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.


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.


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.


[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.


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.”
     “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.

The New Lunatics

[The following two pieces first appeared at the old Palace Of Reason, on September 8, 2003 and February 26, 2004, respectively. — FWP]

Come on, guys and dolls. It’s all getting to be a bit much.

Is it only a Curmudgeon Emeritus’s privilege to note — and comment on — lunacies parading naked-faced in the street? Why haven’t ordinary, self-respecting folks taken a few swings at the gaudier irrationalities of our time?

The House Of Representatives has passed a bill allocating $10 million for a small-scale voucher program for students in Washington, D.C. This program will provide about 1300 vouchers to students endangered by the city’s ineffective, lawless government-run schools. As it’s nominally a federal program, it could be a bellwether for the entire country, according to whether or not it achieves its goals. But Eleanor Holmes Norton, Representative for the District of Columbia, that famous advocate For The ChildrenTM, is dead set against it. She’s been urging the Democratic contingent in the Senate to filibuster it.

This despicable woman leagued with the equally despicable Children’s Defense Fund head Marian Wright Edelman to spread the lie that a dollar spent to provide day care services to toddlers would avert $3.38 in spending on welfare and crime prevention later on. When pressed on the matter, Edelman admitted that there was no hard data to back up the claim, that she’d pulled the number out of the air — because she needed a lever with which to pry additional social spending out of Congress.

(By the way, her highest-profile champion during that campaign was former United States Senator and current presidential aspirant Carol Moseley Braun. Hm. Three black women, all froth-at-the-mouth social-welfare fascists with room-temperature IQs, and all go by three names like the scions of Yankee-patrician families who’ve blown through their money and have to live on the cachet of their lineage. More than coincidence? Your Curmudgeon reports; you decide.)

Soon-to-be-disgraced-former-Governor of California Gray Davis, struggling pitifully to avert recall against a huge tide of hostile sentiment and a horde of contenders — one of whom is his Lieutenant-Governor, unrepentant racialist and Chicano separatist Cruz Bustamante — has derided front-runner Arnold Schwarzenegger in public for his accent. He opined that one of the qualifications for gubernatorial status was the ability to “pronounce the name of the state.”

Of course, a man who can give away $40 billion on power futures when his state budget is already in the red hasn’t got terrific credentials for good sense, but really! Is there anything less appetizing than such a display of contempt for a man of foreign birth? Is it conceivable that a man smart enough to be elected Governor of the largest and most ethnically diverse state in the Union twice could fail to know it?

United States Senator John Kerry (D, Viet Nam) has been stumping the country claiming that, when he voted on the authorization of the use of force against the Saddam Hussein regime in 2002, he didn’t know what he was voting for. Kerry, too, wants to be elevated to the presidency. In this he follows in the footsteps of Senator Edward Kennedy (D, Kennedy), who, when asked before the national media why he wanted to be president, couldn’t think of an answer.

Here we have a slew of good reasons never to contend for public office. Would you really want to be lumped in with these clowns?

But let’s not spend all our time on politics. The cavortings of private citizens deserve a little air time, too.

Fox News has an article on hazardous body modifications that are now becoming fashionable. Some of these, such as tattooing, have been au courant for a few years now, though the recent fad for facial tattoos a la Mike Tyson is fairly new. Others, such as toe-shortening surgery to allow women to wear radically short-toed, pointy shoes, are quite fresh, and very disturbing.

Psychologists have long recognized an affliction called body dysmorphia. Its sufferers come to hate their bodies for not conforming to some abstract ideal, or for other reasons which, so as not to give offense to the certifiably insane proponents and self-despising seekers of sex-reassignment surgery, your Curmudgeon will pass over in silence. The body dysmorphic is seized by a compulsion to alter himself that goes beyond simple attention to cleanliness, fitness, and grooming. In the most severe cases, the condition eventually becomes as lethal as Von Munchausen’s Syndrome.

(Yes, yes, it’s impossible to draw a hard-and-fast border that would separate “trivial” body modifications such as ear piercing from incomprehensibilities such as having one’s lower ribs removed to improve one’s figure. On which side of the boundary would tongue piercing fall? Your Curmudgeon considers that evidence of badly distorted judgment at best, but in this he knows he’s in the minority. Still, just because we must admit to the existence of a gray zone doesn’t mean that the gray zone is infinitely wide.)

Where are the friends and relations of body dysmorphics as they sail into the straits of insanity? Surely they have some. Are these people completely incapable of restraining their disturbed friends and family members by force of opinion? Are they unwilling to urge the sufferers toward mental therapy, the proper course for anyone who comes to hate his body — his very self? Is this a new venue for destructive nonjudgmentalism?

There’s a word that must immediately return to circulation. It must be deployed widely, without hesitation or compromise. The word is mutilation.

Some kinds of cosmetic surgery are thinkable — possibly only because they’ve become so commonplace — but in many cases, he who allows a knife to cut his flesh for non-health reasons is mutilating himself. Though it’s his right, it marks him as a person whose mental balance is seriously out of plumb. His judgment of literally anything ought to be closely questioned.

As for tattooing, ask yourself this: Would you be willing to commit to having the image to be drawn on your flesh hang on every wall of your home for the rest of your life? If not, why are you willing to wear it on your body for the same period?

Let’s get back to common sense.

The Curmudgeon is out getting his teeth filed down to points, so Fran will write the column today.

In all seriousness, the subject of today’s rant has me too charged up to manage the Curmudgeon’s involute, gently satirical style. I am filled with anger and fear, and the only way I know to dissipate them is to write about the occasions of them.

A young colleague came by my office yesterday, wearing a peculiar expression, a blend of triumph and physical discomfort. Before I could even say hello, she’d turned about and yanked up her blouse to show me a tattoo: a large, garish tattoo of a winged snake that covered about half of her back.

I’m not often put at a loss for words, but what do you say to such a thing?

She looked back over her shoulder at me and said, “I got it Monday. What do you think?”

Before I proceed with this narration, I must mention that the young woman in question is genuinely young — she’s twenty-four — is single, and is aware that I’m an old mossback that has very conservative views on just about everything. We’re “hall friendly”; we smile and say hello in passing. We don’t dislike one another, but neither of us would normally seek the other as discretionary company. Yet here she was, baring her body to me to show me something she had good reason to suppose I wouldn’t approve. All of that occurred to me as I groped for a response.

What came out was, “They know what causes that, now.”

She giggled, mercifully covered herself, turned to me and said, “I knew you’d hate it.”

“Then why did you come and show it to me?”

Another giggle, but no reply. There was no need for a reply, really; she’d thrust her fresh mutilation in my face because she knew I’d disapprove of it.

“Tell me,” I said. “Did it hurt?”

She nodded. “It still does. You should have heard me screaming at the tattoo shop.”

“And that didn’t…suggest anything to you?”

She shrugged. There was a challenging pride to her expression, as if she were daring me to disapprove more explicitly.

I decided not to disappoint her.

“So,” I said, “you put yourself through a painful procedure that involves prolonged suffering and the risk of a serious infection, to engrave a piece of second-rate art — something you probably couldn’t bear to have on your bedroom wall — on your own flesh, probably for the rest of your life.” Her eyes went wide and her mouth dropped open. “If you become intimate with a man and he’s repulsed by it, there’ll be nothing you can do. If your skin loosens or the inks start to fade, it will look even more revolting than it does now. If you ever decide to remove it, you’ll have to undergo surgery and still more pain. You’ll never have your original skin texture back no matter what you do. Have you considered seeking professional help?”

She gasped and ran from the room.


My anger comes from the recognition that the lunatics are no longer under proper restraint. My fear is because, even if they’re not running the asylum yet, their time is fast approaching.

Mental disease and its indicators are the subject of a great many discussions. Not all of them are polite. Still, surely one of the contra-indications of sanity would be the predilection for damaging oneself. We consider those who slash their own flesh, or burn themselves deliberately, to be diseased individuals, persons in need of supervision by the more responsible.

But few are willing to say anything of substance about the craze for self-mutilation via tattoos and piercings. To cut into a healthy body, to destroy healthy tissue for no good reason, is mutilation. To replace intact flesh with bad indelible artwork or metal rings or prongs is a sign of mental disturbance.

If we look more widely, we can find a large number of related pathologies — related in the sense that they court pain, suffering, and long-lasting damage for no good reason — abroad and waxing as we speak. “Bug chasers” who actively seek to contract the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. S&M aficionadoes who engage in practices so vile that I can’t even bear to write about them. Women who deliberately get pregnant because they want to have abortions. Perfectly ordinary people, who look, dress and talk just like you and me, who repeatedly vote Democrat. Let’s say nothing about still more extreme practices. I know they exist, but I’m trying to hold my dinner down.

The mind reels. It more than reels; it withdraws in horror and disgust.

Yet nothing is more appalling, nor more puzzling, than the way the devotees of these madnesses parade them before those of us whose sanity is still firmly glued in place, expecting to shock us, then castigating us for being shocked.

What is the message? What is the meaning of this tide of folly?

Are they saying, “We are not like you, and here’s the proof” — ?

Are they saying, “Look what you made me do” — ?

Are they saying, “We hate ourselves, and we have no other way to express it than self-destruction” — ?

What can we possibly say in response? What obligations do we, the sane, possess toward these others who rend and scar themselves in ways even the flagellants of medieval times would have condemned as pointless and evil?


No doubt someone out there is thinking, “There he goes again, assuming you can define normality.” No doubt someone out there is wondering how I’d defend the socially accepted “mutilations” of earlobe piercing and circumcision. And both of you can sit down and shut up. Earlobe piercing is a “gray zone” item — silly, but not really harmful — and circumcision serves a medical function, though not everyone agrees on the necessity. And not only can you define normality, it’s been done for us by Nature herself.

Savages in many lands have done exactly the same sorts of things our “civilized” lunatics are doing to themselves today. Note how poorly those primitive peoples have fared these last few centuries. It hasn’t always been because the Europeans developed machine guns.

The ascent from savagery begins when a people realizes that things happen for a reason, and with time, careful observation and hard thought, those reasons can be explored and systematized into bodies of knowledge. Savage peoples that learned how their savage practices crippled them, and rejected those practices, rose to join the world community of the civilized; those that did not sank into irrelevance, or extinction.

To abuse one’s own body carries consequences. Some fraction of self-abusers will die from it. More will suffer some lesser loss, perhaps of mobility, resistance to disease, or articulation of speech. Others will merely become objects of ridicule to the more sensible, who will disdain to procreate with them. Inbreeding among self-mutilators produces a declining line of descent; stupidity and self-destructiveness reinforced will almost always “improve” on their progenitors.

Granted that some mutilations, such as tattooing, are safer than they once were. At least, they’re safer than the ritual scarifications of primitive Africa. What’s the point? Why do this to yourself? Who are you speaking to and what are you trying to say? Must the argument be engraved on your flesh?

What was my young colleague’s point, that she was so eager to make to me?

If you disapprove of how I replied to her, what ought I to have done instead?


I dislike this feeling of incomprehension, of helplessness. I greatly fear that some switch has flipped in the minds of many, neutering their rational faculties, particularly their ability to look forward into their own futures. I fear even more that it’s a growing trend.

Demographically, the self-mutilation craze is firmly tied to the young, and appears to be waxing among them. We older folks are far less willing to court their resentment or scorn by reproving them than any of our predecessors were. Whether that’s because of lack of courage or lack of inclination, it cannot be good.

Still, there remain the questions: What can we do? What ought we to do?

Don’t speak of laws. No law against voluntary self-mutilation could possibly pass Fourth Amendment muster. Besides, one doesn’t control an outbreak of irrationality by force of law; the drinking craze of the early Eighteenth Century and the drug craze of the Twentieth have demonstrated that perfectly well.

Is it possible that there’s no constructive response? Must we simply write off those that fall prey to this ugly trend, and hope that their bad example persuades others to follow a more wholesome, self-respecting course?

I have no answers. I have anger and fear, and a single recommendation that I’d like to shout from the rooftops in a voice of thunder.

Guard your sons and daughters. Love them, but don’t indulge them. Monitor their activities and their associations. Restrain their destructive flights of fancy, should they have any. Be candid about your disapprovals, and give the clearest, simplest reasons you possibly can. Don’t think you have to bend to the latest fads, simply because they are the latest fads and every other parent in the neighborhood has surrendered to them. You are your child’s source for the wisdom of the race, as it was conveyed to you by your parents. If you fail him, to whom will he turn? Don’t succumb to the desire to have your child regard you as a friend. You were not put on Earth to be his friend. He was not given into your care for that purpose.

And pray for fortitude and resolve.

Blood Simple

Yes, things change:

“Similar Cases”

There was once a little animal,
No bigger than a fox,
And on five toes he scampered
Over Tertiary rocks.
They called him Eohippus,
And they called him very small,
And they thought him of no value –
When they thought of him at all;
For the lumpish old Dinoceras
And Coryphodon so slow
Were the heavy aristocracy
In days of long ago.

Said the little Eohippus,
“I am going to be a horse!
And on my middle finger-nails
To run my earthly course!
I’m going to have a flowing tail!
I’m going to have a mane!
I’m going to stand fourteen hands high
On the psychozoic plain!”

The Coryphodon was horrified,
The Dinoceras was shocked;
And they chased young Eohippus,
But he skipped away and mocked.
And they laughed enormous laughter,
And they groaned enormous groans,
And they bade young Eohippus
Go view his father’s bones.
Said they, “You always were as small
And mean as now we see,
And that’s conclusive evidence
That you’re always going to be.
What! Be a great, tall, handsome beast,
With hoofs to gallop on?
Why! You’d have to change your nature!”
Said the Loxolophodon.
They considered him disposed of,
And retired with gait serene;
That was the way they argued
In “the early Eocene.”

There was once an Anthropoidal Ape,
Far smarter than the rest,
And everything that they could do
He always did the best;
So they naturally disliked him,
And they gave him shoulders cool,
And when they had to mention him
They said he was a fool.

Cried this pretentious Ape one day,
“I’m going to be a Man!
And stand upright, and hunt, and fight,
And conquer all I can!
I’m going to cut down forest trees,
To make my houses higher!
I’m going to kill the Mastodon!
I’m going to make a fire!”

Loud screamed the Anthropoidal Apes
With laughter wild and gay;
They tried to catch that boastful one,
But he always got away.
So they yelled at him in chorus,
Which he minded not a whit;
And they pelted him with cocoanuts,
Which didn’t seem to hit.
And then they gave him reasons
Which they thought of much avail,
To prove how his preposterous
Attempt was sure to fail.
Said the sages, “In the first place,
The thing cannot be done!
And, second, if it could be,
It would not be any fun!
And, third, and most conclusive,
And admitting no reply,
You would have to change your nature!
We should like to see you try!”
They chuckled then triumphantly,
These lean and hairy shapes,
For these things passed as arguments
With the Anthropoidal Apes.

There was once a Neolithic Man,
An enterprising wight,
Who made his chopping implements
Unusually bright.
Unusually clever he,
Unusually brave,
And he drew delightful Mammoths
On the borders of his cave.
To his Neolithic neighbors,
Who were startled and surprised,
Said he, “My friends, in course of time,
We shall be civilized!
We are going to live in cities!
We are going to fight in wars!
We are going to eat three times a day
Without the natural cause!
We are going to turn life upside down
About a thing called gold!
We are going to want the earth, and take
As much as we can hold!
We are going to wear great piles of stuff
Outside our proper skins!
We are going to have diseases!
And Accomplishments!! And Sins!!!”

Then they all rose up in fury
Against their boastful friend,
For prehistoric patience
Cometh quickly to an end.
Said one, “This is chimerical!
Utopian! Absurd!”
Said another, “What a stupid life!
Too dull, upon my word!”
Cried all, “Before such things can come,
You idiotic child,
You must alter Human Nature!”
And they all sat back and smiled.
Thought they, “An answer to that last
It will be hard to find!”
It was a clinching argument
To the Neolithic Mind!

[Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman]

…yet, of the creatures spoken of in the above, which contenders were closer to correct?

  • Did the little Eohippus become a Horse;
  • Did the Anthropoidal Ape become a Man?
  • Did the bright Neolithic become a Modern Man?

…or did each of those transitions require many generations of mutation and natural selection?

Think about that for a moment while I make a fresh pot of coffee.

Commentators with substantial followings — more substantial than mine, at any rate — have recently declaimed on the steady decline in American future-mindedness and what it portends for the nation’s future. I have no particular beef with these persons, nor with their prognostications, which seem to me to be the most probable path into the near and intermediate future. But they’ve proved curiously resistant to the notion that the past is the best possible guide, not merely to the future, but to how we might change its course.

Consider first these thoughts from Paul Rahe:

Lest I bore you and fail to provoke sound and fury, let me preface my remarks by saying two things: that libertarians should be social conservatives and vice-versa….

The deepest source of our present discontents is the sexual revolution. Our abandonment of chastity as a norm has had dire political consequences….

The heart of the matter is this. As a people — thanks in part to our astonishing prosperity, thanks in part to technological change, and thanks in part to the ordinary human propensity for self-indulgence — we have abandoned the notion that impulse-control is a thing both good and necessary, and we have abandoned it in a sphere that is fundamental. We are creatures of habit. In the absence of sexual self-control, there is apt to be very little self-control of any kind. The young lady who is sexually self-indulgent is not apt to be disciplined enough to take a little white pill every day or to present herself at a clinic once a month. That there are a great many exceptions to this rule we all know. But the statistical pattern is nonetheless clear.

All of this began in the 1960s, and it has grown and grown and grown. We now live in a society educated by televisions series like Sex and the City and its successors, and it is in no way surprising that single mothers are almost as common as married mothers — and they now feel entitled to our respect and support. The most astonishing aspect of the November, 2012 election was that the Democratic Party took as one of its slogans: “Sluts vote!” And, by golly, they did.

Why, then, you may ask — if you even remember the question I posed some paragraphs back — should libertarians be social conservatives? The answer is simple. Single mothers and their offspring are bound for the most part to become wards of the state. For a man and a woman who are married to rear offspring is a chore. It may be fulfilling, but it is demanding and hard. It requires sacrifice and discipline. For a single person to do so and to do it well requires a species of heroism. For a single person to do so at all requires help — and that is where we are. For we now take it for granted that we are to pay for the mistakes that the single mother (and her sexual partner) made. We now, in fact, presume that she is entitled to our help — and we now have a political party in power built on that premise. We are to pay for her groceries through WIC (Women, Infants, Children), for her medical care through Medicaid, for the contraceptives that she does not have the discipline to use properly and for the morning-after pill should she slip up and need an abortion. Her right to be promiscuous trumps our right to the fruits of our own labor.

What I would say to libertarians is this: Liberty requires a responsible citizenry, and the sexual revolution (very much like the drug culture, which was and is its Doppelgänger) promotes irresponsibility of every kind. It promotes dependence, and it fosters an ethos in which those who exercise the virtues fostered by the market are punished for doing so and in which those who live for present pleasure are rewarded.

Against which I will pose a simple question: Does Rahe have the cart pulling the horse?

Following a line of thought not far from Rahe’s essay cited above, we have this piece by Jonathan Last. In analyzing the demographics that produced the 2012 election results, in which single adults provided Obama’s margin of victory and more, he notes:

[W]hat was made clear in the 2012 election was that the cohorts of unmarried women and men are now at historic highs—and are still increasing. This marriage gap—and its implications for our political, economic, and cultural future—is only dimly understood.

Americans have been wedded to marriage for a very long time. Between 1910 and 1970, the “ever-married rate”—that is, the percentage of people who marry at some point in their lives—went as high as 98.3 percent and never dipped below 92.8 percent. Beginning in 1970, the ever-married number began a gradual decline so that by 2000 it stood at 88.6 percent….

Where is this trend line headed? In a word, higher. There are no indicators to suggest when and where it will level off. Divorce rates have stabilized, but rates of cohabitation have continued to rise, leading many demographers to suspect that living together may be crowding out matrimony as a mode of family formation. And increasing levels of education continue to push the average age at first marriage higher….

And as for politics, the Democratic party clearly believes that single Americans will support policies that grow the government leviathan while rolling back the institutions that have long shaped civil society. The Obama campaign targeted these voters by offering them Planned Parenthood and Julia.

That the Republican party hasn’t figured out how to court singles may partly be a function of failing to notice their rapid growth. But before the GOP starts working on schemes to pander to singletons, it’s worth considering an alternative path.

Rather than entering a bidding war with the Democratic party for the votes of Julias, perhaps the GOP should try to convince them to get married, instead. At the individual level, there’s nothing wrong with forgoing marriage. But at scale, it is a dangerous proposition for a society. That’s because marriage, as an institution, is helpful to all involved. Survey after survey has shown that married people are happier, wealthier, and healthier than their single counterparts. All of the research suggests that having married parents dramatically improves the well-being of children, both in their youth and later as adults.

As Robert George put it after the election, limited government “cannot be maintained where the marriage culture collapses and families fail to form or easily dissolve. Where these things happen, the health, education, and welfare functions of the family will have to be undertaken by someone, or some institution, and that will sooner or later be the government.” Marriage is what makes the entire Western project—liberalism, the dignity of the human person, the free market, and the limited, democratic state—possible. George continues, “The two greatest institutions ever devised for lifting people out of poverty and enabling them to live in dignity are the market economy and the institution of marriage. These institutions will, in the end, stand or fall together.”

I have no quarrel with any of Last’s factual representations, nor do I disagree with his contention that the family is the basic building block of a free and prosperous society. As to his conclusions about conservatives’ political strategy, I repeat the question I posed after the citation of Paul Rahe’s article above.

One of the ironies of the above-cited articles is that each succeeds in ignoring the way in which its factual citations undercut its conclusions.

Paul Rahe’s review of bastardy statistics is indeed compelling…but as he notes, the technology of contraception has been available far longer than the rise of illegitimacy might suggest. The massive surge in out-of-wedlock births began in the mid-1970s, fifteen years after the Pill and six decades after the condom. So technological advances are thoroughly disconnected from American social decline.

Jonathan Last’s review of marital and fertility statistics suffers a similar flaw. Divorce, though rarer before 1970 than after, was nevertheless easily available to any couple that wanted to dissolve its marriage. Likewise, convenient contraception has been with us since at least the early 1900s. The time gap between those things and the great upsurge of “never-married” and child-averse Americans suggests that they didn’t function as triggers for the demographic change.

However, there have been other changes, which neither writer addresses.

About five years ago, I wrote:

If there’s a more painful non-political subject in our discourse than American men’s loss of the grounds for trusting American women, I’m unable to say what it might be. The problem has too many facets even to enumerate them all. Many are tied up with legal enactments and judicial tendencies that seem unalterable by any mechanism short of revolution. Others stem from the relentless propagandization of American women about how men are inherently their enemies, who’ll take every opportunity to oppress them. Still others are the consequence of a hyper-sexualized, hyper-glamorized culture that encourages women to leap from “you can have it all” to “you will have it all, and you’re allowed to do anything you can think of to get it all, and if you don’t get it all, you’ve somehow been cheated.”

The worst of the risks to men arise from the prevailing legal and judicial attitudes toward the institution of marriage.

Psychologist Dr. Helen Smith quotes from Steven Baskerville’s book Taken into Custody: The War Against Fatherhood, Marriage, and the Family.

There is mounting evidence that as men discover the terms of marriage and divorce today, they are engaging in a marriage boycott or marriage “strike”: refusing to marry or start families, knowing they can be criminalized if their wife walks out and how attractive the divorce industry has made it easy for her to do so. ….Sonja Hastings of Fathers-4-Equality says that “no matter how decent, hardworking, and caring you may be as a father, that in the event of separation, you will more than likely not get custody of your child, you will lose up to 80% of all of your assets, you will have to pay up to five times the cost of raising a child, and most importantly you could never see your child again.” In Britain a fathers’ rights group tours university campuses warning young men not to start families. Even one attorney writes a book concluding that the only effective protection for men to avoid losing their children is not to start a family in the first place.

Dr. Helen, one of the true ornaments of the Blogosphere and herself a devoted wife, also mentions some comments made at her blog, by men who were frightened by the legal risks from marriage, or whose marital experiences had soured them on it:

I’m a single, never married guy. Professional, good job, etc. Have been dating a great lady for almost a year. I thought I was ready to ask her to marry me (she has been hinting for months that she wants to marry). Problem is, at least 7 out of 10 guys I talk to tell me that it is one of the worst mistakes that they ever made. Some tell me not to marry American women, that they are all feminist at heart. One married guy told me that I could get the same effect by selling my house, giving all my money away and having someone castrate me. This is really starting to un-nerve me and the more I learn about the legal bias against men, I’m beginning to back off of marriage. I love my girlfriend, but all of these guys say their girlfriends changed once they married and begin to dominant and control. I am starting to think marriage in America can not be saved.

I met a woman that I was sure was my soul mate. I was deeply in love and so, I thought, was she. All this changed when I lost my high paying job through downsizing. To my credit, I went to work immediately and had two jobs, but still only made about 80% of my old income. My wife gave me a year and then began sleeping with a man who hadn’t lost his job in my bed while I was at work. She left with him, taking almost all of my savings and anything else she could carry. Her explanation was that she was “an expensive bitch” and she was unhappy because I worked so much. The adultery doesn’t seem to matter to the court and she got essentially everything. Besides the financial losses, I was so devastated by the betrayal that I could barely function for months. She treated me like garbage and I never worked harder at any endeavor in my life.

Dr. Helen admits that she was shaken by the comments above and others like them, and began to wonder if men should marry at all, given the legal and social conditions that currently obtain in America.

Let’s not blind ourselves to the realities. At this time, the legal obligations of the marital state fall de facto on the husband. If the wife becomes dissatisfied, she can simply declare “irreconcilable differences” and haul stakes, taking any children and much of her husband’s income and savings along with her. The “social service” agencies — why yes, those are “sneer quotes” — are well known for encouraging prospective divorcees to file fraudulent abuse charges against their husbands, for the legal advantages such accusations confer. Courts routinely accept anything the wife says against her husband without requiring substantiation, while even absolute proof that the wife committed adultery, neglected the children, or was malfeasant with the family’s money is regarded as legally irrelevant.

Socially, things are at least as bad. There’s absolutely no stigma attached to divorce any more. Indeed, it’s become fashionable to have a divorce in one’s past. A wife who’s not getting what she wants out of her marriage is encouraged in numerous ways to pull the ripcord; it might even open new social and commercial circles to her. Seldom will the odium, if any, for the failure of her marriage attach to her; it’s nearly always allocated preemptively to her ex-husband, who’s presumed to be a neglectful, abusive, adulterous cad unless he can prove otherwise.

The situation poses the marriage-minded man more risks than he’s ever faced before. Given all the above and its implications, should men marry? has become a question many find it quite reasonable to ask.

The radical alteration of marital and divorce law was a powerful attack on American families. While it did not (and cannot) undo the desire of decent men to marry their beloveds and raise families, it posed a menacing disincentive to do so. Simultaneously, it created an incentive to female self-indulgence and a legal weapon for the gender-war feminists to use against “the enemy.”

With regard to Jonathan Last’s exhortation to the GOP that it “should try to convince them [singles] to get married,” the most important question of all is a single word:


Given the current balance of incentives and disincentives, just how could the Republican Party frame such a campaign?

Time was, marriage was bolstered by an influence that’s been thoroughly anathematized today:

“You know, when I was a young man, hypocrisy was deemed the worst of vices,” Finkle-McGraw said. “It was all because of moral relativism. You see, in that sort of climate, you are not allowed to criticise others — after all, if there is no absolute right and wrong, then what grounds is there for criticism?…

“Now, this led to a good deal of general frustration, for people are naturally censorious and love nothing better than to criticise others’ shortcomings. And so it was that they seized on hypocrisy and elevated it from a ubiquitous peccadillo into the monarch of all the vices. For, you see, if there is no right and wrong, you can find grounds to criticise another person by contrasting what he has espoused with what he has actually done. In this case, you are not making any judgment whatsoever as to the correctness of his views or the morality of his behaviour — you are merely pointing out that he has said one thing and done another. Virtually all the political discourse in the days of my youth was devoted to the ferreting out of hypocrisy.

“You wouldn’t believe the things they said about the original Victorians. Calling someone a Victorian in those days was almost like calling them a fascist or a Nazi….

“Because they were hypocrites… the Victorians were despised in the late Twentieth Century. Many of the persons who held such opinions were, of course, guilty of the most nefarious conduct themselves, and yet saw no paradox in holding such views because they were not hypocrites themselves — they took no moral stances and lived by none.”

“So they were morally superior to the Victorians — ” Major Napier said, still a bit snowed under.

“– even though — in fact, because — they had no morals at all.”

“We take a somewhat different view of hypocrisy,” Finkle-McGraw continued. “In the late Twentieth Century Weltanschaaung, a hypocrite was someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception — he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy. Of course. most hypocrites are not like that. Most of the time it’s a spirit-is willing, flesh-is-weak sort of thing.”

“That we occasionally violate our own moral code,” Major Napier said, working it through, “does not imply that we are insincere in espousing that code.”

“Of course not,” Finkle-McGraw said. “It’s perfectly obvious, really. No one ever said it was easy to hew to a strict code of conduct. Really, the difficulties involved — the missteps we make along the way — are what make it interesting. The internal, and eternal, struggle between our base impulses and the rigorous demands of our own moral system is quintessentially human. It is how we conduct ourselves in that struggle that determines how we may in time be judged by a higher power.”

[Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age]

With the law now in favor of present-moment self-indulgence and firmly against family-formation, censoriousness — the willingness to criticize others’ moral failures — is all we have left. But by elevating “hypocrisy” to the throne of the vices, the champions of self-indulgence have secured an absolute bastion against that last inducement to self-restraint.

In writing such things, I often feel that I’ve been repeating myself, or worse, haranguing my Gentle Readers with what they already know. I hope that’s not the case, especially when I produce a monstrosity such as this one, 80% of which consists of others’ words. All the same, I have one more set of observations to make, to which the poem at the beginning of this tirade is most apposite.

Human beings have a nature: a set of shared physical, mental, and emotional characteristics that are near-to-uniform among us, and which change, if at all, only over long stretches of time.
Eohippus did not become a Horse.
Anthropoidal Ape did not become a Man.
The Bright Neolithic did not become “civilized.”

All those developments required thousands of years. The individuals who foretold them were not among the beneficiaries.

Human nature tends toward marriage and procreation. In the absence of potent disincentives, nearly all of us will do those things; they’re “in our blood,” cemented there by tens of thousands of years of evolutionary development. Thus, it is misguided in the extreme to look to “technology” for the reason Americans are trending toward lifelong singlehood. It is misguided in the extreme to imagine, in the face of the trend toward ever lower birth rates, that any campaign could “convince” Americans to marry at higher rates. The one and only countermeasure that has the slightest chance of success is to undo the disincentives that are pushing us to act against our natures.

That is an entirely legal and political problem. It’s not about turning libertarians into “social conservatives,” a term whose meaning has become rather fluid. Decent persons are naturally inclined to speak and act in defense of marriage, family, and child-rearing. Nor can we make progress merely by arguing in favor of marriage and children while ignoring the perverse disincentives. The disincentives themselves must be our targets — and to take them down, we must learn to be censorious once again.

The cart cannot pull the horse. Not even if “the horse” is little Eohippus.

Principles And Politics

A couple of days ago, Democrat pollster Pat Caddell, who has become a fairly frequent guest on various Fox News programs, decided to offer Republicans and conservatives his advice on how to get things turned around:

As Breitbart.com readers know, I have been extremely critical of the current Democratic Party, which I see as having fallen far from the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. Indeed, on a few occasions, I have even been willing to work against my party on certain selected issues….

I am a Democrat who thinks that the Democratic Party has lost its way. Badly. But again, if Republicans can’t heal themselves, the Democrats, warts and all, will continue to win. And yet if the Democrats stay as they are, the country will continue to decline.

But what substantive recommendations does Caddell offer?

[1972] was the year that my candidate, George McGovern, won just 37 percent of the vote against Richard Nixon. So McGovern lost. Yet he assembled a new vote-coalition–of the young, of minorities, of environmentalists and other activists, of post-industrial knowledge workers.

The McGovern Coalition was too small, of course, to win in 1972. But if we fast-forward 40 years to 2012, we can see that the same group gave Obama almost 51 percent of the vote. In other words, a 14-point improvement. Those 14 points spell the difference between a landslide defeat for Democrats then and a comfortable victory for Democrats today.

So how did the McGovern Coalition lose in 1972 but win in 2012? What was the difference, then and now? The difference, of course, is demography.

Demography, eh? That sounds to me like a prescription for pandering to identity groups. Are we about to read yet another claim that the GOP must alter its position on this or that issue to regain the majority?

Apparently not…or at least, not yet:

So let’s fight for an America that asks us for our values and our ideals–not for our price. And if we do fight for that better America–the one that persists brightly in our imagination, even amidst the dreary present-day–then I am confident that we can achieve that better America.

That’s all Caddell has to say in what he styles the opening segment of a series.

It’s to be expected that a pollster and Democrat operative would be more focused on winning elections than on making policy. It’s to be expected that he’d look for the reasons for electoral defeats in the distribution of support among identifiable groups. It’s to be expected that he’d make such distributions and their impact the meat of his commentary in a political forum.

But what of it? What are such a focus, and the analysis that follows from it, worth in terms of principles that should guide the policy makers and executives of our nation? The point of the electoral process is to put men into such positions, is it not? Does any sort of coherent vision of the policies and enforcement approaches appropriate to a free society emerge from an electoral / demographic approach?

Put a bit more bluntly: Why does anyone care which party holds the White House or the majorities in Congress? Why should anyone care?

Give that a moment’s thought.

Politics is the pursuit of power over others, nominally by non-violent means. Why would free men — men who want to be free and who think of themselves as free — prefer one group of power-seekers over another? Why would they want anyone to have power over them? Freedom is the antithesis of political power.

The usual response is that even the most freedom-minded man will agree to tolerate a certain amount of political power — a certain amount of government — as a “necessary evil.” A military to defend the country and protect its overseas interests; a penal code to enumerate offenses no one will be allowed to get away with; a judiciary to oversee prosecutions and civil disputes: these, if kept passive and prevented from expanding to elephantine dimensions, would be tolerable as “labor-saving devices.” They obviate private armies and private justice, which most persons are inclined to distrust.

The Constitution of the United States expresses precisely this understanding: This far you may go, and no further. It does so in plain, unambiguous language that virtually all politicians, regardless of party affiliation, prefer to ignore.

But the Constitution is a series of words on parchment. How could it possibly be more authoritative than other writings, many of them by men of great wisdom and compassion, that differ radically from its prescriptions and proscriptions?

The answer is principle.

A principle is a rule that divides some subset of the universe of human actions into two non-overlapping zones. On one side are those actions that are acceptable regardless of anyone’s preferences; on the other are those actions which cannot and must not be tolerated. The usual shorthand for this partition is right and wrong.

The marriage of the principle to the applicable subset of actions is critical. Few principles have unbounded, universal applicability. (The Ten Commandments do, but I’m unable to think of any others.) What principles are applicable to law and power is the question at the center of our contemporary political discourse — a discourse in which politicians are disinclined to involve themselves, for fear of losing votes.

Few politicians, whatever lip service they give to the Constitution, are happy to be constrained by it. This is because by its very existence the Constitution expresses a small set of rules which together constitute the principle of republican government:

  1. There must be a Supreme Law;
  2. It must be easy to refer to and to comprehend;
  3. All other law must conform to it.

Compare that to the principle of democratic / majoritarian government:

  1. A majority can make and enforce whatever laws it wishes at any time.

…and to the principle of authoritarian government:

  1. What the Fuhrer decrees shall be the whole of the law.

The typical politician who owes his office to a democratic process, and who wants to remain in that office for as long as possible, will chafe under the constraints of the Constitution. He’ll seek ways to circumvent it in matters that permit him to pander to his constituency. If pressed, he’ll make excuses:

  • “This is something the Founding Fathers didn’t foresee.”
  • “The amendment process takes too long and doesn’t always work.”
  • “The crisis is far too urgent; we have to act now, regardless of Constitutional constraints.”

Those are the most popular excuses. No doubt there are others.

The republican principle, of which the Constitution is the American expression, is the only protection Americans have from tyranny, whether majoritarian or autocratic. What freedom we still retain is ours because our politicians haven’t yet worked up the collective courage to defy the Constitution in certain particulars. However, they get closer to discarding it completely with every passing day.

I’m massively uninterested in partisan politics. It exists; I must admit to that. Now and then it functions to retard some specific encroachment on freedom, or to remove some revealed scoundrel from office. But given the convergence of the two major parties around a principle-free, only-winning-counts ethic, I question whether there’s any value remaining in either one.

It’s true that the Republican Party platform expresses vaguely Constitutional ideas, and a general regard for the aims of that document, if not for its explicit constraints. But given that the platform is only of interest during its biennial conventions — that GOP politicians raised to office are under no obligation to conform to its dictates — why should I care that a particular contender for office is a Republican?

When one such as Pat Caddell deigns to tell us how to “do better,” I immediately ask, “But what are your principles?” Don’t talk to me about demographics. Voting blocs tell me nothing I want to know. Don’t talk to me about “problems” and “solutions.” Those things are purely subjective; one man’s “problem” is another’s golden opportunity. Don’t talk to me about “what works.” Such cogitations routinely omit consideration of costs and second-order effects. Worse, they require that you implicitly accept premises — in particular, premises about the standards by which the outcome will be judged — that are seldom articulated in full clarity.

If you won’t make an unambiguous statement of your principles, I’m changing the channel.

Inasmuch as the entire political class of the United States has rejected the republican principle, I can no longer find a reason to support any particular gaggle of them over the rest. Perhaps Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is an exception, but I can think of no others. Presidential politics is notably principle-free. The Democrats have nominated only one principled man for the presidency: Grover Cleveland. The GOP hasn’t nominated a principled candidate for the presidency even once in its entire history.

When I published a novel about a fictional presidential candidate who swore to abide by the Constitution as written, I brought the house down:

    Sumner emerged from Portland’s City Hall at exactly noon, as Louise Farrell had advised him. He strode to the lectern at the top of the steps, looked out over the throng before him, and staggered backward.
    The broad thoroughfare that ran past City Hall was packed with human bodies, in both directions for as far as the eye could see. He could not begin to estimate the numbers. It had to be a six-figure throng at least…and perhaps rather far up that range.
    “Dear God,” he breathed. His expostulation was barely loud enough for the lectern microphone to catch, but nevertheless it was relayed through a battery of speakers to the crowd below.
    “No,” someone near the forward barricades shouted. “He was just the opening act!”
    Sumner laughed helplessly, and the crowd cheered. They filled the air of their city with a din no celebration had approached since its founding.
    Sumner righted himself and returned to the lectern. Christine hung back half a pace, as if unwilling to split the immense crowd’s attention.
    “How many of you are there? Never mind, I don’t expect you to count your own noses. But are you here because you’re hoping a superhero has come to free you from bondage, or are you here for me?”
    The cheers redoubled. They might have gone on indefinitely had he not raised a hand in acknowledgement.
    “You know,” he said, “I’ve been giving one speech, over and over, with only the tiniest embellishments as I go from city to city. Your fellow citizens at my other campaign stops have all liked it, and it’s tempting to give it here, on the rule of not messing with what’s already worked. But I can’t get over the sheer number of you. I’m having a really hard time believing that you’re here to see and hear from me. Who am I, after all?”
    A voice near to the base of the steps immediately began the chant from Albuquerque. The crowd picked it up at once.
    “Sumner! Sumner! Sumner! Sumner! Sumner!…”
    He let it continue for a few seconds before he raised his hand again. The crowd immediately fell silent.
    “Maybe you should hold that for later. You might not want to cheer that cheer after I’ve told you what I’m about to tell you. It won’t be my usual speech.”
    He panned the crowd left to right and back again.
    “America is in bad shape.
    “Washington and the state capitals have spent us broke. Our credit is gone, our commerce is uncertain, our jobs are shaky–if we have jobs–and our confidence in the future is at an all-time low. Those of us who have children fear that we’ve had it better than they ever will. Those who don’t have children worry about aging alone in solitude and squalor, with no one to care for us as we grow feeble, or hold our hands at the end.
    “In large part, we’ve collaborated in it. We demanded freebies that we hoped someone else would pay for. We should have known better. Some of us did. But what we got suggests that far too many of us let our wishes do our thinking. So we voted for executives and representatives who were happy to encourage us to do so.
    “We should have known the bill would come due. Maybe we did. Maybe we just hoped we’d be safely and cozily dead before the time came to pay for our sins. But this sort of game can only have one ending: someone has to get stuck with the Queen of Spades. Turns out it will be us: the generation of voters you represent, to whom I have to make the bleakest campaign pitch in all of American history.
    “I’m going to tell you what I told a reporter in New Orleans,” he said. “You might have heard it already. It’s been made into a campaign commercial. All the same, I want you to hear it again, from my lips: I’m not here to kiss babies, to eat your signature dish, whatever it is, or to lie to you about my undying love of the Trail Blazers. I’m here to persuade you of two things: that a return to strict Constitutional fidelity is the only way out of our mess, and that if you’ll put me in the White House, I will see to that for you. If you want a candidate who’ll pander to your local pride, the other parties will happily supply you with as many as you can swallow.
    “You’ve been pandered to for decades, for more than a century. The panderers were experts. They knew exactly what to tell you to take your eye off what they really wanted to do. They promised you free stuff, free cash, freedom from care, and you chose to believe it. They told you that other people would solve your problems for you, even your completely local problems, and you chose to believe it. They told you to relax, kick back, let the good times roll, that the future could take care of itself, and you chose to believe it. And here you are. Your occupations are unstable, your savings are nil, your streets are unsafe, your futures are bleak, your profligacy has left your children neck-deep in debt, and your trust in government is down to zero. That was the price for disdaining uncomfortable truths in favor of oily smiles, unfulfillable promises, and comforting lies. You can still have all the smarmy deceits, if you choose. But you won’t get them from me.
    “I can’t promise you a miracle. I can’t promise a swift or painless return to security and abundance. In the words of a great Englishman who had to lead his own country through a terrible crisis, I can promise you nothing but blood, toil, tears, and sweat…hopefully, really light on the blood.
    “Other candidates for the presidency have campaigned as if the office itself would make them omnipotent. That they would acquire absolute and unbounded powers, powers that would enable them to cure all of America’s ills from sea to shining sea by the wave of a hand. By now you should know better. I think, by your presence here, I can safely assume that you do. But I want you to hear it from me.
    “I will not lie to you. You ought to be suspicious of such a promise. You’ve been given more than enough reason. Other candidates for high office have made that promise and have gone on to lie through their teeth, to say anything and everything they thought might win them a few more votes. So I’m nailing my pledge down by making the harshest, least pleasant campaign promises any candidate has ever made.
    “If you elect me president, I will put an end to every federal activity not explicitly authorized by the Constitution of the United States. I will shut down as much of the federal government as that requires, consistent with my duties as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and chief enforcer of federal law.
    “This crowd is large enough that some of you probably work for the federal government. Nearly five million Americans do. Be sure you’re willing to take the risk that your job might not be really essential before you go into the booth and pull the lever next to my name.
    “If I can swing enough of Congress behind me, I will put an end to federal borrowing. I will put an end to the reign of unelected regulators. And whether Congress likes it or not, I will insist that the Tenth Amendment—the one that says that the powers not delegated to the United States are reserved to the states or the people—be observed strictly and explicitly.
    “You should think about that. Some of you will need new ways to earn a living. Some of you will lose subsidies or programs that have helped you to pay your way through life. All I can promise you in return is that from that point forward, you will know what federal law demands of you, and you won’t be expected to read the United States Code to know it. But that’s where my promises to you end.
    “It will be your job to discipline your state and local governments. They’ve raped you in their turn, often by conning you with the same lies and empty promises you’ve heard from politicians at the federal level. But unless they violate a constitutional restriction on their powers, I can’t help you with that.”
    He pointed a finger into the mass of the crowd. “You must call them to account. You must hold them liable. And some of you must put down the tools of your trades, possibly trades you love and have practiced for many years, and go on campaign, as I have done, to replace them.” He paused, gathered all his forces, and leaned close over the microphone. “Are you sure that’s what you want?”

Mark Butterworth’s “Tales of New America” series is eliciting a comparable reaction, for similar reasons. Those are our recommendations for how “we can do better.” Nodding to demographics — to pandering for votes — is not among them.

Though I yearn for principle in politics, I know it won’t be returning any time soon. Too large a fraction of the country is addicted to government in one way or another. The fraction of the economy Washington controls, directly or indirectly, is staggering. And as I said above, our politicians are principle-averse…and almost unbearable to listen to.

But that doesn’t make me any more interested in placating identity groups, or buying off “stakeholders” in the Omnipotent State, or listening to the vermiculations of a Pat Caddell about “an America that can imagine itself.” I’d rather just clean my guns one more time.

The New Segregationists

[In recognition of this incredible story, and of Mark Steyn’s unflinching penetration of America’s ongoing suicide-through-uncontrolled-immigration, I present the following two pieces, which were first posted at Eternity Road on April 22, 2007 and April 24, 2007, respectively. — FWP]

Fran here. This is an angry column on an ugly subject. If you have any vestiges of political correctness left in you, I can guarantee that you won’t like it. Won’t like it? You’ll be appalled. You’ll wonder what’s come over me, one of the Web’s premier voices of sweet reason. Over the days to come you’ll await some sort of retraction or apology. You’ll be disappointed.

You have been warned.


Natural laws cannot be repealed. Congress and other legislators will attempt it now and then, but even to delay their operation for a bit is like trying to sweep back the tide; ultimately, you’re sorry you tried.

One of the natural laws, which should be so obvious as not to require saying, is that word gets around. Something that people in general would want to know is something they will know, eventually. If you assist them in learning it, you will earn their gratitude. If you retard their edification, then when they’ve finally learned it, if they learn that you were responsible for denying them the data they need, you will reap the whirlwind.

I’m a news hound. I read several news sources every day, plus dozens of blogs and commentators’ sites. I do my best to be as well informed as I can possibly be — and I assure you, my best is very good.

Atop that, I’m a thinker. My education was in mathematics and physics, and I labor as an engineer. I’m not afraid to look for patterns or to draw conclusions from them. I’m also not afraid to be proved wrong; I remain open to counter-evidence for all my convictions, and I acknowledge it when it happens by.

But even a powerful and inquisitive mind is incapable of reaching useful conclusions when the data he needs is denied him. When those responsible are the very organs of dissemination that he relies upon for such information — that claim to hold the unearthing and transmission of important news to be a sacred trust — he can be incited to an unparalleled rage.

That rage has been growing in me for some years now, courtesy of our beloved Old Media.

The print and broadcast media have been socked with a lot of criticism in recent years for their habit of framing the stories they report strictly in “politically correct” terms. They’ve deserved almost all of it. Admittedly, some stories don’t need any framing to appear to support left-liberal pieties, but one gets no special credit for doing what one ought to do, particularly when it’s compatible with one’s own desires. It’s the departures from ethical journalism that get our attention, which is as it should be.

Those who defend the leftist media usually reply to our objections to their slanted coverage with irrelevancies. Some of those replies are partisan: “You conservatives don’t want to hear anything that contradicts your beliefs.” Some of them are exculpatory: “Well, they have to choose some way to frame the story, and why shouldn’t it be the way they prefer?” And some of them are tu quoque minimizations: “If you controlled the media, you’d be doing the same thing, except in service to your point of view!”

Painful as it is to admit, there’s a grain of truth in all these replies. Not a large grain, mind you: when a man has presented himself as a servant of truth and its dissemination, there’s no perfect excuse for doing otherwise. But still, one must admit that some conservatives are as willing to spin and distort as anyone in the Old Media, if it will serve their purposes.

What I profoundly hope a conservative journalist would never stoop to is the complete suppression of a newsworthy event because it contradicts his preferences.


Despite my voracity about current events, this item escaped me completely until this very morning:

In January of 2007, 21 year-old Channon Christian and her boyfriend, 23 year-old Christopher Newsom, were the victims of a horrific crime in Knoxville, Tennessee. During what appears to have started as a carjacking, the criminals decided to abduct the two and set in motion a disturbing series of events.

The suspects allegedly tortured and raped the young woman for several days before killing her. The young man’s life ended sooner but his treatment was no less brutal.

The amount of savagery that took place in this case is of such magnitude that bloggers and their readers are asking, “Where’s the national media?” What happened to these two young people is right up there with Jeff Dahmer’s deeds on the list of wicked things that people have done to each other.

Now, carjackings are nothing new. Rapes and murders are also fairly frequent. But the brutality of this particular crime appears to have probed new heights of savage inhumanity:

“It apparently started with a carjacking,” said Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Rich Knighten. “They did some really nasty things to this lady.”

Subsequently Newsom’s badly burned and mutilated body was found in a rail yard. It turns out the five assailants did some “really nasty things” to Christopher Newsom before they killed him. Authorities know that he was raped, his penis cut off, and beaten before being set on fire and shot several times. It is believed they forced his girlfriend, Channon Christian, to watch.

Reports state that Channon Christian, was beaten and gang-raped in many ways for four days by all five assailants, including an eighteen year-old female named Vanessa Coleman. They also took turns urinating on her. Then they cut off her breasts and put a chlorine-based cleaning product in her mouth, ostensibly to eradicate any DNA evidence, then murdered her and left her body in a garbage can inside a house once occupied by two of the assailants.

What kind of subhuman could do such a thing to a defenseless human being, you ask? Who could regard another person as meat to be abused and tortured for the sheer pleasure of it? Who could bear to go on living after having participated in such a deed, even to the extent of witnessing it?

Apparently, these persons could:


I have said it before, and I’ll say it whenever anyone asks, whether in public or in private: I am a racist. That is, I am persuaded that as statistical aggregates, the conventionally recognized races differ in ways that can be contextually significant. So any mealy-mouthed leftists in the audience who think they can cow me by calling me a racist already have my reply: Damned right I am!

Despite the differences among the races, Americans are expected to make a wholehearted attempt to treat one another as individuals, to be judged on our individual merits. This is a vitally necessary enterprise. It’s the only way we can share this country in something approximating peace (i.e., “a state of tension that falls short of overt armed conflict”). The sole alternative is a process of racial cleansing after which the United States would be peopled exclusively by whites.

Don’t kid yourselves. Were American whites ever to conclude that inter-racial peace is impossible, within two years there wouldn’t be a black man left alive and free anywhere in this country. We’re a numerical majority. We control the preponderance of the land, the wealth, and most important, the weapons. Our targets would wear their affiliation in their flesh. It hasn’t happened — and please God, may it never happen — because we still believe, despite many disappointments, that inter-racial amity is achievable. Preserving that conviction is the one and only hope American blacks have for their futures, and for those of their children.

What would undermine that conviction?

  1. Clear and convincing evidence that American blacks are irremediably violently hostile toward whites, or:
  2. A groundswell of conviction that such evidence exists, but that our news organs have conspired to deny it to us.

The first condition has not been met. The second condition is being advanced by the Old Media themselves.

Word gets around. Something as atrocious as the rape-torture-murders of Christian and Newsom cannot forever be kept from the light of day. People talk: policemen, forensic investigators, neighbors, reporters, reporters’ clerical assistants, cleanup specialists, garbagemen, the families of the victims, their neighbors, and their neighbors’ kids. There’s simply no hope that the story won’t sooner or later be told. When it is told, after a long interval of silence, people will naturally ask one another, “Why haven’t we heard anything about this before now?” They will suspect conspiracy.

It’s easy to suspect conspiracies, and difficult to disprove them. Conspirators are secretive by nature, seeking always to conceal or disguise their identities and deeds. Successful conspirators are well prepared to deflect the blame for their crimes onto wholly innocent others. With this as the model, one who begins to suspect that he’s being deceived has a long, hard road to travel to disabuse himself of the notion.

Journalists who downplay or conceal inter-racial crimes out of the mistaken notion that they’re helping to avert further hostility are either deluded or hopelessly stupid. By furthering the conviction among private citizens that we’re being lied to, they advance the concomitant conviction that “the other,” about whose deeds we’re being denied full and accurate reports, really is someone to be feared…someone to be located and destroyed, or cast out of our midst, for our own safety’s sake.

Thus, whatever their conscious motives and intentions, politically correct journalists who spike stories about horrific crimes by black perpetrators are the new segregationists. It is their decisions about which stories should be emphasized and which ones must be buried that will persuade white Americans that their black neighbors cannot be trusted and must be expelled from the body politic.


I told you at the outset that this would be an angry column. I’m furious. I want the scalp of every journalist or editor who knew of the Knoxville atrocity but decided to pass over it in silence, but thought that Don Imus’s “nappy headed hos” comment or the satirical “Caucasian Achievement Award” offered by College Republicans at the University of Rhode Island should get front-page prominence and column-inches. These persons, whether through their we-know-best arrogance or through simple cluelessness, are undermining the foundations for inter-racial peace. It is not clear whether the damage they’ve done is reparable.


Fran here. As you might imagine, the hate mail I’ve received over the previous column on this topic has been both copious and vitriolic. None of it was terribly original, and none of it addressed the essay’s central point. This affirms my conviction that Eternity Road’s hate mailers are divided between those who can’t (or won’t) read and those who can’t (or won’t) think. Well, I suppose that’s what you get when you draw the attention of a crowd that venerates a bilious ignoramus who writes for an up-market Manhattan shopping circular.

But the show must go on, and the subject is not yet exhausted, so buckle yourselves in securely, Gentle Readers, ’cause you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.


If human beings are at all predictable as a category, it is in this: we seek more of that which feels good and strive to avoid that which feels bad. We share this trait with the lesser orders, though humans are sometimes capable of overriding their instinctual behavior by the conscious application of will.

Our pleasure-tropism / pain-aversion is the basis for conditioning through reward and punishment. As I wrote in this essay, consistently responding to good behavior with rewards and to bad behavior with punishment is essential to child-rearing. Failure to do so results in uncivilized young adults who frequently reap worse consequences from their misdeeds than they ever imagined. Those consequences are the logical parallel to the disciplining of an unruly child. In keeping with the 1-10-100 Rule, because the fault was permitted to linger past the “design” (childhood) and “implementation” (early adolescence) phases and into the “deployment” (late adolescence and adulthood) phase, the cost of correction is orders of magnitude higher than a slap on the backside. Sometimes it involves the execution of the offender.

Even persons who favor unbending penal justice and staunchly support the death penalty for the most heinous crimes aren’t happy about the necessity. We’d prefer that no one ever be incarcerated or executed. But we’re not Pollyannas; we recognize reality and its implications. As long as there are miscreants who assert, by their deeds, the right to steal, defraud, kidnap, abuse, torture, and murder, there will be a need for retributive justice of appropriate harshness. To shortchange that need is to fail our responsibilities toward ourselves and our descendants.

Yet there are schools of “thought” — yes, those are “sneer quotes” — to the effect that punishment is socially unnecessary, that it’s merely the expression of our primitive need for vengeance, that any miscreant could be curbed and brought into harmony with society simply by showing him the full consequences of his deeds. The most egregious such scholia inform us that society, not the miscreant himself, is to blame for all misdeeds, however incomprehensibly heinous. One such “thinker” was Ramsey Clark, Attorney-General of the United States under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Another was David Bazelon, Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for many years. Many others have risen to positions less visible but almost as influential.

The punishment-is-awful and society-is-to-blame notions of such persons have molded our laws, our jurisprudence, and our social conduct to a remarkable extent, such that the first impulse of many a jurist is to theorize about “root causes” and “social abuses” that would exculpate the criminal. The consequence has been a great weakening of the most important disincentive for barbarity among persons so inclined.


The removal of punishment as a deterrent to crime and antisocial public behavior would be bad enough if it were absolutely uniform. But it is not, and the situation is accordingly far worse.

When a society makes special provisions for a particular class of persons, such that those persons have a good expectation of not suffering for illegal or antisocial behavior, it has committed the worst imaginable injustice against the persons in that class who honor their society’s laws and norms: it has equalized the legal, social, and moral positions of good citizens and thugs. Thus, if ninety percent of such a class is law-abiding and decorous while ten percent is violent, dishonest, or disruptive, the latter category will come to overshadow the former in the perceptions of persons outside the class — not because ten percent is a majority, but because that anti-social subgroup is identified with the class’s special set of privileges.

A class is defined by its legal and social privileges. The aristocrats of medieval times were not distinguished by their lineages or their deeds, but by the things they were allowed to do, without penalty, that commoners were not. There is reason to believe that the majority of medieval aristocrats were fairly responsible stewards of their lands and of public order within them. That does not justify the creation of a class of men who could wield high, middle, and low justice over others, but who would normally escape all consequences for deeds for which a commoner would be severely punished.

The American response to the failings of traditional aristocracies was the Rule of Law: the fundamental principle that the law must treat all men impartially, regardless of their identities or station in life. The old shorthand for this principle was “blind justice,” meaning that the law must not see one’s person, only one’s deeds. In a society that respects the Rule of Law, a king would stand in the same dock as a trash-hauler, were the two accused of the same offense. All that would matter would be the evidence for their guilt or innocence.

In the absence of a scrupulously observed Rule of Law, classes with differing degrees of privilege will emerge. The flourishing of the members of each class will be influenced, often heavily, by the class’s privileges and how effectively they can be exploited. Men being what we are, we will be moved to use those privileges in our own interest, both against competitors within our class and against other classes.

Success breeds emulation. If there are advantages to be had from the ruthless exploitation of a class privilege, over time more and more members of the class will be drawn into doing so. Thus, the coloration given to the class by its privileges will become stronger and more inclusive over time.

This is not an unbounded progression; as in all other things, a tendency toward equilibrium will ultimately assert itself. However, the mechanisms by which equilibrium is restored are always unpleasant. The deterrents that curb full exploitation of a class privilege, if any exist at all, will be applied by other classes, whether through the law, other social institutions, or “informally.” “Informally” usually means lynching: the application of extra-judicial, often unmerited punishment to members of one class by members of another. In the usual case, the lynchers come from a more numerous class than the lynchees, though there are occasional exceptions.

Lynching, if it goes unpunished, is itself a class privilege. There are satisfactions in it that are incomprehensible to moral men who live in ordinary times. As with other activities with innate satisfactions, the popularity of the practice will grow over time. A mob that’s tasted the blood of one aristocrat is seldom satisfied with just that one sip.

Lynching writ large is genocide.


Because of our unjustly tender consciences about the practice of slavery on these shores some 140 years ago, we have awarded a sheaf of legal and social privileges to those who resemble the slaves of yore in the color of their skin. It’s not obvious to everyone what those privileges are:

  • Disruptive, destructive, and anti-social behavior by blacks in public and semi-public settings is tolerated far more readily than if it were by whites;
  • Inflammatory rhetoric is accepted from black public figures that would never be tolerated from whites;
  • Laws concerning several aspects of government action, notably procurement and subcontracting, are written to favor protected minorities, notably blacks;
  • Blacks routinely receive preferential treatment from educational institutions;
  • Blacks are accorded legally preferred status in hiring and firing decisions;
  • Black lawbreakers’ claims of racial discrimination are treated excessively credulously;
  • Journalists routinely soft-pedal stories of black-on-white crime, yet are merciless about the far less frequent instances of white-on-black crime.

The justifications offered for these privileges are well known. The rationales for not punishing those who violate the written laws have impressive names: “moral equivalence” and “cultural relativism” are the best known. The former attempts to match the past crimes of slaveholders with the current crimes of black thugs, and somehow cancel one against the other. The latter proposes that thug culture “has its own validity,” and that no one outside it may stand in judgment over it. Regardless of the intentions of those who make such claims, the consequences of their actions in the minds of many white Americans is to associate all black Americans, regardless of their behavior, with the privileges awarded to the class.

The monstrousness of this phenomenon can hardly be overstated. Yet there’s little to be done about the principal social effect: a generalized distrust of blacks by whites, proportional to the privileges themselves. Forty years ago, when the process was at its inception, American whites were anxious to cultivate the good will of blacks, whom they felt, with justice, had received a raw deal even after the end of slavery. Today that sentiment is failing, entirely due to left-liberals’ ratification of black privileges, thug culture, and black “leaders'” rampant hostility toward whites.


If there’s a central irony here, it would be this: despite 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? But the thugs and grievance-mongers have their race’s microphone; it’s they from whom and about whom we hear. There’s no redress for it except that the privileges themselves should be withdrawn, leaving blacks and whites equals before the law and the opinions of their fellow men. Yet that is the exact opposite of the stance of American left-liberals.

In the realm of political discourse, it’s even worse. Highly intelligent and eloquent black conservatives, unanimous in their condemnation of preferential treatment and softened standards for blacks, are routinely belittled by American left-liberals and the black grievance-mongers and racial-identity hustlers left-liberals prize. Brilliant black scholars, public servants, and commentators such as Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Clarence Thomas, Janice Rogers Brown, Ward Connerly, Larry Elder, Hermain Cain, and others are derided, even demonized, by persons whose only objective claim to anyone’s attention is the record of their sins. Ordinary blacks are told not to listen to the “Uncle Toms,” to treat them as “inauthentic” and traitors to their race. When wildly popular entertainer Bill Cosby ratified much of the conservative prescription before an NAACP audience, high officials of that retrograde organization, including one who had characterized American conservatives as akin to the Taliban, rushed to distance themselves from Cosby’s statements and suggest that he didn’t really mean them. The Old Media collaborated in their flight from objectivity and hard sense.

The American left-liberal would rather salve his guilty conscience, at ruinous expense to the society in which he lives, than admit that his good intentions are nudging American race relations toward the brink of catastrophe.


To segregate is to separate, whether physically or conceptually. American left-liberals, deeply if unconsciously infected with Marxian notions, ever eager to see their society as a set of classes in combat with one another for political, economic, and social attainment, have reanimated the injustices of the era of slavery by making blacks once again a class with a special status. Blacks’ legal status during the era of slavery was below that of whites, while today the reverse is true, but the overriding factor, to which both groups react despite the best will in the world, is the difference itself. That difference has brought about a widening division between American whites and blacks, whose mutual distrust is making them increasingly suspicious of one another, and increasingly unable to share communities, schools, or political subdivisions in neighborly ease.

The American left-liberal is the new segregationist.

“We The People,” Who?

[The following essay was first posted at Eternity Road on June 19, 2007. In light of the furious debates over current immigration-reform proposals, it struck me as pertinent for a repost — FWP]

In mid-2004, there was born a Website which proposed to hold an international plebiscite on the upcoming American elections. The thesis was that since what the United States does “affects” the entire world — yes, those are “sneer quotes” — then the world should have as much say in the selection of American officialdom as the American citizens do. Say what you will about the “logic” behind such a proposition, we must grant its audacity at the very least.

That campaign season also featured a letter-writing campaign by British glitterati, including rabid anti-theist Richard Dawkins and hack novelist David Cornwell (a.k.a. “John LeCarre”), to voters in selected American “swing states.” The writers urged their American targets to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry — say, did you know he served in Vietnam? Imagine that! — on the grounds that President Bush was “stupid,” a “bully,” a “theocrat,” was “universally hated,” was waging “an illegal war,” or any possible combination thereof. And with that, your Curmudgeon’s sneer-quote key has breathed its last, at least for today.

The supranationalist assumptions behind these phenomena are easily destroyed. Yes, America has great influence in the world; we Americans, a mere 5% of the population of the world, generate more than 30% of its wealth and wield armed forces that could defeat all the other nations of the world in concert. But that’s not because of our government, but because of the governments of all the other nations of the world. Our government, despite its many flaws and violations of its Constitutional contract, doesn’t exercise the kind of power over American enterprise that other governments do over the productive efforts of their subjects. America’s magnificent military is the consequence of the wealth that flows from our largely free economy and relatively restrained welfare system. Heavily regulated and bureaucratized economies, which must also carry the burden of much larger welfare states, can’t afford worthwhile militaries, which is why ours is so frequently called upon to deal with tyrants and terrors.

(Nota Bene: A citizen is one who retains his individual sovereignty despite his allegiance to a particular polity. His distinguishing characteristic is his right to keep and bear arms. A subject is one who has no individual sovereignty, having surrendered all ultimate decision-making power to the State. His lack of a right to keep and bear arms, which renders him defenseless against incursions on any of his other rights, is the most prominent giveaway. The United States has citizens; most of the rest of the nations of the world have subjects. Food for thought.)

But we can’t expect to defeat supranationalism — broadly, the premise that nation-states are inimical to the general good and should be done away with — with mere logic. The supranationalist is adroit. He argues from his good intentions. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had a say in everything that affects him in any way? And since every slightest thing that anyone does, anywhere in the world, affects all of us in some way, however small, doesn’t that imply that democracy should be unbounded by these Westphalian fossils we call nation-states?

Well, if you buy the premise, you buy the conclusion. But the premise is itself unsound. Indeed, it’s about as risible as the arguments made for slavery, with which it has a great deal in common. And Eternity Road readers are unlikely to accept supranationalism anyway, so what’s the big deal?

The big deal is this: whenever a government compromises its nation’s integrity for the sake of another nation, or the subjects of another nation, it’s acting from the supranationalist premise. In so doing, it degrades the interests of its own people, implicitly or explicitly to favor other peoples. It ceases to act as its citizens’ delegated agent, and assumes the prerogatives of their owner, who may dispose of their rights and prerogatives as it pleases, without their consent.

Two particularly egregious cases of this are in motion today.

In the Middle East, the Palestinian irredentists of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are engaged in a particularly bloody civil war. Their quarrel with one another is purely over power. Neither side deserves the support of a decent man; both are committed to the ultimate destruction of Israel. If Israel’s statesmen regarded themselves as the servants of Israel rather than its masters, they would seize this opportunity to perfect the quarantine of the Palestinian zones. They would cease all quasi-diplomatic intercourse with the Palestinians “for the duration,” a period of convenient elasticity. They certainly wouldn’t look for guidance to the supranational United Nations or European Union, both of which have displayed uncompromising hostility toward Israel for many years. But the Olmert government is behaving in precisely the opposite way, attempting to conciliate and buttress Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction in the hope that it will prevail and reach a peace accord with Israel in the aftermath. This is like taking sides in a knife fight between murderers; the only decent course is to root for both sides to lose.

Here in the West, we have the spectacle of a majority of our Congressmen and Senators, and our president himself, bowing to the demands of our neighbor to the south that we not fortify our mutual border. Legislation from 2006 mandates a border fence, but there’s been little funding provided for it and little to no work on it. The disproportionate participation of illegal aliens in felony crimes is widely known, yet there’ve been scant efforts to impede the movement or employment of illegal aliens already in our land. The infamous immigration reform bill gestating in Congress even offers a cheap amnesty to the estimated 12 million illegals to whom we’re already hosts, conciliating them above 290 million born and naturalized citizens to whom our government is supposedly subordinate.

One can suspect corruption and venality, of course. No doubt they play some part in both cases. But the arguments used to rationalize the objectionable postures are almost explicitly supranationalist. It’s the people that matter, not the borders. And anyway, think of the kids.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Borders matter because people matter. Borders are important because there must be a limit on every man’s responsibilities for others, and on every nation’s, too. Every political system binds its citizens in a web of mutual responsibility. Not for everything, but for the really big things commonly delegated to government: the defense of the realm, the maintenance of order in the streets, a common, generally comprehended legal system, and above all the protection of individuals’ rights to life, liberty, and honestly acquired property. Israel granted the Palestinians autonomy within their zones, or, as Eric Frank Russell once put it, “the right to go to Hell in their own fashion.” Now that they’ve chosen their course, they should be allowed to follow it to its conclusion, out of respect not only for their right to do so, but the right of Israelis not to be involved in it. Likewise, America did not agree to shelter or employ the whole world. If our borders were better secured, not only would our streets be safer, but Mexicans’ interest in reforming their own polity would be greatly increased.

Don’t say any of that to a supranationalist, though. He’ll accuse you of being hard-hearted, a jingoist, possibly a racist. He’ll call you an ingrate for spurning the innumerable contributions of undocumented Americans to our great nation, though if these contributions go beyond cheap lawn care and abundant convenience-store clerks, your Curmudgeon has yet to discover it. He’ll stride away filled with moral superiority and reinforced in his conviction that we grubby conservatives have nothing of substance to say, and must be re-educated or destroyed.

Be not afraid to reject the supranationalist premise. Be very afraid of what might follow in supranationalism’s train. Its advocates are mobilized as never before. Their agenda goes well beyond what’s currently under discussion. We shall see.

Dark Gods Part 2: The War On Truth

[This essay is a companion to the previous “Dark Gods” piece. It originally appeared at Eternity Road on January 23, 2006. — FWP]

I often come to the end of a typical Eternity Road essay thinking that there’s more to say on the subject, but that I’ve already tried my audience’s patience to the limit. Probably a lot of opinion writers feel the same. We’re well stuffed with words, every one of which screams for release, and the opportunities to vent them are seldom as copious as we’d like.

You’re probably a bit bemused by the above, since the essay to which the title refers was a 5500-word monstrosity that took most of your day to digest. How much more could anyone have to say after a tirade of such length?

Judge for yourself.

As you’re aware, I have “sidelines” in a number of fields. One of those is strategic and tactical planning. Few persons take up that study, for any number of reasons. Yet its relevance to current conditions can hardly be doubted. Indeed, it’s wider than most persons would suspect.

Probably the most important breakthrough in military science this past century was the Germans’ strategic / tactical revolution, which they put to its fullest use in World War I. Prior to the Bismarck / Von Schlieffen era of the German General Staff, it was customary to hurl one’s main force directly at the main force of the enemy, in a simple trial of strength against strength. If there was a theory behind this practice, it would be that victory requires the defeat of the enemy’s main force; therefore, to direct one’s attention to anything else is counterproductive.

What this line of thought neglected to consider is that an armed force is a complex vector quantity. It has many components, and at any given time is aimed in a particular direction.

German strategic thinkers who arrived at this insight sculpted strike plans that emphasized pitting strength against weakness. First, they reasoned, one must penetrate the enemy force; second, one must locate the essential supports for that force which are easiest to destroy or disperse; finally, one can “mop up” the nominally stronger elements from behind, as they will be unable to maintain themselves after their arteries have been severed. This gave rise to the Schlieffen Plan, which very nearly won World War I in its first six weeks, and to infiltration tactics by which the German Army held off the combined British, French, and American Armies for more than four years.

Among today’s military thinkers, this progression is an “of course” matter. That makes it easy to underestimate the impact it had when introduced on the fields of Belgium and France in 1916. It also underplays the significance such strategy can have in political and ideological combat.

In the ideological clashes of today, the attention of the greater mass of Americans is focused on secondary matters. Arguments over national defense, tax rates, social policy directions, regulatory structures, and so forth continue to rage, but with less prospect of being satisfactorily settled than ever before…because a critical pinion for all argument of any sort has been undermined near to collapse.

The pinion of which I speak is the concept of objective truth.

It’s hard for most people to grasp that objective truth is a conception, rather than something self-evident. Yet furious philosophical battles have been fought over it. The negative side has never conceded defeat. They’ve advanced reason after reason to doubt the existence of objective reality. As each one is destroyed, they shift to another. In a sense, their proposition is its own strongest weapon, for they respond rather frequently to even the most obvious points by saying, “No, that’s your truth” — an implicit claim that it’s the not the observation but the observer’s willingness to accept it that really matters.

John Q. Public has heard little of this, of course; it’s mostly fought in the ivory towers, and in the publications that cater to professional intellectuals. All the same, it matters to him more than he’s able to appreciate.

Truth is an evaluation: a judgment that some proposition corresponds to objective reality sufficiently for men to rely upon it. The weakening of the concept of truth cuts an opening through which baldly counterfactual propositions can be thrust into serious discourse. Smith might say that proposition X is disprovable, or that it contradicts common observations of the world; Jones counters that X suits him fine, for he has dismissed the disprovers as “partisan” and prefers his own observations to those of Smith. Unless the two agree on standards for relevant evidence, pertinent reasoning, and common verification — in other words, standards for what can be accepted as sufficiently true — their argument over X will never end.

An interest group that has “put its back against the wall” as regards its central interest, and is unwilling to concede the battle regardless of the evidence and logic raised against its claims, will obfuscate, attack the motives of its opponents, and attempt to misdirect their attention with irrelevancies. When all of these have failed, its last-ditch defense is to attack the concept of truth. Once that has been undermined, the group can’t be defeated. It can stay on the ideological battlefield indefinitely, preserving the possibility of victory through attrition or fatigue among its opponents.

An argument that cannot be settled, but which has engaged substantial passions, is an impediment to moving on to other issues. This is a peripheral but significant consideration in the threats to the concept of truth. By sustaining a battle that would have been over long ago had assertions of truth or falsity been taken seriously, a group may prevent other matters of equal or greater importance from being addressed. A typical contemporary case is that over corruption-by-lobbyist in Congress.

Let it be said at once that there is no defense for a public official who accepts a lobbyist’s quid in exchange for a malfeasance quo. Such men belong in prison, not in Congress; once isolated and their guilt proved, that’s the only acceptable destination for them. But Arthur Herzog has noted that political corruption is a constant force over most of American history, made possible by human nature and the existence of opportunities to sell power at a profit; therefore, the only reasonable expectation is that, absent some extraordinary measure to wipe out all such opportunities, corrupt legislators successfully rooted out will be replaced by…other corrupt legislators.

In other words, if we continue to do what we’ve always done, we’ll continue to get what we’ve always gotten: political venality and systemic deceit. If we create anti-corruption superstructures to keep watch on the other operations of government, we’ll merely cause the corruption-minded to change targets: they will seek positions within those new bureaucracies.

Certain political forces want that argument to be kept out of play. They prefer to thunder about corruption, to urge ever more energetic pursuit of the corrupt, and ever more stringent laws “against” it. If we go by their deeds, their primary interest is in the creation of ever more laws and the prosecution of ever more corrupt individuals. But luxuriant law is the source of corruption: every new law creates new opportunities for politicians to sell their influence to willing buyers. Only a condition of public austerity, in which government is small and the laws are few and easily understood, is capable of resisting men of weak conscience.

The very forces that rail most stridently against corruption are also those most ardent for the indefinite multiplication of the laws and the unlimited expansion of the State. Therefore, they reject Herzog’s self-evident truth and assert that, despite all the evidence of history, officials can be found on whom the incentives to venality presented by a multi-trillion-dollar government with millions of laws and regulations will not operate. To save the Omnipotent State, angels will govern us.

The rejection of the concept of truth is evident in many venues. Here are a few that come easily to mind.

1: From Mike Adams’s reply to an angry feminist assailant:

When I asked another feminist to debate me on abortion she said that she didn’t discuss such personal topics publicly. But then I read her biography. After talking about losing her virginity (including details about how she cleaned the blood off the couch afterwards) she dedicated countless pages to the issue of abortion and how a “lack of choice” adversely affects young women. After reading on, I realized why she didn’t tell me the truth. She revealed that she was a postmodernist who didn’t like to use the word “truth.”

The next time I got into an argument with a feminist – over whether a female student who lied about a rape to get out of a test should be expelled – I understood the postmodern feminist position better. Feminists just can’t help but lie because there really is no such thing as the truth.

Since so many feminists cannot tell the truth – because it doesn’t even really exist – I simply cannot take them seriously.

I would quibble with Professor Adams only in one particular: I would say that his unnamed feminist debating partner, and her “sisters” among gender-war feminists, don’t disbelieve in truth; rather, they seek to undermine the concept in service to their agenda. Once their agenda had been achieved, they’d want it treated as true beyond all question.

2: From John Leo’s meditations on the James Frey revelations:

Of course Oprah took the side of veracity-challenged author James Frey, author of “A Million Little Pieces. She is in the feelings business, and you don’t succeed in her line of work by favoring facts over deeply felt but untrue stories. The tears that she and her staffers shed while reading Frey’s largely concocted tale of crime and addiction made the book important to her. When Frey appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live, Oprah made things worse by phoning in to say, “the underlying message of redemption in James Frey’s memoir still resonates with me.” Apparently this meant that she was so moved by the book that she doesn’t care that it contains many untruths. Resonance makes lying defensible….

Certainly our culture is awash in lies-politicians, professors, reporters, columnists, scientists, etc., so much so that numbness has set in. ” Emotional truth” seems to take advantage of this numbness over a culture saturated in lies. If you can’t believe the literal truth any more, why not trust your own emotional response to stories?

Press coverage of hurricane Katrina was loaded with stories and claims that turned out to be wildly untrue. But the emotions stirred by TV’s often fanciful coverage were powerful and the most emotional of the media stars-Brian Williams and Anderson Cooper-strongly advanced their careers. If emotional impact keeps advancing at the price of truth, we will all be in trouble.

3: A few years ago, Guatemalan “author” Rigoberta Menchu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, largely on the strength of her “autobiography” I, Rigoberta Menchu. That fanciful volume told a harrowing story, in which its protagonist was apparently subjected to every sort of hazard and privation, and subsequently involved herself with “social reform” groups that had Communist backing. Of course, Menchu laid the blame for the strife and want in her life, and by extension the lives of thousands upon thousands of other Latin American peasants, on capitalism and American imperialism.

There was one problem with the book: a not-particularly-strenuous investigation proved that every single factual assertion in it was a lie. (A concise summary of the facts of Menchu’s life can be read here.) This was apparently not enough to invalidate Menchu’s “autobiography” as a valid claim to the Nobel Prize, even in the eyes of investigator David Stoll, who unearthed her fabrications. By his lights, and apparently by those of the Nobel Committee, the Menchu story was an “authentic” chronicle of Central American peasant life even if all its factual details were false-to-fact.

4: Few subjects have excited as much acrimony as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This deadly disease, whose fatality rate is approximately 100%, has given rise to some of the most venomous political rhetoric of our time. Most of that rhetoric has focused on AIDS’s link to male homosexual sodomy.

The facts are incontrovertible: nearly 80% of AIDS sufferers are male homosexuals. Most of the rest are users of intravenous drugs. This is because the transmission of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) requires blood contact: it must enter the bloodstream of the victim to be infected within a few seconds of its emission by its host. Moreover, a substantial “charge” of the virus is required. As HIV is powerfully concentrated in semen, semen-to-blood contact is an ideal way for it to spread. Such contact is most commonly a consequence of anal intercourse.

America’s homosexual lobby would have none of it. Sensing that AIDS would receive little political attention if it were regarded as a “gay disease,” homosexual advocacy groups bent enormous efforts to convincing the general public that “we are all at risk of AIDS.” They denounced anyone who differed with their assertions as a hater of homosexuals who would look with favor upon their extinction. Special-interest dynamics, with the backing of the nationwide Old Media, helped them to carry the day: AIDS research receives a large multiple of the funding that goes to several other deadly diseases, even though those other diseases kill many more Americans each year. The truth of the matter — that AIDS is a disease whose victims nearly all collaborate in its acquisition by their behavior — was not allowed to interfere.

5: Islamic advocacy groups, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, have maintained a constant barrage upon the media, ceaselessly repeating that:

  1. Islam does not condone terrorism;
  2. There is not and can never be a valid identification of any act of terrorism with Islam;
  3. They owe no one a response for terrorist actions committed by Muslims under an Islamic rationale;
  4. Violence against “enemies of Islam” isn’t terrorism anyway;
  5. Islam is under heavy attack by various forces, principally the U.S. and “the Jews,” and is entitled to defend itself by any means necessary;
  6. American actions to overthrow Saddam Hussein and Afghanistan’s Taliban constitute making war on Islam, regardless of all other considerations.

For a variety of reasons, a number of non-Islamic groups have decided to echo these fallacious, mutually contradictory claims, more or less unmodified. Most such groups are far less concerned with Islam than with doing damage to the United States and the current executive administration. None of the proponents have attempted to substantiate any of their calumnies; they merely shout them at the top of their lungs, at every opportunity.

Many have asked how counterfactual claims such as the above could be accepted by anyone with access to the facts. Unfortunately, there’s only a single answer: one can only accept them by first dismissing the importance of truth. But if truth has no importance, does it exist at all? More to the point: if truth exists and is determinable, doesn’t it trump all other considerations by its very nature?

It takes only a moment’s consideration to realize that the existence of truth — not as a personal preference, but as an accurate perception of an objective reality — is incompatible with the use of falsehoods in any sort of contest. The macroscopic universe is governed by strict rules of cause and effect. If the context is sufficiently well known, and the appropriate causes are introduced in the appropriate way, their effects can be foretold. But all of this is predicated on the availability of reliable, observer-independent knowledge: truth.

So for those fighting to advance faulty causes in the face of counter-evidence sufficient to invalidate them, truth simply has to go.

I should mention here that I hold to an unusual thesis: unprovable, but compelling all the same. I believe that if a man concedes even one assertion as an absolute fact independent of all opinion, it will ultimately force him to concede the absolute and objective character of all of existence. (I have discovered a truly remarkable proof of this thesis, but, unfortunately, the pixels at this site are too small to contain it.) If this is true, then the hostility toward the entire concept of objective truth of those who must deny some truths to make room for their positions stands explained.

Innumerable other adventures in thought can be begun from this point, but they’re best saved for future essays.

Those still fighting the good fight for American ideals of individual liberty, individual responsibility, limited government, objective standards of justice, and so on are largely unequipped to cope with adversaries that reject the very idea of truth. This is a species of projection: Smith, being rational and decent, cannot believe that Jones really means it when he dismisses the notion of truth. Surely he’s speaking metaphorically, though how a metaphor could survive severed from any truth that might give it relevance is open to question. The suggestion that Jones cannot be reasoned with is simply too radical to be contemplated; it must be laid aside until all other possibilities have been exhausted, which somehow never occurs. Even when the stakes couldn’t possibly be higher, and Jones’s disaffiliation from all concepts of objective truth couldn’t possibly be clearer, Smith will tend to give him the benefit of the doubt.

During the Cold War, many a commentator exhorted us to look for “common ground” with the Soviets. Soviet socialism, they claimed, was on a far better footing than the ideologues of free-market economics were willing to admit. Soviet subjects, they averred, were far better off than the lurid tales of endless queues, secret police, and gulags represented; possibly even better off than Americans in some respects. The Soviet military, in any event, was far too formidable a force for us to risk unsettleing the rulers of that state. Surely, these voices of moderation and tolerance said repeatedly, there’s a way we can manage to “do business,” such that we can coexist without either side having to surrender its peculiar political and economic structures. Far fewer were the voices that cried that totalitarians, who claim the right to wield absolute and unconditional authority over others, who invade and subjugate neighboring countries merely to secure their resources and the Soviet Union’s borders, simply cannot be trusted. Those voices were ignored for several decades, despite the steadily mounting evidence for their contentions, until the coming of Ronald Reagan and the end of detente diplomacy.

Even in the aftermath of Reagan’s stunning defeat of the Soviet Union, those who claimed we had to learn to get along with the Communists never abandoned their position. Instead, they switched to an alternate set of “underlying causes.” Despite nearly two decades’ accumulated evidence that the Reaganite strategy really was what undid the Soviet state, socialism’s apologists still refuse to accept it. But having lost the argument on the merits of objective fact, all they can do is denigrate the facts themselves. To preserve their overall position, the truth of the matter must be obscured. When they confront an adequately well informed person who can present those objective facts, their usual response is to shout him down, or denounce him as a closed-minded partisan.

Yet it remains the most common reaction among decent men to assume that such behavior is merely a regrettable spike, a sign of frustration over the failure of a “noble experiment.” Surely it has no other significance. The possibility that the shouter / slanderer might have determined to win at any cost, regardless of what violence must be done to objective truth and honorable discourse among men, is seldom contemplated.

There’s a whole education in that phenomenon alone.

Persons interested in a fuller treatment of this subject should read The Flight From Truth, by Jean-Francois Revel, one of Europe’s most forthright and clearest-headed polemicists.


[This essay first appeared at the old Palace Of Reason, on August 13, 2004. I chose to reprint it today in light of the unusual degree of attention Mark Butterworth’s post A Distasteful Subject has been getting. As usual when sexual mores and conduct are the topics, I expect disagreement – but given the facts, I don’t expect to be refuted — FWP]

0. Foreword / Warning

I intend to tackle a contentious topic today. I expect that what I’m about to say will provoke a great deal of passionate disagreement, even though I can’t see how there could be an honest argument about it. Even Palace readers who normally find themselves in agreement with me might be offended by much of what they read here — not because it’s factually incorrect, but because of the subject matter and the amount of acrimony that surrounds it.

The subject is male homosexuality, its objective characteristics, its current position in the national psyche, and the consequences of the historically recent changes in our attitudes toward it. The trigger for the essay was the resignation of New Jersey Governor James McGreevey yesterday, and the discussion swirling around it.

1. The McGreevey Announcement.

When Governor McGreevey announced his resignation yesterday, he simultaneously declared himself to be homosexual and an adulterer. His wife and two children were with him as he delivered his statement, which implies that in some sense or another he had their “support” in his decision. Yet it’s plain from his statements that his decades as a married man were lived in a sham, and that his wife — the second of two — could not expect him to return to normal marital conditions of heterosexuality and fidelity, even if she wanted it.

Why did she choose to give him any support?

Not knowing Mrs. McGreevey or anything about her, it would be unfair for me to speculate. But many a wife in her position would feel an obligation to stand by her husband, not from loyalty to the marital bond he had sundered, but from the inculcated sense that homosexuals are somehow oppressed persons, not responsible for their condition, and are owed an unusual degree of acceptance and support for those two reasons, as a matter of right.

Later we will explore the legal and political usefulness of McGreevey’s declaration in his particular circumstances. For the moment, it’s enough to note that any woman in Mrs. McGreevey’s position would be under a certain pressure to present an appearance of support for her husband, despite the callousness he’d shown her and her children by betraying them in this particular way.

2. Changes From Political Pressure.

Until about fifty years ago, homosexual behavior was absolutely illegal almost everywhere in the world. That had been the case throughout recorded history. It’s never been a pleasant subject with heterosexuals. In particular, the practices of male homosexuals — anal intercouse, sometimes called buggery — have revulsed countless generations, whether the reasons were analytical, visceral, or religious.

The contrast between those earlier attitudes and today’s posture of aseptic deference toward the “gay lifestyle” is almost too great to comprehend. What was once a felony offense is now a protected practice. Indeed, to be a homosexual is to have an array of special legal recourses to various occurrences — “discriminations” — that heterosexuals cannot use.

The change speaks eloquently of the tremendous persistence and efficacy of homosexual political activists. Despite a number of developments which, objectively, would have been expected to increase heterosexuals’ revulsion toward them, they’ve achieved a superior, even a dominant position in American society. They exert exceptional influence in entertainment, communications, the arts, fashion, and other areas of enterprise. They also wield a heavy cudgel against anyone who dares to criticize them in any way, despite the pronounced gracelessness their leading lights show toward heterosexuals, their sensitivities, and their concerns.

3. Medical Considerations.

Yet what are the specific consequences of male homosexual sodomy?

Probably the least arguable consequences are the medical ones. Homosexuals suffer from an array of ailments which heterosexuals are largely spared. The most publicized one, AIDS, remains an incurable fatal disease that can be managed to some degree with drugs, but which will eventually claim every sufferer’s life. Others range from a propensity toward hepatitis to bowel infections, dangerously delicate hemorrhoids, and anal incontinence.

The result of homosexuals’ vulnerability to these maladies is a shortened average lifespan. The average age at death of those whose obituaries appear in homosexual periodicals with significant circulations is age 48 — a twenty-six year deficit in comparison to the average male heterosexual. (In evaluating this statistic, one must remember that these data might not represent homosexuals in general.) Of course, conditions other than purely medical ones undoubtedly affect that statistic, but there can be little doubt that disease plays a large part.

4. Psychological Considerations.

Several psychologists and psychiatrists of my acquaintance report an over-representation of male homosexuals among their patients. It would appear that homosexuals are far more frequently clinically depressed than heterosexuals. Suicide statistics controlled for sexual orientation are hard to get, but there are indicators that homosexuals are more prone to death by suicide than heterosexuals as well.

Why should this be, given the acceptance homosexuals have attained from society at large, and their relative success in various well remunerated and respected fields of endeavor?

Part of the answer might be low self-regard. Homosexuals appear to deal badly with the knowledge that they’re outside the norm, can’t reproduce naturally, and are prone to so many unusual ills. This is part of the reason for much outrageous homosexual camping and flaunting — flamboyant dress and mannerisms, and unusual speech patterns — which are forms of overcompensation for the sense of deviance. It also helps to explain the scorn and insult many homosexuals heap upon “breeders,” a frequently used term for heterosexuals.

This makes for a stunning irony when juxtaposed to homosexual activists’ loud, strident demands to be accepted as “normal,” but that’s a subject for another essay.

5. Identity And Bonding.

Though homosexuals routinely claim that they were “born that way” — i.e., had no choice about being homosexual — few would allow that, had they been given a choice, they would have preferred to be heterosexual. The statement would draw charges of “disloyalty” or “self-hatred.” More, the suggestion that at least some homosexuals can have their orientations reversed through therapy is universally met with denunciation, and is routinely categorized as “hate speech.”

Matters grow still more bizarre when we include the peripheral behavior that’s prevalent among male homosexuals, but at least in theory ought to have nothing to do with sexual orientation or bonding. A substantial fraction of avowed homosexuals are obsessed with sex, with sexual promiscuity, and with sexual performance (consider the prevalent use of amyl nitrite “poppers” to boost orgasmic intensity). Bondage, sadomasochism, fisting and scatophilia correlate very strongly with homosexuality. All these things increase the risks associated with the homosexual orientation, and the revulsion felt toward them by heterosexuals.

Yet despite all this, homosexual activists promote the idea that homosexuality is an allegiance like unto an allegiance of nationality, deserving of loyalty beyond such attachments as conventional nationality or political alignment. They’ve demanded that we all accept that “gay is good.”

But it is not good, at least if we judge by the medical and psychological consequences of homosexuality.

6. The Marriage Debate.

At this time, there’s probably no more contentious issue in popular political discourse than that of same-sex marriage. The fury of the debate over it seems only to grow greater with each argument advanced, whether for or against…though, given the psychological milieu delineated above, perhaps that ought not to surprise us.

Marriage is the fundamental building block of any civilization. Society is not made up principally of individuals, but of families. The evidence for this proposition is all around us, yet its very ubiquity has somehow caused it to be ignored.

(A quick tangent: Here we see another of the reasons homosexuals are inherently marginal players in the social game. Homosexuality makes it extremely difficult to participate in the extension of one’s family’s forward influence, entirely because of reproductive considerations. The family tree tends not to extend through a homosexual node. The heterosexual lines always show more dynamism and forward extension. But this is properly the subject of a separate essay.)

The marriage contract is in no way relevant to homosexual relationships, which are formed by presumedly economic equals, involve no possibility of conception, and therefore appear to present no areas for contract enforcement. None of the natural motivators for the marital contract apply to same-sex couples. Despite that, homosexuals are agitating for access to the institution of marriage as if everything about their political movement depended on it. (Perhaps that’s really the case; we’ll get there shortly.)

Stanley Kurtz and others have gathered evidence to the effect that the legitimization of same-sex marriage does great harm to the institution among heterosexuals. In particular, it correlates strongly with a large increase in illegitimacies. Kurtz’s thesis is that same-sex marriage is the final severance between marriage and reproduction; it gives rise to the conviction that child-bearing and child-rearing are entirely irrelevant to marriage. As a result, births out of wedlock, with all the instabilities that pertain thereto, have surged in those countries that have extended marital recognition to same-sex couples. The domestic stability and overall well-being of children has been substantially degraded as a result.

But why do homosexuals want the legal status of marriage? The question is no sooner asked than answered. If society really is assembled from families rather than from individuals, marital recognition for homosexuals would imply full participation of homosexual couples in society, both in its perpetuation and its general enterprise. But don’t expect to find those considerations among the arguments of same-sex marriage activists. Their arguments are all about “choosing your family” and access to irrelevancies such as hospital visiting privileges. Not one ever addresses the question of what marriage was really designed for, or why historically recent changes in family planning technology, family law, and social norms have caused it to weaken.

If admission of homosexual couples to marital status would have the consequences Kurtz proposes, we should take a long hard look at the matter before watering down the definition of marriage to admit homosexuals…but this is not generally happening.

7. Cowardice.

Cowardice is the most important single factor in all public discussions of homosexuality. Otherwise fearless people have been intimidated out of giving their sincere opinions of homosexual behavior, its risks, and the costs it imposes on its practitioners. Heterosexuals have been inhibited against expressing their disgust over gay bathhouses, leather bars, fisting, bug chasing, and homosexual sadomasochism. They even fear to say that they find homosexuals threatening to their children, despite the mountains of evidence that homosexuals (NAMBLA, “Butterfly Kisses”) actively try to draw the young into their world. This, despite the infinite opprobrium heaped upon heterosexual exploitation of children!

The engine of this fear for the private citizen is disapproval, cloaked in liberal political correctness. For the public citizen or politician, it’s the fear of homosexual activists, inarguably the most vicious of all politically active communities.

Yet, despite the frequently heard public pieties and the general reluctance to criticize homosexual behavior for its objective hazards, no heterosexual parent would sincerely be glad to hear his 18 year old son announce that he was homosexual. The hypocrisy is near to smothering.

8. A Gathering Storm.

To return to the McGreevey episode, we have here a public figure, who has risen to high office, who will soon face serious charges of graft motivated by sexual nepotism and sexual blackmail. McGreevey’s lover, Golan Cipel, used his personal relationship with the New Jersey Governor to attain a state position worth $110,000 per year in salary, plus numerous perquisites. It’s been rumored that Cipel is about to introduce a sexual harassment suit against McGreevey, as well.

Despite all this, McGreevey chose to emphasize his sexual confusions as the reasons for his resignation from public office. Why?

The most plausible reason is exactly the same as the reason for Mrs. McGreevey’s show of support for her husband: homosexuality has been granted so thick a blanket of protection from dispassionate analysis and criticism that it might even serve to shield McGreevey from the corruption and sexual nepotism charges he appears certain to face.

We live at a time when a dangerous deviance associated with several other dangerous deviances has become a putative shield against charges of corruption. If that doesn’t scare you, quite likely nothing ever will.

9. Conclusions.

Homosexual behavior ought not to be illegal; nothing that involves only competent adults who’ve given their informed consent is a fit subject for the law. But this does not preclude a sober attitude toward the easily observed consequences of male homosexual behavior. It certainly does not preclude an attempt to protect one’s children from the negatives that accompany homosexuality.

No aspect of sexual freedom — broadly speaking, the separation of Bedroom and State — need bear on the desirability of speaking frankly about what homosexuality means to its practitioners in practical terms.

Homosexual activists’ success at putting the medical, psychological and social outcroppings of their practices beyond all discussion, and their assault on marriage, the fundamental familial institution from which civilization draws the greater part of its stability, suggest that our overall unwillingness to confront them about their claims has been at great cost to society — a cost that will become greater the longer their claims go unchallenged.

If the McGreevey matter bears on all of this in a substantial way, it’s as an exclamation point: a stark depiction of how absurd our cognitive avoidance of the subject has become, when a high public figure can use a dangerous deviance as a partial shield against being found culpable for malfeasance. Bill Clinton’s heterosexual affairs were no barrier to his retaining the Oval Office; Barney Frank’s scandalous affair — with a younger man who was running a house of prostitution out of Frank’s Massachusetts home — didn’t bar him from office. Clearly, neither adultery nor buggery disqualify a man from high office, at least in the eyes of one major party. Therefore, what we have before us is the most shameless, most cynical use of sexual politics in American history — sex as protection from legal liability — and Governor McGreevey and his sexual compatriots expect that we will let him get away with it.

Dark Gods

[This essay originally appeared at Eternity Road on January 4, 2006. Given the chaos of the moment, and the overwhelming significance of the election almost upon us, I felt it appropriate to repost it here.]

Fran here. In pondering the huge list of things I had in mind for this piece, which started life as a modest tangent from Mark Steyn’s “It’s The Demography, Stupid!” tour de force, I realized that there were issues even deeper than the ones Steyn has addressed. Those issues are prior and superior to all what’s-the-problem and what-then-must-we-do inquiries, as important as those other things are. They’re the things I most want to talk about, today and every day.

In a way, Steyn’s focus is broader than mine, for he concerns himself with the whole of the developed world. My concern is for America. In another way, Steyn’s focus is narrower than mine, for he concerns himself with visible threats to our present age. My concern is with the prospects for freedom and justice down the centuries to come.

1. Us And Them.

Political conflict is collective conflict. It obliges us to think in terms of opposed camps, facing one another over a more-or-less clearly defined line of conflict. Our entire approach to politics is founded on this attitude; indeed, it’s impossible to talk about political matters in a political framework without it.

But the attitude has certain unexamined assumptions built into it:

  1. Each camp is essentially unified on those matters that constitute the field of battle.
  2. Those contentious matters are important enough to regard the other camp as the enemy, whose defeat eclipses all other political considerations.
  3. Compromise, even if it were possible, would be immoral and therefore unacceptable, or sufficiently less desirable than victory to make battle obligatory.

This makes political conflict sound a lot like war. As long as the assumptions go unchallenged, they compel us to hurl ourselves at the foe, and to accept no final outcome but definitive victory or undeniable defeat. But politics is not war; the shots fired are rhetorical, not metallic; no one dies from the contest itself; and no combatant ever accepts that he has been defeated for good. What does this do to the relations among men who opt for political engagement? In particular, what does it do to relations between a member of Us and a member of Them?

The answer depends critically on the ideological differences between Us and Them:

  1. Do we differ about about ultimate aims?
  2. Do we differ about the means to be used to achieve our aims?
  3. Do we differ about moral constraints?
  4. Do we differ about priorities?

Each of these gives rise to a different kind of conflict.

2. Meet The New Boss…Same As The Old Boss.

American political malaise at this time is rooted in a pathology of priorities. The Republicans have power; the Democrats want it back. Eleven years ago, the parties exchanged those positions, in the sort of electoral reversal to which a democratic republic is prone. Such reversals had happened before, of course. But I must note, sadly, that as our nation has aged, those reversals have had a steadily diminishing effect on public policy. Yet there are few substantive reasons to prefer one to the other.

At this time, prominent Democrats condemn the Bush Administration at every opportunity…for doing more or less what those Democrats would do in the Administration’s place. The public wouldn’t permit anything greatly different, given the events of the past five years. The anti-terror campaign might be conducted somewhat differently, but it would be there, and probably about as serious as it is today. There’d be a perceptible difference in the philosophies of the men nominated to the federal bench. The Old Media would be far more supportive of a Democratic administration. We’d be hearing a lot more about how it’s all “for the children.” But federal spending would be pretty much what it is, the alphabet agencies would behave pretty much as they have, and so on. In terms of day-to-day domestic governance and international dealing, the cone of popular preference that confines Washington’s actions would make no greater allowances for Democrats than it does for Republicans.

These are not words of exculpation or praise. Our public officials should be able to do what’s right rather than what’s politically palatable and expedient. They should be able to tell us the uncomfortable truths we always refuse to hear. They should be able to refuse us when we demand that which is not rightfully ours, or that which would bring the Republic crashing down around our ears. But they are above us only in the power they wield; as men, they are an accurate representation of us — in particular, of the weaknesses to which we of the year of Our Lord 2006 are prone.

Steyn’s essay skewers those weaknesses with irresistible power:

…in the typical election campaign in your advanced industrial democracy, the political platforms of at least one party in the United States and pretty much all parties in the rest of the west are largely about what one would call the secondary impulses of society—government health care, government day care (which Canada’s thinking of introducing), government paternity leave (which Britain’s just introduced). We’ve prioritized the secondary impulse over the primary ones: national defense, family, faith, and, most basic of all, reproductive activity—“Go forth and multiply,” because if you don’t you won’t be able to afford all those secondary-impulse issues, like cradle-to-grave welfare….

The commanding heights of the culture have behaved disgracefully for the last several decades. But, if it were just a problem with the elites, it wouldn’t be that serious: the mob could rise up and hang ’em from lampposts—a scenario that’s not unlikely in certain Continental countries. But the problem now goes way beyond the ruling establishment. The annexation by government of most of the key responsibilities of life—child-raising, taking care of your elderly parents—has profoundly changed the relationship between the citizen and the state. At some point—I would say socialized health care is a good marker—you cross a line, and it’s very hard then to persuade a citizenry enjoying that much government largesse to cross back.

So why do the parties so furiously rage together?

The answer is unpleasant, but unavoidable. Their difference is a difference over priorities. The Democrats’ top priority is power for the Democrats, and the Republicans’ top priority is power for the Republicans. This diagnosis applies to just about every public official from either party, at least to some degree. Even President Bush, of whom I’ve often spoken admiringly, has from time to time conceded the priority of GOP power, for example when he threw his support behind Arlen Specter over the more reliably conservative Pat Toomey.

Ultimately, we are the reason for all of it. We’ve become demanding, petulant, querulous. We want our freebies and we want them now. Our descent into political venality has persuaded the best of men, the men of unshakable convictions, immaculate morality, and stainless honor, to remain out of the field. Those who’ve flowed into the vacuum are, to be kind, not the best of men. But they know how to pander to us.

3. iPod Opinions.

The great Mark Twain once had a character say, “You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I’ll tell you what his ‘pinions is.” Twain had accurately gauged the priority of individual interest over the common good in the minds of men. Alexander Hamilton put it somewhat less colorfully but no less accurately when he said: “Power over a man’s subsistence is power over his will.” But subsistence is no longer much of an issue in American society; luxury is.

Many will take issue with the following statement:

There is no one within the borders of the United States today who involuntarily lacks food, clothing, shelter, or health care.

Nevertheless, it is true. Unless you’re a mountaineer at the top of Mount McKinley, these things are conveniently within your reach. If you lack the price, there are others — many, many others — who will purchase them for you, out of the goodness of their hearts. You can be separated from the necessities of life only by ignorance or willful intransigence.

What’s that you say? The cuisine at the soup kitchens might not be to your taste? The clothes at the thrift center might be less than stylish? The shelter might be home to persons who snore? Ah, then what you want is not sustenance but your choice of sustenance. You want it your way. My sympathies, though fervent, are limited. Free gifts are given at the discretion of the giver, not the recipient. This is as it must be.

Having said that, I recognize that the demands persist. Millions of voices clamor for “free” this or “universal” that, meaning “I want someone else to pay for it.” That’s at the heart of calls for “socialized” anything, as conservatives and libertarians are aware. By traditional standards of right and wrong, the willingness to join in such calls indicates a moral deficit. But in an age of moral relativism, how does one refute such calls? Particularly when the relativism is so far reaching that it proclaims resistance to the demands to be the true crime?

Reflect for a moment on how far we’ve come. Two centuries ago, men who could not pay their obligations were imprisoned for it; today, innumerable agencies, public and private, rush into the gap to support them and theirs in something approaching luxury. The children of welfare families sport designer sneakers, gold chains, and the latest iPods. Their freedom from care doesn’t prevent their parents, and their parents’ political mouthpieces, from demanding ever more: “affordable” housing titled to them, unlimited free health care, unlimited free broadband Internet access, guaranteed access to college regardless of demonstrated academic merit, and so on…all at someone else’s expense.

How could we doubt that the beneficiaries of such largesse would enthusiastically support the system that had pampered them? How could we doubt that they would demand its extension to the uttermost limits of human greed? How could we doubt that they would castigate in the harshest of terms those who opposed their demands?

I’m not talking solely about the objects of public assistance, either. An awful lot of folks live rather luxuriously at public expense while nominally “employed.” Mostly they languish in government sinecures, from which they can only be removed by death or an offense so egregious that a century ago they’d have been hanged for it, possibly without the luxury of a trial.

As Robert A. Heinlein put it, the Makers — we who keep the nation running by actual productive effort — are being swarmed under by the Takers and the Fakers. These latter groups show no sign that they’re learning either gratitude or moderation. Where’s the percentage in that, after all? Why change a winning strategy, when strident-if-baseless demands have worked so well so far?

Were barbarians to batter down America’s gates, would they take up arms and fight for her, or would they demand that the Makers do it for them?

Take a good close look at them. Whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re the enemies of civilization; indeed, the enemies of Man himself. Then take a good close look in the nearest mirror and assure yourself that you’re not one of them. Promise yourself that you’ll never become one of them.

They don’t examine themselves as you have done. They don’t dare. They would see the face of a god upon whose visage they dare not look.

4. Cthulhu’s Cadre.

It’s true that some of the types mentioned above operate from a cerebral vacuum — that they lack the capacity to understand what they’re doing to the nation at whose teats they nurse. But others understand full well. Theirs is a mentality and morality qualitatively indistinguishable from that of the criminal. They differ only in their unwillingness to soil their own hands with gunpowder or blood.

The criminal, unless he’s consciously consumed by the desire to destroy, is moved by avarice. He wants; therefore he takes. Ayn Rand correctly diagnosed this as a short-range mentality. For he who does not produce must perforce consume. Therefore, if observed categorically, their approach to life dooms all men to ultimate starvation, and the end of Man himself.

Tragically, this is the logical conclusion of a certain kind of individualism.

Eternity Road readers know me as a champion of individualism as a philosophy of rights, by which governments are properly constrained. But there are other kinds. There’s the individualism that sees only oneself as real; this is called solipsism. There’s the individualism that sees others solely as means to one’s own ends; this is called sociopathy. And there’s the individualism that blends solipsism and sociopathy with the dark pleasures of destruction. This has no name. Perhaps it’s too fearsome to be allowed one.

The most memorable fictions of the immortal Howard Phillips Lovecraft were founded on a mythos of “elder gods:” entities of immense power, that knew no moral constraints and delighted in destruction. The most vividly depicted of these was Cthulhu, whose aim was literally to consume all that lives, if possible with the connivance and cooperation of men.

Cthulhu possessed human acolytes who strove to persuade others that true freedom is most manifest in the act of murder: the deliberate consumption of another’s life. By that standard, to kill was the highest of all individual actions, the deed most true to the vision of oneself as unique in existence. If Cthulhu had a gospel, it would have been exactly that of the Thuggee:

“And now, my brothers, rise and kill. Kill for the love of killing! Kill for the love of Kali! Kill, kill, KILL!

To Cthulhu’s acolytes, killing was merely the supreme act of consumption. Qualitatively, there is nothing to separate them from those among us who demand that all they desire be provided to them at others’ expense.

5. The Armies Of Allah.

There’s a dark god in motion in our world other than him of the maw that can never be filled.

Hearken to one of the few questionable snippets of the Steyn essay:

I’m a conservative — I’m not entirely on board with the Islamist program when it comes to beheading sodomites and so on, but I agree Britney Spears dresses like a slut: I’m with Mullah Omar on that one.

There are two problems with this assertion:

  1. Britney Spears does not dress like a slut; sluts dress like Britney Spears.
  2. Mullah Omar would behead Britney Spears. Mark Steyn would merely scold her, and perhaps send her to her room to change.

A common reaction, even among nominally tolerant persons, to “excesses” in individual behavior is to exclaim “there ought to be a law” or “if I were king,” et sequelae. Indeed, there are some manifestations of disdain for others’ sensibilities that are sufficiently offensive or dangerous that laws curbing them in public places are justifiable, though that slope has always been coated with a thick layer of Vaseline. (Public intoxication nearly always eventuates in harm to someone, if only the street cleaners; public fornication frightens the Buicks.) But the vast majority of “there ought to be a law” ejaculations should be answered by “no, you ought to learn to keep your nose out of others’ business.” Unfortunately, in this era there are far too many of the former and far too few of the latter.

The most visible representatives of the former camp are the followers of Allah.

Allah stands at the extreme opposite end of the theo-ideological spectrum from Cthulhu. He demands utter submission and absolute obedience in all things; he offers no freedom and punishes the slightest deviation from His decrees with an eternity of torment. Worse, he demands that his followers enforce his decrees in this world as well, with the full and humorless power of a totalitarian State.

Worst, our tendency to think with our wishes instead of our heads leads many to believe that Allah’s sort of world is the only alternative to Cthulhu’s.

This dichotomy seldom becomes conscious in the minds of those who hew to it. The typical there-ought-to-be-a-law type simply assumes that law and (temporal) punishment are just and effective ways of promoting what he likes and curbing what he dislikes. Though the impulse has been banished from Christian churches, it was once found there. In its most extreme manifestation, it produced the Calvinist “Christian police state” of seventeenth-century Switzerland, in which religious dictates and secular law were unified. And obviously, the mindset is still virulently alive in the Islamic world.

Life under a regime of such rigidity is joyless; it’s hardly worth living at all. Even Islam’s public figures have admitted this. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said on more than one occasion that “There is no room for play in Islam. Islam is deadly serious…about everything.” The lesson, unfortunately, tends to be lost on those inclined to enforce their preferences upon others at gunpoint.

6. The Last Battle.

It’s possible that you, Gentle Reader, have been asking yourself, “What on Earth does all this drivel have to do with Steyn’s points about cultural confidence and demographic decline?” I grant that you’d have some reason. Bear with me.

Classical conceptions of the culmination of history — these are usually called eschatologies — involve an outright battle between the forces of good and those of evil, with the loser cast down forever and the winner taking title to all that exists. The Christian eschatology is called Armageddon. The Norse called their eschatology Ragnarok. The Germans call theirs Gotterdammerung. The Hindus call theirs the death of Brahma. In their most important particulars, they’re very similar. The most important one is this: the good side is clearly good, and the bad side is clearly bad.

None of these is a good fit to a struggle for the world between Cthulhu and Allah. Whichever were to win, the rest of us would lose. The world would either be destroyed, or would be locked into the most confining totalitarianism imaginable. If these are the sides that will duke it out on the Last Day, there’ll be no one a good man could root for.

The most popular ideologies in the world today are the Western ideology of moral and cultural relativism — Cthulhu’s — and the Eastern ideology of utter submission to a totalitarian god — Allah’s. The former delights in the self-destruction of the world by the incitement of the worst impulses of Man. The latter demands Man’s increase, but under conditions so confining and unpleasant that death would be preferable. At present, the former has access to more temporal tools, but the speed at which the latter is multiplying suggests that it won’t be long before its numbers allow it to swarm over all barricades erected against it. But in any case, if the West should continue its descent into moral and cultural relativism, it will disarm itself precisely as Islam rises to strike it dead.

7. The Search For An Alternative.

Cthulhu and Allah are not real; they are fantasies. They’re the icons of evil best suited to the purposes of this essay. They serve the same function Darth Vader serves in the Star Wars movies: they transform the antagonist from an ideology to a person, they give the hero someone specific to battle, and they give the audience someone specific to fear and hate.

Reflect on that mechanism for a moment. So much of contemporary politics is oriented toward hating some iconic figure on “the other side!” So little energy goes into addressing the explanations for political difference! Can’t we see here the schematic for political misdirection? If we’re busy reviling some artificial devil-figure, like Winston Smith during the Two Minutes’ Hate in 1984, how much time or energy will we have left for serious thought about the supposedly serious differences between the major parties? How likely is it that we’ll give sober consideration to any of the contentions of “the other side?” How easily will we be marshaled into supporting men whose only attraction of any sort is that “they’re our sons-a-bitches” rather than “theirs” — ?

How likely is it that we’ll fail to see the blade of our true enemies swinging for our heads?

The ideologies I’ve associated with Cthulhu and Allah are neither effective defenses against any threat nor practical approaches to living well; they’re guides to self-immolation. Yet their devotees press us from all sides. Where are we to find protection from either or both?

The question is non-trivial. The unthinking reaction to relativism is rigidity, which leads straight to Allah’s camp. The unthinking reaction to totalitarianism is anarchy, which leads to the maw of Cthulhu. Clearly, we must find a middle way.

Fortunately, there is a middle way. It doesn’t involve compulsory breeding. It doesn’t involve compulsory worship. It doesn’t involve collectivization of any sort, whether in the name of political correctness or State-enforced virtue. It rejects demonization of the advocates of “the other side” as counterproductive.

We followed that way for about a century and a half. It derives, as Steyn put it, from “eighteenth-century British subjects who took English ideas a little further than the mother country was willing to go.”

8. The New Olympus.

Combat is never a agreeable prospect. Even ideological combat, conducted entirely with words and ideas, has an unpleasant edge. For a good man to take up arms in the conflict that rages today will require as much courage as it ever did. Our enemies, though many of their number strive to wear a friendly face, are implacable.

Europe is probably lost. Russia is probably lost. Japan may be lost. Steyn’s fertility rate figures are compelling indicators of a deep disease, and one does not resuscitate a dying culture by exhorting it to breed for the sake of its nonexistent progeny. But that approach would wag the dog by its tail in any case. The low levels of fertility that characterize the developed world, including the United States, are not a primary but a resultant. Large families characterize a milieu where physical labor is the principal source of wealth — where one needs eight or ten children to work the family farm. As capitalism and technology advance, labor ceases to be the dominant factor in economic gain. Children slowly cease to be a source of labor and a form of retirement security, and become more of a luxury good. Low birth rates mostly indicate that a people has become rich enough not to exploit its children’s labor. In America’s case, due to our outstanding productivity, that’s easily tolerable. In other lands, hagridden by much more developed, much more rapacious welfare states, it foretells the triumph of the Takers over the Makers, and the demise of both.

We cannot save the future by appealing to the future good. We can only mobilize the present for its own priorities. The adjustment of American priorities away from secondary impulses toward matters of immediate survival and the defense of the ideals that sustain American civilization is the problem to be solved.

But how may we do this, when the atomization of society appears all but complete? Riches, whether earned or merely received, cause the typical man to turn his attentions inward. His impulse is to leave others to their own troubles, and to see even the darkness creeping toward him and his own as someone else’s responsibility to dispel. He resists the notion that there are some causes to whose defense his own contribution is indispensable.

The influence historically most effective at raising a man fron his knees — or his back — is a vision of himself as a model of courage in a noble cause: a hero.

Heroes stand foursquare for justice. They don’t linger over their comforts when the alarums sound. They don’t quail before opposition, however formidable it looks. And they don’t accept any outcome but victory.

Self-respecting, other-respecting individualism — American individualism — is a hero’s creed. The American individualist takes on himself the responsibility for his own well-being. He swears to raise his hand against no other man, save only in defense of himself and his own. And he pledges himself to the defense of those ideals against all enemies, foreign or domestic. They who uphold such a regime are the highest and best representatives of our kind; others emulate them as automatically as flowers turn their faces toward the Sun.

For nearly two centuries, America was seen as Olympus come to Earth: the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. For a century it was a nation of heroes, envied by all the other peoples of the world, upon which they automatically called in their darkest hours. That’s an image of ourselves that should rouse all but the terminally comatose from their torpor.

The present generation of Americans may be only half-salvageable. Cravenness is dispelled only under unforeseen trial. Miseducation is harder to overcome than ignorance. The forces that call for surrender to the intolerable, that march under the banner of relativism and accommodation, are mighty. From their perches in academe and the media, they’ve done gruesome damage to the history and self-regard of our nation. But that’s no reason to despair. It’s certainly no reason not to raise our own banners and march.

We must put away venality and rediscover our just pride.

We must proclaim a gospel of responsible individual liberty, and hold strictly to it.

We must demand absolute fidelity to promises from our public officials.

We must purge our laws, our language, and our thoughts of much nonsense that entangles them.

We must cease to grant any respect to the demands of the Fakers and Takers; they must be recognized once more as parasites and objects of charity.

We must learn to discriminate between the unconscious and the conscious followers of Cthulhu and Allah. The former must be either enlightened or neutralized; the latter must be defeated by any means expedient. In no case may they be accommodated.

These are the weapons with which we can defeat Cthulhu, Allah, and the seemingly irresistible tides of demography, and reclaim our heroism.

There will be costs. We will sometimes be compelled to do terrible things. We will sometimes have to harden our hearts in unprecedented ways. Who could deny that a rigidly enforced quarantine of the Islamic world would exclude from our company many who deserve better? Who could deny that confronting and contradicting the apostles of relativism will occasion some nasty scenes? Who could deny that the disassembly of the welfare state and its replacement with an ethic of private, voluntary community will cause rough times for some who objectively deserve better? No ideological transition has ever been free of casualties or pain. Shall we insist that, until we find a way that keeps us safe and sated, and brings us all we desire at no cost, we will refuse to move at all?

The revolutionaries of our Founding Era knew what they believed. Their passion for it inspired them to reject British rule, though it might cost “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” They set out on a course never before taken in human history. Despite several missteps, they preserved their ideals intact. They never doubted that they were worth fighting for.

A man who knows what he’s fighting for, and is wholeheartedly proud of himself and it, will do what he must to preserve it. There is no other path, unless one surrenders to Cthulhu or Allah.

9. Specifics.

I’ve proclaimed the necessity of an ideological revolution. The essentials to any revolution, including an ideological one, are education, communications, and weaponry.

Education is obvious. Our young are being miseducated as we speak. We must snatch their minds back from those who would infuse them with the relativistic, nonjudgmental creed and introduce them to the principles of the Founding. Equally as urgent, we must induce them to acquire strength and skill, the only sound foundation for pride. A man who can catch and cook his own dinner is unlikely to bow before any other man, nor will he accede to self-immolation at the behest of any god.

Communications is equally obvious. Americans who see the necessities outlined here must be able to find one another, pool information, exchange ideas, and offer mutual support. When we are isolated, we’re easy targets: easy to silence and safe to ignore. When we know we’re not alone, that there are others willing and able to support us, we have the strength of ten.

Weaponry is fundamental, yet its full impact is almost always overlooked. It’s been said that the Second Amendment is the sole guarantor of the First, and truly. But what’s less apparent is that an armed and confident man is a model for other men. He draws admiration for much the same reason as does an articulate, educated man: he can do things others can’t. Therefore, be armed, and be conspicuously armed. Shoot often. Make it a family activity. Invite your friends and neighbors to join you, and to bring their children, too. When the opportunity arises, add to the simple pleasures of sport shooting a measure of history: stories of the great men of arms, whose valor brought them honor, and their nations victory.

American birth rates are at replacement rates, true. If our numbers are not to increase, our strength and our confidence will have to suffice. But if history is any guide, they will.

10. Concluding Thoughts.

To one who cherishes freedom and hopes for the destruction of its enemies, Steyn’s case that those enemies are outbreeding us appears ominous:

Since the President unveiled the so-called Bush Doctrine — the plan to promote liberty throughout the Arab world — innumerable “progressives” have routinely asserted that there’s no evidence Muslims want liberty and, indeed, Islam is incompatible with democracy. If that’s true, it’s a problem not for the Middle East today but for Europe the day after tomorrow. According to a poll taken in 2004, over 60 percent of British Muslims want to live under sharia — in the United Kingdom. If a population “at odds with the modern world” is the fastest-breeding group on the planet — if there are more Muslim nations, more fundamentalist Muslims within those nations, more and more Muslims within non-Muslim nations, and more and more Muslims represented in more and more transnational institutions — how safe a bet is the survival of the “modern world”?

…but this is a double-edged blade. The Islamic world is characterized by deficiencies so severe that on its own it could never approach the stature of the Western world. Intellectually, it’s on the edge of retardation; thanks to the constraints of Islam, it knows almost no innovation of any sort. Muslims compelled to live with one another, deprived of infusions of Western capital and ideas, always turn on one another as the Palestinians have done. This is natural among persons who abjure reason and promote a pseudo-religion of totalitarianism in its place.

Imagine the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims under conditions of strict geographic quarantine, compelled to make it on their own or not make it at all. Is it possible to imagine that without the opportunity to steal our aircraft and our weapons to use against us, that they would be any kind of threat?

As for the promulgators of relativism and American self-abasement: these are even less to be feared. Were they not granted unearned support by public institutions and foundations with more money than sense, and unearned respect for ideas they cannot defend in open debate, they would shrivel to nothing. Do they denounce you as a dangerous reactionary? Laugh. Do they raise campaigns of calumny against you as an enemy of the common weal? Trust your neighbors to know you better than that. There’s nothing less potent than the derision of those in whom nothing wholesome resides.

To the dark gods who seek to drag us to their altars, whether to be chained there lifelong or to be sacrificed upon them, let us oppose the God of Light, Who set us free in time and gave us our power of reason, our sense for right and wrong, and our urge to community. Let us think as He would have us think: clearly, soberly, and without fear.

Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth, more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man. — Bertrand Russell


[The following essay first appeared at Eternity Road on September 29, 2006. Inasmuch as the Left’s principal remaining weapon in the current campaign is their attempt to cause the Right to self-censor with charges of “racism” and such, it feels quite relevant to the moment. Decide for yourself, as always.]

Fran here. Those who know me personally are aware that, when goosed right, I can spin a skein of profanities that would make a longshoreman blush. It’s in the genes; Dad was a Navy veteran, and both the skill and the proclivity have “bred true.” Those who know me only through Eternity Road might find this surprising, as I neither use nor permit profanity here.

Under normal circumstances.

The essay you’ve begun features what we may euphemistically call “rough language,” and plenty of it. Oh my, yes. As rough as it gets, friends. I’m not kidding, and I’m not being coy or facetious about it, either. After the recent fracas over Virginia Senator George Allen’s alleged use of the word “nigger” thirty years ago, I started pondering the whole subject of linguistic taboos and their uses. I’ve come to some rather ugly conclusions, which, unfortunately, will require the use of some ugly words.

I repeat: I AM NOT KIDDING. The language will be ugly because the topic is ugly. The topic is ugly because ugly persons have been doing ugly things, in service to ugly objectives and ideals. Pace Ayn Rand, the ugliness won’t go away simply because we refuse to speak of it — especially if we accept the new shamans’ assertions of linguistic privilege.

To give you every chance to back away cleanly, I’m going to waste a few pixels on a blank barrier. If, rather than surfing away to some more genteel URL, you choose to press the Page Down key and read on, it will be entirely your decision.


Ah, here we are at last. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, linguistic taboos.

Among primitive tribes, a taboo was a mystical prohibition against a word or deed thought to anger the gods. The definition, rationalization, and enforcement of taboos were the province of the tribe’s shamans, to whom the propitiation of the gods was entrusted. Oftentimes, if a primitive society caught one of its members violating a taboo, its shamans would immediately offer him as a sacrifice to the gods, in the hope of averting an explosion of divine wrath.

In our modern lexicon, a taboo is a legally or socially enforced prohibition against speaking openly of certain things: usually, particular topics considered offensive by a politically privileged group. (Note the adverb “openly.” Many a taboo honored scrupulously in conduct open to general scrutiny is violated freely among intimates.) Today’s shamans, the definers and enforcers of taboos, are those politically privileged groups, often in collaboration with non-members who feel some sympathy with their aims or complaints.

What are the taboos du jour? I’m sure you can name a few:

  • Differences between the sexes, particularly with regard to specific mental competences and the capacity for aggression or initiative;
  • Differences between the races, particularly with regard to general intelligence, proclivity for violent, illegal, or antisocial behavior, and family feeling;
  • The origins, nature, and consequences of homosexuality, particularly with regard to its potential mutability, its association with certain diseases, and its tendency to “proselytize” to the unformed young.
  • The inheritability of general intelligence, and the extent to which post-natal factors can elicit it, stunt it, or compensate for genetic factors.
  • The objective nature of limitations incurred because of handicaps, birth defects, and other irreparable physical conditions.

These are the premier taboo subjects of our day. Indeed, the taboos that cover them are so strong that even to mention that one has an interest in one of these subjects is to draw glares of disapproval and mutterings about one’s character and good sense.

Charles Murray, one of the titans of sociology in our time, said in an interview with Jason de Parle of the New York Times that when Richard Herrnstein approached him about collaborating in an investigation of the inheritability of general intelligence, he got the immediate feeling of having been invited to violate a taboo. (Notably, the article de Parle wrote about Murray was titled “The Most Dangerous Conservative In America.” Good old Times, always willing to let us decide things for ourselves.) The resulting book, The Bell Curve, was a marvel of careful scholarship and restrained reasoning…yet for daring to assert in public that a significant fraction of human intelligence is determined by genetic factors, the two were vilified roundly by every politically correct commentator in America. Indeed, quite a few un-PC persons disposed to agree with Herrnstein and Murray expressed a wistful regret that they’d kept their study and their conclusions to themselves.

Clearly, challenging a taboo is not something to be done lightly. Even here in America, it can have consequences that can be socially, occupationally, or politically devastating. Though no group has yet succeeded in winning a legal ban on what it considers offensive speech, efforts by several groups to suppress statements they find repugnant are unstinting.

One must ask why some subjects are tabooed. The answer is simple, but enormously daunting: to speak of it is to invite inquiry, which threatens the perquisites of the group behind the taboo. Since the American system enshrines freedom of speech as a sacred principle, we can see why taboos must be enforced by social means. Yet the operation of taboos has served to elevate the groups that promulgate them to a position of legal and political advantage over the rest of us, even though equality of all before the law, and a willful blindness toward group membership, are also fundamentals of the American creed.

The mechanism is equally simple: Smith, a member of a taboo-owning group, can always accuse an adversary — Jones, for instance — of violating the taboo out of the public eye. If the taboo-owning group has already been conceded some special status as a victim, and if it’s willing to exploit that status with adequate vigor, it will frequently be conceded guilty-until-proven-innocent powers of accusation. Jones is burdened with having to prove that he never said what Smith has accused him of saying — and it’s well established that one cannot prove a negative of this sort.

This is why accusations about the use of racial, sexual, or other taboo epithets have such force. Even if completely unsubstantiated, they can ruin Jones for life. Persons who fear to be tarred with the taboo-breaker brush will draw away from him reflexively. No one wants to be put in the position of having to prove that he never said this or that, nor did he ever allow a taboo statement to pass unchastized, no matter how simon-pure his motives, how spotless his character, and how well-attested his general benevolence might be.

The damage is done upon the instant a group is accorded enduring victim status, and the privilege of defining taboos. It’s a trump card that can be played over and over again, until society finally rears up on its hind legs and smashes the edifice of guilt built from it. Unfortunately, when that sort of house of cards collapses, it crushes quite a few lives beneath it.

Before we proceed, allow me to state a few things very, very plainly.

  1. I am a Caucasian of Irish and Italian descent, whose parents were immigrants from those lands.
  2. My loyalties are to my family and the United States of America. I would defend either or both to the death. Apart from a mortgage and a car loan, I owe nothing else to anyone.
  3. What matters most to me about others is their character: their willingness to respect the rights of others and to discharge their proper responsibilities, without whining about any of it.
  4. I believe that there is an American culture, and that it is infinitely superior to all the other cultures of the world, past or present. More, I believe that Americans are the finest people in the world — that no other land produces anything remotely comparable to our general standard of decency, justice, generosity, or good humor.
  5. I believe that the races, as conventionally defined, differ in various ways. The importance of those differences is topical and contextual.
  6. I believe that the sexes differ in various ways. As with racial differences, the importance of those differences is topical and contextual.
  7. I believe that homosexual sodomy is self-destructive, but that, at least in certain cases, sexual orientation can be changed.
  8. I believe that there is such a thing as general intelligence, that it is at least partly inherited, and that it varies widely.
  9. I believe that the handicapped should receive our sympathy and compassion as individuals to other individuals, but that they are not entitled to more as a matter of right.
  10. I believe that laws that mandate preferred treatment for the members of any group, however defined, are both unConstitutional and destructive.
  11. I hold these convictions not because anyone else holds them, but because the evidence of my senses and my own powers of reasoning have led me to them.

According to the major taboos of our time, this makes me a racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic chauvinist abuser of the physically challenged. By copping to all this, I’ve violated all the major, politically correct taboos of our time: about race, gender, sexual orientation, the handicapped, and multiculturalism. Needless to say, the enforcers of those taboos would like to see me boiled in oil.

They can dip their outrage in beaten eggs, roll it in crushed walnuts, and shove it up their asses.

Perhaps the second-greatest crime to spring from preferential treatment for “victim” groups is this: it’s a powerful inducement to members of those groups to see themselves not as individuals, but as instances of the group first and foremost, perhaps even exclusively. Thus, many young black men who could achieve substantially on their own merits are seduced into victimist beliefs about the hostility and power of “the man,” and slide into permanent attitudes of envy, frustration, and resentment. Many young women quite capable of happiness and fulfillment, whether as careerists or as homemakers, are seduced into victimist beliefs about “glass ceilings” and “patriarchal oppression,” surrender their innocence and delight in the dance of the sexes, and live forever in a blend of resentment and fear. Many handicapped persons take to feeling they’re “owed;” many homosexuals take to feeling they’re “hated;” and so on throughout the universe of victim-status groups.

But the essence of Man is that each of us is individual and unique. We are individually motivated; individually pleased or displeased; individually able or unable; and individually responsible for our decisions and deeds. I cannot believe that anyone with the mental horsepower required by self-awareness is wholly unconscious of that. Yet many persons, apparently prizing group affiliation and its privileges more highly than self-respect, adopt total immersion in a group, and the renunciation of the privileges and responsibilities of individuality, as their modus vivendi.

My contempt for such persons is boundless. I was about to say that the English language lacks words adequate to express it, but in fact it doesn’t. Bide a while and you’ll see.

Nor is it only persons of inferior intelligence or abilities that sink to such depths. No one could accuse race-hustlers such as Cornell West or Jesse Jackson of stupidity. These are men of demonstrable talent. Yet they’ve given themselves to a racialist agenda. Similarly, no one could accuse Andrea Dworkin or Catharine MacKinnon of inferior ability. One might quarrel with the uses to which they put their gifts, but the power of them is easily sensed. Yet they’ve given themselves to a gender-war agenda. In doing so, these persons have persuaded lesser souls, of lesser powers, to follow them and their agenda. And so it goes, among homosexuals…the handicapped…the “homeless”…and similarly with every category of humanity that has striven to be seen as victimized by anyone or any thing in any way.

The essence of the taboo in American society is linguistic: not to speak the forbidden thought or attitude. So one such as I, who holds many taboo beliefs, is supposed to remain silent about them all. That would reduce me to prayers, requests to pass the condiments, and the occasional statement of approbation for the New York Rangers. Needless to say, I’ve chosen to express myself rather more broadly than that.

But even those of us who defy the taboos ideologically are expected to obey their constraints on our vocabulary. Certain words are forbidden to us with a firmness that hints at a mouthful of soap to come.

Some of those words have an ugly cast. But equally ugly words have passed into common parlance:

  • shit
  • fuck
  • motherfucker
  • cocksucker
  • frig

…and no doubt, our language being a constantly evolving and expanding thing, there are new vulgarities related to sex acts, body parts, elimination, and the like that I haven’t yet learned.

The difference between those common vulgarities and the taboo words claimed by the victim-status groups is this: each of the taboo words is used freely within an owner-group that strives to deny it to outsiders with the force of the taboo:

  • Victimist blacks often call one another “nigger,” often as an expression of fellowship or approbation. Indeed, a rap act of some notoriety named itself Niggers With Attitude, apparently without embarrassment.
  • Homosexuals feel no constraint about calling one another “queers,” “dykes,” “queens,” or “faggots,” even if the rest of us are not licensed to do so. Indeed, one of its activist groups is named “Queer Nation.”
  • Women who ascribe to a particular shade of feminism make free and frequent reference to their “cunts,” which is a hangin’ offense for any possessor of a Y chromosome. A professor of Women’s Studies at a relatively well-known university has been known to discourse on “cuntal dialectics.”

It’s one of my beliefs that, just as to every thing there is a season, to every word there is a proper application. This holds with special force for those words that have acquired their meaning through vulgarization. Perhaps the above uses, unconsciously self-damning as they are, have proved my point. The persons who employ them in such fashion deserve no better.

I could go on, but I believe the point has been made. The shamans of contemporary linguistic taboos have adopted nigger, faggot, cunt, and the other forbidden words as passwords, emblems of group membership — and membership, as American Express has been at pains to remind us, has its privileges. No one outside the shamans’ circle is permitted to speak the password; it’s an arrogation of a jealously guarded status. He who dares must be cut down, ground into the dust, and forbidden ever to speak at all, to any effect, in any context. For as in all systems of nymic magic, the word is deemed congruent with the thing: the taboo words are at the root of the shamans’ power. Failure to enforce the taboo would risk the loss of the group’s privileges and immunities, laboriously amassed over the decades of exploitation of others’ guilt.

Every circle of shamans must have a private language. Better that it be secret, but private above all. The taboo words and their use are all that distinguish the privileged from the hoi polloi. They must be guarded to the death.

“The Good Ship NEWF”

[This essay first appeared at Eternity Road, on July 1, 2006. I claim that one cannot have a defensible position on either abortion or cloning until he has satisfactorily answered the questions here.]

Who are you? I mean, really? And how do you know?

That phrase “identity theft:” what does it mean? Is the thief really stealing his victim’s identity? Perhaps one could assert that in a small number of cases — Jack Nicholson’s old movie The Passenger comes to mind — but far more often, he’s stealing some group of the rights or privileges associated with that identity, isn’t he? He doesn’t want to be you; he simply wants to be able to do a few of the things you’re entitled to do.

But let’s get back to basics. Who are you? How do you know? And how do others know you for who you claim to be?

Most of us, thank God, never have to grapple with the question to any serious degree. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a serious question. Just ask Jeff Medcalf.

The question is hard to answer even when applied to inanimate objects. For example, let’s imagine that I own a sailboat — I don’t, having no interest in water recreations — and that I’ve named it the NEWF, after my late, beloved, exceedingly moist Newfoundland Bruno. The good ship NEWF can be viewed:

  • Holistically, as a unitary entity with a clearly designed-in function and an associated identity, or:
  • Reductionistically, as an assemblage of anonymous (I hope) wooden, steel, rope, and canvas parts.

When its function as a sailboat is being exercised, its holistic, functional identity is clearly the one of immediate interest. Yet if I were to shipwreck myself upon some lonely island — perhaps Staten, with its forbidding landfills, or Fire, with its natives’…disturbing fleshly practices — NEWF’s reductionistic characteristics would come to the fore, as I made use of its planks for firewood and its sails for blankets. Many would claim that in that second case, there no longer is a good ship NEWF, merely a pile of useful, unnamed items.

Here’s the ultimate poser about identity: Imagine that, in the quite ordinary course of maintenance, I were to remove one of NEWF’s deck planks and replace it with another — but instead of discarding the removed plank, I laid it aside. Imagine further that, over the years, I pulled up and replaced (but did not discard) still more planks, until a decade hence, I had replaced every component built into the original boat with an identical substitute. Would it still be the good ship NEWF?

I’ll take you a step further: Imagine that I’d saved all the replaced components, and out of sheer philosophical whimsy built a boat from them that was identical to the original. The replaced components, torn one by one from the original structure, have now been reassembled into…the original structure! But…but…the “original” — the one that now contains no component built into the NEWF at its moment of christening — is sitting over there, at that dock! Which one is the good ship NEWF?

In practical terms, the problem is unimportant, as anyone who were to do such a thing would swiftly be certified and packed off to some pleasant institution with soft walls. But metaphysically, it spotlights the nature of identity as men understand it.

The undefined abstraction we call identity is inseparable from continuity.

The boat with “all new” components would have been continuously the NEWF, in service as the NEWF gives service, from the moment of its christening to the moment of the question, regardless of how many of its parts had been replaced. Its identity as a holistically, functionally viewed item was never interrupted. The components torn from it had no identity of their own; their “participation” in the NEWF’s identity was strictly as “supporting cast.” Their removal could not undermine the NEWF’s “NEWFness,” any more than the receipt of a transplanted kidney from Smith could lessen Jones’s identity as Jones.

So who are you? Don’t you owe your identity as yourself to having been continuously “in residence” in your body and mind from the moment of your birth? How much of that assemblage could be replaced without undermining your claim to your identity? What about the possibility of an “interruption in service?” That is, if you were to die tomorrow, and some time later were revived exactly as you are today, would you still be legitimately the person you are today? Would the length of the interruption matter to the argument? And what about the regular, refreshing interruptions of consciousness we call sleep?

For the really strong of stomach: were you who you are today — in essence, not in acquired capabilities nor extrinsic possessions — before you were released from your mother’s womb? If so, what intervening events or changes, had they occurred, would have negated your fetus’s claim to be you? If not, why not?


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