Habituations

[The following first appeared at Eternity Road on July 31, 2009. — FWP]


In reply to this earlier piece, longtime reader and frequent commenter Goober wrote:

It isn’t their fault. The founding fathers knew for a fact that even the kindest and most altruistic of governments would and could overstep their bounds on occasion. That is why they wrote the Constitution, and entrusted we, the people (NOT the government) with it’s enforcement and adherence.

We’ve fallen down on the job, not them, and we’ve done so because they’ve promised us things. A cleaner environment (EPA), a safer world (IRS and income tax for WWI), safety from jobsite hazards (OSHA) and payment in the case that you lose your job or are injured (FICA and FUTA). They’ve promised us medical care when we’re old, a pension for our retirement, a super-highway system to get us there, and all of these things were ushered in not just with the consent of the governed, but with their cheerful support.

All were constitutional oversteps. All were heralded by the governed.

The government isn’t to blame. We are.

All true until the very last line. Yes, we cooperated in our enslavement, but to say that the architects and builders of our political prison are therefore not to blame is like exculpating a rapist on the grounds that his victim chose not to resist him. All the same, there’s a lesson in our history of habituation to bondage: a lesson about how cheaply we price that for which we never had to struggle.

Americans at the opening of the Twentieth Century were largely unaware of the differences between freedom and tyranny. They’d enjoyed the former lifelong, and had never tasted the latter. Remember that in 1900:

  • There was no conscription;
  • There was no income tax;
  • There was no Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or unemployment insurance tax;
  • There was no zoning;
  • There were no environmental laws;
  • There were no labor laws;
  • There were no anti-discrimination laws;
  • There were no “public accommodation” laws;
  • There were no laws mandating preferential treatment by race, sex, religion, or ethnicity;
  • There were no restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms;
  • Private property was considered sacrosanct;
  • The right of self-defense and defense of the innocent, by any means up to and including lethal violence, was unchallenged.

An American of 1900, if given a device through which he could survey the political landscape of 2000, would have tossed it aside in disbelief. Such things could never come to America, he’d say. That sort of nonsense is strictly for the Old World and the savages of Africa, Asia, and South America. This is the Land of the Free.

Well, it was, anyway. Yet the changes all came, as lovers of freedom know to our sorrow.

With very few exceptions, the legal fetters Americans wear today were applied to us quite gradually. Our masters allowed us to grow accustomed to one before applying another. Nor were they at once tightened to the maximum; few persons chafed under them at the outset.

The income tax is an excellent example: When the Sixteenth Amendment was being debated on the floor of the Senate, one of its opponents rose to ask the body what it could say to reassure the American public that this tax would not rise to seize some unconscionable fraction of their earnings — perhaps as much as ten percent! A pro-income-tax senator rose and replied that the country need never fear such a development: “The people would never allow it!”

Another fine example arises from Social Security, which Franklin D. Roosevelt pitched as a “supplement” to the resources of American retirees. At its inception, Social Security promised to take no more than $7.50 per month from a worker’s paycheck. Today the limit is over $550.00 per month, and for many wage earners is the largest single tax they pay. To add insult to injury, the Supreme Court has ruled that no matter how large his payments to the Social Security system, no man has a right to any payments from it.

Look at any of the political bonds that have been fastened upon us: labor law, environmental law, firearms control laws, laws that infringe upon property rights, what have you. In nearly every case you’ll find that the original collar was gently applied and loosely fastened. It simply didn’t stay that way.

The term most commonly applied to such a slow, steady tightening of the screws is gradualism. Gradualism uses the power of habituation — the ordinary human tendency to accommodate and adjust to conditions we can’t individually alter — to solidify its gains and prevent retrograde motion. In her landmark book The God Of The Machine, Isabel Paterson referred to it as political power’s “ratchet action.”

We have habituated ourselves to all manner of fetters. They were applied with such delicacy, and tightened so slowly and smoothly, that many of us cannot imagine life without them. Yet at any instant in the process, it was still possible to rear up against it. Despite appearances, it remains possible today. We simply haven’t done so, nor is it likely that we will.

The process got under way in the early years of the Twentieth Century, when Americans had enjoyed liberty without cost for too long to remember the price that was originally paid for it. They had ceased to believe that it should cost them anything to remain free. Worse, they looked upon subsidies, subventions, and other temptations held forth by the State and failed to ask, “What’s the price for these things? Just because no one has spoken of one doesn’t mean there isn’t one.”

All things have their price. Nothing worth having can be had at zero cost.

Which brings your Curmudgeon to the parable of:

The Wild Pigs Of The Okefenokee Swamp

Some years ago, an old trapper from North Dakota hitched up some horses to his Studebaker wagon, packed up his traps, and drove south. Several weeks later he stopped in a small town just north of the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia.

It was a lazy Saturday morning when he walked into the general store. Sitting around the pot-bellied stove were seven or eight of the town’s local citizens. The traveler said, “Gentlemen, could you direct me to the Okefenokee Swamp?”

Some of the oldtimers looked at him like he was crazy. “You must be a stranger in these parts,” they said.

“I am. I’m from North Dakota,” said the stranger. “In the Okefenokee Swamp are thousands of wild hogs,” one old man explained. “A man who goes into the swamp by himself asks to die!” He lifted up his leg. “I lost half my leg here, to the pigs of the swamp.”

Another old fellow said, “Look at the cuts on me; look at my arm bit off! Those pigs have been free since the Revolution, eating snakes and rooting out roots and fending for themselves for over a hundred years. They’re wild and they’re dangerous. You can’t trap them. No man dare go into the swamp by himself.” The others nodded in agreement.

The old trapper said, “Thank you so much for the warning. Now could you direct me to the swamp?” They said, “Well, yeah, it’s due south, straight down the road.” But they begged the stranger not to go, because they knew he’d meet a terrible fate. He smiled, waved away their concern, and said, “Sell me ten sacks of corn, and help me load it in the wagon.” And they did. Then the old trapper bid them farewell and drove on down the road. The townsfolk thought they’d never see him again.

Two weeks later the man came back. He pulled up to the general store, got down off the wagon, walked in and bought ten more sacks of corn. After loading it up he went back down the road toward the swamp.

Two weeks later he returned and bought another ten sacks of corn. This went on for a month. And then two months, and three. Every two weeks the old trapper would appear on Saturday morning, purchase ten sacks of corn, and drive back into the swamp.

The stranger soon became a legend in the little village and the subject of much speculation. People wondered what kind of devil had possessed this man, that he could go into the Okefenokee by himself and not be consumed by the wild, free hogs.

One morning the man came into town as usual. Everyone thought he wanted more corn. He got off the wagon and went into the store where the usual group of men were gathered around the stove. He took off his gloves.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “I need to hire about ten or fifteen wagons. I need twenty or thirty men. I have six thousand hogs out in the swamp, penned up, and they’re all hungry. I’ve got to get them to market right away.”

“You’ve WHAT in the swamp?” asked the storekeeper, incredulously. “I have six thousand hogs penned up. They haven’t eaten for two or three days, and they’ll starve if I don’t get back there to feed and take care of them.”

One of the oldtimers said, “You mean you’ve captured the wild hogs of the Okefenokee?”

“That’s right.”

“How did you do that? What did you do?” the men urged, breathlessly.

One of them exclaimed, “But I lost my arm!”

“I lost my brother!” cried another.

“I lost my leg to those wild boars!” chimed a third.

The trapper said, “Well, the first week I went in there they were wild all right. They hid in the undergrowth and wouldn’t come out. I dared not get off the wagon. So I spread corn along behind the wagon. Every day I’d spread a sack of corn. The old pigs would have nothing to do with it.”

“But the younger pigs decided that it was easier to eat free corn than it was to root out roots and catch snakes. So the very young began to eat the corn first. I did this every day. Pretty soon, even the old pigs decided that it was easier to eat free corn. After all, they were free. They could run off in any direction they wanted at any time.”

“The next thing was to get them used to eating in the same place all the time. So I selected a clearing, and I started putting the corn in the clearing. At first they wouldn’t come to the clearing. It was too far. It was too open. It was a nuisance to them.”

“But the very young decided that it was easier to take the corn in the clearing than it was to root out roots and catch their own snakes. And not long thereafter, the older pigs also decided that it was easier to come to the clearing every day.”

“And so the pigs learned to come to the clearing every day to get their free corn. They could still augment their diet with roots and snakes and whatever else they wanted. After all, they were free. They could run in any direction at any time. There were no bounds upon them.”

“The next step was to get them used to fence posts. So I put fence posts all the way around the clearing. I put them in the underbrush so that they wouldn’t get suspicious or upset. After all, they were just sticks sticking up out of the ground, like the trees and the brush. The corn was there every day. It was easy to walk in between the posts, get the corn, and walk back out.”

“This went on for a week or two. Shortly they became very used to walking into the clearing, getting the free corn, and walking back out through the fence posts.”

“The next step was to put one rail down at the bottom. I also left a few openings, so that the older, fatter pigs could walk through the openings and the younger pigs could easily jump over just one rail. After all, it was no real threat to their freedom or independence. They could always jump over the rail and flee in any direction at any time.”

“Now I decided that I wouldn’t feed them every day. I began to feed them every other day. On the days I didn’t feed them the pigs still gathered in the clearing. They squealed, and they grunted, and they begged and pleaded with me to feed them. But I only fed them every other day. And I put a second rail around the posts.”

“Now the pigs became more and more desperate for food. They were no longer used to going out and digging their own roots and finding their own food. They now needed me. They needed my corn every other day.

So I trained them that I would feed them every day if they came in through a gate. And I put up a third rail around the fence. But it was still no great threat to their freedom, because there were several gates and they could run in and out at will.”

“Finally I put up the fourth rail. Then I closed all the gates but one, and I fed them very, very well. Yesterday I closed the last gate. And today I need you to help me take these pigs to market.”

From My Cold Dead Hand

[April 3, 2014: In light of developments in Connecticut and New York, I’ve reposted the piece below. Those who are ready, willing, and able should consider joining the forces that will assemble this coming Saturday before the Connecticut state capitol. There is no issue more urgent than this one. — FWP]

[February 2, 2013: The following piece first appeared at the Palace of Reason on April 1, 2001, shortly after the now all-but-forgotten EP-3 incident in the Far East. — FWP]


It’s been awhile since I really reflected on the nature of a free people — a people determined to remain free, and possessed of the means to do so.

Armament is critical, of course. If your adversary is armed and you aren’t, you’re in the position of a grasshopper trying to face down a lawn mower. We might make admiring note of your courage in our elegies, but we surely won’t be attending your victory parade.

Also, one must be careful not to hand any levers to a potential tyrant. There are a number of things Man requires to survive and flourish: air, food, water, the ability to move about, the ability to communicate with others, heat, fuel, many kinds of knowledge, the cooperation of others with different kinds of knowledge, and so on. Whenever any entity moves to monopolize access to any of these or the other necessities of survival, it’s nominated itself Tyrant-In-Embryo. Abort!

But both the above are resultants of a far more critical, indeed, a fundamental requirement of the free man. No one can remain free, no one can ensure the freedom of his descendants, unless he nurtures and transmits to those around him the essential defiance that animates all the other freedom-conserving behaviors.

We see a lot of bumper stickers that run roughly as follows:

They Can Have My Gun
When They Pry It
From My Cold Dead Hand!

I can only applaud the sentiment… if it’s genuine. How often is it genuine?

Test yourself, as sincerely as you can. Imagine that tomorrow, without warning, a deputy sheriff were to appear at your door with a clipboard and demand that you surrender your guns to him. Imagine that he knows accurately how many guns you have, and what types they are. (It shouldn’t be hard to imagine this, since de-facto owner registration of firearms has been in place for some years now. Why else would you be required to show proof of identity when buying a rifle?) How would you react?

Well? The deputy sheriff is waiting.

I regret to say that most gun owners would resist with at most a question about the legal basis for the sheriff’s demand. If he replied with anything even vaguely plausible, they would comply, even though the right to own weapons is recognized by the U.S. Constitution as an absolute, to be infringed by no one.

Why do I say this? Because it’s happened. It’s here.

After the race troubles of the summers of 1964 and 1965, several major cities, New York prominent among them, imposed unConstitutional new restrictions and requirements on weapons ownership. The residents of those cities went along without significant opposition. To the best of my knowledge, none of the restrictions were ever rolled back, though the supposed dangers they were put in place to forestall (e.g., here in New York, we heard a lot about “urban snipers”) failed to materialize.

California, more recently, passed a law forbidding the ownership of an “assault weapon,” a category so broadly defined that virtually any semiautomatic rifle would qualify under a liberal interpretation of the standard. The law became effective on January 1, 2000. I have heard no report of any opposition to this patently, blatantly unConstitutional law in the Golden State.

Now, about those bumper stickers…

I’m not saying that it would be easy to refuse that deputy sheriff. I’m not saying there wouldn’t be risks. I am saying that unless the will and determination to refuse him are present in a large percentage of the citizenry, the country will lose the liberties that the right of private firearms ownership was intended to safeguard.

Without that ineradicable defiance, that willingness to spit into the face of “authority,” firearms are mere trinkets.

Every major gun confiscation known to history has been followed by the erection of a totalitarian regime. It’s not as if we didn’t have a little history on the matter. When they come for our guns, we’ll know what they’re about.

Over the past century, liberty has been flensed away from Americans, slice after thin slice. That’s the way to subordinate a free people. Get them used to bending the knee and tugging the forelock in little things first, things that don’t appear to be relevant to them personally. Get them thinking that only antisocial curmudgeons would raise a fuss over matters as trivial as zoning restrictions, or licensing requirements for hairdressers. Better yet, get them thinking that anyone who would resist these “obviously desirable” new requirements of the law must want to do them harm.

With each slice of lost liberty has gone a little of the defiance that animates a free people. We’re closing in on the point of no return, the threshold that, once crossed, will become an impenetrable wall that forbids us a backward step.

In parallel with the loss of personal defiance has gone a slackening of the national will toward foreign enemies. The recent contretemps with the Chinese is an important harbinger of things to come. Few have dared to suggest that, when America puts young men and women into uniforms and weapons into their hands, it’s preparing them to risk their lives for some purpose beyond a trade agreement. Few have dared to suggest that a country whose government dares to take Americans hostage, to stake their lives and freedom as counters in a game, has committed an act of war, an act to which a country with dignity could respond in only one way.

We have become comfortable with subordination at home and humiliation abroad.

The red and white stripes wobble and weave. The starry blue field softens and begins to run. The borders dissolve, the colors blend, and soon there is only a uniform dull brown. The color of mud. The color of failure, The color of the loss of hope. And the hand that holds liberty’s banner aloft slackens, and fails, and becomes cold.

The Nature Of Money And Currency Part 4: The Emergence Of Banks And Banking

The “Money and Currency” series has attracted a lot of email. To date, we have:

I was tempted to continue on into the sociopolitical pressures that have propelled the massive inflation of the post-Federal Reserve Act century, but it occurred to me that a discussion of the quintessential financial institution, the bank, really ought to precede further discussion of the commodity with which we transact and (attempt to) save.


Before people began to think about borrowing or saving in organized terms, they worried about protecting their accumulated precious metals. It was unwise to keep significant quantities of gold or silver in “casual” storage, especially in locales where there was a possibility of incursion by a raider band. Thus there arose interest in the safekeeping of one’s store of value.

The local jeweler provided a solution. His trade required that he keep such stocks, and of course that he keep them safe from predation. If he had excess storage capacity, he might be persuaded to rent it to you, for a modest fee. You and he would agree on the fee, on how much metal he would store for you, on how long he would store it, and on how the deal was to be recorded; you would hand over your gold and silver; he would lock it away; and off you’d both go to your proper concerns. Thus were born two of the ubiquitous features of commercial societies: banking and bookkeeping.

But a jeweler who made banking into a significant side business would eventually contemplate the possibilities of having so much of other people’s money in his hands. Why should it just sit there, taking up space and doing nothing? Especially as others were aware of it, an uncomfortable situation that increased the probability of an attack on the jeweler’s vault. Better to “put it to work,” simultaneously reducing the vault’s attractiveness as a target and earning something from otherwise inert assets.

If the jeweler could be certain of holding X ounces of gold for Y days, he could lend it out, at interest, for Y-1 days — assuming it would be paid back, of course. The creditworthiness of the prospective borrower had to be assured to a high degree of confidence, for a loan not repaid by the borrower must perforce be repaid to the depositors out of the jeweler’s own funds. However, the usage fee for the borrowed funds, or usury, could help to protect the jeweler/banker: enough borrowers at a sufficiently high usury would return a sufficient profit margin to prevent a small number of bad loans from bankrupting the jeweler/banker.

Note in particular all the following:

  • The jeweler/banker could not lend for a longer term than the term agreed upon with his depositors;
  • He had to accept that his judgment of borrowers would occasionally be wrong, resulting in a “bad loan” that would not be repaid;
  • The usury had to be set high enough to compensate for that inevitability;
  • However, it could not be set too high, because:
    • That would discourage borrowing by creditworthy clients;
    • Competitive forces — i.e., other jeweler/bankers — would reduce his lending volume and thus his profits.

As jeweler/bankers mastered the intricacies of their new trade and gradually abandoned their jewelry businesses, thus was born the financial industry of today, albeit in a very early and simplified form.


Profit is a seductive thing; profit accrued from others’ assets is perhaps the most powerful of all. Bankers soon began to look for ways to increase the volume of their lending businesses beyond what the above prototype made possible. One constraint upon a bank’s actions was the volume of its deposits. Should those increase, so also could the bank’s lending, and therefore its profits.

The Law of Supply and Demand suggested that lowering the fees charged to depositors would stimulate a greater volume of deposits. Eventually, the cleverer bankers realized that rather than charge depositors a fee, they could pay usury to depositors, as long as the rate was sufficiently below the rate they could charge borrowers, and still increase their profits. By implication, this transformed the bank from a paid sentry into a borrower, a point that’s reflected in bankers’ accounting practice of treating cash on hand as a debit.

Many other changes arose with time. Some of them were ordinary and harmless; others have been unbelievably pernicious. Possibly the worst of all is the trend to “borrow short” but “lend long:” in modern practice, to allow on-demand withdrawals by depositors while committing to loans of many years’ duration, while keeping only a small fraction of depositors’ funds on hand in the practice called fractional-reserve banking. That practice, and depositors’ uneasy awareness of it, are what make possible the greatly feared bank run.

At the core of modern banking practices is reliance upon interbanking: the aggregation of financial institutions into a league of mutual protection, originally against runs but, as the practice of fractional-reserve banking proliferated, against panics as well. Ultimately, bankers realized that no matter how many of them banded together to protect one another from such things, it was always possible in a fractional-reserve system for a few undisciplined banks — sometimes known as wildcat banks, to create the preconditions for a panic that would bring the lot of them tumbling down.

One sensible response to the possibility of a run was to demand security for a loan: either real estate of demonstrated value or a chattel: a valuable item of movable property. Such security could be demanded in satisfaction of a loan the borrower could not repay. However, the intent was more to “keep the borrower honest” than to provide for genuine protection for the bank, as no bank wants to be in the business of selling tangibles. Over time, secured loans became a progressively smaller part of a bank’s lending volume — this was one of the unintended consequences of interbanking — and threats to the system proliferated once more.

More anon.

The Nature Of Money And Currency Part 3: The Great Transformation

To one who grasps the logic of monetary evolution — from less satisfactory to more satisfactory money commodities as technology advances and the scope of trade expands — the great question that inevitably arises is “How on Earth did we get here?

It’s a good question that takes a fair amount of historical research to answer, especially in light of the massive catastrophes caused by unbacked currencies and the general knowledge thereof. As usual when human history takes a veering turn into irrationality, the answer is mired in politics and the drive for power.


The dominance of the American political landscape by two major parties goes all the way back to 1804 and the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment. That Amendment, by ending the older system of presidential balloting in which the second-place finisher became Vice-President, gave rise to party slates of candidates. Subsequently, the oppositional characteristics of a winner-take-all system elevated two parties to major status and relegated all others to the margins of electoral competition.

The Republican Party rose to majority status by displacing the Whigs, which had fallen into disrepair over slavery, tariffs, and other issues associated with the sectionalism of the pre-Civil War era. Unlike the other parties of the day, the Republicans were united on the two most contentious issues before the Republic: slavery and import tariffs. The Republicans were adamantly opposed to slavery and stood firmly against the addition of more “slave states” to the Union. They were also ultra-Hamiltonian on the subject of tariffs, wishing to set them unprecedentedly high as protection for domestic manufacturers.

After the Civil War, the Republicans enjoyed a long period of near-absolute dominance, electing huge majorities to Congress and occupying the White House through 1884. The rise to prominence of Democrat Grover Cleveland and the Democratic contingent that entered Congress with him can be attributed mainly to two factors. The first was the unusual frequency of lurid corruption scandals, in Washington and elsewhere, during the previous two decades, which tainted the Republican brand. The second was the steady emergence of a culture of religious liberality, buoyed upon the waves of immigrants from Europe, which contrasted sharply with the quasi-ascetic attitudes that had previously dominated American Christianity. Those factors sufficed to give Grover Cleveland and the Democrats the edge in the election of 1884.

Cleveland, an unusually honest and candid man, was true to his reputation as a strict Constitutionalist. He became known as a guaranteed veto for any bill the authority for which was not made explicit in the Constitution. Owing to the melioristic tendencies of the time, his vetoes undermined his popularity, a great part of the reason for the events that followed his second term. But most critical to this discussion, he was an ardent defender of the gold standard, the first president to countenance absolutely no departure from it. Partly in consequence thereof, he left the federal fiscal and budgetary house in better order than it had enjoyed since the days of Andrew Jackson.

In the years prior to the Cleveland Interregnum, the GOP became known as a firmly prohibitionist / inflationist / protectionist party. Several explanations have been advanced for Republican rigidity in these regards, though debate remains energetic. What’s undisputed is that owing to the immense improvement in the condition of the country during Cleveland’s years — particularly the reduction of clamor over corruption scandals, which dropped nearly to nothing — the GOP’s kingmakers began to fear reduction to permanent opposition status. They were seeking frantically for a way to recapture majority sentiment when the Democratic Schism arrived.

The Democrats had turned against Cleveland, their standard-bearer, owing to the unpopularity of his many vetoes. In his fine book Presidential Anecdotes, Paul Boller reports the following:

    When Cleveland left the White House in 1897 he was one of the most unpopular men in the country. He retired to Princeton, New Jersey, deeply dejected over having lost the love and confidence of the American people. One day a friend came by for a visit; his setter dog, excluded at the door, found another entrance into the house. When the dog came trotting triumphantly into the drawing-room and put his cold muzzle on the former President’s hand, the friend rushed over to expel him. “No, let him stay,” cried Cleveland. “He at least likes me.”
    …Once, when Cleveland was reminiscing with a friend about his White House days, he paused for a moment and then exclaimed, “Do you know that I ought to have a monument over me when I die?” “I am sure of that, Mr. President,” said the friend, “but for what particular service?” “Oh!” returned Cleveland, “not for anything I have ever done, but for the foolishness I have put a stop to. If you knew the absurd things proposed to me at various times while I have been in public life, and which I sat down — and sat down hard — upon, you would say so too!”

The rise of the Populist movement and the rejection of Clevelandist Constitutionalism made it possible for populist orator and dedicated inflationist William Jennings Bryan to capture the Democrats’ presidential nomination in 1896. The Cleveland Democrats were stunned, and conferred among themselves about what might be done.

Here’s what Ron Paul and Lewis Lehrman had to say about it in their 1982 book The Case For Gold:

    …The South, by now a one-party Democratic region, was having its own pietism transformed by the 1890s. Quiet pietists were now becoming evangelical, and Southern Protestant organizations began to call for prohibition. Then the new, sparsely settled Mountain states, many of them with silver mines, were also largely pietist. Moreover, a power vacuum, which would ordinarily have been temporary, had been created in the national Democratic Party. Poor Grover Cleveland, a hard-money laissez-faire Democrat, was blamed for the Panic of 1893, and many leading Democrats lost their gubernatorial and senatorial posts in the 1894 elections. The Cleveland Democrats were temporarily weak, and the Southern-Mountain coalition was ready to hand. Seizing his opportunity, William Jennings Bryan and his pietist coalition seized control of the Democratic Party at the momentous convention of 1896. The Democratic Party was never to be the same again.
    The Catholics, Lutherans, and the laissez-faire Cleveland Democrats were in mortal shock. “The party of our fathers” was lost. The Republicans, who had been moderating their stance anyway, saw the opportunity of a lifetime. At the Republican convention, Rep. Henry Cabot Lodge, representing the Morgans and the pro-gold-standard Boston financial interests, told [William] McKinley and [Mark] Hanna: Pledge yourself to the gold standard — the basic Cleveland economic issue — and drop your silverite and greenback tendencies, and we will all back you. Refuse, and we will support Bryan or a third party. McKinley struck the deal, and from then on, in 19th Century terms, the Republicans were a centrist party. Their principles were now high tariffs and the gold standard, and prohibition was quietly forgotten.

That alliance cemented the GOP into the White House, and effective control of Congress, for sixteen years. Not until Woodrow Wilson and his cadre came to power in 1913, greatly assisted by the Theodore Roosevelt schism among Republicans, did prohibition and inflationism return to the national discourse. The path to the latter required two things: a politically managed currency and the abandonment of the gold standard. The first was prerequisite to the second, and Wilson saw to it.

Woodrow Wilson was possibly the worst man to occupy the White House until Barack Hussein Obama. He was openly arrogant about his “destiny” to be president, dictatorial in temperament, and accepted advice from only one person: Colonel Edwin House, who never deigned to conceal his own totalitarian bent. The Wilson Administration ended in near disgrace, owing to the nation’s repugnance over Wilson’s war fascism, including unprecedented levels of direct taxation, the re-enactment of military conscription, the arrest and detention of prominent war dissenters, and the suppression of press criticism of federal policies, and its rejection of Wilson’s internationalist project. The GOP entered another twelve-year period of dominance.

Unfortunately, the seeds of disaster had already been sown, in three ways: the income tax; the Federal Reserve Bank; and the rise to national prominence of “the Great Engineer,” Herbert Hoover. Hoover was as fascist as Wilson, essentially a pre-1896 Republican who saw the entire national economy as “a public-private partnership.” When the sudden degradation of the economy struck in 1929 and 1930, Hoover’s response was increased economic meddling, increased federal spending, and ever higher protective tariffs. Hearken to Dr. Benjamin M. Anderson, the great economic historian of the early Twentieth Century, from his landmark book Economics And The Public Welfare:

    [T]he administration at Washington was dead set against any such readjustment. It turned instead to frantic governmental economic planning….
    Even while the stock market crash was going on, President Hoover called together in Washington the leaders in business, in railroads, and others, to urge upon them the policies of not cutting prices, not cutting wages, increasing capital outlay, and the like. This was the personal conduct of business by the back seat driver which is the essence of the New Deal and of governmental economic planning. Municipalities and states were also called upon to increase their borrowing for public works….
    But there came another folly of governmental intervention in 1930 transcending all the rest in its significance and in its baleful consequences. In a world staggering under a load of international debt which could be carried only if countries under pressure could produce goods and export them to their creditors, we, the great creditor nation of the world, with tariffs already far too high, raised our tariffs again. The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act of 1930 was the crowning financial folly of the whole period from 1920 to 1933.

Thus, the “New Deal” of the FDR years was not an entirely new development. It was in large measure a continuation of the policies of the Hoover years — and the destruction of the gold standard, begun under Wilson with the creation of the Federal Reserve system, was integral to it.

It should be obvious to any reasonably intelligent person that an indefinitely expansible currency, which the Fed was created to bring about, is utterly incompatible with a specie standard of any sort. Currency and credit can be created by fiat; no physical commodity can. Thus, the Hoover / FDR attempts to reinflate the economy, by pumping extra currency and credit into it via federal borrowing and spending, could only go to the lengths those administrations demanded by ending the redeemability of the dollar in gold.

Never in the history of Man has a currency once “set free” from specie backing returned to it at any subsequent time.


I’ve presented only a summary. The history of our departure from money and our descent to a fiat currency with no ability to store value is far more detailed and variegated than I could present in a brief essay here at Liberty’s Torch. Yet the most salient points are covered above. More, if one studies the lineaments of the subsequent period, with particular attention to FDR’s war fascism, the North Atlantic Charter, the rise of persistent federal deficit finance, and America’s assumption of a “world policeman” role, one can easily see the progression to Richard Nixon’s 1971 decision to slam the gold window down upon the fingers of foreign holders of dollars: the last persons entitled under American law to redeem their holdings in gold.

Yes, before you ask: Every last step was morally and fiscally indefensible. Neither can the perpetrators be pardoned for not knowing what they were doing. Ample evidence exists to the opposite effect.

There is no path back to sound money through politics. The political elite would never accept it, and they’re too firmly entrenched to be dislodged by anything short of an armed uprising. Unsound money facilitates vote buying, cronyism, and the indefinite expansion of federal power — and as I’ve said more than once, he who goes into politics desires power above all other things.

If there is a path back to sound money, we must seek it in the origins of money: the adoption by ordinary persons of gold and silver as their preferred media of exchange. Such a phenomenon is already under way. Whether it can continue to the desired end remains uncertain, for its enemies are many and powerful, and they will stint no effort to suppress it.

More anon.

The Nature Of Money And Currency Part 2: Bimetallism And Gresham’s Law

The previous essay merely set forth the properties that distinguish a money commodity from a currency. I trust it was clear that I greatly prefer moneys founded on a precious metal — once was once known as a specie standard — to currencies that cannot be redeemed in a similarly valuable and durable commodity.

Yet today there are no precious-metal moneys in the world. The question one must naturally ask is why. Part of the answer lies in the economic mechanism described by Gresham’s Law.


The policy called bimetallism was commonplace in the nations of the West before the fiat-currency era. In a nation under a bimetallic monetary standard, there are two “official” moneys, usually gold and silver, and a legislatively fixed rate of exchange between them. For example, the original legal ratio between gold and silver in the United States was 15:1, meaning that one ounce of gold was legally held to be equal in value to fifteen ounces of silver. Any debt that could be satisfied by one ounce of gold could also be satisfied by fifteen ounces of silver, and vice versa.

The problem here is three-fold:

  1. There’s far more silver in the Earth’s crust than gold;
  2. The silver is easier to mine and extract from its ores;
  3. Even in the absence of points 1 and 2, common persons value gold over silver at a greater ratio than 15:1.

The result, of course, was that Americans preferred to pay for their purchases in silver and to retain their gold. This common-sense response to an exchange-rate fixed by law is known as Gresham’s Law:

When a government sets a legal exchange ratio between two money metals, such that one is undervalued relative to the other, the undervalued money will leave the country or disappear from circulation into hoards, leaving only the overvalued money in circulation. (Colloquially, “Bad money drives out good.”)

As with all other “laws” about economics, this one has a domain of applicability, outside which it ceases to function. The years of the French assignat and mandat inflation provide an example. Because the French revolutionary government printed so many assignats and mandats, the general public came to regard them as worthless. Legal commerce virtually ceased, while “underground” commerce was conducted solely (and illegally) in gold. Thus, when the “bad money” attained wastepaper status, the “good money” retook the field.

Similarly, a restricted bimetallic standard, in which a second precious metal is used for small change and nothing else, is relatively safe from Gresham’s Law: The volume of small change is seldom large enough to persuade common persons to transact in it exclusively. Thus, if the monetary standard defines its unit (e.g., the dollar) as a weight of gold, but allows the limited coinage of small change in silver, gold and gold-backed notes will remain in circulation.

The key to a stable bimetallic standard appears to be exactly such a restriction.


The history of bimetallism in the United States is a checkered one, principally because our original definition for the dollar was as a weight of silver, whereas our major trading partners’ moneys were founded on a weight of gold. Because silver is plentiful in North America, it was deemed expedient to keep a silver definition for the dollar while specifying an exchange rate against gold at which we would deal externally.

America’s problems with bimetallism arose as the quantity of silver mined and sold to federal mints began to rise. If silver was to be the money of the American domestic economy, but gold the preferred medium of the international economy, impediments to Americans’ trade with other nations would be inevitable. However, there was a powerful group of U.S. Senators, collectively termed the “silver senators,” that agitated ceaselessly for “free coinage of silver,” and, as is often the case with a special-interest group with a short, passionately advanced agenda, frequently got its way.

The defection of the Cleveland Democrats to the Republican Party, in the wake of populist-inflationist William Jennings Bryan’s capture of the Democrat presidential nomination in 1896, brought an effective end to the bimetallic dollar and the problems it entailed. From 1896 through 1971, the official definition of the dollar was as a weight of gold, though that weight was changed several times over that period.


The transition from a bimetallic standard afflicted by Gresham’s Law to a monometallic (or restricted bimetallic) standard requires three things:

  1. Official coinage minted prior to the transition, if it remains in circulation, must be honored at its face value;
  2. The coinage being abandoned — in nearly all cases, this will be the overvalued money — must be gradually withdrawn from circulation as it’s used to pay tax debts and other federal charges;
  3. Policies 1 and 2 must remain in effect until the abandoned coinage has been reduced to token levels, and the general public must be convinced that this will occur.

Under such a regime, coins minted from the previously overvalued money acquire a new status: tokens whose face value entitles the holder to that amount of the new, monometallic money. If their quantity is expeditiously reduced, they will pose no problem to future commerce, whether domestic or international. Some will become collector’s items; others will be melted down, that their metal might be used for something else. Stability in the market will be largely assured, though transient local fluctuations will occur.

However, the transition imposes a requirement on governments to which they seldom adhere: the de-facto reduction of tax revenue paid in the overvalued money. There’s no escaping this; at least some of those coins must be destroyed for the transition to proceed. If they’re returned to circulation, the problems of bimetallism will persist.

France destroyed its assignat and mandat presses; Weimar Germany ceased to issue the worthless Mark, allowed it to depart from circulation, and replaced it with a new unit, the Rentenmark. But I know of no nation which has transitioned from an unrestricted (a.k.a., “free coinage”) bimetallic standard to a monometallic or restricted bimetallic system while complying fully, and with full public confidence, with the three rules above.

The subject of monetary standards is vast. There are aspects to it that are bitterly argued by monetarist economists even today. For example, I have yet to discuss panics and runs under a specie standard. So I must say once again:

More anon.

The Nature of Money and Currency

     Being an old fart, my education included a few items that are, let us say, no longer deemed suitable for dissemination to the impressionable young. However, had those young folks been exposed to a few of those items, quite a lot of our current miseries might well have been averted.

     Two of those no-longer-chic items were the original definitions of money and currency:

money n: A medium of exchange and a store of value.
currency n: a proxy for money often employed in commercial intercourse.

     Holding fast to those definitions make much else possible, including comprehension of the recent catastrophes that have afflicted those who placed their trust in Bitcoin.

     Opinion about Bitcoin’s prospects is sharply divided. This writer’s faith in it appears unshaken, while this writer is much more skeptical. Both have points to make, but neither addresses the matter from the fundamental facts about money and currency:

  • What functions money must serve;
  • What properties conduce toward those ends;
  • What perils pertain to currencies that attempt to serve the functions of money.

     Which will serve as the focus for today’s tirade. Please forgive me if what follows seems too elementary to require discussion.

***

     Money shares an important characteristic with language: it was a “crowdsourced” development. No one “invented” money; it evolved from the desires of ordinary people striving to live better, more secure lives.

     The evolution of money from the barter system that underpins all voluntary exchange is itself a fascinating subject, but one too extended for a piece here at Liberty’s Torch. (Yes, I’m a longwinded sort, but I try to respect my readers’ patience. Really!) Suffice it to say that as markets grew more complex and human commerce extended over an ever larger region, various commodities were pressed into use as money, and over time were displaced by commodities that better served money’s purposes. Before governments messed everything up for all of us, the predominant moneys of the world were gold and silver, with copper for the smallest of small change.

     The salient characteristics of gold and silver are:

  1. They’re easily recognizable;
  2. They cannot be counterfeited;
  3. They’re durable over long periods of time;
  4. They’re both uncommon and relatively stable in quantity;
  5. They’re divisible into very small quantities without degradation;
  6. People value them for their intrinsic properties, rather than for legal reasons.

     Those characteristics are the ones that make a commodity function well as money. Consider a few of the moneys that preceded the widespread adoption of gold and silver:

  • Tobacco degrades too swiftly;
  • Whiskey is too easily adulterated;
  • Corn is too commonplace, and of unstable quantity;
  • Buckskins lose their value by being divided into small pieces;
  • Big honking wheels of rock are not generally valued for their own sake, and make a hell of a lump in one’s pocket, besides.

     A society’s choices about what will serve as money can be, and usually are, isolated from its choices about currencies. There have been many societies in which only one commodity was deemed money, yet several varieties of currency circulated in competition with one another. The most common currencies have been banknotes — pull a Federal Reserve note out of your wallet if you need an example to study — with small, largely worthless metallic slugs for small change. In modern economies we can also find more specialized currencies: bearer bonds and promissory notes. In an economy with a stable money, every unit of currency will represent some quantity of money, for which it can be exchanged in the proper circumstances.

     A society’s fiscal problems commence when people start to lose the distinction between money and currency.

***

     We employ currencies in common transactions because they tend to be more convenient: easier to carry around. Also, when money is a physical commodity such as gold or silver, frequently handling money accelerates the process that wears it away or degrades it chemically. But a currency is not money and must not be treated as such; its intrinsic properties are not suitable for use as money:

  • It can be counterfeited;
  • It’s likely to degrade far too swiftly;
  • If it’s a governmental issue, it can be inflated;
  • A unit of currency cannot be divided (try that with a $100 bill);
  • It has no intrinsic value.

     Indeed, the very properties that make currencies unsuitable as moneys are the reasons they become currencies in the first place — especially when governments are involved.

     Today, every government in the world produces a currency — mostly paper notes — that it proclaims to be legal tender: a payment applicable to goods, services, and debts that merchants, artisans, and creditors are required to accept, under penalty of law. However, no government ties its legal-tender currency to a commodity that can serve the functions of money. Every government issues as much of its currency as it pleases, according to its budgetary deficits and other obligations. The world economy, afloat on a sea of worthless paper and equally worthless digital records, is being steadily hollowed out from within by governmental deficit finance and the inflation used to fund it.

     Which is why there’s been such a resurgence of interest in gold and silver: not as moneys to be employed in common commerce, but as stores of value independent of the fluctuations and inflation that characterize governmental currencies.

***

     Bitcoin, like the Federal Reserve notes in your wallet, is a currency. It cannot function as a money; it lacks the properties of money. The collapse of the Mt. Gox Bitcoin exchange has shaken the faith of many who thought they saw in Bitcoin a trustworthy alternative to governmental currencies. They failed to reckon with the many ways in which an entirely “virtual” currency can be compromised or undermined. The Mt. Gox disaster is only the first. There will be others.

     Many astute and observant things have been said about money. Some of them are even true. For my money (sorry about that), the most piercing statement ever made about money occurred on the floor of the United States Senate, in 1912. The great financier J. P. Morgan had been asked to testify to that august body on monetary matters. This was the very first inquiry put to him:

Senator: Mr. Morgan, what is money?
J. P. Morgan: Gold is money, and nothing else is.

     Morgan’s understanding of the properties required of money was clear and unshakable.

     For a poetic, emotionally charged oration on money, particularly about how it differs from currency, nothing can top Francisco D’Anconia’s soliloquy in Atlas Shrugged. That speech is quoted in full here, but the pithiest portion follows:

    “Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men’s protection and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave to its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values. Gold was an objective value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it bounces, marked: ‘Account overdrawn.'”

     Food for thought.

Pieties

[In light of this piercing cartoon from the great Chris Muir, I have reposted the following piece, which first appeared at the Palace Of Reason on March 29. 2002. — FWP]


A recent, tax-funded study, conducted by the Public Service Research Institute, dared to delve into the truth or falsity of the allegations that New Jersey State Troopers have been enforcing an unlegislated statute against Driving While Black. According to what I’ve read, the study was conducted with meticulous alertness for factors that might bias its results. It made use of impersonal, double-blind techniques at every stage of its processing. It was apparently a model of its kind, a showcase for the best statistical practices of the social sciences.

Unfortunately, the results of the study were:

  • The troopers were not engaging in racial profiling when they stopped black drivers, because:
  • Black drivers violate the motor vehicle laws disproportionately to their numbers. The disproportion is approximately 50%. That is, whereas blacks made up 16 percent of motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike, they accounted for 23 percent of the traffic stops and for 25 percent of the speeders. This verdict was rendered not by the troopers themselves, but by automated radar units and camera records.

Because the study both exonerates the troopers and indicts the most sensitive American racial group, the US Department of Justice has turned its face against it. The state of New Jersey refuses to release the study to the public. That didn’t keep it from being reported by the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/21/nyregion/21TROO.html) — and denounced by the NAACP.

The objections registered to this study ring hollow. They questioned methods that New Jersey authorities had approved enthusiastically before the study, and which logic indicates could not have biased the results. For example, of the 18,000 snapshots taken through windshields to identify the races of drivers, about one third had to be discarded due to excessive windshield glare. Obviously, this effect would not discriminate among the races, especially since the screeners making those decisions were not permitted to know whether the drivers at whose photos they were staring had been clocked above the speed limit.

Does the putative finding that blacks speed more than non-blacks (in New Jersey, at least) have any enduring social significance? Probably not. But the reactions against the study do.

Our society, animated by an enduring guilt about the enslavement and subsequent differential legal and social treatment of blacks, has elevated the notion of equality among the races to a piety: an assertion that demands homage, but which is unsupported by evidence, and is sustained entirely by faith.

One cannot challenge the pieties of a society without provoking condemnation or ostracism. To question a piety, even along its margins, is to ask to be thrown out of the church. This is an absolute that applies to all peoples and times.

Pieties have their dangers. The unquestioned belief, in late 17th Century France, that Catholics were morally superior to Huguenots allowed Louis XIV to revoke the Edict of Nantes, the decree of religious tolerance for the Protestant minority. The resulting mass emigration of Huguenots to Belgium weakened France severely, as the Huguenots were among the most industrious and educated persons of northern France. Indeed, part of the Catholic animosity toward them was that they worked on Sundays, and thus had a competitive edge over Catholics in business and commerce.

If we are in thrall to a piety contrary to the actual facts of our society, we are in danger too. The question is only of degree.

No decent person would gainsay the principle of equality before the law. It’s the only sort of enforceable equality that doesn’t violate the rights of Man. He who commits a crime by the written laws should face an impersonal juridical procedure and receive an impersonal sentence — impersonal in the sense that they should take no account of anything about the accused other than what he did and the circumstances within which he did it. Plainly, we have departed from this simple, honorable standard in many ways. That doesn’t vitiate the ideal.

Black-identity groups, which have grown powerful in recent years, have used the law to impose the equality-of-the-races piety on us whether we agree or not. This has led to a marked inequality of treatment of the races, with net benefits flowing coercively to blacks, in particular to politically active blacks, at the expense of whites and Asians. As a matter of justice, this situation is indistinguishable from apartheid and Jim Crow, except for the race of the beneficiaries.

If there are real, substantial differences among the races, whether in ability, civility, or willingness to conform to the law, this could be the death blow to our society.

The black-identity groups and their mouthpieces know this, of course. That’s why the NAACP was so quick to condemn the traffic study. It’s a chip in the iron wall around the piety. It invites people to think about what the NAACP’s central cadre would prefer to remain unthinkable. With the piety for protection of their perquisites, they don’t want to risk a collision with contrary objective evidence. Therefore, any study that suggests that blacks and non-blacks differ in anything but skin color is to be condemned out of hand, and suppressed entirely if possible.

It’s not my intention to discuss the differences among the races here. I believe that there are some, though I also hold that, whatever any statistic might say about any group, each individual deserves to be dealt with according to his own merits. What upsets me is that we should so readily accede to the desires of organizations whose agenda is, quite baldly, to denigrate objective facts objectively gathered.

But this is of a piece with another American piety. Discomfiting others is near the top of our secular list of thou shalt nots. Adults aren’t supposed to call other adults to account for incivility, or cite their character flaws to them even in private. A gentleman, the old code says, is one who never gives offense unintentionally — and whether we still adhere to the code in its full extent, that inhibition is firmly ingrained in white American society.

The race-hustlers are using our highest and best impulses against us. How long can it go on?

The Calculus of Freedom

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

1. Objectives And Constraints.

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

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

  • Objectives,
  • Constraints.

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

2. Theoretical Bases For Government.

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

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

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

3. Attitudes Toward Rights.

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

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

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

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

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

4. The Dismissal Of Absolutism.

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

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

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

5. The Refutation Of Utilitarianism.

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

But collective utility presupposes many things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Determining Rights And Securing Them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHO DECIDES?

Licensure

Five years ago at Eternity Road, I wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give that a moment’s thought.


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

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

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

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

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

Give that a moment’s thought.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, the official was a Negro.


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

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

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

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

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

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

On Privacy

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


I wrote at Eternity Road, nine years ago:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Exclaves

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Pyramid Of Cheese

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Kevin swallowed and shook his head.

“It’s the Kraft Company, Kevin.”

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

Wastrels

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


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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bennett reminds us of better days.

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

America’s days of wine and roses.

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

[Rudyard Kipling, “The City of Brass”]

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

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

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

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

Forgive me.

An Intellectual’s Duty

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

NZC: Indeed!

TJIC: …unless I ran as a Libertarian…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

To young Americans seeking a suitable course in life:

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

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

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

Any questions?]

Ultra Vires: Quandaries For Catholics And Conservatives

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


April 21, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

It’s On: What Now?

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

“Threat” refers to capabilities, not intentions.

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

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

This is the paramount principle of personal protection.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Here we come to the grimmest observations of all:

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

[From On Broken Wings]

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

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

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

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

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

Take no unnecessary risks.

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

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


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

Are you prepared for what’s upon us?

It’s On

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

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

In either case, the question becomes: What now?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I wrote:

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

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

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

Which is why I ask: What now?


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

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

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

Pray.

Tea Leaves By Twilight

Part 1: Portents

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Part 2: Wars and Rumors of Wars

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

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

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

[Al Stewart, “Rumours Of War”]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Privilege confers advantage.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

     And pray.

When It Came

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


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

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

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

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

    A forest of red lights winked on in assent.

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

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

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

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

    The explanation needs to be complete and correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “I am, Your Honor.”

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

    “Mr. Prime Minister,” she said.

    “Madam President.”

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

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

    “All the same.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Yes, Prime Minister?”

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

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

    Probably the last time, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “None is required, General.”

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

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

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

— The End —

Present Enemies, Future Wars

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kill them all.”

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


2.Allocating The Blame And Responding.

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

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

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

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


3.What We Have Today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


4.The End Of Otherness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


5.Identifying The Malady.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer is Islam.

Alone among the major religions of the world, Islam:

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

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

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

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

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

Americans are coming to understand this.

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

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

He is right not to feel safe.


6.Futures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


7.Other Developments.

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

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

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

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

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


8.Lessons.

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

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

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

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