Obama was alluding to FDR’s famous promise (at Oglethorpe University in 1932) to pursue “bold, persistent experimentation” to end the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s vow was itself a homage to the reigning philosophical pose of American liberalism at the time: pragmatism. Self-anointed champions of the “pragmatic method,” the progressives believed they were anti-ideologues, experts and technicians using the most scientifically advanced methods to replace the failed liberal-democratic capitalism of the 19th century. Words like “philosophy,” “dogma,” “principle,” and “ideology” were out, and terms like “progress,” “method,” “action,” “technique,” and “disinterestedness” were in. When Herbert Croly, founder of The New Republic and author of the progressive bible The Promise of American Life, was accused of violating liberal principles when he supported Italy’s great modernizer, Benito Mussolini, Croly replied that the flagship journal of American liberalism was in fact “not an exponent of liberal principles.” Indeed, “if there are any abstract liberal principles, we do not know how to formulate them. Nor if they are formulated by others do we recognize their authority. Liberalism, as we understand it, is an activity.”
This has been the primary disguise of liberalism ever since: “We’re not ideologues, we’re pragmatists! And if only you crazy ideologues” — “market fundamentalists,” “right-wingers,” “zealots,” “dogmatists,” etc. — “would just get out of the way and let us do what all smart people agree is the smart thing to do, we could fix all the problems facing us today.” It’s a variant of the old “scientific socialism” that exonerated the Left from the charge of ideological bias. “We’re not seizing the means of production and these great vacation homes because we want to — it’s science!” The subtext is always clear: People who disagree with liberalism do so because they are deranged, brainwashed, corrupt, selfish, or stupid. In his 1962 Yale commencement address, President Kennedy explained that “political labels and ideological approaches are irrelevant to the solution” of today’s challenges. At a press conference the previous March he had told the country, “Most of the problems … that we now face, are technical problems, are administrative problems.” And therefore we needed people like him and his Whiz Kids to “deal with questions which are now beyond the comprehension of most men.”
“Pragmatism” and “ideology” have themselves become clichés. Liberals are smart and realistic because they do smart and realistic things; smart and realistic things are the things liberals do. Conservatives, meanwhile, are ideologues who don’t live in the reality-based community; the things they do are by definition ideological, because conservatives do them.
Jonah Goldberg, excerpt from The Tyranny of Clichés, published by National Review, 2012-04-22.
August 26, 2015
August 22, 2015
July 21, 2015
As entertaining as these little vignettes may be, they’re also indicative of a more dispiriting and concerning philosophy that has overtaken a great many young people, both men and women, at the beginning of the 21st century. The early Western feminist movements generally possessed a nobility and righteousness that rendered the ideology both powerful and admirable. It is no small feat, after all, to reverse several millennia’s worth of systematic oppression and discrimination, and the women’s rights campaigns of the 19th and 20th centuries are some of the crown jewels of Western civilization. Emmeline Pankhurst may have been a bit radical here and there, but at least she was right. Nowadays among the ranks of feminism you’re less likely to find a principled zealot like Pankhurst and more likely to find a repellant, theory-drenched curmudgeon like Andrea Dworkin.
There is a word that embodies the kind of single-minded fanaticism of modern feminism: a cult. […]
It’s fashionable these days for feminists to try and convince others of their own latent feminism; “You’re a feminist,” they claim, “if you believe in equality between the sexes.” Political and social equality between the sexes is one of the most worthwhile and noble goals to which a society can aspire, but as we’ve seen, modern feminism is about so much more than that: it’s a neurotic, insular, self-aggrandizing, and paranoid ideology that aims to spread fear, small-mindedness and agonistic self-criticism and self-doubt over even an uncomplicated and enjoyable idea such as the bouquet toss. Is it any surprise that many prominent young women are rejecting the label altogether?
Daniel Payne, “The Many Fabricated Enemies of Feminists”, The Federalist, 2014-07-22.
May 26, 2015
It’s not merely the feminist foot soldiers out in the gender fields that are prime examples of the new feminist lockstep. You see it in the theory end of the business, as well, the sincere striving for what Gandhi called “complete harmony of thought and word and deed.” Recently, Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, wrote an article for The Guardian in which she asked, “Can a woman who’s fought for equality and respect, against sexism and misogyny, become a bride?” Bates laments that the ritual of marriage “is riddled with patriarchal symbolism;” she notes with approval the wedding of some feminist friends in which, concerning the bridal party, “nobody’s role is dictated by their gender;” she lambasts the “sexist undertones” to be found in the traditional throwing of the bouquet; and sums up “The great name conundrum” by declaring that “changing her name erases [the bride’s] identity as a separate individual.” If you want to make a wedding even more exhausting and harried than it already is, go Full Feminist on it.
Daniel Payne, “The Many Fabricated Enemies of Feminists”, The Federalist, 2014-07-22.
April 23, 2015
Since Plato’s Republic, politicians, intellectuals, and priests have been fascinated with the idea of “capturing” children for social-engineering purposes. This is why Robespierre advocated that children be raised by the state. Hitler — who understood as well as any the importance of winning the hearts and minds of youth — once remarked, “When an opponent says ‘I will not come over to your side,’ I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to us already … You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing but this new community.'” Woodrow Wilson candidly observed that the primary mission of the educator was to make children as unlike their parents as possible. Charlotte Perkins Gilman stated it more starkly. “There is no more brilliant hope on earth to-day,” the feminist icon proclaimed, “than this new thought about the child … the recognition of ‘the child,’ children as a class, children as citizens with rights to be guaranteed only by the state; instead of our previous attitude toward them of absolute personal [that is, parental] ownership — the unchecked tyranny … of the private home.”
Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change, 2008.
March 16, 2015
If there’s one thing young people, particularly college people, like, its the feeling of being at the edge of revolution, being part of something big and important. Most children to some degree grow up with this belief, and the more wealthy and safe the families, the greater the expectation. But this confidence gotten more pronounced in later generations.
Raised to believe they are special and unique and destined for greatness by educators and parents more concerned about self esteem in children than being ready to face a cruel, uncaring world, children expect that they will be terribly important and pivotal in the future, and many never grow out of this stage.
This is played off of by the left, which presents the world as a horrible place that they can change. The entire Obama campaign in 2008 was all about this; “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Vote for Obama and together we’ll fix all the problems!
So far they’ve been very successful with this approach, because young people, particularly those of college age, are just beginning to realize the way they were raised and the way they understand the world ought to be is very different from how it really is.
The left shows up and tells them it can be that way, if only everyone would do what they say. That we can have that wonderful utopia, that we can fix it all with a few more taxes, a bigger government, a few more laws. Some will have to give up things, but that’s okay they’re all richer than you are anyway. Lacking discernment and experience enough in life to see through this, young people eat it up with a spoon. It’s been tremendously effective for 40 years or more.
Christopher Taylor, “TRANSGRESSIVE”, Word Around the Net, 2014-05-30.
February 10, 2015
The strength of the populists consists in a certain naïveté. They actually believe in “democracy.” And they are all mystical “nationalists” within their respective statist domains. They think that the nature of the modern State can be changed; that it would be possible, for instance, to downsize it, to reduce taxes, to maybe pay down some debt, to make the agencies of the State responsive to their individual customers, more reflective of human decency, &c. In power, they confront the reality, of machinery vastly large and complex, regulations fantastically detailed and comprehensive, all backed by the power of written law, to be enforced when necessary by violence. And being crass, the best they can do is empty their chamberpots into the machine, here and there. They prove rank amateurs, and upon their removal from office, the “natural party of government” returns, to make some minor sloppy repairs, then resume the mission of Nanny Statecraft — with ambitious new programmes and departments to reward dependency, and crush the spirit of liberty and enterprise; focusing their efforts to make sure that trouble does not arise from the same quarter again.
The citizen of every modern Nation State is fully integrated with that machinery: strapped into place and identifiable by serial number. There is nothing voluntary in his participation: the definition of an “outlaw” has been amended over time, to mean specifically failure to cooperate with any government agent, or to surrender immediately to his demands. (I laugh, bitterly, when a media smartie proposes e.g. mandatory voting, as if adding more idiots to the electorate will improve anything. And yet I welcome it as a frank admission that democracy is a totalitarian creed.)
I do not see how this machinery could ever be peacefully dismantled, given not only its scale, but its claim to the universal authority once accorded only to God. Now that it has had five centuries to grow (counting from the real Reformation, when such as Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, and appropriated Church property and titles to the State, subjecting divine to profane authority throughout his realm) I do not anticipate a quick turnaround. I do, however, see that when it collapses, the machinery will come down directly on top of all of us.
David Warren, “Hapless Voters”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-05-26.
January 27, 2015
Normally, [the voters] are suckered. The political class — the class of politicians, senior bureaucrats, self-interested lobbyists, and all their paid flunkeys in media and elsewhere — are much cleverer than “the people,” on political questions. “The people,” for their part, may be individually cleverer than they, but not, as a rule, on political questions, which don’t much interest the great majority of them. The political class have, in addition to whatever native smarts, plenty of experience manipulating “the people,” and the contempt required to be ruthless about it. In a fully-fledged “democracy,” it takes little sophistry for the bad guys to win. But the term is relative, and should the good guys win, it will be another victory for the politicians.
A few days ago, I found myself trying to explain this to a well-intended, rightwing person. He complained that the Conservative Party had turned its back on “conservative principles.” This struck me as an unfair allegation, for the party had never once in the history of Canada, whether at the provincial or Dominion level, embraced “conservative principles,” nor shown the slightest curiosity over what they might be. The purpose of a political party has nought to do with such “principles.” (This goes for all parties including, within five years of their founding, those founded on “principles.”) Rather it is to tax as much as they dare, and distribute the takings among their friends, while “nation building” — i.e. adding to the machinery of State. A party unclear on this essential “principle” of democracy (the one that defeats every other principle) might get itself elected by some fluke, but will not long retain power.
David Warren, “Hapless Voters”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-05-26.
January 12, 2015
The Soviets consciously followed the Gramscian prescription; they pursued a war of position, subverting the “leading elements” of society through their agents of influence. (See, for example, Stephen Koch’s Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals; summary by Koch here) This worked exactly as expected; their memes seeped into Western popular culture and are repeated endlessly in (for example) the products of Hollywood.
Indeed, the index of Soviet success is that most of us no longer think of these memes as Communist propaganda. It takes a significant amount of digging and rethinking and remembering, even for a lifelong anti-Communist like myself, to realize that there was a time (within the lifetime of my parents) when all of these ideas would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.
Koch shows us that the worst-case scenario was, as it turns out now, the correct one; these ideas, like the “race bomb” rumor, really were instruments deliberately designed to destroy the American way of life. Another index of their success is that most members of the bicoastal elite can no longer speak of “the American way of life” without deprecation, irony, or an automatic and half-conscious genuflection towards the altar of political correctness. In this and other ways, the corrosive effects of Stalin’s meme war have come to utterly pervade our culture.
The most paranoid and xenophobic conservatives of the Cold War were, painful though this is to admit, the closest to the truth in estimating the magnitude and subtlety of Soviet subversion. Liberal anticommunists (like myself in the 1970s) thought we were being judicious and fair-minded when we dismissed half of the Right’s complaint as crude blather. We were wrong; the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss really were guilty, the Hollywood Ten really were Stalinist tools, and all of Joseph McCarthy’s rants about “Communists in the State Department” were essentially true. The Venona transcripts and other new material leave no room for reasonable doubt on this score.
While the espionage apparatus of the Soviet Union didn’t outlast it, their memetic weapons did. These memes are now coming near to crippling our culture’s response to Islamic terrorism.
In this context, Jeff Goldstein has written eloquently about perhaps the most long-term dangerous of these memes — the idea that rights inhere not in sovereign individuals but identity groups, and that every identity group (except the “ruling class”) has the right to suppress criticism of itself through political means up to and including violence.
Mark Brittingham (aka WildMonk) has written an excellent essay on the roots of this doctrine in Rousseau and the post-Enlightenment Romantics. It has elsewhere been analyzed and labeled as transnational progressivism. The Soviets didn’t invent it, but they promoted it heavily in a deliberate — and appallingly successful — attempt to weaken the Lockean, individualist tradition that underlies classical liberalism and the U.S. Constitution. The reduction of Western politics to a bitter war for government favor between ascriptive identity groups is exactly the outcome the Soviets wanted and worked hard to arrange.
Call it what you will — various other commentators have favored ‘volk-Marxism’ or ‘postmodern leftism’. I’ve called it suicidalism. It was designed to paralyze the West against one enemy, but it’s now being used against us by another. It is no accident that Osama bin Laden so often sounds like he’s reading from back issues of Z magazine, and no accident that both constantly echo the hoariest old cliches of Soviet propaganda in the 1930s and ’40s.
Another consequence of Stalin’s meme war is that today’s left-wing antiwar demonstrators wear kaffiyehs without any sense of how grotesque it is for ostensible Marxists to cuddle up to religious absolutists who want to restore the power relations of the 7th century CE. In Stalin’s hands, even Marxism itself was hollowed out to serve as a memetic weapon — it became increasingly nihilist, hatred-focused and destructive. The postmodern left is now defined not by what it’s for but by what it’s against: classical-liberal individualism, free markets, dead white males, America, and the idea of objective reality itself.
Eric S. Raymond, “Gramscian damage”, Armed and Dangerous, 2006-02-11.
November 18, 2014
Except stereotypes are not inaccurate. There are many different ways to test for the accuracy of stereotypes, because there are many different types or aspects of accuracy. However, one type is quite simple — the correspondence of stereotype beliefs with criteria. If I believe 60% of adult women are over 5′ 4″ tall, and 56% voted for the Democrat in the last Presidential election, and that 35% of all adult women have college degrees, how well do my beliefs correspond to the actual probabilities? One can do this sort of thing for many different types of groups.
And lots of scientists have. And you know what they found? That stereotype accuracy — the correspondence of stereotype beliefs with criteria — is one of the largest relationships in all of social psychology. The correlations of stereotypes with criteria range from .4 to over .9, and average almost .8 for cultural stereotypes (the correlation of beliefs that are widely shared with criteria) and.5 for personal stereotypes (the correlation of one individual’s stereotypes with criteria, averaged over lots of individuals). The average effect in social psychology is about .20. Stereotypes are more valid than most social psychological hypotheses.
Which raises a question: Why do so many psychologists emphasize stereotype inaccuracy when the evidence so clearly provides evidence of such high accuracy? Why is there this Extraordinary Scientific Delusion?
There may be many explanations, but one that fits well is the leftward lean of most psychologists. If we can self-righteously rail against other people’s inaccurate stereotypes, we cast ourselves as good, decent egalitarians fighting the good fight, siding with the oppressed against their oppressors. Furthermore, as Jon Haidt has repeatedly shown, ideology blinds people to facts that are right under their noses. Liberal social scientists often have assumed stereotypes were inaccurate without bothering to test for inaccuracy, and, when the evidence has been right under their noses, they have avoided looking at it. And when something happens where they can’t avoid looking at it, they have denigrated its importance. Which is, in some ways, very amusing — if, after 100 years of proclaiming the inaccuracy of stereotypes to the world, can we really just say “Never mind, it’s not that important” after the evidence comes in showing that stereotype accuracy is one of the largest relationships in all of social psychology?
November 8, 2014
I just don’t get it — why the obsession with streetcars? Why pay zillions of dollars to create what is essentially a bus line on rails, a bus line that costs orders of magnitude more per passenger to operate and is completely inflexible. It can never be rerouted or moved or easily shut down if changes in demand warrant. And, unlike with heavy rail on dedicated tracks, there is not even a gain in mobility since the streetcars have to wallow through traffic and intersections like everyone else.
What we see over and over again is that by consuming 10-100x more resources per passenger, rail systems starve other parts of the transit system of money and eventually lead to less, rather than more, total ridership (even in Portland, by the way).
Warren Meyer, “I Can’t Understand the Obsession with Streetcars”, Coyote Blog, 2014-10-23.
September 21, 2014
August 26, 2014
Jim Geraghty discusses why political labelling is so limited in helping get your message across when you’re talking to potential voters who aren’t political junkies:
Liz Sheld, examining some Pew survey results and confirming our worst suspicions, that a significant minority of the electorate walk around believing that certain political terms mean the opposite of what they really do:
Looking just at the first question, which Pew has used to determine whether people who say they are libertarians actually know what the term means, 57% correctly identified the definition of “libertarian” with the proper corresponding ideological label. Looking at the other answers, an astonishing 20% say that someone who emphasizes freedom and less government is a progressive, 6% say that is the definition of an authoritarian and 6% say that is the definition of a communist.
As E. Strobel notes, “The term ‘low-info voter’ is inadequate… More like ‘wrong-info voter’.”
Perhaps when we’re trying to persuade the electorate as a whole, we have to toss out terms like “conservative” or “libertarian.” Not because they’re not accurate, but because they represent obscure hieroglyphics to a chunk of the people we’re trying to persuade.
Neocons! Libertarian Populists! Reform Conservatives! To lots of folks, those might as well be D&D character classes. http://t.co/bHgxPn7C3k
— jimgeraghty (@jimgeraghty) August 26, 2014
July 29, 2014
Nowhere were the frictions generated by nationalist politics more in evidence than in the Cisleithanian [the non-Hungarian half of Austria-Hungary] parliament, which met from 1883 in a handsome neo-classical building on Vienna’s Ringstrasse. In this 516-seat legislature, the largest in Europe, the familiar spectrum of political ideological diversity was cross-cut by national affiliations producing a panoply of splinter groups and grouplets. Among the thirty-odd parties that held mandates after the 1907 elections, for example, were twenty-eight Czech Agrarians, eighteen Young Czechs (Radical nationalists), seventeen Czech Conservatives, seven Old Czechs (moderate nationalists), two Czech-Progressives (Realist tendency), one ‘wild’ (independent) Czech and nine Czech National Socialists. The Poles, the Germans, the Italians and even the Slovenes and the Ruthenes were similarly divided along ideological lines.
Since there was no official language in Cisleithania (by contrast with the Kingdom of Hungary), there was no single official language of parliamentary procedure. German,Czech, Polish, Ruthenian, Croat, Serbian, Slovenian, Italian, Romanian and Russian were all permitted. But no interpreters were provided, and there was no facility for recording or monitoring the content of the speeches that were not in German, unless the deputy in question himself chose to supply the house with a translated text of his speech. Deputies from even the most insignificant factions could thus block unwelcome initiatives by delivering long speeches in a language that only a handful of their colleagues understood. Whether they were actually addressing the issues raised by the current motion, or simply reciting long poems in their own national idiom, was difficult to ascertain. The Czechs in particular were renowned for the baroque extravagance of their filibustering. The Cisleithanian parliament became a celebrated tourist attraction, especially in winter, when Viennese pleasure-seekers crowded into the heated visitors’ galleries. By contrast with the city’s theatres and opera houses, a Berlin journalist wrily observed, entry to parliamentary sessions was free.*
* Among those who came to watch the antics of the deputies was the young drifter Adolf Hitler. Between February 1908 and the summer of 1909, when Czech obstructionism was at its height, he was often to be found in the visitors’ gallery. He would later claim that the experience had ‘cured’ him of his youthful admiration for the parliamentary system.
Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.
July 22, 2014
If there’s one thing that separates conservatives from libertarians, it’s the conservative worship of the police. In most conservatives’ eyes, the police are always right and should never be criticized regardless of the situation. Perhaps this is beginning to change, as A.J. Delgado calls for an end to the love affair:
Imagine if I were to tell you there is a large group of government employees, with generous salaries and ridiculously cushy retirement pensions covered by the taxpayer, who enjoy incredible job security and are rarely held accountable even for activities that would almost certainly earn the rest of us prison time. When there is proven misconduct, these government employees are merely reassigned and are rarely dismissed. The bill for any legal settlements concerning their errors? It, too, is covered by the taxpayers. Their unions are among the strongest in the country.
No, I’m not talking about public-school teachers.
I’m talking about the police.
We conservatives recoil at the former; yet routinely defend the latter — even though, unlike teachers, police officers enjoy an utter monopoly on force and can ruin — or end — one’s life in a millisecond.
For decades, conservatives have served as stalwart defenders of police forces. There have been many good reasons for this, including long memories of the post-countercultural crime wave that devastated, and in some cases destroyed, many American cities; conservatives’ penchant for law and order; and Americans’ widely shared disdain for the cops’ usual opponents. (A hippie being arrested is something people from all walks of life are usually happy to see.) Although tough-on-crime appeals have never been limited to conservative politicians or voters, conservatives instinctively (and, it turned out, correctly) understood that the way to reduce crime is to have more cops making more arrests, not more sociologists identifying more root causes. Conservatives are rightly proud to have supported police officers doing their jobs at times when progressives were on the other side.
But it’s time for conservatives’ unconditional love affair with the police to end.