Weekend Long Read

Orson Welles: American Maverick

Through his work, Welles revelled in the game of concealment and illumination but, in the end, reveals it to be more than just a silly game.

The scene is perfectly set, full of trickery and magic: from a seemingly abandoned train station, a towering figure of a man in a cape and a hat emerges out of a cloud of smoke. The man decides to do a few magic tricks for a couple of children and is caught by the knowing gaze of a beautiful and exotic looking woman, dressed in fur. She registers a look of slight disapproval at the man in the cape, as if she caught a child fumbling through a cookie jar. But her disapproval quickly melts away and she forgives the man for being playful.

“Up to your old tricks, I see,” says the beautiful woman.

“Why not?” says the man in a rather booming and distinctive voice. “I’m a charlatan.” 

With that, he gives her a mischievous smirk betraying his true sentiments. The man is not offering a confession or looking for absolution but is instead offering his own assessment of any expert who might wish to judge him a charlatan. 

The man in the cape is the great actor and director, Orson Welles (1915-1985), in one of his later films, “F for Fake” (1973). Welles, a charlatan? Of course, this description is preposterous and untrue, and Welles himself said it in jest. His grin, both devious and utterly innocent tells us something quite the opposite: Welles is asserting his artistic superiority yet he really doesn’t care what he is called, whether by the critics, “experts,” or even his loyal audience. Orson Welles cared only about one thing: making great movies.

One Man’s Fight Against the Establishment

It would be all too easy and lazy to dismiss Orson Welles as a “has-been”—someone who quickly rose to fame and then crashed, disappearing from the public eye. Welles is usually captured in the American imagination as three personalities: a radio broadcaster who delivered the infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast that scared many people into believing an alien attack was underway in rural New Jersey; a director of the best American film ever made, “Citizen Kane” (1941); and a spokesperson for Paul Masson wine, Japanese whiskey, and frozen peas. Welles’ weight problem, the subject of many jokes (some of which he didn’t mind, as he often made fun of himself), is too often the focus of many critics and people who worked with him. These are all beside the point. They constitute such a small part of who he was that they obscure the big picture. 

In many ways, Welles lived thousands of lifetimes in just one life—whether it was in acting or in innovating new cinematic forms. Welles was the founder of what we now call “independent cinema,” even as most so-called “independent filmmakers” are nothing more than the fakers Welles so obviously abhorred. The only other American film director who can authentically claim the mantle of independent filmmaker is John Cassavetes, who, like Welles, hated the phoniness and corruption for which Hollywood was known.

Naturally, Welles was aware that he was not a “joiner.” He didn’t join any clubs of any kind. He was too free and supremely confident in that freedom to submit his personhood to any authority, let alone any creative authority coming out of Hollywood. In his book, Whatever Happened to Orson Welles: A Portrait of an Independent Career (2006), the Welles scholar Joseph McBride singles out some of Welles’ more vocal pronouncements about Hollywood. 

Even as early as 1939, when Welles first came to Hollywood, he was considered a man to watch. His anti-establishment credentials were fully perceived, in other words. Welles recalls that he was considered a

. . . terrible maverick . . . I was sort of 40 or 30 years ahead of my time . . . a sort of ghost of Christmas future. There was the one beatnik, you know, there was this guy with a beard who was going to do it all by himself. I represented the terrible future of what was going to happen to that town. So I was hated and despised, theoretically, but I had all kinds of friends among the real dinosaurs, who were awfully nice to me. And I had a very good time. But I believe that I have looked back too optimistically on Hollywood. Because my daughter has a group of books about Hollywood that she bought, I don’t know, probably vainly looking for references of her father in them. And I took to reading them lately. And I realized how many great people that town has destroyed since its earliest beginnings—how almost everybody of merit was destroyed or diminished, and how the few people who were good who survived, what a great minority they were . . . And I take my own life out of it and see what they did to other people, I see that the story of that town is a dirty one, and its record is bad.

This is most certainly a moment of honest self-reflection on Welles’ part. He was quite capable of that, despite his constant humor and laughter, which can suggest some kind of avoidance of life’s realities. He may have fashioned himself into that figure of a magician, of the “Great Orsini,” who laughs loudly and boisterously, but do not be fooled: Welles was a true artist. He saw more clearly than the rest of humanity what this very humanity is made of, what its joys and sorrows are, its faults, and attempts at perfection. The movie establishment, naturally, was not particularly interested in looking deeply into the question of what it means to be human.

The fact that Welles had no regard for anything other than his films did not help his cause, and this was especially true in his first film, “Citizen Kane” (1941). The sheer audacity to make a film based almost entirely on the life of William Randolph Hearst, the publishing magnate, was palpable in this 25-year-old dynamo. Not only did he challenge every possible convention in the business of technical filmmaking (his employment of different camera angles alone changed the trajectory of filmmaking forever), but the barely veiled correlations to Hearst’s life was what got Welles into a heap of trouble. Hearst did not like the way his mistress, Marion Davies, was portrayed in the film. In “Citizen Kane” she is an empty-headed bimbo incapable of good acting, although in reality was quite an actress and a comedienne. This caused Hearst to want to destroy Welles at any cost. 

Since he had power over the newspaper industry, Hearst began circulating rumors that Welles was a Communist—an insult that at that time turned the public against the person so accused. Of course, Welles was never a member of the Communist Party. 

But there was also a psychological component of establishment Hollywood’s rejection of Welles. Any figure in any field who demonstrates the potential to disrupt the machinery churning out secure and profitable projects is bound to be hated. Individual creativity under such circumstances is often scorned, and as Joseph McBride points out, “Welles serves as a perfect whipping boy for those in the film industry and in the media who uncritically worship the imperatives and products of the commercial system.” 

Welles most definitely was a mischievous man and he had no qualms about causing certain disruptions. But these disruptions were more along the lines of explorations in art, rather than deliberate salvos aimed at film studios. After all, he needed the structure of the studio in order to make movies. But oftentimes, collectivism wins the battle over individual vision.

What is most ironic is the fact that this brilliant American filmmaker was unable to be an individual in America. This certainly points to a sad state of affairs when it comes to individual liberty and what it means to be an artist in America. The American consciousness somehow rejected Welles despite the fact that Welles never abandoned it. When he died, many obituaries continued the utter fiction that Welles only made one great film—“Citizen Kane”—and the rest of his life was spent in sad isolation, a tragic end of what could have been a great career. 

Even his collaborator in the Mercury Theater productions, John Houseman (the infamously cranky professor in “The Paper Chase,” 1973) contributed to this unfair and untrue portrayal of Welles: “If there was a downfall, then it was entirely of his own doing. I mean, nobody stopped him from producing more ‘Citizen Kanes.’” 

The dismissiveness of that statement is self-evident. How can any self-respecting artist bring himself to engage in some “wash, rinse, repeat” cycle of creating art? Such an approach is the very definition of an artistic fraud. Commenting on the various negative obituaries of Welles, Joseph McBride writes, “Scorning Welles as a tragic failure of gargantuan proportions seems to satisfy a public need (at least in America) to point a finger at an archetypal ‘spoiled artist,’ to bring genius down to the level of everyday mediocrity.”

But did the American audience truly reject Welles’ contribution to film? Or should we blame the film studios, most notably RKO Pictures, whose administrators and producers repeatedly butchered Welles’ films in order to make them more ‘accessible’ to mainstream audiences? Welles’ second feature-length film, “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942) certainly suffered such a fate. 

This particular film was an adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s eponymous novel that centered on one family’s magnificence and its loss. The film primarily focuses on the dark side of the unraveling of the family, which is paralleled with the invention of the automobile. As everything is becoming faster and more industrialized, the Ambersons can’t seem to or don’t want to catch up and instead live in a reality that resembles more nostalgia than the hard facts of life.

Just like in “Citizen Kane,” Welles excelled here at new and innovative techniques in filmmaking. By this point, that probably wouldn’t have bothered the studio executives but after screening the entire film to a few select audiences, they weren’t pleased with the reception, and thus embarked on what ended up being the greatest ever mutilation of a film in Hollywood.

Almost 50 minutes were cut and a new ending was shot, one that was “happier” since Welles’ ending was far too grim. The logic of the studio executives was that the film wasn’t going to make much money unless there is a happier ending. Pearl Harbor was just attacked, and who wants to watch a dark and gloomy film about a bunch of American aristocrats?

According to Joseph McBride, some of the producers on “The Magnificent Ambersons” also lied to Welles about the budget, informing him that he was over budget when in reality he was under budget. The conversations between studio executives reveal a series of paranoid and vindictive attacks on Welles at one point even entertaining a plan to throw Welles to “the authorities,” whomever those were supposed to be. One can only imagine. The missing 43 minutes of film reels allegedly were destroyed. At least, the studio executives revealed in their conversations that the footage needed to be destroyed. Whether it happened is impossible to know at this point. It may yet turn up in some basement of some bar or a warehouse that has nothing to do with storing film reels.

Welles faced a similar problem with his brilliant work of film noir, “Touch of Evil” (1958). Initially, when the film was released, it was shortened, and badly edited. Welles was so angry that he sent a 58-page memo to the producers with strict and specific instructions on how the film should look. They didn’t listen. It was only decades later that the film was edited by Walter Murch according to Welles’ exact instructions. Murch said that Welles “. . . was a guy who was 20 to 25 years ahead of his time. That was his glory and why he had such problems. Hollywood doesn’t like people who are ahead of their time. They like people who are just ahead of their time, like six seconds ahead of their times, because those persons make the most money.”

It is generally accepted that Welles was at times difficult to work with but he was also a consummate professional and, according to many actors, a very fast-moving film director. He may not have been Mr. Sunshine but he certainly did not deserve to have his work thrown to the vulgar wolves who knew nothing of film as an elevated art form. Welles was a master at exploring human interiority and no director since has achieved his incredible level of precision when it comes to the development of characters as well as cinematic innovations.

Cecil Beaton/Condé Nast via Getty Images

Reality or Illusion

It is often said that all of philosophy is just a series of footnotes to Plato, and the same can be said of cinema and Welles: almost every cinematic expression that came after “Citizen Kane” owes something to Orson Welles. Yet if one is continuously misunderstood and not accepted by the establishment governing one’s industry, then how does one manage to continue to create? 

Will the artist break at some point because of the slow disappearance of the essence that makes him an artist? Some might but Welles never did. 

After he directed “Citizen Kane,” Welles went on to direct 11 more feature-length films. And then, there is also an incredible amount of his unfinished work. He was often accused of being fearful and it is suggested that it was fear that kept him from finishing many films. But this is little more than ridiculous psychologizing; it couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the reason many of Welles’ projects were interrupted was not that he was flighty or had some mental hang-up about completion. It had simply to do with the fact that he so often would run out of money. That was the reason he did all those silly commercials: his devotion to art was so strong that he fell in love with this “crazy profession” of movie-making. He couldn’t extricate himself from the magic or the hold that movies had on him.

Although he may not have been fearful, there was one aspect of Welles’ expression as an artist that, at times, had negative effects on his process. Film critic Molly Haskell points out that Welles had “almost debilitating dissatisfaction that sprang from the very nature of his genius: an overabundance of ideas. . . . Because he was a master of so many (too many?) of the facets of the cinema—cutting, staging, camera movement and framing, dialogue, sound, and performance—there was always some new angle to try. Every film contained many films, unrealized possibilities.”

This is not an easy predicament for an artist. On one hand, ideas and inspiration are constantly flowing and Welles, as a director, could envision all of them. Yet, the unstoppable stream of possibilities could also render him silent, incapable of realizing anything at all. 

Ever since he was a boy, Welles loved magic tricks. He was fascinated by the response of the audience, while being, quite literally, the center of attention. According to one of Welles’ biographers, Frank Brady, Welles was introduced to the world of magic by Dr. Bernstein (his mother’s partner and a surrogate father). Welles took to it, and “to further Orson’s apprenticeship as a magician, Dr. Bernstein took him backstage at the theater where Houdini was performing so he could meet the master magician and escapologist. Impressed by the child’s knowledge of the art of magic through the ages and his grasp of the technical aspects of the craft, Houdini taught the boy a simple but effective trick with a red handkerchief.”

In many ways, Welles’ artistic drive and hunger had a lot to do with the way he grew up. He always had to prove himself with some kind of a performance, and later in life described himself as a very “precocious child,” which probably was not pleasant for many people.

Welles’ parents divorced very early on in his life; his mother died when he was 9 years old, and his father died when he was just 15. These were the great tragedies and sorrows in Welles’ life which, undoubtedly, he carried with him throughout his career. He was educated in an unconventional way—he did not particularly like to go to school—so his mother encouraged him to read Shakespeare, Keats, and Tennyson. 

It was said his father died alone in a Chicago hotel room, and throughout his life, Welles suspected that it might have been suicide by drink. But like many things in Welles’ life, this story may be an exaggeration. Many of the tales that Welles spun about his life turned out either to be untrue or just too vague to confirm. We are always left to wonder whether Welles, the consummate magician, is playing a trick on us. Just as we are about to get close to Welles and perhaps even to understand a small part of him, he plays a magic trick and poof! He disappears from view.

It is easy to psychologize and psychoanalyze an artist in order to try to gain a better understanding of his life, and in doing that we could conclude that Welles’ childhood was the major factor in his artistic choices. But what purpose would such a conclusion even serve? It is hard to know and easy to suppose. It is in Welles’ films that he most readily reveals and conceals himself. We must look to his creations. 

In many cases, he picked subjects that deal with action and that play with the notion of reality and illusion. Both reality and illusion can be disorienting but Welles’ aim was never to disorient the audience. Perhaps he wanted them to wake up from the slumber of illusions, but even that assertion may be forcing Welles into a symbolic box of cinematic analysis. The truth is that he constantly evades analysis as every true artist should do.

Sometimes the illusions he created were dark and demanding, leaving one ill at ease,—as in the case of Welles’ adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novel, “The Trial.” Other times, the illusions were humorous and meant to provoke, as in the case of “F for Fake.” This “documentary essay,” as Welles’ friend Peter Bogdanovich called it, is full of “trickery,” as Welles warns us at the beginning. The audience is not sure whether to accept anything as true. In the film, we follow the story of two hoaxers: Elmyr de Hory, a famous art forger, and Clifford Irving, a writer who famously wrote a hoax biography about the reclusive director, inventor, and aviator, Howard Hughes. Both de Hory and Irving ended up serving some time in prison for their forgeries and lies.

The film’s art rests in editing, and it shows the power of narrative that is created before our eyes. Should we trust the images that are superimposed and built up like modules one after another? Should we take Welles, our narrator and guide throughout the film, seriously or dismiss him as yet another artistic scoundrel? Welles wants us to ask these questions but he is not going to spoon-feed us any answers. 

The questions that arise in this film are not merely about proving the guilt or innocence of de Hory or Irving, or even Welles. They are about the nature of art in our lives. Welles wants us to ponder what things ought to be considered art. Is it something that is beautiful? Surely. But who decides what is beautiful? The so-called experts? An establishment that decides what is good or bad? 

It is hardly surprising that “F for Fake” did not go over well in the United States, though this might be primarily because there was hardly any distribution for it. When Bogdanovich tried to distribute “F for Fake,” the distributor he screened the film for fell asleep during the presentation. As Joseph McBride points out, “By 1970, the American public barely knew Welles as a director. With a myopic perspective built by the largely hostile American media, they knew him mostly as a buffoonish has-been, a cameo player in bad movies and a guest on Dean Martin’s television variety show.”

Hollywood was changing fast and all the glamour was turned into the worship of the bearded and drugged hippie. The question of whether movies are “magical” was one to laugh and sneer at. But despite the aesthetic changes of Hollywood culture, it remained an immovable and corrupt establishment. 

At the time of this film, Welles had already been an American exiled in Europe. He left America, rather reluctantly, simply because it became harder and harder to make a film here. His vision was rejected. The more America rejected him, the more Europe loved him. The French director, François Truffaut admired Welles immensely and thought “Citizen Kane” was the film of films, and “the only ‘first’ film directed by a famous man.” Truffaut’s admiration was correct and well-founded. As a great artist himself, Truffaut understood how difficult it is not only to make a film but to accomplish it fully in accordance with one’s artistic vision and intent.

Welles’ love of movies transcended his love of America, and so he made films in Croatia, Spain, and France. He was certainly not an angry American trying to bring down the structure and the essence of this country. On the contrary, Welles yearned and wished for success in America. We do have to ask whether the American rejection of Welles was truly rooted in the dismissal and hatred from the American people (the audience) or did the establishment simply push him out until he was deemed irrelevant? Did the entrenched powers of studios and production companies dictate American tastes so completely? 

These questions are important not only in terms of Welles’ life and career but also in relation to what constitutes art and the American character. How do people respond to art? Does a film cease to be a work of art once it is admired by many and not only a few? The creation of art is most certainly not democratic but its enjoyment should be available to all, and Welles would agree with this. On several occasions, he remarked that he truly wished he had a mass audience but that always seemed to elude him. He was not an elitist in the sense that he enjoyed the exclusion of others for arbitrary or superficial reasons. He did demand perfection, however, above all from himself. 

The Man in the Mirror

In one of the interviews given later in his life, Welles admitted that he did not like mirrors. Of course, Welles meant this comment to be symbolic of his view of himself. He always evaded the past and didn’t want to delve into any details of his own life. The public continued to be curious, but every time Welles appeared on television talk shows, he maintained the persona of a magician or a celebrity who was very much relaxed in talking about anything—except his past. 

According to Joseph McBride, even when the host of a show, particularly Merv Griffin “tried prodding him in those directions, he [Welles] preferred to spend his time on ‘Merv’ indulging his fondness for performing elaborately tedious magic tricks.” Is this all an audience in America was really interested in? Perhaps, but Welles certainly was not willing to give or share anything more. He used such appearances to his advantage: first, he didn’t have to talk about his life, and second, he made money which he then always put into his film projects. 

Welles may not have liked to look in the mirror; but he used them frequently in his films. The most famous example comes from “Citizen Kane,” in the scene when an old Charles Foster Kane roams the vast rooms of his massive Xanadu estate, and catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Kane is not pleased with what he sees: a man, who has everything and nothing; a failure, yet still a young boy yearning to become whole again. In this case, the mirror has power over Kane—instead of looking deeply into the distorted and lost face, he recoils in disgust, in shame, or in anger that emotions lying so deeply under the skin are visible at all under the veneer, or mask, that has been carefully sculpted over the years.

Another famous example of the mirror comes in Welles’ 1948 film, “The Lady from Shanghai,” in which Welles stars along with Rita Hayworth. At the time of the shooting, Welles and Hayworth were already practically divorced and the tension is visible on the screen as well. Welles plays Michael O’Hara, a man who is hired to work aboard the yacht of a disabled man, Mr. Arthur Bannister, and gets caught in a web of deceit and corruption thanks to Bannister’s beautiful and seductive wife, Rosalie.

Typical of Welles, this film too is very different from others in the noir genre, and it leaves the viewer disoriented. And just like most of Welles’ films that were made through film studios, “The Lady from Shanghai” also suffered at the hands of the producers who cut about an hour of footage and were not pleased with Welles’ lack of close-ups in the film or his strange long takes. But despite some omissions, the film is still very much a Wellesian project, and the end alone proves that point.

The mirror scene in “The Lady from Shanghai” is one of the most brilliant scenes in the history of cinema. It takes place in the Magic Mirror Maze, a seaside funhouse, where there are mirrors upon mirrors, replicating, one distorted image after another. The truth of who framed whom comes out at the end of the film but unlike Charles Foster Kane, Michael O’Hara has power over the mirror and is willing to look at his own face. It is important to point out, however, that unlike Kane, O’Hara has no reason to feel shame—only justified anger over Rosalie’s betrayal. 

In both cases, Welles plays with the illusory quality of our lives. What is real and authentic? Are we willing to look into the mirror of our souls or is it easier to look away? Is self-revelation even possible? Do we not all simply wear masks in order to forget and break away from the burdens of existence? Consider Jaques’ famous lines in Shakespeare’s comedy, “As You Like It”: 

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women
merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays
many parts

Surely Welles would attest to this. Shakespeare’s monologue leaves us with questions about reality and whether our lives are merely somewhat meaningful and bearable transitions, or whether the stage, the world, the exits, and entrances are all up to us to create? As we attempt to answer the question of reality and illusion, we cannot evade our very selves that we see in the mirror, and the biggest question of them all: are we free? 

Accepting an American Film Institute Life Achievement Award in 1975, Welles touched on his vision as an independent filmmaker and freedom: “A maverick may go his own way but he doesn’t think it’s the only way or ever claim that it’s the best one—except maybe for himself. And don’t imagine that this raggle-taggle gypsy-o is claiming to be free. It’s just that some of the necessities to which I am a slave are different from yours.”

Welles knew that choosing to be entirely in control of his projects and holding closely and deeply to his particular vision would not be easy. Being an independent artist of any kind means that you have to pave your way, engage in what will most likely be a constant forge, and understand that whatever you create (even if brilliant!) may not be recognized or applauded in the way that you yearn to see it done. I think that Welles understood and accepted this—otherwise, he would not have kept making films. It is significant, however, that he does not claim to be free. 

On many occasions throughout a number of separate interviews, Welles had said that his biggest regret was that he fell in love with making movies and that he should have started a different profession after he completed “Citizen Kane.” This regret and this constant need to forge new ways not only to make films but also to show us how fragile, tragic, and yet beautiful life can be, may have been the thing that rendered Welles an imprisoned man unwilling to look in the mirror. Or perhaps it was only that he was unwilling to let us see that he indeed had no fear of taking off the mask and seeing his own face. 

There is a great sense of mystery in Orson Welles. He was composed of many parts, and many “exits and entrances.” Through his work, Welles reveled in the game of concealment and illumination but, in the end reveals it to be more than just a silly game. It was his invitation to explore the deep, forgotten, and neglected pieces of our strange, funny, and broken selves, and to ask what it means to be human. Welles explored this time and time again with great courage and resolve, and he gave us not only a cinematic gift but also a true example of individual courage.

Weekend Long Read

This essay is adapted from “Disloyal Opposition: How the #NeverTrump Right Tried—and Failed—to Take Down the President” by Julie Kelly (Encounter Books, 240 pages, $25.99)

Weapons of Mass Collusion

For two years, as Robert Mueller tried and failed to find evidence of a criminal conspiracy, NeverTrump Republicans tended to the right flank of the Trump-Russia collusion front. But their role in pushing the hoax went much deeper.

“The Clinton campaign got a bunch of dirty cops to frame and spy on their opponent, the Trump campaign. After Trump won, they rolled this dirty tricks operation, this spying campaign, into a coup.”

—Lee Smith, author of The Plot Against the President 

The biggest scandal in American political history started with NeverTrump conservatives. Desperate to tarnish Trump’s viability as a candidate, anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats joined together to convince the public that Donald Trump was working with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Articles connecting Donald Trump’s campaign to Russian interests started appearing on conservative websites as early as March 2016. 

Just two days after then-candidate Trump announced his foreign policy team in the spring of 2016, the Washington Free Beacon posted a 1,100-word hit piece on Dr. Carter Page: “Energy investor Carter Page, one of Donald Trump’s handpicked foreign policy advisers, has heavily criticized what he considers American aggression toward Russia, even comparing U.S. policy to American slavery and high-profile police shootings,” Lachlan Markay wrote on March 23, 2016. “Trump’s selection of Page may indicate the reality-star-cum-politician’s opposition to U.S. policies that counter Russian interests in key global theaters.” 

Markay’s piece contained arcane details about Page’s views on Russia, including columns Page had written for obscure energy publications. (Page is a global energy consultant.) Even the most dogged reporter would have been hard-pressed to find so many specifics on an unknown campaign advisor, draft the article, and post it in less than 48 hours. How did Markay produce a lengthy article in such a short time—and why? 

According to Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that helped concoct the Russian collusion hoax, a Republican Party elder connected Fusion with the Free Beacon in the summer of 2015. Fusion chief Glenn Simpson sent an email to a “longtime Republican politico” in August 2015 to pitch their expanding file of dirt on Donald Trump. 

The unnamed Republican immediately expressed interest in the project; a month later, Simpson’s GOP contact informed him that the Washington Free Beacon, reportedly backed by hedge fund manager and onetime Trump adversary Paul Singer, would hire Fusion for $50,000 per month. Simpson referred to his client as a “Never Trump operation.” 

The editor of the Washington Free Beacon at the time was Matthew Continetti—Bill Kristol’s son-in-law, the same Bill Kristol who, by mid-2015, was pledging to stop Donald Trump’s candidacy. 

The Free Beacon’s March 2016 article was the first to claim Carter Page had an alleged affinity for Mother Russia. It offered a platform for other anti-Trump outlets on the Right to expand upon. National Review published another Page-Russia article the following month; this time, the headline and content were more brazen. 

Trump: The Kremlin’s Candidate,” cribbed many of the same links and talking points cited in Markay’s original piece. “Carter Page is an out-and-out Putinite,” declared Robert Zubrin in April 2016. “With Page providing Trump’s Russia policy, it is not surprising that the Donald has also attracted the support of other prominent Putinites.”

According to Lee Smith’s book The Plot Against the President, a series of proto-dossiers—compiled by the Free Beacon’s paid dirt-digger, Fusion GPS—predated the infamous Steele dossier, the centerpiece of the collusion scheme. “Fusion GPS was the Clinton campaign’s shadow war room and subsequently became its dirty tricks operation center,” Smith wrote. The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee hired Fusion GPS in April 2016; the company became the nexus of the Left and NeverTrump, an alliance that would continue throughout Trump’s first term. 

The Free Beacon posted a few more smear jobs on Carter Page into July, the month that the Democratic Party heavily spun its Trump-Russia collusion narrative to bury the damaging release of internal emails the week of the party’s convention to officially nominate Hillary Clinton as its presidential candidate. By that time, Steele’s first installments of his dossier had been completed; the Fusion team began pitching his work to news outlets and friendly journalists in late July at the DNC’s coronation of Hillary in Philly. 

On July 21, 2016, Commentary’s Noah Rothman openly doubted Trump’s loyalty to America and suggested the business tycoon favored Russia over the United States. In his article, “Trump’s Great Russia and Our Expense,” Rothman ticked off a number of Fusion GPS–produced talking points. Then Rothman posed this ridiculous question: “In the zero-sum game of geopolitics, it long ago became crystal clear that Russia’s national interests and America’s national interests are mutually exclusive. So just whose side is Donald Trump on?” 

A few days later, on July 24, the Weekly Standard published a telling piece titled “Putin’s Party?” The author explained why voters should be troubled by disturbing ties between the Kremlin and Trump campaign associates Page, Paul Manafort, and Lt. General Mike Flynn. “These indications provide sufficient grounds for Trump’s links to Putin to be further investigated.” 

The author of the piece? Bill Kristol, the magazine’s editor-in-chief at the time. His son-in-law still had Fusion on retainer for the Free Beacon. (Continetti denied any ties to the Steele dossier.) 

Kristol’s article mimicked accusations of Trump-Russia collusion hawked by Fusion GPS in the summer of 2016. Tom Nichols followed Kristol’s report with a tweetstorm sketching Trump’s fealty to Russia and questioning his patriotism. Calling Trump “Putin’s poodle,” Mona Charen penned a lengthy column about the Trump-Putin bond: “Trump bats his eyes at Putin like a schoolgirl with a crush,” she wrote on July 28, 2016. At the Washington Post on the same day, Jennifer Rubin was vexed about why “Trump . . . is so deferential toward Russia’s authoritarian bully.” 

The ensconced, and in some instances nepotistic, fiefdom of the anti-Trump conservative commentariat acted as its own Trump-Russia collusion echo chamber; but unlike their colleagues on the Left, NeverTrump’s audience was nervous Republican voters. 

Fusion GPS fed its anti-Trump propaganda to conservative influencers who, in turn, warned their followers about the Putin stooge at the top of the Republican ticket. As the earliest narrators of the collusion fable, NeverTrumpers—editors and writers for the Weekly Standard, National Review, Commentary, and others—were heavily invested in discouraging Republicans from voting for Trump based on the fiction that he would work in Putin’s interests and not America’s. 

NeverTrump would remain prolific peddlers of collusion hype, helping the Democrats mislead the American public for three years that the Trump campaign was in cahoots with the Kremlin prior to Election Day. 

In the process, NeverTrump abetted the biggest con job in American political history while covering up the legitimate scandal, one that will be documented as the most egregious abuse of federal power ever wielded against a U.S. presidential campaign. 

Crossfire Hurricane 

The same month that Markay published his first Page hit piece in the Free Beacon, former FBI director James Comey met with former attorney general Loretta Lynch to discuss his “concerns” about the Trump campaign volunteer. As conservative commentators ginned up the public relations end of the scam, Comey and Obama’s top national security chiefs orchestrated the inside job. 

Something else consequential happened in March 2016: Florida senator Marco Rubio suspended his campaign, following in the failed footsteps of 12 other Republican candidates who had already dropped out of the race. Trump, Texas senator Ted Cruz, and Ohio governor John Kasich were the three men left standing. 

And it was increasingly obvious who would prevail. 

But a Trump presidency, no matter how unlikely, was unacceptable to the Obama White House. 

President Barack Obama held deep animus toward Donald Trump for spreading rumors about Obama’s birthplace. During the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011, Obama mocked Trump, in attendance at the event, for his “birther” conspiracy theory about the then-president. After roasting The Donald for several minutes, Obama showed a cartoon of an imaginary Trump White House, ornamented with gold columns and bikini-clad women. 

A few weeks before Election Day, Obama appeared on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show to read a series of mean tweets: One tweet was from Trump, saying Obama would go down as “perhaps the worst president in the history of the United States.” Obama, not amused, looked into the camera and declared, “At least I will go down as a president.” He then stared into the camera and dropped his cell phone. 

Obama never forgave Trump for raising doubts about where the president was born. (In fact, during one of his last White House briefings, Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, intimated that the entire Russian collusion scheme was revenge for Trump’s birtherism. “The president-elect and his team are suggesting that the accusations [about Russian collusion] that are being made are totally unfounded, that there’s no basis for them. This president has been in a situation in which he has been criticized in an utterly false, baseless way. And I’m, of course, referring to the president’s birthplace,” Earnest said on January 11, 2017, the day after BuzzFeed published the entire dossier authored by Fusion GPS hired gun Christopher Steele.) 

Weaned in the cutthroat world of Chicago politics, where every public agency from the school system to the Department of Streets and Sanitation is leveraged for either maximum political gain or damage, Obama would have no qualms about using the federal government’s most powerful tools against his biggest rival. The Obama administration had already been caught using the Internal Revenue Service to punish Tea Party organizers before his 2012 reelection campaign. 

Further, Obama and his partisan toadies who populated key agencies needed to redirect public and internal outrage over the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s illicit email server. Although Comey concluded Clinton had mishandled classified material, he announced in July 2016 he would not recommend charges against her. 

That very same month, Comey’s FBI opened a counterintelligence probe into four individuals connected to the Trump campaign: Page, Manafort, Flynn, and George Papadopoulos, another foreign policy advisor. The operation was called “Crossfire Hurricane,” a line from the Rolling Stones song “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” It involved deploying informants into the campaign and manipulating a secret court to get authorization to surveil Carter Page for a year. The CIA and State Department were in on the scheme, too. 

At the same time, a media blitz bolstered the FBI’s alleged suspicions about sketchy ties between Team Trump and the Kremlin. That effort was coordinated by Glenn Simpson, Fusion GPS’s co-founder, and his paid operative, former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. 

His so-called dossier of unproven and outlandish accusations against Trump and others was not only cited as evidence in an application prepared by Comey’s FBI and submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in October 2016 to obtain a warrant against Page; it was circulated among the media and top lawmakers on Capitol Hill, both Republicans and Democrats. Dossier-sourced articles claiming senior government officials had intelligence from a former British spy that proved Trump-Russia election collusion appeared in Yahoo! News and Mother Jones before Election Day. 

Thanks to Fusion GPS’s handiwork, the Trump campaign spent the last few months of the election season fending off allegations of fealty to Russia. An official statement from Obama’s intelligence community in October 2016 confirmed Russia’s plans to mess with the election. The trap had been set to smear Trump with Russian dirt; nearly everyone in the political universe, including NeverTrump, participated in the con. 

Then Trump won. The con continued—but after the election, the stakes were much higher. Removing Trump from the Oval Office on suspicions his campaign team had helped the Russians influence the outcome of the election in his favor, and worse, that his presidency would act in service to Vladimir Putin, became the Democrats’ sole crusade. 

And NeverTrump played right along. 

Post-Election Collusion With NeverTrump 

During an annual security conference in Nova Scotia shortly after the 2016 election, a few high-level officials gathered privately to discuss the outcome and Russia’s alleged influence. One person in the meeting had a deep-seated grudge against the incoming president: Arizona Senator John McCain. 

McCain huddled with former British diplomat Sir Andrew Wood and David Kramer, a McCain confidant who worked for the senator’s nonprofit, on the evening of November 16 in Halifax. Wood briefed McCain about accusations contained in the Steele dossier, which he described as “raw, unverified intelligence,” according to McCain’s 2018 autobiography, The Restless Wave.  

Wood vouched for Steele’s credibility, McCain wrote, assuring the senator that the former MI6 agent had dependable Russian contacts and a solid reputation. The group began discussing the contents of the dossier. “Our impromptu meeting felt charged with a strange intensity,” McCain described. “No one wisecracked to lighten the mood. We spoke in lowered voices. I was taken aback. They were shocking allegations.” 

One charge—that the Russians had a tape recording of Russian prostitutes urinating in front of Trump in a Moscow Ritz-Carlton in 2013—was so preposterous that it should’ve immediately raised a red flag about the document’s veracity. 

Nonetheless, McCain directed Kramer to travel to the UK to meet with Steele. But the British operative did not give Kramer a copy of the dossier at that meeting in his London home on November 28, 2016. Instead, Steele arranged for Kramer to meet with Glenn Simpson, Fusion GPS’s chief, in Washington the next day; Simpson provided one of McCain’s top advisors with a copy of the sketchy political propaganda. (In his book, Crime in Progress, coauthored with Peter Fritsch, Simpson admitted he and Kramer had a working relationship dating back nearly a decade.) 

After Kramer gave the dossier to McCain, the senator later handed it off to FBI director James Comey, who already had the document. Forwarding partisan dirt to the head of the nation’s most powerful law enforcement agency, McCain later explained in his book, was in the country’s national security interest. “I did my duty, as I’ve sworn an oath to do,” McCain preened in his customary self-aggrandizing way. “Anyone who doesn’t like it can go to hell.”

But McCain’s imprimatur on Trump-Russia election collusion would be a crucial contribution to legitimizing the scam. Embracing his long-standing act as a “maverick,” McCain clearly welcomed the opportunity to work as Trump’s foil from the same side of the political aisle. That gave NeverTrump pundits the backing of arguably the most influential Republican senator, one who still commanded respect from rank-and-file Republicans despite his two losing presidential bids. 

As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain wielded his post to inflict maximum damage on the incoming administration. He wasted no time scheduling a hearing into Russia’s “attack” on the 2016 election. On January 5, 2017, as the Trump transition team planned to take control of the White House, McCain’s committee heard testimony from top government officials, including former director of national intelligence James Clapper, an architect of the hoax, about Putin’s predations.

During one exchange between McCain and Clapper, the pair implied that the Kremlin’s social media skullduggery might have changed votes from Clinton to Trump. “We have no way of gauging the impact . . . it had on choices the electorate made,” Clapper told McCain. “There’s no way for us to gauge that.” McCain further intimated that if Russian social media tinkering actually did change any votes, it would be an act of “war” against the United States. 

The message was clear: McCain goaded Clapper into saying publicly that there was a chance that Russian Facebook memes swayed people to vote for Donald Trump. The new president had been illegitimately elected thanks to chicanery from an American adversary. Enough gullible voters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan had been brainwashed by weird Russian social media posts to put Trump over the finish line. And the man hinting that might have been the case was a Republican stalwart—one whom the Trump-hating Beltway media corps adored and NeverTrump revered. 

Further, the official intelligence buttressing the claim that Russia hacked the election was specious at best, sloppy and dishonest at worst. Former CIA director John Brennan and Clapper finished the report in less than 25 days in December 2016. The flimsy document hardly provided the fides to justify howls about Russia “attacking our democracy” after Election Day. 

Either McCain knew the intelligence was thin gruel or he was duped again by intelligence officers with an ulterior motive. 

All of it started to feel eerily familiar. Sketchy intelligence touted by powerful politicians as evidence of an imminent threat to justify action against a foreign foe for domestic political purposes. I’m referring, of course, to weapons of mass destruction. It’s not a coincidence that most of the very same people, McCain in particular, pushing Russian collusion based on the thinnest trove of “evidence” also successfully convinced the American people that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. 

As I noted in 2019

In between the two scandals was more than a decade of recriminations against once-trusted experts on the Right who led our nation into battle. The Iraq war cost the lives of more than 4,400 U.S. troops, maimed tens of thousands more and resulted in an unquantifiable amount of emotional, mental, and physical pain for untold numbers of American military families. Suicide rates for servicemen and veterans have exploded leaving thousands more dead and their families devastated. And it has cost taxpayers more than $2 trillion and counting. 

So, these discredited outcasts thought they found in the Trump-Russia collusion farce a way to redeem themselves in the news media and recover their lost prestige, power, and paychecks. After all, it cannot be a mere coincidence that a group of influencers on the Right who convinced Americans 16 years ago that we must invade Iraq based on false pretenses are nearly the identical group of people who tried to convince Americans that Donald Trump conspired with the Russians to rig the 2016 election, an allegation also based on hearsay and specious evidence.

The verbiage and tone NeverTrump used to warn the country about collusion were eerily similar to those of the WMD alarms: 

Bill Kristol in 2003: “We look forward to the liberation of our own country and others from the threat of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and to the liberation of the Iraqi people from a brutal and sadistic tyrant.” 

Bill Kristol in 2018: “It seems to me likely Mueller will find there was collusion between Trump associates and Putin operatives; that Trump knew about it; and that Trump sought to cover it up and obstruct its investigation. What then? Good question.” 

John McCain in 2003: “I believe that, obviously, we will remove a threat to America’s national security because we will find there are still massive amounts of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” 

John McCain in 2017: “There’s a lot of aspects with this whole relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin that requires further scrutiny. In fact, I think there’s a lot of shoes to drop from this centipede. This whole issue of the relationship with the Russians and who communicated with them and under what circumstances clearly cries out for an investigation.”

David Frum in 2002 (writing for President George W. Bush): “States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.”

David Frum in 2016: “I never envisioned an Axis of Evil of which one of the members was the U.S. National Security Adviser.” 

Max Boot in 2003: “I hate to disappoint all the conspiracy-mongers out there, but I think we are going into Iraq for precisely the reasons stated by President Bush: to destroy weapons of mass destruction, to bring down an evil dictator with links to terrorism, and to enforce international law.” 

Max Boot in 2019: “If this is what it appears to be, it is the biggest scandal in American history—an assault on the very foundations of our democracy in which the president’s own campaign is deeply complicit. There is no longer any question whether collusion occurred. The only questions that remain are: What did the president know? And when did he know it?” 

Bush’s FBI director at the time publicly testified about the looming global menace posed by Iraq’s stockpile of deadly materials. “Secretary [of State Colin] Powell presented evidence last week that Baghdad has failed to disarm its weapons of mass destruction,” Mueller told the Senate in 2003. Those weapons, the FBI director warned, could be supplied to terrorist organizations around the world. 

A report issued two years after the invasion excoriated the intelligence community. “We conclude that the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction,” concluded a special commission in 2005. “This was a major intelligence failure.” (Senator McCain served on the commission.) 

The FBI director pushing the weapons of mass destruction line in 2003—Robert Mueller—would become the central figure, and arguably the most powerful man in Washington, leading the two-year investigation into whether Donald Trump colluded with the Russians before the election. History would repeat itself in an uncanny way. 

It’s Mueller Time 

Throughout the spring of 2017, the drumbeat of Trump-Russia collusion intensified along with calls for a special counsel. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security advisor, didn’t last a month in the West Wing. Flynn resigned on February 14, 2017, amid an orchestrated campaign between Obama holdovers in the administration and the news media that portrayed Flynn’s phone calls with the Russian ambassador as either traitorous or a violation of the Logan Act. That law, which has been on the books for 220 years without a single conviction, prohibits U.S. citizens from communicating with foreign powers to “defeat the measures of the United States.” The so-called “dead letter” law was exhumed before Election Day; beginning in the summer of 2016, Democrats regularly accused Trump of violating the Logan Act for various comments about Russia. 

McCain, breaching his own rule of not attacking military heroes, accused Flynn of “lying” to the vice president about his pre-inaugural conversations with Sergey Kislyak and said Flynn’s resignation raised “further questions about the Trump administration’s intentions toward Vladimir Putin.” 

In March 2017, James Comey finally confessed to the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee that he had opened a counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016 based on suspicious activity with Russian interests. (Rep. Elise Stefanik would force Comey to admit that he violated House protocol by withholding that information from congressional leaders for eight months.) Comey’s sneakiness, however, was portrayed as protecting “sensitive” law enforcement activities rather than intentional deceit. 

In April, the Washington Post disclosed the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrant against Carter Page; the government told the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that Page was a foreign agent of Russia. (The reporting on both Flynn and Page was based on illegal leaks of classified government information, a felony for which no one has been either charged or convicted.) 

McCain and other NeverTrumpers insisted that a separate, full-scale investigation would be necessary. “This whole issue with the relationship with the Russians and who communicated with them and under what circumstances clearly beg, cries out for investigation,” McCain told Jake Tapper on CNN in March 2017. “We should not assume guilt until we have a thorough investigation.” “The situation begs for a bipartisan, transparent investigation,” David French wrote

Then the coup de grace: On May 9, 2017, Trump fired Comey. The dismissal was portrayed as an attempt to stop Comey from probing Trump’s ties to the Kremlin; it quickly became the Democrats’ latest impeachment fodder. 

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller, a Comey pal, as the special counsel tasked with rooting out evidence of Trump-Russia collusion. (Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general, ill-advisedly recused himself in March 2017 from any matters related to Russia based on his own innocuous contacts with Kislyak. This empowered the Obama-appointed Rosenstein to take control of the Justice Department’s inquiry into Trump-Putin ties.) 

NeverTrump seized the moment. Mueller, they were convinced, would doom Trump’s presidency. His unfettered inquiry, commandeered by a team stacked with partisan prosecutors, surely would produce evidence of impeachable offenses that would quickly dispatch Trump from the Oval Office. No comparison designed to underscore the gravity of the situation would be considered out of bounds: Max Boot compared alleged Russian election interference to 9/11

For the next two years, NeverTrump tended to the right flank of the Trump-Russia collusion front. This primarily involved protecting Mueller’s investigation. 

“The investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference with the 2016 election is now entering a new and critical phase,” a group of NeverTrumpers wrote in a November 2017 letter addressed to Paul Ryan, then-Speaker of the House. “We would regard dismissal of the special counsel, or pardons issued preemptively to anyone targeted by his investigation, as a grave abuse of power that justifies initiation of impeachment proceedings. It is morally imperative that the Republican Party and the conservative movement stand as bulwarks of the rule of law, not enablers of its erosion and violation. Now is the time for choosing.” 

It was signed by more than two dozen NeverTrumpers, including Bill Kristol, Mona Charen, Max Boot, and Evan McMullin. 

As Trump regularly expressed his outrage at Mueller’s spiraling “witch hunt,” NeverTrump rallied around the special counsel and demanded that Republican lawmakers “protect” Robert Mueller. Kristol formed a group called Republicans for the Rule of Law, which produced television ads touting Mueller’s military valor, integrity, and legal reputation. The group bought airtime on Sunday news programs and Fox News. 

As the investigation progressed, it became hard to distinguish between NeverTrump and Democrat Adam Schiff, the leading collusion propagandist in the House, who promised for three years that “clear” evidence of collusion existed. 

It didn’t.

The End Is Near 

In embarrassing fashion given the final result, NeverTrump salivated at every rumor, accusation, interrogation, charge, arrest, and raid initiated by Team Mueller, confident that the special counsel would soon haul Donald Trump out of the Oval Office in handcuffs; perhaps a few of his children would be arrested, too. 

Hardly a day passed when some NeverTrumper didn’t chortle that Trump’s days were numbered or the walls were closing in or the end was near. 

After Comey’s June 2017 Senate testimony to complain about his firing set the stage for impeachment based on an obstruction of justice case, Jennifer Rubin warned that it was a turning point for Republicans. “Before Comey, impeachment talk was not a real concern for Republicans. After Comey, [it] surely will be a referendum on Trump, and specifically whether he should be impeached—unless, of course, Republicans decide to cut their losses and get rid of him before the midterms.”

NeverTrump frequently defended the contents of the Steele dossier and assured the public that Fusion’s Glenn Simpson, under increasing scrutiny throughout 2017, was the real deal. His former Wall Street Journal colleague Bret Stephens attested to Simpson’s sterling reputation; the White House and the president, warned Stephens, should be “terrified” about Simpson’s congressional testimony. “Glenn is a very serious, capable journalist. He’s not a partisan…If he has politics, I’m not aware of them,” Stephens said on MSNBC about the Clinton/DNC hired gun. Tom Nichols continued to insist the dossier was “raw intelligence” even after everyone else acknowledged that it was nothing more than fabricated political dirt. 

Bill Kristol was giddy after the FBI’s raid of Michael Cohen’s office, home, and hotel room in the summer of 2018. He could hardly contain his glee on the set of CNN. “This is war. This shows we are very close to the end game,” he assured his ecstatic CNN panelists in April 2018. Kristol later would claim that “reality has changed” after Cohen’s guilty plea. Even though the charges had nothing to do with Russian collusion, Kristol questioned whether, deep down, it was true. 

“This week was the worst of Donald Trump’s presidency. But it seems likely there will be worse still,” Charlie Sykes warned when Mueller snagged both Manafort and Cohen.

David French claimed Mueller’s December 2018 sentencing memo on Michael Cohen “may well outline the roadmap for an impeachment count against the president that is based on recent presidential precedent. Donald Trump’s legal problems continue to mount.”

After the New York Times reported in July 2017 that Donald Trump Jr. and other top campaign associates met with a so-called “Russian lawyer” allegedly connected to the Kremlin a few months before the election, NeverTrumpers insisted the brief confab amounted to campaign collusion. 

David French concluded that the meeting met the definition of collusion. “To repeat, it now looks as if the senior campaign team of a major-party presidential candidate intended to meet with an official representative of a hostile foreign power to facilitate that foreign power’s attempt to influence an American election,” French wrote in National Review in July 2017. “Russian collusion claims are no longer the exclusive province of tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorists. No American—Democrat or Republican—should defend the expressed intent of this meeting.” 

(Evidence would later show that the “Russian lawyer” was working with Glenn Simpson on behalf of a Russian company in trouble with the U.S. government. Simpson and Natalia Veselnitskaya met both before and after the Trump Tower meeting. No damning information about Hillary Clinton was shared with the participants.) 

NeverTrump mocked a three-star general after he accepted a plea deal with Mueller’s team in December 2017. Mike Flynn’s guilty plea to one process crime elicited cheers from NeverTrump. “Michael Flynn going to jail? Unlike Paul, can’t make $11 Million bail. Or maybe against Trump, he’ll have to wail. This whole presidency is one big fail,” Ana Navarro snarked on Twitter.

Even the most ludicrous, unfounded charges of collusion meant doom for the president. “Big news: Mueller reportedly has evidence that Michael Cohen did travel to Prague in 2016, lending credence to Chris Steele’s reporting that Cohen secretly met a Kremlin figure there to strategize about Moscow’s election assistance to President Trump,” Evan McMullin tweeted in the spring of 2018. Mueller concluded Cohen never traveled to Prague; it was another dossier-fabricated collusion talking point.

Jonah Goldberg erroneously claimed that Trump campaign coordinator Sam Clovis sent George Papadopoulos to Russia to get dirt on Clinton and often parroted the head fake that Papadopoulos, and not the Fusion-sourced dossier, prompted Comey’s probe into the campaign. (Goldberg often got key details about “collusion” flat-out wrong. As late as December 2019, Goldberg had to correct a post on National Review that originally claimed the FBI hired a private cybersecurity firm to determine the Russians hacked the DNC server. Only after readers pointed out his mistake did Goldberg note that the DNC, not the FBI, hired CrowdStrike.) 

Conversely, anyone attempting to uncover the legitimate, provable scandal—how the world’s most powerful law enforcement and intelligence apparatus was weaponized against a rival presidential campaign—was partaking in a “conspiracy theory.” 

The very same NeverTrumpers who regurgitated every reckless charge of collusion downplayed alarming evidence of abuse at the highest level of the federal government to target Team Trump. “It’s time for partisans to ditch conspiracy theories and reach mutual agreement to follow the evidence and apply the law to the facts without regard for personal affection or policy preference. Any other approach—either by pundits or politicians—fails their audience or their constituents,” lectured David French in December 2018. French often defended the FBI’s actions, even as evidence mounted that the pretext for the probe was either phony or manufactured by the FBI itself: “The FBI wasn’t abusing its power. It was fulfilling the mission the president gave it.” 

Tom Nichols suggested that people digging into “FISAgate” were wearing “tin foil hats.” (NeverTrump repeatedly ridiculed Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and his effort to expose numerous offenses related to the infiltration of and investigation into Trump’s campaign.)

Sen. Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, never mentioned his concerns about the FBI’s illicit probe or expressed outrage at the behind-the-scenes activities of Comey, former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, former counterespionage chief Peter Strzok, or his lover, FBI lawyer Lisa Page. There were no questions about the role of Bruce Ohr, a twice-demoted Justice Department official, and his wife’s work at Fusion GPS or both Ohrs’ relationship with Christopher Steele. 

Again, NeverTrump sided with the Left not only to mislead the American people about a nonexistent collaboration between Trump and Putin, but they intentionally ignored and downplayed the real scandal as a conspiracy theory. 

Defending massive abuses of federal power, which included violating the constitutional rights of private citizens, prosecuting political opponents, breaching attorney-client privilege, and illegally leaking classified information to the news media, somehow became a conservative “principle” during the Trump era. Go figure. 

Mueller Report Bombs 

NeverTrump speculated for two years that Robert Mueller would find evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. In March 2019, Mueller submitted his long-awaited report to the Justice Department. To avoid leaks, and since Mueller had not redacted grand jury material as he was instructed, Attorney General Bill Barr released a summary of the report’s contents as it underwent the classification process. 

The bottom line: Mueller’s team of skilled, partisan, vengeful prosecutors found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian state actors. (The second half of Mueller’s report outlined instances of possible obstruction of justice, but Mueller declined to make a prosecutorial recommendation.) 

In April 2019, the Justice Department released a redacted copy of the 448-page Mueller Report. Its findings supported Barr’s summary. 

The Mueller probe, more accurately described as a “witch hunt” by the president and his supporters, was over. The crimes NeverTrump and the Left had hoped to see never materialized. 

NeverTrump was wrong, once again. 

Kristol, commenting on MSNBC as the new publisher of The Bulwark, the Weekly Standard’s stepchild, griped that Team Trump was acting like the “most sore winners in the world. They’re bitter and angry and want to punish people who made the mistake of thinking there might be collusion.” 

If only Kristol knew what it was like to be a winner, even a sore one. Following, again, the lead of the Democrats, NeverTrump dumped collusion and quickly embraced Mueller’s dubious and politically motivated allegations of obstruction of justice. Charlie Sykes, writing at The Bulwark, insisted the second volume of Mueller’s report was “devastating” and constituted an “open invitation to Congress to launch impeachment proceedings.” 

Some NeverTrumpers, however, had a hard time letting go of their collusion dream. As late as November 2019, Max Boot insisted that “collusion evidence remains strong.” Just as they had with faulty claims about weapons of mass destruction, NeverTrump’s Iraq War promoters refused to abandon the Russian collusion narrative they helped create. And when the government produced evidence to the contrary, just as was the case with WMDs, NeverTrump refused to concede or apologize. They moved on, no penalty paid, to the next manufactured scandal while looking for new foes.

Weekend Long Read

This essay is adapted from “United States of Socialism: Who’s Behind It. Why It’s Evil. How to Stop It,” by Dinesh D’Souza (All Points Books, 304 pages, $29.99)

Identity Socialism

Herbert Marcuse’s toxic legacy.

Socialism, a system for raising up the working class, has now largely abandoned the working class. A program for raising the condition of ordinary citizens and workers has turned into a coordinated effort to make those very citizens and workers feel unwelcome and demonized in their own country. Socialism in America today has turned black against white, female against male, homosexual and transsexual against heterosexual, and illegals against legal immigrants and American citizens.

The typical socialist today is not a union guy who wants higher wages; it is a transsexual eco-feminist who marches in Antifa and Black Lives Matter rallies and throws cement blocks at her political opponents. American socialism is concerned less with worker exploitation by the bourgeoisie and more with the race, gender and transgender grievances of identity politics. I call it identity socialism.

If Franklin D. Roosevelt were alive today, he would not recognize the modern Democratic Party he created. Nor would he recognize the progressivism and socialism that formed the ideological pillars of his party. For FDR, as for Marx, socialism was primarily a matter of class. It was the rich versus the poor. Its political base was the working class—specifically the white working class that to this day forms the majority of working class people in America. While the socialist Lleft still employs the old rhetoric of class warfare, it seems something of a relic. Contemporary socialism is no longer rooted in class, and moreover its oldest allies—working class white males—are now its villains and enemies.

If FDR had attended the 2016 primary debates among Democratic Party contenders, he would have heard Hillary Clinton jibe at Bernie, “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow, would that end racism?” Recently he would have encountered this outlandish tweet from Elizabeth Warren: “Thank you @BlackWomxnFor! Black trans and cis women, gender-nonconforming, and nonbinary people are the backbone of our democracy.”

FDR would probably would have no idea what she was talking about. Who are these people and how could they be the “backbone of our democracy”? They certainly seem to be the backbone of the socialist Left. At a recent meeting of the Democratic Socialists, FDR would have encountered a strange menagerie of activists calling themselves eco-socialists, Afro-socialists, Islamosocialists, Chicano socialists, sanctuary socialists, #MeToo socialists, disability socialists, queer socialists, and transgender socialists.

Typical of the new type of socialist is Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who narrowly lost the governor’s race in Georgia. “My campaign,” she says, “championed reforms to eliminate police shootings of African Americans, protect the LBGTQ community against ersatz religious freedom legislation, expand Medicaid to save rural hospitals, and reaffirm that undocumented immigrants deserve legal protections.” Only one of these four planks—the one about saving rural hospitals—would be even remotely recognizable to FDR as part of the progressive agenda.

During this year’s Democratic primary, each candidate tried to play his or hertheir diversity card. Pete Buttigieg was white and male, but hey, at least he was gay! Cory Booker, regrettably, was a man, but fortunately for him he was a black man. Julian Castro affirmed his Latino status despite his inability to speak Spanish. This put him a notch above Beto who, after all, only had the Mexican nickname. Elizabeth Warren had the woman card but she also wanted the native American card—making her a “two-fer”—so she faked her Indian ancestry. Kamala Harris, the winner of this sweepstakes, is both female and a person of color.

The great irony, of course, is despite this identity parade the guy who got the nomination is the whitest male of them all, Joe Biden. Given his semi-comatose state, he almost qualifies as a “dead white male.” As if to remedy this predicament, Biden has pledged to nominate a woman as his running mate, and he will get extra points if he nominates a minority woman like Stacey Abrams. Identity socialism now defines the Democrats and carries even an old white geezer like Biden in its wake.

The implications of this go beyond party politics; they involve how the Lleft views the country itself. For FDR, America was an “imagined community.” I get this term from sociologist Benedict Anderson. Anderson points out that a nation is imagined because it is made up of people who have never met and don’t know each other. Yet nations seek to create a “deep horizontal comradeship” in which we identify with people we’vre never heard of. They are our “fellow citizens.”

This identification is critical because, without it, who would be willing to die for his or her country? Anderson points out that no one is willing to die for the Labor Party, the American Medical Association, or the United Way. Not only soldiers but even cops and firemean who risk their lives for “strangers” must have an imagined comradeship with those strangers. Lincoln understood this. Memorial Day was created immediately following the Civil War, and it was during that era that the American flag becoame a symbol of quasi-religious national devotion.

Even socialist redistribution within a country relies on some sense of solidarity among the citizens; otherwise why should my hard-earned money go to pay the medical expenses of someone I couldn’t care less about? In India I learned a proverb that may seem somewhat heartless, “The tears of strangers are only water.” The basic idea, however, is that we have an obligation to help only our own; if others have a problem we wish them well, but it’s their problem.

For FDR the New Deal was a patriotic project. He routinely defended his programs in terms of “the greater good of the greater number.” Moreover, he appealed to this same patriotic solidarity during World War II. Martin Luther King, Jr. also spoke in terms of restoring the “beloved community.” The basic idea here is that America is a good country, based on noble ideals. The political task is to fully to integrate and assimilate everyone—blacks, women, immigrants—into that America.

Today’s socialist Lleft, however, wants an American that integrates the groups seen as previously excluded while excluding the group that was previously included. “If you are white, male, heterosexual, and religiously or socially conservative,” writes blogger Rod Dreher, “there’s no place for you” on the progressive lLeft. On the contrary, it should now be expected that in society “people like you are going to have to lose their jobs and influence.”

In other words, for identity socialists and for the Lleft more generally, blacks and Latinos are in, whites are out. Women are in, men are out. Gays, bisexuals, pansexuals and transsexuals, together with other, more exotic, types are in; heterosexuals are out. Illegals are in, native-born citizens are out. One may think this is all part of the politics of inclusion, but to think that is to get only half the picture. The point, for the Lleft, is not merely to include but also to exclude, to estrange their opponents from their native land.

Consider how normalcy has been defined in America. Since whites have been a clear majority, whiteness was the norm. Since the structure of society was, however loosely, patriarchal, maleness was also seen as normative. And of course the same applied to heterosexuality, since most people are heterosexual. For the socialist lLeft, it’s vital to overturn this hierarchy not by leveling the playing field but by creating an inverse hierarchy. Whiteness, maleness, and heterosexuality are now viewed as pathological, as forms of oppression. In this way, the Left by design seeks to demonize white male heterosexuals and thus to make a large body of Americans feel like aliens in their own country.

How did we get here? This, I believe, is the story of the 1960s, because that was when this great shift occurred. One man, whose name few people know, was the prophet of the change. He is the one who posed the big question: how do you get socialism when the people who are supposed to want it the most don’t want it? How do you create a proletariat when the original proletariat opts out? And where do you find the replacements? To answer these questions is to discover the roots of the socialist Lleft that defines and directs today’she Democratic Party.

Marcuse’s Marxist Conundrum

To understand identity socialism, we must go back several decades and meet the man who figured out how to bring its various strands together, Herbert Marcuse. A German philosopher partly of Jewish descent, Marcuse studied under the philosopher Heidegger before escaping Germany prior to the Nazi ascent. After stints at Columbia, Harvard and Brandeis, Marcuse moved to California, where he joined the University of San Diego and became the guru of the New Left in the sixties.

Marcuse influenced a whole generation of young radicals, from Weather Underground co-founder Bill Ayers to Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman to Tom Hayden, president of the activist group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Angela Davis, who later joined the Black Panthers and also ran for vice president on the Communist Party ticket, was a student of Marcuse and also one of his protéegeés. It was Marcuse, Davis said, who “taught me that it is possible to be an academic, an activist, a scholar and a revolutionary.”

Marcuse egged on the activists of the 1960s to seize buildings and overthrow the hierarchy of the university, as a kind of first step to fomenting socialist revolution in America. Interestingly, it was Ronald Reagan—then governor of California—who got Marcuse fired. Still, Marcuse retained his celebrity and influence over the radicals of the time. He did not, of course, create the forces of identity socialism but he saw, perhaps earlier than anyone else, how they could form the basis for a new and viable socialism in America. That’s the socialism we are dealing with now.

To understand the problem Marcuse confronted, we have to go back to Marx. Marx saw himself as the prophet, not the instigator, of the advent of socialism. We think of Marx as some sort of activist, seeking to organize a workers’ revolution, but Marx emphasized from the outset that the socialist revolution would come inevitably; nothing had to be done to cause it. The Marxist view is nicely summed up by one of Marx’s German followers, Karl Kautsky, who wrote, “Our task is not to organize the revolution but to organize ourselves for the revolution; it is not to make the revolution, but to take advantage of it.”

But what happens when the working class is too secure and contented to revolt? Marx didn’t anticipate this; in fact, the absence of a single worker revolt of the kind Marx predicted, anywhere in the world, is a full and decisive refutation of “scientific” Marxism. In the early 20twentieth century, Marxists across the world—from Lenin to Mussolini—were fully aware of this problem. Fascism or national socialism represented one way to respond to it; Leninism represented another.

I’ll focus on Lenin, because his was the approach that influenced Marcuse and the New Left in the 1960s. Basically Lenin argued that the working class was never going to revolt; they might join trade unions, but that was about it. In Lenin’s diagnosis, workers could develop “trade union consciousness” but not “revolutionary consciousness.” So then what? In his famous work What Is To Be Done? Lenin insisted that the socialist revolution would not be done by the working class; it would have to be done for them.

In other words, a professional class of activists and fighters would be required to serve as a revolutionary vanguard. Lenin assembled a varied group of landless farmers, professional soldiers, activist intellectuals and attorneys, and criminals to collaborate with him in overthrowing the czar and introducing Bolshevik socialism to Russia. Although Lenin presented his approach as continuous with Marxism, it represented, as socialists around the world recognized, a radical break with and revision of Marxism.

Around the same time, in the early 1920s, the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci made his own revision of socialist theory by introducing the concept of culture. “Hegemony” was Gramsci’s key concept. He insisted that the capitalists did not rule society solely on the basis of economic power. Rather, they ruled through “bourgeois values” that permeated the cultural, educational, and psychological realm of society. Economics, Gramsci insisted, is a subset of culture. Economics is shaped by culture no less than culture is shaped by the economic basis of society.

For Gramsci, socialist revolution under current conditions was impossible because the working class had internalized bourgeois values. The ordinary worker had no intention of toppling his employers; his aspiration was to become like them. Gramsci’s solution was for socialist activists to figure out a way to break this hegemony, and to establish a hegemony of their own. To do this they would have to take over the universities, the art world, and the culture more generally. In this way they could combat bourgeois culture “from within.”

Lenin and Gramsci provided Marcuse’s starting point. He agreed with both of them that the working class had become a conservative, counterrevolutionary force. But his greatest early influence was a third man, Heidegger. Marcuse read Heidegger’s magnum opus Being and Time and it inspired him so much he apprenticed himself to Heidegger, becoming first his student and then his faculty assistant at the University of Freiburg. Marcuse found in Heidegger a way to ground socialism in something more profound than better salaries and working conditions, in something that transcended Marx’s materialism itself.

The basic idea of Heidegger’s magnum opus Being and Time is that we are finite beings, “thrown,” as Heidegger puts it, into the world, with no knowledge of where we came from, what we are here for, or where we are going. We live in a present, yet we are constantly aware of multiple future possibilities, in which we must choose even though we can only know in retrospect whether we chose wisely and well. This radical uncertainty about our situation, Heidegger argued, produces in us anxiety—anxiety that is heightened by our knowledge of death. “Being,” in other words, is bracketed by “time.” Humans are perishable beings that for the time being are.

Yet how should we “be”? That, for Heidegger, was the big question. Not “what is it good to do?” but “how is it good to be?” Typically, we have no answer to this question; we are barely even aware of it as a question. We go through life like a twig in a current, steered by a tide of sociability and conformity. Thus we lose ourselves; we cease to be “authentic.” Authenticity, for Heidegger, means coming to terms with our mortality and living the only life we get on our own terms. We cannot rely on God to show us the way; we are alone in the world, and have to find a way for ourselves. Frank Sinatra’s song, “I did it my way,” expresses a distinct Heideggerian consciousness.

Marcuse eventually broke with Heidegger when he heard that Heidegger had both joined the Nazi Party and become an apologist for Hitler. Marcuse seems to have had no objection to Heideggers’—or Hitler’s—national socialism, although being partly Jewish, he was naturally less enthusiastic about the accompanying anti-Semitism. Even so, Marcuse continued to draw from Heidegger’s philosophy to illuminate the political problems he was dealing with.

Essentially his problem was the same as the one Lenin faced: if the working class isn’t up for socialism, where to find a new proletariat to bring it about? Marcuse knew that modern industrialized countries like America couldn’t assemble the types of landless peasants and professional soldiers—the flotsam and jetsam of a backward feudal society—that Lenin relied on. So who could serve in the substitute proletariat that would be needed to agitate for socialism in America?

Marcuse looked around to identify which groups had a natural antipathy to capitalism. Marcuse knew he could count on the bohemian artists and intellectuals who had long considered hated industrial civilization, in part because they considered themselves superior to businessmen and shopkeepers. In Germany, this group distinguished “culture”—by which they meant art—from “civilization”—by which they meant industry—and they were decidedly on the side of culture. In fact, they used art and culture to rail against bourgeois capitalism.

These were the roots of bohemianism and the avant garde. “Bohemia,” wrote Henry Murger, “leads either to the Academy, the Hospital or the Morgue.” Elizabeth Wilson in her book Bohemians concurs. “Bohemia offered a refuge to psychological casualties too disturbed to undertake formal employment or conform to the rules of conventional society. It was a sanctuary for individuals who were so eccentric or suffered from such personal difficulties or outright psychological disorder that they could hardly have existeding outside a psychiatric institution other than in Bohemia.”

These self-styled “outcasts” were natural recruits for what Marcuse termed the Great Refusal—the visceral repudiation of free market society. The problem, however, was that these bohemians were confined to small sectors of Western society: the Schwabing section of Munich, the Left Bank of Paris, Greenwich Village in New York, and a handful of university campuses. By themselves, they were scarcely enough to hold a demonstration, let alone make a revolution.

A New Proletariat

So Marcuse had to search further. He had to think of a way to take bohemian culture mainstream, to normalize the outcasts and to turn normal people into outcasts. He started with an unlikely group of proles: the young people of the 1960s. Here, finally, was a group that could make up a mass movement.

Yet what a group! Fortunately, Marx wasn’t around to see it; he would have burst out laughing. Abbie Hoffman? Jerry Rubin? Mario Savio? Joan Baez? Bob Dylan? How could people of this sorry stripe, these slack, spoiled products of postwar prosperity, these parodies of humanity, these horny slothful loafers completely divorced from real-world problems, and neurotically focused on themselves, their drugs and sex lives and mind-numbing music, serve as the shock troops of revolution?

Marcuse’s insight was Heideggerian: by teaching them a new way to be “authentic.” By “raising their consciousness.” The students were already somewhat alienated from the larger society. They lived in these socialist communes called universities. They took for granted their amenities. Ungrateful slugs that they were, they despised rather than cherished their parents for the sacrifices made on their behalf. They sought “something more,” a form of self-fulfillment that went beyond material fulfillment.

Here, Marcuse recognized, was the very raw material out of which socialism is made in a rich, successful society. Perhaps there was a way to instruct them in oppression, to convert their spiritual anomie into political discontent. Marcuse was confident that an activist group of professors could raise the consciousness of a whole generation of students so that they could feel subjectively oppressed even if there were no objective forces oppressing them. Then they would become activists to fight not someone else’s oppression, but their own.

Of course it would take some work to make selfish, navel-gazing students into socially conscious activists. But to Marcuse’s incredible good fortune, the sixties was the decade of the Vietnam War. Students were facing the prospect of being drafted. Thus they had selfish reasons to oppose the war. Yet this selfishness could be harnessed by teaching the students that they weren’t draft-dodging cowards; rather, they were noble resisters who were part of a global struggle for social justice. In this way bad conscience could itself be recruited on behalf of left-wing activism.

Marcuse portrayed Ho Chi Minh and the Vietcong as a kind of Third World proletariat, fighting to free itself from American hegemony. This represented a transposition of Marxist categories. The new working class were the Vietnamese “freedom fighters.” The evil capitalists were American soldiers serving on behalf of the American government. Marcuse’s genius was to tell leftist students in the 1960s that the Vietnamese “freedom fighters” could not succeed without them.

“Only the internal weakening of the superpower,” Marcuse wrote in An Essay on Liberation, “can finally stop the financing and equipping of suppression in the backward countries.” In his vision, the students were the “freedom fighters” within the belly of the capitalist beast. Together the revolutionaries at home and abroad would collaborate in the Great Refusal. They would jointly end the war and redeem both Vietnam and America. And what would this redemption look like? In Marcuse’s words, “Collective ownership, collective control and planning of the means of production and distribution.” In other words, classical socialism.

Okay, so now we got the young people. Who else? Marcuse looked around America for more prospective proles, and he found, in addition to the students, three groups ripe for the taking. The first was the Black Power movement, which was adjunct to the civil rights movement. The beauty of this group, from Marcuse’s point of view, wais that it would not have to be instructed in the art of grievance; blacks had grievances that dated back centuries.

Consequently, here was a group that could be mobilized against the status quo, and if the status quo could be identified with capitalism, here was a group that should be open to socialism. Through a kind of Marxist transposition, “blacks” would become the working class, “whites” the capitalist class. Race, in this analysis, takes the place of class. This is how we get Afro-socialism, and from here it is a short step to Latino socialism and every other type of ethnic socialism.

Another emerging source of disgruntlement was the feminists. Marcuse recognized that with effective consciousness- raising they too could be taught to see themselves as an oppressed proletariat. This of course would require another Marxist transposition: “women” would now be viewed as the working class and “men” the capitalist class; the class category would now be shifted to gender.

“The movement becomes radical,” Marcuse wrote, “to the degree to which it aims, not only at equality within the job and value structure of the established society…but rather at a change in the structure itself.” Marcuse’s target wasn’t just the patriarchy; it was the monogamous family. In Gramscian terms, Marcuse viewed the heterosexual family itself as an expression of bourgeois culture, so in his view the abolition of the family would help hasten the advent of socialism.

Marcuse didn’t write specifically about homosexuals or transgenders, but he was more than aware of exotic and outlandish forms of sexual behavior, and the logic of identity socialism can easily be extended to all these groups. Once again we need some creative Marxist transposition. Gays and transgenders become the newest proletariat, and heterosexuals—even black and female heterosexuals—become their oppressors.

We see here the roots of “intersectionality.” As the Left now holds, one form of oppression is good but two is better and three or more is best. The true exemplar of identity socialism is a black or brown male transitioning to be a woman with a Third World background who is trying illegally to get into this country because his—oops, her—own country has allegedly been wiped off the map by climate change.

These latest developments go beyond Marcuse. He didn’t know about intersectionality, but he did recognize the emerging environmental movement as an opportunity to restrict and regulate capitalism. The goal, he emphasized, was “to drive ecology to the point where it is no longer containable within the capitalist framework,” although he recognized that this “means first extending the drive within the capitalist framework.”

Marcuse also inverted Freud to advocate the liberation of eros. Freud had argued that primitive man is single-mindedly devoted to “the pleasure principle,” but as civilization advances, the pleasure principle must be subordinated to what Freud termed “the reality principle.” In other words, civilization is the product of the subordination of instinct to reason. Repression, Freud argued, is the necessary price we must pay for civilization.

Marcuse argued that at some point, however, civilization reaches a point where humans can go the other way. They can release the very natural instincts that have been suppressed for so long and subordinate the reality principle to the pleasure principle. This would involve a release of what Marcuse termed “polymorphous sexuality” and the “reactivation of all erotogenic zones.”

We are a short distance here from the whole range of bizarre contemporary preoccupations: unisexuality—people falling in love with themselves—group sexuality, pansexuality—people who do not confine their sexuality to their species—and people who attempt to have sex with trees.

Marcuse recognized that mobilizing all these groups—the students, the environmentalists, the blacks, the feminists, the gays—would take time and require a great deal of consciousness- raising or reeducation. He saw the university as the ideal venue for carrying out this project, which is why he devoted his own life to teaching and training a generation of socialist and left-wing activists. Over time, Marcuse believed, the university could produce a new type of culture, and that culture would then metastasize into the larger society to infect the media, the movies, even the lifestyle of the titans of the capitalist class itself.

Marcuse, in other words, foresaw an America in which bourgeois culture would be replaced by avant garde culture. He foresaw a society in which billionaires would support socialist schemes that took away a part of their wealth in exchange for social recognition conferred by cultural institutions dominated by the socialists. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg are three owlish geeks who were probably ridiculed in junior high school; they don’t seem to mind paying higher taxes if they can now hobnob with comedians, rock stars and Hollywood celebrities. Why only be rich when you can also be rich and cool?

Marcuse’s project—the takeover of the American university, to make it a tool of socialist indoctrination—did not succeed in his lifetime. In fact, as mentioned above, he got the boot when Governor Reagan pressured the regents of the university system not to renew Marcuse’s contract. In time, however, Marcuse succeeded as the activist generation of the 1960s gradually took over the elite universities. Today socialist indoctrination is the norm on the American campus, and Marcuse’s dream has been realized.

Marcuse is also the philosopher of Antifa. He argued, in a famous essay called “Repressive Tolerance,” that tolerance is not a norm or right that should be extended to all people. Yes, tolerance is good, but not when it comes to people who are intolerant. It is perfectly fine to be intolerant against them, to the point of disrupting them, shutting down their events, and even preventing them from speaking.

Marcuse didn’t use the term “hater,” but he invented the argument that it is legitimate to be hateful against haters. For Marcuse there were no limits to what could be done to discredit and ruin such people; he wanted the Left to defeat them “by any means necessary.” Marcuse even approved of certain forms of domestic terrorism, such as the Weather Underground bombing the Pentagon, on the grounds that the perpetrators were attempting to stop the greater violence that U.S. forces inflict on people in Vietnam and other countries.

Our world is quite different now from what it was in the 1960s, and yet there is so much that seems eerily familiar. When it comes to identitfy socialism, we are still living with Marcuse’s legacy.

Weekend Long Read

This essay is adapted from “The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class,” by Joel Kotkin (Encounter Books, 288 pages, $28.99)

A New Age of Feudalism for the Working Class?

If too many of the American working class lack any hope of improving their condition, we could face dangerous upheaval in the near future.

In the past, fears of job losses from automation were often overstated. Technological progress eliminated some jobs but created others, and often better-paying ones. In the early days of the high-tech revolution, many of the pioneering firms—such as Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and IBM—were widely praised for treating their lower-level workers as part of the company and deserving of opportunities for advancement, as well as benefits including health insurance and a pension.

The labor policies of the newer generation of tech giants tend to be vastly different. Firms like Tesla have been sued for failing to pay contract workers the legally mandated overtime rates, and for depriving them of meal and rest breaks. The Tesla plant has wages below the industry average, according to workers, and risk of injury higher than the industry average, notes a pro-labor nonprofit. Given that the high housing prices keep them living far from the workplace, some workers sleep in the factory hallways or in their cars.

“Everything feels like the future but us,” complained one worker.

The largest tech employer today is Amazon, with 798,000 employees worldwide in 2019. Amazon tends to pay its workers less than rivals do. Many employees rely on government assistance, such as food stamps, to make ends meet. When the company announced it was adopting a minimum wage of $15 an hour, it also cut stock options and other benefits, largely wiping out the raises, at least for long-term employees.

The average Amazon worker in 2018 made less than $30,000 annually, about the same as the CEO made every 10 seconds.

Working conditions at Amazon are often less than optimal. Warehouse workers in Britain reportedly were urinating in bottles to avoid being accused of “time-wasting” for taking breaks. Amazon has also patented wristbands that track employee movements, described as a “labor-saving measure.” Those who can’t keep up the pace are written up and then fired, said one British worker. “They make it like the ‘Hunger Games.’ That’s what we actually call it.”

Apple manufactures virtually all its products abroad, mostly in China, although medical concerns and political factors might change that. In addition to its own employees there, the company relies on the labor of more than 700,000 workers—roughly 10 times its U.S. employment—to build Apple products at contractors like Foxconn. These workers suffer conditions that have led to illegal strikes and suicides; workers often claim they are treated no better than robots.

From Proletariat to Precariat

In the old working-class world, unions often set hours and benefits, but many low-status workers today are sinking into what has been described as the “precariat,” with limited control over their working hours and often living on barely subsistence wages.

One reason for this descent is a general shift away from relatively stable jobs in skill-dependent industries or in services like retail to such occupations as hotel housekeepers and home care aides.  People in jobs of this kind have seen only meager wage gains, and they suffer from “income volatility” due to changing conditions of employment and a lack of long-term contracts.

This kind of volatility has become more common even in countries with fairly strong labor laws. In Canada, the number of people in temp jobs has been growing at more than triple the pace of permanent employment, since many workers who lose industrial jobs fail to find another full-time permanent position. The same patterns can be seen in traditionally labor-friendly European countries. From 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population in the EU15 and the United States, or up to 162 million individuals, are doing contract work. A similar trend shows up in developing countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Even in Japan, long known as a country of secure long-term employment, the trend is toward part-time, conditional work. Today, some 40 percent of the Japanese workforce are “irregular,” also known as “freetors,” and this group is growing fast while the number of full-time jobs is decreasing. The instability in employment is widely seen as one reason for the country’s ultra-low birth rate.

Many of today’s “precariat” work in the contingent “gig” economy, associated with firms such as Uber and Lyft. These companies and their progressive allies, including David Plouffe (who managed Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008), like to speak of a “sharing” economy that is “democratizing capitalism” by returning control of the working day to the individual. They point to opportunities that the gig economy provides for people to make extra money using their own cars or homes. The corporate image of companies like Uber and Lyft features moonlighting drivers saving up cash for a family vacation or a fancy date while providing a convenient service for customers—the ultimate win-win.

Yet for most gig workers there’s not very much that is democratic or satisfying in it. Most are not like the middle-class driver in Uber ads, picking up some extra cash for luxuries. Instead, they depend on their “gigs” for a livelihood, often barely making ends meet. Almost two-thirds of American gig workers in their late 30s and 40s—the age range most associated with family formation—were struggling to pay their bills. Nearly half of gig workers in California live under the poverty line. One survey of gig workers in 75 countries including the United States found that most earned less than minimum wage, leading one observer to label them “the last of Marx’s oppressed proletarians.”

The reasons for their precarious situation are not hard to locate. Gig workers lack many basic protections that full-time workers might have, such as enforcement of civil rights laws. Workers without representation, or even set hours, do not have the necessary tools to protect their own position; they are essentially fungible, like day laborers anywhere. Robert Reich, former U.S. secretary of labor, has gone so far as to label the “sharing” economy a “share-the-scraps” economy. Rather than providing an “add on” to a middle-class life, gig work for many has turned out to be something closer to serfdom.

Cultural Erosion in the Working Class

The downward economic trajectory of the working class has been amplified by cultural decline. The traditional bulwarks of communities—religious institutions, extended family, neighborhood and social groups, trade unions—have weakened generally, but the consequences are most damaging for those with limited economic resources.

Social decay among the working class echoes what occurred in the first decades of the industrial revolution, when family and community structures and bonds of religion buckled and often broke. Rampant alcoholism spread “a pestilence of liquor across all of Europe,” wrote the Marxist historian E. J. Hobsbawm. In the mid-19th century, 40,000 prostitutes plied their trade in London. The physical condition of British workers was horrible: most were malnourished and suffered various job-related maladies. As late as 1917, only one-third of young males were considered to be in good health.

In America and elsewhere today, the working classes lag behind the affluent in family formation, academic test scores, and graduation rates. Marriages may be getting more stable in the upper classes, as the sociologist Stephanie Coontz has shown, but as many as 1-in-3 births in the nation occurs outside matrimony. In some working-class neighborhoods, particularly those with a large proportion of ethnic minorities, four-fifths of all children are born to unmarried mothers. The rate of single parenting is the most significant predictor of social immobility across the United States and in Europe as well.

These social patterns parallel changes in economic trends. A detailed study in the United States published in 2017 shows that when towns and counties lose manufacturing jobs, fertility and marriage rates decrease, while out-of-wedlock births and the share of children living in single-parent homes increases. In addition, a variety of health problems—obesity, diabetes, disease of the heart, kidney, or liver—occur at much higher rates when family income is under $35,000 than when it is over $100,000. Between 2000 and 2015, the death rate increased for middle-aged white Americans with a low educational level. Anne Case and Angus Deaton say this trend owes primarily to “deaths of despair”: suicides as well as deaths related to alcohol and drugs, including opioids. In Europe likewise, a health crisis including drug addiction and drug-related deaths has emerged in old industrial areas, especially in Scotland.

In East Asia, traditionally known for strong family structures, the working class is showing signs of social erosion. Half of all South Korean households have experienced some form of family crisis, mostly involving debt, job loss, or issues relating to child or elder care, notes one recent study. Japan has a rising “misery index” of divorces, single motherhood, spousal and child abuse—all of which accelerate the country’s disastrous demographic decline and deepen class division.

An even greater social challenge may emerge in China, where some authorities are concerned about the effects of deteriorating family relations, particularly in care for aging parents. The government has started a campaign to promote the ideal of “filial piety,” a surprising revival of Confucian ideals by a state that previously attempted to eradicate them.

The problem of family breakdown is especially severe in the Chinese countryside. The flow of migrants into the cities in search of work has resulted in an estimated 60 million “left behind children” and nearly as many “left behind elderly.” The migrants themselves suffer from serious health problems, including venereal disease at rates far higher than the national norm, but the children left behind in rural villages face especially difficult challenges. Scott Rozelle, a professor at Stanford University, found that most of these children are sick or malnourished, and as many as two in three suffer from anemia, worms, or myopia. Rozelle predicts that more than half the left-behind toddlers are so cognitively delayed that their IQs will never exceed 90. This portends a future of something like the Gammas and Epsilons of Brave New World.

The Gentrification of the Left

In developed nations, as the middle classes are being proletarianized and the working classes fall further behind, the longstanding alliance between the intellectual Left and the working class is dissolving.

Already in the 1960s, New Left radicals such as C. Wright Mills and Ferdinand Lundberg disparaged the mental capacity of average Americans. Most of the population, according to Lundberg, were “quite misinformed, and readily susceptible to be worked upon, distracted.” The general acceptance of capitalism by the working class, as well as questions of race and culture, led many on the Left to seek a new coalition to carry the progressive banner. For its part, the working class has moved away from its traditional leftist affiliation not only in the United States but also across Europe and the United Kingdom.

“The more than 150-year-old alliance between the industrial working class and what one might call the intellectual-cultural Left is over,” notes Bo Rothstein, a Swedish political scientist. He suggests that a “political alliance between the intellectual left and the new entrepreneurial economy” could replace the old “class struggle” model and provide a way to “organize public services in a new and more democratic way.”

Across Europe, traditional parties of the Left now find their backing primarily among the wealthy, the highly educated, and government employees. Germany’s Social Democrats, France’s Socialists, and the British and Australian Labor parties have been largely “gentrified,” as has America’s Democratic Party, despite the resurgence of “democratic socialism” as part of its ideology. They have shifted their emphasis away from their historic working-class base, toward people with college and graduate degrees.

Even more than disagreements over immigration and cultural values, differences in economic interests have driven a wedge between the established Left and the working class. The agenda promoted by the leftist clerisy and the corporate elite—on immigration, globalization, greenhouse gas emissions—does not threaten their own particular interests. But it often directly threatens the interests of working-class people, especially in resource-based industries, manufacturing, agriculture, and construction. Environmental policy in places like California and western Europe has tended to ignore the concerns of working-class families.

The continuing heavy use of coal, oil, and other fossil fuels—still increasing in countries like India and China—may present a danger to humanity’s future, but it has contributed greatly to wealth creation and the comfort of the working class since the 18th century. Plans for a drastic reduction in the use of carbon-based energy by 2050 would force middle-class Americans to be more like North Koreans in their energy consumption.

In Europe, green energy mandates have caused a spike in energy costs. As many as one in four Germans and over half of Greeks have had to spend 10 percent or more of their income on energy, and three-fourths of Greeks have cut other spending to pay their electricity bills, which is the economic definition of “energy poverty.” These mandates have far less impact on the wealthy.

In their zeal to combat climate change, the clerisy have taken aim at things like suburban homes, cars, and affordable airfare. The lifestyles of the middle and working classes are often criticized by the very rich, who will likely maintain their own luxuries even under a regime of “sustainability.” A former UK environment minister said that cheap airfare represents the “irresponsible face of capitalism.” Apparently the more expensive travel done by the wealthy, including trips by private jet to conferences on climate change, is not so irresponsible. New regulations and taxes on fuel imposed by France’s aggressively green government sparked the gilets jaunes uprising, as well as the previous bonnets rouges protests in Brittany.

Those in today’s intellectual Left are concerned about the planet and about international migrants, but not so much about their compatriots in the working class. The French philosopher Didier Eribon, a gay man who grew up in a struggling working-class family in provincial Reims, describes a deep-seated “class racism” in elite intellectual circles toward people like his family.

Working-class voters in France were joyful at the socialist victory in the 1981 election, but then found themselves supporting a government whose priorities turned out to be “neoliberalism,” multiculturalism, and modernization. One result is widespread cynicism toward the political establishment. Eribon recalls his socialistically inclined mother saying, “Right or Left, there’s no difference. They are all the same, and the same people always end up footing the bill.”


As the major left-leaning parties in high-income countries have become gentrified, the political orientation of working-class voters is realigning. Populist and nationalist parties in Sweden, Hungary, Spain, Poland, and Slovakia have done particularly well among younger votes. In fact, many of the right-wing nationalist parties are led by millennials. American millennials too are surprisingly attracted to right-wing populism. In November 2016, more white American millennials voted for Donald Trump than for Hillary Clinton. Their much-ballyhooed shift toward the Democratic Party has reversed, and now less than a majority identify as Democrats.

More broadly, a sense of betrayal among those being left behind by progress is leading to defections from mainstream parties of both Right and Left. Among the working classes and the young, there is a steady growth of far-Left opposition to the established liberal order, as well as strong support for the far Right. This increasing movement away from the center and toward the fringes is not an ideal formula for a stable democratic society.

As Tocqueville put it, we may be “sleeping on a volcano.”

Peasant Rebellions

Will the world’s working classes accept their continuing decline? We are already seeing what might be described as “peasant rebellions” against the globalist order that is being constructed by the oligarchs and their allies in the clerisy. In recent years, an insurrectionary spirit has surfaced in the Brexit vote, the rise of neonationalist parties in Europe and authoritarian populists in Brazil and the Philippines, and of course the election of Donald Trump.

At the core of these rebellions against the political mainstream lies the suspicion among the lower classes that the people who control their lives—whether corporate bosses or government officials—do not have their interests at heart. The slow-growth economy that emerged from the Great Recession benefited the financial elite and property speculators, but did little for the vast majority of people. Firms like Apple have profited from soaring stock prices and low-wage Chinese production while less capital-rich businesses have struggled.

These lopsided economic results have prompted attrition from the traditional mainstream political parties in many countries.

In multiparty democracies, a reaction against economic globalization and mass immigration, among other policies, has resulted in pronounced movement to the political fringes. One Harvard study found that anti-establishment populist parties across Europe expanded their share of the electorate from 10 percent in 1990 to 25 percent in 2016. At the same time, center-Left parties are losing ground to far-Left parties or candidates.

Is this only a prelude to a more serious kind of rebellion—one that could undermine democratic capitalism itself?

A Brief History of Peasant Rebellions

Admirers of medieval feudalism highlight the concept of mutual obligation between the classes. The upper clergy and the military aristocracy practiced a kind of noblesse oblige that provided a floor (albeit often insufficient) for the lower classes. But the obligations of the lower to the higher classes may have been no more voluntary than those binding the Cosa Nostra.

The medieval poor did not always accept their miserable situation quietly. Uprisings broke out as early as Charlemagne’s reign in the 9th century, and became more common in the later Middle Ages. Violent peasant armies actually bested aristocratic knights in the Low Countries in 1227, in Northern Germany in 1230, and in the Swiss Alps in 1315. The brutal 14th century brought a rash of peasant rebellions and urban insurrections. French peasants burned down manors of the wealthy in the Jacquerie of 1358, aiming to “destroy all the nobles and gentry in the world and there would be none any more.” After being routed by armies of nobility and gentry, the insurgents were subjected to a campaign of reprisal that cost an estimated 20,000 lives.

In England, a labor shortage following the great plague resulted in higher pay and more mobility for laborers, but Parliament and big landowners took measures to hold down wages and keep peasants on their estates. Then, a new poll tax sparked a large-scale uprising led by Watt Tyler in 1381. A radical priest named John Ball traveled up and down England stirring up peasants, and in a speech outside London he famously asked: “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?” The rebels’ demands included abolition of serfdom and feudal service, an end to market monopolies and other restrictions on buying and selling, and confiscation of clerical property.

Violent uprisings of peasants or urban poor also broke out in many other places, including Flanders, Florence, Lübeck, Paris, Transylvania, Croatia, Estonia, Galicia, and Sweden. But the biggest social upheaval before the French Revolution was the great Peasants’ Rebellion of 1525 in Germany. Among the demands presented in the “Twelve Articles of the Peasantry” were the abolition of serfdom, restrictions on feudal dues, the right to fish and hunt, and the right of peasants to choose their own priest. The rebels took inspiration from Martin Luther’s doctrine of a “priesthood of all believers,” but Luther himself became horrified by their violence. The rebellion was put down so savagely that it dissuaded further uprisings in Germany.

Only rarely did such rebellions prove successful, like the one by the Swiss peasants. The ruling powers sometimes used treachery to quell uprisings by offering pardons that were eventually revoked. In 17th-century England, Cromwell’s “respectable revolution” quashed the efforts of the Levellers to extend Parliament’s war against the monarchy into a radical egalitarian reordering of society. Southern and western France endured frequent rural protests through much of the seventeenth century.

Peasant rebellions also occurred in other parts of the world, often with greater ferocity. Japan had numerous ikki or peasant uprisings, particularly in the fifteenth century; the consolidation of power under the shogun in 1600 finally put an end to the disturbances. There were numerous uprisings and revolutions in Mexico, but it was only in the early 20th century that the peones finally overturned the quasi-feudal regime left over from the Spanish legacy. They achieved significant land reform, but at the cost of well over 1 million lives.

In Russia, with its overwhelmingly rural society, peasant rebellions were commonplace by the 17th century. A revolt among Ural Cossacks under Emelian Pugachev threatened the czarist regime in 1773, during the reign of Catherine the Great. The rebellion failed, as did some 550 others, but in 1917 the peasants rose up to support Lenin’s seizure of power. When the Soviet regime began to confiscate land for collectivization, the property-loving muzhiks rebelled, only to be put down ruthlessly.

Arguably the most powerful peasant rebellion occurred in China, in 1843. After failing civil service exams several times, Hung Hsiu-ch’uan read some Christian tracts and connected their message with hallucinations he had experienced. He designed his own religion, in which he was part of the Holy Trinity, but with doctrines based mainly on the Ten Commandments, and he preached it to destitute laborers. His Taiping Rebellion called for the overthrow of the Manchu Ch’ing dynasty, land reform, improving the status of women, tax reduction, eliminating bribery, and abolishing the opium trade. The rebellion was finally put down more than a decade later, with massive loss of life. Some of the Taiping program would later be adopted by Sun Yat-sen, who would overthrow the imperial regime, and then by Mao Tse-tung and the Communists.

The Revolt Against Mass Migration

The contemporary versions of peasant rebellions, particularly in Europe and the United States, are in large part a reaction against globalization and the mass influx of migrants from poor countries with very different cultures. The numbers of international migrants worldwide swelled from 173 million in 2000 to 258 million in 2017; of these, 78 million were living in Europe and 50 million in the United States.

Mass migration from poorer to wealthier countries seems all but unstoppable, given the great disparities between them. According to a Gates Foundation study, 22 percent of the people in sub-Saharan Africa live in extreme poverty, defined as subsisting on less than $1.90 a day. By 2050, the region will be home to 86 percent of the world’s poorest people, and about half that number will live in just two countries, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For the extremely poor in such countries, who see little to no chance of improving their condition at home, a dangerous trek to Europe or some other wealthy place would seem worth the risk.

Many people in Europe have welcomed migrants from poorer countries, including former colonies. Political and cultural elites in particular have elevated cosmopolitanism and “diversity” above national identity and tradition. Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia” was an effort to highlight cultural diversity as a central part of modern Britain’s identity. Herman Lebovics, in Bringing the Empire Back Home: France in the Global Age (2004), pondered how to redefine what it means to be French in a multicultural age.

When Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, flung the doors wide open to a huge wave of refugees and migrants from the war-ravaged Middle East in 2015, many ordinary Germans were eager to show Gastfreundschaft, or hospitality, as were many people elsewhere in Europe. By the end of that year, nearly a million refugees had entered Germany alone, and the public welcome turned cold. Merkel’s decision came to be widely unpopular with Germans and the vast majority of Europeans.

A year after the rapid influx of refugees began, Pew Research found that 59 percent of Europeans thought immigrants were imposing a burden on their country, while only a third said that immigrants made their country a better place to live. Among Greeks, 63 percent said that immigrants made things worse, as did 53 percent of Italians. In 2018, Pew found 70 percent of Italians, almost 60 percent of Germans, half of Swedes, and 40 percent of French and British citizens wanting either fewer or no new immigrants; barely 10 percent wanted more.

In the years following Merkel’s decision to set out the welcome wagon, virtually all European countries—including such progressive ones as the Netherlands, France, Denmark, Norway, and Germany itself—have tightened their immigration controls. This has been done chiefly to counter the populist (and at times quasi-fascist) nativist movements growing in many countries: Hungary, Poland, Austria, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, and most importantly in Germany.

Much of the support for populist parties comes from the working class and lower-middle class, who are more exposed to the disruptions and dangers that the migrants have often brought, and are generally more burdened by the public expense of accommodating them. Even in Sweden, where the citizens have long prided themselves on tolerance, there is widespread anger about rising crime and an unprecedented level of social friction in a formerly homogeneous country.

Some of the anti-immigrant movements that have sprung up espouse racist views, but others are far less odious, being simply opposed to the globalizing policies of elites and their indifference to the concerns of average citizens. Some have found inspiration in the Middle Ages, such as the example of the Frankish king Charles Martel, who defeated Muslim invaders in the 8th century. Fans of Donald Trump presented images of him as a Crusader clad in chainmail with a cross embroidered on the front.

The conflict over immigration divides largely along class lines. There is a huge divergence between elite opinion, which generally favors mass immigration, and that of majorities in the working and middle classes. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, acknowledged this divergence in 2015 when he said, “The arrival of refugees is an economic opportunity. And too bad if [it] isn’t popular.”

If political elites in Europe regard open borders as good for the economy, corporate elites in the United States are eager to import skilled technicians and other workers, who typically accept lower wages. The tech oligarchs in particular like to hire from abroad: in Silicon Valley, roughly 40 percent of the tech workforce is made up of noncitizens. Steve Case, the former CEO of America Online, has suggested that immigrant entrepreneurs and workers could offset middle-class job losses from automation. Some conservative intellectuals have even thought that hardworking newcomers should replace the “lazy” elements of the working class. Some of the earliest opposition to the Trump Administration focused on his agenda of curtailing immigration.

Somewheres vs. Anywheres

Ironically, the people who most strongly favor open borders are welcoming large numbers of immigrants who do not share their own secular, progressive values. That is particularly true in Europe, where migrants and refugees from Muslim countries often hold very conservative or reactionary views on things such as homosexuality and women’s rights; many even support female genital mutilation. Some European politicians and other leaders, including the archbishop of Canterbury, have proposed that elements of Muslim sharia law, such as a prohibition of blasphemy, could be applied on top of existing national standards.

Giles Kepel, one of France’s leading Arabists, observes that Muslims coming to Europe tend to possess “a keen sense” of cultural identity rooted in religion, while the media and academia tend to promote the “erasing of identities,” at least for the native population. Rather than defend their own values, Europeans and others in the West have been told by their leaders that “they must give up their principles and soul—it’s the politics of fait accompli.” This “erasing of identities” is not widely popular among the working and middle classes.

The British writer David Goodhart describes a cultural conflict between the cosmopolitan, postnational “anywheres” and the generally less educated but more rooted “somewheres.” If the media and most high-level government and business leaders in Europe have an “anywhere” perspective, people in less cosmopolitan precincts outside the capital cities tend to remain more strongly tied to national identities, local communities, religion and tradition. These divisions were particularly evident in the vote on Brexit and the Conservative sweep in 2019.

The “somewhere” sentiment has repeatedly been expressed in votes concerning the European Union. In addition to the Brexit referendum of 2016, French, Danish, and Dutch voters have opted against deeper or broader EU ties, preferring a stronger national “somewhere.” Less than 10 percent of EU residents identify themselves as Europeans first, and 51 percent favor a more powerful nation-state, while only 35 percent want power in Brussels to be increased.

As long as the political and economic elites ignore these preferences, populist rebellions against establishment parties will likely continue and could become more disruptive. Elite disdain for traditions of country, religion, and family tends to exacerbate class conflict around cultural identity. “Liberalism is stupid about culture,” observed Stuart Hall, a Jamaican-born Marxist sociologist.

In the United States, discontent with the globalist and open-borders agenda of the oligarchs and the upper clerisy resulted in strong working-class support for Donald Trump in 2016. He won two out of every five union voters and an absolute majority among white males. Like his European counterparts, Trump ran strongest in predominantly white, working-class and lower-middle-class areas—precisely the areas hardest hit by globalization. He appealed most to people who work with their hands, own small shops, or are employed in factories, the logistics industry and energy sector; those who repair and operate machines, drive trucks, and maintain our power grid. Among white voters at least, he did poorest with well-educated professionals.

To many voters, Trump was “a champion for forgotten millions.” When surveyed, these voters put a high priority on bringing back manufacturing jobs, protecting Social Security and Medicare, and getting conservatives on the Supreme Court—ahead of building a wall to keep out undocumented immigrants, who are widely seen as cutting into labor wages for American citizens. Even though he came from the business elite, Trump met almost universal opposition from the dominant classes. Instead, he won over voters who see big corporations as indifferent to the well-being of working people. Like some of the populist movements in Europe, the American populist Right has adopted many of the class-based talking points, although usually not the policies, associated with the pre-gentrified Left.

In the higher echelons of the clerisy, the response to the populist revolt has mostly been revulsion. It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up Against the Ignorant Masses” was the title of an article by James Traub in Foreign Policy in the summer of 2016. A former New York Times writer, Traub asserted that the Brexit vote and the nomination of Donald Trump, among other developments, indicate that the “political schism of our time” is not between Left and Right, but “the sane vs. the mindless angry.” Larry Summers, a former Obama Administration official, took a more astute view of the matter: “The willingness of people to be intimidated by experts into supporting cosmopolitan outcomes appears for the moment to have been exhausted.”

Is There a Mass Insurrection in the Making?

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the proletarianization of the middle class resulted in widespread support for Communism, Fascism, and National Socialism. Today, as in Europe before World War II, people on both right and left often blame financial institutions for their precarious situation. Anger at the financial services sector gave rise to the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City and the many spinoff Occupy protests in 2011-12. Marching under the slogan “We are the 99 percent,” protesters around the world decried the heavy concentration of wealth in a few hands.

Alienation from the political mainstream today is resulting in strong support for far-Left parties and candidates among youth in various high-income countries. In France’s presidential election of 2017, the former Trotskyite Jean-Luc Mélenchon won the under-24 vote, beating the more youthful Emmanuel Macron by almost two to one among that age group. In the United Kingdom, the Labour Party under the neo-Marxist Jeremy Corbyn in 2018 won more than 60 percent of the under-40 vote, while the Conservatives got just 23 percent. He won the youth vote similarly in 2020, even amidst a crushing electoral defeat. In Germany, the Green Party enjoys wide support among the young.

A movement toward hard-Left politics, particularly among the young, is also apparent in the United States, which historically has not been fertile ground for Marxism.

In the 2016 primaries, the openly socialist Bernie Sanders easily outpolled Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined among under-30 voters. He also did very well among young people and Latinos in the early 2020 primaries, even as other elements of the Democratic Party rejected him decisively. Support for socialism, long anathema in America, has gained currency in the new generation. A poll conducted by the Communism Memorial Foundation in 2016 found that 44 percent of American Millennials favored socialism while 14 percent chose fascism or Communism. By 2024, Millennials will be the country’s biggest voting bloc by far.

The core doctrines of Marxism are providing inspiration for labor unrest in China today, particularly among the younger generation of migrants to the cities. Activists often find themselves prosecuted for threatening “the social order.” Communist officials have been put in the awkward position of cracking down on Marxist study groups at universities, whose working-class advocacy conflicts with the policies of the nominally socialist government.

Democratic capitalist societies need to offer the prospect of a brighter future for the majority. Without this belief, more demands for a populist strongman or a radical redistribution of wealth seem inevitable. A form of “oligarchic socialism,” with subsidies or stipends for working people, might stave off destitution while allowing the wealthiest to maintain their dominance. But the issue boils down to whether people—not just those with elite credentials and skills—actually matter in a technological age.

Wendell Berry, the Kentucky-based poet and novelist, observed that the “great question” hovering over society is “what are people for?” By putting an “absolute premium on labor-saving measures,” we may be creating more dependence on the state while undermining the dignity of those who want to do useful work.

The future of the working class should concern us all. If too many lack any hope of improving their condition, we could face dangerous upheaval in the near future.

Weekend Long Read

The Big Red Fake News Machine

Independent media outlets offer an important counterbalance to prevailing mainstream media now compromised by corporate conflicts of interest. But the “independent” label is often contrived as foreign interests and even foreign governments drive the agenda. The Real News Network is one example.

In the late 1990s, Latin America underwent a seismic shift away from its northern neighbor as a result of the domineering and interventionist policies of successive U.S. administrations dating back to the 19th century. This led to the 1998 election of Hugo Chávez Frias as president of Venezuela, and a chain reaction of similar governments of varying leftist ideological stringency coming to power in nations such as Nicaragua, Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil, and Ecuador. 

The focus of Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution, first and foremost, was on creating a new bloc of anti-imperialist nations to end U.S. hegemony in the Americas. 

But although this was the stated primary ambition, the revolution itself was not limited to Latin America. A dormant far Left in the United States, briefly sidelined after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Bloc, quickly found in this movement a new kindred spirit. They were ecstatic that Chávez was elected in “free and democratic” elections, effectively displacing the two established centrist parties COPEI and Democratic Action, and that he survived a CIA-sponsored coup in 2002 thanks to his genuine popularity among the poor. 

Conveniently omitted in this history is that twice in 1992 prior to his election, Chávez, as an army lieutenant colonel along with his colleagues, attempted to overthrow the government of his predecessor Carlos Andrés Pérez, leading to the deaths of almost 200 soldiers. Along with other middle-ranking military officers, Chávez had formed in the 1980s the revolutionary leftist MBR-200 group and conspired for years to overthrow the duopoly ruling his country, by force if necessary. 

As seems always to be the case with socialism, real events that harm the reputation of the movement are either ignored or excused by true believers. 

The results of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela and its offshoots took more than 15 years to transpire thanks to an oil glut that wiped out the strategic advantage of the nation’s reserves, and are now obvious to all as an example of an unsustainable experiment that ignored the basic rules of supply and demand. 

But that part of the story is well known. Now is the time to shed more light on the Canadian and American members of the anti-capitalist Left who not only supported Chávez, but in some cases became paid mouthpieces and accomplices in the scheme to export Bolivarianism to the land of the yanquis.

Charm City Apparatchiks

In 2007, as the rot and decay of the George W. Bush Administration began to manifest itself, a Canadian filmmaker launched a project he hoped would apply his perspective to news reporting after years of toiling in obscurity. 

Paul Jay had been a producer, director, and journalist at CTV, Canada’s largest private television network, as well as its state-run CBC network, and had produced several documentary films ranging from “Return to Kandahar” about the war in Afghanistan to “Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows” about professional wrestler Brett Hart. 

While many in the media have left-leaning political sympathies, Jay’s leftist convictions run deep. His uncle, Ted Allan, had served with the Lincoln Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, and became a renowned screenwriter. The Lincoln Brigades were made up primarily of anglophone Communists supporting the Republican government of Spain. Allan would later write the biography of Dr. Norman Bethune, a fellow volunteer surgeon from Canada who later served the Communist Chinese before dying in 1939 of sepsis. He was personally close to the Canadian Communist Party leader Tim Buck. 

Jay’s new creation would be called The Real News Network (TRNN) and he located the company in Toronto. In 2013, TRNN moved its main headquarters to Baltimore and have made that location and its community a focus of their reporting ever since. 

TRNN’s building at 231 Holliday Street, two blocks from City Hall, sold for $1.3 million in 2012. The Real News operates on several digital platforms, notably YouTube and Roku. Despite massive annual investments from its backers, The Real News remained a niche news source under Jay until his 2019 departure. It continues to operate as a nonprofit without accepting corporate advertisements, a structure that is similar to that of The Nation, In These Times and other digital left-wing publications. It has close to 400,000 YouTube subscribers and an unknown number of Roku viewers. 

Though these are respectable numbers for an independent creator, they would not begin to financially sustain a full network with both on-screen and production staff.

While claiming to promote real journalism, The Real News Network—perhaps to its credit—quite openly draws its presenters and reporters almost exclusively from members of the far-left activist community. 

For example, former Black Panther Eddie Conway, whose conviction for the murder of a Baltimore police officer was overturned in 2014 due to “irregularities,” hosts a series on the network called “Rattling the Bars,” concerning criminal justice issues. Like many TRNN shows, this one is more of an editorial presentation, made worse by the fact that Conway is clearly not confident in front of the camera after more than 40 years in prison. In one episode, Conway clumsily confronted, to no good effect, a group of Donald Trump supporters led by Scott Presler cleaning streets in West Baltimore.

Paul Jay, founder of TRNN


Local and Global

While some of TRNN’s reporting does focus on the decay and corruption of Baltimore, most of the network’s efforts have been spent highlighting issues that are completely disconnected from the city. 

A heavy proportion of its stories are hostile to foreign governments in Brazil, Israel, and India. As Jay himself is an anti-Zionist Jew, he is deeply linked to various pro-Palestine movements and media figures such as Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal, the son of former Hillary Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal and an obsessively hostile critic of Israel. 

Similarly, TRNN’s main commentator on India is Vijay Prashad, a Marxist at Trinity College in Connecticut who runs the Tricontinental Institute, an organization that claims to support the “Non-Aligned Movement” of anti-imperialist states that met in Havana in 1966 at the Tricontinental Conference. The original Tricontinental continues to function in Cuba as the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL), the vehicle for exporting its revolution abroad, and Prashad’s group openly admits to collaborating with this organization. Paul Jay’s second-in-command was Sharmini Peries, a Sri Lankan-Canadian with views similar to Prashad’s. At times it seems the only competition that TRNN engaged in was whether to hate Narendra Modi or Benjamin Netanyahu more. 

But Peries and others have a connection that is much stronger than either Palestine or India—Venezuela. 

At one point, Peries was a direct advisor on economics and trade to Hugo Chávez. The overlap between TRNN and Venezuela’s state-supported media is so blatant, that it almost functions as a branch office with minor local variations. And while Americans as a whole have had to deal with crippling social media censorship thanks to media-generated moral panics, this unabashed fifth column has operated unhindered and without general public acknowledgment. 

Thanks to the freedoms enshrined in our Bill of Rights, these activists masquerade as reporters, play the part of martyrs, and live out the youthful fantasies emblazoned on their sweatshop made Ché shirts. The Real News Network and a network of related groups provide them that stage. 

Guerrilla TV SuperstarsUploaded from Caracas

The progressive media landscape is littered with the shards of the shattered leftist chandelier that never seemed to illuminate much to begin with. Far-left politics is notoriously schismatic, especially when it comes to applying the theories of Karl Marx and other socialists who died in the 19th century and have been interpreted in many different ways. Many progressives are apologists for Communism while denying that they are believers, such as Cenk Uygur of “The Young Turks,” who gives mealy-mouthed defenses of capitalism but in substance supports a corporate nanny state. 

But The Real News and its affiliated organizations rarely allow such ambiguities to stand. On the ideological spectrum, TRNN occupies a space somewhere between “democratic” socialism and revolutionary Marxism-Leninism. The main dispute between these two schools of thought concerns whether violent revolution is necessary in order to eliminate class divisions.

Portions of TRNN’s programing have been sourced directly—and often unedited— from TeleSUR English, a television station owned by the Venezuelan, Cuban, and Nicaraguan governments. Founded in 2005, TeleSUR is the mouthpiece of Hugo Chávez’s successor Nicolás Maduro and the nation’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). 

During the aborted 2002 coup against Chávez, he and his supporters recognized that the commercial media in Venezuela were blatantly sympathetic to military and corporate interests that were intent on ousting him. As a result of this they formed not only TeleSUR, but other international blocs such as Bolivarian Alliance for the Liberation of Our Americas (ALBA) with Cuban and Caribbean allies, the Unasur transnational union in South America and the economic union Mercosur. 

But all of these entities, including TeleSUR are political instruments of Chavista governments and political parties. Contributing nations in TeleSUR at one time included Argentina and Ecuador, who pulled out after changes of government and souring of relations with Venezuela. In 2018, Daniela Vielman, one of its Spanish-language anchors, resigned in a huff and discussed the mistreatment, extortion, and political coercion that she and other staff had undergone in covering her nation’s many political crises and civil disturbances.

Many personnel from TRNN also have been prominent commentators on TeleSUR:

  • Tariq Ali has been featured on The Real News to talk about topics relating to Britain, Pakistan, and the Iraq War. He also hosted the TeleSUR program “The World Today,” such as one from 2015 where he heralded a bright red future for the UK under his close friend and colleague Jeremy Corbyn.
  • Abby Martin arrived at TeleSUR after a falling out with Russia’s RTAmerica over the Ukraine crisis. Prior to that, she was a San Diego-area organizer for 9/11 Truth and supported the controlled demolition theory, but later distanced herself from that community and today rarely speaks on the topic. She hosted “Empire Files” on TeleSUR until 2018 when it could no longer be funded. TRNN has featured full episodes of the program, such as one from 2016 with Ecuador’s Marxist foreign minister Guillaume Long. Listed in the credits are two other TRNN staff, Oscar León and executive producer Paul Jay. It continues to produce new episodes using a donation model. 

Besides TeleSUR personnel, TRNN also employs or publishes content by other Maduro government apologists:

  • Gregory Wilpert is the founder of Venezuelaanalysis.com, a news website dedicated to rationalizing Venezuela’s economic meltdown as the result of sanctions. His wife is also a senior Venezuelan diplomat and former ambassador to Ecuador.
  • Lucas Koerner writes for Wilpert’s website and functions as a media critic in defense of the Maduro regime. Like Paul Jay, he is an anti-Zionist Jew and was once arrested for attempting to disrupt the Jerusalem Day parade. 

Those last two, in particular, illustrate the depths to which TRNN will sink in order to defend Venezuela in the name of being “anti-war.” Both Koerner and Wilpert have written for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a leftist media watchdog that is blatantly sympathetic to the Chavista government. 

In 2006, Wilpert authored a story disputing the notion that Chávez was corrupt by claiming that metrics used by Transparency International and other corruption monitors were skewed by public opinion. As it turns out, the late president’s daughter, Maria Gabriela Chávez, became a multi-billionaire and the richest woman in the country, although most of her assets were held in American and Andorran banks, all while serving as the country’s alternate ambassador to the United Nations. 

Koerner is an even more dedicated supporter of Maduro. In 2019, Gabriel Hetland, professor of Latin American studies at the University of Albany, published an article for the North American Congress in Latin America (NACLA) and Jacobin critical of the Maduro government for its incompetence and abuses. In the article, Hetland placed three values above all others: “non-interventionism, self-determination, and solidarity with the oppressed.” NACLA and Jacobin are both staunchly left-wing socialist organizations and media outlets, and Hetland himself had been featured in 2016 with Peries on TRNN downplaying the severity of the humanitarian disaster in Venezuela. Joining him was Koerner’s colleague Rachael Boothroyd, also of TeleSUR and Venezualaanalysis.com. 

Nevertheless, Koerner wrote a response a year later for FAIR claiming that Hetland’s piece was part of a campaign to legitimize regime change in Venezuela, despite Hetland’s explicit statements to the contrary. Hetland responded by pointing out that he did not support regime change in Venezuela, nor the November 2019 overthrow of its allied government in Bolivia. In FAIR’s publishing of the exchange, Koerner responded by castigating Hetland for not presenting “solidarity” and an “unqualified defense” of deposed Bolivian leader Evo Morales. 

The infighting suggests there is a growing rift between those who accept and those who deny that the Maduro government should continue to be championed by the anti-capitalist left. Unfortunately, it is difficult to gauge which of these players is being sincere as opposed to abandoning a sinking ship out of self-interest. 

Party Like There’s No 1989

The Real News Network also shares TeleSUR’s coverage of historical topics, not just current events. It is apparent from the network’s choice of programming that it’s a proponent of ideological dogma and orthodox Cold War-era Marxism. 

In 2017, on the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution that established the Soviet Union, Abby Martin interviewed Brian Becker in a very flattering retrospective of the monumental event. While not addressing the Red Terror, famines, or the reconquest of the Caucasus and Central Asia that subjugated many non-Russian minorities, the two created the impression that this bloody introduction to tyranny in the name of progress was a necessary speed bump on the road to their goal. 

Becker hailed the creation of the Soviet of Nationalities, a legislative body that supposedly gave all Soviet peoples representation in government. But in practice, both this and the other chamber, the Soviet of the Union, were rubber stamp parliaments for Communist Party organs such as the Politburo and Central Committee. Also omitted was the fact that Becker is the founder and leader of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) a pro-Venezuela Marxist-Leninist group and the head of the ANSWER Coalition. Like Martin, who once hosted a show on RTAmerica, Becker has similarly hosted a program on the Russian-sponsored Sputnik Radio, formerly known as RAI Novosti, since 2015.

Paul Jay’s own TRNN program, “Reality Asserts Itself,” has often featured episodes discussing the virtues of Marxism and Soviet Communism. A 2018 episode was devoted to Marx’s 200th birthday. Another 2018 episode discussed the present-day relevance of Communism with the Russian anti-revisionist Marxist Alexander Buzaglin.

Most TRNN segments on Venezuela have denied the fact that the Chávez and Maduro governments mismanaged the country, removed all constitutional protections, and created a totally petroleum-dependent economy. When discussing the Venezuela crisis in 2019 in the context of whether socialism is a failure, Jay hedged by claiming that foreign sanctions had crippled the Chávez-Maduro experiment. In so doing, he made several false statements, such as that Venezuela was not an industrialized country. In fact, for many decades it was one of the richest and most developed nations in the Western hemisphere.

Is the support for this failed state merely ideological, since the ties to Caracas seem no longer to be financial? How can a network dedicated to ending the fossil fuel economy and Wall Street plutocracy simultaneously credit so much of its financing to both? 

In the early 1990s, as a younger documentary filmmaker, Jay produced “Albanian Journey” in the midst of its transition to democracy. While papering over the crimes and oppression wielded by the Communist regime of Enver Hoxha that clung to Stalinism even after China abandoned it following Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, he did portray the decay and downfall of socialism in the Mediterranean state. It seems as if The Real News Network and its embrace of Bolivarian socialism were just an attempt by Paul Jay to hold on to the new hope of a “21st Century Socialism” that Chávez promised. Like the last century’s version, however, its Western supporters are fine with enjoying the comparative luxuries of a decadent capitalist economy as it falls apart. 

CARACAS, MIRANDA, VENEZUELA - 2019/11/14: Protester utters insults at the riot police during the demonstrations. Tension rose in Venezuela after university students protested in the streets in support of the call made by the Venezuelan opposition to remain in the streets without return, indefinitely.

Roman Camacho/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Green for the Screen

What is so ironic about The Real News Network’s fawning coverage of Venezuela, a petrostate now economically beholden to its creditors, is its simultaneous focus on supporting the replacement of fossil fuels and banning extraction of oil and natural gas in any way possible. 

Throughout its history, TRNN has promoted “climate justice” calling it an imperative in 2011. During the 2020 Democratic primary season, one of its correspondents asked at the woke Netroots Nation summit whether candidates’ climate plans were “climate justice plans.” 

Mere hypocrisy is not so rare as to be the only reason to highlight this contradiction. What TRNN is actually doing is much worse than that. It is using a manufactured global crisis in order to support the economic interests of a hostile foreign government. While the domestic U.S. oil industry is naturally subject to hazards such as spills and air pollution, in that respect it is not to be distinguished from other oil producers like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, Norway, or Venezuela. The fracking boom of the 2010s and the further expansion of offshore drilling under President Donald Trump, however, has only served to create downward pressure on oil prices and hurt the bottom lines of every oil-dependent economy—including Venezuela’s, which for decades has sold its gasoline in the United States through its subsidiary Citgo stations.

By advocating for policies such as the Green New Deal, TRNN seeks the economic equivalent of unilateral nuclear disarmament. The United State would abandon fossil fuel extraction prematurely, and therefore would have to be supplied by states like Venezuela once it becomes evident that the energy needs of American citizens cannot be met by renewables. This already has occurred in Germany which once was the vanguard in green technology and is now attempting to compensate with a natural gas pipeline from Russia. 

The red-green alliance around climate change is grounded in fear and guilt, not science. Rather than being revolutionaries with microphones fighting Wall Street, the money trail shows them to be fully conflicted and hiding their dirty laundry behind red flags. 

While progressive media has embraced several different agendas over the decades in order to buttress their economic and social vision, none has greater potential than climate change does to shape the future of society. 

The benefit of focusing on this area is that target audiences beyond the far Left are reluctant to challenge a movement claiming to derive its legitimacy from the scientific community, the United Nations, and Hollywood. It is a common refrain that the dependence of the economy on fossil fuels will doom humanity and the planet at large. But behind this agenda is the serious paradox that is difficult for activist journalists to get around: oil and natural gas are so ingrained in the economy that typically those pushing the agenda of renewable energy are themselves backed by or invested in fossil fuels. 

In 2019, presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke found this out fast when his otherwise green-friendly campaign was attacked by the Sunrise Movement for having an insufficiently aggressive climate change plan and for accepting contributions from fossil-fuel company executives. 

Progressives deem as heresy anything short of a full embrace of the panic-driven climate change movement—and TRNN does its best to stay near the tip of the spear on the subject. 

After the first Democratic debate in June 2019, TRNN talking heads griped that only 15 minutes had been dedicated to climate change. In August 2019, correspondent Dharna Noor interviewed a plaintiff in Juliana v. USA, a landmark class action case that attempted to force the federal government to pay reparations to young Americans over its alleged “inaction” on climate change. (The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case in January.) More recently, TRNN news host Marc Steiner has attempted to tie the coronavirus outbreak to climate change. 

Fossil Fuel Skeletons in the Vault

Cloaked in the façade of caring for the future of the planet and opposing Wall Street, TRNN deceptively hides its own past reservoir of fossil fuel interests. Its leaders are not merely ideologically committed to supporting the Venezuelan government; the organization through its funding apparatus had financial ties to the regime and its oil conglomerate until 2018. 

Its editorial line remains sympathetic to the regime, and the details of the departure of Jay and Peries remain undisclosed. Their best-known investigative reporter Aaron Maté, one of the central Russiagate skeptics, had left in 2018 under similarly mysterious circumstances. Since then he has appeared more often on China’s CGTN America network. Much of how and why TRNN came about is known only to them and other insiders but, at least in the group’s media materials, they remain staunchly supportive of the Maduro government.

Puzzle pieces relating to its background can be gathered from TRNN videos, as well as tax disclosures. According to a now-deleted 2014 video, the organization’s Baltimore headquarters was purchased by the “small family” Quitiplas Foundation as part of a $3 million investment. According to real estate records the property at 231 N. Holliday Street was purchased for $1.3 million in 2012. But in TRNN’s 2015 IRS 990 tax disclosure, the same property was still listed as belonging to Quitiplas. The foundation has no website, and like many corporations and organizations that want to avoid scrutiny, it is incorporated in Delaware. The name of the foundation comes from the “quitiplas,” which is a percussion instrument originating in Venezuela. 

An organization called “Son of Quitiplas” registered under Paul Jay’s name is currently “not in good standing” based on available information from the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation and lists the same property as its address. It is unclear whether this organization is directly linked to Quitiplas, but the status suggests Jay’s entity has been dissolved.

Delving into the list of grantees from 2015, some familiar names pop up:

  • Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting received $5,000.
  • The North American Congress on Latin America received $10,000. 
  • Dwarfing all of the others was “Independent World Television” which received $650,000.

Independent World Television is the legal name of The Real News Network. IWT’s own 2015 form 990 listed Jay as the corporation’s CEO along with Hollywood actor and Hugo Chávez supporter Danny Glover as a member of its board of directors (a board that shares significant overlap with that of Quitiplas). Glover co-wrote a eulogy for Chávez in 2014 with fellow board member James Early, who serves as an assistant provost and author at the Smithsonian Institute

Another board member, Thomas M. Scruggs, is listed as the president of Quitiplas. Scruggs’ personal background is as an ethnomusicologist (one who studies folk music of different cultures), and he has taught at a number of institutions such as the University of Iowa and Florida International University. From 2004-2006, however, he was a guest teacher at the University of the Andes, in Mérida, Venezuela on a Fulbright fellowship. His most well-known work is a foreword to a pamphlet honoring the musician Victor Jara, a Chilean Communist and supporter of murdered President Salvador Allende, who was himself murdered under the regime of General Augusto Pinochet. 

In 2012, Scruggs was featured by TRNN on a report about elections in Venezuela from his home in Berkeley, California. Scruggs continues to serve on the boards of both TRNN and Quitiplas. Another board member for both organizations, Dmitri Lascaris of Montreal, is a pro-Palestine activist and current candidate for leader of the Green Party of Canada.

The tax disclosures also show that Quitiplas held financial assets directly tied to the Venezuelan and Argentine governments, as well as massive oil and gas assets. In 2013, it had investments of over $800,000 in 5 percent interest bond holdings for Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA; pronounced Pe-de-ve-sa), the state-owned oil monopoly of Venezuela. On top of that, the foundation owned almost $3 million in 8.75 percent interest bonds for Argentina, which in 2014 would default on its debt. In 2016, TRNN’s Greg Wilpert condemned new Argentine President Mauricio Macri for paying out vulture funds that had held these very same bonds. 

Quitiplas also has investments in Sandridge Mississippian Trust, an American fund that holds royalties in oil and gas properties in states like Oklahoma and Kansas. Quitiplas’ investment in Venezuelan and Argentine public debt dates back all the way to 2008, the second year of its existence. That year it also funded IWT with $100,000 and the pro-Venezuela think tank Center for Economic and Policy Research for $500,000. CEPR’s c0-director Mark Weisbrot famously wrote in The Guardian in 2013 that Venezuela’s economy was not “the Greece of Latin America. He was a co-writer of the screenplay for “South of the Border,” Oliver Stone’s fawning 2009 documentary about Chávez and the Latin American “Pink Tide.”

Opposition demonstrators and riot police clash during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, on July 6, 2017. A political and economic crisis in the oil-producing country has spawned often violent demonstrations by protesters demanding Maduro's resignation and new elections. The unrest has left 91 people dead since April 1.

Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images

Reality Re-Asserts Itself

As of 2018, the last available year for which filings are available, it appears that the sovereign debt investments such as PDVSA were sold off. Yet Quitiplas continued to hold investments of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet (parent company of Google), Apple, discount store chain Dollar General, and defense contractor Honeywell. 

Another investment that Quitiplas consistently has held is the hedge fund Alphakeys Millennium I and III, despite TRNN’s condemnation of hedge funds for capitalizing on public debt in Puerto Rico and hindering medical innovation

Of course, TRNN portrays Wall Street as a whole as a malevolent force. Jay claimed in a 2018 video that “the billionaire class is not fit to rule.” Also in 2018, TRNN reporter Marc Steiner interviewed Matt Taibbi about the restrictions that Google and Facebook were putting on the privacy and freedom of users while simultaneously calling the recently unpersoned Alex Jones “vile.” Perhaps Steiner was unaware of where his employer’s finances originated. 

Did the dumping of PDVSA and other state-owned assets occur to square the organization’s finances with its philosophy, or was that merely a reaction to the declining profitability of the bond market in Latin America and the oil glut of the mid-2010s? 

The most likely explanation is that the foundation dumped the assets in compliance with 2017 sanctions on Venezuela, and to PDVSA-related debt holdings specifically. Unlike other years, the organization’s 2016 form 990 disclosure does not include any itemized investment holdings, and the 2014 disclosure is completely unavailable.

A Dim Future?

The editorial line of The Real News Network has not changed with the unexplained departure of Jay and Peries, and it consistently portrays Venezuela as the victim of oppressive U.S. sanctions. Like its TeleSUR partner, TRNN sees the United States as having designs of regime change in Venezuela and worldwide, but unlike them, its content is not labeled as being funded by the Venezuelan government on YouTube. 

Today, more than 22 years since Chávez rose to power, the pretension of supporting his successor Maduro in the name of fighting U.S. imperialism is ludicrous. Last year, Venezuela’s sovereign debt rose to $156 billion, some of it held not by hedge funds but by allies such as China and Russia. Due to drops in the worldwide crude oil price, it is facing new economic pressure if China does not agree to restructure Venezuelan debts again. 

In March, the U.S. Justice Department indicted Maduro and several of his most senior officials for narcoterrorism and leading the “Cartel of the Suns” to traffic cocaine to the United States by air and maritime routes. The investigation began in 2015 thanks to careless talk by the “narcosobrinos,” two nephews of Hugo Chávez, boasting of their state support to a fellow drug trafficker and DEA informant. 

While TRNN continues to cheer on the Venezuelan communes, regime figures have looted the country and squirreled away assets overseas. As millions of their countrymen starve, the boliburgueses (Bolivarian bourgeoisie) like Alejandro Betancourt benefit from state contracts with PDVSA while living among the gringo imperialists in Miami. 

Far from promoting a brighter future and more equal world, PDVSA is today a basket case run by Major General Manuel Quevedo. In 2018, the oil company quelled riots at its own cafeteria using national guardsmen. Citgo, its U.S. subsidiary, was found guilty in 2007 of violating the Clean Air Act in a U.S. federal court case. In 2019, the U.S. government legally prohibited PDVSA from profiting from Citgo, and most recently the Supreme Court ruled it liable for a 2004 oil spill. Meanwhile the U.N. High Commission on Refugees claims 4.5 million Venezuelans are currently refugees or migrants abroad.

As it attempts to survive in a difficult digital media market, some questions remain unanswered concerning the relationship between TRNN and the Venezuelan government. Who donated the seed money through Quitiplas to create TRNN in 2008 and buy the Baltimore building five years later? What are the sources of the foundation’s finances since then, and do they include foreign state funds? How formal was the partnership between it and TeleSUR? And finally, what triggered the replacement of Paul Jay and Sharmini Peries, neither of whom have made any public statement since? These are riddles that Venezuelans living abroad, Baltimore residents, and even TRNN’s own confused viewers may find fascinating and troubling.

Weekend Long Read

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

The Revolt Against the American Order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Presence of Christ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard T. Ely on the Border Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The State and Social Ethics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father John Ryan and a Roman Catholic Political Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Liberal Millennium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend Long Read

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

The Monstrous Lie Behind CrowdStrike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Assange’s Warning

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

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

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


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

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

But it wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Immensity of Podesta’s Blunder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinton Uses the Russian-Hacking Narrative to Great Effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CrowdStrike’s Perplexing Announcement 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Russian Spy Who Was Wasn’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it gets worse.

Putin Must Not be Sending His Best

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, they’re insisting that you do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nor do they use Russian emoticons.

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

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

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

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

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

Where Did Guccifer 2.0 Get the Trump File?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The monstrous lie has reigned for far too long.

Online Censorship • Weekend Long Read

The Undifferentiated Human Matter of Replacism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replacers, Replacists, Replacees, Replacism, Anti-Replacism

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

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

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

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

Is France Actually Destined to Replace Its Population?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Case for “Undifferentiated Human Matter”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Genealogy of Replacism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neither Conspiracies Nor Scapegoats Account for Replacism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Flight 93 Civilization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inchoate Rebellion Against the Ruling Class

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rise of the Bronze Age Mindset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Solution to Replacism Is a Community of Nations

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

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

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

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

Indeed it is. By the Left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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