Human beings have always first desired familiarity. And conservatives have always been right to defend it.
Many of you will still be alive in 50 years. It’s interesting to think about what life will be like in 50 years technologically and otherwise. Predictions are risky, especially when they’re about the future, but I believe we can make some pretty good guesses. To predict a predictable future, you need to look at the past. What was technological life like 50 years ago? 50 years ago was 1959. The world of 1959 is pretty much the same world we live in today technologically speaking. This is a vaguely horrifying fact which is little appreciated. In 1959, we had computers, international telephony, advanced programming languages like Lisp, which remains the most advanced programming language, routine commercial jet flight, atomic power, internal combustion engines about the same as modern ones, supersonic fighter planes, television and the transistor.
I’d go so far as to say that the main technological innovation since 1959 has been space flight”a technology we’ve mostly abandoned, and it’s daughter technology”microelectronics. Computer networks came a year or two after 1959 and didn’t change very much, other than how we waste time in the office, and whom advertisers pay.
Other than that, man’s power over nature remains much the same. Most of the “advances” we have had since then are refinements and democratization of technologies. Nowadays, even the little people have access to computers and jet flight, and 1800s-style technology like telegraphy can be used to download pornography into their homes. Certainly more people are involved in “technological” jobs, and certainly computers have increased our abilities to process information, but ultimately very little has changed.
Now, if we’re sitting in unfashionable 1959 and doing this same comparison, things are a good deal different.
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The rate of change between 1959 and 1909 is nothing short of spectacular. In that 50 years, humanity invented jet aircraft, supersonic flight, fuel-injected internal-combustion engines, the atomic bomb, the hydrogen bomb, space flight, gas warfare, nuclear power, the tank, antibiotics, the polio vaccine, radio; and these are just a few items off the top of my head. You might try to assert that this was a particularly good era for technological progress, but the era between 1859 and 1909 was a similar explosion in creativity and progress, as was the 50 years before that, at the dawn of the Industrial revolution. You can read all about it in Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950, though I warn you, if you’re in a creative or technical profession Murray’s widely ignored book is even more depressing than this essay. Murray didn’t restrict his attentions to technological progress: across the entire panoply of human endeavor (art, science, literature, philosophy, Mathematics) the indications are grim. You may disagree with the statistical technique he used (I don’t), but you can’t escape the conclusion”things are slowing down.
Certainly, people can be forgiven for thinking we live in a time of great progress, since semiconductor lithography has improved over the years, giving us faster and more portable computers. But can we really do anything with computers now that we couldn’t have done 30 or even 50 years ago? I don’t think life is much different because of ubiquitous computers. Possibly more efficient and convenient, but not radically different, much like things got after the invention of computers in the “40s. Now we just waste time in the office in different ways.
Remember the kind of “artificial intelligence” which was supposed to give us artificial brains we could talk to by now? The only parts of which work look suspiciously like signal processing ideas from, well, the 1950s. The rest of it appears to have degenerated into a sort of secular religion for nerds.
Looking forward, I can’t think of a single technology in the works today which will revolutionize life in the 21st century. In the 1930s, there were dozens of obvious ones; you could read about them in magazines and science fiction. Now … I don’t know … biotech. Maybe. Making insulin in toilet water is a neat trick, but all that really does is allow fat people to eat more sugar without slaughtering horses and pigs. I suppose some of the genetically engineered crops are impressive, though the birds-and-bunnies people tell me they are a bad idea. Some wise acre is likely to pipe up and sing the glories of “Nanotech,” a “subject” which was “invented” in K. Eric Drexler‘s Ph.D. thesis in 1989. In the 20 years since he penned his fanciful little story, we have yet to see a single example of the wondrous miniature perpetual motion machines Drexler has been promising us “real soon now.” I wonder what his timeline for delivery of this “technology” will be?
Presumably some time well after his retirement. I’ll go out on a limb: since we don’t even have computers that can program themselves in any useful fashion, the probability of anyone inventing self replicating miniature robots to give us magical powers (or any kind of powers) by 2059 is approximately zero. The very idea that we’re banking on a glorious future … powered by magical robotic germs seems to me a titanic failure in human imagination. Once upon a time, we dreamed about giant stately space dirigibles to bring us to strange new worlds. Drexler dreams about inventing mechanical bacteria.
Need more evidence? Let’s look at aerospace. The SR-71 was designed in 1959. It took about two years to get the thing deployed, and it remains a faster jet than the F-22, which cost a lot more and took a lot longer to develope”first design was in 1986, first deployment in 1997. Sure, these aircraft aren’t made to do the same thing, but there is little apparent progress here: both represent the best we’ve got of respective eras.
This is despite the fact that the SR-71 was mostly designed with a paper and slide rule, and the F-22 with the most modern CAD design technology. Perhaps you consider this a bad comparison? OK, let’s consider the lowly passenger jet. The 747, a revolutionary passenger jet, was a concept in 1966. It was flying in 1968. The 787, which is not a revolutionary passenger jet, but one designed to be merely cheaper to operate, has been “in development” since 2004. It’s now 2009, and still no 787s.
Speaking of jets, I had a chance to fly on the Concorde for a reasonable price, and I passed it up out of misguided thrift. As a result I shall very likely never have the opportunity to fly a supersonic passenger flight, unless the Russians revive theirs. If this isn’t technological regress, I don’t know what is.
Are cars better? They are certainly safer, and it’s easier to buy a very high performance car than it was in 1959, but they don’t get much more efficient than they were in 1959. The Nash metropolitan got 40-mpg in real world driving tests, much like the overrated hair shirt Toyota Prius.
Medicine? Surgical techniques are unarguably better now than 50 years ago, but they’re not terribly different either. And compared to what was developed 50 years prior, not so impressive. I hope humans can learn to do amazing things like grow new livers in 50 years, but I’m not optimistic at the prospects. Drugs? I can’t think of anything in the last 50 years which was as cataclysmic as the invention of antibiotics. Most of the drugs since then have done little more than give people excuses to behave badly. We’re certainly not any healthier now, just more dependent on medical intervention to keep us alive and functioning. People may blame the pill for the sexual revolution, but there were even more effective contraception techniques used for decades before then. Really, the sexual revolution happened because of antibiotics. Before antibiotics, people died from being promiscuous. Syphilis and gonorrhea were lethal, and when they didn’t kill you, these diseases would often cripple or blind their offspring.
Nowadays, all this is forgotten. People who believe in evolution with every fiber of their being seem confused as to where those antiquated sexual mores come from. Well, that’s where it comes from, dummies”biology. Antibiotics and the non-lethal promiscuity they’ve allowed have helped us to discover less-lethal viral plagues, which I suppose is progress of a sort. Similarly, the invention of SSRI’s have allowed entire populations to make terrible life choices and not feel badly about them.
Anti-psychotics have made it possible for psychotic people to avoid the madhouse. This is probably great news if you’re a psychotic, but I can’t really look at it as an improvement in things for the rest of us who have to live with psychotics and hope they take their medicine! Should they actually invent new cures for human stupidity, I have no doubt that people will find ways to behave badly, and there will be very little practical differences in how people actually live, other than making it less pleasant for decent people to live in. I’d love to be wrong about all this, but history isn’t encouraging.
Telephones are better than they were in 1959, but the use of cell phones hasn’t really changed much. If you’re far from civilization, you will have no dial tone. If you were far from civilization in 1959, you will have no pay phone. Call me a luddite, but I can’t see the ability to email each other snapshots from our phones as being particularly revolutionary, or even desirable. Nor is the expectation that I can be reached at all hours at any location on earth an improvement in things.
Space flight is almost too depressing to contemplate. Sure, it peaked 40 years ago rather than more than 50 years ago, but it is abundantly obvious that we’re not going back to the moon that was so easily reached in 1969. Leaders of the West who allow this to continue resemble Hongxi, the fool emperor who burned the great Chinese Exploratory Armada of Zheng He. Hongxi thought the Chinese exploration program was a waste of money, and decided to invest in social programs. Sure, his reign was seen as a glorious silver age of backsheesh for the people, but he didn’t invest in China’s future, and China began to rot from within from that day until just a few years ago. Oh, I wish those delightful Internet billionaires good fortune in their various hobbies designed to get human beings, rather than government bureaucrats, back into space.
I also hope the Chinese will take up their national honor where Zheng He left off. I’m just not very optimistic about the prospects, because we’ve done so horribly badly at this in the last 40 years. Watching poor Buzz Aldrin, world bestriding colossus of my youth, jet around the world begging people to take an interest in this sort of thing fills me with intense sadness for what we have lost.
We are not living in a time of technical decline exactly, but we are also not living in a time of great progress. As such, I don’t think the world of 50 years hence will look very technologically different from the world now. Our rate of progress is fairly small, and I’m not the only one to notice. This is despite the fact that there are more technologists alive now than ever lived in human history before. Some people argue that this is because prior generations did, “the easy stuff,” leaving nothing for modern people to do. I think this is untrue. None of it was easy; it only looks that way after it is done. I could come up with all kinds of reasons why modern technologists aren’t as good as they were: rotten educational facilities, modern tort law, endless bureaucracy, the death of the lone inventor. But in the end, a Kipling couplet will suffice:
None too learned, but nobly bold,
Into the fight went our fathers of old.
I should first admit that it took quite a lot for me to actually go see Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino’s latest about a special Army unit of Jewish avengers, led by a half-Cherokee Good Ol” Boy, who rampage through German-occupied France, killing, scalping, and/or branding top Nazis, eventually slaughtering no less than the German FÃ¼hrer. I”m certainly not against counter-factual reverie, or blood splatter, and I don”t hold any reverence for the Nazi regime or feel uncomfortable with the Kill Adolf premise. (Indeed, I”d love to watch a filmic portrayal of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or one of Claus von Stauffenberg that didn”t devolve into a shallow action flick Ã la Valkyrie.) The problem is, when I saw the preview for Basterds, I simply sensed that it wasn”t made for someone like me, that I didn”t have the right disposition to enjoy it.
There I was in the theater watching a clip of “Aldo Raine” (Brad Pitt sporting a cartoonish moustache and Southern accent) telling a Wehrmacht officer, “If you ever want to eat a Sauerkraut sandwich again, take your Wiener schnitzel of a finger and point out on this map what I wanna know.” Raine, of course, wants to know the whereabouts of more “Nazis,” whom he and his boys could brutally torture (though it’s clear by the context that Raine is terrorizing Army officers.) The stoic German honorably refuses, and Brad Pitt summons one of his “basterds” with the line, “Gots a German here who wants to die for country. Oblige him.” A thug in a sweat-stained wife-beater emerges and proceeds to bash the officer’s head in with a Louisville slugger. (This basterd is portrayed by a one Eli Roth, the man behind Hostel, a classic in the genre of “torture porn,” so I”m told. And his character is named “Bear Jew,” an evocation of the gay slang term for the fat, hairy, leather-clad men who”re “on top” in S&M.)
Obviously, the scene is, at a basic level, puerile gross-out. But my question while watching it, both during the preview and the real thing, was this: With whom, exactly, are we supposed to be sympathizing? As we”ve all been repeatedly told, and as Aldo Raine reiterates at one point, the Germans acted with such inhumanity in their conquest of Europe that they deserve no humanity in return. (These days, if you so much as hint that you might think the firebombing of civilians in Dresden, or the nuking of the Japanese in Hiroshima, was a bit much, eyebrows are raised and it’s only a matter of time before you”re accused dark predilections or else “moral relativism.”) So, I guess when watching a Jew bash the brains out of a Wehrmacht officer, we Americans are all supposed to instinctively cry Yay!, just like when the home team scores a touchdown. But as I saw that repellent torture-porn auteur whale away at a dignified German officer, needless to say my sympathies weren”t where they were supposed to be … or so I thought. But after experiencing Inglourious Basterds, I began to wonder whether the basterds were really supposed to be the Good Guys, and whether Tarantino’s latest is far more equivocal, or rather far more subversive and nihilistic, than most in the MSM have recognized.
Now, if you brought this up with Tarantino himself, I”m sure he”d say something coy about how his films don”t really mean anything, he’s just former video store clerk, yadayadayada… Don”t believe him. Basterds isn”t just Tarantino’s homage to B-grade WWII shoot-“em-ups of yesteryear, like The Dirty Dozen (which includes, by the way, a scene of American soldiers murdering a cocktail party of German officers and their innocent wives, A Bridge Too Far (1977), and, of course, the Italian Spaghetti-Western-Front drama, The Inglorious Bastards (1978).
At its core, Basterds addresses that uncomfortable question asked by all serious World War II historians, and many grade-schoolers”Why didn”t they fight back? Why did the Jews allow themselves to be rounded up so easily? Why weren”t there more revolts at Auschwitz? To what degree was there actually Jewish collaboration in the Konzentrationslager? (The persistence of such nagging questions explains the intense interest in events like the Warsaw ghetto uprising, without question an important battle, but one that’s taken on a special aura as one of the very few instances of an organized Jewish assault on the Wehrmacht.)
Tarantino’s response to all this is to make a Lady-doth-Protest-Too-Much-Methinks tale of muscle-bound Jewish badasses shooting up Germans. Profiling Tarantino, Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg couldn”t help but indulge in his own Freudian dream-wish of how the Second World War should have turned out:
Early in the spring of 1944, when I was quite a bit younger than I am now, I parachuted into Nazi-occupied Poland as the leader of a team of Brooklyn-born commandos. We landed in a field not far from the train tracks that fed Jews to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. My team laid explosive charges on the tracks, destroying them utterly, and then I moved quickly on foot to the death camp itself, where I found Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death, in bed. I shot him in the face, though not before lecturing him on his sins. Before I killed him, he cried like a little Nazi bitch.
Goldberg reports that Roth called Basterds part of the new subgenre of “Kosher porn”…
Okaaay. But what’s so striking about all this, again, is the depictions of victim and perpetrator. Though the Nazi Top Brass are evil buffoons, the average Germans who appear in the film”and usually end up tortured or hacked to pieces”are, to a man, upright, honest, and handsome. Teen heartthrob Daniel BrÃ¼hl (famous for his sensitive, cute portrayal of “Alex” in Goodbye Lenin) is given a starring role as Fredrick Zoller, a German propaganda film idol. And it’s made clear by Tarantino that he’s genuinely in love with the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jewess who runs the movie theater, Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent). In turn, the New York Times‘s Manhola Dargis could barely put a lid on his unease over just how attractive Christoph Waltz was as an anti-Semitic mastermind of the SS: “Mr. Waltz’s performance is so very good, so persuasive, seductive and, crucially, so distracting that you can readily move past the moment [when his character talks about how Jews are all rats] if you choose.”
The Jewish “basterds,” on the other hand, are all lowlife sadists straight out of the rogue gallery of Pulp Fiction, and they possess about as much moral fiber as the famous “Gimp“ of Tarantino’s 1994 masterpiece.
In the German weekly Junge Freiheit, Claus Wolfschlag expresses his repulsion at the “All Germans are Nazis, ergo Kill “em All!” premise of the film, as well his contempt at the German media, who”ve treated the premier of Basterds as some Great Public Guilt Festival. (For evidence of this, look no further than the coverage Basterds has been receiving in Der Stern.) Echoing Eli Roth, Wolfschlag calls the film “pornography for anti-Germans.”
Wolfschlag’s point is legitimate, of course; however, it kept hitting me that on a dialectical level, the film’s message might actually be the exact opposite of what it’s purported to be (and what The Producers think it is.) Basterds might offer Jeffrey Goldberg the chance to experience a kosher wet dream”and another opportunity for Germans to scold themselves”but then, as incredible as it may sound, this Bob and Harvey Weinstein-produced film includes some of the most anti-Semitic portrayals of Jews that have ever seen the light of day in America. Both Steve Sailer and Stefan Kafner have suggested that Tarantino, in many ways, puts himself in the position of Joseph Goebbels in his filmmaking. Put another way, if one were to imagine the ultimate anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi propaganda film about how the Second World War was marked by distinguished German officers being terrorized by a band of Jewish maniacs, would it look much different than Inglourious Basterds?
Nor is this kind of double meaning foreign to Tarantino’s earlier work. Much like Masters of the Universe wannabes have been, for years, quoting the Randian wisdom of “Gordon Gekko,” the evil capitalist in Oliver Stone’s anti-capitalist propaganda film, Wall Street, the “Sicilians were spawned by n——-s“ scene from True Romance has been an endless source of insults for millions of jerks who love to make fun of their friends of southern Italian descent. That True Romance was written by Tarantino, an Italian-American, and the words were spoken in a scene of gritty realism, only act as layers of irony that allow Tarantino to get away with it all”much like one can present Jews as inhuman scumbags in a movie about the heroic killing of evil Nazis.
Besides, depicting the Nazis as fascinating and seductive in fantasy revenge stories is nothing new. As Andrew O”Hehir described in Salon not too long ago, the kiosk clerks of postwar Israel always kept some Nazi porn behind the register:
As many older Israelis evidently remember, the then-new nation was afflicted by a perverse pop-culture craze in the early ‘60s, at a time when nearly half the population consisted of Holocaust survivors, nationalist sentiment ran high and moral codes were extremely puritanical. Yet the newsstands in the Tel Aviv bus station sold racks of semi-pornographic pulp novels known as “Stalags,” whose utterly implausible, Penthouse Forum-meets-Marquis de Sade plots ventured into the most forbidden terrain imaginable. Stalags all followed essentially the same formula: An American or British World War II pilot (generally not Jewish) is shot down behind enemy lines, where he is imprisoned, tortured and raped by an entire phalanx of sadistic, voluptuous female SS officers. His body violated but his spirit unbroken, the plucky Yank or Brit escapes in the end to rape and murder his captors.
When I was talking about Basterds the other day with a good friend, he reminded me of the classic P.J. O”Rourke line, “Nobody has ever had a fantasy about being tied to a bed and sexually ravished by someone dressed as a liberal.” The UN’s blue-helmeted “peace keepers” who monitor elections in Nairobi simply aren”t the stuff that hot S&M fantasies are made of. Blonde SS officers in tight black leather, on the other hand… Basterds isn”t quite Luchino Visconti’s The Damned, which features Nazis cross-dressing and taking part in orgies, but Tarantino is clearly more fascinated with the villains than the “heroes.”
When he first achieved critical fame, including an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, in the mid-“90’s with Pulp Fiction, Tarantino seemed much more than just a talented hack with an encyclopedic, nerdy knowledge of the history of cinema and a penchant for retro style and gory spectacle. One might assume that the soul music, the leisure suits, the sideburns, the Jheri curls in his “70s-inflicted Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown would seem either “retro-chic” or hopeless dated by “94 and “97. In fact, they create an effect that was alternately authentic, disturbing, and surreal. At some level, all of Tarantino’s characters are “gangsters with the souls of video store clerks,” capable of amusing, sometimes tedious, Seinfeld-esque meditations on foot rubs and the French people’s love of mayonnaise on fries. But didn”t Samuel L. Jackson’s lecture to Tim Roth on the nature of power represent something more? Or an attempt at something more?
Anyway, after Tarantino’s long directorial absence (1997-2003) following the box-office failure of Jackie Brown, his sole effort at non-ultra-violence, he decided to restart his career by indulging in “70s kitsch qua kitsch and including all the ridiculously acrobatic thrills of the kung-fu drama, old and new. Hence Kill Bill, Uma Thurman’s yellow jumpsuit, and her ability to run up walls while chopping to bits Lucy Liu’s gang of bodyguards.
In this line, Inglourious Basterds is a kind of worst-of-all-possible-Tarantinos amalgam. The ambition (or pretence) of something meaningful is present, of course, with the evocation of the Jewish experience in World War II. However, Tarantino somehow manages to create a heroic Jewish fantasy that ends up making all the Jews look repugnant. He presents the Nazis as attractive, quasi-seductive, but then is never quite brave enough to encourage his audience to actually sympathize with them, and thus break through the “Germans = Evil” narrative of most every American World War II movie.
Returning to that scene in which the “Bear” cracks the skull of a stoic German general: Whom are we supposed to sympathize with, victim or perpetrator? … In the end, I think it was just about the blood splatter.
Let’s suppose a business employed ten workers in June. Along came Barack Obama and huffed and puffed and blew six jobs away. Four employees now run a pared-down operation. The next round of retrenchments will invariably entail fewer than six people. The president, or any other wolf in sheep’s clothing, may declare that our proprietor has shed fewer jobs in the month of July. But he may not frame a mathematical inevitability as a sign of economic recovery.
Fewer jobs lost probably means that there are fewer jobs to lose.
Nevertheless, this is exactly how the president spun the static employment market”and, to be fair, aided by statisticians at the Bureau of Labor, past presidents have likewise finessed unemployment.
Thus, the slowing rate of job losses has become the measure du jour of economic recovery. Employers laid off fewer workers in July”247,000 as opposed to 443,000 in June, which led the Associated Press to conclude that, “The jobless rate dipped for the first time in 15 months to 9.4 percent in July, from 9.5 percent the previous month.”
But even the AP has been unable to conceal that the real unemployment rate is 16.3 percent. The discrepancy between the official and the awful numbers has arisen because the former count, conveniently, “only those who have looked for work in the last four weeks.” “Hundreds of thousands of people, some discouraged by their failed job searches, left the labor force. The labor force includes only those who are either employed or are looking for work.”
Not in the habit of pandering to power, the Center for Immigration Studies explains that the broader measure of employment, referred to by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as U-6, includes the unemployed and people who would like to work, but who have not looked for a job recently, as well as those involuntarily working part-time. According to the U-6 measure, close to twenty two million Americans are without work.
Alas, the economic “experts” have a lot riding on the recovery ass. To that end, they are in the habit of conjuring constructs that help their political masters to mask economic reality.
Yet another unbeatable bit of political fraud is the fig leaf of a “jobless recovery.”
A jobless economic recovery is the equivalent of a housewarming for the homeless.
This sophistic figure of speech serves to coat with a patina of scholarly respectability the systemic effects of employment-killing government policies.
Typically, establishment economists will waffle about “structural changes “ permanent shifts in the distribution of workers throughout the economy”” causing job losses. At the same time, these stooges will genuflect to GDP growth”a highly manipulable indicator”as proof that the jobless are fussing needlessly, and should eat cake, if bread is unaffordable
The gross domestic product, however, is a consumption-driven statistic: It measures precisely the kind of economic Brownian motion of which much less is required if a genuine recovery is to take place.
“This statistic is constructed in accordance with the view that what drives an economy is not the production of wealth but rather its consumption,” observes economist Frank Shostak of the Mises Institute. “What matters here is demand for final goods and services. Since consumer outlays are the largest part of overall demand, it is commonly held that consumer demand sets in motion economic growth.”
A slow-down in the shedding of jobs, or “a jobless recovery””these semantic exercises in obscurantism conceal that the conditions for an economic bounce-back are nowhere apparent.
Having just received Barack’s blessing for a second term, Fed supremo Ben. Bernanke has yet to raise interest rates as he ought to. Americans have not begun saving in earnest. Prices are not being allowed to fall to reflect reality, and permit people to purchase the same amount of goods with less available funds. Legislative intervention is delaying the liquidation of bad debt and worthless, illiquid assets at prices set by the market, not manufactured by government. We”re still a broke and bankrupt consumer economy, increasingly penetrated and enervated by a tentacular bureaucracy.
Absent the conditions for an economic rebounding, sustainable jobs”and no job generated or granted by the government qualified”will not materialize.
On the day after Ted Kennedy’s death, the American Spectator’s James Antle wrote the following concerning the late senator’s involvement in the 1969 drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne: “The man who would become a beloved father figure to the sons and daughters of his slain brother, left another family’s daughter to die in an incident that would have ended virtually any other politician’s career – and should have ended his.”
Also on the day after Kennedy’s death, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford was again defending his office. Said Sanford, “I am not going to be railroaded out of office by political opponents or folks who were never fans of mine in the first place.” Amongst his non-fans were apparently the pundits on each major news outlet, who took a break from the Teddy coverage not simply to broadcast Sanford’s press conference, but to treat the governor as a sideshow joke and mock the very fact that he remains in office.
That Kennedy is held up as a hero and Sanford remains a villain says more about the political leanings of the media elite than our public morality. Although Teddy used his name and influence to save his political career and avoid responsibility for taking a life, the Left stills admires the so-called “liberal lion of the Senate” who was treated like royalty in both life and death. Yet Sanford, whose single instance of adultery would be laughed at as insufficient by any of the babe-bagging Kennedy brothers, is persona non grata. Kennedy will always get a pass because he was a dutiful liberal and Sanford will get no mercy because he’s a conservative. And, as the governor correctly notes, it is no accident that those who attack Sanford the most today over his adultery and related issues, were not-so-coincidentally, never fans of his politics in the first place.
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American statesmen are typically measured by how much they’ve “accomplished,” which basically means how much money or liberty they’ve extracted from citizens to put toward their own political ends. In his book “Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty” author Ivan Eland takes the opposite approach by categorizing American presidents by how little they accomplished, or in other words, actually took their oaths seriously by keeping the executive branch within its constitutional boundaries. Whereas, most historians rate the most big government presidents as the greatest, like Abraham Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eland ranks these men at 29 and 31 respectively. Who gets Eland’s top billing? 10th president John Tyler, writes Eland, “John Tyler gets the number one ranking here not only because he favored limited government, but because he fought members of his own party to preserve it.” Tyler sounds pretty conservative, which is probably why you don’t hear much about him.
But like Lincoln and FDR, you have heard plenty and will continue to hear more about the many, supposedly saintly virtues of Ted Kennedy. Like all good liberals Teddy believed America’s greatness was in its government, and whether fighting for civil rights legislation, raising minimum wage laws or national healthcare, the senator spent his life extolling the virtues of the state. That Kennedy arguably did some good during his half century in the U.S. Senate does not change the fact that for the millions of Americans who claim to abhor business-as-usual in Washington, Teddy was the quintessential DC businessman. If it is true that Kennedy represented what was best about our government, it must also be true that he represented what was worst, as the senator was arguably more entrenched than any other in our corrupt, Capitol Hill political machine. Kennedy played gangster politics right up until the week before his death, as he attempted to help rewrite Massachusetts law to allow its Democratic governor to appoint someone to fill his senate seat. This law was first changed in 2004 – in an effort also spearheaded by Teddy – when it was feared that GOP Governor Mitt Romney might appoint a Republican to Democrat John Kerry’s senate seat, should Kerry become president.
In treating government as god, I suppose it is only natural that liberals would continue to remember Teddy as a near angel despite the glaring fact that he wasn’t. Antle notes that, “Kennedy paid less of a price for behavior that led to the death of a human being than did professional football player Michael Vick for cruelty to animals.” Indeed. And for me, liberals’ ongoing love for his lifelong pursuit of “social justice” remains hard to reconcile with the fact that the career of Edward M. Kennedy would have never even been possible – if he had not first used his privilege and family name to get away with murder.
GSTAAD: What I find quite fascinating is how Americans have a blind spot about their own flaws in the area of human rights, and how they feel they have a duty to lecture other countries on the issue. I am, of course, referring to the outrage over the Libyan deal, an outrage shared by most people who have not sold out to Big Oil. But successive United States governments have never had any qualms in maintaining close relationships with dictatorial regimes the world over, so suddenly why the screams? Didn’t the sainted Obama play footsie with Gaddafi in Rome some weeks ago at the G8 summit? And weren’t the first people to be flown safely out of the United States following 9/11 Bin Laden’s relatives? Who do they think they’re kidding?
Let’s face it, money comes first where human rights are concerned, and Big Oil money before any other kind. The Americans recently forced Switzerland to reveal their bank secrets to the IRS or else. The Swiss folded quicker than Saddam’s Republican Guard. Switzerland is my adopted country and the best place in the world to live. It is a real democracy starting at village level. Yet she threw in the towel when faced with sanctions that Uncle Sam refuses to impose on, say, Israel, for its possession of nuclear weapons and illegal occupation of the West Bank. Both Switzerland and Israel are democracies, but not all democracies are the same in Uncle Sam’s eyes. And it gets worse. Last week the Swiss President, Hans-Rudolf Merz, pulled down his lederhosen and humbly apologised to that arch clown and conman Colonel Gaddafi for the brief detention last year of Hannibal Gaddafi, the clown’s son.
Such, however, are the joys of Realpolitik. Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife were arrested after a couple who worked for them managed to escape and report to the Swiss police how they had been beaten and held captive by the Gaddafi pair. After one or two nights in the pokey, the Gaddafis were allowed to leave the country after claiming diplomatic immunity, a joke in itself. Libya threatened an oil embargo against land-locked and oil-less Helvetia. For good measure, the Libyans then arrested a couple of Swiss tourists and held them on trumped-up charges. So the Swiss folded their hand, ate humble pie and the two hostages will soon be home in Switzerland’s verdant hills and mountains. But all’s not well. At the time, I wrote in these pages that Switzerland should have frozen Libyan accounts, made other arrangements for her oil needs — there is always Russia, not to mention Saudi Arabia, whose moolah is choking Swiss bank coffers — and hold Hannibal Gaddafi and wife for trial. But I’m a fool, a dumbo who believes that there is justice in this world, and that beating up a couple of poor Filipinos has consequences. There are consequences, but only for those without power and wealth. Gaddafi’s genius is for mischief-making and for making a mockery out of civilised behaviour. And we, the West, are responsible for letting him do it to us because Big Oil holds a gun to our temple. It also shows the total contempt our elected clowns feel for those of us stupid enough to vote for them. Blair, Brown, Miliband, Straw, Mandelson, Obama…I could go on for ever, liars and hypocrites all.
Meanwhile, Bernie Madoff’s feeders are back in the news. Some not-so-wise investors are suing the auditors of the feeder funds who made Madoff and his family very rich, and themselves eventually very poor. It’s about time. My special bad guy is Andres Piedrahita, the Colombian whose motto, according to the Wall Street Journal, was ‘As long as I make more money than those investing with me’. I’ve known Piedrahita for years but he was canny enough not to approach me. He’s a loudmouth braggart who still swans around in his yacht and private jet despite the misery of many of his investors.
My particular bone with him has nothing to do with Madoff. Years before he had taken down the Swanee Adam Shaw, son of that wonderful writer Irwin Shaw, a friend of mine and a very brave second world war correspondent. Irwin wrote some of the finest short stories ever, including ‘Girls in their Summer Dresses’, and good novels like The Young Lions, Two Weeks in Another Town, Evening in Byzantium, and Rich Man, Poor Man. Irwin had only one son, Adam, who went to school in Gstaad and turned out to be a fine writer as well as a tough guy, like his old man. I have not heard any news about him for years, but it seems he invested his inheritance with Piedrahita, who lost it all. After Piedrahita struck it very rich with Madoff, Adam Shaw should have tracked him down, beaten the crap out of him and demanded restitution. But that’s not the way of the world, is it? If he had, he probably would have ended up in jail, which is what this column is all about. Those who most deserve prison are running Western governments and getting fat on oil moolah.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which usually concerns itself with “consumer protection” issues, is now taking an interest in the journalism industry. The financially strapped New York Times reports: “The commission is planning two days of workshops in December”titled From Town Criers to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?””to examine the state of the news industry.”
This ominous development ought to scare the pants off of anyone concerned with the maintenance of a free society—and the continued existence of dissent in an increasingly conformist profession where “journalists” are often reduced to the status of mere stenographers as they eagerly communicate to the masses the words, wishes, wit, and wisdom of government officials.
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The FTC was the progeny of the “Progressive” Era, which, as Murray Rothbard reminds us, “begins around 1900 with Teddy Roosevelt and so forth. Woodrow Wilson cements it with his so-called reforms which totally subject the banking system to federal power and with the Federal Trade Commission, which did for business what the Interstate Commerce Commission did for the railroads. In other words, he imposed a system of monopoly capitalism, or corporate state monopoly, which we now call the partnership of the government and of big business and industry, which means essentially a corporate state, or we can call it economic fascism.”
The creation of the FTC was occasioned by a campaign for the radical expansion of the federal government, and, not coincidentally, the beginning of World War I—a set of circumstances that roughly resembles what we are experiencing today. This gives a particularly sinister edge to the FTC’s sudden interest in the struggling newspaper industry and remarks by FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz to the effect that “Competition among news organizations involves more than just price.”
That’s indubitably true: it’s all about content. Yet one fails to see how”in a free society”the government can concern itself with such matters. Or why it should. That is, until one reads onward in the Times piece, and discovers that Leibowitz “is married to Ruth Marcus, an editorial writer at the Washington Post.”
The Post, like all newspapers, is losing money hand over fist: apparently its niche as the voice of elite opinion and the conventional wisdom isn”t paying off. Those “lunches” with powerful politicians and grasping lobbyists might have made some big bucks, if the whole shady business hadn”t blown up in their faces and forced them to cancel. So, when all else fails, these sorts instinctively turn to the government for some advantage or handout, although the exact nature of the “newspaper bailout“ that all too many journalists have been talking about has yet to take shape. That’s what these “workshops” are for: they”ll figure out a way to feed at the public trough and no doubt come up with a credible-sounding rationale, as per the Times piece:
“Though some may be uncomfortable with government oversight of any aspect of journalism, the F.T.C. seems to be “attempting to play a facilitating and public educational role in gathering together various disciplines and perspectives to talk about the crisis in mainstream journalism,” said Neil Henry, a professor and dean at the graduate school of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. “The government’s willingness to raise the profile of this issue, and to help explain why it is important for a national conversation, I think in general is welcome.”
The tone is unmistakable: those few archaic types who may experience discomfort at the thought of some Washington bureaucrat prescribing a cure for what ails journalistic enterprise are living fossils, ungrateful wretches, and paranoid to boot. No need to worry, though: Professor Henry assures us the Feds are just “facilitating” the “national conversation””but who started this conversation, anyway? A bunch of self-styled “mainstream” journalists and a government bureaucrat married to one, who have a pecuniary interest in finagling federal funding for their cash-strapped employers and stifling the competition, i.e., Internet-based news organization (such as, say, this one).
As the FTC Web site puts it:
The workshops will consider a wide range of issues, including: the economics of journalism and how those economics are playing out on the Internet and in print … online news aggregators, and bloggers; and the variety of governmental policie”including antitrust, copyright, and tax policy “ that have been raised as possible means of finding new ways for journalism to thrive.
So what this means is that the Old Journalism is going to deploy an agency of the federal government to regulate the industry in order to save these tired old dinosaurs who don”t deserve to survive in the first place. They”ll use every weapon in the government’s arsenal to do it: antitrust laws (watch out, Craigslist!), copyright laws (forget about linking to an Associated Press story: that’s copyright infringement!), and “tax policy””if we can”t get them by hook or by crook, we”ll just tax the New Media to death. That‘ll teach them to respect their elders!
Note, also, that the professor is very specific in his concerns: it’s “the crisis in mainstream journalism” he’s oh-so-worried about and that the government is going to find a solution to—as opposed to, you know, the other kind of journalism, which is all icky, not to mention downright disreputable.
So what is it about “mainstream journalism,” anyway, that led to this supposed “crisis,” which government facilitators”such as a man married to a Washington Post columnist “ are going to lead us out of?
Well, I”m just guessing, but maybe “consumers””i.e., readers”weren”t at all happy with the level and nature of the coverage provided by the Old Journalism. Maybe they began to distrust and finally abandon completely all those “news” organizations that reported with a straight face the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Maybe the social and political collusion that goes on in Washington between government officials and “journalists” led them to distrust the latter as much as they disdain the former. It hardly matters that these consumers don”t need or want “protection” from bloggers and non-“mainstream” news sources”but you can bet your bottom dollar they”re going to get it anyway. After all, the Nanny State knows best: we”re from the government, and we”re here to help…
The “mainstream” media is, by definition, the instrument and servant of the state. The Washington Post, for example, doesn”t challenge the conventional wisdom; rather, it lives to enforce it as accepted fact. And when the “facts” turn out to be otherwise, as in the case of Iraq’s WMDs”well, then, “Oops! That’s what everybody thought!“
And, of course, the media did a lot to ensure the election of our current president. Without all that favorable”even fawning”coverage, he might not have gotten the Democratic nomination and sailed to victory quite as easily as he did. So this sudden interest in the preservation of “mainstream” journalism is the payoff. In the American spoils system, all the victor’s foot soldiers are rewarded with their fair share of the pelf.
The idea that the FTC is going to start regulating the journalism business”or even start a “national conversation” about the prospect of doing so”ought to send chills down the spines of every real journalist in this country.
Unfortunately, it won”t: most of these guys and gals are self-styled “progressives“ who can”t very well make an argument against government intervention in their industry while they endorse bailing out the rest of the economy. Why, the government is our friend—and if you don”t believe that, you”re a wacko extremist who’s probably bringing guns to town hall meetings.
The way they”ll lull liberals into accepting this unprecedented FTC “interest” in journalism is to aver that this is Obama’s government we”re talking about here, and he would never countenance government control of the news industry. Our guy is in the saddle—so don”t worry about that whip he’s carrying, because of course he won”t actually use it…
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A media bailout is coming. They”ll think up some sort of half-a**ed rationale for it. Leave it to Professor Henry and his trendy confreres; that’s what they get paid for. They won”t call it government control of the news, they won”t acknowledge that’s what they want, but when the first news aggregator gets prosecuted by the FTC for “copyright infringement” and the indispensable Craigslist is slapped with a fine for “unfair competition,” please don”t say I didn”t warn you.
The FTC couldn”t regulate Bernie Madoff, in spite of being tipped off about his activities and presented with evidence of crimes—but they sure can start a “national conversation” about saving the sorry a**es of the Washington Post and the New York Times. Well, I”d like to start a “national conversation” of my own”all about how scared, clueless, and terminally lazy “journalists” and their friends in high places are angling for advantage, at our expense. That’s one conversation Leibowitz, his fellow bureaucrats, and their journalistic handmaidens would never permit.
Under Discussion: Critchlow, Donald T, The Conservative Ascendancy: How the GOP Right Made Political History, Harvard University Press (2007), 368 pages.
In his new history of the conservative movement, Donald Critchlow retells a story that should be quite familiar by now: Modern American conservatism, from its inception in the 1950s, was an intellectual synthesis of the classical liberal tradition, emphasizing individualism and free enterprise, and older European traditions expressing skepticism of liberal modernity. This intellectual framework found its expression in a fiercely anti-Communist outlook that resulted in the abandonment of the traditional foreign-policy isolationism of the American Right in favor of Cold War militarism. Regarding domestic policy, these new conservatives followed the Old Right in professing their intention to roll back the welfare state apparatus that emerged from the New Deal. This program and its accompanying ideology were sold to activists and the public at large with an emphasis on patriotism, hawkish foreign policy views, social conservatism and traditional values.
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According to Critchlow, the conservatives were nearly relegated to irrelevance on the American political scene on several occasions, only to make a surprising comeback at a later point. The key events Critchlow points to are the defeat of Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964, the perceived betrayal of conservatives by President Nixon and the subsequent scandals surrounding his administration, and the revitalization of the Democratic Party symbolized by the election of President Clinton in 1992. In each of these situations, Critchlow argues, conservatives seemed to be “down for the count” only to reemerge at a future point in defiance of the predictions of analysts and pundits.
Following the Goldwater defeat, conservatives were able to rebound by exploiting the emerging cultural divide concerning matters of patriotism, race, gender, sex, culture, and religion that continues to figure prominently in American politics at present. Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” (a term not mentioned by Critchlow) was successful in breaking the Democrats’ hold on the South and allowing the Republicans to take the White House in 1968.
Once in office, Nixon was a disappointment to conservatives, not only failing to roll back but actually expanding and further institutionalizing the welfare state initiatives of the Great Society. His “realist” foreign policy and willingness to disengage from the Vietnam War without total victory, and the thawing of relations with China also contrasted with the ferocious anti-Communism of the American Right. The Watergate related scandals left the GOP in shambles and allowed the Democrats to make a comeback with the election of President Carter in 1976. One of the more interesting aspects of Critchlow’s thesis is his argument that Ronald Reagan’s failure to obtain the Republican nomination in ‘76 actually saved his political career, his presidential ambitions, and the conservative movement along with them. If yet another conservative hero like Reagan had suffered defeat in the same manner as Goldwater 12 years earlier, conservatism might well have come to be regarded as lacking viability as a movement capable of achieving electoral success.
Though Reagan remained personally popular with conservatives, the performance of his administration was, again, a disappointment and his successor, George H. W. Bush, was far worse. After the Democrats were able to gain control of the presidency, along both houses of Congress in 1992, the conservative Republicans made a striking comeback, with sweeping congressional victories in ‘94, the subsequent election of George W. Bush for two terms at the onset of the twenty-first century, and the total control of Washington from 2000 to ‘06.
Still, as Critchlow points out, conservatives’ behavior while in power has been strikingly different from the kind of governance the movement’s founders envisioned in the 1950s: successive Republican administrations, including the Reagan and George W. Bush ones, which were endorsed by the movement, failed in spectacular fashion to curtail the growth of “big government,” and instead launched their own “conservative” social programs in education, welfare, medicine, and even the arts.
William F. Buckley and George W. Bush: Flying High
This surprising turn-of-events brings us to a gaping hole in Critchlow’s analysis.
So far as his contingency theory goes, he makes his case fairly well. The right-wing Republicans have no doubt been given a number of political and electoral gifts over the years, beginning with the changes in American society of the kind that launched the so-called “culture wars.” Of no less significance is the persistent bumbling of the Republicans’ opponents, such as the inept administrations of Presidents Johnson or Carter and the often directionless, stale, and moribund Democratic Party and wider American Left.
This is all true, but Critchlow’s work is just as significant for what it leaves out as what it actually discusses.
The key to understanding modern American conservatism can be found in a statement on the final page of Critchlow’s book: “The GOP Right took advantage of a population shift to the Sunbelt states and the desertion of whites from the Democratic Party.” The question is why did this population shift occur in the first place and how is it relevant to the “conservative ascendancy”?
The growth of the Sunbelt population emerged in direct correlation to the growth of the military-industrial complex during World War II and the early Cold War period. The growth of industry and manufacturing in these regions was directly related to military production and this massive expansion of armaments and other war-related industries created a high-wage blue-collar sector and an expanded white collar sector that became the foundation of suburban population growth and the accompanying conservative social and political values of the emerging Sunbelt.
The military industries headquartered in the Sunbelt subsequently initiated a challenge to the traditional hegemony of the “northeastern establishment” (banking), long the center of America’s traditional ruling class. Towards this end, the arms manufacturers made common cause with other “old money” elites, such as the Texas oil and the Mellon banking dynasties. Critchlow drops hints that these forces were, indeed, the real power behind postwar American conservatism. For instance, the role of William F. Buckley, Jr.‘s National Review in providing the intellectual leadership of the conservative movement is discussed. Critchlow fails to mention that Buckley’s magazine operated at a loss for years after its inception and was underwritten by his family’s oil wealth and other donors. Critchlow also discusses the role of “philanthropies such as the Scaife Fund, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Bradley Foundation” and “wealthy conservative benefactors such as Joseph Coors,” along with “think tanks” such as the American Enterprise Institute whose president, A.D. Marshall, was also CEO of General Electric. There was never any company that had closer ties to the military-industrial complex than General Electric. Critchlow mentions the Heritage Foundation, as well, which was financed by the “Mellon heir Richard Scaife.”
Critchlow’s work is rather narrowly focused. He concentrates merely on the operation of the political machinery by the conservative movement’s activists and politicians and the writings and publications of the movement’s intellectuals and theoreticians (some might say propagandists). Had Critchlow examined further the broader economic, class, military and foreign policy forces behind postwar conservatism, he might have been in a better position to assess the movement’s failures and successes.
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Conservatism has succeeded in achieving only one of its stated goals and that is the permanent escalation of the military budget and the permanent expansion of America’s foreign military presence. On every other issue claimed by this brand of conservatism (a misnomer?), the level of failure is overwhelming. Rolling back the welfare state? “Big government” is now bigger and more expansive than ever. Fiscal restraint? The U.S. public debt is larger than ever to the point where America biggest debtor in world history. Social conservatism and traditional values? America is a more culturally leftist and egalitarian society today than ever before, and leads the world in the advancement of “diversity” and the fight against intolerance.
Indeed, given the phenomenal success of the “conservatives” in expanding military spending and military interventionism, and their phenomenal failure everything else, one might be tempted to argue that the former was the only issue that ever really mattered all along, and that the grassroots economic, fiscal, social, cultural, religious and patriotic conservatives who comprised the activist base and key voting blocks were, to use an ironic Leninist term, nothing more than “useful idiots.”
Liberal pride in Ted Kennedy’s career and devotion to government cannot erase his dark past.
Recently while talking to a “moderate” conservative and faithful NR reader, I was struck by this person’s profoundly negative view of the past, including the recent past. When I mentioned research by Thomas Sowell in the late 1970s proving that American blacks had made greater economic strides in the 1930s and 1940s than in the 1960s or 1970s, my acquaintance responded by saying that no economic gain is as important as the fact that blacks can now vote in large numbers. When I then proceeded to cite a study that suggested that women were happier in the 1950s than they seem to be now, the retort was that women in the 1950s had no right to be happy. They were forced to be homemakers and were still restricted in their career opportunities. This reminded me of a column of George Will’s that appeared in Newsweek during the presidential primaries in 1992. It was an attack on Pat Buchanan for having said that he was happy to have grown up during the Eisenhower era. Such a statement, according to Will, indicated gross insensitivity to blacks, who were then being segregated and kept from voting in many parts of America.
There are two observations that I would like to make about what is now the established view of the past, including the age in which Buchanan, Will, and I all grew up.
One, talking about politics and history is rarely “scientific” and less so in our frenetically progressive and anti-traditional age than in the older bourgeois age that preceded it. It was once possible for the devoutly Lutheran German historian Leopold von Ranke to write about the Renaissance Papacy with detachment and even sympathy, because historians in 19th-century Europe were expected to write that way. (Of course in practice not all historians met such a demanding standard, but at least they knew what the standard was.) In our age, by contrast, any failure to dwell on sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia in one’s account of the past will likely result in the kind of career that I and other academic mavericks of my acquaintance have had to endure.
Curiously, as cultural Marxist fixations have taken over universities and commercial presses, the word “scientific” continues to be attached to all things good and sensitive. For 20 years I have taught in a “political science” department, in which “science” is rarely taught. Most of my colleagues are intent on pointing out how far we have progressed, thanks to a benevolent government, from the poisonous prejudices of a less enlightened past. They also stress how much more still must be done before we can truly practice “fairness.” Other “political scientists” try to counter this argument by getting their students to vote Republican. These “scientific” classes have often nothing to do with the kind of exercise that one might have to pursue in a study about how rapid oxidation results in fire.
But there is no need to single out political scientists for blame, and especially since one of my female colleagues, who teaches statistics, works hard to hide from her students her strong libertarian views. Unlike 99 percent of her colleagues, this young lady is not an ideological missionary. In any case my experience with Poli Sci teachers has never been as bad as what I”ve endured from my colleagues in the humanities. This is a field that at our college and elsewhere now includes such attractions for the cognitively challenged as “women’s studies” and “diversity” minors. And for those who teach in these areas, being “scientific” and “objective” means being unswervingly PC.
Two, it is a puzzle to me, which can only be explained by the hegemonic PC ideology, that a multiplicity of views about the value of historical change is no longer permitted. There was a time when the “conservative” response to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was “This could radicalize American politics!” and when conservatives responded to the argument that Castro had increased literacy in Cuba with statements about “how this means that the masses will be reading the government’s communist propaganda.” In a similar vein, an earlier conservative movement, and even many people then on the left, attacked the feminists in the 1960s for wishing to displace domestic life as the primary sphere of activities for women. If one, for example, cared deeply about the perpetuation of a Euro-American population with at least average Western intelligence, why would one be in favor of pushing women into the job market and away from a maternal role as the preferred way of life for them? Moreover, simply saying women can have it all, while belittling those who stay at home, will likely have no other effect than the one it is now having, namely, contributing to a sub-replacement reproduction level for indigenous Western populations and the transformation of heterosexual marriages, together with children, into multiple “family arrangements,” including group marriages in Holland.
Given how things have turned out, a traditionalist may well sympathize with the advocacy by Eleanor Roosevelt (who was hardly a conservative in her age) of a “single-family wage,” one that would allow working men to support his family, without having to send their wives out to work. In this arrangement, with restricted job possibilities for women, wives would stay home (like my eldest daughter) and look after the rising generation. Note that I”m not glorifying the world I grew up in. I am simply pointing out that it was reasonably constructed, given what it valued.
It should also be possible to view other recent historical changes without ritualized fits of guilt or transports of joy about overcoming the past. The civil rights movement was, at least for me, a profoundly problematic development. Although I personally find little moral justification for denying access to educational institutions to worthy candidates of all races, the civil rights movement was about a lot more. Out of this cataclysm came certain changes of a kind that William F. Buckley in the 1960s suggested would undermine surviving constitutional restraints on the American managerial state. It is dishonest to separate things like the politics of guilt among American whites generated by the media, churches, and public education, black misrule in American cities, the radical course that both the American republic and American culture have taken since the 1960s, from the “civil rights revolution,” the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and other spin-offs of the drive for black “equality.”
When Charles Krauthammer attacked Trent Lott in 2005 for praising the states-rightist and onetime segregationist Strom Thurmond on his 100th birthday as someone who is “deaf” to the greatest American triumph in Krauthammer’s life, this neocon guru was not giving us the entire story. For the sake of honesty, Krauthammer should also have acknowledged the social degeneration of black America, the gruesome quality of black urban politics, and the leftward swing of our politics as all being related to what he wishes us to worship.
To draw an apt comparison: One might admire the French Revolution for abolishing the remnants of serfdom in France. But full disclosure requires that historians call attention to the Jacobin terror and the Vendee massacres as well as to those sides of the Revolution they might happen to like. It is also necessary to ask in the case of our most recent revolution whether a greater good might have been accomplished if certain changes had occurred in a more piecemeal fashion, that is, without having the government mobilize black voters, whose weight would be felt entirely on the left or without having courts micromanage social change in race relations and eventually in everything else in American life. Have we really benefited as a constitutional republic with a onetime limited government because blacks who were once discouraged from voting now do so in large enough numbers to tip our two parties and politicians in a radically statist direction?
One need not be a Klansman to notice this effect. And it is quite possible to see it as inescapable result of the U.S. becoming a more egalitarian society in the post-World War Two years. But why should we all be required to celebrate this fact? As the English classical liberal Fitzjames Stephen said about the inevitability of universal suffrage in the late nineteenth century: there is a difference between observing a rising tide “and singing “hosanna” to the river god.” As a critical historian, I think that it may be a good idea to discuss revolutionary developments from all sides, without shutting up those who point to the hole in the donut. Needless to say, the aforesaid hole is not only about the injustices once inflicted on a growing list of designated minorities. An open historical discussion about race and gender relations would also address such currently forbidden topics as the high rates of violence in almost all black societies, the critical role of black Africans in the slave trade, the accumulating evidence about socially significant gender differences, and, above all, the professional sanctions leveled against those who engage politically incorrect questions.
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The final related point I would make is that there is nothing admirable or even reasonable about such former elites as American WASPs reveling in their disappearance as a ruling culture. There is now a debate over on the unauthorized right between zealous critics of Jewish influence in Western countries and those who, like myself, believe that WASPdom has destroyed itself. To put my cards on the table: I”ve never heard American Jews or American blacks pour as much contempt on white Protestant America as I hear coming from white Protestant intellectuals and clergypersons. Like the Germans, repentant WASPs delight in Shamstolz, being morally arrogant while lamenting the bigotry of their ancestors.
When a younger colleague of mine recently published a book on the Progressive historians at the University of Wisconsin, he dutifully devoted several pages to the “nativist” and “sexist” mindset of his WASP subjects. And he cited with apparent approval a New York Jewish Marxist, who had quarreled with Merle Curti and then attacked this Wisconsin Progressive historian as a prejudiced white Protestant. The evidence given by my friend, who is himself a Midwestern WASP, for Curti’s lapse into atavistic gentile behavior was less than convincing. All he seemed to show was that his generally leftist subjects did not always conform to the most updated edition of the PC catechism.
My friend also brought up the putative dark side of historian Frederick Jackson Turner, who, when he encountered a recently arrived Russian Jew, in side-locks and a black caftan, in Boston in 1909, observed that it would take a long time to assimilate such people. I wonder whether my friend has any idea about how a non-WASP society, except for the one that this stranger had come from, would have reacted to the same sight. Most Israeli Jews of my acquaintance would have been even less tolerant than Turner of that exotic person whom the Wisconsin-born historian once chanced upon. It was a mark of Turner’s tolerance that he hoped to absorb this stranger into his own culture, in the fullness of time.
One of my most vivid graduate school memories was listening to a speech given by Yale President Kingman Brewster expressing unqualified support for the Black Panthers. I recall being shocked to hear this direct linear descendant of two founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony behave like such a jerk. But Brewster was certainly not a more extreme anti-racist than his fellow-patrician and Yale chaplain, William Sloan Coffin. This Congregationalist chaplain had trouble even finishing a sentence without deploring the slave trade in which his ancestors had once been implicated. And if I think back hard enough, most of the WASP patricians whom I met at Yale as a graduate student were almost as whacky as Brewster and Coffin. Their pompous self-debasement had progressed so far then that they didn”t need Alan Dershowitz or Cornell West to come scourge them.
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The tirades against WASP nativism and close-mindedness, often produced by their tribe, have caused me to wonder by what ethereal standard these critics are judging their past. What other group in world history has been more “tolerant” or less hostile to outsiders than were white Protestants? Although some of their progenitors had engaged in the slave trade, so had the rest of the human race, and particularly blacks for a far longer time. And only WASPs feel guilty about social institutions that most other groups have taken for granted. Needless to say, these other groups are all too happy to browbeat masochistic Westerners about doing what everyone else has done. And for all I know, this browbeating may be serving psychological needs on both sides.
I once listened to an Ashanti cab driver in Washington boasting about how his tribe had sold the black slaves who would be used to construct the U.S. capital. Whether it was true or not, I found this boast to be refreshing. The African cab driver did not suffer from the choking sense of guilt I encounter in American WASPs. Enemies of their own putative prejudices, they have come to remind me of the elderly Irish spinster, who would drive the village priest batty by confessing to trivial and often imaginary sins. There is something unseemly and even profoundly pathological about such a perpetually overburdened conscience. The question that occurs to me as I observe such politics of guilt is “What would Nietzsche say?”