First Principles

Twilight of the Founders

In our arrogance, we imagine that it is we who are disdainfully rejecting America’s Founders. They would want nothing to do with us.

You can tell about the soul of a people by looking at who they honor. It used to be that America, more or less universally, admired its founders. But Americans today increasingly fancy themselves more evolved than George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. We imagine that these founders have been “found out.” Their great secret—their hypocrisy and “racism”—enables us, indeed requires us, to tear them down. It’s time to leave them in the past now, and find new heroes.

But where is this rage of pride leading? No sane, healthy society would elevate a person like George Floyd, and yet it would be difficult to name a person more revered in the country today. 

While many Americans are still unable to have funerals, Floyd received a send-off fit for a statesman. And that was just the start of his strange apotheosis. Having first become an angel, he has taken on more godlike proportions. In cities across the South, his colossal, digitized visage lights up the sky.

While it’s bad form to speak ill of the dead, we may make exceptions when the departed are wrongly beatified. This perverse exaltation reflects a timidity and self-loathing that increasingly defines the American soul, qualities revealed by months of acquiescence before unprecedented attacks on the freedom and dignity of the American people. 

These attacks are part and parcel of a radical effort to transform the country politically, historically, psychologically, and culturally. No less than Barack Obama expressed the necessity of starting over again, calling John Lewis a “founding father” of “that fuller, fairer, better America” that could very well take “centuries” to build.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, few men have a better claim to inclusion in the pantheon of this new America, whatever that entails, than George Floyd.Floyd, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, is an omnipresent figure who has played a corresponding role in ushering our creepy, despotic “new normal.” Arguably the most powerful doctor in human history, it is heresy to question Fauci’s mere utterances. Despite obvious evidence of his political motivations, he receives the unyielding adulation of millions of Americans. He is benevolent, unfireable. Even his mistakes are somehow proof of his perfection.

These new founders aren’t necessarily good founders, but they are the founders we deserve. An America with more confidence, self-respect, and jealousy of its liberty would not have lifted them to such prominence.

The original American Founders appealed to “manly firmness.” What would they make of Americans today?

Over the last few months, Americans have faced an unrelenting barrage of commands and insults. We have been ordered to give up work, business, and religion—to suspend human relationships under penalty of law. We have been ordered to hate ourselves, to celebrate the erasure of our heritage, and welcome whatever price America’s “guilt” requires. We have seen Americans denied the basic protections of law. 

To be sure, many protest these things, although many are too afraid to do so publicly. Others may be just credulous. But countless others have been active, willing participants in their own disenfranchisement. For many Americans, it seems, the highest virtue is to be perceived as obedient to unelected bureaucrats and their elected intermediaries, or else appropriately sensitive to the call of “social justice” and its advocates. No matter how arbitrary, absurd, or humiliating, the orders of these two classes of rulers must be followed, and with zeal.

A pandemic of self-righteousness and fear has turned many into willing subjects of the elite. For these, no activity, no matter how “essential” or sacred, that has not received the sanction of “experts” can be countenanced. What’s most remarkable is how many Americans have accepted living under these conditions indefinitely. There is no command too degrading or irrational for them to accept, and some go even further than is demanded. 

Perhaps you have seen people walking around in face shields lately. Eager to obey, they are just as eager to inflict punishment—gratuitous punishment—on those who contradict the superstitious authority of “science.” A deep distrust in the ability of ordinary people to use common sense, to think for themselves and direct their own lives, has led to a large part of the public identifying with an aristocracy of scientists, embodied in the august figure of Anthony Fauci. At bottom is a terror at the thought of risk and of the responsibilities of citizenship, which are readily abdicated to bureaucrats.

The whole spectacle is obscene and un-American, but it does not begin to capture the full extent of America’s abasement. Enjoined to honor as some kind of martyr a career criminal who pointed a pistol at a pregnant woman’s abdomen, many Americans have obliged that command as well. 

The deification of Floyd is a remarkable achievement of the politics of ritual humiliation and a spectacular victory for the new cultural revolution. With stunning rapidity, Americans over the last few months have been led to reject their heritage and accept Black Lives Matter as the nation’s conscience. 

The country has descended into ecstasies of self-flagellation that only intensify, with no sign of stopping. Americans kneel in penance for their skin color, while elected officials surrender entire cities to mobs of racial extortionists. America is condemned, its history rewritten, almost without opposition. An entire race has been judged as essentially evil. Some have been prosecuted for defending their property while white. None of these incursions have found any kind of organized response. Rather, they are advancing. Americans now support kneeling to protest the national anthem.

So what is this new America that we are all being told to welcome and celebrate like? It combines the worst features of unaccountable aristocracy with mob tyranny. In it, people with lots of letters after their name, and the so-called protected classes (sometimes both), tell everyone else what to do. Anyone who disagrees with them is a bad person who must be destroyed. 

What about the countless people in the middle: people who don’t have Ph.D.s and can’t claim victimhood under the rules of the new game? Simple: they have no part in our politics today, except perhaps to foot the bill. 

Whatever you’d like to call this, it isn’t freedom.

America’s proper founders understood that republics, no less than any other form of government, are not built to last forever. They require people to be patriotic, brave, and guarded of their liberty. But for decades, Americans have lost confidence in America and in their own ability to govern themselves. Self-rule was exported to a class of “experts,” while generations of schoolchildren were taught to hate America and its past. 

Finally, Americans have lost their courage and their esteem for their own capacity to be self-governing. Many seem eager to lighten the burdens of self-governance and follow orders. Others seem, strangely, to enjoy being told how racist and awful they are.

In our arrogance, we imagine that it is we who are disdainfully rejecting America’s Founders. They would want nothing to do with us.

First Principles

How to Avoid the Life Cycle and Death Spiral of a Republic

A wise Jerusalem is better than an innocent Eden.

To understand the extraordinary events in America today, it is helpful to look at the ancient wisdom of Greece and Rome. And as the wise historian Thucydides said, “If we forget the errors of the past, we are doomed to repeat them.” The classical Greek authors Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as the Romans Cicero and St. Augustine, explain much of what we are experiencing in politics today. A certain textbook, The History of Political Theory: Ancient Greece to Modern America, may also be helpful in this endeavor.

The ancient Greco-Roman historian Polybius (200-118 B.C.) developed a theory of the “lifecycle” of a republic. Like a human being, a republic is born, is young, matures, grows old, and dies. The United States was born in 1776 (our Declaration of Independence) and 1789 (the ratification of our Constitution); was a youth in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; you might say was adolescent in the mid-1800’s (during our Civil War) and matured in the industrial age of late 19th and early 20th centuries. But, by the mid-20th century, especially after World War II, our country grew old, and beginning in the 1960s, frail, sickly, and mentally-impaired.

Like human beings, elderly republics become weak and sickly, sad and demented before they die completely: into anarchy and lawlessness, or tyranny and dictatorship. A society shows its old age in moral weakness, political corruption, decadence, and depravity. 

Ironically, the virtues of an early republic—hard work, honesty, courage, frugality, morality—lead to the great wealth and power which then contribute to its decline. Like a gifted actor or athlete, whose celebrity and sudden fame and wealth goes to his head and destroys him with drugs, depravity, and madness, a rich, worldly Republic can become a powerful, decadent empire. 

Imperial regimes become proud and arrogant, depraved, foolish, self-indulgent, and unethical. Sound familiar? Much of the revolutionary rhetoric in 18th century American pamphlets and sermons identified the British Empire as rich and corrupt, evil and decadent. Bribery, lying, and hypocrisy became common. If the colonies had not separated from imperial England, we could not have preserved liberty, democracy, and Christianity.

The solution for a dying republic is the same as for an aging individual: return to the vigor, strength, values, and goodness of a healthy youth. All the classical philosophers prescribe returning to the principles of the American Founding: civic virtue, a strong work ethic, honesty, family loyalty, patriotism, military honor, law and order, personal morality, and religion. The revival of these early republican values provides the anti-aging remedy to restore the health, vigor, and goodness of an earlier society.

As the aging corpse of the American body politic restores the qualities of its youthful innocence (and we may hope, now with a more mature judgement) it may avoid the painful and disgraceful collapse and ruin of the Athenian, Roman, and European empires. Having gone through the painful loss of close, loving families, honest, hard-working businesses, clean and dedicated government service, and safe and happy communities to arrive at the sad and disgusting consequences of filthy, violent cities—crime, mental illness, corruption and hypocrisy in government, decline of decency and happiness,—a restored republic, like a repentant sinner, is wiser about the temptations of power and wealth, and stronger in keeping them within a moral and healthy setting. 

A wise and chastened mature person or society, knowledgeable of consequences of evil, is much safer than an innocent youth (or young republic) who is easily corrupted. A wise Jerusalem is better than an innocent Eden.

First Principles

Who Elected Twitter and Facebook to Censor Speech?

Banning anyone’s political speech, left or right, is wrong. Once the speech of one party is significantly constrained or even erased, any speech opposed to the powerful will be steadily eliminated.

I have spent my professional life defending the First Amendment and the free-speech rights it enshrines. It is the bulwark of all our freedoms.

The attacks on it are proliferating alarmingly. Now, the most powerful social media platforms—which function as today’s public square—are arrogantly silencing a U.S. president.

If a president’s right to be heard in the public square may be freely assaulted, who is safe? This is extremely dangerous to self-government and the perpetuation of our civil rights.

Yet politicians, many of them bought off by those social-media giants, do nothing. And the news media, which in the days of more objective journalism boldly championed free speech, say little or nothing if Republicans or conservatives are the targets. The same is true of former civil-liberties organizations.

The Latest Flap

The latest flap involves a Fox News interview with the president. Facebook and Twitter removed re-posts of it.

In the video, the president says children are “almost immune” to COVID-19 and should be back in school.

A Facebook spokesperson, leaving out the word “almost,” said President Trump’s statement is not true and violates the platform’s COVID-19 policies.

“This video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation,” Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois told Fox News.

Dr. Andrew Bostom, a Brown University associate professor of medicine, internist, and epidemiologist, insists that Mr. Trump’s statement is, in fact, true.

The above chart recently issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appears to provide confirmation. The blue line at the bottom shows the deaths of people ages 0-24.

While young people are not technically “immune” from COVID-19, one can certainly say accurately that they are almost immune to its effects. Particularly in the context of a political debate about reopening the schools.

The Trump campaign also shared the interview. That was retweeted by the president.

According to Twitter, the tweet was “in violation of the Twitter rules on COVID-19 misinformation.” With regal hauteur, Twitter pronounced that the Trump campaign will “be required to remove the Tweet before they can Tweet again.”

Censorship Isn’t Authorized

Who elected Twitter or Facebook to control the political speech of Americans?

They were granted special protections by the U.S. government decades ago to simply provide platforms for the political speech of all — as a kind of utility. They were not supposed to censor political speech and use the platforms to promote their own views. Now that they have effectively killed off newspapers and come to dominate the marketplace for information, they are adopting censorship, for possibly nefarious reasons.

The silencing of speech by these media giants—which, victims assert, includes “shadow banning” that limits the ability of consumers to access certain people—seems to be aimed mostly at conservatives and Republicans. Critics charge that is part of a deliberate strategy to interfere with the coming election—to a massively greater degree than Russia’s much-touted tampering in 2016.

Banning anyone’s political speech, left or right, is wrong. Once the speech of one party is significantly constrained or even erased, any speech opposed to the powerful will be steadily eliminated.

We will no longer be free.

This article originally appeared on EdAchorn.com

Great America

Creepedia

BoyWiki’s supposedly informational purpose masks a more sinister service: networking for members of the international pedophile community.

Online predators have used the same web software as Wikipedia and Wikifan sites to design what they describe as a place to record “our history and our culture” for men attracted to boys, or as they are called by everyone else: pederasts. The site’s administrators are connected to the Free Spirits Council, an international network of people from multiple countries seeking to normalize pedophilia as a legitimate sexual orientation and social behavior rather than the predatory exploitation of children that it is. 

In order to shield themselves from professional or legal scrutiny, members of the FSC maintain strict anonymity. The resources provided by this network of websites are specifically geared toward connecting advocates of liberalizing social and legal constraints on pedophilic behavior while skirting the current laws governing them. On the surface this is already disturbing to the rational reader; but it turns out that it’s not illegal. These platforms may act as a venue for others to connect and engage in illegal sexual conduct. Thanks to a lax legal structure and a burgeoning new effort to legitimize deviant adult attraction to children, they may be able to get away with more than just advocacy.

The site in question is called BoyWiki, and along with the Free Spirits, it operates parallel sites in French and German. Like many other pedophile social circles, its log is a maze in the shape of a triangle. The counterpart website for adults attracted to minor girls is called AnnabelleLeigh/GirlChat and functions only as a message board, and states up front concrete rules for speech on the site in order to prevent illegal material from jeopardizing the site.

The creators of BoyWiki call themselves and its intended audience “boy lovers” and on its main page the site has a “Did you know. . .” section informing users of an online message board “for boy lovers all over the world.” 

This is not the first such site to attempt to organize information for such a community. Newgon.net, now an inactive site available only in archived form, operated for several years as a wiki website dedicated to the broader purpose of supporting all of the attraction combinations, and it includes pages for debate guidelines on justifying adult-child physical contact and “testimonials” of historical cases that attempt to show such contact in a positive light. 

One such testimonial cites a book by sociologist Floyd Martinson in which a girl interviewed describes a forcible rape by her father. The fact that the writer was searching for source material for positive anecdotes and this was the best that could be found is a window into the delusional mentality of the people involved. Newgon.net would also feature articles critical of anti-pedophile “vigilante” organizations such as the defunct blog Absolute Zero United. Both Newgon.net and BoyWiki classify Absolute Zero as a “hate campaign,” even though their function has mainly been to monitor gatherings of pedophiles for illegal activities.

Strange Bedfellows

There is also IPCE (the International Pedophile and Child Emancipation) and the better-known NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association), two advocacy groups that compile long-form academic and literary websites for scholarly discussion about the “emancipation of mutual relationships between children or adolescents and adults.” In the past these groups would attempt to hold meetings where the men involved would gather supposedly to advocate lowering the legal age of consent. The real function of these get-togethers, however, would often be to exchange and distribute sexually explicit materials involving minors. 

NAMBLA was formed in the late 1970s just as the gay rights movement was attempting to eliminate sodomy laws and other restrictions. One of the events that triggered its formation was the 1978 arrest of 24 Boston men in a raid where they were discovered to have lured boys between the ages of eight and 14 into their clutches by using drugs and video games. A segment of the area gay community formed a campaign called the Boston/Boise Committee to oppose the prosecution of the men, and NAMBLA eventually evolved out of it. Among those who lauded the efforts of the committee was a little-known Massachusetts state representative named Barney Frank. He would come out as the first openly gay congressman in 1987. 

In 1993 Adi Sideman, an Israeli-American sophomore at NYU and child sex abuse victim, filmed “Chickenhawk” which included in-person interviews with NAMBLA members and activists. Considered one of the most disturbing documentaries of all time, the film allowed the subjects to describe their attraction in their own words, often showing the warped way that they misrepresented their interactions with children as young as seven years old as expressions of interest. One of the most haunting subjects of the film, Leland Stevenson, would be arrested on a second child pornography charge in Florida years later. Sideman closed the film, after the credits, with a ghoulish monologue in which he warns opponents of pedophilia that “your day is over . . . when it [suppression of pedophilia] breaks, it is going to break suddenly.”

By this time, the broader gay rights movement had ostracized NAMBLA. According to the group’s leading light David Thorstad, lesbian activists began to urge for a break from the movement as a result of NAMBLA’s inclusion. While Thorstad protested that such adult-child relationships were common between women and girls as well, all available data shows that the overwhelming majority of child sex offenders are men. And while the majority of sexual abuse victims are girls, it is believed that male cases are underreported. In the 2000s NAMBLA was weakened both by the stress litigation and infiltration by activists seeking to expose pedophile identities and activities. It is no longer a functioning organization. 

Illegal Activity Made Possible Via Legal Channels

While the “informational” resource provided by BoyWiki is troubling, it is entirely legal so long as there is no explicit sexual content or incitement to illegal activities. But BoyWiki’s supposedly informational purpose masks a more sinister service: networking for members of the community. One article permanently featured on the main page  (unlike Wikipedia which changes theirs daily) is for “BoyLand,” a message board for pedophiles. BoyWiki also has on its main page a link to the Free Spirits Council’s own message board BoyChat. 

On these message boards prospective predators can share with each other their prurient thoughts and potentially establish contact in order to solicit and share illegal child porn or even set up meetings. Chat rules prohibit soliciting meetings with persons under 18 but not with each other. In every sense possible, these chat rooms serve the same purpose of providing the first connection for potential sex criminals so they can meet and share illicit child porn or even discuss child sex trafficking.

Other resources once used to promote BoyWiki and likeminded forums were the semi-functional WEIRD-PM Radio, Ethos Magazine, and formerly the Enchanted Island. All of these were creations of a person named “Kermie” who according to BoyWiki died in October 2016. These were all used in order to direct listeners and readers about ways to reach out and contact other “BLs” (boy lovers). The news presented on the WEIRD programs invariably skewed to child-centered topics. In his last broadcast before his passing, Kermie referred to a child prodigy and high school graduate as a “9-year-old man.” He would go on to conclude by saying that “the world is changing” and the time is coming when “BLs” would be accepted as any other sexual lifestyle would. If it sounded like he was echoing Leland Stevenson, it may not be a coincidence. 

Hedonism, Child Health Be Damned

When Stevenson died in 2013, a forum user posted a tribute thanking him “for all your good work.” One of the men paying tribute, Eric Tazelaar, would tweet in 2019 a random photo of a boy wearing a shirt with the caption “Pizza is my jam” and much of his feed concerns what he considers the severe nature of sex offender laws. In a 2016 Vice article on the state of NAMBLA (or what’s left of it), Tazelaar claimed that changing public opinion about such sexual activities would take decades. Thanks to well-meaning but misguided efforts of government researchers, however, his goal is on the fast track in some countries. 

In 2018 Madeleine van der Bruggen, a psychologist with the Netherlands’ National Rapporteur on Trafficking which researches child sex crimes, delivered a now-infamous TEDx Talk. “I truly do believe that every person is longing for love at some point in their life,” she said. “And what if this love that you really wish for will forever be impossible? That must be a very lonely situation to be in.” She then went on to deliver a spirited appeal to think of pedophiles as a sexual orientation and called for “clever solutions” and pleaded with the audience to imagine an acquaintance or relative being arrested. 

This section will be a lot of preaching to the choir, but adult-child sexual relationships, whatever their level of acceptance in other cultures, are not shown to be healthy according to any existing study. According to a Temple University study in 2019, youth before the age of 18 attain adult cognitive capacity at an average age of 16, but psychosocial maturity only at the age of 18. This “maturity gap” contradicts the notion that younger teens and children who have attained neither of those mental competency levels are capable of making decisions about sexual relationships. 

Another study from 2013 featured in World Psychiatry found that adults who had a history as child sex abuse victims were more prone to suicide and that the earlier the abuse occurred, the more frequently the subject would attempt suicide. There is no countervailing evidence that sexual abuse supports mental health. A 2019 Oxford University review of academic literature on the topic reveals that such activity has been linked to more frequent occurrence of later life health problems ranging from borderline personality disorder to obesity.

With the advent of the sexual liberation movement of the 1970s, normalizing previously taboo sexual lifestyles among adults, advocates of adult-child sexual relationships saw an opening to promote themselves as victims of persecution as well. In West Berlin in the 1960s, psychologist Helmut Kentler proposed that denial of sexual urges among children by their parents would make them into “sexual cripples.” Thanks to the receptive government of Mayor Willy Brandt, Kentler was able to receive funding to place homeless children with male pedophiles beginning in the early 1970s and continuing for decades. Many of the men who became foster parents and subsequently exploited the sheltered children were themselves educators at top-flight German universities and an elite private boarding school.

The content of BoyWiki and the Free Spirits Council websites blatantly echoes the same sentiments of NAMBLA and other pro-pedophilia advocates like those of the Kentler study, yet it carefully avoids the sharing of explicit sexual content and encourages users not to disclose private information or their own activities. In preparation for this story, I contacted the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC), and local police. An ICAC representative acknowledged by phone this week that the task force is aware of the BoyWiki website, but declined to respond when asked if it is under investigation. 

First Principles

The Strength of Strength and the Strength of Weakness

Many people claim to be fighting to create the world they would like to live in, but an astonishing number appear content to win on a technicality or disqualification rather than in a fair fight.

In the small Southwestern Pennsylvania coal-mining town where I grew up, the locals kept to themselves and were notoriously tight-lipped when it came to praising anyone for anything. The elderly residents—mostly descendants of Slovak and Croatian immigrants who came to the town to work the mine—were pessimistic people, distrustful of the Democratic politicians they voted for and resentful of the pretensions of the younger folks who had moved away to bigger cities, such as the 20,000-person county seat 30 minutes east on Interstate 70.

But men like my maternal grandfather did have one particular compliment they doled out as sparingly as the chipped ham or sardines they arranged on slices of white bread: they would note with approval when someone could “handle himself.” This person, usually a taciturn mine worker reminiscent of the cart-horse from Orwell’s Animal Farm or a stout widow who kept her tiny company house in immaculate condition for decades after her spouse’s demise, demonstrated considerable strength in the face of the decay and decline of their dwindling piece of the world.

They matched their personal force, such as it was, against the impersonal force of socioeconomic change. And whether this was right or not, seemingly able-bodied people who complained or even asked for assistance may have received it but were despised for their weakness.

Walter Stechly, the author’s grandfather, in 1942.

Walter Stechly, the author’s grandfather, in 1942.

I spent many summers with my grandfather. My half-brother, older than me by a decade, helped him lay bricks, insulate walls, wire and then test electrical circuits, and replace outdated lead plumbing pipes with PVC. I, by contrast, was given the simpler task of smashing aluminum cans with a rubber mallet. Since he drank 20 or 30 “lite” beers a day—Stoney’s was his preferred brand—the supply of cans never diminished regardless of my efforts.

After I had smashed several hundred cans, he took them to an aluminum recycling facility in exchange for a small sum of money, which he shared with me in proportion to the quality of my efforts. He rarely approved of the way I smashed the cans because the results were usually asymmetrical. He preferred an even crush as he could do himself merely by placing his massive hands on the top and bottom of the can and exerting pressure. “Look at your brother out there shoveling like he has a steam engine,” he’d tell me, proud of the hulking adolescent laborer who wasn’t even his blood relative. “He’s OK. Your brother can handle himself.”

Handling Oneself in Strength

All through my youth, I approached problems and challenges through this lens. Could I “handle myself” against peers, siblings, and abusive parents? The point, as I understood it, was to bear up under the unbearable—not to invite this pain out of some misguided lust for martyrdom, but to endure it for as long as necessary to escape.

For my grandfather, who had served as a medic during World War II and witnessed considerable carnage during the invasion of Italy, there were no victims in life, only survivors. Surviving, by extension, conferred only a limited right to continued existence: you lived to fight another day, for what that was worth. “Still sucking wind,” in his words.

I went on to endure my own hardships, absurd, and avoidable difficulties precipitated by my parents’ criminal behavior, and I tried to overcome them with ceaseless exertion. Strength, I reasoned, had to be met by strength. As I listened to lectures on early Christianity during college—a period when I worked 40 hours a week to pay my way—I contemplated those rich Romans who, upon discovering the religion in the wake of blood-soaked contributions made by its original martyrs, had sought to acquire their patinas of saintly suffering in the marketplace of public religiosity.

I puzzled over those patricians who gave away or sold their luxurious country villas and accompanying latifundia to journey to Asia Minor and set up residence in a cave or atop a high pillar, punishing themselves in various ways to resist what they perceived as their basest animal urges. Their decisions to openly embrace weakness, as contrasted with those humbler martyrs and hermits who had no choice but to suffer for their faith, gave them a special status during a time of imperial decline: they were “athletes for Christ,” experiencing intense privations to showcase their spiritual mettle even as their civilization declined in power due to plague, warfare, and bureaucratic mismanagement.

I recount all of this backstory because, at least in this case, the shortest way home—meaning to that home described in my first few paragraphs—happens to be the long way round. There, the distinction was made between those members of the community who could “handle themselves,” often in spite of insurmountable odds, and those who begged for assistance even when presumed capable of standing on their own. Help was always given to the latter by relatives, grudgingly of course, with the assumption that those in tight spots eventually wouldn’t be.

In other words, these “victims” of life itself were thought to occupy a temporary position. They might have fallen short, but the belief was that they could regroup, redeem themselves, and restore their lives to whatever status quo ante was in place before their troubles. That didn’t always work out in practice back in the 1980s, and with the town’s population in 2020 half of what it was then while opiate intake is probably many orders of magnitude greater, it likely works out even less often now.

Nevertheless, “handling myself” was the mental construct that carried me through a significant stretch of poverty and mental anguish. I wasn’t absorbing blows for the sake of absorbing blows, like a flagellant in a medieval procession or wrestler Cactus Jack in a blood-soaked hardcore wrestling match, but rather to reach the other side, wherever that was.

I would meet strength with strength, whether competing at a powerlifting event, arguing my case in a moot court tournament, or debating with peers in a graduate seminar. I harbored no delusions of grandeur but intended to hold my own. If I received criticism, I would address those issues and improve my performance. Much of my early adolescence, lost in a fog of ill-considered Child Protective Services actions, amounted to one loss after another, but that simply afforded me a deep foundation from which to rebuild.

The Strength of Woke Weakness

But this intellectual beau monde for which I had rebuilt myself, with books and barbells and 12 years in graduate school, is not one that prizes the ability to “handle oneself.” No, this brave new marketplace of ideas is monopolized by those who exhibit the strength of weakness, a strength of weakness that might be somewhat familiar to those late imperial Romans who were thinking of selling the estate and riding off into the high desert to drop some denarii on the salvation of their immortal souls. I write somewhat for a variety of reasons, most notably that a Roman circa 400 A.D. was still convinced that his soul would transmigrate somewhere after death, whereas today’s aggrieved peddlers in this “wokeconomy” propelled by the tail-winds of outrage are very much concerned with their life in this world.

I had not anticipated the development of a world in which status in some agreed-upon, academy-determined category of victimhood would prove sufficient to foreclose discussion of a particular subject. I failed to realize that mere reference to weakness, in particular to having and showcasing the most unimpeachable and immutable weaknesses, would confer such profound discursive advantages. The classic appeal of the late 18th- and early 19th-century abolitionists—“am I not a man and a brother?”—was how my father, who in spite of his myriad other faults had always embraced his own interracial family, explained human relations to me. Anthony Hopkins’ classic line from David Mamet’s script for the 1997 movie “The Edge” stuck with both of us, too: “What one man can do, another can do.” And Jacques Rancière’s emphasis on “the equality of intelligence” in his book The Ignorant Schoolmaster had carried me through my later years, fueling me with the conviction that anyone can teach anyone else anything, provided both parties are sufficiently motivated and open-minded.

Moreover, much of this boasted-about weakness was feigned. The truly disadvantaged—the invisible or less visible poor, disabled, “BIPOC,” what have you—had no stall or kiosk in which to sell their wares in the marketplace of ideas.

Their actual weakness, in many cases, had been assumed by well-educated spokespeople, who claimed to “do the work” on their behalf. Much of this “work,” insofar as I could understand it at all, consisted of accusing other people of not doing the work, not “organizing” (organizing what?), not “doing the reading” (reading what?), not educating themselves (you weren’t “paying them to educate you,” and believe me, I wouldn’t have). Such peremptory statements were meant to function as the end, not the beginning, of a conversation.

In fact, most conversations with others, even others ostensibly allied under the same political “big tent” who conceivably might support a project such as Medicare for All, were no longer possible at all. Only the divisions, which multiplied alongside the contradictions, mattered.

Social media in general and Twitter in particular are not reflections of life itself, the real life in which most good people live and die, but they do provide a cracked-mirror image of the life of the mind. And the life of the mind, insofar as it exists on Twitter, is enfeebled. You might even say that Twitter serves as the life support of the mind. “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind, or not to have a mind is being very wasteful . . . how true that is,” former Vice President Dan Quayle told the United Negro College Fund three decades ago, though these incoherent remarks would certainly have more salience if applied to the ad hominem tweets exchanged between two journalists attempting to “do the work” of getting each other fired from the same legacy media publication.

I don’t believe these people, enraptured by the power afforded them through frequent resort to the strength of weakness, are engaged in “grifting” any more than I believe that some Roman senator who elected the life of an ascetic was some kind of secret atheist looking to score social brownie points for his sacrifice. When they call each other “grifters”—an overused term I used to think applied solely to the kind of schemes depicted in Jim Thompson pulp novels—that is vulgar projection on their parts; it is weakness talking to weakness, insecurity at its most profound. They are enraptured by the strength of weakness, but this over-reliance on that form of power has shaken their belief in even the “woke” morality they profess so cheap and hold so dear, and thus they end up pretending to believe in the amorality of everyone else. It is a mug’s game, turtles all the way down.

Not Handling Themselves

The larger problem is that the strength of weakness, regardless of its merits as a tool for advancing up the intellectual or bureaucratic ladder, is profoundly destructive. It turns its adherents into parasites, after a fashion: their weakness draws power from and is only relative to the strength of others, which must, in turn, be leveled. Everything high must be laid low.

The strength of weakness can topple any social structures in its path, which is perfect for austerity-obsessed bureaucrats and politicians looking to outsource the running of the country to Amazon, but it cannot build them anew. Rome preserved and enriched the inheritance of primitive charismatic Christianity, but as a polity, it eventually became Greek in the East and fractured into a thousand pieces in the West. The “boy who cried wolf,” as shop-worn a fable as they get, allowed the boy to draw the villagers’ attention to his phony plight up until the moment he couldn’t, the moment when an actual wolf attacked his flock.

Of course, this state of affairs, like any other, cannot last forever. The country faces a wholesale financial collapse, with foreclosures, evictions, and a wave of small business closures looming as summer turns to fall, events likely to forever alter the American economy. Out of so much uncreative destruction, precipitated by incoherent and frankly schizophrenic policy-making related to pandemics and protests, we may have the opportunity to rebuild the razed country from its deepest foundation.

Such work cannot be done by those who “do the work” of purporting to speak for the weak, yet in actuality cannot afford for the weak to become strong lest they lose their hard-earned roles as their mouthpieces (“Pity would be no more, if we did not make somebody poor,” wrote poet William Blake, “and Mercy no more could be, if all were as happy as we”).

No, this is hard labor for hard people—people who can shoulder the load and carry the weight, who would even the playing field by strengthening the weak instead of weakening the strong. It is all we can do, those of us who believe we are all men and brothers and strong in both body and spirit, because we must.

First Principles

Party, Propaganda, and Revolutionary Silence

It is time to speak the truth about the reality of what the country is experiencing.

The American people are enduring a withering bombardment of propaganda from a corporate-owned media that is beholden to financial interests, including interests that benefit from legacy trade policies with Communist China.

Propaganda is a weapon of warfare abroad, and propaganda is a weapon of tyranny at home. 

Propaganda works. 

The tactics used and the target selection determines its overall level of effectiveness. Today, propaganda tactics are ubiquitous in the 24/7 social media-fueled frenzy. Today’s target is the American people. Fear amplification and false expectations are the messages. Divide and conquer is the ethos.

Propaganda tactics and methods have so saturated the national discourse that it is difficult to discern reality from falsehood, truth from fiction, or deceit from honesty. 

The situation is exacerbated by the lack of critical thinking skills among the younger segment of the population. Subjects like logic—and hence logical fallacies—argumentation, metacognition, etc. aren’t required course work at any level of public schooling.

This makes our entire population—our children and young adults in particular—easy marks for propaganda.

As a corollary to the propaganda, the broad censorship across the media and social media platforms serves to further the confusion by eliminating honest debate or exposure to alternative viewpoints. America once prided herself on free speech and open and honest debate. 

Today, we have a news media that publicly applauds censorship historically associated with states like China, North Korea, and the former Soviet Union.

As a result, a general state of induced confusion and fear affects our citizens and officials alike. 

In the Soviet Union, the residents used to joke, “in the news there is not truth, and in the truth, there is no news.” How the mighty United States of America has fallen.

The principle goal of information warfare is confusing your adversary and concealing your intentions. This is achieved by controlling your target’s perception of reality. The American people’s perception of reality has been under assault for decades and this has only intensified since Donald Trump dared to challenge the myriad interests hollowing out America for profit.

After a decades-long effort to control language and to censor speech, it is not surprising that many inside the Trump Administration struggle to frame accurately the violence plaguing the country. To be artificially limited to describing reality using only acceptable words is like tying your shoes with boxing gloves. In matters pertaining to national security, an inability to define reality is lethal.

For example, in Attorney General William Barr’s recent House Judiciary testimony, he stated that the attacks on courthouses and federal facilities are attacks on the U.S. government. Barr stopped short, however, of naming these attacks as part of the wider Marxist Revolutionary insurrection. This artificial constraint in language complicates and inhibits the deployment of needed personnel and capabilities to quell the violence. These constraints remain self-enforced on the part of many American officials, even when faced with affirmative confirmation and facts. 

Until our senior-most political leaders are willing to name the threat and accurately depict reality with their language, their political underlings and constituents, many of whom know that something is wrong, will remain afraid, confused, and disenfranchised.  

Former Secretary of State John Kerry and the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Joe Biden, both recently called for “revolution.” Believe them. Bombs, assaults, fires, and riots occur daily. Believe those, too.

The elements of revolutionary insurrection are clear for all to see. Cadres on the street, deceptive narratives in the media, and a shadow government choosing de facto presidential candidates under the rubric of a vice-presidential selection process.

It is not enough simply to point out the lawless tactics or the inaction of local leaders. The Democratic Party leaders, public officials, and their media allies are fomenting revolutionary insurrection, with clearly stated goals including the dissolution of the U.S. government and the elimination of the America First agenda and its proponents. 

The steps taken to end the violence thus far have been measured and halting. While politically comfortable, these steps fall far short of what is necessary to prevent the collapse of society. To address these issues reactively through the prism of racial inequality or police brutality is to yield to the Marxists’ narrative. This forces Americans to defend America with the weapons and fighting positions chosen by their adversaries.

Government officials sworn to protect and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic, but beholden to the Marxist narrative, fight with rules of engagement defined by our enemy at the time and place of the enemy’s choosing. This is a catastrophic error. 

A brief look at the history of the 20th century exposes this folly. This is a key indicator of how bad the surrender to the narrative is—FBI agents kneeling, in uniform, to Marxist rioters during the Washington, D.C. riots. Whether they were told to by someone in authority or chose to do so on their own is not relevant. What is relevant is that it happened. A mighty citadel of anti-communism—the FBI—has fallen. They are not the only pillar of our defenses to have collapsed.

Marxism and its progeny are the single greatest threat to humanity that exists. Democrat leaders are fomenting revolutionary insurrection. This is clear, not only from their words and actions, but also through their inaction. 

The propaganda and purposeful violence will continue through the election, of this there is little doubt. To put a point on it: if nothing else, it serves as a tool of voter suppression. Threats of violence at the polls will keep many from voting. If they aren’t already, the Justice Department (and the Department of Defense for that matter) should be planning for an explosion of violent protests to “spontaneously erupt” around November 1 that will last through the election. We must be prepared to ensure that everyone can safely vote without fear of violence, intimidation, or retribution.

This propaganda, violence, and destruction done by the Marxist revolutionary insurrectionists belongs to the Democratic Party. Not one Democrat has denounced the violence to date. Not one Democrat has gone on camera and denounced Antifa or Black Lives Matter for their Marxist beliefs. And not one reporter has even asked them to do so. 

The mainstream journalists’ complicity allows and enables the devolution of the social contract by not holding the Democrats accountable for empowering and excusing political violence and domestic terrorism. The institutions charged with preventing this violence have proven inadequate to the task. 

It is past time to develop a “get well” plan for our institutions. It is time to speak the truth about the reality of what the country is experiencing. It is time for the American people to demand that our elected leaders fight back at the federal, state, and local levels. It is past time for the Trump Administration and all our elected leaders to prepare for a possible escalation.

First Principles

Fascism 101 with Professors Vittorini and Solzhenitsyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Robbery,” said Without Mustaches.

“That goes without saying,” said With Mustaches.

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

“No question,” said With Mustaches.

“And political delinquency,” said Without Mustaches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you watch others, to find fault?

Do you seek occasion for enmity?

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

Do you speak evil of people behind their backs?

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

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

Do you expose other people to opprobrium?

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

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

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

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

First Principles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Principles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Principles

I’m Not Descended From Jefferson. Keep His Memorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America As Uniquely Evil in the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Left’s Power Play

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

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

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

First Principles

A Reign of Error

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Principles

The Great Fireworks Rebellion of 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Principles

The Cancellation of David Starkey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canceled!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Racist or Not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Apple of Gold and Frame of Silver

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Principles

Why You Have a Constitutional Right to a High Capacity Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Principles

Fathers and Sons, American-Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Principles

Tales of Endurance and Enduring Tales from My Father

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

Picture this scene.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Principles

Language, Freedom, And Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Principles

Kangaroo Nation

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

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

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

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

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

Always choose against the manipulator.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Principles

Property Rights Matter Even More Than Lives

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

Actually, property does matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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