The Calculus of Freedom

Peter Grant has resurrected the most important political questions of all time: those that were undoubtedly on Thomas Jefferson’s mind as he penned the critical passage of the Declaration of Independence:

Who decides what constitutes “happiness”? Who decides what constitutes “the populace’s welfare”? Who determines what is (or what should be) “the ultimate good” of the populace, or a society, or a nation?

These are precisely the right questions for our time. That sort of murky utilitarianism is the foundation of oligarchy. Keynes called it the rule of a “wise minority.” Most power-seekers either believe in that arrangement without question, or use it as a benevolent veneer over their true orientation and intentions. In recognition of their centrality to America’s current crisis, I repost the following, which first appeared at Eternity Road on March 9, 2005. I’ll provide additional thoughts after the repost.


Your Curmudgeon received quite a lot of E-mail after posting this tirade. [That was a dissection of a rather fatuous Robert Locke column from American Conservative webzine.FWP] Most of it was moderately to strongly in agreement, but a couple of letters were dismissive or condemnatory. Their unifying theme was: Things are working okay now, so by what right or standard should we concede any respect to the libertarian thesis that lots of things are out of kilter and require the swiftest possible correction?

There was one writer who took your Curmudgeon to task for his reliance on rights, which, according to this gentleman, don’t actually exist:

You harp on “rights” as if you actually know what you’re talking about, but I defy you to point to one and drag it out in front of God and everybody. Anyone can claim that this or that thing they want is a “right.” Isn’t that exactly the counter you’re always flinging at socialists and special interests?

Let it never be said that your Curmudgeon doesn’t take a challenge like that seriously. Indeed, it’s the only kind of challenge that has a real bearing on any of the fundamental questions of governance.

1. Objectives And Constraints.

Government is often viewed as entirely a practical affair, but whether or not government — the organized, legitimized use of coercive force by an institution chartered for that purpose — must live under constraints of any kind is an entirely theoretical one. The key to the entire subject is a four-letter word: work.

Every human activity of any kind exists within an envelope composed of two different things:

  • Objectives,
  • Constraints.

One’s objectives are the things he wishes to achieve, acquire, or prevent. One’s constraints are the things he may not or must not do along the way, for whatever reasons. Certain constraints — the laws of the physical universe — apply to all men at all times. Others are contextual, or identity-related; for example, in a regime that recognizes property rights, Smith would be constrained from pursuing any of his objectives by making free with Jones’s property.

2. Theoretical Bases For Government.

A government, being a human institution, must rest upon one of only three kinds of basis for its existence and its operation:

  1. Hobbesian absolutism (“Princes are gods”) denies that the State, however organized, need suffer any constraint whatsoever.
  2. Benthamite utilitarianism argues that constraints on the State are temporal and topical, and may be set aside without qualm when they impede “the greatest good for the greatest number.”
  3. Lockean natural-rights theory holds that the State must remain within those constraints arising from rights that individual men possess by nature — that when it violates those constraints, then, regardless of its intentions or effects, the State has become criminal and must suffer to be judged.

Gentle Reader, you could struggle and strain for the rest of your life without elucidating a theory of legitimate government that differs in substance from all three of the above. There simply aren’t any.

3. Attitudes Toward Rights.

Now, in practice, the State, which invariably possesses the preponderance of coercive force in a society, can do whatever it can get away with — the very basis for most arguments to the effect that rights don’t really exist. But the consequences of unbridled State action are historically well documented, and very negative. If we go by the Robert Pirsig approach to the existence of abstractions — that an entirely abstract entity, which cannot be pointed to or fondled by any man, may nevertheless be said to exist if its removal from the world would cause perceptible changes — then there is no question that rights exist. Quoth Louis Thiers:

Either rights exist, or they do not exist. If they exist, they involve absolute consequences…Furthermore, if a right exists, it exists at every moment. It is absolute today, yesterday, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in summer as in winter, not when it pleases you to declare it in force.

Indeed, the concept of rights underpins every other concept in political thought, including the proposals and arguments of absolutists and utilitarians.

When we speak of rights in practical terms, we must concede that an individual’s rights can be, and often are, violated by one or another organ of the State, and that there’s frequently little the violated party can do about it. As Kevin Baker and others have said quite plainly, whatever our rights are in theory, in practice they’re limited to what we can assert and defend by force — a space which is bounded by what State actions our society will countenance, or at least passively tolerate.

Still, that doesn’t change the fundamental questions. Do societies that recognize rights as a category of constraints on State action function differently from those that don’t? What are the differences? If we judge entirely on the consequences, which sort of society would we prefer?

4. The Dismissal Of Absolutism.

Hobbesian absolutism took as its premise that in the absence of a State, men would be engaged in “a war of each against all.” He proceeded from there to propose that if the State were capable of suppressing that war, then it must perforce be so powerful that no other entity would be able to limit it. So as a “practical” matter, the State must be beyond constraint by lesser entities.

Mankind has known many such States. Some still exist today. They run roughshod over their subjects, who have no rights at all that they can defend by word or deed. Their sole concern is over the possibility that other States will bring them down through war or subterfuge.

Most men are minded to reject absolutism both from a rights perspective and from a consequences perspective. The individual rebels automatically against the assertion that his life belongs to anyone but himself. Our inborn model for interactions between men, and between men and governments, holds that the rights of an innocent man to his life are absolute and inalienable. That premise, all by itself, destroys governmental absolutism as a defensible basis for the State. That’s not to say that it’s no longer asserted by some, only that it cannot be defended theoretically without rejecting any and all rights to life.

5. The Refutation Of Utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism attempts to supplant the concept of rights, which Bentham and his followers deemed too abstract, with the concept of collective utility: “the greatest good for the greatest number.” In this formulation, the actions of the State could and should be justified entirely on the basis of the results they achieve, or, alternately, how well they “work.” Utilitarianism was prominent in the thinking of early American socialists such as Edward Bellamy, Herbert Croly, and Charles Sanders Peirce.

But collective utility presupposes many things:

  1. Defensible concepts of “good” and “better” that can be applied to collectives;
  2. Accuracy in the formulation of policy to achieve what’s deemed as “good” or “better,”
  3. Continuity of policy, once formulated, until the sought for “good” or “better” has been achieved,
  4. The moral defensibility of policies formulated “in good faith” even after they’ve failed.

All four of these suppositions are provably unsound, usually by their own internal logic.

If “good” and “better” are applicable to a collective, then by implication individual choice by any member of the collective must be irrelevant, perhaps even invalid. Yet decisions about “good” and “better” must be made somehow, whether by majority vote or by some designated planner or planners. In the first case, collective utility comes up hard against the ephemeral nature of the collective: it has no enduring identity. Its component individuals will change over time, by death, procreation, association or disassociation, which can easily lead to changes in the majority’s verdicts about “good” and “better.” But if the collective’s decisions can change in such a fashion, with no “upper limit” on how fast they can change, under what circumstances, or in response to what developments, then how seriously can we take the concept of collective “good?”

In the second case, where designated planners decide on “good” and “better” for the collective, the utilitarians have reintroduced individual choice. The sole difference here is that some individuals are deciding on “good” and “better” for many others, rather than each man deciding for himself.

It is obvious that many a State policy formulated to bring about some well-conceived end has failed to do so. Sometimes the failure was inherent in the policy conception; sometimes it was the result of discontinuity in administration or application. What matters is that the result upon which the policy was founded was not achieved. How, then, shall we defend, morally or practically, the imposition of collective decision-making that overrode individuals’ claims to rightful autonomy, when the very good they were promised in exchange for their rights has failed to materialize? Shall we make restitution to those who were deprived of their lives, liberties, or properties in service to the unachieved goal? If so, what becomes of collective utility’s conceptual superiority to individual rights? If not, why should individuals agree to submit to the usurpation of their rights, however conceived, in the first place?

It becomes clear from such simple analyses that utilitarianism in theory reduces to absolutism in practice.

6. Determining Rights And Securing Them.

Among the conceptual bases for a political order, natural-rights libertarianism is the “last man standing.” If it is wrong, then all theory has failed, and there can be nothing but rule by the strongest until he fades and is pulled down by another. But is it wrong?

Proponents of natural individual rights have overextended their claims in many cases. Individual rights cannot cope with those situations in which we must act, or interact, as collectives; war and foreign policy are the most obvious examples. Nor can individual rights cope with clashing, seemingly valid assertions of rights, such as arise in the perennially difficult case of abortion. Finally for our purposes here, individual rights are insufficient for the analysis of those cases where the individual is incapable of wielding them on his own: children, the mentally unsound, and those under some constraint that thwarts rational decision-making, such as coercion by a kidnapper. However, in those situations where men can and do deal with one another as individuals, individual rights and their scrupulous observance are a sound guide to right action. “We” might not always “get what we want” by respecting them, but we may be sure that we have observed the first principle of both medicine and politics: First, do no harm.

It is inevitable that the exact scope of individuals’ rights will be argued over for many years, possibly down the whole history of Man. Theorists can only do so much. But the failure of all other approaches to governance leaves us with no alternative but to have the argument and take the underlying concept seriously.

In yesterday’s disassembly of Robert Locke’s column, your Curmudgeon noted that the following statement revealed Locke’s incomprehension of his subject matter:

There is no need to embrace outright libertarianism just because we want a healthy portion of freedom, and the alternative to libertarianism is not the USSR, it is America’s traditional liberties.

What are those “liberties,” and on what basis are they recognized?

  1. It cannot be from an absolutist standpoint, because an absolutist is required by his premises to reject all claims by anyone that his actions ought to be guaranteed against State interference.
  2. It cannot be from a utilitarian standpoint, because an inviolable liberty — really just another word for a right — might thwart some sincerely conceived policy toward the “greatest good for the greatest number.”
  3. If it’s from a natural-rights standpoint, then we must presuppose the existence of the category of claims called rights, and further ask: What claims qualify for inclusion in this category, and why?

…and the Robert Lockes of the world, infinitely dismissive of this broad, compelling calculus of freedom, are thereby forced from the table by their own hands. For them, only certain rights are admissible. Others whose exercise or consequences displease them must be excluded, even though, once rights are studied as a category, it becomes clear that those displeasing others have just as valid a claim.

And among those of us willing to concede our fallibility and talk seriously about Mankind’s most serious subject, the discussion will continue.


The above tirade was a condensed refutation of the notion, shared by the late Robert Bork among others less notable, that rights / “liberties” are entirely legal constructs: permissions granted by some government, with no deeper metaphysical basis. Judge Bork was no champion of freedom; he actually dismissed the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution as merely allowing that any “rights” the states’ constitutions conceded to their residents would not be infringed by the federal government. Thus, for the “Washington Uber Alles” position of contemporary left-liberals, Judge Bork would have substituted a regime in which the federal government is constrained by the states’ charters…but by no other pre-existing right or property of Man.

That notion would have had Thomas Jefferson whirling in his grave fast enough to power all of Philadelphia. Nor would he have been the only Founding Father to take exception.

There is simply no way in which the concept of rights can be melded with the supposition that a government, however constituted, can rightfully set them aside in the pursuit of some “greater good.” The very best that we can do — always assuming that we’re resolved to tolerate a government at all, of course — is to agree, in a contractarian fashion, to accept a strictly limited government with coercive powers straitly confined within those limits. That’s the original American approach to the “necessary evil” of government, which we call constitutionalism.

The Founders were aware of their own fallibility. They provided a means by which an adequate consensus — three-fourths of the states — could amend the Constitution to cope with conditions they had never imagined. Steven Den Beste once called that provision “Institutionalizing the Revolution:” a fine, compact expression of the Founders’ fundamental political philosophy, according to which true sovereignty reposed in the common man, not in some privileged monarch, oligarchy, or abstract collectivist fantasy called “the State.”

Today, the governments of America are openly in breach of the Constitutional contract. The plain text of our Supreme Law invalidates ninety percent or more of what they do. Therefore, they seek to evade all discussion of their legitimate powers and activities. They decorate their usurpations with phrases like “the greater good” and “compelling government interest.” Most recently, Washington’s myrmidons have set forth to suppress those voices and associations that urge us to examine the matter according to American principles.

No one certain of the rightness of his position behaves in such a fashion.

Is our current system salvageable? Perhaps, though the odds are growing long. What about our current political elite? C’mon! Do you really think you can re-educate our supposed representatives? Remember Nancy Pelosi’s “Are you serious?” Remember James Clyburn’s “I don’t give a damn about the Constitution?” Add those to Barack Hussein Obama’s “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.” What answer pops out of the slot?

No scheme of government that dismisses the metaphysical inviolability of individuals’ natural rights, or that fails to provide stiff constraints upon agencies of pre-indemnified coercion for the protection of those rights, has any claim to legitimacy. The javelin that fatally pierces that presumption will be cast from those rights, and propelled by Peter Grant’s question:

WHO DECIDES?

Licensure

Five years ago at Eternity Road, I wrote:

A colleague of your Curmudgeon’s made a piercing observation the other day. Imagine, he said, that a group of policemen have come to your house determined to execute a warrantless, causeless search and seizure. When you cite your Fourth Amendment guarantee of the right to be free of such, the head cop says, “Okay, just give us $100 and we’ll let you be.”

Has the cop acknowledged your right to be free of arbitrary invasions of your property, or has he merely extorted you? If the latter, how does this differ from the registration and licensure of guns?

If something is yours by acknowledged right, why should you have to meet conditions to get or keep it? Why should you have to pay a fee or meet extrinsic, State-specified requirements? Especially considering that the fee and requirements are set at the State’s pleasure, and can be made so high that practically no one can afford to exercise his “right.”

An old anecdote, most frequently attributed to Francois-Marie Arouet (Voltaire), has the philosopher ask an aristocratic Parisienne, “Madame, would you sleep with me for a million livres? When the doyenne responds in the affirmative, Voltaire asks, “Would you sleep with me for five livres? Outraged, the woman screams, “What sort of creature do you think I am?” To which the philosopher calmly replies, “We’ve already established that. Now I’m trying to determine your price.”

Aristotle is nodding as we speak. Inclusion in the category of prostitute does not depend upon how much one charges for one’s services. The genus of “prostitute” is “a human being;” the differentia is “who sells sexual services for payment.” This is how we define: we make absolute distinctions between some things and others that are unlike them in significant ways. Definitional differences are differences in kind.

Similarly, a right is an absolute possession: a property that inheres in its possessor by reason of his nature. It is not and cannot be conditional. (Defenders of the spurious “right to vote” have a great deal of difficulty with this concept.) If you possess a right, you need no one’s permission to exercise it.

By that standard, our governments recognize just about no rights, their lip service to the contrary notwithstanding.

Give that a moment’s thought.


This morning, by way of Random Nuclear Strikes, we have a new direction to explore in the abridgement of rights:

Two California busybodies David Schel and Sharon Tekolian are trying to get Colorado to put an initiative on the November ballot that would require mandatory pre-wedding education before couples could say “I do.”

The proponents, who have chosen lucky Colorado as their first state on which to inflict their scheme, say the intended purpose of the act is to “better prepare individuals going into marriage to fulfill their new roles as spouse and potentially as parent, to furthermore protect children given that marriage is the foundation of a family unit.”…

The California duo’s amendment would require widows and widowers who are remarrying, as well as divorcees, to take the classes. So, let’s get this straight: Millie, age 78, and Sam, 82, met each other after they lost their spouses of nearly 60 years to death. It seems that they, not some therapist certified by the state, could be teaching a class on enduring marriages.

What’s particularly risible about this isn’t the requirement laid upon elderly Millie and Sam above; it’s the idea that a marriage license has any detectable effect in our time. Unilateral no-fault divorce is available to spouses in every state in the Union; therefore, no marriage contract is enforceable against an unconsenting party. More, there is no de facto way to compel a connubially-inclined couple to apply for a marriage license, as no state enforces a law against fornication any longer. More still, “palimony” precedents and parental rights and responsibilities granted to non-spouses as remote as sperm donors have utterly effaced any legal import pertaining to the married state. So what’s the point?

Give that a moment’s thought.


Here’s a piece from Oleg Atbashian that will have you laughing…at first:

Comrades! Much evil has been done by the NRA and gun-toting non-persons who seek to undermine the power and authority of The Party. Indeed, reactionary scum have shot up malls and schools, in clear defiance of posted signs and laws prohibiting murder and weapon possession. The solution of course is simple, and will enhance state security.

All persons shopping at a mall must undergo a strict background check, be issued a shopping license, and demonstrate good cause for entering a mall.

Unlicensed persons will be refused entry to a mall, which will reduce crime, as only licensed shoppers will be inside the mall.

Children will be taken out of schools, and placed in high security education camps, where only authorized persons will be permitted entry and access to The Children.

Parents who cannot secure a visitation permit will not be allowed access to their children until after they graduate.

These common-sense safety measures are needed to end all mall and school shootings across America. After all, if it saves just one life, it’s worth it.

Funny, yes…until you reflect that the reasoning is identical to the reasoning for the imposition of a licensure regime upon any and every human activity that falls into the State’s clutches.

Licensure, when it first appeared, applied to very few things: mainly the practice of medicine and law. The rationale was “the public safety:” the protection of the layman from the quack practitioner of little or no actual skill. That rationale now applies to trades as unthreatening as the braiding of hair.

A case from some years ago, to which I was privy simply as an observer, involved a state official in Massachusetts who entered a unisex hair salon and demanded service. The attendant on duty politely asked if he could wait for the specialist in his sort of hair, who was expected to arrive shortly. When the official saw the attendant give immediate service to a subsequent arrival, he had the state police shut down the salon, invoking the state’s licensure laws for his authority.

Yes, the official was a Negro.


Whether it goes by licensure, permittage, or any other name, the imposition of State selectivity upon the exercise of one’s rights is merely a back-door method for denying those rights. The denial need not be uniform across all persons; indeed, that’s seldom the case. To make a licensure regime palatable, there must be a licensed or “grandfathered” group of practitioners to whom the State can point and say “See! You still have your rights; just do as they do and get a license!” That privileged group acquires an interest in maintaining the regime, especially in those cases where the ability to earn depends upon the possession of a license.

This is not free enterprise as I understand the term. But as bad as that is — and it’s very bad; ask the women who tried to make a living braiding hair and were told they had to acquire expensive cosmetology licenses before they could do so legally — when the rationale can be applied to non-commercial activities and arrangements, it acquires a new magnitude of ominousness.

Do you think I’m exaggerating the danger? Then consider this: the Dishonorable Charles Schumer, ever eager to shove his face in front of a camera or a microphone, has proposed that the federal government fund the provision of tracking devices for autistic children.

We’re already on the way to a licensure regime for parents. Consider the number of cases each year in which “child welfare” workers deprive a parent of his children on the grounds of “the best interests of the child.” Consider how difficult and expensive it is to get such an action reversed. Consider how many such abductions have morphed into prosecutions of the parents, as some “expert” succeeded in eliciting “recovered memories” of abuse from those minor children, unshielded against “expert” manipulation by those who love them.

But Schumer has told American parents that they need have no fear: his bill would make the acquisition and use of his trackers entirely voluntary.

Do you have enough to think about for this morning, Gentle Reader?

On Privacy

I hadn’t intended to write about this, but it seems to have risen to the top of the public agenda.

The activities of the NSA aren’t the only things that have privacy-rights advocates’ hair standing on end. The recent, extremely disturbing case of the harassment of John Filippidis by Maryland police must concern any Second Amendment aficionado. And Peter Grant notes that there are private firms collecting and aggregating publicly available data on Americans to sell as a marketing tool. All in all, it’s a bad time to be a devotee of peace, quiet, and personal privacy.

The problem isn’t that these things are illegal, but that they’re not. Worse, in the case of the private marketing companies, no imaginable law could correct the problem without utterly destroying what remains of freedom in these United States.


We release information about ourselves into the public domain with every step we take.

Smith, walking on a public street, is broadcasting his whereabouts to anyone who cares to take note. Should he enter a shop for a commercial transaction, anyone who recognizes him can quite legally record what he’s purchased, and when, and from whom. (We don’t need to discuss Smith’s use of a credit card, do we?) If he gets into a vehicle and drives away, the make and model of the vehicle, its license plate, and its direction and speed are all easily determined. Plausible inferences about where he’s going and when he’ll get there are easy to draw.

Smith’s interactions with regulated utilities and “common carriers” are recorded as a matter of course. They must be, both by law and for routine purposes of billing and maintenance. That includes gas companies, electric power companies, telephone companies, Internet service providers, and in many locales a number of other firms. Such companies must comply to retain some critical legal privilege, for example the privilege of stringing wires along public roads that nevertheless remain their property.

Then there are Smith’s interactions with governments and governmental bodies. Every time he pays a tax bill, or uses a public library, or communicates with any person who works for a government in any capacity, he cedes information about himself and his activities into the public domain. Very few such interactions are governed by a statute. In some cases, the publication of the resulting information is required by law: for example, the ownership data, lien status, and tax data about a parcel of land.

Unless Smith resolves to remain behind his own locked front door, never communicating nor interacting with anyone else in any way, he can do nothing about this.


I wrote at Eternity Road, nine years ago:

What is privacy? An informal definition would be the privilege of “keeping yourself to yourself”: that is, restricting others’ access to you, to your property, and to information about those things to only those whom you approved. But access to you and your property is covered by another, better grounded right: the right of a legitimate owner to the control and disposition of his property. It’s the informational component of the privacy claim that causes the problems.

If there’s something about you that you don’t want known, and you have a “right” to control the dissemination of that information, how do you exercise your “right” once someone has learned the critical fact? Murder? Lobotomy? Hypnosis? A voodoo curse? If you elect to have an interaction with some other person, and he refuses to agree to keep silent about it, how would you enforce your “right” to privacy and still have the interaction?

As your Curmudgeon has previously written, rights are those claims that can be simultaneously asserted without generating clashes that can only be resolved by a recourse to force (the “test of arms”). As we can see, privacy claims don’t satisfy that criterion.

Those observations and inferences remain as valid as they were in 2004.


It’s ridiculous to blather about whether this is good or bad. It simply is. There’s nothing to be done about it. The measures individuals can take to limit their exposure are relatively few:

  • Pay cash at all times.
  • Don’t buy real estate.
  • Don’t have children.
  • Stay out of the hospital.
  • Communicate face-to-face only.
  • Be discreet about your relationships.
  • For the love of God, don’t apply for a license for anything!
  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • If you must go out, walk.
  • Cultivate taciturnity.

Those are very severe restrictions, particularly in this age of the Internet. Most Americans could go no more than five minutes without violating one of them.

Don’t imagine for a moment that laws could do anything for you beyond what you can do for yourself. Private companies are already subject to the weight of the law, and the law often mandates the very activities privacy-seekers deplore, for reasons that are persuasive if not conclusive. Governments? Please, I’ve already hurt myself once this week from laughing too hard.

The value of studiously collected information, meticulously organized for aggregation and reference, has simply grown too large for any force to countervail it.


As I’ve already said, it doesn’t matter whether you regard this as good or bad. You can do no more about it than you can about the strong nuclear force…assuming you don’t own a really big collider, and that, my friend, would put you on one hell of a lot of lists. These are the times we live in. If they try men’s souls, well, men’s souls exist to be tried, among other things. In earlier, less technologically ramified eras, the trials were simpler and more visible. We who appreciate electronic communication, automobiles, and indoor plumbing wouldn’t much enjoy those times.

Making one’s peace with it is, to some extent, the only way forward.

Exclaves

[This disturbing piece from Daniel Greenfield has prompted me to repost the following, which first appeared at Eternity Road on March 15, 2006 — FWP]


Your Curmudgeon has occasionally referred to tight-knit Islamic communities in majority non-Islamic nations as enclaves. This is in keeping with the dictionary definition of an enclave: an enclosed territory that is culturally distinct from the territory that surrounds it. But it might be self-deluding to do so — not because those Islamic communities are anything but tight-knit and culturally distinct from non-Muslim neighborhoods, but because their full significance might go beyond the connotations of that term.

Chinatowns and Little Italys are typical enclaves in these United States. Such a district has a pronounced cultural flavor, evidenced in such things as restaurants and languages heard on the street, but the residents’ attachment to their culture doesn’t extend into the political realm. They have no interest in replicating the laws and political structures of China or Italy here in America. Culturally they’re Chinese or Italian, but politically they’re Americans. They’ll happily tell you so.

Hearken to Robert Spencer’s report on a conversation he had with an official from the Dutch Ministry of Integration:

Blakeman introduced me to an official of the Dutch Ministry of Integration, who spends her days in dialogue with Dutch imams and other Muslim leaders. We began a wide-ranging discussion about the nature of the jihad threat and the proper response to it. In the course of this I asked her how many Muslim leaders she encountered who were ready to lay aside attachment to the Sharia, accept the Dutch governmental and societal structure and the parameters of Dutch pluralism, and be willing to live in Dutch society as equals to, not superiors of, non-Muslims indefinitely. She told me that there were only very few, but insisted that we had to work with those few, and indeed had to place our faith and hope in them, for otherwise the future was impossibly bleak. I asked her if she had read the Qur’an. She told me no, she hadn’t, and wouldn’t, because she didn’t want to lose all hope — and because whatever was in it, she still had to work to find some accord with the Muslim leaders, no matter what.

I urged her to ask the imams with whom she spoke questions that made their loyalties clear, insofar as they would answer them honestly. I urged her to ask them whether they would like to see Sharia implemented in the Netherlands at any time in the future, and whether they were working toward that end in any way, peaceful as well as violent. I asked her to ask them whether they would be content to live as equals with non-Muslims indefinitely in a Dutch pluralistic society, or whether they would ultimately hope to institute Islamic supremacy and the subjugation of non-Muslims.

She couldn’t ask them those questions, she told me. Such questions would immediately put their relationship on a confrontational plane, when cooperation was what they wanted, not confrontation. But, I sputtered, you’re not getting cooperation as it is. The confrontation is already upon us. What is to be gained by pretending that it isn’t happening?

Clearly, the Dutch official felt she could not ask Spencer’s questions without so provoking the imams that all conversation would cease. Yet the answers to Spencer’s questions are so obviously critical to all possibility of Muslim integration into pluralist Western societies that to declare them unspeakable is to concede ab initio the hopelessness of the integration effort.

If this is indeed the case — and let there be no mistake; your Curmudgeon believes that it is — then the proper way to regard an Islamic bastion within the Netherlands, or anywhere else in the West, is as an exclave: a portion of a country which is separated from the main part and surrounded by politically alien territory.

For a historical contrast that’s both relevant and quite ironic, consider the Christian kingdom of Outremer, established in the Holy Land after the First Crusade. Outremer was an exclave of Christendom, an extension of Christian Europe. It was entirely surrounded by Islamic states, all of which were implacably hostile to it, and which, after some two hundred years, contrived its downfall.

Your Curmudgeon is unaware of any well-formed intention among the Christian nobles who ruled Outremer to expand the kingdom at the expense of the surrounding states. Their mission in the Middle East was to create a safe haven for the many Christians there, who were cruelly oppressed by Islam’s lords, and safe passage for Christian pilgrims to the historic places of the Bible. Granting the barbaric nature of the wars they fought to that end, which were typical of the time, they succeeded in their aim.

Islamic exclaves in Western Europe have quite a different character: an expansionist character. Whether overtly or covertly, they seek to transform the countries that surround them into replicas of themselves. The admissions of the Dutch official narrated above are testimony to that.

Might this also be true of Islamic exclaves in the United States?

Islam is an explicitly political creed; Muslims are commanded to seek political dominion over all the lands of the Earth, and to contrive that Islam be the only religion practiced by anyone — the only acceptable faith. Since it’s among the teachings of Islam that it’s acceptable to lie to “infidels” in the service of Islam, one cannot simply ask a Muslim whether he has this in mind and be satisfied with whatever he says.

It has long been the case that immigrants to these shores were seekers after freedom and opportunity. Indeed, the original Pilgrims came here specifically to escape religious oppression. Because emigration from one’s birthplace and adjustment to a new home in America have been expensive and difficult for most of our history, the process has tended to filter out those whose motives were weak or venal. But given the conditions of our day, both technological and political, that filter might no longer be sufficient. The flood of illegal immigrants that passes our southern border is evidence in that direction, albeit not without some ambiguity.

How could we determine, with confidence, the long-range intentions of Muslims in North America? Were the verdict to be ominous, threatening to the future of the nation, what might we do about it within the framework of American Constitutional law?

The Great Pyramid Of Cheese

[Charles Hill’s brief post on the Velveeta shortage has prompted me to repost the following highly educational article, which first appeared at Eternity Road on March 17, 2007. —FWP]


On one evening not too long ago, a friend of mine, who has an extensive extended family, was dining with most of them. Included were several pre-teens. The bill of fare was, as is common in their not-particularly-pecunious household, macaroni and cheese.

One of the pre-teens commented on how different the entree tasted to him from “real” macaroni and cheese — by which he meant, as pre-teens often do, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. He contrasted my friend’s wife’s dish unfavorably with the commercial preparation.

An uncle to the clan cleared his throat. “Kevin,” he intoned, “you know I sell cheese, don’t you?” The youngster nodded. “Well, it’s about time you learned about the Great Pyramid of Cheese.” And he told them all about it.

It seems that there are places where they make Cheese. The real stuff, straight from the milk, brimming with the odorific and oleaginous virtues that your narrator has found he cannot renounce. And it is good.

Most of it, anyway. Some wheels of cheese just don’t turn out right. But they’re not thrown away, oh, no. That would be wasteful. They’re sold to factors from other shops, which take them in, and melt them down, and add oil, and chemicals, and further processing, and thereby produce… Cheese Food. Cheese Food is regulated by law to contain no more than 49% non-milk additives, and must not contain any but a specified list of preservatives and artificial flavor enhancers. There are people who eat Cheese Food by choice. There are others who are trying to help them.

But some batches of Cheese Food don’t come out right either, and they’re not thrown away, either. They’re sold to factors from other shops, which take them in, and melt them down, and add oil, and chemicals, and further processing, and thereby produce… Process Pasteurized Cheese Food. PPCF is the step down from Cheese Food, and may contain up to 70% non-milk additives, plus a much wider range of flavor and color enhancers, and preservatives that guarantee that it will not spoil over the three months between your toddler’s two demands for a grilled cheese sandwich right now, mom!

And not all of this is saleable, either, but (you guessed it) it’s not thrown away just for that. The rejected barrels are sold to factors from other shops, which take them in, and melt them down, and add oil, and chemicals, and further processing, and thereby produce… Process Pasteurized Cheese Food Substance. PPCFS may contain up to 82% non-milk additives. The flavor and color are almost entirely chemically produced, and the preservatives in it are reputed to be stronger than formaldehyde. Velveeta was once PPCFS, but has moved up the pyramid to Level 3 (PPCF). Cheez Whiz is PPCFS. A number of people have drawn images of the Blessed Virgin on their basement walls with PPCFS from spray cans, and have made quite a lot of money.

But… that’s right. Some of it doesn’t meet the standards for retail-saleable PPCFS. The rejected barrels are sold to factors from other shops, which take them in, and melt them down, and add oil, and chemicals, and further processing, and thereby produce…

Well, it doesn’t really have a name, and it doesn’t need one, either, because all of it is consumed by a single company.

“And Kevin,” the uncle rumbled, “would you like to guess what that company is?”

Little Kevin swallowed and shook his head.

“It’s the Kraft Company, Kevin.”

And I, who have set this tale down for you, have checked it in all particulars, and every word of it is true. And I’m told that little Kevin no longer asks for Kraft Macaroni And Cheese, either.

Wastrels

[In response to the quite overwhelming number of readers who remembered it and pleaded for it after reading this piece, below appears a post that first appeared at Eternity Road on November 22, 2009. — FWP]


To those who come here for spiritual reinforcement, to those seeking uplift or tools with which to defend their faith, to those whose sense of direction is wavering, and to those who read these Ruminations for their chuckle value:

Forgive me, Gentle Readers. I’m having one of those days.

***

The C.S.O. and I went to a concert yesterday evening at the Capital One Theater, formerly called the Westbury Music Fair. It was part of the theater’s “Legends” series, which features some of the iconic performers of the past half-century. Last night’s headliner was one of the immortals of song, the great Tony Bennett.

Tony Bennett, baptized Antonio Dominic Benedetto, is 83 years old this year. He’s been a musical professional for sixty years. Were it his preference, he’d have every right to regard his career as successful — and concluded. Any number of other entertainers younger than he have hung up the mike and retired on their laurels, well-earned or not.

It was clear from last night’s performance that Bennett still “has it.” His voice retains all its old power, ever so slightly roughened by the years. He hardly needed a microphone to fill the theater with song, nor did his several soft-shoe episodes suggest that there’s a walker in his near future.

It was equally clear that Bennett still loves music, particularly the soft-jazz ballads for which he’s famous. He performed, with his daughter Antonia, for nearly two hours, and might have gone on longer were it not for theater policy and local zoning ordinances. He stinted nothing, reaching all the high notes with apparent ease, caressing the pianissimi and belting out the fortissimi like a young man of twenty-five.

There wasn’t a soul in that theater who didn’t love him unreservedly. Nor were we all nursing-home escapees.

With that love came a wholehearted trust. We paid big bucks to see and hear Bennett perform. We endured a horrible traffic pattern, a crowded, overheated theater, and thirty minutes of misery struggling to get out of the worst-designed parking lot on Long Island. No one does that without trusting in the performer’s fidelity to his trade: not to slough his responsibility to perform only at his best, never to turn in a pro forma hack job just because he needs the money.

In large measure, that love and trust was inspired by Bennett himself, an entirely admirable performer whose fidelity to his art and his chosen idiom has never wavered, and who answered that trust by giving us his best from first to last. But there was another component to it.

Bennett reminds us of better days.

Days of innocence, when we trusted ourselves and one another, and expected nothing that was not ours by right.
Days of promise, each to build upon the ones before and prepare for higher ascents in days to come.
Days of open-eyed, confident engagement with life’s challenges.
Days of enterprise, achievement, and glory.
Days of love.

America’s days of wine and roses.

***

Often, when an old fart like me starts rambling about “the good old days,” he’s trading on highly polished memories that bear only a passing resemblance to the texture of the time he thinks he recalls. Lord knows, memory can be polished to a very high gloss. But there’s always a chance that the veneer genuinely reflects the reality, at least in essence. The persistence of a Tony Bennett, even in an age of doubt and gloom, is evidence to that effect, albeit most circumstantial and not at all conclusive.

Despite the adage that “history is written by the victor,” there are enough survivors of our better years to dispel most doubts about their veracity. Some of them are our grandparents. Some of them are our parents. And some of them, of course, are ourselves.

The past half-century has been a time of decline. The most significant aspect of that decline has been the dissipation of trust.

***

In a discussion of the big AGW scandal issuing from the Hadley CRU leak, one participant expressed bewilderment, averring that:

…a hoax on this scale would require the collusion of a whole lot of people…

Not so, in the traditional sense of “collusion.” Scientists, just like the rest of humanity, respond to incentives and penalties. The warmistas in the scientific community were drawn there by a variety of incentives.

Some were undoubtedly sincere, certain that with enough evidence they could validate the greenhouse-gas thesis and willing to explain away “inconvenient data” with the usual dismissals of the true believer.
Some were loyal Hessians, willing to go wherever their idols and masters might point them.
Some were “following the money,” as ever greater amounts of money poured from government coffers and the treasuries of left-leaning foundations to support the promulgation of the anthropogenic-global-warming thesis.
Some were merely publicity hounds, who would ride any wagon that appeared to have the media’s attention.
Some were flogged into sullen support of AGW, fearful that refraining would cause them to be stripped of their funding and relegated to the outer darkness.

No doubt there are other reasons…in light of the fraud the Hadley CRU docments have revealed, none of them in any way connected to the core doctrines of science.

What matters is the fraud itself. Some thousands of “scientists” were moved to abandon science as it’s been practiced for centuries by motives that, if they’re to be summed up in one word, could only be called evil. Yes, tens of millions of persons worldwide cheered them on, but that’s hardly an exculpation.

We have created — and institutionalized — incentives for fraud and penalties for honesty and candor. Not just for men of science; for virtually every trade and walk of life. For many men, the touchstone of ethical judgment is no longer “Is it right?” It’s “Can I get away with it?”

We have destroyed the bedrock of freedom: our ability to trust.

***

It might sound implausible to younger Americans, but half a century ago the typical American would reflexively trust the word even of a passing stranger. We trusted one another because we knew ourselves, in the small and in the large, to be honorable men. It was a knowledge forged from experience and tempered by our recognition of a common moral and ethical foundation: the Judeo-Christian code of conduct.

We believed in the manly virtues. More, we believed that those around us believed in them, too.

Were there thieves, con men, and chiselers among us then? Of course. But their number was far smaller than it is today. The social-legal environment didn’t yet incorporate all the inducements to dishonesty and chiseling that we suffer in the year of Our Lord 2009. Perhaps more important, we didn’t yet endure the perpetual hectoring about how cruel, venal, and untrustworthy we are, from institutions that wax upon men’s distrust of one another.

We trusted our merchants and business associates. We understood free enterprise to be an inherently honorable, honesty-promoting thing. We trusted our spouses, knowing that the marriage vow was taken seriously by our communities and that a departure from it would be held against the violator. We trusted lawyers to represent us honestly and capably at need, and courts to return just verdicts and sentences. We even trusted politicians, which was the beginning of unwisdom.

Whenever and wherever men decide that they cannot trust one another to behave honorably, to meet their obligations and honor their commitments, or to cleave to fundamental moral principles about violence, theft, fraud, filial duty, and false witness, the sequel is always the same: we recur to the State, the institution whose sole instrument is force. We accede to laws innumerable, expecting them to substitute for trustworthiness in our fellow men. They seldom have that effect, for every law, however well intentioned and carefully designed, creates a black market in the behavior it forbids: an inducement for evil men to sell their willingness to accept the risks of violating it.

The State, of course, is perfectly happy to take the burden, for its operators are past masters at the twinned arts of taking credit for good outcomes and sloughing the odium for bad ones onto others’ shoulders. By gentle, all but imperceptible degrees, it pares away our freedom, our property, and what remains of our willingness to trust one another, gobbling down the slices with Pantagruelian voracity. The progression can have only one terminus, yet most of us remain willing to accept politicians’ protestations of devotion to the commonweal in the teeth of all experience…until the day we find our own oxen being filleted for our masters’ tables.

That’s usually the day we discover that all the sand has fallen to the bottom of the hourglass…that the vector of our subjugation can no longer be reversed.

***

The mint-mark of political speech is the promise. We hear them by the thousands these days: give me power, give me this or that little bite from your wallet or your liberty, and I will ease whatever it is that pains you. But none of the promisers ever post a bond for non-performance. Except for the pitiful few literally caught with tainted cash in their freezers, none of them ever have to repay the electorate for their defaults.

The subtext of any political promise is, of course, “Trust me.” As the late Cyril Northcote Parkinson observed long ago, only a politician would say that; since then, politicians have learned to imply it, never to be caught actually mouthing the words. But the demand is there even so, and as their failures accumulate, ordinary persons find their residual willingness to trust being whittled away.

***

After two centuries of blessedness, America has entered the hour of the power of darkness:

  • Our military is being emasculated as we speak, with funding cuts to deprive it of men and machines, and legal entanglements to ensure that no soldier in the field can ever be certain that he won’t be tried for murder by civilians, or worse, by foreigners.
  • Our alliances are faltering as no one ever expected, as our chief executive kowtows to the worst men in the world and fails to uphold America’s actions in its own interest.
  • Our politicians are interested solely in getting elected and staying in office, and will do anything, sacrifice anyone, and betray any principle of right, to achieve those goals.
  • Our economy is being bled to death by layer after layer of taxation, regulation, legal mandates, and outright nationalizations, nearly all intended to benefit some provincial interest some gaggle of politicians counts on for support.
  • Our currency has been so debased that the other nations of the world, fooled over the decades into accepting mountains of it for their wares, are getting ready to write it off.
  • Our schools have become cesspits of socialist indoctrination and multicultural propaganda, where a child saying grace over his lunch is subject to harassment as a bigot.
  • Our cities and communities are weakening under the assaults of illegal immigration, eminent-domain attacks on property rights, forced injection of “refugees” who hate America and all it stands for, and the use of insane lawsuits to prevent development in the name of “saving the planet.”
  • Our churches — the ones that still respect God and value freedom — are steadily being muzzled by the moral and cultural relativists, the “inclusionists,” and the Muslims.
  • Our women are largely persuaded that killing an unborn baby constitutes a “woman’s right” and a “safe medical procedure.”
  • Our arts have become unfathomably vile.
  • Every right we have is under sustained, determined assault.
  • Our people are losing faith in one another, in themselves, in their futures, and the futures of their children.

Soon the national motto will no longer be “E pluribus unum,” but rather “Sauve qui peut.”

We did it to ourselves, by squandering one another’s trust.

***

They unwound and flung from them with rage, as a rag that defiled them
The imperial gains of the age which their forefathers piled them.
They ran panting in haste to lay waste and embitter for ever
The wellsprings of Wisdom and Strength which are Faith and Endeavour.
They nosed out and digged up and dragged forth and exposed to derision
All doctrine of purpose and worth and restraint and prevision:
And it ceased, and God granted them all things for which they had striven,
And the heart of a beast in the place of a man’s heart was given. . .

[Rudyard Kipling, “The City of Brass”]

No, America isn’t quite as bad as that, yet, but we’re headed in that direction. What Kipling foretells in the concluding stanza of his epic poem will draw ever nearer, the longer we persist in the folly of demanding that others bear our burdens for us, at no cost to ourselves — that is, the longer we trust in the State in preference to trusting ourselves and our fellow men.

We have lived, collectively, as wastrels. We have consumed much and produced little. Especially, we’ve consumed the trust and good will of our fellows, with our conniving, our chiseling, and our gaming the laws and the courts in search of personal or provincial advantage. That can only go on for so long before Hobbes’s “war of each against all” must resume.

It’s the sort of premonition that makes me glad to be an old man. Perhaps I won’t live to see this Hell-Bound Train reach the Depot Way Down Yonder.

Whatever you came to Eternity Road seeking today, Gentle Reader, I’d bet a pretty that the above wasn’t it.

Forgive me.

An Intellectual’s Duty

[John Derbyshire, one of America’s brightest opinion writers, has produced a subtly satirical screed about the electoral dangers of letting smart people vote. It moved me to reprint the piece below, which first appeared at Eternity Road on March 12, 2008. — FWP]


There aren’t many persons who, if asked whether significantly above-average intelligence could ever be a liability rather than an asset, would answer in the affirmative. That’s because there aren’t many persons with significantly above-average intelligence.

Yes, you read that right. You have to be pretty smart to understand why smarts aren’t a good fit for every context and every occupation. One of Jack L. Chalker’s Flux and Anchor books presents a penetrating example. In it, a woman who has earned a large boon from a powerful wizard asks him to use his power to make her permanently happy and carefree. The wizard plies a spell that strips her of her memory, halves her intelligence, and turns her into an uncritical, limitlessly willing sexual plaything — the simplest conceivable satisfaction of her request.

True, most of us wouldn’t aspire to that position. But some would, and dare anyone say (from a purely secular perspective) that to choose such a life would be wrong? Happiness and peace of mind are fleeting things; all but a few truly fortunate persons possess them only in snatches. Aldous Huxley is reported to have been greatly troubled by the number of persons who viewed his Brave New World, in which the overwhelmingly greater part of the population of the world was engineered for subnormal intelligence and high susceptibility to a happiness-inducing drug, as a depiction of a true Utopia.

Still, there’s that “Better Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied” business. Most persons of high intelligence wouldn’t sacrifice it for anything, not even a greatly prolonged, blissfully happy life. In part, it’s because high intelligence enables the owner to imagine and pursue fulfillments inaccessible to the less gifted. In even larger part, it’s because the esteem generally attached to intellectual power greatly stokes one’s self-regard.

High intelligence is a tool that can work many wonders. We owe much of our comfort and security to the insights of a few dozen geniuses. But that doesn’t make a genius suitable for a position only a dullard can fit.


Just this morning, your Curmudgeon stumbled upon the following at co-conspirator Travis Corcoran’s site:

NZC: Didn’t Spitzer want to be president someday? So, that’s totally in the toilet.

TJIC: One American disqualified for the office…only 299,999,999 more to go!

NZC: And you’re allowed to say that, because you’re leading from the front – you’ve totally disqualified yourself a dozen times over.

TJIC: Yeah, that whole “dig up the corpse of FDR, and then !@#% in his skull” blogging topic would totally come back to bite me in the primaries.

NZC: Indeed!

TJIC: …unless I ran as a Libertarian…

It was good for a chuckle, but your Curmudgeon sincerely hopes that Travis is aware that his high intelligence disqualifies him from any and all public offices.

What’s that you say? You want very intelligent people in government? You, sir, are a hazard to the body politic. What on Earth are you doing at Eternity Road? Don’t you know what sort of mischief smart people get up to when entrusted with power? Didn’t we get enough of a demonstration from the Clintons? Do you really want a reprise of that disaster?

No. No smart people in office. Please! Smart people are too good at reinterpreting their marching orders and rationalizing their way around moral or Constitutional constraints on their authority. If any of the Founding Fathers was a genius, Thomas Jefferson was — yet he, most libertarian of them all, violated the Constitution’s constraints on federal power several times in his first term of office. He rationalized his transgressions as “necessary” and “practical.” So highly did Congress, and the people generally, think of him that he always carried the day.

High intelligence is almost always accompanied by a high opinion of oneself. He who thinks that well of himself is all too easily led to see himself as above the rules that bind others. If you were looking for a capsule summary of Eliot Spitzer’s downfall, you have it now.

What Americans should seek in their public officials is men who can understand the duties and limitations of their offices, and will cleave to them unswervingly. This demands a routinier, an “organization man,” a dullard. It’s not the right billet for a genius. Very bright people chafe at taking orders, even from brighter, more knowledgeable people; they’re always looking for an angle, a way to finesse their way out of doing what they’ve been told.

The duties of an elected official are spelled out in either the Constitution of the United States, or some similar charter subordinate to it. The powers that attach to whatever government his office pertains to are spelled out in a similar fashion, albeit not always with the degree of specificity a libertarian-conservative would like. If those rules and constraints are seriously meant, then we don’t want our officeholders looking for ways to chisel around the edges. We want good, solid dullards, schooled from the Bible and the handle of a broom, who’ll do as they’re told, without the slightest trace of creativity.

We don’t often get such men, these days.


The word “intellectual” has acquired an unsavory connotation these past few decades. It deserves that connotation rather more than not. Intellectuals in the corridors of power, rich in self-regard and flushed with ambition to leave their footprints upon history, have wreaked great harm upon American liberty and our Constitutional order. But we were foolish enough to admit them, so the blame lies at least as much on us.

Restoring the original Constitutional compact has proved dauntingly difficult. Once government opens niches for men of intellect, those niches prove damnably difficult to close. There’s always an argument for genius in the power seat, usually that it’s necessary if we’re ever to undo the damage wrought by prior geniuses. Even when it’s tragically wrong, it can be too seductive to resist.

But an intellectual’s duty is to resist. If the word “duty” has an objective meaning, a man of genius should feel a duty to move toward those fields where his gifts will bring good to the world, rather than to a post where others will have to pay for his mistakes. For even geniuses make mistakes. Indeed, they make more of them, and more rapidly, than persons of average attainments.

Sadly, in our current milieu, wherein the achievements of an Edison or a Tesla are reckoned as grubby commerce while “high office” earns the highest of plaudits, too many bright fellows are drawn toward the profession of politics. But power doesn’t merely corrupt; it attracts the already corrupt and corruptible. Thus, it’s in the nature of political power that those with the weakest morals will be the most successful.

This is not the time or place for the exploration of so perverse a situation; among other things, your Curmudgeon hasn’t yet had enough to drink. Suffice it to say that we’ve created incentives that divert high intelligence away from its proper applications — science, commerce, and philosophy — and into the quest for power over others. Those incentives are self-reinforcing; they can only be unmade by the creation of even stronger counter-incentives, at whose nature we cannot yet guess. For the present, due to the excessive adulation of the hoi polloi for the conspicuously gifted, we’re doomed to be ruled by persons of low morality protected by high intellect. It’s the worst situation we could have contrived for ourselves.

To young Americans seeking a suitable course in life:

  • If you’re smart, go into business.
  • If you’re very smart, go into the sciences.
  • If you’re not smart, but were properly raised and can follow clear, simple directions, there may be a spot for you in government.
  • If you’re a Certified Galactic Intellect…how about a nice game of chess?

[Having reread and reflected on the above — hey, what do you do at 4:00 AM when the pains, the dogs, and the late-night traffic won’t let you sleep? — it occurs to me that a review of our recent, supposedly smart chief executives is in order:

  • Woodrow Wilson: World War I, huge expansion of the federal government, the income tax, the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Amendments.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt: The “Brain Trust,” a thirteen-year economic contraction, World War II, the destruction of the Constitution’s restraints on the federal government.
  • John F. Kennedy: The Bay of Pigs, hot and cold running prostitutes, and the elevation of the detestable, wholly amoral Kennedy family to a kind of American aristocracy.
  • Bill Clinton: Semen-stained dresses and bombed-out aspirin factories in Sudan.
  • Barack Hussein Obama: Please!

Any questions?]

Ultra Vires: Quandaries For Catholics And Conservatives

[The following essay, which first appeared at the old Palace Of Reason in April 2003, is being reposted by special request. Having reviewed it, I find it germane to many of the conflicts within both the Church and the American conservative movement at this time. — FWP]


April 21, 2003

In its unique way, the Catholic Church, to which I adhere, represents the greatest of the conflicts in American conservative politics today. Conversely, the conservative experience in America, especially as informed by its legal attitudes toward personal virtue, is a near-perfect mirror for a special malady that afflicts the Church in our time.

Michele Catalano recently bemoaned a common complaint: Catholic Guilt, a major legacy of much misguided indoctrination applied to young and defenseless Catholics, mainly in parochial schools. Stripped of its subtleties, Catholic Guilt is what comes of the inculcation of the notion that one is supposed to suffer in this world to earn one’s place in the next. Suffering here is meant to include not merely pain, fatigue, and discomfort, but also the renunciation, voluntary or otherwise, of the pleasures offered us by the world.

Contrast this idea with another, presented here by the great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, through his devil-protagonist Screwtape:

He [God] has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least — sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side. [from The Screwtape Letters, of course]

To your Curmudgeon, the truth of Lewis’s view seems self-evident. The opposing view, from which Catholic Guilt germinates, was enough to distance me from the Church for a long time. Moreover, a review of the Gospels reveals that Christ Himself demanded none of the renunciations and self-abnegations at the heart of Catholic Guilt.

The number of Catholics who have left the Church for this reason is incalculable. Not many return.

But even a lapsed Catholic, determined to remove the Church entirely from his life, can find himself afflicted with Catholic Guilt. A growth whose roots strike that deeply into one’s early childhood can be hard to expunge.

Guilt as a tool of control has obvious attractions. Once nurtured, it functions automatically. An external authority aware of its contours can use it for a wide variety of purposes. In that regard, it’s more potent and flexible than either the sense of right and wrong or the assumption of personal obligations.

Ayn Rand had one of her most loathsome villains soliloquize about the control possibilities inherent in guilt in a truly piercing fashion:

“Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against — then you’ll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We’re after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you’d better get wise to it. There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can be neither observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted — and you create a nation of law-breakers — and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr. Rearden, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.” [from Atlas Shrugged]

Because guilt is a perpetual negative presence in the mind, it can also engender negative consequences. One always attempts to escape from a sense of guilt. When guilt attaches to a specific act, one can atone and win absolution, at least in theory. When the guilt is formless and free-floating — the unarticulated conviction that to allow oneself to feel pleasure or to live for one’s own purposes is inherently wrong and marks one as unworthy of eternal life — no escape is possible, except into the abandonment of the institution inflicting the guilt, or psychosis.

Given its most important practical effect — driving genuinely good people away from the Church to God knows where — Catholic Guilt must be regarded as a disaster: for the Catholic Church; for Christianity, of which Catholicism is the largest sect; and for those who would otherwise have remained in the fold to partake of all the truly positive and life-enhancing things the Church has to offer.


But enough about that. Let’s move to a topic of wider interest: conservative guilt, an underappreciated and largely undiscussed brake on the growth of American conservatism today.

About a year ago, a gentleman named Will Wilkinson wrote the following about “lifestyle-conservatives” (with particular application to their attitudes toward recreational sex) as cited by Professor Glenn Reynolds, the much-beloved InstaPundit:

What people are interested in is a sense of identity. If a party grates against our sense of the kind of person we’d like to be, then we don’t want anything to do with it.

So, if the the alternative to being an uptight, sanctimonious, moralistic asshole is to be a Democrat, then we’ll want to be Democrats — even if we do end up getting shafted by Taxman. And I think that’s the way a whole lot of folks in my demo (BoBo Gen-X) see it. To large swaths of the public mind, choosing to put a gargoyle like John Ashcroft in charge of norm enforcement is like choosing to put Michael Moore in charge of the Fed.

This, and Professor Reynolds’s response, germinated a Curmudgeonly reflection on conservative identity-politics (not the most frequently discussed topic on the political Right), and some tentative conclusions about the sociodynamics of American conservatism. Those conclusions have become broader and stronger since that article — and they center on guilt.

To be brief, an awful lot of easygoing conservative types, who see nothing wrong with various kinds of pleasurable self-indulgence as long as they don’t produce harms or costs for uninvolved others, mouth a coercive-moralistic line so that they’ll be approved and accepted by the most rigid, humorless bluenoses in the conservative community. They feel themselves to be unworthy to some degree, because they’re insincere about their allegiance to such crusades as the War On Drugs, the condemnation of recreational sex and sex-for-hire, and other traditional strictures on the pleasures of the world and the flesh.

It’s possible that this is the worst retardant influence on conservative politics in our time. It certainly costs us the interest of most young Americans, who want neither to be deprived of life’s pleasures nor to be seen trying to deprive their contemporaries of them. And it is entirely a cultural phenomenon.

It’s laudable to exalt the virtues of work, of dedication, of the striving for excellence in oneself and one’s creations. This is a feature of America’s “enterprise culture,” the living filament that lights her commercial republic and makes its achievements the envy of the world. But there is no necessary connection between that set of attitudes and the notion that one must renounce the pleasures of life, even if indulgence subtracts from the time available for productive enterprise, worship, or what-have-you.

Yet lifestyle-conservatives, especially the religiously inclined, would like the two threads to be inextricably intertwined. They treat their anti-hedonic preferences as the heart of the conservative worldview. And a great many conservatives who are far less puritanically oriented pay them lip service.

The reasons are guilt and the desire for acceptance, a perfect mirror to the phenomenon of Catholic Guilt. The major difference between them is that Catholic Guilt is nurtured in young children by terrifying authority figures, while conservative guilt is an adult phenomenon kept vital by the supercilious disdain of lifestyle-conservatives.

Combating conservative guilt is as important for achieving a rational, majority conservatism — a conservatism that, pace Lord Acton, regards liberty as the highest political end, and intrudes upon it no more than necessary to maintain public order — as combating Catholic Guilt is for maintaining the vitality of the Church.


There are no miracle cures for unfounded guilt. The sufferer must satisfy himself that there’s no fundamental requirement that he carry that burden. The best that can be done for him is to point him at primary sources:

  • For the Catholic, the Gospels;
  • For the conservative, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

Primary sources are important because they are grants of authority. Christ’s teachings as set forth in the Gospels are the source and foundation of all Christian belief. A cleric that overlays them with his own preferences or ambitions, going beyond what Christ proclaimed as the obligations of the seeker after eternal life, betrays His mission among men and sins grievously against the innocent soul. Similarly, the Declaration and Constitution are the foundations of the American Republic. The lifestyle-conservative who seeks to efface the philosophy of the Declaration, or to usurp more power than was granted by the Constitution, traduces our whole experiment in freedom. Both of these are clear cases of ultra vires, the unjustified usurpation of power beyond that which was legitimately granted, the form treason most often takes within the corridors of power.

If the guilt-ridden Catholic or conservative can be brought to that realization, then, as with Winston Smith’s “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two equals four,” all else follows.

From that point forward, the matter is in his hands.

It’s On: What Now?

As I said in the previous piece, now that the long-feared race war is on, the imperative question is What now? However, the previous observation is so striking, and so paralyzing, that many Americans won’t get around to asking themselves what they should do next.

Unfortunately, for perhaps two-thirds of us, the failure to address that question might cost us our lives.


Please take note: The following observations and recommendations are addressed to all races. Whites might be in the greatest degree of danger — at least, there haven’t yet been any reports of a pack of black youths attacking a black passerby — but when savages are prowling freely, all non-savages are at risk in some degree.

Please take further note: Some recommendations will be harder to follow for certain categories of persons than for others. This is merely an observation of fact. However, as with all natural laws, this one is self-enforcing. Failure to be realistic about one’s self-defense capabilities and to take appropriate remedial action will not be excused should the worst happen. There are no suspended sentences for the crime of wishful thinking.

Finally (and most seriously) for this series of caveats: Assume that no third parties will come between you and your assailants. There was a time when third parties were more likely to intervene in a street brawl or a mugging. Yet even in our best eras, it was less likely than not; the “mind your own business” street ethic Americans have always practiced is strong enough to inhibit even the capable from “taking sides” in a matter they know little to nothing about.

The situation is grave. The risks are high — higher for some than for others. And you’re on your own.


The war in progress isn’t a “clean” war. It has no discernible “front.” Neither do the combatants wear uniforms, though some identifying marks exist and should be taken seriously. Worst of all, there’s no way to declare oneself a “neutral” or a “non-combatant.”

Such a war demands the highest possible degree of situational awareness. He who ventures beyond a well-fortified “safe zone” must be continuously aware of everyone and everything around him. He must maintain a dynamic, continuously adjusted assessment of who and what might be a threat — and he must be as ruthless about the assignment of “threat” status as any military analyst.

“Threat” refers to capabilities, not intentions.

Your personal circumstances — where you live; what sort of people live around you; pertinent statistics about street crime in your locale; the times, durations, and other qualities of your mandatory exposures — are the enveloping context, and must always be kept in mind. Specifics about this particular exposure must be folded into that context in real time.

Neither set of considerations should be allowed to “trump” the other. If you must travel through a high-crime area, do not assume that simply being surrounded by trusted friends renders you “safe.” Similarly, traveling through a low-crime area doesn’t guarantee that the neighborhood’s lone street thug poses no threat to you. Stay awake and aware.

This is the paramount principle of personal protection.


This war recognizes no hard-and-fast alliances. Just as the combatants wear no uniforms and form no perceptible battle lines, you cannot assume that all whites are “on your side.” There are white thugs just as there are black ones — and the worst of them travel with black wolf packs, eager to show their solidarity with “the blood.”

Tactical decisions about whom you can trust to “have your back” must be made in “real time.” More, they must be based solely on what you know about the individuals in question, on their behavior when trouble looms, and on their responses should trouble start:

  • You cannot assume allegiances that arise solely from skin color;
  • You cannot assume affinities that arise solely from age or sex;
  • You cannot assume that even a trusted friend will come to your aid should violence erupt.

Sadly, there are a lot of pansies out there. Some of them are pretty big; size is no guarantee of readiness to defend life or limb. Also, many a PC type would excuse a black thug of your murder on the grounds of “white capitalist oppression”…as long as he got away cleanly, of course. You must know as much as you can about anyone you intend to trust with your well-being.


When traveling through an area in which you are an unknown, your first reaction to anyone who draws near enough to be a threat must be suspicion.

How near is “near enough to be a threat?” I suggest the following loose guideline:

  • 75 feet: Practical limit on accurate handgun fire for a non-specialist.
  • 20 feet: Practical limit of a “confinement ring” in which you can be trapped.
  • 5 feet: The zone of personal non-ballistic combat, in which kicks, punches, and muscle-powered weapons are most important.

No one’s situational awareness is perfect. You can be pot-shotted from a tenement window. You can be trapped within a confinement ring despite your best efforts. A capable and determined assailant can get within bludgeoning distance of you if the surroundings are noisy and distracting, or if he’s sufficiently sneaky. You cannot protect against these possibilities with absolute confidence; all you can do is make them less likely.

Suspicion is the key to reducing your risks. Do you know the person advancing on you? Is he within your age bracket? How is he dressed? Is he carrying something he could use as a weapon? What’s his overall demeanor?

Most important of all: Is he a young black male in proximity to other young black males? That’s the paramount threat category, and no PC bullshit can do anything about it.

Your aspirations for racial harmony mean nothing at this time. The stakes are your life. Make your decisions, both preparatory and instantaneous, accordingly.


Here we come to the grimmest observations of all:

    “What is combat, Christine?”
    “Huh?”
    “What is combat? How does it differ from other kinds of human interaction?”
    “Well, you’re trying to hurt somebody.”
    Louis cocked an eyebrow. “You’re never trying to hurt somebody under other circumstances?”
    She thought it over. “Well, yeah.”
    “So what’s the difference?”
    “Well, you have to have an opponent.”
    He waited in silence.
    “And he has to be trying to stop you.”
    “From doing what?”
    “Whatever you’re trying to do!” She was growing impatient.
    “And what are the rules?”
    “Um, do there have to be any?”
    He shook his head. “There have to be none.”
    “What?”
    “You heard me. If it’s combat, it has no rules, only objectives. That’s really the defining characteristic.”
    He went to a wooden rack across from his punching bag and lifted a large, gently curved sword from it. She had never seen him handle the thing before, and had wondered why he had it.
    “This is a medieval saber. A thousand years ago, it was one of the most potent weapons a man could carry. Moreover, possession was restricted by law. You had to be a member of the ruling class to own one legally.”
    He swung the sword in a complex pattern that defeated her attempt to track it.
    “You can kill with one of these, if you have enough strength and skill. Of course, it’s a little conspicuous, and it takes a lot more effort to use than most people would guess. Would you want to have to tote one around?”
    “No.”
    “And why is that?” He laid the tip of the saber in his left hand and held out the sword as if offering it to her.
    “Because there’s better available. We have guns now.”
    He nodded. “Yes, we do. And for quite a wide range of combat situations, a gun is a better weapon than a sword. In fact, there are a number of cases where bare hands are better than a sword, but that’s beside the point for now. If you were in a combat situation, where you had this and your opponent had a gun, what could you do about it?”
    She looked hard at the old weapon. It had a certain antique beauty and simplicity, but she couldn’t imagine ever wanting to wield it.
    “Not a lot. Try to take the gun away from him, maybe?”
    Louis snorted. “I hope you never have to do that, Chris. The odds are going to be on his side. But one thing you wouldn’t do is to shout, ‘Hey, that’s not fair.’ Right?”
    She laughed. “Silly man!”
    His face went dark. “I’m trying to make a very important point here, Chris. Combat means no rules. What he has is what you have to deal with, period. If you can’t face his size, his skills, or his armament, you’d better be prepared to run.”
    “Well, you know I can do that.”
    He glowered. “I said prepared to run.” His voice had acquired an edge she hadn’t heard before. “Emotionally. You don’t ever duke it out with someone who’s got the edge. A lot of guys have been killed by pride and unwillingness to admit they’re facing superior force. Chris, this might be the most important thing anyone will ever tell you. Do you understand?”

[From On Broken Wings]

Do you know yourself?
Do you really?
Do you know your capacities, both physical and emotional?
Are you willing to commit violence — possibly lethal violence — in self-defense?
What about in defense of others?
Are you willing to carry a weapon?
What about an “illegal” weapon?
Should violence erupt, would you be ready, willing, and able to use that weapon?
Are you willing to strike the first blow?
Are you really being honest about all the above?
Most important of all…
How do you know all that?

Allow me to repeat myself: There are no suspended sentences for the crime of wishful thinking. Your beliefs about yourself could well be at odds with the realities. Moreover, the only way to determine whether a disjunction exists between your beliefs and the realities is when violence erupts.

Actually, it’s even worse than that. No two violent altercations are exactly alike. What you did in that gin-mill brawl back when doesn’t necessarily mean anything about the street mugging you’re about to stumble into. Heraclitus was a smart old dude; it pays to keep his maxims in mind. Everything changes. You’re not exempt.

What Louis was trying to impress upon Christine in the blockquoted passage above is the absoluteness of reality in a life-and-death situation. Reality is what it is. Your knowledge of it is guaranteed to be incomplete and inexact. That includes your knowledge of yourself.

I’m only going to say this once, so you’d better be paying attention:

Take no unnecessary risks.

Whatever you might once have known…whatever you might once have done…whatever you once knew about your neighbors and neighborhood is all historical information. You cannot know what elements of it have changed until the changes are made manifest to you in real time…and by then, it could well be too late.

All the rest of the above hangs critically on that one bit of wisdom.


So: It’s on. Like it or not, if you’re a decent human being of any race, you’re a front-line combatant. I want you to go home alive. There are others who don’t. You cannot wish that away; you can only cope with it, according to your personal abilities, circumstances, and station in life.

Are you prepared for what’s upon us?

It’s On

Here’s the evidence. Read it.
Here’s a little more. Read that too.
Here’s a lot more. Read it all.

Weep or not, as you prefer. For myself, I’m done with tears. And I’m too much of a realist to deny objective evidence and its implications.

In either case, the question becomes: What now?


If you use your senses routinely and are willing to credit what they tell you, Col. Bunny’s citation of Vox Day below didn’t tell you anything you don’t already know. But then, neither did Robert S. Oculus. Neither did Paul Kersey. Neither did the badly maligned and maltreated John Derbyshire.

These gentlemen have been reviled so brutally as to make me wonder whether I’m being a fool for not concealing my identity and location. Yet what have they done, other than present verifiable facts and talk about their obvious implications?

Those implications weren’t “politically correct.” That’s where the trouble arises. White Americans have been steeped in something its boosters call “multiculturalism” and the great Mark Steyn called “societal Stockholm Syndrome.” I leave it to you to decide which of the above labels better describes the condition.

When it comes to the violence, the brutality, and the all too evident hostility toward whites that blacks have manifested these past few decades, we have been bludgeoned into accepting all sorts of excuses — excuses that would never pass muster if applied to some other demographic cohort. The typical white American is internally so inhibited against looking plainly and speaking fearlessly about black-on-white violence that were he to be forced to do so, it might cause him a stroke.

Hot Flash To The Perpetually Somnolent: Blacks don’t suffer the same inhibitions. Their mouthpieces speak openly of hatred for whites. They do all they can to whip up black hatred of whites among their fellows. If they grasp the inevitable consequences of such rhetoric, either it doesn’t concern them or they expect to be safely and cozily dead before those consequences get here.

But we live in a universe with laws beyond Man’s power to break. The deliberate evocation of racial hatred has put a train of events in motion that can have only one outcome — and it would appear from the most recent events that that outcome is no longer a distant possibility the bien-pensants can pooh-pooh as a chimera over canapés and white wine.

That race war I’ve been wringing my hands about? It’s on.


At the base of the problem, as is always the case when we confront a violent social division, is politics.

When I wrote this short story and this exegesis upon it, I was of course focused on international relations: the techniques by which fractious, quarrelsome nation-states jockey with one another for prestige and other advantages. However, the approach can be applied equally effectively to relations between the races. The same analysis yields the same insight into underlying principles…and the same conclusions about what must be done.

Briefly and bluntly, when two identifiable groups disagree on fundamental moral principles, they must be rigidly separated from one another to avert bloodshed. If they aren’t rigidly separated, bloodshed will ensue. That’s what it means to differ on fundamental moral principles. “Morally different” is merely a circumlocution for evil.

Just in case any of this isn’t utterly pellucid, the fundamental moral principles at issue here are the following:

Aggressive violence toward peaceable others is evil.
He who shields a violent aggressor from his just deserts is an accessory to the crime.

Yet the thrust of all race-centered politics these past fifty years has been to soften the hand of Justice toward black lawbreakers, at least in comparison to the treatment meted out to whites convicted of comparable crimes. Moreover, blacks generally have displayed a powerful tendency to shield black lawbreakers, whether by denying their guilt or by demanding special accommodations for them that a white criminal would not receive. Blacks’ coherence as a voting bloc in supporting left-liberal politicians and their favored policies has put a huge impetus behind this two-tiered approach to penal justice.

You’ve heard all the excuses. “The legacy of slavery.” “Pervasive discrimination.” “Structural racism.” “Unequal opportunity.” “Capitalist oppression.” There have been others, but those are the most frequently cited.

The excuses wouldn’t matter even if they were both accurate and apposite. Take any vicious crime: a murder, a rape, a violent mugging, what have you. Conceal all details of race, both of the perpetrator and of his victim, from some passerby and ask him what should happen to the miscreant. Once you have his response, ask whether his opinion would change if the perp were black and the victim were white.

If the passerby is white, he’ll be made visibly uncomfortable by the suggestion. If he’s black, be ready for anything. An angry retort is virtually guaranteed. Violence is possible.

In a way, it’s natural. When we sense that Smith is “one of us,” and is under assault by “the other,” our impulse is to protect him. But that natural impulse is obviously an impediment to attempts at racial integration…and it’s been amplified by the anti-white rhetoric of black racialist hucksters for just as long.

The past fifty years’ sallies at racial integration, at equalizing the legal and political positions of black and white Americans, and at dealing with the “residual” tensions as the two races approached “equality” have struggled against that impulse. So far, the impulse, which is equally the driver for all trends toward racial segregation, has had the upper hand.

When I wrote:

[D]espite everything, the great majority of American blacks are devout Christians who strive with all their might and main to live according to their faith. If you’re a white Christian, used to the tenor of the religious services that white Christians normally attend, you’d be blown away by the fervor of a service at a Southern Baptist or Church of God in Christ meeting. There’s no hypocrisy there: these folks are passionate Christians who really mean it, in all particulars.

How much greater an injustice could we do than to group these good and gentle people with the thugs who exploit black class privileges to the hilt, cynically and ruthlessly, to the detriment of all of American society?

…I meant it sincerely. I work with several such persons, and they have my respect…right up to the point where they declaim about “the legacy of slavery,” “pervasive discrimination,” “structural racism,” and so forth. Given the hazards to which an American — a white American — in corporate employment is exposed if he dares to make an objective statement about race relations, I’ve managed to avoid expressing my own opinions. But I can’t help asking: If intelligent blacks working in a demanding field can’t escape the racialist corral erected by the Jesse Jacksons, the Al Sharptons, the Jeremiah Wrights, and similar villains, what hope is there for anyone else?

Which is why I ask: What now?


I’m a child of the Civil Rights Era. I’ve yearned for the day when Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” vision would become the unquestioned reality of our nation. It has not arrived. If anything, it’s receded further from reality with every passing year.

Intelligent people who would never act so foolishly in any other venue have collaborated in the suppression of information about black-on-white violence, black cultural pathologies, and blacks’ hatred of whites. I have a special animus for “journalists” who have done so; their betrayal of their occupational responsibilities played a large part in bringing us to where we stand today.

The race war is on.
Recent black attacks on whites are the opening skirmishes.
If more and worse violence can be avoided by “negotiations,” the time for the effort is now.
I don’t plan to leave myself defenseless if they should fail.
What about you, Gentle Reader?

Pray.

Tea Leaves By Twilight

Part 1: Portents

     Among the greatest of the curses upon the race of Man is our propensity for “thinking” with our wishes rather than our powers of reasoning — our willful disregard of what is in favor of what we’d like. It leads us to imagine that we inhabit a world far distant from the one around us, governed by processes wholly at odds with the ones that rule objective reality.

     Sometimes we awaken from our fantasies in time to save ourselves from calamity. But not always.


     Several readers have written to ask me why I so greatly fear the outbreak of “a real, full-scale, flying-lead race war.” Clearly, such correspondents deem the probability of such a thing well below my own estimate. So it becomes important that I justify my assessment.

     War, in the most abstract view, is a condition in which two (or more) organizations struggle for dominance over some contested item. Historically, when nations have made war, it’s normally been over territory or population. There have been other casus bellorum, but that’s been the most common…until recently.

     Today, wars between nation-states tend not to be over the position of a border or who has jurisdiction over some ethno-linguistic group. They address other sorts of slights and more recent sorts of risks. The looming war between Israel and Iran won’t be over a territorial dispute, but rather over the existential threat to Israel inherent in Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons and a delivery system for them.

     A civil war is a struggle over what organization possesses sovereignty over the embroiled nation or a region thereof — that is, which of two (or more) groups is the “legitimate government,” entitled to make and enforce the law. The American Civil War, though the issues that ignited it were fairly limited — slavery and tariffs — was exactly such a conflict. The Union maintained that the federal government based in Washington, D.C. retained sovereign jurisdiction over the states of the Confederacy; the Confederacy insisted on its right to secede from the Constitutional compact that the Union states respected. The matter was settled — de facto if not necessarily de jure — by the test of arms.

     Today, Syria is clearly in a state of civil war. Egypt is teetering on the edge of one, and could fall into the abyss at any time. So also with the United States of America, though the battle lines are of a unique and tragic kind.


     The American conflict is, once again, over what the law shall be…but this time, the disputed “territory” is not real estate but race.

     The traditional American view of the rule of law is very simply stated: Legitimate, Constitutionally conformant law stands above all details of identity, locality, and affiliation. No matter who you are, where you are, or with what groups or institutions you’re associated, your conduct is subject to the same laws as everyone else. Conversely, a law that embeds matters of identity, locality, or affiliation in its determinations is illegitimate under the rule of law. You would be hard pressed to find anyone in these United States who would dare to differ with that formulation, at least in the abstract.

     However, recent events, of which the trial of George Zimmerman was merely the most visible outcropping, have demonstrated that quite a large percentage of our population discards the rule of law when racial differences are involved. Consider: Had Trayvon Martin been white, the Sanford police’s decision that the evidence clearly made his death at Zimmerman’s hands a case of self-defense would not have been questioned. Similarly, had both participants in the event been black, Zimmerman would never have come to trial. The immense political pressure brought to bear on the state of Florida to try Zimmerman for murder arose entirely because Martin was black and Zimmerman is white.

     (Don’t quarrel with me about that last. “Hispanic” is an ethnic classification, not a racial one. Zimmerman is racially Caucasian. Away with the objection that he had a black great-grandparent; we don’t obey the “one-drop rule” here at Liberty’s Torch.)

     Though the great majority of American Negroes are decent and law-abiding, a large percentage has internalized the notion that they possess certain exemptions from the law and extra privileges under it. Tragically, among the decent and law-abiding are many — perhaps a majority thereof — who are moved to protect the lawbreakers simply because of their shared race. If you ever hear a Negro talk about “The Man,” you’re in the presence of one such.

     A claim of an exemption from the law, or of a privilege that others do not possess, inherently rejects the rule of law and the legal / judicial system based upon it. That puts that group in a state of civil war with the larger society, albeit a “cold” version as long as the conflict remains nonviolent.

     From the data in Colin Flaherty’s book White Girl Bleed A Lot and from other, corroborating sources, it would appear that an outbreak of mass violence is creeping very close indeed.


     The factor that’s most likely to touch off the “flying-lead race war” is the behavior of the federal Department of Justice, which has outrageously aligned itself with those forces determined to lynch George Zimmerman. The satrap of that agency is, of course, Eric “I’m the black attorney-general” Holder, the first openly racist person ever to occupy that position.

     Holder has already allowed DoJ personnel to guide and participate in rallies and “protests” designed to bring Zimmerman to trial, and which have more recently railed against his acquittal as “unjust.” Today he seeks grounds on which to charge Zimmerman with “civil rights violations,” as if self-defense could possibly be viewed so. The agenda Holder and his boss, Barack Hussein Obama, are pursuing has nothing to do with justice or any interest therein; they seek political advantage for themselves and their allies, by fomenting as intense a state of racial animosity as they can contrive. They, and the Democrat Party generally, are aware that retaining the near-unanimous allegiance of black voters is critical to their retention of power. Stirring up hatred of whites is their tactic for reinforcing that allegiance.

     It is possible that Obama and Holder are aware of how close to the abyss of outright race warfare the country has drifted. It is possible that they believe they can stretch the cord of civil peace and social tolerance still more tautly without going over the edge. And it is possible that they just don’t care.

     My sense of the state of things inclines me to believe the last of those possibilities.


     America’s racial troubles are a facet in a large mosaic of social, economic, and political turmoil. They are unusual in that they involve violence, both actual and potential, and an implicit yet obvious dispute over the concept of the rule of law. Few other aspects of our ongoing conflicts share those characteristics.

     We ought to have learned from our troubles with Muslims that demands for exemptions and privileges under the law must always be rebuffed — and sternly, at that. Concessions encourage troublemakers to make more trouble; that’s fundamental reinforcement psychology, proven on innumerable occasions to operate automatically, even unconsciously, on the persons involved. Yet white Americans continue to make that fundamental mistake in dealing with the demands of blacks.

     Steyn’s Thesis has never been more visibly in action:

     If it were just terrorists bombing buildings and public transit, it would be easier; even the feeblest Eurowimp jurisdiction is obliged to act when the street is piled with corpses. But there’s an old technique well understood by the smarter bullies. If you want to break a man, don’t attack him head on, don’t brutalize him; pain and torture can awaken a stubborn resistance in all but the weakest. But just make him slightly uncomfortable, disrupt his life at the margin, and he’ll look for the easiest path to re-normalization. There are fellows rampaging through the streets because of some cartoons? Why, surely the most painless solution would be if we all agreed not to publish such cartoons. [From Mark Steyn’s America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It]

     An exact parallel: There are fellows rampaging / beating passers-by / disrupting traffic / making death threats / holding mass demonstrations because of a jury verdict? Why, surely the most painless solution would be if we all agreed to reverse that verdict…or to pretend that it could not possibly be legitimate.

     However, as those “feeble Eurowimp jurisdictions” have discovered, the terminus of that progression involves bullets, bombs, and great piles of corpses. And unless we learn from both their failures and our accelerating racial turmoil, we will suffer the same.


Part 2: Wars and Rumors of Wars

We met on the beach amid rumours of war,
Your head in your hand, what you saw you won’t say,
As the newspapers blew in the wind.
I can see you’re one of that kind
Who carry around a time bomb in the mind — no one knows
When you’ll slip the pin.
Rumours of war…
Rumours of war…

I see that your dress is torn at the edge,
You are lost, intense, like a man on a ledge, waiting to jump,
As the waves break over the shore.
You say there’s a storm that can’t be delayed,
And lately it seems to be coming this way — you can hear it break
Like the slam of a door.
Rumours of war…
Rumours of war…

You tell me, just look all around
At the past and the present, the cross and the crescent,
The signs and the planets are lining up like before.
There are souls on fire in the day and the night,
On the left and the right, in the black and the white,
You can see it burn in the eyes of the rich and the poor!
Rumours of war…
Rumours of war…

[Al Stewart, “Rumours Of War”]

     War, as I noted in the previous segment, is in its most abstract form a struggle over who shall rule over a contested item. The “cold race war” already in progress is exactly that sort of struggle. The most recent front was made visible by the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin affair: a substantial fraction of American Negroes is claiming, in effect, that when a white man kills a black man, the white man is guilty of murder regardless of any other considerations or contextual factors. The demand for such a departure from the ancient law of self-defense, specifically to favor Negroes, is a demand for a separate sovereignty demarcated by race.

     But let it not be thought that only Negroes are demanding such a sovereignty. Muslims are at it, too. Indeed, Muslims’ demand for special exemptions from the law is rooted in their most fundamental scripture:

     For that cause We decreed for the Children of Israel that whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. Our messengers came unto them of old with clear proofs (of Allah’s Sovereignty), but afterwards lo! many of them became prodigals in the earth. [Qur’an, Sura 5:32]

     Those who believe fight in the way of Allah, and those who disbelieve fight in the way of the Shaitan. Fight therefore against the friends of the Shaitan; surely the strategy of the Shaitan is weak. [Qur’an, Sura 4:76]

     “I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them.” [Qur’an, Sura 8:12]

     But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. [Qur’an, Sura 9:5]

     “Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, of the people of the Book, until they pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.” [Qur’an, Sura 9:29]

     “O Prophet! Struggle against the unbelievers and hypocrites and be harsh with them.” [Qur’an, Sura 9:73]

     American Indians, of course, already enjoy certain exemptions from several aspects of state and federal law. So also do elected federal officials and federal employees. And thanks to federal antidiscrimination statutes, women, the handicapped, and homosexuals have gained privileges that persons outside those groups do not enjoy.

     We have been divided from one another by the very mechanisms that promised us e pluribus unum. To be divided from one another by the law itself is to be set against one another, albeit indirectly.

     Indirectly…at first. What follows is more direct and often far more horrible.


     Thomas Sowell and others have repeatedly noted the consequences of raising one group over another through the law. Egregious cases involve Malaysia and Sri Lanka, where laws that distinguish among the various ethnic and linguistic groups have provoked enduring inter-group hostility that has often risen to violence. More recently, the de facto exclusion of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority from the protection of the law has given rise to continuing pogroms against the Coptics by the Muslim majority.

     These are natural consequences of discrimination embedded in the law. They are unavoidable, for a simple reason:

Privilege confers advantage.

     Over time ever more of the members of a legally privileged group will exploit its privileges, to the detriment of the unprivileged groups. The swelling envy and resentment that result are guaranteed to tear any nation apart…including ours.

     When a nation embarks upon “the downward course” (Winston Churchill), one of the group-independent sociological consequences is a general shortening of time horizons. People’s “time preference ratios” — their preference for immediate satisfactions over long-term gains — tilt ever more toward the present and away from the future. Indeed, it becomes noticeable that there’s a general accord that “we have no future.” What conclusion could a reasonable man reach, other than to live for the present? And what result could be more certain than the “eating of the seed corn” — the profligate consumption of the nation’s assets in total disregard for the needs of posterity?

     The best summation of this mindset ever written comes from a great science-fiction novel:

     “The fall of Trantor,” said Seldon, “cannot be stopped by any conceivable effort. It can be hastened easily, however. The tale of my interrupted trial will spread through the Galaxy. Frustration of my plans to lighten the disaster will convince people that the future holds no promise to them. Already they recall the lives of their grandfathers with envy. They will see that political revolutions and trade stagnations will increase. The feeling will pervade the Galaxy that only what a man can grasp for himself at that moment will be of any account. Ambitious men will not wait and unscrupulous men will not hang back. By their every action they will hasten the decay of the worlds. Have me killed and Trantor will fall not within three centuries but within fifty years and you, yourself, within a single year.” [Isaac Asimov, Foundation, emphasis added.]

     Dr. Asimov grasped that the fates of great polities lie in their own hands: specifically, in the resolve of their rulers to maintain absolute — and absolutely evenhanded — justice. When that resolve fails, “the downward course” begins. It soon becomes irreversible.


     As in the Al Stewart lyric above, no one knows when we’ll “slip the pin.” Of only one thing am I sure: Our current rulers are at the heart of the problem. There has never been a group as openly hostile to equal justice under law as the one that currently prevails in Washington. Should that group continue to ride roughshod over the rule of law and equal justice thereunder, the United States of America will not survive.

     Look all around you, “at the past and the present, the cross and the crescent,” and all the rest of the legal, judicial, and social divisions we’ve endured these past fifty years. Note how many persons are already dead certain that the nation is doomed, and are making what preparations they can for the collapse of what order still remains. Note the rise of the preparationist industries, that cater directly and unabashedly to that conviction. Note the growing disaffiliation of ordinary Americans from American public institutions, in preference for whatever private alternatives exist. And note especially how many Americans already hold that the law has become an instrument of oppression, and is therefore to be skirted or disregarded whenever it’s practical to do so.

     And pray.

When It Came

(The following short story first appeared at Eternity Road on March 1, 2009 — FWP.)


    The president-designate’s eyes flicked briefly toward his chosen successor, then back to the helmeted soldier who stood before him, sidearm holstered at his hip. The soldier noticed the glance and smiled briefly.

    “It’s all right, Mr. Secretary,” the soldier said. “Everything is secure. Chief Justice, are you ready to certify the proceedings?”

    The jurist nodded. Though plainly shaken by the day’s events, he was as composed as he’d ever been on the bench.

    The soldier looked toward the waiting camera crews. “Ready, gentlemen?”

    A forest of red lights winked on in assent.

    The president-designate cleared his throat, sat forward, and did his best to smile.

    “My fellow Americans,” he said, the tremor in his voice barely controlled, “the events of today have not yet been reported to you in their full extent. Given the circumstances, I can only provide a synopsis. There are more important matters I must attend to at once.

    “Most of you have never seen my face. I was not meant for this office, and will occupy it for only a few minutes more. You will find my successor more recognizable by far.

    “I sit here because a few hours ago the man you elected president last November, his vice-presidential running mate, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and the secretary of State were all killed in combat.” The president winced as he spoke. He could hardly imagine the impact of his words on the millions in the audience, most of whom had only the vaguest notion of what had happened in Washington that day. “I can’t go into details about that engagement, except to tell you that they, and the men who stood by them, died in defense of offices they were no longer entitled to hold. They forfeited all right to those offices yesterday, when the president ordered American troops to fire on American citizens who were peacefully protesting his policies. When the troops in Anchorage, Alaska, Los Angeles, California, Tampa, Florida, and Portland, Maine refused those orders, the president ordered the officers commanding those troops to fire on them. The foreseeable result was a mutiny, and that’s exactly what took place.”

    The explanation needs to be complete and correct.

    “We were fortunate that our men at arms recognized the illegality of those orders. We were even more fortunate that the Joint Chiefs had been in contact with friendly forces outside the United States, formulating contingency plans to be put into motion should the need arise. It was those outside forces that proved critical to thwarting this unprecedented coup against the Constitution, engineered inside the government itself.

    He paused to let the impact of the statement sink into the nation’s minds.

    “We are equally fortunate that the president pro tempore of the senate and the secretary of the Treasury, both of whom stand before me in the presidential line of succession, agreed to resign from office in exchange for immunity from prosecution for their collaboration with the coup. That allowed the office of the president to devolve to me. In a moment I will be sworn into it before you all. A moment more, and I will resign it in favor of my chosen successor, who is far more suited to the office than I.

    “You might be thinking, ‘How could a coup arise from inside the government itself? Aren’t the soldiers who overthrew the president and his appointees the real coup?’ A coup is a stroke against legitimate authority. In America, all legitimate authority flows from the Constitution of the United States. An official who acts in violation of the dictates of the Constitution is therefore an outlaw, a traitor against the bedrock laws and principles of this nation. If he tries to retain his position by force, others who are charged with enforcing the law are thereby entitled to take him down by force. That’s what occurred earlier today, with a regrettable but unavoidable loss of life on both sides.”

    The president-designate’s gaze passed swiftly over the faces of the cameramen. All were doing their best to retain a professional demeanor. None were entirely successful. The overwhelming majority of them, like the majority of their brethren in journalism, had supported the deposed administration. Few had any sympathy for the views of those who were to replace it. Yet each of them had volunteered for his assignment, knowing full well what had come to pass.

    “I wish it could have been otherwise, but the late president gave us no choice. He had decided to place himself and his associates above the law — the supreme law, the Constitution. That made him and those who stood by him criminals, whose deaths in combat were fully justified. I’d have preferred to see them go on trial for their crimes, but their tenacity in defense of their illegitimately wielded powers took that possibility away from us.

    “We are at the beginning of a process whose end we cannot see. Nothing like this has occurred in America before today. No foreign soldier has fired a shot in anger on our soil since 1814. And never before have men whose sworn allegiance is to another nation been called to act in defense of our own.

    “I must ask for your patience, and your prayers for my successor. I can ask nothing more — especially not for your trust. To trust in government and politicians is and has always been insane. Our first president, George Washington himself, cautioned us against it. ‘Government,’ he said ‘is not reason; it is not eloquence. It is force. And force, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.’ We almost learned the truth of that assessment upon our own backs. If it hadn’t been for the character of our all-volunteer military and the foresight of a single foreign friend, we would have suffered as no generation of Americans has ever suffered.

    “You will shortly meet my successor in this office. She’s a woman of sterling character and considerable accomplishment. She’s been an honest official throughout her public life. I entreat you: Don’t trust her. Keep her honest. Keep her associates honest. Keep her agents honest. If I’ve judged her accurately, she’ll appreciate the necessity.

    “Above all…” The president-designate’s voice caught momentarily. He looked down at the desk and struggled for calm.

    It was necessary. Horrible, but right and necessary. I suppose I’ll be telling myself that all the way to my grave.

    “Above all, my fellow Americans, do not make it necessary ever again for America to be saved from itself by a foreign force. I will not criticize that force or its men at arms. We stand in permanent debt to them. But we should be ashamed that we, the people of the United States, supposedly the sovereign rulers of our own nation, needed their assistance to retain our Constitutional heritage. We should be ashamed that all our brave talk about holding our officials accountable for their deeds turned out to be no more than that. We should be ashamed that, virtually to a man, we were willing to submit to an elected tyranny, to go along with oppression in order to get along with our comfortable lives.”

    With those words, the president-designate felt his tears break free. He wiped his eyes on a sleeve, stood and squared his shoulders. The camera lenses followed him faithfully.

    “That’s it. I have no more to say.”

    He strode to where the chief justice stood, Bible in hand.

    “Are you ready to take the oath of office, Mr. Secretary?” the chief justice said, voice quavering.

    “I am, Your Honor.”

    Once the oath had been completed, the president returned to the historic desk — his desk, for a few moments more — crouched to sign the Deed of Resignation, and handed it at once to the chief justice.

    “Is the form correct and the intent clear, Your Honor?”

    The chief justice nodded gravely. “Yes to both, Mr. President. Thank you for your service to this nation.” His eyes moved to the governor of Alaska. “Are you ready to take the oath of office, Madam Governor?”

    She stepped forward, shoulders thrust back and head held high with an obvious effort. “I am, Your Honor.”

    As she completed the oath, the cameras winked out. The soldier waiting just beyond their gaze never budged.

***

     The president found the White House telepresence room empty and as silent as a tomb. From the giant screen on the wall shone a single face.

    She turned to her companion. “Please, have a seat.”

    The soldier smiled. “It’s all right, Madam President. I prefer to stand.”

    She nodded and took her own place at the curved conference table.

    “Mr. Prime Minister,” she said.

    “Madam President.”

    “I can’t thank you enough. I can’t imagine how to repay this debt.”

    The prime minister shook his head. “America prepaid this debt long ago. Not that we keep accounts over here, old jokes notwithstanding.”

    “All the same.”

    “Do you anticipate any further unpleasantness with…anyone on Capitol Hill?”

    “I think the events of the day will make that unnecessary. I intend a clean sweep of the Cabinet, of course, except for Defense.”

    “Of course.” The prime minister looked aside for an instant. “Would it be of any value to you to have our brigade remain in Washington a few days longer?”

    The president felt her face tighten. “It would, but I have to balance that value against the appearance of a foreign occupation. I think the latter weighs more heavily, so I’m going to send them back to you. With thanks.”

    “Don’t you have any fear of a counterstrike?”

    The president grinned ruefully. “That’s so unlikely it’s not worth discussing. The army is on our side. The people are on our side, or soon will be. Our principal opponents will be the news media. I think I can cope with them.”

    The prime minister nodded. “Then I will be happy to welcome my forces home, and thank them for a difficult job well done. And, Madam President…?”

    “Yes, Prime Minister?”

    “Should you need further assistance, now or in the future, I trust you won’t hesitate to ask.”

    For the first time that day, the president felt a lessening of the burden of her office.

    Probably the last time, too.

    “I won’t, my friend. But I’m as embarrassed — no, ashamed — at our non-performance on our own behalf as my predecessor is. It shouldn’t have been necessary. I intend to make it unnecessary, if it’s in my power to do so. So once again, you have my thanks, and the thanks of our nation, and the fervent hope that nothing like this will ever happen again.”

    “To either of us, Madam President.” The prime minister’s gentle accent became more pronounced. “But you must discard your notions of debt. Your country has made it possible for men to be free. For men everywhere to dream of freedom, whatever bondage they currently endure. And for my nation, the sole refuge of a badly oppressed people, to exist at all. We will never forget that. We cannot.”

     The prime minister raised his hand in silent farewell. The president did the same, and the great screen went dark. She sat unspeaking for a long moment, then turned to the soldier who stood at her side.

    “Your prime minister is a great man,” she said.

    “He thinks rather highly of you, Madam President.”

    She nodded and rose. “It’s a degree of esteem I’ll have to try to earn. And now, General Alon,” she said, a hand extended, “my thanks to you and your men for saving my country from itself.”

    The soldier did not take the proffered hand. Instead he came to full attention and executed a micrometrically perfect salute. “No thanks are required, Madam President.” He started to turn to leave, stopped, and cocked an eyebrow. “May I leave you with a memento of our alliance?”

    “None is required, General.”

    “Please, Ma’am.” He handed her his uniform cap. “I have another. Remember that America is not without friends.” With that, he departed.

    She turned the cap in her hands. The stylized Star of David, inset with the sword and olive branch of the Israeli Defence Forces, gleamed from its prow. She vowed upon the instant that it would rest upon her desk in the Oval Office for as long as she might sit there.

    “Thank You, God,” she murmured, “for men of valor and justice. It could only have been nicer if they’d been Americans.”

— The End —

Present Enemies, Future Wars

[I had intended to produce a gentle, philosophical musing with which to open the new week — something about why the Yankees can’t hit this season or what madness could have induced the Rangers’ front office to spurn Mark Messier as the team’s next head coach — until I came upon this bit of news from the Middle East. Needless to say, it put all gentle thoughts completely out of bounds.

Many other commentators, of many varying viewpoints, have observed that there is no such thing as moderate Islam. Yes, some Muslims are personally disinclined toward violence…but that doesn’t mean they condemn the actions of their jihadist co-religionists. Indeed, the non-violent fraction performs many services for the violent one, not the least of which is to provide concealment from apprehension and retribution.

Inasmuch as the turmoil in the Middle East today makes it plain that there can be no peace between Islam and the Enlightenment West, I’ve chosen to present an essay I penned in 2002, for the old Palace of Reason. I’ve compared the opinions I expressed at that time to those I hold today, and I find that none of them have changed. Your convictions, of course, are your own affair. — FWP.]


1.How It Began: Black Tuesday, September 11, 2001

It’s been said that no one who was alive at the time, however young, will ever forget where he was and what he was doing on November 22, 1963: the day John F. Kennedy was killed. How much more so for Black Tuesday!

I’ll certainly never forget it. I was in my office at home, sitting at my desk, when I was alerted to the attack on One World Trade Center. My attention was immediate; there was a company at the top of that tower, Cantor Fitzgerald, that I was hoping to work for.

The commentators and reporters who filled the airwaves from 8:45 to 9:30 AM, the period between the attack on the first tower and the attack on the second, were extraordinarily reluctant to speak of terrorism. I could feel them straining to avoid the word and the subject. Of course, when the second tower was hit, it was no longer possible. It was no longer possible that this unprecedented homicidal outrage could be anything else.

It wasn’t long afterward that unbelievable images reached us from the Middle East. Palestinians on the West Bank of the Jordan River were celebrating the death and destruction in lower Manhattan. Armed thugs were firing AK-47s into the air. Merchants were passing out candy to passers-by. People filled the streets cheering and shouting abuse of America.

Someone interviewed a young Iranian on the streets of Tehran. He wore a look of satisfaction. “It should have been worse,” he said in crisp English.

I saw and spoke to many people that day. Gripped with shock from the events, many had nothing to offer but tears. Those who could articulate their feelings were nearly unanimous about them:

“Kill them all.”

It was a sentiment I shared with a degree of passion and a wholeness of heart that I’d once reserved for the people and things I loved.


2.Allocating The Blame And Responding.

There was, of course, immediate suspicion of the shadowy edifice Americans called the “Middle Eastern terror network.” The name al-Qaeda had yet to become widely known, even though the mastermind and financier of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, was already notorious. In the days that followed Black Tuesday, as evidence mounted that the bin Laden organization was the moving force behind the atrocity, President Bush and others repeatedly counseled full tolerance toward Muslims within our borders, citizens and visitors alike. We saw major U.S. security organizations lean over backwards to avoid the appearance of “ethnic profiling,” even though every hard indicator pointed to a Middle Eastern conspiracy stocked entirely with young Muslim males, predominantly from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

America was not the only country suffering from terrorist blows. Yasser Arafat’s Second Intifada was raging in Israel. Israeli citizens were being slaughtered in ambushes and by suicide bombers at an unprecedented rate. Yet President Bush urged restraint upon Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and for a long time treated him and Arafat as if they were moral and political equals fit to sit at the same table.

When American armed forces undertook to root al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, they did not act on the “kill them all” passions that burned in our body politic. They advanced under rules of engagement stricter than any ever issued in American history. From the standpoint of the priority given to the preservation of non-combatants’ lives and property, and the resulting near-perfect record of American arms at doing so, the Afghan War that destroyed al-Qaeda’s bases there and unseated the Taliban was the most careful war ever fought.

We had been struck a foul and cruel blow, not at our men at arms but at our civil society, yet our retaliatory force struck back with unbelievable restraint and precision, and achieved nearly all their objectives. If ever there was a time to be proud of America’s military and its animating ethics, that was it.


3.What We Have Today.

What did we buy with our precision strikes, our military restraint, and our tolerance toward the ethnic and spiritual kin of our mortal enemy?

Recent surveys of the peoples of Muslim states reveal that their antipathy toward the United States is at an all time high. Many of the respondents — more than half in nearly every Muslim country — believe that there was not and could not have been any Muslim participation in the Black Tuesday assault on America. A substantial minority outrightly blamed the atrocity on an Israeli conspiracy intended to yoke Washington to Tel Aviv’s designs for quelling Palestinian “resistance.” Osama bin Laden was spoken of in tones of admiration for his “heroic resistance to American oppression.” He proved to be one of the most widely admired figures in the Middle East.

As the Afghan War ended, the waves of Palestinian violence against Israel surged to all-time record heights, and reached new depths of depravity. Suicide bombers sought out groups of women and children. Assassins invaded Jewish homes and murdered their occupants in their beds, including children five years old. Ariel Sharon finally cast off the shackles of “international opinion,” including President Bush’s and Secretary of State Colin Powell’s opinion, and dispatched the Israeli Defense Force into Ramallah, Jenin, and other hotbeds of Palestinian terrorism. For a time, the attacks on Israeli citizens dwindled near to zero, and President Bush ceased to call for Israeli restraint.

When Passover drew near, the infamous “blood libel” against Jews — that Jewish Purim pastries must be made with the blood of a gentile captured and exsanguinated for the purpose — was trumpeted by the State-controlled news organs of several Muslim states. Most notable was the performance of the State-controlled media of Saudi Arabia, which not only propagated the “blood libel,” but also held several fundraising telethons whose proceeds were used to pay the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

The old calumny Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion was resurrected and returned to circulation. It and Mein Kampf were the best-selling books in the Islamic world.

The populace of our Islamic “ally” Pakistan has apparently welcomed the rump of al-Qaeda into its embrace. The government of Pakistan, headed by former General Pervez Musharraf, claims to be unable to act effectively against al-Qaeda elements within Pakistan’s borders.

With regard to the Islamic religion, Americans were astounded to learn that Wahhabi Islam, the dominant strain among anti-American Muslims, is being actively advanced by thousands of Muslim academies in the United States. Nearly all of these schools are heavily subsidized by the government of Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, the practice or espousal of any religion other than the Islamic creed is illegal, and subject to extraordinary penalties, but the Saudis have no problem with advancing their creed here.

“International opinion,” with the sole exception of the government of the United Kingdom, has remained solidly against American “unilateralism” and Israeli self-defense. The condemnations of our actions in defense of American lives and in retaliation for the lives already taken have come from many quarters of the Old World, and have been echoed by the more scrofulous of our own “glitterati,” as if America had no justification for her anger. Their sentiments go beyond all previous effusions of “moral equivalence”. They claim that America has a great deal to “answer for” to the peoples of the Third World, that until it stands and delivers what’s demanded, events like the Black Tuesday assault are to be expected, and are fully deserved.

Anti-Semitic acts — attacks on Jews and the institutions affiliated with them — by Muslim immigrants to the countries of Europe have raged as if a new Kristallnacht were upon us. In response, the governments of Europe have shown more solicitude toward their troublesome Muslim minorities than toward the targets of Muslim anti-Semitic rage. One government, that of Norway, is actually inching toward an embargo on products made in Israel.

Meanwhile, Americans endure a security lockdown unprecedented in this nation’s history, even while World War II was raging. Though few are paralyzed with the fear of being among the victims of the next terrorist attack, a backdrop of fear pervades every major city, afflicts all mass transportation, and hangs over every building, stadium, or bridge where Americans occasionally gather in significant numbers.

Yet the radical Wahhabist preachments of the Saudi-funded academies on American soil continue unabated. Though our government-run schools have gone to extraordinary lengths to accommodate Muslim students and their religious practices, Muslim activist organizations claim that American Muslims have been made into second-class citizens. At the extreme pole of their ludicrous demands, a Muslim woman in Florida is suing the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles for the privilege of having her driver’s license taken with her face entirely concealed, on the grounds that to demand that she expose her face for her photo violates her religions beliefs and would constitute discrimination.


4.The End Of Otherness.

The net result of all this has been to extinguish American tolerance for Islam and its followers in a large segment of the populace, possibly a majority.

Astrophysicist and author David Brin has noted the prevalence of the imperative of “otherness” — the mandate that one must try to see any dispute from the other party’s viewpoint — among Americans generally, and particularly among Americans who identify themselves as liberals. When he first wrote of it, he said he’d found it to be so strong that it had sunk below the rational level in most of the people he knew, and operated essentially without conscious invocation.

“Otherness” could be taking a death blow from the ongoing struggles with Islam-fueled terrorism. If national attitudes reflect the opinions to which I’ve been exposed, few Americans are now willing to trust a Muslim even to the slightest extent. They have essentially no interest in “seeing things from the Muslims’ point of view.” Part of this is, of course, the fruit of our outrage at Black Tuesday, but still more arises from the persistent Islamic drumbeat, transmitted over every known medium of communication, to the effect that America is an oppressor nation that deserves whatever anyone does to her.

Though some of our domestic glitterati continue to pander to these opinions, and maintain that Islamic assaults on America and Israel are only to be expected “after all we’ve done to them,” a large fraction of these usually noisy celebrities has fallen silent. They’ve felt a very cold shoulder for their emissions, and it’s caused them to modify their behavior. They, too, sense the approaching end of public tolerance for their reflexive iconoclasm, their perpetual flaunting of their special status, and their assumption of superior wisdom and virtue.

Perhaps the most visible manifestations of the convulsive change in public attitudes are the crescendo in gun sales, the very short shrift now granted to celebrity criticism of American values and traditions, and the remarkable explosion in books of a pro-American slant. In that last category, one must take special note of the recent book Slander: Liberal Lies About The American Right, by constitutional lawyer and pundit Ann Coulter.

Miss Coulter is no one’s choir angel. Butter certainly would melt in her mouth. Her attack on the American Left’s many calumnies against the pro-free-market, pro-American-values camp loosely called “the Right” is angry, sarcastic, and merciless. It’s also meticulously researched, tied down with hundreds of footnotes and explicit references to time and place. It’s been received with an enthusiasm no political book in memory has ever commanded. Miss Coulter herself is now one of the most popular political guests on talk radio and television. She maintains her relentless, bomb-throwing style at all times. Her listeners love her for it.

There is no more outspoken opponent of liberal “otherness” than Ann Coulter. She has tapped the American Zeitgeist and become its voice. Those she targets are paralyzed like a deer in a truck’s headlights.


5.Identifying The Malady.

Once the veil of “otherness” dropped from our eyes, we were able to see clearly, and we did not like what we saw. The closer and more alien to us it was, the less we liked it.

There’s much truth in the old saw that to be anti-immigrant is to be anti-American, for America is a nation of immigrants. We celebrate our origins on other shores, and also our ancestors’ good sense in fleeing those places and coming here — and we never forget that they came here to become Americans, not just Irishmen, Italians, Chinamen, Swedes or Zambians in another land.

The xenophilia of earlier generations of Americans was founded on the assumption of assimilation, the sooner, the better. The demise of this assumption explains the burgeoning xenophobia of our time. The typical immigrant to this nation in this time is determined not to assimilate to American norms, but to retain his earlier national allegiance and cultural identity, sometimes even to the extent of refusing to learn the English language.

Among the least assimilable peoples to reach these shores are Muslims, whether from the Middle East or anywhere else. Though the overwhelming majority of them do learn English, their associations, family structures, religious, marital and other practices tend to isolate them in enclaves with impermeable borders. We’ve spoken of black ghettoes, of Little Italys and Chinatowns, and now and then of Jewish quarters in our cities, but none of these have demonstrated the Muslim communities’ near-absolute resistance to diffusion.

In the face of such separatism, continued American goodwill toward a people who display so much hostility toward American norms and culture is a remarkable thing, for which Americans are to be congratulated. But it might not continue much longer.

Why would anyone come to this country determined not to partake of its virtues and bounties? Once he’d arrived here, what would hold him back from doing so?

The answer is Islam.

Alone among the major religions of the world, Islam:

  • opposes material progress and condemns most Earthly pleasures,
  • erases all boundaries between religion and politics,
  • denies that its adherents have any ethical obligation to non-adherents,
  • prescribes death for blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy,
  • preaches the use of force to impose itself on all the people of the world,
  • promises eternal bliss to those who die fighting to extend its dominion.

One cannot be a “tolerant” Muslim. The concept is internally contradictory. The infidel is the enemy, to be converted by any means fair or foul. They who resist conversion are to be allowed to live only until Islam has acquired sufficient force to pose them the choice of conversion or execution.

To the extent that a Muslim internalizes the precepts of Islam, he ceases to be open to Western concepts of freedom, justice, and tolerance for human diversity and variety. He resolutely resists all such notions, for Islam condemns them all explicitly. If you embrace them, he finds fault in you, and the more devout he is, the more serious the fault.

The Islamic attitude toward other religions and other ways is essentially medieval. It hearkens to the times when “Cuius Regio, Eius Religio” was the rule. The ruler of a realm could impose his own ways and creed upon all his subjects, who had no recourse. Philosophically, Islam, which denies the legitimacy of a secular State, is in accord with the assumptions of that pre-Enlightenment code. The main difference between them is that Islam’s ambitions are larger.

Given that Islamic doctrine and the resultant insularity of Muslims preclude influence by more advanced ways and concepts, Muslims are exceptionally vulnerable to demagoguery by Islamic authority figures. Worse, the impenetrability of Islam’s wall against the non-Islamic world makes it possible for a demagogue to demonize the infidel, paint him in colors that would justify any atrocity including extermination, and thus raise the cry of jihad against him.

Americans are coming to understand this.

Yet, for a long period after Black Tuesday, we were repeatedly told, and repeated to one another, that the enemy was not Islam, but rather terrorists acting out their depravity under an Islamic rationale. We called these “Islamists,” and made a point of distinguishing them from “peaceful” Muslims for whom the use of force as a vehicle for religious proselytization was unthinkable.

The combination of the gradual comprehension of Islam’s actual precepts, accumulating revelations of stealthy Islamic maneuvers here and abroad, and the recognition of the horrors Islam imposes on its subjects, has propelled a major shift in American attitudes. The typical American no longer considers himself safe in the presence of a Muslim.

He is right not to feel safe.


6.Futures.

None of the possible directions for future relations between Islam and the United States are particularly attractive.

Domestically, current trends suggest that, at the minimum, there will be a long period over which Americans will adjust to having an enemy minority among us: a people whose hostility to our norms cannot be denied, whether or not it manifests itself as aggression against us. Our longstanding traditions of tolerance will be greatly strained, and some number of undeserving persons will suffer thereby.

Some forms of tolerance are, of course, entirely wrong, even evil. Muslim barbarities such as clitoridectomy and the chattelization of women cannot be accepted. Legal ground has recently been broken in this regard, and more will surely follow. This is all to the good.

Because of the outrage Americans feel over Black Tuesday and the subsequent displays of antipathy toward America by Middle Eastern Muslims, it is overwhelmingly likely that Muslims in this country who voice such antipathy will receive very short shrift. Some may suffer violence; some may die. Troublemaking young Muslim men who go beyond mere words could face lynch mobs. Courts will come under pressure to make examples of Muslims convicted of offenses against the public peace.

Due to Israel’s unique position in America’s international dealings, and due to the affection many Americans feel for it, Muslims who voice hostility to Israel could face ostracism and worse. There have already been court battles over alleged employment discrimination against American Muslims, who claim they were fired because they expressed anti-Israel sentiments. There will be more.

If Muslims abroad continue their barbarities and their vocal condemnations of Western ways, American anger toward them will grow. The consequences would not be pleasant for the Islamic world, whose economies are totally dependent on Western consumption of their sole exportable resource: oil. There is no reason we have to buy oil from the Middle Eastern states. Not only are there other sources of oil available to us, including untapped domestic ones, but we have hardly scratched the surface of our nuclear power capabilities. A program of nuclear electrical power generation comparable to France’s or Japan’s would liberate America from any need to import oil.

Further action against Israel, whether direct or indirect, by Muslim states could bring American military force into the conflict, with the inevitable destruction of not one but several shaky Middle Eastern regimes. At the minimum, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia would all undergo compulsory “regime change,” a process seldom enjoyed by the displaced incumbents. The governments that replaced them would undoubtedly be closely supervised from Washington.

Even if the states of the Middle East were to moderate their rhetoric and withdraw their overt support for the terror campaign against Israel, it seems inevitable that America will move against the autocracy of Saddam Hussein, a longtime supporter of Islamic terrorist groups operating in Palestine, with military force. Covert American support — funding, weapons and training — for insurgents against the Islamic theocracy of Iran appears equally inevitable. Other Islam-dominated states around the world could be brought to heel on a slower schedule, and probably by economic rather than military means.


7.Other Developments.

Should an overt war between America and some other nation not break out, we would still see extensive use of our special forces — Delta Force, the Army Rangers, Marine Force Recon, and the Navy SEALs — against nodes in the far-flung Islamic terror network. Some of these operations would be publicized, but probably not all, as it’s an act of war by international law to send an armed man into another country to do violence.

In recognition of the realities of “low-intensity” or “asymmetrical” warfare, we would be wise to expand our covert and small-unit capabilities. Mostly this would mean reprioritizing expenditures and personnel allocations, as we already have the world’s best technology for stealthy, small-unit and precision-strike warfare. With a few years’ expansion, training and refinement, aided by the already high prestige enjoyed by the SEALs and comparable units, American arms could possess the power to go anywhere and kill or capture any designated individual, without meaningful collateral damage.

This is a more important goal than is immediately apparent, for the terror weapon isn’t as asymmetrical as it seems. A “terrorist” who must himself live in continual fear of capture, a humiliating trial, and incarceration or execution is far less effective than one whose continuing freedom of movement can be assumed. That they don’t have to fear capture by us is mostly due to our reluctance to use our conventional military power to pursue them, with attendant collateral damage to the societies that shelter them. The reluctance is correct, not only on ethical but on geopolitical grounds. Terrorists gain enormous support from their kindred when the “enemy” commits an “atrocity” while pursuing them.

Our ties with Israel, and our support to her in the military and intelligence realms, will be strengthened and broadened. This is a double-edged sword. There have been many voices raised to criticize our existing support of Israel, which costs American taxpayers several billion dollars per year. The criticisms have merit; Americans should not have to pay for the maintenance of another people’s State. However, if the whole affair were put on a Marshall Plan basis, such that reaching a particular goal would bring the transfers to a halt, it could be made palatable even at a cost substantially elevated above the current one.

And as all of this proceeds, and Americans learn to accept that we have an implacable enemy that, for religious reasons, will never cease to wish us ill, a facade of tolerance for Islam will be maintained.


8.Lessons.

We’ve always known how important it is to “know your enemy.” But the first step in knowing him is recognizing that he is an enemy. Black Tuesday was a wake-up call. The subsequent words and deeds of Muslims worldwide should have overridden our inclination to return to sleep.

Our recognition of an enemy should be followed not only by a serious study of his capabilities, but by the most complete possible analysis of his reasons for opposing us. From his reasons we can infer his motives and objectives, which are priceless possessions in any conflict. If the foregoing analysis of Muslim opposition to the United States and Western values generally is correct, then we must cease to delude ourselves that there is any possibility of “converting” Islam from an enemy to a friend, or even a tolerable neighbor. That sort of conversion would require the prior abandonment of Islam, with its life-hating medieval strictures and its command to kill or convert the infidel by any means expedient.

Abraham Lincoln believed that the best way to defeat his enemies was to make them friends. And indeed it is…when it’s possible.

The Conservative-Libertarian Schism

[After I’d read this essay by humorist P.J. O’Rourke, it occurred to me that the time was right for a reprint of the following essay, which first appeared at the old Palace Of Reason in November, 2002. — FWP]


1. A Harmonization.

In 1987, a California organization called the Advocates for Self-Government, led by a brilliant polemicist named Marshall Fritz, set forth to persuade the nation that the libertarian political philosophy could answer most, if not all, of the most vexing questions in public debate. To aid in opening minds to his message, Mr. Fritz composed a short quiz, whose results were intended to determine where a man’s opinions placed him in the overall distribution of political opinion. Mr. Fritz built a campaign around this quiz, and called it “Operation Politically Homeless,” to emphasize the considerable gap that had grown up between the major political parties and the typical American. It was upon meeting Mr. Fritz and being exposed to his presentation of the libertarian idea that I first decided to call myself a libertarian.

Yet I’m still a politically homeless man, and am still made uncomfortable by it. Yes, I call myself a libertarian; note the lower-case L. However, I differ with “party” Libertarians — note the upper-case L — on several important topics. And the people I get along best with, by party affiliation, are not Libertarians but Republicans.

Many conservatives find themselves at odds with the official positions of the Republican Party on one or more important points. Yet most of those persons would not be comfortable with “pure” libertarianism, and for good reasons. It’s too wholesale. It attempts to answer every question, to be all things to all men. And it fails to recognize where it ceases to provide palatable answers.

Please don’t mistake me. I think the libertarian political philosophy, where applicable, is a very good one. It’s more accurate in its assessment of human nature and its controlling influences, and leads to better societies and better economic results, than any other political concept ever advanced. But the “where applicable” part is very important; in fact, it’s the most important part of this paragraph, as it explains in near-totality the “conservative-libertarian schism.”

Where would the libertarian postulates of individual rights and individual responsibilities fail to apply? Three generic places:

  1. Where the atoms that interact are not individuals, but collectivities;
  2. Where the “individual” under discussion is incapable, either from innate incapacity or from injury, of understanding rights and responsibilities;
  3. Where rights clash in an absolute and irreconcilable way.

Important specific topics that fall within these categories are:

  1. National defense and foreign dealings;
  2. The protection and restraint of the immature and the mentally diseased;
  3. Abortion.

On the subject of international dealings, including military excursions, American libertarians have strained under the tension of conflicting desires. On the one hand, the State’s warmaking power is the most dangerous thing it possesses, at least superficially. On the other, no one has yet advanced a plausible market-based scheme for protecting the country that would operate reliably enough to satisfy us. Moreover, the American military, with a few exceptions, really has been used in a wholesome, life-and-freedom-promoting way, against genuinely deserving targets, and has met high ethical standards wherever it’s been sent.

Immigration is another area of real agony for American libertarians. There’s much truth to the old saw that you can’t be anti-immigrant without being anti-American, for America is largely a nation of immigrants. Yet the demise of the assumption of assimilation has rendered large-scale immigration to these shores a positive danger to the commonalities on which our national survival depends. It’s unclear, given world trends, that we could re-invigorate the mechanisms that enforce assimilation any time soon. Until we do, the path of prudence will be to close the borders to all but a carefully screened trickle from countries with compatible cultures. Our collectivity must preserve its key commonalities — a common language, respect for the law, a shared concept of public order, and a sense of unity in the face of demands posed by other nations or cultures — if it is to preserve itself.

Milton Friedman, one of the century’s greatest minds, wrote in his seminal book Capitalism And Freedom: “Freedom is a tenable objective for responsible individuals only. We do not believe in freedom for children or madmen.” How true! “Pure” libertarianism has wounded itself badly by attempting to deny this obvious requirement of life: the irresponsible must be protected and restrained until they become responsible, so that they will be safe from others, and others will be safe from them. Madmen who were granted the rights of the sane nearly made New York City unendurable. If the “children’s rights” lobby ever got its way, children would die in numbers to defy the imagination, and the American family would vanish.

Of course there are difficulties in determining who is responsible and who isn’t. No one said it would be easy. Yet our court system, excepting the obscene, supra-Constitutional “Family Courts,” works quite well to determine competence, and would work still better if it were relieved of the burden of all the victimless crimes that swell court dockets nationwide.

Finally, abortion. Let it be conceded that a woman has the right to control her body and its processes. But let it also be conceded that a fetus in the womb is a human being with human rights, not to be deprived of that status by any sophistry. The clash is absolute; rights theory cannot resolve it. Therefore an arbitrary political decision must be made. The position most compatible with other American ideals is to protect the weaker party — the developing baby — from destruction by the stronger, unless doing so would demonstrably endanger the life of the mother. Other positions exist, such as a “brain-wave” criterion for protected human life, which has the virtue of consistency with the way we define human death. However, whatever position we ultimately reach will be arbitrary, as no unassailable logical defense can apply to any decision to use (or not use) force when rights clash.

Pure libertarian thinking must concede these bounds — the bounds of individual action, individual responsibility, and clearly defined, non-contradictory rights — before “orthodox” conservatives will take it seriously.

By contrast with the above, matters such as the War On Drugs are minor bagatelles. Most conservatives are open-minded enough to consider the possibility that the Drug War might be misconceived. Indeed, there are far more conservatives in the pro-legalization ranks than liberals. The harmony between rights theory and the argument for legalization only buttresses the practical evidence that the Drug War’s massive invasions of privacy, erection of unaccountable vice squad bureaus, and sanctification of police-state tactics has done far more harm than good. The conversation will continue, the evidence will accumulate still further, and eventually the Drug War will end.

On the purely practical matter of political efficacy, the Libertarian Party should not be expected to produce electoral victories. It can’t, in the nature of things. It’s not pragmatic enough to play to the populace’s current desires or demands. As a particular “libertarian” position becomes popular enough to command wide support, it will usually be adopted by the Republicans. This is as it should be; third parties do their best work along the margins of the debate, by addressing the more “daring” ideas that the institutionally committed major parties can’t afford to play with while they’re still controversial.

There’s no shame in adhering to either the LP or the GOP, whether your convictions are libertarian or more conventionally conservative. The only shame is in insisting that you must be right, that all precincts have reported now and forever, that your mind is unchangeably made up regardless of whatever new logic or evidence might be presented to you, from whatever source. But this was put far better by the polemicist admired by more conservatives and libertarians than any other, the late, great Ayn Rand:

“There are no evil thoughts, Mr. Rearden,” Francisco said, “except one: the refusal to think.” (from Atlas Shrugged)

2. Constitutionalism.

Since I first composed the above essay, a number of readers have written me to comment on “the missing ingredient” of libertarianism: a respect for the law, in particular for the supreme law of the land, the Constitution of the United States. Adherents to the libertarian philosophy, they claim, are entirely too willing to flout the law and to disregard Constitutional stricture in their boundless devotion to principle.

I won’t dismiss the charge out of hand. It has some substance. And constitutionalism is an important element in the defense of liberty, as we shall see. However, to condemn a group or its animating ideal because, at a particular point in time, what it advocates is outside the law is a bit shortsighted and low on context.

First, the negative aspects of rigid adherence to the law must be admitted. A case in point: There was a time when slavery was not only condoned by the Constitution and the law in several states, but the other states of the Union, against their own law and the inclinations of their citizens, were compelled by the Fugitive Slave Act to return escaped slaves to their “rightful owners.” No one would rise to defend these legal obscenities today, yet at that time, they were enforced with federal power. Those who defied them were not villains, but the heroes of the time. Like another great Hero, the greatest known to history, they came not to overthrow the law, but to fulfill it.

Another case in point: At the conclusion of World War II, the Allied Powers imposed war crimes trials on defeated Germany and Japan. The Nuremberg Tribunal executed or imprisoned many persons, not all of whom were Third Reich policy makers, and not all of whom were personally guilty of direct violence against undeserving victims. The argument used to convict them was that they were instruments in the Nazi death machine, that they knowingly participated in organizing its crimes against humanity and giving them the patina of legality, and that the written law of the Reich, which often explicitly prescribed their deeds under threat of horrific punishment, was no defense. Many judges were imprisoned for life on this basis.

These examples and others like them suggest that there are limits to the fidelity a man owes to the written law. Of course, opinions will vary as to where those limits lie, but a key element of our founding tradition is the recognition that they exist:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. (From the Declaration of Independence)

But let it not be thought that written law and its observance are merely shackles for the citizen. The concept of written law, properly understood, and the principle of constitutionalism are the best formal safeguards for freedom that any society has ever devised. They must be twisted and abused to be made into instruments of despotism.

A side observation: Isn’t it one of the major criticisms of the federal government at this time that the overwhelming majority of “laws” are made, not by Congress, whose members seldom even read the bills they vote on, but by the unelected regulators and bureaucrats of the “alphabet agencies”? Isn’t it a great part of our unhappiness with Washington that the gigantic Federal Register, whose contents are legally binding on every American, is produced by faceless men no voter can remove, and is as fluid and elusive as the proverbial butterfly of love?

The Federal Register, which is arguably more important to American life than any other emission of the federal government, fails to exhibit the most important, legitimizing characteristics of written law — and from here we pass to what those characteristics are.

To possess widely recognized legitimacy:

  1. The law must be made by accepted mechanisms.
  2. The law must be made through accepted procedures.
  3. The law must clearly conform to broad, and broadly accepted, standards of right and wrong.

In the United States, at the federal level, that means the law must be made by Congress, with approval by the President and contingent sanction from the federal courts. It also means that the law must conform to the requirements of the Constitution and the great tradition of the Anglo-American common law, in which the common understanding of right and wrong have been codified over a millennium of reasoning and practice.

The principle of constitutionalism was invented on these shores. It was the first assertion of any standard for legitimacy other than divine right or force of arms. In exalting the law above the ruler — indeed, in asserting that the rulers themselves are subject to the law, bound by it quite as much as any private citizen — it first announced to the Old World that something new was going on here.

Constitutionalism doesn’t sit alone in the void, giving birth to all our ideas. It is itself grounded in the postulate that government must have the consent of the governed, or at least an overwhelming majority thereof. At the time of the Founding, the “overwhelming majority” standard was set at three-fourths of the states. That was the requirement for ratification, and also the requirement for amendment.

It’s worth reflecting on how little the Constitution would be worth if it were possible for Congress to amend it by a simple majority vote. That’s the case in New York, whose state constitution is hardly worth the paper it’s written on. Whenever the New York legislature wants to extend its powers, it simply votes itself new ones. This happens rather frequently. Yet even this smirk at the consent of the governed pays homage to the underlying rule: that government is bound by the document that expresses the people’s consensus about its legitimate powers.

A government that seizes powers not granted by the people’s consensus — in the United States, a government that transgresses the bounds set by its constitution — is an illegitimate government, that has no rightful claim on the obedience of its citizens.

Obviously, when practiced properly, without any “evolving document” evasions, constitutionalism is an enormously conservative idea. It puts a brake on rapid and wide-ranging changes in government and its authority. It requires the fulfillment of an elaborate set of procedures to approve expansions of power. It keeps the rulers intimately in touch with the people whose natural individual sovereignty they borrow.

This is not just a conservative, tradition-affirming idea; it is a powerful liberty-affirming idea. Any bounds on the powers of the State are libertarian in nature. They insist that the Republic must confine itself to the rei publicae: the public matters upon which legislation and exertion of political authority are appropriate. If the precise placement of the bounds changes, it will be gradually, and only with the express consent of the governed.

Opponents of constitutionalism, who dislike its conservative tendency, often raise the “slavery objection” to the original document: how, they ask, can you sanctify a document that allowed some men to own others? What they fail to see is that, though the Constitution as ratified permitted the obscenity of slavery — ratification would not have been possible otherwise — the principles behind the Constitution and enshrined in its provisions guaranteed slavery’s eventual demise. To protect slavery for even a few years, Chief Justice Roger Taney had to claim in the Dred Scott decision that a Negro was not a human being, an entirely unsustainable position.

The chief problem with constitutionalism is the problem constitutionalism itself tries to solve: the problem of lawless government. At this time, more than 90% of federal activity and lawmaking is in violation both of the provisions of the Constitution and of the principles upon which it’s based. The greatest obscenity is Congress’s routine delegation of its lawmaking power to unelected regulators. This privilege was not granted to Congress in the Constitution, and for good reason: It puts the real lawmakers of the United States out of reach of the electorate, safe from removal.

This was made possible by citizen passivity. The enforcement agency of the Constitution is the citizenry; there is no other.

Libertarians and conservatives must find ways to reimpose Constitutional limits on the State, without interpretive legerdemain to accommodate particular interest groups, and without carving holes in the fundamental rights expressed by the Bill Of Rights that would allow governments to conduct campaigns against private practices that some people dislike.

The alternatives to a properly framed, properly observed constitution and objective written laws consistent with it are anarchy and tyranny. Anarchy looks ever more attractive to a people who cannot restrain the State that rules over them. Tyranny, of course, always looks attractive to people who want power over others.

3. The Confidence Factor.

Each abridgement of liberty has been used to justify further ones. Scholars of political systems have noted this repeatedly. The lesson is not lost on those whose agenda is total power. They perpetually strain to wedge the camel’s nose into the tent, and not for the nose’s sake.

Many a fine person will concede to you that “liberty is all very well in theory,” follow that up with “but,” and go on from there to tabulate aspects of life that, in his opinion, the voluntary actions of responsible persons interacting in freedom could never cope with. Oftentimes, free men and free markets have coped with his objections in the recent past, whether he knows it or not. You could point this out to him, provide references and footnotes, and still not overcome his resistance, for it does not depend on the specifics he cited.

His reluctance to embrace freedom is frequently based on fear, the power-monger’s best friend.

Fantasist Robert Anton Wilson has written: “The State is based on threat.” And so it is. After all, the State, no matter how structured, is a parasitic creature. It seizes our wealth and constrains our freedom, gives vague promises of performance in return, and then as often as not fails to deliver. No self-respecting people would tolerate such an institution if it did not regard the alternatives as worse.

The alternatives are seldom discussed in objective, unemotional terms. Sometimes they are worse, by my assessment, but why should you accept my word for it?

Let it be. The typical American, when he opts for State action over freedom, isn’t acting on reasoned conviction, but on fear of a negative result. Sometimes the fear, which is frequently backed by a visceral revulsion, is so strong that no amount of counterevidence can dissolve it, including the abject failure of State action.

We’ve had a number of recent examples of this. To name only two prominent ones:

  1. The welfare reform of 1996, which limited total welfare benefits to healthy adults and imposed work and training requirements for collecting them, is among the most successful social policy enactments of our time. Huge numbers of welfare recipients have left the dole and assumed paying jobs, transforming themselves from dead loads on society to contributors to it. Yet many politicians and those sympathetic to their aims continue to argue that the welfare system must be expanded, liberalized, and made more generous. A good fraction of these are honestly concerned about the possibility that the 1996 restrictions, the first substantial curtailments of State welfarism since the New Deal, are producing privation among Americans unable to care for themselves.
  2. The War On Drugs, whose lineage reaches back to the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Control Act, has consumed tens of billions of dollars, radically diverted the attentions of state and federal law enforcement, exercised a pernicious corrupting influence on police forces, polluted our relations with several other countries, funded an immense underworld whose marketing practices are founded on bloodshed, and abridged the liberty and privacy of law-abiding Americans, but has produced no significant decrease in recreational drug consumption. Yet many Americans will not even consider the possibility that the War On Drugs should be scaled back or terminated altogether. Most resist from the fear that drug use and violence would explode without limit, possibly leading to the dissolution of civil society.

In either of the above cases, could we but take away the fear factor, there would be essentially no argument remaining.

Fear, like pain, can be useful. When it engenders caution, it can prolong life and preserve health. Conservatives in particular appreciate the value of caution. The conservative mindset is innately opposed to radical, destabilizing change, and history has proved such opposition to be wise.

However, a fear that nothing can dispel is a pure detriment to him who suffers it.

Generally, the antidote to fear is knowledge: logically sound arguments grounded in unshakable postulates and well buttressed by practical experience. Once one knows what brings a particular undesirable condition about, one has a chance of changing or averting it. The great challenge is to overcome fears so intense that they preclude a rational examination of the thing feared.

Where mainstream conservatives and libertarians part company is along the disjunction of their fears. The conservative tends to fear that, without State involvement in various social matters, the country and its norms would suffer unacceptably. Areas where such a fear applies include drug use, abortion, international trade, immigration, cultural matters, sexual behavior, and public deportment. The libertarian tends to fear the consequences of State involvement more greatly. He argues to the conservative that non-coercive ways of curbing the things he dislikes, ways that are free of statist hazards, should be investigated first, before turning to the police.

I call myself a libertarian, but I can’t discount conservative fears in all cases — especially where the libertarian approach to some social ill involves a major change to established ways. Radical transformations of society don’t have a rosy history.

Yet conservatives, too, could be more realistic, and could show more confidence in the ideals they strive to defend. As Thomas Sowell has written in discussing the War On Drugs, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damned fool about it.”

The past two decades, starting roughly with Ronald Reagan’s ascent to national prominence, have laid the foundations for an enduring coalition between freedom-oriented libertarian thinkers and virtue-and-stability-oriented conservative thinkers. Each side needs to learn greater confidence in the other, if we are to establish the serious exchange of ideas and reservations, free of invective and dismissive rhetoric, as an ongoing process. Such confidence must include sufficient humility to allow for respect for the other side’s fears — for an unshakable confidence in one’s own rightness is nearly always misplaced. There is little to learn from those who agree with you, whereas much may be learned from those who disagree.

4. The Ongoing Political Problem.

Libertarianism is a philosophy. Conservatism is not. Strictly speaking, conservatism is a set of preferences, some of which are political in nature, about certain kinds of social phenomena and changes to them.

It’s rather a pity that so much confusion should attend the matter. However, the fog can be dispelled by recurring to fundamentals.

A philosophy is a system of thought, usually intended to be applied to a particular domain, that proceeds from a small set of coherent principles. The philosophy’s specific statements must be in harmony with those principles, or one has a disintegrated mess that can’t be logically defended.

Needless to say, the soundness of the core principles will determine the accuracy and utility of the philosophy. Moreover, no matter how good it is within its domain of applicability, attempts to apply it outside that domain will produce unsatisfactory results. Section 1, “A Harmonization,” explores some such cases, the ones that most often divide libertarians from “orthodox” conservatives.

The breaches between libertarian thought and conservative preferences arise from two sources:

  1. Libertarian philosophical overreach: attempts to assert the primacy of the central libertarian principle, ethical individualism, where it doesn’t apply, and:
  2. Inconsistent conservative policy preferences: conservatives’ arguments for some things directly contradict the premises and logic of their arguments for other things.

Each camp’s faults are a perfect picture of its essential character. Libertarians, who are idea-oriented and have fixed on a very compelling idea as the heart of their belief system, tend to overuse that idea, thrusting it into domains where it does active harm. Conservatives, who possess a great affection for certain attributes of a time past when there was more agreement on what constitutes virtue or vice, strain toward both its good and bad features rather than attempt to separate out the bad ones and discard them.

There’s also the matter of libertarian ideological “purity,” a matter that’s little understood. In the political realm, an insistence on “purity” is a self-defeating thing. There aren’t two people anywhere in this country who agree 100% in their political positions, including any two conservatives one might name. (Let’s call this the “axiom of disagreement.”) However, philosophical discussion is entirely about achieving exactly such an accord. In that sense, it’s unsuited to practical political combat. Yet, in another, it’s the most important asset a political movement could have. Only the continuing articulation and refinement of one’s principles can provide the logical tools by which one can defend one’s concepts of right and wrong — and concepts of right and wrong are the foundation of all political thought.

Now, a lot of people are impatient with this business of working out the “right and wrong” of things from principles. Some things appear to them to be obviously wrong, and they want to act against them. The impulse is a credit to them. The problem is that political action — the use of legitimized force — carries costs and secondary consequences that aren’t always perceptible nor predictable before it’s applied. To be honest about one’s integrity, one must be humble in the face of results.

There are numerous examples of the above observation; drug prohibition is only the most prominent. But it’s noteworthy that this “cleavage” issue is the one that most often divides libertarians and conservatives. Libertarians, guided by ethical individualism, insist on the right to control one’s own body as one sees fit. Conservatives, horrified at the moral dissolution that accompanies drug abuse, want no truck with “principles,” and strain to overlook the awful consequences of politicizing this particular question of personal behavior. Once again, the innate characters of the two camps are on gaudy display.

Just as there are bounds to the applicability of any abstract principle, there are bounds to the applicability of any “practical” tool such as political authority. We might not know where those limits lie before we set out, but the results we reap will tell us afterward — if we deign to consider them soberly.

Regarding the matter of political party alignment, there is a huge misconception among Republican partisans about the preferences of libertarian-minded voters. In brief, that misconception is that all of us are obsessed with ideological purity.

The Libertarian Party, an organization I’ve distanced myself from, attempts to spread that misconception. Its loyalists probably conform to that pattern. But the LP’s membership is about twenty thousand souls, whereas the count of generally liberty-minded private citizens, who will occasionally reach for the LP lever in the voting booth, is about twenty times that many.

The Ron Paul candidacy in 1988 is a good indicator of this distribution. The core LP partisans didn’t like Dr. Paul; as a constitutionalist with traditional views on certain subjects such as abortion, he offended their “purity” test. However, the larger American electorate liked him much more; about 420,000 of them turned out to vote for him for President.

So: Did the LP do a good thing in nominating Dr. Paul, or a bad thing? For a libertarian to believe it was a good thing, he has to accept the axiom of disagreement and be willing to bend to accommodate the views of others, at least in the near term. For a conservative to believe it was a bad thing, he has to believe that the association between Dr. Paul, a notable conservative who garners immense respect from others, and the LP was to Dr. Paul’s discredit, regardless of what practical effects it might have had.

Despite a few areas of disagreement with his views, I was pleased to be Dr. Paul’s New York State campaign manager, and even more pleased that so many persons who called themselves conservatives found favor with his beliefs. I think the promotion his thought received far outweighed any of the negative aspects of his association with a minor party generally disparaged by mainstream politicians and pundits.

There are thinkers, including some quite brilliant ones such as Thomas Sowell, who deplore third party politics. They believe that political progress is possible only from a marshaling of all available resources behind one banner — getting all the horses into one corral. The argument has some weight, but, ironically in Dr. Sowell’s case, it overlooks the importance of the ongoing process by which political beliefs are formed, altered and swayed, and preponderance of political will moves from one pole to another.

There are important differences between libertarian thought and the practical postures and behavior of major figures in the Republican Party. Those differences might not be resolved in the foreseeable future, but they can never be resolved, in either direction, if the two sides play kissy-face and the issues are never raised. Whichever side is right, the argument must be played out, in public — and the aspect of the argument that political office-seekers pay attention to is voting distributions.

Whichever side one agrees with, to say that one must suppress important differences of conviction and throw one’s support to the other side to “have a chance of winning” is to say that those differences aren’t that important after all. What if they are? And what if the politicos watching one’s decisions conclude the wrong thing from what they see?

That’s the political process. Along with its function in distributing authority, it’s a learning and teaching process. That’s what makes it dynamic and interesting — and vital. There is no way to circumvent it, nor can one dismiss activity at its margins as merely people working out their pique and their character flaws, unless one is willing to forgo all prospect of changing one’s mind on matters of divergence.

I hope to see a continuing refinement of libertarian-conservative or “fusionist” thought. I do what I can to advance it. Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Larry Elder, and others of greater stature than myself are also working on it, from their particular perspectives. It is the most important effort under way in political thought. Unless it succeeds, and allows us to build a single front — united on critical matters and tolerant of divergence on lesser ones — with which to oppose the statism and special-interest-propelled panderings of the Left, freedom in America is doomed. Libertarians will have to face an accelerating loss of the freedoms they cherish. Conservatives will have to face the ongoing reduction of their bastions, as the power hungry, ideologically propelled forces of the Left eat into their numbers via the schools, the media, and the awful power of their patented divide-to-seduce technique.

There’s much to be said for humility. It’s the ultimate asset for one determined to learn from his mistakes — and really, does learning ever occur any other way?

You’re Getting Colder!

Today at Forbes, we have an excellent article by Peter Ferrara on the recently confirmed trend toward global cooling. The data, the correlations, and the grudging concessions by various powerhouses of global-warming alarmism leave no doubt that that house of cards, which always stood upon a shaky foundation of closely held temperature data and dubious computer simulations, has utterly collapsed.

But then, Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) was always a political cudgel rather than a serious scientific hypothesis. It was designed to chivvy the semi-free peoples of the West into surrendering what remains of our freedoms, in the name of “combating global warming.” That’s why whenever one of CAGW’s advocates got his face in front of a camera, he’d trumpet repeatedly that “the science is settled,” when there was no science at all behind the warmistas’ claims.

Back at Eternity Road, I summarized the clinching arguments against the CAGW hypothesis as a scientific contention:

1. A thesis that can’t predict is no thesis at all.

A genuine scientist will tell you that knowledge is confirmed by a chain of successful predictions. It’s not enough to get it right just once — that is, to perform a single experiment, get the expected results, and claim that one’s hypothesis is verified on that basis alone. Your thesis must be tested repeatedly, by multiple agencies, in objectively reproducible settings, without a single failure of prediction.

Successful predictions by the warmistas, including every “scientist” who’s ever signed onto the proposition: NONE.

2. If the data is kept secret, it isn’t science.

Warmista “scientists” have repeatedly refused to release their raw data, or to define the mechanisms by which that data was captured, or to commit themselves to an error bar around their measurements. In a handful of cases, these “researchers” have admitted that they can’t produce their raw data — that it’s somehow been lost. This is “the dog ate my homework” masquerading as scientific procedure.

It wouldn’t fly for Michael Bellesiles, and it won’t fly for the warmistas.

3. Heterogeneity in the data.

Heterogeneous data sets are incapable of proving anything.

Two data sets can be unsuitable for combination for a variety of reasons. One such reason is wide variation in the measuring techniques and instruments used. If temperatures were measured in recent years by thermometers placed in locations X with uncertainties E0, while the measurements from earlier years came from thermometers placed in greatly different locations Y, or with greatly different uncertainties E1, there is no statistically valid way to use them as inputs to a single computation.

The warmistas’ data sets are so heterogeneous that they don’t dare to describe them accurately. Deep-past temperature “measurements” are inferred from tree rings. The more recent past “measurements” come from several thousand thermometers of unknown quality. Immediate-past temperature data comes from a much smaller number of thermometers of better quality, but which are nowhere near the sites of earlier measurements, and in a great many cases are situated in or near heat islands such as cities or airports.

To suggest that data that heterogeneous can be made into a basis for long-range inference is to trade in fantasy. It’s about like predicting the average and distribution of human foot sizes based on their comparison to a human thumb — and in every individual case, to some new person’s thumb.

4. Deliberate omission of contributing factors.

In part, this hearkens back to the heterogeneous-data-set problem, but it also addresses the deliberate omission of explanatory factors such as solar input. The Earth’s energy influx is not constant, because the Sun is not constant. The Sun’s output varies by about 4% from its mean, and is also influenced by sunspots and other anomalies in the photosphere. Such variations are neither predictable nor easily accounted for in predictions of Earth climate conditions. But the warmistas refuse to accept that solar input can have a significant effect on global climate.

Also, with the recent increase of sea-bottom exploration and activity, particularly in the Arctic Circle, there have been a number of releases of methane gas from ocean-floor concentrations of disturbed decayed matter. The overall size of these releases is unknown, as facilities for measuring them have only become available very recently. However, since methane is itself a “greenhouse gas,” and more potent in that connection than CO2, these releases introduce additional uncertainty into all studies of heat-trapping by atmospheric gases.

5. Tendentious computer simulations.

A simulation of conditions that cannot be produced deliberately, which is the sort of simulation on which the warmistas rely, can only demonstrate what would come of those conditions if the assumptions and mechanisms built into the simulation were correct. Therefore, it can only be used as an argument for a given hypothesis if:

  • All the initial conditions required by the simulation come to pass simultaneously;
  • No extra contributors, or factors that would disturb measurements, are introduced by Mother Nature;
  • The outcome reached by Nature matches that produced by the simulation.

To this point, those three requirements have never been satisfied — the warmistas’ simulations have yet to attain any standing for climate-change prediction.

6. The importance of deceit and motivation.

Many of the best known warmista “scientists” have been caught red-handed lying about their data, their techniques for “adjusting” it, and the reproducibility of their measurements. Additionally, as the East Anglia CRU documents make plain, these persons are not averse to using bullying tactics to deny dissenters a public voice. As the warmistas are the beneficiaries of large amounts of government funding that would come to a halt if their hypotheses were conclusively refuted, they have powerful reasons to shout down those who disagree. As their opponents have far smaller resources — no access to public treasuries — they are fatally hobbled in any contest of volume, despite their considerable numbers and eminence.

That’s as thorough a destruction of the CAGW hypothesis as a scientific contention as was possible at that time (February, 2010). The warmistas never improved their methods, their claims, or their ability to predict. Neither did they ever allow that any sort or quantity of evidence could cross-cut their claims. In short, they insisted that we accept CAGW on faith — faith in them.

Any who invested their faith in the warmistas are now on notice that they’ve been conned.

The whole episode stands as a lesson to the credulous and the gullible. When the Main Stream Media’s drums began to pound out the CAGW march, we should have been especially skeptical, in the best sense of that word: unwilling to commit in the absence of extensive evidence and successful predictions confirmed by multiple disinterested reviewers. Journalists love a “crisis,” and the CAGW hypothesis provided them with one they could hardly resist. But journalism is not science, not even at its very best. It’s merely a service of variable quality, vended to an audience in the hope of making money. Its claims must always be assessed in that light, especially when it aligns itself with persons and institutions screaming for totalitarian power over every kind and degree of human action.

Patterns

[This piece first appeared at the late, lamented Palace Of Reason in February, 2002. In light of the foofaurauw in progress today over the multiple scandals we’ve learned about these past few weeks, it seems unusually apposite. Besides, I need time off from the “Debunkings” series. — FWP]

Wise men see outlines, and therefore draw them.
Mad men see outlines, and therefore draw them.

— William Blake —

To a certain kind of mind, any sort of pattern is enough to infer a conspiracy. In its most extreme expression, this is the disease of paranoid schizophrenia, most recently depicted in all its poignant horror by the magnificent movie A Beautiful Mind.

This is not to say that conspiracies never exist behind the patterns in events. But to conclude that conscious intention lies beneath every pattern of human behavior that conduces to bad results is a logical error, a failure to distinguish correlation from causation, pattern from design.

Many patterns exist in human life. The great majority of them arise because of the commonalities in our natures: our shared needs and drives. We don’t work at our jobs because some grand plot concocted among powerful men has shackled us to them. We don’t seek love and commitment because chips in our brains direct us to do so. We don’t have children and (attempt to) raise them to be decent and responsible adults because some shadowy agency wants it that way.

On these things, there is general agreement that any designs involved were drawn by God. But let the patterns be slightly less grandiose, and out of the margins of society will spring men with megaphones to tell us that only evil designs can explain them. Among the great ironies of our public discourse is the way such claims have been used to impede the search for the real causes of events. Sometimes those impediments have been the whole point of the conspiracy charges.

Ralph Nader, Michael Moore, and others on the anti-capitalist Left have constantly screeched that the many patterns that run through the automobile industry clearly indicate an anti-competitive, anti-consumer cartel. While the potentates of Detroit have demonstrably maneuvered for market protection from foreign automakers — and now and then from one another — the patterns that run through their auto designs reflect consumer preferences, including a preference for the blessings of standardization, rather than a cartel’s decision that it will all be one way. Product differentiation is one of the three generic tools a business has for gaining ground on its competitors; no conceivable logic would lead to the forswearing of that tool.

The Dishonorable Hillary Clinton, currently the junior Senator from my home state of New York, once posited “a vast right-wing conspiracy” to smear her husband, then-President Bill Clinton, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal was cresting toward its peak. Mrs. Clinton had not previously spoken in conspiratorial terms, but she was either too eager to deflect the scandal or too unwilling to believe that her capric spouse had dropped his pants in public yet again, and so resorted to the conspiracy explanation.

And now we have Enron.

Be not mistaken: Enron was a shell game for quite a while. Its “creative accounting” methods ranged from dubious to outrightly fraudulent. Its public relations were largely mendacious. When the shell began to crumble, it deceived its own lower-level employees and petitioned powerful government agencies for protection and advantages. Now that the game is over, its top men will do their best to exculpate themselves at others’ expense.

That having been said, there is at present no convincing evidence that anyone in either the Bush or the Clinton Administrations offered Enron political assistance with its difficulties.

The Left’s pundits point to the fact that Enron is a Texas-based company in the energy-futures field, and that the Bush Administration is populated from the top down with Texans who have backgrounds in the energy business. Aha! A pattern! Surely there is something to be investigated here. Surely, with enough subpoenas and Congressional committee hearings, we’ll find evil deeds and the malefactors who did them.

Not surely. Possibly, though as time passes, the likelihood of finding a political conspiracy behind the Enron mess dwindles toward zero.

Given the current popularity of President Bush and his Administration, it’s unsurprising that his political foes would search the rubble from Enron’s collapse for dirt to fling at him. Aha! A pattern! Men with political ambition and contrasting agendas look for weapons with which to sway public opinion against one another! Surely, with enough subpoenas and Congressional committee hearings… but wait a moment. We’re expecting the targets of our suspicions to investigate themselves, and report candidly on their discoveries.

Another great irony, here: the second suspicion of conspiracy is far better founded than the first. It’s even got a name. We call it a political party.

I have little trouble believing anything vile about anyone who seeks or wields the powers of the State. The worst do get on top, as Friedrich Hayek told us in The Road To Serfdom, and the right direction to look first when things begin to go badly wrong is toward the corridors of power. That doesn’t mean we’ll find anything. Because the suspicion of office-holders is so natural, and so frequently correct, we must be especially careful about it. As little as I like the State and its works, some decent people are involved with it. They might disagree with me on policy or principles, but they deserve the presumption of innocence, as do we all.

But the modern version of partisanry remembers this only half the time. Democrats conveniently forget it when Republicans can be made targets, and the reverse is true as well. The pitch of the accusations becomes ever more shrill, ever more strident, and the Man In The Street becomes ever more likely to stop his ears and disinvolve himself from the political process. This trend, along with the blending of the two major parties into a single, principle-free mass committed solely to getting power and thwarting competition, has been in progress for more than a century, during which time citizen participation in elections has fallen from 90% to a bare 50% of eligible voters.

Aha! A pattern!

The Manly Virtues

As usual at times when gutlessness and venality appear as a plague upon the land, there’s a lot of loose talk about “manliness” making the rounds. And as usual, the overwhelming majority of the gabbers haven’t got the faintest idea what they’re talking about.

Manliness isn’t about size or brawn.
Being covered head to toe with hair doesn’t signify manliness.
It has nothing to do with braggadocio, belligerence, or truculence.
Being obnoxious about your opinions makes you obnoxious, not manly.
Neither does preferring NASCAR to chess say anything about how manly you are.

Manliness is about the possession of the manly virtues.

Accordingly, I repost the following essay, which first appeared at the old Palace Of Reason in 1997.


We hear a lot of loose talk about “environmental damage” and “endangered species” from the left-loonies and their pet interest groups, but when you look for what’s actually disappeared from the American environment, two things rear up and poke you in the eye:

  • Civility,
  • Men.

Get into your time machine, go back fifty years [i.e., to 1950 — FWP], and walk the streets of any of the great cities of this continent. They were safe. They were almost perfectly clean. People didn’t jostle one another, hurl obscene imprecations at one another, deface the sides of buildings with moronic scrawling, or pollute the air with pain-threshold levels of their preferred “music.” Men treated women with courtesy, respect, and a certain protective affection. Even the poor, of which, though they were less numerous than they are today, there was no shortage, were clean, self-reliant, self-respecting, and courteous.

The police would sort out those who couldn’t meet the prevailing standards and would unceremoniously tell them to “keep moving,” in which effort they were overwhelmingly reinforced by the non-uniformed public. If you wanted to surround yourself with degeneracy, you had to find the local Skid Row, the only place where such things were tolerated. It wasn’t a big place, and the folks you found there permitted themselves no pride about their condition. No one indulged in nonsense notions about the “dignity” of the homeless, of welfare dependents, of drug addicts, of gang members, or any of today’s mascot-groups for the coercive-compassion camp. As a result, government, which fattens on public perceptions of danger and disorder, was relatively small and unintrusive.

Were there some blemishes on this pretty picture? Yes, of course there were. There were still legal barriers against women entering the workforce in many states. There were still entailments on women’s right to hold real property in a few places in the south and southwest. A residuum of racism encumbered the black population’s efforts to raise its condition — though in fairness it must be remembered that a popular movement largely composed of white people was already afoot, and just fourteen years later it swept all race-based legal restrictions into the dustbin of history. Government had swollen due to the unconstitutional New Deal and America’s involvement in two foreign wars, and those who liked the result were working to swell it still further.

Still, in 1950, America was a place of nearly overpowering civility. In 2000…?

How did we lose it?

Ask a hundred opinion-mongers and you’ll get a hundred different answers. Here’s mine: We made it unacceptable to be a man, at least in public.

The word “man” in the above is, for a change, not to be interpreted generically. I don’t mean “a member of the human species,”or even “a masculine human being.” I mean a man, the sort that fathers used to try to raise their sons to be, even if Dad wasn’t quite one himself, because he knew it was his duty, and because it was expected of him. In 1950, the chattering classes and their hangers-on were already at work trying to make the manly virtues into vices, and to promote their opposites in their place.

What is a man, and what does a youth need to learn to become one?

Two things qualify a masculine homo sapiens as a man:

  • Knowledge of right and wrong, and the willingness to fight for the right;
  • Knowledge of his own obligations, and the willingness to meet them.

A man must learn “where the line is”: the line that separates behavior that must be tolerated from behavior that must not be. He must be willing — personally willing — to fight in defense of the former and against the latter, though it might expose him to risk and cost him injury or death. He must be ready to swallow his distaste and protect the rights even of persons he finds repulsive, if they have harmed no other human being.

A man must learn proportionality and restraint. Biology has optimized the male body for purposive aggression, sudden acceleration and focused violence. These are not things to be deployed in their 200-proof strength against trivial or unworthy targets. A man doesn’t kill the bounder who steals his parking space, his business idea, or his wife. Even a punch in the nose is excessive for infractions like these.

A man must learn never to shirk a freely contracted obligation. If you’ve said you’ll do it, you do it. No excuses. Conversely, if you have failed to meet an obligation, you must admit to it and try to do better next time.

A man must learn not to whine about disappointments, reversals, or the ways of women. Especially about the ways of women. They’re not men — thank God — and we can’t fairly hold them to manly standards.

A man must learn reverence in the presence of the numinous. The fact that each of us is a part of an infinitely greater whole manifests itself in innumerable ways. Learning to let it in, to cherish it, and to use it to buttress oneself in times of darkness is critical to attaining the endurance the world expects from a man.

Last and most important, a man must transmit the manly virtues to his male children.

But no one has said it better than the poet the political Left hates worst in all the world:

IF you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

(Rudyard Kipling)

Bellwethers Everywhere: The Celebritarian Revolution

Apologies, Gentle Reader. This is a crucial topic about which I’ve written extensively in the past. Therefore, this post will be partly a reprint of material that previously appeared at Eternity Road, and partly a handful of new observations about the bellwether / celebritarian phenomenon in this year of Our Lord 2013.


1. Beautiful Bellwethers.

[This piece first appeared at Eternity Road in March of 2006.]

One of Harlan Ellison’s better short stories, “The Face Of Helene Bournouw,” focused on a (seeming) woman of unexampled physical beauty, who by the exploitation of that beauty deliberately led various culturally influential persons to their destruction. The conclusion of the story revealed that Helene Bournouw was actually a golem designed and built by a race of demons, whose intention was to induce Mankind to commit suicide. It was a striking fictional illustration of a point that had also been made by C. S. Lewis in “Screwtape Proposes A Toast:” many, many people will follow a bellwether wherever it might lead them, even unto death and into Hell.

The Bellwether Effect has become one of the strongest influences on popular opinion in our time. It’s not possible to tell whether it’s reached its maximum. Yet the emergence of bellwethers, and how they rise to command their legions of followers, are under-addressed phenomena, even today.


Your Curmudgeon’s first duty is to be clear about his subject matter. A commentator who puts forth a rational analysis — even an incorrect one, or one whose conclusions might seem inflammatory — is not a bellwether. Bellwethers do not persuade by reason; they attract their followers by their allure. The follower does not follow the bellwether because he’s said to himself, “This person is knowledgeable and smart, and his conclusions and proposals make good sense.” Rather, he follows due to the attractions of the bellwether’s glamor, charm, popularity, wealth, or some other characteristic unrelated to facts or reason.

A bellwether’s attractions operate below the rational level of our minds. He does not offer analysis; he seduces his followers into eschewing analysis.

Thus, in keeping with the oft-heard and multiply attributed observation that you cannot reason a man out of something he did not reason himself into, the Bellwether Effect is absolutely proof against rational counteraction. Detaching a follower from his chosen bellwether requires other tools, when it’s possible at all.


The Bellwether Effect is made possible solely by mass one-way communications and entertainment media. It was born of the modern Celebrity Culture, and will be coterminous with it.

The Celebrity Culture was born when it became possible for us to “invite singers and movie stars into our living rooms,” by the graces of television. Television in the Fifties emphasized pre-existent forms of entertainment; the model for “new” programs was vaudeville, as illustrated by The Ed Sullivan Show, Amateur Hour, and similar offerings. Nevertheless, broadcasters were short enough of material that they had to rebroadcast movies to fill in their many unoccupied hours. Thus, television multiplied the effective audience a movie and its stars could reach. This relatively cheap diversion that was accessible to most Americans and required nothing of them but a few cents’ worth of electricity, allowed many an entertainer to reach a large multiple of the audience he would have commanded otherwise.

The emergence of made-for-television dramas and comedies pyramided on top of the already established foundations of the celebrity culture. That is, it merely added “small screen” celebrities to those of the “big screen” and the stage. The later explosion of televised sports and other concatenated effects extended but didn’t change the underlying model. Television was the mechanism by which people became famous, even beloved, for attainments that had previously been ranked alongside more ordinary trades.


The sort of person who becomes famous through television will almost always be an entertainer. The sort of person who makes his living as an entertainer is emotion-oriented, unlikely to be gifted with large rational powers. Thus, many of our most conspicuous bellwethers follow bellwethers of their own: gurus and cultists, some of whom actively court the attentions of media celebrities. These, though less well known, wield enormous influence over us through the intermediation of their more famous disciples.

The Church of Scientology has been much in the news because of its participation in the Bellwether Effect. Prominent Scientologists are almost exclusively from the entertainment world; indeed, your Curmudgeon cannot name an exception. Yet so great is their sway that thousands of ordinary, un-famous Americans have been seduced into investigating Scientology on that basis alone. Fortunately for the country, the church’s doctrines are so bizarre, and its demands on its adherents so extreme, that few sane, stable persons succumb to its pitch.

Emotion-oriented persons are unlikely to analyze what they’ve been told. Rather, they’ll normally gauge how it makes them feel, and accept it or reject it accordingly. If it “feels right,” they’ll be unabashed about promulgating it. Other emotion-oriented persons will accept it from them. Thus, one who wants to have a large impact on popular opinion can do so by crafting an emotionally seductive message and first infecting a cadre of entertainers as his bellwether-lieutenants. The multiplier provided by their mass-media exposure, and the large number of persons susceptible to their allure, will almost always reward the remote, unseen bellwether-guru handsomely.

Interestingly, on those occasions when the bellwether-guru presents himself to the cameras and the microphones, he usually experiences a sharp fall-off in his influence. He’s insufficiently attractive to do what his entertainer-lieutenants do for him, and often quite zany enough to turn off many of those he might have seduced had he remained in the shadows. This suggests a possible counter to the Bellwether Effect to which we shall return presently.


Emotion is quicker-acting than reason; it is also much shorter in range. Thus, the emotion-oriented person is seldom concerned with the more distant effects of his actions, or the courses he recommends to others. It made him feel good when he said or did it; the rest is for the janitors and the maintenance crew.

We observe this aspect of the Bellwether Effect repeatedly when entertainers hold forth on economic matters. Time and again, we’ve heard entertainers recommend statist and quasi-statist redistribution schemes that would utterly destroy all the conditions required for productive effort. Even the seeming charitableness of one such as Bono, lead singer of U2, is fundamentally destructive, as decades of experience with international “aid” to Africa has shown. But to grasp before they’re implemented how these things would work out requires that one set aside the warm glow anticipated from their proposed charities and think through the effects those nostrums would have on human incentives. That dampens the glow, which makes it unpalatable to the emotion-oriented bellwether.

There’s little doubt that most such persons really do mean well, but there’s just as little doubt that most of them lack both the rational resources and the inclination to work out the consequences of their actions. Those that possess the necessary knowledge and intelligence are usually uninterested in using them. When more rational, better informed persons dare to challenge them, their usual response is emotional: “You don’t care about the poor / the downtrodden / the oppressed / the victims of racism, sexism, ageism, etc.” Whether the riposte is merely tactical or sincerely meant, it averts the unpleasantness that would come from confronting their rational shortcomings, and the damage they could do (and often have already done) by the exploitation of their allure.


Combatting the Bellwether Effect is one of the imperative tasks of rational persons of our time. The problem is stiff: rational persons prefer to work with reason, to which those susceptible to the Bellwether Effect are generally numb. Our opportunities lie in our ability to reason out the opportunities for and applicability of emotional counteraction.

To be sure, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Thus, if it’s possible to ward a friend or loved one against the Bellwether Effect ab initio, it’s always the best course. Raising rational, sensible children, determined to be well informed and to follow the dictates of sound logic, is a primary duty for this reason among others.

But not everyone within one’s orbit can be shielded in this fashion. In dealing with those who are susceptible to the Bellwether Effect, one must accept that what’s done is done. The emotion-oriented person is seldom re-educable, even when it would be right and proper to try. He must be approached on the same level as did his chosen bellwether: his emotional reactions to what he’s been told and shown.

Excepting some short-term effects, the consequences of bad policy are always bad. Those consequences are the rational man’s tools for dealing with the emotion-oriented: he must start from the emotional impact of the consequences and work backward.

Does emotion-oriented Smith favor massively increased “foreign aid” to Africa? Rational Jones must work backward from the consequences of the aid to date: the empowerment of dictators, the slaughter and oppression of subject minorities, and the intensification of poverty and misery throughout the Dark Continent. The consequences provide the emotional spearhead; if they penetrate Smith’s preconceptions, and if he can be led to associate them with the “aid,” Jones has a chance of swaying him.

Does Smith favor a cessation of the American liberation efforts in the Middle East? Jones must work backward from the consequences of other American withdrawals from similarly plagued trouble spots: Iran in 1979, Vietnam in 1973, China in 1948-49. The horrors that followed might lead Smith to question his stance; if so, and if Jones can show that American engagement on behalf of oppressed and threatened peoples doesn’t have even worse consequences, Smith might be won over.

Does Smith favor the institution of a Canadian-style nationalized health care system? Jones must work backward from the consequences of those systems already in place: the long delays in obtaining needed treatment, the political favoritism involved in the dispensation of such treatment, and the decline in the quality of care available to all. The notion that persons who would have been capable of buying a high-quality hip replacement in a week must wait two to three years for a replacement of questionable soundness might jar Smith out of his groove.

But your Curmudgeon’s focus is not entirely on persuading others to abandon bad policy prescriptions; it’s more on the importance of the mechanism by which they attached to those prescriptions: the Bellwether Effect. The follower is emotionally attached, not merely to the policy prescription, but to the bellwether who urged it on him. This attachment is seldom easily severed; indeed, it’s questionable whether one should attempt to do so.

If Smith is firmly attached to bellwether Davis, rather than attempting to weaken or destroy that attachment, Jones might prefer to suggest limiting its scope. Glamor, popularity, etc. are assets applicable to particular, limited purposes; they are inapplicable to politics and economics. Perhaps after he’s reversed himself on a few specific issues, Smith can be led to see that. Perhaps the ultimate source of Davis’s preachments can be dragged out from under his rock and held up to the light; few can withstand such scrutiny. But above all, it’s vital that Jones never attack Davis’s sincerity; if Smith is to reach the conclusion that Davis is insincere, he must do so himself.


There’s nothing inherently wrong with an interest in celebrities, as vapid as they usually are. It’s a bit disturbing that so many Americans, particularly young people, revere them as demigods, yet can’t be bothered to learn the names of their local legislators or stay abreast of political developments. But this malady doesn’t require completely re-engineering the mindsets of millions; it only requires that we broaden their focus.

When Dan Quayle suggested that Candace Bergen’s “Murphy Brown” character was hardly the typical pattern for an unwed mother, he was engaging the Celebrity Culture frontally, and received a vicious collective rebuff for it. His experience indicates the power of that culture, its willingness to offer bellwethers to the country, and its displeasure at being depicted as a negative force. Quayle was absolutely right, but he gained no ground for responsible parenthood or role-modeling; indeed, he might have lost some.

Perhaps the effort properly belongs to those of us who have the assets the bellwethers don’t possess: the advantages of proximity and the solidity of real life. After all, Murphy Brown didn’t really have to raise a baby. Sharon Stone doesn’t have to negotiate with the terrorist-insurgents in Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Bono doesn’t have to cope with the consequences of the well-meant money river drowning Africa, whose volume he’s worked to increase. None of these celebrities makes house calls to push his point of view.

Gentle Reader, don’t suggest it to them, would you please?


2. The Celebritarian Revolution.

It’s one thing for a political movement to enlist celebrities as bellwether-spokesmen. It’s quite another to put them forward as candidates for high office.

It started quite a while ago, of course. Nor is the phenomenon of celebrities-as-public-officials entirely noxious; after all, we did have Ronald Reagan. But it says something about our political discourse that’s quite unpleasant.

It’s never been perfectly clear what the qualifications for public office should be, apart from the age / residence / citizenship requirements stated in the Constitution. Obviously there’s quite a lot of disagreement on the subject, or we wouldn’t have empty-headed pseudo-feminist twit Ashley Judd plausibly bidding for a Senate seat, or the vicious and ignorant Al Franken actually occupying one.

As I noted in the essay above, this sort of development arises entirely from one-way mass communications. The celebrities of the entertainment world are pushed upon us by the mass media. (These days, persons with even less plausible claims to our time and attention get a great deal of it; anyone familiar with the Real Housewives phenomenon will immediately concur.) When a well-known celebrity manages to identify himself with some political cause du jour, he acquires an “entering wedge” into the political sphere. Should he, or his handlers and promoters, decide that that would be a profitable direction to purse, he’s likely to address other political subjects, such that his fans think of him ever more as a political figure. Over time, that can build him a spurious resume as a political thinker — spurious because the typical celebrity does about as much actual thinking as a kumquat.

But what matters in the sequel isn’t the amount of hard thought or study the celebrity puts into his political stances; it’s his personal attractions, the extent of his media exposure, and the size and responsiveness of his fan base. These things, entirely divorced from what stances he promotes or how he reached and rationalizes them, are occasionally sufficient to put him into public office.

The master strategists of the Democrat Party are aware of this. They’ve gone out hunting for media figures to promote as candidates for high office, and have pushed them as if their screen credits / Billboard ratings / batting averages should be qualifications enough for anything. And a substantial fraction of Americans who lean leftward are buying into it.

(Yes, batting averages count too. Consider how frequently prominent athletes, including quite a few who’ve never previously spoken about politics in public, are solicited for their political views by interviewers. That’s bad enough; what’s worse are the many who respond to such questions in full seriousness, instead of modestly changing the subject.)

In a sense, Barack Hussein Obama is the icon of the Celebritarian Revolution. After all, he had no resume when he ascended to the United States Senate, and he had damned little more when he was elected president. His most important personal assets are dark skin, moderately good looks, and a winning way of reading from a teleprompter. In a rational society, that would make him a waiting-list candidate for a sportscaster’s position; in the United States of 2013, it’s put him in the Oval Office.

Al Franken already sits in the Senate. If Mitch McConnell and the Kentucky GOP aren’t careful, Ashley Judd might soon join him there. And remember that success evokes emulation: every time a celebrity attains a public office, it persuades other celebrities to attempt the same. Some of them will succeed.

If the prospect of a majority-Celebritarian political elite doesn’t frighten you half out of your corn flakes, Gentle Reader, check your pulse: you may have died and not noticed. But then, if the awareness that the finger on the Big Red Button belongs to Nobel Peace Prize honoree Barack Hussein Obama hasn’t already scared you translucent, you might just be a celebrity yourself.

A Maxim, The Law, and The State of The Nation

It might well be that the greatest blessing to have recently descended upon these United States is l’affaire Gregory: the exculpation, by prosecutorial discretion alone, of pseudo-journalist and tendentious Washington twit David Gregory for openly and flagrantly breaking a D.C. law that’s been used to incarcerate other, entirely blameless persons. That little development has made it painfully, undeniably clear that the rule of law as it’s generally understood — i.e., that the law is above all persons and makes no exceptions for an “elite,” however conceived or defined — no longer applies in our nation.

But that doesn’t capture the full, horrific absurdity of the thing. Hearken to David French’s assessment:

Of course prosecuting Mr. Gregory would have been sad and — on many levels — absurd, but so is the law under which he would have been prosecuted. In fact, if absurdity were a defense to prosecutions or other adverse legal actions, an enormous swathe of our regulatory state would be swept away.

Can we even speak of the rule of law as a meaningful concept when we combine an explosive regulatory state with near-absolute prosecutorial discretion? As many others have noted, the regulatory state makes ever-more conduct — even benign conduct — unlawful, while absolute discretion grants the prosecutor the right of the King’s pardon. Overlay that legal reality with a stark red/blue divide, and the situation is ripe for the most base forms of political and personal favoritism.

French has pinned one of the most egregious, inexcusable features of our current regime:

The great majority of the “rules” that are imposed on Americans with the force of law are not “laws” in the proper sense.

They’re “regulations.”
Rules composed by unelected bureaucrats.
Bureaucrats whose names we’re forbidden to learn.
Many of whom are issued firearms and wear them daily.
Whose jobs are protected by Civil Service rules any union would envy.

I’ve searched the Constitution of the United States from end to end and back again, and in only two places does it use the word “regulate:” the Coinage Clause and the Interstate Commerce Clause. That word has given birth to millions of “regulations” with the force of law, by the imposition of which nameless, faceless persons — persons against whom private citizens have no recourse — can enforce draconian penalties on defenseless Americans for conduct that harms no man even in its most extended implications.

Either this is absolutely indefensible or I woke up in the wrong universe this morning.


But wait: there’s more! The luxuriance of these unlegislated laws “passed” by unelected un-legislators is compounded to an infinite degree by a circumstance for which few of us spare even an occasional thought: It doesn’t matter whether we know anything at all about those “laws.” At neither the state nor the federal level is any effort is made to inform the private citizenry about their issuance. Even so, we’re considered bound by them, subject to their force, and exposed to punishment for violating them.

Oftentimes, we only learn about some such “law” at the moment we violate it. A fortunate few discover their vulnerability “just in the nick of time:” by asking permission to develop a recently purchased plot of land, for example. Never mind that the notion that an American must obsequiously ask permission, like a serf in a feudal realm, to do something that harms no one with an item of his own, honorably acquired property is itself execrable, a clear violation of the natural law of property and the rights pertaining to it. That’s merely insult added to injury: a deadly insult atop the mortal injury to the concept of individuals’ rights.

In this connection, there’s an old maxim that serves our masters in good stead:

Ignorance Of The Law
Is No Excuse

I have no idea how old that maxim is. It originated long before America. Probably it was coined in Europe, when Europe could still be non-sardonically called Christendom. It didn’t hang in the air, unsupported and self-justifying. It arose from a fundamental understanding of the proper role of the law: an understanding we of the Twenty-First Century have largely forgotten, but might, in the aftermath of l’affaire Gregory and the indefensible responses of politicos to the Newtown atrocity, at last succeed in recovering.


I asked one of the members of Parliament whether a majority of the House could legitimize murder. He said no. I asked him whether it could sanctify robbery. He thought not. But I could not make him see that if murder and robbery are intrinsically wrong, and not to be made right by the decisions of statesmen, then similarly all actions must be either right or wrong, apart from the authority of the law; and that if the right and wrong of the law are not in harmony with this intrinsic right and wrong, the law itself is criminal. [Herbert Spencer, The Proper Sphere Of Government]

Nevertheless, in the inexplicable universal votings and debatings of these Ages, an idea or rather a dumb presumption to the contrary has gone idly abroad, and at this day, over extensive tracts of the world, poor human beings are to be found, whose practical belief it is that if we “vote” this or that, so this or that will thenceforth be. Practically men have come to imagine that the Laws of this Universe, like the laws of constitutional countries, are decided by voting. It is an idle fancy. The Laws of this Universe, of which if the Laws of England are not an exact transcript, they should passionately study to become such, are fixed by the everlasting congruity of things, and are not fixable or changeable by voting! [Author unknown, cited by Herbert Spencer in The Proper Sphere Of Government]

Herbert Spencer was at one time the most popular writer in the English-speaking world. His uniquely lucid and eloquent expositions upon natural law, the moral-ethical bounds of legislated law, and the overall proper demesne of the State enlightened and uplifted millions of readers — so much so that in his dissent in Lochner v. New York, Associate Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes felt compelled to write that “[t]he Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics.” (So much for persons who look to Holmes as a champion of freedom.) As we can see from the two citations above, Spencer was unbending on the principle that legislated law that goes beyond the bounds of the natural law is unjust and pointless.

But Spencer was a man of Victorian England, a Christian nation that promulgated a standard of personal conduct and social propriety that became a model for Western Civilization. Yes. that standard was frequently violated by those with the wherewithal to get away with it; nevertheless, no one dared to claim that the standard itself was wrong, or pointless, because some persons chose not to observe it. Even the worst of Victorian sinners insisted upon the sincere inculcation of that standard in the education of his children.

Victorian England was the leading light of European Christendom. Those were the decades when England was the policeman of the oceans and the banker to the world — when an Englishman’s promise was generally deemed as trustworthy as any statement made on Earth.

The courts of Victorian England were world-renowned for probity and justice. No Victorian was permitted to claim that the law ought not to apply to him by virtue of his station, or because he was unaware of it. But the Victorians knew what Spencer had articulated to the rest of the world: to be just, a legislated law must conform to the natural law.

If legislated law conforms straitly to the natural law, then it follows that ignorance of the law really is no excuse: because any adult can deduce the law’s requirements from basic moral principles every Christian child is expected to learn by heart:

  • Thou shalt not murder.
  • Thou shalt not steal.
  • Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  • Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  • Thou shalt not covet.

Murder, as Spencer has told us, is not wrong because it’s against the law; it’s against the law because it’s wrong, and not all the peregrinations of rhetoric can make it right. But equally, property rights are not rights because the law concedes them; the law must concede them because they’re written into the laws of the universe as expressed in the nature of Man. No degree of demosthenic expostulation can justify theft, fraud, or any other interference in a man’s peaceful use of his honestly acquired property — including such interferences as politicians are disposed to commit.


No man of our time can know the law to its full extent. Even lawyers disclaim such acquaintance with the law, which is why they specialize, often quite narrowly, in this or that aspect of the law and the practices it demands. Nor are the demands and constraints of the law, or the profusion of regulations imposed upon us with the force of law, deducible from basic moral principles as the Victorians knew them.

How, then, can it be just to penalize a man for not being aware that if his backyard is damp three days out of three hundred sixty-five, it’s a federally protected “wetland” with which he is forbidden to interfere? To punish him for not knowing that a raccoon is a legally protected “fur-bearing animal” that he may not kill even at hazard to his family? Or to incarcerate him for bringing a rifle or an ammunition magazine into some state where the laws forbid anyone but its myrmidons to possess those items?

How is the innocent ignorance of a law — a brutal, unfounded, exception-riddled, discretionarily-applied “law” made by persons who will pay no costs for its effects upon the unaware and innocent others — not a perfect excuse?


Ironies, as usual, abound. In appreciation of the predictable political responses to the Newtown atrocity, Americans have gone on an armament-buying spree…yet Barack Hussein Obama claims the NRA is to blame for exciting fear. Though they all know full well that no so-called assault rifle fired even one round at Newtown, power-mongering politicians have nevertheless descended with their full fury on such weapons — defined according to cosmetic rather than functional characteristics! — in an effort to demonize them and vilify those of us who own them. And though David Gregory was fully aware of the laws of the District of Columbia — indeed, he and his producers had asked the D.C. police to exempt him from prosecution for using one as a TV prop, and had been refused! — he went willfully ahead and violated them anyway, and will receive no penalty for doing so, though D.C. has wielded those laws against utterly innocent others who’ve been bankrupted, imprisoned, or both.

Perhaps Obama is correct.
Perhaps America isn’t a Christian nation.
A Christian nation would rise in righteous wrath against a regime that dared perpetrate such injustices.
Indeed, it would have done so long before this.
And it may do so yet.

Pray.

For The Feast Of The Epiphany

[The following piece first appeared at Eternity Road on January 6, 2008. — FWP]


The ancient creed called Zoroastrianism predated the birth of Christ by about a millennium. Its founder, Zoroaster, laid down a small set of doctrines:

  • There is one universal and transcendental God, Ahura Mazda, the one uncreated creator and to whom all worship is ultimately directed.
  • Ahura Mazda’s creation — evident as asha, truth and order — is the antithesis of chaos, evident as druj, falsehood and disorder. The resulting conflict involves the entire universe, including humanity, which has an active role to play in the conflict.
  • Active participation in life through good thoughts, good words and good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep the chaos at bay. This active participation is a central element in Zoroaster’s concept of free will, and Zoroastrianism rejects all forms of monasticism.
  • Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail, at which point the universe will undergo a cosmic renovation and time will end. In the final renovation, all of creation — even the souls of the dead that were initially banished to “darkness” — will be reunited in Ahura Mazda.
  • In Zoroastrian tradition, the malevolent is represented by Angra Mainyu, the “Destructive Principle”, while the benevolent is represented through Ahura Mazda’s Spenta Mainyu, the instrument or “Bounteous Principle” of the act of creation. It is through Spenta Mainyu that Ahura Mazda is immanent in humankind, and through which the Creator interacts with the world. According to Zoroastrian cosmology, in articulating the Ahuna Vairya formula, Ahura Mazda made His ultimate triumph evident to Angra Mainyu.
  • As expressions and aspects of Creation, Ahura Mazda emanated seven “sparks”, the Amesha Spentas, “Bounteous Immortals” that are each the hypostasis and representative of one aspect of that Creation. These Amesha Spenta are in turn assisted by a league of lesser principles, the Yazatas, each “Worthy of Worship” and each again a hypostasis of a moral or physical aspect of creation.

I find nothing objectionable in the above, except that only God, by whatever name He might be known, is worthy of worship; the most a lesser being is entitled to is veneration. But the word “worship” has had many meanings and subtleties over the years, so I’m inclined to let it pass. More important than Zoroastrianism’s harmless mythos is its ethos, which Zoroaster himself encapsulated in a unique and memorable command:

Speak truth and shoot the arrow straight.

Unlike the overwhelming majority of other pre-Christian creeds, Zoroastrianism was — and is — rational, humane, and life-loving rather than life-denying. It emphasized human free will, moral choice, and the need to defend truth and order against lies and chaos. These attributes made it the dominant religion of classical Persia and environs, though Zoroastrians’ numbers are far reduced today.

(No, I haven’t converted to Zoroastrianism. You can all relax.)

In the Western world, the Zoroastrians were the first practitioners of the pseudo-science we call astrology. They reposed a fair amount of confidence in it, for the creed had had its own prophets, beginning with Zoroaster himself, and among the prophecies were several tied to events foretold to happen in the night sky. The Zoroastrians therefore took great interest in the stars, and made careful records of occurrences therein, for comparison to the utterances of their prophets.

One of those prophecies involved the birth of God in mortal flesh.

The Magi of the Incarnation story were three esteemed nobles of Persia, wealthy in gold, wisdom, and the admiration of their societies. In contrast to the pattern prevalent among the nobilities of later times, these three, whose names have come down to us as Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, were deeply religious men whose involvement in the investigation of the Zoroastrian prophecies was sincere. When they spied the famous “star in the east” — quite possibly a nova in Draco now known to have occurred at about that time — they resolved to follow its trail, to find the divine infant and pay him homage.

I shan’t retell the whole of the story. It’s accessible to anyone reading this site, in both secular and liturgical versions. The most salient aspect of the story is that these three exalted nobles — kings, in the most common accounts — of a faraway land came to pay homage and present tokens of vassalage to a newborn infant.

Of course! What else would be appropriate, before a King of Kings?

***

I will pause here to draw an important distinction: “King of Kings” is not the same as “Emperor.” “Emperor” is a title appropriate only to a conqueror; that’s more or less what it means. Atop that, an emperor is not necessarily concerned with justice, whereas a king, of whatever altitude, is obliged to make it the center of his life:

    The saber gleamed in the muted light. I’d spent a lot of time and effort sharpening and polishing it.
     It was a plain weapon, not one you’d expect to see in the hand of a king. There was only the barest tracing on the faintly curved blade. The guard bell was a plain steel basket, without ornamentation. The hilt was a seven inch length of oak, darkened with age but firm to the touch. There was only a hint of a pommel, a slight swell of the hilt at its very end.
     “What is this?”
     “A sword. Your sword.”
     A hint of alarm compressed his eyes. “What do you expect me to do with it?”
     I shrugged. “Whatever you think appropriate. But a king should have a sword. By the way,” I said, “it was first worn by Louis the Ninth of France when he was the Dauphin, though he set it aside for a useless jeweled monstrosity when he ascended the throne.”
     Time braked to a stop as confusion spun his thoughts.
     “I don’t know how to use it,” he murmured.
     “Easily fixed. I do.”
     “But why, Malcolm?”
     I stepped back, turned a little away from those pleading eyes.
     “Like it or not, you’re a king. You don’t know what that means yet. You haven’t a sense for the scope of it. But you must learn. Your life, and the lives of many others, will turn on how well you learn it.” I paused and gathered my forces. “What is a king, Louis?”
     He stood there with the sword dangling from his hand. “A ruler. A leader. A warlord.”
     “More. All of that, but more. The sword is an ancient symbol for justice. Back when the function of nobility was better understood, a king never sat his throne without his sword to hand. If he was to treat with the envoy of another king, it would be at his side. If he was to dispense justice, it would be across his knees. Why do you suppose that was, Louis?”
     He stood silent for a few seconds.
     “Symbolic of the force at his command, I guess.”
     I shook my head gently.
     “Not just symbolic. A true king, whose throne belonged to him by more than the right of inheritance, led his own troops and slew malefactors by his own hand. The sword was a reminder of the privilege of wielding force, but it was there to be used as well.”
     His hands clenched and unclenched in time to his thoughts. I knew what they had to be.
     “The age of kings is far behind us, Malcolm.”
     “It never ended. Men worthy of the role became too few to maintain the institution.”
     “And I’m…worthy?”
     If he wasn’t, then no worthy man had ever lived, but I couldn’t tell him that.
     “There’s a gulf running through the world, Louis. On one side are the commoners, the little men who bear tools, tend their gardens, and keep the world running. On the other are the nobles, who see far and dare much, and sometimes risk all they have, that the realm be preserved and the commoner continue undisturbed in his portion. There’s no shortage of either, except for the highest of the nobles, the men of unbreakable will and moral vision, for whom justice is a commitment deeper than life itself.”
     His face had begun to twitch. He’d heard all he could stand to hear, and perhaps more. I decided to cap the pressure.
     “Kings have refused their crowns many times, Louis. You might do as much, though it would sadden me to see it. But you could break that sword over your knee, change your name, and run ten thousand miles to hide where no one could know you, and it wouldn’t lessen what you are and were born to be.” I gestured at the sword. “Keep it near you.”

[From Chosen One.]

Note further: a mortal king cannot and does not define justice; he dispenses justice, according to principles drawn from a higher authority. The King of Kings, from whom the privilege and obligation to mete justice flows, is the definer. In the matter of Law, all lesser kings are His vassals.

The Magi conceded this explicitly with their gift of gold.

***

The pre-Christian era knew few, if any, rulers who claimed their jurisdiction solely on basis of might. Nearly all were approved and anointed by a priesthood. In that anointment lay their claim to be dispensers of true justice, for God would not allow a mortal to mete justice that departs from His Law. Let’s leave aside the divergence between theory and practice for the moment; it was the logical connection between Divine Law and human-modulated justice that mattered to the people of those times.

But the King of Kings would need no clerical approval. Indeed, He would be the Priest of Priests: the Authority lesser priests would invoke in anointing lesser kings.

The Magi conceded this explicitly with their gift of frankincense.

***

We of the Twenty-First Century are largely unaware of the obligations which lay upon the kings of old. They were not, until the waning years of monarchy, sedentary creatures whose lives were a round of indulgences and propitiations. They were expected not merely to judge and pass sentence, but also to lead the armies of the realm when war was upon it. The king was expected to put himself at risk before any of his subjects. Among the reasons was this one: the loss of the king in battle was traditionally grounds for surrender, after which the enemy was forbidden by age-old custom to strike further blows.

The king, in this conception, was both the leader of his legions and a sacrifice for the safety of his subjects, should the need arise. He was expected to embrace the role wholeheartedly, and to lead from the front in full recognition of the worst of the possibilities. Not to do so was an admission that he was unfit for his throne:

    “We have talked,” he said, “about all the strategies known to man for dealing with an armed enemy. We have talked about every aspect of deadly conflict. Every moment of every discussion we’ve had to date has been backlit by the consciousness of objectives and costs: attaining the one and constraining the other. And one of the first things we talked about was the importance of insuring that you don’t overpay for what you seek.”
     She kept silent and listened.
     “What if you can’t, Christine? What if your objective can’t be bought at an acceptable price?”
     She pressed her lips together, then said, “You abandon it.”
     He smirked. “It’s hard even to say it, I know. But reality is sometimes insensitive to a general’s desires. On those occasions, you must learn how to walk away. And that, my dear, is an art form of its own.”
     He straightened up. “Combat occurs within an envelope of conditions. A general doesn’t control all those conditions. If he did, he’d never have to fight. Sometimes, those conditions are so stiff that he’s compelled to fight whether he thinks it wise, or not.”
     “What conditions can do that to you?”
     His mouth quirked. “Yes, what conditions indeed?”
     Oops. Here we go again. “Weather could do it.”
     “How?”
     “By cutting off your lines of retreat in the face of an invasion.”
     “Good. Another.”
     “Economics. Once the economy of your country’s been militarized, it runs at a net loss, so you might be forced to fight from an inferior position because you’re running out of resources.”
     “Excellent. One more.”
     She thought hard. “Superior generalship on the other side?”
     He clucked in disapproval. “Does the opponent ever want you to fight?”
     “No, sorry. Let me think.”
     He waited.
     Conditions. Conditions you can’t control. Conditions that…control you.
     “Politics. The political leadership won’t accept retreat or surrender until you’ve been so badly mangled that it’s obvious even to an idiot.”
     The man Louis Redmond had named the greatest warrior in history began to shudder. It took him some time to quell.
     “It’s the general’s worst nightmare,” he whispered. “Kings used to lead their own armies. They used to lead the cavalry’s charge. For a king to send an army to war and remain behind to warm his throne was simply not done. Those that tried it lost their thrones, and some lost their heads — to their own people. It was a useful check on political and military rashness.
     “It hasn’t been that way for a long time. Today armies go into the field exclusively at the orders of politicians who remain at home. And politicians are bred to believe that reality is entirely plastic to their wills.”

[From On Broken Wings.]

But the King of Kings, intrinsically above all other authorities, would obviously be aware of this obligation. More, His sacrifice of Himself must perforce be for the salvation of the whole of the world — indeed, the whole of the universe and every sentient creature in it. Nothing less could possibly justify it.

The Magi conceded this explicitly with their gift of myrrh.

***

Today, Christians celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, called the Theophany by some eastern Christian sects, when the Magi prostrated themselves before the Christ Child and made their gifts of vassalage to him. A vassal is a noble sworn to fealty to a higher authority: a higher-ranking noble or a king. The obligations of the vassal are to enforce justice as promulgated by the vassal’s liege, and to support and defend the liege’s realm by force of arms as required. To the King of Kings, God made flesh in the miracle of the Incarnation, every temporal authority is properly a vassal, obliged to mete justice in accordance with the natural law and to defend the Liege’s realm — men of good will, wherever they may be — against all enemies, whenever the need might arise. To do less is to be unworthy of a temporal throne, palace, official office, or seat in a legislature…to be unworthy of Him.

He took on the burdens of the flesh to confirm God’s love for Man and to open the gates of salvation. He went to Calvary in testament to the authenticity of His Authority. The Magi knew, and in their pledge of fealty to Him, made plain that He had come not merely to succor Israel, but for the liberation of all Mankind.

May God bless and keep you all.

Load more