First Principles

Why Libertarians Are Unwitting Enablers of Socialism

Libertarians have become pawns of the progressive Left in America, and in an ironic twist, both of them have been co-opted by globalist corporate interests. When everything is privatized, rationed and metered, corporate rent seekers gain new revenue streams.

“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”
 John Rogers, “Ephemera 2009,” Kung Fu Monkey

Libertarians are handing America over to socialists. That’s not what they want, but that’s what’s happening. How can this be? After all, if you want limited government, you’re a libertarian. So where’s the problem?

The problem, as John Rogers suggests in his unforgettable quote, is with the “real world.” In the real world, America is a two party system, and if a strong libertarian candidate shows up, he take votes away from other candidates who also—despite all their other impurities according to libertarian lights—oppose socialist candidates.

When the anti-socialist vote is split, the socialist wins.

In the real world, we have nations so that people with a common culture and heritage can govern themselves. This necessitates the existence of governments, laws, regulations, taxes, public spending, and a host of other things libertarians may consider nasty. To oppose overreaching laws, bad regulations, high taxes, excess spending, wasteful spending, or inappropriate spending, is the duty of any fiscal conservative. But the role of government is to protect a national culture, not to just get out of the way so corporate multinationals can commoditize the world.

This ought to be embarrassingly self-evident, but libertarians don’t seem to understand the implications of these real world constraints on their ideals.

Thank God the libertarian presidential candidate in 2016 was a befuddled stoner. And pray to God their presidential candidate in 2020 is equally problematic.

Libertarian Influence is Harming America

The Libertarian Party hasn’t yet swung an American presidential election, but the influence of libertarian orthodoxy is felt everywhere. And while their overall message—limited government—is far better than its opposite, in its extreme that message can also cause grievous harm. One glaring example concerns the interdependent politics of immigration and welfare.

Libertarians, along with plenty of Republicans who are influenced by them, are fond of quoting Milton Friedman, who once said, “You can’t have free immigration and a welfare state.” Yet libertarians, if they are true to their principles, favor open borders. All the while, they insist that of course they’re also opposed to state welfare.

To-date how many Republicans in the House of Representatives, influenced by libertarian donors, have resisted legislation that would enforce America’s borders, whether through sanctioning employers who hire illegal aliens, or by funding more effective border security?

Other glaring examples include opposition to the war on drugs, where libertarians tend to think it’s just fine to let an entire generation of Americans marinate themselves in a pharmacological stupor, and foreign policy, where wishful thinking libertarians reject the reality of rising nations filling the vacuum wherever Americans withdraw.

When it comes to trade, powerful libertarian donors actually have worked to destroy Republican incumbents who recognize that selling America to the Chinese because that’s “free trade” is a recipe for national destruction, and if tariffs are the only way to get their attention, so be it.

And shall any of these issues be discussed openly on the most powerful means of communication ever known, the internet? Well, maybe. But not too openly. Progressives run the companies that monopolize the online platforms for search and social media, they exercise blatant censorship of views that threaten the progressive narrative, and libertarians applaud.

The Unwitting Libertarian Support for Unpleasant, Unaffordable Housing

Moving beyond the obvious, libertarians also exert a destructive influence in the area of housing and infrastructure development. The influence of libertarians in these areas is hard to see at first, but it is causing even greater long term damage to America.

It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that libertarians are against a free market where land developers can easily navigate their way through a streamlined, discounted permitting process so more homes can go onto the market which will lower prices. And indeed, libertarians are calling for those sorts of reforms. But these libertarians are ignoring the most critical variable—expanding the footprint of cities.

Instead of recognizing that housing cannot possibly become affordable unless new construction spreads outside the boundaries of existing urban centers, libertarians, by default, are joining with progressives who want to stack and pack all new residences into already established neighborhoods. The implications of this policy are cruel and far reaching.

Not only is it much harder, if not impossible, to increase the supply of homes enough to lower prices if the only new homes allowed to be built have to be constructed inside existing cities, but when that happens the quality of life in these cities is tragically diminished. In Oregon, new legislation now permits multi-family dwellings to be constructed in any residential neighborhood, regardless of current zoning laws, in any city of more than 25,000 residents. Similar legislation is pending in California.

It may not be a “libertarian” concept to have zoning laws, but they exist for a good reason. People invest their life savings into a home purchase, relying on zoning laws to ensure the neighborhood where they expect to spend the rest of their lives is going to stay reasonably intact. Clearly this can’t always be the case, sometimes neighborhoods get in the path of dense urbanization, but it is a principle worth defending.

This nuance—how cities are permitted to increase their population—is far more profound than it may appear at first glance. As America’s population grows from an estimated 334 million in 2020 to an estimated 417 million by 2060, the progressive vision is to cram nearly all of those 83 million new Americans into existing cities. They want to do this despite the fact that the lower 48 states in America are only 3.7 percent urbanized, and despite the fact that such a policy will make a detached single family home with a yard unattainable to all but the most affluent Americans.

The libertarian position on urban containment is similar to their position on immigration. Just as they effectively support immigration but ineffectively oppose the welfare state, they effectively support making it easier to get permits to build homes but ineffectively oppose urban containment. The problem, again, is that accomplishing one out of two is worse than nothing.

The de facto result is libertarians are offering substantial support to the progressive goal of turning American cities and suburbs into socially engineered, unaffordable, extremely high-density warrens.

Libertarians Prevent Vital Enabling Infrastructure

In a perfect libertarian world, every time you set foot off your personal property onto so-called public space, the meter starts running. The principle at work here is that you only pay at the rate you consume, rewarding the private interests who constructed—presumably at lower cost—social amenities such as roads.

Unfortunately, this sort of thinking plays into the hands of progressives who want to monitor and ration everything, at the same time that it benefits the high-tech companies and manufacturing corporations who sell “connected” appliances that are overly complex, high maintenance, expensive, and rarely perform as well as legacy products. But start the meter. Let the market work.

If forcing consumers to pay the government and their private partners for every vehicle mile traveled were the only innovation where progressives and libertarians affect infrastructure, that would be bad enough. But libertarians often oppose new roads from even getting built, regardless of the funding model. Instead of just letting the government blast new interstate highways and connector roads into rural areas where spacious new cities could be built, some libertarians have begun reflexively to oppose these projects because they don’t want taxpayers to “subsidize the automobile.”

And yes, in the drive to no longer “subsidize the automobile,” there is a whiff of “climate change” hysteria beginning to emanate from more than a few establishment libertarian think tanks.

What libertarians ought to be doing with respect to roads and other enabling infrastructure is fighting to reduce the regulations and environmental legislation that, at the least, has more than doubled the price and more than quadrupled the time it takes to build public infrastructure. Instead they fight against any new infrastructure that might consume public funds, playing into the hands of the progressive environmentalists who don’t want to build any new infrastructure, anywhere.

Libertarians have become pawns of the progressive Left in America, and in an ironic twist, both of them have been co-opted by globalist corporate interests. When everything is privatized, rationed and metered, corporate rent seekers gain new revenue streams.

When progressives put punitive regulations onto virtually all forms of land and resource development, existing holders of those resources enjoy artificial asset appreciation at the same time as emerging competitors lack the financial depth to survive.

In cities densified by urban containment, land values and rents soar to stratospheric levels, driving out independent businesses and turning every commercial district into a generic multinational corporate slurb.

And of course, when progressives cheer as hordes of unskilled immigrants pour across the U.S. border, libertarian donors applaud the free movement of people and goods—while paying impotent lip service to welfare reform.

The Libertarian Party has never been a serious contender in American politics. But their influence should not be underestimated, nor their role in tilting the political balance in favor of the progressive agenda across a host of important national issues.

The value of libertarianism is to remind us that the private sector performs most functions in a society more efficiently than the government, while preserving more individual freedom. But that’s as far as it goes. The real world is complicated, and culture is not a commodity.

First Principles

Living in a Post-Truth World

Post-truth people in the media were taught that the concept of truth is obsolete. Postmodernism rules on American campuses today, and a core idea of the postmodernists is that claims to truth are meaningless.

Have you heard the news? You and I are now living in a “post-truth” world. The Oxford Dictionaries proclaimed the official beginning of the new era in 2016 by selecting “post-truth” as the Word of the Year. According to our betters in academia, in the ruling elite, and in the punditocracy, the very concept of truth is outmoded.

The post-truth era promises to be a wild ride. For example, in a trial we must swear our testimony will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—but if there is no such thing as truth, what does that oath mean? For that matter, what does it mean for someone to make a promise if there is no truth? In a post-truth world, a promise is meaningless. A post-truth person is free to swear on a Bible to uphold the Constitution and then set right to work subverting it.

“Post-truth” clearly has had a big impact on the world of what we used to call “the news.” The long-suffering people of the USSR had a joke about the two main Soviet newspapers, Pravda and Izvestya: “In Pravda [“truth”] there is no news [“izvestya”], and in Izvestya [“news”] there is no truth.” Are we there yet? How much of what you hear on CNN or read in the New York Times can you believe?

Once upon a time, reporters in America at least claimed to be professionally dedicated to finding the truth and reporting the news, but no more. Fake newsman Dan Rather provided us with a parable of the new post-truth news in the fiasco which came to be known as “Rathergate.” In the classic New York Times headline, the memos Rather used to go after George W. Bush were described as “fake but accurate.” The Times got it half right. It turned out that they were fake and inaccurate. No truth and no news, only a brouhaha stirred up by reporters and the media.

We have come a long way since 2004 and Rathergate. It is much worse now. The people in the media loathed George W. Bush, but their feelings about W. then were as nothing in comparison to how they feel about Trump today. Their hatred for Trump has driven them completely around the bend. Now it is fake, get-Trump news 24 hours a day.

How did we get here? These post-truth people in the media were taught that the concept of truth is obsolete. They learned that on campus. Postmodernism rules on American campuses today, and a core idea of the postmodernists is that claims to truth are meaningless. Richard Rorty, the best known of the American postmodernists, states their position this way:

To say that we should drop the idea of truth as out there waiting to be discovered is not to say that we have discovered that, out there, there is no truth. It is to say that our purposes would be served best by ceasing to see truth… as a topic of philosophical interest, or “true” as a term which repays “analysis.”

For the dominant voices in the media, truth is no longer a topic of interest. In the absence of interest in the truth, all that remains—all that can remain—is a contest to determine which version of events wins and an effort by the media to make certain it is their version that does win. In other words, it is just a struggle for power rooted only in a will to power.

For the most part, the people in the American media now provide campaigns of political propaganda instead of real news—just as it was in the not-so-good old Soviet Union.

First Principles

Forgetting Our Story

The decades-long leftist project to undermine the story we Americans tell about ourselves literally destroys and replaces our culture with something vastly more dangerous.

Each week on the Sabbath, Jews read a section of the Five Books of Moses, completing the entire cycle each year. Recently, the portion included the “Bringing of the First Fruits.” When the Temple was standing, Jews from all over Israel brought the first produce of the year as an offering to God.

Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, notes that many societies had first fruits ceremonies. But the Jews’ ceremony was different. For one thing, they are instructed to recite the following:

My ancestor was a wandering Aramean. He went down into Egypt and lived there as a stranger, few in number, and there became a great nation, strong and numerous. The Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labour. We cried out to the Lord, God of our ancestors. The Lord heard our voice and saw our suffering, our toil and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with terrifying power and signs and wonders. He brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now I am bringing the first fruit of the soil that you, O Lord, have given me. (Deuteronomy 26: 5-10)

Yes, the first fruits ceremony is an acknowledgement that God is the ultimate source of our success. But the statement here is the backstory of our people, where we came from, where we travelled, and how we arrived home, and most importantly God’s active role in bringing us to that point.

It is, in short, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, which the great cultural anthropologist Clifford Geetz called the definition of culture. Not for nothing are the first few verses repeated at the seder on Passover, the holiday where we remember our becoming a people.

At the seder, another story is told about five rabbis discussing the Exodus. Four of five are converts or descended from converts, meaning neither they nor their ancestors were actually slaves in Egypt. Because Israel is a covenantal community, membership is open to people who accept Israel’s story as their own, binding their memory and their future to that of the Jewish people.

What Makes Us Unique

In that sense, conversion to Judaism is very much like becoming a citizen of the United States.

And it’s why the decades-long leftist project to undermine the story we Americans tell about ourselves is so destructive—it literally destroys and replaces our culture with something insidious and  dangerous.

Consider the 1619 Project at the New York Times. As Matthew Boose has documented in these pages, it is an effort to redefine American history as having started not with the Revolution but with the beginning of slavery on our shores. It is an effort to erase and replace our story, and therefore our culture.

The project’s introduction claims that “ . . . nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery,” but of course that’s entirely backwards. Everything that made America exceptional grew out of our differences with the Old World, articulated in the Declaration, protected by the Constitution. As a friend of mine put it, the sins of 1619 and the Trail of Tears are real, and 1776 is the cure. Imperfect as we have been, we can never forget that we were founded in hope.

Yes, the Left would like to have us forget that the United States is, in Boose’s words, “a political community situated in a physical landscape.” But the Left would also like to cut the shoots of the ideas that make us unique.

It is that combination—a living embodiment of the aspiration to freedom and equality before the law and a national political community—that makes us so necessary in resisting the bureaucracies of the European Union, the theocracy of the Iranian mullahs, and the fascists of mainland China.

It is that combination that keeps us from being just another pleasant country on the U.N. roll call. In the absence of an identity that calls to those ideals, we will find identities in ethnic tribalism, in some bland, spiritless “citizenship of the world,” flavored only by pop culture.

Instilling Amnesia

In his potent little book, Earning the Rockies, self-described pro-globalization coastal elite Robert D. Kaplan writes that among other things, his drive across the country taught him this: that the cities with the most globalized economies were the most prosperous, but also the least connected to the country’s founding values. In too many cases, they felt that had more in common with other cities across the ocean than with their neighboring counties down the highway.

In Kaplan’s view, what redeems those sins of slavery and the crimes against the Cherokee is America projecting and influencing the world toward our own ideas, not by force, and not purely by example, but also by engagement. No, we can’t do those things without the necessary features of nationhood, vigorously enforced and defended.

We also can’t do those things if we forget who we are and what makes us different.

One can’t help but suspect that as much as anything, the powerlessness that comes with that amnesia is a feature for a Left that seeks power over ideals.

First Principles

Big Conservatism and the Moment of Decision

Will we have politics-as-conversation or politics-as-war? Those are the only choices.

The arena of contemporary American politics is a confused place.

And so-called conservatives—Republican politicians, yes, but, particularly, those in the mainstream “conservative media” or Big Conservatism—are especially confused.

Historically, within the West, there can be discerned two rival ideal political types between which discourse and practice have oscillated.  On the one hand, politics has been conceived in terms of a conversation as it is the ultimate expression of civilization.  

On the other hand, however, politics also has been viewed as an extension of war, the quintessential existential civilizational crisis that, in encouraging the human penchant for violence, threatens to undermine civilization in favor of barbarism.

Big Conservatism seems to want to have it both ways.

Beating the War Drums for Cash

Those in official positions within Big Conservatism seem to relish in patting themselves on the back for refusing to resort to the gutter tactics regularly employed by their leftist opponents. Every time these media celebrities slam the Left for their raucous street demonstrations, boycotts, demonization campaigns, “doxxing,” blacklisting of their enemies, and outright violence against conservatives while highlighting their unwillingness to do the same in return, Big Conservatives are saying nothing more or less than this: “We are much more civilized than are our opponents on the Left.”

Well, OK. But at what point does this become delusional?

Big Conservatives, despite incessant assurances to their constituents that the Left poses the greatest of existential threats to the West, steadfastly refrain from deploying their (vast) resources in influence, recognition, and affluence to the end of combating, to say nothing of eliminating this threat.

Conservatives, we are repeatedly told, are radically unlike leftists inasmuch as they are truly “tolerant” of alternative perspectives and genuinely value “free speech.”

At the same time, however, they do indeed characterize the Left as the greatest of existential threats to America and the whole of Western civilization. It is, after all, precisely because the Left has long ached to “fundamentally transform” our country, as Barack Obama so memorably put it, that Big Conservatives have seen in leftism an ominous design.

Big Conservatism also routinely describes the relationship between the Left and the rest of America as being one of war—a “cultural war,” say, or a “second civil war,” or “a war for America’s soul.”

War Games Are Not Games

Yet politics-as-conversation (PAC) and politics-as-war (PAW) are not only mutually distinct conceptions of politics; they are mutually antithetical. They differ not only in degree, but in kind.

Conversation, even when it contains passages that are dramatic and tense, is still a kind of play, a species of discourse between interlocutors who implicitly consent to one and the same set of rules, rules prescribing civility, mutual respect, a willingness to listen, and in the absence of which dialogue of any sort is impossible.

Conversation is a cooperative endeavor between persons who, even while disagreeing, and perhaps disagreeing vehemently, are nevertheless at least tacitly friendly with one another. At a minimum, conversation categorically precludes violence of any form.

War, in glaring contrast, is the ultimate expression of violence.

The difference between PAC and PAW might be understood in light of an analogy from the world of martial arts. Although most people (including, remarkably, many practitioners of the martial arts) appear to be unaware of it, the fact is that between classical martial arts and combat sports and combative self-defense there is an unbridgeable gap. As for “Wrestlemania”-type professional wrestling and real combat, the chasm is that much more obvious.

A genuinely combative system of the sort designed by the men (William Fairbairn, Rex Applegate, Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, and some others) who pioneered what are now known as “World War II close-quarter combatives” while preparing U.S. soldiers in the 1940s for hand-to-hand combat in the South Pacific and elsewhere is meant only for life-or-death attacks. There is nothing competitive, aesthetically edifying, or entertaining about it.

Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant-Colonel Al Ridenhour is a senior master instructor of the combative art known as “Guided Chaos” and the founder of Warrior Flow. He is also my master. Not long ago Master Al shared with me his philosophy of fighting and self-defense, a philosophy shared by such prominent veteran teachers of mortal combat as Professor Bradley J. Steiner, founder of American Combato, and Grandmaster John Perkins, founder of Guided Chaos.

“Yes, we are teaching people life and death combat,” Master Al said. “For us, a real fight is akin to war. You either go big or you go home. There is no in between.”

Real fighting is akin to war. 

Unlike the arena, the dojo, the ring, and the octagon, there are no rules, regulations, sportsmanship, or fair play in war. A participant in war has two options: He either can deploy with “ruthless intention,” as Master Al refers to the mindset necessary for victory in battle—every resource at his disposal to crush the enemy into oblivion—or else he must avoid war at all costs.

Defeat is not an option. Nothing less than unqualified victory is sought by the combatant.

Anyone who lacks this attitude—who isn’t, so to speak, in it to win it—has no business being anywhere near a battlefield (of any kind), for this painfully conspicuous absence of the “moral clarity” needed to destroy the bad guys is sure to imperil the good guys.

So Which Is It?

Big Conservatives can’t have it both ways. Either there is a war between the Left and the rest of us or there is not. If there is a war, then leftists compose the enemy, an adversary that, not unlike any other adversary in war, needs to be destroyed.

Half-measures, to say nothing of such emphatically un-war-like activities as “reaching across the aisle” and dialoguing, are to be rejected unless and only if they can end hostilities on terms that do not contribute to the “fundamental transformation” of our civilization.

Big Conservatives who constantly call on their audiences to help them “fight” the Left need to decide whether they endorse PAC or PAW.

They scarcely ever fail to use the rhetoric of war, and spend no small amount of time pointing out to their listeners, viewers, and readers how and why it is that the Left truly is toxic to the survival of Western civilization and America. Yet they just as rarely advocate any measures that could reasonably be said to constitute strategies, or even tactics, against this enemy.

Big Conservatives seldom possess the stomach to even call the Left—which they convict of all sorts of crimes against humanity—as the enemy of our civilization. This is why so many of them distanced themselves from President Trump when he followed, impeccably followed, the logic of their own narrative to its inescapable conclusion by calling out the leftist media as “the enemy of the people.”

Of course, it’s true that the hyperbolic rhetoric that comprises the politics-as-war template for which the Big Conservative media is known is far more titillating—far better for circulation, ratings, and, thus, profits—than the terminology proper to politics-as-conversation.

But as Master Al said, since real fights are war, and nothing less than life-or-death is at stake in war, those who would become combatants must be willing to either “go big” or “go home.”

That Big Conservatism essentially does nothing more than wax indignant over the Left’s “double standards,” i.e. the enemy’s partiality to—imagine this?—itself, establishes to all with eyes to see not only that Big Conservatives are resolutely unwilling to “go big.”

They don’t even have the slightest clue as to what politics as war entails.

Until and unless such time arrives that they become willing to make their walk match their talk, they should “go home.”

First Principles

Overhauling Libel Laws Will Only Hurt Conservatives

Love it or hate it, New York Times v. Sullivan benefits the Right.

The mainstream media besmirches conservative public figures on a regular basis. Look no further than Donald Trump and Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Some conservatives believe the best way to answer media smears is to change the libel laws. That’s a well-intentioned idea, but it would end hurting conservatives the most. Say goodbye to conservative media if public officials were empowered to pursue frivolous lawsuits.

There’s no louder advocate for this idea than Trump. Ever since the 2016 campaign, Trump has wanted to hit back at the press with the power of newly-defined libel laws. “I’m going to open up our libel laws, so when [newspapers] write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” he promised in 2016.

Libel laws have not been changed but Trump has repeated the suggestion throughout his presidency. During the Kavanaugh confirmation fight, he said: “I would love to see our libel laws get toughened up so you can take people and sue them.” On Sunday, Trump tweeted: “Justice Kavanaugh should sue The Failing New York Times for all they are worth!”

In order for him to do that, however, the U.S. Supreme Court would likely have to overturn New York Times v. Sullivan. The 1964 decision made it much harder for public figures to sue over defamation. Public figures have to prove that a publication demonstrated “actual malice”—meaning they knowingly printed false information with the intent to destroy. This high standard dissuades most public figures from pursuing litigation over false stories. The smears against Kavanaugh likely would not meet that standard in court. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in February that this standard does not adhere to the Constitution and that it should be changed.

If Sullivan were thrown out, Kavanaugh could take the smear merchants to court.

The Left Would Have a Field Day

That would be good for him and others with the resources to sue⁠—but it would be very bad for non-mainstream media. Independent media is not more likely to lie about public figures and this is not an argument that false stories should be protected. Independent media, particularly conservative media, are often shoestring operations that lack the resources to fight frivolous litigation. The Left would exploit this weakness for maximum effect.

Democratic officials are far more likely to claim something is a lie and receive elite support for that claim than conservatives are to get it. For example, Ilhan Omar. The freshman congresswoman from Minnesota claims reports about her possible immigration fraud and adultery are lies. Now imagine if she could sue over these claims. She’d probably lose in court, but that wouldn’t be the point.

She could just as easily sue to hurt a plethora of conservative media outlets. Just imagine how much money she would raise for the endeavor from delusional liberals. The mainstream media would approve of this action as a necessary assault against “targeted harassment.” Even if she lost in court, Omar would leave the defendants with substantial legal fees that they likely couldn’t cover.

Omar may not have a good chance in court, but other Democrats would thanks to liberal judges. One can imagine Democratic presidential hopeful Julian Castro winning a court case against Breitbart or another outlet that says he’s for open borders. Castro supports the decriminalization of illegal immigration, which effectively makes him pro-open borders. But he vigorously opposes that characterization and calls it a “right-wing talking point.” If he were feeling litigious, he could sue for libel. A liberal judge could take his side with his asinine arguments, especially if the judge reads the New York Times. The Grey Lady published a fact check that declared, “No, Democrats Don’t Want ‘Open Borders’” and suggests that it’s false to say otherwise.

Imagine What Liberal Judges Would Do

You could see the same thing happening if a conservative outlet claimed a Democrat was a socialist. Nothing would be too frivolous to sue over.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) would love to use this new power to bankrupt the Daily Caller, a site she falsely claims published nude photos of her. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) believes it should be illegal to criticize lawmakers online; just imagine if she had the power to sue those who criticize her.

Conservative public figures would not have the same advantage as liberals in court. Ocasio-Cortez would have a much better chance in court than Steve King (R-Iowa), even if King had a better case.

An entire industry already exists to destroy conservative media. (Media Matters, for example.) Democratic politicians view right-wing media as a threat to the republic and the mainstream media echoes this view. Liberal judges likely share this view and would rule in favor of their favorite politicians, regardless if the case was brought on dubious grounds.

Look at how liberal judges have transformed immigration law. Judges prevent the Trump Administration from enforcing immigration and make it harder to deny entry to any person who wishes to come here. We’re pretty close to an American judge ruling every human being has a right to immigrate to America.

Are these the people you trust with correcting mainstream media bias and smear?

The legal system is not neutral. It favors the Left and will not solve America’s media problems. The legal profession itself is overwhelmingly left-wing, especially when it comes to non-profit and pro-bono law. There’s an army of lawyers waiting to work for Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, and other leftists.

Changing libel laws may sound good at first, but all it would do is harm conservatives’ ability to challenge the mainstream media. The New York Times can afford a few lawsuits and the paper of record won’t change its bias if it loses one or two. It’s better to protect what we have than to foolishly destroy what we don’t have.

Love it or hate it, but New York Times v. Sullivan benefits the Right. It’s best if we keep it around.

First Principles

Defining ‘Keep and Bear Arms’ in the 21st Century

Robert Francis O’Rourke did us a favor; he made it very clear what the Left has in mind.

Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman and longshot candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, said the one thing at the September 12 primary debate that Democrats insist they do not believe when it comes to gun control. “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”

Coming from a native son of Texas, O’Rourke’s statement reflects just how much some parts of the Lone Star State have changed. Only a few years ago, before the political map of Texas became dappled with a critical mass of blue and purple districts, such a remark would have been unthinkable.

In 1835, Texans fought the Battle of Gonzales, where the local militia refused to give back a cannon to the Mexican authorities. “Come And Take It,” sewn onto a battle flag by these Texas rebels, is the phrase that launched the Texas Revolution.

“Come and Take It” is now embedded in Texas history and culture. It is a defining element of their heritage. In the original constitution of the Republic of Texas, written in 1836, the 14th Article in their Declaration of Rights reads as follows: “Every citizen shall have the right to bear arms in defense of himself and the Republic. The military shall at all times and in all cases be subordinate to the civil power.”

But today, in the 21st century, we must ask ourselves: come and take what?

O’Rourke claims that weapons such as the AR-15 should be excluded from Second Amendment protections because “the high-impact, high-velocity round, when it hits your body, shreds everything inside of your body because it was designed to do that so that you would bleed to death on a battlefield.”

How does a population armed with conventional small arms defend itself against the creeping imposition of globalist leftism, an advance being waged by nearly every Fortune 500 company on Earth?

O’Rourke apparently hasn’t studied what a Revolutionary War era musket ball, three-quarters of an inch in diameter, would do to the human body.

The other argument against the AR-15, its rapid rate of fire as a semi-automatic weapon, ignores the reality of semi-automatic handguns, which are also capable of launching deadly projectiles at a rapid rate of fire. But these arguments for and against the right of U.S. citizens to keep and bear conventional small arms ignore an urgent question in these changing times: what is a “small arm.”?

AR-15s vs. Drone Swarms

As an effective defensive weapon, the AR-15 is rapidly becoming obsolete. While it will retain its defensive utility for some time against random intruders or even organized but relatively unsophisticated gangs, against a swarm of weaponized drones or a disabling energy pulse a person with a conventional firearm is worthless.

One may argue that a drone could be shot down with a shotgun. That’s true, but can someone wielding a shotgun shoot down a swarm of dozens, or hundreds of drones, each of them autonomously guided and all of them smaller than a fly? Drones, along with energy pulses that can neutralize individuals or entire crowds, are the future of law enforcement and counterinsurgency.

Which raises the question: Does the Second Amendment guarantee Americans the right to defend themselves with their own personal swarm of weaponized drones, or counter-drones, or radar sensors that monitor drone intrusion onto their property, or electronic pulse weapons that can injure or kill a human being, or fry the avionics of encroaching drones?

This is a legitimate question. It won’t just be governments that deploy weaponized drones and energy weapons. It will be corporate security operations, as well as any criminal who can build or buy one of these types of new weapons.

A new take on an old phrase may go something like this: “If weaponized drones are outlawed, only outlaws will have weaponized drones.”

Old Weapons, New Threats

An uncomfortable and often unspoken motivation of gun-rights advocates is the notion that an armed populace is a guarantee against government tyranny. This is a legitimate principle but in the 21st century becomes muddled by unprecedented new factors. The first is the asymmetry of weaponry today.

A thousand years ago, a terrorist armed with a spear might manage to kill a few innocents before someone would crack a rock over his head, or stab him with his own spear. A century ago, a terrorist armed with a submachine gun might kill a few dozen people or more before he ran out of ammunition or was stopped by someone who was also armed. But today, terrorists could release a toxin, detonate a dirty nuclear device, or spread a deadly pathogen. It is theoretically possible today for a single terrorist to kill thousands if not millions of innocent victims.

For this reason, governments themselves have to be able to effectively identify and counter these threats. Despite the very real threat that massive government surveillance represents to American freedoms, and despite the potential for misuse, it is a necessary evil. To prevent terrorism in the 21st century, more than ever before, governments require the tools of the tyrant.

The second factor muddling the principle of an armed populace serving as a deterrent to government tyranny is even more problematic. What about corporate actors?

Multinational corporations with no allegiance to any particular country now wield power comparable to most nations. Even America might have a tough time fighting an unconventional war against a determined alliance of high-tech corporations. Aren’t we already in a cold war with these corporations, fighting to preserve our way of life? Haven’t they already nearly completed their takeover of American institutions?

How does a population armed with conventional small arms defend itself against the creeping imposition of globalist leftism, an advance being waged by nearly every Fortune 500 company on Earth?

As an aside, when will the corporate leftists realize that to the extent they weaken America by suppressing energy development and fragmenting our culture, they’re just handing the world over to Chinese fascists?

Is the Second Amendment Obsolete?

If the primary motivation for the Second Amendment was to guarantee American freedoms, how does a patriot respond in the 21st century? How do patriots recognize the need for a powerful central government to prevent mass killings by terrorists, yet continue to rely on the Second Amendment to deter government tyranny? How do they respond to high tech corporations which themselves are dominated by globalist leftists from the boardroom all the way down to the AI engineer who programmed a swarm of slap drones?

It would be rational to suggest that defenders of the Second Amendment arm themselves with slap drones and drone zapping ray guns of their own. But if American patriots are not well represented in the engineering labs of Silicon Valley—and they’re not—then it’s still an uphill battle. Buying things you cannot make yourself is sort of why Middle Eastern nations will never win a war against a serious adversary. They can buy jet fighters and they can train pilots to fly them. But they’ll never build one, and they’ll never fly the latest model.

Robert Francis O’Rourke did us a favor, however. He made it very clear what the Left has in mind. We can hope his candor will stimulate more creative thinking among those Americans who are determined to never compromise on their Second Amendment rights, and ensure these rights extend to innovations that use, shall we say, post-gunpowder technology.

First Principles

If Not the Hand of Providence, Then Timeless Political Principles

In defense of the U.S. Constitution.

Should our 232-year-old United States Constitution still be binding? For the last few years, progressives increasingly have begun to answer with an emphatic “No!” The most visible such criticism of our fundamental law is the attack on the Electoral College, which provides for indirect election of the president by electors who, if the truth be told, represent the states far better than the popular vote of the people.

Progressives believe that democracy demands a majority of the popular vote select the president, rather than a majority of the Electoral College, which latter body, after all, reflects political subdivisions and geographical areas as much as it does the will of the majority.

Some have argued (dubiously, as a matter of history, but with rhetorical power) that the Electoral College, insofar as it is a manifestation of states’ rights, is a remnant of slavery, and should be jettisoned for that reason.

Still others, including the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, have maintained that the entire document, ratified in 1789, is fatally flawed because it was, after all, the product of 55 white men, many of whom were slaveholders, and it did little to protect the rights of women and minorities. This has changed, of course, though the amendment process, but somehow the Constitution’s critics have little regard for the fundamental alterations that the Reconstruction and Progressive-Era amendments made in the original constitutional structure.

Persuading the Unpersuadable

What then can be said about the Constitution to rebut its critics? The most obvious is that if it is flawed, it is at least amendable. But such alterations require difficult supermajorities (two-thirds of each house of Congress and three-quarters of the state legislatures). This difficulty accounts for the fact that there have been fewer than 30 amendments in the more than two centuries the Constitution has endured. Given our dramatically divided polity, the possible passage of any amendments at this time in our history is low. This argument in favor of the Constitution will not persuade many.

The original framers, Benjamin Franklin in particular, thought they could discern in the crafting of the Constitution the hand of Providence. But an appeal to divinity is also not particularly persuasive in our benighted secular age.

It is equally difficult to persuade progressives and other Americans that there are any timeless political truths, but clearly the defenders of the Constitution believed that what they regarded as the newly emerging science of politics offered precisely that, and the Constitution was written to take advantage of just those insights.

The most important of these enduring principles was that the most basic duty of government was to prevent the accumulation of arbitrary power, because the framers understood the dictum eventually made famous by Lord Acton, that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Essential Checks and Balances

The Constitution, then, is replete with structural means of checking arbitrary power, such as, for example, the Electoral College, which, recognizing the arbitrariness even of a popular majority, imposes an indirect check by geographical dispersion and decentralization.

All of our school children used to be taught about other “checks and balances” in the Constitution, such as the presidential veto over congressional legislation, the impeachment power over executive and judicial branch officials, and the judicial power to reject unconstitutional legislation. This last is not explicit in the Constitution, but clearly implied, as Hamilton pointed out in the famous Federalist 78.

As early as Aristotle, human beings recognized that good government depended on a balanced constitution. But until Montesquieu, in the 18th century, it was generally thought that balance was secured by incorporating the different orders in traditional society⁠—the one, the few, and the many (the king, the aristocracy, and the people) into the government. Montesquieu suggested that this balance could be achieved as well by separation of governmental powers, and by ensuring that the three governmental branches⁠—legislative, executive, and judicial⁠—did not usurp the functions of each other.

Indeed, as Alexander Hamilton observed in Federalist 78, Montesquieu particularly warned that a failure to separate the judicial function from the legislative was tyrannical⁠—because arbitrary⁠—and thus the framers and current conservatives’ understanding that judges should interpret, but not make law.

The only way to ensure that, of course, as Justice Neil Gorsuch has demonstrated in his recent book, and as Antonin Scalia always maintained, is for judges to interpret the Constitution according to its original understanding, rather than arbitrarily seeking to alter it to satisfy their personal policy preferences or to meet purportedly urgent needs of the times.

Recovering Federalism

The other basic limitation on arbitrary power in the Constitution is that the central government, as the 10th Amendment clarified, is supposed to be one of limited and enumerated powers, with everything else left to the state and local governments or to the people themselves. This is the now sadly neglected but vital principle of federalism.

Federalism’s central notion is that for most matters, the best government is the government closest to the people, because it will be most responsive to their needs, and that means that most decisions should be in the hands of state and local rather than federal authorities. So it is that the law of contract, the law of torts, the law of property, and even the law of business associations remains primarily a state concern, although the federal government increasingly has been encroaching in all of these areas.

Given the genius of the manner in which the Constitution applied these ideas of separation of powers and federalism, and given the manner in which the Constitution was ratified by the 13 original and diverse states, it is not difficult to understand how some contemporaries could believe that this was accomplished by divine intervention. Even if this were not true, it is undeniable that the framers were shrewd historians, astute political scientists, and wise students of the human condition. They had the benefit of watching relatively pure democracy and arbitrary power in action both from seeing the mismanagement of the English Parliament, and by observing questionable behavior in the unrestrained state legislatures in the years immediately following the American Revolution.

James Madison summed this up in Federalist 10, when he explained that the federal Constitution, with its circumscription on the power of the state legislatures to interfere with existing contracts or to create currency would be a means of avoiding “a rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project.”

Given that a number of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have announced their support for just such “wicked projects,” the timelessness of Madison’s concern still rings true. Far from irrelevant, the Constitution, the aims of its framers, and the inspiration for the document are as vital today, in the political choices before Americans, as they were in 1789.

First Principles

Rhetoric and Aesthetic in American Politics

If we can reorient our abstract and denuded politics toward the deep human desire for the sublime, we might actually create something worth conserving. Only then will we make our words meaningful again.

Recently in the American Conservative, Rod Dreher shared a bit of compelling candor from an anonymous reader, a middle-aged man whose suburban lifestyle has rendered him unable to find intimacy and meaning in just about every area of his life. Four friends sent it to me separately, with the tagline “try not to cry when you read this,” and I forwarded to four more: “try not to cry when you read this.”

The author of the letter to Dreher is a middle class, straight, white man: a demoralized suburbanite, a passive member of the dehumanized tax base, who dutifully plays by the rules set out for him. His wife has grown tired of him, and she wants a divorce for when their two children are finished with college. His job is lucrative and lonely, as he has opted to work from home to avoid some of the ridiculous intersectional sensitivity training modules that breed suspicion and contempt among diverse and unfamiliar coworkers. He works all day long in his pajamas without leaving the house. He goes to church, hears “cheerful but empty homilies,” and wonders why he shouldn’t kill himself.

It is a terrible thing to witness: the fire going out in man’s heart. Yet this story of extinguishment is all too familiar.

“Freedom” and “Equality”

The letter resonates because the insipid desolation that’s nagging at this poor bastard telling him to swallow a bullet is real and widely felt, but runs counter to reigning narratives about America espoused by state storytellers.

For the past 75 years, while working and middle class people have become depressed and lethargic as their moral, economic, and national dignity are ripped to shreds, mainstream American politics has offered little of value in response. From Left and Right, and often in unison, we get answers and solutions that stray further and further from the problems of the lived experience. These answers include, but are not limited to, “Make more money,” “Eat this cheeseburger (now made out of bugs!),” “Diversity is our strength,” “Cut off your genitals,” or maybe if you are a big-brained Cato fellow, “Hold tight to your bootstraps as the creative destruction of Big Woke Capital rips through your community.”

It’s all so tiresome. But to the degree that people tolerate these answers, it is because each answer appeals at least implicitly to the Founding mythos, citing “freedom” and “equality” as their rhyme and reason.

Rhetorically, “freedom” and “equality” have deep symbolic sway over the American mind. They are symbols of the American identity: buzzwords that incite feelings of patriotism and belonging in the listener. Whenever state storytellers come up with a new narrative to mollify society’s dissatisfaction with itself, they underpin it with “freedom” and “equality,” and the resulting emotional diversion allows flexibility to achieve political goals without remonstration.

A buzzword is not necessarily hollow. This rhetorical strategy (deploying “freedom” and “equality” to shoehorn in discursive political intentions) has succeeded over the course of the country’s existence precisely because “freedom” and “equality” referred for some time to a real experience. In the Federalist papers and in Democracy in America, the writers each observed freedom and equality as a real way of life, for the most part.

Increasingly many argue, considering the institution of slavery, that freedom and equality, as America’s political touchstones, were always hollow. There’s something to that. But if we are to be a bit more generous with the Founders’ intentions, we might say that they understood they had to create an as-good-as-it-gets government for an imperfect society, and that the exhortations of the Declaration were matters of both “ought” and “is,” and mostly “ought.” But the “is” aspect is vitally important. America’s founders operated with reality in reference, and their entire project was about preserving a specifically American way of life.

A symbol that simultaneously recognizes something real while inspiring its audience to something higher is deeply meaningful precisely because it combines the aesthetic with the rhetorical. A symbol in which a man can actually see himself but that also causes him to act and to strive lasts. Think of the crucifix. On the other hand, cheap symbols either misrepresent reality or fail to inspire the audience to something higher.

Where freedom and equality once thrived as unifying and commonly understood realities of American life, consumerism, mediocrity, loneliness, and effeminacy remains.

Between Rhetoric and Reality

Rhetorical symbols are empty without an aesthetic counterpart. American symbols are failing. Why?

Public life is the appropriate aesthetic counterpart to political rhetoric. Normally, the public square serves as the font of political identity, the foundation of political friendship. Its highest purposes are to bring people together and to inspire. To unify and to elevate. It is the real, physical place where our principles are lived out and witnessed by actual people. National life manifest in the public square, whether positive or negative, will either confirm truth in the story a nation tells itself about itself or lay bare its lies.

When in American politics we discuss freedom and equality with the qualifier “properly understood,” this is because the basic reality to which “freedom” and “equality” once might have referred was at some point perverted and has disintegrated over time.

As upward mobility diminishes, income inequality intensifies, deaths of despair reach unprecedented highs, the profound ugliness of public spaces worsens, homelessness increases, elite pedophiles get away with murder, and having or speaking heterodox ideas results often in the total de-personing of the speaker, where are we the people to see the “freedom” and “equality” that Vichy Right and Money Left insist in their carefully worded 140-character aphorisms are the sole meaning of America? We may sense them, vaguely, as facsimile. They are breaths of memories of a less spastic world we never knew.

From brutalist architectural design to lack of greenery to the used needles that litter public walkways, American public squares are strikingly anti-human and anti-friendship. As such, they stand crumbling and evacuated. At least we still have the Constitution, principled individualists assure themselves as they dodge human feces if not bullets on their way to work.

Accordingly, abstraction and atomization now characterize the American political life. “Freedom” and “equality” are today pure simulacra of American identity, living exclusively in the realm of abstraction, useful as tools of emotional manipulation and distraction from their own hollowness. Furthermore, there are no backstops in the realm of abstraction to prevent these “principles” from expanding and unravelling ad absurdum. Common heritage, which might have offered a backstop to disintegrating politics, is a bygone phenomenon. Common faith? Forgotten. The middle class? Shrinking.

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

As artificial levelling and political hall monitoring in real life becomes unbearable, Americans recede more deeply into the entertainment world, tasting by proxy those diluted principles that supposedly tell us who we are.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe likely has more impact on the citizenry’s notions of freedom, equality, and justice than policy wonks would ever like to admit. But of course, the entertainment world is a machine and a smokescreen. Stories are formulaic and mass-produced for the lowest common denominator.

The worlds of entertainment and politics have fused together completely and work together to dull the minds of consumers; the “news” is entertainment and operates as such. Movies are always and primarily concerned with the political message they can inflict on the audience. Few in art or politics will say what’s true about the daily aesthetic experience of living in America, which is an ever-expanding strip mall, lest they poke a hole in the precious simulation upon which the entire soulless system relies.

So, in the spiritual desert of postmodernity, consumerism and mediocrity quietly reign, disguising themselves everywhere as “freedom” and “equality.” Accept all, consume all. Together, they generate and enforce the kind of alienation and effeminate deference to sentimental tyranny and vapid materialism that is making Dreher’s pen pal suicidal.

What does being American mean now? What are freedom and equality, really? Everything. Nothing. Ready participation in global mass culture. Deferring to consumerism. We are well-fed economic units whose purpose is either to be eager beaver believers or completely shut up about progressive internationalism as it paints us all the same color: gray.

Free and equal? Where freedom and equality once thrived as unifying and commonly understood realities of American life, consumerism, mediocrity, loneliness, and effeminacy remains.

Hollow Men, Sagging Dreams

This is a national security crisis waiting to unfold. People tend to lash out when they realize they have been lied to. Our diluted principles are decreasingly effective in distracting us from our diluted livelihoods. The aesthetic exposes the rhetorical. It is from this dissonance that populism and conspiratorial thinking arise—appropriately.

When I read Michael Anton’s review of Bronze Age Pervert’s Bronze Age Mindset a few days after the Dreher piece was released, it struck me that perhaps BAP is attempting to answer the central problem of the anonymous letter to Dreher while also answering the problem that, Anton concedes, American politics (but especially the Right) has failed to answer over the course of its modern decline.

Anton ultimately concludes that a rhetorical deficiency engenders youthful disaffection, and this is true. But more accurately, it is an aesthetic deficiency. The rhetoric is hollow because it has no aesthetic counterpart. Nature, beauty, and friendship: these existentially important facets of political life are missing.

Young men are not listening anymore to appeals to the Declaration, to “equality” or “freedom,” because the simulation doesn’t satisfy them as it did their parents. Over time, the gaps between flowery rhetoric about American life and the ugliness of reality have become too great to suspend disbelief.

These generations look to their divorced parents: fat fathers, probably more materially wealthy than they will ever be, with the personality equivalent of erectile dysfunction, as well as their careerist mothers with, as Morrissey sings, “sagging dreams.” They see hollowness, and hear the old boomer shibboleths, and they wonder, with a great degree of justified cynicism, why the hell would I believe what these people are telling me?

Without beauty, what it there to live for? To reproduce for? The deracinated consumer lives an ugly lie that stinks of death and despair.

From the basements of tomb-like McMansions, they witness delusional neoliberals and neoconservatives yapping on Twitter about vague ideals that pertain in no way to their lived experience.

For example: in the abstracted political life, blue checkmarks obsessed over women’s rights. In reality, men and boys have infinitesimally fewer public spaces for male comradery than women do. Girls in the Boys Scouts. No boys in the Girl Scouts. All in the name of “freedom” and “equality.” The manipulative lie, among many, of “women’s oppression” stings.

Eventually, pretty lies perish, and engender bitterness and distrust in their wake. Rhetorically, “freedom” and “equality” reek of the emasculating materialism and mediocrity that ruined our fathers’ lives and now makes friendship and love in the modern world extremely challenging. How can America continue to market empty nostalgia to a generation that never knew the world in reference? To redefine the words at this point, to revive the Founders’ true conceptions on a rhetorical level, is probably impossible.

Returning to the Sublime

The appropriate response to this vicious emptiness is not further abstraction, but something real and full. If we as a nation are to believe in our own sovereignty once again, we must not submit to the Big Ugly. We can revivify American political rhetoric if and only if men grown tired of their heinous commutes to hideous cubicles rebuild a public square worthy of poetic admiration instead.

To start, the man who wrote to Rod Dreher would do well by his family if he picked up a rifle and, instead of blowing his own brains out, took his sons hunting. To lose oneself in the aesthetic of nature, the powerful quiet of natural order, is to recover one’s internal connection to beauty. Then, on a broader level, refreshed, reverent and self-possessed men must rebuild public spaces to incorporate nature and beauty as to accommodate humanity and friendship.

Our publisher Chris Buskirk wrote here and guested with Tucker Carlson recently to discuss how conservatives can win on the environment. His argument was about beauty, essentially.

He’s right! Ultimately, it is the aesthetic experience that makes or breaks a life. If people are to believe America is the most beautiful country on earth, we must make it beautiful. Without beauty, a healthy politics remains impossible. Without beauty, we will have nothing to unite and elevate the body politic.

Without beautiful public spaces, the cheap artifice of political life remains, where exogenous, androgynous elites talk past each other and down to the sedated masses. Without beauty, what it there to live for? To reproduce for? The deracinated consumer lives an ugly lie that stinks of death and despair.

This is the essential project for those who have seen through the simulation, through clown world, and have hated its lies. We are living at the tail end of the dissimulation of the American idea. The institutions designed to promulgate the decaying “value system” cannot sustain the mutual decay of myth and matter. It is a critical, probably pivotal moment, and the instability of the age makes destructive nihilism might tempting for many.

As such, it is the dire responsibility of the True Right to love, highlight, and protect what is natural, excellent, and beautiful, driven by the love of freedom and fellow countryman. Isn’t that the essence of what it means to be a man? What it means to be?

The present and imminent future of politics is a world of simulation, mass media, and abstraction. If we can reorient our politics toward the deep human desire for the sublime, we might actually create something worth conserving. Only then will we make our words meaningful again.

First Principles

The Case Against Universal Background Checks

Spoiler alert: They don’t work and they’re an invitation to abuse.

On Capitol Hill this week, lawmakers got a visit from Attorney General Bill Barr and White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland, looking to sell them on a gun control proposal.

The proposal, an outline of which was released by the Daily Caller’s Amber Athey, parallels legislation proposed by Senators Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) in expanding federal background check requirements.

“Consistent with the Manchin-Toomey draft legislation,” the White House document reads, “a background-check requirement would be extended to all advertised commercial sales, including sales at gun shows. Background checks would be conducted either through a [Federal Firearm Licensee] or through a newly-created class of licensed transfer agents.”

Essentially, this is a universal background check requirement.

The White House quickly backtracked when the information was made public. “That is not a White House document,” said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, “and any suggestion to [the] contrary is completely false.”

So what are we to make of the administration ostensibly supporting a plan it later disavows? Either White House Legislative Affairs and the Department of Justice have gone completely rogue, or the White House is merely testing the appetite of the Senate for action.

But either way, it’s a misguided effort. Here’s why.

The “Gun Show Loophole” Doesn’t Exist

By referring to “sales at gun shows,” the Barr proposal attempts to get at the so-called “gun show loophole.” It’s a term bandied about by anti-gun activists, which has contributed to a prevailing belief that purchases at gun shows do not require background checks. This, for the most part, is false.

All retail sales of firearms from a licensed dealer (otherwise known as a “federal firearm licensee, or FFL)—at a gun show, online, or in a backyard—require a background check. Full stop. Sales through FFLs constitute the majority of gun sales in America, some estimates put it as high as 75 percent. This is because anyone who sells guns for profit, or as a business, must register as an FFL.

Some one-off private sales, however, which are mostly regulated at the state level, may not require background checks. These types of sales make up between 10-13 percent of all gun sales.

Still, regardless of federal license, private sellers are prohibited from selling to what federal law deems a “prohibited person,” anyone under 18, or anyone who lives in a different state. Twenty-one states now require background checks for purchases of at least handguns at gun shows, regardless of the license status of the seller.

The oft-cited claim that 40 percent of gun sales are done at a gun show without a background check? Even the Washington Post had to give that one three Pinocchios.

Universal Background Checks Don’t Work

Everybody falls for universal background checks. But they don’t work.

Universal background checks (UBCs) sound good and scratch the itch of needing to “do something” that seems reasonable. Why not make everyone who buys a gun subject a background check, right?

The “universal” in “universal background check” is kind of a misnomer, considering that every retail gun purchase in America requires the purchaser to fill out Form 4473, and be subject to a federally run background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

So it’s a wild exaggeration to say that a UBC would fill a large gap, since there really isn’t one. But it’s also questionable whether a UBC actually would be effective in its stated goal: stopping criminals from getting guns.

The White House is on a fool’s errand if the administration thinks these measures will help Trump politically—or, more importantly, stop gun violence.

The NICS background check system itself is full of flaws and false positives. Law abiding citizens already get their gun rights denied because of clerical errors, or because they have the same name or biographical information as some random convicted criminals. The data is also incomplete. It’s how the Texas church shooter was able to get a weapon when he shouldn’t have been eligible.

Yet somehow, we’re supposed to believe that expanding this system will make it work even better? This is the same government that recently allowed an innocent man to spend 82 days in jail when they mistook his honey for liquid meth. In other words, Americans shouldn’t have much faith the government can get this right.

There’s also the matter of enforcement. In fiscal year 2017, the federal NICS system denied about 112,000 background checks for falsifying information (e.g., failure to disclose a felony conviction). As of June 2018, however, the U.S. attorney field offices had prosecuted only about a dozen of these cases.

New laws won’t fix the problem when we aren’t even enforcing existing ones.

This is especially true when one considers that nearly half of illegally trafficked weapons are obtained through straw purchases—the illegal practice of one person purchasing a weapon on behalf of another person. Background checks have nothing to do with stopping this practice.

It’s why California, which has had universal background checks for the last 10 years, hasn’t seen a commensurate reduction in gun homicide or suicide rates.

The reality is that criminals get their firearms from the black market. According to a Justice Department survey of prison inmates, only 10 percent of those arrested with a firearm got it from a retail source. Less than 1 percent obtained it at a gun show. But 43 percent say they got it off the street.

Focusing on prosecutions for illegal weapons, rather than expanding ineffective background checks, is one step that could actually have an impact. On that note, it’s worth pointing out that the Trump administration has well surpassed the Obama administration in going after illegal guns.

A Universal Background Check System Lacks Universal Support

While proponents of these policies trot out the statistic that 92 percent of Americans support UBCs, electoral results suggest otherwise.

In 2017, Nevada’s expansion of background checks passed by a very thin margin of 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent—with only one county voting in favor of the measure. In 2016, a similar effort was put up in liberal Maine, where a ballot measure failed by 51.8 percent to 48.2 percent. In the gun-control friendly state of Washington, a background check measure passed by only 59 percent in 2014. These are hardly the kind of margins you’d expect for a proposal rumored to have “near-unanimous” support.

Much of the hesitation with universal background checks (besides the fact they don’t prevent criminals from getting guns) is what’s necessary to implement them: a national registry of gun owners.

Contrary to popular belief, the federal government does not keep an active list of all gun owners. Or, put another way, the government does not keep a list of all Americans who are exercising their Second Amendment rights.

A federal UBC, to actually work, would require a national registry. And for years, conservatives have pointed out that this would be abused. Need proof? Look no further than the state of New York, which keeps records on all of its gun owners. A New York newspaper got its hands on this information and published the names and addresses of all the gun owners in the database.

These were law-abiding citizens, turned into victims, for the sin of complying with the law.

Also, like so many ill-conceived gun control measures, national registries have failed in the countries that have tried them—most notably in Canada.

The White House is on a fool’s errand if the administration thinks these measures will help Trump politically—or, more importantly, stop gun violence. Just like red flag laws, background checks trample on Second Amendment rights without actually solving any problems.

And that’s really the insidious part. Pushing proposals known empirically to have no effect does nothing but perpetuate the narrative that “guns are bad,” and that restricting access to them, regardless of the actual efficacy of the proposal, is somehow good public policy.

It’s not. And with enumerated constitutional rights on the line, you’d hope our policy makers would be more focused on measures that actually solve the problem of gun violence, instead of on measures which merely make them feel better.

First Principles

Slandering the American Founding

Well, it’s settled. Everything we thought we knew about the American Founding is wrong. The real Founding is not the Declaration of Independence in 1776 or even the drafting of the Constitution in 1787. Instead, it is 1619 when the first slaves arrived in the settlement of Jamestown. Thus sayeth the 1619 Project of the New York Times, which seeks “to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.”

Of course, the 1619 Project merely regurgitates what has become the mainstream view of today’s Democratic Party. For instance, Beto O’Rourke said recently that “this country . . . was founded on racism, has persisted through racism and is racist today.” Bernie Sanders said earlier this year that the United States was “created” in large part “on racist principles.”

How did this calumny take root? The answer can be traced to the project of an Italian communist named Antonio Gramsci, the father of “cultural Marxism,” who in the 1930s called on socialists and communists to subvert Western culture from the inside in order to prepare the soil for the overthrow of liberalism. In the 1960s, the German activist Rudi Dutschke dubbed this project “the long march through the institutions” . . .

Read the rest at the Providence Journal.

First Principles

The Political Community of the U.S. Constitution

Our Constitution does not guarantee unanimity. That would risk tyranny. But it affords an opportunity for justice and the general good to prevail.

There will be no fireworks to celebrate the 232nd anniversary of Constitution Day, nor public readings of the document. Most will pass the day without even a moment’s reflection on the event that redefined the political community of the United States. September 17, 1787, was the day that the newly drafted Constitution was signed by those whose work had begun on May 25, 1787.

The new Constitution was ratified 12 years after the 1776 Declaration of Independence from the British. From the time of the first settlers on the shores of what was to become a new nation, the United States has had three identifiable political communities: colonial America under the auspices of the British, a confederation of states, and a nation governed by the current Constitution. Understanding the political community that the U. S. Constitution forms tells us much about America and its current divisions.

The first political community in colonial America did not have a distinct identity and purpose because of the competing forms of governance that developed over nearly a century and a half. Settlement in America was spurred by two sources: on the one hand, colonists seeking religious freedom and economic opportunities and on the other, European nations establishing a presence in new lands.

Monarchy was the predominant form of government in Europe and while these monarchical practices carried over into the settlements, the separation by an ocean from the mother countries required the colonists to engage in governing themselves. The Mayflower Compact is among the first of such efforts. The Plymouth settlers drafted a compact that bound them into a body politick for better ordering and preservation, to enact and frame just and equal laws, acts, and constitutions for the general good of the colony. Others followed suit.

The posture of the British was both protector and beneficiary against the backdrop of their monarchical and parliamentary government. In addition to setting up their own governing structures, the colonists eventually sought representation in the British parliamentary body and recognition of their rights, but to no avail. Their response to British intransigence and aggression was the formation of the Continental Congress, which reflected the growing democratic and republican influences within the colonies. Among its purposes was to speak with a singular voice to resolve their differences, but British inflexibility spurred the colonists to move toward declaring independence. This conflict set up the end of the first political community.

In the month prior to the Declaration, the Second Continental Congress called upon the 13 colonial assemblies to craft constitutions. Its request included the charge to “adopt such a government as shall, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of the constituents in particular, and America in general.” These efforts by the colonial assemblies, which were incorporated into the states after independence, are important steps in America’s subsequent political development.

The monarchical and parliamentary governance exerted by the British was gone. The colonial foundations of the township, county, and former colonies turned states provided a governmental structure, but a government for the new United States was required. This was imperative as the nation was fighting to maintain its independence while finding its footing as a new nation. The Articles of Confederation drafted by the Continental Congress recognized the relationship between the states as “a firm league of friendship” with each state retaining its sovereignty, freedom, and independence. The new government did not have an executive power, had limited judicial functions, and gave a minimal grant of authority to the Congress to regulate affairs for the nation. The Congress circulated the Articles to the states for ratification and became the Confederation Congress. The second political community was defined by the authoritative element that was largely within the states. It was arguably the best regime that the circumstances allowed.

By the mid-1780s, however, the weaknesses of the confederated government became apparent. James Madison and others began efforts to assemble representatives from the states to address and remedy the deficiencies.

The discussion of whether the nation needed to be reconstituted began years before the convening of the 1787 Philadelphia convention. The resulting termination of the confederation of states and the United States as defined by a new Constitution initiated the third political community. Instead of a decisive break in 1787 as there had been with the British in 1776, America was reconstituted by modifying the governing relations between the citizens, the states, and the national government and by embracing the principles of the Declaration.

President John Quincy Adams understood the deficiency of the Articles of Confederation as a departure from the principles of the Declaration of Independence because of the substitution of state sovereignty instead of the constituent sovereignty of the people as the foundation of the Revolution and of the Union. While the Declaration identifies why the separation from Britain was necessary, more importantly, it states the rights, principles, and ideals that any future American government was to secure. The Constitution had the potential to fulfill what the Declaration intended: to create a more perfect union, in the words of the Constitution’s preamble.

The connection between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is made clear by President Calvin Coolidge in his statement that governments do not make ideals, but ideals make governments. He described the ideals, the immortal truths of the Declaration of Independence, this way:

Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed.

The constitutional convention held in Philadelphia resulted in a new Constitution that was presented on September 17 to the people for their consideration and, if acceptable to them, ratification—thus fulfilling the Declaration’s requirement of consent of the governed. Recall the charge of the Declaration: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The goal was to form a more perfect union that relies on the sovereign authority of the people with the aim of securing the rights of the citizens and effecting their safety and happiness as called for in the Declaration.

The features of the Constitution as designed promote justice and a just people. Establishing justice was the second item listed in the preamble: “in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice.” The four features—the republican form of government, the separation of powers, the bicameral legislature, and federalism—underscore the efforts by the drafters of the Constitution to institute a government that represents the citizenry, secures their rights, and allows for their participation in governance at a local, state, and national level.

Yet given the statement of self-evident truths in the Declaration and the words of the preamble to secure the rights of the people, why did slavery and the denial of even the most basic rights and dignity to a segment of the population continue?

Slavery had been present in the colonies for more than one hundred years in America, brought to colonial settlements by the British, the Dutch, and other European powers. Jefferson’s attempt to make clear in the Declaration that efforts to end slavery were prohibited by the powers that brought it to the colonies failed to make it in the final draft. There is no mention of slavery in the Constitution, but there are three relevant clauses that speak implicitly about it. The provision in Article I, section 2 apportions states representatives and taxes by adding the whole number of free persons and three-fifths of all other persons. This provision ensured slave states that denied fundamental rights to some could not benefit and further enhance their power within the Union through outsized representation from their numbers. The ban on importation of persons after 1808 (Article I, section 9) was done with the belief that it would lead to the end of the institution. Article IV, section 2 provides that a person “held to Service or Labour in one State” who escapes into another must be returned to the person to whom the service or labor was due.

These three clauses were clear compromises with slavery, but they must be counterbalanced both by the implication in the non-importation clause that the Congress could (and in fact did) ban the importation of slaves after 1808. They must also be counterbalanced by the Republican Guarantee in Article IV, section 4. The clause required the United States to guarantee to each state a republican form of government—that is, one grounded in the consent of the governed, an idea articulated in the Declaration of Independence that is wholly incompatible with slavery.

These are but a few examples to demonstrate that the drafters of the Constitution did as much as they possibly could at the time to check slavery and the forces that supported it in order to achieve a Union. Had they attempted to implement an outright ban on slavery, there likely would have been no new Union, the Articles of Confederation would have remained in place, the internal dissension would have only grown worse, thus subjecting the new nation to conquest by European powers and destroying any hope of ending slavery in the slave states.

The effort to condemn slavery in the Declaration failed, but the recognition that all human beings are created equal and that they are endowed by their creator with unalienable rights stayed. Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others have looked to this language to bolster their demands that the country live up to its ideals.

The third political community is defined by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In the words of John Quincy Adams on the Jubilee of the Constitution, “this act [the Constitution] was the complement to the Declaration of Independence; founded upon the same principles, carrying them out into practical execution, and forming with it, one entire system of national government.” That system included, as stated in the Preamble, establishing justice, regulating internal and foreign affairs, and promoting the welfare and securing the liberty of those currently living and for future generations. The citizens gave their consent to this government and remain the sovereign authority as held in the Declaration.

The kind of political community that the U.S. Constitution forms is a just community and the noble actions of the citizenry reflect the principles of the Declaration. We must, however, recall Publius’ words in Federalist 51, “but what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” While justice may be the end of government and a good, noble, and virtuous people desirable, it must be cultivated with the recognition that we may fall short or with perseverance, succeed.

There are deep divisions in America, but taking seriously the governing structure and constitutional development provide welcome opportunities to seek remedies. The Constitution unifies the nation in the sense that its framework provides a vehicle for deliberation between the branches and the people. It does not guarantee unanimity. That would risk tyranny. But it affords an opportunity for justice and the general good to prevail, a sentiment embraced by the settlers at Plymouth and those who followed, and by Publius in the Federalist Papers and by many in America today.

It is a fair question to ask if the same political community that grew out of the 1787 Constitution exists in America today. Yes and no. Though there have been 27 constitutional amendments with a few making fundamental changes to the structural design such as direct taxation and the direct election of senators (16th and 17th Amendments), the greater challenges have been from events such as the Civil War, the Progressive movement, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and activist judges. These events explain, in part, why we have such discord in our modern-day political discourse.

Rather than wring our hands, we should embrace the debate fully. A good starting point is understanding the political community formed by the 1787 Constitution.

Editor’s note: This essay is based on a lecture delivered on July 23, 2019 at St. John’s College Graduate Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was dedicated to the late Don MacIver, who was a long-time friend, student, and former president of St. John’s College.

First Principles

Red Flags About ‘Red Flag Laws’

While there is an understandable need among lawmakers to “do something” about mass shootings, the rush to regulate should be tempered by faith in a federalism that best balances state culture with the enumerated rights that are the birthright of all Americans.

After a handful of mass shootings over the summer, Congress is returning to session flush with the need to act on gun violence. Unfortunately, consensus appears to be forming around proposals that are both ineffective and constitutionally suspect.

I’m talking about federal “red flag” legislation, which would allow family members and friends to report on individuals whose behavior they find concerning, so that the government could then confiscate their guns before they become a threat to others.

A decade ago, the notion of a red flag law—which punishes individuals who have committed no crime; just those suspected of having the potential to commit one—was limited to dystopian movies like “Minority Report.”

But in the Democrat-led House and Republican-led Senate, the idea is gaining traction. Red flag laws have support from most Democrats, and some key Republicans.

Red flag laws present some critical problems, however—first and foremost, that they are ineffective at addressing the problem they purport to solve: reducing homicide by firearm.

And there are the more insidious elements of the proposal, the parts that threaten due process and actually put more individuals in danger, not fewer.

Understanding Red Flag Laws

As is often the case in highly charged debates over guns in America, federal politicians seem to think state and municipal laws don’t exist. But, particularly in the case of red flag laws, they do. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have passed some form of red flag law.

While they all vary, the general thrust is the ability for police, family members, neighbors, romantic partners, teachers, or therapists who fear that a gun owner has become dangerous to file a seizure warrant for that person’s weapons with a judge.

In an initial hearing—very often without the gun owner present to defend himself—a judge decides if the firearms should be confiscated. If the court approves the seizure and the guns are collected, the judge then schedules a second hearing several weeks later, at which time the judge determines whether or not the guns should be returned or remain in law enforcement custody.

Context here is vital. Keep in mind that federal law already prohibits individuals from owning firearms if they have been convicted of a felony, a domestic-violence misdemeanor, have an active restraining order against them, or have been committed to a mental health institution.

All 50 states also have civil commitment laws on the books, which allow friends and family to petition a court for emergency hospitalization or detention, subject to a hearing where the named individual is present and entitled to legal counsel (unlike many red flag laws, where the hearings take place ex parte, or without the accused present, and oftentimes, not even notified).

The Use and Abuse of Red Flag Laws

Red flag laws distill down to a simple concept: the power of the government to remove someone’s weapons based on third party allegations—usually without that person present to tell his side of the story. It’s not surprising, then, that red flag claims get it wrong. A lot.

Data from Connecticut and Indiana—states with the two oldest red flag laws in the country—show that nearly a third of confiscation orders are issued in error, against innocent people.

In Florida, a case of mistaken identity meant that Jonathan Carpenter had his weapons seized and his concealed-carry permit suspended. Despite the fact that Carpenter was innocent, and it was the government’s mistake, he still had to pay thousands of dollars to get his weapons back and his concealed-carry permit reinstated.

In Maryland, police showed up at 5:17 a.m. to the home of Gary J. Willis, and announced that they had come to take his guns. Willis had been given no notice that the state’s red flag law and been used against him. After arguing with police, he was shot to death.

With good reason, law enforcement officers in Colorado have also speculated that the enforcement of red flag laws puts police themselves at risk. A growing number of counties and sheriffs’ offices have said they will not enforce Colorado’s red flag law. Elected sheriffs around the country are taking similar positions.

Red Flag Laws Don’t Work

Gun control advocates are spending a lot of time and energy to pass red flag laws without acknowledging that the data suggest they are largely ineffective at actually reducing homicides.

Two Yale-trained researchers recently dug into this question, reviewing 22 unique gun policies across the country. Although mental health reporting laws were found to be “weakly associated with lower suicide rates,” their research uncovered “no correlation with homicide rates.”

John Lott and Carlisle Moody found similar results in a fixed regression model for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. “Red flag laws had no significant effect on murder, suicide, the number of people killed in mass public shootings, robbery, aggravated assault, or burglary,” they reported. However, “there is some evidence that rape rates rise.”

In spite of the evidence, red flag advocates continue to make the case that previous shootings could have been prevented by red flag laws. Meanwhile real-world examples don’t bear this out.

The case of Parkland, Florida, is a frequently-cited example as a justification for red flag laws (indeed, the state of Florida passed its red flag law shortly after). But the Parkland shooter could have been stopped by any number of existing state laws. He was not. Police visited his house nearly two-dozen times prior to the shooting. As Gun Owners of America’s Michael Hammond put it recently,

Each time, however, the family defended the murderer’s emotional state to authorities during the dozens of times he was investigated prior to the shooting. So given the family’s defense of this troubled youth, why would anyone think they would have reported him to police under a “red flag” law?

“Arresting the guns” versus “arresting the perpetrators.” The former still leaves the bad guy on the street where he can steal weapons to commit his crime. This is exactly what the Sandy Hook shooter did. And it’s exactly what an Illinois man did this month—police confiscated his guns, but then he simply used a samurai sword to kill his mother.

Arresting the gun doesn’t matter if the perpetrator is still free to commit violence. It’s another reason why red flag laws are a fundamentally unserious effort at preventing harm to anyone. If you really want to stop a person from committing violence, taking away the gun, but leaving him or her with access to knives, vehicles, gasoline, and every other sort of mechanism for assault makes no sense.

The States are Already Acting

Red flag laws are not the panacea to gun violence in America that advocates claim they are. But this does not change the fact that gun violence does happen, and it’s a growing problem too tragic and too deadly to ignore.

So what is to be done? This issue is far more complex than simple access to firearms. As leading conservatives have pointed out, modern culture and its attendant alienation and existential rootlessness has created a disaffection in younger Americans—particularly young men. This cannot be fixed by simple-minded legislation.

Many states and municipalities have already enacted their own measures, including laws regarding background checks, licensing regulations, and storage laws. In addition, many of these rules, like requiring background checks for every retail purchase, are already established at the federal level. But states and municipalities have a thicket of other regulations that best mirror the culture and needs of their communities.

It’s often not reflected in our national debate, but regional differences when it comes to guns are significant. Montana’s gun laws, where hunting and ranching are common, would necessarily be different from laws in urbanized Southern California.

When Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was aghast on Twitter that her Texas colleague, Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) lent guns to his friends for hunting and self-defense, she was failing to acknowledge that just several hundred miles north in her own state, where I grew up, residents swap hunting rifles all the time.

While there is an understandable need among lawmakers to “do something,” the rush to regulate should be tempered by faith in a federalism that best balances state culture with the enumerated rights that are the birthright of all Americans.

First Principles

Pink Political Scientists vs. White Men

Left-modernism is a political assault on the white majority, but Eric Kaufmann defines “white majority” in cultural, not biological terms. His work is a data-driven counterstrike on political correctness.

You know President Trump’s politics of disruption is succeeding when political scientists begin paying attention. Aroused from their slumbers, startled profs are even revising the old syllabus and lecture notes. Many political science departments are seeing booming enrollments.

What Trump means for the practice of politics has the opportunity of improving the scholarship about politics. Just as he put the meaning of the consent of the governed back into politics with his disruptive policies on trade, foreign policy, and immigration, and above all with his assault on political correctness, so thoughtful students of politics need to reexamine whether their scholarship has accorded democratic legitimacy its proper place. Why should we obey certain other people? Political “science” has set this key question further and further back from its central place in democratic self-government.

Establishment political science too often refights the last wars and the last campaigns. The profession began as rebels, as Progressive reformers, but became reactionaries.

From its academic origins in the late 19th century, political science sought to “reform” corrupt American government by applying new scientific principles such as Darwinian evolution. In cleaning out “corruption,” they destroyed politics—the democratic replacement of officeholders—in favor of scientific administration, the reign of experts.

This follows from the American Political Science Association’s own rejection of government by consent in its Progressive origins.

The key is Woodrow Wilson’s attack on the Declaration of Independence, which he thought outmoded. Wilson was the only U.S. president who held the Ph.D. degree and the only one who was a former president of the APSA. His successors have generally taken his lead, with a few honorable exceptions such as the moderate conservative James Q. Wilson.

The Progressive attack on political corruption was a mask for an attack on democratic politics generally and more specifically on the notion of government by consent.

Progressivism sought to replace politics—that is, self-government—with all its messiness and corruption, with administration, all-knowing experts from the best universities. We see the fruits of Progressive political science in the administrative state, in our politics today, and in our political science—with its acceptance of centralized power, regulation, and a politically correct agenda.

Thus, more or less as the Progressive theorists had designed it, American political science (and law) guided the development of American government. An academic-political elite, not the decisions of the people, establishes what is legitimate in our politics. We common people must bow to the expertise and learning of the experts in the elite, who increasingly are leftist (and vocal about it) in their political leanings.

Fortunately, there are some exceptions to this tendency.

One leading sign of contrarian thinking is the recent APSA panels of the Claremont Institute, which have emphasized fundamental, typically forgotten issues of politics—the nature of justice and rights, for example—and have enjoyed the largest average attendance over decades now. Among many presenters one of the more provocative, who challenged established thinking with elegantly supported scholarship (and numbers) is Eric P. Kaufmann, author of the widely reviewed Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities.

The very title may arouse denunciation from those who have not fainted or been rendered speechless. In fact, while largely a data-driven assault on political correctness, Whiteshift is even more a scholarly tome of over 600 pages, with dozens of charts and graphs, which sheds light on this most contentious issue of racial and ethnic attitudes by confronting readers and audiences with facts based on cleverly designed surveys. Despite the moaning of some reviewers, his book does not justify racism. (See, for example, Andrew Sullivan’s appreciation.)

Kaufmann does sympathize with the unease of majority populations that are confronted with new majorities comprised of nonwhite minorities, many of whom are immigrants. And in defense of the unease of whites who see dramatic changes in their lives, he criticizes the self-righteousness of adherents to the new religion of anti-racism, an appropriate introduction to his scholarship.

Following Kaufmann’s presentation, let’s start with an image: Does an ad for an old Steve Martin movie, Three Amigos, display humor or hate?

Following a “reasonable person” standard, Steve Martin and company are hardly hateful. But the new religion of antiracism insists on judging by “the most sensitive [audience] member imaginable.” It would be a violation of the religion’s creed and the preaching of its clergy to think otherwise. It turns out that the so-called reasonable person standard is white privilege’s bigotry, white original sin, which must be confessed, if absolution is to be given. “Cultural appropriation,” “trigger warnings,” and “safe spaces” all follow from the new religion. Only a Great Awakening can end the life of sin and allow sinners to save their souls.

While these religious enthusiasms often burn out, in the meantime they produce perverse policies—silence, apologies, and offers of legal aid to illegal immigrants even in the face of violent acts such as rape in the nation’s  most highly educated counties. Such “left-modernism” produces not only sanctuary from removal by the  Immigration and Customs Enforcement service, but favored status in the community for illegal immigrants.

Left-modernism is a political assault on the white majority, but Kaufmann defines “white majority” in cultural, not biological terms.

In a wide-ranging interview with economist Tyler Cowen, Kaufmann notes that “Unless there’s a violent conflict going on, attachment to your own group is not the same as hating an outgroup. Attachment to being white or attachment to a North European ancestry is not a predictor of disliking a minority.” Moreover, intermarriage produces more of a mixed population, which will “be more inclined to identify with a kind of majoritarian aspect of their identity.” Thus, “60 percent of people who have at least one Mexican grandparent identify as white rather than Latino.”

How American identity can sustain itself is another, even more challenging and important question though. Given the intimidation of the religion of antiracism and its political partner left-modernism, can Progressivism’s great-grandchildren respect the “laws of nature and of nature’s God”—that is, the real religion and the republican self-government of Woodrow Wilson’s despised Declaration of Independence? It would deny our human nature to surrender without a fight, one for which Eric Kaufmann provides much ammunition.

First Principles

The Intelligence Community Works for the President

Losing democratic control over the intelligence community would be the end of self-government.

It’s simply hard to know where to begin to respond to the staggering chutzpah of Jennifer Rubin’s recent Washington Post opinion column accusing the president of undermining our intelligence community.

Rubin used the recent leak regarding the exfiltration (a fancy word for “removal”) of an undercover “asset” in Russia as a hook to make the case that the president is somehow responsible for outing this source and therefore harming U.S. interests. Her column is an example of the backward view elite leftists have towards democracy and the Constitution. These elites, in desperate need of a remedial civics class, have convinced themselves that our elected president must learn to take orders from the intelligence community.

Here is a partial inventory of what is demonstrably wrong with Rubin’s piece:

President Trump is not responsible for outing the secret CIA mole.

Rubin relied on this badly sourced story from CNN, which reported, “The removal [of the mole] happened at a time of wide concern in the intelligence community about mishandling of intelligence by Trump and his administration. Those concerns were described to CNN by five sources who served in the Trump administration, intelligence agencies and Congress.”

When you read CNN is using a former intelligence official as a source, there’s a good chance it’s using one of its own paid get-Trump contributors.

The loss of the mole is the thing Rubin says is undermining our intelligence system so saying “Trump is undermining our intelligence eyes and ears,” is just patently dishonest. As she concedes, “the exfiltration might not have been directly related to the president.” Rubin must have started writing the piece before the New York Times, of all places, debunked the CNN story.

The intelligence community, not Trump, outed their own mole.

According to the Times, intelligence officials effectively outed their own source by making public “with unusual detail” information that led the news media to “pick up” on the possibility that the CIA was using a Kremlin source.

The mole’s “life remains in danger” according to “current and former officials.” So current and former officials are complaining to the Times that leaking information about a former mole endangers his life? Somebody went so far as to leak the location of the mole in the United States. If the intelligence community is sincere about keeping cooperating moles safe, maybe they should stop leaking?

Trump did not mishandle classified information.

Quoting another Washington Post story, Rubin writes: “The exfiltration took place sometime after an Oval Office meeting in May 2017, when President Trump revealed highly classified counterterrorism information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador.”

Rubin means this meeting in which the president warned Russia of an ISIS plot. ISIS is a common enemy to the United States and Russia. Sharing this information was both legal and consistent with Russia’s own attempt to warn us of the Boston Marathon bombers before the attack took place.

It’s up to the president to decide how best to use classified information and he may appropriately decide to share it with another country. In order to punish the president for this meeting, somebody within the intelligence community leaked the meeting and added the detail that the information came from “A Middle Eastern ally that closely guards its own secrets provided the information.”

So, to undermine the president’s diplomacy, the leaking intelligence community outed its source (or narrowed it to a short list) and put the supposedly secret information into the pages of the New York Times. I clearly remember the story as an example of the intelligence community considering the president unworthy of exercising control over U.S. intelligence.

Trump did not attack the intelligence community by expressing skepticism.

Rubin’s entire theory for why Trump is at fault for the exfiltration is that the intelligence community felt it had to leak definitive details supporting its Russian interference claims because of Trump’s skepticism.

“Under ordinary circumstances,” Rubin writes, “the intelligence community would likely not have been as definitive, but of course it was under attack by Trump, who continued to deny its conclusion that Russia was without a doubt involved in attempting to sway the 2016 election Trump’s way.”

It’s difficult not to be skeptical about claims that Russia interfered in the election when you learn that the source of much of that information, Christopher Steele through Fusion GPS, was hired by the Clinton campaign to help her in the election.

Hillary Clinton’s subcontractor claimed, for example, that Trump’s private attorney Michael Cohen traveled to Prague to pay Russians to  hack the Democratic National Committee’s servers. That was proven and demonstrably false.

Nevertheless, Steele’s work was indispensable to the Russian collusion narrative as it formed the basis for FISA surveillance warrants. CIA Director John Brennan and perhaps FBI chief James Comey sought to use Steele’s false research to bolster the official national intelligence assessment.

Likewise, the conclusion that the Russians hacked the DNC servers rely on another Clinton subcontractor, Crowdstrike, that failed to follow their own third-party verification process in attributing the hack. The Justice Department has abandoned any effort to prove the Russian government had anything to do with the Russian troll farm case. Trump would have been a fool to accept on faith the highly politicized intelligence developed by political enemies intent on overturning the results of the 2016 election.

There’s reason to question whether this mole was ever reliable.

According to the Times article cited by Rubin, “The Moscow informant was instrumental to the C.I.A.’s most explosive conclusion about Russia’s interference campaign: that President Vladimir V. Putin ordered and orchestrated it himself.” But, the story continues, when the mole refused the CIA’s offer to “exfiltrate” (again, a fancy word for “leave”):

the source’s rejection of the C.I.A.’s initial offer of exfiltration prompted doubts among some counterintelligence officials. They wondered whether the informant had been turned and had become a double agent, secretly betraying his American handlers. That would almost certainly mean that some of the information the informant provided about the Russian interference campaign or Mr. Putin’s intentions would have been inaccurate.

It’s worth remembering that the NSA broke with the CIA and the FBI to express “moderate confidence” that Putin indeed “aspired to help President-elect Trump.” What exactly is “moderate confidence”?

Rubin is against democratic control of the intelligence community.

That’s tyranny. I recently quoted Harry Truman’s assessment of former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. “We want no Gestapo or secret police,” Truman wrote. “FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail . . . Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him.”

Losing democratic control over the intelligence community would be, as Truman rightly worried, the end of self-government.

The intelligence community has committed numerous well-documented abuses of intelligence including, illegally using surveillance to spy on spouses and lovers, CIA hacking congressional emails, the Carter Page surveillance abuses, and the explosive FISA court opinion outing abuses so widespread and massive that the FBI had to hire contractors just to keep up with the volume of constitutional violations it perpetrated.

The president is the constitutional master of the intelligence community. Any attempt to negate presidential control of these powerful forces is a step towards tyranny. National security means nothing if doesn’t mean securing and preserving our constitutional form of government.

Consider this observation from Steven Hall, a former CIA official, cited with approval by the New York Times: “We have a president who, unlike any other president in modern history, is willing to use sensitive, classified intelligence however he sees fit.”

Uh, yes. That’s his constitutional role and it’s troubling that Hall and so many others like him don’t understand that. Rubin cites former FBI special agent Frank Figliuzzi, who contends the circumstances “could present a virtual ‘intelligence desert’ for the foreseeable future or until the national security threat posed by Trump is negated.”

Presidential control over intelligence is a threat to national security that must be “negated.” Let that speak for itself.

First Principles

The Etiquette of the Late Dauphin or the Morality of Americans?

A federal republic, as the Founders saw it, takes a certain kind of citizen, one that particularly values a certain etiquette above all others: the respect for the results of elections.

“I am the late Dauphin,” or so goes the line from Huckleberry Finn. American fraudsters long have sought to clothe themselves in the trappings of European aristocracy.

A permanent elite is alien to American culture. Being alien, it is altogether fascinating. The distraction opens the door to swindle.

Last week in City Journal, Harvard political scientist Harvey Mansfield wrote: “A conference that I attended recently at the Chateau of Alexis de Tocqueville in Normandy brought me to confront Tocqueville with Donald Trump.”

As Chekhov said, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.” Mansfield hangs a symbol of European aristocracy, a chateau in Normandy, on the wall. The next act comes quickly.

“As I have studied, taught, and translated the Frenchman . . . ” Mansfield doesn’t fail to inform his readers. The pretensions to the superiority of European aristocracy—it’s multilingual, you know—thus go off in the same paragraph.

The upshot of Mansfield’s opinion is that Donald Trump represents the weakness of democracy which Tocqueville had recognized and the Founders had sought to suppress.

Trump’s critics, of which Harvey Mansfield numbers as neither unique nor especially innovative, mistake etiquette for virtue.

Corrosive democratization, vulgarity, whether from Right or Left, is what today most threatens the American Republic. Trump, he insists, is the embodiment of the weakness of popular government, a demagogue of the Right who has hacked the constitutional and extraconstitutional bulwarks and procedural thickets to access the Oval Office.

Mansfield does not mean to credit Trump, who Mansfield notes—sacre bleu!—doesn’t read, with having cracked the American constitutional code. By Mansfield’s account, Trump is more Mr. Magoo than Caesar.

“Trump is great,” Mansfield says, “mainly in the amazing extent of his pettiness and willingness to level insults at his rivals.”

This goes to the heart of the matter. As I noted early on, Trump’s critics, of which Mansfield numbers as neither unique nor especially innovative, mistake etiquette for virtue.

Mansfield, a bookworm effeminate—even by Cambridge standards⁠—hilariously, is celebrated as an expert on manliness. He has made part of his career analyzing manliness as an ingredient of good government and happiness. Odd indeed, as Mansfield’s public persona evokes thoughts of a shy and diminutive Freiherr at a Viennese waltz, whose importuning to cut in is too soft to be heard over the shuffling of dance shoes.

Through mastery of this docile etiquette, Mansfield has remained in good standing with his peers. His colleagues at Harvard tolerate his stances urging the preservation of elements of the American regime progressives hate, one supposes, because Mansfield makes points so lightly they are not taken seriously.

Un chat dégriffé (a declawed cat) makes a fine chateau pet.

Trump, probably because he is temperamentally incapable of it, lacks the etiquette of the class of technocrats, really petty bourgeoisie, that at once service and compose the centers of power—D.C., New York, Hollywood, Silicon Valley—of the American regime.

This etiquette acts as a sorting mechanism, determining who may be admitted to the ranks of power. Master the etiquette, ape the posture and speech of the credentialed class, and the most grotesque venality may be overlooked, as the Jeffrey Epstein affair reveals.

But—au contraire, learned Mansfield—this is not the etiquette of the Founders, who embarked on a civil war with English nobility, signing their names large enough for the king to read without spectacles.

When the boldness of civil war abated, the American etiquette the Founders imagined would facilitate the election of representatives to hold office and to carry out, on behalf of the people, key responsibilities of the national and local governments.

A federal republic, as the Founders saw it, takes a certain kind of citizen, one that particularly values a certain etiquette above all others: the respect for the results of elections.

Jefferson put it this way in his first inaugural address, “absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority.”

This acquiescence is a form of self-respect, as it insists above all on self-government—freedom for the whole of the citizenry to pursue excellence through deliberative politics —as the highest feature of government.

Trump—due in no small part to the eruption from the petty bourgeoisie of the regime, whether as #TheResistance or the conduct of the FBI or the “intelligence community” or the disgrace of the “not my president” claque—has come to embody this etiquette in his person and, more importantly, in his tenacious and lawful defense, in the face of shocking lawlessness, of the prerogatives of an elected president.

If the soulcraft of statesmanship is to model the virtues of the good regime, Trump, in embodying the spirited defense of self-government against interested ranks who would seek to form a permanent ruling class, has the very best etiquette—indeed a great morality.

First Principles

Natural Disasters and the AR-15

Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc, leaving some communities in a temporary “state of nature.” Under the circumstances, the right to self-defense is indispensable.

As I was traveling from Jacksonville, Florida back home up the I-95, hundreds of electric power service vehicles from several companies were making their way south. Among those service vehicles were the ubiquitous Asplundh tree clearing trucks meshed in between the convoys. For people living on the East Coast, these were anxious days because as we traveled north, Hurricane Dorian was predicted to turn the direction we were headed, missing landfall in Florida, where all the emergency vehicles were headed.

While there may be power outages and other wind-caused damage from the storm, unpredictable storms like Dorian stretch the ability of government entities, including public utilities, to accommodate the needs of people who are in harm’s way. If government cannot protect us at all times and in all places—and that is never feasible or desirable, much less possible—how are individuals supposed to protect themselves in the wake of a disaster absent law enforcement?

While Dorian churned off the coast and ravaged the Bahamas, the anti-gun crowd virtue signals their boorish tropes. So-called political scientist Miranda Yaver tweeted her view that there is no reason to own an AR-15. Given that she apparently graduated from an elite institution (Columbia) and taught at another (Yale) one might think she has at least a passing familiarity with the need for human beings to protect themselves. You’d think she might have read, you know, John Locke. Of course, the people of the Bahamas didn’t need to read Locke to know that when faced with the destruction of Dorian, they needed guns to form militias to ward off looters who were robbing and shooting them. Perhaps they could give Yaver some lessons?

Yaver is not the only one who went to a fancy school and missed this important life lesson, it seems. The hive mindset is strong.

“If You Loot, We Shoot”

U.S. Senator and erstwhile presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) announced she wanted to confiscate guns. No matter what the restriction will be, it will never be enough. Consider that when London banned guns, knife attacks increased, which led the mayor to call for knife control and the regulation of knives. Gillibrand, Yaver, and countless others on the Left do not want to protect life; they want us to be unable to defend ourselves from the violence of the stronger and, therefore, become more dependent on them.

Our ruling class couldn’t care less that our republic is founded on immutable truths of the human condition. All of their educations have made them politically incompetent and incapable of governing. Rome burns and they are playing with matches.

There are several examples of natural disasters that encouraged the strong to prey on the weak. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, many looters descended upon law-abiding citizens in Florida to steal their property, by force if need be. The same has happened in other parts of the country after similar calamitous events. In at least one instance, a neighborhood banded together, with their guns, and warned would-be thieves: “if you loot, we shoot.” If the thieves are a mob, then practically nothing but a privately owned AR-15 would answer that situation.

The happenstance of natural disasters is just one example of what can be called a temporary state of nature. Locke wrote that prior to the institution of government, we are left in the state of freedom without constraint. This made life precarious and dangerous because not everyone would consult the Law of Nature, which decreed that since we are all equally human, we have a duty not to do injustice to our fellow man. In the state of nature, there is no recourse to justice but what our own abilities may provide.

But Locke never addressed a state of nature that might be temporary. When a natural disaster strikes, it places human beings in a state beyond government protection. In such a state, people need the means to secure their lives and property on their own. How are they to defend themselves from those who would do harm to them without the necessary defense? If guns were confiscated, the equalizing force that only a gun provides would be unavailable, putting people’s lives at greater risk. Locke insists that in a state of nature we have “right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction.” A thief—a looter—might want to steal my possessions, including my life.

This is clearly unjust. Confiscating the means with which the weaker could protect themselves in a state of nature is tantamount to a death sentence. Locke correctly noted that the equality of human rights made defense of life compulsory when attacked by someone who would threaten our lives.

The Second Amendment, Rightly Understand

The acknowledgment of the natural right to defend one’s own life is why the American Founders included the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment has confused many people who do not understand the logic of its wording, insisting that the right to bear arms was only meant as a right provided to resist another military force through the creation of a militia. But as Nelson Lund has pointed out, “it was not meant to protect a right of state governments to control their militias.” To assert such makes the entire amendment nonsensical.

The entire amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” On the surface, the right to bear arms might be limited to the confining aspects of a militia regulated by the state (and that means state government, not national government). But, if we are to believe that words mean things, such an interpretation only confounds the rest of the sentence, which states that the right belongs to “the people.

The early state constitutions acknowledged the right of human beings to defend themselves and the state. Therefore, the most appropriate and original understanding of the Second Amendment is that it offers a defense both of self and of the state in which one resides should a militia be needed to defend it from an invading force.

According to the debate in the House of Representatives, there was no question that if a government wanted to “invade the rights and liberties of the people” it would first disarm the people, in order to destroy the militia to “raise an army upon their ruins.”

In this context, the right of individuals to bear arms, contrary to what some might surmise, is not folklore. When government fails, and it does sometimes fail, as it did in Great Britain a few years ago, and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, it places us in a state of nature to some degree.

As Dorian wreaks havoc, leaving some communities in a temporary state of nature, the right to protect ourselves is consequential. The natural right to self-defense is inalienable.

First Principles

Lies the Left Tells About Guns

For starters, the “assault weapons” ban of 1994 had no meaningful effect on the homicide rate.

Congress reconvenes this week after a summer fraught with multiple mass shootings. Reportedly, legislation implementing tighter gun control is on the table, with rumored support by some in the White House. The rhetoric surrounding guns continues to escalate.

Here’s the thing about guns. The Constitution—that handy little document—guarantees our rights to them, and that guarantee is a profound reflection of the nature and character of our freedoms. As Ben Domenech of The Federalist wrote recently, “the right to bear arms is not about hunting.” Rather:

It is a natural right of the deepest significance to the relationship between the citizen and the state. It is in the Constitution because the men who defeated the greatest empire in the world wanted us to be able to defend our freedom.

The simple fact that we have a right to own guns doesn’t mean individuals must own them, use them, or even like them. But what it does mean is that people advocating further regulation of firearms at least should have a baseline understanding of how firearms actually work, as well as the current statutory environment that regulates their purchase, handling, and use.

Unfortunately, the current rhetoric coming from Democrats betrays a deep misunderstanding about all of those things.

Here are some of the worst offenses.

Bernie Sanders: “We must end the sale and distribution of assault weapons.”

There’s a lot to unpack here about so-called “assault weapons.” The first challenge is the absence of any fixed legal definition of what constitutes an “assault weapon.” Numerous state laws have defined the phrase as everything from paintball guns to all semiautomatic firearms to Remington 11-87 shotguns, the latter famously used by former presidential candidate John Kerry (D-Mass.) on Labor Day in 2004 to demonstrate his legitimately good trap-shooting skills.

The vague term “assault weapon” is distinct from an assault rifle, however, which refers to a rapid-fire, magazine fed rifle that allows the shooter to select between semiautomatic (requiring you to pull the trigger for each shot), fully automatic (hold the trigger and the gun continuously fires) or three-round-burst modes. Assault rifles are, for all intents and purposes, already banned in the United States. More on that shortly.

So for anyone proposing to ban “assault weapons,” the question needs to be: which guns? Because, depending on your definition, it could be just slide action shotguns and guns with adjustable stocks, or it could be every semiautomatic pistol in America as well as your kid’s BB gun.

Dianne Feinstein: “The assault weapons ban worked. Studies prove that mass shootings dropped while it was in effect.”

Except it didn’t. “There is no compelling evidence that it saved lives,” according to Duke University public policy experts Philip Cook and Kristin Goss. A 2004 Department of Justice study found no evidence the ban had any effect on gun violence, stating “should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.” Other studies have found no statistically significant relationship between “assault” weapons or large-capacity magazine bans and homicide rates.

There is also substantial misunderstanding surrounding what the Assault Weapons Ban, which passed in 1994 and sunset in 2004, actually did. It didn’t ban anyone from owning an “assault-style” (again, an undefined term) weapon. All magazines and weapons produced before the ban were grandfathered in, and some companies actually ramped up production of the soon-to-be-outlawed firearm components, drastically increasing ownership of what lawmakers were seeking to reduce.

The only automatic weapons legal to purchase for civilians in the United States are those registered between 1934 and 1986.

So if the ban didn’t actually apply specifically to types of guns, to what did it apply? Mostly cosmetic “military-style” features. Specifically: semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines and certain additional features, including pistol grips, bayonet mounts, folding stocks, or magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

Also, given the frequently cited claim that “assault weapons lead to more murder,” it’s worth pointing out that at least 730,000 AR-15s (not an assault rifle, but more on that in a bit) were manufactured and legally sold while the Assault Weapons Ban was in effect, and the national murder rate declined.

It’s also true that rifles like the AR-15 are only used in a tiny percentage of murders. Twenty-seven percent of murders are committed without firearms of any type.

Beto O’Rourke: “Americans who own AR-15s, AK-47s, will have to sell them to the government.”

Ah, yes, the mandatory “buyback.” O’Rourke gets so much wrong here. First among them, as Matt Walsh has pointed out, is the concept of the “back” in “buyback.” That assumes that Americans would be returning their guns to the original owner, which is . . . the government? Uh, no.

It’s also a misnomer to say that the government would be “buying” anything. That suggests choice, when this is very much a mandate. Moreover, the government would be “buying” guns from legal gun owners and reimbursing them with their own tax dollars.

Since 1986, Congress has forbidden gunmakers from even producing fully automatic weapons for the civilian market.

In Walsh’s phrasing, “a mandatory buyback” is like calling armed robbery “a compelled donation.”

Experts who have studied gun buyback programs done at the state level say they are largely ineffective at reducing crime rates or gun violence. In the words of one expert, the impact of buybacks on crime was “not statistically significant.” In other words, buybacks are good for photo ops and for when you’re trying to jumpstart a foundering presidential campaign. But they don’t actually get crime off the streets.

Kamala Harris: “As president, I will take executive action to . . . ban the importation of AR-15-style assault weapons.”

Some things to clear up here. “AR” does not stand for “assault rifle.” An AR-15 is not, in fact, an assault rifle, because it only fires one round with each pull of the trigger. (Again, there is no fixed legal definition for “assault weapon.”)

An AR-15 is classified as a modern sporting rifle, used for hunting, competition shooting, and home-defense, and one of the most popular firearms being sold today—upwards of 16 million Americans own them. Even with that many purchases, AR-15s and similar sporting rifles still comprise only 3 percent of the total civilian arsenal of approximately 310 million firearms.

Automatic weapons have been heavily regulated since the National Firearms Act of 1934.

AR-15s are legal to own in most states, provided that the purchaser passes the mandatory FBI background check required for all retail firearm purchases.

Oh, and one more thing: The vast majority of AR-15s are manufactured in the United States. So an import ban would be meaningless.

David Axelrod: “Weapons of war kill large numbers of people . . . why are they still legal?”

Axelrod doesn’t define what he means here as “weapons of war” (no one ever really does), but this seems as good a time as any to point out the key differences between automatic weapons (largely banned) and semiautomatic weapons (mostly handguns).

An automatic weapon can shoot more than one round when you pull the trigger (e.g.: a machine gun). A semi-automatic—most handguns, many rifles, and some shotguns—does not. Contrary to popular belief, automatic weapons have not been used in recent mass shootings—semi-automatics have been.

The federal Firearms Transaction Record required for all gun purchases asks “have you ever been adjudicated as a mental defective or have you ever been committed to a mental institution?” Falsifying the form is a crime.

Moreover, the only automatic weapons legal to purchase for civilians in the United States are those registered between 1934 and 1986. Since 1986, Congress has forbidden gunmakers from even producing fully automatic weapons for the civilian market. Automatic weapons have been heavily regulated since the National Firearms Act of 1934.

If you want to take possession of an automatic weapon, the bar is quite high. A substantial transfer tax, application, federal background check, and fingerprinting are all required. If you violate the Firearms Act? Good luck to you—you’ll sit in prison for 10 years and pay up to $100,000 in fines.

Chuck Schumer: The Odessa shooting “could have been avoided” with a background check bill. 

Actually, no.

The Odessa, Texas shooter did not legally own his gun, an AR-15, and existing laws made it illegal for him to purchase one. He obtained his gun from a currently unidentified person that law enforcement officials believe may have illegally manufactured and sold the gun to him.

Some commentators claim the fact that the gunman bought his weapon through a “private sale” meant that he escaped a background check. But let’s be very clear here. He escaped a background check because the seller was selling illegally. Private sales require the seller to be legally compliant, and private sales also require background checks. Legal private sales are still federally regulated and there are harsh penalties for buyers and sellers who violate the law.

The shooter was also prohibited under federal law from owning a firearm because a court previously had found him mentally unfit. He evidently had tried to purchase a gun in January 2014 but failed because the nationwide criminal background check system had flagged the mental health determination.

The federal Firearms Transaction Record, form 4437, required for all gun purchases, asks “have you ever been adjudicated as a mental defective or have you ever been committed to a mental institution?” Falsifying the form is a crime.

It was later revealed the shooter had a criminal record that included pleading guilty to criminal trespassing and evading arrest, both of which are misdemeanors in Texas. He did not receive jail time, but instead got two years of probation.

The Odessa shooting was a horror. But existing laws prevented it from happening sooner. And the fact that he got a gun at all tells us what common sense already teaches: motivated criminals don’t abide by laws.

As my boss, former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said recently, the breakdown of the culture is more responsible for mass shootings than the availability of the guns themselves. There are myriad reasons for this, but lawmakers, he noted, need to set a better example for how to treat people before rushing to strip Second Amendment rights from the rest of us.

First Principles

Red Flag, White Flag

Do Americans really want to adopt an informer culture?

In the wake of recent incidents in El Paso and in Dayton, our legislators—even more than usual—have been enthusiastic in their now-ritual “Dance of Death” for the Second Amendment. Their cries for more draconian background checks are joined by what is nothing less than a proposal to transform America into an informer culture. “Red flag laws” themselves raise the reddest of flags.

Some of our legislators would encourage Americans to advise law enforcement of friends, family, neighbors, and strangers who (in their opinion) might be inclined to carry out public slaughters with firearms.

Law enforcement, in turn, would find itself more muscular so informed. The information provided by informers, after all, must be used. Otherwise, it’s just written in water with a spoon. Although the precise details of a “red flag” law’s provisions remain a bit murky, we well understand the nature and propensities of government bureaucracies. What is filed today is acted upon tomorrow. We should also acknowledge human nature, and consider how we’ll respond to a red flag reality.

Informer cultures are familiar to us. The Soviet Union and the entire Eastern Bloc recently provided an illustrative example. The proposed “red flag laws” reprise the Bolshevik practice of state intervention in the lives of others, those with improper thoughts. This is what one citizen judging another’s propensities reduces to.

Eventually, everything is a sign of a would-be mass shooter. Ownership of a single firearm, then voting Republican, and then behaviors and expressions which at present only a poet or dramatist could entwine with an incubating mass murderer. Before long, anybody can inform on anyone, about anything. And many will. To observe that this has a chilling effect on conduct and expression is not especially insightful.

Many of us are all too familiar with life in an informer society. Facebook is about the lives of others in more ways than one. Complaints to the Virtual Stasi routinely trigger account suspensions, popularly known as “Facebook jail.” There’s even a virtual death penalty. My account, for example, was completely eradicated, without warning. So, at the same time, were two backup accounts under different email addresses and usernames that I’d maintained against this very eventuality. Facebook knows who I am at the IP address level.

I don’t know why I was terminated, exactly. I think it’s because of recent comments about . . . red flag laws. I’d also speculated that Facebook would react to President Trump’s threatened executive order clamping down on social media by purging undesirables ahead of its issue. This is the way citizens respond to legislators’ threats of more and better gun control, right?  We run out and buy more guns. Big Tech is adaptive, too.

Yes, we’ll all fear the informer. Most of us, having realistic expectations for the outcomes of any encounter with the state, will govern ourselves accordingly. We’ll watch what we do and say, of course. On this grim note, the commentator’s warnings about informer culture generally end. There’s more, though. And by some lights, the rest is even worse.

We’ll come to dread not only the informer but the informing. We’ll all acquire the power to ruin lives by picking up a telephone or submitting a web form to an agency. What do human beings do when thus tempted? When, surrounded by menace, the opportunity to pre-empt is ever-present? When we have the means to punish any slight, howsoever trivial or imaginary? History suggests it is an extraordinary character that doesn’t eventually succumb. And, having succumbed, how does one live with it?

It is in this way that an informer culture dissolves the consciences of citizens, who can no longer endure their reprimands. Red flag laws and the informer culture they conjure thus spell the end of this thing of ours, this republic of individuals. If anything in our present political life is unacceptable, it is this.

First Principles

The Inertial State

A perpetual government of the special interests, by the special interests, for the special interests.

One of the nobler elements of the American system is its jealous protection of the rights of minority interests. Going back to James Madison’s strictures about balancing faction against faction in Federalist #10, and Abraham Lincoln’s warnings against unfettered popular sovereignty in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Americans have long held to a noble tradition of respecting minority rights, rather than simply riding roughshod over minority factions in the name of decisive majoritarian action.

There are times, however, when this worthy tradition gets carried too far. Former vice president and leading slavery apologist John C. Calhoun, for example, once propagated the idea that America really should be ruled by a “concurrent majority” of elites, just one of whom could veto any proposed policy change. While Calhoun’s larger goal—the protection of the “peculiar institution” of slavery—failed spectacularly in the Civil War, to look at modern-day Washington is to see that his idea has become more popular than one might think.

Calhoun’s believed the concurrent majority would be made up of noble elites looking after the concerns of their people. The reality is more venal: bureaucrats and lobbyists work overtime to scuttle any and all proposed changes, reforms, or accountability.

To get into the origins of this particular phenomenon, which go back more than a century, would be beyond the scope of our efforts here. What we can observe, however, is the natural result of this unofficial “concurrent majority”—namely, a largely administrative state that, with a few rare disruptions, runs on autopilot, implementing programs that cannot be changed or stopped, regardless of their suitability to the moment or how the majority of the American people vote.

In short, the main force in modern American government is inertia.

Federal Tea Tasters and Other Follies

Examples of this phenomenon are too numerous to count. Two of them—one from recent history, and another still ongoing—can, however, illustrate the problem well enough for our purposes.

Beginning with the historical example, let me take you back 122 years, when Congress passed the Tea Importation Act of 1897. Evidently, at the time of the act’s passage, America faced a genuine problem of importing foreign teas that were, according to the FDA, “little better than hay or catnip.” As a result, Congress established a body called the Board of Tea Experts, whose sole job was to taste imported teas before they could be sold on the U.S. market. Yes, the federal government really paid a group of people to do nothing but sit around and drink tea all day in order to protect consumers.

And really, who’s to say it wasn’t necessary . . . in 1897. The Board of Tea Experts, however, was not simply a short-lived program that served the cause of consumer welfare until it was no longer needed. Instead it took until 1995 for this group of federal tea tasters to be abolished, and then only after Congress tried to abolish it for 20 years, only to be frustrated by the angry dissenting voices of the domestic tea lobby, who saw the tea tasters as a vital weapon with which to muzzle competition from foreign tea manufacturers.

If you want to have some idea of whether a program works, the last people you should trust with oversight over it are the people who profit from the program’s continued existence.

To be sure, such protectionist measures sometimes can be justified. But even President Trump, who has long warned against the dangers of fundamentalist and unilateral free trade, probably doesn’t lose sleep over the battle between Bigelow and Twinings.

Yet because government programs are propped up by inertia and the ability of sufficiently determined lobbyists to frustrate all but the most fervent reform efforts, the unofficial concurrent majority was able to keep American taxpayers on the hook for a group of people to have tea parties all day. The idea, to be blunt, is both hilarious and sad.

Private Oversight Is No Oversight

Still, one can take refuge in one basic fact while looking at the tea tasters: at least theirs probably was a relatively cheap program to fund. The same cannot be said for another product of the inertial state—the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. This supposedly top-of-the-line fighter plane, which has already cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars more than it was originally estimated to cost, makes the tea tasters look like a harmless eccentricity in comparison, and shows the true power of the concurrent majority of corruption in Washington. For heaven’s sake, only half of all F-35s in use by the Department of Defense are even capable of flying missions, compared to 80 percent of all total fighter planes.

A recent, and devastating New York Times article explains why this goes on. According to the Times, the problems with the F-35, which date back years, can be laid squarely on the fact that the Department of Defense, despite shelling out money hand over fist for the planes, does not actually have control over the program. Who does? Lockheed Martin, the company that makes the F-35. Never mind that Lockheed is already being sued by the U.S. government for bilking taxpayers: that’s not even the point.

The point is, if you want to have some idea of whether a program works, the last people you should trust with oversight over it are the people who profit from the program’s continued existence. Yet, to hear the Times tell it, Lockheed apparently has almost complete control over test flight procedures for the plane, not to mention control over all the software and technology required to fly it.

And the Pentagon, apparently, won’t even ask questions despite the program being hundreds of billions of dollars over-budget and decades behind schedule. In fact, the program’s biggest congressional critic—the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)—died without achieving measurably improved oversight in spite of years of objections. In one of the more troubling lines in the story, the Times notes: “Recognizing that it was nearly impossible to cancel the program, McCain nevertheless aimed to hold it accountable for its repeated setbacks.”

And why was it nearly impossible? Because, according to Dan Grazier of the Project on Government Oversight, Lockheed deliberately had set up more than 1,500 suppliers for the F-35 program, in every state in the union, effectively making its perpetuation something that was in the interest of every one of those states’ industries, and thus frightening every state’s legislators out of imposing greater scrutiny. In short, Lockheed created a concurrent majority determined to keep the F-35 program alive, at whatever cost.

They Keep Going and Going . . .

Troubling though this story is, it is only illustrative of an even more disturbing fact: that Washington’s obsessive attentiveness to the needs of every single special interest in the country, and the Calhounist style of governance it creates, not only effects political paralysis, it also causes already approved (if unnecessary) government programs to perform like the Energizer Bunny. They just keep going and going and going and wasting money and going.

Right and Left like to squabble over the size and scope of government on a theoretical level, but in this situation, that’s not even the point. The idea that the government should continue performing certain functions without regard to whether they’re needed is not something contemplated even by the most maximalist thinker on government power. Yet, that is how government actually works in Washington, at the expense both of liberals who would like to put new programs into effect for the sake of reform, and of conservatives who seek to end programs that no longer serve their purpose. The inertial state is a problem that, in any sane world, should have bipartisan opposition, and among voters, it certainly does.

Perhaps it’s time Washington listened to the actual majority, then, and not simply to the concurrent majority that lines their pockets, but ultimately does not vest them with their just powers.

First Principles

The Classical Tyranny of the Left’s Gun Policy

After months of dithering in a campaign as aimless as its Keroucian prologue, Beto O’Rourke had an interesting thought that’s also kind of true: “America is f—ed up” for tolerating mass shootings.

He’s not wrong, but his indignant posturing is misplaced. Last week, Beto gave a rather f—ed up answer to a question about abortion. Asked by a young man whether his life had value the day before he was born, Beto had this cheery response:

This is a decision that neither you, nor I, nor the United States government should be making. That’s a decision for the woman to make. We want her to have the best possible access to care and to a medical provider.

Got that, punk? You’re alive because of the good graces of The Woman and The Doctor, an inscrutable provider of Medical Care. Be thankful that they didn’t kill you.

Then, this week, Beto had this to say:

The rhetoric that we’ve used—the thoughts and prayers that you just referred to—it has done nothing to stop the epidemic of gun violence to protect our kids, our families, our fellow Americans in public places—at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where 22 were killed, in Sutherland Springs—in a church.

“So yes, this is f—ed up,” the former Texas congressman went on. “If we don’t call it out for what it is, if we’re not able to speak clearly, if we’re not able to act decisively, then we will continue to have this kind of bloodshed in America, and I cannot accept that.”

But where does Beto presume to derive the moral vision to “speak clearly” and “act decisively?” Is it from the same moral universe where killing a child is “care?”

A Shallow Dialogue

Politics is always somehow related to morality, since the object of politics is justice or discerning the difference between right and wrong, and then building a social order in accordance with that understanding. Yet calls to “do something” fail to register the deeply moral roots of a problem like mass shootings. Why is it that modern people always consider them failures of policy, rather than of ethics? 

Why is it the government’s fault for failing to take guns away from crazy people, and not an ethical failure on the part of the perpetrators, and of society generally, to raise virtuous and healthy citizens?

Can there be no connection between Beto O’Rourke’s deeply selfish, morally irresponsible response to the young man’s question about abortion, and the callous and evil mentality of mass shooters?

O’Rourke gives conservatives grief for offering “thoughts and prayers,” but that’s more thoughtful than begging the state to disenfranchise Americans for the sins of a few depraved monsters.

Liberals have no interest in talking about deeper causal factors in play, because to entertain them would distract from the more immediate political goal of winning votes by keeping the citizenry in a state of helplessness and fear.

The equally myopic invocation of “mental illness” as a catchall for cultural, moral, and institutional failure is still vague, but at least it’s closer to the mark. Clearly, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong with society when getting gunned down at random is a distinct fear in the minds of Americans. Why don’t we talk about that, instead of making guns more difficult to access for millions of people who have done nothing wrong?

But this is a conversation the Left is unwilling to have. You mean something seems to have gone wrong with the country that can’t be blamed on Trump, whites, the Founding Fathers, or even more historically remote colonialists? Who has time to talk about that?

There is something profoundly infantilizing and degrading about the left’s approach to gun violence. Rather than reflect on the deeper causes of this postmodern scourge, which might help lead the way to a more virtuous citizenry capable of self-government, the Left is quick to relinquish liberty for superficial solutions.

Democracy Without Virtue

This is the coward’s approach to democracy. Beto grasps at America’s moral blindness, its false conceits and its fecklessness in failing to confront deep social ills. But where does Beto presume, in a universe where killing a baby until the day of birth is permissible—maybe even positively necessary to secure an unlimited orbit for personal choice—to derive the moral authority to condemn mass killing? The Left is full of passionate intensity, passion without moral sight.

O’Rourke, who has spent more time than most candidates apologizing for his ancestors, is a particularly fitting vessel for the Left’s superficial, deeply hypocritical moral posturing. The Left has a morality, but it revolves entirely around the Manichean, primeval struggle between bigotry and wokeness, which is imagined to have proceeded in dialectical stages towards inexorable perfection. If there is any deeper cause of violence, it is the swirling, primordial energies of hatred and prejudice, which belong, always, to certain Bad People that everyone are supposed to hate.

The moral one-dimensionality of leftism is ill-equipped to handle the deeply moral responsibilities of republican self-government. It sounds like Beto is encouraging meditation on virtue, when in reality he’s suggesting prefabricated policy fixes that require the least inconvenience to the people, while leaving safely intact the assumption that America has progressed, morally and culturally, over the past several decades.

Without a deeper moral vision, we end up with the inarticulate, impotent hand-wringing of “do something!” We end up with citizens begging to be disenfranchised, rather than seeking to investigate, and reform, what has gone badly wrong in our society.

Politics without moral vision aims not at justice, but its opposite. A people without virtue descend sooner or later into despair, and from there, into tyranny—first of the soul, and then of governments. The Left’s gun policy has the textbook ingredient of tyranny: passion without moral vision to correct it. Such a recipe seeks to degrade, rather than ennoble, enslave rather than liberate.

A Retreat from Justice

Beto O’Rourke thinks it’s not anyone’s business to weigh in on abortion except a mother and “doctor” (and given his views on healthcare, the “doctor” is really the State). Indeed, why should people bother with petty trifles like the most important moral questions concerning life and death, when a group of nine people in black robes decided all of this for them some forty years ago?

The moral libertarianism of the Left, which has slowly but surely become the “id” of the time and has precipitated a retreat from justice, making virtuous, responsible government effectively impossible. The morally libertarian mentality of the Left could be summarized in the phrase, “Don’t like abortion? Then don’t have one.”

Indeed. Don’t like murder? Then don’t kill people. So simple! If only we could get murderers to see reason on this issue.

Decades of this indifferent, lazy mentality have eroded the role of morality in politics. In 2019, politics is no longer about the deepest questions of justice, which are imagined long ago to have been decided, but making right the great wrong of History, where all humankind’s sins are said to lie. Perhaps it’s easier to confront the sins of the past than it is those of our present? As a corollary, citizens have retreated from their neighbors and from the rigors of self- government and political community.

How else to explain the new, disturbing regularity, even banality, of an act so profoundly childish and evil as killing random strangers out of frustration with one’s own life? The causes are complex and could take up numberless op-ed pages. But it’s not the kind of thing that people used to fear. The evil of mass shooters is a reflection of the soul of this historical place, in this historical time. 

Cliché as it may sound, their evil is a reflection of the society that produced them. The common trait of all mass shooters is a profound loneliness coupled with pathological narcissism, a belief that one’s ego is the whole world and that one’s problems are always the fault of everyone but oneself. Can there be no connection between O’Rourke’s deeply selfish, morally irresponsible response to the young man’s question about abortion, and the callous and evil mentality of mass shooters?

Beto O’Rourke is half-right. If we’re not able to speak clearly about what has gone wrong in this country, then the violence will never stop. With the shallow policy bromides of people like O’Routke controlling the dialogue, however, such clarity will never happen.