. In the former, the standard narrative held that while individuals in the private sector were motivated by the incentive of profit, those in the public sector were motivated by altruism and selfless service to the common good. Thus, during the recent impeachment hearings, a caravan of government officials, whose job it is to advise the president and then implement his policies, were portrayed as disinterested heroes, who see it as their duty to save the republic from the president in the name of the “policy community.”

But the public choice school of economics, especially James Buchanan, upended this notion half a century ago, illustrating that individuals in the public sector also respond to incentives, albeit bureaucratic ones that differ from those in the private sector. Promotions, honors, the victory of one’s agency over another are major sources of individual motivation in the public sector.

Acute Danger to Republican Government

In the realm of public policy, the spawn of the Progressives’ political science, we see how bureaucratic decision-making leads to suboptimal outcomes, even if the bureaucrats do not purposely set out to undercut the president’s policies. Graham Allison provided the classic treatment of government decision-making in Essence of Decision, his study of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Why did the United States and the Soviet Union behave the way they did? Especially in the case of the United States, why did certain elements of the government act in ways that seemed to undercut the policy preferences of President Kennedy and his close advisors?

Here Allison showed how the dominant decision-making model, the “rational actor” model—which treats the government as a unitary actor that examines a set of goals, evaluates them according to their utility, then chooses the one that has the highest “payoff”—didn’t explain the actual behavior of the players. He then offered two alternatives that disaggregated decision-making: the “organizational process” model; and the “governmental politics” model.

In the former, decision-makers break down a problem and assign its parts to subordinate decision-makers according to pre-established organizational lines. Then, rather than evaluating all possible courses of action to see which one is most likely to work, leaders settle on the first proposal that adequately addresses the issue from the standpoint of the various government agencies and organizations. Thus, decisions tend to focus on the short term and result in a sub-optimal result.

In the latter model, leaders, even if they share a goal, differ among themselves as to how best to achieve it because of such factors as personal interests and background. In other words, “where one stands is based on where one sits.” As a result, even the president must gain a consensus with his underlings or risk having his order misunderstood or, in some cases, ignored.

Thus both economics and public policy reinforce the idea that parts of the government act in their bureaucratic interest rather than in the general interest, which is the essence of the administrative state. The danger that the administrative state poses to republican self-government is acute. It is more suited to a government of unlimited powers and tyranny than to a government of limited powers and freedom.

What accounts for the rise of the administrative state? There is plenty of blame to go around. Citizens have been willing to exchange their liberty and independence for entitlements, the “soft despotism” that Alexis de Tocqueville foresaw in Democracy in America. Congress has abdicated its constitutional authority to legislate. The courts no longer distinguish between the administration of a law clearly written by Congress and the wholesale delegation of lawmaking powers to the alphabet agencies.

Reversing the administrative state will take a major effort. Recognizing that it exists and that it is not merely unconstitutional but in fact anti-constitutional is at least a beginning.

First Principles

President Trump Did the Right Thing with the Dreamers.
Will the Supreme Court?

Too often the courts have deferred to executive branch officials, acting through the administrative state—or “the swamp,” as President Trump likes to call it. That may be about to change.

If one president decides that he has the power to suspend the application of a law, when he clearly has no such right, may his successor, by an executive decree, reverse his predecessor’s decision? This question, ridiculous as it sounds, is now actually before the United States Supreme Court, and will be resolved by a decision, probably this June.

The precise point at issue is President Obama’s announcement on June 15, 2012 of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Obama took executive action following Congress’s failure, once again, to pass the so-called DREAM Act, which would have given illegal aliens who arrived in the United States as children certain privileges, including a path to citizenship. The president took action even after conceding he had no legitimate constitutional power to do so.

Anyone who knows anything about the separation of powers in our Constitution understands that it is supposed to be the job of the legislature to legislate (Article I, section 1 provides that “[a]ll legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States”), and that of the president to carry out the laws as the legislature has written them. The Constitution explicitly states in Article II, section 3 that the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

The nation’s immigration laws, at the time President Obama issued his order, clearly mandated that children brought into this country in violation of the statutes were subject to deportation, along with the adults who brought them. But the president claimed that just as prosecutors may choose what offenders to pursue, he had the right, as head of the executive branch, to declare, in substance, that a certain class of offenders simply would be exempt from some provisions of the immigration laws.

To objective observers—and at least one lower federal court—this looked more like a failure to “take care,” or a presidential claim of an ability to ignore statutes, than prosecutorial discretion, which is generally only applied in individual cases.

One British King, James II, lost his throne in 1688 because he claimed the power to dispense with certain Acts of Parliament, and the Constitution’s “take care” clause was an American guarantee that this would not happen in this country.

Unfortunately, in our degraded age, this ancient Anglo-American tradition, and the Constitution’s mandate of separation of powers, have seriously eroded. It is now lamentably typical that executive branch officials, acting through administrative agencies—what Republicans often refer to as the “deep state,” what President Trump calls the “swamp,” and what scholars denote as the “administrative state”—are usurping the legislative role, and too often the courts have deferred to them.

This may be about to change. Neil Gorsuch, one of President Trump’s two appointments to the Supreme Court, has written a book powerfully arguing that the courts should rein in the agencies and restore our heritage of the separation of powers. Gorsuch quotes the famous words of James Madison, one of the nation’s most influential founders, who in Federalist 47 maintained that “[n]o political truth is” more important to “liberty” than the separation of powers because the “accumulation of” power “in the same hands” inevitably leads to “tyranny.”

This timeless political truth was understood by the constitutional scholar David Bernstein, when, considering President Obama’s actions on DACA and his many other similarly suspect executive orders, Bernstein simply branded the Obama Administration “lawless.”

So degraded, however, has our jurisprudence become, that there is no assurance the Supreme Court will allow President Trump to exercise what ought to be his legitimate constitutional duty to set the law straight.

The proponents of upholding President Obama’s dubious action here have argued, not without at least some reason, that in the years since DACA was put into place, the “Dreamers” have acted in reliance on what the last president did. They have been secure in their residence here, the argument goes, and it would be unfair now to remove from them the protected status of the immigration laws they have enjoyed.

There are also some highly technical arguments that what President Trump sought to do in reversing Obama’s actions did not fully comply with some nuances in the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), given there was not a lengthy and lucid explanation of all the considerations involved, and why precisely the choice was made to cancel Obama’s program. Still, given that President Trump merely sought to carry out the directives of the Constitution itself, it is difficult to believe that the APA could (you’ll pardon the expression) trump that.

Nevertheless, arcane procedural moves have had some appeal for Chief Justice John Roberts, who now has a record not only of upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) on dubious grounds, but also of denying to President Trump the power to ask a question on the census regarding legal immigration status, because he and the Court’s four liberals believed that the president’s motives were not as stated.

The chief justice has suggested President Trump is wrong to claim that American judges are anything other than objective. But on this point—the ideological bias of judges—the president is clearly right, and Roberts himself has been nothing if not ultimately political in some of his actions.

The four remaining progressives on the court, the two justices appointed by President Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, and the two appointed by President Obama, Sonia Sotomayor and Elene Kagan, are all believers, as was Obama, in what they have called the “living constitution”—the notion that the document’s meaning ought to shift with the times, and should accord with “evolving standards of decency,” that have been interpreted, generally, to coincide with the political program of progressives.

DACA was a part of that program. And, indeed, so is a lax enforcement of immigration laws, if not open borders itself. There likely will be four votes on the Supreme Court, motivated by progressive ideology, for preventing President Trump from overruling President Obama.

There are three champions of the rule of law and the original understanding of the Constitution still on the court: Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, and we can expect them to uphold President Trump’s action.

Where Roberts and the newest Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, will come out is more difficult to predict. Roberts will likely do what he thinks is in the court’s long-term institutional interest, and, as he did with Obamacare, he may seek to avoid a political controversy that would ensue if these minor undocumented immigrants (the Dreamers) are repudiated. Kavanaugh, who tends more than does Gorsuch to the upholding of the administrative state, might join the chief justice in that endeavor.

Or maybe not. President Trump, defying his anti-immigration erstwhile supporters such as Ann Coulter, has announced that he is very much amenable to working out a legislative deal for the Dreamers, and in doing so he has at least demonstrated his higher regard for separation of powers than that possessed by President Obama.

Knowing that the current president plans to defer to the legislature and not make law himself, perhaps Roberts and Kavanaugh (and maybe even one or two of the liberal justices) will, in the end, prove faithful to the Constitution, uphold what President Trump has done, and return the power to make laws to the legislature where it belongs.

First Principles

Praetorianism and
the ‘Deep State’

Article II gives the president sweeping powers to conduct foreign affairs and negotiate with leaders of other nations. It does not grant any such power to unelected bureaucrats to act in ways that demonstrate they approve or disapprove of foreign policy—even when they are “deeply troubled” by it.

Defenders of President Trump have long railed against the “deep state,” a name given to the entrenched bureaucracy working from within to bring down the Trump Administration. They point to the anonymous New York Times op-ed from September 2018, “I am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” said to be written by a “senior official in the Trump Administration,” which criticized President Trump and claimed “that many of the senior officials in [Trump’s] own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”

They point to the machinations of high ranking members of the Intelligence Community (IC), including former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and fired FBI Director James Comey, who have worked assiduously to undermine the president at every turn, and indeed even to mid-level drones such as the still-anonymous (officially) “whistleblower” who touched off the investigation of President Trump and his dealings with Ukraine, as well as Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who expressed similar concerns.

Of course, the president’s critics mocked the idea of a deep state as a crazy right-wing conspiracy theory. But they have come around now not only to admit that the deep state does exist, more importantly, they claim, it’s a good thing!  Recently, Michelle Cottle, a member of the New York Times editorial board, opined about the denizens of the deep state that “They Are Not the Resistance. They Are Not a Cabal. They Are Public Servants. Let us now praise these not-silent heroes.

“President Trump is right: The deep state is alive and well,” Cottle wrote. “But it is not the sinister, antidemocratic cabal of his fever dreams. It is, rather, a collection of patriotic public servants—career diplomats, scientists, intelligence officers, and others—who, from within the bowels of this corrupt and corrupting administration, have somehow remembered that their duty is to protect the interests, not of a particular leader, but of the American people.”

Not to be outdone, Cottle’s Times colleague, James Stewart, has recently written a book that celebrates “a federal bureaucracy dedicated to halting or slowing down President Trump’s agenda. There is a deep state. There is a bureaucracy in our country who has pledged to respect the constitution, respect the rule of law. They do not work for the president, they work for the American people.” In an interview on NBC’s “Today Show,” Stewart said, “as Comey told me . . . thank goodness for that because they are protecting the constitution and the people when individuals . . . they restrain them from crossing the boundaries of all . . . What Trump calls the deep state in the United States is protecting the American people and protecting the Constitution. It’s a positive thing.”

Do we really want to normalize the view that unelected bureaucrats are the protectors of republican government?

Recently, I wrote a column called “The Perils of Praetorianism,” noting how the opposition to President Trump has led some retired and active-duty military officers to adopt a stance that can only be described as praetorian in character. The recent New York Times op-ed by retired Admiral William McRaven is a case in point. In my own experience, I have heard military friends describe the “whistleblower” and Lt. Col. Vindman as “heroes” and “patriots” who “understand their oath.” Which oath is that? The one to the Constitution, which grants to the president, in conjunction with Congress—not to unelected bureaucrats—the power to make U.S. foreign policy?

In 2010, my friend Andrew Bacevich observed that praetorianism leads soldiers to become “enamored with their moral superiority and impatient with the failings of those they are charged to defend” including a “smug disdain for high-ranking civilians . . . .” We saw an example of a praetorian mindset in 2010 when Rolling Stone reported that officers on the staff of General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, had made disparaging comments about President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Obama’s national security advisor, Jim Jones. As Bacevich wrote, McChrystal’s chief lieutenants referred to themselves as “team America” and suggested that they were “bravely holding out in a sea of stupidity and corruption.”

I personally believe that President Obama’s foreign policy was a disaster. I know for a fact that many military officers believed that as well. One was General James Mattis, as he makes clear in his recent book, Call Sign Chaos. But imagine if he had used his military status to criticize Obama or to decide that he, rather than the president, was responsible for making U.S. foreign policy.

Interestingly, although praetorianism is traditionally associated with the military, it seems to be even more prevalent these days among senior members of the Intelligence Community. Listen to Brennan, Comey, and Clapper, who have decided that they are also morally superior to the rest of America. They’re not.

The fact is that the deep state is praetorianism on steroids. It is based on the claim that unelected bureaucrats have a duty to undermine the policy of a duly elected president, simply because they disagree with it. Vindman is a perfect example of this mindset. He complained that “he was deeply troubled by what he interpreted as an attempt by the president to subvert U.S. foreign policy . . . .” Read that again. The problem here is that Article II of the Constitution gives the president sweeping powers to conduct foreign affairs and negotiate with leaders of other nations. It does not grant any such power to unelected bureaucrats to act in ways that demonstrate they approve or disapprove of foreign policy—even when they are “deeply troubled” by it.

No matter what one thinks about Trump, we must ask ourselves: is it a good idea for military officers, members of the Intelligence Community, and even run-of-the-mill bureaucrats to form a phalanx around the duly elected president “for the good of the country”? Do we really want to normalize the view that unelected bureaucrats are the protectors of republican government? If so, we enable the denizens of the deep state, a concept at war with the very idea of republican government.

First Principles

Hate Speech Laws Do Not Protect Democracy—They Threaten It

The First Amendment protects “hate speech.” So why do so many powerful figures want to criminalize this protected speech? Because this supposed menace threatens their political agenda.

Last week, the Washington Post published an op-ed by MSNBC analyst Richard Stengel arguing for a ban on hate speech. Stengel, a former Obama Administration staffer and Time magazine editor, said he began questioning the legality of hate speech when Arab diplomats expressed offense that Americans could burn Korans. To any normal American, the thought of an American diplomat taking ideas from Arab authoritarians sounds alarming, but Stengel lacks the self-awareness to realize that.

Stengel’s position leads him to adopt an excruciatingly dumb standard on free speech. “Yes, the First Amendment protects the ‘thought that we hate,’ but it should not protect hateful speech that can cause violence by one group against another,” he writes. “In an age when everyone has a megaphone, that seems like a design flaw.”

What’s the difference between the “thought we hate” and hate speech? Stengel doesn’t adequately explain, which further exposes his bad argument.

The Obama Administration veteran implies that speech should only be protected for the “good guys,” not the “bad guys” like Russian bots that, he seems to believe, can sway a presidential election with a handful of memes. He says the First Amendment is out of date because it doesn’t give liberal bureaucrats the power to determine what speech “threatens democracy” and undermines “tolerance.” He mentions that we do have laws against speech that explicitly incites violence and he feels we should broaden even that standard to include speech he deems less than “tolerant.”

Hate speech has a less violent, but nearly as damaging, impact in another way: It diminishes tolerance. It enables discrimination. Isn’t that, by definition, speech that undermines the values that the First Amendment was designed to protect: fairness, due process, equality before the law? Why shouldn’t the states experiment with their own version of hate speech statutes to penalize speech that deliberately insults people based on religion, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation?

He concludes his op-ed with this Orwellian statement: “All speech is not equal. And where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails. I’m all for protecting ‘thought that we hate,’ but not speech that incites hate. It undermines the very values of a fair marketplace of ideas that the First Amendment is designed to protect.”

Stengel’s opinion is both foolish and terrifying. It’s foolish in that it arrogantly presumes that we can have an objective standard for what constitutes hate speech and trust liberal bureaucrats to fairly enforce it. It’s terrifying in that it represents the opinion of many powerful people who truly think we must censor speech to protect “liberal values.” How does one protect liberal values by eliminating free speech, a cornerstone of classical liberalism?

Today’s “liberals” however are more than comfortable with prosecuting constitutionally protected speech.

The Oklahoma City Police Department is investigating an “It’s Okay to Be White” flier as a possible hate crime. Two University of Connecticut students were arrested and charged last month for saying the n-word. They were charged under a hate-speech law that prohibits “ridicule on account of creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race.” This rarely enforced law would likely not survive a court challenge and, if properly enforced, would ban all kinds of media and speech.

A mayoral candidate in Portland, Oregon called for her city to ban Dinesh D’Souza and anyone else connected to “white nationalist extremists” this week. How a city can ban a person? Particularly if this ban is based on that person’s supposed political ideology or Antifa smears?

Several Democratic leaders want tech platforms to censor “hate speech” more aggressively. Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has made this plan a core part of her campaign agenda and proposes punishment for tech giants that don’t silence those with whom she disagrees. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke also agree that more should be done to censor politically incorrect views online.

U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) goes further than them all, demanding it should be illegal to criticize lawmakers online. Wilson’s opinion reveals the purpose of these hate speech laws: they’re designed to comfort the powerful, not to protect vulnerable minorities.

Even some conservatives show a lack of respect for free speech. U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) implied this week that criticism of Israel is not covered by the First Amendment. No matter how much you disagree with anti-Israel views, such views are, in fact, protected by the First Amendment.

Every political opinion can be construed as hate speech, especially when it is judged by a critic. Democrats tried to claim that repealing Obamacare would murder thousands of Americans; why not just go the extra distance and say that the idea of repealing Obamacare is hate speech against people who enjoy Obamacare? What if Republicans said Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders’ diatribes against billionaires are hate speech against wealthy people? This standard can be applied ad nauseam and we would all end up dumber in the process.

America was built on vigorous discourse. The founders didn’t debate issues in perfect civility. They would allege the worst things about their opponents, from tawdry affairs to embarassing parentage. Yet, they realized that ideas such as the Alien and Sedition Act went against the principles of our country and, in rejecting them, upheld the right to say what you believed in.

It’s what makes America great.

People like Richard Stengel believe Americans can’t be trusted with free speech. We should hand over our freedom to condescending liberals like himself in order to “protect democracy.” That’s not democracy—that’s dictatorship with an NPR listener’s face.

In a democracy—in a democratic republic—we must be allowed to express ideas that those in power hate. They don’t have the right to dictate what we are allowed to speak or think.