We are so very thankful to The Critic to allow us to bring to our readers a new series – History Talks – which are podcasts by Professor Jeremy Black, in conversation with Graham Stewart, The Critic’s political editor.
The purpose of these podcasts is to inform and also delight. Each month, Professor Black answers an important question, explores an interesting web of ideas, or simply tells us about things we may not know about. This means that each of his talks is nothing short of a “Grand Tour” of the past, providing exquisite nuggets of historical details that you can carry with you as delightful souvenirs.
We begin this month with an intriguing question – Why was 18th-century Britain so innovative? The ideas and inventions that emerged on this little island in the 1700s changed not only Britian but the entire world.
Things that we take for granted would have been impossible if they had not been invented and created in Britain, such as, free speech, a free press, consumerism, industrialization, urbanization. All this is finely summarized in Rupert Brooke’s famous words:
For England’s the one land, I know, Where men with Splendid Hearts may go…
But why did all this not happen in any other country? Why did it happen only in Britain? Let’s listen to Professor Black for the answer.
What Made 18th-Century Britain So Innovative?
The image shows, A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on the Orrery, in which a Lamp is put in place of the Sun or The Orrery, by Joseph Wright of Derby, painted ca., 1766.
Martin Farquhar Tupper (1810-89) was a once eminent but now unfairly forgotten Victorian. He had many virtues – a major figure in the Student Volunteer Movement, a pioneer in the study of African literature and the object of Karl Marx’s hearty dislike.
If remembered, it is for his didactic moralising, his prose taking the form of blank verse, which culminates in his classic epic, Proverbial Philosophy. Each Tupper line, truth be told, contains its own little piece of wisdom.
In an age of vacuous and godless relativism, his sonorous proselytising is a veritable breath of fresh air. At least twice, I have read out many lines of Tupper at wedding receptions, counselling the radiant bride and randy groom as to how they might best comport themselves in later married life, and have been deemed a jolly fine fellow for so doing. Whether you are happily married, eager to marry, or merely intellectually curious, I entreat you to share these fine Tupper lines with me. First though, here’s a joke. What did the servants of Mr and Mrs Martin Tupper call their food storage containers? Tupperware™
Excerpt from Martin Tupper, Proverbial Philosophy, ‘On Marriage’
Mark the converse of one thou lovest, that it be simple and sincere; For an artful or false woman shall set thy pillow with thorns. Observe her deportment with others, when she thinketh not that thou art nigh, For with thee will the blushes of love conceal the true colour of her mind. Hath she learning? it is good, so that modesty go with it: Hath she wisdom? it is precious, but beware that thou exceed; For woman must be subject, and the true mastery is of the mind. Be joined to thine equal in rank, or the foot of pride will kick at thee; And look not only for riches, lest thou be mated with misery: Marry not without means; for so shouldst thou tempt Providence; But wait not for more than enough; for Marriage is the DUTY of most men: Grievous indeed must be the burden that shall outweigh innocence and health, And a well-assorted marriage hath not many cares. In the day of thy joy consider the poor; thou shall reap a rich harvest of blessing; For these be the pensioners of One who filleth thy cup with pleasures: In the day of thy joy be thankful: He hath well deserved thy praise: Mean and selfish is the heart that seeketh Him only in sorrow. For her sake who leaneth on thine arm, court not the notice of the world, And remember that sober privacy is comelier than public display. If thou marriest, thou art allied unto strangers; see they be not such as shame thee: If thou marriest, thou leavest thine own; see that it be not done in anger.
Dr Mark Stocker is a former academic and art curator who lives in New Zealand. Besides his jokes, he has 230 marginally more serious publications, many of which are on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. His book When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971 will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021.
The image shows, “The Wedding Register,” by Edmund Blair Leighton, painted 1920.
Michael Anton is the man who today best communicates the fractures among the Right. He identifies, and exemplifies, growing incompatibilities among conservatives, both on the issues of the day and in beliefs about desirable political structures. Anton first came to public notice under a pseudonym, Publius Decius Mus, writing in 2016 during the brief life of a pro-Trump blog, the Journal of American Greatness.
In September of that year, Anton published a famous essay, “The Flight 93 Election.” His first point was that, like the passengers of Flight 93, Americans opposed to the permanent boot-stamping dominance of the Left had an existential choice. They could, as it were, charge the cockpit by taking a chance on Trump. Or they could passively accept Hillary, and face certain political death. His second point was that their behavior when faced with this choice showed that the conservative movement, as it exists now, was wholly worthless. These claims were, no surprise, controversial.
Within a few weeks Anton revealed his identity; after the election he worked for several months in the Trump White House, in the national security apparatus, until the swamp creatures managed to come to dominate the West Wing and the populism of Trump’s early months evaporated. So he departed for Hillsdale College in Michigan, and, for now, the life of a public intellectual. I hope he doesn’t spend the rest of his days in that role; he would probably agree that we have enough public intellectuals and not enough doers. My guess is that soon enough, in the unsettled times ahead, he will find a new role.
This 2018 pamphlet reprints the original “Flight 93” essay, a follow-up “Restatement” also published prior to the election, and a new essay, “Pre-Statement on Flight 93.” This last tells us what, exactly, it is that Anton wants our politics to be, to meet the criticism that he had earlier offered only a negative vision. In all these essays, Anton’s basic point is the same one as I am always hammering—we are in a new thing in American history, an existential struggle between the forces of Right and Left, respectively good and evil, and there can be only one. The Left has always known this and acted accordingly, with malice aforethought; the Right, or part of the Right, is coming to realize it. Between the modern Left and the principles of virtue there is no middle ground; there is no compromise; there is no universe in which the principles of the Left can continue to be allowed a seat at the public table. They must be defeated, and suppressed, root and branch. We must awake, and those Lotos-Eaters putatively on the Right who refuse to rouse from slumber must be thrown overboard. So says Anton, in essence, and I could not agree more.
Anton begins with a “Note,” a recap of the reception of his original essay. This primarily means its reception on the Right; the Left didn’t pay much attention then, deafened by their collective baying for Hillary’s imminent ascension, and has not paid much attention since, either, which is probably a mistake. Within the Right, because the sclerotic organized Right of think tanks and little-read journals was Anton’s main target, the backlash against Anton was fierce, though it was all of the pearl-clutching variety, free as a bird from all logic or reasoning.
Those same segments soon enough coalesced into the noisome #NeverTrumpers, rats following their diminutive, tubby Pied Piper, Bill Kristol, who has unfortunately not led them into the mountain to disappear forever. Here, and in the “Pre-Statement,” Anton in his usual pithy style refutes what few coherent objections to his claims have been made. I will note those later, but Anton is willing to admit one, and only one, failure in his earlier essays—that in his original essay, he was insufficiently generous to and appreciative of Donald Trump.
In his “Note,” Anton also explains his choice of pseudonym at more length, a name borne by two Roman men, father and son, who each sacrificed himself on the field of battle. He cites interpretations by both Leo Strauss and Harvey Mansfield to rebut his critics, using close readings of my favorite Machiavelli text, Discourses on Livy. Anton’s basic point is that Machiavelli “says that a republic may be led back to its beginnings ‘either through the virtue of a man or through the virtue of an order’ and goes on to say that ‘such orders have need of being brought to life by the virtue of a citizen who rushes spiritedly to execute them against the power of those who transgress them.’ In other words, orders and men are both necessary and neither is superior to the other; virtuous men are necessary to execute good orders.”
Anton here leaves some ambiguity as to his own goals. He says that “In 2016, I judged the modes and orders of my time—and especially of conservatism—to be exhausted and imprisoned within an inflexible institutional and intellectual authority. I believed that its conclusions on the most pressing matters were false and pernicious and that its orthodoxy therefore required smashing.” Despite Machiavelli’s warning that “nothing is more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage, than to put oneself at the head of introducing new orders,” Anton chose to do so. But to what end? He refers to being led back to beginnings, but he also speaks of new orders. Which is it? That is one of the things I will examine here, after first evaluating the three essays.
In the original Flight 93 essay, Anton notes that all American conservatives agree that things are very bad in America, have been for some time, and are getting worse. If conservatives truly believe the critical importance to society of all the problems we face, from family breakdown to out-of-control government to an inability to win wars, they must conclude “we are headed off a cliff.” But—they don’t really believe it, as Anton illustrates with an article from the Weekly Standard (ironically, in retrospect, given that journal’s fate), recommending for all problems the usual tired litany of conservative solutions, such as decentralization, federalism, and civil renewal. “Which is to say, conservatism’s typical combination of the useless and inapt with the utopian and unrealizable. . . . ‘Civic renewal’ would do a lot of course, but that’s like saying health will save a cancer patient. A step has been skipped in there somewhere. How are we going to achieve ‘civic renewal’? Wishing for a tautology to enact itself is not a strategy.”
This is the gravamen of Anton’s complaint—conservatives keep offering the same solutions that have solved nothing, to solve problems that only get worse, as their power gets less and the Left grows ever more dominant. You can’t believe that things are awful and getting worse, but also that they can continue on their current path indefinitely; it is a contradiction. And that’s what today’s conservatives, that is, those in the public eye, believe. (In fact, since Anton wrote, “leading” conservatives such as Jonah Goldberg have come right out and admitted that they are happy to lose and for the Left to win completely, just a little slower, please).
Even those few conservative solutions that have been tried have failed or been quickly erased by the Left. “The whole enterprise of Conservatism, Inc., reeks of failure. Its sole and ongoing success is its own self-preservation.” Such claims have made Anton a prime target of the happy losers whom he attacks, ranging from Goldberg (who specifically targeted Anton in his terrible 2017 book, Suicide of the West) to Michael Gerson. For reasons I will discuss below, Anton’s only organized allies appear to be the Claremont Institute, and perhaps The American Conservative magazine—both powers on the Right, to be sure, but isolated from the invitations to cocktail parties and pats on the head from the cultural elite of the Left that are so important to Goldberg, Gerson, and the other similar indistinguishable nonentities who cluster together.
So what passes for today’s American conservatism is of little or no value. I can get behind that. That doesn’t mean all alternatives are virtuous, or desirable. Anton makes a point I am often found making, that Trump’s mere existence is a sign of the times, not of good times, but as of an angel breaking a numbered seal. “Only in a corrupt republic, in corrupt times, could a Trump rise. It is therefore puzzling that those most horrified by Trump are the least willing to consider the possibility that the republic is dying.” Sure, if you’re part of the professional-managerial elite, the past two decades have been pretty good to you.
For everybody else, and for the fabric of society, the opposite is true, and if you can’t see it, you’re too embedded in the ruling class, or too dependent on their tolerance and largesse for your daily bread. Others have expanded on this point, from Tucker Carlson to Richard Reeves to Kurt Schlichter, though few have made the focus of their ire the conservatives who are supposed to care about such things.
The non-Trump Republican presidential candidates, had any of them won, wouldn’t have done anything to stop or turn back the tide of the Left, since “their ‘opposition’ is in all cases ineffectual and often indistinguishable from support.” But a Hillary win would be a fatal disaster for America, cementing its destruction. It “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 by a level of vindictive persecution against resistance and dissent hitherto seen in the supposedly liberal West only in the most ‘advanced’ Scandinavian countries and the most leftist corners of Germany and England.
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.”
That all this would have come true is proven by the Left’s behavior since the election. They do what they would have done under Hillary, but lacking the power of the executive branch, the damage they can do is somewhat limited. On the other hand, their rage at losing to Trump has fueled the fire. Not having executive power, for now, doesn’t stop, among other evils, endless violence against any public display of support for Trump; aggressive campaigns on the state level to legalize infanticide and push the latest in sexual fluidity as the moral equivalent of abolitionism; mass censorship of conservatives on all social media platforms; and the personal destruction of anyone within their reach, or within the reach of their allies in all large corporations, the media, or the universities. And, most of all, we see it in their two years of whipping up hate in the media and using bogus “investigations” to cripple Trump and persecute anyone associated with him.
Swinging around again to his punching bag, the weak betas of Conservatism, Inc., Anton notes that they certainly aren’t going to lead resistance to the horrors of a Hillary administration. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t, since all opinion-making is controlled by the Left. But they don’t want to; they “self-handicap and self-censor to an absurd degree. Our ‘leaders’ and ‘dissenters’ bend over backward to play by the self-sabotaging rules the Left sets for them.” (I have complained before, for example, of the conservative lust for pre-emptive apologies, a perfect example of what Anton complains of).
What we need instead is a leader who will fight, who will punch back. He will stop importing millions of Third World migrants, who erode our economy’s strength and vote in lockstep for the Left. He will adopt trade and antiglobalization policies that benefit all Americans. “Who cares if productivity numbers tick down, or if our already somnambulant GDP sinks a bit further into its pillow. Nearly all the gains of the last twenty years have accrued to the junta anyway.”
What we can’t have is Hillary. Conservatism, Inc., is “objectively pro-Hillary.” Anton concludes that if we do get Hillary, in the longer term, “the possibilities will seem to be: Caesarism, secession/crack-up, collapse, or managerial Davoisie as far as the eye can see . . . which, since nothing lasts forever, at some point will give way to one of the other three. Oh, and I suppose, for those who like to pour a tall one and dream big, a second American Revolution that restores constitutionalism, limited government, and a 28 percent top marginal rate.” We will return to these options, and whether any are desirable, below.
Anton’s initial piece got just about the warmth of reception one would expect. Actually, it got no reception at all, until Rush Limbaugh read the entire thing on his radio program. (That conservatives dominate talk radio is intolerable to the Left, and censoring it a prime goal of theirs. The ability of new thoughts like Anton’s to gain traction through that medium is why, even though talk radio can never set what the news is or what polite public opinion is allowed to be.) But then a wave of hatred and bile from those conservatives attacked (that is, nearly all of them) crashed into Anton, along with some tut-tutting from a few conservatives who saw that their rage was merely proving Anton’s point. Anton responded a few days later with “Restatement on Flight 93.”
Here he briefly addressed the most cogent attacks on him. Using the passengers of Flight 93 as a metaphor was simply standard drawing of inspiration from heroes. It wasn’t “disgusting.” “It’s quite obvious that’s what really is disgusting to these objectors is Trump.” Trump isn’t too immoderate to be President; he may be a “buffoon,” but “one must wonder how buffoonish the alleged buffoon really is when he is right on the most important issues while so many others who are esteemed wise are wrong.”
Trump is not too radical; in fact, on the surface he’s more progressive than other recent Republican presidential candidates. He’s actually quite moderate in his policies of “secure borders, economic nationalism, and America-first foreign policy.” The problem is that he is a threat to what is now called the Deep State, as outlined by John Marini: he might win, and he threatens “the current governing arrangement of the United Sates, [which] is rule by a transnational managerial class in conjunction with the administrative state.” Trump is not “authoritarian,” which is a meaningless term as used here (and as I have shown at length by analyzing post-election writings, merely means in practice “erosion of the power of the Left”). Trump does not want to “trash the Constitution,” which anyway is laughable, given that the Left’s entire, open and acknowledged, program of the past hundred years is to trash the Constitution.
No, reiterates Anton, he was right the first time. Conservatism is a miserable failure. Doom is at the door, and if you choose to let it in, your fate will be upon your own head.
We all know what happened next. Trump won. The Left lost its mind, and unleashed fresh helpings of savage hatred upon the land. (I did not predict this; I predicted a new era of optimism and limited comity. More fool me.) They marshaled all their resources, from that disgusting hate group the SPLC to Rod Rosenstein to Facebook to the FBI to Jonah Goldberg, in order to stop Donald Trump from fulfilling any of his promises. And we are still living through these days of rage, which are, probably, merely the foothills of our own coming hot civil war.
Anton, however, appears to have been stung by the claim that he only offered a negative vision, although on its face that claim is untrue. He therefore wrote a new piece, “Pre-Statement on Flight 93.” Anton seems grudging about writing it; noting that since the Left’s project is destruction, of all opposition and of all non-Left “people, institutions, mores and traditions,” “It’s a bit rich to be accused by nihilists of lacking a positive vision.” This piece is, I think, the least successful. It’s not that it’s bad; it’s excellent. The problem is that while it rejects what Conservatism, Inc. has to offer, it repeats an equally unrealistic prescription, namely a turn back to the Constitutional and political framework of 1787 and 1865.
A combination of political philosophy, political argument, and history, in the Pre-Statement Anton cites Aristotle for the basic claim that all human activity aims at some good. Beyond food, shelter, and security, “mere life,” the good life is happiness or felicity, which is achieved by developing our capabilities to reach the telos of man, “the completion or perfection of those traits which are uniquely characteristic of man.” “Radical individualism and private hedonism,” the goals of (though Anton does not say so) the Enlightenment, undermine human flourishing.
This much has been known, in the West at least, since the Greeks, but the American Founders brought political order in the service of these goals to near perfection (which was perfected by the post-Civil War amendments). Federalism, limited government, and representative republicanism created the best system ever. But it is not one that can be exported to all peoples in all times, nor can it work if there is inadequate “commonality in customs, habits, and opinions.” As everyone with any sense knows, diversity is the opposite of our strength.
This near-perfect system has been attacked repeatedly since 1787, Anton tells us. First, by the followers of John Calhoun, unsuccessfully. Second, by the early-twentieth-century Progressives, successfully and causing great damage. And third, fatally, by the acolytes of John Rawls, purveyors of so-called social justice and of forced equality, and the New Left, advocates of the tearing down of America, group rights, and oppression theory. All these attacks are incoherent and destructive, but they have collectively succeeded in destroying the Founders’ vision, and erecting in its place a system that maintains many of its outward forms but within is crawling with decay and worms.
As the Left’s power grows ever greater, they must either “compound the lies, or suppress and punish dissent.” They choose both, following the dictates of Herbert Marcuse and his heinous “repressive tolerance.” We need to “return to life and the conditions of life: the rule of law, responsible freedom, confidence in our civilization, patriotism, and concern for the common good instead of only the particular good of groups claiming oppression or disadvantage.”
I agree with nearly all of this as an analytical matter. As a prescriptive matter, though, it is sorely lacking, other than that Trump is somewhat better than Hillary in these regards. If I have a core political organizing principle, it is that you cannot go back; the way is shut. Truly insightful modern conservatives realize this and make it the starting point of their thought. But Anton seems to shrink from this conclusion, unwilling to realize, or recognize, that the vision of the Founders is dead. There is no path to return to it, and if we did, the massive changes in the world and in America would make their system a failure if re-implemented today. It was good, in a unique time and place, for a small and homogeneous country built on a politics of virtue.
The modern world is so very, very different from that; what the modern world needs is indeed a return to the principles of Aristotle, but not just those relating to the purposes of man, rather also those of varieties of political structure other than democracy, which Aristotle, and everyone else who matters, has always recognized as the worst form of government, for proof of which today we need only look around.
Anton is, therefore, a reactionary. I divide reactionaries into various camps, but the two relevant ones here are Straussians, followers of the German philosopher Leo Strauss, and what I call Augustans. Straussians, although they have various internal divisions, believe that the desired end of political history arrived already—and was left behind. Therefore, today’s Cthulhu State, a multi-tentacled horror of unlimited and unaccountable power, exemplified by the monstrous administrative state that finds no warrant in the Constitution, should be destroyed and the Republic restored by the simple expedient of turning back the political clock.
Augustans, on the other hand, focus on power and its uses. A more common term for this is Caesarism, but that is a misnomer, since Caesar merely toppled a tottering system. It was Augustus who created a new one, in which the forms of republican government remained, and even some of its application, but the real power shifted, toward a mixed government with heavy monarchical and aristocratic elements. Rollback is not the goal; the goal is seizing the levers of power as they exist now, and overthrowing the great as the opportunity presents itself, creating a new thing entirely. Thus, the focus is power guided by virtue, but always power.
In his original Flight 93 essay, Anton came across as Augustan. But he blurred this with his Pre-Statement, which is Straussian. Straussianism, while internally coherent, offers nothing, because there is no path to reach its goals. It is Reaction in the sense of turning the clock back, when what is called for is Reaction in the sense of building a new thing guided by the wisdom of the past. Anton is extremely intelligent, and I suspect he is deliberately hiding the ball. I think what he really wants to call for is either of two of his three stated alternatives to Trump winning: Caesarism (that is, an Augustan state), or secession/crack up.
This conclusion is strengthened by the sarcasm with which Anton refers in his original essay to “a second American Revolution that restores constitutionalism, limited government, and a 28 percent top marginal rate.” Other than tax rate, that’s basically the Straussian solution, and he laughs at it. And since Anton says managerial Davoisieism will end up in Caesarism too, that suggests that the only two options left are the ones he wants to pick from. Trump, though, is not a good Caesar; he is a holding pattern, a finger in the dike while other pieces are being moved on the board. We are just waiting for the Man of Destiny, to be named later.
I don’t know Anton, but my bet is that he realizes that he can’t marginalize himself further by calling for the formal destruction of the Republic, even if it has already been destroyed in practice. He has to make a living, of course, and I don’t think he’s rich (despite Jonah Goldberg’s sneering, yet bizarre, efforts to slur him as rich). But he clouds the air by failing to make a choice. I see why he can’t, and instead tries to have it both ways. Me, I don’t have to make a living as a public intellectual, and “marginal” grossly overstates my relevance, so I’ll happily get behind an Augustan state, or the crack-up of the United States, or both. We’re going to get there anyway, after all – the only questions are how fast, with how much unpleasantness, and whether the destination will be the Pax Romana or something less pleasant. I’m all in for a Pax Romana updated by Christianity, the other innumerable blessings of the West, and modern science. Whether we’ll get it, I don’t know.
Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.
The image shows, Solitary Figure in a Theater, by Edward Hopper, ca, 1092-1904.
This is a special review. It is special because it is the last of its kind. I no longer intend to spend my time, and your time, on books that I know to be completely wrong, merely to show they are completely wrong. I am keenly aware of what I call “the closing door,” embodied in the words of John 9:4 – “the night cometh, when no man can work,” which Samuel Johnson had engraved on the inside cover of his pocket watch. This does not at all mean that I am stopping writing, only that I will no longer write in the vein of correcting errors of the political Left. For the hour is late, and the Right has better things to do.
Thus, I will no longer review, or read, leftist claptrap. That includes a substantial majority of modern popular works; essentially all books on history and politics that receive wide publicity, from the latest anti-Trump screed to anything on race, along with a great deal else. It also includes many, though not all, older leftist works that are leftist canon. Does it profit me to read any such book and demonstrate its innumerable falsehoods and logical errors? No, because I know the truth already, and I know the minds of all these writers and the vast majority of their readers are a closed circle, filled with lies and impervious to the truth. I will discover nothing new; and they benefit by me wasting my time, because opportunity costs.
True, my writing about such books might profit others who are less informed or have spent less time evaluating leftist claptrap, and who are drowning daily in the disinformation spewed out by leftist media and culture. But I can add the same value for those people by sometimes discussing leftist propaganda when I am discussing legitimate works. All the leftist agitprop I am now going to ignore is worse than worthless. It is total lies, which, fascinatingly, is a relatively new departure for the Left.
Over decades, the Left was rewarded for slanting and twisting the truth, never punished, and now that they have total control over the organs of communication, culture, and power, simply disregarding the truth in the service of power, serving instead lying propaganda, is the inevitable consequence. What you reward, you get more of. For the Left, since 1789, after all, the ends justify the means, and the purported goal of their Utopian cult is now in sight, so any tool is justified. So I understand why they lie, and how and why the New York Times today became no different than the Pravda of 1988. But I see no reason I should legitimate their webs of lies.
It is all a question of priorities. My core priority is to establish the Foundationalist state, under which human flourishing may again occur. What is the chief obstacle to the Foundationalist state? The power of the Left, and the corruption of the West it has wrought, by rejecting the pursuit of excellence and accomplishment, and by corroding individual virtue. Working to demonstrate that the Left lies as it breathes merely grants power to their lies. As I have said, the only way out is through, and that means, most of all, offering a positive vision of what the future can look like, as opposed to the world visible around us wrought by the Left—and them implementing that vision.
More broadly, I no longer care what any organ of the Left, or any individual leftist, thinks or says about any topic. At all. I don’t need to understand them better; I already understand them completely, and what they have to say that is not lies, is evil that has led us to our current degenerate and decayed society, for which they bear primary responsibility. Nor is it important to understand better their motivations: greed, love of power, millenarian fervor, sheer stupidity, love of destruction, hatred driven by racist ethnonarcissism, animal rage generated by envy of beauty and accomplishment. No, there is no reason whatsoever to engage the Left, except in the act of utterly and permanently breaking their power and imposing a decent society. The time for debate with the Left is over; the time for the re-imposition of reality arrived long ago.
The Left, always and everywhere, has known the existential nature of the struggle, and the exterminatory character of their program, and in every case acted to the extent its power allowed. Today in America, they no longer pretend the Right is even permitted to debate; after all, error has no rights. They are now imposing their final end-state on us, a project they will soon complete if they are not stopped. Our only goal should be to smash the Left and impose the will of the Right, in a complete reformation of our society—if we can, a topic for another day. What form that imposition of will might take remains to be seen. It could be a democratic turn to a Viktor Orbán-type leader, though more aggressive, who combines economic populism and nationalism, and is not afraid to use existing tools to break the Left. It could be a fragmentation of the country, along Kurt Schlichter lines, where the Left is confined in their own new country to descend into Venezuela, or worse, and the Right can form a renewed society. It could be many other things, each prefigured by history. But the path leads inevitably to war, whether hot war or cold war. It already is war, though a war fought only by the Left. Time to fight back, effectively.
Oh, I will read plenty of books I disagree with, in whole or in part. But those will be books that illuminate the way forward. I will no doubt still find much to criticize in some books. I will continue to read and analyze books that I know are partially wrong, such as those written with a whole or partial Left bias that are not works of politics or history (e.g., science or economics), because in those something of value can often still be found.
I may sometimes read books that I strongly suspect are completely wrong, say anything new from Jonah Goldberg, but that could still contain something of interest, especially books whose readership may include those on the Right working toward victory. I may read classic Left works, because they are classic, thus they may contain something of value, and moreover I know they inform my enemies, so knowing their contents is of use. Lenin, for example. (Not all old Left works are classic, of course. Take Edward Said’s Orientalism—I tried reading that, and it was worthless, lying trash, and laughably, obviously so.) But for the most part, I will read either books that are not political at all, but of interest to me for other reasons, or books that I see as useful in building Foundationalism.
More generally, I intend to spend as little time as possible discussing political matters with the Left. They can read my works, or not, and there may be exceptions to my general rule. But why discuss political matters with leftist commenters on my writing, or with my left-leaning relatives? Their worldview consists wholly of lies, destructive lies, lies that corrode all societal virtue and wholly block all societal accomplishment. They cannot be convinced otherwise; like any cult member, and cult is what the Left is, as shown by that their ideology does not permit any new fact to contradict their prebaked conclusions.
Someone must rule; now it is them, and changing that is the challenge of the next decade, followed by the suppression of their evil works and the proper education of both our children and our brainwashed adults. Meanwhile, with leftists with whom we have a social relation, we can talk about other things—although since the Left insists on politicizing all of life, there is, sadly, often very little we can talk about.
But before I call it a day, let us discuss this book. In it, childlike naivete alternates with low malice, combining in an execrable stew. I read Why Liberalism Works because it claims to be an answer to Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, a key text of today’s post-liberal Right. To my disappointment, other than in its title and one unbelievably stupid sentence inside, this book completely ignores Deneen’s book, and also ignores all claims and arguments of today’s post-liberals. Instead, it substitutes, for engaging with ideas, heated repetition of bogus ideological claims. It’s crushingly boring and tiresomely predictable. But reading this book made me understand more fully why and how we are all force fed propaganda, of which this is merely an exemplar, on a daily basis, and led me to the decision outlined above. I’m happy for that, at least.
The author, Deirdre McCloskey, is what we can call a “choice extremist.” This is a type of libertarianism, but not confined to limiting the state. Rather, it is an endorsement of man as mayfly, impelled by no other desire than maximizing pleasure, and insistent that any limitation on such pleasure is evil incarnate. People like McCloskey, who claim to be centrists seeking human flourishing, offer the distilled essence of the worst of the Left, without the leavening concern for social fabric that some of the Left offers, or used to offer. A clean sweep will begin with these people, McCloskey and his [indeed, his, ed.] neoliberal allies, many long falsely seen as conservatives. For me, this book was unpleasant to read, and this review a drag to write. Still, I read the whole book, every word, hacking through the ignorant writing and annoying tone of unjustified superiority combined with a jarring, oily pseudo-femininity. You’re welcome.
Totally aside from its other defects, McCloskey’s book is poorly structured, because rather than writing a new book, he cobbled together numerous existing short writings, added some filler, divided them into four rough groups, and presented the results as a tasty pottage to his masters at the American Enterprise Institute and other similar bastions of mendacious toadies to leftism and chaos. Constant repetition is therefore the hallmark of this book; it could have been a fifth of its length and said the same things. Again, you’re welcome. Rather than analyze the fifty essays in this book sequentially, I’m going to summarize the author’s key claims, which are merely repeated with slight variations and emphasis throughout the entire book. Let’s get on with it.
First, McCloskey draws the line of demarcation that snakes through the entire book. We have “true liberals.” And we have everyone else. True liberals are awesome. Everyone else is bad, and bad precisely to the extent he differs in any way from true liberals. By “true liberal,” McCloskey means someone who is a fan of the core tenet of Enlightenment political philosophy, of emancipation from all unchosen bonds, an atomized free actor in every facet of his existence. True liberals, you see, adhere to the Golden Rule, which is, properly viewed, merely Adam Smith’s principles of free trade applied to all activities of life. In fact, total emancipation is dictated by God—McCloskey claims that some fictional “Abrahamic egalitarianism” is common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and in case we are unclear, calls Smith, ad nauseum, “the Blessed Adam Smith,” who revealed the correct interpretation of the Gospel, which previously had escaped all of us.
The rest of the book is merely endless variations on ascribing superlatives to “true liberals” and attacking everyone not a “true liberal,” though flavor is added by changing the adjective occasionally from “true” to “humane,” “sisterly,” or “motherly.” To support this division as an intelligent way to view the world, McCloskey’s tool is not evidence or reason. Rather, his only tool is ignoring or totally mischaracterizing opposing arguments while using tendentious, emotion-laden terms. In the second paragraph of the Preface, for example, he contrasts true liberals, who have “splendid arts and sciences,… toleration,… inclusiveness,… cosmopolitanism” with “illiberal regimes,” from whose “violent hierarchies” true liberals have liberated us, though “brutal, scaremongering populists” such as Viktor Orbán are still fighting their inevitable defeat by the true liberal paladins. The rest of the book does not vary from this pattern.
Second, in order to praise true liberals as the source of all that is righteous, McCloskey offers a puerile and false chain of historical causation. It is hard to exaggerate how simplistic this book is. In a nutshell, which is all we are offered, in the late 1700s, true liberalism began, when demands for emancipation and atomized liberty, that is, the Enlightenment, began. This political philosophy created the “Great Enrichment,” “economic betterments for ordinary people,” by “giving voice” to people who were formerly voiceless and utterly passive. This has continued, so now we are rich and getting richer, which is all that matters.
Now, McCloskey does recognize the glaring problem in this set of claims, which is that only clowns believe that the Industrial Revolution had any connection to the Enlightenment. So he dodges by trying to separate the supposed Great Enrichment from the Industrial Revolution. He claims that the latter was a mere commonplace, frequent throughout history, of doubling income, but that the Enrichment was a new thing in history, created purely by true liberalism. In one of the most bizarre passages of a book that is filled with them, McCloskey claims that equally important industrial revolutions also occurred in Islamic Spain and Song China. Before 1800, you see, progress was regarded as dishonorable and sinful, something “economists and historians are starting to recognize”—led, of course, by the most insightful historian of the modern age, McCloskey himself. Our unexceptional industrial revolution continued, creating the Great Enrichment, because “liberalism inspirited the masses to devise betterments and to open new enterprises and to move to new jobs.”
These are radical historical claims, but no evidence at all is offered for them, or any other historical claim. McCloskey is a historian by trade, but almost zero history appears in this book. To be fair, that may be the nature of such a cobbled-together book; he mentions his trilogy of other books about “bourgeois values,” with a passing claim that those books support what he says here, so perhaps one has to read those too to get any actual arguments from history. I won’t read them, because life is too short.
But back in the real world, there is no mystery as to how the Industrial Revolution created the economics of the modern world, and there is no such thing as a separate Great Enrichment. The West, starting in England, combined the advances of the Scientific Revolution (created purely by Europeans) with the right cultural practices, such as hard work and the rule of law, added some other factors endlessly debated (coal? intelligence? sea power?) and thereby escaped from the Malthusian Trap, which had never occurred a single time anywhere else in the world. Once created by the West, this package feeds on itself, and can be exported to any culture willing and able to adopt the gifts of Western technology and culture.
Some are; most aren’t either willing or able, and haven’t been for the past two hundred years. If they do, and to the extent they are willing to adopt these cultural and technological practices (which do not include frippery such as democracy), countries are lifted out of poverty, a process continuing, in fits, starts, and steps backward, today. The end. The rickety and ahistorical claims that McCloskey makes are simply objectively false, which he probably realizes, since beyond announcing conclusions, he makes no effort to support them. (No surprise, McCloskey ignores China’s and Singapore’s adoption of Western technology and methods to escape the Malthusian Trap, since those successes alone disprove every single claim he makes).
Third, there are enemies of true liberalism, who want to cast the whole world into darkness and end the Great Enrichment by opposing choice extremism. These are, today, primarily the parties democratically elected in Hungary and Poland, though occasionally Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are thrown in too. As with all of his odious neoliberal caste, McCloskey hates and fears those in power in Hungary and Poland, because their success and popularity prove everything he says false, and he is afraid their powerful ideas will spread to dominate throughout Europe and the United States (a fear that is, fortunately, well on its way to being a reality).
McCloskey does not deign to tell us why Hungary and Poland are bad, or how the policies enunciated by their governments will end the Great Enrichment. He just mouths the usual total lies that the press is attacked and the rule of law eroded, without any actual attempt to demonstrate those claims. In reality, of course, censorship and erosion of the rule of law is far more prevalent in the United States and Western Europe; but that’s censorship and erosion of the rule of law McCloskey likes. He’s very much a fan of flexible principles – for another example, despite his claim that we should all operate only on “sweet talk,” he openly celebrates in this book how he helped destroy the life of J. Michael Bailey, a Northwestern University professor who failed to adequately celebrate sexual degeneracy.
In addition to Viktor Orbán and some Poles, there are also domestic enemies. McCloskey hates American conservatives, that is, anyone on the Right not a corporatist, Koch-type Republican, with an ill-concealed burning passion. No surprise, he never once engages their arguments, even though he chants “let’s listen, really listen, to the arguments of our supposed enemies, and consider their logic and evidence.” The core of McCloskey’s “thinking” is a crude logical trap. We should have “a society held together by sweet talk among free adults rather than by coercion applied to slaves and children.” What if that sweet talk concludes that most people want to, let’s say, ban pornography? That’s coercion! So, in other words, McCloskey wants talk, as long as that talk has no chance of ending in conclusions other than the ones he has already mandated as the only acceptable ones for society. That’s just dishonest. But that’s this book.
We reach the nadir of McCloskey’s hate and stupidity in the single sentence devoted to Deneen. I was excited to get there, figuring I would get an actual response to post-liberal arguments. What I got was this, in toto. Brace yourself. “Liberalism, intones Deneen, entails ‘the loosening of social bonds’ (bonds such as slavery in the British Empire), ‘a relentless logic of impersonal transactions’ (so unlike the transactions of pious Israelites selling lumber to Egyptians, say), and the proposition that ‘human beings are thus, by nature, non-relational creatures, separate and autonomous’ (as for example in the non-relational exploration of human relationships in the bourgeois and liberal English novel since 1700).”
That’s it. That’s the entirety of McCloskey’s “argument.” The first parenthetical, about slavery, is apparently meant to be a refutation of Deneen in some way I cannot fathom. I have no idea what the second and third parentheticals, about Israelites, lumber, and English novels, are trying to say; they are not tied to anything else McCloskey says elsewhere. I am still scratching my head. But I can assure you that McCloskey thinks he has crushed Deneen, which says a lot more about him than anything else.
Fourth, for McCloskey, there are no enemies on the Left. Sure, some on the Left are mistaken, notably Thomas Piketty, on whom McCloskey spills a lot of gently-phrased words. But everyone on the Left is “earnest and amiable,” just a little wrong, like the “sweet slow socialist” George Soros or McCloskey’s unnamed “beloved and extremely intelligent Marxian friend.” The New York Times is wrong sometimes, but “sweet” and “benevolent.” Anyone on the Right, though, is “vicious,” a “thug,” or any of innumerable similar terms, and McCloskey certainly has no friends who are conservatives.
Fifth, true liberalism must struggle against bad policies, some of which are pushed by evil people and some by ignorant people. Any policy that has any element of “coercion” is bad. The worst policy of all is any restrictions whatsoever on immigration. We are told that “bad people” in the United States “wish to deport law-abiding and hardworking immigrants, in response to a scientifically bankrupt economic notion, which is anyway unethical, that immigrants take jobs away from natives, or a scientifically bankrupt sociological notion, also unethical, that their children will never become properly American.” If the “Hungarian farmer or West Virginia coal miner” complains that he can no longer feed his children, he has no legitimate complaint, rather, “what is being complained about is change, and as it happens desirable change.” We know it is desirable because it is happening because of the free market, for “Profits are a signal of general worthiness.” The end. Really.
You can see why neoliberals love this stuff, but the normal reader wonders why no effort, none at all, is ever made to demonstrate the truth of these claims and why we are never, not once, given any suggestion that we should perform cost-benefit analysis on any social policy. McCloskey’s claims and demanded social policies are uniformly and without exception wonderful and costless, and this truth is self-proving. Any questioning proves you are “authoritarian” or “fascist,” not “humane” and McCloskey’s “dear friend.”
Sixth, total emancipation in all areas of life will lead to total human flourishing. We are guaranteed that it is an absolute certainty that so long as we are true liberals, unlimited wealth will be ours, which will make us happy (not for McCloskey any wondering about the relationship, beyond a certain point, of wealth to happiness). And not just happiness—the resulting “enrichment will cause . . . a cultural explosion, casting into the shade the achievements of fifth-century Athenian drama and T’ang poetry and Renaissance painting.” His evidence for this? That the 1960s, the dawn of emancipation in America, were culturally, especially in art, far superior to the Renaissance. Yes, that’s what he claims.
Woven throughout the endless repetitions of this six-point plan is much other dumbassery. We are lied to that the “classical definition of liberty/freedom is the condition of being liberated/free from physical interference by other human beings,” which is the exact opposite of the truth. Pericles would reject everything McCloskey says out of hand, then have him flogged for corrupting the virtue of the body politic. Economic fallacies abound, most of all the exaltation of GDP as a measure of human flourishing (combined with the only other measure of human flourishing, the absolute right, derived from nothing in particular, to not be “pushed or bossed around without voluntarily given consent or contract”). “Leisure… should be accounted as income.” If you can’t find a job because an illegal immigrant took it, you are still making money, peasant, so stop complaining! Third-rate thinkers like Tyler Cowen and Eric Hoffer are extolled as brilliant. If some things are better now, everything that exists now must be good. And, most of all, culture doesn’t matter for anything, and no human motivation other than the desire for maximized freedom exists.
I’m not going to waste any more time on the claims of this book, but I want to examine what this book means. That is, on its face, nearly everything in this book is shockingly dumb, and I don’t think McCloskey is dumb (though he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is). So why did he write it? Ah, there’s where it gets interesting, and indicative of our politics today. Every so often the real agenda’s slimy face peeks through. We see it in the occasional obeisances [sic] to a free-floating “dignity.”
McCloskey’s project is to endorse a vision of humanity completely atomized, and he knows that to sell this he has to claim that all the worthwhile advances of the modern world are created by atomization. Okay, but why is McCloskey paid to purvey propaganda under the guise of being a purveyor of history and ideas, and then lionized across many forms of media? It’s because this is merely one small facet of the giant propaganda machine that spews its output across our society today.
We are everywhere surrounded by endless propaganda designed to push an agenda that simultaneously pushes the Left goal of emancipation combined with forced egalitarianism while lining the pockets of our neoliberal overlords. Every movie, computer game, or other form of media involving violence or the military features a complete inversion of reality, where female warriors exemplifying alpha male characteristics triumph over weak men with feminine characteristics. Every movie and TV show, for children or adults, celebrates homosexuals and sexual degenerates. Advertisements do the same. Wise Latinas instruct stupid white people. The propaganda machine is kept going by aggressive censorship across all media and social media, silencing the strongest voices of opposition and ensuring that those that remain self-censor to avoid deplatforming.
Still, at the end, this is a clarifying book. It made me realize what I started this review with—that debate is a waste of time, and the choice is utter defeat by the Left, or destroying the Left. Dispose yourselves accordingly.
Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.
The image shows a detail from the Crucifixion and Last Judgement diptych, by Jan van Eyck, ca. 1430 and 1440.
A guide to fine dining, especially useful for wholesome families who wish to please our esteemed correspondent Dr. Zbigniew Janowski. It is accordingly intended for children, not kids.
1. Wash your hands before you start eating. Sing ‘God Save the Queen,’ but only the first verse, in its entirety while you do so to allow adequate time to kill germs.
2. Wait till the adults have taken their seats before you take yours. Very good children hold a chair for a senior member of the family.
3. Do not interrupt Grace, or still less attempt to eat anything before the Lord is duly thanked.
4. In a graceless household (I fear there are one or two), ask ‘Please may I start eating?’
5. When you want food to be passed to you, see if others need anything first, and if the food is some distance away, don’t grab it but ask someone near you to please pass it and quietly thank them when they do so.
6. Do not help yourself to everything from the above serving dish/plate. Remember that others need to eat too.
7. Don’t talk with your mouth full and related to this, don’t eat with your mouth open. Others do not wish to behold the contents.
8. Do not on any account put your knife in your mouth. And while you’re at it, don’t hold your knife like a pen.
9. Do not perform another function while still holding cutlery, eg scratching your head. My Grandfather, Colonel Stocker, would say ‘Don’t scratch your head with your knife’. Ideally head-scratching and nose blowing (with a linen handkerchief) are best conducted elsewhere. In which case, ask ‘Please may I leave the table?’
10. To non-vegan households: if you are eating a chop or chicken leg and your cutlery is no longer useful, lay the latter down. You can then pick up the piece of meat and chew it, Gladstone style (see below), using ONE hand to hold it. Yes, you will get grease on your fingers. In most households, the napkin should suffice. In super refined households there may be a finger bowl provided, but I am not advocating this here, as it is a potential source of danger to those less versed in etiquette. Some ill-advised people may wish to drink from it or pour its contents on to their pasta or curry: this is not recommended.
11. Use your table napkin (it is not called a serviette) where appropriate. Remember, it is not a handkerchief.
12. Don’t heat too hurriedly. Chew your food, especially your meat, thoroughly. My parents would say ‘Mr Gladstone would always chew his meat’. Mastication is the operative word. Whatever were you thinking? No, that’s rude.
13. Outside China, don’t slurp your soup or noodles.
14. Do not attempt to drink anything at the bottom of a glass with a straw, as it makes a foul noise.
15. Finer points – if you lay down your knife when it’s not needed, transfer your fork to your right hand.
16. Only say good things to your Mother about the quality of her cuisine, however humble.
17. To the grown-ups – do not put a milk bottle or carton on a table. If the beverage is either canned or bottled, decant it into a goblet. This can be cheaper glass for the more humble, not necessarily crystal. No smoking at dinner, not even between courses.
18. In conversation, the following are forbidden: sex, including organs, bodily functions, especially the bowels, abortion, intimate details of love affairs (for adolescents of all ages), most aspects of politics and religion.
19. When you have finished your main course, place the knife and fork together in the centre of the plate. Ideally invert the fork – AA Milne told Christopher Robin that if somebody fell through the ceiling and landed on the non-inverted fork, this could be somewhat painful.
20. Don’t gulp your pudding, and don’t loudly demand seconds, especially if it’s obvious that there aren’t any.
21. When you have finished, you should ask ‘Please may I leave the table’ or ‘Please may I get down’ and wait for a parental answer.
[Thoughtful elder children may then wish to make loose leaf tea or plunger coffee for their parents. Tea bags and ‘instant’ are not encouraged].
Dr Mark Stocker is a former academic and art curator who lives in New Zealand. Besides his jokes, he has 230 marginally more serious publications, many of which are on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. His book When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971 will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021.
The image shows The Potato Eaters, by Vincent van Gogh, painted 1885.
Dr. Mark Stocker continues his merriment this month, with just a few more arty(?), artsy(?) jokes. Here he is, then, thrumming his wit for Thalia…
What was Angelica Kauffmann’s advertising slogan?… Put the Madam into Adam!
Which fin-de-siècle German artist is especially admired for his tenacity?… Max Klinger.
What is the name of the lovely new bathroom in Wardour Castle designed by the son of Sir Terence Conran?… Jasper’s John.
What did the unemployed 19th century French art historian say when she landed a job at the zoo?… “Je suis pleine de Bonheur!”
Scene: The pearly gates of heaven… The late David Watkin: You’re a very fetching guardian angel, but I have to tell you I observe a solecism in that portico. Angel: Sorry Dave, our quota of architectural historians of the classical tradition is full. On yer bike!
Exhibition installer: I’m looking for a painter who will enhance the red tints of this wall. Curator: Use Henner!
A well-known and obliging late Victorian architect would tell his clients: “Shaw will do! But by George it won’t be bad. You could always go to the Webb site, and if you need an indoor pool, there’s obviously Waterhouse!”
What was John Bratby’s response to the impact of Abstract Expressionism?… A sinking feeling.
What is the name of the latest book on Bratby and the Kitchen Sinkers?… Life is a Lavatory, Old Chum.
John Bratby was a hugely popular artist throughout the UK, whose fame and acclaim stretched from Bogside, Londonderry to Looe, Cornwall.
In order to laugh even more uproariously at Dr Stocker’s jokes about John Bratby, find out more about this fascinating artist courtesy of the Daily Mail.
Dr Mark Stocker is a former academic and art curator who lives in New Zealand. Besides his jokes, he has 230 marginally more serious publications, many of which are on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. His book When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971 will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021.
The image shows La Clairvoyance, by René Magritte, painted in 1936.
This is an unknown story. The media will never report it because it embarrasses them too much. They detest faith. They wish it would simply go away.
The sparsely populated Hebrides Islands have only 44,000 people with a land area of around 2,400 square miles. It is rural. The population is mostly in remote villages, only accessible from the mainland by boat or ferry. Not much goes on except sheep and cattle raising, fishing, a few tourists, and even fewer trees. The ancestors were ancient peoples who still speak Gaelic. The Isle of Lewis is located at the very far northwest corner of Scotland in the British Isles.
You might rightly ask, what does such a distant place, so far away, have to do with America, the presidency, and God’s providential hand?
When you find out you will understand why every Christian—Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic, and Bible-centered believer should decide to vote for Donald Trump this election. He is the spearhead of the fifth Great Awakening in American history.
Watch this short clip from a recent sermon. It will move you.
America, brothers and sisters, is in the throes of a revival. This new great awakening, much like earlier such movements in our long history, is rooted in a return to God’s norms, an acceptance of His grace, and a turning away from sin and unfaithfulness.
Historians have identified four such periods in our history, each increasing religious enthusiasm.
The first such awakening occurred from 1720-1745 in the colonies leading up to and underscoring the drive for independence. The second began in the 1790s and birthed the abolition movement, temperance, and women’s rights. It is often associated with Jonathan Edwards. The third outpouring, from 1850-90, saw the initiation of active missionary work, the founding of the YMCA, and carried forward its zeal during and after the tumultuous Civil War.
The Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Fogel identifies the fourth great awakening in the 1960s and early ’70s. The Jesus Movement led to the rapid and wide growth of evangelicalism and the rise of holiness and charismatic faith.
According to theologians who document such events, “Awakenings” all result from powerful preaching, a sense of guilt from sin, and the need for salvation and redemption through Jesus Christ.
Make no mistake, these awakenings are critical episodes in American history which have had a demonstrable effect—focusing people on piety, changing rituals, habits, self-awareness and shaping our culture and politics for the better.
Today, an unexpected servant is doing God’s bidding and is the instrumental agent in the fifth great awakening. He wants to Make America Great Again and to Keep it Great. This “greatness” is measured not only in military might and in economic prowess and productivity, important as they are.
It is measured in spiritual capital.
Judeo-Christian heritage has served as the spiritual capital of America. Of special importance is the articulation of how Judeo-Christian spiritual capital has been the source of the spiritual quest of modernity, how that quest has evolved and why America, because of its deep spiritual capital, has been uniquely able to provide leadership for that quest.
The larger thesis is that America, by virtue of its specific spiritual capital heritage, not only is the beneficiary of its advantages but also is the leading exemplar of the spiritual quest of modernity itself. It is because America is engaged in a spiritual quest that it can exercise world leadership as opposed to domination, empire, and oppression.
There are clear economic consequences of America’s spiritual capital. Specifically, economic development, growth, and entrepreneurship depend on such spiritual capital. Religious beliefs have a measurable impact on individuals, communities, and societies.
Political freedom is not unlike economic freedom. There is a symbiotic relationship between America’s spiritual capital and our exceptional political institutions, democracy, Constitution, and freedoms.
The substantive spiritual vision supports the political and economic procedural norms of a free society. These procedural norms are not otherwise defensible. America’s success and leadership in the world have an integral relation to its spiritual capital.
Like any form of capital, spiritual capital may lie dormant or be wasted, it may be used productively, it may be augmented, and it may be diminished or eroded.
Our heritage is currently under assault from a variety of sources today and something happens when scientific, technological, economic, and political institutions are detached from their spiritual roots. The result is a natural progression from governmental bureaucratic centralization to secularism to reductive materialism and ultimately to a social-collectivist conception of human welfare.
Within the American story, there is an argument—namely, that these achievements will not be sustained without that heritage, and for all of the above reasons the heritage needs to be reaffirmed and renewed. Indeed, it can be said that the future of modernity and America depends on the extent to which there is a reaffirmation of America’s spiritual capital.
Be assured there is special content in America’s Judeo-Christian spiritual capital based in biblical truths. In many ways, it has come to define America. It also suggests the origins and sources of the current attacks on Judeo-Christian spiritual capital.
These include, most notably:
Perennial (heretical) utopian Gnosticism, now in the form of Socialism
Rousseauian/Marxist-derived narratives of equality and complaints about modernity
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
Militant Secularism (domestic and international)
Militant Islamism (international)
President Trump, unlike other past leaders, is rebutting these attacks. He argues that America will not survive without a renewal of its Judeo-Christian spiritual capital.
Specifically, this means the importance of personal autonomy and responsibility stemming from the dignity of the individual as a human person and the exercise of religious freedom. It also requires the need to support civil association with a robust content—full morality and the rule of law.
In no way do he and his followers advocate a theocracy or anything less than a democratic republic that is rooted in commerce and, ultimately, produces what the founders themselves called, “human flourishing.”
He does advocate the rejuvenation of Judeo-Christian spiritual capital as a cultural phenomenon, the non-apologetic expression of one’s faith, and the re-education of misguided clerics, educators, the media, and America’s leaders. And most of all direct, honest, lawful, and vigorous confrontation of America’s critics and its enemies.
Tradition tells of a chime that changed the entire world when it rang on July 8, 1776. It was the sound from the tower of Independence Hall summoning the citizens of Philadelphia to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence by Colonel John Nixon.
The Pennsylvania Assembly had ordered that bell in 1751 to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of William Penn’s 1701 Charter of Privileges, Pennsylvania’s original Constitution. That charter spoke of the rights and freedoms valued by people the world over. Particularly insightful were the devout Penn’s ideas on religious freedom, his stance on American rights, and his inclusion of citizens in enacting laws.
The Liberty Bell gained iconic importance again when abolitionists in their efforts to put an end to slavery throughout America adopted it as a symbol.
As the bell was created to commemorate the golden anniversary of Penn’s Charter, the biblical quotation, “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof,” taken from Leviticus 25:10, seemed particularly apt and was engraved on the Bell.
More and more Americans in 2020 have come to realize that President Trump is ringing that bell again. He, unlike his opposition, defends and rearticulates America’s spiritual capital—ushering in America’s fifth great awakening.
In the September 11, 2020 issue of the New York Times, Kurt Anderson wrote a critique of Milton Friedman entitled, “How Liberals Opened the Door to Libertarian Economics.” There are numerous errors in Anderson’s assessment. Let us try to correct at least some of them.
He starts off on the wrong foot, characterizing Friedman’s view as “extreme free-market libertarianism.” In the libertarian movement of Ludwig von Mises, Murray N. Rothbard, Ron Paul and Robert Nozick, the 1986 Nobel Prize winner in economics was regarded (along with his fellow University of Chicago colleague, Friedrich A. Hayek) as a very moderate supporter of free enterprise, barely a libertarian. One market fundamentalist libertarian commentator even probed, seriously, as to whether or not Friedman was a socialist, given his many and serious deviations from pure laissez faire capitalism (the negative income tax, tax withholding, anti-trust, support for school vouchers and the Fed, rejection of gold as money). No one who claims “We’re all Keynesians now” can be located at the furthest reaches of free enterprise.
It, of course, cannot be denied that Prof. Friedman opposed unions – they unfairly restrict entry into the labor market; that he wanted fewer pernicious business regulations; and he opposed socialist medicine. He was as least a moderate supporter of economic freedom after all.
Mr. Anderson states, “The New Deal … out of which our well-functioning, prosperous postwar political economy grew.” Not so, not so. It grew in spite of this policy, not because of it. This Hoover-Roosevelt bout of economic interventionism prolonged the depression of 1929 for a decade. Compare this to the depression of 1921 which lasted months, not years, as a result of a “do nothing” (don’t interfere in the market) governmental policy.
Our author conflates libertarianism and libertinism. The former maintains that “capitalist acts between consenting adults” in the felicitous phraseology of Robert Nozick, all of them, commercial ones and also those regarding drugs and sex, should be legal, but takes no position whatsoever as to whether or not these practices should be followed. The latter urges participation in them, the weirder, the better.
Mr. Anderson characterizes the desire to maximize profits as “coldheartedness,” lacking “decency or virtue,” “selfish, callous and reckless,” and sets as the ideal operating “somewhere in the broad range between break-even and absolute-maximum profitability…” In doing so, he demonstrates a lack of understanding of this economic phenomenon. When a hiker is lost in the woods, in order to be rescued he shouts, “Help” (whether verbally or in some other way). Accepting “slightly smaller profit margins” when a businessman could maximize them is akin to imposing a decibel control over the endangered hiker. Profits are in effect a cry for help. When a firm accepts lower profits than were otherwise obtainable, it is reducing the economic welfare of the very “employees, customers, communities, society at large” championed by stakeholder supporters.
Jones now earns 5% profit. How could he increase this rate? Why, by producing more of what consumers are clamoring for. If he sticks to the status quo, he will not be rescuing as many “lost hikers” as he could have. True, he could also increase profits by lowering salaries. But if he decreases them below marginal revenue productivity levels, he will lose his best employees and reduce profits, not increase them. Profits can be maximized by paying optimal compensation, not a penny more, but not a penny less, either. Yes, Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, are the true heroes, and only economic illiterates can fail to see this primordial point. Friedman is to be congratulated for trying to educate people in that regard.
No, it is simply not true that in Friedman’s view that “Any virtuous act by businesses beyond what the law requires is simpering folly.” Rather, it is fraud. Suppose you deposit your money in a bank, and the officer of that institution gives these funds to good charitable, stakeholder, causes. Not kosher! It is one thing to be kind and generous with your own property. It is quite another, to do so with other people’s wealth. That is a violation of the fiduciary relationship of the savings institution. The CEO has a responsibility to the shareholder, not to the stakeholder. There is nothing wrong, a la Friedman, with both of them, all of us, with being “decent” and “virtuous” with our own money. But the very opposite obtains when accomplished with, in effect, stolen cash.
Mr. Anderson attributes Friedman’s support of free enterprise to “screw-the-Establishment confrontationalism” of the Woodstock 1970s. I have known this Chicago economist for many decades and never did I discern even a whiff of this sort of thing. Who knew that my friend Milton was a secret hippie?
Our critic accuses Friedman of wanting to “rewrite the social contract.” But no one ever signed this “contract,” so it is without any legal power to control our lives. He all but criticizes him of hypocrisy for using “his noncommercial government-subsidized PBS platform to argue that the Food and Drug Administration, public schools, labor unions and federal taxes, among other bêtes noires, were bad for America.” But Friedman also used public parks, the U.S. post office, museums, sidewalks, even though he might have wanted to privatize them.
Mr. Anderson, presumably, is an egalitarian. Yet, he undoubtedly lives in a nice neighborhood, has a quality car, air conditioning, color tv, a computer. Why doesn’t he give most of this away to the poor? But a retort is open to Friedman: The government financed these amenities, in part, with Friedman’s tax dollars. He is hence justified in using them. Mr. Anderson has no such defense against the charge of hypocrisy.
To the extent that Friedman can take credit for Gordon Gekko (greed is good), it is a feather in his cap. Here, Mr. Anderson’s target is merely channeling Adam Smith’s “invisible hand;” a basic premise of economics: People are led by the lure of profits to cooperate with others for mutual gain. The “Wealth of Nations” is based on just this sort of consideration.
Our critic is particularly exercised about a “S.E.C. rule change (which) effectively gave free rein to public companies … to buy up shares of their own stock on the open market in order to jack up the price.” But what, pray tell, is wrong with voluntary exchanges of this or any other sort, which are necessarily mutually beneficial at least in the ex ante sense, and usually so ex post? He is also upset that “U.S. executive pay … shifted from consisting mainly of salary and bonus to mainly stock and stock options.” Banks sometimes give out toasters and radios to depositors. Must all financing consist of cash? There are also good and sufficient reasons for this alteration in terms of taxation and the aligning of incentives.
Our critic then bewails the fact that “the richest 10th of us have 84 percent of all stock shares owned by Americans, and a ravaged economy in which the stock market is close to an all-time high.” Should we also regret that a similar proportion of NBA players are African American? Thomas Sowell, a student of Milton Friedman’s, has done more than any other economist to pierce the myth that if strict proportionality does not prevail everywhere, it is untoward.
Mr. Anderson mentions “the full Friedmanization of our economy for the last four decades (which) has generated such greed-driven extremes of inequality, insecurity and immobility that the system is now on a path that looks crazily self-destructive.” This man is living in a dream world. Full Friedmanization would include a world with no tariffs or interferences with free trade, the end of licensing, not only for hair braiders, Uber, AirBnB, but also for medical doctors! Governmental tax would be in the neighborhood of 10% not 50% of GDP. Such “destruction” of the economy, to the extent it exists, stems not from Friedman’s public policy proscriptions, but mainly from their rejection.
Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute. He earned his PhD in economics at Columbia University in 1972. He has taught at Rutgers, SUNY Stony Brook, Baruch CUNY, Holy Cross and the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of more than 600 refereed articles in professional journals, two dozen books, and thousands of op eds (including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and numerous others). He lectures widely on college campuses, delivers seminars around the world and appears regularly on television and radio shows. He is the Schlarbaum Laureate, Mises Institute, 2011; and has won the Loyola University Research Award (2005, 2008) and the Mises Institute’s Rothbard Medal of Freedom, 2005; and the Dux Academicus award, Loyola University, 2007. Prof. Block counts among his friends Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard. He was converted to libertarianism by Ayn Rand. Block is old enough to have played chess with Friedrich Hayek and once met Ludwig von Mises, and shook his hand. Block has never washed that hand since. So, if you shake his hand (it’s pretty dirty, but what the heck) you channel Mises.
The image shows a portrait of Milton Friedman by Lindsay Mitchell.
Anyone with an ounce of spiritual awareness and emotional sensitivity knows low-level blues some of the time. Even our metric friends, they who hold but a diminutive gram’s worth of discernment, know well this vale of tears. In the catalogue of woes which stalk long downtrodden man, the disconnect between impression and reality is prominent.
At a political hearing I attended earlier this year, for example, I was taken aback to learn how divergent our general understanding of the immune system is as compared to where science presently stands. What we are taught in high school is about a century out of date.
Another example is seen with driverless trucking features on TV. Broadcast in North America and Europe, these specials have all the schadenfreude that reality TV can dish up. The producers narrate as high-tech lorries roll across the screen. As these programs unfold they inevitably cut back and forth to befuddled truckers. Always American Southerners, the interviewees coyishly confront their livelihood evaporating before their bloodshot eyes. Remarkably nonplussed (or fronting heavily), they assure the host that such machines will, “Never take off.” After all, “Who’d you trust on a highway, me or some robot.” The producers have made their point: the wagoneers are out of touch with reality.
We won’t even get started on the perception-reality dynamic surrounding face masks vis-a-vis virus protection.
Think of all the lost opportunities, the mistaken conclusions, the wasted health and wealth and peace of mind which is out there because people’s perceptions do not match reality. It adds up and it wears one down. I suppose there’s some proof of Original Sin in all this. And we see the same disconnect with politics.
A Most Popular Crew
One error heard throughout these States united concerns invocation of “the People.” Their mention, typically an ever-present warble, becomes a clashing gong each presidential election. And why wouldn’t it? The purported benefit to the people can justify any scheme. Is mechanical abortion good? Yes, because the people benefit. Should it be permitted? Of course not, babies are people too. Some foreign country must be invaded to avenge the people! No, it mustn’t. People might be killed. Taxes are necessary to provide services to the people. Taxes steal the people’s money. You get the point. Sprinkle the people on it, and any topic is justified.
The purpose of this article is to pin down the members of this timely clique. Who are the people? Or rather, who are the People? (n.b., We’ll get into the capitalization significance below). The People must really be special to have so many skins talking about them! The purpose of this article is not to lampoon the present condition of Western democracy, a ludicrous system custom-fit for every two-bit grifter from your town hall alderman to your Supreme Court heavy hitter. Nor do I write this with a moralizing spirit. I am not saying the conclusion herein is good or bad. Alas, political discourse is frustratingly given over to what people think of this or that occurrence; little attention is given to how things are. Let us put our emotions and impressions and solutions aside. Let us look at the naked reality.
That we not beat around the bush, the People are a specific group of men distinct from the mass of Americans. Almost certainly you, kind reader, are not among the People. Their concerns are not your concerns, their loves are not your loves, their fears are not your fears. Only by a polite omission on the part of the People themselves, combined with a baseless and monstrous assumption on your part, do you believe you are among the People.
By blood, or marriage, the People were or are those related to the 18th-century constitutors of the state and Federal governments of America, as well as those men so involved with states later incorporated into these United States. Far from being a stealthy clique, they number in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps the millions. Far from being secretive, their identity is trumpeted in both the legal documents they publish and it is plainly seen in their behavior. With eyes to see, one stands in awe of just how explicit, frequent, and honest the People are in advertising their distinction from the regular Americans they rule over.
There are four reasons which support this unusual and uncomfortable, but inevitable, conclusion. They are (1) legal grammar, (2) the Founders’ historical awareness, (3) the U.S. Constitution, and (4) the present and historical behavior of the People.
Specificity & Hierarchy: Legal Grammar
The legal system is specific. Indeed, specificity is shy only of artificiality when comprehending the legal control matrix. Without general nouns there is no way whereby one group can be designated from another. Likewise, without proper nouns there is no way things of a kind can be isolated from their larger mass. What book-hoarding boon is a library card if it has no name to it and if anyone in the town may use it? What fear does a speeding ticket hold if there is no specific man to mail it to? Without specificity, statists cannot exert their will upon their subjects. Legality demands specificity.
General specificity only gets one so far. Hierarchy is needed for greater distinction. If we all have individualized library cards, to carry over the above example, who goes first if we both want to check out the same book? To see the People for who they are we need to unlock the hierarchy their system assumes. The maxims of law and the doctrine of capitis diminutio are our keys.
The maxims are the skeleton upon which the legal system hangs. They’re analogous to a Catholic’s examination of conscience for Confession. They are less a list of hard and fast regulations and more of a general collection of proverbs which explain the principles of legal land. Woe betide those who do not make this distinction! The penitent becomes a neurotic and the barrister a hack should they put such enumerations literally into practice. Many a soul and many a lawyer has been ruined by this oversight. When it comes to the maxims of law, the spirit rules and the letter kills.
The creator controls, is one such proverb. In fact, it’s a truism so fundamental to legalism that it often does not appear in published lists of maxims. Only the frequent reading of case law, or “reading between the lines” on the compiled legal proverbs cited in Black’s or Bouvier’s dictionaries, will discover this plain principle. Upon this doctrine, for example, I have the sole authority to decide what gets mentioned in this article. I am the creator of this article; I am it’s sovereign. However, should I desire this piece to be published on a platform created by another, I must submit this creation to that creation, myself being the petitioning party. I must subordinate this sovereign creation to that one (i.e., for editing, formatting, etc.). From the doctrine of “the creator controls” the whole legal structure flows.
Capitis deminutio is a principle which the Founding Fathers, mostly lifelong barristers and/or merchants, would have been familiar with, at the establishment of the country’s governing system. A concept from Roman law, a system which all English-speaking structures eventually default to, should there be no usable precedents, capitis deminutio designates the amount of control an entity is under. Long story short, so that we don’t get tangled in jargon, the capitalization of the first letter of a noun in legal land designates something as both a specific something, and under the ownership of another. If you are up for a load of jargon, here’s the definition of capitis diminutio from Black’s Law, 2nd edition: “In Roman law, [capitis diminutio was a] diminishing or abridgment of personality. This was a loss or curtailment of a man’s status or aggregate of legal attributes and qualifications, following upon certain changes in his civil condition. It was of three kinds, enumerated as follows:
Capitis diminutio maxima. The highest or most comprehensive loss of status. This occurred when a man’s condition was changed from one of freedom to one of bondage, when he became a slave. It swept away with it all rights of citizenship and all family rights.
Capitis diminutio media. A lesser or medium loss of status. This occurred where a man lost his rights of citizenship, but without losing his liberty. It carried away also the family rights.
Capitis diminutio minima. The lowest or least comprehensive degree of loss of status. This occurred where a man’s family relations alone were changed. It happened upon the arrogation of a person who had been his own master, (sui juris,) or upon the emancipation of one who had been under the patria potestas. It left the rights of liberty and citizenship unaltered. See Inst. 1, 1G, pr.; 1, 2, 3; Dig. 4, 5, 11; Mackeld. Rom. Law.”
Thus “the People” in a legal document, such as, the U.S. Constitution, or in the mouth of someone holding a legal office ultimately under the jurisdiction of the Constitution, refers to a specific group of people, rather than any old sinner walking on top of America.
Togas & Muskets: The Framers’ Historical Awareness
Second, the claim that the People refer to a specific caste of men is supported by the historical awareness of the Founding Fathers. They were a clutch deeply steeped in ancient history. Their use of antique references bolstered the point that their political arguments were timeless. When news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord came to holy Connecticut, for example, jovial Israel Putnam immediately dropped his plowing in situ and raced Cincinnatus-style to join the Massachusetts rebels. About two months before Dr. Joseph Warren became Bunker Hill’s most famous casualty, he was seen speechifying on the streets of Boston in a Roman toga!
The American Revolution came at a time when various trends were at their zenith. The equality of armaments between rulers and ruled, is one example, the afterglow of a Protestant revival is another, and the obsession of that generation with the likes of Plutarch and Cicero is yet one more example. The Framers could not get enough of ancient history.
Those acquainted with Rome will be aware of the divide between the patrician and plebeian classes. The interaction between those who traced their families back to the original stock of Rome (patricians) and those who moved in later (plebeians) provides an enduring thread through all the turns and jolts of Roman history. But even the dullest pleb, a manifest client of Sulla or Caesar, one hopelessly addicted to bread and circuses, would never seriously think the “P” in SPQR (i.e., Senatus Populusque Romanus, the Senate and the People of Rome) meant him. The “P” for People meant the patricians. Everyone else was along for the ride.
Communist countries like China and North Korea are more in line with this Roman bluntness than the democratic West on this point. Everyone knows when an office holder in those countries talks about “the People” they’re referring to the members of the Party, which is considered to be a type of incarnation of the will of the populace.
The American Framers meant to provide against a repeat of the ancient slide towards democracy and chaos. Far from being a sexist, hypocritical oversight, their limit of the voting franchise to men, and only men of property at that, was a direct homage to the early Roman Republic. Of course, they would say, men of maturity and wealth – the material success stories of a community – ought to be the ones to steer the ship of state. Jobbers and renters were not fit to run a county, having so unimpressively run their lives. Reprising the paterfamilias role, the males of the early American republic would stand in for all their family members’ concerns in the public sphere. They would save – not exclude – women, children, and the indigent from the morass of electoral politics.
In Rome the patrician class was not static. There was the process of adoption. Far removed from motives of modern charity or conjugal sterility, adoption was offered to promising youths entering their adult years. The Emperor Augustus is the most famous example of this. It was a means to ensure inheritance in a society with disabilities on women’s ability to inherit property.
Teasing these points out, the existence and stability of the patrician class and their use of adoption, we see how the American constitutors were primed by their interest in Rome to create a governing caste in their “People,” which was stable yet occasionally open to fresh, well-vetted blood via marriage and other forms of incorporation.
In Plain View: The People Define Themselves
The third point is proof from the U.S. Constitution. We take the legal and historical setups above into this consideration. Now that we know the principles under which the Framers operated, the identity of the People is hardly a question at all, as we examine a document they produced.
The U.S. Constitution is a contract using specific legal language. It plainly states for whom the new government exists. It famously begins, “We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” There you have it. The United States Federal government, and its incorporated state entities, exist for the sole benefit of the People.
The “We” and “ourselves” refer to the signatories themselves, the 39 souls who met in Independence Hall. Through the doctrine of delegation, however, the People also included those men who constituted the several state governments which dispatched those representatives to Philadelphia. Remember, the creator controls. Thus, by the agentic, representative relationship, the Peoples of the 13 states were invisibly present at that Pennsylvania meeting, too.
Then there is the mention of “our Posterity.” Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, a text whose definitions are closer to the Founding Fathers’ understanding than our dictionaries, defines posterity as, “Descendants; children, children’s children, etc. indefinitely; the race that proceeds from a progenitor. The whole human race are the posterity of Adam.” His second definition defines posterity as, “In a general sense, succeeding generations; opposed to ancestors.”
We know the first definition is what the constitutors intended because legal language is specific, not general. John Bouvier’s 1839 dictionary defines posterity as, “All the descendants of a person in a direct line.” Therefore, the Posterity mentioned in the Constitution refers to the descendants of the constitutors. Unless you are one of the fortunate few hundred thousand or millions of souls related to those state or national leaders, you are not the People. With the legal definitions, principles, maxims of the system itself, not what we assume they mean, we come to know who the People are. Only an undiscerning and gross assumption suggests that “We the People” applies to all Americans.
Distinctions, Distinctions, Distinctions: The Vote And The Election
Lost on Americans is the distinction between two events which the media conflate into one: The Presidential vote and the Presidential election. They are not the same event. The early November vote is largely a straw poll, while the December election makes the actual choice of President. The November event is a way to take the pulse of the country. It has no direct say-so on who becomes President. It is nearly, but as we shall see not totally, meaningless.
The November vote is analogous to Catholic parish administration. The priest has absolute, official, final say in ordinary decisions for his parish. In no way whatsoever is he obliged to listen to the directives of his council. Yet to go against the zeitgeist of the parish council in a major way would be foolish. It would create sullen, testy subjects. Such a rash override would form a block of uncertain loyalty should the priest run afoul of the bishop at some future date. In the Catholic parish council as soon as in the American vote, the mob has power of a sort. However, that power is consultative not formal. At base, the November vote serves as a psychological release valve. It lets off tension which otherwise would manifest itself in discord and revolution.
The election, a distinct event from the vote, is a quiet event which takes place in the 50 state capitals mid-December of each election cycle. This limited December event has in fact all of the import which people ascribe to the popular November event. The tally of the December electors decides who will be President, not the vote.
The electors are drawn from the suggestions of the state political parties. They’re largely the same sorts who participate as delegates at the state and national conventions charged with selecting the presidential candidates. To follow the cursus honorum of such party delegates/electors is to see the People in their natural habitat.
At this year’s Democratic National Convention, where state party delegates met to choose their national candidate, there was a remarkably helpful commercial released, entitled, “We The People at the Democratic Convention.” A superficial viewing showed a diverse collection of Americans of all races, classes, and creeds. However, a closer re-watch reveals that all participants were sitting office holders, Bar attorneys, or DNC representatives. Once you know who the People are, you’ll never hear politicians the same way again!
By Their Works: The People In Action
Lastly, the People are a specific clique based on the observable behavior of the American ruling class. From time to time, articles appear noting the relationship of this or that politician with this or that movie star or commercial mogul. If only in the interest of trivia, most Americans probably know a few examples of this.
The relationship between the second and sixth Presidents (Adamses), as well as the 41st and 43rd ones (Bushes), are commonly known. The simplified observation that California Governor Gavin Newson is the “nephew” of California Congresswoman and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (herself the daughter of a Maryland Congressman and the sister of a Baltimore mayor) has received some press, as Mr. Newson has run California off a financial cliff in 2020. Less well known is that Gavin Newson is the removed cousin of the far more useful soul, the harpist, Joanna Newson.
And relationality in the ruling class isn’t a modern phenomenon. Chilly Connecticut, where I compose this article, was started by a breakaway faction of Puritans led by Thomas Hooker. The good reverend left his mark in the new-found colony. Aaron Burr, George Catlin, J.P. Morgan, and William Howard Taft were all descendants, with Hooker’s blood running through the veins of the Pierpoint and Edwards families.
I could go on and on. If you spend an hour or two nosing around your socially-distanced library, if you connect the dots between the “related to’s” in the biography section, you’ll see the combination the People have going. You may even visit Google and use their “People also search for” feature to do the same. If you invest the time, these simple experiments about the People will solidify profound conclusions about American government than do isolated barroom anecdotes. If one understands the People to be the specific class they define themselves as, a great many baffling statements and state policies become sensible.
There is a Masonic aspect to this topic I only skirt now. It’s a theme which could swallow this discussion. Suffice it to say, the practitioners of occult schools were well represented at the state and national constituting conventions of late 18th-century America. Within those communities the use of adept symbolism and “open secrets” are no strangers. The occultation of the meaning of the word People is not beyond the pale in this context as well. But before we get all tangled up in “endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:4) we remember that, like the Roman system, the present order is simply codified nepotism. Don’t overthink the motives of the People.
Plato argued that societies need a noble lie to keep them living together harmoniously. Such is the spurious assumption that all Americans are the People. By quietly letting the mass of men believe they are this group, the American system rectified the failings of ancient experiments at self-government.
As noted, one of those failings was a tension between the patricians and the plebeians, the old blue bloods and later settlers. One way to provide against the selfsame tensions which destroyed the Roman Republic is not to mention this social division, however true it is. If the pleb believes he is a patrician a great source of resentment is avoided.
Michael Anton’s latest, half analysis and half prophecy, is simultaneously terrifying and clarifying. As I have said before, I align very closely with Anton in both core politics and attitude toward politics, so naturally I am enthusiastic about a new Anton book.
But in this very fluid time, he writes as nobody else seems able, making manifest where we are and where we are going. It proves his talent that in the mere two months since Anton wrote his Preface, more than one of his predictions has come true. Maybe he sold his soul in exchange for the gift of prescience, or stole a palantir. Whatever the reasons behind its no-holds-barred insights, this is an excellent book to which we all must pay close attention, to navigate the coming chaos and come out whole on the other side.
Anton is, on the surface at least, a Straussian—a believer that the American political system reached, perhaps not perfection, but as close to perfection as is likely possible in any human society, in some combination of 1787 and 1865. I do not believe he is a fully sincere Straussian, in that I suspect he does not actually think we can return to those halcyon days. Rather, he has effectively turned Augustan—interested in how a decent, even flourishing, society can be achieved through the clear-eyed use of power, not necessarily in the form of a republic, much less a democracy.
In fact, in The Stakes, he explicitly examines the possibility of both left and right Augustanism, the rise of “Blue Caesar” or “Red Caesar,” to which possibility we will return below. True, that’s only part of this book, which first shows our inevitable awful future if we stay on our current path, and then discusses several possible alternatives, including at least one optimistic one. But I think it’s telling that someone of Anton’s stature openly and without apology talks about pessimistic futures.
Anton became famous as the result of a 2016 essay, “The Flight 93 Election,” in which he pointed out the existential nature of the 2016 Presidential election. He was much criticized by the catamite Right (and by the Left), but every word he wrote has been proven exactly correct, including those he wrote in his follow-up, After the Flight 93 Election. As he predicted in 2019, the 2020 election is even more existential. I did not think we would end up here—in early 2017 I predicted an American renewal. Ah well, I was wrong.
Anton’s basic point, in a book filled with important points (and sparkling, pull-you-along writing), is that every election will necessarily be more existential, until either the Left wins all power, succeeding in its goal of denying the legitimacy of anything other than one-party rule, or the Right forces a return to normal politics, where both sides have legitimacy. (Personally, I favor a complete inversion of the Left’s goal, extirpating their poison, not leveling the playing field, but today is not about me.)
Cleverly, Anton begins with a super-detailed study of California. He is a native Californian, so well-positioned to perform this analysis. If you are rich, California is still pretty awesome, though quite inconvenient at times. For everyone else, it is bad, and getting worse, fast. Nobody can deny, and the Left in fact advertises, that they aim to remake the entire nation in the image of California, both in by whom it is ruled and in the laws the rulers impose. This is claimed to be a good thing, whereby the whole country would be greatly improved—if not a paradise, well on its way to becoming one. Underlying this claim is the belief that California is effectively a successful nation-state, with a world-bestriding economy.
I have disposed of the economic claim earlier; Anton focuses less on this claim and more on the social disaster that California is. The self-image of California among its ruling class, and the image it projects to the rest of the country, is the picture postcard of the super-wealthy coastal slice of California, sprinkled with a few natural wonders elsewhere in the state. This is a mirage, because most of California is actually a terrible place to live.
This is new in the past few decades and was not inevitable. The promised land was what California really was, not that long ago—Anton offers a sepia-tinted snapshot of what it was fifty years ago, at the time of The Brady Bunch, a place where a man could raise six children on a middle-class income, inside Los Angeles, in a detached single-family home. As a direct result of the Left’s power and consequent ability to implement their deliberate policies, that California is dead. The state is now crowded, costly, congested, crumbling, incompetent, filthy, dangerous, rapacious, profligate, suffocating, prejudiced, theocratic, pathologically altruistic, balkanized, and feudal—and Anton crisply proves each of these claims.
Driving home his point, just a few weeks ago, not mentioned here, California has proposed a new wealth tax—that would apply for ten years to anyone with modest wealth who dares to move out of state to escape the nightmare. A better symbol summing up California would be hard to find, though I suppose you could use the power blackouts, the unpunished violent crime, or the filth covering the streets of all its major cities to add a little color.
What caused this disaster, asks Anton? Four related things—tens of millions of poor immigrants, mostly illegal; the rejection of the melting pot; the massive success of Silicon Valley and resulting highly-concentrated wealth; and the total elimination of the Californian middle class. All this cemented the power of the Left at the same time the social fabric was deliberately ripped apart. The Left’s power is maintained as the result of a corrupt bargain between the Left and the super-rich, of which California has plenty.
In that bargain, the woke Left is kept in power by the oligarchy, the richest Californians (whom Anton calls dukes, offering a complete mapping of California power onto a feudal hierarchy), as long as the dukes are allowed to do what they want to increase their wealth—e.g., Apple. The woke Left can then impose, and does impose, its desired policies without fear of contradiction. The result is, as always when the Left is in power, utter disaster on every level, social and financial, for the common man, with the polity descending quickly to somewhere between Venezuela and Somalia. That’s bad enough—but Anton’s key point is that the Left, our enemies, wants all of America to be just like California.
Having grabbed the reader’s attention, and made the prepared reader run to his safe for a quick gun count, Anton turns back to earlier history, focusing on what the American political system was designed to be and do. Not because he thinks the reader doesn’t know, but in order to specifically address objections to the American “parchment” from both the Right and the Left. On the Right, Anton examines past and present objections in detail, mostly relating to skepticism that America is or can be “propositional,” rather than centered around more visceral ties.
He ends with John Calhoun’s demand for “concurrent majoritarianism,” better called “group rights,” the idea that the ruling minority of the time could not be overruled, which theory was created as a defense of slavery and in opposition to the bedrock American claim that “all men are created equal.” On the Left, Anton reviews, among much else, the original Progressives and their successors, the 1960s Left, noting that the core of their philosophy is indistinguishable from Calhoun’s concurrent majoritarianism. It differs only in that it is in service of different rulers, and it has concluded in today’s unhinged and anti-realist demands for the forced “equality” and “corrective justice” extolled by the cretinous John Rawls. Demands, in all of their multiplying manifestations, utterly incompatible with the American parchment.
Where does that leave “our present regime”? Here Anton refers to Christopher Caldwell’s recent The Age of Entitlement, describing how the quest for black civil rights morphed into demands for special rights and privileges, for everyone but heterosexual white men, the poisonous fruits of which change have roiled America over the past few months. “Inequality before the law—based on race, but also on sex and sexual orientation—is the true animating principle of the American regime as it exists and operates now.”
This is justified as corrective—but the gap between the supposedly privileged and the supposedly subordinated never changes, requiring not a reevaluation, but ever more violent demands. Crucially, this woke Left ascendancy is intertwined with neoliberalism, what Anton calls “managerial leftist-libertarianism,” in effect creating a nationwide oligarchical system devoted to implementing Left policies without the consent of the governed, for whom contempt mixed with hatred are the only emotions of the ruling classes. We get kritarchy, corruption, electoral manipulation, weaponized “justice,” and much more, but all these corruptions serve the same goals.
This sounds somewhat dry, but Anton manages to both prove each of his points in detail and to write in a fluid, compelling fashion that pulls the reader along. He frames much of his discussion around the concepts of the Narrative (the message the ruling classes demand be accepted without question); the Megaphone (the instruments of propaganda through which the Narrative is broadcast at constant maximum volume); and the Muzzle (the relatively new and ever-more-powerful system of crushing wrongthink).
The Narrative is nearly all simply lies, about everything from rape to racism. The Megaphone is repetition of those lies, combined with the (so-far successful) ability to deny the legitimacy of any alternative media. The Muzzle is raw force, up to and including murder, as has recently been seen in Portland and Kenosha (though in that latter one target, the heroic Kyle Rittenhouse, fortunately got the first shots off).
The Narrative encompasses everything from sexual ideology to denying the noxious racism of BLM, and the system Anton sketches is instantly recognizable all around, the water that we swim in, if you simply look for a moment. Examples of how these three reinforcing Left tools work are infinite. Just in the past few days we have seen a small but telling example, also indicative of the Left’s plan for November’s election. The Atlantic magazine made up an obvious total lie about Trump insulting veterans, with zero evidence, which fit the Narrative; the Megaphone immediately broadcast it everywhere, going so far as to claim that repetition of the claim by different news outlets was itself “confirmation,” a second obvious total lie. And the Muzzle was deployed to ensure that pushback was silenced. Rinse and repeat.
After laying out his framework, Anton writes much more in this vein, discussing in one chapter, “The Ruling Class and Its Armies,” what the ruling class is, what and why it wants, and how it achieves its ends. In another chapter, he addresses immigration. He weaves together history, present-day events, and classical thought from Machiavelli to Montesquieu, all in coherent exposition of How We Got Here. It is brilliant (and I did not know Dan Quayle coined the odious phrase “Diversity is our strength”)—but you will have to read the book, because this is not CliffsNotes, and I want to move to the second half of the book, which discusses the future.
Anton divides his examination of the future into “If Present Trends Continue . . .” followed by “And If They Don’t . . .” He does not offer odds on either possibility, nor on the sub-possibilities that might follow each—but he does discuss reasons making any given outcome more or less likely. As to present trends continuing, he says “It’s at least possible that our ruling class are not all total fools. . . . . [T]hey might know what they’re doing and know how to keep things going, if not forever, for a very long time.” First, they have to defeat Trump this year. Then, they have to use the Narrative, Megaphone, and Muzzle to re-impose the status quo ante. More immigration, more inequality, more blurring the distinction between business and government, more surveillance, enforced with Portland-style anarcho-tyranny and selective justice, and the final cementing of a one-party state. More California, that is, and sedation of discontent with drugs and porn, with isolation, ruin and jail for anyone who fights back. This is James Poulos’s “pink police state,” or Rod Dreher’s “soft totalitarianism.”
Anton doesn’t think this is very likely, I am happy to report, though maybe he is just whistling past the graveyard. One-party rule has a history of being fatal to the party ruling, as it loses touch, and therefore all legitimacy. For the Left, this problem is exacerbated by that their rule is always and everywhere synonymous with incompetency.
Most of all, their rule means the end of American excellence and therefore of any achievement whatsoever, and with that they would lose the ability to distribute adequate rewards to ever-more-greedy supporters, whose only means of support is parasitism and theft. Such a one-party state could therefore not maintain either internal or external American power; it would quickly become simply an extractive basket-case—that is, it would become the “People’s Republic” of Kurt Schlichter novels (though Anton does not mention those).
In theory, the ruling regime might avoid collapse by adopting something like the Ottoman millet system for red states and areas, which could be left to a large degree of self-governance, but taxed, since they would be the only productive areas of the country. But the Left won’t allow such a system, because it violates their ideology of supposed justice, which motivates their shock troops. No totalitarian can abide embedded opposition; it is a constant rebuke that cannot be tolerated.
Nonetheless, we can be certain that if they regain full power in 2020, it’s pedal to the metal for the Left, in an attempt to create a Woke utopia. They are like the scorpion in the fable about the turtle—overreaching in pursuit of evil is in their nature. And true, there is some possibility the Left could maintain Wokeamerica forever, through technology. But probably not. A political entity bound together by an ideology centered on fractalized identity groups and stealing from others is nearly certain to fall apart.
Which brings us to “And If They Don’t . . .”, the most interesting part of the most interesting book of the year. This is not where Anton spins Right fantasies of national American civic renewal and renaissance; he is practical to a fault. One possibility, relatively peaceful, is that America continues, but Red America and Blue America physically sort to a much greater degree, as people move to areas more congenial to them (something that anecdotally is well under way), resulting in an increased separation in practice, which might maintain peace. (As a side note, that “Red” is used for the Right in America, a choice made by the Left in order to avoid drawing attention to their responsibility for the more than one hundred million people killed by Communists, is both jarring and annoying, but I suppose for now is the common lingo.)
But as I say, Red America in any shape or form cannot be tolerated by the Left, or not for long. In theory, Anton points out, it could be tolerated in the same way the Parisian authorities tolerate the no-go areas of the Muslim Parisian banlieues—especially if attempts to impose Left will in those areas were met with resistance, ranging to effective violence, as they are in Paris.
Certainly the hair-trigger focus on suppressing any effective Right paramilitary organization, combined with every federal agency heavily arming itself, suggests that some on the Left in power today see this as a real possibility. However, this semi-separation, another variation on the millet system, would only work if the Left maintains its own coherency, which as Anton says is not likely, given its internal contradictions.
So complete crackup is likely, though we can get there by more than one path. It might happen in some years, after a period of Left terror-dominance. But it might happen much sooner. If Trump wins resoundingly in November, the Left could demand exit. The Right would likely be happy with that (I know I would be). However, such demands are likely to be mere ineffective caterwauling; the Left cannot abide anything but total power in service of its utopian goals, and views Red America as contemptible and deserving of punishment. They would never leave Red America to do as it pleases, or give up the productivity of the Red states.
Nonetheless, if crackup were to happen, through whatever mechanism, it could be peaceful (think the breakup of Czechoslovakia), or it could be not peaceful (think Yugoslavia). As with all possibilities he outlines, Anton evaluates this in some detail, down to post-crackup relations among the new groupings—both warlike and not.
A crackup, though, is really a middle ground—the possibility we could return to the original American system, to the parchment, but only in some subset of today’s America. Anton’s Straussianism shows through. But he is not a prisoner to it—he next considers a complete change of political life, to Caesarism. Offering (as always) precise definitions, he points out that Caesarism is not tyranny, but one-man rule “halfway, as it were, between monarchy and tyranny.” It is monarchy not “legitimated by time and tradition.”
But that does not make it illegitimate; “Caesars assume responsibility for a government that no longer functions. We may define Caesarism, therefore, as authoritarian one-man rule partially legitimized by necessity.” When the nation no longer works, when the ruling class, and for that matter the people, are corrupted, Caesar is the solution that preserves the nation from its external enemies and destroys its internal enemies, and this has innumerable historical precedents.
Not that Anton is recommending Caesarism. “The benefits of Caesarism to Caesar are obvious; to a nation, perhaps less so.” But this is the whatever the reciprocal of damning with faint praise is—endorsing with tepid criticism, I suppose. A well-executed Caesarism brings calm and can bring flourishing; this is what history teaches.
Even a dubious Caesarism, of which Putinism is perhaps a modern example (not one Anton offers), is often preferable to the alternatives. Anton discusses, in part relying on Machiavelli, how “principality” arises, and notes that since the Blue ruling class is already in power, they are less likely to turn to a Caesar than the Reds, under constant attack and with diminishing power. He also distinguishes ideological from practical Caesars, and then turns to analyzing the possibility and practice of both a Blue Caesar and a Red Caesar.
A non-ideological Blue Caesar might be like a charismatic Michael Bloomberg—more of the same Left program, but tamping down the extremes and the violence, leading to a potentially long-lasting soul-crushing neoliberal hell. Antifa would be kept leashed except when needed; human resources hags would get even more power. A woke Blue Caesar would simply be a nasty system, hobbling along on an axis somewhere between Hillary Clinton and Pol Pot. Not a stable system, and one likely to collapse under the weight of its own intersectional contradictions, but possible. More likely is Red Caesar, which has plenty of historical precedent.
A Red Caesar would likely have the support of “the country’s largest and best-armed single bloc, with much accumulated wealth, social capital, and expertise at everyday necessities at its disposal.” (In other words, what Anton is too polite to say, non-ruling class white America, with an admixture of based non-whites.) He’d also likely be supported by the non-corrupt echelons of the military, and by law enforcement, and not be challenged on his own side.
Despite leftist fantasies, there is no chance of an ideological Red Caesar, Anton says. (I’m not so sure about this. Anton essentially ignores religion in this book, which I think is a gap. He also rejects population decline as a problem, my only substantive disagreement with him.) It won’t be the American parchment; it won’t be ordered liberty. It might be okay, though.
Anton concludes, however, that Red Caesar is unlikely, because the Reds lack power. This seems like an error (or more likely disingenuous). The path is obvious. When the Left attempts a coup after Trump’s November victory, as it will (something Anton this week himself has been warning of, and as seen in the lies about Trump slandering troops, something they are already preparing for), using its control of the corrupt upper echelons of the military, the response will likely be, and definitely should be, extensive violence directed at crushing both the coup and all Left power. Such a scenario requires a leader, and that leader will likely become Red Caesar. It could be Trump, but probably not, since he is so undisciplined (though he might remain a figurehead for a while). More likely it will be someone of whom we have never heard; such times call forth exactly such men.
Me, I like, if not love, the idea of Red Caesar, the creation of an Augustan system. I am not a Straussian; there is no way back to the parchment, which was a good system for its time and society, both of which are over. A new thing for a new day, though informed by the wisdom of the past. Let’s get on with it. True, Red Caesar might be very bad. I doubt if Caesar will allow me to keep my guns; he may confiscate my wealth, or conscript my sons. After defeating our common enemies, he may see internal enemies everywhere, and strike at them, in the manner of many of the Roman emperors.
But Caesarism, and its time-legitimated successor, monarchy, is a natural, realism-based system, under which a civilization can flourish. (Maybe Elon Musk can be king and lead us to Mars.) Over time, perhaps a mixed government could be re-established (and, in fact, even so-called one-man rule always involves multiple power centers and is therefore a type of mixed government; as Ortega said, too, force follows public opinion, so Caesar must keep the goodwill of the people).
We could have Napoleon, man of destiny, but following him not a slow slide to odious liberalism, as we muddled through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but the tides of history instead going back out to sea, drowning forever the failed political systems based on the Enlightenment, leaving us with a sensible political system, run for the good of the whole by those suited to run it, and with the Left forever as discredited and relevant as worshippers of Mithras are today.
Anton shifts toward the end to a positive note, suggesting one peaceful way out might be to allow extensive voluntary reorganization of states, counties, and cities, what might be called “secession-lite,” leading to greater pluralism. It’s a nice thought. He also talks about how a new political program could avoid all of these results fatal to the America created in 1787, operating the entire nation with a brighter future within the frame of today’s Constitution. He says “I expect others to insist that what I here propose is impossible.”
He’s right. I do insist, and I’m pretty sure he thinks so too, although facially what he proposes is completely coherent—roughly equivalent to implementing the Tucker Carlson program. A nice dream, but it will never happen through normal channels, because the Left would never allow it. It’s charming that Anton tries to be positive, but the main feeling one gets from this book is that Anton is a new and better Cassandra—one who is not fated to be disbelieved, but is instead providing an immensely valuable service.
To get to any better future, though, what we’re going to get first is war. Small war, big war, we’ll find out. A year from now, I predict a lot of lead will have flown through the air in the preceding twelve months. Stay safe, and stay frosty.
Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.
The image shows, Prophecy by Peter Howson, painted in 2016.