America • civic culture/friendship • Donald Trump • Elections • Free Speech • Identity Politics • Post • race • The Culture • The Left

Wokescolds Won’t Let Us Knit in Peace

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The ways of the “woke” have seeped into every part of American life. No activity or outlet is safe. Even my beloved crafting community is no longer immune. Suddenly, knitters and crocheters need to “examine their privilege.”

For months, I’ve been unfollowing wokescolds on Instagram who, in their earnest desire to awaken me to the apparent and horrendous lack of “inclusion” in the fiber world, have made me question the hobby’s utility as escapism. 

Tin Can Knits is perhaps one of the larger, and most egregious, companies to jump on the wokewagon. Concerned about the lack of BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) used as models in their photographs of finished pattern projects or their inclusion in your local crafting circle, they felt the need to out themselves as unconscious oppressors and ask for contrition from the Woke crowd. 

In a February 28 blog post, the company issued this statement: 

We are sorry that our Instagram feed and our publications have, overwhelmingly, reinforced white norms of beauty, instead of challenging them. We are sorry that we personally have been ignorant and not educated ourselves beyond a superficial level on issues of racism, nor considered our white privilege critically.

Apparently, white privilege is a knitted toboggan. Among the resources recommended for overcoming this scourge is White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, which, these newly awakened grannies tell us, will allow whites to “overcome your discomfort around speaking about race,” a crucial first step in managing the tricky intersection of knits and purls. 

For a more recent example that is not surprising yet has caused a great deal of controversy, Ravelry issued this statement on its website on Sunday: 

New policy, effective immediately

We are banning support of Donald Trump and his administration on Ravelry. We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is unambiguously support for white supremacy. For more details, read this document: https://ravelry.com/content/no-trump

In this statement, the editors at Ravelry have decided that “[y]ou can still participate if you do in fact support the administration, you just can’t talk about it here.” But be careful. You may be banned if you “support in the form of forum posts, projects, patterns, profiles, and all other content.” 

And what can you do to rid Ravelry of all mention of President Trump? 

You can help by flagging any of the following items if they constitute support for Trump or his administration:

Projects: Unacceptable projects will be provided to the member or made invisible to others.

Patterns: Unacceptable patterns will be returned to drafts.

Forum posts: right now, only posts written after Sunday, June 23rd at 8 AM Eastern

That’s right, fellow knitters! Become a snitch!

This is censorship. Ravelry, once filled with amazing and creative people, has now become an enforcer of leftist groupthink. They are weaponizing their members to report fellow members. Members, no doubt, will be seeking out profiles and turning in conservatives and Republicans when the ability to flag member profiles is up and running. 

While no one questions the right of the editors and their members to adhere to an Anti-Trump point of view,  Ravelry should take care when making a public announcement that amounts to a clear statement intended to squash free speech. Yet many organizations today are making similar statements and, rarely (if ever), are they challenged. 

In response to this heavy-handed scorn, Republican and conservative knitters are flocking to Love Knitting (part of Love Crafts) and Humble Acres Yarn’s new app. The app, less than a month old, promises no political discussions, and all are welcome. Humble Acres still supports Ravelry as a business and, until this episode, they’ve always had a good business model. But Humble Acres’ openness and (heh!) humility is refreshing. We don’t have to agree on political, social, or cultural issues to come together over our mutual interest in and love for all things yarn. 

As more indie dyers and others join Ravelry’s call for intolerance and hate against Trump supporters and conservatives, we will keep searching for an alternative. Knitters like me just want to find great patterns and chat with like-minded yarn lovers . . .  about yarn! 

Ravelry’s policy “inspiration” came from the gaming world’s “RPG.net,” which implemented a similar ban. The language is virtually the same. 

1. We are banning support of the administration of President Trump. You can still post on RPG.net even if you do in fact support the administration—you just can’t talk about it here.

2. We are absolutely not endorsing the Democrats nor are we banning all Republicans.

3. We are certainly not banning conservative politics, or anything on the spectrum of reasonable political viewpoints. We assert that hate groups and intolerance are categorically different from other types of political positions, and that confusing the two legitimizes bigotry and hatred.

4. We are not going to have a purge — we will not be banning people for past support. Though if your profile picture is yourself in a MAGA hat, this might be a good time to change it.

5. We will not permit witch-hunts, progressive loyalty-testing, or attempting to bait another into admitting support for President Trump in order to get them banned. The mod staff will deal harshly with attempts to weaponize this policy.

6. It is not open season on conservatives, and revenge fantasies against Trump and Trump supporters are still against the rules.

Sorry, gamers. But your escapist world is also a place where Trump supporters are not allowed. Note that you cannot have an avatar with MAGA on it. 

Needless to say, companies wearing political commentary on their sleeves, had better stick to the armbands provided by the totalitarian Left.

Recently, Daisy Cottage Quilting stated her pro-life stance on Instagram. One commenter told her to “stay in your lane” and stick to quilting before unfollowing her and she still receives hate mail almost three weeks after the incident. 

Wokescolds will make you miserable until you give in or slink away. Then they sit back smugly and congratulate themselves for their ability to silence dissent. Standing up to them takes guts these days because you will be vilified and slammed at every opportunity. Gibson’s Bakery in Oberlin, Ohio proved it can be done. 

I hate, truly hate, that politics has leached into every part of society. I knit and quilt and sew. I do these things for fun, enjoyment, and escape from the outside world. Now politics have invaded my crafting world and it makes me sad and angry. Can’t we just knit and enjoy each other’s company?

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

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Book Reviews • Books & Culture • Center for American Greatness • Post • The Culture • The Left

Charles Reich, R.I.P.

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Remember Charles Reich? Probably not. But you probably do know the phrase “the greening of America.” It is Reich’s coinage, the title his fruity 1970 bestseller that began life as a 39,000-word essay in The New Yorker.

I hadn’t thought about Reich for years. When the news came a few days ago that he had died, age 91, I was surprised to hear that he still had been with us. Fatuousness must have a life-extending effect.

Of all the silly pseudo-sages of the 1960s counterculture, Reich was surely one of the silliest. No single figure or theme captures the totality of the countercultural revolt of the period. But few figures better embody its ethos and the new sensibility it incarnated than the sometime tenured Yale law professor turned guru of higher consciousness. His book The Greening of America, published when he was 42, was both a blueprint for America’s cultural revolution and a paean to its supposedly glorious results.

The Greening of America long ago took its place beside incense, love beads, and bellbottoms as part of the stale, slightly comic cultural paraphernalia of the 1960s. Looking back at the book’s nearly 400 pages today, it is difficult to appreciate the enormous sensation it created when it first appeared. Did the country suddenly go mad? Quoth Reich:

In the world that now exists, a life of surfing is possible.

Even businessmen, once liberated, would like to roll in the grass.

All choices are the “right” choice.

Rationality does not like to blow its mind.

An examination or test is a form of violence.

Finally, speaking of the “ultimate sign of reverence, vulnerability, and innocence” of the liberated youth consciousness that he celebrates, Reich says: “Oh wow!”

“Oh wow!” Do not think that Reich sounds silly because he is quoted “out of context.” As Thomas Mallon observed in a look back at The Greening of America in The American Spectator, Charles Reich is one author who actually benefits by being quoted out of context. The more context you give him, the more preposterous he sounds.

And yet the late William Shawn, then the editor of The New Yorker, thought the book important enough to excerpt in his magazine, thus reminding us that his publication of Jonathan Schell’s hysterically alarmist book The Fate of the Earth in The New Yorker some years later was not simply a loopy aberration. Whatever his virtues as an editor, William Shawn had a large soft spot for unhinged left-wing drivel.

Does that sound too severe, too judgmental, too hard? Read on.

The New Yorker was still an intellectually respectable magazine in 1970, and the appearance of The Greening of America in its pages in September of that year gave the book tremendous advance publicity and cultural cachet. It also shows what tremendous inroads the long march of America’s cultural revolution had already made. When The Greening of America was published by Random House in October, it instantly became a best-seller: more, it became a national preoccupation. The New York Times had just started its op-ed page in September 1970, under the editorship of Harrison Salisbury. That fall, Reich appeared not once but three times on the op-ed page with restatements of his argument. In short order, John Kenneth Galbraith, George F. Kennan, Herbert Marcuse, and the critic Marya Mannes weighed in there with commentary on the book. This is in addition to the reviews and feature articles that the Times ran about Reich and his publishing phenomenon. Everywhere one turned, The Greening of America was being discussed, praised, criticized, often in the most solemn terms.

It was an intoxicating draught for many commentators. Writing in The New Republic, Peter Caws suggested with a straight face that “the genuine strengths of the book are two: its history and its economics.” Just so we have our bearings, here are a couple of brief examples of Reich’s thinking about economics:

Since machines can produce enough food and shelter for all, why should not man end the antagonism derived from scarcity and base his society on love for his fellow man?

The wisdom of the new generation is simply this: buy bread at the store when you want to spend your time in some other way than baking; bake your own bread when you feel the need to get back to basic things like dough and yeast.

Not that the responses to The Greening of America were uniformly admiring. Many, maybe most, serious responses were critical. Roger Starr wrote a long and politely devastating anatomy of the book in Commentary (a piece that we can only hope Caws read, since it patiently makes mince-meat of Reich’s historical claims). The poet L. E. Sissman wrote an even more polite criticism of the book in The Atlantic Monthly. Sissman remarked on the curiosity that the first-person singular pronoun never appeared in a book asserting that “the individual self is the only true reality.” Who or what is the “we” that Reich decorously employs throughout his book? It is, Sissman concludes, “the communal we of ‘all the people of the dining hall’ whose help Reich acknowledges in a postscript, of all the confused and alienated young admirers Reich has become in his thoughts.” (Reich confides in that postscript that much of his book “was written in the Stiles-Morse dining halls at Yale.”) Perhaps the pithiest critical summary of the book was provided by Stewart Alsop in Newsweek, who called the book “a bag of scary mush.”

Alsop was right. But it didn’t matter. None of the criticism mattered. One needn’t be a Hegelian or a follower of Oswald Spengler to recognize the existence, at times, of something like a zeitgeist. Reich began work on what became The Greening of America in 1960 when he left his job at a high-powered Washington law firm to go to Yale. His career hitherto—beginning with his editorship of the Yale Law Journal and clerkship for Justice Hugo Black—made him seem an unlikely candidate for the post of cheerleader for the cultural revolution. But by the time the book appeared a decade later, he had shed whatever lawyerly sobriety he once possessed and had become a veritable weather vane for the Zeitgeist, breathless-with-starry-eyes department. In an extraordinary passage at the beginning of The Greening of America, he furnishes us with prediction, manifesto, and credo all rolled into one. “There is a revolution coming,” Reich tells us.

It will not be like revolutions of the past. It will originate with the individual and with culture, and it will change the political structure only as its final act. It will not require violence to succeed, and it cannot be successfully resisted by violence. It is now spreading with amazing rapidity, and already our laws, institutions, and social structure are changing in consequence. It promises a higher reason, a more human community, and a new and liberated individual. Its ultimate creation will be a new and enduring wholeness and beauty—a renewed relationship of man to himself, to other men, to society, to nature, and to the land.

This is the revolution of the new generation. Their protest and rebellion, their culture, clothes, music, drugs, ways of thought, and liberated life-style are not a passing fad or a form of dissent and refusal, nor are they in any sense irrational. The whole emerging pattern, from ideals to campus demonstrations to beads and bell bottoms to the Woodstock Festival, makes sense and is part of a consistent philosophy. It is both necessary and inevitable, and in time it will include not only youth, but all people in America.

It is difficult to say what is more remarkable about this testimonial: its imbecility or its prophecy. Whether or not the revolution Reich describes was “necessary and inevitable,” it certainly did occur, and largely along the lines he delineated. His only mistake was in misconstruing the results: for whatever America’s cultural revolution promised, it delivered not “a new and enduring wholeness and beauty” but a cultural and moral catastrophe, the consequences of which we are still reckoning.

Con Games
As the manufacturers of successful patent medicines and miracle cures know, what matters is not the efficacy of the potion but the scope and vividness of the claims made on its behalf. The spiritual nostrum that Reich formulated consists essentially of two parts: first, an attack on contemporary life in America; and second, a utopian rhapsody about the emergence of a new, liberated consciousness. Neither part is distinguished by subtlety.

“America,” Reich tells us, “is one vast terrifying anti-community.” (Sounds like AOC, doesn’t it?) The source of the problem is the American Corporate State (upper case, please!), that “vast apparatus, working unceasingly to create a false consciousness in people.” Consequently,

work and living have become more pointless and empty. There is no lack of meaningful projects that cry out to be done, but . . . our working days are used up in work that lacks meaning: making useless or harmful products, or serving the bureaucratic structures. For most Americans, work is mindless, exhausting, boring, servile, and hateful.

More succinctly, “the majority of adults in the country hate their work.” In Reich’s view, this is not really so surprising, since “beginning with school, if not before, an individual is systematically stripped of his imagination, his creativity, his heritage, his dreams, and his personal uniqueness, in order to style him into a productive unit for a mass, technological society. Instinct, feeling, and spontaneity are repressed by overwhelming forces.” Which presumably means that the instinctive, spontaneous revulsion one feels for writing such as this is merely an illusion.

In chapters called “The Failure of Reform” and “Anatomy of the Corporate State,” Reich makes some stabs at explaining how we came to be in such dreadful spiritual torpor. He speaks of the failure of the New Deal, the rise of multinational corporations, the insidious influence of advertising and the media, war, of both the Cold and Vietnam varieties. There was nothing new in his diagnosis: scores of left-wing pundits had been decrying these and kindred evils at least since the end of World War II. But The Greening of America did stand out.

This is partly because of the extremity of Reich’s indictment: “America is one vast terrifying anti-community,” etc. It is also because of his quasi-evolutionary model of “three general types of consciousness” that supposedly “predominate in America today.” In fact, although his discussion is laughably crude, it was with his typology of “Consciousness I,” “Consciousness II,” and “Consciousness III” that Reich made his most indelible impression upon readers. Some went into ecstasies over it; others ridiculed it, twisting Reich’s talk of “Con III people” into “Con-game,” “Con-manship,” and the like. Everybody remembered it.

According to Reich, Consciousness I originated in the 19th century. Its hallmarks are the rugged independence and pragmatism of laissez-faire capitalism. Its proponents believe “that success is determined by character, morality, and hard work, and self-denial.” Once upon a time, such homely virtues had their uses. No more, though. Today, Reich explains, “Consciousness I types” include “farmers, owners of small businesses . . . AMA-type doctors . . . gangsters, Republicans, and ‘just plain folks.”’ (Gangsters, Republicans: you can see what a master of subtlety Reich was.) But just as other ’60s radicals abominated the mainstream liberal establishment more than they hated any conservative orthodoxy, so Reich saves his bitterest words for the liberals who embody Consciousness II.

Consciousness I he regarded as a crude anachronism, no longer much of a threat to the emergence of paradise. Consciousness II, however, defines the prevailing reality—“the inhuman structure in which we now live,” viz. the ACS—the “American Corporate State.” Although Consciousness II began in the (for Reich) laudable reforms of the New Deal, its progressive force spent itself long ago. Now it is typified in the mindset of “aircraft employees, old leftists, young doctors, Kennedy men, suburban housewives.” (Reich did have a talent for making lists.) With its “ethic of control, of technology, of the rational intellect,” Consciousness II was the real enemy of liberation. It was the rational intellect, especially, that bothered him, because “when experience is classified or analyzed it is also reduced.” Never mind that some such “reduction” is required if experience is to be articulate, coherent, or publicly communicable: Reich wants his experience raw and unedited. Consciousness II, he explains, “has been persuaded that the richness, the satisfactions, the joy of life are to be found in power, success, status, acceptance, popularity, achievements, rewards, excellence, and the rational competent mind.”

Well, that’s a start, you may say. But the problem is that Consciousness II “wants nothing to do with dread, awe, wonder, mystery, accidents, failure, helplessness, magic.”

“I’m Glad I’m Me”
Like many radicals, Reich was both terrified and obsessed by power: “It is not the misuse of power that is the evil,” he assured us; “the very existence of power is an evil.” Don’t bother raising objections: objections, arguments, qualifications, evidence: all the paraphernalia of rationality belongs to the unenlightened domain of Consciousness II. Reich has no time for any of that. He is interested in the supposedly higher Con, Consciousness III. Introducing Consciousness III, Reich sounds at first like an epidemiologist. It began with “a few individuals” in the mid-1960s; it “sprouted up, astonishingly and miraculously, out of the stony soil of the American Corporate State”; no one foresaw its appearance, but it soon “spread, here and abroad, by means invisible.”

Though it spread like the measles, Consciousness III is difficult to describe because, as Reich notes, the very attempt to say what it is draws on intellectual habits that Consciousness III rejects: “Authority, schedules, time, accepted customs, are all forms which must be questioned. Accepted patterns of thought must be broken; what is considered ‘rational thought’ must be opposed by ‘nonrational thought’—drug-thought, mysticism, impulses.”

Not entirely, though. Reich does allow that the “foundation” of Consciousness III is “liberation.” He adds that “the meaning of liberation is that the individual is free to build his own philosophy and values, his own life-style, and his own culture from a new beginning.” More generally, Consciousness III comes into being when an individual frees himself from the “false consciousness” that society imposes. People infused with the spirit of Consciousness III do “not believe in the antagonistic or competitive doctrine of life,” they “do not compete ‘in real life.’ . . . People are brothers, the world is ample for all. . . . No one judges anyone else.” Also, everyone rather likes himself: “Consciousness III says, ‘I’m glad I’m me.’”

If you are looking for a concrete example of what Reich had in mind when he praised this higher consciousness, think back to the American campus in 1970. “One of the few places to observe man partially free of the competition and antagonism that are the norms of our social system is in a college dining hall where many of the students are Consciousness III people.” Be that as it may, Reich was certainly correct to see the American university as one of the chief breeding grounds for the revolution he envisioned. He speaks in this context of the “conversions” that are “constantly seen on campuses today”: “a freshman arrives, his political views are hometown-Consciousness I, and suddenly he is radicalized.” Reich was correct about this. “In a brief span of months, a student, seemingly conventional in every way, changes his haircut, his clothes, his habits, his interests, his political attitudes, his way of relating to other people, in short, his whole way of life.” Indeed.

One might have thought that the author of these millenarian sentiments must himself be a happy Consciousness III type, full of confidence, optimism, and sassy derring-do. Not a bit of it. In The Sorcerer of Bolinas Reef, an autobiography that he published in 1976, Reich reveals himself to have been a pathetic soul, paralyzed with nameless fears and unsatisfied longings. The ordinary tasks of daily life filled him with dread; normal human relations were completely beyond him. “The most constant presence in my life was fear and anxiety,” he wrote.

I would wake up in the morning and feel the need to clench my fists and clamp my teeth and squeeze my toes together, which sent tension all through my body as waves of fear and worry came over me. The particular things I worried about changed from day to day or hour to hour or week to week but that terrible feeling of dread remained with me almost all the time. I hated that feeling. It made me afraid of living. It made me not want to wake up, not want to go out, not want to come home, not want to go to sleep.

The Greening of America is in part a paean to sexual liberation and polymorphous sensuality, an obvious heir to the thought of countercultural gurus like Herbert Marcuse, the other Reich—Wilhelm—and Norman O. Brown. “What the new generation has already achieved is a way of being with other people that is closer, warmer, more open, more sensitive, more capable of sharing, than prior generations have known.” But in The Sorcerer of Bolinas Reef, Reich tells us that he left Yale in December 1971 for a six-month leave of absence and went to San Francisco. There he responded to an ad placed by a male model and for $35 the prophet of Consciousness III and “closer, warmer, more open, more sensitive” relationships had his first sexual experience at the age of 43.

Revolutionary Bell Bottoms
Charles Reich’s sad and tawdry autobiographical revelations tell us something important about the psychological origins of his profound dissatisfaction with America and his fantasies of inhabiting a “higher,” trouble-free consciousness. What they don’t explain is why this personal diatribe against the world should have struck such a sympathetic chord.

Perhaps many other people felt similar frustrations, though Reich surely presents an extreme case. From the perspective of the 1990s and beyond, what is most extraordinary about The Greening of America is the extent to which its complaints, its modes of thought, and its ideals summarized the radical agenda of America’s cultural revolution. Reich’s insistence that utopia was to be won through “a higher, transcendent reason,” not politics per se, distinguishes his project from the violent activist crusades of the Weathermen, the Black Panthers, and other such groups, which were achieving critical mass just as his work was published. (At one point he writes that “the hard questions—if by that is meant political and economic organization—are insignificant, even irrelevant.”) But apart from this, The Greening of America offered an impressive inventory of radical concerns and shibboleths, most of which are still very much in circulation.

At the center of Reich’s gospel is an indictment of rationality coupled with a profound craving for extra-rational modes of experience. His celebration of drugs —which he described as “one of the most important means for restoring dulled consciousness”—has to be understood in this context, as do his hosannas to polymorphous sexuality and rock music. According to Reich, rock music possesses “a complexity unknown to classical music”; it offers “the mystical transcendence of ordinary experience.” In comparison to rock, he said, “Beethoven seems like a series of parallel lines.” Without drugs and rock music, Woodstock and the sensibility it celebrated—the sensibility that Reich eulogizes in The Greening of America—would have been impossible. Allan Bloom was quite right when he observed in The Closing of the American Mind: “Nothing is more singular about this generation than its addiction to music.” Bloom continued:

Rock music provides premature ecstasy and, in this respect, is like “the drugs with which it is allied. It artificially produces the exaltation naturally attached to the completion of the greatest endeavors—victory in a just war, consummated love, artistic creation, religious devotion, and discovery of the truth.

What rock offers is a prefabricated Dionysian ecstasy, blatantly sexual, conspicuously nonrational.

The rejection of rationality has many advantages. For one thing, it relieves Reich of the burden of producing evidence for his pronunciamentos—e.g., the claim that “the majority of adults in the country hate their work.” Reasons, evidence, arguments: what are they but stodgy appurtenances of the rational intellect? Transcending rationality also allows one to stop worrying about details like contradiction and consistency. Reich’s classification of people as belonging to one of three types of consciousness is the crudest, most patronizing sort of stereotyping imaginable. And yet in the midst of excoriating “farmers, owners of small businesses, . . . AMA-type doctors . . . gangsters, Republicans, and ‘just plain folks’” he tells us that Consciousness III refuses “to evaluate people by general standards, it refuses to classify people, or analyze them.” Of course, it is not that Reich wishes to stop classifying or evaluating people; by no means; he wishes only to classify and evaluate them according to the essentially subjective standard of “lifestyle.”

We see something similar in his rejection of “the whole concept of excellence and comparative merit.” Reich goes pretty far, far enough to suggest that he might have had a successful career as a politically correct college administrator or, indeed, in a Washington administration. “Someone may be a brilliant thinker,” he says, “but he is not ‘better’ at thinking than anyone else, he simply possesses his own excellence. A person who thinks very poorly is still excellent in his own way.” And yet here, too, it is clear that Reich was being “nonjudgmental” in a highly selective fashion. To take just one example: reflecting on traditional morality, Reich assured us that “to observe duties toward others, after the feelings are gone, is no virtue and may even be a crime.” “Crime” is a troubling word, surely, especially when used by a lawyer who believed “there is no situation in which one is entitled to act impersonally . . . with another human being.”

Reich did make a few gestures toward common sense. But they were only gestures. Early on he acknowledged that his categories of Cons I, II and III “are highly impressionistic and arbitrary.” And yet he proceeded to build his entire argument around them. Again, he said that the “basic stance” of Consciousness III is “openness to any and all experience.” Only later did it occur to him that this might have unpleasant implications. So he hastened to assure us that a “Consciousness III person” will not “engage in actions that violate his basic values; he will never kill or rape to try the experience.” One is glad to know that, of course; but why not? If one’s “basic stance” is openness to “any and all experience,” who’s to say that rape and murder are not among one’s “basic values” especially as values are something Reich insisted each individual must “create” for himself?

With the passage of time, the mushiness of Reich’s diagnosis has become painfully obvious. Sometimes, it is downright funny, as when Reich tells us that bell bottoms and other certified articles of countercultural apparel “deny the importance of hierarchy, status, authority, position, and they reject competition”—unless, that is, they come from a New York designer: “Bell bottoms fashioned by New York stylists do not have the revolutionary potential of Consciousness III culture.”

What made the mush scary, as Stewart Alsop discerned, was Reich’s moralistic pretension to special virtue and a knowledge that transcends “mere” facts. It is here that he remains in perfect continuity with today’s champions of political correctness. (One inevitably thinks of that other graduate of the Yale Law School, Hillary Clinton, who before she became a presidential candidate was a champion of the “politics of meaning” in the mid-1990s.) Again and again we have seen how the demand for total freedom has paradoxically resulted in greater and greater restrictions on freedom. What began in license ends in regulation.

“Consciousness III people,” Reich tells us, “see effortlessly what is phony or dishonest in politics, or what is ugly or meretricious in architecture and city planning, whereas an older person has to go through years of education [or perhaps we should say ‘re-education’] to make himself equally aware.” Simply by virtue of having the right attitude, of adopting the correct “life-style,” Reich’s apostle of Consciousness III is vouchsafed a “new knowledge”: “He does not ‘know’ the facts, but he still ‘knows’ the truth that seems hidden from others.”

The hubris of such claims is a familiar ingredient of millenarian enthusiasms. In his classic book The Pursuit of the Millennium, the historian Norman Cohn noted that “at the core” of certain Medieval millenarian sects was the adept’s belief that “he had attained a perfection so absolute that he was incapable of sin. . . . Every impulse was experienced as a divine command.” Cohn also noted that, translated into political terms, the presumption of such “new knowledge” is a recipe for totalitarian arrogance. Hannah Arendt observed in The Origins of Totalitarianism that the claim to special insight is closely related to “totalitarian movements’ spurious claims to have abolished the separation between public and private life and to have restored a mysterious wholeness in man.” (One recalls Susan Sontag’s contention that the North Vietnamese “are ‘whole’ human beings, not ‘split’ as we are.”)

Charles Reich assured us that “the consciousness of the liberals had proved inadequate to the task” of restoring the lost wholeness he sought. Nevertheless, the liberal establishment was delighted to conspire in its own disparagement along the lines Reich suggested. The path to enlightenment that Reich extolled was a path to nowhere —to “utopia” in its etymological sense. That did not prevent it from becoming a major highway “for the long march through American life.” The unhappy example of Charles Reich—his silly book, his 15 minutes of celebrity—should not distract us from the malevolence of the message he helped promulgate. He himself was rather like the unfortunate Seth, emperor of Azania, whom Evelyn Waugh described in his novel Black Mischief:

The earnest and rather puzzled young man became suddenly capricious and volatile; ideas bubbled up within him, bearing to the surface a confused sediment of phrase and theory, scraps of learning half understood and fantastically translated.

Although Reich managed pretty well to destroy his own life, he was too fuzzy-headed and inept to find many real disciples. In this respect, he was more a symptom than a cause. In the hands of people like Timothy Leary, however, the nonsense that made up Reich’s pseudomystical “philosophy” damaged countless lives and insinuated itself into the inner fabric of American life. Requiescat in pace.

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

Photo Credit: Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

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America • Education • Identity Politics • Post • The Culture • The Left

We Need a Higher Education Reformation

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American higher education, once the envy of the world, is suffering a crisis of confidence and a loss of purpose.

Once upon a time, universities were institutions dedicated to the pursuit of truth and the transmission of the highest values of our civilization,” writes New Criterion editor and publisher Roger Kimball. “Today, most are dedicated to the destruction of those values. It is past time to call them to account.” What would accountability look like? The distinguished British philosopher Roger Scruton, a conservative through and through, recently proposed a radical solution: “get rid of universities altogether.”

Have these men taken leave of their senses? Not at all. Both have been keen observers for decades of the slow-motion catastrophe unfolding in academia. It may be we’ve reached a turning point.

Behind most of the problems plaguing education is a noxious identity politics. This is particularly true in the humanities because these subjects easily lend themselves to manipulative interpretation and reshaping by those with an ideological agenda. Take a piece of classical literature, such as Homer’s The Iliad, slap a theory on the text, and bingo, you have just rid yourself of the chore of trying to understand this magnificent piece of dramatic poetry by turning it into a piece on gender relations. For good measure, don’t forget to add some Marxist theory to expose imaginary and proto-class divisions, and perhaps you have convinced your audience that Homer is just another “old, white male,” whose voice has no historical or literary consequence. That’s much more comfortable work than scholarship.

This is what an assault on literature and culture looks like. Of course, classical works (or, for that matter, any works that deal with perennial human questions) are powerful, as ideologues know very well. Otherwise, they would not try to dismantle their long tradition and significance.

The assault on deep and nuanced learning, as well as the freedom of expression within the university walls is not new. Allan Bloom saw it clearly in The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students, published in 1987. At the time, Bloom singled out moral relativism and nihilism as the leading causes of intellectual close-mindedness. His description of the disease still rings true today, though the addition of technology, such as social media’s role in speech suppression, has accelerated the progression of the disease.

Barack Obama’s eight years as president brought identity-politics-driven policymaking into the mainstream. Consider his administration’s efforts to use the blunt instrument of Title IX to coerce universities into all-but-abandoning due process in sexual assault cases and impose faddish transgender politics on K-12 schools.

His administration focused on dismantling everything with even a whiff of the traditional in favor of whatever may be the anti-American cause du jour. The main thrust of his presidency was to deconstruct the American idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These were deliberate and intentional attacks against the true American identity.

In the last few years, we have reached an absurd level of human categorization, especially in the matter of gender. This originated in the institutions of higher learning, where the humanities have become completely dehumanized. Perennial questions of good, evil, beauty, and truth are hardly there anymore. Instead, they have been replaced with a relativistic worldview in which everything is fluid and changeable, except the reigning ideology, which (of course), had better be respected. Any vision of classical beauty is erased, and instead, vulgarity reigns supreme.

Given this situation, perhaps the only way to preserve these higher things is to get rid of universities altogether. But this would prove to be a daunting task. Not only do we face the educational corruption of youth, but it is also fair to assume that many university graduates hold degrees that tell us nothing about what they actually know or understand about these things, or even that there is anything worth knowing about them.

Moreover, and more practically, though the prejudice is that college is necessary for gainful employment, most of these graduates are utterly unprepared for many jobs—and why should we be surprised? Professors regularly tell students that one of the job options is to become a left-wing activist by working for leftist nonprofit organizations, and that making money and being self-sufficient should not be on the list of priorities during their time in college or after.

We could also conclude that the market will determine the course and future of universities. There is some truth in this, certainly. We can hope that schools that choose ideology over proper learning will face an economic backlash because students will not apply to or attend such colleges and universities.

But how long will this slow withering of ideology take?

We rarely talk about what actually happens in the homes of the students and yet their personal histories play an enormous part in what they choose to do with their lives. Are average parents just as leftist as the “tenured radicals?” Or are they simply not aware of what goes on in the Marxist ivory towers they struggle and strive to afford?

Parents really need to be active in seeking information about the schools that their children propose to attend. I realize that most parents cannot recognize one ideology from another, but some questions should be posed regularly about their children’s future. More important, parents need to inculcate a firm morality in their children so that they can resist the nonsense on offer at most universities. Do their kids know the difference between right and wrong, and most importantly between truth and an ignoble lie? Do they have the strength to resist the pressure to conform?

The success of each student, of course, will depend on the particular degree he seeks, as well as his own efforts to learn. And, of course, if the degree is in engineering, accounting, or any of the hard sciences, chances are these students will graduate with a decent education and good career opportunities. In this case, he should simply get through the classes that are purely ideological and complete his degree requirements.

The success of each young person also depends on whether he should go to college in the first place. Some have gifts that are more suited for skilled labor and can be acquired through on-the-job training or vocational education. If a young person is unsure whether he should go to college or not, then the most feasible option is to go to a community college, take a few courses, and see if a four-year college is a good fit.

Without a doubt, American higher education is in dire straits. For the most part, educators are interested mainly in shaping students in their own ideological image. The current crisis in American universities and colleges is an obvious example of the problem of totalitarianism. Devoid of joy or of any recognition of the miracle of life and learning, the totalitarian headmasters force young minds into conformity and submission.

We also have to acknowledge, however, that each student has to do his or her very best in assuming personal responsibility for how they act and most of all, react, to ideology. We live in a confusing world of lies and distractions. It’s incumbent upon each and every one of us to learn how to navigate through the labyrinthine paths of ideology. Students, too, have to learn the difference between reality and illusion—and that freedom of the mind awaits those who leave the cave of shadows.

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

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feminists • Identity Politics • Post • The Culture • The Left

A Swift Demise

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As I long for the days of the anticapitalist Left, I now yearn for a time when I could enjoy mindlessly the musical talents of the once-great Taylor Swift.

Swift on Monday released a song and music video titled, “You Need to Calm Down.” Designed to be a summer bop for pride month, the song itself and its attenuant visual component are so stupidly constructed with strawmen and tropes that I feel I can’t analyze the thing itself in good faith.

Michelle Kim at Pitchfork wrote an incisive review of the anthem, in which she offers that “in an effort to ‘brush off the haters’ and display resilience, [Swift] doesn’t reveal any of the uncertainty and vulnerability that previously lay at the heart of her songwriting. Instead, the words are penned with the energy of a nail-painting emoji and delivered with a plastic smile.”

I had essentially the same reaction when I first heard the song. To the end of analyzing the song itself, Kim’s review should suffice. But there’s something more interesting happening here. The trajectory of Taylor Swift’s career has taken a certain downward turn that is in some ways unique, but on a metapolitical level, all too familiar.

In so hamfistedly trying to make herself a gay icon, Swift has completely sacrificed what made her truly iconic. Sadly, her degeneration to the fag hag era of female pop stardom—the phase following a failed album and preceding a butch haircut—signals a slide into mediocrity that is heartbreaking for long-time fans like me. What happened to the Taylor of “Red,” who lamented that her ex would “call me up again just to break me like a promise; so casually cruel in the name of being honest”? Or the Taylor of “1989,” who commented on her generation’s tendency to “show off our different scarlet letters; trust me, mine is better”?

It was once Swift’s authentic innocence that made her universally appealing. Before now, Swift’s lyrics consistently reflected a certain level of self-awareness. The combination of knowing herself and her willingness to say what was true about her identity and her life made for greatness of iconic proportions. But that syncretism has dissolved of late. Now, it seems that the disparities between who she once was, who she could have been, who she became, and who she is trying to be, are too disjointed to work in her favor.

Taylor Swift rose to prominence originally as a picture of feminine innocence. In the early days, there was a clarity in her voice that suggested a purity of heart. The content of her lyrics—princes, princesses, white horses, roses—was wholesome, endearing, and appealing. Even in coming of age, and to some extent losing her innocence (“Red”), Taylor never lost her joie de vivre. She remained enthralled by romance. She felt its implications deeply and expressed herself poetically.

Though the connotation of romance has been subverted to become something of a passing and perfunctory feeling attached to often sterilized sex, its natural orientation toward reproduction and family is inescapable. By aligning her own lyrics with more classical notions of romance and love, Swift for many years implicitly oriented herself toward these natural ends. She was all youth and energy. Unabashed feminine power with nothing out of sync. Pure potential.

In 2017, Swift released “Reputation,” in which she traded in that sparkling-eyed love for life for ironic detachment. For the first time in her discography, it was as if her lyrics were not her own. She incorporated cool-kid internet talk into her lyrics—“Is it cool if I said all that? Is it chill that you’re in my head?”—as well as several gratuitous references to sex and booze. The old Taylor was dead, she said, and her little size zero outfits, too! With “Reputation,” she lost her orientation, and market analysis pointed to decline.

Swift will turn 30 this year. She is childless and unmarried with a number of failed relationships under her belt. But rather than gracefully end on a high note, Swift has committed to rebranding in order to stay relevant. Her latest strategic move is to team up with other people whose fathers failed them to deliver a lispy “FUCK YOU” to anyone real or imagined who reminds them of the God-shaped holes in their hearts that fornication has failed to fill.

As if they are experiencing any real resistance in the public square. Spare me.

Swift has always had a knack for capitalizing on (utterly kosher) social trends. In a ballad she wrote many years ago about the exploitations and pitfalls of show business, she sang: “You’ve had it figured out since you were in school; Everybody loves pretty, everybody loves cool; So overnight, you look like a sixties queen.”

In the current year, much attention and money stands to be gained by grifting the gay. She knows this. Everyone does. Judging by her sharky tendencies, there might be some element of cynicism involved in her embrace of globohomo. She could just be a vapid mercenary. Doesn’t really matter either way.

The urgency and intensity with which she delivers every gay bourgeois sentiment smacks of a deep personal insecurity and desperation. Swift seems to be hiding behind a rainbow flag so as to conceal the fact that she’s lost her spark personally and (as one is deeply connected to the other) artistically. Is it merely coincidence that her bougie feminist activism increases precisely as her sexual market value decreases? What is left in life for sexually liberated women once her reproductive worth, denied for so long, diminishes completely, along with her opportunity to participate in the natural order?

There are two possibilities: sincere penance or satanic pontification. That is to say, women either may be honest about their mistakes, or refuse to acknowledge them for what they are—instead redirecting squandered would-be mommy energy toward convincing everyone else, especially other (younger and more fertile, i.e. sexually competitive) women, that down is up and up is down. Since the latter is the less immediately painful option, most disappointed women choose it. Most people try to avoid pain. If the Truth is painful, deny it. Most feminist causes are actually united in this basic inversion of reality. And because misery loves company, most who live in a world of unreality cannot stand to live alone.

Swift like so many before her has chosen to participate in that big lie. This disappointment is hardest felt because she was once so naturally beautiful, good, and true. She is now none of the above. All she has left is cheap imitation. It’s a real loss for her personally and for the music scene at large.

Taylor Swift’s latest propaganda project will age as gracefully as she and Katy Perry do. I’m now counting down the days ’til the next breakup and breakdown, the next cat adoption, and (inevitably) the day Swift engages in performative bisexuality or shaves her head. She should have chosen the rose garden over Madison Square. What a shame.

Photo Credit: Rich Fury/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

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Administrative State • Post • Progressivism • The Culture • Trump White House

Hell No! We Won’t Go (to Kansas City)!

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On Thursday, a gaggle of civil servants protested the proposed relocation of a couple of Agriculture Department bureaus from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City, Missouri by boldly turning their backs on a speech delivered by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Perdue announced that the Economic Research Service, which provides research and statistical analysis for lawmakers, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which allocates federal research funding, would be moving most of their personnel and operations by the end of September.

These employees have had a year either to make peace or make plans, but instead, they decided to wait until the final announcement to purse their lips, cross their arms, and stare off into space.

Clearly, the USDA has been violating child labor laws by hiring toddlers. Watch CNN’s reporting of the incident:

The long-haired guy in the middle is holding his breath until he matches his shirt color, and the man in the plaid shirt to his right looks like he’s auditioning for the Actor’s Studio. The bald fellow to the left doesn’t look entirely committed to the cause.

You would think Perdue is exiling these people to a remote outpost in Greenland. It may come as a surprise for these protesters to discover that, according to the latest U.S. Census figures, literally millions of people voluntarily live in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The place has NFL football, major and minor league baseball, and plenty of museums only slightly inferior to the Smithsonian that Washingtonians only visit when relatives are in town anyway.

We all know Washington, D.C. has grown into a world-class city in the past few decades, driven by a massive infusion of federal dollars (particularly during the Obama administration, when the D.C.-Northern Virginia region became one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in America). It’s almost always unpleasant to be told that to keep your job you have to move, but one can see that it might be particularly unpleasant for those used to such neighborhood amenities.

But if they really knew what was good for them, they’d jump at the chance. Yes, the General Schedule pay scale in Kansas City is about 10 percent lower than in D.C., but the cost of living is about 25 percent less, and according to Zillow, housing prices are 75 percent lower than the national average. Given the run-up in D.C. housing prices since 2012, many of these people would  be able to buy new homes in cash. (Then again, maybe having the invading overlords live in the best houses in town may just feed the resentment. Whether that’s a feature or a bug depends on your point of view.)

In fact, the proposed relocation of federal agencies to the Western and Midwestern United States is one of the most innovative things to come out of the Trump Administration. They hope that bureaucracies, if they must exist, will do a better job if they are located among the people they regulate, rather than within the Beltway bubble.

In the case of the ERS and NIFA, they’ll be moving to within a couple hundred miles of six major land-grant universities that graduate plenty of students well-qualified for these positions. Surprisingly, many of them would rather stay in the Midwest than move to the nation’s capital.

In the run-up to Perdue’s announcement last week, congressional Democrats orchestrated some hearings, bringing in farmers and researchers who claimed that the move would make things more difficult rather than easier. They argued, inter alia, that travel would be more difficult from Indiana to Kansas City than to D.C., and that the move would make it hard to coordinate with other government agencies working on related subjects.

Both of those are beside the point. It’s not necessarily how easy it is for a farmer to get to D.C. that matters; very few will make that trip. It’s how easy it is for the bureaucrats to get to the farmers, and in Kansas City, they’ll be only a few minutes’ drive from the fruited plain itself. In this case, going native isn’t an unpleasant byproduct, it’s the point. In those interagency meetings, maybe one of those agencies will see itself as representing the farmers and ranchers whose lives the government is trying to run.

Despite all the claims of loss of efficiency and having to move to a place with decent barbecue and jazz, it’s hard to escape the belief that what they’re really afraid of is a loss of status, which is Washington’s real currency. I lived in the Beltway region for 25 years, and the best movie to understand the place is a 1996 French offering, “Ridicule,” about Versailles.

Instead, they’ll be moving to a place where people don’t open conversations with GS-level butt-sniffing.

If all this sounds condescending to D.C. bureaucrats, they should try to imagine how far-away bureaucrats sound to the rest of us.

Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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feminists • Identity Politics • Post • The Culture • the family • The Left

The Diminishing Dad

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As the man hastily parked his car in the parking lot on an early spring morning, the sun was not yet peeking out from behind the clouds. The grey-haired father shoved his keys into his pocket and rushed down the hospital corridor, anxious to see his daughter and his infant grandson. Word had come to him that the newest member of his family had joined them sometime in the wee hours of that morning.

The man rapped softly on the door of his daughter’s room and then entered quietly after hearing no reply. In shock, he viewed an empty room—no baby bassinet, no awaiting mother in the bed, the lights completely off. It was at that moment he feared the worst, his thoughts not even nameable.

His daughter, not expecting such an early visitor, was enjoying her first shower since giving birth. She put on a clean gown and opened the door from the bathroom, eager to climb back into bed, when the welcome sight of her father greeted her. The anxiety on his face was palpable, expressing both joy at seeing her and tentative questioning about the baby. She laughed and reassured him that his grandson would be along shortly from the nurse’s station, where they were administering some care while she bathed.

Nearly a quarter-century later, he still speaks of those panicked moments and how relieved he felt upon seeing his daughter. She listens to the story every time it’s told, basking in the warm glow of love and appreciation emanating from her Dad. It is a tender testimony to the nature of fatherhood, one of many such examples she cherishes in her heart. This man, her dad, became her chauffeur, English tutor, religious instructor, sparring partner in a debate or a discussion, respected advisor, and, finally, as an adult, a bosom friend.

In an age when the topic of toxic masculinity is more likely to dominate conversations than acknowledgments of such tenderness, we wonder what will become of this day when we gather together to celebrate fathers. There are natural questions we ask ourselves: as citizens of a “woke” culture, are we even allowed to recognize fathers as something noble and distinct? Doesn’t that suggest a (reasonable, rational) assumption of gender, and assign a unique value to it? If we recognize fathers, for what can say we recognize them? Surely we can’t pay homage to the typical male characteristics of yore?

We now celebrate the hipster, with his ratty corduroy jacket and skinny jeans who knows his barista by name, but not the man wearing dirty, worn work clothes bearing grime on his face at the end of the day. We laud the man standing behind the woman (hear her roar), but not the one taking seriously his responsibility to lead and protect his family. We honor the open-minded beta male who seeks the journey, but never the alpha who rests in the truth. We have turned traditional American culture and the values of Western Civilization upside down!

If the underpinnings and history of the true, good, free American life have been Judeo-Christian values and beliefs, the family has been the method to impute those values to future generations. It is, after all, the family that has reinforced, taught and encouraged the belief and practices of those mores. What better way, then, to demolish the great and proud nation of America then by dismantling her foundation, one block at a time?

At the center of this effort, we find an attack on the cornerstone of the family: fatherhood. Consider the words of Linda Gordon, a well-known feminist, who says, “The nuclear family must be destroyed . . . Whatever its ultimate meaning, the break-up of families now is an objectively revolutionary process.” Toxic masculinity is under attack from toxic feminism!

What if the nuclear family is being destroyed by making society hate what has been the typical fatherhood role? What if the traditional admirable traits of strength, rationality, responsibility, protection, generosity, decision-making, and leadership are decried as woman-hating? What if we effeminize our boys to the point that we reduce or eliminate such characteristics?

But try this one on for size: God created fathers to be unique, with special attributes and responsibilities. And those strengths, when used appropriately and to good ends, create more harmonious families, children more rooted and grounded in Truth, and they further enhance the peace of society.

A disclaimer—which now must always follow statements such as those, in order to protect the author from oversensitivity on the part of . . . well, anyone, really: the author believes women can be most things, that women have special gifts and abilities, that women are equal in worth to men in terms of their rights and responsibilities, that women are not doormats, nor should they be treated or used as powerless human beings.

Nevertheless, fathers are not mothers—and both fathers and mothers have their individual, sometimes overlapping, roles. But it is precisely the role of fatherhood in its truest and best form that we gather together today to honor.

For the father who turns into his bed at night, weary with the day’s work and its responsibilities and cares, who utters soundless prayers throughout the day, beseeching his Creator for patience, wisdom and strength; for the one who silently wipes tears away from his eyes while watching a son graduate, a daughter curtsy on a stage, or a child walk down the aisle, you are not unwatched nor unappreciated.

For the man who has had to play the role of mother and father, your efforts will not go unrewarded. For the dad who sacrifices so that his family may prosper in innumerable ways, those littlest of eyes are on you, absorbing and learning your unspoken lessons. For the one who teaches a youngster how to use a hammer or a thesaurus, or how to change the oil in her car, those lessons take root and shoot, teaching far more than the skills themselves.

If you didn’t have a wonderful father, if you haven’t been the best one yourself, know that some of the richest things in life are forgiveness, mercy, and sometimes even forgetfulness. After all, some of the most difficult and painful lessons in life teach us the most valuable lessons. And sometimes we must also remind ourselves that not all broken fences should be mended.

So today we honor fatherhood. We nod to the humor of a whole classification of men for whom an order of jokes is named (“Dad, I’m hungry.” “Hi, Hungry, I’m Dad.”). We banish thoughts of toxic masculinity and, instead, praise the good in our fathers and the men who fathered our children. After all, they deserve a day.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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Post • The Culture • the family

A Father’s Day Salute – My Dad’s Left Hand

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My 92-year-old dad’s left hand is, for lack of a better term, messed up. It didn’t develop properly in the womb. It’s an oval-shaped thing with small, dangly, non-working nubs.

I have never considered him handicapped. I’d guess the same is true of most kids whose parents were in some manner not physically “right.”

He was a great athlete in his youth. He’s also a pretty dang good carpenter, plumber, electrician, mechanic, horseman, farrier, farmer, rancher, hunter, and fisherman. And yes, he can do all of those things better than I can, even with my two working hands.

Dad’s birth defect—yes that’s what it is, it isn’t supposed to be like that—has absolutely no bearing on his moral standing as a human being. He is not somehow morally “less” simply because a hand didn’t develop as designed. His hand is both natural—it occurred, didn’t it?—and unnatural—that isn’t how a hand is supposed to be—at the same time.

But in no way is he morally inferior because of this reality. He is not defined by his left hand. It is an aspect of him, but only one among countless others, and not a very important one, either. I suppose people could use his left hand as the sole means to define him but that would be silly.

Each of us is like a multifaceted cut diamond with hundreds and hundreds of aspects. As free individuals each of us can choose which aspects of a person are of most importance and judge and discriminate for or against them accordingly. Not everyone is my cup-of-tea and I am certain I’m not all that for many others.

I think of this when I see my college buddy’s 30-year-old son who developed a serious brain malfunction a decade ago. He visits his personal hell on an almost constant basis. It is heartbreaking to see. But he simply has a brain issue. Just like my dad’s left hand, his brain didn’t develop exactly as designed. It is again both natural and unnatural but in no way is he morally inferior; he is not “less” in any way.

I think of this when I see a friend’s autistic child. He is not morally defective; he simply got dealt a crappy hand in the development of his brain. Natural and unnatural at the same time.

And I’ve been thinking about this as I read about the growing movement to more fully accept those whose sexual traits exist outside the norm. Although many in these movements don’t want to accept this truth, their sexual preferences are both natural and unnatural at the same time. But this does not make them morally inferior. Not morally defective. Just different on one aspect of the hundreds that make us who we are.

Each of us has unnatural aspects. Some are small and some are large. Some are hidden and some stand out. But each of us is so much more than these quite natural differences. Each individual is a cornucopia of traits. Some we might like and some we might not. We can choose our friends and shun others based on a single trait or the collection of the whole.

My dad is not defined by his left hand. We don’t need to celebrate his left hand, simply accept it for what it is; a very small and not very important part of a much larger mosaic. And I am dang lucky to have him as my dad.

Photo Credit: iStock/Getty Images

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America • Center for American Greatness • History • political philosophy • Post • Religion and Society • The Constitution • The Culture

The American Founding’s High-Minded Purposes

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James Madison is justly celebrated for his frequently stated opinion that “all power in just and free Government is derived from compact.” But Madison’s view is not endorsed by all purported champions of the founders. A recent article, “Our Unwritten Constitution: Orestes Brownson and the Foundation of American Liberty,” published as part of the Real Clear Policy series on the American Project and co-authored by Richard M. Reinsch II and the late Peter Augustine Lawler, argues that Madison is utterly mistaken in his claim. In fact, the authors claim that reliance on “Lockean contract theory” produced a constitution that was “devised solely in the interest of the rights of individuals” and was “based on the unrealistic abstraction of unrelated autonomous individuals.”

Lawler and Reinsch claim that autonomous individuals—that is, human beings abstracted from real life—cannot provide the appropriate material for political life. They are not “parents, creatures, [or] even citizens. Lockean thought, thus, isn’t political enough to be the foundation of government, and it isn’t relational enough to articulate properly the limits of governments or the roles of family and organized religion.”

Reinsch and Lawler rely heavily on Orestes Brownson’s criticism of Locke’s influence on the American Founding. They describe Brownson, accurately if a bit oddly, as “a 19th century New England intellectual associated with the transcendentalist movement who converted to Roman Catholicism” and vouch for his assertion that “the equality of human persons is a fact. But it is a fact that entered the world through Christian revelation and was later affirmed as self-evident by philosophers.” The authors maintain, according to Brownson, the self-evidence of human equality as it appears in the Declaration of Independence “is undermined” by its “pure Lockean dimension . . . where individual sovereignty becomes the foundation of government. Every man, Locke says, has property in his own person, and for Brownson that assertion of absolute self-ownership is, in effect, ‘political atheism’.”

Brownson, however, vigorously resists the idea of self-ownership: “man is never absolutely his own, but always and everywhere belongs to his Creator; it is clear that no government originating in humanity alone can be a legitimate government. Every such government is founded on the assumption that man is God, which is a great mistake—is, in fact, the fundamental sophism which underlies every error and sin.”

Our authors endorse Brownson’s criticism of the notion that the just powers of government derive from the consent of the governed or that sovereignty ultimately resides in the people. To say that the people are sovereign is “implicit atheism” because “[s]ocial contract thought lacks an external standard higher than man’s will that could limit, shape, and condition it. The highest being is man, who would self-create government by consent . . .” This is the universe of “self-sovereignty or political atheism” that Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau occupied and which the authors of the Declaration of Independence obediently followed.

The authors of the Declaration, of course, appealed to the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” as their authority. Were they simply disguising the fact that they relied on no higher authority with high sounding rhetoric?—that despite their rhetoric they were “political atheists”? It is true the Declaration is the quintessential statement of social compact theory, but isn’t it also clear that its entire argument rests on the acknowledgment of a Creator and an intelligible Creation?

Reinsch and Lawler are wrong to assert that compact is only about the protection of rights and does not involve obligations. In a social compact, every right entails a reciprocal obligation. Every member of the compact who joins for the equal protection of his equal rights has the duty to protect the equal rights of fellow citizens—even the right of revolution is a reciprocal duty belonging to all citizens. Anyone who is unwilling or unable to perform the duties attendant upon membership in a community based on social compact is ineligible to become a member.

Our authors apparently did not notice the closing statement of the signers of the Declaration of Independence: “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” The signers are willing to sacrifice life and property—both of which are natural rights—to preserve their honor. They believed that honor or justice was of higher rank than the natural right to life or property. Clearly, the signers of the Declaration ranked the goods of the soul (honor, justice) higher than the goods of the body (life, property). For Hobbes, of course, honor is not any part of the human good. It is utterly impossible to imagine him ever pledging his “sacred honor” to any cause.) But Reinsch and Lawler maintain throughout, that the Lockean authors of the Declaration and the Constitution sought only to provide protection for the natural rights of autonomous individuals or, as they described it on one occasion, “to provide protection against violent death and to secure property rights.” As we have just demonstrated, however, they are mistaken. In ranking honor above life, the authors of the Declaration demonstrated they were not Hobbesians, willing to sacrifice everything to the “fear of violent death.”

In addition, the Declaration never claims that the principal end or purpose of government is the protection of natural rights; it is rather the “safety and happiness of the people”—what one prominent political philosopher described as the alpha and omega of political life as depicted by Aristotle. Our authors make the significant, but frequent, error of those who insist that the American founding was radically modern, simply ignoring the obvious Aristotelian elements incorporated in the framers’ handiwork.

Bound by the Law of Nature
The authors of The Federalist accepted the Declaration of Independence as the authoritative source of the Constitution’s authority. Madison in The Federalist insisted that the proposed Constitution must be “strictly republican” because no other form of government could be “reconcilable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the Revolution; or with the honorable determination which animates very votary of freedom to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.”

The “genius of the people” refers to the habits, manners, customs, history, traditions, and religion of Americans. Contrary to our authors, the social compact founders were well aware of the necessity of including these factors in their constitutional deliberations. No one can read The Federalist or, for that matter, the writings of the Anti-Federalists, without coming to that realization.

The second and central factor that requires “strictly republican government” is adherence to “the fundamental principles of the Revolution,” i.e., the principles of the Declaration. The third reason is that strictly republican government requires self-government; and that means rule by the consent of the governed, a principle squarely based on social compact.

In following Brownson, Reinsch and Lawler may have followed a false prophet. Brownson’s account of Locke is seriously defective because he seemed to be unaware of the unique theological-political problem that Locke faced. Our authors seem to have followed him through the gates of error.

The wars of religion were still a fresh memory to Locke and other political philosophers of his era. They were not just a distant memory to the American founders, either. In the classical world, the laws of particular cities were always supported by their gods. Obedience to the gods and obedience to the laws were one and the same. As soon as there was a universal God for all cities, however, political obligation became problematic. In the Christian world, conflicts between obligations to God and obligations to civil authority became inevitable, and in cases of conflict, the first obligation of Christians was to God or ecclesiastical authority. This reveals the apolitical character of Christianity. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “our government is in heaven.”

The universalism of Christianity, of course, makes an appeal to particular gods as the ground or foundation of the laws of a particular regime impossible. Some ground for political obligation—for politics—independent of Christian theology had to be found if political life was to be free from the continuous strife engendered by the theological disputes that arose within Christianity. The late Harry Jaffa probably understood this theological-political predicament better than anyone when he argued:

Christianity had established within the souls of men the idea of a direct, personal, trans-political relationship between the individual and his God. But this relationship did not determine what the laws were to be, or the precise character of the obligation owed to those laws. The idea of the state of nature—the idea of a non-political state governed by moral law—corresponded to the relationship which every Christian had with every other Christian as he considered himself prior to and apart from his membership in a particular civil society. Just as every Christian was under the moral law, without being a member of civil society, so every human being was under the moral law of the state of nature, prior to entering a particular civil society by way of the social contract.

It is clear in Locke that everyone is bound by the law of nature—the moral law—in the state of nature. Thus, Jaffa argues, the social contract, by creating particular political communities, reestablishes the idea of man as by nature a political animal, an idea that was absent from the apolitical universe of Christianity. It provided a ground for political obligation, based in reason and consent, that was also absent in Christianity. Far from the “political atheism” described by Brownson, Locke restored man’s political nature based on higher law, the laws of nature—and he did it on Aristotelian grounds!

Good Theology and Good Government
Of course, Locke spoke most often in terms of individual rights, something that Brownson deplored as leading to the radically autonomous individuals who assumed, he falsely believed, the sovereignty of God. Brownson misunderstood Locke, but he must surely have understood the origin of the idea of individual rights was in Christian theology itself. In Christian theology, man’s relationship to God is personal, thus the political relationship must also be “personal,” that is based on individual rights. Locke understood that the principles of natural right must be able to accommodate the regnant theology. Rights must belong to individuals; that was good theology—and it was good government.

Aristotle says that the principles of human nature are universal, but for human nature to flourish, for human potential to become actual, it must do so in particular human communities—in the polis. For Christians, the highest aspirations are in the life to come, and political life in this world is merely a preparation for the next. Paul cautioned the Colossians to “mind the things above, not the things on earth.” From this point of view, man is by “nature” apolitical. Social compact reaffirms man’s political nature by establishing particular political communities where this-worldly aspirations are the proper objects of political life. At the same time, man’s universal nature is affirmed by the law of nature that is the standard and measure by which particular communities are judged. While reasserting man’s political nature, social compact at the same time retains its compatibility with the City of God because natural law is understood to be, in Locke’s terms, “the Will of God” or reason which is the “the voice of God.”

The Declaration is also Aristotelian in its recognition of universal human nature (“all men are created equal”) but also recognizing that the implementation of that equality in securing of the “safety and happiness” of the people requires the creation of a “separate and equal” nation. Only in a separate and equal nation—a sovereign nation—can the privileges and immunities of citizenship be guaranteed and the habits, manners and virtues suitable for republican citizenship be inculcated.

No doubt Reinsch and Lawler will complain that this social construct is hardly Aristotelian because it is a human construct, an act of pure human will, whereas Aristotle maintained that man is by nature a political animal. For Aristotle, of course, the polis does not grow spontaneously—it is not the result of natural growth; rather, it had to be “constituted” by human art, and the one who first “constituted” the polis, Aristotle says, is the cause of the “greatest of goods.” The polis exists by nature because, while it is last in the order of time, it is first in the order of final causality. All associations—male and female, the family, the tribe, the village—are incomplete, and their incompleteness points to the polis as a final cause. And the final cause is nature. Aristotle’s polis thus seems to be no less the result of artifice than social compact. In other words, Aristotle’s polis—no less than America—had to be founded by human art. Had Aristotle faced the same theological-political situation that Locke faced, I believe he would have agreed that social compact was the only possible ground for establishing political life on the foundations of nature or natural law.

Brownson and our authors are particularly exercised by Locke’s “doctrine” of self-ownership. They believe this to be the most destructive of all Locke’s subversive writings. Men always belong to the Creator; they can never belong to themselves. But what is the sovereignty of the individual presupposed by social compact “but the assumption that man is God?” Let’s see.

In the sixth paragraph of the Second Treatise, Locke spells out the obligations that men have in the state of nature. It is quite remarkable that in a book famous for its advocacy of rights, we hear first about the obligations that everyone has to the law of nature:

The State of Nature has a Law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one: And Reason, which is that Law, teaches all Mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions. For Men being all the Workmanship of one Omnipotent, and infinitely wise Maker; All the Servants of one Sovereign Master, sent into the world by his order and about his business, they are his Property, whose Workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s Pleasure.

Men are thus the property of “one Omnipotent, and infinitely wise Maker.” This act of creation—the “workmanship of God”—makes each man equally the property of God, and each being the property of God, no one can be the property of anyone else. Thus each is “equal and independent” with respect to every other human being, which can only mean that “every Man has a Property in his own person” in his relations with every other human being, but is responsible to God in fulfilling his obligations to the law of nature—those obligations that God has imposed for the preservation of His workmanship. According to Locke in the First Treatise, God made man and planted in him a desire for self-preservation so that “so curious and wonderful a piece of Workmanship” should not perish. And according to Locke in the Second Treatise, God has set the individual free and made him “master of himself, and Proprietor of his own Person” so that he might go about fulfilling his obligations to the laws of nature, which he describes as the “Will of God” in the service of preserving God’s workmanship, not only of individuals but of mankind.

Liberty Is the Law of God and Nature
This is hardly the portrait of radically autonomous individuals who seek to supplant the authority of God drawn by Brownson and endorsed by Reinsch and Lawler, but it is the authentic Locke available to anyone who is willing to read him with any modicum of care. The American Founders read Locke as enlightened statesmen, gleaning political wisdom from his superior understanding of the theological-political problem. It was the absence of such disputes that made the success of the American Founding possible—a rare time in history when such a providential dispensation favored political founding—a dispensation prepared in large measure by Locke.

Madison was right: compact is the ground of all just and free government, and the theologians at the time of the founding agreed.

I will discuss here only one widely circulated sermon that was typical of the many sermons that relied on compact to reconcile questions of theology and politics. The Reverend John Tucker delivered “An Election Sermon” in Boston in 1771 that was profoundly influenced by Locke. “Civil and ecclesiastical societies are, in some essential points, different,” Tucker declaimed. “Our rights, as men, and our rights, as Christians, are not, in all respects, the same.” It cannot be denied that God’s

Subjects stand in some special relation and are under some peculiar subjection to him, distinct from their relation to and connection with civil societies, yet we justly conclude, that as this divine polity, with its sacred maxims, proceeded from the wise and benevolent Author of our being, none of its injunctions can be inconsistent with that love of liberty he himself has implanted in us, nor interfere with the laws and government of human societies, whose constitution is consistent with the rights of men.

Tucker exhibited a common view among New England clergy: the constitution of the “divine polity” cannot be in conflict with any civil government “whose constitution is consistent with the rights of men” and the “love of liberty” that God implanted in human nature. According to Tucker, the proper constitution of civil government begins with the reflection that

All men are naturally in a state of freedom, and have an equal claim to liberty. No one, by nature, not by any special grant from the great Lord of all, has any authority over another. All right therefore in any to rule over others, must originate from those they rule over, and be granted by them. Hence, all government, consistent with that natural freedom, to which all have an equal claim, is founded in compact, or agreement between the parties;—between Rulers and their Subjects, and can be no otherwise. Because Rulers, receiving their authority originally and solely from the people, can be rightfully possessed of no more, than these have consented to, and conveyed to them.

Thus compact seems to be the key to reconciling divine polity and civil polity. Tucker began the sermon with the invocation that “the great and wise Author of our being, has so formed us, that the love of liberty is natural.” Liberty is the law of God and nature. The laws of divine polity are prescribed in the Gospel; those of civil polity are derived from social compact. What connects divine polity and civil polity is the liberty that God created as the essential part of man’s nature. Social compact is the reasonable exercise of that freedom in the formation of civil society. Thus it seems that the theological-political problem—the problem of potentially conflicting obligations between divine polity and civil polity—is solved by Tucker, at least on the moral and political level, on the basis of social compact, which provides the only rightful basis for government because it is the only origin of government consistent with natural liberty.

In fashioning his account of the social compact, Tucker readily acknowledges the influence of “the great and judicious Mr. Locke,” extensively quoting and citing “Locke on Civil Government.” I think it fair to say that “America’s philosopher” dominated the pulpit no less than he dominated legislative halls and constitutional conventions. Thus a remarkable providence seemed to have guided the American founding in the form of a dispensation from the theological-political disputes that would have rendered impossible any attempt to establish constitutional government.

To argue that the American Founders fell prey to Locke’s radical individualism when they relied on social compact reasoning is simply perverse and a mischaracterization of the Founders’ (and Locke’s) understanding. The Founders did not read Locke as a radical modern. They were unaware—or ignored—the philosophic dispute between ancients and moderns. As statesmen, they were interested in the history of politics and were free to choose the most salutary and beneficial practical solutions. Their reading of Locke traced the ideas of natural law directly back to Aristotle. They were mostly unaware of the latter-day discovery of Locke’s esoteric writing that provided insights into the radical core of his thought. Locke’s exoteric writings provided an entirely salutary political teaching that was adopted—and adapted—by the Founders.

The Founders’ decision decision to follow Locke on social compact—“the principles of the Revolution”—meant that the end of government was the “safety and happiness” of the American people, an Aristotelian conception that helped to insulate the founding from the storms of modernity that were threatening Europe. It provided America with a more comprehensive and elevated purpose than simply avoiding “violent death” and “protecting property,” the Hobbesian purposes assigned by Reinsch and Lawler.

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Center for American Greatness • Cultural Marxism • Democrats • Donald Trump • Post • The Culture • The Left

Republicans Aren’t Funny

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Editor’s note: This article was first published at The American Spectator and appears in American Greatness by permission.

Conservative intellectuals in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere are gathering to discuss where conservatism stands in the Age of Trump and where it will be after he leaves office. As those deliberations evolve and spill into Republican Party affairs, the leaders better keep one thing in mind: conservatism, now and then, has to be fun, and sometimes funny, too.

William F. Buckley, Jr., made it fun 54 years ago in a free-wheeling run for the mayoralty of New York, his wit dispelling the despair conservatives felt after Barry Goldwater was thrashed by Lyndon Johnson  in 1964. (Buckley titled his platform statement, “Mayor, Anyone?”). Ronald Reagan certainly made people laugh, often at his opponents’ expense: “Republicans celebrate the Fourth of July; Democrats celebrate April 15th.” Laughter helped Arnold Schwarzenegger win California (“Don’t be economic girly-men!”) and, of course, Donald Trump the White House, including jokes about himself (“I never had alcohol, for whatever reason. Can you imagine if I had? What a mess I would be. I would be the worst.”).

It’s a sound liberals hate to hear. They know how important comedy is to public opinion, and they remember that many people preferred George W. Bush to the wooden Al Gore because he’s the one they’d have liked to join for a beer. Besides, they believe, comedy rightly belongs to the Left, from Lenny Bruce and “Laugh-In” to “The Daily Show” and Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin. If conservatives cultivate their own comedians and audiences enjoy them, 2020 and beyond looks less dim than it did last November after the midterms. Democrats have to stop them: there is no such a thing as conservative humor!

“How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

“That’s not funny!”

Now the liberal must say, that’s not only not funny, it’s offensive.

So is the bake sale that conservative students mounted at the University of Washington, which charged Asians $1.50, whites $1, African Americans and Hispanics $0.50, and Native Americans nothing for each item. The stunt was a brazen parody prompted by a bill in the state legislature that reinstated affirmative action (voters had outlawed preferential treatment in 1998). University president Ana Mari Cauce, who has exquisitely correct progressive views, wasn’t amused by the kids. She upheld the right to free speech, but issued a sententious letter decrying the “crudity, offensiveness and sheer outrageousness of the message.”

And when Milo Yiannapoulos donned a blond wig and glasses, sat before a camera, called himself “Dr. Christine Blazing Faggot,” and announced, “You might know me from . . . lying to the Senate,” liberal observers assumed that anyone with a scrap of sympathy for survivors of sexual assault would consider it downright repugnant. That kind of malice, they insist, deserves to be scrubbed from social media, as happened to Milo last month. Reporting on the affair, The  Atlantic classified him as a “far-right extremist” who was banned by Facebook because he violated “policies against dangerous individuals and organizations.” They didn’t grant him an ounce of merriment.

President Trump isn’t funny, either, say the 53 percent of Americans who disapprove of his job performance. At the signing of the executive order threatening colleges with the loss of research funds if they fail to safeguard free speech, he regretted the catastrophe of student debt, but paused and told us not to get the wrong idea. “I’ve always been very good with loans,” he declared with a naughty smile. “I love loans. I looooove other people’s money.” All of us in the audience laughed, yes, but, really, it wasn’t funny, not to the reporters in the back, not at all.

President Obama, on the other hand, told a lot of jokes and he appreciated good comedy. As Politico reported in 2015, the Obama Administration went to “unusual” lengths “to cultivate” comedian Jon Stewart, then host of the popular “Daily Show” on Comedy Central. Obama did an hour with comedian Marc Maron on his popular podcast. And when it came time to defend Obamacare, he sat down for a conversation with comedian Zach Galifianakis that was, to be sure, appealingly droll. The YouTube video has collected nearly 26 million views. The Washington Post actually labeled Obama “the first alt-comedy president.”

Liberals and Democrats can enjoy that loose way of parleying; conservatives and Republicans can’t. We have an imbalance of laughter, which the left has created as part of its longstanding culture war tactics. What the Right thinks is comical the Left calls offensive, while the Left makes fun of its adversaries at will. Joe Biden was free to warn voters in a wry, folksy way during the 2012 campaign about Republicans reviving slavery, telling a half-black audience in Virginia, “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.” Hillary Clinton was sure that her “basket of deplorables” remark would count as a witticism, which did indeed get a laugh from the original audience.

So did Stephen Colbert when he characterized Donald Trump’s mouth as Vladimir Putin’s “cock-holster”; and Michelle Wolf, too, who in her speech at the 2018 White House Correspondents Dinner wondered what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was sitting nearby: “Like, what’s Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women?”; and Samantha Bee as well, who called Ivanka Trump a “feckless c—,” eliciting squeals of delight from the crowd.

None of those comics lost their platforms. Conservatives protested, a few liberals took some temporary distance from the speaker, the clip circulated widely, and it all passed over. Colbert continues his sarcasm every weeknight, and Bee still has 514,000 followers on Twitter. Milo has none—Twitter removed him three years ago. She’s “funny,” he’s not.

Nor is Paul Joseph Watson, another proclaimed hatemonger banned from Facebook and Instagram. His videos taunt and flout the sacred cows of “wokeness” and he has 1.6 million YouTube subscribers, but he gets no credit for wit. He created the “Creepy Uncle Joe” video in November 2017, which showed the former-vice president getting too touchy-feely with girls, inserting “COMPLETELY NORMAL” at telling moments and used camera slowdowns and close-ups to sensationalize Biden’s clinginess. The video has logged 2.4 million views and just as many guffaws, but the media judge such creations despicable, not a mode of Juvenalian satire as a Salon article did in justifying Jon Stewart’s anti-Republican obscenities.

Do Republican politicians and conservative commentators still not get it? Are they still unaware that this is all a set-up, conservatives-as-stunted and liberals-as-hip? As with all things cultural, the Left is way ahead of the Right on this matter. The censors who ousted Milo and Watson certainly understand. The more they paint those coarse performers as unfunny and odious, the less their performances will damage the progressive brand. So will the words of those conservatives who aren’t offensive and belligerent but are, liberals say, un-funny in a different way: uptight, repressed, literal-minded, and straight-laced. In either case, liberals reserve the joys of comedy for themselves. And the arrows of comedy, too.

For example: Fifty years ago, when anti-war protesters marched on the Pentagon, one group led by Allen Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman, both of them experienced political performance artists, set about holding hands and chanting pagan prayers while The Fugs played in an effort to levitate the building—yes, to raise it three feet in the air (they actually secured a permit to do so). It was a ceremonial theater of the absurd whose stagy pointlessness had a satirical purpose: to treat the Pentagon itself as a site of absurdity. People normally assumed that inside the building were shrewd men devising plans of high geopolitical seriousness, but with these goofy protesters outside the image of noble patriotism dimmed. That was the point—to discredit the military, and there were no comics in 1967 to fight back. John Wayne’s patriotic 1968 film “The Green Berets” didn’t have a lot of irony.

Cheap or not, satire is a weapon, and it’s one that Democrats monopolize. They want to pigeon-hole Republicans as Puritanical Pat Robertson or Evil Dick Cheney, repressively humorless or villainously humorless. They have exercised that caricature secure in the expectation that Republicans won’t turn it upon them. When Whoopi Goldberg spoke at a fundraiser in 2004 for John Kerry and John Edwards (both of them were in the audience), she said this about the sitting president: “We should keep Bush where he belongs”—here she paused and pointed at her genitals—“not in the White House.” Even though the Kerry campaign had asked to see her remarks in advance, Goldberg refused. She described her response to that request and explained her reasoning: “I Xeroxed my behind and I folded it up in an envelope and I sent it back with a big kiss mark on it because we’re Democrats—we’re not afraid to laugh.” She was right. It didn’t hurt her career at all.

Establishment Republicans have learned to play along with their assigned role as prigs. They are most definitely afraid to laugh. They seem to be in a competition of earnestness. Did John Kasich tell a joke in 2016 and make it work? Did Jeb Bush ever evoke a belly laugh? How much of Jeff Flake’s sincerity did we have to take? One might assume their oh-so-concerned aura stems from an inner conviction, or from their readiness to assume the grave duties of leadership. In truth, they are under the sway of a liberal censure that strikes whenever they veer into a politically-incorrect mode.

They play this brand of sobriety because they fear the stigma liberals have attached to them: “Republicans don’t care about poor people, sick people, minorities, women, immigrants . . .” They must show that they care, that they feel their pain, which means that they must eliminate all sardonic edges from their words and visages. This is, of course, to strip them of a crucial firearm in the field of political battle. Saul Alinsky, a brilliant tactician, would approve.

Americans who lean right have been begging for their representatives to deride politically correct norms for a long time. People want to laugh; it brings relief as the straitjacket of liberal decorum is loosened. But establishment Republicans won’t do it. Left-wing scolds from Hollywood to the Washington Post to Silicon Valley have them cowed. Remember the attack ad from 2012 showing a Paul Ryan look-alike wheeling grandma off the cliff? It was so bizarrely melodramatic that it really was kind of funny. Ryan’s standard rejoinder to such lampoons, though, was the wholly unfunny Boy Scout persona, a hapless claim of innocence that was no defense against liberal raillery.

Recall, too, the story of Mitt Romney many years before sticking his dog on the roof of the family car for a 12-hour ride home, which evoked hundreds of jokes during the campaign, including one by President Obama himself at the 2012 White House Correspondents’ Dinner.  Romney’s answer when asked by Diane Sawyer if he would do it again wasn’t, “Heck, yes! That dog was never happier than when he had the wind in his face! I could never take him out in the car without him sticking his head out the window and begging me to drive faster, faster!” No, he said, instead, “Certainly not with the attention it’s received.”

This is the actual context for the indignation provoked by the new comics of the right: Milo, Steven Crowder, Paul Joseph Watson, Mark Dice,  . . . and Donald Trump himself. From the very beginning of the campaign, Trump realized that Romney and Ryan’s brand of solemnity doesn’t overcome liberal mockery, especially when that solemnity issues from the mouths of D.C. politicians who have absolutely no claim to victim status. Romney-Ryan lost, Trump won, but establishment Republicans haven’t learned the lesson. They didn’t register how much fun people had at Trump’s rallies, or how much his jibes (“fake news,” “Pocahontas”) countered the jibes they’d endured for so long (“Teabaggers,” “wingnuts,” . . .). Trump’s success in spite of all the times the media declared him done—for instance, after Trump in South Carolina called the Iraq invasion a disaster—proved that a significant voting bloc was waiting to be inspired by a leader who could make them laugh. Ordinary citizens felt the bliss of candor when Trump groaned in 2015, “I am so tired of this politically-correct crap!”

But establishment Republicans still wince at his sallies. They still want to display how respectable and civil they are. Romney said in 2012 that the Obama campaign aimed “to minimize me as an individual, to make me a bad person, an unacceptable person.” And yet Senator Romney just voted against a judicial nominee because the nominee “made particularly disparaging comments about President Obama” while the man was running for office in 2011.

We are in an arms race of political banter. Without the weapons of parody, jest, and artful invective, conservatives can’t win—and liberals know it. That’s why they cast conservative humor as offensive, for instance, Diamond and Silk as “unsafe to the community” (Mark Zuckerberg later called that judgment an error). And that’s why President Trump came to the defense of right-wing figures banned from Facebook.  He knows the value of raillery, and he recognizes the duplicitous game the Left has been playing and winning: propriety-for-thee and edginess-for-me.

Republican leaders should treat these sometimes racy but highly popular political satirists in the same way President Obama treated Jon Stewart. The impact of “Saturday Night Live” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on the polls should not be underestimated (Colbert brings in 4 million viewers a night).

Republicans rightly abhor the bad language of Milo, et. al., but wrongly shun them for that reason. Those bawdy wits are, in fact, the best force against the heated social justice warriors flocking to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). If Hillary Clinton can share a stage one week before the election with Jay-Z, whose lyrics include:

You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a       

strip club? Credit

You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America?

This how they did it . . .

and the NBC News report on the event notes only that Clinton was able to bring out “star power” for her final push, then Republicans should be able to sit down with conservative YouTube stars and ask why so many young Americans love them. If they don’t, they surrender the entire territory of edginess so much prized by the young to the Left. The results speak for themselves. Last November, the youth vote went 2-to-1 for Democrats.

Besides, liberals decry President Trump’s un-presidential vulgarity not because of their high-minded image of the presidency. They do it because he has stolen some of their weaponry. Democrats have hemmed in Republicans with politically correct etiquette while maintaining a squad of comic culture warriors eager to jeer and demean conservatives the moment they wield comedy as political critique. Trump won’t cooperate. He has taken the antic advantage away from the Left, the first national Republican figure to do so in a long time, and liberals hate him for that. Oh, they make jokes about him, but the jokes they come up with aren’t very clever and they’re so predictable that they aren’t funny, either. They really aren’t.

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

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Book Reviews • Books & Culture • Identity Politics • Post • The Culture • The Left

Resisting the Politics of Victimhood

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We are a self-contradictory people.

In our private lives, we affirm, or at least speak as if we affirm, the virtues of personal responsibility, self-reliance, self-discipline, wisdom, humility, generosity, and justice. These are the virtues that we strive to instill in our children. With an eye to this end, we appropriate measures to thwart the vices of irresponsibility, neediness, laziness, ignorance, arrogance, self-absorption, and a sense of self-entitlement.

And yet the politics of 21st- century America are unmistakably the politics of victimhood.

Is there a way to resolve this tension?  Is there a way to resist something as ubiquitous as the politics of victimhood while cultivating the virtues that are indispensable to a self-governing citizenry?

Peter Simon Liciaga has an answer.  Liciaga, a 58 year-old Puerto Rican man who originally hailed from the housing projects of the Bronx and who began studying the martial arts when he was 9 years old, is a sixth-degree black belt master of Tang Soo Do, a Korean-based martial art practiced by such notables as James Dean, Chuck Norris, and Michael Jai White.

Master Liciaga is also my master.

He has just published his first (but I hope not his last) book, Black Belt Strong: A Parent’s Guide to the Martial Arts.  

It is between the pages of this volume—so slender that it easily could be read within a single sitting—that Master Liciaga provides both adults and their children alike a means by which to immunize themselves against the infantilizing effects of victimhood politics.

While the martial arts are not required for the cultivation of those virtues that the human race has celebrated for millennia, the martial arts are indeed unique insofar as these virtues are intrinsic to their study.

To reiterate, the martial arts are alone among human activities insofar as they are designed to maximize all of one’s potentialities as a human being.

This is a point that Master Liciaga underscores repeatedly. In fact, it is the most basic principle that pervades his philosophy of the martial arts.

The martial arts, Liciaga has come to realize after decades of study, is a philosophy, not just of combat, but of life. If one reads with sufficient care, one will note that it is this metaphysical perspective that powers every word of Liciaga’s book.  

While the Western intellectual tradition is more heterogeneous than any other, if it could be said to have a dominant current it is the one advancing the notion of a mind-body dualism, which is endorsed either explicitly or implicitly by many of its most prominent contributors.

Despite the fact that, the embodiment of the Logos, Christianity, the faith of European Man for the better part of two millennia is a resounding repudiation of this fiction, mind-body dualism nevertheless persists.

Even today, the body is still treated in academia, politics, the popular culture, and even within the churches as if it was an extraneous possession, a machine to be controlled by the ghost inhabiting it.

This idea of the human-person is one that many of us have unconsciously imbibed. Master Liciaga disabuses his students of it in no uncertain terms:

The human being is a spiritual being, a unity of mind and body.  

You are not a mind possessing a body. Nor are you a mind and a body.

You are a mind-body, or an embodied mind.

Mind and body, in other words, are not two fundamentally irreducible substances, nor is it the case that body is ultimately reducible to mind or mind reducible to body.

The human being is a spiritual being, meaning a unity of mind and body.

Just as two sides of the same coin are distinct but  inseparable, so it is with our bodies and minds. They, each derive their identity from their relationship to the other side, but each is ultimately composed of the same stuff.

Between the mind and the body there is a symbiotic connection or a conversation, so to speak. The body communicates to the mind just as the mind communicates to the body.

This being the case, as the martial arts harden the bodies of their practitioners, they also sharpen their minds. Not only do the martial arts cultivate physical excellences—pliability, agility, balance, and martial prowess generally—they also instill such mental virtues as humility, practical wisdom, self-discipline, and even courage and a sense of justice.

Martial arts cannot improve on the excellence of the one thing at the expense of the other. It can only improve both simultaneously because the human-person is a unity, a spiritual organism composed of body and mind.

The martial arts are intrinsically antithetical to the Politics of Victimhood. As Master Liciaga underscores, not just in his latest manuscript but on a daily basis by way of his podcasts and while teaching his art at Dinoto Karate Center in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, the martial arts are inherently oriented toward empowering students—men and women; the young, the not-as-young, and the elderly; parents and children; blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians—so that they may in turn enrich and strengthen their communities.

Though he is the eternal optimist, Master Liciaga labors inexhaustibly to emancipate his students of any delusions they may have concerning the nature of life. Life is hard, and evil is real.  It is because of this view of life that Liciaga is the optimist that he is. The cheeriness with which he greets both the blessings and the challenges that each new day allocates to him is the means by which he combats, and helps whomever will listen combat, the pain and suffering of the world. (Incidentally, Liciaga, who is on Facebook, and other social media, welcomes people to contact him.)

This positivity, this confidence in oneself to surmount the travails of life, is the gift that Master Liciaga tries to bestow, not just upon his students, but upon all who would read his book and listen to his daily podcasts.

Everyone can only benefit from reading Peter Liciaga’s, Black Belt Strong: A Parent’s Guide to the Martial Arts.

Photo Credit: iStock/Getty Images

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America • Post • The Culture

Finding America at a Back-Roads Gas Station

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DICKERSON, Md.—Everything happens for a reason.

At least that’s what people tell you when your plans go south.

Driving from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., recently, I did as I nearly always do: I clicked the “avoid highways” option on Google Maps and chose a route I’d never taken before.

You’d be amazed by the number of different routes you can take between western Pennsylvania and our nation’s capital. This one took me through the heights of the Laurel Mountains toward the original Lincoln Highway, where I went through the delightful town of Mercersburg and then due south toward U.S. 40, the original National Pike. Eventually, I slowly snaked along the Maryland side of the Potomac River southeast toward D.C.

This way of traveling lets you see, even if only fleetingly, the towns, unincorporated villages and cities that sometimes connect on one single U.S. route. On these roads, you see the differences in prosperity, density and decay that make up America.

As I approached a bend in the road that passes under an ancient stone train bridge along Maryland Route 28, it happened. The flat-tire warning signals began flashing across my dashboard. I didn’t have a choice. I had to try to navigate past the sharp curve, through the narrow underpass, and pray there was somewhere flat to pull over on the other side.

I am fairly sure I completed a world-record 30-second recital of the rosary in my head as I made it around the bend. Then I took in the damage. My tire was shredded.

The Dickerson Market looks like the hundreds of general stores I see every time I hit the back roads. It has a post office attached to it, not to mention no-name self-service gasoline pumps in the front and a sign boasting “famous fried chicken.”

On that day, it was my oasis.

To those passing through, these general stores are just gas stations. But to people who live here or come to the area regularly for the hiking, biking and fishing, places like Dickerson Market are the center of the community. It’s where they can get an amazing breakfast sandwich hot off the grill or donate to Toys for Tots. It’s where they can buy a birthday card, a winter hat or groceries, or where they can sit for a spell at a handful of tables and chairs.

It is where conversations spring up among strangers, with the grace and charity you won’t find on social media or cable news.

I certainly found that grace and charity in the hours I waited there for AAA. I also found a microcosm of America in the veritable parade of strangers who helped and offered to help.

A white couple with more tattoos than I could possibly count, a group of young Hispanic men and an African American couple all offered different forms of assistance for my obvious distress.

Michelle Ennis isn’t surprised by the hospitality shown by the patrons of her store. “I see that type of kindness from our regulars in little things every day,” she says. “This place is a piece of history as well as a reflection of our community. We may change, because we have to change with moderation and things like that. But you still have down-to-the-basics, pleasant people. … You miss that in the cities. I’ve been in cities, and you can hardly get someone to say hello to you or look you in the eye.”

Ennis owns the store with her father, Robert Fowler, who bought it 22 years ago. He was a regular, and the former owners wanted someone who cared about the community to carry on the tradition they began in 1948. Michelle Ennis’ kids work behind the counter, and her husband helps when things break down. “It is a real family operation,” she says.

More than 1,000 pieces of their fried chicken leave the unassuming general store while I wait for my tow.

To anyone passing by, this just looks like a gas station. To anyone who takes the time to step inside, they will find themselves in a wonderland.

It is Memorial Day weekend, and no tire stores are open to repair my car. AAA tells me the dispatch will tow my car home to Pittsburgh, and I’ll get to ride along. The anxiety that starts to overwhelm me as I wonder how I am going to interact with a stranger for 5 1/2 hours in the small space of a tow truck quickly evaporates minutes after Krasimir Georgiev shows up to take me and my bruised Jeep home.

An immigrant from Bulgaria, Georgiev’s story makes the time fly. He arrived from Germantown with little money and an uncertain future. Now he’s a small-business man who owns two tow trucks and employs several people.

Grace always finds a way to show up just in time. I’ve written that before, and I say it often. Even though I know it will come, it’s always surprising where you find it. Sometimes it’s on a back road in Maryland that you thought you were taking for no good reason. But it turns out there was a reason.

Photo Credit: iStock/Getty Images

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America • civic culture/friendship • Education • Identity Politics • Post • Progressivism • self-government • The Culture

K-12 Education Has Become Progressive Sunday School

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As an adolescent, just beginning my education as a Catholic, I had Catechism classes. There, for usually an hour, we learned some of the basic tenets of the Roman Catholic faith. In other denominations, this is known as Sunday School. I suppose the true purpose of Sunday School is edification and the equipping of the pupils with a solid foundation in religious faith. Progressive Liberals have their own Sunday School. Of course, given that they tout a Trojan Horse religion, they get away with not calling it what it is.

As a teacher and a former public school student, I have become intimately acquainted with the inner workings of the Progressive Liberal Sunday School catechizing the youth of America. Over 50 million young people attend the public schools every year where—to an overwhelming extent—their minds are prepared to accept and think uncritically about basic Progressive Liberal doctrines by the priests and priestesses who teach their classes.

Within the schools that teach the teachers, Social Sciences—which the university Schools of Education fall under—registered Democrats outnumber Republican Professors by a margin of over 10 to 1. Even in my Jesuit School of Education, we were heavy on social justice but weak on the classical canon of literature; we went deep into the all-powerful influence of racism, sexism, class and other bigoted isms as applied to education, but we hardly ever talked about the Western tradition of liberty, the pursuit of truth, and the search for the sublime.

It should come as no surprise that K-12 teachers in America adhere overwhelmingly to the Progressive Liberal faith. Verdant Labs, using Federal Election Commission data showing the professions of those who contribute to political campaigns, created some educated guesses about how Republican or Democratic certain professions are. The data on my profession, teaching, was unsurprising. There are 79 Democrats in the teaching profession for every 21 Republicans. At the high school level there are 87 Democrats for every 13 Republicans. And in elementary schools there are 85 Democrats for every 15 Republicans.

The Unions, to which almost all teachers belong, give overwhelmingly to Democrats. Since 1990, the K-12 teacher unions gave close to 80 million dollars to Democrats; they gave only 3.4 million of those dollars to Republicans. 95 percent of their donations have gone to Democrats. This puts traditionalists like myself in a tight bind. My dues help bargain for the salary that allows me to be a part of the middle class; but the organization is a far-left outfit that pushes a social agenda that is antithetical to my own personal beliefs.

I saw firsthand the workings of the union at the State Representatives Assembly I attended several years ago. We spent a good amount of time discussing salaries, working conditions, and so on, but the floor was also open for numerous resolutions. Among them were resolutions about equity (a Progressive Liberal code for forced equality of outcome), ethnic studies (any culture except traditional European, Jewish, or Christian cultures in practice), celebrating the “Black Lives Matter” movement (no motions about Blue Lives—including Black Blue Lives were brought up), a resolution about “toxic masculinity” (despite the fact our most problematic students tend to have NO masculinity in the house) and a resolution against teachers being armed in class. Essentially, it was a hit parade of the Progressive Liberal professions of faith.

The Sunday School works quite simply. Students are exposed to a Progressive Liberal curriculum by a teaching staff who are constantly honing their skills to be at the cutting edge of Progressive Liberal doctrines as they develop. The job of the curriculum, which Progressive Liberal instructors posing as “experts” select, is to prepare the ground for them to explain and inculcate Progressive dogmas into the minds of children.    

Textbooks are often where this starts. What does that look like in practice? Take an Advanced Placement U.S .History textbook called The American Pageant. This is a popular textbook that tens of thousands of the 500,000 students who take the AP U.S. History test use to prepare for the exam. In the words of Burt Folsom, an economic historian and emeritus professor at Hillsdale College, the textbook teaches “flawed ideas…that mislead students into thinking that the United States is fundamentally corrupt, and that the world is often worse off because America exists and has so much global influence.” In the textbooks which we use, certain words are used as slurs. This isn’t shocking. They are written by a professoriate which I earlier mentioned has 10 liberals for every 1 conservative—and social conservatives are often even less represented. Words like “conservative,” “Christian,” “male,” “patriarch,” “white,” “European,” “rural,” “older,” and “religious,” are used almost exclusively in negative contexts.

What is the outcome of immersing students in these ideas? Can we trust K-12 educators to present them objectively and fairly when they skew so heavily to the Left?

While students are fed a steady diet of Progressive Liberal dogmas and content, teachers are subject to a steady stream of re-education meant to indoctrinate them further and further into the Progressive Religion. Where practicing Christians have Bible studies to refresh their minds and re-enter the study of Scripture, K-12 teachers have Teacher Training to refresh the basics. For example, while I was researching this Chapter, I got an email from my Union offering a free course called: “Implicit Bias and Microaggressions: Race, LGBTQ, Ability and Intersectionality.” I get invitations to these sorts of courses at least once a month in my personal and school email.

This course, which probably involved paying the presenters several thousand dollars, begins “with an overview of implicit bias and microaggression as it applies to race in the classroom and the workplace. A special emphasis on how implicit bias and microaggressions can impact the success of students regardless of the positive intent of adults or other students.”

What is an example of a microaggression? Asking a student where he is from.

The apparatus for teaching Progressive Faith Dogmas is well funded and extensive. That Far Left Institution for Propagating and Defending this Social Justice Faith—also called the Southern Poverty Law Center—has an endowment of over four hundred million dollars.  One of the programs they run is called “Teaching Tolerance.” The lessons that this group produces are used in thousands of American public schools in front of hundreds of thousands of American students, every single year.

Teaching Tolerance has numerous other lessons pushing the Progressive Liberal religion and do all of the things .Progressive Liberalism needs to exist as a faith. For example, deconstructing the past (e.g.,  Teaching Tolerance’s lesson that excoriates Dr. Seuss as a racist), breeding racial resentment (e.g., Teaching Tolerance’s lesson on the poisonous concept of “white privilege”), pushing open borders (e.g., Teaching Tolerance’s lesson on Islam which paints anyone opposed to migration as a xenophobe), calling for higher taxes on Americans as a form of environmentalist reparations (through its lesson on how class relates to carbon emissions).

The largest teachers union, the National Education Association, itself has a list of similar “social justice” lesson plans intended to do to students the same thing Teaching Tolerance aims to do.

Every parent and taxpayer who is a traditionalist unwittingly supports this system as they fork over property taxes to pay for the educations of their own children or the children of their community, the faith of the family is denigrated.

If you think that an hour of Church every Sunday or the occasional patriotic celebration like the 4th of July is enough to immunize your children from the tidal wave of cultural liberalism they are subjected to on a daily basis, you are either negligent or sorely naïve. We can see the results of this so clearly and yet social conservatives wonder why they keep losing the culture war and are pushed further and further to the margins.

We are losing our country because the Progressive Left has captured the institutions which they know are crucial for destroying the Judeo-Christian foundations of this civilization. While Bible reading is banned as mixing Religion with the State, no such ban applies to any of the pseudo-religious texts which constitute the “Holy Scriptures” of Progressive Religion. Gallup documents the changes since 2001; and they are striking. In 2001, 45 percent of Americans believed having a child outside of the context of marriage was acceptable. In 2018, the number was over 61 percent. In 2001, 59 percent of Americans thought divorce was morally acceptable; in 2018 the number was 71 percent. In 2001, 49 percent of Americans thought doctor-assisted suicide was acceptable; in 2018 it was 56 percent. Indeed, it will probably only be a matter of time before for support for other forms of sexual “liberty” become more and more popular. The culture is moving from Traditional faith due to the Progressive Sunday School system: polygamy, bestiality, bigamy, prostitution, perhaps even pedophilia have the potential to be mainstreamed into a culture being torn out from the roots up.

The Trojan Horse is at the gates. And the faithful are caught unawares.

Photo credit: Getty Images/ Stock photo

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America • Center for American Greatness • Europe • History • military • Post • The Culture

My Father’s D-Day Memories

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D-Day is more than a remembrance of America’s great victory in the Battle of Normandy. It is a celebration of the Greatest Generation and the lessons they have to teach us.

Like Jews repeating the story of the Passover every year for 3,000 years, we must recall the story of this generation’s great deeds, or we will lose some idea of who we are, why we are here, and what we are capable of achieving. Indeed, if we don’t remember what our fathers knew, we will lose our country.

My beloved father, who passed away two years ago at 98-years-old, was a typical member of the greatest generation. Phil Schultz was eternally optimistic, fearless, hard-working, a responsible family man and provider, and patriotic to his core. He achieved the American Dream, not through selfishness or callousness but rather through family loyalty, taking care of those closest to him, and believing in himself. It was the same ability to pull together and have confidence in victory that gave our country the stamina to win World War II, and later let my Dad realize his personal dream of being a professional cameraman.

If only the Millennials and Generation Z could share in his life experiences and wisdom for just a moment, their world would be transformed.

A Quintessentially American Story
Here are the roots of my Dad’s optimism.  He was born in a small house with a dirt floor in the Jewish Pale of Settlement in the Soviet Union. His father escaped the Communists, made his way to America, and after several years, had earned enough to bring the family to join him.

My Dad was 9 years old. He excelled in public school and won a place in the Bronx High School of Science, but had to drop out during the Depression to help his family. He never finished school. He did serve in the Civilian Conservation Corps in Oregon as a firefighter and a logger. Back home, he was a self-taught photographer with his gang of Jewish friends in the Bronx, taking girlie pictures and selling them to cheap magazines for a few dollars.

When America entered World War II, my father, armed with his portfolio of photos, signed up immediately.  He was assigned to be a combat photographer with the Army Signal Corps.

Phil Schultz with his camera. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

He soon shipped out to England, to prepare for the Allied invasion of Northern Europe. He was with the 165th Signal Photo Company, 29th Infantry Division. This was the “Band of Brothers” division that took Omaha Beach, the lead troops in the invasion that began on June 6, 1944.

Being a combat photographer meant he served on the front lines of World War II from Omaha Beach to the liberation of Paris, including the Battle of the Bulge, as well as the battle to take the Remagen Bridge that led into Germany and ultimately Berlin.

His films of the action are in the Library of Congress. During the war, they were edited by the Army and shown as newsreels in cinemas across America. Remember, this was before TV, and the images captured by soldiers like my father were how Americans at home could follow the war. It was important in mobilizing the entire country to sacrifice, to work hard for the war effort and to win.

The amazing thing is I have “home photos” of it all, which I found years later when Dad had to move to assisted living and I was closing down my parents’ apartment. There was a small box from a Roliflex camera he had found in a cave in Germany during the war, and it was crammed full of high-quality Leica contact sheets of still photos he and his buddies had taken mostly between the battles.

The Museum of the City of New York held an exhibition of Phil Schultz’s photographs. (Courtesy of the author.)

Here are his few personal photos from Normandy, June 1944, with commentary in his own words.

“At Last, We Are Going After Hitler”
My experiences in World War II, I would say, started way before Pearl Harbor, because I was always extremely anti-fascist, and I knew somewhere along the way we would have to fight, and fight everything that was happening before it. So after Pearl Harbor, I went to volunteer in the Army, even before most of my friends.

As a soldier, we didn’t know when the D-Day invasion was going to come, but there was a feeling—there was such a build-up of American forces . . . all of a sudden, you are almost elbow to elbow with American forces on this island (Great Britain). They were coming over by the boatload and it was more and more of a build-up. Then one day, one day we said, “Alright, pack everything, you have to get on the trucks.”

We got on the trucks in a convoy and we went this way and that way. The roads were dark, and all the signs had been taken down, in case of a German invasion.

I still get a chill, remembering. As far as I could see along the country roads, piles of munitions. The people came out in the dark and watched. They lined the roads. It was so emotional. We didn’t talk in the trucks and it was very emotional. The only talking was maybe, “You got a cigarette?” The emotion. They knew what was happening.

We went to Torquay, which was where we got on the boat. We weren’t gung ho. No, we were scared, because we weren’t experienced. We didn’t know what to [expect]—we hadn’t been under fire. War was movies.

I remember feeling, at last, we are going after Hitler. I was happy because this would open up the second front and end the war and end Hitler. I wasn’t happy, “ha-ha happy,” but it was a very emotional period. We all knew. I and a couple of other guys I was close with said, “Oh boy, this is it.”

On the truck that night we were told where we were going. We are going to Normandy. They gave us maps, told us where we were going, what our objective was, where we were going to land exactly on the beach, every yard was marked off on the map. They knew where Phil Schultz was going to land, the only thing missing was my name. We were supposed to land about 2 p.m. on D-Day.

The map soldiers were given before the Normandy invasion. (Courtesy of the author.)

We got on the boats that night and fell asleep. I was on a small boat with artillery. The next morning, we first saw where we were. We were not close to shore. We were surrounded by an armada of tens of thousands of ships. We just couldn’t believe it.

Part of the armada headed for the Normandy coast. Photo by Phil Schultz. (Courtesy of the author.)

Then there was a reading on the ship of Eisenhower’s proclamation and order of the day. What we were supposed to do, to invade this and that.

Before we went off to the invasion, about month or two before, when I was assigned to London. I spent a lot of time with Robert Capa (the older brother of a best friend from the Bronx). He was a war correspondent and he knew he was going to go in with the very first wave. I was supposed to land at 1 or 2. But what happened was that we heard all sorts of rumors that things didn’t go well on the beach. We didn’t go in when we were supposed to and I started to notice small speed boats bringing wounded back to certain ships, and some wounded were brought back to my ship.

I asked permission to go to the beach, because they were going to pick up wounded. I had to promise I wouldn’t go onto the beach. The officer said, “You aren’t landing yet and you can’t land without your unit, so only if you come back.” I did go on the beach and we brought back wounded.

Now the beach— [there] was what you call beach master, this was a Navy guy, the beach master was in charge of this much beach and the boat. And he was standing there with all the artillery. There was a designation for the ships to stop and come and go.

There was a beach master. Fortunately, there was no shelling when I got there. They invaded or started invading about 5-5:30 and when I got there it was 10:30-11:00. And the beach was practically empty because everyone on the beach was laying down, and they were up against the hedgerows where they could not break through yet. So, I got some pictures of the wounded being put on and I went back to my ship and we didn’t land until late, late that day.

The first thing that happened to me when we got on the beach, it was quiet already, I bumped into a United Press correspondent who I knew from London, because of Robert Capa, and the first thing he said was, “Capa is missing.”

Omaha Beach. Photo by Phil Schultz. (Courtesy of the author.)

I said, “Oh, God!” and the first thing that came to my mind was what am I going to tell Julia, his mother. I was very close to his family, he was like a big brother to me. For three days, I really worried.

I went into Sainte-Mère-Église, which we just captured earlier that day. It was in the movie “The Longest Day,” where the paratrooper got stuck on the steeple. That was the village. It was right on the waterfront practically, just to the right of us. For three days I worried whether Capa . . . I didn’t know it, but before I even got to the beach he got his pictures and he was back in London. He wouldn’t trust his pictures to anybody. He got back on the boat and went back on one of the ships and got himself back to London to the labs to print his pictures.

Robert Capa’s famous photo of the Omaha landing. Photo by Pierre Andrieu. (AFP/Getty Images)

His darkroom assistant was so excited the negatives were rushed back before the battle was over, that he melted them in his haste, and only a few images survived.

Playing poker in a Normandy barn. One soldier filled his helmet with what he thought was water in a barrel, and let out a yell—“whiskey!” It was Calvados, Normandy’s famous apple brandy. Photo by Phil Schultz. (Courtesy of the author.)

From then on things are kind of blurry. We fought for weeks in the hedgerows.

In the battle for Saint-Lô, we were under such heavy artillery fire I wouldn’t—couldn’t—I was afraid to stand up. I was crawling in a tank rut and knew I’d be hit any minute. You felt like every shell was coming straight at you. There was a French farmer’s body in the trench and I crawled right over it. All of sudden I hear, “You can’t get pictures that way soldier.”

I looked up. It was General Cota I’d been assigned to take photos of him in England, when he went to visit Lady Astor. (He was played by Robert Mitchum in “The Longest Day.”) He was walking along under fire. But he got hit—shrapnel in the shoulder. An hour later, I was taking pictures of him getting a medal.

General Bradley’s aggressive thrust allowed Allied troops to reach Mt. Saint Michel quickly. Photo by Phil Schultz. (Courtesy of the author.)

By August, the road was open to Paris. We stopped for the 2nd French. Eisenhower thought the 2nd French Armored Division attached to the American Army should have the honor of marching in and taking Paris. So we were off now to Paris and every photographer in the Army, no matter where they were, attached themselves to the 2nd Army Division. We were advancing 20, 30, 40 miles a day and there was nothing to hold us back and the only thing in front of us was Paris.

I hooked up with Capa again, and we came to the town of Rambouillet and there was Hemingway with his own private army of free French, marching them up and down.

We go into Paris. It is so unbelievable what the scene was – right in the middle of French soldiers. They were screw ups because I remember that night before we were driving into Paris, they were driving with all their headlights on. You don’t do this! It’s still war, you’ll get killed.

On both sides of the street, French lined the streets and French tanks lined up like a convoy firing point blank down towards the Place de la Concorde, because there was still some resistance there. I am behind one of the tanks and getting pictures of people cheering and the tanks firing.

Paris, after the shooting had stopped. Photo by Phil Schultz. (Courtesy of the author.)

And I know, experienced already, that if a tank is firing, someone is going to shoot back. I get my pictures and I leave, go around the corner. And my officer, he went to the spot where I was and got killed. You get that streetwise—battlewise. You are there, you do a job, and get out.

Then I went into the Place de la Concorde and there were thousands of people there already, and someone started to throw fire again, and that is when this 300-pound woman grabs me and sits on me, lying on top of me trying to get up. After that, there was no more fire.

That was the liberation of Paris.

Paris was so beautiful. The French people were beautiful, the whole world was beautiful, the weather it was fine, and we were beating the bastards and we were winning the war and we were alive and it was beautiful.

Phil Shultz relaxing by the Seine after the liberation of Paris. (Courtesy of the author.)

After the War

It was a long, hard war, with much death and many moments of imminent death or capture. It wasn’t something my father talked about, except for the funny bits, like finding the Calvados or the fat lady in Place de la Concorde. He came home with a boundless font of optimism and gratitude and love of America.

The post-war boom was not something that fell into the soldiers’ laps—their hard work and struggles to survive continued. New York City had a tight-post war economy and a father-son dominated photographers’ union that would not let in new members. For several years, his dream of working as a cinematographer was foiled by the union and anti-Semitism in New York’s advertising industry.

Those were just two more real-life challenges you accepted as reality and met, without whining and without building a life-long grievance. The important part was winning, not that life presented a fight.

At times, he could barely put food on the table for his family. My father, after he married, gave my mother credit for urging him to believe in himself and not give up on his dream career. Eventually, he got that dream job and became a pioneer in early TV commercials, making many of the famous commercials Baby Boomers grew up with.

The last few years of his life, my Dad’s conversations became short and repetitive, but they were quintessential Great Generation to the end: “Your Daddy’s fine. I have no major problems and no minor problems. I try not to let anything get me down. I look on the bright side of life.”

“Just roll with the punches,” he would say. “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

His last words to us were: “I’m tough. That’s my hobby. Just keep going to the end. I’m going to jump for joy.”

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

Photo credit: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

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Center for American Greatness • Democrats • feminists • Post • Pro-Life • Progressivism • The Culture

Death and the Democrats

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Our nation is unique.

Most every other nation was established in a capricious fashion. Whether defined by an ethnicity, a linguistic community, or the happenstance of being ruled by a royal dynastic elite, other countries were not the result of their people appealing to first principles, of building a political structure from scratch based upon the lessons of prior centuries. Ours is different.

Yes, our Republic was born out of war, as has been the case with so many others over the centuries. But our Revolutionary War wasn’t simply waged over a brute demand for self-determination. The catalyst for the fight that would result in our being an independent nation-state was the grievous transgressions of a monarch who our Founding Fathers saw as acting in direct contravention to objective and universal truths.

After our unlikely victory against what was then the most powerful empire the world had ever seen, our forefathers enshrined those truths into our founding documents. And the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution have served not only to codify those principles as the foundation of our political system for at least 11 generations, they have become a beacon for hundreds of millions of non-Americans around the world who also believe in “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” When dissidents escape house arrest or brave shark-infested waters in search of freedom, their destination is rarely the French embassy or the shores of Africa.

When discussing rights—particularly those rights enumerated in our Constitution—we often weigh priorities. Freedom of speech purists, for example, insist that without the First Amendment, all other rights are nugatory, while Second Amendment advocates stand unwavering in their conviction that without the right of the population to protect itself from a tyrannical government, everything else is hypothetical.

Yet it should be obvious where our existence as free men and women starts. Not with the right of association, or a free press, or freedom of conscience, or the right to keep and bear arms. Everything begins with the right to life.

That is, unless you are a Democrat in 2019.

The Democratic Party has quite literally become the political party of death. Their promotion of abortion for any reason—or no reason at all—has now gone beyond the Orwellian demand for “reproductive rights” (how killing a baby in the womb can be twisted into a “right” of reproduction is perverse on its face), to prominent Democrats becoming champions of not only this trimester abortion but also “fourth trimester” infanticide.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this year signed a bill to allow abortion up until the baby’s due date, and  Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia—the “Butcher of Richmond”—openly advocated a mother’s right to kill her child after a botched abortion leaves the child alive and outside the womb. This is today’s Democratic Party.

Remember, not so long ago, the Democratic Party was the party of working-class Catholics, Italian immigrants, Irish manual laborers who would find the mere idea of politically sanctioned infanticide rightly abhorrent. Today there is no place for pro-life views inside that party. In fact, their attitude to the foremost cause of deliberate, non-accidental, death in America today, isn’t simply approval, it is a diabolical celebration.

Cuomo’s bill was deliberately passed by the New York Senate on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and as it became law the Assembly, with its Democrat supermajority, cheered in unison as if it were VE Day. Then, in the style of a banana republic, the political overlords gave the order that One World Trade Center be lit up in pink in celebration. New York is a city where 30 percent of babies are killed in the womb and where more black children are aborted than born alive.  

The Democrats 25 years ago promised America that abortions would be “legal, safe and rare.” They may be legal since Roe v. Wade, but they are neither safe nor especially rare. Arguably America’s greatest mass murderer, the abortionist Kermit Gosnell, took a mother’s life as well as killing seven babies outside the womb. As to rare, the U.S. abortion industry that Planned Parenthood champions, kills at least 600,000 babies in utero each year.

For perspective, the 70,000 plus deaths last year from opioid overdoses, is deemed to be a national crisis with federal and state programs created to staunch the flow of drugs into our nations and prevent needless loss of life. But more than eight times that number are killed as a matter of choice, not addiction or accident, and the Left celebrates it and wants more. With abortion taking 41 million souls globally last year, “reproductive rights” have become the biggest killer in the world. Again, for perspective: the Holocaust took 6 million lives; the Vietnam War—on both sides—cost the lives of 1.3 million. Abortion kills more than 40 million humans in just 12 months.

The arch-eugenicist Margaret Sanger and Adolf Hitler would be most proud.

While these facts and figures are all shocking, they should surprise no one. The Democratic Party has become what it set out to be: a collective defined by a refusal to admit that eternal and objective truth exists. As Hillary Clinton’s thesis from Wesleyan is titled: “There is Only the Fight: An Analysis of the Alinsky Model.”

Quite clearly, the Democrats have fully internalized the “ends justify the means” mantra, a philosophy that when taken to its logical conclusion leads directly to the gas chambers or the abortion mills, which take tens of millions of lives per year.

As a result, the 2020 elections will not simply be about a second term for the Make America Great Again agenda. With recent state anti-abortion bills increasing in number, 2020 will be about a return to decency and a reversal of the culture of death the Democrats have embraced.

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

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

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Post • Religion and Society • The Culture • the family • The Left

Why So Many Mass Shootings? Ask the Right Questions and You Might Find Out

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This past weekend, Americans learned of another mass shooting, this time by an employee who decided to murder as many of the people he had worked with for years as possible. As of this writing, the murder toll is 12 people.

Every American asks why. What was the killer’s motive? When we read there is “no known motive,” we are frustrated. Human beings want to make sense of life, especially of evil.

Liberals (in this regard, liberals’ views are essentially as the same as leftists’) are virtually united in ascribing these shootings to guns. Just this past weekend, in a speech in Brazil, former President Barack Obama told an audience:

“Our gun laws in the United States don’t make much sense. Anybody can buy any weapon any time—without much, if any, regulation. They can buy (guns) over the internet. They can buy machine guns.”

That the former president fabricated a series of falsehoods about the United States—and maligned, on foreign soil, the country that twice elected him president—speaks to his character and to the character of the American news media that have been completely silent about these falsehoods. But the main point here is that, like other liberals and leftists, when Obama addresses the subject of mass shootings—in Brazil, he had been talking about the children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012—he talks about guns.

Yet, America had plenty of guns when its mass murder rate was much lower. Grant Duwe, a Ph.D. in criminology and director of research and evaluation at the Minnesota Department of Corrections, gathered data going back 100 years in his 2007 book, “Mass Murder in the United States: A History.”

Duwe’s data reveal:

In the 20th century, every decade before the 1970s had fewer than 10 mass public shootings. In the 1950s, for example, there was one mass shooting. And then a steep rise began. In the 1960s, there were six mass shootings. In the 1970s, the number rose to 13. In the 1980s, the number increased 2 1/2 times, to 32. And it rose again in the 1990s, to 42. As for this century, The New York Times reported in 2014 that, according to the FBI, “Mass shootings have risen drastically in the past half-dozen years.”

Given the same ubiquity of guns, wouldn’t the most productive question be what, if anything, has changed since the 1960s and ’70s? Of course it would. And a great deal has changed. America is much more ethnically diverse, much less religious. Boys have far fewer male role models in their lives. Fewer men marry, and normal boy behavior is largely held in contempt by their feminist teachers, principals and therapists. Do any or all of those factors matter more than the availability of guns?

Let’s briefly investigate each factor.

Regarding ethnic diversity, the countries that not only have the fewest mass murders but the lowest homicide rates as well are the least ethnically diverse—such as Japan and nearly all European countries. So, too, the American states that have homicide rates as low as Western European countries are the least ethnically and racially diverse (the four lowest are New Hampshire, North Dakota, Maine and Idaho). Now, America, being the most ethnically and racially diverse country in the world, could still have low homicide rates if a) Americans were Americanized, but the left has hyphenated—Balkanized, if you will—Americans, and b) most black males grew up with fathers.

Regarding religiosity, the left welcomes—indeed, seeks—the end of Christianity in America (though not of Islam, whose robustness it fosters). Why don’t we ask a simple question: What percentage of American murderers attend church each week?

Regarding boys’ need for fathers, in 2008, then-Sen. Obama told an audience: “Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools; and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.”

Yet, the Times has published columns and “studies” showing how relatively unimportant fathers are, and more and more educated women believe this dangerous nonsense.

Then there is marriage: Nearly all men who murder are single. And their number is increasing.

Finally, since the 1960s, we have been living in a culture of grievance. Whereas in the past people generally understood that life is hard and/or they have to work on themselves to improve their lives, for half a century, the left has drummed into Americans’ minds the belief that their difficulties are caused by American society—in particular, its sexism, racism and patriarchy. And the more aggrieved people are the more dulled their consciences.

When you don’t ask intelligent questions, you cannot come up with intelligent answers. So, then, with regard to murder in America, until Americans stop allowing the left to ask the questions, we will have no intelligent answers.

Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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America • History • Post • The Culture

Way of the Sixgun: An American Martial Art

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With culture around us apparently in decline, it’s worth celebrating uniquely American traditions, especially growing ones. And few activities could be more American than the marksmanship sport of Old West-style shooting.

The increasingly popular shooting matches of the National Congress of Old West Shooters and the Single Action Shooting Society are perhaps more than a healthy sport. Old West-style shooting could be considered the quintessential “American Martial Art.”

Consider the characteristics of the best-known Asian martial arts. They descend from practical fighting systems and can still be used for self-defense. Most hobbyists, however, practice them for refinement of character and, to be honest, the fun of daydreams fulfilled in simulated combat. Historic or quasi-historic costumes are worn, both for practice and competition. While an impression of great antiquity is part of Eastern martial art lore, many of the most popular date back only to the 19th century or are even more recent. (Judo was developed in the 1880s and Aikido was formally named in 1942.)

Many of the martial arts developed sport forms to practice skills safely. Also, it’s undeniable that action movies featuring the Asian martial arts have had a huge impact on how they’re viewed, and taught.

In Old West style shooting, practiced at clubs around the United States, all of these conditions apply. A combat activity native to our culture and important in our folklore, a set of fighting skills with a rich tradition and history, has been formalized into a martial art.

Not that these shooters necessarily take themselves quite so seriously. Old West shooters are fanatical about safety, but often lighthearted about almost everything else.

For instance, while the Single Action Shooting Society requires members to dress to suit the sport, they may choose historical impressions, or a “B-Western” look. Shooting aliases often include wordplay, and a day’s shooting scenario (every scenario is different!) is frequently inspired by a beloved movie scene and may begin with the shooter uttering a designated line (“Telegram for Mongo!”).

Don’t let those details mislead you, however. Old West shooters cultivate very impressive skills.

A three-weapon routine is common at such events, alternating among shotgun (double-barrel or pump), lever-action carbine, and classic “sixguns.” Engaging steel targets with the correct weapons in a designated order constitute the “kata” of the art.

Just as Asian martial arts keep obsolete weapons like nunchaku or tonfa on the market, the Cowboy Action scene preserves a market for 19th-century firearm designs and the ammunition to suit. None of those weapons are semiautomatic; none ought the offend the sensibilities of those gun-grabbers whose complaint is “modern military weapons.” Masters of the proper sixgun skills can, nevertheless, approach the Western novel cliché of “emptying the cylinder in one continuous roar.”

We usually think of the martial arts as “empty hand” combatives, but at least one of the most famous—kendo—originally relied on a specialized, high-quality steel weapon, just as Old West shooting does.

It’s worth mentioning: just as the Japanese sword arts have an adjunct “fast draw” division, in techniques referred to as “iai-jutsu,” the American art has a fast-draw specialty. Fast-draw, though, is not connected with the Western-style range events, and would get you ejected from them. In their own martial hobby, fast-draw artists, with wax bullets, promote a tradition which is a legacy of Hollywood’s Westerns rather than the American frontier; single-action fast draw was refined for showmanship in the movies. Not nearly as popular as the three-gun Old West live fire sports, “fast draw” nonetheless has devotees around the world. Each seeks his inner cowboy as avidly as any teenage boy wishes to be a ninja.

The quest is the same—and need not be a foolish one. Beneath the fancy trappings, either can be the cultivation of mental calm and a capacity for sudden, effective action.

When our forefathers deliberated over the form of the new American society in the late 1700s, there was very little (if any) disagreement about what our citizens ought to be like under pressure. We Americans were to be brave and formidable. Our Second Amendment was not just about an ability to grab private weapons in an emergency; you can’t raise an effective militia from a population that doesn’t invest time and pride in developing martial skills.

The Founders enjoyed such a culture and perpetuated it. The resulting social climate gave us Annie Oakley and Audie Murphy in real life, and in our imaginations, the cowboy ideal so many of our heroes of the 20th century shared.

What better way, then, to promote American greatness, than to encourage this terrific all-American activity? The six-gun toting cowboy cliché, which the Left despises, represents the best in the American spirit. The more Americans take up the traditional tools of our heroes, the better. So “support your local gunfighter”—or better yet, fill yer own hand.

Photo Credit: Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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American Conservatism • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Defense of the West • Libertarians • political philosophy • Post • The Culture • The Left

Sohrab Ahmari and Our Existential Struggle

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Perhaps the most amusing intramural intellectual squall on the Right these past few days has centered on “Against David French-ism,” Sohrab Ahmari’s recent polemical reflection on liberalism in First Things.

I did not think that Sohrab had all that much to say directly about the man who provided him with the title of his essay, but then I am not, so to speak, a French man. I have never met Pastor French, rarely read him, and generally feel about him the way C. K. Dexter Haven in The Philadelphia Story felt about George Kitteridge, man of the people: “to hardly know him is to know him well.”

The outpouring of indignation, fury, and contempt that greeted Sohrab’s column reminded me that opinions about the Pastor vary widely. I group him with Pete Wehner and some other NeverTrump evangelists as a modern incarnation of the Pharos of Alexandria lighthouse, virtue signaling around the clock to the amazement of the world. I know there is disagreement on that score.

As I read it, Sohrab’s essay involved David French only incidentally. There were, I thought, two key passages. The first came near the beginning. “The movement we [conservatives] are up against,” Sohrab writes, “prizes autonomy above all, too; indeed, its ultimate aim is to secure for the individual will the widest possible berth to define what is true and good and beautiful, against the authority of tradition.”

I’ll come to what I think the other key passage is in a moment. First, note what a bold statement Sohrab has made here. Autonomy: aren’t we all for that? Isn’t it the prime Enlightenment virtue? Sapere aude, Kant said: “dare to know!” Priests, superstition, convention, tradition: didn’t the Enlightenment discard all of that for the sake of autonomy? For the sake, that is, of giving the law (nomos) to oneself (autos)?

The Ghost of J. S. Mill
In a word, yes. And it was a project carried on by such Enlightenment heirs as John Stuart Mill, whose On Liberty is a sort of bible of Enlightenment-infused liberalism. I note that Sohrab quotes in passing Mill’s famous line—famous imperative—about the importance of “experiments in living.” “Individual experiments in living,” he writes, “—say, taking your kids to a drag reading hour at the public library—cannot be sustained without some level of moral approval by the community.” Which suggests that the project of autonomy always involves an element of heteronomy: the emancipation from tradition, convention, etc., always seems to yield a new sort of orthodoxy. It was just this tendency, I suspect, that bothered Sohrab.

We see it all around us now. What we call liberalism presents itself not as one view of the world among others but as a neutral (but nevertheless inherently virtuous) state of nature from which no right-thinking (i.e., left-leaning) person could dissent.

The same dynamic was ostentatiously on view in Mill’s radical libertarianism. For anyone interested in understanding the nature of the modern liberal consensus, the extraordinary success of Mill’s rhetoric and the doctrines it advances afford a number of lessons. Above all, it provides an object lesson in the immense seductiveness inherent in a certain type of skeptical moralizing.

Together with Rousseau, Mill supplied nearly all of the arguments and most of the emotional weather—the texture of sentiment—that have gone into defining the liberal vision of the world. His peculiar brand of utilitarianism—a cake of Benthamite hedonism glazed with Wordsworthian sentimentality—accounts for part of Mill’s appeal: it provides a perfect recipe for embellishing programmatic shallowness with a cosmetic patina of spirituality. It is a recipe that has proven to be irresistible to those infatuated with the spectacle of their own virtue.

Mill was exceptionally adroit at appealing to his readers’ moral vanity. When he spoke (as he was always speaking) of “persons of decided mental superiority” he made it seem as though he might actually be speaking about them. Mill said that there was “no reason that all human existence should be constructed on some one or some small number of patterns.” Quite right! Even if persons of genius are always likely to be “a small minority,” still we must “preserve the soil in which they grow.” Consequently, people have a duty to shun custom and nurture their individual “self-development” if they are not to jeopardize “their fair share of happiness” and the “mental, moral, and aesthetic stature of which their nature is capable.”

Mill’s blandishments went even deeper. In On Liberty, Mill presented himself as a prophet of individual liberty. He has often been regarded as such, especially by liberal academics, who of course have been instrumental in propagating the gospel according to Mill. And “gospel” is the mot juste. Like many radical reformers, Mill promised almost boundless freedom, but he arrived bearing an exacting new system of belief. In this sense, as Maurice Cowling argues, On Liberty has been “one of the most influential of modern political tracts,” chiefly because “its purpose has been misunderstood.” Contrary to common opinion, Cowling wrote, Mill’s book was

not so much a plea for individual freedom, as a means of ensuring that Christianity would be superseded by that form of liberal, rationalising utilitarianism which went by the name of the Religion of Humanity. Mill’s liberalism was a dogmatic, religious one, not the soothing night-comforter for which it is sometimes mistaken. Mill’s object was not to free men, but to convert them, and convert them to a peculiarly exclusive, peculiarly insinuating moral doctrine.

This tension in Mill’s work—between Mill the libertarian and Mill the moralistic utilitarian—helps to account for the vertiginous quality that suffuses the liberalism for which On Liberty was a kind of founding scripture.

How Liberalism Corrodes Morality
Mill’s announced enemy can be summed up in words like “custom,” “prejudice,” “established morality.” All his work goes to undermine these qualities—not because the positions they articulate are necessarily in error but simply because, being customary, accepted on trust, established by tradition, they have not been subjected to the acid test of his version of the utilitarian calculus. (Mill elsewhere refers to such calculation as “rational self-conscious scrutiny,” the implication being that anything else is less than completely rational.)

The tradition that Mill opposed celebrated custom, prejudice, and established morality precisely because they had prevailed and given good service through the vicissitudes of time and change; their longevity was itself an important token of their worthiness. It was in this sense, for example, that Edmund Burke extolled prejudice, writing that “prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit. . . . Through just prejudice, his duty becomes a part of his nature.”

Mill overturned this traditional view. Indeed, he was instrumental in getting the public to associate “prejudice” indelibly with “bigotry.” For Mill, established morality is suspect first of all because it is established. His liberalism is essentially corrosive of existing societal arrangements, institutions, and morality.

Mill constantly castigated such things as the “magical influence of custom” (“magical” being a negative epithet for Mill), the “despotism of custom [that] is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement,” the “tyranny of opinion” that makes it so difficult for “the progressive principle” to flourish. According to Mill, the “greater part of the world has, properly speaking, no history because the sway of custom has been complete.”

Such passages reveal the core of moral arrogance inhabiting Mill’s liberalism. They also suggest to what extent he remained—despite the various criticisms he made of the master—a faithful heir of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism. And I do not mean only the Bentham who propounded the principle of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number,” but also the Bentham who applauded the proceedings of the Star Chamber, advocated the imprisonment of beggars, defended torture, and devised the “Panopticon”—a machine, he said, for “grinding rogues honest”—to keep miscreants under constant surveillance. Liberty was always on Mill’s lips; a new orthodoxy was ever in his heart. There is an important sense in which the libertarian streak in On Liberty is little more than a prophylactic against the coerciveness that its assumption of virtuous rationality presupposes.

Such “paradoxes” (to put it politely) show themselves wherever the constructive part of Mill’s doctrine is glimpsed through his cheerleading for freedom and eccentricity. Mill’s doctrine of liberty begins with a promise of emancipation. The individual, in order to construct a “life plan” worthy of his nature, must shed the carapace of inherited opinion. He must learn to subject all his former beliefs to rational scrutiny. He must dare to be “eccentric,” “novel,” “original.”

At the same time, Mill notes, not without misgiving, that

As mankind improve, the number of doctrines which are no longer disputed or doubted will be constantly on the increase; the well-being of mankind may almost be measured by the number and gravity of the truths which have reached the point of being uncontested. The cessation, on one question after another, of serious controversy is one of the necessary incidents of the consolidation of opinion—a consolidation as salutary in the case of true opinions as it is dangerous and noxious when the opinions are erroneous.

In other words, the partisan of Millian liberalism undertakes the destruction of inherited custom and belief in order to construct a bulwark of custom and belief that can be inherited. As Mill put it in his Autobiography:

I looked forward, through the present age of loud disputes but generally weak convictions, to a future . . . [in which] convictions as to what is right and wrong, useful and pernicious, deeply engraven on the feelings by early education and general unanimity of sentiment, and so firmly grounded in reason and in the true exigencies of life, that they shall not, like all former and present creeds, religious, ethical, and political, require to be periodically thrown off and replaced by others.

So: a “unanimity of sentiment” (a.k.a. custom) is all well and good as long as it is grounded in the “true exigencies of life”—as defined, of course, by J. S. Mill.

A New “Theocracy”? Oh, Please
A lot more could be said about Mill’s doctrine and its importance for understanding today’s liberal consensus. But for now, I’ll just say that that I suspect it also informs Sohrab’s criticism of our culture’s habit of elevating autonomy into the highest virtue even if—especially if—it circumscribes the individual’s freedom understood as something that cannot flourish apart from a particular community or outside a particular tradition. Edmund Burke caught an important aspect of this dynamic when he observed, “The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: We ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risque congratulations, which may be soon turned into complaints.”

Again, more could be said about all of this, but let me move on briefly to what I think is the other key passage of Sohrab’s essay. It comes at the end. “Progressives,” he writes,

understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism. Civility and decency are secondary values. They regulate compliance with an established order and orthodoxy. We should seek to use these values to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral. To recognize that enmity is real is its own kind of moral duty.

This passage was Exhibit A for Sohrab’s critics. Imagine, consigning civility and decency to the status of “second values”! Praising “enmity,” endorsing our own values and (dread word) “orthodoxy.”

Some of Sohrab’s critics seem to think that such passages indicated that he was advocating a new theocracy. I think he is advocating realism when it comes to our opponents in the culture war. What they want is not tolerance but full-throated approbation, whether the issue is bringing children to public libraries to be indoctrinated by sexual freaks, unlimited abortion, radical environmentalism, or the smorgasbord of toxins populating the ideology of identity politics. What they offer is not tolerance, not debate, but an invitation to submit to their view of the world.

In such situations, dissent cannot succeed if it proceeds piecemeal. It must recognize that what is at stake is, in the deepest sense, an anthropology, a view of what man is. We are living among the fragments of a shattered inheritance, morally and socially as well as politically. The so-called liberals (so-called because no one is more illiberal) are bent on scattering those fragments and trampling underfoot the values they represent.

Sohrab Ahmari’s essay is certainly not the last word in how to respond to this onslaught. But it has the inestimable virtue of understanding that this battle is not fodder for a debating club but an existential struggle.

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Image credit: Andry Djumantara/iStock/Getty Images

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America • Cultural Marxism • Hollywood • Post • Pro-Life • The Culture • the family

Let’s See If Netflix and Disney Really Mean It

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Pity the poor actors and production companies that have discovered a need in conscience not to film in Georgia because of its new abortion restrictions. Presumably they won’t film in any state that restricts abortion—so not just Georgia, which has a burgeoning film industry because of tax incentives—but also Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio, and Missouri, which have all recently passed “heartbeat laws.” And –no!—not Louisiana! No more filming in the French Quarter or on the bayou? This is sacrifice indeed.

Netflix voluntarily complies with Saudi and Iranian censorship, and accepts content filmed in Egypt, which bans abortion entirely. Disney has a theme park in China in spite of its gulag and other blatant human rights violations. So one wonders at this newfound studio squeamishness at complying with local laws. It seems only to be in America, against American citizens, that the Silicon Curtain descends to bully the local populace about what it may say and think, who it may read, and which laws it may enact. Perhaps it is merely democratic enactment by free people that is the objection?

No matter. The rights of conscience must be respected, so I look forward to the brave Hollywood boycott of the Cannes film festival next year (too late for 2019), since France bans abortion after 10 weeks.

And I expect there will be no more films set in the major European capitals, or on the Riviera, or in the Alps, or exotic Morocco, or most of South America, or anywhere in the Middle East or Africa. Most of the world restricts abortion after the first trimester. Even Sweden, with one of Europe’s most liberal abortion laws, bans abortion after 18 weeks.

If you will only film in places where abortion on demand for any reason for all nine months is permitted, you’re restricting the industry largely to the anglosphere: Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, and certain parts of the United States and Australia. (What is this thing Anglo countries have for abortion do you suppose?) Sorry, actors of color who want more great parts and more diverse stories told: “on location” from now on means mostly New York, Los Angeles, London, Toronto, and  Sydney. And Beijing, of course—a welcome exception to the coming studio boycott of practically the whole non-Anglo world.

P.S. Abortion is legal only in the first trimester in Switzerland. Should anyone be going to Davos?

Photo credit:  Mario Tama/Getty Images

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2016 Election • America • Donald Trump • Post • The Culture

How I Knew Trump Would Win in 2016 and Will Win Again

I recall the early part of 2016, when Donald Trump began to win several presidential primaries. Suddenly, everyone was asking “Who is this? What is he? A New York businessman?! A real estate developer?! A casino owner?!” Also: “What is he politically? A moderate Republican? A liberal Democrat? A conservative?” As a supposed political scientist, people began asking me questions about him. I had no answers.

In February 2016, when we had one of those blessed snow days frequent in these Virginia mountains, I found myself with a day at home and, surprisingly, caught up on my work. So I knew it was time to do some research on Trump.

The way a Burkean Conservative does research on someone political is not to look at his policies or platforms, but instead to look at his cultural heritage, family, economic situation, education, religion, and so forth. Those tell us more about one’s attitude than stated policies.

Studying Trump in this way first, I found that he was of German (father) and Scottish (mother) ancestry. If you know these national cultures as I do, you know they are similar in many ways and known for a strong work-ethic; military toughness; seriousness; and deep, but understated, faith. Trump’s character displays these qualities.

Looking at his family’s economic status, I found he grew up very wealthy, but from first-generation business money. And that his father, with characteristically German discipline and frugality, required his rich children to work in his construction business to learn the trade and know workers’ conditions.

Trump received a rich boy’s education, first at a traditional (probably English-Anglican) prep school and then military school. I know these institutions and the kind of classical education and sense of order they breed. They are, since Ancient Greece, the schools that train rulers. I recall during the campaign hearing Trump describing a New Hampshire village suffering from widespread heroin addiction as “bucolic.” I’m not sure I had heard that quaint term used by Shakespeare professors, much less a politician!

Then Trump went on to Fordham University, at the time of his education a conservative Catholic University in New York, and then graduate studies at Wharton School of Business at Penn—arguably the best business school in the nation. Reviewing Trump’s educational odyssey, I thought “My God! This guy is a preppie!” How did the liberal Ivy League “elite” fail to notice this? Probably because he’s “old” old school, not “new” old school.

And despite various moral peccadillos common to many of us of who came of age in the 1960s and ’70s, he valued traditional marriage and family.

Another historical cultural factor which most observers seemed to miss (but I also grew up with) was Trump’s characteristically male, country club jocularity. And an early documentary on him noted that early in his real estate career he established a reputation for acquiring dilapidated properties and fixing them up. I thought to myself, “Isn’t that just what America needs right now?”

His religious sensibilities were also familiar to me, for they are of our class and era—a deep but “unostentatious” Faith—never “wearing one’s religion on one’s sleeve,” and still comfortable around Evangelicals, if not actually being one.

These cultural characteristics of Trump partly explain his popularity, for they match the majority and traditional American cultural traits Alexis de Tocqueville described in Democracy in America: equality, piety, work-ethic, family, charity and freedom. And as Burke pointed out, such social culture changes very slowly, especially if it is grounded in natural law.

I recall visiting a Russian village shortly after the fall of Soviet Communism. A “babushka,” looking like she was out of Tolstoy, served us potatoes from her garden with butter from the village creamery (delicious) and I saw an Orthodox Church icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Christ child behind candles on the mantle. I thought, “Where are the Communists?” Eighty years of official atheism didn’t stamp out the traditional faith. Such is the case with the permanence of the American political culture.

And that was noticed by Americans. Ultimately, what convinced me that Trump could win was the response he elicited from average Americans.

At his rallies I looked at the faces of those Americans of all kinds; young, old, rich, poor, black, white, men, women, urban and rural. I saw in the expressions on their faces a joy and gratitude that someone was finally standing up for those voices; voices that had been ridiculed for decades. I remember at one rally an old gnarled-faced veteran standing behind Trump; stocky, short-cropped white-hair, in a uniform covered with medals. Clearly a tough bird. And tears streamed down his face as he realized his country was back.

Photo Credit: Mark Makela/Getty Images

America • military • Post • The Culture

Coming Home

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No matter where you lived in America on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the story often begins with a sapphire sky filled with airy, white clouds that perfectly contrasted against the expansive blue, a picture-perfect backdrop shattered by the deadliest attack on American soil in the country’s history.

Nineteen men trained by al Qaida boarded four passenger aircrafts that morning, seeking to carry out a devastating coordinated attack aimed at symbols of American freedom: the World Trade Center, the Capitol and the Pentagon. Three hit their target. Flight 93, the plane targeting the Capitol, crashed in an isolated field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, thanks to brave passengers who wrested control of the plane from the hijackers. Almost 3,000 people lost their lives that day, 400 of whom were New York City’s first responders.

Taylor Cleveland and Victor Lewis are two people whose lives were changed by the terror attacks. They were separated by geography, age and life experience, but for them, 9/11 proved to be a common call of duty to serve their country. The Washington Examiner spoke with them about their service.

Ohioan Taylor Cleveland grew up surrounded by soldiers.

He says: “Even my priest growing up was a chaplain in World War II. I mean, everybody around here served. It’s just expected that’s what you’re going to do.”

Unfortunately, he couldn’t follow in the footsteps of others. He had been a local high school football star and had wrecked his knee during a game, so the Marine Corps turned him down. Instead, Cleveland turned to community service, earned a degree in criminal justice and then worked as an emergency medical technician, a firefighter and then a beat cop before joining the department SWAT team.

But he knew he had to do something more after the 9/11 attacks.

He says: “My grandfather joined the Navy the day after Pearl Harbor in 1941. And I just knew after that there was no way they would keep me out of this war that was coming. There was no way that people were going to go fight a war for me and that they were going to put their lives on the line for me. I could never live with myself as a man if I didn’t go and let somebody else go fight my battles for me.”

He signed up to join the Marine Reserves but had concerns about his knee injury.

“I figured that because I had the knee problem still, they’d still turn me down,” he recalls. “Well, they enlisted me before the medical portion, and they called the house and left a message on the machine that said, ‘Good news, you’re approved.'”

Lewis and Cleveland met in Buffalo, New York, in 2003. Cleveland is 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines. Lewis, a Navy hospital corpsman, was attached to the Marine unit. The two became like brothers immediately.

They deployed to Iraq in 2005. Cleveland admits he had a hard time adjusting at first: “I was friends with a fellow reservist by the name of Jeff Wiener who had joined the Marines right out of high school. Wiener’s got this book, and it’s got a picture and a story of every person that was killed in 9/11, and I’m like, ‘What are you doing, bro?’ He smiles at me, and he’s like, ‘Man, I just read this whole book. I can tell you what, I read every single person that was in here that died on 9/11. I know why I’m here.'”

Twenty minutes after that conversation, Wiener was fatally shot in the head. Cleveland recalls, “That’s the last conversation I had with him. Having him say, ‘Man, I know why I’m here,’ is the best gift I’ve been given.”

Lewis says he never got shot in Iraq. No mortar. No shrapnel.

Cleveland practically spits out his beer as he says, “Dude, you were hit by a rocket!”

Lewis is sheepish and uncomfortable telling the story. Deployed south of Haditha, just outside Haqlaniyah, the engagement turned deadly as a guy coming straight at Lewis fired off a rocket-propelled grenade.

He explains: “The blast throws me toward the river. Trying to shake it off, I grab my weapon. I’m trying to fire back. I’m crawling toward the river. I go to stand up and fall back down. Like, ‘What the f—?’ My leg’s all mangled.”

He was medevaced to Al Asad Air Base and then took a Black Hawk to Basra. From there, he was transported to Ramstein, Germany, and finally, Bethesda, Maryland. He wanted a little Motrin and to go back to “his men,” but they told him he was going home.

“I felt like I failed them, you know? Because nobody could take care of my men like me,” Lewis says. “They’re my boys. We hung out. We partied. We kicked it. We shared everything. I wanted to go back.”

That’s the hardest part of returning to civilian life. “I think about it all the time,” he says. “But you know … you can replay it as many times as you like in your mind. The result’s the same.”

Lewis is blunt about his routine after leaving the military: “hanging out, drinking and chasing women.”

He finally went back to work at the fire department, but even working triple shifts couldn’t fill the void left by having to do something other than what he saw as his purpose in life.

He sought help from the Department of Veterans Affairs and got lost in the system. Lewis says, “I started snapping at people and flipping out over nothing, but that’s not me. I was looking for help.”

It all came to a head one evening outside a bar when he was approached by two men and a woman looking for trouble. They pummeled Lewis pretty badly; he fought back with a knife.

“People got hurt,” is all he says. The price? Thirty months in prison.

But he turned his life around. He gets treatment for his post-traumatic stress disorder, has a job he loves at a contracting company and takes care of his twin boys. He talks to Cleveland at least twice a week and is working toward his degree in electrical engineering. Lewis earned a Bronze Star, and Cleveland a Purple Heart. The lesson they want people to remember is simple: American freedom is paid for a thousand different ways.

Photo Credit: Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images

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