Weekend Long Read

An excerpt from “Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea,” by Bradley C.S. Watson (University Press of Notre Dame, 260 pages, $45). 

The Revolt Against the American Order

Progressive theorists, statesmen, and theologians embraced a notion that material and spiritual fulfillment can be found in and through the good graces of the state. It represented, in theory and practice, a stunning transformation of American politics, morality, and constitutionalism.

Common experience, and modern psychology, validate the truism that people tend to see what they are looking for. In the professional realm, confirmation bias—that is, the tendency of investigators to seek and elevate that which confirms their preexisting hypotheses—is likely to constrain the gaze of even the most determined and experienced souls, and perhaps especially the most determined and experienced. Déformation professionnelle, as the French call it, is a condition that can afflict only the well trained, or at least the long inured.

Economists, meanwhile, use the phrase regulatory capture to describe the observable phenomenon of knowledgeable groups with concentrated interests swaying or “capturing” the determinations of regulators who are supposed to act impartially and for the public good. The public’s interest, alas, is dispersed. A captured agency might well be more harmful to the public good than no agency at all. Its influence can be pernicious and can go largely unnoticed by everyone except the very few in the know.

Professional academics, nominally dedicated to objectivity, have not proved immune to deformation, or outright capture by professional interests, in their efforts to regulate the ebb and flow of respectable opinion. The American academy, long enjoying various forms of insulation and privilege, is uniquely positioned to generate moral hazard in the realm of ideas. A case in point is the idea of progressivism as it was transmitted by American academics, especially historians, from the middle part of the 20th century onward. The progressive idea, simply put, is that the principled American constitutionalism of fixed natural rights and limited and dispersed powers must be overturned and replaced by an organic, evolutionary model of the Constitution that facilitates the authority of experts dedicated to the expansion of the public sphere and political control, especially at the national level.

By the middle part of the 20th century, historians were reporting that progressivism had never existed. By so doing, they certainly could not be accused of exaggerating its death. In 1971, Peter Filene of the University of North Carolina wrote an obituary for progressivism and for attempts to chronicle a phantom. It was as if scholarly ghostbusters for decades had carefully planted their cameras in the countless rooms of the haunted mansion of American history, only to come up with nothing—or at least nothing clearly identifiable as progressivism once the videotapes had finally been scrutinized by more dispassionate, technically adept observers.

Despite the intentions of scholars to airbrush progressivism from American history, the progressive idea seemed real enough to those who first expounded and developed it. As a recent observer notes, “No one at the time thought Progressivism so various and contradictory as to be meaningless, much less nonexistent, though its adherents battled furiously over its political agenda.” Furthermore, each of the three main presidential candidates in the election of 1912 claimed the label.

The reality of American Progressivism comes into view only in relation to what it rebelled against, which was nothing less than the American constitutional order and especially the political philosophy on which it rested.

The Real Presence of Christ 

As progressives mobilized intellectually and politically around the inadequacies and injustices of the founders’ Constitution and the modern economic order, they did so with a fervor for, and faith in, the social sciences, which they thought could remedy injustice. The intensity of their fervor and faith can be traced to the influence of religion.

At the dawn of the Progressive Era, American Christianity still buttressed the constitutional order by linking human fallenness to the need for political moderation, individual rights and responsibilities, and limited government, which in turn reflected what historian Johnathan O’Neill refers to as “the long-established view that maintenance of a political regime involves ideas and sensibilities associated most readily in the Western tradition with religion.” Scholars have also shown that this view of religion and morality, pointing to fidelity to a Constitution embodying immutable truths, informed the thinking and constitutional interpretations of pre-progressive Supreme Court justices. So for the progressives, regime change necessarily meant religious change, and vice versa. Christian progressives held that a new era had dawned, based on a new conception of religious obligation. A reconstituted worldly Christianity called for the expansion of the state in the name of moral and theological progress.

This reconstitution accounted for the zeal of many progressives, confident as they were not only of the direction of history but of their own rectitude. As Christian progressives directed their minds to what they saw as the new problems confronting America, they exhibited various degrees of millenarianism, which accounted for the power of their thought and its ability to capture the hearts and minds of a growing cadre of true believers. 

Throughout the Progressive Era, religious language was common at political gatherings at the local, state, and national levels, including even national conventions. But the fervor of Christian progressivism was unlike that of prior American religious awakenings. Instead of concentrating on individual moral failings and the special need for individual reformation, Christian progressives concentrated their gaze almost exclusively on matters of social and economic justice. 

By the first decades of the 20th century, both Protestant social gospelers and Catholic reformers were vigorously attempting to shift the center of gravity of mainline Christianity toward applying what they claimed to be true Christian ethics in the here and now. It was clear that they understood their project to be both radical and political, and a very sharp break from the Christianity of their fathers. According to the scholar Ernst Breisach, they “prided themselves on having freed Christianity from the shackles of the past—asceticism, dogmatism, and ceremonialism—and on having transformed it into a message befitting the future—brotherly love in a truly democratic society.” For these progressives, Christian churches placed too great an emphasis on the salvation of souls and the life of the world to come. The real presence of Christ came to take on whole new meaning.

Historians of progressivism have occasionally observed this phenomenon but have been divided on its origins and significance. Some have noted that, along with more purely economic notions like “antimonopolism” and “efficiency,” the language of “social bonds” ran through most strains of progressivism and was juxtaposed against homo economicus, and especially the notion of man as the autonomous wielder of property rights. Scholar Daniel T. Rodgers notes this was the language “most tightly attached to the churches and the university lecture halls. Its roots stretched toward Germany and, still more importantly, toward the social gospel. When progressives talked of society and solidarity the rhetoric they drew upon was, above all, the rhetoric of socialized Protestantism.” Richard Hofstadter goes so far as to trace the roots of progressivism to Protestant guilt and the need to atone:

In evangelical Protestantism the individual is expected to bear almost the full burden of the conversion and salvation of his soul. What his church provides him with, so far as this goal is concerned, is an instrument of exhortation. In Catholicism, by contrast, as in some other churches, the mediating role of the Church itself is of far greater importance and the responsibility of the individual is not keyed up to quite the same pitch. A working mechanism for the disposal and psychic mastery of guilt is available to Roman Catholics in the form of confession and penance. If this difference is translated into political terms, the moral animus of Progressivism can be better understood.

But such psychological and theological reductionism cannot adequately account for what Protestant progressives claimed was the essentially social and political nature of the Christian enterprise, or for the strains of progressivism that animated leading Catholic thinkers—including, for example, Fr. John Ryan. 

In A Living Wage, Ryan, like his Protestant counterparts, sought human solidarity and heavenly justice through economic policy. And in this quest, he sought to turn Catholicism—as the social gospel movement had turned Protestantism—against the American system of constitutionally limited government, private property, and capitalism, in the search for a more rational scientific state that would support nothing less than the Kingdom of God on earth.

The roots of the modern administrative state thus run deep in the soil of Christian progressivism. But one might go further and argue that religious reformers drew on notions of moral duty running from Aristotle through the medieval Catholic intellectual tradition, albeit often infused with an anti-prudential Kantian moralism. And as a practical matter, Protestant progressives allied with both Catholics and Jews, whose understandings of law and morality antedated modernity. While rejecting the natural rights tradition of the American founders, religious progressives—unlike their secular confreres—at least formally asserted versions of a natural moral order, and even natural rights, which purported to be timeless. They were not willing to reduce “nature” merely to physical or biological laws.

In short, one needs to take religion more seriously than many historians have been prepared to do. The centrality of serious and wide-ranging religious sentiment to progressive ideology should not be underestimated. Christian progressives joined forces with economists such as Richard T. Ely and political scientists like Woodrow Wilson against what they claimed were the new economic and social realities that had been fully unleashed by the modern industrial age. They generally glossed over, and sometimes deliberately understated, the fundamentally anti-constitutional character of their arguments and the reforms to which they pointed. Secular and Christian progressive thinkers together pressed for an expansion of state power, and especially national state power, at the expense of constitutional limits. And in the case of the theologians, it was also at the expense of the sacred, even as the essential revelations and rituals of Christianity were of vital importance to them. Theirs was a natural law that did not limit government in principle but rather vouchsafed its protean expansion as it simultaneously reduced Christian faith to a set of economic and political demands.

From a contemporary perspective, it seems ironic that social Christianity of both the Protestant and Catholic varieties helped lay the foundations for the modern administrative state, as nowadays religious faith is frequently associated with political conservatism and opposition to progressive goals. But it was not always so. And to the extent that a secularized millenarianism is evident in the rhetoric of contemporary liberalism, it can trace its origins to the rather insistent piety of the early progressive religious thinkers.

Richard T. Ely on the Border Land

In the thought of Richard Ely—Progressive economist and expounder of the social gospel at the end of the 19th century—one can find a compact explication of the overlapping intuitions and arguments that the new breed of social scientists shared with Christian theologians. Ely was a professor of political economy first at Johns Hopkins—the institution that most channeled German Hegelian understandings onto American intellectual shores—and then at Wisconsin, which would become a bastion of progressive thinking throughout the 20th century. 

Along with his intellectual antagonist William Graham Sumner, Ely was arguably the most influential economist of his age, laying the intellectual groundwork for, and anticipating the reforms of, both the Progressive Era and the New Deal. But it was in the views of Ely the armchair theologian that the era—if not the century—that he foreshadowed was most comprehensively limned. 

Not only did he decisively influence both the social gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch and the Catholic social thought of Ryan, he also served as practical exemplar and theoretical explicator of the power of faith to move social science, as well as the obligation of faith-based social science to move the levers of power. As the 20th century wore on, the faith that animated social science and justified governmental power shifted from its roots in Christianity to a fully secular millenarianism. But the leap was perhaps not that great once American elites had fully internalized the worldliness of Ely’s version of Christianity—what he called Christianity’s inherently “manward” side.

Ely concentrates on the ethical obligations of Christians in the industrial age. He makes clear that his writings deal with the “border land” where theology, ethics, and economics meet. He claims that only Christianity can provide the Archimedean point on which a proper political and economic ordering can rest. Christianity—albeit with a new worldly emphasis—provides immeasurable advantage to those committed to social change. It is the most powerful social force known to man; it need only be harnessed and directed toward its proper end.

Ely recognizes that modern social science cannot provide answers to normative questions, and he claims it leaves “too much in the air” to give progressive thinkers a firm or confident motive for their reformist ambitions. Enter Christianity, which Ely claims is unique among religions in the nature and extent of the civic and secular obligations it imposes. Remarking on Matthew 22:34–40, where Christ reduces the law to loving the Lord and loving thy neighbor as thyself, Ely says no merely human teacher would place the duty to man on an equal plane with the duty to God. He claims that such a juxtaposition of duties exists in no other religious system. Personal salvation is not the end of religion, though it is the beginning: only when the individual Christian is in right relation with God can he get on with the ultimate task of being in right relation to his fellows. Christianity alone provides a stable ground for humanitarianism.

The history of ethics, according to Ely, confirms the view that Christianity is unique: classical philosophers did not know of benevolence. Benevolence, for Christians, is a form of divine service, and piety is identified with pity. Prior to the Reformation, this fact was obscured, and the separation of “right life” from religion was a scandal to the church. 

Socialism is Christianity for the modern age insofar as it promises to realize the brotherhood of man by creating a social system dedicated to the maxim “One for all, all for one.”

“Some have gone so far as to make salvation consist in ceremonies, obedience to the dictates of priestcraft, in some sort of magic, or in a feeling of the emotional nature . . . even in intellectual assent to a species of metaphysics. What have all these things to do with conduct?” But Ely argues there is much work still to be done, and much that Protestants can learn from Catholics, for the Church of Rome provides the greatest opportunities for renunciation and sacrifice of the self, thus overcoming one of the errors of Protestantism.

Ely elsewhere notes with regret that modern hymns are almost exclusively oriented to individual rather than social salvation. So different are they from the Psalms, which tend to be “social and national” and don’t “contain an I or me except when the words are put into the mouth of the Lord.” The hymns thereby deny or downplay our common humanity, united in God, of which we are reminded by the visible witness of Baptism. 

Likewise, the Lord’s Supper, though it draws us to heaven, reminds of the “manward” side of Christianity in the food and drink—bread and wine—that so sublimely express human fraternity. And yet even this sacrament is degraded by the use of individual communion cups. Ely asks, “Is our earthly life so precious that it must be so saved at all hazards?” 

The rituals and revelations of Christianity point to our unity and interdependence in the tribulations of this world. All of Christ’s words must be read in light of the doctrine of “social solidarity,” which makes us all responsible for the sin and suffering of our fellow men. An entire city is guilty of a murder that occurs in one of its slums. This is a truth confirmed by social science, which can show us the determining power of heredity and environment. We develop true “individuality” only by bringing ourselves into harmony “with the laws of social solidarity” 

Christ separated good men from bad on the basis of their respective performance of “social duties,” which makes true Christianity unique in the extent to which man serves God by serving man. Other religions tell men they may serve God by injuring their fellows. Christianity, by contrast, exalts man. Through his second great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, Christ introduces sociology, or the science of society, to the world. It is therefore incumbent on the church to embrace research in social science; her failure to do so has encouraged communism to become infidel, and socialism to become materialistic rather spiritual. 

Ely goes so far as to suggest that half the time spent in theological seminaries—which should be the intellectual centers of sociology—should be devoted to social science education. While social science cannot point to ends, it can provide the means to achieve them. As political scientist Luigi Bradizza argues, Ely’s social science “becomes practical Christianity,” and its confident pursuit is an implicit rejection of the inherent imperfection of this world. But the 20th century would provide ample evidence that social science, on Ely’s terms, could not long serve Christianity. The table would soon be turned, and Christianity swept from it.

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

For Ely, the welfare of man is the point of the “most fundamental laws” of the church, and social utility is their test. There is, Ely insists, only one law taught by Christianity on its “manward” side: that is the law of love, which finds expression through social service and its test in social welfare. “Christianity and ethical science agree perfectly.” Ely tends to ignore biblical passages that cut against a worldly Christianity, or at least he glosses them to support it.

In a statement that is characteristic of the progressive mind, Ely expresses profound confidence in the power and utility of expertise, so long as it is wielded by the right sort of people. “Philanthropy,” he claims, “must be grounded in profound sociological studies. Otherwise, so complex is modern society that in our efforts to help man, we might only injure him. Not all are capable of research in sociology, but the church should call to her service in this field the greatest intellects of the age.” The purpose of the American Economic Association, of which Ely was a founder, is nothing less than “to study seriously the second of the two great commandments on which hang all the law and the prophets, in all its ramifications, and thus to bring science to the aid of Christianity.” Ely goes on to express something approaching bewilderment that not one in ten Christians would contribute to the association (a fact of which he had personal knowledge as its secretary).

Because of the indifference of Christians to the second great commandment, wage workers feel increasingly alienated from the church, Ely notes with regret. This is destined to be, so long as the church fails to understand its true mission and fails to see that “nearly everything in the words of Christ applies to the present life.” Ely makes many arresting claims, but perhaps none more than this: “Christianity is primarily concerned with this world, and it is the mission of Christianity to bring to pass here a kingdom of righteousness and to rescue from the evil one and redeem all our social relations.” 

At the end of the 19th century, Ely was pointing to the similarities between early Christianity and socialism. Each appealed mainly to the masses, grew rapidly, and had an international, cosmopolitan character. Each demanded universal dominion, neither had been slowed by persecution, and each commanded of its adherents a religious devotion. Ely claims that socialism is attractive not for its materialism but for its ethical ideals, which parallel Christianity’s, and which inspire “fiery zeal” for labor and sacrifice on behalf of the masses. While the influence of the Bible on the average Christian has waned over the centuries, socialism retains a power to guide the lives of its followers similar to that of early Christianity. In fact, socialism is Christianity for the modern age insofar as it promises to realize the brotherhood of man by creating a social system dedicated to the maxim “One for all, all for one.” 

In language that sounds remarkably contemporary (save perhaps for its grounding in the duty of Christians), Ely stresses the importance of fulsome tax payments, for he who neglects to pay his “fair share” does so on the backs of the “weaker elements in society, such as the widow or orphan.”

Christian socialism arises out of the belief that Christianity must be real and vital, applying in the marketplace as well as the pews, and recognizing the fact of social solidarity: that all interests are intertwined and that the prosperity of any one depends on the prosperity of all. 

In this context, it must be understood that private property is a useful and exclusive right but never an absolute one, for property has a “social side.” Individual claims, essential to “thrift and industry,” must nevertheless give way to social claims on the understanding that all property is a trust to be administered in accordance with the will of God. The land of Israel was not the property of the nation, let alone of the individual, but remained always God’s property, assigned to the use of families “under national regulation.” It remains the task of just societies to find some political mechanism to make the Christian doctrine of stewardship real. In practice, this involves “public agencies” exercising regulatory power. In fact, passing “good laws” in the cities is as much a religious service as preaching the gospel.

Despite Ely’s assertion of a right to property, it seems clear that title to property creates a social obligation more than a right to exclusive use. Ethical behavior, from a Christian point of view, depends much on coercion, or at least law that attracts true believers as it cajoles those who need guidance. Drawing on the insights of classical political philosophers, Ely sees law as education as well as force, enlightening the conscience. 

The subjects that Ely imagines the law might effectively compass and the lessons he imagines it might teach are in no way limited to those matters over which reasonable men might, after due deliberation, agree. Law is unmoored from any grounding in nature and is instead directed at moving—more or less in unison—the consciences of men toward particular policy conclusions concerning the regulation of the conditions of industrial life. 

Ely’s view of property relations, like economics as a whole, is distinctly historicist: all policies must change depending on time, place, and cultural particularities. And government, animated by the essential moral teaching of Christ, is the primary agent of change and direction. 

The progressive state is valorized along with the things of the world. With the growth of such an understanding, the only things on which the morally earnest man need concentrate are those things that are within the purview and control of the state—those that can be manipulated through the application of law and administrative expertise.

To further these ends, lawyers and judges must become social scientists in order to do away with the messiness and corruption of American republican institutions. Well before it became a commonplace observation, Ely recognized that judges in effect exercise legislative authority, but he saw little problem with that so long as it was well exercised. Judges should be selected with explicit reference to their social and economic philosophies and should decide the limits of police powers in a scientifically (as opposed to constitutionally) appropriate manner. 

Unlike Tocqueville, Ely was not willing to sacrifice some order, along with predictability and high conceptions of moral propriety, for the sake of self-government. Viewed retrospectively, Ely’s understandings of judicial competence and power seem refreshingly honest, if not exactly true to the American constitutional and common law tradition. But if they were articulated as clearly and honestly today, such understandings might at least have the benefit of preventing judicial confirmation hearings from turning into the comic kabuki dances they have become.

In language that sounds remarkably contemporary (save perhaps for its grounding in the duty of Christians), Ely stresses the importance of fulsome tax payments, for he who neglects to pay his “fair share” does so on the backs of the “weaker elements in society, such as the widow or orphan.” A “great body” of “attractive laws” must be formulated by thinking Christians to keep the ways and means flowing toward the government without complaint, paving the way to a brighter future. Private philanthropy will not suffice for this comprehensive task, for the “great lines of social reform must be the concern of agencies which work steadily and persistently.” 

Property distribution must be manipulated by the state for the good of all, though not all property must be owned collectively. So Ely, while no friend of capitalism, was not strictly speaking a socialist, or at least not a very comprehensive one. Distribution and regulation of private property, however, must be undertaken fairly regularly, and without the counterproductive and artificial constraints that would be imposed by traditional constitutional understandings. A constitution grounded in natural rights and expressing limitations on government power is an obstacle to social Christianity. 

So what might be called the default position of the Founders’ regime—that a central purpose of government is to protect property as a natural right, rather than to distribute it as a contingent one—is flatly rejected by Ely. And in this he seems to ignore the possibility of factional conflict over governmental distribution of spoils, not to mention the dangers posed by the imperial overreach of ambitious politicians and the consequent discrediting of government itself.

A developed, innate moral sense of social obligation is something for which Ely hopes, but he believes it is not something on which he, or his fellow Christians, can rely. Freedom is not the absence of restraint but is found in service to others and therefore eschews self-interest. And this freedom needs external guidance. 

Our individuality must be directed toward others—rather routinely, one might say—in a manner that is contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the Founders’ Constitution. This is so because of Ely’s implicit denial of Madison’s observation that the causes of faction are sown irreducibly in the nature of man and that the simultaneous unleashing and checking of unequal interests, opinions, and passions can conduce to the public good far better than the high-minded moralism of the state. For Ely, rather, freedom comes in pursuing the common rather than individual good and in overcoming what Madison calls self-love, which routinely limits and degrades man’s higher faculties. Ely is confident that man shall know the truth and that the truth shall set him to concentrate on social goals.

The State and Social Ethics

Ely claims his conception of the state is derivative from Christian social ethics, which rejects the “English” philosophy of individualism. A proper reading of the Old Testament confirms that the nation, in its law-making capacity, is nothing less than “God’s instrument for the establishment of universal righteousness.” God consistently deals with nations and reaches individuals only through them. Ely insists that this “co-operative institution” of the state is merely the means to a proper political economy that is in harmony with religion. In Ely’s scheme, the practical morality man needs is the morality embodied in and expressed through the state. At best, this seems to result in muddying the relationship between ethical ends and means.

Ely understands the state to be an organic whole rather than a product of the conscious will of man. No social contract created it, nor can it be dissolved through the deliberate choices of men. Christ himself recognized the state’s divine character, with powers ordained of God. Ely strikingly insists that yet another outcome of the Protestant Reformation was “the exaltation of the state,” overcoming the Roman Catholic Church’s insistence on the distinction between the cities of God and man. 

With poor laws and the curtailment of the functions of the ecclesiastical courts, Protestant nations achieved something analogous to the merger of English courts of common law and equity, each with their own bodies of substantive law, but overlapping and interconnecting at various points. In each case, the goal was unity under a higher, more complete understanding of justice. The clergy and the special prerogatives of the church gave way to universal law expressed through the sovereign unity of the state, which is a truer representation of God’s will. Ely goes so far as to make the arresting claim that “religious laws,” broadly understood, “are the only laws which ought to be enacted.” 

So the state must be understood to be divine in idea and intention, if not in practice. To the extent that the political life of the United States is “unworthy,” it is because “the nature of offenses against the purity of political life as offenses directly against God has not in recent years been adequately emphasized.” The state is not quite God—but woe unto that man through whom offense to the state cometh.

Although the New Testament replaces the nation with a “world-wide” society and extends our duties accordingly, the nation-state is still, practically speaking, the instantiation of universal Christian truth. As Moses said nothing of the future life, so Christ, even in his resurrection and immortality, reminded us that “eternal life begins in this world.” Even the injunction to render unto Caesar is nothing more than an admonishment to submit to sovereign authority, even if it is established by conquest. 

Christ condemns not the world but the worldliness of self-interest and seeks always national righteousness: 

We must have a feeling for our city, for our country, like that which is inculcated in the Bible. Our Jerusalem must be so dear to us that we can say with the psalmist, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

“If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.”

When we reach this point, then we shall attain civic reform; then our commonwealths will be regenerated; then shall we see our nation a new nation, exalted by righteousness.

Ely was routinely bold to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Father John Ryan and a Roman Catholic Political Economy

Like his Protestant counterparts, Ryan was an influential scholar, professor, and activist with an overriding interest in matters of economic justice, resting on a belief that religion, ethics, and economics could not be divorced. He taught first at St. Paul Seminary, and then at the Catholic University of America. Unlike Rauschenbusch, he attempted to ground or at least embed his arguments in a larger natural law theory. And he rejected, at least formally, the idea that the church’s primary objective should be anything other than the salvation of souls. Also unlike Rauschenbusch, he lived through and directly influenced the New Deal period, so he was able to see his moral theology come to fruition in very concrete ways. 

New Deal initiatives like minimum wage laws, social security, and labor legislation are all enactments of various elements of Ryan’s plan. And Ryan was a political actor himself when circumstances called for it. In several states, he testified in favor of the passage of minimum wage laws. The Progressive Party platform of 1912 incorporated his “living wage” language. And by the 1930s, he became a vehement supporter of the New Deal, on the basis that it found a Christian middle ground: “neither individualism nor socialism.”

Ryan’s most influential contribution to the intellectual ferment of his times was his argument in favor of a living wage. But it would be a mistake to construe his efforts narrowly. His case for the living wage amounts to a social welfare version of the natural law, as well as an argument against what he sees as the rampant individualism of the American polity. His doctoral dissertation was first published in 1906 as the book, A Living Wage, and was widely reviewed in America and abroad. The book was introduced by none other than Richard Ely, whom Ryan had first read as a young seminarian and to whom he sent a prepublication copy.

Despite his orthodoxy, Ryan, like most progressives, could never escape his fascination with modern science and its tendency to direct human attention away from eternity and toward the here and now.

In the book, Ryan shared Rauschenbusch’s confidence that a new day was finally dawning in Americans’ understanding of the ends, and injustices, of their economic system. In his 1919 preface to a revised edition, he asserted what he claimed was almost “universally accepted” by “all intelligent and disinterested persons”: a laborer has a distinct moral claim to a decent living wage. And Ely, in his introduction, suggested the main purpose of the book was to stimulate the conscience of Christians as to their palpable duties, including supporting a Christian doctrine of wages. But the book’s subject matter was yet broader than that, according to Ely. It was in fact “the first attempt in the English language to elaborate what may be called a Roman Catholic system of political economy.”

In the words of Ryan’s mid-20th-century biographer Francis L. Broderick, “More than any other single figure in the Catholic Church in America, he is responsible for the progressive stands adopted by official Catholic spokesmen in our time. Some of these men are former students of his; many were trained in an atmosphere he helped create.” 

When, in 1919, the American bishops issued their “Program for Social Reconstruction,” Ryan in effect enjoyed the support of the American Catholic hierarchy for the reforms he had long championed. The document, for Ryan’s purposes, “created another standard to set beside Rerum Novarum when he appealed to the conscience of Catholic America.” The effect was to shift the burden of proof on economic matters—more or less permanently, as it turns out—from progressives to conservatives within the church. The American church, while making room for conservative clergy and laymen, has itself spoken the language of economic progressivism, in its official voice, since Ryan’s time.

Insisting on his Christian bona fides, and, beyond that, his religious orthodoxy and commitment to the Holy See, Ryan is at pains in A Living Wage to state the influence of Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum as the document that “converted the Living Wage doctrine from an implicit into an explicit principle of Catholic ethics.” 

Opposing socialism and materialism as well as exploitation of labor, Leo argued for the dignity of workers and wage justice, as well as for a wide sphere of state action—things that accorded with Ryan’s views even before he read the encyclical. Ryan notes that Protestantism, in its individuality, has less pronounced and uniform teachings on these matters, but it is nonetheless true that Protestant denominations have never signaled approval of “unlimited bargaining.” And he also notes that the Federal Council of Churches had just made a formal demand for a living wage enforced by the state. 

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Paradoxically, despite his orthodoxy, Ryan, like most progressives, could never escape his fascination with modern science and its tendency to direct human attention away from eternity and toward the here and now.

Ryan wastes no time in arguing that his notion of a living wage is derivative from natural law. In this sense, his work is less dependent on a parsing of the Gospels than is Rauschenbusch’s. Ryan asserts that the labor question cannot be solved without religion, but “Neither will religion suffice in the absence of a detailed application of moral principles to the relations of employer and employee.” 

With Rauschenbusch, Ryan recognizes that men might be religious in a conventional sense but blind to moral wrongs because of their false commitment to an individualist, competitive ethical code. In fine, business ethics instead of Christian ethics govern their lives. Clergymen must therefore give more attention to preaching a living wage and less to “other duties that are no more important.” 

Moral and religious suasion—including using one’s ecclesiastical position to “deprive recalcitrant employers of the church privileges that are ordinarily denied to persistently disobedient members”—are important, but they are not all. For Ryan, philosophical reason looms much larger as a source of influence on Christians than it does for Rauschenbusch.

The laborer, Ryan emphasizes, has an individual natural right to a living wage that belongs to him personally, not simply to him as a member of society. It is something he possesses at birth and is in no way a creature of the positive law. The “absoluteness” of the right is meant in the sense it does not depend on the will of another, not that it cannot be subjected to reasonable limits. Or, as Ryan puts it, it is absolute in existence, though not in extent. Men’s natural rights are equal in number and embrace a minimum of goods, which minimum is determined by the reasonable needs of human “personality.” The catalog of natural rights to which Ryan refers includes not only life, liberty, and property but livelihood, marriage, religious worship, and education.

But rights are not ends in themselves; they are means to the end of the “welfare of the person,” which is an inviolable fact of the natural order. Happiness and dignity are alternative expressions of this welfare. And in turn, it is the “development” of “personality” that allows for welfare to be achieved. 

As we are morally obliged to order our lives to pursue human welfare, so we have a natural obligation not to interfere with the natural rights of others. We know what conduces to human welfare by knowing first what constitutes man’s nature—“his essential constitution, relations and end.” Ryan claims that academic opposition to natural rights doctrine is a result of the doctrine’s “exaggerated and anti-social form”—its Rousseauist form—which can be found among both European and American theorists (though Ryan’s tendency is to conflate the two). 

Writing elsewhere, Ryan echoed Theodore Roosevelt’s concerns that moral decadence and demand for luxurious living were leading to a dangerous decline in the birth rate.

According to this form of natural rights theory, nature refers not to what is permanent in man but to what can be found in his primitive state. “State of nature” theory for Ryan seems to always point to a denial of nature that allows the strong to oppress the weak through legal mechanisms. He seems therefore not to allow that a robust natural rights theory—one that is self-limiting and oriented toward protecting the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority—is embedded in a social contractarian view of government.

He claims his doctrine is the antidote to the dangers of antisocial natural rights theories, a middle ground between revolutionary, fundamentally Rousseauist views and legal positivism. Individuals must be understood to be endowed by nature, and God, with rights that are requisite to the development of personality. The extent of the rights must be worked out in time, according to social circumstances. No right can be understood to interfere with the state’s obligation to adjust conflicting claims in the name of social welfare. “The true formula is, that the individual has a right to all things that are essential to the reasonable development of his personality, consistently with the rights of others and the complete observance of the moral law.” Ryan claims this middle ground will guarantee that man does not become a mere instrument of the state.

Following Pope Leo, Ryan argues that the right to property is in fact natural rather than conventional but that it is also contingent. Private property is a right not for its own sake but insofar as it conduces to the satisfaction of genuine human needs, and especially the needs of the family. It is, again, a means rather than an end. It best enables the realization of the primary right of man to use nature for the development of personality—physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual. 

“Adjustment” is necessary because, though men are equal “generically,” they are unequal “individually,” each having different powers and needs. A decent livelihood varies from time to time, place to place, and individual to individual. Hence the need for elasticity and, most importantly, expertise in determining just what constitutes such a livelihood. During his time teaching at St. Paul Seminary, Ryan tellingly devoted more than a quarter of his course in moral theology to economic history and political economy.

The difficulties of making such complex economic determinations, while daunting, should not deter. The right to a living wage can be asserted only against members of the industrial community where the worker lives, which is something Ryan admits can be defined only approximately. But the complexity of modern economies, while serving to obscure economic rights, should not halt confident action. Even traditional rights doctrines interfere with a proper understanding of natural rights, which are more akin to the Christian doctrine that private ownership is not absolute but a form of stewardship. The capaciousness of Ryan’s understanding of stewardship is notable. He favored using the “superfluous” goods of the wealthy to subsidize the needs of the poor—from labor unions, to education, to hospitals and housing.

In an early version of equal pay for work of equal value, Ryan observes that women deserve the same living wage as men, assuming their efficiency is the same. But he grounds this in a concern not only for distributive justice but for the family. Paying women less than men would tend to drive the latter out of an occupation and thereby increase the proportion of female workers, which he does not see as a good. 

As man by nature needs the permanent love and companionship of the opposite sex, a living wage must be sufficient to support family life. In an interesting admixture of what might be called contemporary individualist and Catholic communitarian arguments, Ryan claims the majority of men cannot achieve appropriate “self-development” outside the conjugal state. For the average man, “celibacy is not normal” and cannot be the measure of his natural rights. But, in his search for some limiting principle, Ryan claims that a laborer cannot in justice demand a wage to support his parents because in the normal course of things parents should have taken precautions to secure themselves financially. Rights, he asserts, “are not to be interpreted by the abnormal and exceptional exigencies of existence.” 

And again, in his efforts to make economic life compatible with the life of the nuclear family, Ryan argues that the family living wage is due to every male laborer, based on “average” rather than exceptional circumstances. Even those who are unmarried are due this wage, for to deny it to them would create an increased demand for their labor, to the ultimate destruction of the family. It would place a premium on “a very undesirable kind of celibacy.” The basis for estimating the family living wage is in relation to a family containing the average number of children found in a workingman’s home—about four to five. While Ryan admits this formula is not perfect, this is the best that can be done in present circumstances to preserve “the intrinsic worth and sacredness of personality.” 

Writing elsewhere—shortly after President Theodore Roosevelt warned Americans, in 1903, that its best citizens were insufficiently fecund—Ryan echoed TR’s concerns that moral decadence and demand for luxurious living were leading to a dangerous decline in the birth rate. 

In A Living Wage, Ryan goes further to argue that aversion to marriage fosters selfishness that leads to indolence and inertia, and therefore that arguments for “sexual self-restraint” as a means to aid the working class are misplaced. They are “immoral and anti-social,” bad for both society and the individual personality. What is needed is not misguided moralizing—exhortations directed at encouraging fundamentally unnatural lives—but “social action,” especially in the realms of government regulation and labor organization. Positive rather than negative freedom is needed. In a summative statement of his conception of the social order—which is at once rights-based and organic—Ryan states:

the obligation to pay a Living Wage falls upon the employer as a reasonable consequence of his position in the economic organism. From this responsibility he cannot free himself by appealing to the labor contract or to the productivity of labor; for the former is consistent with extortion, while the latter is usually unknowable, and is always inferior to needs as a canon of distribution. Inability to perform the obligation suspends it, but inability must not be so interpreted as to favor the superfluous needs of the employer at the expense of the essential needs of the laborer. The employer’s right to obtain interest on the capital that he has invested in his business is subordinate to the laborer’s right to a Living Wage.

The state, therefore, has both a “right” and “duty” to require a living wage, for its very purpose is “social welfare,” or assisting the individual in attaining earthly ends. And this state activity can be thought of as protecting natural rights. A minimum wage law is both an urgent necessity and a dictate of natural law reasoning, and the Constitution—long thought to protect freedom of contract—cannot remain a barrier to natural rights. While the expression of these rights is new, they are rights that in Ryan’s estimation predate and supersede the flawed Enlightenment conceptions of negative liberty so mistakenly elevated by America’s founders.

Ryan considered his 1916 book Distributive Justice to be his most important work, though it was lesser known in his own day, and subsequently, than A Living Wage. The relative obscurity of the former is no doubt due to its being both drier and considerably more ponderous than the latter. It attempts to discuss “systematically and comprehensively the justice of the processes by which the product of industry is distributed” among landowners, capitalists, businessmen, and laborers—all with an eye to the morality of the processes and outcomes. Based on a sweeping survey of the morality of private land ownership, private capital, profits, and wages, the book reiterates familiar themes. The role of the state is substantial, and little to no regard is given to questions of legal or constitutional constraint. On the whole, Ryan was guided by Ely’s view that socialism could be severed from materialism and that elements of the socialist program—if not complete public ownership—were essential to a Christian commonwealth.

Ryan claims private ownership of land is preferable to socialism, but the landowner’s right to rent is a moral claim no stronger than the capitalist’s right to interest, and neither is as strong as the tenant’s right to live decently or the laborer’s right to a living wage. Public ownership of valuable lands should be maintained or expanded, and increases in land value should be severely taxed, to the point of breaking up exceptionally large or valuable estates.

With respect to capital and interest, it is wrong to claim, as the socialist does, that the capitalist has no claim to interest. But the right to collect it is conventional: “The State is justified in permitting the practice of taking interest.” The “right” exists only when it is socially useful. The best practical hope for reducing the “burden of interest” is a wider diffusion of capital through cooperative associations in key fields like banking, agriculture, distribution, and manufacture.

When it comes to profits, “needs, efforts and sacrifices, productivity, scarcity, and human welfare” must be taken into account. Only businessmen who use “fair methods of competition” have the right to all the profits that come their way. And Ryan predictably claims that “remedies for unjust profits are to be found mainly in the action of government”—in the form of public ownership and legal regulation of monopolies. Ryan also believes progressive taxation and inheritance taxes play an important role. His book was written just three years after the ratification of the 16th Amendment, granting Congress broad powers to lay and collect taxes on incomes.

Finally—and almost incidentally—“The possessors of large fortunes and incomes could help to bring about a more equitable distribution by voluntarily complying with the Christian duty of bestowing their superfluous goods upon needy persons and objects.” With respect to laborers, a living wage is a right to be vouchsafed through minimum wage laws, unionization, and cooperative enterprises in which workers have a substantial voice in the conditions of their employment. Ryan concludes with a reiteration of the importance of faith: “For the adoption and pursuit of these ideals the most necessary requisite is a revival of genuine religion.” 

One can see a distinct and unbroken line of descent from progressivism, to the New Deal, to the Great Society. But as each of these waves of liberalism crested, it became apparent that the underlying force and motivating energy of each was different.

Ryan’s view of the Declaration of Independence is at once expansive, partial, and particular. He sees republican government as but one means among many to pursue social welfare and therefore claim the mantle of legitimate government. But he fails to note the apparent incompatibility of this view with the limited and precise conception of natural rights found in the Declaration, which stems from what Jefferson claims to be the self-evident truth of human equality. 

According to Ryan, democratic forms can claim legitimacy along with monarchic or aristocratic ones, depending on circumstances. And even in democracies, the people are not the source of political authority but only its depositories. Linked to Ryan’s gloss on political equality is his view that the state should ideally recognize the one true religion, that professed by the Catholic Church, and prevent the introduction of new forms. He allows that Catholic states where other denominations are already established, should generally tolerate them as a matter of prudence. But no rights are absolute in the sense of being ends in themselves, including freedom of speech. 

All aspects of the state should be understood to be the means to human welfare. And so Ryan leaves to the good judgment of Christian rulers vast amounts of discretion as to what constitutes public welfare, even in matters of conscience. And he appears to deny that freedom of conscience is, in principle and nature, an essential incident of human welfare. It therefore easily follows that he would view lesser things—such as the right to property—as not to be entitled to inviolable protections, despite their apparent grounding in what he understands to be nature.

When the purpose of government is seen in such broad terms—that is, the furtherance of the general welfare of man in light of God’s purposes—natural rights are bound to be understood as less natural, less fixed, and less protective of irreducible spheres of human thought and activity than would have been acceptable to America’s founders—on grounds of either principle or prudence. In the language of contemporary academic discourse, we can say that Ryan’s Catholicism, while not hostile to republican government, is in tension with it. In less couched terms, we can say it is indifferent to it.

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The Liberal Millennium

And so we have come full circle. We have seen how progressive theorists, statesmen, and theologians alike, embraced a notion that material and spiritual fulfillment can be found in and through the good graces of the state. They shared a sense of the possibilities for an organic political wholeness that was coupled with a deep suspicion of anything they saw as too individualist—or, in other terms, too Newtonian or Lockean. All this represented, in theory and practice, a stunning transformation of American politics, morality, and constitutionalism.

Ely’s “ethical ideal” of political economy led him to advocate “‘such a distribution of economic goods’ as would nurture the ‘growth of all the higher faculties,’” including even love itself, as seen in religion, art, and literature. The heavenly city on earth was indeed a possibility, if only the Gospels were understood to condemn individualism, and individuals could be made to act on this teaching.

For his part, Woodrow Wilson tried to Americanize his Hegelianism and tame his social Darwinism through comforting versions of an increasingly familiar Christian theology. As Charles Kesler notes, “Wilson, whose father was a Presbyterian minister and his mother the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, fluently incorporated religious language and sentiments in his Progressivism. That was the era of the Social Gospel movement, a tributary of Progressivism, so it was common to encounter millenarian religious longings translated into calls for social work and social justice.” Even Wilson’s emphasis on the patriarchal origins of the Aryan races is very revealing as to his view of the relationship of politics to Christianity (not to mention what it says about the race consciousness of leading progressives). His claim that the state is the family writ large is the precursor to contemporary liberalism’s assertion that it takes a village to raise a child. 

For Wilson, the order and authority of the patriarchal family is the analogue to the order that the modern administrative state provides. As Kesler has noted, this understanding, at once an old and new dispensation, suggests that “we need not fear government’s increasing power to be our keeper . . . because it operates as merely the most efficient instrument of our brotherly and sisterly duty to care for one another.” And according to this political theology, our duty of care extends less to concern for the soul, but neither is it limited to mere life. Instead, it encompasses most facets of human existence that can be touched by the brave new world of centralized administration. In fact, concern for the soul is not the proper purview of the state, for spiritual progress is not measurable, whereas material progress—in the form of material equality—is. The state concerns itself only with those things that it can measure and manipulate, or that can be measured and manipulated by the expert scientific classes on which it relies for guidance.

Man becomes a creature of the state, rather than a political animal free to order the state according to his deliberative choices. To the Protestants and Catholics who were influenced by such a teaching, religion became an enemy of natural rights and limited government and a friend to the state. “Conscience,” far from being threatened by an unlimited state, could instead be followed—but only by influencing the mechanisms of the state in the interests of social justice. 

Christian progressives seemed unconcerned that, in a larger sense, the realm of conscience—not itself measurable or manipulable by the state or by modern social science—seemed by those very facts destined to play second fiddle to all those things of which the modern state could take cognizance and thereby directly superintend. What after all can be the status of Christian conscience to those who know the trajectory of History, including what will be revealed to every good Christian in the fullness of time? No one should be free to reject true progressive enlightenment, for to do so would be a form of slavery. When the fullness of time was come, God sent the administrative state.

And so, while the early Progressives were motivated by faith, their children and grandchildren became increasingly secularized. One can see a distinct and unbroken line of descent from progressivism, to the New Deal, to the Great Society. But as each of these waves of liberalism crested, it became apparent that the underlying force and motivating energy of each was different. The millenarianism of the early progressives was driven, thanks to Rauschenbusch and others, by a genuine if idiosyncratic sense of Christian purposes. This Christian sensibility was already on the wane by the 1930s. Franklin Roosevelt in effect secularized the phenomenon while maintaining some degree of recognizably Christian language: “When Roosevelt, as sensitive a barometer of his times as could be imagined, expressed the higher ethical life to which liberalism pointed, he did so in relatively unassuming, vaguely Protestant and vaguely Progressive terms that could appeal to almost everyone.”

The Great Society, by contrast, was characterized by its all-encompassing confidence in the power of government to do pretty much anything and everything. And so its premises sowed the seeds of its demise.

As Kesler argues, “Its soaring expectations, its utopian promises, could not be fulfilled in ten years or a hundred years. What it proffered was the satisfaction, in principle, of all material and spiritual needs and desires. But human desires are infinite. They cannot be satisfied, unless first governed or moderated by reason and morality.” And certainly by the late 1960s, the spiritual needs for which people demanded satisfaction had lost even the attenuated connections to the next world that could be seen in the longings of the early progressives.

But these insights, and more, would not play a role in most scholarly accounts of progressivism until well into the 21st century. They had to await a new generation of political theorists to bring them to the surface. The historians of the 20th century had very different stories to tell.

Weekend Long Read

This essay is a revised and expanded version of two stories that first appeared on American Greatness in July 2018.

The Monstrous Lie Behind CrowdStrike

There’s a simple explanation for the Democratic National Committee’s unwillingness to let outsiders have a peek at evidence its servers were infiltrated by the Russians in 2016: There isn’t any. The Russian hacking that’s caused so much division and turmoil at home and abroad never really happened. It was all a ruse.

Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election was predicated largely on the claim Russian intelligence had hacked the Democratic National Committee’s servers ahead of the November election. Russia’s guilt is such an article of faith among our political class that a Republican-controlled Congress imposed sanctions on Russia and President Trump signed on, substantially worsening relations with an important and potentially dangerous nation

Since those sanctions were imposed, Mueller’s team confirmed the Russian espionage they were meant to punish. Since its publication last year, the Washington establishment has treated the Mueller report almost as a sacred document.

Outside the Acela Corridor, however, one finds more skepticism.

A lot of ordinary folks just can’t stop wondering why the DNC wouldn’t let any federal investigators examine their servers. Only CrowdStrike, an independent contractor on the DNC’s payroll, was allowed to do so. CrowdStrike executive Robert Johnson appeared on “60 Minutes” to address concerns that his firm hadn’t been completely forthcoming with its findings. But he only succeeded in raising more questions by claiming that the “FBI got what it needed and what it wanted.”

Even if the self-proclaimed “hard-hitting” investigators at “60 Minutes” couldn’t be bothered to spend 30 minutes researching such an important story, Johnson himself had to know he wasn’t telling the truth.

On no less than three occasions before President Trump fired him, FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress about the DNC’s strange unwillingness to let his agency examine their servers in a case they were simultaneously hyping as akin to “an act of war.” Comey testified that the DNC rejected the FBI’s “[m]ultiple requests at different levels” to collect forensic evidence. 

A week before Comey testified in January 2017, the DNC had already tried palming off Johnson’s lie and were sternly contradicted the very next day. A senior FBI official told The Hill that his agency “repeatedly stressed to DNC officials the necessity of obtaining direct access to servers and data, only to be rebuffed until well after the initial compromise.” According to The Hill’s source, far from getting everything the bureau wanted, “the FBI [had] no choice but to rely upon” CrowdStrike.

Johnson also must know the FBI isn’t even the only federal agency who ran into a brick wall when they took the DNC’s hysterical spiel about Russian espionage seriously. Obama Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told Congress he couldn’t even get the DNC to discuss the case with anyone from his agency, even though election security falls under its official purview. The homeland security chief was so disconcerted that he twice told Congress he “should have brought a sleeping bag and camped out in front of” the party’s headquarters. 

But Congress never got the chance to ask anyone from CrowdStrike about the peculiar circumstances surrounding its “investigation.” For some strange reason, the executives representing the only entity to inspect the DNC servers refused to discuss the matter under oath.

The crack team of investigative journalists at “60 Minutes” also somehow failed to uncover that, just six months after accusing the Russians of hacking the DNC, CrowdStrike issued a report accusing the very same alleged Russian hackers of having penetrated into some Ukrainian artillery software that was so riddled with errors they were forced to retract it. Perhaps the “60 Minutes” team was too busy telling the rest of us how awesome they are to learn that other actors were known to have been in possession of the malware to which CrowdStrike claimed Russian intelligence had exclusive access since 2015.

Among other problems with the technical aspects of CrowdStrike’s story, the malware which the company claims was used to broadcast Ukrainian artillery positions to the Russians turned out not even to “use GPS nor does it ask for GPS location information.” Jeffrey Carr, the cybersecurity consultant who exposed CrowdStrike’s bogus accusations against the Russians, wryly noted, “[t]hat’s a surprising design flaw for custom-made malware whose alleged objective was to collect and transmit location data.”   

“60 Minutes’” gaslighting only succeeded in confirming that the program’s self-proclaimed reputation as fierce and thorough investigators is a joke. And it underscored ordinary folks’ concerns about the DNC’s refusal to cooperate with federal officials.

Moreover, a bunch of not-so-ordinary folks who know a thing or two about computers think there’s a simple explanation for the DNC’s unwillingness to let outsiders have a peek at the evidence: There isn’t any. The Russian hacking that’s caused so much division and turmoil at home and abroad never really happened. It was all a ruse concocted by CrowdStrike.

One such skeptic is an anonymous journalist and computer aficionado who goes by the pseudonym “Adam Carter.” Carter has spent the last few years cataloging evidence, unearthed by himself and others, that CrowdStrike engaged in a disinformation campaign, inventing not just a fake Russian hack but also a fake hacker called “Guccifer 2.0.” Much, but by no means all, of Carter’s evidence is technical. And he’s unquestionably found an inconsistency in the Russia narrative that ought to raise doubts in even the most computer-illiterate congressman’s mind.

Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Julian Assange’s Warning

But first, why on earth would a private contractor hired by the DNC engage in such tactics? For motive, we need to go back to June 12, 2016, when Wikileaks founder Julian Assange made an announcement that was sure to strike panic in the hearts of Hillary Clinton and her closest advisers:

We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton . . . We have emails pending publication. 

A little less than three months earlier, on March 19, hostile actors had gotten ahold of all the emails in campaign chairman John Podesta’s main Gmail account. You may have heard that Podesta’s emails were “hacked,” but they weren’t. There were no faraway cyber-nerds searching for some vulnerability in the DNC network. He fell for a common “spear phishing” scam. A fake email from Google arrived, saying he needed to change his password and providing a link. The link was also fake. Instead of changing his password, Podesta gave it away—along with all of his campaign emails.

Whoops!

The Clinton campaign learned of Podesta’s blunder almost immediately and must have feared that the emails Assange was threatening to release were his. Moreover, on that date, a lot of the revelations contained therein would have been very salient—and not in a good way.

Just six days before, with Clinton still 570 delegates short of the 2,382 needed to win the Democratic nomination, the Associated Press angered Bernie Sanders and his supporters by claiming that she’d already won. The New York Times, CNN, NBC News, USA Today, and The Washington Post all followed suit, declaring Sanders’ loss a fait accompli.

But it wasn’t.

The AP had arrived at its numbers by polling unpledged superdelegates, who couldn’t vote until the convention and were free to change their minds until then or even to deceive the AP.

Sanders supporters had been angry about the role superdelegates played in the nominating process for months. Sanders himself complained about it just one week before Assange’s announcement and a day before the media started writing his campaign’s obituary:

My problem is that the process today has allowed Secretary Clinton to get the support of over 400 superdelegates before any other Democratic candidate was in the race.

The next day’s headlines prematurely declaring Clinton’s victory brought Sanders’ supporters long-simmering anger to a boil. His spokesman blasted the corporate media’s “rush to judgment”:

Secretary Clinton does not have and will not have the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination. She will be dependent on superdelegates who do not vote until July 25 and who can change their minds between now and then.

For the rest of the week, the big election story was whether Sanders would exit the race gracefully and encourage his followers to forgive, forget, and rally round Hillary Clinton. But just 12 hours after Assange’s announcement, Sanders emerged from a meeting with his top advisors, refusing to concede and reiterating his determination not to let the media gaslight his candidacy into a lost cause:

[W]e are going to take our campaign to the convention with the full understanding that we’re very good in arithmetic and that we know who has received the most votes up until now.

The Immensity of Podesta’s Blunder

John Podesta’s blunder had the potential to destroy Hillary Clinton’s already precarious reputation with voters regardless of their feelings about Bernie Sanders. In some of the emails, Podesta had revealed that Clinton’s most senior advisors—including Podesta himself—denigrated her abilities and her ethics, commented on her poor health, made disparaging remarks about Catholics, Muslims, blacks, and Latinos, and complained that Clinton wanted “unaware and compliant” voters.

Many of Podesta’s emails also contradict claims made in defense of the private email server Clinton used as secretary of state. Others reveal that the FBI investigation into the matter was anything but unbiased. At a minimum, the emails prove Clinton’s campaign knew from the beginning that she was breaking the law.

It’s easy to forget how serious an issue Clinton’s unsecured server was when Assange issued his warning. James Comey’s surprise announcement exonerating her was still three weeks away, on July 5, 2016. A few weeks earlier, the State Department had sharply rebuked Clinton for violating department rules, generating unpleasant headlines such as, “Hillary Clinton’s email problems just got much worse.

A June 1 Morning Consult poll found that about half of voters thought her private email server was “illegal, unethical and a major problem.” Even a quarter of Democrats agreed. There’s little question that Assange’s threat would have made the poll disturbingly salient to Clinton and her top advisers.

But, given Sanders’ supporters’ cresting anger on the very day Assange issued his warning and Clinton’s need for their enthusiastic support to prevail against Trump, her team would have been more concerned about emails revealing her disdain for the kind of voters who flocked to Sanders and some of their most beloved progressive policies.

How would Sanders’ passionate and ideological followers react upon learning, at the very height of their anger, that Clinton secretly opposed gay marriage and supported fracking? The Democratic nomination was almost within her grasp and those revelations alone might have made it impossible for Sanders to graciously concede and put the weight of his campaign behind hers. 

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

All the more so when his followers discovered that she and other top campaign officials routinely mocked both Sanders and them. Making matters worse, if Assange released Podesta’s emails they would also find out that CNN contributor Donna Brazile had given Clinton at least three questions in advance for her debates with Sanders. And an extraordinary number of emails confirm Sanders supporters’ long-standing complaints that the DNC and the mainstream media had been colluding with Clinton to torpedo his candidacy from its inception.

But perhaps the most troubling of Podesta’s emails would have been those containing passages from speeches Clinton gave to Goldman Sachs and other big-money outfits at $225,000 per appearance. In these speeches, Clinton downplayed Wall Street’s role in the 2008 recession. She even assured the wealthy bankers enriching her that they themselves ought to be the ones writing any legislation necessary to make sure such a crash didn’t reoccur.

Clinton’s Wall Street benefactors also heard her confess to being “obviously” out of touch with the struggles of middle-class voters. She further admitted to having distinct public and private positions on political issues. Finally, though it wouldn’t bother many of Sanders’s followers, moderate voters wouldn’t be happy to learn that Clinton assured her wealthy patrons that she secretly favors open borders.

Like the controversy over her private email server, Clinton weathered this storm so well that it’s hard to remember how much her unreleased speeches alarmed Sanders’ supporters, to whom she was little more than a corporate shill. Sanders himself had been mocking the extraordinary sums Clinton’s Wall Street patrons had paid to hear her speak and suggesting that they must have been getting more than just talk for their money in his own stump speeches for months:

If you’re going to give a speech for $225,000 it’s gotta be really, don’t you think an extraordinarily brilliant speech, I mean why else would they pay that kind of money? . . . Must be a speech written in Shakespearean prose. So I think, if it is such a fantastic speech, the secretary should make it available to all of us.

To make matters worse, three weeks before Assange’s announcement, Clinton released a mandatory financial statement that brought her Wall Street speeches to the forefront of campaign news, yielding disastrous headlines like, “How corporate America bought Hillary Clinton for $21M” and “The massive scale of the Clintons’ speech-making industry.”

A few days later, reporters even annoyed President Obama at a G7 summit in Japan by pestering him about whether she ought to release her speeches. On June 1, just 11 days before Assange’s warning, a Morning Consult poll had 64 percent of voters saying she needed to do so, including two-thirds of independents and even almost half of Democrats.

Many readers have likely forgotten the many serious political storms Hillary Clinton was navigating in the week preceding Assange’s June 12 announcement and how desperately she needed to placate Sanders’ increasingly angry supporters. If you weren’t too distracted by the Russian hacking narrative, however, you probably remember some of the above revelations from Podesta’s emails that would have made doing so impossible had Assange not given Clinton’s camp so much time to prepare.

By October 7, when Wikileaks finally began releasing Podesta’s emails, Democrat voters had been taught to tune them out by angrily reciting the mantras “Putin” and “Russia.” They were warned by CNN that it was illegal for folks who didn’t work for CNN or some other CNN-approved corporation to so much as look at the Podesta’s emails. Trump couldn’t push Wikileaks’ disclosures because doing so immediately rebounded back at him, raising worries he might be “Putin’s puppet,” rather than reflecting poorly on Clinton.

Clinton Uses the Russian-Hacking Narrative to Great Effect

Whether Adam Carter is right that the Russian DNC hack was a ruse designed to deflect the damage if it turned out Assange’s warning meant he had Podesta’s emails, there’s no question Clinton and her surrogates were instantly prepared to use it that way.

Within hours of WikiLeak’s October 7 release, Podesta himself made a transparent attempt on Twitter to tie the disastrous revelations caused by his own bone-headed blunder to a dastardly Russian scheme perpetrated on Trump’s behalf:

While I’m in pretty good company with Gen. Powell & Amb. Marshall, I’m not happy about being hacked by the Russians in their quest to throw the election to Donald Trump.

Clinton had avoided any situations in which she’d have to take questions as much as possible throughout the campaign. So she forestalled publicly addressing any of the disclosures in Podesta’s emails until her third debate with Trump, 12 days after they appeared. 

She was asked about the secret preference for open borders she’d revealed in a speech to a group of Brazilian bankers and the $225,000 they paid for the privilege of hearing about it. After a few nonsensical words claiming that she’d meant open borders for electricity, not people, Clinton quickly shifted to her real defense: 

But you are very clearly quoting from WikiLeaks. What is really important about WikiLeaks is that the Russian government has engaged in espionage against Americans. They have hacked American websites, American accounts of private people, of institutions. Then they have given that information to WikiLeaks for the purpose of putting it on the internet. This has come from the highest levels of the Russian government. Clearly from Putin himself in an effort, as 17 of our intelligence agencies have confirmed, to influence our election. So, I actually think the most important question of this evening, Chris, is finally, will Donald Trump admit and condemn that the Russians are doing this, and make it clear that he will not have the help of Putin in this election.

A more transparently rehearsed attempt to deflect the damaging revelations in Podesta’s emails by branding them with the words “Wikileaks,” “espionage against Americans,” “Putin,” and “Donald Trump” would be impossible.

So, by the time Assange released them on October 7, tainting the publication of Podesta’s emails as a Russian scheme perpetrated out of love for Donald Trump was demonstrably the Clinton campaign’s go-to strategy. But a Washington Post story about the DNC hack published just two days after Assange’s June 12 warning shows the strategy was prepared much earlier.

CrowdStrike’s Perplexing Announcement 

The June 14 Washington Post article marks the first time the DNC went public about the alleged Russian hack. It includes the detail that the Russians stole a file of Trump opposition research; which, though no ordinary readers could have known it at the time, would turn up months later when Wikileaks released Podesta’s emails.

Indeed, this detail is also the article’s big takeaway, as it’s mentioned in both the lead sentence and even its headline: “Russian government hackers penetrated DNC, stole opposition research on Trump.”

The story extensively quotes CrowdStrike president Shawn Henry, who previously was in charge of FBI cyber operations. Henry just so happens to have been promoted to that position by none other than Robert Mueller when he ran the agency. CrowdStrike’s founder and Chief Technology Officer, Dmitri Alperovitch is also featured prominently. Though born in Russia, his family fled the country when he was fourteen and Alperovitch is now a senior member of the vehemently anti-Russian Atlantic Council.

All information for the Washington Post story was provided voluntarily by CrowdStrike and the DNC. According to Alperovitch, the DNC “decide[d] to go public…about their incident and give us permission to share our knowledge.”

So, why on June 14, 2016, had the DNC wanted everyone to know the embarrassing fact that the Russians had penetrated their servers and the content of one particular pilfered file?

Alperovitch says the DNC wanted to “help protect even those who do not happen to be [CrowdStrike] customers.” It’s hard to understand how telling the world Russia had stolen a file of Trump opposition research from the DNC servers did anything to help those not fortunate enough to be able to rely on CrowdStrike. But, even if sense could be made of the philanthropic motives Alperovitch ascribed to the DNC, they must have had more self-interested ones to, once again, publicly connect Hillary Clinton’s name to lost emails and unsecured servers while her already existing troubles concerning such matters were still a very live issue.

Clinton’s team must have suspected that Assange had Podesta’s emails and they certainly knew the file of Trump opposition research was among them. So announcing that the Russians had stolen it two days after Assange’s warning is, in hindsight, either an incredible coincidence or the first step in a strategy designed to taint the damaging information in Podesta’s emails with Russian perfidy.

But CrowdStrike and the DNC weren’t the only ones calling attention to that file of Trump opposition research in the days following Julian Assange’s fateful warning.

Screenshot/Wordpress

The Russian Spy Who Was Wasn’t

The day after CrowdStrike’s announcement, a new actor dramatically took the stage announcing himself as “Guccifer 2.0.” His name was supposed to pay tribute to a hacker who’d gone by the nom de guerre Guccifer, famous for having plagued Hillary Clinton. 

Guccifer 2.0 expressed his intention to take up his imprisoned namesake’s mantle by boldly claiming to be the very hacker whose existence Alperovitch and Henry had just announced on the front page of yesterday’s Washington Post!

And, to prove it, he posted 230 pages of Trump opposition research on his newly minted blog and emailed copies to Gawker and The Smoking Gun.

If you hadn’t known it was all real, you might have thought all this sensational news coincidentally emerging on the heels of Assange’s warning was coming from a script. 

We’re supposed to think that G2 (as he’s called for short) was a Russian spy passing documents he hacked from the DNC servers to Wikileaks. In fact, though hardly anyone is aware how crucial the allegation is, G2’s alleged role as WikiLeaks’ source is the only evidence we’ve ever seen that the DNC emails WikiLeaks published really did come from Russian intelligence.

But if G2 really is a Russian spy, Putin ought to be pitied rather than feared.

When he debuted claiming to be the hacker featured on the front page of the previous day’s Post, G2 made no attempt to deny he was a Russian spy. Anyone reading his first blog post also familiar with the Washington Post story was given no reason to doubt G2 was an agent of Russia as Alperovitch and Henry had claimed. Would a real Russian spy connect himself to a report outing him as a Russian spy without denying it? 

Why on earth would he connect himself to such a report at all?

Would a real Russian spy trying to hide his nationality end the second sentence in his first blog post with “)))”, the symbol Russians use in place of our “lol.” G2 did.

Would a real Russian spy on a secret mission to sabotage Hillary Clinton reveal his purpose by naming himself after someone famous for having already done so? The story in the previous day’s Washington Post hadn’t given any indication whatsoever that Clinton was his target. Why was G2 so anxious that we know? 

And, why would a Russian spy using WikiLeaks as a clandestine front announce that he’d sent the documents he’d stolen to WikiLeaks? G2 gave the whole game away in that very first blog post:

I’ve been in the DNC’s networks for almost a year . . . The main part of the papers, thousands of files and mails, I gave to Wikileaks. They will publish them soon. 

Is it at all credible that a spy sent by Vladimir Putin on a secret mission to control the outcome of the U.S. presidential election would start a blog a day after his espionage had been reported in the Washington Post in order take credit for and inform the public of some crucial facts about his operation that hadn’t been exposed; like identifying both his target and his secret accomplice? 

Shawn Henry, Dmitri Alperovitch, James Comey, James Clapper, and Robert Mueller are all asking you to believe that it is.

Mueller uses absurdly expurgated quotes from alleged communications between G2 and WikiLeaks to prove he was the source of their DNC emails. If Mueller’s insidious gaslighting hadn’t caused so much damage, his neglecting to mention that G2 announced he was WikiLeaks’ source in his very first blog post would be comical. Mueller is, of course, also silent about the other 11 occasions in his brief time in the public spotlight on which G2 made public statements explicitly connecting himself to WikiLeaks.

Mueller also wants you to believe that G2 immediately denied he was Russian—by no means Mueller’s only blatant lie.

G2 first denied being Russian only when explicitly questioned about his nationality in an interview six days after his debut. But by then it was too late. No one believed him because it had already emerged that there were “Russian fingerprints” all over the documents he’d released. Odd enough by itself, given the “superb operational tradecraft” attributed to him by Alperovitch and the fact that he was conducting one of history’s most significant clandestine operations.

Russian intelligence must run hundreds of cyber operations every year that go entirely undetected. Yet, when agents are sent directly by Vladimir Putin himself to control the outcome of the U.S presidential election, they announce their presence to the world and leave a half-dozen clues that identify them as Russian spies which are found before they even have time to deny it.

But it gets worse.

Putin Must Not be Sending His Best

The first evidence of Russian involvement was found within hours of G2’s June 15 debut. Someone at Gawker opened the metadata in the files he sent and, what do you know? Sitting there plain as day for anyone to see was the name of Soviet secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky! 

Even though the name is hardly a household word in the United States, it was still impossible to miss its significance since it just so happened to be written in the Russian alphabet. All that was missing was a link to Wikipedia to save anyone the trouble of googling, “Феликс Эдмундович.” 

The five files G2 sent out when he debuted all later turned up in Podesta’s emails—absent any Russian names in their metadata, of course. The metadata in the versions released by G2, however, shows that the Russian spymaster’s name appeared because their content was cut and pasted from somewhere else into a Russian template from Microsoft Word with “Феликс Эдмундович” set as the username. 

Editing the documents couldn’t have served any legitimate purpose since the files G2 released were identical in content to the versions that later turned up in Podesta’s emails. Moreover, the needless cut-and-pasting, which also caused Russian error messages to appear in various places just in case no one bothered looking at the metadata, was done the very same day G2 released the files!

Is it at all credible that a Russian spy sent by Vladimir Putin on a secret mission to control the outcome of a U.S. presidential election would go to the trouble of editing documents he was sending to the press as a Word file with a famous Russian spymaster’s Russian name set as username, causing it to appear in the metadata? Would he cut and paste the documents’ content into a Russian template, causing Russian language error messages to pop up when the journalists to whom he was sending them tried reading the files? Is it credible that he’d do all that the same day he sent the documents out even though he didn’t alter their content at all and, hence, had no reason whatsoever to edit them?

Shawn Henry, Dmitri Alperovitch, James Clapper, James Comey, and Robert Mueller are all asking you to believe that it is.

In fact, they’re insisting that you do.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Even had G2 altered the content of the files, it’s preposterous to suppose that a Russian spy on the most serious mission imaginable would be so careless as to leave clues revealing his identity to a Gawker reporter within hours of his sending them to her. But, since the content of the documents wasn’t altered at all, the procedures which caused the “Russian fingerprints” to immediately appear could only have been designed to do exactly that.

If we weren’t so desperate for sensational news, a Gawker reporter finding evidence that G2 was a Russian intelligence agent in the files he’d sent her mere hours after his debut by itself would have raised enormous red flags.

But, believe it or not, that’s not all Henry, Alperovitch, Comey, Mueller, and their intelligence community cohorts expect you to swallow.

G2 also chose to use a company based in Russia to cloak his IP address. Even then, there are plenty of email providers that would conceal the Russian IP address. Yet G2, who Hillary Clinton suggested “clearly” took orders directly from KGB prodigy Vladimir Putin, somehow chose one that didn’t.

If G2 had simply done nothing, there would have been nothing connecting Wikileaks to Russian intelligence and no one would have been the wiser. Instead of doing nothing, he went out of his way to create the only evidence we’ve seen that any of the emails Assange released in the run-up to the 2016 election came from Russian intelligence. 

Yet, somehow, we’re supposed to believe he was sent by Putin on a mission to sabotage the Clinton campaign. Apart from G2’s self-undermining announcement that Clinton was his target, neither the Trump opposition file nor any other file he ever released contained anything damaging to her. 

So, on top of all the other completely preposterous nonsense, a Russian spy intent on getting Trump elected released 230 pages of damaging information on Trump but nothing negative about Hillary Clinton.

Viewed in quick and haphazard slices, G2’s debut may look like a collaboration between Putin and Assange. But Russian spies trying to hide their identity don’t openly confess to crimes the Washington Post attributed to Russian spies the day before.

Nor do they use Russian emoticons.

Nor do they publicly announce their mission and name their accomplices.

Nor do they send documents to reporters containing clues that they are Russian spies which are discovered within hours.

And they most certainly don’t go out of their way to plant such clues.

And when Russian spies release 230 pages of negative information about Trump, you can bet that it’s Trump, and not his enemies, they are trying to harm.

When we widen our view, the only question becomes who Alperovitch, Henry, Mueller and their cohorts are grossly insulting more: Russia’s intelligence agencies or the American public’s intelligence.

Where Did Guccifer 2.0 Get the Trump File?

Hindsight together with Adam Carter and crew’s hard work shows that G2, rather than trying to harm Clinton, worked to manufacture a fake connection between Assange and Russian intelligence. This fake connection could later be used by Clinton as a shield to immediately deflect the avalanche of damaging information in Podesta’s emails on to Trump should Assange release them. The moment he did, the fake connection allowed her to claim he’d done so at Putin’s behest and, therefore, that Putin not only wanted Trump in the White House but had perpetrated dirty Russian espionage designed to put him there. 

Putin had attacked not just her campaign but all of America on Trump’s behalf, Clinton scolded. That was the real story voters needed to focus on, not all the proof of her corruption and incompetence Julian Assange had tried to bring to their attention. In fact, it was every American’s patriotic duty to ignore they’d been given irrefutable evidence in her own words and those of her closest advisors that she was grossly unfit for office. Not ignoring it would make you complicit in a filthy Russian attack on America and likely a piece of vile Russian-loving scum yourself.

It was a message perfectly designed to appeal to the tolerant souls without a trace of bigotry in their loving hearts who make up the Democratic Party’s base.

The Washington Post headline announcing that the Russians had hacked a Trump opposition file from the DNC set the stage for its delivery. But the article made no mention of Assange or Wikileaks. Alperovitch and Henry could say they’d found Putin’s minions infesting the DNC servers. That was no problem since Comey was running the FBI and he could be counted on to say whatever words they decided to put in his mouth. 

But nothing they could plausibly claim they’d discovered examining the DNC servers would be able to connect the little Russian devils they were going to say they found there to Assange.

So, considered alone, the Washington Post story they would use to get the ball rolling had zero potential to discredit anything he might release.

G2 forged the crucial link to Assange the next day by taking credit for the Russian hack Alperovitch and Henry had announced in the Washington Post and saying he’d turned over the spoils to Wikileaks. The fact that he released the Trump opposition research file mentioned in the Post’s headline confirmed that he really was the hacker CrowdStrike’s executive duo had credited with stealing files from the DNC and not some prankster merely pretending to be. If Assange did release Podesta’s emails, as the Clinton campaign surely must have feared he would, the fact that the Trump opposition file G2 released was among them could also be used to directly connect G2 to their theft if narrative reinforcement became necessary.

Absent G2 bringing Wikileaks into the picture, the Washington Post story would have informed voters of an embarrassing Russian DNC hack of some Trump opposition research, without any mitigating way to connect those Russians to Julian Assange and thereby taint anything he might publish.

So the information released to the Post serves no purpose and, indeed, could have only harmed the DNC, unless Alperovitch and Henry knew G2 would immediately enter the fray to shift attention away from the poor internet security that had allowed Russian spies to breach the DNC servers and towards speculation about their connection to Wikileaks.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

But there’s another more conclusive reason to think that G2 had to be working with CrowdStrike and Hillary Clinton.

Remember, on June 15, Guccifer 2.0 emailed the Trump opposition file along with four other documents to Gawker and The Smoking Gun and posted them on his blog. But, apart from the Russian fingerprints he planted, every one of those files was found among Podesta’s emails when Assange released them four months later.

So, how did G2 get ahold of five files from John Podesta’s Gmail account? That’s what Adam Carter wants everyone to start asking.

Given how hard G2 worked to discredit Wikileaks, it’s impossible he got the files from them.

Since G2 manifestly isn’t the implacable foe of Hillary Clinton he pretended to be, it’s unlikely that he hacked the DNC servers as claimed. Indeed, since none of those first five files G2 released appeared in the DNC emails later published by WikiLeaks, we’ve no reason to suppose they were even on the DNC servers to be hacked. 

We know they were attached to emails in Podesta’s Gmail account; which would mean they were on Google’s servers. None of them were sent to him from a DNC email address, nor did he send any of them to one, nor were they copied to any. So we have no reason to think they were on the DNC servers at all. Moreover, Carter and other experts say the methods G2 claims he used to hack the DNC make no technical sense and couldn’t have worked anyway.

Even putting aside that CrowdStrike’s announcement that the DNC servers had been hacked makes no sense unless they knew G2 would emerge to bring WikiLeaks into the picture and the question of how G2 got ahold of files the Clinton campaign knew would appear as attachments to Podesta’s emails when they were released, it’s grossly implausible that G2’s operation wasn’t coordinated with CrowdStrike. The effort G2 made to make it look like Assange had gotten anything he might publish damaging to Clinton from Russian intelligence would be bizarre if he were just some random stranger who decided to step in and help out Clinton in her time of need.

Moreover, even if that very unlikely hypothesis somehow turned out to be true, Alperovitch, Henry, Mueller, Clapper, Comey, and a host of others would still be guilty of perpetuating G2’s hoax as a means to falsely substantiate that the DNC had been hacked by Russia and the spoils passed to Assange.

And the fact that they used a hoax to substantiate the Russian DNC hack and Assange’s DNC emails having been passed to him by Russia, indicates that both of those claims must also be hoaxes. Of course, it would be an incredible coincidence if Alperovitch and Henry perpetrated a hoax and G2 came along and perpetrated a different hoax which just so happened to be exactly what the CrowdStrike executives needed to make theirs successful. 

But the fact that G2 somehow got ahold of files from John Podesta’s Gmail account seems inexplicable, given everything else we now know, unless someone very high up in the Clinton campaign gave them to him because that person knew those files were stolen with John Podesta’s emails and would be released along with them. G2’s having released them together with all the clues he’d planted indicating he was with Russian intelligence would provide a means to reinforce the idea that Podesta’s emails had been stolen by Russia should it become necessary.

Given everything we know, G2 couldn’t have been in possession of files the Clinton campaign knew would turn up in John Podesta’s stolen emails unless he was part of a CrowdStrike disinformation campaign designed to protect Hillary Clinton from the consequences of Podesta’s blunder.

But even if G2 just happened to come along and perpetrate a hoax that perfectly met Hillary Clinton’s needs, Alperovitch, Henry, Mueller and the rest would have still used that hoax to deceive Americans into believing that Julian Assange is a Russian puppet and Trump owes his 2016 victory to Russian espionage.

The absurdity of anyone claiming that Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian spy and the way in which the narrative that the WikiLeaks releases were part of a Russian plot to help Trump, means that everyone who promoted the story was pushing a monstrous lie.

It also means that Robert Mueller’s two-year, $32 million investigation, the sanctions Congress placed on Russia, and all the unbelievably nasty political strife Americans have suffered since Trump was elected were all predicated on the very same monstrous lie.

Let’s hope our political class notices and the culprits are finally punished.

The monstrous lie has reigned for far too long.

Weekend Long Read

This essay is adapted from a talk earlier in February delivered at the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom and the American Culture and Ideas Initiative at the University of Arizona.

Wokeness, Free Speech, and the Role of Education

Conservatives have rightly lamented the assault on free speech that is such a conspicuous and disfiguring reality of life in America today. But that loss only achieves its true significance in the context of a more fundamental erosion: the erosion of a shared political consensus that gives life to “We, the People.”

Back in New York, we have recently started an informal reading group at The New Criterion and Encounter Books. If that sounds dull, let me add that I have combined the reading with a little seminar on wine appreciation. At the moment, our palettes are padding around Bordeaux, learning to discriminate reliably among Paulliac, Saint-Estèphe, and Saint-Julien. Soon we’ll move east to the Right Bank and then further afield. 

At the same time, we are in the midst of reading Plato’s Republic, a book about nearly everything, including a major theme of my remarks today: the role of education. 

I thank my host Dan Asia for supplying the title of my talk, and I will get around to touching on all of its elements. In the meantime, I want to point out a certain ambiguity or incompleteness about the phrase “the role of education.” One immediately wants to know, “the role of education” in what? In free speech? In the perpetuation of wokeness? Perhaps this is the place to issue a trigger warning to the effect this talk is definitely not “woke.” Anyone anxious about being offended may leave with impunity. 

In what follows, I am basically going to follow some hints in the Republic, which inquires into the role of education in several senses: into what it means for individuals, to start with, and also what it means for society at large. Socrates signals the importance of education early on when he tells Glaucon, Plato’s elder brother and one of the chief characters in the dialogue, that “it is no trifling matter we are discussing, but the right conduct of life.” 

I think that’s right. Education, rightly understood, is important business. And it is worth noting that, traditionally, a liberal arts education involved both character formation and learning. It was, as the word “liberal” suggests, an education for freedom, for liberty. It might incidentally teach you how to plot a trajectory, dissect a frog, analyze a poem, or construct a pie chart. But at the end of the day, the aim of a liberal arts education was thoughtful reflection about the question “How should I live my life?” The goal was to produce men and women who, as Allan Bloom put it in The Closing of the American Mind, had reflected thoughtfully on the question “‘What is man?’ in relation to his highest aspirations as opposed to his low and common needs.” 

I am sure I do not need to point out to this educated audience that by “man,” Bloom meant anthrōpos, not anēr: human being, not just the male of the species. 

Bloom’s ideal seems very old-fashioned now. Since the 1960s, in fact, colleges and universities have more and more been home to what the literary critic Lionel Trilling called the “adversary culture” of the intellectuals. Now the goal was rejection, not reflection. Colleges and universities increasingly became laboratories dedicated to social and political transformation, not learning or the cultivation of free and responsible citizens.

There were many reasons for this transformation. One reason has to do with the erosion of liberalism in the face of rising moral certitude. If you believe that you are in possession of a higher virtue that trumps the pedestrian wisdom of ordinary mortals, then you are likely to be impatient with their pleas for pluralism. 

The intoxication that follows from moral certitude is one important reason that the modern academy is increasingly inimical to free speech and everything that surrounds the cultivation of free speech: free inquiry, free action, and free minds. 

The dissemination of political correctness, subordinating the pursuit of truth to the imposition of political dogma, sacrifices freedom on the altar of virtue, or supposed virtue. It’s not so much that the academy has turned its back on its traditional raison d’être—the pursuit of truth and the propagation of civilization. No, it’s worse than that. The academy has increasingly embraced an ethic that is positively inimical to its founding principles. As an illustration, consider the news from Northwestern University. Just a couple of days ago, I read that after a student proposed a resolution to protect free speech and civil discourse at the school, it was voted down by the students at large.

There are two central tenets of the woke philosophy. The first is feigned fragility. The second is angry intolerance.

The phenomenon is reminiscent of what the 20th-century Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse called “repressive tolerance.” It took a Marxist to come up with that idea. Our ordinary sense of tolerance, Marcuse said—an idea summed up in such phrases as “live and let live”—was not only wrong but evil, and it was evil because it tended to reinforce the moral structures of bourgeois society. Marcuse advocated instead what he called “liberating tolerance,” that is, “intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left.” Think about that. 

The classical liberal (who is also the contemporary conservative) championed tolerance partly because he knew that his own vision was limited and incomplete, partly because it helped maintain a space for civilized disagreement. Many of you will recall hearing sentences like this: “I disagree with you but I support your right to voice your opinion.” How quaint that now sounds! 

The modern social justice warrior abominates disagreement as a form of heresy. Accordingly, he rejects tolerance in favor of enforced, indeed totalitarian, conformity. It is the antithesis of what a liberal-arts education is all about, which is why its installation at the center of our erstwhile liberal-arts institutions makes for such a sad irony.

The renaissance philosopher Nicholas of Cusa touched on an important aspect of this irony in his discussion of the “coincidence of opposites.” Unpacking exactly what Cusa meant by that arresting phrase would take us deep into the thickets of metaphysical speculation. But we see pedestrian examples of that strange coincidence everywhere. Indeed, one of the great tests of our wokeness is the extent to which many things have mutated into their opposites—not awake but awoke. In short, inversion is a dominant principle of our social life.

Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images

Restoring the Old Ignorance

We see this with particular vividness in the vast petri dish that is the contemporary university. 

Consider the demand for diversity. You cannot step foot on a college campus these days without being regaled about its commitment to diversity. Everywhere you turn, from the curriculum to the institution’s admission policy, diversity is hailed as the highest, sometimes it seems, the only value. Other values—the value, for example, of embracing a common moral and intellectual tradition—are drastically undervalued where they are not ignored entirely. 

And the irony is, the diversity that is so lovingly proclaimed turns out to be a sham. It turns out that in every case the demand for diversity really means strict intellectual and moral conformity on any contentious issue. 

To be diverse is to subscribe to a menu of orthodox opinions on subjects ranging from abortion to the environment to race, sexuality, and Donald Trump. Again, dissent from the orthodoxy is regarded not as another opinion, with which one might argue, but as heresy, which one must silence. According to this view of diversity, everything that is not mandatory is prohibited. The principle of inversion turned the virtue of diversity into its opposite. 

Once upon a time, and it was not so long ago, colleges and universities were institutions dedicated to the pursuit of truth and the transmission of the highest values of our civilization. Today, most are dedicated to the repudiation of truth and the subversion of those values. In short, they are laboratories for the cultivation of wokeness. This is especially true, with only a handful of exceptions, of the most prestigious institutions. The tonier and more expensive the college, the more woke it is likely to be.

There are two central tenets of the woke philosophy. The first is feigned fragility. The second is angry intolerance. The union of fragility and intolerance has given us that curious and malevolent hybrid, the crybully, a delicate yet venomous species that thrives chiefly in lush, pampered environments.

The 18th-century German aphorist G. C. Lichtenberg observed that “Nowadays we everywhere seek to propagate wisdom: who knows whether in a couple of centuries there may not exist universities for restoring the old ignorance.” 

Doubtless Lichtenberg thought he was being clever. How astonished he would have been to discover that he was a prophet, not a satirist.

Surely many of you have heard about the Twitter sensation Titania McGrath. She is the author of many extravagant woke pronouncements. A personal favorite is this: “If you don’t think exactly the same way as me, then you’ve clearly got a lot to learn about diversity.” Is that satire? Or is it a bulletin from the front? I doubt that any triggered academic could put it better. 

The world recently learned that Titania’s real name is Andrew Doyle and that all those woke observations were in jest. A certain amount of hilarity ensued. But the serious point is this: McGrath’s sly tweets are indistinguishable from what is actually, seriously being propagated today in academia—and not only in academia. The mantra is “Diversity.” The reality is strictly enforced conformity about any ideas that might disturb the heavy moral slumber of wokeness. Consider this gem: “It’s a broken kind of democracy that allows a majority of voters to impose their wishes on the rest of us.” I suspect that Adam Schiff would agree. 

But here’s an irony that underscores the theme of inversion: when the free speech movement started at Berkeley’s Sproul Hall in 1964, it was a left-wing movement that demanded tolerance and challenged conventional behavior and mores. Today the Left espouses the opposite—not tolerance and free speech but conformity, censorship, and intolerance. 

The advent of the crybully reminds of the important truth that what is preposterous can still be malevolent. 

In my book Tenured Radicals, I included a section on “academia and infantilization.” But when I wrote in 2008, the rhetoric of “safe spaces,” “microaggressions” and “trigger warnings” had not yet blazed its destructive path through the hearts and minds of students. Women back then made a point of declaring their independence, their ability to stand on their own two feet and make decisions for themselves. They would have rejected with contemptuous ridicule the idea that a college dean or “diversity officer” should police or protect their sex lives. 

Nowadays, of course, victimhood is a badge of election. I will not attempt to plumb the depressing reasons for this unlovely development other than to note that it represents another side of that infantilization I mentioned a moment ago. 

The crybully, who has weaponized his coveted status as a victim, was first sighted in the mid-2000s. He has two calling cards, race and gender. By coincidence Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard University, was involved in the evolution of both.

Race came first. In 2001, Summers made headlines when he suggested that Cornel West—then the Alphonse Fletcher, Jr., University Professor and an eminence in the African and African American Studies Department at Harvard—buckle down to some serious scholarship. (West’s most recent production had been a rap CD called “Sketches of My Culture.”) Summers also suggested that the professor take the lead in fighting the scandal of grade inflation at Harvard, where one of every two grades was an A or A-.

A national scandal erupted. Black professors at Harvard threatened to leave—West himself soon decamped to Princeton—and the New York Times published a hand-wringing editorial criticizing Summers, who quickly recanted, noting that the entire episode had been “a terrible misunderstanding.”

Then came gender. In 2005, Summers spoke at a conference called “Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce” at MIT. He speculated on why there aren’t more women scientists at elite universities. He touched on several possibilities: Maybe “patterns of discrimination” had something to do with it. Maybe most women preferred to put their families before their careers. And maybe, just possibly, it had something to do with “different availability of aptitude at the high end.”

What a storm that last comment sparked! “I felt I was going to be sick,” wailed Nancy Hopkins, a biology professor at MIT, who had walked out on Summers. “My heart was pounding and my breath was shallow, low,” Hopkins said. “I was extremely upset.” To adapt Helen Reddy, “I am woman, hear me whine.” 

Once again, Summers recanted. He published an open letter to the Harvard community. “I deeply regret the impact of my comments,” he wrote, “and apologize for not having weighed them more carefully.” It was too late. By May his faculty had returned a vote of no confidence, 218-185, with 18 abstentions. By February he had been forced to announce his resignation.

These two incidents, partly because they involved such a high-profile institution, marked an important turning point. The pleasures of aggression were henceforth added to the comforts of feeling aggrieved. The crybully was slouching towards campus to be born. 

YouTube/Mark Schierbecker

The Farce of the Crybully’s Birthing Pains

The toxic fruits of this development are on view throughout the higher-educational establishment, where spurious charges of “systemic racism,” “a culture of rape,” and sundry other imaginary torts compete for the institutional budget of pity, special treatment, and financial reparation. 

Many of you will remember the Halloween Hijinks at Yale from a couple of years ago. The MacGuffin of the insanity turned on Halloween costumes. Erika Christakis, then associate master of a residential college at Yale, courted outrage by announcing that “free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society” and it was not her business to police Halloween costumes.

To people unindoctrinated by the sensitivity training that is de rigueur on most campuses today, these sentiments might seem utterly unobjectionable. But to the delicate creatures at Yale’s Silliman College they were an intolerable provocation. What if students dressed as American Indians or Mexican mariachi musicians? Angry, hysterical students confronted Nicholas Christakis, Erika’s husband and at that time master of Silliman. They screamed obscenities and demanded that he step down because he had failed to create “a place of comfort, a home” for students. The episode was captured on video and went viral.

Of course, the sickness affects not just institutions like Yale and Harvard. At the University of Missouri a couple of years back, Jonathan Butler, the son of a wealthy railroad executive, went on a hunger strike to protest what he called “revolting” acts of racism at Mizzou. Details were scanty. Nevertheless, black members of the university football team threatened to strike for the rest of the season unless Tim Wolfe, Mizzou’s president, stepped down. A day or two later, he did.

Emboldened, student and faculty protesters physically prevented reporters from photographing a tent village they had built on public space. In another shocking video, a student photographer is shown being forced back by an angry mob while Melissa Click, a feminist communications teacher at Mizzou, shouts for “muscle” to help her eject a reporter.

What is happening? Is it a reprise of the late 1960s and 1970s, when campuses across the country were sites of violent protests? There are some similarities. But again, the principle of inversion is at work. What we are seeing unfold has in many ways turned that radicalism on its head. Karl Marx touched on the central irony when he noted that history tends to repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. The advent of the crybully reminds of the important truth that what is preposterous can still be malevolent. 

The response of university administrations has not been encouraging. At Yale, cringing capitulation has been the order of the day. Yale President Peter Salovey told a group of aggrieved students who complained that they did not feel “safe” at Yale that “we failed you.” At one of the several hours-long public meetings on campus, the Yale Daily News reported, Jonathan Holloway, dean of Yale College, found himself “surrounded by a sea of upturned faces and fighting back tears” as he apologized for the administration’s silence on allegations of racial discrimination.

Free speech is by nature offensive speech, at least potentially. If it couldn’t offend, if it couldn’t insult, it also couldn’t enlighten.

There are a lot of tears at Yale these days. When the conservative lawyer Amy Wax spoke at the Yale Political Union, a group of students stood up, turned their backs on her, and raised their fists in the air in protest. “Several students,” the Yale Daily News reported, “cried during her speech.”

A few days after enduring the hysterics of his students, Nicholas Christakis, accompanied by Dean Holloway and other university administrators, met with about 100 students at his home and abased himself. “I have disappointed you and I’m really sorry,” he said.

The confrontation “just broke my heart,” Christakis added. “I care so much about the same issues you care about. I’ve spent my life taking care of these issues of injustice, of poverty, of racism. I have the same beliefs that you do . . . I’m genuinely sorry, and to have disappointed you. I’ve disappointed myself.”

Perhaps he thinks such groveling will allow him to salvage his position. Not a chance. The revolution always eats its own. At midnight shortly after the Halloween Hoedown at Silliman College, a group of students marched to Salovey’s house to complain about “institutional racism at Yale” and to present six demands, including “a University where we feel safe,” the renaming of Yale’s Calhoun College, the abolition of the title “Master,” and the erection of a monument acknowledging that Yale was built on land stolen from “indigenous peoples.” They also demanded that Nicholas and Erika Christakis be removed from their administrative positions. 

I do not know whether the monument has been erected, but Calhoun College has been renamed Grace Hopper College, the title “master” has been retired, President Salovey earmarked $50 million for such initiatives as the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration. Oh, and Nicholas and Erika Christakis were quietly removed from their positions at Silliman College. 

The fatuousness of these episodes—many of which might have been plucked from the annals of Maoist public-shaming events—underscores the surreal quality of life at many American colleges these days. Peter Salovey came to his office several years ago with a ringing defense of free speech. He has bravely endeavored to continue that support, but has also chained his carriage to a conflicting, indeed a contradictory, ethic: the mendacious gospel of political correctness, according to which reality must take second place to ideology. Salovey, like academic administrators around the country, hopes that he can safeguard free speech while also acceding to demands that the university be a “safe space” where no one’s feelings are hurt. It is an impossible project.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A More Sensible and Courageous Approach

Academic administrators would be better advised to take a page from the robust philosophy of Teddy Roosevelt, leavened with a little clear-eyed truth-telling from Aristotle. In Roosevelt’s autobiography, we read that—quote— “The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin . . . would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.” Teddy then warned against the destructive vogue for “hyphenated Americans.”

Back then, it was German-Americans, Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans. Today we speak of “Native-Americans,” “African-Americans,” and the like, and the terms tend to be wielded in a way to claim both special protected status and unearned privilege. The result is a tangle of national squabbling that is like nothing Roosevelt could have imagined. Perhaps this is the place to confess that I have always thought of myself as a “native American.” I was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Can a more native American venue be imagined?

The truth is that American universities are among the safest and most coddled environments ever devised by human ingenuity. The idea that one should attend college to be protected from ideas one might find controversial or offensive could only occur to someone who had jettisoned any hope of acquiring an education. Many commentators have been warning about a “higher education bubble.” They have focused mostly on the unsustainable costs of college, but the spectacle of timid moral self-indulgence also deserves a place on the bill of indictment.

There are some encouraging signs. When a dean at Claremont College resigned on after being accused of racism because of a carelessly worded email, some brave students at the Claremont Independent published a dissenting editorial in which they berated hypersensitive students for bringing spurious charges of racism and the dean and the president for cowardice in not standing up to the barrage.

“Lastly,” they wrote, “we are disappointed in students like ourselves, who were scared into silence. We are not racist for having different opinions. We are not immoral because we don’t buy the flawed rhetoric of a spiteful movement.”

And this is where Aristotle comes in. Courage, Aristotle pointed out, is the most important virtue, because without it you cannot practice the others. Courage has been in short supply on American campuses. Those independent-minded students at Claremont provided a breath of fresh air. It will be interesting to see if it penetrates the fetid atmosphere that has settled over so much of American academic life.

A couple of years ago at Encounter Books, I was proud to publish The Demon in Democracy by the Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko. A prominent theme in that book is the persistence of totalitarian impulses in putatively liberal societies. Last spring, as if to illustrate that thesis, Middlebury College suddenly rescinded an invitation to Legutko to speak. Why? Because a handful of student snowflakes decided that Legutko’s ideas were not in perfect harmony with their own.

Middlebury, of course, is the institution that covered itself in shame two years ago when protestors there loudly and violently prevented the social scientist Charles Murray from speaking and then, in the resulting melee, sent a female faculty member to the hospital. And here’s the kicker: Middlebury is not some wacko exception. On the contrary, its malignant embrace of woke identity politics is the rule in the American educational establishment, and, increasingly, in the American workplace. I see that Murray is scheduled to make a return visit to Middlebury soon to discuss his new book Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class. I hope that he has some bodyguards in tow. 

The suppression of free speech by the wardens of wokeness has prompted many conservatives to champion free speech as an all-purpose antidote. I sympathize with that endeavor, and have written probably dozens of articles defending a robust idea of free speech. In my view, if you say “I am for free speech, but not ‘hate speech’ or speech that offends Mohammed or speech that insults Greens or speech that mocks, satirizes, ridicules, and laughs at some P.C. icon,” etc. then you are not for free speech at all. Your “but” is merely a species of capitulation pretending to be redemptive conceptual nuance. Free speech is by nature offensive speech, at least potentially. If it couldn’t offend, if it couldn’t insult, it also couldn’t enlighten.

That said, I’d like this evening to take a stab at putting the debate over free speech into a larger context.

Ted Streshinsky/Corbis via Getty Images

What Is Free Speech?

The fact that the Left celebrated free speech in 1964 and now abominates it as a token of white supremacist ideology suggests the issue is not really, or not only, free speech. 

Like all freedoms, free speech is defined by the responsibilities it embraces and the culture in which it thrives. Some advocates of free speech maintain that, when it comes to the free expression of ideas, anything goes. No ideas, they say, should be off-limits. They say that. But I do not think that they really believe it, since one can easily produce a long list of ideas that they would be horrified to see circulating.

But that in turn suggests that the whole debate over free speech needs to be seen in the context of its larger purpose: its role in the metabolism of education, first of all, but also the place of education in the social-political dispensation of our country.

For assistance in making this point, I’d like to introduce you to a once potent, now largely forgotten political thinker named Willmoore Kendall. Kendall was an important mentor of William F. Buckley at Yale in the late 1940s. He was a founding editor of National Review. Leo Strauss said he was the most important political theorist of his generation.

Among other things, Kendall saw deeply into the dialectic of disagreement and free speech. It is understandable that conservatives should react to woke intolerance by celebrating free speech. After all, the criminalization of policy differences that underwrites woke culture is an alarming development. But I think that Kendall was right when he contended that “by no means are all questions open questions.”

To explain this, Kendall points out that all societies are founded on a “consensus,” what he calls “a hard core of shared beliefs.” This is especially true, he notes, for the United States, whose founding principles are of recent vintage and are clearly and deliberately set forth. 

Freedom of thought and expression are important, Kendall acknowledges, but only “within limits set by the basic consensus.” Should that consensus be challenged by something “with genuine civil war potential,” the proper response is not debate but interdiction. Edmund Burke made a similar point in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, as did James Madison when he spoke of “that veneration” for tradition—what he called “the prejudices of the community”—which even the wisest societies abandon at their peril. Abraham Lincoln, in his stalwart prosecution of the Civil War, demonstrated his agreement with Kendall’s insight.

Kendall was writing at a moment when international Communism posed an existential threat to the United States. With that in mind, he argued, “Some questions involve matters so basic to the consensus” that, in declaring them open, a society would in effect “abolish itself [and] commit suicide.” Accordingly, Kendall outlined two views of free speech. The first, dedicated to the proposition that “no truth in particular is true,” holds that all questions are open and that no one position is to be preferred to another. 

The second view, his view, turns on two words: “We” and “truth,” as in the phrase “We hold these truths” from the Declaration of Independence. The identity of that “We” and the substance of those truths mark the limits of interrogation.

Legal historians will note the similarity between what Kendall says and a famous observation made by Justice Robert Jackson in his dissent in Terminiello v. City of Chicago in 1949. The Bill of Rights, Justice Jackson said, is not “a suicide pact.” In other words, when it comes to free speech the choice “is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either.”

Conservatives have rightly lamented the assault on free speech that is such a conspicuous and disfiguring reality of life in America today. But that loss only achieves its true significance in the context of a more fundamental erosion: the erosion of that shared political consensus, that community of sentiment, which gives life to the first-person plural, that “We, the People,” which made us who we are. Should we lose that, we shall have lost everything.

 

Weekend Long Read

Showdown at Fort Miamis 

Before America could be great, it first had to secure its territory, fend off enemies foreign and domestic, and maintain an unsteady peace with the most powerful empire on Earth. Here is the forgotten story of how George Washington and his administration navigated perilous diplomatic waters in the nation’s earliest days.

Are we to think of the United States of America as a republic or an empire? In particular, are we to think of the struggling young United States that Michael Taylor and I discuss in our new book, An Independent Empire: Diplomacy and War in the Making of the United States, as a republic or an empire? 

Are we to think the principal goal of the early republic was to become, as the historian Eliga Gould has said, a “treaty-worthy nation,” a respected member of an international community of states that governed its relations according to the law of nations? Or was it an aspiring regional hegemon whose lodestar in foreign policy was the desire to dominate North America beyond all fear of challenge, become the arbiter of affairs in both North and South America, and thereby avoid the entanglements of balance of power politics and separate its future from the futures of European empires and the European state system?

The Anglo-American crisis of 1794 displays the United States both as a rising empire and as a revolutionary and subversive power. From the revolutionary diplomacy of Edmond Genêt, Girondist French minister to the United States and apostle of world revolution, George Washington needed no instruction about American interests. Yet Washington also needed no instruction in revolutionary diplomacy or the subversive revolutionary substitutes for diplomacy. 

Origins of the Jay Treaty Gambit

To tamper with the loyalty of a foreign people to their prince or to their duly constituted government was a violation of the law of nations, in war as well as in peace. 

Edmund Burke, in an appendix to his December 1793 memorandum for George III, “Remarks on the Policy of the Allies with Respect to France,” quoted Emer de Vattel saying “it is a violation of the law of nations to persuade those subjects to revolt who actually obey their sovereign, though they complain of his government.” Burke claimed that no decent state would attempt to weaken a rival by aiming to subvert the loyalty of the rival’s people to its government, where that government has managed until now to secure the obedience of its people. A state that has constant recourse to such indecency had no place, Burke argued, in the international order of a civilized world.

Consider, then, Washington’s secretary of state, Edmund Randolph, on May 6, 1794, instructing Chief Justice John Jay, envoy extraordinary of the United States to Great Britain: “A full persuasion is entertained that, throughout the whole negotiation, you will make the following its general objects . . . to prevent the British ministry, should they be resolved on war, from carrying with them the British nation.”

Plan A in Randolph’s instructions to John Jay was to make a treaty with Britain to resolve a host of issues left over from the 1783 Treaty of Paris. Most pressing for Americans was British occupation of posts in territory they had ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris, the “Northwest,” between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes, west of the Appalachians, and their consequent interference with the Indians there. As Jay’s mission was getting underway, word had come to Philadelphia that the British in April 1794 had occupied a new post within that territory, Fort Miamis, about 70 miles south of Detroit.

Washington also hoped that Jay would negotiate a resolution to differences raised by Britain’s war against France, conflicts arising out of British seizures of American vessels, and the British definition of blockade and contraband that justified these seizures in Britain’s admiralty courts. More broadly, Washington hoped that Jay would succeed in resolving the modes under which Americans would trade with Britain and her empire. The Washington Administration and its supporters were especially concerned with American trade in the Caribbean, which in the 1790s was in the last flush of her fiscal and therefore political centrality in global politics.

Yet Washington had Randolph instruct Jay in a Plan B: if negotiations should fail, and the British should seek to block American expansion in the Northwest and American trade even by resort to war, Randolph should tell Jay to do his best to divide the British people from their government in the hope that these divisions would hamper the war effort against the United States. 

The Indians in the Northwest Territory

Keep in mind that tensions coming out of the war of the First Coalition on the Atlantic, and Lord Dorchester’s meddling with the Indians, were such that the alternative really was negotiation or war. Though the 1783 Treaty of Paris had stipulated that the British should evacuate their military posts in the region, the redcoats, clinging to the excuse that the United States would not honor prewar debts or protect loyalists, had not budged. 

There was also a strategic rationale behind this British obstinacy; for by maintaining their posts they not only could keep watch on a rival (if embryonic) empire but they could also sustain Native American alliances that could be reactivated in the event of another war with the United States. Some British commanders even felt a duty to care for indigenous allies who had been betrayed by the diplomats at Paris. 

The Earl of Carlisle, who had led that ill-fated peace commission of 1778, regarded the Treaty of Paris as nothing better than the betrayal of Britain’s Native American allies. “Twenty-five nations of Indians,” he told the House of Lords, had been “made over to the United States.” This had happened without “the smallest apparent advantage resulting to Great Britain” and, worse, without “that solitary stipulation which our honor should have made us insist upon, and have demanded with unshaken firmness: a place of refuge for those miserable persons before alluded to, some port, some haven, for those shattered barks to have been laid up in quiet.”

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Other Britons conceived of a “special relationship” with the Indians and therefore resented direct American communication with their former allies. The British commander at Fort Ottawa, Allan Maclean, conceded the Americans’ right to cultivate diplomatic relations around the globe: “The Americans being now Independent States,” he wrote to Detroit, “will say they have a right to send Ambassadors or Emissaries to whom they please, without our consent—no doubt they may to all nations that we know of.” Yet in the case of the Indians, Maclean was “of a different opinion, it being clearly an exception to the Rule.” 

The Indians, he believed, were natural British allies, bound to the Crown. They got “from the King’s Stores the bread they are to eat tomorrow, and from his magazines the clothing that covers their nakedness.” The Indians were, in short, “not only our allies, but they are a part of our Family; and the Americans might as well . . . attempt to seduce our children & servants from their duty and allegiance, as to convene and assemble all the Indian Nations.”

By keeping their Northwest posts, by smuggling arms to the Native Americans, and by the operation of Canada’s Indian Department, the British deliberately hindered the expansion of the United States. In what amounted to a serious insult, they also offered to mediate negotiations between the United States and the Indians on U.S. land. The redcoats then refused to allow American commissioners to meet with the Indian Council at Detroit on what was, according to the Treaty of Paris, sovereign American soil. 

When Gouverneur Morris was sent to London in 1790 to persuade the British to honor the peace terms, he encountered nothing but obfuscation. Unwilling to uphold the terms of 1783, the British instead offered to negotiate anew. Morris spat back at William Pitt the Younger, “You wish to make a new treaty instead of complying with the old one,” and the prime minister conceded that such was “in some sort” his plan. By May 1792, Alexander Hamilton was so riled by British obstruction that, despite having stoutly resisted commercial warfare, he was ready for “actual” war. 

London was told that continued possession of the military posts would be intolerable to the Americans: “Any plan, which comprehended anything like a cession of territory or right or the allowance of any other power to interfere in the disputes with the Indians, would be considered by this government as absolutely impracticable and inadmissible.” British officials, though, were committed to their Northwest conspiracy.

One such official was the Crown superintendent of Indian affairs, Sir John Johnson, the son of Sir William. Sir John was an ex-loyalist who was the subject of a bill of attainder in New York. Another was Guy Carleton, Baron Dorchester, the last British commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary War and the governor-general of Canada. In the latter role, Dorchester had inflamed tension between Britain and the United States by ordering the construction of a new British fort on the banks of the Miami River in present-day Ohio, and by denouncing the expansionary politics of the American empire. 

In what Dorchester thought was a confidential letter to the Western Confederacy, but which was intercepted and leaked to the Americans, he declared that “From the manner in which the people of the States push on, and act and talk on this side, and from what I learn of their conduct towards the sea, I shall not be surprised if we are at war with them in the course of the present year: and if we are, a line must then be drawn by the warriors.” Eleven years after the Treaty of Paris, the British in North America had no intention of honoring its terms.

By the end of 1793, the British government seemed to think war with the United States was inevitable, so they had no qualms about wholesale depredations on American commerce. Americans were all agreed that even if war was inevitable, it was better to defer it as far as possible, until our might was more certain. As Hamilton wrote in July 1795: “if we can avoid war for ten or twelve years more, we shall then have acquired a maturity, which will make it no more than a common calamity.”

Catalyst of the Conflict with Britain

War between Britain and the United States may have seemed inevitable to many at the beginning of 1794, but it was deferred for not 10 or 12 but 18 years. To understand how and why, let us return to the principal issue of 1794, the Northwest Posts and the triangle of Anglo-American-Indian relations. The Americans and the Indians, had been fighting since 1785. 

The first major campaign was launched in autumn 1790 when Washington and his secretary of war Henry Knox ordered General Josiah Harmar to journey into the lands of the Miami and the Shawnee. Harmar was to exact retribution for Indian assaults on American settlers and to raze the principal Miami settlement of Kekionga. He did not succeed—the Harmar Campaign resulted in crushing defeat for the United States. 

First, at the Battle of Heller’s Corner, a reconnaissance mission led by John Hardin and James Fontaine was deceived, led into swampland, and routed by Native Americans commanded by the Miami chief Little Turtle. The next day, October 20, Philip Hartshorn was ambushed by an Indian force some eight miles outside Kekionga. With morale diminishing rapidly, Hardin advanced on Kekionga with 350 men. Outnumbered almost three-to-one, he sent an urgent request to Harmar for reinforcements, but General Harmar, who allegedly was drunk, refused and arranged his troops into a defensive formation around his own camp. This left Hardin in an impossible position. When the Indians attacked, all he could do was resist and after three hours he fell back after the loss of 150 men. 

The steam that rose from the American scalps is said to have reminded the Indians of hot squash in the cool autumnal air, so the encounter is known as the Battle of the Pumpkin Fields. With winter approaching, Harmar concluded he could no longer attack and he retreated in disgrace. 

On receiving the dispatches from the field, Washington was crestfallen. “My mind,” he wrote, “is prepared for the worst; that is, expense without honor and profit.” Harmar’s Defeat also acted as a catalyst for further Indian aggression. In January 1791, the Big Bottom Massacre saw 11 American settlers killed by Menape and Wyandot Indians in the southeast of present-day Ohio; the next week, the Siege of Dunlap’s Station saw 30 Americans attacked by 500 warriors of the Western Confederacy.

Washington reacted to Harmar’s calamities and the Indian insurgency by ordering Major General Arthur St. Clair, the governor of the Northwest Territory, to assemble another force for another campaign. It did not begin auspiciously. It took months for St. Clair to recruit the necessary troops, and before the campaign had even started about a quarter of his force had deserted. By the autumn of 1791, St. Clair was ready at last. Once more, the American objective was to destroy the Miami village of Kekionga. 

By early November, however, several hundred more soldiers had deserted and St. Clair, hobbled by gout and incapable of imposing discipline, had only 920 troops—and two hundred ancillary followers—at his disposal. On the night of November 3, his bedraggled party made camp at the present-day location of Fort Recovery, Ohio. At dawn, as St. Clair’s troops ate breakfast, Little Turtle and Blue Jacket led a thousand Native Americans from the surrounding woods. Over the next few hours and during the flight from battle, the United States Army suffered one of the worst defeats in its history and the worst United States defeat in the course of two centuries of Indian wars. Of the 920 soldiers, 632 were killed and 264 were wounded. Only 24 were unharmed. Nearly all the 200 camp followers were killed too. 

On his return to Philadelphia, St. Clair requested a court-martial that he might be exonerated; the courtesy was refused and he was forced to resign. The House of Representatives then took St. Clair’s defeat as the subject of its first special committee investigation. The fallout was such that Washington summoned for conference the secretaries of all governmental departments: St. Clair’s humiliation thus “inspired” the first meeting of the United States cabinet. When the same news was received in London, the British were elated. Still ensconced in their posts, still furnishing arms to the Indians, Pitt the Younger’s government began to contemplate an Indian “buffer state” between the United States and Canada.

Yet St. Clair’s defeat was also a turning point in the Northwest Indian War and the history of the United States Army. In March 1792, Congress voted for the establishment of more regiments, for longer enlistments, and for better pay for soldiers. “Mad” Anthony Wayne, a Revolutionary War general from Pennsylvania and a former congressman unseated over claims of electoral fraud, was made senior officer of the Army and ordered by Washington to create a regular military force that could at last pacify the Northwest. Recruited and trained in Pittsburgh, and combining infantry, cavalry, and artillery, Wayne’s force was named the Legion of the United States.

“The Americans must certainly be a restless People,” observed one Detroit trader, “for no sooner is one army destroyed than another springs up in its place.”

Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Choice at Fort Miamis

Wayne’s Legion soon reversed the course of the Indian War. Establishing Fort Recovery at the precise location of St. Clair’s defeat and building fortifications throughout the Northwest Territory, the Legion’s campaigns culminated in August 1794 at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Here, a force of 2,000 United States soldiers conclusively defeated the Native Americans and a company of Canadian militiamen.

In the prelude to the battle, Wayne’s Legion marched northward; Blue Jacket’s Indians took a defensive position along the Maumee River, where scores of trees had been uprooted by recent storms, hence “Fallen Timbers.” The battle itself was anticlimactic. Wayne’s infantry launched a bayonet charge and his cavalry outflanked the Native Americans, who were routed. The defeated Indians fled to Fort Miamis, which by April 1794 had been rebuilt and reoccupied by the redcoats. 

This was significant, even momentous, because in June of that year, Henry Knox—still secretary of war —had authorized an American military assault on the fort. 

“If . . . in the course of your operations,” Knox had written to Wayne, “it should become necessary to dislodge the party at the rapids of Miami, you are hereby authorized in the name of the President of the United States to do it.” These orders represent a remarkable volte-face. As late as March 31, Knox had ordered Wayne to abstain “from every step or measure which could be . . . construed into any aggression on your part against England or Spain.” Yet in his orders of June 7, explicitly countermanding the previous orders, Washington, through Knox, had authorized a military assault on this new British fort. 

Washington and Knox knew the potential cost of the mission, so Wayne was told that “no attempt ought to be made unless it shall promise complete success.” The “pernicious consequences” of the assault, whether successful or not, would likely have been open and declared war between the United States and Great Britain for, as Wayne had advanced, Upper Canada’s Lt. Governor John Graves Simcoe had written to London, begging permission to unleash his troops and Indian allies to attempt reconquest of the United States.

After the Battle of Fallen Timbers, when Wayne followed the defeated Native Americans to Fort Miamis, he was presented with a dilemma. If he chose to attack the British fort, could he guarantee success? Fort Miamis was commanded by Major William Campbell, who opened the gates to the Canadian militiamen only: he too feared war, so he would not defy Wayne by sheltering Blue Jacket’s Indians. Lieutenant William Clark, who later joined Meriwether Lewis in the Corps of Discovery, recorded that Wayne’s soldiers were “all full with expectation & anxiety, of storming of the British Garrison,” but Wayne himself remained unsure of what to do.

Sorely lacking in artillery, Wayne first tried other means of compelling a British withdrawal. He wrote to Campbell, demanding that he “immediately desist from any further act of hostility. . ., by forbearing to fortify, and by withdrawing the troops, artillery, and stores under your orders and direction, forthwith.” Campbell’s reply was terse: “I certainly will not abandon this post.”

Wayne then tried to lure the British and Canadians from their position by destroying their property outside the fort’s walls and by parading within range of the palisade. When this “showdown at Fort Miamis” failed to provoke a reaction, Wayne decided against an assault. Yet at no time between 1781 and 1812 were the United States and Great Britain closer to the resumption of open warfare.

Content to declare his own victory, Wayne marched back along the Maumee River to await the peace missions of the beaten Indians. The envoys came soon enough, and by August 1795 they had agreed to the Treaty of Greenville. Signed by the Wyandots, the Delawares, the Shawnees, the Ottawas, the Chippewas, the Potawatomis, the Miamis, the Eel River Tribe, the Weas, the Kickapoos, and the Kaskaskias, the treaty substantially diminished the danger of the Western Confederacy to the northwestern United States. Trade was opened with the tribes, who were permitted “to hunt . . . without hindrance or molestation, so long as they demean themselves peaceably, and offer no injury to the people of the United States.”

The federal government meanwhile disavowed any American citizen who presumed to settle upon Indian lands, the extent of which— and therefore of American territory—was defined at length. But most important, in return for $20,000 and an annual stipend of $9,500 (paid in kind with “useful goods”), the tribes relinquished to the United States the title to all the land beyond a line that ran, in present-day terms, south from Cleveland to the Portage Lakes, along the Tuscarawas River to Bolivar, and then southwest to Fort Loramie. The line then ran gently northwest to Fort Recovery before turning abruptly southwest toward Carrollton, Kentucky. 

The Greenville Treaty Line, as it became known, became the effective border between the United States and the Western Confederacy. This would not be the end of hostilities in the American Northwest—far from it—but the treaty brought an unprecedented degree of security to the region and, most significant of all, it undercut British plans for future intrigue and subversion.

Many Americans interpreted the treaty as a form of genuflection to the British, a betrayal of fellow republicans in France, and a repudiation of the principle of “free ships, free goods.”

Stopping British Subversion and Securing the Peace

The defeat of the Native Americans at Fallen Timbers meant that the Western Confederacy had failed despite British support, while the escalation of the war in Europe meant that Britain was desperate to prevent the Americans from honoring their still-extant alliance with France.

The Pitt Administration, as Gouverneur Morris told John Quincy Adams, was now “well disposed” to the United States: “They have made their arrangements upon a plan that comprehends the neutrality of the United States, and are anxious that it should be preserved.”

Reconciliatory sentiment prevailed in Philadelphia, too. The Federalists, who controlled the cabinet and the Senate, were anxious to strike a deal not with France but with Britain, a deal that might foster the commerce needed by the Hamiltonian system.

Jay’s position was compromised from the start. To gain concessions from Great Britain, he could have threatened American participation in the League of Armed Neutrality, the Russian-led alliance of northern European states that strove to uphold the immunity of neutral shipping. Yet British spies had learned that American flirtation with the League was far from serious; the British also knew from their diplomatic network in Europe that the League did not even want American membership. Jay’s only leverage came from Wayne’s recent victory in the Northwest and British anxiety to maintain American neutrality. He could not, therefore, press the British on several key issues, such as the impressment of American sailors into the Royal Navy. 

Even so, a treaty was signed on November 19, 1794, by Jay and Lord Grenville, the British foreign minister, and its terms resolved several issues festering between the nations. Most significantly, Britain engaged to withdraw all “Troops and Garrisons from all Posts and Places within the Boundary Lines assigned by the Treaty of Paris to the United States.” Commissions would be established to settle the northwestern and northeastern borders with British Canada, while the entire border would be renegotiated if the Mississippi was found not to extend into British territory. Further commissions would resolve claims for unpaid British debts and plunder on the high seas.

Finally, American rights in British trade and vice versa were fixed, abolishing defunct “colonial” privileges and opening British ports in Europe and the East Indies to American vessels. Even the British West Indies was opened to American commerce, but only so narrowly that the Senate struck out the provision during ratification.

Getty Images

Upon its receipt in the United States, the treaty became a source of violent partisan controversy, not least because it failed to outlaw the impressment of American sailors. Moreover, Jay had accepted significant limits to American participation in the West Indian trade. The British were also allowed to seize French goods from American ships, and there was nothing about compensation for slaves who had been freed by the British during the Revolutionary War: possessed of antislavery sympathies, Jay was never likely to press that point. 

For these reasons, many Americans interpreted the treaty as a form of genuflection to the British, a betrayal of fellow republicans in France, and a repudiation of the principle of “free ships, free goods.” Public meetings in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond, Charleston, and Savannah voted to condemn the treaty. Jefferson’s Republican Party, which opposed the treaty, swelled its numbers accordingly.

The Jay Treaty thus became a decisive factor in the development of American partisan politics. “Pro-British” Federalists demanded its ratification, with Alexander Hamilton and Rufus King apologizing for the treaty under the pseudonym of “Camillus.” In the first of their essays, “The Defense,” they argued that Jay had covered “in a reasonable manner the points in controversy between the United States and Great Britain.” No “improper concessions” had been made, nor were any “restrictions which are incompatible with their honor” laid upon the Americans. 

Compared to the “other commercial treaties” of the United States, Jay’s effort was “entitled to a preference”; in fact, the Americans had obtained “concessions of advantages . . . which no other nation has obtained from the same power.” Most pointedly, Hamilton suggested that “the too probable result of a refusal to ratify [the Jay Treaty] is war” and so “violations of our rights” would go “unredressed and unadjusted.”

Conversely, the Republicans derided Jay’s work, which they labeled the “Grenville” Treaty (as opposed to the Treaty of Greenville that Wayne had extorted from the Indians). Republicans explained Jay’s treaty as the product of addled Anglomania. Writing to the Italian physician and gunrunner Philip Mazzei, Jefferson balked at the symbiotic relationship between Federalism and pro-British policy. 

“The aspect of our politics,” he wrote, “has wonderfully changed since you left us. In place of that noble love of liberty and republican government which carried us through the war, an Anglican, monarchical, and aristocratical party has sprung up.” 

Their “avowed object,” wrote Jefferson, “was to draw over us the substance as they have already done the forms of the British government.” Within this “Anglican” party Jefferson identified most of American political society. “Against us,” he listed “the Executive, the Judiciary, two out of three branches of the legislature, all of the officers of the government, all who want to be officers, all timid men who prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty, British merchants and Americans trading on British capital, speculators and holders in the banks and public funds.” These merchants and speculators had conspired “for the purposes of corruption and fear” to involve the American people in “the rotten as well as the sound parts of the British model.” Jefferson warned Mazzei that he would suffer “a fever were I to name to you the apostates who have gone over to these heresies, men who were Samsons in the field and Solomons in the council, but who have had their heads shorn by the harlot England.”

Such was the partisan rancor that the Treaty was ratified by the Senate without a vote to spare: the necessary two-thirds majority, 20 to 10, reflected the parties’ share of seats precisely. Even after the Jay Treaty became law it remained the subject of dispute. The prescribed commissions on borders and debts had to be financed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, so House Republicans held up proceedings while they tried to undermine public confidence in the Treaty, the defining symbol of Federalist foreign policy. 

Washington and Federalists such as the Massachusetts Congressman Fisher Ames, though, built support assiduously. In one memorable speech in the House, Ames rose despite serious illness to plead that rejection of the treaty—that is, rejection of Britain’s offer to surrender its military posts—meant war against the Indians without the means of peace. 

“Until the posts are restored” to American possession, Ames declared, “the treasury and the frontiers must bleed . . . By rejecting the posts, we light the savage fires—we bind the victims . . .  The voice of humanity issues from the shade of their wilderness. It exclaims that, while one hand is held up to reject this treaty, the other grasps a tomahawk.” In the end, Ames succeeded and the necessary grants were made by April 1796.

Peace With Britain and Rancor at Home

The Jay Treaty fomented American partisan division more than any other event of the 1790s. As “Camillus” reflected, “There was no measure in which the government could engage so little likely to be viewed according to its intrinsic merits.” 

Support and opposition to the Hamiltonian system of federal finance had been the first polarizing factor; reaction to the French Revolution and Citizen Genet might well have been the second; but the Jay Treaty and the associated debates about American foreign policy had much vaster effect in mobilizing the wider political public around the elite partisan factions. Thus was the division between Republicanism and Federalism simplified as the division between support for the French Republic and support for Great Britain.

Now to come back, finally, to the comparison of Burke’s strictures to King George III and Randolph’s instructions to John Jay.

If in the Age of Federalism there was limited American mucking about in British North America, Ireland, or Britain herself, this was not just because American capacities for troublemaking were limited, but because after Jay’s treaty, the principal threats to American interests came from France and Spain. Federalists aided revolutionary forces in the nominal French colony of Ste. Dominique, and considered aiding them throughout Spanish America—Jefferson did his bit to help stir unrest in Spanish-ruled Louisiana. The United Irishmen in America organized for their revolution against King George, and many Irish returned from America to fight and die in Ireland. It was James Monroe who aided Theobald Wolf Tone, but it was Hamilton who talked of raising an American party in England, and Washington who through Randolph instructed Jay to prepare the revolution card in England in the face of British intransigence. Because Jay secured a treaty that Americans could live with, there was no need to embark on plan B in Britain.

In short, no American public man felt the qualms Burke expressed about the prospect of fostering revolutions in other people’s countries. Such is the verdict of Palmer’s comparative study of the world revolution in the Age of Federalism: “John Adams was not much like Edmund Burke, even after [Adams] became alarmed by the French Revolution; and Alexander Hamilton never hoped to perpetuate an existing state of society, or change it by gradual, cautious, and piously respectful methods.” 

American statesmen certainly disagreed about which foreign revolutions, if any, were worthy of American support. Jefferson and Pickering disagreed about the wisdom of supporting, say, the revolt of the slaves against their masters in Saint Domingue. Party strife about foreign affairs spread in large part because all of America’s political elite were committed to the revolutionary idea that foreign policy should be a matter for public deliberation, that the public should be the subjects of diplomatic action. 

As Washington wrote to Marshall, “the mass of our citizens require no more than to understand a question than to decide it properly.” It was to enlighten Americans as to how to manage their country’s foreign affairs that Washington transmitted his political testament, the Farewell Address, not to his would-be heirs among the elite, but to the public at large through the newspapers.

Weekend Long Read

The Undifferentiated Human Matter of Replacism

Absent intact and confident national Western cultures who know where they came from and who they are, the immigrant waves that retain the most confidence in their collective identity will overwhelm those cultures that do not. And that may not end well for anyone or anything, including the Davos-cracy, including modernity itself.

Just over a year ago, an English translation was published of the 2012 book You Will Not Replace Us. Written by Renaud Camus, a French author and political thinker, it was intended as a condensed summary of lengthier volumes he’d already published on the subject of culture and demographics.

The phrase “you will not replace us” gained notoriety in August 2017 when it was chanted by an assortment of right-wing protesters who had shown up in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the planned removal of Confederate monuments in that town.

There is no excusing the violent extremists who were among those present in Charlottesville, much less the unforgettable and tragic outcome. And it is unlikely that many of the protesters in Charlottesville had any idea that a relatively obscure French writer had coined the phrase they were shouting as they marched across the University of Virginia campus.

But Renaud Camus, whose literary career began in the 1980s as a “pioneering gay writer,” in more recent years has become, as described in The Nation, “the ideologue of white supremacy.” In March 2019, The Washington Post referenced Camus’ book as the inspiration for the mass murder of Islamic worshipers that had just happened in Christchurch, New Zealand. In September 2019, the New York Times described Camus as “the man behind a toxic slogan promoting white supremacy.”

It’s always problematic to discuss anything questioning the demographic transformations sweeping the West. It’s easy and politically acceptable to celebrate diversity, and even gleefully to anticipate the permanent political ascendancy of the global Left in Western democracies, as the demographic character of the electorate inevitably shifts as a result of mass immigration. But to ask whether or not this shift is desirable invites accusations of racism, xenophobia, and white nationalism. It even invites accusations that to open this discussion is to encourage extremist violence.

Given these stigmatizing constraints, the only reason to bother exploring the potential downside of “diversity” is that behind the term “diversity” is possibly the most unexamined, voluntary, abrupt and profound transformation of a civilization in the history of humanity. And what if suppressing this discussion, pretending nothing of consequence is happening, and censoring voices of caution is actually what encourages extremism and violence?

In a New Yorker article written about Camus in 2017 by Thomas Chatterton Williams, entitled “The French Origins of ‘You Will Not Replace Us,’” the Frenchman is described as “a kind of connective tissue between the far right and the respectable right,” who can “play the role of respectable reactionary because his opposition to multicultural globalism is plausibly high-minded, principally aesthetic, even well-mannered.”

That description offers a broader perspective on Camus than one of someone merely motivated by xenophobia or racism. Camus is reacting against globalism as an economic nationalist and as a cultural preservationist. He claims that what he calls a “Davos-cracy” has deemed cultures secondary to having a critical mass of consumers, and that it considers all humans interchangeable. The phrase he’s selected to drive his point home, and repeated throughout his book, is “Undifferentiated Human Matter,” or UHM.

Replacers, Replacists, Replacees, Replacism, Anti-Replacism

Camus begins his book by declaring “replacing is the central gesture of contemporary societies.” But he isn’t just talking about people, he’s talking about everything. Claiming “the world itself is fast becoming just another amusement park,” he describes the process of replacism in all-encompassing terms. In an extended explanatory passage, he writes:

Faux, simili, imitation, ersatz, simulacrum, copies, counterfeiting, fakes, forgeries, lures, mimics, are the key words of modern human experience. Stone masonry is being replaced by ferroconcrete, concrete by plaster, marble by chip aggregate, timber by PVC, town and countryside by the universal suburb, earth by cement and tar….literature by journalism, journalism by information, news by fake news, truth by fallacy, last name by first name, last name and first name by pseudonyms….history by ideology, the destiny of nations by plain politics, politics by economics, economics by finance, the experience of looking and living by sociology, sorrow by statistics, residents by tourists, natives by non-natives, Europeans by Africans….peoples by other peoples and communities, humanity by post-humanity, humanism by transhumanism, man by Undifferentiated Human Matter.

What Camus is defending is more than preserving an indigenous ethnic majority in his country. He is defending, as he puts it, “an order, a prosperity, a sense of generosity in terms of social benefits and safety nets, the sound functioning of institutions which have been achieved through centuries of nurturing efforts, trials and tribulations, cultural transmission, inheritance, sacrifices and revolutions. What makes countries, continents, cultures and civilizations what they are, what we admire or regret, are the people and the elites who have fashioned them….man is not, or not quite yet, some undifferentiated matter that one can spread indiscriminately, like peanut butter or Nutella, anywhere on the surface of the Earth.”

Rejecting most conventional terms, Camus has built his own nomenclature around what he believes are fundamental mega-trends that are not adequately described with existing vocabulary or commonly understood polarities: liberalism vs conservatism, globalism vs nationalism, capitalism vs socialism. Instead, he has come up with the ideology of “replacism,” with three protagonists, “the replacists, who want to change the people and civilization, which they call multiculturalism, the replacers, mostly from Africa and very often Muslims, and the replacees, the indigenous population, whose existence is frequently denied.” He then divides the “replacees” into two groups, the consenting replacees, and the unwilling replacees.

Is France Actually Destined to Replace Its Population?

The concept of demographic replacement brings with it an assortment of tough questions, largely ignored, dismissed, or even censored by the establishment media and mainstream politicians. In France, the government collects no census or other data on the race or ethnicity of its citizens, which means any tracking of alleged “replacement” of the native population has to rely on estimates. Estimates, however, reveal dramatic shifts in just the past two decades.

An article published by the Brookings Institution in 2001 estimated that five percent of the French population was non-European and non-white. From what information can be found since then, that percentage has changed at a blistering pace. According to World Population Review, “when statistics were released in 2008, it was reported that 11.8 million foreign-born immigrants and their immediate descendants were residents in the country; a figure which accounted for around 19% of the total population of the time.”

While a rise from 5 percent to nearly 20 percent in less than a decade is a stunning statistic, it may actually understate the magnitude of the so-called replacement, because it doesn’t take into account birthrates. For example, a chart on the Wikipedia page “Demographics of France,” quoting data available (in French) from the “Institut national de la statistique,” reports that in 2014, an estimated 29 percent of all births in France were to parents where at least one was foreign-born. Moreover, of the 71 percent of births in that year to parents who both were born in France, it is probable that a significant portion of those were to second- or third-generation immigrants of non-European origin.

A 2017 article appearing in the Washington Times, referencing a study published (in French) by the “Institute des Libertes,” offers projections based on known population demographics and birthrates in France. The study predicts that within 40 years, or barely after mid-century, the white population in France will become a minority. This forecast extrapolates from a white birthrate in France of 1.4 children per woman, compared to a Muslim birthrate of 3.4 per woman. If these birthrate disparities persist, France is destined to become a Muslim majority nation within just a few decades, even if immigration were stopped entirely. Among the younger generations of French, that threshold will be reached much sooner.

“Borders Kill.” (Photo by Estelle Ruiz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Is Integration Possible in France and How Is Mass Immigration Justified?

According to Camus, several false narratives are being spread in France by the “replacists” to dismiss the significance of the current migration by saying it is nothing new. Camus argues that it is preposterous to say that “France has always been a country of immigration,” because “for about fifteen centuries the French population has been remarkably stable, at least in its ethnic composition.” To the extent there was immigration, it was always thousands of people, of European stock and Christian faith, compared to millions today who “have almost all been African and more often than not Muslim.”

Whether or not Camus is a white supremacist is debatable, but his skepticism towards the possibility of integration is unambiguous. He writes “Their African culture and Mahometanism make it a much stronger challenge for them to become integrated into French culture and civilization, all the more so because most of them show no desire whatsoever to achieve any such integration, whether as individuals or communities.” Sadly, without honest, balanced, and well-publicized research into this very question, it is impossible to dispute this assertion.

Other popular narratives, according to Camus, also designed to justify mass immigration, include the claim that France was liberated from the Germans in 1944 by Northern and Central Africans recruited by the Free French. Anyone familiar with the battles of World War II would dispute this based on the fact that the main invasion was at Normandy by American and British forces. While units of the Free French army did land along with other Allied forces in Southern France two months after D-Day, this later invasion was launched after the Germans had begun to withdraw their forces to fight in the north, and in any case, only about one-third of the Free French troops were of African origin.

Another popular myth that Camus claims is promoted by France’s multiculturalists, or replacists, is that North African workers reconstructed France after World War II. This is clearly inaccurate since France’s post-war reconstruction was completed well before the 1970s, which is when mass migrations began from Africa into France.

Possibly what might be considered by replacists to be the most compelling argument in favor of mass migration is that it serves as recompense for the depredations of the French as colonial occupiers. But if the colonial era were so horrible, Camus asks, why is it that millions of Africans “appear to nurture no plan more clearly and cherish no higher ambition than to come to France and live with the French?”

Camus makes an important distinction between European colonialism and mass migration into Europe from Africa, one that calls into question both mainstream claims—that integration is possible, or that mass migration is justified. As he puts it, “France and Europe are much more colonized by Africa, these days, than they ever colonized it themselves.” His point is that the Europeans imposed a military, administrative and economic occupation on its overseas territories, but “this type of colonialism, developed in a political framework, is much easier to end—all that is required is for the conqueror’s army to withdraw.” What is happening in France today is what Camus refers to as “settler colonialism,” which is far more difficult to undo, if not impossible.

If the immigrant vs native French interactions Camus writes about are typical—“making life impossible or an unbearable ordeal to the indigenous people….through aggressive gazes, overbearing posturing to force passers-by down from the sidewalk….the creation in the citizenry of a general feeling of fear, insecurity, dispossession and estrangement….unprecedented forms of hyper-violence up to full-blown terrorist acts and massacres….which in the process secure under their rule additional chunks of territory for themselves”—then eventual integration may be very unlikely, and his characterization of mass migration as a foreign occupation may be more descriptive.

The Case for “Undifferentiated Human Matter”

To criticize the double standard applied by most online and offline media on topics relating to race has been dismissed as “whataboutism,” as if double standards don’t matter, as if differing sets of moral criteria should apply depending on what group or worldview is being examined. This double standard is in effect throughout the West, enforced in matters ranging all the way from online censorship to offline criminality. Camus notes countless Christian church desecrations in France, rarely prosecuted, and compares those to the heavy sentences levied onto protesters who unfolded a banner on the roof of the “Great Mosque” of Poitiers during its construction.

In France, Camus writes, “non-European youngsters by the thousands can post horrible and very disturbing messages on Twitter or Facebook about European or White people in general without the slightest threat to have their social network accounts suspended or be interrogated by the police; while opponents to mass migration are the permanent target of the most finicky censorship.”

Camus marvels at the fact that contemporary Western Civilization is the first in history to be lenient “towards those who want its eradication while it relentlessly persecutes those who would put up efforts to defend it and work for its salvation.” But what is Western Civilization? Is it bound up with ethnicity, or is it something more intangible yet more profound?

In an irony of history, Lenin’s useful idiots, the leftist movements in Western nations, are now serving not the international communists, but global capital.

In France, the very notion of “race” has been deleted from Basic Law texts. The conventional explanation for this transformation, implemented in the 1970s, was that it reflected the revulsion the French people felt towards Nazism and their horrific experience under German occupation when Jews were being deported to German death camps. Undoubtedly, this is true, but Camus focuses on how the termination of the concept of race fulfills the goals of the replacists.

Mocking the mainstream scientific dogma that proclaims races do not exist, Camus takes the position that “race” embraces “social, literary, or poetic, or taxonomic creations of such considerable impact that proclaiming they do not exist is tantamount to seriously testing the meaning of the verb to exist.” He uses “race” interchangeably with “a people” and argues that conflating biology with culture is to suggest that Europe does not exist, that European civilization did not exist; no such thing as French culture; no such thing as French people—that there are only people with a French passport.

“In industrial and post-industrial societies, especially those where the main industry is the industry of Undifferentiated Human Matter, where man is the producer, product and consumer at once, there is no such thing as a genuine product.”

The “Anti-Racist” Paradox: The True Agenda of the Anti-Racists

If everyone is undifferentiated human matter, and races—biological or cultural—do not exist, how can racism exist? And if races do not exist, why must anti-racists so aggressively enforce a drive to achieve perfect equality among races; why must they insist that all races are equal?

This logical flaw is inexplicable, according to Camus, until you consider how the meaning of anti-racism has changed. Anti-racism no longer means a stance against racism as it is historically understood, it now denotes a stance against the existence of races and a willingness to have them disappear. Camus considers this evolution of the term anti-racism, impelled by the paradoxical concept that races both do not exist and are all equal, was a critical enabling condition for the Great Replacement.

As he puts it, “Paradoxically, without the non-existence of races, the change of race would not be possible . . . since there are no races, there can be no substitution of races . . . change was obvious, and rather unpleasant, but it was not taking place. How could it occur, since it was scientifically impossible?” But why? Who benefits?

It is here that Camus’ opening remarks, “replacing is the central gesture of modern societies,” comes back into play, addressing a phenomenon of which mass migration is only a part, albeit a very, very big part. If the native French are being replaced by settler colonials, then who is orchestrating this, and why? Camus claims “what we are dealing with here is a delegated form of colonization, a colonization by proxy, and that the forces that want it, and who organize it, are not the forces who actually accomplish it.”

Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto

This two-fold colonization, orchestrated by the very rich and implemented by the very poor, is part of the destruction of culture that began before the mass migrations. As he writes, “no people that knows its own classics would accept numbly and without balking to be thrown into the dustbins of history . . . this numbness had to be created.” Here and elsewhere, Camus is not talking about a conspiracy, but rather “powerful mechanisms” created by the combination of ideals and interests. The main ideal; equality. The main interests: “normalization, standardization, similarity, sameness.”

What Camus calls a “powerful mechanism” can indeed explain the rise of globalism without resorting to conspiracy theories. For global investors and multinational corporations to achieve maximum growth and profit, the prerequisites are standardization, free trade, open movement of people and capital, and a growing mass of consumers in every economic zone—dependent, destitute, it doesn’t matter. But to justify this, to make it a virtue, even a populist cause, the ideology of equality and anti-racism are in-turn prerequisites.

This erasure of high culture, this popular contempt for a cultivated class that might perpetuate reverence for traditions and greatness, this devolution, suits the ideology of the anti-racists. But it is useful as well to global commercial and financial interests. In an irony of history, Lenin’s useful idiots, the leftist movements in Western nations, are now serving not the international communists, but global capital.

It isn’t just France, of course, where traditional culture and proud national histories are being deconstructed and disparaged by the Left. In the name of anti-racism, the history of Western Civilization is now being taught in America, increasingly, from elementary school through graduate school, as an unending saga of oppression and exploitation. In the name of equality, SAT scores, and even grades, are being dispensed with in schools and universities, double standards are established based on racial quotas in academia and business, because race does not exist, yet all races are equal. All this paves the way for an erasure of peoples, the replacement of culture and identity with undifferentiated human matter.

The Genealogy of Replacism

On page 138 of the English edition of You Will Not Replace Us, Camus offers a family tree of sorts that pulls together the historical events and ideological evolution which led France, and by extension the West, to its present state. It not only attempts to illustrate the origins of replacism, but also the cultural devolution that he believes made replacism possible. Shown below is a graphic representation of what Camus describes in painstaking detail. Here is the “marital status” of replacism. “Son of Anti-Racism and High Finance (themselves, respectively son of Egalitarianism and Anti-Fascism, and daughter of Taylorization and Ultra-Liberalism, granddaughter of Industrial Revolution and Capitalism), marries Petite-Bourgeoisie, daughter of Democratization and Welfare State, grand-daughter of French Revolution and Proletariat.”

The logic of this genealogy makes a lot of sense. Replacism is ideologically justified by anti-racism at the same time as it serves the interests of High Finance. “Taylorism,” loosely synonymous with “Fordism,” is the system of factory management that evolved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to break production into standardized repetitive tasks, greatly improving both the efficiency of manufacturing as well as making it possible to hire far less-skilled workers for less money, and making them easily interchangeable. Ultra-liberalism is Liberal ideology as originally conceived, devoted to the virtues of free trade and free movement of capital.

By marrying replacism to petite bourgeoisie, Camus is showing the synergy between a loss of higher culture and the replacist agenda. By depriving Western Civilization of its “cultivated class which is indispensable to culture in the old sense of the word,” by allowing respect for Western Civilization to slowly disappear, indeed by demonizing all vestiges of privilege, and by glorifying the most popular, largest common denominators of human experience, by democratizing education to the point where everyone and nobody is educated anymore, by mass-producing simulacrums of culture designed to appeal to the most universal and primal ambitions, there is no longer a people, there is no longer a unique culture, there is no longer history, tradition, pride, identity, the nation becomes an economic unit and nothing more.

Another fascinating aspect of the genealogy that Camus has described is that it is not just logical, but perhaps some of what he is describing is also inevitable. In hindsight, where would the human path have deviated from these outcomes? Is it much of a stretch to say the industrial revolution was inevitable, or the innovation of mass production and standardization? Is it unreasonable to suggest the rise of workers and unions to the abuses that characterized the first hundred years of industrialization may have been inevitable? Is all that Camus really has to say mere sentimentality, mere nostalgia, is this just a primal scream of a book and the movement it represents merely the last mad roar of a primitive nationalism whose time has come and gone?

Nostalgia and sentimentality may well inform the millions who merely wish that things could go back to the way they were, but for Camus, at least, stronger emotions and reason inform his motivation. First of all, he would probably deride it as thoughtless and typical for his critics to think that objecting to the destruction of Western Civilization, in all of its traditions and values, is mere reactionary nostalgia and sentimental longing for the past. But he also would remind us of the threat we face, not only at the hand of the replacists, but when the replacers eventually confront the replacists.

Replacism, for all its deplorable sameness, for all its drive to conquer and merge all cultures in the name of anti-racism and in the interests of high-finance, at least has a new world to offer. It may be grotesque and shallow, hedonistic and common, replete with addictive gadgets that pass for fulfillment and while away lifetimes, but there is profit, there is order, bread, circuses. There is still civilization, after all, cheapened, flattened, filled with undifferentiated human matter. But what if the replacers have a different agenda entirely?

Camus believes the combination of leftist morals and traditional right-wing business interests gives a unique power to replacism. He writes, “as if the ruthless power in the upper district of Metropolis, had, to top it all and make it worse, the capacity to project to the world the gentle image of the soft social order found in the Alpine pastures of The Sound of Music. He describes replacism as a totalitarian ideology devoted to promoting the replaceability of everything, man included. But he also claims that the only totalitarian ideology in the world capable of rivaling replacism in the world today is radical Islam. What a choice.

Is there such a thing as nationalist capitalism? And if not, is the battle taking shape one between national socialists and international socialists?

Neither Conspiracies Nor Scapegoats Account for Replacism

The phrase “conspiracy theorist” or “conspiracy theory” recently has been weaponized by globalists throughout the West. Wielded along with the more established word weapons, “racist” and “denier,” “conspiracy theorist” is now used as a verbal bludgeon to silence anyone who questions globalization or replacism.

Camus has much to say on this and the related topic of scapegoating. He writes, “The theory of conspiracy theory is one of the most effective, catchy and brilliant inventions of the ideological power and its executive clique, the media, to discourage any reflection on its own workings, on the nature of its power and on the crimes it might have committed. The theory amalgamates all conspiracy theories into one, whose model are the most eccentric views about the attacks of September eleventh against the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. But just as being paranoid does not mean you have no enemy, accusing everyone whose views differ from yours of being an adept of some conspiracy theory does not mean there is no plot and no conspiracy.”

Having made that assertion, Camus backs away from alleging there is a conspiracy. Dismissing attempts by others to blame replacism on the European Union, Wall Street, the International Monetary Fund, or Jews, he suggests, in fact, it is “some enormous, bizarre and complex process, so intricate that no one can understand perfectly how they work and why, and no one can master and stop them once they are started.”

This makes more sense than it may initially seem. It returns to the idea of a logical and almost inevitable flow of history. Only at pivotal historical moments can that flow be willfully directed through the exertions of a united people, because so much of its momentum is mechanical. And clearly that is what Camus is calling for, when he writes “it is for us to break the machines which churn out men like others churn out cookies, or Nutella, or surimi.”

Camus explicitly challenges the theory, not his, but prevalent among some right-wing factions, that Jews are providing the money and brains behind replacism. He correctly notes that in Europe they are the first victims of the Great Replacement. He discusses at length how “the change in the population of Europe has made daily life very difficult, if not impossible, for a number of Jews who are almost permanently exposed to very strong Muslim aggressiveness, modern anti-Zionism flourishing both as a form of exasperation and as an excuse, a more decent cover, for very classical Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism.”

While identifying Muslim immigrants as the source of revived anti-Semitism in Europe, Camus dismisses the role of “classical occidental European anti-Semitism,” referring to it metaphorically as “a derelict shop in the dilapidated historical downtown, now entirely driven out of business, and fashion, by the enormous shopping malls in the banlieues.” He notes that many Jewish communities in Europe that survived the Holocaust are not going to survive the Great Replacement, with thousands of Jews now being driven out of France every year.

The experience of European Jews today in the face of mass immigration of Muslims has led Camus to conclude that while there are some prominent Jews involved in promoting the Great Replacement, such as George Soros and others less known, he believes that in recent years the proportion of replacist Jews and anti-replacist Jews is now almost reversed, with anti-replacists predominating. And he makes a claim, similar to sentiments observed by Churchill a century earlier, that “Jews are very much divided on that issue [replacism], which makes them no different than any other community.” It may be fair to say that Camus sees the Jewish community, certainly in Europe, as a microcosm, split on the polarizing issues of our time in a way reasonably proportional to the rest of the Western elites.

And perhaps in this we will come a recognition that Zionism is only one form of nationalism, and Jews and Gentiles alike throughout the West will begin to coalesce in support of preserving the peoples and cultures of all Western nations. Camus writes “Israel belonging to the Jewish People, with Jerusalem as its capital, is the model and the essential reference, at least in Western culture and civilization, to all sense of belonging. If those three did not belong to each other, it would be the end of all belonging. If Jerusalem were not Jewish there would be no reason for Paris or Saint-Denis to be forever French, for London or Winchester to be English, or indeed for Washington or Concord to be American.”

Jerome Gilles/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Flight 93 Civilization

If you believe even half of what Camus has to say, Western Civilization is all but doomed. It is to be replaced either by a generic replacist world consisting of undifferentiated human matter, or an Islamic world, which would take shape in the aftermath of a cataclysmic conflict in which the replacers overthrew the no longer useful replacists. What can be done?

Towards the end of his book, Camus calls for “remigration” of immigrants out of France and back to their nations of origin. To accomplish this, he views the European Union, currently controlled by replacist interests, as something that could potentially be taken over by anti-replacists. As he puts it, “The continent is being invaded, the nations which are part of it should stick together and resist, not try and find salvation one by one, in dispersion and isolation.” But he reemphasizes how what threatens European civilization is bigger even than colonization, writing “when we Europeans started to be subjected to another, more brutal and direct colonization, we were submitted to an Islamisation of our Americanization.”

American cultural power, such as it is according to Camus, populist, egalitarian, flattened, Petite bourgeoise, is almost—stress, almost—a proxy for globalism sweeping away the unique cultures and peoples of the world. Camus might say that America, when it comes to replacism, is as much a culprit as a victim.

Which brings us to America, where, just as in Europe, resurgent nationalism—unwilling replacees—contends with a daunting coalition of replacists, replacers, and willing replacees. The eventual outcome hangs by a thread, and no matter what the outcome, so much can go wrong.

In 2016, an influential essay entitled “The Flight 93 Election” compared the presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump with the choice passengers faced on the doomed Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. As he put it, “2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees. Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain.”

Written by Hillsdale College research fellow Michael Anton, who went on to serve for a time as a senior adviser in the Trump White House, this essay addresses all of the same issues of replacism, in the broadest context of the term. The dispossession of the American people, culturally, economically, and eventually, through actual physical replacement. Anton manages to make his points without inviting quite the opprobrium that Camus has attracted, but his words—a breath of fresh air to many but an unforgivable transgression to others—were so frank and so incendiary that he initially wrote under the pseudonym “Publius Decius Mus.”

What Camus has dubbed the Davos-cracy, Anton called the “Davoisie,” as he implicates America’s conservatives as “sophists who rationalize open borders, lower wages, outsourcing, de-industrialization, trade giveaways, and endless, pointless, winless wars.” Anton went on to reserve an entire section of his essay for the “other” issue, writing that “The sacredness of mass immigration is the mystic chord that unites America’s ruling and intellectual classes.”

Anton’s description of America under a Clinton administration is almost synonymous with how Camus describes France under Macron, differing only in the particulars. “A Hillary presidency will be pedal-to-the-metal on the entire progressive-left agenda, plus items few of us have yet imagined in our darkest moments. Nor is even that the worst. It will be coupled with a level of vindictive persecution against resistance and dissent… We see this already in the censorship practiced by the Davoisie’s social media enablers; in the shameless propaganda tidal wave of the mainstream media; and in the personal destruction campaigns—operated through the former and aided by the latter—of the Social Justice Warriors. We see it in Obama’s flagrant use of the IRS to torment political opponents, the gaslighting denial by the media, and the collective shrug by everyone else.”

Three years after Trump’s stunning upset victory, the power of the Left in America remains pervasive and growing. Under the twin ideological poles of anti-racism and climate action—which is a proxy for economic replacism—they have more or less consolidated their hold on academia, and continue to expand their influence in government at all levels along with most major corporations. Imagine if Trump had lost.

Characterizing the U.S. election of 2016 as a last chance to have a chance, a last chance to avoid certain death, was accurate. Now the battle is joined but the odds remain stacked against the anti-replacists. The Davoisie in all its power is doing everything it can quiet the passengers and regain full control in the cockpit. The Flight 93 Civilization remains fitfully airborne, but for how long?

To the extent Renaud Camus fights a lonely battle, with the smug opinion-makers of the world stigmatizing him and everyone like him as a “white supremacist,” chances are France will become a nation of undifferentiated human matter, or an Islamic state, or some hybrid of the two. But France will no longer be France.

The Inchoate Rebellion Against the Ruling Class

Across the United States and Europe, a rebellion is brewing that lacks coherence or unity. Indeed many of the rebellious groups are battling each other at the same time as they share a rage against the Davos-cracy. In France, the Yellow Vest Movement which has gripped that nation for over a year has attracted far-left and far-right demonstrators.

While the Yellow Vest Movement in France was sparked by rising fuel taxes, the duration and intensity of the protests bespeak years of frustration. What unifies the participants is the punitive cost-of-living in France, but there is no apparent agreement on the cause. To speculate as to the cause, for the Right, immigration is the primary factor; for the Left, global capitalism is the main reason. In fact, they’re both correct.

The unemployment rate among immigrants in France in 2018 was 15.3 percent, nearly twice that of non-immigrants at 8.3 percent. This ratio is virtually unchanged for over a decade. While it is now almost impossible to find reports connecting the Yellow Vest protests to anger over immigration—which means nothing—even President Macron has agreed to new, tougher immigration enforcement. In November 2019 the New York Times quoted Macron as saying“The bourgeois live in areas with few immigrants and do not encounter immigration in their daily lives. It is France’s working classes that live with the difficulties of immigration, and have thus migrated to the far right.”

On the other hand, huge sectors of the French economy have been devastated since the introduction of the Euro in 1999, and this consequence of globalization would have happened with or without immigration. Two searing, pessimistic visions of where this is leading are found in books by the bestselling French author Michel Houellebecq. His 2015 book, Submission, describes a bloodless transition in France from a secular republic into an Islamic theocracy. His 2019 book, Serotonin, includes chapters describing how France’s agriculture industry, which for centuries was a vital, productive, diverse ecosystem comprising hundreds of thousands of independent farmers, was within just a few years nearly wiped out by foreign imports and corporate takeovers.

It would be simplistic and inaccurate to characterize the Yellow Vest Movement as either Right or Left, just as it would not be accurate to describe Marine Le Pen’s National Rally political party as right-wing. The Yellow Vest Movement is a populist reaction to replacism, for mostly economic reasons. The National Rally candidates are a nationalist reaction to economic and cultural replacism.

This illustrates how Camus has invented a term, replacism, that not only transcends conventional definitions but creates space for new combinations of political ideologies to form. Why should the anti-replacists be capitalists instead of socialists? Capitalism has been the justification to impoverish the middle class and fill the nation with foreigners. Globalist (or international) capitalism has been rejected by all within the otherwise inchoate Yellow Vest Movement. Is there such a thing as nationalist capitalism? And if not, is the battle taking shape one between national socialists and international socialists? That would make sense.

The Rise of the Bronze Age Mindset

If Renaud Camus now plays the role of “respectable reactionary,” a book that has quietly sold its way into influence and infamy is Bronze Age Mindset, self-published in 2018, written by a pseudonymous author “Bronze Age Pervert,” which he typically shortens to “BAP.” Bronze Age Mindset is a book that disrespects pretty much everything about modern life. Instead, the author exhorts readers to aspire to become the piratical, fearless figures of Bronze Age antiquity. Talk about reactionary!

The author, who in his book periodically dispenses with grammar, recently surfaced to publish a response to a review of Bronze Age Mindset written by Michael Anton. Both the review and the response are valuable reading for anyone trying to understand the evolving mindset of the anti-replacists. Because closely linked to the reactionary resistance to both cultural and economic annihilation is, obviously, a rejection of the so-called ruling class. This sentiment, and little else, unites the Yellow Vest Movement in France. A feeling of being betrayed by the ruling class also informs movements in the United States that are otherwise bitterly opposed to one another. BAP writes:

What you are witnessing is the unraveling of the postwar American regime—or what is mendaciously called by its toadies the ‘liberal world order’—in a way that is far more thorough than the disturbances of the 1960s, and with consequences that will be far more dire. The ‘altright’ doesn’t exist and has nothing to do with the media representations of it as a form of ‘white nationalism,’ or even—and here is what is crucial to understand—just ‘white males’ or just the ‘right wing.’ The same phenomenon is taking place on the left, and there is much more crossover than older people realize: there is much more involvement also by nonwhite youth and particularly by Latino, Asian, and multiracial youth in this phenomenon than people want to admit.

In BAP’s essay, titled “America’s Delusional Elite is Done,” he accuses the conservative intellectual establishment of failing to oppose “the violent racial hatred and other forms of unprecedented insanity coming from the new left,” including “the destruction of the family, and the new push to groom children on behalf of transsexualism and other supposed sexual identities.” He points out that “this one crucial matter extends the appeal of the ‘frog people’ far beyond that of any one racial or ethnic group.”

So where Camus saw cultural deconstruction as a prerequisite to ethnic replacement, to be resisted, BAP sees resistance to cultural deconstruction as something that is unifying various ethnicities. Economic globalism and cultural deconstruction may have left France open to ethnic replacement and ethnic conflict, but in the United States, these same two mega-trends could form a reactionary and multiethnic solidarity. The difference is that the Yellow Vest Movement unifies a diverse assortment of factions based, so it appears, purely on economic grievances. In the United States by contrast, among the still gestating Bronze Age resistance, the economic factors are present but equally unifying are the cultural grievances.

In the long run, France and the United States face very different challenges with respect to mass immigration. Compared to America, France is a nation poorly equipped culturally to absorb and assimilate millions of immigrants, and—can we say this?—the immigrants entering France are not easily assimilated, insofar as they are mostly African and mostly Muslim. Moreover, France’s mostly secular native population will not find much common ground with the social conservatism practiced by Muslims, whereas a far higher percentage of white Americans are Christian, practicing variants of Christianity that overlap almost completely with those of immigrants to the United States from Latin America.

Until very recently, America’s dominant culture emphasized the importance of assimilation, and even in its atrophied, discredited current state, America’s ability to assimilate its immigrants remains robust. Asian immigrants entering the United States typically come from successful, developed nations, bringing a strong ethic for higher education and entrepreneurship. America’s Muslim immigrants constitute a far smaller fraction of America’s immigrant population, and on average they have more education and skills than the waves of Muslim immigrants entering France. For these reasons, America is far more likely than France to eventually absorb its immigrants while leaving its culture relatively intact.

But BAP isn’t done. Perhaps he offers further encouraging words to those conservative nationalists whose demographic awareness has made them give up when he writes the following: “Conservatives pretend to be able to recruit Latinos to their cause with the degraded ideology of Jack Kemp but Latinos see David French call forced ‘drag queen’ visits for schoolchildren ‘part of free life,’ and want nothing to do with it. We are far better at recruiting Latinos, and as the example of Bolsonaro among many others shows, this new, energetic and popular form of the right is a Latino movement, and it is the future.”

And where is the Davos-cracy in all of this leftist debauchery and conservative cowardice? BAP is one with Camus in implicating the “large monopolies that promote mass immigration, mass surveillance, and the most bizarre type of speech restrictions, not only on its own employees, but now on American society at large.” In America, the NeverTrumpers and Libertarians, and all of what Michael Anton may have been the first to refer to as “Conservatism Inc.,” have been worse than useless, they have been puppets of the Davoisie.

Finally, BAP’s observations are in accord with Camus on how the meaning of “equality” has been entirely perverted by the replacists. BAP writes:

It is indeed possible to oppose this vicious and exterminationist hatred on purely liberal and racially egalitarian grounds. But this didn’t happen, which puts the lie to the claims that traditional conservatives care about equality under the law or about any of the ideals they claim to espouse. We are now faced with a left that has embraced a dialectic of racial and class destruction in a context where belief in absolute human equality is professed at the same time that no one believes in it anymore.

In the 21st century, the United States and Europe, France in particular, faces increasingly radicalized, politically disenfranchised, economically abandoned, embittered masses. What mindset they adopt, what alliances they form, may be the surprise of the century.

Photo by Samuel Boivin/NurPhoto

The Solution to Replacism Is a Community of Nations

Camus considers an “orderly and peaceful” remigration of millions of French immigrants back to their nations of origin to be the only way to preserve French culture. It is hard to imagine how this could ever happen. But it is probably true that either assimilation or remigration will be necessary in France in order to avoid either civil war or submission to Islam. Houellebecq’s book of that name is not in the least far fetched, although if it were to happen it prefigures a larger eventual clash, since an Islamicized West would still have to deal with China and other Asian nations that remain committed to preserving their own cultures.

Which begs the question: What does it take for a nation to be willing to fight to again assimilate its immigrants? In France, the economic challenges caused by globalization have already sparked the Yellow Vest Movement, which led to dramatic recent shifts on immigration policy by Macron. But can France, and the other Europeans, recover a sufficient belief in their own history and traditions and identity to demand others assimilate to their ways, instead of the other way around?

In his 2017 book, The Strange Death of Europe, British conservative author and journalist Douglas Murray suggests that those forces still extant in Western societies that resist the leftist derangements of our time—the secular and the religious—put aside their differences and unite to save their civilization. That’s an interesting idea not only because it might enable a critical mass of resistance to arise, but because it represents a new synthesis of Western culture that might help defuse the mutual resentment of Right and Left. They’d better get busy.

Nothing BAP discusses, either in his book or in his essay addressing Michael Anton’s review, offers a solution. BAP describes his work as that of a Samizdat, those Eastern Bloc dissidents who reproduced and distributed censored and underground publications critical of the regime. Anton, for his part, adheres to the ideals of the American Founding Fathers. To which BAP responds, “he [Anton] should admit that this form of government would today be called white supremacism or white nationalism, as would Lincoln’s later revision of it, as would indeed the America of FDR and Truman, not to speak of Theodore Roosevelt.”

Indeed it is. By the Left.

So where does Camus cross the line? How is Camus the “ideologue of white supremacy?” Why did Michael Anton have to use the pseudonym “Publius Decius Mus” when writing candidly about the Davoisie’s embrace of mass immigration into the United States? Why is Bronze Age Mindset written by “Bronze Age Pervert,” instead of whoever lives behind that name?

Camus answers this repeatedly in his book. Anti-racism has come to mean anti-white. Examining the phenomenon uncovers endless examples and makes a strong case for the truth of this statement. Neo-commissars variously described as Chief Equity Officers now infest public and private bureaucracies in departments of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” They manage aggressive staffs, expensive and empowered, micromanaging everything from micro-aggressions to the precise ethnic proportions represented in the personnel headcounts of every institution in America. This is authoritarian, totalitarian fascism, bureaucratized and masquerading as anti-fascism. It is explicitly racist, yet it markets itself as anti-racist. That is already a reality in much of America, and it’s spreading fast.

In Europe in general, and France in particular, the same applies. If you question the future of your nation, based on utterly indisputable facts—consistent and immutable voting patterns by ethnicity, leading societal indicators by ethnicity, demographic reality—you are branded a “white supremacist” and the consequences are swift. In ascending order: Unwelcome in polite society. Banned or suppressed online. Fired from your job. Denied various public and private services. Prosecuted and fined. Imprisoned.

And yet the movement of anti-replacists isn’t necessarily “white,” at all. The Yellow Vest Movement isn’t white, and it is ideologically heterogeneous. The rising Bronze Age reactionaries in the United States aren’t ethnically pure, and their ideology remains very much in flux. For these reasons, practical nationalism—centrist but honest, faithful to culture and tradition, having expectations of immigrants instead of the other way around, willing to protect national industries in defiance of the libertarian Davos-cracy, able to put the national interest first—still could have a future in the West. And it may have nothing to do with “whiteness” at all.

The alternative, prosecuted by the Left and condoned by a cowardly Right establishment, is Balkanization based on race and gender, even though race and gender “are a social construct.” It is enforced equality according to race and gender, even though all races and cultures are already equal, and in any case, “race and gender are social constructs.”

The alternative, prosecuted by the Davos-cracy, is to flatten the world, erase borders in the interests of commerce, and reduce humanity to undifferentiated human matter. How does this square with the “celebration of diversity” that informs every coopted institution of the Davos-cracy, from mainstream media to monopolistic multinationals? It doesn’t until you return to one of the first points Camus makes, where he emphasizes that replacism isn’t merely to turn humanity into undifferentiated human matter, but to create simulacrums of culture replacing genuine culture. The iconic buildings and monuments and historic plazas of Paris or London will be faint and boring ruins compared to the neon recreations of those same places around the planet, in cities turned into theme parks. The commodification of high culture is the essence of replacism.

Understanding this fact, that replacism is a wholistic repatterning of all national cultures and a wholesale erasure of national economies, is crucial to refuting the claim that to be anti-replacist is to be a white supremacist. The journey into the future, with technology and globalization whipping forward faster than anyone can fully track or comprehend, changing everything in decades, then changing everything yet again, and again, will not be weathered without the strength of national cultures that embrace and cherish and share a common faith, tradition, values, patriotism, being part of something.

Absent intact and confident national Western cultures who know where they came from and who they are, the immigrant waves that retain the most confidence in their collective identity will overwhelm those cultures that do not. And that may not end well for anyone or anything, including the Davos-cracy, including modernity itself.

To the extent Renaud Camus fights a lonely battle, with the smug opinion-makers of the world stigmatizing him and everyone like him as a “white supremacist,” chances are France will become a nation of undifferentiated human matter, or an Islamic state, or some hybrid of the two. But France will no longer be France.

Weekend Long Read

This essay is adapted from “Trump’s World: GEO DEUS,” by Theodore R. Malloch with Felipe J. Cuello (Humanix Books, 336 pages, $27.99)

Davos: Peering Behind the Elite Curiosity Curtain

At Davos, investment dollars flew like sand in the desert wind. The Chinese wanted factories, and they lined up from Nortel to Motorola just to shake hands. Big Pharma met and colluded on patents and pricing. Want to sell airplanes? Autos? You name it, even armaments. It was a global bazaar of high-altitude wheeling and dealing with high price tags.

Thomas Mann, the German Nobel laureate and author of The Magic Mountain, made Davos famous for its mystical and curative powers. For him, it was a sanatorium to overcome the disease, psychological stress, and damage inflicted by modern life. In some ways, it remains so.

These are my personal impressions as a former executive board member of the inside, albeit they are but a snapshot in time. Davos is many things to many people, but it remains a curiosity. It was also, according to many accounts, the place Bill Clinton got the bug and started his own Clinton Global Initiative—seeing gold in them thar hills.

Today on its 50th anniversary, Davos is synonymous with a different kind of cult. It is the cult of business celebrity; elites from every avenue of life, every industry, every country, leaders and wannabes who will do anything to be seen there, especially during the last week of January, when the World Economic Forum conducts its annual meeting.

They pay over $70,000 just to be invited, or $1 million to be members, according to The Guardian. It has become the hub of political, economic, cultural, and every other kind of power imagined by postmodern globalist man. In fact, it is about the emergence of what the ringmaster at Davos calls “Davos Man,” (he actually borrowed the phrase from the late Harvard professor Samuel Huntington) a kind of ubermensch who can transform the world. Nietzsche would be proud.

This wasn’t always the case. After World War II the German part of Switzerland in the far eastern part of the land and up in the rugged mountains was underdeveloped. Skiing, new hotels, and better train service brought in more tourists, but it wasn’t until a half nutty, half brilliant professor of business policy brought his European Management Forum there in 1971 that it started to take off.

In its own words, the WEF is on a mission: “The World Economic Forum is an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.” Over the course of its history, the World Economic Forum has achieved a limited record of accomplishment in advancing progress on some key issues of global concern. It has also placed itself as the epicenter of New Age globalism—a new ideology. Globalism is not the same as the gradual process of globalization, which sees countries involved in more and more trade and investment across borders. Globalism is a movement toward and a belief in one-world government.

The WEF logo itself puts the organization in the very center of the globe’s sphere; and Herr Professor Dr. Schwab is the “Wizard” of this “Oz,” behind the curtain, who makes the whole thing run—just as in the movie.

The Davos Model

Every year now, for five decades, high in the wintry alpine resort of Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, the world’s elite convenes under the auspices of the World Economic Forum. They have what is termed “convening power.” It’s all over the news. But not much is really known about the organization—the convener. Everyone sips schnapps and talks about the future of the globe under the banner “Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild.” The “Re-” word is always the operative phrase! Be sure to use it in every sentence and you can pass “Go.”

True, Davos can be cynical and trite. The best thing to be said for it is perhaps, as I once put it in the Weekly Standard, that it does not really believe the answer to the world’s problems is more Marx. But they do come close. Davos phrases abound: rethink economics, redesign governance, put (European) socialist values back in business, promote financial literacy, the future of this and that, risk abatement, and on and on. Frankly, while the WEF is full of suggestions, most of them are half-baked.

Here is a sample insight from Davos: “At times of panic credit markets have a tendency to freeze.” Here is another: “The bubble forms when expectations exceed reality.” Cue the applause from the civics class.

The WEF applauded the public rescue of banking and government-inspired guarantees (bailouts), and their mantra has been “print more money” and, when in doubt, “strengthen regulatory measures.” We also need much more “coordination” to defeat systemic risk, according to the Davos line. Did Keynes really get it right? Is Big Government good government? Do markets always fail when left to their own devices? These questions are verboten in Davos—for the hallmark of all believers here gathered is that government is the solution—perhaps assisted by some special council, formed of course by “FOK”—friends of Klaus (Schwab).

Davos wants to tame the “animal spirits” of the market, which are not good and must be tamed. Their authority on this is none less than the turncoat, George Soros, a former robber baron and greenmailer who saw the light. Radical stakeholder capitalism enters left stage, with improved statistics, and a Sarkozy or now Macron–style Commission on Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. We can change accounting as we know it and have a perfect “global solution”—a super–International Monetary Fund. At Davos it is always a globalist solution. Besides dumping the dollar, the world must also have “international consensus” since the United States has been so naughty and learning to share power and give up control can be difficult. But it is necessary.

For Davos Man (and occasionally now a woman or two), an all-powerful global central bank will run money, ignoring notions of national interest; but like gun ownership, the spread of capital will also need to be controlled. We will also need a Tobin carbon tax collected by the United Nations. Bill Gates’ version of “creative capitalism” flies well here, and he goes to Davos every year—where he preaches that we must all “give back” and invest entirely on a social basis. His zeal is perennially featured these days, now that he’s retired from bad, old Microsoft.

Ironically, in the end at Davos—powerful and lucre filled as it is—money is the great taboo; it’s what leads to subprime lending and to bad capitalism. Realizing that the love of money is the “root of all evil,” a “competent global economic citizenry” must fight the inherent flaws of capitalism. If we don’t fight capitalism, we are warned, we could end up with Chinese-style authoritarianism.

At Davos, it’s repeatedly said, we can’t do “business as usual” any longer, and most certainly America, who started all this money madness and interventionism, cannot dictate since the United States is no longer a “hegemon.” A thin veil of anti-Americanism lurks behind a lot of the content at Davos. It is a cabal of multilateralism with an impresario professor as its progenitor.

It’s interesting to note that, through all the sermonizing and flagellation at Davos, short shrift is given to the classical virtues and religion. Instead, the underlying credo here is the need for more confidence in global government, since finance is an imperfect tool for managing risk in an uncertain world.

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Schwab’s Intentions

I went to Davos for the first time in 1988 as a special guest of Herr Dr. Schwab (K-man to his friends). It was fascinating and certainly involved many leaders and business types, mostly from Europe and especially the Third World. Some were on the make and others on the take.

Throughout 1989 Schwab courted me, had me to dinner over and over, invited me to meetings, and pressed me to give him advice on how to stretch the goals and involve both more CEOs and particularly top Americans from all walks, across all sectors and in every major industry group. In his thick, German accent he would say, “Vell, Ted, kunt vie change die velt?” He wouldn’t stop and at one point stuck his lieutenants on me as well. One was an attractive woman with long, dark hair, an American named Gail Bidwell. She was good looking and bright, and she and her German counterpart, who was ill with cancer, both kept calling on me in my office at the U.N. Schwab had Lester Thurow (economists refer to him as “less than thorough” for his popularizing tendencies) over from MIT. He invited me to lunch. The minister of finance was in from Pakistan; could I spare time for “an interesting” dinner? The head of the central bank of XYZ was here; could I convene in a few hours? No end.

By 1990 he had asked me to serve on some loony council and to help prepare the agenda for the next annual meeting. What were the “veally big questions, mit ein Q” going to be? He asked in his dreary, thick accent.

His staff was mostly low-level flunkies and hangers-on, very young, no higher degrees, just yes-men and plenty of women (many were sexy and were randy with the professor, I later discovered), as well. They reported directly to the Wizard of Oz, as we referred to him behind his back. I was pitching in, adding key names, and, eventually, they asked me to moderate some sessions at the big confab.

My boss at the U.N.-Geneva, Hinteregger and others, were slightly jealous as they were not invited. The head of the U.N. was there, and increasingly more and better CEOs were attending. With my invitations we got some of the top Americans to join the ranks. Even Coca-Cola came, and they brought so much Coke with them it could have filled entire lakes with that fizz.

Schwab also had an in-house rag, a glossy vanity magazine with lots of pictures of leaders at his meetings and articles by those same leaders. It had a goofy look and name: World Link. The idea was to link world leaders permanently. He also devised a failed electronic system to do the same that was well before its time. He called that Welkom. Way too Germanic, I thought. Schwab got me to write a few pieces for his publication, on the U.S. economy and on reform in Eastern Europe and published them with my picture. It was all rather flattering.

The organization was, however, far too Eurocentric, and he knew it and wanted to break out and step up. He knew of my background, history, and work in academia, industry, on Wall Street, in politics, and as a diplomat. He wanted my help and convinced me that we could work together. Pronounce that in German three times!

When we talked privately, Schwab said we were both “thinkers and doers.” He liked to ask that trick question of people: which are you, a thinker or a doer? Pick one and you were wrong. Now, I was warned that Schwab used people, ran through directors like water, and was a first-class name-dropper. Some said there was no substance in his doings, just frills, a media fest. He was a pompous windbag to some. In checking him out I found out some things I didn’t like. He was a German (born in Ravensburg, 1938 where Hitler had come to power), not Swiss, reportedly with strong ties to those who fled to Switzerland. Like Waldheim, he had Nazi-youth in his résumé and tried to hide it. Davos has always been known as a place for the rich and the sick; that much is well established. Not much has changed!

The two most secret items at the World Economic Forum were the budget and the VIP list and its attachment, noting their “guests,” i.e., who they were sleeping with. The budget was not a public document, and it showed the income at well over $100 million. Less than half came from membership fees . . .

The Nazi Party in Switzerland was headquartered there. In 1936, a famous assassination of Wilhelm Gustloff, the top Nazi in all of Switzerland by a Yugoslavian Jew named, David Frankfurter was in all the international headlines and made the Nazis machine irate. The Nazi connection in Davos is noteworthy given the now established Swiss complicity in the German war effort, hidden accounts, stolen goods, holocaust victims, and the anti-Zionism that continues to this day. The World Economic Forum even in recent years has itself called for the boycott of Israel (before it retracted it). Schwab was in total cahoots with the Swiss government. In fact, the Swiss Federal Council paid many of his bills

Why? Because the WEF strategy was to get people to Switzerland to invest there, to bank there, and to use its central location and supposed neutrality. It was all a clever public relations tool or ploy for the Swiss.

Schwab lacked good American connections and didn’t sell particularly well in the CEO corner offices with his thick accent, professorial look, and all this mystical (we called it Davosian) talk about a better world and partnerships for this and that, which sounded like and were mostly “you give us money and we make you a member; more money and you can be a higher-order member; more yet, and you’re on some board.” He was, simply put, what some people call an old-fashioned snake oil salesman.

But the companies were buying from Arthur Andersen to A. T. Kearney to Booz Allen Hamilton and hundreds more. The membership consisted of more than 1,001 companies; some were only midsized but from all over the world. He sold memberships as a way for them to meet other members. Clever. Too clever? He took some hits as a grandstander and then many more from the anti-globalists on the Left and Right. Protests mounted in the tiny ski village, and he had to get the Swiss troops to guard everything.

At a certain point at Christmas 1990, Schwab had me to dinner at his own house in Cologny with his wife and children. It was one of those Swiss chalets on the lakeside, quite large and immaculate. He asked me at dinner if I would consider some arrangement whereby, I could join him and go onto the executive board full-time. Money was no problem; he said they would match what I was being paid, although that amount was the highest paid to any employee, so I should keep it quiet. I would get six weeks’ vacation, home leave, and could travel anywhere in the world I needed to go. The offer was interesting, but I had a job, and the term was set. I said I’d think about it and wanted to work with him in some fashion. Klaus is a hard person to say no to, as he is so fawning. He also makes it appear that the noble mission to save the world that he has created is, well, missionary work.

I had to tell Hinteregger, and I knew it would break his heart. So, we worked a deal out whereby I could spend a portion of my time working on WEF affairs and gradually shift over. By the end of the following year, I would switch teams and play for Schwab and the Davosians and appease the gods of business. Schwab meantime had to do some fast moves to get me a Swiss work visa and to tell the U.N. he would not poach any more people. He also went to his Geneva bankers and arranged for me to not only get a mortgage but to get the right to buy a house in the Canton de Geneva. These were not small things. The WEF as a Swiss Foundation has lots of pull with the cantons, especially where it is based, and in Graubünden, where Davos is situated. It is not a lightweight by any means.

I became not just involved but seminal to the Davos planning and helped set the themes and choose the speakers. Klaus and I made many trips together to the United States and other capitals to get the heads of state and captains of industry on board.

I was brought into the super-secret World Wide Web brainstorming on the future forecasts of the global economy. Those sessions brought together chief economists from leading organizations, banks, and certain economic ministers to spin a story about what lay ahead and where the challenges lie.

At Davos itself, I was a panel moderator of a half dozen sessions and in the big stage held forth as the questioner or respondent on the big economic sessions. My favorite one included the likes of the chairman of the U.S. Fed, the CEO of a global bank, the CEO of Salomon Brothers, my old pal John Gutfreund, the new head of the bank set up for Eastern Europe, a leading French intellectual, the president of the World Bank, and the CEO of Moody’s, the rating agency. I beat up on each of them but let John off the hook. I ended by having each of them play the role of one of their counterparts and tell the “honest” truth. It was a hoot and brought the house down in laughter.

I suggested to Schwab that because we had so many bankers from around the world going to Davos, we should create a World Financial Services Forum meeting as a subset. He was afraid of that for some reason, I think because he did not speak “financese.” We decided to have a governors’ meeting with CEOs alone and then on the last day open it up to the entire financial services industry. It succeeded wonderfully and completely sold out. I chaired both sessions and played Phil Donahue at the latter, with a roving mike, sticking it literally in people’s faces to get instant responses. Everyone wanted to go to Davos, and this was a new way to include more people, and most critically, collect their lucrative fees. The head of Citibank wondered out loud why nobody had done this before. He knew it was a cash cow.

Nicholas Ratzenboeck/AFP via Getty Images

Bringing in Cold War Adversaries

The two countries that were weakest in representation at Davos were the United States and the USSR (until it broke up in 1992).

I was given a mission. The United States was the easy part. Getting the right people, the stars, the CEOs, and the think tank heads and members of Congress and the administration was just a matter of pecking away and showing them the materials and noting the benefits: personal and institutional. The toughest sell was their most precious commodity—their time itself. But with spouse programs, superb skiing, Audi driving schools, and all the socializing and partying, who wouldn’t want to join the world’s greatest schmooze fest in an Alpine village? Besides, it was tax-deductible, and the fees were paid to a foundation!

The most powerful elites in the history of the world all gathered in one place? And that place is Davos? The media certainly ate it up. They enjoyed themselves and the after-hours drinking and dancing more than the participants themselves. They came in droves. It made their jobs easy having so many world leaders in one small town, captive to give “exclusive” interviews.

We let companies break stories there. Countries could do the same, but usually only those who had paid some huge tab to sponsor a reception, a gala (complete with famous rock bands), or initiate some new policy announcing it to the world. Turkey’s then prime minister asked to be admitted to the EU one year, which caused quite a stir; they even made peace with the Greeks. The Alpine countries announced an initiative to save the Alps another year. The Aga Kahn announced his new Central Asian University. The West Germans announced the unification there and the bold one-mark policy. It took the roof down. The U.N. unleashed a program for corporate citizenship there. Every year the U.N. or World Bank came up with some new, far-fetched proposal. Most of these initiatives lasted about a year, some two, and then fizzled out, soon to be replaced with a new, far more urgent one. They too fizzled in about the life span of a newt.

The other country that was underrepresented was the USSR. They were suspicious of market capitalism and didn’t quite know how to use such a forum. But when glasnost hit and the leaders bent to the West, the doors swung wide open.

I was sent to Moscow three times, and twice with the perky Maria Livanos, who was Klaus’s go-to girl. A rich, bossy, very organized Greek who lived for the Davos energy boost. She was a real groupie. We talked the Soviets into both sending a high-level delegation with top ministerial leaders to interact at Davos, but also into doing what we called a “country forum” in Moscow that would bring hundreds of investors and their companies to learn more about the opportunities and changes sweeping their country. We said cash in the form of foreign direct investment would flow the next week. They ate it up. We ate too much caviar! I even bought—well, traded Marlboros for—a few extra pounds of the fish eggs to eat at home. A box of cigs would buy just about anything in the USSR in those days.

The first Soviet delegation to appear at Davos was in 1990, and I was asked to be their official host. I went to the Zurich airport tarmac to greet the Aeroflot flight arrival on a red-carpeted runway. When he stepped off the plane, their delegation head, the all-powerful Arkady Volsky, head of all industry in the USSR, gave me a bear hug and presented me with the most beautiful Russian red fox hat you have ever seen. He greeted me in a dacha-like laced, Russian accent. With him were 20-odd CEOs of all the giant Kombines, oil and gas, autos, agriculture, steel, timber, minerals, you name it. A few of their top pro-market economists who spoke good English were also along for the ride and the free show.

The Forum paid their freight completely, and boy could these guys—only one translator female—drink! It was a demanding group, but we bonded, and everyone wanted to meet and hear from them. Volsky’s sole demand was that they be put up at a good hotel with a swimming pool. He was a daily swimmer. We accommodated. We also organized a giant powwow with a Soviet at each table of eight, and the room was so overflowing that people were gathered around the outer walls. Everyone at Davos wanted to know what the market opening meant for him or her and their corporate interests in a future Russia.

Six months later we put on the show in Moscow, and more than 250 Western business leaders seeking to do business in the new Russia eagerly attended and paid big bucks (OK, Swiss francs) to be there, to have dinner in the Kremlin and to seize the day. Deals were struck and relations enjoined.

At that time many of the pundits wondered about the future of perestroika and Gorbachev, our man in Moscow. One of my favorite little stories about one of these visits to Moscow in this time frame, in the dead of frozen winter, was the accommodation we were given. Volsky’s people, for safety and effect, in a chauffeured ZIL limousine, met us at the airport. Rushed off to the elite Little Oktoberist hotel, we were greeted like VIP party members of the Politburo.

I don’t think any foreign dignitaries had stayed at this small, elite, off-limits Party hotel before. It was posh and filled with goods in a non-Soviet sort of way, but it was meant for upper-echelon apparatchiks from the nomenklatura. After a late dinner and the obligatory Stoli, I checked in for the night. At about 2 a.m. my phone rang, and I awoke from a deep sleep. I couldn’t figure who would be calling me at such an hour. It was a soft woman’s voice, and she said with a delicate Russian accent, “Do you vant kompanie?” My brain lit up and I shot back and spontaneously answered, “No, and I don’t want photos, either” and hung up. They were still the old Soviet Union.

At lunch the next day, I had a reserved table arranged with Boris Fyodorov, who had a Western education from, of all places, the University of Glasgow (Adam Smith’s birthplace), and he had just become head of the central bank. He was polite, had good questions, and seemed somewhat embarrassed.

We had caviar, the best from the Caspian Sea, the finest Soviet champagne, and Georgian red wine. We had three delightful courses of fish, beef, and pork with roasted fresh potatoes and many vegetables. Dessert was a fine chocolate torte, served with strong coffee. It was the best meal I had ever had in the Soviet days. When the bill came, he took it after I pleaded to pick it up. The cost was 78 rubles. The exchange rate may have been one to one officially, but we got ours for exactly 78-to-1. The elegant lunch cost all of one dollar. How long could this last? I wondered. Was the USSR ready to implode?

Behind the scenes at Davos and in the various country capitals, however, real business got done. At Davos and at the country forums around the world, real businesspeople, top executives, paid hard cash not to be photographed or just for bragging rights—well, not entirely; they came and spent money to get access to important people to do deals.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Global Bazaar of the Bizarre

I was involved in dozens of those in Eastern Europe, India, Brazil, and most prominently, in the United States. The U.S. forum had been poorly attended and deadly dull. It was hard to get top speakers. These things are a dime a dozen in Washington and happen nearly every other week. So, we reinvented the U.S.S.  country forum, and I got all of my old pals and their bosses, and their bosses’ bosses, to come, if only for a few hours. It had a who’s who cast. With these players we were able to bait the hook and pull in all the gullible Europeans and Third Worlders who badly wanted closer access to the real American leaders and power brokers. It worked and became another cash cow. We held it at the Willard Hotel and it oozed power.

Behind closed doors is where all the collusion and cartelization took place, ha-ha. At Davos, two bankers met from UBS and Swiss Bank Corp, and later you read of a merger. The steel company of Holland sold out to their counterparts in India. Investment dollars flew like sand in the desert wind. The Japanese wanted plants in America; hello Mr. Governor (you give tax holiday, let’s shake on it). The Chinese wanted factories, and they lined up from Nortel to Motorola just to shake hands. Big Pharma met and colluded on patents and pricing. Did I see that? I swear the oil companies had a cartel going. And ADM it was said, cooked the price of corn fructose, right there. Want to sell airplanes? Autos? You name it, even armaments. It was a global bazaar of high-altitude wheeling and dealing with high price tags. And Schwab got not just praise but perhaps a cut—or at least more sponsors in the process.

There were closed dinners only for Goldman Sachs clients and lunches with Price Waterhouse where the latest and greatest author on some exotic subject held sway. The Business Exchange office had people waiting to get in to make appointments with a potential supplier, vendor, or joint venture partner. There was a fee for that service; did I mention it? You could rent a Soviet reformer or a university president; any and everything was for sale. Jeff Sachs, the notorious Harvard economist, was there rounding up country clients for his reform and anti-IMF packages. Whenever we heard he had signed someone up, it was time to “short” the countries’ debt, as I knew his advice would lead in just one direction—down.

Bono and the movie star set were parading as intellectuals and begging for donations for their favorite causes. Angelina Jolie in a hot tub, some swami in a headdress talking about inner spirituality, and a German theologian talking interfaith dialogue—it was so Davosian

It was all there like a marketplace, the Agora. Mr. Zia, have you met Mr. Singh? Oh, you two are enemies? Well, not here in Davos. We all get along and do business. Jews and Arabs not allowed to meet? Everyone had a so-called “project” to sell. No one knows that here. And all the while the cash registers are going cha-ching for the impresario, the Wizard of Oz. They were not just stroking his ego and bowing to Swiss acumen but coughing up fees, donating again and again.

There was a lounge in the upper reaches of the huge concrete Congress Hall and a busty Texan, a former Miss Texas, I believe, worked it, serving coffee of every delight and catering to the “needs” (need to ask) of the delegates, as well. Massages, rubdowns, she knew how to please, and the lounge always seemed full for some odd reason, even at eight in the morning.

It was hard to keep going at that pace for days on end. There were partying, receptions, and dancing late at night into the wee hours of the morning. Is that the young Mr. Baja I see dancing with the Swissair stewardess(es)? Did I mention Klaus handpicked the prettiest stewardesses, and they were assigned to Davos as escorts? A lot of older men had that thank you, madam look on their faces in the morning briefings. There was considerable one-upmanship, too. Who has the biggest wallet, deal, and penis, kind of talk.

Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images

One final tale at Davos involved a former employee journalist, an Irish-American from Chicago, who drank far too much. He also laughed a lot.

John had taken a job at the International Labor Organization in Geneva as a press officer after his Davos stint, and he invited me to dinner one night at a less-than-reputable restaurant in Paquis near the red-light district. He had someone I “had” to meet. When I got there, we had drinks at the bar, and he took me to a backroom to meet Sergei, a Russian. We broke bread and exchanged pleasantries.

Near the end of the meal, he said, “I have an offer for you; would you be willing to work for us in exchange for money? We like your access to people, leaders, and businessmen, and it could be of use to us.” I got up and said on leaving, “No thanks, and I don’t appreciate such KGB solicitations.” John seemed disappointed, as he clearly was on their take.

The two most secret items at the World Economic Forum were the budget and the VIP list and its attachment, noting their “guests,” i.e., who they were sleeping with. The budget was not a public document, and it showed the income at well over $100 million. Less than half came from membership fees; more than half was an outright line-item gift from the Swiss federal government, and that didn’t even include the vast sums of money that were spent on security, military, and otherwise.

When some protests materialized one year, those costs went through the roof. Best of all was the super-secret list I mentioned above. I once, in jest, joked that I had mistakenly given that list to the press. By leaking it to the equivalent of People magazine, the world would know the next day who was in bed with whom, both boys and girls, and notice that many were, well, not exactly married. No one thought it was funny, but of course, I was only kidding.

The other favorite story I can personally relate is the battle over pricey real estate. Naturally, the biggest CEOs and heads of states wanted the best rooms. What’s new? But there are only so many of them to go around in a small ski village like Davos. Or next-door Klosters, which was viewed as second-class. They came at a steep price, and priority went to the loudest complainers. The president of Peru was lodged in prime top-floor space in the best, Hotel Belvedere (and with a mistress, I might add). When the CEO of Salomon Brothers at the time arrived, he had shabby accommodations, unfit for the king of the money game. In a normal diplomatic protocol, a head of state would outrank a CEO, but not at Davos. We kicked the president out of his room with apologies so we could please and satisfy the CEO and his perky wife, Susan. Money talks and power walks. Wicked Solly traders probably shorted Peru’s debt the next day just to rub it in.

The lesson in this Swiss power tale is, simply, never trust before you verify. It worked well for the Gipper, after all.

Weekend Long Read

This essay is adapted from “How to Keep From Losing Your Mind: Educating Yourself Classically to Resist Cultural Indoctrination” (TAN Books, 384 pages, $24.95)

There Are Great Books

All lists measuring greatness are subject to reconsideration—the truly greats remain on the list with the passing of centuries.

Those classics that are called the Great Books are most closely associated with Mortimer J. Adler and Robert Hutchins.1 When Hutchins became president of the University of Chicago in 1929, he hired Adler to teach philosophy in the law school and the psychology department. Upon arriving, Adler, rather brashly he admits, recommended to Hutchins a program of study for undergraduates using classic texts. Adler had taught in the General Honors program at Columbia University begun in 1921 by professor John Erskine. Hutchins asked him for a list of books to be read in such a program. When Hutchins saw the list, he told Adler that he had not encountered most of them during his student years at Oberlin College and Yale University. Hutchins later wrote that unless Adler “did something drastic he [Hutchins, referring to himself] would close his educational career a wholly uneducated man.”2 Hutchins remained president for 16 years before serving as chancellor until 1951, and the following year, they did something drastic.

In 1952, Adler and Hutchins published the Great Books of the Western World in 54 volumes.3 Adler and Hutchins included the 714 authors they considered most important to the development of Western Civilization.4 The influence of their Great Books movement on American culture for several decades was considerable and continues to this day.

Their selection of books from over a half-century ago has held up rather well. For example, I compared them to the 2007 list published by journalist and cultural critic J. Peder Zane. Zane asked 125 leading writers to list their favorite works of fiction.5 Zane found that the 20 most common titles listed by the writers were:

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (1877)
Madame Bovary, Gustav Flaubert (1856)
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy (1869)
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (1884)
Hamlet, William Shakespeare (1600)
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust (1913-27)
Stories of Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)
Middlemarch, George Eliot (1871-72)
Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes (1602, 1615)
Moby Dick, Herman Melville (1851)
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens (1860-61)
Ulysses, James Joyce (1922)
The Odyssey, Homer (9th century B.C.)
Dubliners, James Joyce (1916)
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)
King Lear, William Shakespeare (1605)
Emma, Jane Austen (1816)
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967)

Adler and Hutchins included all these books except for the two by Nabokov and Marquez. In spite of their absence, modernity is well-represented in the Great Books by Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, and William Faulkner, among others.

Zane’s survey refutes the claim that lists of “greats” reflect only the opinions of middle-aged white men. The 120 writers interviewed by Zane would satisfy any diversity requirement. If someone asked the same number of philosophers, historians, or scientists about their favorite books, I predict the results would have been much the same: the new list would contain a majority of acknowledged classics with the addition of some more recent and specialist books.

Poetry

Classic poetry is well-represented in the Great Books—Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Dante, Milton, and Eliot are there, plus others. But poetry read in the context of the Great Books can be approached as a source of ideas or as another link in the history of ideas. This is a mistake. Poetic language is a linguistic fusion of form and content, a creation that resists being plucked for concepts to fill in the philosopher’s timeline.

Someone might object to the continued relevance of poetry because no one reads poetry anymore except when assigned in a classroom. However, poet and critic Dana Gioia reports that poetry has undergone a cultural revival outside of the academy, where poets have often found a steady paycheck. Gioia calls it “a tale of two cities”; a new generation of poets is finding their voice in the real world:

They work as baristas, brewers, and bookstore clerks; they also work in business, medicine, and the law. Technology has made it possible to publish books without institutional or commercial support. Social media connects people more effectively than any faculty lounge. An online journal requires nothing but time. Any person with an iPhone and a laptop can produce a professional poetry video. Any bookstore, library, cafe, or gallery can host a poetry reading.6

A 2017 study by the National Endowment of the Arts shows that 11.2 percent of American adults, 28 million people in the United States, still read poetry.7 But young adults, in particular, ages 18 to 24, are leading the return, with 17.5 percent reporting regular poetry reading, a doubling of interest since the last such study in 2012 (8.2 percent). Regardless of how many poetry books you have on your shelves, or how many you see at your local bookstore, poetry thrives. Human beings need to sing, to express themselves beyond the limits of discursive reasoning.

Like music, poetic language engages the reader at an emotional level that goes untouched by philosophical reasoning. Before the philosophers, it was Homer who instructed the Greeks about gods and heroes. But his epics were sung, not read. The Iliad and Odyssey were sung by bards who held them in memory for a thousand years before they were written down.

Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Wilfred Owen

If someone assigned me the job of introducing poetry to neophytes, one of the first books I would assign my students is the poetry of Wilfred Owen (1893-1918). His life was short because he went to war, dying exactly one week before the end of World War I. After college, Owen went to Paris where he taught both English and French. He witnessed the beginning of the war and two years later returned to England where he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. His experience in battle is recorded in the poetry which was inspired, in part, by time spent in a hospital with the already-established poet Siegfried Sassoon

Owen could have stayed home but returned to the trenches where he died four months later. I’m amazed at what Owen wrote before turning 26. In “Disabled,” he writes about a soldier returned home without his legs, in a wheelchair, watching football from the sidelines:

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees,
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,—
In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands.
All of them touch him like some queer disease.8

In “Strange Meeting,” Owen imagines a soldier jumping into a crater in no man’s land and finding the corpse of an enemy soldier staring at him: “By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.” The live soldier addresses the dead one: “Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.” But the corpse interrupts:

“None,” said that other, “save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world”9

The glory of war as told by Homer, Virgil, Herodotus, Thucydides, and Caesar Augustus was read in school by soldiers on both sides of the trenches. What this soldier found instead was “the pity of war, the pity war distilled.” With his thoughts of glory extinguished by death, he imagines himself back in battle:

“Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were. 

“I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . . .”

A spiritual sense pervades these lines: “I would have poured my spirit without stint.” The bloody “chariot-wheels,” a reference to Homer’s Iliad, are cleansed “from sweet wells,” like Jacob’s Well (John 4:5–6), a pilgrim site in the ancient city of Nablus for centuries. The dead soldier tells the one living, “I am the enemy you killed, my friend,” and then offers him his forgiveness with the words, “Let us sleep now.” At the end of this ghastly encounter, Owen concludes on a note of nobility and common cause. 

Reading Owen answers our questions about what men experience in battle, how they are able to face death, and how they cope with the experience of battle. The best literature takes us to places and circumstances we can only vaguely imagine and gives us access into the interior lives of people we would otherwise never know.

Making Lists

An indispensable guide to classics is The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages by literary scholar Harold Bloom. He organizes his book around 26 select authors, including the poets Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, Milton, Goethe, Whitman, Dickinson, Neruda, and Pessoa. His appendices, however, include lists of other books he considers canonical catalogs by era—Theocratic, Aristocratic, Democratic, and Chaotic—and by country. Bloom’s book is one of the best sources I have found to help one become familiar with the names and works of important writers around the world, and he has published a remarkably helpful set of lists for the reader.

Although classic texts are included in some high school and college curricula, it’s the rare student who can deeply appreciate King Lear or Macbeth as a teenager or young adult. The worldly profundity of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary or Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, for example, is lost on all but a few teenagers, as it was lost on me. Books like Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, and The Great Gatsby pose the same challenge. We want to introduce young readers to the classics, but, frankly, these, like many other classics, are books for grown-ups.

Philosophy and theology are central to any version of the Great Books—they address discursively those questions that have arisen in the lives of every person since Adam and Eve—meaning, morality, truth, justice, love, death, and eternity. Some philosophers and theologians, however, are more easily approached than others. There are always technical terms to master; for example, in Greek philosophy, the concept of Logos (“word,” “reason,” or “order”) which also plays a central role in Christianity: John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word “ (λόγος, Logos). Every philosopher and theologian wrote in a historical tradition. Readers who pick up, for example, St. Thomas Aquinas will quickly see that he quotes from Scripture, Greek philosophers, Patristic Fathers, Roman writers, and Arab theologians. However, with some patience and access to online reference works, readers can acquire enough background knowledge to read Aquinas intelligently.

Later philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger are more difficult and test the patience of the nonspecialist. With the reader in mind, I discuss mainly the ancients and medievals in How to Keep From Losing Your Mind. These works are foundational for understanding Western civilization, and their influence is seen throughout the philosophy and theology that followed. 

SSPL/Getty Images

Greats and Classics

Greatness is measured in many ways, and any list of greats should be subject to criticism. I remember asking my then-college dean at a dinner party to name his top 10 novels, and he answered that “top 10 lists” were “nonsense.” A bit surprised, I replied, “But they are such great conversation starters!” He reluctantly agreed, but I had made a more important point than I realized at the time. Reliable lists are the answer to “Where do I go next?” 

Let’s imagine a situation that I am sure has happened over and over: You’re listening to the car radio, flipping through channels; you hear a snatch of music that makes you stop, and you listen enthralled to the end. (This has happened to me more than a few times.) You wait to hear the announcer name the piece and the composer. You hear, “That was the ‘Violin Concerto’ of Samuel Barber.” “Who is Samuel Barber?” you ask yourself. What else did he write? Does anyone else write music that sounds like that? The Internet has made the answers very easy to find. You can read about Samuel Barber (1910-1981), see a list of his works and the best available recordings. Search further and you can find other composers who, like Barber, wrote music in a “late-Romantic” style. Good lists are invaluable to tell me what I don’t know.

Barber’s “Violin Concerto” inspires me to declare my description, not definition, of greatness. A book, a film, or a musical composition is great when you think to yourself, “I want to listen to all the music (or read the books and watch the movies) by this composer right away.” You may consider this too subjective, but I know I’m not alone in having that thought after reading Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Proust, Homer, Dickens, or Jane Austen; listening to Brahms, Dvorak, or Stravinsky; or watching the films of Kurosawa, Welles, or Eisenstein. As the late Harold Bloom put it, “I think that the self, in its quest to be free and solitary, ultimately reads with one aim only: to confront greatness.”10

Let me clarify one thing: I am using the words great and classic as though they were interchangeable. There’s a distinction. Take, for example, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. It’s a well-known classic novel about World War I. Remarque portrays the absurdity of the war for the soldiers on both sides who were expected to “go over the top” day after day. Remarque’s novel, published in German in 1928, had the good fortune of being translated into English the following year. Then the novel was made into an Oscar-winning 1930 film, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” directed by Lewis Milestone.11 Remarque’s book is still very readable, a classic novel about war and the First World War in particular.

However, when you compare Remarque’s novel to Magic Mountain (1924) by Thomas Mann, the limitations of Remarque’s novel are evident. Whereas Remarque explores the experience of life in the trenches of World War I, Mann’s scope is more universal, possessing layers of meaning about the shattering of European civilization as the result of the First World War. Magic Mountain depicts a turning point in Western culture through the fate of one man, Hans Castorp, who lives in a sanitorium for seven years trying to recover his health.

The most important criteria to use in determining greatness is the opinion of experts. Everyone has their personal favorites—arguing about why, say, one film is better than another is part of the delight of filmgoing. Experts, however, are qualified to make the hard call: to answer the question, where does this film or that book rank in comparison to the others? When I want to buy a new car, I ask the opinion of the mechanic who has been working on my cars for 20 years. Anyone who knows what is required to be an expert at anything will recognize the depth of knowledge needed to measure a book, a movie, a musical composition against all that has come before.

But it should be said, experts are not always right. Consider the list of Nobel Prize winners for literature. The first literature prize, given in 1901, went to the French poet René François Armand (Sully) Prudhomme (1839–1907) “in special recognition of his poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect.”

Prudhomme was a strange choice given the competition. In the previous decade, Dostoevsky had published Brothers Karamazov (1880). The next year, Henry James published A Portrait of a Lady followed by The Bostonians in 1896. Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was published in 1854, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886, along with Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Ubervilles. In addition, Tolstoy published his “Kreutzer Sonata” in 1890. Searching for Prudhomme, I found only one of his books in English translation, the 1875 Les vaines tendresses.

Imagine being Sully Prudhomme when he received a letter from the Nobel committee and realizing he had beat out Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Twain, Stevenson, Hardy, and Henry James. He may have also thought of other writers active at the time: Guy de Maupassant, Emile Zola, Rudyard Kipling, W. B. Yeats, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, August Strindberg, Henrik Ibsen, and George Bernard Shaw. In the work of these “also-rans” we find inexhaustible stories of the human condition, universal in scope, all told with faultless command of language. All lists measuring greatness are subject to reconsideration—the truly greats remain on the list with the passing of centuries.

Endnotes

1) There were precursors to Adler and Hutchins’s Great Books. For example, in 1886, Sir John Lubbock published his list of “The Best Hundred Books, by the Best Judges” in the Pall Mall Gazette. See W. B. Carnochan, “Where Did Great Books Come From Anyway?” Stanford Humanities Review, vol. 6, 1995. Sir John’s list can be found here: Alex Johnson, “The Book List: Meet Sir John Lubbock, Godfather of the must-read list,” Independent, April 24, 2018. 

2) Mortimer J. Alder, Philosopher At Large: An Intellectual Biography (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1977), 129.

3) Mortimer J. Adler and Robert Hutchins, Great Books of the Western World, 54 vols. (Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1952). A complete list of books can be found at “Adler’s Great Book List.”

4) I had the privilege of knowing and working with Dr. Adler later in his life, and I contributed several essays to his series of volumes, The Great Ideas Today.

5) J. Peder Zane, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books (Boston: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007).

6) Dana Gioia, “Introduction,” Best American Poetry 2018 (New York: Scribner, 2018).

7) Sunil Iyengar, “Taking Note: Poetry Reading Is Up—Federal Survey Result,” June 7, 2018.

8) Wilfred Owen, The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen (New York: New Directions Publishing Company, 1993), 67.

9) The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen, 35.

10) Harold Bloom, The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (New York: Riverhead Books, 1994), 485.

11) Hilton Tims, Erich Maria Remarque: The Last Romantic (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003), 55–60, 69–72.

Weekend Long Read

This essay is adapted from “America’s Revolutionary Mind: A Moral History of the American Revolution and the Declaration That Defined It”
(Encounter Books, 447 pages, $32.99)

Americanism and the Spirit of American Liberty

The time has come for Americans to rediscover the philosophy of Americanism, a philosophy which says that, despite our differences of race, ethnicity, class, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or place of origin, all men and women are equally free, morally sovereign, and self-governing.

In 1782, just as the American War of Independence was coming to an end, Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, who had come to North America from France in 1755 and by 1765 had settled in New York, published Letters from an American Farmer. In it, he asked a fascinating and enduring question: “What then is the American, this new man?” Crèvecoeur’s question suggests that 18th-century Americans were somehow different from all other peoples, and thus he invites us, some 230 years later, to reflect on the nature and meaning of America.

Crèvecoeur’s new man was the existential embodiment of Thomas Jefferson’s “American mind.” He practiced and made real the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence. The moral, political, social, and economic philosophy associated with the American mind is sometimes reduced to a single word: “Americanism.” The “ism” suggests that being an American is part ideology, part way of life, part attitude, and even part personality. Broadly defined, Americanism is that philosophy which identifies the moral character and sense of life unique to the people of the United States, and which, under distinctive conditions, was translated into practice by millions of ordinary men and women in late 18th- and early 19th-century America.

Interestingly, the idea of Americanism has no foreign counterpart. No other nation has anything quite like it. We may speak of a French, an Italian, or a Persian culture, but there is no Frenchism, Italianism, or Persianism. Americanism, by contrast, is more than just a culture steeped in historically evolved folkways (i.e., the forms and formalities associated with speech dialects, food, music, dress, architecture, etc.). America’s traditional folkways are no doubt different from those of any other nation, but such cultural accouterments do not capture the essence of the American mind. My book attempts to explain the revolution in thought that culminated in the creation of what Jefferson called the American mind. We now conclude with a brief overview of the world created by Crèvecoeur’s new man—the world later described by Alexis de Tocqueville in his magisterial account of Democracy in America.

As we now know, the content of the American mind was synonymous with the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration forever associated the American way of life with a social system that recognized, defined, and protected as sacrosanct the rights of individuals. The greatest achievement of the American Revolution was to subordinate society and government to this fundamental moral law.

The radical transformation in thought and practice that followed would have enormous implications for the development of a new American society in the century that followed. The revolutionaries’ ethical individualism promoted the idea that human flourishing requires freedom—the freedom to think and act without interference, which means security from predatory threats against one’s person or property. Freedom requires government, but only government of a particular sort—the sort that protects individuals from force and coercion and that defines a sphere of liberty in which individuals are free to pursue their own welfare and happiness. Within that protected sphere, American revolutionaries and their 19th-century heirs created a new world unlike anything anywhere else.

The revolutionaries’ natural-rights republicanism was the product of a relatively recent revolution in thought that had its source in 17th-century England, originating in the Enlightenment ideas of Bacon, Newton, and, most importantly, Locke. These ideas were first injected into the intellectual life of the colonies in the early 18th century through the universities and the book trade; polemical writings such as Cato’s Letters, by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, then democratized these ideas through the newspapers. The radical individualism associated with the natural-rights philosophy armed the Americans with an entirely new morality that would provide the foundation for an unprecedented political, social, and economic system.

The moral philosophy of the American Revolution was closely associated with the idea of self-government—that is, with the idea that individuals must govern their own lives in the fullest sense of the term. Prior to the American Revolution, wrote John Taylor of Caroline, “the natural right of self-government was never plainly asserted, nor practically enforced; nor was it previously discovered, that a sovereign power in any government was inconsistent with this right, and destructive of its value.”

Ultimate sovereignty rests with the individual and not government. After the Revolution, “the natural right of self-government” was made “superior to any political sovereignty.” The Americans now believed, said Tocqueville, “that at birth each has received the ability to govern himself.”

In this new world, the individual replaced the government as the primary unit of moral and political value. This meant sovereign power began with self-governing individuals and extended outward in concentric circles of voluntary association, but never beyond the reach of a man’s control. Thomas Jefferson described the relationship between individual self-government and the various layers of political government this way:

The way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best.

All government in postrevolutionary America (local, state, or federal) was grounded on the free political association of individuals who retained ultimate authority and sovereignty over its power. Political power was imploded down to the local level. The Americans, Tocqueville observed, “have a secret instinct that carries them toward independence . . . where each village forms a sort of republic habituated to governing itself.” Government was to have no power that was not explicitly delegated to it by the people and for specific purposes. Or, as John Taylor put it, the “sovereignty of the people arises, and representation flows out of each man’s right to govern himself.”

The ideal of individual self-government set in motion forces that weakened the centralizing tendencies of government power. “What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun?” asked Jefferson. His answer was clear: “The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body.” The men who designed America’s constitutional system understood and accepted the truth that Lord Acton’s famous maxim would much later capture: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In 1788, James Madison wrote in Federalist 48 that “power is of an encroaching nature, and . . . ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it.” A few months later, Jefferson noted pithily, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” 

Thus the great question confronted by America’s revolutionary constitution-makers was this: How could the grasping power of government be tamed and harnessed in a way that would serve the legitimate functions of government? The Founders’ revolutionary solution to the problem posed by the expansionary nature of power was to subordinate governments (the rule of men) to constitutions (the rule of law). By constitutionalizing their governments, they would constrain arbitrary political rule with the rule of law—laws universal and objective, known and certain. Government officials would be denied discretionary power in applying the law, and the law applied to one man would apply to all men. 

“In questions of power,” Jefferson declared, men were not to be trusted, and so they should be bound “from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

Between 1765 and 1788, American revolutionaries invented and then implemented the architectonic idea of the American Revolution: the idea of a written constitution as fundamental law. Written constitutions would capture and guide liberty-promoting subsidiary principles, such as the separation of powers, bicameralism, federalism, judicial review, bills of rights, and various limitations on executive, legislative, and judicial power. These were the principal means by which individual rights and the rule of law would be protected and promoted. By explicitly and exactly defining both the power that may be exercised by government and the rights of individuals, written constitutions would create protected spheres of human action that were knowable and predictable.

The founders’ vision of government was the original version of what is sometimes called the “night-watchman” state—a government strictly limited to a few necessary functions, supported by low taxes, a frugal budget, and minimal levels of regulation. Ideally, government’s role was to protect individuals in their rights by serving as a neutral umpire, sorting out and judging conflicting rights claims. Even Alexander Hamilton, the founding generation’s greatest advocate of energetic government, saw the purpose and power of the national government as strictly limited to a few functions: “the common defence of the members—the preservation of the public peace as well against internal convulsions as external attacks—the regulation of commerce with other nations and between the states—the superintendence of our intercourse, political and commercial, with foreign countries.” 

Jefferson offered the classic statement of the limited purpose of government in his First Inaugural Address: “Still one thing more, fellow citizens—a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.” The classical liberals of the early republic supported a form of government that would ensure their liberty and property by prohibiting murder, assault, theft, and other crimes of coercion and fraud. James Madison summed up the entire revolutionary generation’s definition of a “just government” as one that “impartially secures to every man whatever is his own.”

This was the great paradox of American society: it united radical individualism with tight bonds of civil association.

Jefferson was particularly sensitive to the tendency of government officials to intervene in both the spiritual and material lives of their fellow citizens. This is why, on the one hand, he claimed that the “opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction,” and, on the other, that the acquisition, production, ownership, and trade of men’s property is not the proper purview of government. Jefferson therefore supported both the separation of church and state as well as the separation of economy and state. He did not think that government should be in the business of religion, nor did he think it should be in the business of business. He strongly inclined toward supporting a policy of religious and economic laissez-faire.

Jeffersonian Republicans envisioned a government that would function without a standing army, that would eliminate debt and dramatically reduce federal taxes and tariffs, that would shun public works projects and internal improvements, and that would reduce controls and regulations on the economy. The founders’ emerging view of the purpose and role of government was most clearly described by William Leggett, one of the great antebellum, Locofoco individualists. “Governments,” Leggett announced, “possess no delegated right to tamper with individual industry in a single hair’s-breadth beyond what is essential to protect the rights of person and property.”

Like Leggett, most Americans of his time distrusted political power, believing that a good society was defined by the paucity of its laws. Accordingly, in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was little government in America relative to the major countries of Europe. In fact, government at all levels before the Civil War was Lilliputian compared to what followed in the postbellum period. Political power—what little of it there was—was concentrated in the states and localities.

In 1839, John L. O’Sullivan, editor of The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, memorably captured the postrevolutionary view of government:

The best government is that which governs least. No human depositories can, with safety, be trusted with the power of legislation upon the general interests of society, so as to operate directly . . . on the industry and property of the community Legislation has been the fruitful parent of nine-tenths of all evil, moral and physical, by which mankind . . . since the creation of the world has been self-degraded, fettered and oppressed.

The only proper purpose of legislation, according to O’Sullivan, was to protect individual rights. In domestic affairs, the action of legislatures

should be confined to the administration of justice, for the protection of the natural equal rights of the citizen, and the preservation of social order. In all other respects, the voluntary principle, the principle of freedom . . . affords the true golden rule. The natural laws which will establish themselves and find their own level are the best laws. This is the fundamental principle of the philosophy of democracy, to furnish a system of administration of justice, and then leave all the business and interests of society to themselves, to free competition and association—in a word, to the voluntary principle.

Government in America before the Civil War had limited power: Its primary responsibilities were to protect the nation fromforeign invasion, to preserve the peace, and to adjudicate disputes among citizens. Much beyond that, it dared not go. William Leggett summed up the prevailing political worldview with the following maxim, which he recommended “be placed in large letters over the speaker’s chair in all legislative bodies”: “do not govern too much.”

Indeed, too much government was not a feature of life in the early republic. As William Sampson, a recent émigré from Ireland, observed, “the government here makes no sensation; it is round about you like the air, and you cannot even feel it.” Americans, said Leggett, were an independent lot who wanted little to “no government to regulate their private concerns; to prescribe the course and mete out the profits of industry.” They wanted “no fireside legislators; no executive interference in their workshops and fields.” In America, wrote the 19th-century individualist Josiah Warren, “Everyone must feel that he is the supreme arbiter of his own [destiny], that no power on earth shall rise over him, that he is and always shall be sovereign of himself and all relating to his individuality.” America’s new-model man mostly just wanted to be left alone.

Over the course of a century, the American idea of freedom and the experience of life on the frontier worked together to create and define the uniquely American spirit—a spirit defined by honesty, adventure, energy, daring, industry, hope, idealism, enterprise, and benevolence.

Wherever there was a frontier in the early republic, government was especially thin, light, and weak. American pioneers, having broken free from the mother country, began a process of declaring independence from their own national and then their state governments, and, finally, from each other as they migrated in ever-increasing numbers to the western frontier, which continued to move toward the setting sun until the close of the 19th century. What was happening politically in late 18th- and early 19th-century America was unlike anything else seen anywhere in the world.

In the end, the new world order created by America’s Founding Fathers asked only three things of its citizens: first, that they not violate each other’s rights; second, that they live self-starting, self-reliant, self-governing lives by practicing certain uniquely American virtues and character traits (e.g., independence, initiative, industriousness, frugality, enterprise, creativity, adventurousness, courage, and optimism); and third, that they deal with each other by means of persuasion and voluntary trade. In return, the free society made certain promises to those who lived by the American creed: it promised to protect all citizens’ freedom and rights from domestic and foreign criminals; it promised to govern by the rule of law; and it promised a sphere of unfettered opportunity that made possible their pursuit of material and spiritual values undreamed of in other societies.

The changes wrought by the Revolution were truly momentous. The individual-rights revolution of 1776 launched the greatest moral, social, and political transformation not just in American history but also in world history. A new civilization—a republican civilization—was born, free from the dead weight of the past, free from the encrusted hierarchies of old-regime Europe, free from artificial privilege and haughty arrogance, free from ostentation, decadence, and corruption, free from vicious, medieval laws, free from overweening state power, and free from the cynicism of low expectations.

The society Tocqueville discovered in America did not experience a brutal revolutionary upheaval after 1776. There were no guillotines or revolutionary calendars that began with Year One. Instead, the moral, social, political, and economic revolution that followed the end of the War of Independence and the Treaty of Paris was unlike anything ever seen before. The revolution in thinking, principles, and sentiments that preceded 1776 resulted in a gradual, evolutionary, but thorough transformation in American life that blended the Revolution’s libertarian philosophy and the circumstances of life on an ever-expanding frontier.

Nawrocki/ClassicStock/Getty Images

The American Mind in Practice

The American Revolution began as a revolution in ideas, but its ultimate success required that theory be translated into practice. Ultimately, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted, the “American mind turns away from general ideas; it does not direct itself toward theoretical discoveries.” The whole purpose of the Declaration’s ideas was to liberate men to act.

The way of life associated with the American spirit of liberty was thus born of a fortuitous meeting between the ideas of men like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and the actions of men like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. As the ideas of the Revolution spread westward through the Cumberland Gap, they were lived day by day on the frontier. Over the course of a century, the American idea of freedom and the experience of life on the frontier worked together to create and define the uniquely American spirit—a spirit defined by honesty, adventure, energy, daring, industry, hope, idealism, enterprise, and benevolence. American-style frontier republicanism was unlike anything ever seen anywhere in the world.

In Tocqueville’s America, “hardy adventurers”—avatars of Crèvecoeur’s new man—left the shelter of their “fathers’ roofs” and plunged “into the solitudes of America,” where they sought a “new native country.” They marched westward toward the“boundaries of society and wilderness.” Late 18th- and 19th-century American pilgrims chased a frontier that followed the direction of the setting sun. Living alone and far from the comforts of civilization, the “pioneer hastily fells some trees and raises a cabin under the leaves.” While all “is primitive and savage around him,” he brings with him the ideas that freed him to leave in the first place: he “plunges into the wilderness of the New World with his Bible, a hatchet, and newspapers.” 

Through this process, according to Tocqueville, the Americans are habituated “little by little to govern themselves.” Frontier life was partly defined by the absence of government (including legislatures, courts, police, and armies), all of which eventually followed. Until the end of the 19th century, a decent, law-abiding frontier American could pass through life and hardly see or feel a trace of government beyond the post office and the marshal. For the most part, the state left men and women alone. Despite the poverty and barbarism of his condition, America’s new man knows “what his rights are and what means he will use to exercise them.”

America once was and one hopes still can be a nation for the ambitious, hard-working, creative, productive, adventurous, and entrepreneurial. That is the meaning of Americanism and the spirit of American liberty.

In the half-century following the Revolution, these pioneering adventurers—many of whom, at least in the first wave, were veterans of the War of Independence—created a society the likes of which had never been seen before. The Americans destroyed the remnants of the ancien régime, with its artificial hierarchies and unchosen duties, regulations, and social stasis; in its place they created a dynamic society defined by equal rights, freedom, the pursuit of happiness, competition, and social mobility. They built both that society and its governments on the premise that individuals are self-owning, self-making, and self-governing.

Once men came to believe that they owned and controlled their own lives, free from the burden of overbearing government power, they began to pursue their own self-interested values and to explore new ways of conducting their lives. Freedom became the rallying cry for those seeking to challenge all forms of authority and to tear down traditional social, political, and economic barriers. In this new world, society preceded government, and the individual preceded society.

The new man who developed along with this new kind of political society was one of entrepreneurial energy and creativity. Nothing contributed more to this explosion of social vitality than the twin principles of freedom and rights. These conjoined ideas represented the most radical and most potent philosophical force let loose by the Revolution.

Within a couple of decades following the Declaration of Independence, the United States became—at least in the northern states—the freest nation in world history (at the same time, paradoxically, that the existence of slavery made it one of the least free). The Revolution brought new producers and consumers into the emerging market economy. It aroused and liberated previously dormant acquisitive impulses, and it freed the “natural aristocracy” promoted by Thomas Jefferson to build a new kind of hustling and bustling society.

It was a society of individuals constantly on the move. The people of the early republic were restless, rootless, and sometimes homeless. It was not uncommon for individuals and families to move—almost always westward—every few years. Nor was it uncommon for them to change jobs and professions. When Tocqueville toured the country, he encountered Americans “who [had] been successively attorneys, farmers, traders, evangelical ministers, doctors.” In Tocqueville’s America,

a man carefully builds a dwelling in which to pass his declining years, and he sells it while the roof is being laid; he plants a garden and he rents it out just as he was going to taste its fruits; he clears a field and he leaves to others the care of harvesting its crops. He embraces a profession and quits it. He settles in a place from which he departs soon after so as to take his changing desires elsewhere.

Should his private affairs give him some respite, he immediately plunges into the whirlwind of politics. And when toward the end of a year filled with work some leisure still remains to him, he carries his restive curiosity here and there within the vast limits of the United States. He will thus go five hundred leagues in a few days in order to better distract himself from his happiness.

In 1817, George Flower, an Englishman recently arrived on the Illinois prairie, was not convinced that the American people always lived up to the moral principles of the Declaration, but he was certain that the open space of the frontier environment aided in spreading freedom: “The practical liberty of America is found in its great space and small population. Good land, dog-cheap everywhere, and for nothing, if you will go for it, gives as much elbow-room to every man as he chooses to take,” Flower wrote. He continued: “Poor laborers, from every country in Europe, hear of this cheap land, are attracted to it, perhaps without any political opinions. They come, they toil, they prosper. This is the real liberty of America.” The distinctively American ethos associated with frontier life held that individuals are morally sovereign and that they therefore must be self-starting, self-governing, and self-reliant in order to succeed in life. They just needed, as Flower noted, a little elbow room.

Life on the frontier unleashed in America’s new man a primordial energy that would conquer a broad and wild continent and build a new kind of meritocratic society, defined by the natural aristocracy of ability, inventiveness, daring, and hard work. The new frontier ethos broke down Old World social barriers and hierarchies, replacing them with a social order that judged men not by their circumstances at birth but by what they made of their lives. The American frontier was the refuge where ambitious men and women could escape their past and the burden of living for others—the guilt, the pressure, and sometimes the compulsion to live one’s life for family, tribe, church, king, or state. It was the place where men and sometimes even women could reinvent themselves. Only in America could a man who came from nothing prove his ability and worth and become a man of accomplishment and wealth. Only in America could there be such a creature as the “self-made man.”

The ideal of the self-made man was a reality for many 19th-century Americans. Ironically, the best exposition of the self-made man as ideal and fact is found in the speech of a runaway slave, Frederick Douglass. In an 1859 lecture titled “Self-Made Men,” the former slave defined in unmistakable terms the story and the qualities of the quintessential American:

Self-made men . . . are the men who owe little or nothing to birth, relationship, friendly surroundings; to wealth inherited or to early approved means of education; who are what they are, without the aid of any favoring conditions by which other men usually rise in the world and achieve great results. In fact they are the men who are not brought up but who are obliged to come up, not only without the voluntary assistance or friendly co-operation of society, but often in open and derisive defiance of all the efforts of society and the tendency of circumstances to repress, retard and keep them down. They are the men who, in a world of schools, academies, colleges and other institutions of learning, are often compelled by unfriendly circumstances to acquire their education elsewhere and, amidst unfavorable conditions, to hew out for themselves a way to success, and thus to become the architects of their own good fortunes. They are in a peculiar sense, indebted to themselves for themselves.

Douglass observed America’s self-made men all around him, and of course, he was the living embodiment of the ideal. Notably, he did not think that the success of the self-made man was due to accident or good luck. Instead, success in life could be explained, he insisted, “by one word and that word work! work!! work!!! Work!!!!”

A few Europeans who came to America were nonplussed by what they saw. In 1787, Charles Nisbet, a Scottish academic recently arrived in Pennsylvania, described the American Revolution as having “commenced on just and solid grounds.” It was “carried on,” he continued, “by honest, enlightened, noble-minded patriots” who were “prompted by a sincere love of rational liberty.” Still, this Old World professor did not quite fully understand or appreciate the new world created by the Revolution, which was made up of “discordant atoms, jumbled together by chance, and tossed by inconstancy in an immense vacuum.” Less than impressed, Nisbet complained that America lacked “a principle of attraction and cohesion.” He was mistaken.

This new American creed of “rational liberty” did not mean that its practitioners lived alienated and crabbed lives in atomistic isolation from one another. It did not mean that Americans were indifferent or unneighborly to each other, that they did not help each other during times of crisis or distress. Quite the opposite. These rugged American individualists joined together in bonds of civic friendship as they experienced and lived through seemingly never-ending disasters like floods, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, native attacks, and diseases such as smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, yellow fever, and influenza. The moral and political philosophy by which they lived their lives was no antisocial creed that confined men to their own spiritual cages. Together, as friends and neighbors, the westward-moving Americans built—literally—cabins, houses, barns, roads, canals, libraries, schools, colleges, villages, towns, and cities. Freedom produced unparalleled social cooperation.

From the Revolution to the Civil War, American society developed its own principles of attraction and cohesion that naturally melded its individual atoms into a common culture. The country was unified through a commercial system of natural liberty and a harmony of economic interests. Instead of anarchy, the natural system of liberty encouraged and generated new associations and bonds of civil cooperation.

Tocqueville observed that “Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite.” Ordinary Americans voluntarily united with each other to form all kinds of benevolent associations in order to improve their material and spiritual lives. According to Tocqueville, the Americans not only have “commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but they also have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small; American use associations to give fêtes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools.”

This, then, was the great paradox of American society: it united radical individualism with tight bonds of civil association. The former was responsible for the latter. It was e pluribus unum.

What made this revolutionary society unique was that the force and authority of government and the ties of land and blood were not what held it together, as was true of most countries of the Old World. The American people were united instead by self-interest, rights, freedom, money, benevolence, voluntary associations, and—most importantly—by a common moral ideal that was expressed so eloquently in the ringing phrase: “We hold these truths to be self-evident . . . ”

The American experiment in self-government truly was a novus ordo seclorum.

Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

An Afterthought

Tragically, though, the revolutionary society founded in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence and refounded in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation is now fraying. Americans are divided like never before. 

America is more fractured today than at any time since the Civil War. The American people are so polarized in 2019 that we might now speak of the “Disunited States of America” or the “United States of Hate”! 

Americans are irredeemably divided over Donald Trump, impeachment, capitalism, socialism, democracy, pronouns, abortion, marriage, immigration, climate change, reparations, Brett Kavanaugh, the Covington kids, free speech, drag queen reading hour, political correctness, and many other topics.

All of our cultural institutions—the schools, Boy Scouts, the NFL, the Oscars, soap operas, late-night television, Broadway, stand-up comedy—have become politicized and weaponized. We can’t even come together over the flag and national anthem.

From Charlottesville to Berkeley, street riots in the last two years have turned into violent pitched battles between armed gangs of masked street thugs representing the so-called alt-Left and the alt-Right. Ideologically motivated mass shootings are taking place in our schools, synagogues, churches, malls, and nightclubs. Some of our democratically elected politicians are calling for violence and some are the targets of harassment and violence. We are on the verge of lawlessness.

To make matters worse, few Americans believe that our political institutions are working. Just about half the nation thinks that the election of Donald Trump was illegitimate and the other half thinks the Democratic Party is engaged in a silent coup to overturn a democratic election of 2016.

It is not an exaggeration to suggest that liberal and conservative Americans hate each other. There are now two Americas and the division is not between “haves” and “have nots” or between whites and blacks. The coastal, blue state, Ivy-educated ruling class has contempt for flyover, red state, trailer park deplorables and vice versa.

And where is all this leading us? This much is certain: to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, a nation that hates itself cannot stand.

The time has come for Americans to rediscover the philosophy of Americanism, a philosophy which says that, despite our differences of race, ethnicity, class, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or place of origin, all men and women are equally free, morally sovereign, and self-governing. This is the philosophy that inspired hundreds of millions of people from around the world to immigrate to America.

America once was and one hopes still can be a nation for the ambitious, hard-working, creative, productive, adventurous, and entrepreneurial. That is the meaning of Americanism and the spirit of American liberty.

Weekend Long Read

A Science-Based Case for Ending the Porn Epidemic

We know what porn does to the brain, because the medical science is solid. Because social science is much softer, we can’t know for certain what causal impacts porn has on society, if any. But once we realize that we have to be much more humble in this area, we can still make prudential judgments.

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem. I think many readers of this article will respond with outrage, and many will see it says things they already knew to be true—and I think these two groups will largely overlap. The most powerful obstacle to confronting a destructive addiction is denial, and collectively we are in denial about pornography.

Since it seems somehow relevant, let me state at the outset that I am French. Every fiber of my Latin, Catholic body recoils at puritanism of any sort, especially the bizarre, Anglo-Puritan kind so prevalent in America. I believe eroticism is one of God’s greatest gifts to humankind, prudishness a bizarre aberration, and not so long ago, hyperbolic warnings about the perils of pornography, whether from my Evangelical Christian or progressive feminist friends, had me rolling my eyes. 

Not anymore. I have become deadly serious. A few years ago, a friend—unsurprisingly, a female friend—mentioned that there was strong medical evidence for the proposition that online pornography is a lot more dangerous than most people suspect. Since I was skeptical, I looked into it. I became intrigued and kept following the evolving science, as well as online testimonies, off and on. It didn’t take me long to understand that my friend is right. In fact, the more I delved into the subject, the more alarmed I became.

The central contention of this article is that, however we might feel morally about pornography in general, a number of features about pornography as it has actually existed for the past decade or so, with the emergence of “Tube” sites that provide endless, instant, high-definition video in 2006, and the proliferation of smartphones and tablets since 2007, is fundamentally different from anything we’ve previously experienced. 

A scientific consensus is emerging that today’s porn is truly a public health menace: its new incarnation combines with some evolutionarily-designed features of our brain to make it uniquely addictive, on par with any drug you might name—and uniquely destructive. The evidence is in: porn is as addictive as smoking, or more, except that what smoking does to your lungs, porn does to your brain. 

The damage is real, and it’s profound. The scientific evidence has mounted: certain evolutionarily-designed features of our neurobiology not only mean that today’s porn is profoundly addictive, but that this addiction—which, at this point, must include the majority of all males—has been rewiring our brains in ways that have had a profoundly damaging impact on our sexuality, our relationships, and our mental health. 

Furthermore, I believe that it is also having a far-reaching impact on our social fabric as a whole—while it is impossible to demonstrate any cause-and-effect relationship scientifically beyond a reasonable doubt when it comes to broad social trends, I believe the evidence is still compelling or, at least, highly suggestive.

Indeed, it is so compelling that I now believe that online porn addiction is the number one public health challenge facing the West today.

If the evidence is so strong and the damage so deep and pervasive, why is nobody talking about this? Well—why did it take so long for society to admit, and respond to, the evidence on the harms of smoking? In part because, even when emerging scientific evidence is quite solid, in the best of worlds there is always a lag between specialists making a discovery and academic gatekeepers embracing it, thereby granting it the social stamp of authority of scientific consensus. In part it is because, for many of us, our background assumption is that “porn” means something similar to Playboy and lingerie catalogues. In part, it is because of widespread (and, in my view, mistaken) assumptions about what important values like free speech, gender equality, and sexual health entail. In part it is because deep-monied interests have a stake in the status quo. And in very large parts, it is because most of us are now addicts—and like good addicts, we are in denial. 

Porn Is the New Smoking

I’ve been a smoker since my early 20s. I have said things like, “I can quit any time,” “I just do it because I enjoy it,” “My grandmother smoked for decades and she’s perfectly healthy,” while feeling secret shame for not being able to climb a flight of stairs without losing my breath. No form of delusion is more powerful than self-delusion. 

Anti-porn advocates like the phrase “porn is the new smoking.” Call today the beginnings of the “Mad Men” stage of the process, then: the time when most people still see smoking as harmless, but the scientific evidence is starting to pile up, and the drip-drip-drip of new data is just starting to be heard beyond specialist circles of academia and the few kooks who had a hunch all along that this was nastier than it looked. We can hope, some time not too long from now, we will look at today’s jokes about PornHub with the same mix of bafflement and shame we feel when we see 1950s ads with slogans like “More Doctors Smoke Camel Than Any Other Cigarette.”

So, what is this new scientific data?

The first step is to look at the evidence on the effect of porn on the chemistry of the brain. It is an understatement to say that mammals, particularly males, are wired by evolution to seek out sexual stimulation. When we get it, a deep part of our brain called the reward center, which we share with most mammals and whose job it is to make us feel good when we do things we are evolutionarily designed to seek, releases the neurotransmitter dopamine. 

Dopamine is sometimes called “the pleasure hormone,” but this is an oversimplification; it would be more accurate to call it “the desire hormone” or “the craving hormone”. Crucially, the release of dopamine starts not with the reward itself, but with the anticipation of reward. The reward center’s job is to make us crave those things which we are evolutionarily designed to crave—starting with sex and food.

It’s not exactly a scoop that humans are wired to seek out sexual stimulation, is it? No, but today’s internet porn plays differently with our reward system. The design of mammals’ reward system causes something scientists call the Coolidge Effect. 

It is named after an old joke: President Calvin Coolidge and the First Lady are separately visiting a farm. Mrs. Coolidge visits the chicken yard and sees the rooster mating a lot. She asks how often that happens, and is told, “Dozens of times each day.” Mrs. Coolidge responds, “Tell that to the president when he comes by.” Upon being told, the president asks, “Same hen every time?” “Oh, no, Mr. President, a different hen every time.” “Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge.”

Hence, the Coolidge Effect. If you place a male rat in a box with several female rats in heat, the rat will immediately begin to mate with all the female rats, until it is utterly exhausted. The female rats, still wanting sexual congress, will nudge and lick the drained animal, but at some point he will simply stop responding—until you put a new female in the box, at which point the male will suddenly awaken and proceed to mate with the new female. 

Most of us are now addicts—and like good addicts, we are in denial. 

It’s a good (albeit corny) joke. But the Coolidge Effect is also one of the most robust findings in science. It has been replicated in all mammals, and most other animals (some species of cricket don’t have it). The evolutionary imperative is to spread genes as widely as possible, which makes the Coolidge Effect a very suitable adaptation. Neurochemically, this means that our brain produces more dopamine with novel partners. And—this is the crucial bit—on Tube sites, each new porn scene our brain interprets as a new partner. In a study, the same porn film was shown repeatedly to a group of men, and they found that arousal declined with each new viewing—until a new film was shown, at which point arousal shot right back up to the same level as when the men were shown the film the first time. 

This is one of the critical ways in which today’s porn is fundamentally different from yesterday’s: unlike Playboy, online porn provides literally infinite novelty with no effort. With Tube sites and a broadband connection, you can have a new clip—what your brain interprets as a new partner—literally every minute, every second. And with laptops, smartphones and tablets, they can be accessed everywhere, 24/7, immediately.

This can be likened to what Nobel laureate Nikolaas Tinbergen called a superstimulus: something artificial that provides a stimulus that our brains are evolutionarily wired to seek, but at a level way beyond what we are evolutionarily prepared to cope with, wreaking havoc on our brains. Tinbergen found that female birds could spend their lives struggling to sit on giant fake, brightly-colored eggs while leaving their own, paler eggs to die. An increasing number of scientists believe the obesity epidemic is the result of a superstimulus: products like refined sugar are textbook examples of an artificial version of something we’re designed to seek, in a concentrated form that doesn’t exist in nature and that our bodies aren’t prepared for. 

Evolution could not prepare our brains for the neurochemical rush of an always-on kaleidoscope of sexual novelty. This makes online porn uniquely addictive—just like a drug. Some scientists believe that the reason why chemical drugs can be so addictive is that they trigger our neurochemical reward mechanisms linked to sex; heroin addicts often claim that shooting up “feels like an orgasm.” A 2010 study on rats found that methamphetamine use activated the same reward systems and the same circuitry as sex.

(Along with dolphins and some higher primates, rats are the only mammals who mate for pleasure as well as reproduction; and humans’ sex reward systems are neurologically basically the same as rats’, since they are one of the least evolved parts of our brains. These factors make the little critters excellent test subjects for experiments on the neurochemistry of human sexuality. Yes, when it comes to sex, us men are basically rats. The more you know . . . )

What’s more, no one is born with a reward circuitry wired in their brain for alcohol, or cocaine—but everyone is born with a hardwired reward system for sexual stimulation. Addiction research has shown that not all people have a predisposition to addiction to chemical substances—only if you have a genetic predisposition can your brain’s reward system be tricked into mistaking a particular chemical for sex. This is why some people become alcoholics even after being exposed to moderate amounts of alcohol, while others (like me) can drink heavily without developing an addiction, or why some people can have just one cigarette at a party and then not worry about it while others (like me) must have their nicotine fix every day. By contrast, all of us have a predisposition to addiction to sexual stimulus. 

Another well-established evolutionary mechanism is something called the bingeing effect. We evolved under conditions of resource scarcity, which meant it was evolutionarily advantageous to have a reward system programmed to give us a very strong drive to binge whenever we hit a motherlode of something. But putting mammals wired for the bingeing effect in an environment of abundance can wreak havoc on their brains. (The bingeing effect has also been linked to obesity.)

If our reward system interprets each new porn clip as the same thing as a new sexual partner, this means an unprecedented sort of stimulus for our brain. Not comparable to Playboy, or even ’90s-era dial-up downloads. Even decadent Roman emperors, Turkish sultans, and 1970s rock stars never had 24/7, one-click-away-access to infinitely many, infinitely novel sexual partners.

The combination of a pre-existing natural circuit for neurochemical reward linked to sexual stimulus and the possibility of immediate, infinite novelty—which, again, was not a feature of porn until 2006—means that a user can now keep his dopamine levels much higher, and for much longer periods of time, than we can possibly hope our brains to handle without real and lasting damage. 

iStock/Getty Images

Theory vs. Practice in Today’s Porn

So, that’s the theory. What about the practice? The evidence has been gradually piling up; at this point, we can say that the scientific evidence that online porn works on our brains just like cocaine or alcohol or tobacco, while recent, is very strong. 

A consensus has been slow to emerge in part because of a broader issue: addiction researchers traditionally have been reluctant to use “addiction” as a label for behaviors that don’t involve chemical substances, understandably so since our therapeutic culture tends to put many things under the label “addiction.” We all collectively rolled our eyes when prominent men felled by #MeToo piously blamed “sex addiction” and announced their intention to go to rehab, and we were right to.

But our cultural need to put all sorts of dysfunctional behavior under the addiction label (“shopping addiction”!) is not the same thing as the science of addiction, and advances in brain imaging techniques have tilted the scales in favor of the view that addiction is a brain disease, not a chemical disease.

A landmark 2016 paper  by Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and George F. Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in the New England Journal of Medicine, went over new neuroscience and brain imaging data and concluded that it supports the “brain disease model of addiction.” The scientific definition of addiction is shifting to one that looks at specific things happening inside the brain causing people to exhibit certain patterns of behavior, as opposed to whether a patient is hooked on a particular chemical compound.  

As we consume more and more porn, our brain is rewired so that what triggers the reward system that is supposed to be linked to sex is no longer linked to sex but to porn.

Online porn fits this model. Slowly, the evidence has been piling up, and it looks, by now, overwhelming: porn does do the same things to our brains as addictive substances.

A 2011 study on the self-reported experiences of 89 males found “parallels between cognitive and brain mechanisms potentially contributing to the maintenance of excessive cybersex and those described for individuals with substance dependence.” A 2014 Cambridge University study watched people’s brains through an MRI machine; Valerie Voon, the study’s lead author, summarized the findings thus: “There are clear differences in brain activity between patients who have compulsive sexual behaviour and healthy volunteers.”

Another Cambridge University study the same year, this time comparing porn addicts’ responses to psychological tests to the responses of normal subjects, found that “sexually explicit videos were associated with greater activity in a neural network similar to that observed in drug-cue-reactivity studies.” Almost all of the neuroscience studies on this topic find the same result: online porn use does the same things to our brains as drug addiction. 

But don’t take my word for it. Scientists have done many reviews of the literature. Only one review that I am aware of, from 2014, disputes the idea of online porn addiction; it’s the only review that doesn’t look at brain and brain-scan studies, and combines studies from before the Tube era and after. Meanwhile, a thorough 2015 review of the neuroscience literature on internet porn found that “neuroscientific research supports the assumption that underlying neural processes (of online porn addiction) are similar to substance addiction” and that “Internet pornography addiction fits into the addiction framework and shares similar basic mechanisms with substance addiction.” Another 2015 review found that “Neuroimaging studies support the assumption of meaningful commonalities between cybersex addiction and other behavioral addictions as well as substance dependency.” A 2018 review found the same thing: 

Recent neurobiological studies have revealed that compulsive sexual behaviors are associated with altered processing of sexual material and differences in brain structure and function. . . . existing data suggest neurobiological abnormalities share communalities with other additions such as substance use and gambling disorders.

In January 2019, a team of researchers published a paper straightforwardly titled “Online Porn Addiction: What We Know and What We Don’t—A Systematic Review” which concluded, “as far as we know, a number of recent studies support (problematic use of online pornography) as an addiction.” It’s hard to call this anything but overwhelming evidence.

The studies have been done in numerous countries, and using various methods, from neuro-imaging to surveys to experiments and, to varying degrees, they all say the same thing. 

All right, you might respond, online porn addiction may be a real thing, but does that mean we need to freak out? After all, smoking and heroin will kill you, serious cannabis addiction will melt your brain, alcohol addiction will wreak havoc in your life—compared to that, how bad can porn addiction be?

The answer, it turns out, is: pretty bad.

Let’s start with what we all know about addiction: you need more and more of your drug to get less and less of a kick; this is the cycle which makes addiction so destructive. The reason for this is that addiction simply rewires the circuitry of our brain. 

When the reward center of our brain is activated, it releases chemicals that make us feel good. Mainly dopamine, as we’ve seen, and also a protein called DeltaFosB. Its function is to strengthen the neural pathways that dopamine travels, deepening the neural connection between the buzz we get and whatever we’re doing or experiencing when we get it. DeltaFosB is important for learning new skills: if you keep practicing that golf swing until you get it right, you feel a burst of joy—that’s dopamine—, while the accompanying release of DeltaFosB helps your brain remember how to do it again. It’s a very clever system.

But DeltaFosB is also responsible for making addiction possible. Addictive drugs activate the same nerve cells activated during sexual arousal, which is why we derive pleasure from them. But we become addicted to them when DeltaFosB, essentially, has reprogrammed our brain’s reward system, originally written to make us seek out sex (and food), to make it seek out that chemical instead. This is why addiction is so powerful: the addict’s urge is really our most powerful evolutionary urge, hijacked. And since online pornography is a sexual stimulus to begin with, we are all predisposed, and it takes much less rewiring for consumption to cause addiction.

As we’ll see, this neurobiological feature of our brains has far-reaching implications for the effect porn addiction has on us: on our sexuality, on our relationships, and even on society at large.

Porn Kills the Urge for Real Sex

Porn is a sexual stimulus, but it is not sex. Notoriously, heroin addicts eventually lose interest in sex: this is because their brains are rewired so that their sex reward system is reprogrammed to seek out heroin rather than sex. In the same way, as we consume more and more porn, which we must since it is addictive and we need more to get the same kick, our brain is rewired so that what triggers the reward system that is supposed to be linked to sex is no longer linked to sex—to a human in the flesh, to touching, to kissing, to caressing—but to porn.  

Which is why we are witnessing a phenomenon which, as best as anyone can tell, is totally unprecedented in all of human history: an epidemic of chronic erectile dysfunction (ED) among men under 40. The evidence is earth-shattering: since the Kinsey report in the 1940s, studies have found roughly the same, stable rates of chronic ED: less than 1 percent among men younger than 30, less than 3 percent in men aged 30-45. 

As of this writing, at least ten studies published since 2010 report a tremendous rise in ED. Rates of ED among men under 40 ranged from 14 percent to 37 percent, and rates of low libido from 16 percent to 37 percent. No variable related to youthful ED has meaningfully changed since then, except for one: the advent of on-demand video porn in 2006. It’s worth repeating: we went from less than 1 percent of erectile dysfunction in young men to 14 to 37 percent, an increase of several orders of magnitude. 

Online forums are full of anguished reports from young men about ED. An agonizing story is eerily common: a young man has his first sexual experience; his girlfriend is willing, he loves her or at least is attracted to her, but finds himself simply unable to sustain an erection (though he is perfectly able to maintain one when he watches porn). Many more report a milder version of the same problem: during sex with their girlfriend, they must visualize pornographic movies in their heads to sustain their erection. They are not fantasizing about something they like more: they want to be present, want to be aroused by a real woman’s scent and touch. They understand perfectly well how absurd it is to be more attracted by the substitute than by the real thing, and it distresses them. Some must put hardcore pornography on in the background in order to be able to have sex with their girlfriends (and, incredibly, the girlfriends agree to this). 

iStock/Getty Images

Fred Wilson, an internet venture capitalist and thought leader, commenting on digital natives’ uncanny ease with new technology, once quipped that there are only two kinds of people: those who first got access to the internet after they lost their virginity, and those who got it before. My family got the internet in the late ’90s when I was a preteen, and so I belong to the latter category, and yet I feel like Grandpa Simpson when I read those testimonies and compare them to my early sexual experiences (which were, I assure you, quite unremarkable). Then again, back in my day, cars got 40 rods to the hogshead, and online pornography meant an endless maze of text link directories and broken search engines with dead links, slow-to-load images, short video clips you had to download, frustrating paywalls guarding the “good stuff”—not Tube sites with infinite, immediate, streaming, high-definition video, 24/7, in your pocket, for free, driven by powerful algorithms designed by data scientists to maximize user engagement. 

Imagine that we discovered that some bacteria were causing ED to jump from 1 percent to 14 to 37 percent—there would be a national panic, cable news networks would go wall-to-wall, Congress would be holding hearings every day, state and federal prosecutors would be on a hunt for perpetrators to make the Mueller and Starr investigations look like an Amazon customer satisfaction survey. Collectively, we would take very seriously the alarming possibility that anything that could cause something like this was bound to have other, likely profound, effects on human health and social life. 

Last year, an article in The Atlantic went viral after it decried a “sex recession” among young people. Young people are simply having less and less sex. The author, Kate Julian, noted that the phenomenon is not exclusive to the United States but is prevalent across the West—Sweden’s health minister called its declining sex rates (even Sweden is having less sex!) “a political problem,” in part because it risks negatively impacting the country’s fertility. 

Julian also noted that Japan has been a precursor, entering its sex recession earlier—and that it is also “among the world’s top producers and consumers of porn, and the originator of whole new porn genres” and “a global leader in the design of high-end sex dolls.” To her credit, she seriously looked into porn as a probable cause for the sex recession, although none of the voluminous subsequent commentary on the piece I can recall reading discussed this potential cause. 

Now, a conservative like myself might think that young people having less sex might not be such a bad thing! And it is true that over the same period, pathologies such as teen pregnancies and teen STDs have declined. Except that whatever the causes, I think we can safely rule out a religious revival or a sudden upsurge of traditional values. Whatever we might believe men should do about their sexual urges, if young healthy men aren’t having sexual urges at all in massive, unprecedented numbers, that is surely a sign of something wrong with their health.

Warping the Brain

Perhaps young people aren’t having sex because the men can’t get it up. Or perhaps it’s because women don’t want to have sex with those men who can do it, but whose brains have been warped by porn.

Because porn does warp the brain. The basic mechanism of porn addiction, you’ll recall, is that when we watch porn, we get a jolt of dopamine, and when we do, we get a follow-up dose of DeltaFosB that rewires our brain to link sexual desire with porn—but not just to any porn. To the porn we watch. 

Remember the Coolidge Effect: the thing that causes a veritable flood of dopamine and makes online porn a “superstimulus” that breaks our brains, unlike Uncle Ted’s Playboy collection, is novelty. 

Like all addictions, online porn has diminishing returns. We need more. We need new. And the easiest way to get it—especially on Tube sites, which, like YouTube and Netflix, “helpfully” provide suggestions all around the video you’re watching, generated by algorithms programmed to keep viewers glued and coming back—is new genres. Just a click away. And there’s infinitely many. 

Virtually all pornography, very much including the “vanilla stuff,” has grown more extreme, more violent, and specifically more misogynistic and degrading towards women.

In 2014, researchers at the Max Planck Institute used fMRI to look at the brains of porn users. They found that more porn use correlated with less grey matter in the reward system, and less reward circuit activation while viewing sexual photos—in other words, porn users were desensitized. “We therefore assume that subjects with high pornography consumption require ever stronger stimuli to reach the same reward level,” the authors wrote.

Another study, this time from Cambridge University in 2015, also used fMRI, this time to compare the brains of sex addicts and healthy patients. As the accompanying press release put it, the researchers found that “when the sex addicts viewed the same sexual image repeatedly, compared to the healthy volunteers they experienced a greater decrease of activity in the region of the brain known as the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, known to be involved in anticipating rewards and responding to new events. This is consistent with ‘habituation’, where the addict finds the same stimulus less and less rewarding.” 

But it’s not just sex addicts who show this behavior. When the healthy patients repeatedly were shown the same porn video, they got less and less aroused; but, “when they then view a new video, the level of interest and arousal goes back to the original level.” In other words, it doesn’t take much for the addiction mechanism to kick in, since we’re already genetically predisposed to seek out sexual stimulus.

The bottom line is the syndrome doesn’t just make us crave more, it makes us crave novelty. And what kind of novelty, specifically? Empirically, it’s not just any kind of novel. In practice, what most triggers the Coolidge Effect is what produces surprise, or shock. In other words, like water flowing downhill, we are drawn to porn that is increasingly taboo—specifically, more violent and degrading. 

The Disturbing Shock Drive of Porn

Recently, comedian Ryan Creamer became a viral online sensation after it surfaced that he had created a channel on PornHub, the world’s biggest “YouTube for porn” site, where he posted, as Buzzfeed aptly described it, “hilariously wholesome and uplifting videos.” Creamer’s G-rated videos invert online porn clichés, featuring him in his best impression of Ned Flanders, with titles like “I Hug You and Say I Had a Really Good Time Tonight” and “POV FOREHEAD KISS COMPILATION” (“POV” stands for “point of view,” or videos filmed from a character’s first-person perspective; compilations are a rising online porn genre, another data point to show widespread habituation: even a new video doesn’t have enough novelty, we need quick-cut montages). 

None of the commentary pointed out the obvious implication: his stunt captured people’s imagination precisely because almost all of PornHub—what its sophisticated algorithms know its viewers want—is not just pornographic in some abstract sense, but nasty, shocking, and degrading. 

One of Creamer’s videos is titled “I, Your Step Brother, Decline Your Advances but Am Flattered Nonetheless”; last year, Esquire reported) that “incest is the fastest growing trend in porn.” (Tube sites ban videos that explicitly refer to incest, but it is still full of videos featuring “stepdads” and “stepmoms” and “half-brothers” that everyone understands to mean “dads,” “moms,” and “brothers.”) 

Another rising popular genre has been so-called “interracial” porn, which nearly always means a specific type of interracial congress: black men and white women. The genre is inevitably based on the worst racial stereotypes and imagery. And interracial porn not only has been getting more popular, and more degrading to women, but more racist. As conservative writers who opposed Trump in 2016 found out from their Twitter mentions, a newly popular genre is “cuckolding,” which involves a white man watching his wife or girlfriend have sex with a black man (or several). When mainstream media outlets notice the phenomenon, it is taken as evidence of white Americans’ deep racism. No doubt buried racial attitudes must play a role, but consider the trendline; if hidden racism is the main cause, why should racist porn suddenly explode in popularity while most surveys say racial attitudes are either holding steady or slowly improving? If you keep in mind the sudden popularity of incest porn, the hypothesis that it is widespread desensitization due to addiction which is causing the rise becomes much more plausible. 

It’s worth pausing to note the denial-driven disconnect between what we talk about and what we all know to be happening. Earlier this year, the country went into a moral panic when it was discovered the governor of Virginia had once worn blackface as part of a costume as a medical student; meanwhile, there is a massively popular and fast-growing genre of entertainment that makes minstrel shows look like a racial sensitivity seminar, and almost nobody talks about it. 

Shock is what best triggers the Coolidge Effect, and taboo-breaking is shocking, by definition; it is a Pavlovian response to shock and surprise from our rat-like reward system. If we had a deep societal taboo against humping tables, table-humping porn suddenly would be exploding in popularity. Instead, we have deep societal taboos against incest, racism . . . and violence against women.

Evan Agostini/Getty Images

Intensifying the High

Kink dot com is one of the top brands in porn. The studio’s specialty is extreme fetishes related to BDSM. Its trajectory is telling. The site was founded all the way back in the dark ages of the internet, in 1997. Sado-masochism as a sexual fetish is as old as man, of course—the 2nd-century Roman poet Juvenal mocks it in his Satires, for example. But, as best as we can tell, like most fetishes it has only ever appealed to a small minority throughout human history. And indeed, Kink spent the better part of its first decade in existence humming along out of view, a little-known small business serving its niche. 

Then, some time in the mid-to-late 2000s, the site exploded in popularity, to the point of becoming as close to a cultural phenomenon as a porn site can be. You can trace its sudden growth in popularity—and mainstream appeal. In 2007, the New York Times Magazine profiled the company. In 2009, it received its first mainstream adult industry award. In 2013, the Hollywood actor James Franco produced a documentary about the company.

That same year, the writer Emily Witt wrote a long, meditative first-person essay for the intellectual progressive magazine n+1 on modern sexuality. For her report, among other things, she attended a shoot for “Public Disgrace,” one of Kink’s “channels” that features, as its tagline says, “women bound, stripped, and punished in public.” The filmings happen in public places like bars or shops that the company rents out for the occasion, and strangers off the street are invited to perform sexual acts on the “bound, stripped” actress. 

Kink has expanded and expanded to match its sudden success, going from a handful of channels to, as of this writing, 78, and spawning an array of copycats (many even more extreme, naturally). While the company’s PR materials boast of a feminist, egalitarian, empowering view of sexuality, almost all of its actual content features men degrading women rather than the other way around.

Kink’s rise from niche to marquee just happens to coincide with the arrival of Tube sites in 2006, which are uniquely effective at triggering the Coolidge Effect and turning porn addicts into novelty-seeking machines. It’s important to note that, while an attraction to what you might call “light kink”—fluffy pink handcuffs, a rhinestone-bedazzled blindfold, that sort of thing—has been hovering around in our popular culture for decades, and therefore some version of this has been part of pornography for ages, Kink is the real article. It’s not just acting. Women are caned and whipped until they are bruised and red. Not only are the sex acts themselves extreme (you name it, it’s there), but scenes are scripted around the psychological and symbolic, not just physical, degradation of the woman. Fifty Shades of Grey is to Kink as a Hitchcock movie is to a snuff film. 

When the films have a storyline, it can usually be summed up with one word: rape. Or two words: brutal rape. It’s one thing to be aroused by a sadomasochistic scene where the sub (as the term of art goes) is shown visibly enjoying the treatment; it’s quite another to be aroused by watching a woman scream in agony and despair as she is held down and violently raped. 

One series of Kink videos is based on the following concept: the pornstar is alone in a room with several men; the director explains to her (and we watch) that if she can leave the room, she gets cash; for each article of clothing she still has on at the end of the scene, she gets cash; for each sex act that one of the men gets to perform on her, he gets cash and she loses money. One has to grant them a devilish kind of cleverness: it lets them enact an actual violent rape with legal impunity. The woman really resists; the men really force themselves brutally on her. Of course, she “consented” to the whole thing, which, somehow, makes it legal. 

Kink is a revealing example because of its particular focus on degradation, and its sudden, inexplicable, overnight jump from a little-known niche site to one of the most popular media brands of any kind on the planet, right after Tube sites appeared. But the key phenomenon is that virtually all pornography, very much including the “vanilla stuff,” has grown more extreme, and specifically more violent, and specifically more misogynistic and degrading towards women. Oh, nonviolent pornography still exists, if you can find it. What used to be mainstream is now niche, and vice versa. 

I want to carefully unpack this so that what I’m saying isn’t misunderstood. For whatever reasons, male fantasies around female reluctance, around power, coercion, and domination, are as old as life itself (as indeed are female fantasies on these themes). Genres of pornography, and sexual fantasy more broadly, that happen in the grey areas, even dark grey areas, of female consent to sex, have always been around and have always been popular. It’s therefore tempting to look at something like Kink, and the general rise in degrading porn, as simply just another manifestation of that age-old proclivity, and not some new thing. But this is just not true. 

Once you are addicted to online porn, the thing that provides the biggest dopamine jolt is whatever is most shocking.

Historically, sexual fantasies that involved some measure of coercion may have aroused many men, but those same men were disgusted by violent rape and brutal degradation. The point is not to “defend” the former or to deny that they represent something dark and condemnable in the human soul—of course they do. The point is simply to say that something has changed, seriously, dramatically, and seemingly overnight. 

We are told that people’s sexual proclivities are hard-wired from birth or perhaps from early childhood experiences, but science says they can and do change. In a famous experiment, researchers sprayed female rats—yes, rats again—with the odor of a dead rat body, which rats instinctively flee from, and introduced virgin male rats. The male rats mated with the females nonetheless—so far, so mammalian. But, crucially, when those same male rats were later placed in a cage with various toys, they preferred to play with the ones that smelled like death. The sexual stimulus had rewired their reward system. In a scientific survey of online porn users in Belgium, 49 percent “mentioned at least sometimes searching for sexual content or being involved in [online sexual activities] that were not previously interesting to them or that they considered disgusting.”

Once you are addicted to online porn, the thing that provides the biggest dopamine jolt is whatever is most shocking. And the reward cycle means you need a bigger dopamine boost every time—something newer, more shocking. And each time, DeltaFosB rewires your brain, creating and strengthening the Pavlovian mechanism by which you do become attracted to those shocking images, and in the process overwriting the neural pathways which link normal sex—you know, nonviolent, non-incestuous—to the reward center. 

Crucially, this overturns the prevailing narrative on porn’s impact on our sexuality. This says that the only problem with deviant porn is viewers thinking “it’s normal,” and therefore, as long as they are educated that it is not, they can safely enjoy their fantasy without harming themselves or their partners. It would be better if it were so, but the evidence shows that this is dead wrong. Alcoholics don’t drink themselves to an early grave because they somehow haven’t been made aware of enough facts about the dangers of drinking—indeed, they know all too well, and the shame this causes is a classic trigger for more bingeing. 

Porn works at the same fundamental level, the level of our primal, rat-like, reward center, the part of our brain honed by millions of years of evolution to be the wellspring of our most powerful urges. Porn doesn’t change what we think, at least not directly, it changes what we crave.

Changing What We Crave

In 2007, two researchers tried to do an experiment, initially unrelated to porn, studying sexual arousal in men in general. They tried to induce the subjects’ arousal in a lab setting by showing them video porn, but ran into a (to them) shocking problem: half of the men, who were aged 29 on average, couldn’t get aroused. The horrified researchers eventually identified the problem: they were showing them old-fashioned porn—the researchers presumably were older and less internet-savvy than their subjects.

“Conversations with the subjects reinforced our idea that in some of them a high exposure to erotica seemed to have resulted in a lower responsivity to ‘vanilla sex’ erotica and an increased need for novelty and variation, in some cases combined with a need for very specific types of stimuli in order to get aroused,” they wrote

Incredibly, porn can even affect our sexual orientation. A 2016 study found that “many men viewed sexually explicit material (SEM) content inconsistent with their stated sexual identity. It was not uncommon for heterosexual-identified men to report viewing SEM containing male same-sex behavior (20.7 percent) and for gay-identified men to report viewing heterosexual behavior in SEM (55.0 percent).” Meanwhile, in its “2018 Year in Review,” PornHub disclosed that “interest in ‘trans’ (aka transgender) porn saw significant gains in 2018, in particular with a 167 percent increase in searches by men and more than 200 percent with visitors over the age of 45 (becoming the fifth most searched terms by those aged 45 to 64).” 

When this phenomenon is discussed at all, the prevailing narrative is that these men are repressed and discover their “true” sexual orientation through porn—except that the men report that the attraction goes away when they quit online porn. 

This is astonishing. The point is not to try to start a moral panic about the internet turning men gay—the point is that it’s not turning them gay. 

But perhaps it’s turning at least some men into something else. Andrea Long Chu is the name of an American transgender writer, who writes with admirable honesty about her gender transition and experience. For example, Chu braved criticism from trans activists by writing in a New York Times essay about the links between her gender transition and chronic depression, and denying that her transition operation will make her happy. In a paper at an academic conference at Columbia, Chu asked: “Did sissy porn make me trans?” Sissy porn is a genre—again, once extremely obscure and inexplicably, suddenly growing into the mainstream—where men dressed like women perform sex acts with men in stereotypically submissive, female roles. Sissy porn is closely related to the genre known as “forced feminization,” which is pretty much just what it sounds like. In a recent book, Chu essentially answers her own question: “Yes.” 

It’s unclear—unknowable, perhaps—to what extent Chu’s experience matches up with the increasing rate of sexual transitions, but even if her example is purely anecdotal, it should serve to underscore the point: porn rewires our brain at a fundamental level and changes what we crave. And that should alarm us regardless of what we believe about transgender issues.

iStock/Getty Images

Porn Also Affects Relationships 

Let’s pause and review: we’ve established that today’s porn is neurochemically addictive like a hard drug, and that this addiction is having a widespread and alarming impact on sexuality, from never-before-seen rates of erectile dysfunction to the growing popularity of extreme fetishes to (potentially) the “sex recession.” That’s surely bad. 

But, to play devil’s advocate, is it really that bad? 

Alcoholism or heroin addiction, say, will not just wreck someone’s sexuality—which they will—but their entire lives and those of people around them. Directly and indirectly, they are responsible for countless deaths every year. It sounds like we should be concerned about porn, sure, but should we really hit the panic button? 

Well, one preliminary answer is that porn addiction affects our lives beyond just sexuality—which makes intuitive sense since, after all, sex touches all areas of our lives.

First, porn affects addicts’ views of women. The idea that porn is “just a fantasy”—that watching degrading porn doesn’t make one more likely to develop misogynistic or sexual pathological tendencies any more than watching a Jason Bourne movie means you’re likely to start punching and shooting people—may or may not have been true in the Playboy era, but it’s definitely not true now. 

A 2015 literature review looked at 22 studies from seven different countries and found a link between consumption of online pornography and sexual aggression.

An academic review of no less than 135 peer-reviewed studies found “consistent evidence” linking online porn addiction to, among other things, “greater support for sexist beliefs,” “adversarial sexist beliefs,” a “greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women,” as well as “a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity.” 

To repeat: a diminished view of women’s . . . morality, and humanity. What have we done?

Given all of that, from endemic ED to increased sexual fetishism and even misogyny, it should come as no surprise that porn addiction is having a negative impact on relationships. 

A 2017 meta-analysis of 50 studies, collectively including more than 50,000 participants from 10 countries, found a link between pornography consumption and “lower interpersonal satisfaction outcomes,” whether in cross-sectional surveys, longitudinal surveys, or laboratory experiments. 

Another study of nationally representative data found that porn use was a strong predictor of “significantly lower levels of marital quality”—the second strongest predictor of all the variables in the survey. This effect showed after the authors controlled for confounding variables like dissatisfaction with sex life and marital decision-making: this suggests that porn use correlates with marital unhappiness not because spouses who become unhappy turn to porn, but rather that porn is the cause of the unhappiness. 

Yet another study, using representative data from the General Social Survey, polling thousands of American couples every year from 2006 to 2014, found that “beginning pornography use between survey waves nearly doubled one’s likelihood of being divorced by the next survey period.” Most terrifying, the study found the group whose probability of divorce increased the most was couples who initially reported being “very happy” in their marriage and began using porn afterward. 

The rebound effect of porn addiction on girlfriends and wives is very real. Popular culture is adamant that a liberated, open-minded woman must be relaxed about her partner’s use of porn. On “Friends,” that Rosetta’s Stone of American culture, Chandler’s chronic masturbation during his relationship with Monica was a recurring gag, and each time the show’s writers made the point of showing us Monica approved. In fact, despite the brainwashing, surveys say that large numbers of women disagree with their men using pornography while in a committed relationship. Finding out that your partner uses porn is often experienced, if not as a form of betrayal, then at least as a form of rejection—probably made worse by the fact that she “knows” she “can’t” object, and also by the fact that (unlike in the “Friends” era) she also knows that porn almost certainly means violent, degrading, misogynistic stuff (or worse). 

The most obvious negative impact is on body image and self-esteem. A majority of women in one study described the discovery that their man uses porn as “traumatic“; they not only felt less desirable, they reported feelings of lower self-worth. Some women can experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.

A 2016 survey of men aged 18 to 29 found

the more pornography a man watches, the more likely he was to use it during sex, request particular pornographic sex acts of his partner, deliberately conjure images of pornography during sex to maintain arousal, and have concerns over his own sexual performance and body image. Further, higher pornography use was negatively associated with enjoying sexually intimate behaviors with a partner.

We can’t prove a direct causal link between porn addiction and the “sex recession,” but come on: even putting aside skyrocketing ED, given what porn addiction does to male sexuality, from the female perspective, sex with a male porn addict sounds like an experiment you don’t want to repeat—and at this point, it’s a fair bet that most young men are porn addicts.

Given all this, while we don’t have enough research yet to make a scientifically-conclusive judgment, I highly suspect a link between male (especially teen) porn use and the widely-reported and sudden increase in depression and other neuropathologies among young women. Writing as a former teenage male, I will posit that even in the best of times most teenage males are not the best kinds of human beings, especially for teenage girls; I can scarcely imagine what it must be like to be a teenage girl when close to 100 percent (as we might safely assume) of the potential relationship pool is porn-addicted.

Not that pornography only affects sexual and romantic relationships. Porn causes loneliness. In part, this is because it is true of all addiction, which typically causes powerful feelings of shame that make us want to avoid or even push away other people. And addiction causes us to engage in antisocial behavior: though I wasn’t able to find a study, there are many online testimonies of people losing their job because they couldn’t stop themselves visiting porn sites at work. 

According to a study by Ana Bridges, a University of Arkansas psychologist who focuses on porn’s impact on relationships, online porn users report “increased secrecy, less intimacy and also more depression.”

iStock/Getty Images

Porn Addiction Causes Brain Damage

Once we understand today’s porn, it makes intuitive sense that it would negatively affect relationships, given its impact on sexuality, views of women, and the impact of any addiction on social life and well-being generally. But what about its effects on the rest of human life? Again, porn is the new smoking—and what smoking does to your lungs, porn does to your brain. How could that not affect everything we do?

How does that work? Remember, compulsive porn use causes the release of the substance DeltaFosB, whose job is to rewire our brains. This is how over time, addiction doesn’t just make someone crave more and more of something, but also insidiously turns him into a different person. 

Perhaps the most striking and far-reaching discovery in neuroscience over the past 20 years has been the idea of neuroplasticity. Scientists used to think of the brain as a kind of machine, like an extremely intricate clock or circuit board, whose structure is basically settled once and for all, at birth or at some time in early childhood. 

It turns out that our brain is much more complex and organic. It is constantly changing, constantly rewiring itself, constantly transforming. The various functions of our brains are performed by neural pathways, and the analogy is that they are like muscles. Aristotle was right—you are what you repeatedly do. That is largely good news, but there is one downside: neuroplasticity is a competitive process. When you “work out” one part of your brain intensely, it will essentially steal resources from nearby areas of the brain to “pump itself up” if these are left dormant.

It’s easy enough to see how that works out when someone suffers from addiction. Every time you light up, or shoot up, or watch porn, that is like an intense “workout” for one set of neural “muscles”—which drains resources away from the rest of the brain. 

Specifically, the release of DeltaFosB that comes with porn use weakens our prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is everything the rat brain is not; it is because humans have a big prefrontal cortex that we have civilization. This is the thinking part of the brain, which calculates risk, controls impulses, allows us to project ourselves into the future and therefore plan, and handles abstract and rational thinking. In terms of Plato’s famous chariot allegory, which describes reason as a charioteer whose job is to lead the two unruly horses, Thymoides, our temperament, and Epithymetikon, our base instincts, the prefrontal cortex is the charioteer. 

Neuroimaging studies have shown that addicts develop “hypofrontality,” the technical term for an impaired prefrontal cortex. People with hypofrontality exhibit lower amounts of gray matter, abnormal white matter, and a reduced ability to process glucose (which is the brain’s fuel) in the prefrontal cortex. 

Given what we know porn does to the brain, and given that we know that the younger the brain the more plastic it is, it is a near certainty that whatever porn addiction does to adults, it’s going to do to minors—except much worse.

Hypofrontality manifests in a decline in what psychologists call executive function. As the name executive function suggests, this is a pretty important feature of our minds. Executive function includes our decision-making faculties, our ability to control impulses, to evaluate risk, reward, and danger. Yes, just that. Scientists don’t fully understand how addiction causes hypofrontality, but it makes intuitive sense that the two should be linked. Addiction is such a bane because even as our urges for the next hit get stronger, our capacity to control urges weakens. The horses get carried away even as the charioteer’s arms go weak. 

I have found close to 150 brain studies that find evidence of hypofrontality in internet addicts—which, it’s safe to assume, is nearly synonymous with internet porn addicts, at least for males—and more than a dozen that have found signs of hypofrontality in sex addicts or porn users. 

That’s right: porn addiction literally atrophies the most important part of our brain.

A 2016 study split current porn users into two groups: one group who abstained from their favorite food for three weeks, and one group who abstained from porn for three weeks. At the end of the three weeks, porn users were less able to delay gratification. Because this is a study with a randomly-assigned control group, it’s solid evidence for a causal link (rather than just a correlation) between porn use and lower self-control. 

Here are some other cognitive problems that scientific studies have linked to porn use: decreased academic performance, decreased working memory performance, decreased decision-making ability, higher impulsivity and lower emotion regulation, higher risk aversion, lower altruism, higher rates of neurosis. These are all symptoms related to hypofrontality. 

Other studies have found links between porn and high stress, social anxiety, romantic attachment anxiety and avoidance, narcissism, depression, anxiety, aggressiveness, and poor self-esteem. These aren’t direct symptoms of hypofrontality, but it’s easy to see how someone with impaired executive function would be at greater risk of developing any number of those pathologies. The studies generally find that the more porn use, the greater these problems. 

So neuroplasticity means that porn addiction, by strengthening certain neural pathways in the brain, weakens others, especially those related to executive function. 

But there’s another alarming implication for what neuroplasticity means for porn addiction: while we now know that, at any age, the brain is much more plastic than we previously thought, there is still no doubt that, all else being equal, the younger we are the more plastic our brains. You can learn, say, a foreign language or a musical instrument at any age, but there is a level of skill that you will only ever achieve if you start young. Our brains are always plastic, but they are still much more plastic when we are young. Furthermore, when certain pathways are solidified at a young age, they tend to stay that way, because while it is still possible to change them later on in life, it is much harder. 

The Impact of Porn on the Child Brain

This brings us to another enormous taboo related to porn: say whatever you will about adults consuming it, in theory we all agree that children shouldn’t be exposed to it—yet in reality, we all know just as well that they are. In prodigious amounts. Just as we know that the porn sites do absolutely nothing to prevent kids from consuming it. 

The statistics are terrifying. According to a 2013 Spanish study, “63 percent of boys and 30 percent of girls were exposed to online pornography during adolescence,” including “bondage, child pornography, and rape.” According to the British Journal of School Nursing, “children under 10 now account for 22 percent of online porn consumption under 18.”

A 2019 literature review found the following negative effects, drawing from more than 20 studies: “regressive attitudes towards women,” “sexual aggression,” “social maladjustment,” “sexual preoccupation,” and “compulsivity.” One study found “an increase in incidents of peer sex abuse among children and that the perpetrator commonly had been exposed to pornography in many of these incidents.” The review also found that “studies of girls’ exposure to pornography as children suggest that it has an impact on their constructs of self.” Among other negative effects, studies of teens more specifically found a “relationship between pornography exposure and . . . social isolation, misconduct, depression, suicidal ideation, and academic disengagement.” 

Furthermore, “children of both sexes who are exposed to pornography are more likely to believe that the acts they see, such as anal sex and group sex, are typical among their peers.”

It’s harder to show a direct causal link scientifically, but it still stands to reason that there should be a link between the porn explosion and the widely documented explosion in mental health problems among teenagers.

While the causes of what’s been called a mental health crisis among teenagers are hotly disputed, the actual facts are not: according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an official government survey which looks at a very broad cross-section of Americans—over 600,000— “from 2009 to 2017, major depression among 20- to 21-year-olds more than doubled, rising from 7 percent to 15 percent. Depression surged 69 percent among 16- to 17-year-olds. Serious psychological distress, which includes feelings of anxiety and hopelessness, jumped 71 percent among 18- to 25-year-olds from 2008 to 2017. Twice as many 22- to 23-year-olds attempted suicide in 2017 compared with 2008, and 55 percent more had suicidal thoughts,” writes San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge. 

So the teenage mental health crisis began around 2009, right after smartphones and Tube sites changed the nature of porn. Again, not scientific proof of a causal link, but certainly suggestive.

The bottom line is this: given what we know porn does to the brain, and given that we know that the younger the brain the more plastic it is, it is a near certainty that whatever porn addiction does to adults, it’s going to do to minors—except much worse. This is something we must conclude simply from knowing about the basic facts of human neurobiology, even without taking into account any negative psychological effects of exposure of children to hardcore pornography. 

iStock/Getty Images

Might Porn Cause Societal Collapse?

I have tried to be as careful as possible and only to lay out carefully-drawn scientific arguments. We can, and should, debate morality, but we should be clear about facts. And in a world where a million articles claim everything and its opposite on the basis of some “study,” I wanted to be as precise as possible about what we can know scientifically about porn, with a high degree of certainty, versus things we can strongly suspect, albeit not prove. 

We know what porn does to the brain, because the medical science is solid. Because social science is much softer, we can’t know for certain what causal impacts porn has on society, if any. But once we realize that we have to be much more humble in this area, we can still make prudential judgments.

Remember the sex recession? It seems that Japan is a precursor in all kinds of recession: just as it went first into the zero interest rate economic environment that the rest of the rich world has been experiencing since 2008, and which looks more like a new permanent state with each passing day, Japan also entered its sex recession a decade before us. Japan also got broadband internet earlier than the rest of the world. Could it be that Japan is an example of what’s likely to happen to us if we don’t do something about porn addiction? 

Since Japan got broadband internet, the younger generations have gone through significant social changes. “In 2005, a third of Japanese single people ages 18 to 34 were virgins; by 2015, 43 percent of people in this age group were, and the share who said they did not intend to get married had risen, too. (Not that marriage was any guarantee of sexual frequency: A related survey found that 47 percent of married people hadn’t had sex in at least a month.),” The Atlantic’s Kate Julian wrote in her article on the sex recession. 

In Japan, this new generation of sexless men—and the Japanese sex recession is caused by men’s lack of interest, to the vocal dismay of young Japanese women, if media reports are to be trusted—are known as soushoku danshi, literally “grass-eating men”—in a word, herbivores. The epithet was originally coined by a frustrated female columnist but, incredibly, the herbivores aren’t offended and most of them are happy to identify as such. 

Given Japan’s population decline, the herbivores, who have become a massive subculture, are a subject of national debate in Japan, Slate’s Alexandra Harney reports. And what seems to define the herbivores is not just that they have no interest in sex, it’s that they don’t seem to be interested in much of anything at all. 

They tend to live with their parents. After all, it’s hard to find a place to live when you don’t have a steady job, which herbivores say they don’t look for, because they’re not interested in a professional career. Not that they’re opting out of productive society to focus on, say, art, or activism, or some other form of creativity or counter-culture. Apparently, one of the few hobbies that seem to be popular among herbivores is . . . going on walks. To be fair, walking is an important part of digestion for ruminants. 

What herbivores do seem to be interested in is spending the vast majority of their time alone, on the internet. Herbivores who have a social life keep it restricted to a small circle of friends. While the Japanese used to be notorious for their national obsession with tourism, they don’t like to travel abroad. They have created a new market for yaoi, a Japanese genre of bodice ripper-style romance portraying homoerotic relationships between men; while yaoi’s audience has traditionally been female, the male herbivores like yaoi

Countless explanations are proffered for the herbivore phenomenon, from cultural to economic, and it makes intuitive sense that some of those factors would be at play. Nevertheless, I find it striking that everything we know about the herbivores matches with what we know about online porn addiction, in particular reduced libido and overuse of the internet. We also know that Japan has growing markets for sex toys for men, but not for women, as well as for extreme and homoerotic pornography, which is consistent with a population that’s been desensitized to normal sex stimulus by online porn addiction. 

Beyond sexuality, the herbivores seem strikingly like a generation of men suffering from hypofrontality, the neurological disease caused by porn addiction. It seems that their key problem is an inability to commit, whether to a career or a woman. Commitment requires abilities enabled by the prefrontal cortex, like self-mastery, correctly weighing risk and reward, and projecting oneself into the future. Becoming financially independent, visiting a foreign country, moving out of your parents’ apartment, going to parties, meeting new people, asking a girl out—what all these things have in common is that while young men generally want to do them, they can also be intimidating; and it is the executive function of the brain located in the prefrontal cortex that makes it possible to get over the hump of initial reluctance that comes from the lower parts of the brain. 

With Japan on the road to self-extinction in part as a result of its males’ lack of interest in sex or marriage, it’s hard not to think of Nietzsche’s parable of the Last Man, his nightmare scenario for the fate that would await Western civilization after the Death of God if it did not embrace the way of the Übermensch: the last man lives a life of comfort, has all his appetites satisfied, embraces conformity and rejects conflict, and seeks nothing more, incapable as he is of imagination, or initiative, or creativity, or originality, or risk-taking. The Last Man, in short, is man returned to something like an animal state, though not that of a carnivore. Nietzsche compares him to an insect, but herbivore fits quite well. In Nietzsche’s terrifying phrase, the Last Man believes he has discovered happiness. 

Again, it’s impossible to prove scientifically that the herbivore phenomenon is caused by widespread porn addiction. But one thing is certainly very suggestive: there’s no explanation for why, if the herbivore trend is caused by some broader cultural or socioeconomic trends, it should be such an overwhelmingly male phenomenon. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Is Japan a harbinger of the future? Are we on the road to becoming a herbivore civilization? Or, to take another analogy, becoming like the helpless people on the spaceship in “WALL-E,” except we never got around to actually creating the AI and robots that enabled their pointless, ghastly lives of fake pleasure?

Perhaps it sounds hyperbolic. But what we do know is that large numbers of our civilization are hooked on a drug that has profound effects on the brain, which we mostly don’t understand, except that everything we understand is negative and alarming. And we are just ten years into the process. If we don’t act, pretty soon the next generation will be a generation that largely got hooked on this brain-eating drug as children, whose brains are uniquely vulnerable. It seems perfectly reasonable and consistent with the evidence as we have it to be deeply alarmed. Indeed, what seems supremely irrational is our bizarre complacency about something which, at some level, we all know to be happening.

A Massive Experiment On Our Brains

Another way to approach the question of how to respond is to note that we—the entire advanced world, and soon the whole world, as the prices of smartphones and broadband in developing countries keep dropping—are running a massive, unprecedented experiment on our own brains. Scientists do understand a few things about the brain, but only a few. The human brain is by far the most complex thing in the known Universe, and we are subjecting half of the human population at best, to an unprecedented kind of drug. 

As I write this, the FDA is reportedly considering a complete ban on e-cigarettes. Imagine if, say, a popular health supplement was shown to, oh, increase the rate of ED among young men by some percentage, let alone several orders of magnitude, or be as addictive as cocaine in large segments of the population. Surely some spotlight-hogging prosecutor would have the company’s owners doing a nationally-televised perp walk before you could say “Four Loko”—unless, of course, he was himself getting high on the stuff and was too ashamed to take a public stand.

An analogy might be in order here: climate change. There are some things we know scientifically to be true: we know that greenhouse gases lead to higher temperatures all else equal; we know that humans are emitting more and more greenhouse gases; we know that temperatures are increasing; we know that greenhouse gases are increasing to unprecedented levels. 

We don’t know, scientifically, precisely, what that means for the future. Earth is much too complex an organism for us to be able to predict with high confidence what climate change will mean, specifically—indeed, the best justification for alarm is precisely the fact that we are in uncharted territory when it comes to levels of greenhouse gases and temperatures. This is why the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which represents the scientific consensus on climate change, provides not predictions of the future impact of climate change, but probability distributions (read them if you don’t believe me). 

On the basis of the current state of science, we have a preponderance of evidence leading to a rationally justified belief that never-before-seen levels of greenhouse gases and temperature increases create an unacceptable level of risk of negative outcomes, including catastrophic outcomes, so that some kind of collective action (putting aside angry debates on what kind of action) is justified to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The Earth is much too complex for us to understand it completely, and this is actually the best argument for why it’s reckless to pump it full of chemicals at unprecedented levels. After all, we don’t have an Earth 2. (And yes, paradoxically given conservatives’ reluctance to embrace ambitious action on climate change, this is an inherently conservative argument.)

You can see where I’m going: however precious Earth is, so are our brains; however complex Earth is, so much so are our brains, which are the most complex artifacts in the known universe. I don’t see why the same logic doesn’t apply. 

The stakes are comparably high, the logic for action is the same, and yet these respective causes get wildly divergent levels of public attention and political capital. 

It took a long time between the moment when the evidence for smoking’s link to lung cancer and a whole host of negative health outcomes became incontrovertible. And it took a long time between that moment and when we as a society accepted that evidence and decided to act. This was in part due to legitimate scientific questions early on, in part due to the influence of greedy, monied interests, and in part because of misguided pseudo-libertarian rhetoric. But also in part because so many people were reluctant to admit that their beloved, pleasurable habit, was in reality a destructive addiction—and they were all the more reluctant to admit it because they knew, deep down, that it was the truth. 

I still smoke. But, at least, I have stopped lying to myself about why I do it. It’s time we as a society stopped lying to ourselves about what has become the biggest threat to public health.

Weekend Long Read

The Tortoise and the Hare of Modernity Reconsidered

Hares do not countenance irrational impediments such as “taboos.” Their response to the tortoises who deploy them is a mixture of loathing, hysteria, and contempt. But as a wise man put it, “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”

Not to be overly paradoxical about it, but the names Donald Trump, Adam Schiff, and Jerry Nadler will not appear in this essay. Like you, I am weary of that shrill and unproductive static. Let us, then, take a brief holiday and consider a different sort of problem, a problem that stands behind—admittedly pretty far behind—that static I mentioned and which we might do well to think about. Let us, for lack of a better phrase, call it “Modernity and Its Discontents.”

No educated person in the English-speaking world can hear that phrase and fail to think of the memorable English title that James Strachey gave to Freud’s late masterpiece: Civilization and Its Discontents. Pressed to give a single word summary of what Freud concluded about those Unbehagen, those “discontents,” one could do worse than offer the brief imperative “No.” “Sad is eros, builder of cities,” W. H. Auden wrote, and that sadness, Freud thought, followed inevitably from the basic instinctual denials that made civilization possible. 

“Modernity,” it will be pointed out, is not quite, or perhaps I should say “not hardly,” coterminous with “civilization.” If pressed to give a one-word précis to describe the Unbehagen in die Modernität, I might venture to suggest that it centrally involved the diminishment, the attenuation, the abandonment of that imperative denial that Freud analyzed. 

Unfortunately, the loss or—more to the point—the active repudiation of “no” does not necessarily get you to any positive “yes.” 

That’s the idea, of course: that by kicking over the traces, by saying “no” to all those inherited constraints, habits, structures, customs, prejudices, and dispositions that made us who we are, we thereby emerge into a glorious sunlit upland in which we enjoy the cities but dispense with the sadness. 

The reality has been somewhat different. George Orwell gave dramatic expression to one set of differences when he noted that “For two hundred years we had sawed and sawed and sawed at the branch we were sitting on. And in the end, much more suddenly than anyone had foreseen, our efforts were rewarded, and down we came. But unfortunately there had been a little mistake. The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all, it was a cesspool full of barbed wire.”

Now, Orwell was a gloomy chap, and it would certainly be possible to instance plenty of other less dire eventualities that await the civilizational carpentry he describes. Everyone reading this, I’d wager, has done time with his own sort of saw, and the vast majority of us find ourselves in situations far less horrible than the barbed wire bedizened pit Orwell imagined. 

And yet, and yet . . . It’s hard to deny that Orwell was on to something. At the center of modernity’s discontents, I believe, is a widespread sensation that we are precariously suspended over something minatory and unfathomable, combined with the nagging suspicion that it wasn’t always thus, that there was a time when one’s feet touched the ground and the landscape around us bore the familiar traces of human habitation. Why that is no longer the case, or, at least, can no longer be taken for granted as a cultural given, has been a matter for speculation at least since Matthew Arnold spoke of the melancholy, long withdrawing roar of the Sea of Faith on ebb tide

It might be pointed out that Arnold’s image is potentially rather cheering. After all, a tide that ebbs is also presumably a tide that eventually floods, though it is not at all clear that we’ve had much evidence of that uplifting periodicity. 

Indeed, part of what makes the withdrawal Arnold evokes so melancholy is that it impresses most of us more as an irrefragable feature of modernity than a contingent option. It is not, if we are honest, something we can just dispense with. It is, for better or worse, probably for better and worse, part of who we moderns are. 

That said, I also believe that there are several features of our situation that are often presented as inevitable which in fact are matters of contention, deliberation, remediation, even, if I may employ an unfashionable term, choice. 

Anything like a full survey of this waterfront would take a book, or rather a shelf full of books; For now, I’d simply like to touch briefly and incompletely on what I take to be three negotiable elements of that dispensation we call modernity. 

iStock/Getty Images

The Velocity of Modernity

The first, most politically malleable element I call “velocity.” It is adumbrated by a slight variation on title of this essay, “The Tortoise and the Hare Reconsidered.” I don’t have a lot to add to the wisdom of Aesop, namely, that the fastest way to your goal may be the slowest and most leisurely. 

Now, that is not an insight greatly appreciated by the modernness of modernity. On the contrary. Faster. Brighter. Sooner. Newer. More efficient. More innovative. More tomorrow and less yesterday. More hares, that’s to say, and fewer tortoises. That’s what is wanted. 

Velocity is a signal marker of modernity—a glory, perhaps, as well as a discontent, but certainly a leading characteristic. 

There are many sides to modernity’s love affair with velocity. Here I’d like to consider just one: its assault on deliberateness. Back in 2008, when what has come to be called the Great Recession was just beginning, Rahm Emanuel, then Barack Obama’s chief of staff, gleefully said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” 

What he meant was that a crisis makes people anxious and therefore vulnerable, and that it is easier in periods of crisis to exploit that vulnerability and push through initiatives to enlarge government and meddle more. 

I’d like to urge caution about that impulse. In politics, I would say, deliberateness is an undervalued virtue, particularly in periods of crisis. Pace Rahm Emmanuel, I’d say that you never want to let a serious crisis upset your judgment. As the British writer Daniel Hannan once observed, “Most disastrous policies have been introduced at times of emergency.” How often have you heard a politician or government bureaucrat tell you that “Doing nothing is not an option”? In fact, as Hannan rightly noted, “Doing nothing is always an option, and often it is the best option.” This was something that Calvin Coolidge acknowledged when he said to a busybody aide: “Don’t just do something; stand there!”

In other words, I’d like to put in a word for what Walter Bagehot celebrated as “slow government.” The American socialist and perpetual presidential candidate Norman Thomas defined socialism as “democracy in a hurry.” Socialism’s velocity, Thomas thought, was a major part of what recommended it. Bagehot disagreed. “The essence of civilization,” he wrote, “is dullness.”

In an ultimate analysis [Bagehot explained], it is only an elaborate invention . . . for abolishing the fierce passions, the unchastened enjoyments, the awakening dangers, the desperate conflicts, . . . the excitements of a barbarous age, and to substitute for them indoor pleasures, placid feelings, and rational amusements. That a grown man should be found to write reviews is in itself a striking fact. Suppose you asked Achilles to do such a thing, do you imagine he would consent?

Bagehot’s point was that, in an advanced civilization, deliberateness, circumspection, and adherence to process are virtues that save us from the myopia of impulsiveness, not to mention the rage of Achilles.

Bagehot was not, I hasten to add, advocating quietism or inaction. If the English had mastered the art of slow, deliberate government, that mastery did not hinder an energetic pursuit of their own interests. The achievement was moderation, yes, but it was what Bagehot called “animated moderation,” moderation chastened by deliberateness but underwritten by energy. “When we have a definite end in view,” Bagehot wrote, “we can act well enough. The campaigns of our soldiers are as energetic as any campaigns ever were; the speculations of our merchants have greater promptitude, greater audacity, greater vigor than any such speculations ever had before.” But all that action takes place in a framework of circumspection. It is the deliberate animation of the tortoise, not the frenzied gesticulations of the hare.

As an aside, let me mention that James Madison would have approved of Bagehot’s recommendation and aligned himself on the side of the tortoise. As Greg Weiner shows in Madison’s Metronome, the great Federalist author regarded the Constitution as an instrument for regulating the tempo of politics, a means of putting the brakes on those “fierce passions” of which Bagehot spoke. 

In this context, Weiner draws a fruitful distinction between “governing,” on the one hand, and “policymaking,” on the other. Governing, he observes, “calibrates the extent of policymaking to public needs,” while the ethos of policymaking assumes that the current state of affairs, whatever it is, is wanting. For the policymaker, Weiner notes, “The drive for perfection and ‘rational results’ . . . makes satisfaction a vice and change a constant need. Political leaders are thus judged by the volume of policymaking rather than outcomes.”

Weiner’s distinction between governing, which starts with an affirmation of present realities, and policymaking, which begins with an assumption of their inadequacy, brings us close to what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott analyzed as “rationalism” in politics. “The evanescence of imperfection,” Oakeshott observed, “may be said to be the first item of the creed of the Rationalist.” In Weiner’s terms, the Rationalist is on the side of policymaking, not governing; he is a hare, not a tortoise, an apostle of velocity in politics and constant innovation in life.

Albert Ceolan/De Agostini via Getty Images

Living With Imperfection (or Needing the Dragon)

This brings me to the second negotiable element in the dispensation of modernity. I’m not sure that there is a single word to describe what I mean. It has something to do with the place of imperfection in the metabolism of human life, or, more precisely, it has something to do with our attitude towards imperfection and the extent to which we believe that our well-meaning interventions can eradicate it. The hares of the world look forward to all sorts of splendid futures when humanity has shuffled off the accumulated incapacities that have hitherto blighted life and forestalled utopia. 

The tortoises, on the other hand, wonder whether dispensing with our imperfections, assuming that were possible, would not also mean dispensing with those features that made us capable of whatever moral and political achievements we had in fact made. 

Oakeshott touched on the distinction I am trying to get at when he noted that while the Rationalist might acknowledge that there were problems that were intractable, “what he cannot imagine is politics which do not consist in solving problems, or a political problem to which there is not ‘rational’ solution.”

The late Kenneth Minogue, a past president of the Michael Oakeshott Society, had a marvelous image for the rationalist disposition that Oakeshott describes. It is, Minogue said, a bit like the story of St. George and the dragon. 

After many centuries of superstition, St. George, having donned the mantle of beneficent Rationality, finally appears somewhere about the 16th century. He slays the monsters of kingship and religious intolerance before moving on to such social evils as prison conditions, slavery, inherited privilege, patriarchy, and environmental insensitivity. “But unlike St. George,” Minogue observed, “he didn’t know when to retire.”

The more he succeeded, the more he became bewitched with the thought of a world free of dragons, and the less capable he became of ever returning to private life. He needed his dragons. He could only live by fighting for causes—the people, the poor, the exploited, the colonially oppressed, the underprivileged, and the underdeveloped. As an aging warrior, he grew breathless on his pursuit of smaller and smaller dragons.

It should be noted that the smallness of the dragons pursued does nothing to mitigate the ferocity of St. George’s sallies or the formidable nature of the weapons he deploys. 

The example of John Stuart Mill is instructive in this context. One of the curious features of Mill’s thought was the assumption that the concerted application of reason to social problems would simultaneously lead to a greater unanimity of opinion on all important issues and, at the same time, an increased eccentricity, individuality, and more robust “experiments in living.” 

“As mankind improve,” Mill said, “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.”

The process Mill envisions slyly undertakes the destruction of inherited custom and belief precisely in order to construct a bulwark of custom and belief that can be inherited. As Mill put it in his Autobiography,

I looked forward . . . to a future . . . [in which] convictions as to what is right and wrong, useful and pernicious, [will be] 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” is all well and good as long as it is grounded in the “true exigencies of life”—as defined, nota bene, by J. S. Mill. It’s nice work if you can get it, and boy did Mill get it!

Mill was a proselytizing rationalist on the pattern Oakeshott described in his famous essay and Minogue evoked with his fable about a modern St. George and the miniature dragons. 

Politics for Mill was essentially a matter of “solving problems.” His great rhetorical feat was to convince the world that this process was synonymous with the operation of reason itself. “We’re all socialists now,” said the future King Edward VII in 1895. He may have been a bit precipitate in that declaration, but it certainly seems that we’re all Millians now, at least with respect to our basic assumptions about the nature of politics and that evanescence of imperfection of which Oakeshott spoke. 

But just as we can decline to celebrate the cult of velocity that aligns modernity with the party of the hares, so we can question Mill’s identification of “rational” with his program of liberal calculation. The English historian Maurice Cowling was on to something when he observed that to argue with Mill, on Mill’s terms, was to concede defeat. “Rational,” Cowling pointed out, does not have to mean conclusions reached by critical self-examination as Mill insisted. “Prejudice” is not, as Mill taught, necessarily synonymous with bigotry: it may, on the contrary, be used to describe commitments about which argument has been declined: but to decline argument is not in itself irrational.

Another day, it would be interesting to talk more about the word “prejudice” and ask what happened between the time that Edmund Burke could speak of that “just prejudice” which rendered a man’s virtue his habit and today when “prejudice” has been firmly enrolled in the index of reactionary vices. Rescuing the word “prejudice” from its seemingly unredeemable membership in the roll call of liberal obloquy would be a great victory for the conservative spirit. For now, however, I’d like to touch very briefly on what I take to be a central antinomy of that species of overbearing rationalism for which Mill was such a beguiling spokesman. 

The antinomy is this: the liberalism Mill advocated is built fundamentally on openness to other points of view, even to those points of view whose success would destroy liberalism. Tolerance to those points of view is a prescription for suicide. But intolerance betrays the fundamental premise of liberalism, i.e. openness. Rock, meet hard place. 

Mill aimed to achieve a society that is maximally tolerant. But he thereby at the same time gave maximum scope to the activities of those who have set themselves to achieve the maximally-intolerant society. Maximum tolerance, it turns out, leads to maximum impotence. The refusal to criticize results in a moral paralysis. That paralysis is the secret poison at the heart of Mill’s liberalism. Mill’s “one very simple principle”—that coercive public opinion ought to be exercised only for self-protective purposes—was, as Mill’s great critic James Fitzjames Stephen noted, “a paradox so startling that it is almost impossible to argue against.”

Note the adverb. Stephen managed to fill about 300 pages arguing against it. It pains me to report that although he won the argument—as the philosopher David Stove put it, Stephen made “mincemeat” out of Mill’s polemic in On Liberty—nevertheless, he lost the battle, which is to say that the hares of Millian liberalism with their addiction to moral velocity and a species of rationalism that is as arrogant as it is abstract have triumphed in the hearts of established opinion. That attack on customary, conventional wisdom has become the new customary, conventional opinion. That prejudice against prejudice has become the new and unspoken prejudice the public everywhere embraces without quite acknowledging. 

Dennis Stacey/Getty Images

Can We Really be Disinterested Spectators?

There are, however, cracks in the carapace of this rationalist consensus, cracks that can be worked at to reveal what I take to be a third negotiable element in Modernity’s Discontents. We glimpse this third element wherever Mill’s doctrine brushes against the moral or spiritual exigencies of human reality. In his book Utilitarianism, Mill writes that “as between his own happiness and that of others, justice requires [everyone] to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator.” 

But can that be? Or is it merely benevolent sounding twaddle? If Mill were right about this, Stephen observed, “I can only say that nearly the whole of nearly every human creature is one continued course of injustice, for nearly everyone passes his life in providing the means of happiness for himself and those who are closely connected with him, leaving others all but entirely out of account.” And this, Stephen argues, is as it should be, not merely for prudential but for moral reasons:

The man who works from himself outwards, whose conduct is governed by ordinary motives, and who acts with a view to his own advantage and the advantage of those who are connected with himself in definite, assignable ways, produces in the ordinary course of things much more happiness to others . . . than a moral Don Quixote who is always liable to sacrifice himself and his neighbors.

As Stephen implies, there is an aroma of unreality, a quality of the fantastic, that rises from the anemic currents of the rationalism Mill advocates. 

There is also an unavoidable spiritual thinness. Mill prided himself in overcoming or superseding the religious and social prejudices of the past. The question is whether man can jettison the ground that made him what he is without at the same time jettisoning his humanity. The sorts of questions that formed the title of Gauguin’s famous picture: “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?”—these are the sorts of existential or religious questions, unposeable by any utilitarian calculus, that are centrally involved with our humanity, and ultimately unavoidable by any hare-like recourse to the distractions of velocity. 

“Religion,” as the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski observed, “is a paramount aspect of human culture. Religious need cannot be ex-communicated from culture by rationalist incantation. Man does not live by reason alone.”

Kolakowski shows how the tendency to believe that all human problems have a technical solution is an unfortunate inheritance from the Enlightenment—“even,” he notes, “from the best aspects of the Enlightenment: from its struggle against intolerance, self-complacency, superstitions, and uncritical worship of tradition.” 

In other words, there is much about human life that is not susceptible to human remedy or intervention. Our allegiance to the ideal of unlimited progress is, paradoxically, a dangerous moral limitation that is closely bound up with what Kolakowski calls the loss of the sacred. “With the disappearance of the sacred,” he writes,

which imposed limits to the perfection that could be attained by the profane, arises one of the most dangerous illusions of our civilization—the illusion that there are no limits to the changes that human life can undergo, that society is “in principle” an endlessly flexible thing, and that to deny this flexibility and this perfectibility is to deny man’s total autonomy and thus to deny man himself.

I have used a lot of antiquated words in this essay: “choice,” “prejudice,” and just now “sacred.” Perhaps the most telling—it is the name of that third negotiable element I mentioned a moment ago—is “taboo,” an acknowledgment of the non- or suprarational in human affairs. In an important essay called “Modernity on Endless Trial,” Kolakowski argues that “the disappearance of taboos” is “the most dangerous characteristic of modernity.” Why? Because without that indelible ground of unarguable repudiation human reality is little more than raw material, susceptible to endless manipulation by whatever fashionable “rationalism” happens to rule. 

The British philosopher Roger Scruton made a kindred point when he argued that if Enlightenment is a desirable thing, so too is a certain quota of “endarkening.” Moral education, Scruton observes, cannot be a purely “enlightened” one of calculating long-term profit and loss. It must also involve an “endarkened” and “endarkening” component, through which one is taught “ precisely to cease [one’s] calculations, to regard certain paths as forbidden, as places where neither profit nor loss has authority.”

Scruton elicited a large quota of liberal obloquy for speaking up for taboo. Hares do not countenance such irrational impediments. Their response to the tortoises who deploy them is a mixture of loathing, hysteria, and contempt. But Scruton was right. As another tortoise, G.K. Chesterton put it, “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”

Weekend Long Read

Human Capital:
A Horror Story

At least tomorrow will be Tuesday, you tell yourself. But it will be the same. It will always be the same. It will always be Monday. Until you die.

It’s Monday. You don’t want to come into work but you must, so at least you just want to complete your work as quickly as possible and get out.

That isn’t going to happen. You are not in the office to work. 

You are there to participate in social rituals and humiliate yourself.

***

You enter the office and the resident Non-Player Characters ask you how was your weekend. They don’t care but you answer anyway. You think of a safe and meaningless reply to end the ritual and not get into trouble. You tell them you walked in a park when really you lay in bed depressed and exhausted.

***

The NPCs tell you what they did. You don’t care, but they tell you anyway. They tell you about the amazing brunch they had. They tell you how great their kids are doing. You try to walk away but out comes a phone and now you have to look at photos of the brunch.

***

You hate Eggs Benedict but smile anyway. Jane from Finance has returned from holiday. She wants to tell everybody about her week in Florida. You try to look uninterested but she shows you a video of her son at the Epcot Center. 

You check your emails. You have 120 unread messages.

***

You go for a coffee to get away from the morning chatter. You order a black coffee and hope you can get through the day without speaking to anyone. As you order the coffee the barista asks for your name. You are the only customer and you don’t want to give your name.

***

The barista says you must give a name. You argue but she just blinks. 

You tell her your name. Five minutes later she hands you a latte. You don’t complain and just leave. It’s better this way.

***

Back at the office, you bump into Jack from IT. You hate Jack. 

He asks you about your weekend and then shows you a video of his son at the Epcot Center. He asks you for lunch but before you can refuse he’s sent you an invite for 12:30. 

The restaurant only serves Eggs Benedict.

***

You sit down at your desk and begin clearing your emails. 50 percent of them are chain arguments where half of the company has been copied in to play witness to a misunderstanding about dirty coffee cups in the pantry. The other 50 percent are from people trying to put their work onto you.

***

You begin to tackle the 60 emails from people trying to offload their duties onto you. You reply to each one-by-one. After you hit the final send button you check your inbox and you now have 60 out-of-office replies.

***

It’s lunchtime. Jack drops by your desk so you can’t escape. Over lunch, you joke about how anyone who asks for a lunch appointment always wants something more than lunch. 

Jack laughs. He says you have a good sense of humor. Then he asks you to join the company social committee.

***

Finally, you get back to your desk. You can’t close the door and work in peace because you work in an open-plan office. Someone behind you is playing rap music loudly on headphones. You try to concentrate but you can’t because you work in an open-plan office.

***

Jane comes by your desk with birthday cake. It’s the birthday of Zoe in HR. She offers you a slice. You tell her you’re on a strict keto diet. Jane raises an eyebrow and gives you a look. 

You eat the cake. 

Five minutes later you receive an email asking you to give $5 for the cake.

***

There is a commotion by the door and a chorus of oohs and aahs. A woman who has been on maternity leave for a year has popped in to show off her baby. Work stops completely as everyone leaves their desk. 

You try to work. 

The baby is now beside you. You’re being asked to kiss it.

***

The mother asks when you are going to have a baby. 

You don’t even have a girlfriend because you work late every night and are too depressed to leave the house on weekends. 

The mother then tells you she is expecting again and will have another year off. 

You will do her work.

***

An email lands into your inbox. 

“Can we have a quick meeting at 4 p.m.?” 

You reply: “Yes.” 

They reply: “Thanks. Please send me an invitation and book a meeting room.” 

It’s already 3 p.m. There are never rooms available at 4 p.m.

***

You reply that there are no rooms available but she is welcome to swing by your desk. 

She never replies. 

A week later you discover she complained to your boss that you were unprofessional.

***

A girl from Communications stops by your desk. She is taking photos for the company website. 

She asks you to hold up a sign saying “I support women in leadership!” 

Ninety percent of your management are already women. 

You hold up the sign and give a thumbs up. You’re tired. Your smile hurts.

***

You turn back to your PC. A message has arrived that this Sunday will be Family Day and “they” hope “you” will be there. 

You look at the names of the people organizing the Family Day. They are all childless middle-aged women. You read more and note that attendance is compulsory.

***

David from Contracts replies to the email that he can’t attend Family Day because his son has a football game that day and it’s the finals. 

The childless middle-aged women respond to David that attendance is mandatory. 

There can be no family fun outside Family Day.

***

A supplier emails you about a long-overdue invoice. You email the invoice to Jane from Finance and ask on the status. 

She replies and asks you to attach the invoice. You grit your teeth, reattach the invoice, and click send. 

Jane then asks why have you sent her an invoice.

***

You try to concentrate one last time, but somebody has hit a sales target and the song “We Are The Champions” blasts over the speaker. It’s impossible to focus. 

You look at the overweight tired people high-fiving each other by the sales desk. 

They don’t look like champions.

***

You never wanted your life to be like this.
This is not how you imagined life to be at 35.
You studied hard.
You worked hard.
You did all the right things.
Said all the right things.
Yet here you are being asked to give $5 for Zoe’s birthday cake in an open-plan office.

***

You wonder if there are other better jobs. You check LinkedIn. You notice your company has posted a photo of you smiling, holding up the “women in leadership” sign with the hashtag #greatplacetowork written underneath. 

All the other companies say they are #greatplacestowork, too.

***

You realize there is no escape. 

Even though you have unfinished work you decide to leave on-time today and just go home to lie on the bed. 

Jane from Finance notices your sad frown as you leave. 

“Somebody had a bad case of the Mondays today!” she jokes. 

Everybody laughs.

***

At least tomorrow will be Tuesday, you tell yourself. 

But it will be the same. 

It will always be the same. 

It will always be Monday. 

Until you die.

iStock/Getty Images

Tuesday

Your alarm goes off and you force your head from the pillow. 

It’s Tuesday. 

You half-recollect faded dreams of childhood summers and flying like a bird but it’s Tuesday so there’s no time for that. Today you must complete your work. 

Maybe Tuesday will be your good news day.

***

You arrive at the office early so that you can get a head start. You switch on your PC and immediately a screen pops-up saying you must restart in order to install essential updates. It gives you no choice to refuse. 

You click restart and wait. 

And wait and wait and wait . . .

***

You are staring at a blue screen and your PC won’t turn on again. 

You call the IT helpdesk but you’re early so nobody answers. 

You go buy a coffee to kill time. The coffee queue is long with the morning rush. Your supervisor scolds you for being three minutes late when you return.

***

You call the IT helpdesk and a heavy accent tells you that you must use your PC to log a helpdesk ticket. 

You explain you cannot open your PC so you can’t log a service ticket. 

The heavy accent says you must log a ticket. 

After 10 minutes you hang up.

***

You walk physically to the IT department. Deepak and Prakash ignore you while they have a fervent conversation in Hindi. Eventually, you raise your voice and ask for help. Deepak says you must submit a ticket. 

Saira from Sales arrives and asks for help. She is assisted immediately.

***

You stand your ground as you have no other choice. 

Deepak asks if you have tried turning your computer on and off. 

You roll your eyes, swear under your breath, and say “yes.” 

Finally, Deepak agrees to check out your PC.

***

Deepak sits down at your desk. He turns the PC off and then on again. 

The PC now turns on immediately with no problem whatsoever. 

Deepak glares at you. When he’s gone you notice that one of your French chocolates has disappeared. 

It’s now 11 a.m.

***

You open Outlook and wait for the folder to update. Suddenly you hear a “Hi!”

It’s Zoe from HR. 

She wants to thank you for the birthday cake and then proceeds to monologue about how her husband (who works in banking) plans to treat her for her birthday weekend. 

It’s now 11:30 a.m.

***

Politely—meekly—you gently tell Zoe that you have enjoyed the conversation but have work to do. She looks at you and says: “Well, you have a nice day.” 

Finally, you open your emails. Five minutes later you receive an email from Zoe saying she did not appreciate your tone just now.

***

Zoe thinks that you could work on your workplace language and that tone “is something you can especially work on.”

She thinks it will help to make the office a #greatplacetowork

She sends you an invite for an all-day training on “Respect” for tomorrow. 

She signs off with “Kind regards.”

***

For a moment you sit silently pondering the meaning of the words “kind regards.” 

You receive another email that says it is a “gentle reminder” about the compulsory Family Day this weekend. 

You try to think when was the last time somebody wrote sincerely to you.

***

It’s lunchtime. You buy a sandwich as all you want to do is eat at your desk and zone out watching an anime episode for thirty minutes. 

Just as you’re about to put on your headphones someone taps you on your shoulder. It’s Ian from Sales. He tells you how he is “smashing it” in Q4.

***

After 20 minutes of Ian telling you how much he is “knocking it out of the park” you make your excuses and go to the toilet for some peace and quiet. 

The male toilet has disappeared overnight. Now there is an “All-Gender Toilet” and the door is decorated in rainbow hearts.

***

You go through three stalls before you find one that hasn’t got a used tampon floating in the basin or discarded on the floor. 

You put on your headphones and watch 10 minutes of anime in the stall. This is the best part of the day. 

In the next stall, you overhear Ian crying.

***

Ian starts to mumble to himself between his sobbing. 

“You’re a corporate tiger, Ian! You’ve got this! Q4 is gonna be your quarter!” 

You wonder how much Ian is really “knocking it out of the park” and leave. A woman glares at you as you leave the all-gender toilet.

***

You get back to your desk and you can’t enter your PC again because your 30-day password has expired and you must create a new one. 

You try the name of your first dog, mother’s date of birth, elementary school address . . . all are rejected for not being strong enough.

***

You try them all again with added capital letters and symbols but they still fail. Eventually, you give up and input a string of 20 random letters and numbers. 

You’ll never remember it so you write it down on a Post-It and stick it to your desk for future reference.

***

An email arrives from Jane in Finance. They won’t process your invoice because there is a new procedure and you failed to follow it correctly. 

You ask where this new process was announced. She tells you it’s on the intranet’s Finance page. 

You never knew you had an intranet.

***

You go onto the intranet page and it tells you that all invoices must now be submitted through a new Oracle system. 

Sighing, you click the link to download the Oracle system. 

A pop-up springs open and says you don’t have administrative permission to download new software.

***

You call IT to ask them to download the new invoice platform. 

They tell you to submit a service ticket. 

You submit the ticket. 

It’s now 5 p.m. and nobody has replied to you. 

You call IT again but they’ve all left for the day.

***

Desperately, you search the office for someone who can potentially help. You bribe the autistic guy in the corner office to help you get around the IT permissions. 

Finally, you submit your invoice on the new system. A pop-up tells you that the deadline for invoices was yesterday.

***

Most of the office has gone home. 

A few people that you hate stop by your desk to tell you not to work too late. 

“I can’t work late like you,” chuckles Jane from Finance. “I have a family to look after.” 

You don’t even have a girlfriend. 

Jane thinks you should “get one.”

***

The office lights dim around you and the A/C shuts down. They are all automated to power down after 7 p.m. to help the company achieve its Sustainability Goals. 

You know this because you attended a meeting on the firm’s sustainability goals presented by two McKinsey consultants in suits.

***

Sweltering in a dark office, alone and hungry, only the light from your PC illuminates your surroundings. 

You have achieved absolutely nothing once again.

***

Luckily, there is always time tomorrow to complete the unfinished tasks. Wednesday is a new day. 

As you switch off Outlook, a “gentle reminder” from Zoe in HR pings in reminding you that you have an all-day training session tomorrow. 

She signs off: “Kind regards.”

iStock/Getty Images

Wednesday

You awake from a terrible dream. 

No. That’s wrong. You awoke into a terrible dream. 

It’s Wednesday. It’s halfway through the working week. 

You’re 35. You’re halfway through your life. 

Neither is looking bright right now.

***

On the train to work, you spot an advertisement for a job site. It’s a multicolored garish image of happy people with bright teeth and sharp suits. 

You look around at your fellow commuters. Everybody looks like shit. 

You wonder where these great jobs are and return to your phone.

***

Today is an all-day training, so you arrive early to clear your emails before it starts but once again you’re locked out of your PC. 

You succeed in grabbing Kumar from IT. He tells you that security saw the Post-It note with your password written on it so blocked your access.

***

You get angry. You explain that you really need to access your PC. 

Kumar replies that you were locked out for your own safety and security. 

You ask how long you it will be that you  are locked out. Kumar says 24 hours. You decide to watch anime in the toilet until the training starts.

***

You go to the pantry to make a tea before the hell begins. 

It’s impossible not to notice that someone has placed a photo of Greta Thunberg in the pantry and removed all the foam cups. 

You use a paper cup. It collapses as soon as you pour the tea in. 

Now you have wet pants.

***

Susan from Legal walks past and sees your wet pants. Susan is 63 and entitled to a final salary pension. 

You’re not. 

She doesn’t give a fuck. 

“You should bring your own cup,” she says. “Gotta go green!” 

She shows you her cup. She thinks it’s really funny. 

You don’t.

You enter the training. The room is full of desperate-looking men staring downwards and women holding pens. 

“Welcome!” shouts Zoe from HR. “Looks like someone had an accident!” She points to your pants and everybody laughs. 

This is a respect seminar. It doesn’t matter. You’re a man.

***

Everyone is asked to introduce by stating three funny facts about themselves. 

Janet says: “I have two adorable kids, make a mean lasagna, and I loooooove my coffee!” 

Everybody laughs. 

John says: “I’m from Ohio, visited Trinidad twice, and I loooooove my coffee!” 

Everybody laughs.

***

It’s your turn. You say: 

“I think Nietzsche was overly optimistic. I once shared a beer with Mel Gibson. I enjoy hot toddies made with real Martinique rum on a toasty cozy evening.” 

Nobody laughs. 

“Does he have a drinking problem?” you hear one woman whisper to another.

***

The training begins and Zoe turns on a PowerPoint presentation. 

The first slide is a 500-word intro titled “What is Respect?” 

Zoe proceeds to read out every single word even though it is right there on the screen. 

You internally sigh. Everyone else nods their heads sagely.

***

After reading out the first slide she says: 

“We are gonna work hard today but we’re also gonna have a lot of fun!” 

She clicks to the next slide. 

It’s a photo of a cat in a tree with the words “Hang in there!” 

Everybody laughs.

***

You are asked to get into groups and create something called a “mind map” about a topic that is important to the company and helps build respect within the group. 

Your group chooses “Equity.”

Out comes a flipchart and you are given a marker pen. You will see a lot of both of those things today.

***

Janet takes the lead and asks the group to say words related to “equity.” You reel off 12 in an instant. 

That was wrong. 

The point of the exercise isn’t to just give correct answers. It’s to discuss and share. 

Over the next 20 minutes the group slowly repeats your 12 words.

***

You begin to wonder if you just got a bad group. You look over to the other groups. 

One is whooping and hollering. You don’t understand why. 

The other is taking it very, very seriously. You don’t understand why. 

You look outside the window. The autumn leaves are beginning to fall.

***

You look back to your group’s board. 

It is now covered in meaningless statements like “Carpe Diem,” “Be there,” and “Fair + Equal.” 

You vaguely recall being forced to do similar activities in elementary school and speculate silently how this is meant to train you on anything.

***

Once completed, every group has to volunteer one person to read out their words to the rest of the group. 

You are volunteered. 

You read out all of the words written on the flipchart even though everyone in the room is capable of reading. 

Actually, you’re not sure about that.

***

You break for lunch. Since it is a training day you must go with the group for a team lunch. 

Nobody likes Pizza Express, but everybody is afraid to state a strong opinion so the easiest option wins out. 

The group orders a Hawaiian pizza. You hate Hawaiian. You smile anyway.

***

The bill arrives and it is declared that everyone should pay an equal share. 

That sounds simple. 

Janet says she only had an appetizer so she should only pay half. 

John is gluten-intolerant so he only had a Coke and doesn’t want to split. 

So you all agree to cover their share.

***

The waiter comes. Nobody has cash. The waiter says they can’t split the bill across different cards. 

Everyone looks down and goes silent. 

Eventually, you volunteer to pay the bill. Zoe says you can claim it on expenses. It will take you three months to clear it through expenses.

***

You head back into the training room. 

For the next hour you are asked to perform role plays. 

Dutifully, you act out a fake situation that would never be resolved in real life as it is resolved in the role play. 

Every role play receives applause no matter how bad it was.

***

Everyone is told they’re doing great. 

Everyone is told that they are so lucky to work somewhere with such passionate, intelligent, and dedicated people. Best of the best. 

As you’re told this you glance over to Janet. She is picking wax out of her ear with a ballpoint pen.

***

Zoe makes a special announcement. 

She has managed to pull some strings and you are about to receive training on something that is guaranteed to bring you up to the next level. 

You wonder what it is. 

A 50-year-old lesbian walks in and declares you’re all about to do Laughter Yoga.

***

For the next hour you are all instructed to roll on the floor and laugh hysterically. 

You join in because it feels awkward to walk out. You’re worried about the consequences if you leave. 

The old lesbian instructs you all to bark like dogs. 

Apparently it helps your chakras.

***

Finally . . . finally, it comes to an end. 

Before you can go home you are asked to fill in a feedback form about how useful the training was. 

You know that Zoe from HR will read every form. 

You give the training five stars and sign off your enthusiasm with 17 exclamation marks.

***

You don’t even bother to check your PC on the way out. You just want to go home. 

You just want this nightmare to end. 

But it won’t end. 

Tomorrow is Thursday and you’re only 35. 

There will be many, many more Thursdays.

iStock/Getty Images

Thursday

The alarm rings. Every single beep drilling it’s way into your skull. You reach out for the snooze button. Just 10 more minutes, please. Ten more minutes wrapped in the blanket not having to think about work. 

You hear the pings of a dozen Whatsapp messages flooding in. It’s over.

***

You check the WhatsApp messages, bleary-eyed. You have 57 messages. 

It’s your team Whatsapp group. Five of the messages are your five teammates saying they are feeling sick today. The other 52 messages are everybody wishing everyone else “Take care sweetie” or “Get well soon, babe.”

***

You wonder why there is so much sickness among your team today. Perhaps food poisoning from yesterday’s pizza? But you’re fine . . . 

Then you remember. The big boss is visiting from HQ today. 

Another Whatsapp message. Someone is asking if you can help complete their report.

***

You arrive at the office. Jack from IT accosts you at the entrance. 

He is holding a Sponsorship Form. 

Will you donate money for his current cause? 

You ask what it is. 

Jack says it’s to raise funds to help transexual Somalian children undergo gender reassignment surgery.

***

You don’t think it’s a good cause, but a group of colleagues stop by and all slap Jack on the back and say what a great cause it is. 

They look at you. They say they’re hoping for 100 percent participation. 

You donate $20. 

They tell you the minimum donation is $50. 

You donate $50.

***

You approach your PC, warily. 

Miraculously . . . it works. You open Outlook with no issues. 

Due to being mostly offline for the last two days you have 2,407 unread emails. 

Many have red exclamation marks in the subject title. Others are written in CAPITAL LETTERS.

***

You settle in to confront the email tsunami. 

A bell rings. Someone shouts “Can I have your attention please?” 

The big boss walks into the office surrounded by a gaggle of excited looking marketing girls in their 20s. 

You know this isn’t going to be good.

***

The boss explains that she feels the office energy isn’t high enough. Something needs to be done to help increase output. 

So she has a fun new initiative that will be “rolled out” immediately. 

Everyone must stand up for the rest of the day. No more sitting down.

She says she learned this during her MBA at Wharton. 

***

The marketing girls scatter and drag everyone’s chairs away. 

You try to hold onto your chair but the marketing girl stares you down. 

“It’s better for your health anyway,” she says. “Sitting is the new smoking.”

***

You stand at your desk. Your hands cannot reach the keyboard so you hunch over to type. 

It hurts, but they told you that it’s healthy, so you don’t complain. 

You haven’t eaten alone all week. 

You promise yourself that today you will treat yourself to a nice burger . . . alone.

***

You have a meeting and are the first to arrive in the meeting room. 

Everyone else starts appearing 10 minutes late. 

Even though 10 minutes late, they all laugh and chat and say “Oops, forgot my coffee!” They leave to get coffee. 

They all looooooove their coffee!!!

***

The meeting starts 30 minutes later than scheduled. 

It’s a simple meeting. It shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes. It’s simply to agree on the content of a new report. Yet there are 20 people in the meeting. Why? 

The organizer begins. She opens a PowerPoint. 

It has 70 slides

***

She reads through all 70 slides and it takes over an hour. She asks if there are any questions. 

A hand rises. 

“Should we really be using Helvetica font for this report?” asks Jane from Finance. 

More hands rise. You never knew so many people had such strong opinions on fonts.

***

You don’t understand what is happening. You don’t understand the direction the meeting is taking. You don’t even understand why all these people are here—giving an opinion. 

Even Maria the Cleaner is here. She doesn’t even use a PC but thinks the report will be better in Arial.

***

Time passes. Two camps have formed: the pro-Helvetica and the pro-Arial. Voices are raised. Jane from Finance is crying. She says she is passionate about Helvetica and that this is really, really important to her. 

You look at the report. It’s all numbers in Excel. It won’t even use a font.

***

It is 3 p.m. and the meeting finally ends after five hours. 

No conclusion has been reached except that a further six meetings have been arranged and a committee will be formed to discuss appropriate font usage. 

You’re on the committee. 

You never had the chance to eat your burger.

***

You grab a protein bar and a can of soda from the vending machine and return to your desk. Your chair is still gone so you have no choice but to stand while eating your snack. 

You throw the wrapper and empty can in the bin. 

Zoe from HR asks why aren’t you recycling your waste.

***

The next hour passes uneventfully. You do your best to clear your emails but it’s like chopping heads off a Hydra. Every time you clear one email, another four arise in its place. 

You gaze across at one of the twentysomething marketing girls and daydream about a different life.

***

An email from Jack in IT drops into your inbox like a wet shit. 

In order to support his charity cause, he is suggesting that all the men come to work on Friday dressed as women. He says that it’s a chance to show you care and “walk a mile in her shoes” and will be a lot of fun.

***

The office is immediately excited. 

Everyone thinks it is a great idea. 

Someone suggests that the men should contribute a $10 donation to participate. 

Everyone thinks it is a great idea. 

Zoe from HR asks if you need to borrow a dress. 

Everyone thinks it is a great idea.

***

You try to put the Fun Friday Activity out of your mind. You try to focus even though all around you are engaged in mundane chatter. 

A thousand more emails to go. Nearly there. 

Your boss emails. She’d like to conduct your annual performance appraisal since she’s in town. 

Tomorrow.

***

She asks you to write down all your strengths, weaknesses, objectives, and targets for the past year and for the year ahead. 

She wants your objectives to be SMART. Apparently that’s an abbreviation for something. You google it. You still don’t understand. It’s just buzzwords.

***

It’s all so meaningless. 

It’s all so tiresome. 

Now you will definitely be in the office till at least midnight. The train stops at 11 p.m. 

You keep a small blanket and pillow in your drawer for such occasions. Tonight you will sleep under your desk. You’ve done it before. Many times.

***

At least you can rest over the weekend. 

Although you’ll probably have to work on Saturday to make up for all the time lost this week. 

And Sunday is Family Day. 

Then it will be Monday again. 

You gaze at the marketing girl once more. 

You’re 35. You have wasted your life.

***

A group of colleagues walk past to leave and ask if you’re joining for Thursday drinks. 

You smile weakly and say you have work to do. 

“You shouldn’t work so hard,” says one. “Tomorrow’s Friday! TGIF!” 

Yes. Tomorrow’s Friday. So why does it still feel like Monday?

iStock/Getty Images

Friday

The rosy fingers of dawn extend westward reaching you from the impromptu grief-hole that you made under your desk. You want to wash and clean yourself as much as possible in the restroom before anyone enters. 

The broom of Maria the Cleaner nudges you awake. She laughs at you.

***

You take off all your clothes and wash yourself naked in the All-Gender restroom with a tiny bar of hand soap, hoping nobody will enter. 

You can’t brush your teeth so you steal one of the “welcome mints” from reception then scurry back to your desk.

***

You get back to your desk just as the rest of the office arrives. You hear their noise before they enter. 

Every guy is wearing a dress. They have promised to “walk a mile in her shoes.” The white knights laugh at you like you’re a freak and ask why you’re not wearing a dress.

***

This is for a good cause. 

It’s for transexual Somalian kids. 

What is wrong with you? 

Zoe from HR has brought in her dead mother’s dress especially. She waves it in front of you. Everybody is clapping and cheering. 

They want you to wear the dress.

***

“It’s Friday!” they shout. 

“Come on, bro!” yell some of the men. 

“Are you afraid you’re fucking gay or something?” shouts the Head of Respect and Equality. 

You enter the restroom and wear the dress. There is a used tampon on the seat. You wonder if you need to stick it up your ass.

***

You exit the toilet wearing a dress and a bloody tampon drilled up your anus. 

In your time at this company you have created a new database, hired a new overseas team, and upskilled over two dozen interns. However, nobody has ever looked at you with the respect they give you now.

***

You return to your desk. You only have five minutes before it is time for your performance review. 

You tried all night to think about objectives and goals. However, all you want to say is that you just want to be left alone. 

If you’re just left alone you can do your job fine.

***

That’s all you ever wanted. You never bothered anyone else. You only wanted to be left alone. Why couldn’t anyone understand that? You’re good at what you do. But nobody ever left you alone long enough to prove that. All you ever wanted was to work hard and do a good job.

***

The boss calls you into her office. 

She tells you to sit. 

She has heard many complaints about you. 

You used the wrong tone with Zoe in HR. 

You raised your voice to a person of color in IT. 

Your invoices are late. 

You lack team spirit. 

You tried to put a pizza through expenses.

***

You try to explain. You hope she understands. She was promoted to this position, so surely she must be senior and experienced enough to understand that all complaints are multifaceted? She went to Wharton! 

You watch her pick her ear with a ballpoint pen. 

You realize you’re screwed.

***

Your boss looks at you with the utmost seriousness. 

“I like you,” she says. “You have a lot of potential.” 

You nod, sensing the upcoming “but.” 

“But . . . you’re a smart guy,” she says. 

“But, but, but . . . ?” 

“You know how it is,” she says, with a smile . . . 

***

She’s really looking you in the eye now. You feel like you’re about to enter a special club. 

“There are many complaints. So many complaints. However, your work is good. Potentially you could get promoted . . . ” She stares at you with a distant distant look. 

You don’t yet understand.

***

“What? What do I need to do?” you exclaim. “I’ve been here for four years! I’m ready for promotion!” 

Your boss shakes her head. 

“Oh, my sweet summer boy! It’s not a question of skills. You’re more than capable. But there’s a small problem . . . ”

***

She explains how you are a valued talent in the company.

You are “human capital.” 

She emphasizes how your skills are much appreciated. 

However, she whispers, the company is committed to diversity. 

Very, very committed. 

She would love to promote you . . . but she only has a quota for new female managers this year.

***

Your boss stares you in the eye. 

“Do you understand what I am saying?” 

Before she can finish, a girl from Marketing barges in and hands you a slice of Jane’s birthday cake. Jane from Finance is now vegan. The cake slice looks like your grandmother’s bowel cancer.

***

The cake wriggles and squirms and clicks in front of you. 

“It’s a new kind of birthday cake,” your boss says. “No meat, no cruelty, just 100 percent kindness and a commitment to make the world a better place!” 

A piece of the cake crawls away.

She stares at you. “Do you understand?” she asks.

***

You want to tell her how everyone is late for meetings. 

You want to tell her how it’s not your fault: IT only works 50 percent of the time. 

You want to tell her how you have no time to do your job. 

You want to declare that this is not a #greatplacetowork but instead Hell on Earth.

***

Your boss looks at you. She’s almost weeping. She has deep expressive feminine eyes. 

“Are you committed to gender balance?” she asks. 

“Yes,” you say. 

Your boss looks at you like an ancient Greek Oracle. 

“We can only offer this promotion to a woman,” she says. ”Are you a woman?”

***

It’s 12 p.m. 

You’re hungry. 

You want to eat.

You have 10 years of JAVA coding experience but all that seems to matter now is slicing your cock off and declaring yourself oppressed.

***

You look around you. The walls are covered in pride posters, asexual posters, bisexual posters, pansexual posters, every and all kinds of pride except yours. Everyone has always hated you at your company but now they come to applaud. A mob of pink-haired weaklings carries you on their shoulders.

***

Everybody is gathered around you now. 

Your boss. Zoe from HR. Maria the Cleaner. The Indian fellas from IT. Everybody. How did they get here? 

“Come out! Come out!” they say. “It’s National Coming Out Day!” 

YOU. MUST. SUBMIT!

***

You scream. You shout. 

“I’m not gay! I’m not gay!” You are crying. “Just leave me alone, please!”

“You must celebrate diversity!” your boss chants. “Are you a woman?” 

It’s Friday afternoon.

***

You think about the prospect of promotion. 

You stare your boss in the eye. 

You nod your head.

Everyone smiles at you. It feels better already. Your dress feels light and comfortable.

You are not fighting anymore. They offer you a seat in the pod. The Marketing people bring back the cake that wriggles and squirms in front of you.

***

You feel much better now that you are oppressed. There is a positive vibe in the office for the first time in ages.

An email lands in your inbox. It’s your boss announcing your new promotion to the office, effective immediately.

“Congrats!” Zoe from HR slaps you on the back.

You look over to the girl from Marketing. Then you remember you’re a woman now.

You look away.

***

You log onto Facebook to announce to the world about your new promotion and your new identity.

You see a post from one of your old school-friends.

“I WILL NOT LIVE IN THE POD!” he has written. “I WILL NOT EAT BUGS!”

He seems very angry. You delete the connection, post a selfie of yourself sat in your pod with your new dress, and take a bite of Jane’s birthday cake.

It’s delicious.

***

A few hours later, you stand up to leave the office exactly on-time. The resident Non-Player Characters ask you about your weekend plans. You respond positively and ask about their plans, too.

“TGIF! It’s Friday!” you joke, with a huge grin that hurts your eyes.

Everybody laughs.

You laugh, too.

Weekend Long Read

The YouTube Channel That Never Happened

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Media Matters called it a “hate site.” YouTube agreed and wiped out hundreds of videos with more than 300,000 subscribers and millions of views. Now Red Ice TV co-founder and co-host Lana Lokteff answers the charges, makes the case for freedom of unpopular speech, and reveals what it’s like to be “canceled” by Big Tech.

“Six hundred years ago, when elsewhere they were footing the blame for the Black Death, Casimir the Great—so-called—told the Jews they could come to Krakow. They came. They trundled their belongings into the city. They settled. They took hold. They prospered in business, science, education, the arts. With nothing they came and with nothing they flourished. For six centuries there has been a Jewish Krakow. By this evening those six centuries will be a rumor. They never happened.”

Amon Goeth, “Schindler’s List” (1994)

Invoking the Holocaust as analogous to cancel culture is a tasteless stretch. Or is it? We hear the analogy applied almost every day to climate skeptics, who are stigmatized as “deniers.” And when it comes to online censorship, Amon Goeth’s quote from Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece is too evocative to ignore. Because when someone is “canceled” online, they don’t just lose their ability to publish new material. Their entire body of work, their history, their audience, their past, present and future, is wiped out. Almost as if they never happened.

On October 18, 2019, the YouTube channel Red Ice TV was erased. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Red Ice TV is a white nationalist hate site, promoting racist views. At the time of “cancelation,” Red Ice TV had 334,000 subscribers and its videos had been viewed nearly 50 million times.

Today, Red Ice TV is just the latest YouTube channel that never happened. The online megaphone that can reach the world instantly and for pennies, can also in an instant delete you without a trace. If you click on the link to Red Ice TV’s YouTube channel, you get a generic screen with the message “This channel does not exist.”

But why doesn’t this channel exist? Why is it as though it never happened? Why has Lana Lokteff, Red Ice TV’s co-host and co-founder, been wiped out by YouTube, and every other major online platform?

YouTube Channels That Flourished, And Then Never Happened

YouTube has been playing a game of cat and mouse with channels they deem to produce “white nationalist” content. Earlier this fall, they deplatformed three similarly labeled channels, then admitted two back. “Replatformed” were The Iconoclast and Way of the World. Gone forever, along with 450,000 subscribers and nearly 75 million video views, was James Allsup.

Red Ice TV and James Allsup can now be found on BitChute. But who watches BitChute? Conservatives and nationalists—and, shall we say it, globalism skeptics—are dangerous when they spread their ideas on a video platform that everybody watches. That platform is, and only is, YouTube.

Standing up for the right of these vloggers to operate without being deplatformed by YouTube, which by any reasonable standard now constitutes a monopoly, is not an endorsement of the content these vloggers produce. But so what? Whether you are defending what they say, or just defending their right to say it, there’s no recourse.

The trouble is, government intervention would probably create more problems than it would solve. Conservative politicians want to regulate YouTube, possibly taking away its exemption from publisher’s liability, because it censors too much. Liberal politicians are also threatening to take away YouTube’s platform exemption, because it doesn’t censor enough. It’s hard to imagine government intervention ending well.

But the status quo isn’t turning out very well for free speech, either.

Vincent James, whose Red Elephants channel has nearly 300,000 subscribers despite being demonetized and algorithmically suppressed by YouTube, explained how leftist activists use “mass flagging campaigns” to take down conservative online platforms.

“What online activists do is post something on Reddit or a ‘discord server’ which is an encrypted online messaging app,” he said, “these mass flagging campaigns will originate from activists using these forums to say ‘all of you go and flag this channel.’” When the platform administrators receive a high volume of complaints, they suppress or erase the channel.

There is no similar sort of online attack mob operating on the Right to silence left-wing voices, and these grassroots online flash mobs have become highly effective at shutting down conservatives online. In the case of sites without large fan bases that can raise objections, the power of the mob to erase is near absolute, and nobody knows how many of these smaller sites are gone as a result. In Red Ice’s case, it didn’t matter that thousands of their fans objected.

Ultimately, if new federal regulations are problematic and online flagging warriors successfully attack channels even if they haven’t violated the First Amendment, YouTube’s managers would be responsible for doing the right thing. In this case, that would mean reinstating Red Ice TV, no matter how repugnant the channel may seem to them. As YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki very recently asserted, “it’s more important than ever that YouTube remains open to anyone.”

While nothing in this report, or the interview that follows, is intended in any way to endorse the views expressed by Red Ice TV, judgment of any kind is not the point. The question we should be asking is simply this: Does Red Ice TV have a First Amendment right to say what its proprietors are saying, and if so, does YouTube have an obligation to offer them a platform?

As Adam Candeub and Mark Epstein, writing for City Journal, put it, “Exemption from standard libel law is extremely valuable to the companies that enjoy its protection, such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, but they only got it because it was assumed that they would operate as impartial, open channels of communication – not curators of acceptable opinion.”

Maybe there is a general consensus that some of the content produced by Red Ice TV does not constitute “acceptable opinion.” But it should be obvious that supporting someone’s right to speak their mind does not mean you agree with everything he has to say. It should also be obvious that some of the things they have to say need to be said.

How Big Tech Smacks Down the “Right-Wing”

The online platform war began in earnest after the 2016 presidential election, when the liberal management of the social media giants—often egged on by their even more liberal workforces—realized that conservatives, inexplicably, had mastered the art of online political campaigning and did a better job of it than the liberals. Notwithstanding the incessant finger-pointing at the Russians, the smarter heads in Silicon Valley knew they were legitimately outplayed, and vowed never to let that happen again.

The stepped-up attacks on right-wing online content include subtle measures that are hard to detect, harder still to prove, but have huge impact.

Alex Jones and his website InfoWars offers an important example. In November 2016 InfoWars attracted 125 million views. This was the high-water mark for Jones. By July 2018, Jones was still attracting an impressive 25 million views a month, but that represented an 80 percent drop in just 20 months. According to Advertising Age, the decline was because the platforms that drove viewers to InfoWars, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube search, “clearly were trying to reduce his impact.”

Up until summer 2018, most of the steps taken against right-wing content creators took this relatively soft approach, using manipulated results in Google searches, throttling down appearances in news feeds and YouTube recommended videos, shadowbanning on Twitter, and deboosting on Facebook.

But with the 2018 midterm elections looming, the tech giants decided to take off the gloves.

For the first time, the major online platforms coordinated their efforts. Within a few days in early August 2018, InfoWars was expelled from Apple podcasts, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube. On September 6, Twitter followed suit. On September 8, Apple banned the InfoWars app from its App Store. Jones was virtually erased. He had 2.4 million YouTube subscribers, all gone; 830,000 Twitter followers, purged; his Apple podcast archives were deleted; his Facebook page, with 2.5 million followers, wiped out.

According to the Los Angeles Times, by mid-October 2018, Facebook purged more than 800 accounts and pages pushing “political messages.” Matt Lamb, director of communications for Students for Life of America, provided dozens of examples of biased deplatforming in a guest editorial for USA Today titled, “Google, Twitter and Facebook should just be honest if they don’t like conservatives.”

Other noteworthy casualties in late 2018 included Sargon of Akkad, whose YouTube channel has over 1 million subscribers, and Milo Yiannopoulos. Sargon, whose real name is Carl Benjamin, a 40-year-old British political commentator, eventually got his channel back. Yiannopoulos did not, although he has fitfully attempted to pick up the pieces with new online ventures.

The Strange Case of Milo Yiannopoulos

The Yiannopoulos case is telling, because nobody with a sense of humor would consider him to have ever engaged in “hate speech,” much less exceeding First Amendment free-speech protections and advocating violence. Yiannopoulous, denounced by his critics as a right-wing extremist, proudly describes himself as a gay man with Jewish heritage who is specifically attracted to black men. He was offensive, he was outrageous, but it would be hard to claim he was a hardcore homophobe, or anti-Semite, or racist.

For a few brief months in 2016 and early 2017, Milo was arguably the most famous troll in the world. To those who agreed with his politics, he was hilarious. For everyone who wanted Yiannopoulos to disappear, however, his cavalier comments on the subject of pedophilia, which came to light in February 2017, were the last straw. Even Yiannopoulos knew he’d gone too far, and issued a rare apology to no avail.

Whether Yiannopoulos was defending pedophilia, or, only slightly less revolting, was just making light of it, is not really the point. Because to those who found him disagreeable, his articulate, widely shared denunciations of political correctness were a threat, and that is the point. The other takeaway from the Yiannopoulos story is the preposterous double standard that his erasure exemplifies.

In a culture dominated by the Left, we now have “tolerant” parents across America taking their children to “Drag Queen Story Hour,” and flamboyant prepubescent transvestites are celebrated by the mainstream U.S. media. Are these practices, highly sexualized and arguably inappropriate (to put it mildly), which directly involve very young children, any less objectionable than Milo’s fatal transgressions which were made on forums that cater exclusively to adults? Apparently, it depends on who you ask.

Milo Yiannopoulos was making it cool to mock the Left, and his message was influencing tens of millions of people. But by the end of 2018, when Facebook and Patreon kicked him off their platforms, he had already been reduced to a rumor. And then he never happened.

The Intellectual Dark Web

About this time a new term was entering common usage: the “Intellectual Dark Web.” On the website “KnowYourMeme.com,” the Intellectual Dark Web, or IDW, is described as “a phrase coined by mathematician Eric Weinstein referring to a loosely defined group of intellectuals, academics, and political commentators who espouse controversial ideas and beliefs surrounding subjects related to free speech, identity politics and biology.”

This happened in mid-2017, shortly after Eric Weinstein’s brother, Bret, had been harassed for refusing to participate in the “Day of Absence” at Evergreen College in Washington state, where he was a professor. Organized by campus leftists, the “Day of Absence” sought to exclude white people from the campus for a day—apparently to further their efforts at achieving social justice. Stung that his brother’s unwillingness to be banned from the campus where he taught was considered “controversial,” Eric Weinstein identified the Intellectual Dark Web as an antidote.

In May 2018, the New York Times published an opinionated but detailed exposé of the Intellectual Dark Web. It remains one of the definitive mainstream descriptions of the IDW. Here are some of the topics and premises the article lists as typical fare for the IDW: “There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. Free speech is under siege. Identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart.”

A more detailed description of how the tech giants have partnered with financial intermediaries and internet service providers, all the while taking direction from a powerful coalition of activist left-wing nonprofit pressure groups, can be found in an April 2019 American Greatness article “The Establishment War on the Intellectual Dark Web.”

Paul Marotta/Getty Images

The Establishment Reactionaries

The 20th century produced two writers of uncommon vision who wrote books about the future that have become cautionary classics. In his novel, 1984, George Orwell imagined a hellish future of endless war, where the people are oppressed by a tyrannical regime that erases history, engages in constant surveillance, and punishes “thought crimes.”

Aldous Huxley imagined an equally dystopian future in his novel Brave New World, but where Orwell’s regime used brutality, Huxley’s tyrants used seduction. Huxley’s government of the future employed psychological manipulation, along with abundant drugs and sex, to pacify a population where people led lives devoid of true love or purpose. What both of these authors shared, however, was the belief that future regimes would rely on Pavlovian conditioning.

It would be fascinating to observe either of these literary giants taking a trip into our time (what would have been the actual future for them), to see just how right they were on that fundamental premise.

For a while, the internet was an unambiguously revolutionary phenomenon. Everyone could broadcast truth to the world. What social media has done more recently, however, threatens the internet revolution in two ways: The interactive, personal, instantaneous, and perpetual access to an infinite audience has disrupted the human psyche in ways we are only beginning to understand. And the Pavlovian control of this interaction by a small handful of social media platforms in Silicon Valley has given those companies almost indescribable power.

Virtually all Americans between the ages of 18 and 65 use social media. YouTube is used by 73 percent of U.S. adults, Facebook 69 percent, Instagram 37 percent, Pinterest 28 percent, LinkedIn 27 percent, Snapchat 24 percent, Twitter 22 percent, WhatsApp 20 percent, and Reddit 11 percent. It isn’t uncommon for Americans to use all of these platforms. Among smartphone users in the United States, the average time spent with their device is an astonishing three hours and 10 minutes per day. This is an addiction that has swept through the American population in barely a decade, and it has changed everything.

The ironic surprise in all this is how Silicon Valley’s tech companies have dealt with their incredible power. They have embraced a reactionary politics which is reflected in the choices they’ve made. Who they promote. Who they erase. What online behaviors they reward, and where they direct the herd. To understand why they have a reactionary political agenda, one must understand how the American Left, over the past 10-20 years, moved from opposing globalization to fully endorsing it. This shift, gradual but steady, came into the open with the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

Trump Catalyzed the Revolution Against Globalism

Donald Trump’s heresy was to focus on the negative impact globalism was having on Americans. He catalyzed a revolution by challenging what had become truisms for the establishment—trade deficits don’t matter or can actually be beneficial, free trade is always good, mass immigration helps more than it harms.

What the establishment had ignored was that the benefits of trade deficits are financial bubbles (as American asset prices are bid up by foreign investors) that only enrich wealthy speculators. Free trade isn’t free when other nations cheat. Mass immigration only benefits businesses who want cheaper labor. Meanwhile, homes become unaffordable debt traps, good manufacturing jobs migrate overseas, and immigrants take away jobs from America’s most vulnerable workers.

Trump clarified the debate over globalization by forcing the progressive Left to reveal its true colors. It became clear that the Left’s only concern was how globalization affected the developing world, and exposed their indifference, even hostility, toward the workers in their own nations.

You can make a moral case that globalization should harm the workers of the developed nations more than it harms the workers of developing nations. You can turn that unavoidable truth into an altruistic virtue, although one that is rather hard to defend in the nations that are being harmed. You can also embrace globalization on those terms because it does the bidding—and attracts the generosity—of the wealthy elites and multinational corporations who are most enriched by “free” trade and open borders.

America’s progressive Left did both. They’ve disguised the agenda that disenfranchises American citizens within their own nation by attacking “white privilege” and by accusing those who object of being “white nationalists.” They’ve come to accept the premises of the free-trade economists they’d once despised, with the caveat that climate activism and all that it entails—namely, the mass redistribution of wealth—will mitigate the impacts of globalism on developing nations which had once bothered them so much.

The Silicon Valley, which by 2019 had a tech workforce reaching an incredible 75 percent foreign-born, epitomizes a culture where leftist globalism is perceived not just as inevitable, but already here. Close behind, fully embracing globalism in all its ramifications, and scrambling to become as woke and worldly as the tech monopolies, are every other major corporation in America, every elite academic institution, every influential entertainer, every so-called mainstream media property.

These are the new empire. These are Big Brother. This is the Brave New World the online censors are protecting. Their path to power was smooth and relentless. And in the face of an alt-right, nationalist insurgency, they are the reactionaries, and Trump along with his supporters are the revolutionaries. Everyone in the world who questions globalism, whether they are right-of-center or left-of-center, are revolutionaries, with all the moral frissons and enticing glamour that being a revolutionary implies.

No wonder Milo Yiannopoulos was so dangerous. He demolished political correctness and revealed its tyrannical hidden agenda, all the while making people laugh. No wonder Alex Jones was a threat when, in between his riffs on human-pig hybrids, he was methodically exposing the supranational networks that are supplanting national governments. No wonder their flourishing electronic footprints were deleted. No wonder they never happened.

The Inconvenient Truths That Must Be Silenced

When considering what truths are inconvenient enough to silence, globalism versus nationalism is the context in nearly every case. An excellent example of this is the experience of Carey Wedler, who has, so far, hung onto her YouTube channel, but was recently banned from Facebook and Twitter.

Wedler is a left-leaning critic of the mainstream media and an outspoken opponent of America’s so-called endless wars. She infers that Facebook and Twitter are both working closely with the shadowy Atlantic Council and that the media and social media giants are engaging in “soft censorship” to remove content that isn’t illegal but the government doesn’t like. Facebook and Twitter never told Wedler why she was banned from their platforms.

Could it be that the active deplatforming and soft censorship being practiced by the social media monopolies, while correlated with their leftist bias, is more accurately described as focused on suppressing anti-globalist content?

If you examine the list of channels, compiled by the Red Elephants’ Vincent James, that are either banned, demonetized, or algorithmically suppressed by YouTube, there is a common thread, and it isn’t stereotypical right-wing content, or “hate speech.” The common thread, stretching from the acerbic James Allsup to the erudite Stefan Molyneux are ideas that question the globalist agenda (as opposed to globalization, which is an economic phenomenon). The narratives of globalism skeptics are dangerous to the reactionary empire. That is the threat.

But what if the majority of ordinary people don’t want open borders? What if they would like the facts, not a bunch of skewed BS, regarding how immigration policies affect the economy and social cohesion? What if they want balanced opinions, or just want to hear the other side for a change, on the issues of multiculturalism, race, feminism, gender “equity,” and “social justice”? What if they sometimes find an unrepentant critic of identity politics to be a breath of fresh air? What if they believe there should be a robust and honest debate over globalism, or over climate change?

What if the phony gravitas and one-sided outrage that pours forth from the overpaid thespians who masquerade as top-tier news journalists—think David Muir, Lester Holt, Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, and the like—is transparently false to anyone who views alternative media?

What if the uncanny unanimity of all these mainstream media sources, at the least, exposes a disturbing degree of consensus, if not actual conspiracy? What if fake news is indeed fake news? So fake, in fact, that it insults the intelligence of anyone paying close attention?

If the mainstream offline media spins the same controlled, agenda-driven stories year after year, and they do, it’s not hard to conclude that social media companies are trying to influence public opinion in much the same manner, in favor of a globalist progressive agenda. No national borders. Anti-racist racism. Anti-sexist sexism. Anything to combat “climate change.” Gender “fluidity.” Corporate socialism. And of course, that tasteless, ubiquitous stretch, “Trump is Hitler.”

iStock/Getty Images

The Difficult Conversations That Must Be Had

Which brings us back to Lana Lokteff and her cohorts at Red Ice TV. Are they racist? Are they anti-Semitic? Are they “white nationalists?”

Lokteff claims she is neither racist nor anti-Semitic, although she acknowledges that she is white, and that she is a nationalist. But she asks why those labels are allowed to be used to stigmatize anyone critical of groups claiming to represent a particular race or religion, or to stigmatize anyone critical of an individual who belongs to a particular race or religion. This is a fair question, but it doesn’t necessarily get to the heart of the matter.

To silence her critics, or at least to silence a few of the honest ones, Lokteff and others who are white and who are nationalist may want to strive to visualize an America where they win. What would the nation look like then?

It is reasonable—or it should be reasonable—to expect a nation to defend its culture, its language, and its borders, to care for its citizens, to respect its traditions. So how would people fit in who aren’t white, or who aren’t Christian? To accept someone as an American citizen, what constitutes an acceptable range of behaviors and beliefs? What are reasonable terms for inclusion in the American family?

This is one of the most important questions of our era: If globalism, pushed primarily by the Left, is poised to erase national and ethnic identities, then what sort of push back can preserve nations and ethnic groups in a way where the solution isn’t worse than the problem? What does it mean to be a citizen of a nation? Can nationalism be inclusive without becoming meaningless? Can nationalism be compassionate, offering a better model for the evolution of “global civilization,” and still be authentic nationalism? Is there a version of economic nationalism that nonetheless nurtures global prosperity?

One thing ought to be certain: Denying people like Lana Lokteff the ability to voice her observations and opinions on YouTube is a dangerous mistake. Because the concerns voiced by the globalism skeptics are based on hard facts and sound logic, no matter whether they are expressed with grace or with fury. To silence them defers a much-needed debate about globalism and its consequences, at a time when current globalist policies are becoming increasingly unsustainable.

You can’t have mass immigration while at the same time expanding a welfare state. You can’t have mass immigration at the same time as environmentalist laws make it nearly impossible to build the enabling housing and infrastructure to accommodate them, and instead mandate rationing and a higher cost of living.

You can’t have mass immigration at the same time as the unionized public education system, dominated by leftist globalists, teaches immigrant children that they have arrived in a hostile, racist nation. You can’t fundamentally change the ethnic proportions in the nation within two generations, yet demand perfectly proportional representation of all ethnic groups in every facet of American life, from wealth and income to geographic distribution to hiring, promoting, college admissions and contract awards.

All of these things are socially and economically unsustainable; all of them weaken America. To enforce them requires the soft tyranny of Pavlovian conditioning, backed up by a ruthless and pervasive police state. Small wonder that dissident glitches in the online matrix become merely rumors, caricatures, channels that don’t exist; channels that never happened.

In the lengthy interview to follow, Red Ice TV’s co-host and co-founder, Lana Lokteff, expresses opinions that in everyday public discourse are repressed. For most people, the opinions Lokteff expresses generate a conditioned response and are dismissed without further consideration. In reality, the issues she’s confronting are extraordinarily complex and carry epic consequences. By suppressing discussion about them, and by demonizing people who bring them up, these issues, and the policies that have created them, remain unresolved.

After speaking with Lokteff, two things relating to internet censorship seem especially noteworthy:

First, whenever monopoly platforms like YouTube decide to wipe out one of their channels, they ought to be required to publicly disclose specific examples of what that channel did to get itself wiped out. Is YouTube afraid that such disclosures would reveal and expose its bias?

Second, if online censorship moves beyond just enforcing explicit violations of the First Amendment, and it has, then, as Lokteff pointed out, we risk “creating desperate people doing radical things to be heard.”

Here, then, is the story of Red Ice TV, in Lana Lokteff’s own words. Readers are invited to identify, if they can—and since YouTube would not—exactly where she engages in “hate speech” that is too dangerous to be permitted in public discourse. And if all her opinions are not opinions we would share, do we really want to drive these opinions underground? Was the First Amendment only designed to protect the speech with which we agree?

***

American Greatness: Red Ice TV has been banned from YouTube. What happened? What outside groups may have pressured YouTube and what are their tactics?

Lana Lokteff: We had no “strikes,” we were in good standing with YouTube. Then one morning we woke up and our channel was gone. The outside groups that pushed YouTube to ban us include the corrupt and Communist Southern Poverty Law Center, Media Matters, the Anti-Defamation League, along with Antifa outlets such as The Daily Beast and the Huffington Post. Their tactics are to lie, defame, and snip together partial quotes out of context to justify why you should be banned and then get you banned on the platforms you’d use to defend yourself. Their friends at Google also rig the search results so when you search for us, you only find the lying defamatory sources. That’s one of the reasons it’s aggravating when conservatives, who know that the media lies, nonetheless rely on the media to look for information on us. None of this ever applies to the other side.

AG: Did you anticipate this, and were there any warnings or last-minute indications that this was going to happen?

Lokteff: We were expecting it. Many of our top videos (we had several videos with a million views or more) were deleted. We even had a video featuring the Dali Lama’s comments about refugees ultimately having to go back home to rebuild, which YouTube deleted. Anyone on our side of politics is going to eventually be banned and have to go elsewhere. They have deleted a few channels, then brought them back after there was an outcry from their supporters, sometimes even months later. People made a ruckus for us too, but we haven’t received any response from YouTube. In general, YouTube appears to have more leniency for people who are extra careful to censor themselves and who knowingly tone it down, or are vague in their vocabulary. Well, I thought we were doing that lately too. Some of their reinstatements may be so they can create the illusion of tolerance and it’s also possible that their programmed AI systems are flagging channels and holding them for review.

We frequently hear from other nationalists around the world who aren’t white. They write and ask why are you doing this to yourselves?

AG: How many subscribers did you have? What recourse is there?

Lokteff: We had 334,000 subscribers despite having the algorithms rigged against us. There’s not a lot you can do if you’re up against YouTube and their parent company Google. They are a beast of a company with way too much power and they receive government subsidies too. It would take a class-action lawsuit or government stepping in to change their treatment of us.

AG: Leading up to this, what other steps had YouTube taken? When and how were you demonetized? When did algorithmic suppression begin and how much did your views fall?

Lokteff: We started producing video content in 2016, so all of this happened in a matter of a few years. Prior to that, we were doing mostly podcasts. We never monetized the channel as we didn’t want our viewers to see commercials, nor did we want to become dependent. The trouble really started after Trump’s election. YouTube realized that the most popular political channels were on the right (because you can get the leftist narrative everywhere else). So they started fiddling with our ratings, search results, notifications and we stopped coming up in recommended videos. They have stated that they are trying to “disrupt people from going down the rabbit hole.” To some extent, this has backfired on them, because when they try to “deradicalize” viewers by recommending videos such as one by a transgendered liberal with pink hair pushing an SJW message, people only feel more extreme against the Left. They are helping to create their own worst enemy.

AG: What other platforms have you been banned from?

Lokteff: It’s an unbelievable list and this includes not only Red Ice but my small online clothing store and in some cases us personally. YouTube, PayPal, Braintree, Venmo, Zelle, iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Wells Fargo, Coinbase (yes, the supposed anti-establishment crypto wallet), Skrill, even Pinterest and iHeartRadio. There are others, too.

When Wells Fargo banned all of our accounts, they sent letters saying we will not do business with you anymore. People in their service department said they had never seen this before, that the directive came from high up and the reason was “sealed,” meaning only higher levels of management could find out what happened. The SPLC, ADL, and other leftist activist groups are tied in with bankers, have connections and put pressure on all of them to ban us.

AG: Did YouTube state what specifically led to your deplatforming? What exact content crossed their line?

Lokteff: Despite days of fans hammering them with messages demanding a response as to why were banned, they did not respond. Meanwhile, they respond on Twitter to other tiny accounts asking petty questions. If you go to the channel now a banner might still show that says something about this channel is gone for multiple and excess hate speech. But of course, they never prove that nor were there any strikes that we could appeal. It’s not hate speech but speech they don’t like.

AG: Do you believe you have ever engaged in hate speech or advocated violence?

Lokteff: No. We have never advocated violence or specifically targeted anyone with violence. If anyone says we engage in hate speech they cannot prove it. For example, there are never any examples of so-called hate speech in the negative articles about us.

However, there are countless channels openly saying they hate white people or hate Trump and that is never hate speech. Hate speech is a lie used by leftists to silence their opposition.

AG: Are you a white supremacist?

Lokteff: I did a funny video about this titled “Am I A White Supremacist?” to respond to this which you can find on BitChute and RedIce.tv. The definition of a white supremacist keeps changing. Now it seems to mean a white person who doesn’t hate themselves for being white. It also seems to mean that if you say something like “I want European nations to remain European” that is also somehow a supremacist view. If you’re asking if I want to lord over nonwhites with a stick, of course not.

No other race gets attacked for loving their people and not wanting them to become a minority in their own nation. No other people would accept this. In fact, non-Europeans write and support our cause often and think white people have lost their minds advocating for suicidal immigration policies. It was called genocide in Tibet, Palestine, and now Kashmir.

We frequently hear from other nationalists around the world who aren’t white. They write and ask why are you doing this to yourselves? When it happened in Tibet it was called genocide. The Dalai Lama knows exactly what it feels like and that is why he defends Europeans and their right to not become a minority.

I have yet to meet an actual white supremacist, that is, someone who thinks they are better than all the other races and wants to oppress them. I don’t know where those people are.

AG: Are you a white nationalist?

Lokteff: I am a European, white, and a nationalist. I want European people to remain a majority in the countries their ancestors built and an immigration policy to protect the nation’s founding demographics. Demographics are destiny. I don’t care what people want to call me.

But no one ever charges blacks, Jews, Asians, Latinos, or any other people for being a black nationalist, Jewish nationalist, Asian nationalist, and so on.

In Europe they call themselves Swedish Nationalists, German Nationalists and so on because they aren’t a generic white, they are a specific ethnicity with their own culture and language and history. They do not like the term “white nationalist.” A European nationalist is one who wants their country to remain the country of their people, an ethnically homogeneous nation, the way it always has been. To carry on their tradition, heritage, and culture.

Most European nationalists are fine with a small percentage of nonwhite immigration but not to where it upsets the core demographics of the nation. America’s founders would not have accepted this. All of this demographic transformation is new. We rapidly began changing with the Hart-Celler Act of 1965, which was pushed on Americans without their consent. And by the way, the founders of America were also white and nationalists. They didn’t need to call themselves white nationalists because it was self-evident. Or how about the Naturalization Act of 1790 which stated “free white person[s] . . . of good character”? They founded the country with European people in mind. The thought of one day becoming a minority was unthinkable.

I think the best course of action is to talk about everything out in the open, more talking.

AG: Are you a white separatist?

Lokteff: We’ve been so programmed to hear this loaded phrase which is never applied to any other people on the face of the Earth even when they are violent racial separatists like Africans in South Africa.

People seem to think that just because one wants a homogeneous nation for white people that it means they don’t have friends of other races or can’t travel or have them come visit or trade. That’s a strawman absurd argument. This is never thrown at any other people but whites.

A homogeneous nation doesn’t mean you are cut off from the rest of the world, it just means you don’t support mass migrations of people to other countries displacing the natives.

If you don’t support mass migrations of people as a white person, you get called a separatist. Nobody is calling the Chinese or the Saudis separatists. We have always been separate nations but found ways to get along.

What needs to happen is a halt to immigration in the West. Legal immigration is an even bigger threat than illegal in terms of numbers. Countless studies like Robert Putnam’s have revealed that multiculturalism creates less trust and social cohesion. As if we need a study to tell us that. Mass immigration is dividing us as a people. We were once united. The problems we face with various groups fighting for their own is new, and a product of globalism.

AG: You once interviewed Jesse Lee Peterson. How would you describe that experience?

Lokteff: Jesse is great. We all love him. Sure we may have some points of disagreement but he, too, does not want European Americans to become a minority as he fears it would turn us into South Africa. His best interests coincide with whites being the majority. If all were like him, we wouldn’t have the problems we have today.

AG: In the Peterson interview, he said to you that “if you had an all-white nation, you would just start fighting each other.” How do you respond to that?

Lokteff: The most homogeneous white and some Asian countries always top the list of the safest and most peaceful nations in the world. I never said it would be perfect but it would be much better than what it is now. White people will always have their differences but it’s the devil we know. Now we get to fight each other and millions of foreigners in our country who also fight each other.

Now we have skyrocketing violence, a rape epidemic, and divisions like we’ve never seen before. Jesse also agreed that America was a better place before mass immigration. He also said he too didn’t want whites to become a minority as it wouldn’t serve his best interests either. He brought up Detroit and South Africa as examples of what would happen if white people were out of the picture.

AG: Do you believe it is possible for a multiethnic nation to preserve its European culture?

Lokteff: No, people are tribal, especially incoming foreigners who are ruthlessly ethnocentric pushing their interests, culture, and religion. The mass majority of them align along ethnic and racial lines. It’s just the way it is and no free markets and liberal programming is going to change that.

White people are the most tolerant and the least ethnocentric. It’s why we’re in the mess we’re in. It’s why our statues are being torn down, traditions and holidays attacked, and ancestors who built the country being constantly denounced. It’s why white kids are learning about white privilege, white guilt, and being taught to hate themselves. It is child abuse and it is the worst racism we are witnessing today.

AG: There are millions of nonwhites who embrace America’s European culture and consider themselves fully American, sharing traditional values. What about them?

Lokteff: What about them? No one’s saying they have to be deported. If they love what made this country what it is . . . European culture, then they should be louder in our defense because that which they love is being torn down and it won’t be the same country anymore.

AG: How do you define globalism?

Lokteff: The total destruction of homogeneous nations, cultures, languages, people and the implementation of a global rootless, materialistic and degenerate culture that makes people dumbed down and easy to control. It means total control by a small group of elites. It also means the death of true diversity. These elites favor a people that is one race, one culture, one language and one system. It is anti-diversity. It is the destruction of everything beautiful that nature and the Gods made.

AG: Are you anti-Semitic?

Lokteff: I wish white people had a word to shield their group from any and all criticism.

No, criticizing someone who happens to be Jewish or powerful elites and interest groups with massive power and influence does not mean you hate that entire group. We criticize anyone trying to infringe on our rights and freedoms, no matter their race or religion. We’ve also been critical of Islam and of course other white people. No groups should be off-limits from criticism but if they are, it tells you the power they truly hold.

Awhile back, Former Israeli Minister Shulamit Aloni said of the term anti-Semitic, “it’s a trick, we always use it.” Meaning Jews who don’t want to be judged for whatever they may be doing or saying, use it as a weapon to silence opposition. And it’s still being used for that purpose. Truth fears no open discussion and investigation.

There are a few individual Jews including rabbis who are critical of mass immigration into Europe but most do not speak up in our defense when Europeans are constantly defending Israel. I’ve heard Jews say they feel safer in multicultural societies because of their history of expulsion from Gentile societies in the past. They feel less likely to be singled out or noticed in a multicultural society. They are also very against nationalism in white countries because they think it is going to lead to a holocaust, meanwhile, they have the ethnostate of Israel.

AG: How do you respond to accusations that you are racist and anti-Semitic?

Lokteff: Does anyone really care about being called a racist anymore? It’s not racist to love your own people, not racist to want your culture, heritage, and language to be preserved. It’s definitely not racist to say “it’s OK to be white” and not feel guilty and not want your children to grow up and be a hated minority, thanks to cultural Marxist agitators.

And it’s not anti-Semitic, not judging or hating an entire group of people, to criticize or question elites who hold a lot of power and influence. I’m sure they see it that way, but then they call me a racist for pointing out things that are anti-white and defamatory to white people. Jews have thousands of organizations dedicated to only their interests. White people do not.

I never thought about race until everyone started blaming and hating white people for everything. If people are kind to me, I am kind to them.

AG: Can you imagine a future where America does assimilate its new arrivals and becomes a cohesive multiethnic but unicultural nation? How would that happen?

Lokteff: Not going to happen. Even in a country like Brazil that had years of migration from various places (without constant anti-white indoctrination), they have all sorts of problems including one of the highest murder rates on Earth.

Throughout history, whether Rome, Egypt, or any place today where we see multiculturalism even in places like India and Kashmir, China and Tibet . . . multiracial, multiethnic societies do not work and they do not last. People are different and we should just accept that. It’s just the way nature made us. In order to maintain true diversity, it requires some separation and division. That doesn’t mean we go to war, it means we respect each other’s differences and spaces. European nations learned to make peace with each other and we were prospering before we opened the door to globalism.

Yes, America was a melting pot but a European one and we had shared European values and cultural understanding, and even then we had some issues.

In America, white people are the glue that holds the current form of multiculturalism together, although countless studies show how multicultural societies create less trust, less social cohesion. But with us out of the picture, various groups will begin to fight each other for power. You can’t replace the people of a nation with Third World foreign peoples and think it’s going to be the same country. If it’s so great, why isn’t any other country pushing this ideology?

In order for something like what you’re suggesting to work (I still think it’s a utopian fantasy), every group must sacrifice everything; their heritage, their history, their language, anything that roots them to their people . . . and surrender to a new rootless religion of globalism but even then, there will still be divisions. Elites pushing globalism don’t want diversity, they’re just using it to destroy it (mainly in white countries). They ultimately want everyone to be the same. They want a mixed-race man of the future where all true unique differences are erased forever. A man with no connection to his ancestors, and his past, is easy to manipulate.

I think it is probably too late for America. The damage has been done and we’re in for hard times but if all leftist agitation disappeared, if immigration stopped, if forced diversification stopped, you would see freedom of association and you would see people self-segregating into their own pockets around the country. People are tribal and they will ultimately choose to live with others like them. Sure, there will be a few hipster multicultural pockets in the cities but that wouldn’t be the norm if people had a choice.

AG: What do you consider to be taboo topics online?

Lokteff: Being a nationalist, loving white people, saying that white people are being demographically replaced, that white people should have nations that are their own, anything questioning the so-called official view of historical events such as 9/11, any conspiracy theories, anything critical of Jewish elites, and also anything fun and edgy making fun of libs or “shitlibs” as the kids call them. YouTube is even going after alternative health channels and those questioning vaccines and Big Pharma.

AG: Where would you draw the line on free speech? Anywhere?

Lokteff: No, I wouldn’t. I think the best course of action is to talk about everything out in the open, more talking. If an idea is harmful or just awful, best to talk about why that is and air everything out from every angle. The best argument wins. The truth should not fear any inquisition. If we do not, that is what creates desperate people doing radical things to be heard.

I also think we just need to uphold U.S. law and the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

(Correction: This article originally had the wrong date for when YouTube deleted the Red Ice TV channel. It was October 18, 2019, not 2018.)

Weekend Long Read

How Trump Can Declare War on the Homeless-Industrial Complex

An executive order from President Trump declaring a state of emergency, followed by an interagency effort, could get America’s homeless crisis under control. And it could happen in months instead of interminable years.

California’s homeless crisis is now visible to everyone living in the state. Along with tens of thousands of homeless who are concentrated in various parts of major cities, additional thousands are widely dispersed. If you drive into most major urban centers, you will see tent encampments along freeway junctions, under bridges, along frontages, and beside drainage culverts. In smaller towns, they congregate by the dozens in parks and parking lots, along the streets and in the alleys. And in the inland suburbs, they camp out in ravines and along flood-control channels. In California’s largest cities, by the tens of thousands, they erect makeshift housing along sidewalks, using tarpaulins draped over shopping carts, tents, boxes. It is completely out of control. Billions have been spent to ameliorate the situation, and these billions have only served to make the situation worse than ever.

It’s hard to identify ground zero for California’s homeless crisis. But the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County host, between them, well over 100,000 of California’s estimated 130,000 homeless. And in both of those metros, local government policies have utterly failed. 

This failure is partly because local elected officials are hampered by state laws which make it nearly impossible to incarcerate petty thieves and drug addicts, or institutionalize the mentally ill, and court rulings that prohibit breaking up homeless encampments unless these homeless can be provided free and permanent “supportive housing.”

The state and federal governments have even mandated that providing “housing first,” and getting every homeless person under a roof prior to any allocations of funds for treatment to overcome drug addiction or manage mental illness, is a condition of receiving government funds to help the homeless.

And if these laws and court rulings that have made homeless populations unmanageable weren’t enough to exacerbate the problem, California’s state legislators have crippled the ability of developers to cost-effectively construct any type of housing. State laws designed to prevent “sprawl” have caused land prices within cities to skyrocket. California’s environmental laws, most notably the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), require a dizzying, time-consuming, expensive, and seemingly endless array of reports from developers seeking project approvals. There are hundreds of applications and fees that developers must file with dozens of state and local agencies. Often these agencies will take months, if not years, to process the applications.

Without first changing these laws, the problem cannot be fixed. But instead of challenging these laws, local elected officials have used them as an excuse to engage in one of the most corrupt misuses of government funds in American history. 

A vast special-interest movement has sprung up to spend the money anyway. This alliance of interest groups constitutes what has now become a Homeless-Industrial Complex, comprised of government bureaucracies, homeless advocacy groups operating through nonprofit corporations, and large government contractors, especially construction companies and land development firms.

They have used money from the state general fund, from state bond funds, from special local taxes and fees, and from local bond measures, to construct housing for the homeless, heedless of the per-unit cost. While a few thousand units of actual housing have been constructed so far, billions have already been spent.

A recent audit by Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin exposed the city’s inability to build enough homes with the $1.2 billion in Prop HHH voter-approved bond funds to address the homeless crisis. At an average cost of $550,000 per apartment unit of “permanent supportive housing,” small wonder. Similar or even higher average per-unit costs are typical of previous efforts in Los Angeles as well as throughout California.

Diverting nearly all funding to “housing first” at the expense of treatment, and elevating the costs of that housing through legalized corruption, guarantee that billions more will be wasted as homelessness in California gets worse. California’s local, county, and state governments have demonstrated themselves to be administratively and ethically inept. If the state government can’t do the job, it may be time for federal intervention, under the vision and leadership of President Trump, bringing to bear a comprehensive interagency response.

If several federal agencies launched a coordinated effort to get California’s homeless crisis under control, it could be accomplished in months instead of several years. As it is, California’s homeless crisis is out of control and getting worse every day. Federal action would not solve the homeless crisis overnight, but it would prevent something truly catastrophic occurring such as a disease epidemic, and it would set the stage for Californians more swiftly implementing permanent solutions, for which there currently is no end in sight.

For example, the IRS could reform the laws governing nonprofits to curb the legalized waste of billions that pour into what have become special interest behemoths.

The Securities and Exchange Commission could classify the taxpayer as having investor rights, in a long-overdue move that would make it a lot more difficult for public projects to squander public funds.

The SEC could also require consultants to public agencies to register as financial advisers and be subject to the same restrictions on political donations that govern these consultants in the private sector.

The Justice Department could investigate some of the more egregious wasteful projects allegedly launched to help the homeless to possibly uncover cases of collusion or racketeering.

The Justice Department could also send in DEA agents to break up the criminal gangs and drug traffickers who exploit California’s lenient drug laws and hide among the homeless encampments.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development could reform the Low-Income Tax Credit program to put a cap on per unit costs for housing projects to qualify. They could repeal the disastrous “housing first” mandate that prevents homeless programs from prioritizing treatment equally to constructing shelters.

The Department of Education could get even more aggressive against the teachers union which resists competition in K-12 education, and is consequently responsible for thousands of students graduating into homelessness instead of productive lives.

The Centers for Disease Control could declare a health emergency and sweep through the homeless encampments, cleaning up the trash and human excrement.

The Environmental Protection Agency could participate in that effort by declaring—quite accurately— homeless encampments to be Brownfields, in order to save California’s soil, water, and runoff to the ocean.

The Department of Labor could implement an executive order preventing Project Labor Agreements from being used to inflate the cost of housing projects, as if with the shortage of construction laborers in California, there is any need for PLAs.

And the Department of Veterans Affairs could house homeless veterans on unused sections of California’s abundant military bases.

Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

And that’s just for a start. Here are some ways specific departments within the federal structure might be mobilized to work together and tackle the growing homelessness problem that threatens to turn the once “Golden State” into something resembling the Third World. 

Treasury Department/IRS

One of the biggest sources of legalized corruption victimizing the American taxpayer is the fact that there has been no reform to nonprofit tax law. A nonprofit is the most tax-advantaged way to launder profits legally and act as an advocacy wing of major corporations. The U.S. Tax Code has been greatly abused by large national nonprofits who have turned charity work into a bankable industry, the power of which now rivals the private sector. 

Today’s large charitable organizations are part of the Homeless-Industrial Complex. These nonprofits outrival many small businesses today by using the tax code to their benefit. Why pay taxes if you can find a loophole in the tax code? According to one report, the nonprofit sector—10 percent of the American workforce or 11.4 million jobs—is the third-largest workforce in the United States, behind retail and manufacturing. Total charitable giving in America in 2016 was about $390 billion, a 2.7 percent increase over 2015.

One of the most tax-advantaged ways to legally embezzle public dollars is via a nonprofit entity, which then creates a for-profit subsidiary. All of the revenue goes directly to the nonprofit controlling entity, wherein there are no caps on salaries and everything effectively is a write-off, and it becomes a zero-sum game to show zero profits. They can pay consulting and contracting fees to for-profit entities, which often can result in additional pay if the same employee is on the payroll of both entities. 

Why use a for-profit business to own property when you can create a nonprofit entity, therefore excluding yourself from property taxes? The really savvy nonprofits know how to use the tax code to their advantage by hiring the most sophisticated tax attorneys and accountants, and creating multiple entities in order to do this.

The IRS could comprehensively reform the regulations governing nonprofits. For example:

  • Set a threshold for annual (pre-tax) revenue from all sources of income and contributions, and once that maximum is exceeded, the IRS automatically will reclassify the nonprofit as a for-profit entity, and tax accordingly.
  • Require all tax-exempt organizations to file public consolidated financials to replace current 990 disclosure requirements. Currently, under IRS guidelines, whether or not a tax-exempt organization has a parent, affiliate, subsidiary, and/or related entities, only the tax-exempt organization needs to file a public tax return. This is how they avoid disclosing their true assets and total salaries paid to employees. When an organization has multiple entities, an employee can work for any of these entities, with different titles and roles, while also receiving a salary from each of them. Without consolidated financials, it is impossible to determine how much a nonprofit executive, board member, or consultant makes. Additionally, private foundation tax-exempt entities are not required to disclose current form 990s to the IRS, something every other tax-exempt entity is required to do.
  • Make the above requirement effective to-date, with a two-year retroactive look back provision in order to be in good standing and maintain its tax-exempt status. By doing so, we likely would see a sudden drop in organizations seeking tax-exempt status, and find many entities suddenly converting to traditional for-profit organizations. If an entity was not in compliance within a certain time frame, we could freeze its tax-exempt status until it was able to do so, ultimately cutting off their fundraising ability.
  • Impose a tax on excess executive compensation among tax-exempt organizations. Even a limit of $500,000 for any individual or executive pay would have a huge impact. While a limit of $500,000 per year may seem high, some of these nonprofit executive salaries are much higher. At these rates of compensation, the entity is no longer a public benefit, as it now benefits a specific employee.
  • Tax all public charity organizations in the same manner as private foundations. While there are 30 types of 501(c) organizations, there are two different types of 501(c)(3)s, private foundations vs. public charities. Private foundations pay taxes on net investment income which generally includes interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and capital gain net income, and is reduced by expenses incurred to earn this income. In reaching the asset threshold, the assets of related organizations are considered. A 501(c)(3) public charity follows different taxation rules from that of a private foundation.
  • Disallow private foundations from 501(c)(3) exemption. A private foundation consists of nonprofits that don’t qualify as public charities. Foundations may be sub-classified as private operating foundations or private non-operating foundations and receive some of the advantages of public charities. Well-known foundations include the Rockefeller Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Getty Foundation. In essence, highly profitable, multinational corporations have figured out how to take advantage of the tax code, and the creation of a private foundation is the best and most tax-advantaged way to do so.
  • Tax tax-exempt organizations for any business activity outside of their chartered IRS exemption.
  • Hold all 501(c)(3) organizations to the same lobbying disclosure rules. Other tax-exempt organizations that lobby, must either notify their members as to how much of their dues are nondeductible because they’re spent on lobbying or pay a proxy tax at the highest corporate rate, yet this rule does not apply to 501(c)(3) organizations.

Nonprofit organizations have become corrupt and politicized and gone far beyond the charitable missions for which their tax-exempt status was originally conceived. Reforming the tax laws governing nonprofits will not only result in leaner, more effective nonprofit advocacy for the homeless, which translates into less expensive homeless shelters and less expensive housing for the homeless, but it will also remove the incentives for individuals and organizations to abuse the nonprofit exemptions in all segments of American society.

Securities and Exchange Commission 

Affordable housing developers are not disclosing the value of city land, therefore engaging in what is arguably taxpayer-backed fraud by not disclosing the full project costs to the investor, which in this case is the taxpayer. All real estate—whether it is single-family, commercial, or investment—is an investment made by an individual, who pays property taxes to local governments. Property taxes are allowable deductions for investment properties, therefore, the property owner is an investor.

Recommendations: Use the SEC Act of 1933 and 1934 to:

  • Recognize the American taxpayer as a protected class of investors by the SEC.
  • Recognize any interest in real estate meets the definition of a “security.”
  • Apply insider trading laws to real estate investing.

If the American taxpayer is afforded the same rights that investors are accorded in private investment transactions, it will become far more difficult for public agencies to get away with waste and fraud. This will not only lower the costs for public homeless shelters and public housing for the homeless, but it will also lower the costs for all taxpayer-funded public projects.

SEC/Division of Enforcement 

Local elected officials accept campaign donations from special interest groups, and in return, give them the rights to large redevelopment projects. This is a pay to play scheme. These groups are not registered as investment advisers, yet they provide investment advisory services to municipalities. 

Recommendation: Apply Section 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 to all industries who partake in municipal contracts, requiring that investment advisers are subject to a two-year timeout from providing compensatory advisory services or political contributions. 

Why should investment advisers have to register and adhere to campaign finance restrictions in the private sector, but not in the public sector? Holding them to the same rules as in the private sector will eliminate obvious conflicts of interest, and make the bidding process for homeless projects and services more competitive.

Justice Department/Antitrust Division

The special interest movement known as the Homeless-Industrial Complex may be engaging in collusive practices to substantially lessen competition, and this may include price-fixing schemes where one person holds property for the benefit of another. We are facing a crisis today manufactured by special interest groups and elected officials, who stand to benefit financially from it, thus potentially making this a racketeering case.

Recommendation: Invoke the Sherman Act of 1890, the Clayton Act of 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, to prohibit cartels and the abuse of monopoly power.

Taking these steps will make all the stakeholders involved in helping the homeless, where billions already have been spent, far more careful in what sorts of partnerships they form, and what sort of “arms-length” transactions they execute.

Justice Department/DEA

In California, voters enacted Proposition 47, which downgraded property and drug crimes, and Prop. 57,  which provided for the early release of nonviolent inmates. The two measures have perpetuated a constant cycle of drug use and the need to commit crimes to pay for drugs. Drug dealers now operate their businesses with minimal deterrents. Organized drug traffickers are able to hide under the guise of homelessness within homeless encampments. 

Recommendation: Drugs are still illegal on a federal level, and the DEA needs to get involved in fighting drug trafficking that is camouflaged within the homeless communities.

California’s policymakers have abandoned citizens to an epidemic of drug use. State laws make it nearly impossible to stop public use of hard drugs. Traffickers and users operate with near impunity, and the state has become a magnet for both. With rampant drug use comes organized crime, exacerbated mental illness, property crimes to support drug habits, and public disorder. A federal crackdown will get this all back under control.

Justice Department/Law Enforcement Agencies 

State and city officials no longer enforce the core responsibility of any government, which is to guarantee public safety. Private property is no longer respected under this diminished rule of law, thus violating the civil rights of law-abiding residents victimized by a state of lawlessness. 

Recommendation: Activate and deploy federal law enforcement agencies such as the U.S. Marshals and the FBI to restore law and order to citizens. 

With federal agencies cooperating with local law enforcement to enforce federal crimes, including robbery and larceny, the deterrent against property crimes that went away with the enactment of Proposition 47 will be reestablished.

Housing and Urban Development/Federal Housing Administration

Federal tax credit programs and taxpayer-backed dollars are being abused by special interest groups, under the guise of social redistribution policies. Specifically, the LIHTC (Low-Income Housing Tax Credit) program may be unduly influenced by nonprofit housing developers with no incentive to build cost-effective solutions, and are now reaching “affordable housing” per apartment costs that can exceed $750,000.

These high costs are due to California’s state and local governments requiring hundreds of permits with exorbitant fees and lengthy processing times, excessive environmental regulations, and prevailing wage requirements. Very few developers are capable of complying with this punitive array of obstacles, ensuring that the “subsidy” goes to powerful and favored special interest groups, defeating the underlying policy of the program in general.

Recommendations:

  • Repeal “housing first,” which prevents funds from immediately being shared with treatment programs.
  • Federal tax credits must be prioritized towards projects that are cost-effective.
  • Withhold Community Developer Block Grants from the State of California.
  • Require the exemption of state prevailing wage requirements in order to use the Federal LIHTC.
  • Cap the cost per bed or per unit in order to receive public funding.
  • Reform the LIHTC program so that it only financed “affordable housing” within 60-120 percent of area median income, but require developers to prove that residents could afford to live there, using household budgeting tools that take into account utilities and surrounding expense factors.
  • Reform LIHTC so that deeper LIHTC subsidy models in the 30-50 percent of AMI have their own program, similar to HUD programs like Section 8.
  • The HUD Office of Inspector General should identify examples of abuse of federal subsidies and prosecute offenders.

By setting conditions on federal funds for homeless projects, and by removing the “housing first” rule that prevents treatment from getting equal priority to shelter, more assistance would be possible with the same amount of funding.

Department of Education

Where you live determines where you go to school, so California’s inner-city youth are most impacted. For a child, education is destiny, and it is the only way for most people out of poverty. We are spending billions of dollars on the homeless crisis and job training for the uneducated, and public schools in California rank 40th in the nation. Unless we provide opportunities to Americans, they will fall victim to substance abuse. We have witnessed a market failure in public education, and the only way to correct market failures is to open up competition.

Recommendations:

  • We need an “education first” policy that recognizes that the teachers union is the primary barrier to improving educational outcomes in the United States;
  • We must improve our failing public education system by allowing competition via new charter schools and allowing for robust opportunity scholarships (i.e., voucher) programs. 

California’s public education system has been fatally undermined by the teachers’ unions, which oppose any sort of competition to traditional public schools. Breaking their monopoly through charter schools or even vouchers will provide opportunities to students who today are graduating to homelessness instead of living productive lives.

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Health and Human Services/Centers for Disease Control

Our homeless crisis is in large part a mental illness and drug crisis, masked as an “affordable housing” crisis by special interests. The mentally ill are our most vulnerable population, requiring our most help as they are a danger to themselves and others. A recent study by the Los Angeles Times has found that 78 percent of the unsheltered homeless in Los Angeles suffer from mental illness.

Recommendations:

  • Declare a health emergency to address mental illness and substance abuse among the homeless, and,
  • Create a federal tax credit to build and reopen mental healthcare facilities, for locations based outside of urban areas. We are witnessing a mental health and drug addiction epidemic afflicting tens of thousands of homeless, making Los Angeles’ “Housing First” policy ineffective.
  • Subsidize the costs and regulate addiction treatment programs which can cost $30,000-60,000 per visit. Funding on these programs needs to revised criteria that create an incentive for providers who can do it cost-effectively.
  • Directly pay individuals who directly provide care for and house a family member with a severe mental illness.

Getting people back into mental health treatment, either through more cost-effective publicly funded programs, or by making it easier for family members to care for their mentally ill loved ones, would ameliorate some of the most tragic consequences of the ineffective approach to-date.

The homeless crisis is also creating a risk of a disease epidemic. The trash and human excrement accumulating in homeless encampments have spawned an exploding population of disease-carrying animals and insects that thrive in these conditions: rats, fleas, mosquitoes, ticks, mites, and lice. Los Angeles already has outbreaks of typhus, hepatitis, and tuberculosis, as do other cities in California. Shigella, a communicable form of diarrhea, is now common among the homeless. There have even been outbreaks of trench fever, spread by lice.

Recommendation: The Centers for Disease Control should declare a health emergency to swiftly clean up the trash and human excrement. The out-of-control populations of rats, fleas, mosquitoes, ticks, mites, and lice should be exterminated.

California’s policymakers have utterly failed to protect the public from the diseases being spawned and spread by the trash and excrement piling up in homeless encampments. Declaring a health emergency and applying federal resources to the problem can fix it before it’s too late.

Environmental Protection Agency

California’s state legislature recently passed AB 1197, and it was quickly signed by Governor Newsom. The new law only pertains to Los Angeles and exempts any homeless housing project from the California Environmental Quality Act.

Yet because of the homeless, our streets are littered with feces, needles, and trash. While many are campaigning about climate change, far more imminent threats to public health and quality of our oceans are linked to the growing homelessness crisis in California with thousands of tons of human excrement and drug paraphernalia runoff flowing directly in our oceans and water systems. 

California’s environmentalists have somehow forgotten that all drains lead to the ocean. Equally troubling, the trash and human excrement in these homeless encampments have lead to an explosion of disease-carrying rodents. Now there are issues with homeless related fires.

Recommendations:

  • Declare areas where the homeless are concentrated as Brownfields, via the EPA Brownfields program;
  • Mandate a community EPA liaison on any state project given an environmental exemption in order to deter environmental crimes.

Using Brownfield status to bring financial resources and regulatory leverage to bear on homeless encampments may be the only way to stop ongoing degradation of California’s soil, water, and ocean runoff.

Homeland Security

Today we are witnessing organized crime hiding within the extensive homeless encampments, taking advantage of permissive laws to conduct many illicit activities in broad daylight. Criminal organizations are growing among the homeless, understanding our laws and using them to their benefit, in order to diminish the role of law enforcement.

Recommendation: The Department of Homeland Security needs to infiltrate these homeless encampments and root out organized criminal networks.

If the DHS and the Justice Department work together to bring federal power and federal statutes into what have become lawless areas of California, the laws that tie the hands of local law enforcement can be overridden.

Department of Labor

States with the highest homeless populations, such as California, are run by special interest groups that require union memberships to work. 

Recommendations:

  • Implement a presidential executive order that exempts housing programs from prevailing wage laws and project labor agreements.
  • Require At-Risk Targeted Persons (ARTPs) Employee Hiring Mandates;  ex-felons, persons with mental illness, chronically homeless individuals; sober ex-drug addicts;
  • Develop meaningful federal tax incentives and tax abatements to small businesses to incentivize employment of ARTPs and provide on-site workforce housing.

By exempting housing programs from prevailing wage laws and project labor agreements, the Department of Labor can lower the per-unit costs of shelter beds and units of housing. California’s labor market is so tight that these exemptions will not harm the workers. Similarly, by creating incentives for employers to hire at-risk individuals, more of the homeless will begin to reenter society. Organized labor should compete for projects and should not hinder the ability of organizations and companies to hire at-risk individuals as nonunion workers, and the Department of Labor can ensure that through executive order.

Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans experience homelessness at a higher rate than the civilian population. About 7 percent of people in the United States can claim veteran status, but former service members make up around 13 percent of the country’s homeless population, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

Recommendations:

  • Use military bases to house homeless veterans.
  • Work with the Department of Labor’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Veterans’ Employment and Training.

Offering on-base housing to homeless veterans is an idea whose time has come. Giving them this respect after their service to our nation is fitting, and could make use of surplus facilities throughout California’s extensive network of military bases.

Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

Federal Intervention Could Work Quickly

The objective of these recommendations is not to presume they offer the complete set of answers, or even the complete list of federal agencies that can be involved. These solutions that involve the federal executive branch are limited only by how conscientiously and how creatively they can be crafted. 

But the impact of the recommended changes would be immediate and profound.

California’s homeless crisis would quickly improve. Criminal drug traffickers would be looking over their shoulders. The CDC and EPA would declare an emergency and clean up homeless encampments. Homeless veterans would find immediate shelter. And the power of the Homeless-Industrial Complex, a special interest movement that has been enriched by going slow and overspending on everything, would be shaken to its foundations.

Nonprofits would no longer be able to legally squander funds intended to help the homeless. Taxpayers would have the same rights as private sector investors, making it less likely public agencies could waste money on projects. Federal funds would be contingent on cost-effective projects. 

Unions would have to compete to participate in projects, and with the shortage of construction workers in California and the many projects awaiting funds, that would not be a hardship to them. Over time, maybe a sustained effort by the Department of Education to introduce competition to the monopolistic union-controlled public schools might even change both the aptitude and the attitude of students graduating into California’s workforce.

Eventually, maybe the other root problem connected to homelessness—prohibitively expensive housing—would be addressed. Not only through many of the reforms proposed here, which could apply to low-income housing as easily as to permanent supportive housing, but through a loosening of the requirements to run building permit applications through an obscene gaggle of local and state agencies. 

Projects that take as little as 20 days in Texas to get approved, and at most 20 months in most states, can take up to 20 years in California. Small wonder there’s a housing shortage. These countless applications with their exorbitant fees and endless delays constitute criminal negligence and naked, insatiable public sector greed, masquerading as a public service.

In California, at the state and local level, despite well-funded rhetoric to the contrary, there is a shortage of creativity and a shortage of conscientiousness. The residents of the hardest-hit cities facing this problem are trailblazers, pointing out that Emperor Newsom has no clothes, yet their cries for help have been ignored.

California’s policymakers are puppets of special interests. Those special interests include their own bureaucracies, which are controlled by public sector unions that gain membership dues and power whenever a public sector challenge worsens. Similarly, the other special interest members of the Homeless-Industrial Complex, developers and nonprofit corporations, gain profits and revenues when the homeless crisis worsens.

It is time for the federal government to take decisive action where our public servants on the state and local level have utterly failed the public. It must never be forgotten that this failure victimizes not only the taxpayers and the members of the public who live in areas overrun with homeless people. It also victimizes the homeless themselves, who are not getting shelter, and who are not getting treatment.

The power of the special interests who have turned homelessness into a self-serving, taxpayer-funded industry, must be broken.

An executive order from President Trump declaring a state of emergency, followed by an interagency effort according to a blueprint patterned after this checklist, could get America’s homeless crisis under control. And it could happen in months instead of interminable years.

Weekend Long Read

The Politics, Science, and Politicized Science of Climate Change

Even if anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are driving the planet headlong into an apocalyptic nightmare, climate skeptics should be heard.

Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying
–David Bowie, “Five Years” (1971)

One has to wonder if the shock and despair described in David Bowie’s 1971 hit, “Five Years,” would be the preferred collective mentality for humanity, at least if the relentless propaganda campaigns of climate change activists are successful. And one must admit they have powerful allies at their disposal. A climate alarm consensus informs America’s entire educational, entertainment, and media establishments, along with most corporate marketing, and most political platforms from the local city council to the United Nations.

Climate alarm shouldn’t be a hard sell, and it isn’t. The horror inspired by natural conflagrations taps into primal, instinctual fears; when vividly imagining terrifying acts of nature, even the most hardened skeptic might have a moment of pause.

California’s horrifying wildfire that incinerated the town of Paradise in November 2018 is a good example. Later that month, retiring Governor Jerry Brown appeared on “Face the Nation” and predicted, “In less than five years even the worst skeptics are going to be believers.”

Taking shameless advantage of every natural disaster to stoke fears of climate change has become normal. In October 2018, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report predicting imminent global climate catastrophe. A month later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a grim “Fourth National Climate Assessment.” In both cases, news reports included cataclysmic images designed to tap our deepest, most unreasoning and terrifying species memories; tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, fires.

And every time there’s a hurricane, or a flood, or a wildfire, we’re reminded again by the consensus establishment; we caused this. We are to blame. And nothing, absolutely nothing, is too high a price to pay to stop it.

Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish economist and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, puts the cost of the U.N.’s climate recommendations at over $100 trillion for a reduction of 0.5 degrees centigrade. But rarely explored, and difficult to find, is data on how much it costs to adapt to climate change versus how much it would cost to stop climate change. Equally hard to find is information about the extent to which climate change might actually benefit humanity.

Political Categorizing of Today’s Eco Intellectuals

In 2014, Matthew Nisbet, a professor of communications at Northeastern University, in a paper titled “Disruptive ideas: public intellectuals and their arguments for action on climate change” made an interesting attempt to classify influential activists and experts on climate change into three categories: Ecological Activists, Smart Growth Reformers, and Ecomodernists. The focus of Nisbet’s analysis was how these public intellectuals “establish their authority, spread their ideas, and shape public discourse.”

While retaining Nisbet’s framework, it is useful to speculate as to how each of the mass political ideologies and major political movements in 2019 America would align with each of Nisbet’s three categories. After all, how “climate action” is implemented, now and in the future, arguably is the most significant variable determining how Americans and everyone else in the world will cope with challenges relating to energy development, economic growth, technology deployment, individual freedom, property rights, national sovereignty, international cooperation, and, of course, environmental protection.

Making this leap, a plausible match for each of Nisbet’s categories would be as follows: The “Ecological Activists” are mostly socialists, the “Smart Growth Reformers” are mostly liberals, and the “Ecomodernists” are mostly libertarians. It is important to reiterate that this only roughly overlaps with the influencers Nisbet has characterized in his three groups. Moreover, there is a fourth important category that Nisbet ignored (or dismissed), which might be defined as practical skeptics. More on that later. Here is Nisbet’s chart depicting his three categories of environmental influencers:

Socialist Environmentalists

The first of Nisbet’s three categories are the Ecological Activists. Based on Nisbet’s description, their political ideology is most likely socialist. This group has the most negative perspective on climate change, seeing it as a consequence of capitalism run amok. They argue that the carrying capacity of planet earth has reached its limit and that only by radically transforming society can the planet and humanity avoid catastrophe.

This group is Malthusian in outlook, and the solutions they advocate—returning to small scale, decentralized infrastructure, “smaller scale, locally owned solar, wind and geothermal energy technologies, and organic farming”—are not practical or even internally consistent for several reasons.

“Ecological Activists argue on behalf of a fundamental reconsideration of our worldviews, aspirations, and life goals, a new consciousness spread through grassroots organizing and social protest that would dramatically re‐organize society, decentralize our politics, reverse globalization, and end our addiction to economic growth,” Nisbet writes. It must be a very selective subset of globalization the Ecological Activists wish to reverse, however, because this most radical of Nisbet’s cohorts tend to be the same people who favor open borders and the erasure of national governments. Can they truly believe small communities will constitute what remains of governance when nation-states and multinational corporations wither away?

But in their commitment to achieving 100 percent decentralized, renewable energy, the Ecological Activists make their greatest departure from reality.

The algebra of global energy consumption and population trends are well known. For everyone on earth to consume half as much energy per capita as Americans currently consume, global energy production would need to double. Currently, renewables, for the most part very large scale renewables—primarily wind and solar—contribute less than 4 percent of global energy production, while fossil fuels contribute nearly 90 percent. Scenarios involving wholesale abandonment of centralized, fossil fuel-based energy production cannot have any basis in reality unless people are prepared to accept outcomes that are horrific. Some Ecological Activists acknowledge this.

For example, in his 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb, early ecological activist Paul Ehrlich suggested international “triage,” wherein nations lacking the ability to achieve self-sufficiency would have foreign aid cut off. Implicit in this strategy was that millions, if not hundreds of millions, of people would die. Ehrlich was talking about food aid, but he might as well have been talking about energy. The chances that a developing nation reliant on coal and oil can make a smooth transition to wind and solar energy using only their internal economic resources are zero.

Not mentioned in Nisbet’s paper, but easily fitting into the Ecological Activists category, are the “deep greens,” a group typified by the “Deep Green Resistance.” They reject “green technology and renewable energy,” both in terms of its ability to meet the total energy requirements of modern civilization, and in terms of how “green” it actually is. Their solution is to “create a life-centered resistance movement that will dismantle industrial civilization by any means necessary.”

Most Ecological Activists believe in phasing out the use of fossil fuel in a manner they perceive to be as benign as possible. But to achieve this, and unlike the Smart Growth Reformers, the Ecological Activists do not believe in market-based solutions. They support carbon rationing and carbon taxes as the means both to curtail the use of fossil fuel and to fund development and deployment of renewable energy solutions.

In Congress today, the Ecological Activists would be most represented by the Democratic Socialists, led by their media-anointed leader, Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.). The policies promoted by Ocasio-Cortez and her allies in the “Green New Deal,” in its undiluted form, read like a socialist manifesto. The fundamental “economic rights” of all Americans, according to the Green New Deal, as described on the U.S. Green Party’s website, are:

(1) The right to employment through a Full Employment Program that will create 25 million jobs by implementing a nationally funded, but locally controlled direct employment initiative replacing unemployment offices with local employment offices offering public sector jobs which are “stored” in job banks in order to take up any slack in private sector employment.

(2) Workers’ rights including the right to a living wage, to a safe workplace, to fair trade, and to organize a union at work without fear of firing or reprisal.

(3) The right to quality health care which will be achieved through a single-payer Medicare-for-All program.

(4) The right to a tuition-free, quality, federally funded, local controlled public education system from pre-school through college. We will also forgive student loan debt from the current era of unaffordable college education.

(5) The right to decent affordable housing, including an immediate halt to all foreclosures and evictions.

(6) The right to accessible and affordable utilities—heat, electricity, phone, internet, and public transportation—through democratically run, publicly owned utilities that operate at cost, not for profit.

(7) The right to fair taxation that’s distributed in proportion to ability to pay. In addition, corporate tax subsidies will be made transparent by detailing them in public budgets where they can be scrutinized, not hidden as tax breaks.

It should come as no surprise that these “economic rights” are integral to the “Green New Deal” as it is envisioned by most all of the socialist environmentalists. The actual “green” portion of the Green New Deal is equally ambitious. Depending on the source, the goal of Green New Deal policies is to make the United States achieve “zero emissions” within the next 10-30 years. The Green Party proclaims specific, and very ambitious goals, declaring “The Green New Deal starts with transitioning to 100% green renewable energy (no nukes or natural gas) by 2030.” The young activists running the website “Data for Progress” declare “The full U.S. economy can and must run on a mix of energy that is either zero-emission or 100 percent carbon capture by mid-century.”

It is impossible to catalog the profusion of activist groups and activist websites now promoting the Green New Deal. There are too many. But almost invariably they perceive “social justice,” socialist economics, environmentalism, and the abolition of fossil fuels as interlinked goals sharing common values. One of the explicitly political online promoters of a congressional Green New Deal is the Sunrise Movement. The group claims already to have secured the endorsements of 45 members of Congress, along with hundreds of environmentalist organizations.

The organizations supporting a congressional Green New Deal are impressive not only by the sheer numbers of participants but their institutional diversity—labor unions, youth movements, women’s organizations, “interfaith” groups, progressive democrats, anti-war groups, anti-nuclear groups, Native American groups, college associations, “clean energy” advocates, and countless environmental pressure groups. Examining the websites of these organizations reveals that in most cases they are set up either as political organizations, or they are set up to conduct political advocacy and public education while coordinating their efforts with political affiliates. A typical political agenda for one of these organizations would be to “recruit the army” in 2019, then swing elections in 2020 through voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts.

But how can Americans possibly expect to replace conventional energy with more expensive renewable energy, at the same time as they pay additional trillions to secure the “economic rights” for everyone living in the United States? The very idea is so preposterous it is difficult to take the socialist environmentalist movement seriously. That would be a mistake.

iStock/Getty Images

Liberal Environmentalists

If the Ecological Activists tend to lean socialist, the second of Nisbet’s groups, the Smart Growth Reformers, appear to be conventional liberals. They are more business-friendly, and while they agree that a climate catastrophe is inevitable without dramatic changes in policy, they believe “market forces” can be harnessed to change the energy economy of the world. Where the Ecological Activists support carbon taxes and carbon rationing, the Smart Growth Reformers support carbon trading.

The best known of the so-called Smart Growth Reformers is former Vice President Al Gore, who has enjoyed a career since 2000 that, if anything, eclipses his accomplishments as a politician. In addition to producing Oscar-winning documentaries on climate change, writing bestsellers on the topic, and receiving a Nobel Prize for his proselytizing on the issue, he has become fabulously wealthy. As a co-founder of Generation Investment Management, with over $18 billion in assets under management, and as a senior partner at the elite venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, Gore falls firmly into the pro-business political camp, along with plenty of other liberal democrats. A likely Gore ally among the Smart Growth Reformers would be U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose net worth is estimated at $29 million.

It isn’t hard to see why emissions trading would appeal to pro-business liberals, although embracing this terminology requires a very specific sort of definition for the phrase “pro-business.” Why enact a carbon tax, where only the government gets to be the middleman, when with emissions trading, you can engage the global financial community, and create completely new categories of economics, as armies of accountants, economists, environmental scientists, and myriad additional, highly-credentialed ancillary experts engage in cradle to cradle assessments of carbon molecules?

Here’s how this byzantine scheme is supposed to work:

First, companies—all of them, from manufacturers to dairy farmers to public utilities—are required to report how much carbon they emit. But is this just “value-added” carbon, or would it also include carbon embodied in the raw materials and other inputs they source, and the carbon emitted by the transportation assets they utilized to acquire those materials?

Then each company is assigned a “baseline” annual carbon allowance, based on their current level of carbon emissions. But what if some companies already became highly carbon-efficient, and have less capacity to reduce their emissions compared to their competitors? No worries, the experts will take that into account.

The government, working in partnership with “stakeholders” including the affected companies as well as the facilitators in the financial community, awards an initial annual carbon emission allocation to each company. If they wish to emit more, they have to purchase emission credits; if they plan to emit less, they may sell their unused emission allocations.

The financial community, working with government regulators, creates an exchange where permits to emit units of CO2, as well as credits to fund unit reductions of CO2, are traded, with the price per unit set by market supply and demand.

The government, working in partnership with all “stakeholders” including the affected companies as well as the facilitators in the financial community, will then issue a reductions schedule, whereby each participating company (participation is mandatory) will be awarded fewer emissions allowances each year. This means that over time they will be forced to either buy more emissions credits on a trading market or invest in innovative technology that will allow them to achieve their productivity goals with fewer emissions. In aggregate, emission allowances will systematically decline in conformity with national and international objectives.

At that point, private companies, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies will emerge with the mission of creating “carbon credits.” This is where the scheme gets even more interesting. These organizations may plant forests to sequester carbon, or they may actually inject carbon dioxide gas into underground caverns to “sequester” it (nothing could go wrong there), or, as government agencies, they may zone ultra-high-density neighborhoods in order to create a “carbon footprint” for their community that is lower than it would have been otherwise.

This last example introduces the concept of “additionality,” whereby, for example, the experts determine how much CO2 might have been emitted if none of the zoning rules or building codes had been changed (imagine detached homes with reasonably spacious lots, a few of them with solar panels installed by choice of the homeowner) versus how much CO2 would be emitted if aggressive changes are made (imagine homes squeezed 14 to an acre, with all rooftops covered with photovoltaic panels).

Emissions-trading schemes pose all kinds of problems. Think of the subjectivity inherent in measuring significant variables, the stupefying complexity, the huge, nonproductive overhead, consisting of a veritable army of bureaucrats, consultants, experts, and, of course, financial middlemen. Or consider the vast potential for corruption, or just multiplying schemes that turn out to do more harm than good, saturate the prospect of emissions trading from end to end.

A recent ignoble example would be how carbon emissions trading in the European Union-funded palm oil plantations. To purchase the right to emit more CO2 than their allotment, European companies bought “carbon credits,” investing in “carbon neutral” biofuel plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia, and elsewhere in the tropics. Thousands of square miles of tropical rainforest, valuable wildlife habitat, were incinerated to accommodate the new market for biodiesel made from palm oil. By the time the Europeans realized what they were doing, it was too late. Just ask the orangutans of Borneo, if there are any left.

The “smart-growth reformers” advocate more than just carbon trading, but it is difficult to overstate its centrality to their much broader agenda. And it’s important to emphasize that the scope of its implementation will go far beyond regulating energy. Because there is a “carbon footprint” to virtually every development—all housing, all infrastructure, all transportation; not just power plants, but bridges, dams, water and wastewater treatment plants, solid waste management, the energy grid, inland waterways, levees, ports, public parks, roads, rail, transit, schools, every durable good, every gadget, everything.

In the hands of a creative carbon accountant, there isn’t any human activity that might not have earnings potential, taxation potential, or become a target for regulation. Government agencies view this as a gold mine. Code enforcement departments and planning commissions will become profit centers—so long as people are forced by law and ordinance to use less and consume less. And to enable, monitor, and enforce the great ratcheting down: the internet of things.

Libertarian Environmentalists

It may not be entirely accurate to claim that most Ecomodernists are libertarians. While libertarians appear to overlap more with the Ecomodernists than with Smart Growth Reformers or Ecological Activists, there are plenty of libertarians who have been seduced by the “market-based” solutions of emissions trading. Moreover, according to Nisbet’s paradigm, Ecomodernists “argue for ‘clumsy’ policy approaches across levels of society, government investment in energy technologies and resilience strategies,” hardly something you would expect from a Libertarian. Nonetheless, many self-proclaimed Ecomodernists identify as libertarians. One of the public intellectuals who is cited by Nisbet as an Ecomodernist is Michael Shellenberger. An apt choice, as Shellenberger co-authored “An Ecomodernist Manifesto” along with 17 other notables.

Released in 2015, the manifesto’s mission statement includes the following: “We offer this statement in the belief that both human prosperity and an ecologically vibrant planet are not only possible but also inseparable. By committing to the real processes, already underway, that have begun to decouple human well-being from environmental destruction, we believe that such a future might be achieved. As such, we embrace an optimistic view toward human capacities and the future.”

The Seven Key Sections of the Ecomodernist Manifesto

1) Humanity has flourished over the past two centuries.

2) Even as human environmental impacts continue to grow in the aggregate, a range of long-term trends is today driving significant decoupling of human well-being from environmental impacts.

3) The processes of decoupling described above challenge the idea that early human societies lived more lightly on the land than do modern societies.

4) Plentiful access to modern energy is an essential prerequisite for human development and for decoupling development from nature.

5) We write this document out of deep love and emotional connection to the natural world.

6) We affirm the need and human capacity for accelerated, active, and conscious decoupling. Technological progress is not inevitable. Decoupling environmental impacts from economic outputs is not simply a function of market-driven innovation and efficient response to scarcity.

7) We offer this statement in the belief that both human prosperity and an ecologically vibrant planet are not only possible but also inseparable.

While reading the opening sentences of the seven sections of the Ecomodernist Manifesto don’t begin to do it justice, it’s enough to clarify some of the main points. The repetitive themes are that humans are better off than they’ve ever been, that primitive societies were not more in harmony with nature than modern societies can become, that plentiful energy is a prerequisite for human development, and that it is possible and necessary to “decouple” economic growth from environmental destruction.

Ecomodernists may not all embrace the libertarian desire to let the unfettered free market solve every challenge facing humanity (note point No. 6), but perhaps in a more important sense, they are very libertarian, in their commitment to encouraging a free market of ideas.

All in all, the Ecomodernist category is an intriguing way of gathering together an eclectic group of thinkers. Also included on Nisbet’s list of Ecomodernists is Roger Pielke Jr., a political science professor at the University of Colorado and another co-author of the “Ecomodernist Manifesto.” Pielke’s situation is one that many Ecomodernists (and Practical Skeptics) face, he is condemned by the “consensus” community merely because he is occasionally willing to criticize their work. In a commentary in the Wall Street Journal in 2016, he wrote:

I believe climate change is real and that human emissions of greenhouse gases risk justifying action, including a carbon tax. But my research led me to a conclusion that many climate campaigners find unacceptable: There is scant evidence to indicate that hurricanes, floods, tornadoes or drought have become more frequent or intense in the U.S. or globally. In fact we are in an era of good fortune when it comes to extreme weather.

Where Pielke is attacked for exposing politically motivated hyperbole that violates the integrity of the scientists that produce it or condone it, Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg (who is not on Nisbet’s list of Ecomodernists but perhaps should be) is attacked for exposing the deeply flawed economic logic underlying many of the most urgently promoted policies designed to mitigate climate change.

In a tweet in December, Lomborg lamented the persecutory culture of the climate change community:

What happens when you can’t keep cool on global warming: Everyone labeled “deniers” unless they don’t just support the science, but also every climate policy, no matter how inefficient. This is how panic and politicization lets bad policies dominate.

What Pielke, Lomborg, and many others have in common is their overt, unequivocal agreement with the fundamental premise—Earth is warming, and anthropogenic CO2 is the cause. And yet they are at times marginalized because they question certain critical assumptions or conclusions relating to that premise. As these two examples show, the twin hearts of the climate change movement—the science and the economics—have hardened against the voices of contrarians. Along with being eclectic, contrarian might be another widely shared quality of the Ecomodernists.

Unlike the Socialist Environmentalists or the Liberal Environmentalists, Ecomodernists are not as quick to condemn contrarian points of view.

Shellenberger, for example, through his organization Environmental Progress, is a strong advocate of large scale development of new nuclear power plants to produce environmentally friendly electricity. While this solution generally attracts condemnation from the Socialist and Liberal Environmentalists, it is attracting growing support among Ecomodernists.

The Ecomodernist, or, if you will, the Libertarian Environmentalist, as a category, is elusive and heterogeneous. These qualities make its output less predictable, its potential greater. It is best defined simply as not belonging to the two preceding categories, nor willing to cross the red line into overtly questioning the theory of anthropogenic global warming. It has much to offer.

iStock/Getty Images

Practical Skeptics

The failure of Nisbet to include climate skeptics as a fourth category may be a forgivable oversight on his part, because climate skeptics almost have been erased from public dialogue. As a result, it makes sense that Nisbet would not consider the members of this group to qualify as influential public intellectuals.

Another reason Nisbet may not have included climate skeptics would be because he was analyzing differing approaches by “public intellectuals arguing for action on climate change.” It’s certainly debatable, but understandable to assert that climate skeptics are arguing for no action on climate change. Equally likely, of course, was that Nisbet chose to avoid the opprobrium he would invite if he legitimized climate skeptics by including them in his analysis.

Climate skeptics have been demonized and ostracized by the socialist and liberal environmentalists. The Ecomodernists, for the most part, scrupulously avoid allowing their laudable contrarianism to overflow into questioning the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

For example, and as previously noted, Bjorn Lomborg is condemned because he points out the undesirable economic consequences of the recommended solutions. Roger Pielke Jr. is condemned for pointing out how the actual data does not support the activist contention that severe storms are increasing in frequency. And Michael Shellenberger invites criticism for offering the heresy of clean nuclear power as a solution to energy challenges. Maybe persecution engenders empathy. Whatever the reason, while none of these three individuals are “skeptics” in the harshest sense of the term, neither do they go out of their way categorically to denounce skeptics.

Practical Skeptics have a range of positions that earn them the “denier” label, and everything that comes with that: suppression of their work, savaging of their reputations, and banishment from the public square. Some of them, such as “Climate Etc.” host Judith Curry, former professor and chairwoman of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, maintains that while anthropogenic CO2 is contributing to global warming, the likely amount of warming is far less than what alarmingly is being projected. Curry has also criticized the growing calls by congressional Democrats to criminalize the free speech of skeptic scientists, by attempting to expose their links, if any, to fossil fuel corporations.

One of the most distinguished, and most demonized, of living climate skeptics is Richard Lindzen, an American atmospheric physicist who is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute. Until his retirement in 2013, Lindzen was the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lindzen was one of the early participants in the early IPCC reports on climate change but became disillusioned because he perceived the organization had become politicized.

Lindzen’s specific criticisms of conventional climate change theories are many: He acknowledges there are moderate warming trends, but that it is merely our emergence from the “little ice age” of the 19th century. He claims that if the earth were warming significantly, extreme weather would diminish, not increase. He questions the assumptions built into the computer programs that model global climate and produce predictions. He believes predicted warming is overstated. He states that the natural feedback mechanisms governing the global climate have offsetting impacts, and that if they did not, the earth would have experienced catastrophic warming eons ago.

There are dozens of credible climate skeptics, credible enough, that is, to deserve a place on panels at climate conferences or congressional testimony, editorial pages, scientific journals, and press coverage, on what are arguably the most consequential policy decisions of modern times. Along with Curry and Lindzen, other skeptical scientists include Roy Spencer, Fred Singer, and Anastasios Tsonis along with many others who are keeping their heads down.

Lindzen has said that many climate scientists will criticize alarmist pronouncements in whatever may be their specific area of expertise. A glaciologist will challenge a press release predicting an ice-free Himalayan mountain range by 2035. A meteorologist will challenge a press release asserting an increase in extreme weather. But none of them will take the further step of criticizing the overall “consensus.”

Along with scientists willing to offer their contrarian views on global warming and climate change, there are useful websites tracking and reporting on the debate—a vibrant scientific debate that is alive and well despite being institutionally suppressed—Anthony Watts and Jo Nova both produce excellent daily summaries that offer updates on the ongoing scientific and political discussions surrounding climate change.

There remains a handful of organizations that will provide equal time, or even promote, climate skeptics. They include Cato, AEI, The Heartland Institute, and the Heritage Foundation. But these scientists, these online reporters, and these nonprofit organizations are vastly outgunned by most of the political establishment (with the major exception of the Trump administration), the media and entertainment communities, prestigious scientific journals, the K-12 public education system, higher education, local, state, federal, and international government bureaucracies, virtually every major corporate or financial player, and spectacularly wealthy nonprofit educational foundations including powerful environmental pressure groups.

Even the American judiciary is demonstrably biased, underscored on April 2, 2007, where in their ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court found that greenhouse gases are air pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act.

But scientific “consensus” does not constitute scientific truth. Just ask Galileo. And the overwhelming institutional consensus on a course of action, even if there is such a thing, does not mean that course of action is the optimal course of action.

Solutions Require Renewed Debate

Even if anthropogenic CO2 emissions are driving the planet headlong into an apocalyptic nightmare, climate skeptics should be heard. Because as it is, the scope of acceptable debate is relentlessly narrowing. Should Bjorn Lomborg’s valuable economic analysis be ignored, simply because he’s willing to point out the absurdity of spending trillions for the remote possibility of slowing warming by a half-degree? Should Roger Pielke, Jr. be silenced, when the data he presents suggests extreme weather may not be the primary type of havoc for which we need to prepare?

Should Ecomodernists who recognize market forces aren’t always best able to predict and quickly adapt to environmental challenges be shunned by “true” libertarians? Should Ecomodernists who promote nuclear power be shunned by the broader anti-nuke environmentalist community—joined by the commercial interests that benefit from eliminating a competitor? And what if the skeptics are right? What if global warming, regardless of the cause, will not race catastrophically upwards? What if some warming, and somewhat more CO2 in the atmosphere, is mostly good for the planet and for humanity? What if extreme weather is not bound to become more extreme than ever?

Most importantly, what if spending trillions to replace fossil fuel with far more expensive alternatives robs us of the resources needed to lift billions of people out of poverty, thwarting their aspirations at the same time as providing them no means or incentive to reduce their fertility? What if the money we spend covering the world with solar panels, wind farms, and electric transmission lines, could better be spent to replant the mangrove forests that used to buffer tropical coastlines against tsunamis, or desalinate seawater so coast dwellers no longer watch their land sink below sea level because of subsidence caused by overpumping groundwater?

A healthy policy synthesis would be to promote and invest in projects and technologies that make sense no matter what climate outcome is destined to befall the planet. But the chances of getting that right are improved if skeptics are allowed to rejoin the conversation.

The notion that skeptics are the beneficiaries of vast sums of dark money is by now ludicrous. Every major corporation, certainly including the oil companies, has worked out their lucrative pathway into a profitable “carbon-free” future. But which set of public intellectuals, along with their powerful institutional allies and grassroots constituents, will prevail?

Will it be the Socialist Environmentalists, who are funded by a European-style leftist oligarchy, backed up by populist agitators, with growing support from the electorate? And if so, will any of the stupendous sums of new tax revenues they collect actually make it onto the ground in the form of renewable energy, and if so, will it do any good? Or will climate change just be the Trojan Horse of socialism that finally made it through the gates?

What about the Liberal Environmentalists, the “Smart Growth Reformers”? Will they win? And if so, do we want to live in their hyper-regulated world, where the “free market” survives in the form of cronyism, and every aspect of our lives is monitored in order to ensure we each maintain our “carbon neutrality”? And will that do any good? And when the predicted climate disasters don’t happen, will any of them admit those disasters weren’t going to happen anyway, or will they claim the green police state they built saved the world?

The Ecomodernists, we hope, will excuse being associated in any context with the Practical Skeptics, but here goes: in terms of divergent, undogmatic thinking, and general optimism regarding the ultimate fate of humanity, these two groups have much in common. It used to be accepted that the person holding the sign on the street corner, proclaiming the imminent doom of mankind was the crazy one, and the person suggesting that actually, mankind is probably not doomed, was the sane one. But in the crazy world of climate alarmism, those roles have been inverted.

Shock. Despair. Change everything, overnight, or else. We’ve got five years. When it comes to climate change, that is the prevailing message, and deviation from that message invites demonization, banishment, erasure.

In a recent and very typical development, the BBC, in response to pressure from activists, announced in September 2018 they would no longer cover the arguments of climate skeptics. This is a natural progression that began in 2007 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled—in an ominous endorsement of politicized science and a staggering violation of common sense—that CO2, part of our atmospheric blanket against the cold cosmic emptiness, the food of all plant life, whose rise perhaps delays the past-due next ice age, is a pollutant. Nisbet’s omission of climate skeptics from his panoply of public intellectuals driving the climate debate is just another part of this sad, possibly misanthropic, potentially tragic course.

It is unclear who is right, nor whether reason will prevail. But it would be far better if every voice was heard.

Editor’s note: This essay was first published on March 2, 2019. 

Weekend Long Read

An excerpt from The War for America’s Soul: Donald Trump, the Left’s Assault on America, and How We Take Back Our Country, by Sebastian Gorka. (Regnery Publishing, 256 pages, $28.99)

How to Win the War for America’s Soul

We have to make a principled stand, inform ourselves, and then act. Everyone who loves America has to stand up for the truth.
It is up to us.

The radical fringe of the Democratic Party, the extremists of the 1960s and 1970s, have become the “mainstream.” Bernie Sanders, the avowed Vermont socialist who honeymooned in the Soviet Union, almost won the Democrats’ nomination for president in 2016 (only to have Hillary Clinton steal it with her “superdelegates.”), and the old radicals have now been reinforced by the product of 50 years of left-wing indoctrination in our schools and colleges, exemplified by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

And now, thanks to an acquiescent and obsequious media, their extremist views are parroted openly, including the need to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service and the Department of Homeland Security, as Ocasio-Cortez and her subservient colleagues brazenly promote Communism under the cover of environmentalism with a “Green New Deal” that would ban gas-powered cars, air travel, and beef husbandry as we know it today, and require the destruction and reconstruction of all the homes and commercial buildings in America in order to make them “environmentally friendly.” This would require a Communist-level of government control—and that is the level of control over your lives that the Democratic Party wants to have. If we let them. 

We know what our political enemies want and what they have been working for assiduously since the late 1960s. So we have satisfied, according to conventional wisdom, the first task of any war, which is the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu’s admonition to “know your enemy.” 

Sun Tzu is a person with whom people like to show off their familiarity. If you go to a fancy cocktail party, somebody will try to drop his name when he’s discussing strategy. Yet Sun Tzu is almost always misquoted. What everybody can tell you is, “Oh, yes, Sun Tzu, the master of strategy said, ‘You must know your enemy in order to defeat him!’” But it’s not that simple. If you know your enemy, you will only be victorious in half your battles. 

The original quote is, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

And this is our biggest problem now, our biggest problem as conservatives, and our biggest problem as a civilization since the 1960s: we do not know who we are, and we’ve allowed those who actually have disdain for our civilization to gain control of our culture. 

Politics Is Downstream from Culture

We’ve forgotten how to win, not only because we have far too often lost the will to fight, but also because we’ve forgotten how to tell stories that express what we’re fighting for. You win in politics because your story is better. That’s modern politics. It’s not just about having the facts.

The Gipper was the master politician, in the positive sense of the word. Why? Because he knew the truth, and he knew how to communicate it. The “amiable dunce” who we were told was President Ronald Reagan, spent years before he became governor of California traveling the nation for General Electric, going from factory to factory, lecturing American workers and managers, the backbone of this nation, on why our Republic is so great, and why a free-market constitutional democracy is the greatest economic and political gift to mankind. 

He gave hundreds of such lectures to the American people, and he wrote each one himself. So when he finally became president, what did he bring to that position? He had all the facts at his fingertips, but he didn’t, as is so often the case on our side, just regale his audience with the facts. He didn’t just give them statistics and quotes from von Mises and Hayek or Burke until people started snoring. He communicated the truth of those eternal verities as a talented Hollywood actor can, by telling stories. He combined the truth with a capacity to connect emotionally with his audience. 

This is what we forget. One more policy paper, one more full-page ad in a newspaper makes not one whit of difference. Not one whit. And the conservative movement has wasted billions of dollars on the wrong things for decades now. 

It is possible at times to identify moments in your life where everything changes, where a decision point is met and you go down one avenue and not the other, and it changes all. Mine occurred in the south of France when I was about eight years old.

If only we had listened to the wisdom of one man, the late Andrew Breitbart. Righteous Indignation is the most important book I have read in the last 20 years. And I read a lot. It offers his own superb description of the roots of the far Left and his own heroic struggle against its growing influence. But beyond his book and the website he founded, the most important thing about Andrew—and this is why we owe him such a great debt—is that he, in one sentence, in one constantly repeated adage, gave us the road map to victory when he said, “Politics is downstream from culture.” 

Every morning when we wake up, we must have that emblazoned in front of our eyes. We will never win a political battle on a political battleground, because by the time an issue—whether it’s immigration, education, or the right to life—becomes a political hot potato debated on Capitol Hill, it has already been decided in the culture, probably a decade before it became a policy discussion in the Swamp.

You want to know who’s to blame for the fact that antisemitic, radical socialists like Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez are embraced by the Democratic Party? Look in the mirror. Yes, we are to blame. The Left had a plan to dismantle Judeo-Christian civilization from the inside, and we let them. Don’t blame a scapegoat. We are responsible for where we are today. And only we can fix it. 

Brittany Greeson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A Life-Changing Event

I had the high honor of serving Mr. Trump as an advisor during his campaign, and then as a strategist in the White House after he became president. Whatever God you pray to, I can tell you one thing with utter certitude: November 8, 2016, is proof empirical that God exists. We were granted a miracle so that we could try to save our Republic. 

Let’s be clear. Hillary Clinton had it in the bag: $1.4 billion spent, 95 percent of the media in her back pocket, the establishment in her back pocket, and an utter conviction that the prize was hers, that she would become the first woman president. And then what happened? 

A man who had never held political office, not at the county level, let alone at the state or federal level, became president of the United States in his first attempt at elected office. Before Trump, every president of the United States had, in some way, been a product of the political or military establishment, even the changemakers. They had all been previously elected as politicians or served as military commanders. And then along comes a guy who had 14 seasons of a reality TV show. 

General Michael Flynn was spot on when he said that what happened in November 2016 was a peaceful political revolution. And everything is on the table in 2020. Everything

Look at what’s going on, whether it’s freedom of speech, healthcare, education, the Second Amendment, right-to-life issues—all of it is on the table. The Left even wants to abolish the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement so that we’ll have no protection at our national borders, and become defenseless. They want, in short, to abolish America, and they want to replace our political and economic freedoms, which have made us the greatest country in the world, with the economic and moral failure that is socialism.

Let me make this personal. 

It is possible at times to identify moments in your life where everything changes, where a decision point is met and you go down one avenue and not the other, and it changes all. Mine occurred in the south of France when I was about eight years old. 

My parents were Hungarians who escaped the Communist regime in Hungary and resettled in Britain, where I was born and raised. But my parents were very worldly, very cultured, and they loved to travel. Every summer we would go abroad, usually to the south of France. 

We were on a beach, and I was playing with my Action Men (the British version of G.I. Joes) in the sand, as a child should. My father came out of the ocean from a swim. He had been an amazing athlete, a member of the Hungarian national crew team, and even though the Communists had arrested and imprisoned him, they failed to break him physically, and he was still a huge bear of a man. As I looked at him, I saw something that I hadn’t noticed before. I said to my father, “What are those lines on your wrists?” 

Without emotion, without skipping a beat, he looked at me and said, “Son, that’s where the Secret Police bound my wrists together with wire behind my back so they could hang me from the ceiling of the torture chamber.” 

That’s when my life changed. 

From that moment onward, Good and Evil weren’t theoretical, abstract concepts. Good and Evil weren’t fanciful words from fairy tales about dragons and witches in forests. Good and Evil walked the earth. Evil existed in the hearts of men, men like the Communist officers who had tortured my father in the basement of their headquarters. My father was an anti-Communist student and dissident, arrested, tortured, and imprisoned with a life sentence. Two years in solitary confinement, two years down in the prison coal mine, before he was liberated by the freedom fighters in the glorious but short-lived Hungarian Revolution. And he faced Evil, Evil done by men, Evil that cost the lives—in just the last century—of 100 million souls.

Read The Black Book of Communism, written by a group of European historians, social scientists, and researchers. One of its chief authors, Stéphane Courtois, was himself a former socialist who recanted. Together, they catalogued the crimes of Communism across the globe, from Russia to Cambodia. And it’s all there for you to read. At least 100 million human beings killed. It is this ideology that has taken hold of the Democratic Party, from top to bottom, from “old white men” like Bernie Sanders to young Puerto Rican ex-bartenders from Brooklyn like Ocasio-Cortez. 

I tell you this because the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation does a poll every year with YouGov, a very serious poll, before their annual gala. Last year’s Victims of Communism poll found that 52 percent of American Millennials would prefer to live in a Communist or socialist America. We have our work cut out for us. 

iStock/Getty Images

Necessary Steps

I am an American by choice, not by accident. And I’m proud to live in the greatest nation on God’s earth. But we have ceded the battlefield. It was one man who didn’t need the job, but who took on the challenge as a patriotic duty, who has given us a tiny window to save our Republic. And every single reader of this essay has a role to play. 

In June, President Trump launched his reelection campaign for 2020 from a stadium in Orlando, and I was there. It was an electrifying evening with 21,000 people inside and thousands more outside, some of whom had lined up more than two days before the event. The night was opened by Lara Trump, then Eric Trump, followed with his brother Don, Jr. Finally, Vice President Mike Pence spoke and introduced the president and the first lady. 

President Trump’s speech was perhaps his best ever, and the message was very simple. Halfway through, he asked: “What happens if we lose?” Just imagine what happens to the courts, including the Supreme Court, to your right to control your healthcare, to your Second Amendment rights, to a newborn baby’s right to life. They want to take it all. Think what will happen if the radical Left wins in 2020.

Because I am an American by choice, my default position is optimism because that is what America means to me—we are an optimistic country of freedom and opportunity and success. We must be optimists as Americans. But I have lived in D.C. long enough to know that this is a dark, dark moment, especially when we are honest about what really happened in 2016. Donald J. Trump won despite the GOP. He did not win because of the Republican Party, he won despite the Republican party. 

And it is a rank, festering indictment of our party that we have more than two hundred men and women on Capitol Hill, meant to represent their districts, meant to represent conservative voters, who have the letter R next to their name, when how many of those official Republicans have had the president’s back for the last three years? I’ll tell you right now: it’s a handful. Matt Gaetz, Devin Nunes, Lindsey Graham, Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, Lee Zeldin, Louie Gohmert, and a few others. This is their president! This is the man who brought the GOP back from the brink of turning over our future to Hillary Clinton and the socialism of the Democratic Party. The rest of the cowardly Republicans should be ashamed of themselves. But they aren’t, and as a result, it is for us to put their feet to the fire, to make them afraid for their political future and re-election, and, in the meantime, mobilize everyone around us. 

And it’s a very simple thing. It doesn’t matter where I go. Whether it’s a radio event, a book event, a rally, or a lecture. I always say the same thing to everyone: each of you needs to bring 10 conservative-minded people who would otherwise not vote to the polling stations. You know the Democrats’ machine will be organized. You know it will bus people to the polls. We need every single Trump-supporting voter to turn out and cast his or her ballot. 

In the meantime, I don’t care how old you are, I don’t care how cack-handed you consider yourself to be technologically, if you don’t have a social media account on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. It really is that simple. Because there is a reason this man has 60 million Twitter followers—because we ceded the culture, and because the media and information domains belong to them, and the president needs a way to get his word out.

CNN cut the coverage of the biggest presidential rally in modern history because the audience started to chant, “CNN sucks.” The American people expressed their opinion, spoke the truth, and CNN cut the feed. That’s what you do in Venezuela. So, it’s up to us to replace Fake News with real news about President Trump’s accomplishments. Follow him, retweet him, post instances of the Left’s corruption and malfeasance, which is happening all around us all the time, from school boards demanding that elementary school students be exposed to the ideology of “transgenderism” to so-called “sanctuary cities” that harbor criminals and refuse to cooperate with federal law enforcement. We need to be out there with the modern equivalent of a megaphone. Otherwise, we will lose. 

There’s a very famous Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng, a pro-life lawyer who happens to be blind. The Chinese Communist party put him under house arrest, but he escaped. He climbed onto the roof of his shack, walked to the next village, evaded the secret police, and made it hundreds of miles to Beijing where he sought asylum in the American embassy. Because that’s who we are: we are the beacon of liberty and hope to the world. But if we don’t win in 2020, and we have socialism imposed upon us by the Democratic Party, you, dear reader, are not going to have another nation’s embassy to run to. That reality, those stakes, are what we need to remember. 

iStock/Getty Images

Be Prepared

Since January 1, 2019, I’ve been incredibly blessed to be given an incredible national radio show, AMERICA First on the Salem Network. I’m convinced I have the best callers in the industry—they’re just absolutely incredible. I’m going to highlight one of my callers as an example of the fortitude we will all have to have to win the political and cultural war we are in. 

I had a veteran call in. He was a member of a minority. He’d served his nation and was now in the federal government, and he told me on live radio that his son had been a serviceman, serving multiple tours abroad after the 2001 attacks. He said that after his son’s last tour of duty, he came home only to be killed by an illegal alien without a driver’s license who crashed his vehicle into him. And this caller said to me, “I’m a veteran, my son served his nation, he’s now dead. And I’m not getting a paycheck because the government has shut down. But I want my president to keep the government shut down until the wall is built!”

Do we have that same level of love for our country? Do we have that level of commitment?

The most important speech, historically, that the president has given to date was in Warsaw in July 2017. When I was in the White House, we were preparing that speech, and the hosts, the Polish government, wanted President Trump to deliver it in a very fancy palace downtown, and we said no. We said we want the president of the United States to be in the outskirts, by the statue which marks the site of the Warsaw Uprising against the Nazi occupation. We want him right there, next to the statue of freedom fighters, who are seen coming out of the sewers to fight the fascists. Eventually, the Polish government acquiesced. 

And that speech is a speech that gives me strength when I read it. And I’ve read it at least twice on my radio show. Here are the two crucial passages: 

The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it? 

Our own fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield—it begins with our minds, our wills, and our souls. Today, the ties that unite our civilization are no less vital, and demand no less defense, than that bare shred of land on which the hope of Poland once totally rested. Our freedom, our civilization, and our survival depends on these bonds of history, culture, and memory.

What are you prepared to do to protect our country? Are you prepared to run for local office, volunteer on a campaign, support the president and his team on social media? In comparison to what he has done for you, that would seem the least we could all do. Are you with me? Are you with President Trump? 

I’m a legal immigrant to the United States. I chose this country, and I know it to be the greatest country on God’s earth. You were likely born here. Will you help me help the president to secure not only your freedom but that of your children and future generations of Americans? 

We have to make a principled stand, inform ourselves, and then act. Everyone who loves America has to stand up for the truth. It is up to us. Every single one of us, and everything we do for the cause of our constitutional Republic, matters. Join us in pushing back against the media’s lies and the Democrat party’s embrace of tyranny and socialism. President Trump’s victory in 2016 gave us a fighting chance, but 2020 is the political battle we cannot afford to lose. 

Wherever you see lies, wherever you see political correctness at work, push back with the truth. As Andrew Breitbart taught us, we are all citizen journalists now—and you have more audio and video capability in your pocket than journalists had in their duffle bags 20 years ago, so use it. Together we can save America.

Weekend Long Read

An excerpt from Conservative: Knowing What to Keep, by Jim DeMint and Rachel Bovard (Fidelis Books, 240 pages, $27)

Keeping Our Covenants

The Constitution-as-covenant pushes us always to strive toward the “better angels of our nature,” to use Abraham Lincoln’s phrase. It pushes us to become the best version of ourselves and our government a continual reflection of that aspiration.

“Covenant was the binding together in one body politic of persons who assumed through unlimited promise, responsibility to and for each other, and for the common laws, under God. It was government of the people, by the people, for the people, but always under God, and it was not natural birth into natural society that made one a complete member of the people, but always the moral act of taking upon oneself, through promise, the responsibility of a citizenship that bound itself in the very act of exercising its freedom. For in the covenant conception the essence of freedom does not lie in the liberty of choice among goods, but in the ability to commit oneself for the future to a cause and in the terrible liberty of being able to become a breaker of promise, a traitor to the cause.”—Richard Niebuhr

To be an individual in the 21st century is to be confronted with more options for how to live than anyone else in the history of the world. Today, we can live almost anywhere, in whatever community we decide. We connect across continents with a click on a trackpad or post pictures on Instagram in the middle of the jungle. We define our own gender and personal pronouns. We buy throw pillows with slogans on them telling us to “pursue our own truth”—while selecting from a menu of options about what, exactly, that truth will be.

We have never had this much individual freedom to define who we are and how we will live.

This license has certainly given us more choice. But it is arguable whether these choices have made us freer, our relationships richer, our lives more meaningful, or our society better off. Rather, it seems the option to choose—rather than the substance, the weight, and the contemplation of the choice itself—has become the highest good. (One recalls the plaintive wail of Sex and the City’s Charlotte York, “I choose my choice! I choose my choice!”) In pursuing our hyper-individualist, choice-saturated lives, we seem to have lost something fundamental.

To paraphrase conservative scholar Yuval Levin, pursuing society’s highest hope—our individual freedom to work, play, and live as we choose—has come at a cost. As society has sprung individuals free from oppressive social constraints—rightly, in many cases—we have diminished the bonds of family, community, work, and faith. In accepting a profusion of options in every part of our lives to meet every conceivable want, we have unraveled society’s foundational faith in institutions. In loosening or outright rejecting cultural conformity and national identity, we have deeply fractured our mutual trust—in society, and in one another.

The consequences of this are real and must be acknowledged. A sense of general anxiety, “unrootedness,” loneliness, and anomie have begun to define our age. New York Times columnist David Brooks diagnosed it more specifically:

Alienated young men join ISIS so they can have a sense of belonging. Isolated teenagers shoot up schools. Many people grow up in fragmented, disorganized neighborhoods. Political polarization grows because people often don’t interact with those on the other side. Racial animosity stubbornly persists.

This is the particular paradox of modernity—individual liberation was supposed to lead to mass empowerment. Instead, it’s led to a malaise in our politics and a pervasive sense of powerlessness in our society—a lonely, anxious dysfunction characteristic of our age.

The obvious question is: why? Why are people living in the most successful liberal democracy on Earth so discontented? Why has the prosperity generated by one of the world’s strongest economies not brought a proud sense of accomplishment rather than a general ethos of vague dissatisfaction and self-loathing? “Why,” as author Paul Rahe asks, “is there such fury, such disdain for the authorities whose traditions and discipline produced the luxury of such emotion in the first place?”

In other words, why do we rage so hard against the machine when the machine has brought us the means to live as freely as possible?

The “exhaustion of Modernism,” so voluminously described by sociologist Daniel Bell, has its roots not in the structural system of our government, but in the means by which we pursue societal happiness.

Even Bell, once a committed Socialist, somewhat reluctantly concluded “the system”—in his case, capitalism—was not ultimately to be blamed for the growing national miasma. That is because the system has less to do with how we live in relation to one another. Rather, citizenship, patriotism, “American-ness,” has far more to do with the choices we make than the wealth or abilities we have.

“We are moving into problems of modernity where public policy is not obviously relevant,” wrote Charles Murray as he sought to define the pursuit of modern happiness. The modern life has brought us material wealth, but also a need for a new understanding of how the world works—”a historical phenomenon on a grand scale for which Congress presumably has no quick fixes.”

That is because of the nature of our relationship to one another, which patterns the relationship we have between ourselves and our government. It’s relational, not structural.

As it turns out, people are most effective in pursuing their individual goals and identities when they are grounded in something larger than themselves—community, religion, family, or work, to name a few.

The challenge of our current era is to preserve, as one academic put it, “separability amid situatedness.” In other words, how do we maintain the individualism which our freedom cherishes with the social fabric that makes it possible? How do we go off and create and explore and revel in the independence required to push boundaries while maintaining the strong communities and robust cultural infrastructure that gives rise to these values and goals in the first place?

We propose before those ideas can even be discussed, an even more foundational concept must be reclaimed. And that is the idea of covenant.

What Is a Covenant? 

Many Americans, at least those with a decent civics teacher, are likely familiar with the Lockean notion of a social contract. The idea is, as a citizenry, we give the government detailed authorities in exchange for certain services. When the government fails to uphold its end of the bargain, it is the right of the people to withdraw their consent. Contracts are temporary, temporal, and mutable.

A covenant is something entirely different. It is “a relationship of reciprocal concern, the commitment by each to give for the flourishing of the other, generously, not quid pro quo.” Put another way, “covenants have three interrelated concepts: permanence (even extending beyond the lives of the promising parties), unconditional love, and involvement (or witness) of God, or, at minimum, the larger community.”

In other words, a covenant involves choosing to join in long-term, mutual commitment, pursuits, responsibilities, and concern for the other. It is a commitment based upon principle rather than conditions and is carried out by a way of living rather than an execution of terms.

Couples who marry in a church make a covenant to one another and to God. Babies are baptized or dedicated in a covenant relationship with Christ, their parents, and the church congregation. Neighborhood covenants are formed when people living in community get together to form voluntary agreements to guide how they will live together.

In a national sense, covenants occur when individual citizens make commitments to their fellow citizens, their government, or to a greater, more sacred cause. As Brooks writes, “Out of love of country, soldiers offer the gift of their service. Out of love of their craft, teachers offer students the gift of their attention.”

It is this freely given commitment, this care for our country, our family, and our neighbors, that forms the basis of our social fabric. Covenants are not compelled by the government. They arise out of a sense of love, commitment, patriotism, religious duty, or the simple, profound desire to live in community and care for one’s neighbor.

This foundational idea of living in thousands of tiny covenants has its roots in the goals of America’s founding. Our Constitution is nothing more than a “covenant of covenants,” defining the nature of our government as a relationship between equals rather than a hierarchy of the ruling and the ruled.

In that sense, covenants are more about responsibilities than rights— responsibility for ourselves and our fellow citizens. It is about stewardship of our communities, states, and nation. In short, it is about being a citizen bound in covenant with other citizens to build a stronger nation and create a better life for everyone. The preamble to the Constitution sums up the purpose of this covenant:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The writers and signers of our Constitution considered themselves part of a covenant with all Americans. “We the People”—not the government, not even the states—established the Constitution. The words “common,” “general,” and “ourselves” all confirm the understanding this covenant was written on behalf of all Americans.

In his essay, “The Forgotten Key to American Freedom,” Os Guinness reminds Americans of the unique nature of our republic’s founding and of the importance of keeping our covenant with each other and God.

If the notions of covenant and constitution are central to the founding of the American republic, then the health or malignancy of their condition must be central to any assessment of the State of the Union, for quite literally they constitute America. A founding creates a nation’s DNA, and establishes the lines along which it will develop until and unless the nation is defeated or its founding arrangements replaced. No one can hope to make America great again in any direction without understanding what made America great in the first place. America can neither be understood correctly, nor led well, unless the covenantal and constitutional character of American freedom is taken into account. Covenantalism [sic] and the essential responsibility it requires of citizens provide the missing key to restoring American freedom.

Fundamentally, a covenant is a promise. In declaring fealty to the equality and mutual striving of all men, the Constitution promises the American government will do its best to create a society in which everyone may equally aspire to happiness—“the lasting and justified satisfaction with one’s life as a whole.”

The Aristotelian tradition of happiness generally defines lasting satisfaction as grounded in reality, in accord with virtue, and springing from four sources: family, vocation, community, and faith. If this seems too simplistic, try thinking of a source of lasting and justified satisfaction that doesn’t fit into one of those four. It’s hard.

But the other half of that promise is we, as individuals and as communities, will seek to ensure our own happiness—and, more broadly, that of others. Effort, self-donation, individual care, and commitment are required.

This need for individual participation, for people “to take trouble over important things,” is what makes the American covenant unique. Alexis de Tocqueville, the great observer of the American character, highlighted it back in 1835 as one of the critical nuances keeping America free and flourishing:

There are some nations in Europe whose inhabitants think of themselves in a sense as colonists, indifferent to the fate of the place they live in. The greatest changes occur in their country without their cooperation. They are not even aware of precisely what has taken place. They suspect it; they have heard of the event by chance. More than that, they are unconcerned with the fortunes of their village, the safety of their streets, the fate of their church and its vestry. They think that such things have nothing to do with them, that they belong to a powerful stranger called “the government.” They enjoy these goods as tenants, without a sense of ownership, and never give a thought to how they might be improved. They are so divorced from their own interests that even when their own security and that of their children is finally compromised, they do not seek to avert the danger themselves but cross their arms and wait for the nation as a whole to come to their aid. Yet as utterly as they sacrifice their own free will, they are no fonder of obedience than anyone else. They submit, it is true, to the whims of a clerk, but no sooner is force removed than they are glad to defy the law as a defeated enemy. Thus one finds them ever wavering between servitude and license.

Lately, this “ownership” of and responsibility for our mutual liberties have been misconstrued as an entitlement. The covenant language of our Constitution has been replaced with contractual attitudes—”I’m here, I’m an American, my government owes me!” The sacrifices and vision of those who strained to build this nation are now treated as a trust fund to be accessed, rather than a tradition to be sustained.

Essayist Marilynne Robinson characterizes this distinction deftly in describing the growth of the phrase “taxpayers” to define Americans, rather than the term “citizen.”

There has been a fundamental shift in the American consciousness. The Citizen has become the Taxpayer. In consequence of the shift, public assets have become public burdens. […]. While the Citizen can entertain aspirations for the society as a whole and take pride in its achievements, the Taxpayer, as presently imagined, simply does not want to pay taxes.

[…] Citizenship, which once implied obligation, is now deflated. It is treated as a limited good that ought to be limited further. Of course, the degree to which the Citizen and the Taxpayer ever existed, exist now, or can be set apart as distinct types is a question complicated by the fact that they are imposed on public consciousness by interest groups, by politicians playing to constituencies, and by journalism that repeats and reinforces unreflectingly whatever gimmicky notion is in the air. It can be said, however, that whenever the Taxpayer is invoked as the protagonist in the public drama, a stalwart defender of his own, and a past and potential martyr to a culture of dependency and governmental overreach, we need not look for generosity, imagination, wit, poetry, or eloquence. We certainly need not look for the humanism Tocqueville saw as the moving force behind democracy.

This is not at all what America, a country founded on a “covenant of covenants,” promises us. Before we can know what else to keep, we must relearn how to keep our covenants.

America’s Covenant: Two Parties Equally Yoked 

“All men have equal rights,” wrote Edmund Burke, “but not to equal things.” In other words, your citizenship grants you nothing but a level playing field, what Abraham Lincoln called, “an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.” We—as individuals and as part of our communities—must do the rest. This is where the idea of a covenant descends from the realm of the philosophical onto terra firma. Our Constitution establishes that all men, being equal, shall have an equal right to the pursuit of happiness. But what does that look like, in practice?

When it comes to the pursuit of happiness, philosophers from Aristotle to Charles Murray to the rapper Tupac Shakur have observed that happiness can’t be found in a vacuum. It occurs in the context of communities, where people’s core needs are met and their individuality developed. Indeed, before there is individual flourishing, there must be community flourishing. As Robert Nisbet wrote in The Quest for Community, it is the family, religious associations, and local community that “are essentially prior to the individual and are the indispensable supports of belief and conduct.”

A good community is simply our larger constitutional covenant writ small. It is neighbors attending to neighbors, creating rules about how they will live together, caring for their shared goals and contributing individually to a shared ideal, a corporate whole. Burke called this mutual striving of neighbors the “little platoons.”

To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love of our country, and to mankind.

Social organization in communities is vital to individual flourishing and to the pursuit of happiness. It makes sense. Where else can you experience the greatest joys, sorrows, satisfactions, and general preoccupations of daily life but in your community?

The pursuit of happiness, then, comes when an individual is allowed to form a community: a little platoon of people voluntarily doing important things together. As Murray put it in his larger meditation on happiness and good government,

No one has to teach people how to pursue happiness. Unless impeded, people form communities that allow them to get the most satisfaction from the material resources they have. Unless impeded, they enforce norms of safety that they find adequate. Unless impeded, they develop norms of self-respect that are satisfying and realistic for members of that community[…]

The government’s side of the equation—its role in this covenant among citizens—is thus made clear: to create the “enabling conditions” for individuals to freely form communities and pursue meaning by freely choosing, risking, and cultivating rewards. In other words, to leave “the important things in life for people to do for themselves,” and protecting people from the roadblocks that would hinder them in those pursuits.

This covenant relationship becomes distorted when either side of it becomes coercive; when the government centralizes a solution to community problems, or when a majority faction of individuals uses the state to impose their vision of the good on the rest of society. Fundamentally, this distorts the balance of power in the covenant relationship and thus, the free pursuit of happiness.

As the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has formulated, people are happiest when they are able to balance challenge and skills. The possibility of failure is something centralized governments often seek to prohibit—but it is in the possibility of failure that the concept of “measuring up” resides. Take away the ability to fail and you take away the capacity to triumph, removing the ability to develop the self-respect that makes life meaningful.

Though it seems counterintuitive, a government that allows individuals to face and overcome challenge to some extent is one that facilitates the development of a mature citizenry able to pursue meaningful lives. Tocqueville put it another way: “Happiness is impossible unless people are left alone to take trouble over important things.”

A government keeping its covenant under the American Constitution is one with a stopping point; that limits what it does for people—not just because of budgets, but because humanity depends on the exercise of human potential.

People who keep their covenants nourish and sustain them. They give of themselves to their communities, each derived of small or large covenants, to care for one another’s well-being across income, social, and racial divides toward the larger purpose of protecting and promoting a collective commitment to individual liberty.

How Covenants Can Lift Us—and Replace the Forces Tearing Us Down 

The distinction between a social contract—the idea that we are entitled to services as a condition of citizenship—and a social covenant—the belief that our citizenship is made up of thousands of individuals freely giving of themselves in community—has never been more central to our national dialogue.

The deep divisions in America today are caused, in large part, by people who don’t consider themselves in covenant with their fellow citizens or their government. Many see themselves in blind competition with others to get better placement for themselves in society and more resources from the government. Others have fallen prey to the false notion that to pursue social change, one most uproot and remake the system entirely.

All these distort the fundamental nature of the American covenant, which is cooperative rather than competitive, and, when implemented correctly, prioritizes the liberty of the individual to pursue his own happiness rather than regressing his potential to that of the mean.

But covenants also contain the seeds of social reform, a critical point missed by those who would upend America’s covenant rather than work within it. A covenant relationship seeks to better each person in it, to strive to be the best version of oneself—whether in individual relationships, community relationships, or, particularly, in the constitutional covenant Americans make with one another.

Indeed, the American founding was an affirmation of human beings’ potential to build the best of all possible earthly worlds. Bernard Bailyn surmised the founders’ optimism in The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

The details of this new world were not as yet clearly depicted; but faith ran high that a better world than any that had ever been known could be built where authority was distrusted and held in constant scrutiny; where the status of men flowed from their achievements and from their personal qualities, not from distinctions ascribed to them at birth; and where the use of power over the lives of men was jealously guarded and severely restricted. It was only where there was this defiance, this refusal to truckle, this distrust of all authority, political or social, that institutions could express human aspirations.

But the founders were also distrustful of the innate human impulse toward self-interest. James Madison, specifically, warned against men collectively destroying their freedoms via factions—that is, “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

Suppressing factions is not an option—because banning them or demanding everyone share the same views and opinions requires a totalitarian state. (Indeed, diversity of thought and preservation of free discourse in the public square is something we will touch on later as a critical value America must, without question, keep.)

The founders sought instead to create a Constitution that was the ultimate covenant—a dispersal of power among various branches, each with a contributing responsibility to the betterment of the other. No branch can exist independently, but each is interdependent and reliant on the others to, at times, sharpen, mollify, or encourage its exercise of its powers.

This is what the founders intended for individuals too. A representative government deriving its character from the people at once provides a forum for individuals to exercise their freedoms, as well as a requirement they seek to hold the government accountable to protecting the founders’ image of man: autonomous actors sharing equal dignity and rights, full of potential, and able to pursue happiness that accompanies the free working-out of his or her life.

In other words, the Constitution-as-covenant pushes us always to strive toward the “better angels of our nature,” to use Abraham Lincoln’s phrase. It pushes us to become the best version of ourselves and our government a continual reflection of that aspiration.

This is at odds with the way many currently view the American covenant—be it the order of our communities, government, values, or traditions. Groups like Antifa heckle the police, belittle America’s history as racist, and deem our cherished symbols as patriarchal. Factions on the Left reject long-held American value systems as systemic obstacles to progress. Groups like Black Lives Matter and white supremacy groups on the alt-Right further seek to divide Americans into racial groups, suggesting some groups deserve different treatment than others.

All of this runs directly counter to how the American system was designed to work. Justice, equality, opportunity—all these ends are noble; in fact, we could call them covenantal pursuits. But to pursue these ends by blowing up the system that made their attainment possible is short-sighted.

A Continual Betterment 

The American constitutional covenant demands our continual betterment as individuals and a society. The key to reform is the reapplication of our unchanging ideals to our ever-changing times. The equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are unifying—indeed, universal— principles. The fact that injustice persists does not mean justice is a lie; it means we need to constantly recommit ourselves to it. Reform is only sustainable when it is an inclusive reassertion of our covenant.

The civil rights movement accomplished some of the greatest social triumphs of the 20th century. Martin Luther King Jr., who inspired many of the movement’s victories, did so by appealing to the very virtues on which the country’s covenant is based. King considered our founding documents to be “promissory notes” in need of redemption.

“All we say to America,” he said in 1968, “is ‘Be true to what you said on paper.’” He went on:

If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.

By appealing to our constitutional virtues, King made the case that the injustices being done to black Americans were the result of America’s failure to keep its covenant—not the result of the covenant itself.

To be clear, King used more than just words to achieve much-needed social reform. He preached a strategy of non-violence, but one using his constitutional rights to their fullest; he spoke, wrote, assembled, marched, boycotted, peacefully protested, and rallied countrywide. He did so while facing terror, violence, unjust imprisonment, mobs, dogs, and tear gas. Yet King and his movement never once declared America—the country that had perpetuated generations of injustice against blacks—as a failure, as an effigy to be burned, or as a failed system to be dismantled.

“I criticize America because I love her,” King said in a speech about the Vietnam War, “and because I want to see her stand as the moral example of the world.”

King continued to lift the American covenant as something not yet fully achieved. His speeches reminded Americans our shared constitutional covenant declares all men equal, and until that was true in practice and in law, our shared commitment to America meant we all had a responsibility to make it right.

For King, his movement was as much about all Americans as it was about black Americans. “Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout, ‘White Power!’ when nobody will shout ‘Black Power!’ but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power,” he said in a speech in 1967.

Indeed, King’s late wife, Coretta Scott King, characterized her husband’s legacy as a mutual commitment of all people—not just black Americans—to America’s betterment. “It is a day of interracial and intercultural cooperation,” she said of the federal holiday which honors her husband.

Whether you are African-American, Hispanic or Native American, whether you are a Caucasian or Asian-American, you are part of the great dream Martin Luther King, Jr. had for America. This is not a black holiday; it is a peoples’ holiday. And it is the young people of all races and religions who hold the keys to the fulfillment of his dream […]. The holiday celebrates his vision of ecumenical solidarity, his insistence that all faiths had something meaningful to contribute to building the beloved community.

King’s words and actions were at times harshly critical of the country, the government, and its social policies. But at no point did he lose hope the nation could be made better. For King, it was not about upending the system, despite how terribly it treated him. It was about fulfilling the vision of America as a nation of equals—for black Americans and for everyone.

His oft-repeated quote, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” has been used by the Left as a cudgel against their perceived opponents, as a means to justify violent protests and rhetoric that seeks to de-legitimize America as a country rather than to improve it. Those who do so miss the key context of King’s quote which is found in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

In other words, despite our differences, we are all in this together. Keeping our covenants requires us to do so across neighborhoods, political affiliations, religious differences, racial differences, and social class. Dragging down one class or one group and dismissing them as unworthy of the American ideal or the reverse, elevating one group for special treatment over another—whatever the reason—leads to the same outcome. We all suffer.

Where Modern Movements Fail 

Compare King’s soaring appeals to unimpeachable sources—the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence—to contemporary protest movements, which seem to value the act of protest and destruction over the articulation of an actual unifying and sustainable vision.

Justifying violence, physical harm, foul language, and destruction of property in the name of “social justice” or “equality” completely misses the point. Members of Antifa and other violent groups justify violent behavior by seeking to reject the system they feel has betrayed them. There is no appeal to a higher ideal, nor is there a unifying message that seeks to restore America to a shared vision.

Voicing grievances against the government is a long American tradition, but, as King demonstrated, sustainable change comes from working within our shared ideals—not demanding they be destroyed and rebuilt in an externally-imposed image.

And it’s not just King’s example we can point to. Movements that are critical of America, but ones whose criticism resides within a deep sense of patriotism and adherence to America’s shared values, have given root to many important and lasting social changes. Historian Michael Kazin summarizes a few:

Thomas Paine, born in England, praised his adopted homeland as an “asylum for mankind”—which gave him a forum to denounce regressive taxes and propose free public education. Elizabeth Cady Stanton co-authored a “Declaration of Rights of Women” on the centennial of the Declaration of Independence and argued that denying the vote to women was a violation of the 14th Amendment. The Populists vowed to “restore the Government of the Republic to the hands of the ‘plain people’ with which class it originated” through such methods as an eight-hour day and nationalization of the railroads. In the 1930s, sit-down strikers proudly carried American flags into the auto plants they occupied and announced that they were battling for “industrial democracy.” Twenty years later, Martin Luther King Jr. told his fellow bus boycotters, “If we are wrong—the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong” and proclaimed that “the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right.

One could list analogous statements from pioneering reformers such as Jane Addams and Betty Friedan, industrial unionists John L. Lewis and Cesar Chavez, and the gay liberationist Harvey Milk. Without patriotic appeals, the great social movements that weakened inequalities of class, gender, and race in the United States—and spread their message around the world—never would have gotten off the ground.

Moreover, as Kazin points out, “it is difficult to think of any American radical or reformer who repudiated the national belief system and still had a major impact on U.S. politics and policy.”

Even the movement against the Vietnam War remained on the fringes when it was led by Abbie Hoffman and marked by flag burning, waving Viet-Cong symbols, and violence by the Weather Underground. It wasn’t until the movement drew in the leadership of such Liberal patriots as Walter Reuther and Eugene McCarthy—men who truly believed in the values of America as much as they believed in their cause—that the country began to take it seriously.

Successful and lasting social change comes from working within our covenantal system rather than attempting to upend it. Our nation has a long tradition of being bettered by people who understood this. After all, how can one seriously engage in a conversation about improving America, or protecting her, if the nation does not hold a privileged place in one’s heart? As Russell Kirk pointed out, “Men cannot improve a society by setting fire to it: they must seek out its old virtues, and bring them back into the light.”

Keeping Our Covenants 

Those who love America have always fought to change it when it fails to live up to its founding vision. This is America’s covenant. But we are in danger of losing it—not just to those who reject its covenant traditions, but to a government that seeks to displace the core functions of communities, remove the risk inherent in individual striving, and take unto itself the tending of important things.

America, as a covenant, requires us to set aside what divides us— creed, class, race, religion—and instead focus on what it is that unites us: our shared citizenship and shared striving to make our communities, our country, and our world a better place.

During the Civil War, the greatest period of national fragmentation we have yet faced, Abraham Lincoln again and again appealed to the shared love of country, and to America’s long tradition of striving to meet its aspirational vision.

They [the founders] meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.

Our social fabric can only be repaired by millions of Americans deciding to reach across boundaries and make the local covenants that are the tradition of our shared, collective life. In an interview in 2016, Sen. Cory Booker (D.-N.J.) articulated this by distinguishing between mere tolerance and the patriotism that defines our American covenant. Tolerance, he said, means, “I’m going to stomach your right to be different, but if you disappear off the face of the earth I’m no worse off.”

Patriotism, on the other hand, means “love of country, which necessitates love of each other, that we have to be a nation that aspires for love, which recognizes that you have worth and dignity and I need you. You are part of my whole, part of the promise of this country.”

Fundamentally, America’s covenant is a promise of continual striving, of a constant aspiration to improve ourselves as communities and a nation—improvements which will then be reflected in our government. But our larger covenants must be sealed every day by the thousands of tiny covenants we make in our local sphere, within our communities. To return to Burke, we must learn to love our little platoons. That is, before we can grow our wider public affection (love of country), we must first cultivate our smaller loyalties to family and community.

The benefits of citizenship require us as individuals to keep our covenants. This means we must deliberately choose to engage one another as fellow travelers, to weigh in with thoughtfulness and passion rather than to opt out with a social media riposte or a tawdry meme, and to build up those individuals and institutions around us rather than to dismiss their legitimacy and tear them down for some historical betrayal.

In a letter to his friend David Hartley in 1787, Thomas Jefferson called this notion of America “our experiment.” It remains so. America was never an immutable concept written in stone as a guide for the ruling to govern the ruled. Rather, as a covenant among equal citizens, America as a concept has the room to grow, change, evolve, and be made better, to pursue what James Madison called “a new and more noble course.”

Ultimately, the American covenant asks that before we claim anything for ourselves, we give of ourselves first. The first thing to keep is our covenant.

Weekend Long Read

The Backward Logic of Cancel Culture Apologists

Cancel culture is not the expression of random public discontent but of institutional power. Its punishments are reserved for those who run afoul of a particular moral system that is shared and advanced by the hegemons of our culture.

The tiresome subject of “cancel culture” is now, unfortunately, one that cannot responsibly be avoided. An old tweet surfaces, and all of a sudden a comedian, an actor, or even some hapless, powerless citizen, is at the center of an online tribunal.

A series of recent events have enlivened the debate. Comedian Shane Gillis lost a job offer at “Saturday Night Live” after podcasts were unearthed in which he used slurs against Chinese people, gays, and other minorities. Famous comedians like Norm MacDonald, Jim Jeffries, and Bill Burr came to his defense, and Gillis himself said he was “pushing boundaries.” But the boundaries he pushed were those that happen to be patrolled by the gatekeepers of our social justice culture. Twitter was furious, and his hiring could not stand.

Gillis’s cancellation came at a turbulent time for the comedy world. In “Sticks and Stones,” David Chappelle proudly dons the mantle of “victim blamer” and attacks cancel culture head-on. He squeezes all the sensitive pressure points of our time. For example,  there is an extended bit on LGBTs, or “the alphabet people,” as he calls them, that culminates with Chappelle imagining a scenario in which a Chinese man were born in his body, asking transgenders to take some responsibility for his barbs. “I didn’t come up with this idea on my own, this idea that a person can be born in the wrong body—they have to admit, that’s a f—g hilarious predicament.”

The comedian attacks the #MeToo movement and bluntly states that he does not believe Michael Jackson’s rape accusers, suggesting that Jackson’s victims are actually lucky: “I mean, it’s Michael Jackson. I know more than half the people in this room have been molested in their lives, but it wasn’t no goddamn Michael Jackson, was it? This kid got his d–k sucked by the King of Pop. All we get is awkward Thanksgivings for the rest of our lives.” There are jokes about poor heroin-addicted whites in Ohio, mass shootings, and even a subtle anti-abortion joke. But Chappelle’s message is a deadly serious one. “They even got poor Kevin Hart,” he says of his friend, cancelled over anti-gay tweets. “This is the worst time ever to be a celebrity. Everyone’s doomed.”

Chappelle received predictable praise on the Right and condemnation on the Left. Much of the criticism has focused on a lack of sensitivity, but some have found more original points of attack. The New Republic recently published a substantial entry into the cancel culture conversation that is already being hailed by some on the Left as the definitive piece on the topic. What if, author Osita Nwanevu asks us to imagine, the backlash against cancel culture were all a pose? What if it’s just a big con?

What if these self-styled mavericks were really punching down, rather than up? Suppose, even, that being cancelled endows the target with a kind of strange prestige? Nawnevu points to how powerful figures have been able to stage comebacks or even work transgression against “cancel culture” to their advantage:

Despite being loudly panned by professional and social media critics alike, Chappelle remains in the good graces of both major figures in the comedy community—including defenders like Sarah Silverman, Bill Burr, and Matt Stone—as well as his fans. Sticks and Stones has a 99 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Netflix, unfazed by all the commotion, actively promoted some of the show’s controversial bits. It’s hardly surprising. Disbelief of sexual abuse and disgust for transgender people are mainstream enough that Chappelle could take on a second career as a Republican speechwriter.

Gillis, he points out, is still doing stand-up. Some of the highest-paid comedians are self-styled critics of political correctness. Meanwhile, comedians today do not have to contend with the oppressive obscenity laws that entrapped the likes of Lenny Bruce. It’s all a con.

From this glittering observation, Nwanevu leaps to a rather obtuse conclusion: that “cancel culture seems to describe the phenomenon of being criticized by multiple people—often but not exclusively on the internet.”

Is ‘Cancel Culture’ Just a Con?

It’s not hard to see why this piece resonated on the Left. It eloquently expresses the way cancel culture’s apologists feel about this scourge: that it is not really a threat to civilized society, but rather, a kind of moral fine-tuning. It’s true that rage mobs consist of individuals with opinions, but it is absurd to describe cancel culture as mundane or mere criticism.

Nwanevu rather humorously notes that some, indeed brutal, forms of “cancelling” have been going on since the pharaoh Akhenaten, who infamously was scrubbed from the public record by his successors for his heretical sun-worship, and even before. True! But that doesn’t mean cancel culture, just because it does not entail graphic, medieval punishments, isn’t real or damaging to actual culture.

Whether cancel culture is a dangerous reality or a delusion appears to depend on your politics. Doctrinaire progressives need not fear, for the most part. But what about everybody else? And what about people who lack the power to mitigate the consequences of being “cancelled?”

To return to our friend Akhenetan, it is true that “cancelling” has been going on forever. That’s because “cancelling” is a moral phenomenon. Hester Prynne was cancelled. And so on and so on. The purpose of cancel culture today is to establish a particular progressive morality. “Every culture,” Harvard professor and noted critic of liberalism, Adrian Vermeule, writes, “is a cancel culture. If you don’t like progressive cancel culture, what you don’t like is just the content of what is cancelled.”

Evolution or Revolution?

So what happens if people today don’t like which way progressive cancel culture is directing us?

The question answers itself. Cancel culture apologists, however, merely beg the question. They are quite open about the fact that they are moral and political revolutionaries, but insist that, somehow, this “evolution,” and the consequences for dissenters, are no big deal. From Nwanevu’s article:

As far as comedy is concerned, “cancel culture” seems to be the name mediocrities and legends on their way to mediocrity have given their own waning relevance. They’ve set about scolding us about scolds, whining about whiners, and complaining about complaints because they would rather cling to material that was never going to stay fresh and funny forever than adapt to changing audiences, a new set of critical concerns, and a culture that might soon leave them behind. In desperation, they’ve become the tiresome cowards they accuse their critics of being—and that comics like Bruce, who built the contemporary comedy world, never were.

David Chappelle, on his way to “mediocrity?” Take note of the veiled threats: “waning relevance”; material that is no longer “fresh.” Yes, but according to whom? And who is being left behind, by whom, exactly?

The apologists rely on a myth of neutrality and innocuousness. At one and the same time, cancel culture is imagined to be the harmless, spontaneous effect of virtuous citizens criticizing those who cross a line, and also a sweeping revolution that threatens to swallow up those destined for “irrelevance.”

There is nothing the least bit mundane about this. Cancel culture demands—not asks, demands—that people completely reform the way they feel, think, speak, and act to make way for the “new voices,” the new “ways” being prescribed by the woke scolds who work for SNL and the New Yorker.

It is cancel culture’s apologists, not its critics, who are posers. They are the ones punching down. Cancel culture is not the expression of random public discontent but of institutional power. Its punishments are reserved for those who run afoul of a particular moral system that is shared and advanced by the hegemons of our culture.

As the Left sees it, those who feel threatened by cancel culture are irrational to feel that way. But this is dishonest. They understand perfectly well why many people feel threatened and the Left is glad they feel that way. The assumption is that it is irrational for dissenters not to “evolve,” that it is a very decent and easy and logical thing for them to do. They are supposed to “get it” and shut up. In other words, they think they are doing you a favor.

Cancel culture is not just random people airing their disapproval, but rather organized, deliberate, and targeted political harassment—often by powerful people with large platforms directed often at powerless, random citizens. Anyone with a social media account, or for that matter, anyone with the misfortune to get involved in a public altercation captured in thirty seconds of viral, ambiguous video, is a potential victim.

Punching Down

Not long after the New Republic piece was published, the cancellers went after “Iowa Legend” Carson King, who became a social media sensation after his sign asking for beer money appeared on ESPN’s “GameDay.” King did a remarkable, wonderful thing and used his sudden fame to raise over $1 million for an Iowa children’s hospital.

It should have been an uplifting and happy story. But when the Des Moines Register wrote a profile on King, the journalist on the job, Aaron Calvin, took it upon himself to perform a “routine background check” and discovered that he had made offensive tweets—which were actually just jokes from the Comedy Central show ”Tosh.0”—when he was 16. For no clear reason at all, the journalist included that information in the article. Anheuser-Busch cut ties with King.

The Register since has faced a richly deserved backlash. The newspaper, in trying to defend itself, issued an agonized explanation dripping with self-righteousness:

The jokes were highly inappropriate and were public posts. Shouldn’t that be acknowledged to all the people who had donated to King’s cause or were planning to do so? The counter arguments: the tweets were posted seven years ago, when King was 16. And he was remorseful. Should we chalk up the posts to a youthful mistake and omit the information? Eventually, Register editors decided we would include the information, but at the bottom of the story […] Reasonable people can look at the same set of facts and disagree on