Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences


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Let’s begin with an incident that, although it has had saturation coverage, has not been treated properly. On her TBS show on 30 May, Samanta Bee made this statement directed publicly at Ivanka Trump:

Do something about your dad’s immigration practices, you feckless c—!

The next day, Bee issued this apology on Twitter:

I would like to sincerely apologize to Ivanka Trump and to my viewers for using an expletive on my show to describe her last night. It was inappropriate and inexcusable. I crossed a line, and I deeply regret it.

Let’s accept Bee’s apology literally. Her use of the c-word has been flogged to death in the past four days. Everything that can be said about it has been said about it.

I want to discuss her use of feckless, for which she has not apologized, and for which I do not expect any apology to be forthcoming. According to The Free Dictionary, feckless is defined as:

  1. Careless and irresponsible;
  2. Feeble or ineffective.

In order to accept Bee’s application of feckless to Ivanka, we have to accept that Bee’s position on the immigration practices of the Trump Administration are unquestionably morally correct. At least, that her position is  Then, either Ivanka would be careless and irresponsible in not advocating morality within the administration, or ineffective in the way she was going about advocating morality.

On CNN yesterday, Michael Smerconish interviewed comedian Spike Feresten (who wrote the 1995 “Soup Nazi” episode of Seinfeld). Feresten’s remarks illustrate the thinking from whence this attitude originates:

There’s this popular misnomer that comes from the right, that these are liberal writing rooms, and there not.

The writing rooms that I’ve been in, the Letterman writing room, “Saturday Night Live,” my own show, what we’re doing is right and wrong, not left and right. When I’m sitting down and going hey let’s tow the whole – tell the water, tell the line for the left today.

We look at news and we’re social judges. And this is a right or wrong issue that she’s commenting on and I don’t think we should be caught on the word she used because I think we’re all fine with it. We’re all OK; our ears aren’t bleeding.

We should be caught up with what she was talking about. What she was trying to point out with her humor. And that is this horrible Administration policy, where children and parents are being separated.


I believe that what Feresten meant to say is, “When I’m not sitting down and going hey let’s tow the whole – tell the water, tell the line for the left today.” I will proceed on that basis, and accept the responsibility if I am wrong.

What I most want to call attention to is the part where he said, “what we’re doing is right and wrong, not left and right.” If one really believes this, then one has to claim that those who support the Trump Administration policy accept that what they are doing is morally wrong and are going to do it anyway.

I find this to be a monumentally arrogant position to take. He delegitimizes those who disagree with him. He maintains that it is a question of morality, not subject to politics. We objectively know what is right and wrong. He and Samantha Bee are right, and those who disagree with him are wrong.

It is easy to see how the faultfinding man of words, by persistent ridicule and denunciation, shakes prevailing beliefs and loyalties, and familiarizes the masses with the idea of change. What is not so obvious is the process by which the discrediting of existing beliefs and institutions makes possible the rise of a new fanatical faith. For it is a remarkable fact that the militant man of words who “sounds the established order to its source to mark its want of authority and justice” often prepares the ground not for a society of freethinking individuals but for a corporate society that cherishes utmost unity and blind faith.
— Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (1951), p. 139.

Hoffer’s landmark study is backed by the experiences of mass movements starting in the Roman empire, moving through the French Revolution with its successive levels of terror and culminating in most violent century since the Dark Ages, in which over 100 million people were put to premature and gruesome death by their own governments. To be cavalier about the consequences of having such moral arrogance and playing an established role in paving the way for it in this country is careless and irresponsible. Bee and Feresten are, in a word, feckless.

There, I said it. And, unlike Bee, I have taken the effort to support my use of the term.

There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.
— Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin (1807-1874)

More immediately, how do you think Trump got his following? He’s primal and instinctive, but he’s no philosopher-king. There are a large number of people in this country who have their own ideas of right and wrong, and they materially differ from the ideas that Bee and Feresten have of right and wrong. It would be a good thing if everyone could get in a room, debate the relative merits and figure out how we are going to move forward as a nation. But that is not what is happening.

What is happening is that people like Bee and Feresten, who have access to channels of communication, use that to promote their point of view, wrapping themselves in the mantle of righteousness (“what we’re doing is right and wrong, not left and right”). As I have documented earlier, people who have a differing concept of right and wrong are fed up with being shouted down and labeled, and plumped for the first person who would stand up and push back, however badly.

Stanley Greenberg, the Democratic pollster who put Macomb County, MI on the political map, went back in 2017 to try to understand what had happened. It takes effort just to peel away the demand characteristics and get a real conversation going.

To learn from these Macomb voters, they had to be able to speak freely. They feel they are under attack – from younger generations in their own families but also in their communities. Some have been ostracized by close family members criticizing them for their vote, others confess they have been “called racist, a xenophobe, homophobe, whatever phobe they could come up with.” One woman’s son was bullied after his 1st grade class held a mock election: “my son hears us and he says, ‘I’m going to vote for Trump,’ and two of the kids in his class started yelling. Like, ‘You’re going to vote Trump? Are you crazy?’ And just started yelling at him.” This is personal.
— Stanley Greenberg and Nancy Zdunkewicz, Macomb County in the Age of Trump

This is the real double standard in American public life. The general tone is that anyone who does not follow the orthodox Progressive line is fair game to be insulted, labeled and denied a hearing.

If Samantha Bee wants to use her show, which is a comedy show about politics, to advocate political positions on public policy, she gets to do that. People who don’t like it can change the channel. But it is a mistake to think that, because those who disagree with her do not get to voice their contrary opinions, that they buy into her version of right and wrong or will allow themselves to be dictated to any more than Bee and those who share her moral norms will tolerate being told where to get off.

People who are good with words like to think that, because they can show greater verbal facility than those who disagree with them, they have all the cards. They think that, because they argue more stridently, more cleverly and more loudly, that they have won the argument. They have not, and 2016 was a proof statement of this. Just because people stop arguing with you to your face, doesn’t mean you have won them over.

It is the height of presumption for Bee to determine the proper order of Ivanka Trump’s priorities for her. It would be entirely warranted for Ivanka to reply: Who died and left you Pope?

If you follow these trends to their logical conclusion, you get two groups of Americans who have utter contempt for each other as moral agents, believe that reasoning is a waste of time and effort and demand resolution now, in the form of total surrender by the other group (“You lost, live with it”). If you’re wondering why people are making YouTube videos forecasting a future civil war, this is why.




Written by srojak

June 3, 2018 at 12:01 pm

Play the Ball, Not the Man

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Roseanne Barr issued a Twitter comment this morning directed at former Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett which was crass and outright abusive. She tried to back out of it as a misguided attempt to be funny, but those of us who have grown up know that defense doesn’t work. As a consequence, ABC cancelled her show. But that ain’t all.

Roseanne had something of value to say about how we in this country were not hearing each other, before she abruptly decided to become part of the problem and say things no one needs to hear. Now, everyone who doesn’t want to hear the points she was trying to make can dismiss them by calling her ignorant, racist, or whatever other label is handy.

Roseanne Barr has always been one of us, but with a whole lot more access. She’s got a lot of baggage, but so do many of us. Her whole premise for the Roseanne revival was that this was the voice of Americans who weren’t being heard. Now, the people she wanted to raise that voice to can say, “No, you are not being heard, and with good reason.”

In the past week, Chelsea Clinton said that President Trump was acting “to degrade what it means to be an American.” No, he doesn’t. We have had unfortunate and regrettable people in the office of President before, who did not represent what we are about. James Buchanan, Warren Harding and Barack Obama spring immediately to mind. But they do not define us. We, the People, define us.

What Roseanne did degrades what it means to be an American more than anything Donald Trump has done, because Roseanne is closer to We the People than is Donald Trump. In her apology, Roseanne said, “I am truly sorry for having made a bad joke about her politics and her looks.” There is no call to attack Valerie Jarrett for her looks, and I saw nothing from Roseanne about Jarrett’s politics. I saw an uncalled-for ad hominem attack on Jarrett relating to her race and her faith.

We the People have to stop this. We have to be able to discuss politics with those with whom we disagree. I have written previously about the need to settle political differences. How do we settle our political differences with words if we can’t even have a conversation that does not degenerate into name-calling and outright abuse? How do we have consent of the governed if the governed can’t even talk to one another?

This is why what Roseanne wrote is so important and so destructive. You want to call out Valerie Jarrett for what she believes, what she advocates and what she’s done? That is all fair game. Her gender, faith, ancestry and ethnicity are not.

Written by srojak

May 29, 2018 at 4:06 pm

Taking Religion Seriously

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As part of a series of videos from The Atlantic titled “Unpresidented”, Emma Green, who is a staff writer, presents “Why Don’t Democrats Take Religion Seriously.” She analyzes the support given to Donald Trump by Christian voters and recounts the statistics showing the increasing number of Democrats who self-describe as not religious.

Green uses a video clip where Charlie Cook said, in a 2016 interview, that “The Democratic Party has become a secular party.” She illustrates her argument with the famous incident from 2008 where Barack Obama put his foot in it, saying “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them … as a way to explain their frustrations.”

This would work better if Democrat attitudes toward religion were a simple marketing decision, where they could just stop alienating traditionally religious voters. In fact, the issue is more complicated than that.

The people who are in control of the Democratic Party agenda self-identify as Progressives, and I am going to identify them as such. As we shall see, across all the changes from the Progressive Era through the New Deal to the social justice initiatives of today, there is a fundamental thread that connects them.

Green touched on the difference between Progressives and all Democrats when she cited the statistic that about a third of the Democratic grass-roots opposes abortion, but very few of the national leadership does. The national leadership is Progressive, but not all of the Democratic voters are.

Green also identifies Rev. William Barber II as an inheritor of a Christian spiritual tradition that traces back through Martin Luther King (and, indeed, abolitionists such as Garrison and Phillips), advocating a political viewpoint that is informed by Christian teaching and tradition. However, she notes that he is outside the Democratic Party elite.

For though ours is a godless age, it is the very opposite of irreligious.
— Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (1951).

Whether or not they acknowledge it as such, Progressives already have a religion. They do not worship a supernatural deity. They do not endorse a book claiming to contain revealed truth about that deity. They do not believe that someone can miraculously change water into wine. But these are incidental features; the essential ingredient is faith, and Progressives have that in abundance.

By definition, faith is not open to persuasion. It cannot be proven false. If a believer can be talked out of her faith, it can’t have been very deeply rooted to begin with.

We can compare Christianity and Progressivism, thinking theologically about both of them:

Christianity Progressivism
Focus of faith and worship God The People
Creation Is good
Humanity is given dominion as stewards of creation.
Is good
Humanity is nothing special
Sin I put my will before the will of God I put my will before the General Will, the Public Interest
Judgement You get your reward in Heaven We must make matters right here and now
Redemption Acceptance of Jesus as savior Acceptance of the General Will
Is intrusive? No, you have free will Yes, the power of the state must be used to coerce right behavior from the unbelievers
Grace An unmerited gift of God Earned by right thinking
As a believer, you cannot deserve Grace The results of your efforts
Human nature Conflicted: good and evil contend within and for the soul of every person All good; evil is external to the person
“Love and do as you will”
Cardinal virtues Temperance
Social Justice
Sacraments Baptism
Holy Eucharist
(Roman Catholics have five others)
Community service
Prophets from before the common era Moses
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Auguste Comte
Karl Marx
Bearers of wisdom in the common era Paul, born Saul of Tarsus
John Chrysostom
Augustine of Hippo
Theodor W. Adorno
John Rawls
Michel Foucault
Salvation is Individual Collective
Eschatology Jesus shall return to judge the living and the dead; his kingdom shall have no end Social progress shall reveal the truth, allowing us to transcend politics; history will end

A sacrament is defined as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Christians obtain sacraments by ritual actions. Progressives obtain sacraments by ritual promotion of beliefs.

Progressives do not believe that five thousand persons can be fed from five loaves and two fishes, but Christians do not believe that the entire world can be fed without honest effort by all persons.

Even though many Progressives have turned their backs on technological progress or economic progress, their faith in social progress is central. They believe that history will prove them out, justifying their beliefs and repudiating those of the people who disagree with them. They like to say that those who disagree with them are “on the wrong side of history.” For this reason, I find they are properly identified as Progressives.

A faith in The People also requires a priestly class to interpret the inexpressible will of The People. Just walking up to actual people and asking them what they want appears to be both unreliable and unsatisfactory. One needs special abilities to discern between the public interest and one’s own special interest, much the same way that not everyone can discern between the Will of God and their own wills.

There are, to be sure, persons who are both Christian and Progressive. They are serving two masters; if they think otherwise, they have another think coming. The People are also a jealous god, demanding that the faithful have no gods outranking The People. The two beliefs of human nature and the two concepts of spiritual authority are wholly incompatible.

In the late 1800s there was the Social Gospel movement. Leaders of this movement called for social redemption of the entire community, giving this priority over redemption of individual believers. As John Taylor summarized it, “The Social Gospel adherents considered it to be their mission to fulfill, in this life, the New Testament’s call to bring about the perfect Kingdom of God.” One Social Gospel leader, Charles Sheldon, introduced the question, “What would Jesus do?”

The problem for the Social Gospelers was that, if the goal is to achieve social salvation on earth, God is at a disadvantage compared to the State. As noted above, God is not intrusive; the State has the means to be very intrusive, marshaling its police power to coerce desired behaviors. Thus, for those whose goal was to be the reform of society along these moral lines, the State was a much surer bet than God. Instead of sitting around praying for change, you can seize power and make people obey. In this way, the Social Gospel served as a gateway ideology, leading many persons to a point where they would switch their faith to The People and the power that sits at the right hand of The People, the State. This is entirely consistent with Comte’s three-stage theory of societal development, and John Dewey is a notable example of a person who followed this path.

The so-called mainline Protestant churches tried to square the circle, to endorse Progressive agenda items while remaining Christian. These churches include the Episcopalians, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA) — distinct from the Presbyterian Church in America and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church — and the United Church of Christ. As Lyman Stone wrote for, they “focus more political efforts toward Christian social relief rather than Christian moral teachings.” And they are losing membership, while eyeing with envy the full parking lot at the evangelical church down the road.

So, while Green calls upon Progressives to make peace with those faithful to traditional, deity-centered religions, they really have no room to do so. Progressives have a religion to which they are strongly committed. I argue that Progressives do have moral beliefs, just that those do not sit well alongside Christian moral beliefs. It is unfair to accuse Progressives of not having moral beliefs; they think their beliefs are fully moral. Their ideas of what people deserve, whom ought to be helped in society and on what terms are rooted in their faith. Their beliefs about justice, equity and a good life are informed by their faith every bit as much as the parallel beliefs of Christians and Jews are informed by theirs.

The culture wars are over; they lost, we won. … For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That’s mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking a hard line (“You lost, live with it”) is better than trying to accommodate the losers, who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.)
— Mark Tushnet, “Abandoning Defensive Crouch Liberal Constitutionalism“. Balkinization, 6 May 2016.

(To be fair to Tushnet, he did recognize at the end of his essay, “Of course all bets are off if Donald Trump becomes President.”)

The normative pull Tushnet cites is the moral basis of his beliefs, founded in his faith and those who believe along with him. The only element of hubris in his argument is his assertion that the issues are already settled (and his history would have you believe we adopted the Morgenthau Plan). I sincerely doubt he would say that he is having a hard time talking about morality. He has a simple moral message: We’re right; they’re wrong. Come to think of it, James Carville wrote a book with that title in 1996.

The foundation in faith is what makes the issue really matter. My disagreement with Green’s analysis is not an idle point of theory — and give her proper credit: her essay is a great starting point. We need to understand the religious nature and righteous characteristics of Progressive faith in order to really understand how much trouble we as a society are in.

I do not want to reduce this discussion to the idea that, If Progressives would just shape up and get with our faith, we wouldn’t have all these problems. That has already been said; meanwhile Progressives are saying similar things about others, including me. There is no room to persuade people. How does one be heard if one says, I know your faith calls you to do A, B and C, but you really need to compromise on B and C to get A? No group of faithful believers has ever been receptive to this kind of message. If you truly believed, would you want to back down and settle for half a loaf because someone is arguing with you? Militant faith demands that you go out and get it all, or die in the attempt. Anything less is moral degeneracy and faithlessness. There are souls out there depending on you.

Sir, let me tell you that which is true, if you do not break them, they will break you; yea, and bring all the guilt of the blood and treasure shed and spent in this kingdom upon your head and shoulders; and frustrate and make void all that work that with so many years’ industry, toil, and pains you have done, and so render you to all rational men in the world as the most contemptiblest generation of silly, low-spirited men in the earth, to be broken and routed by such a despicable contemptible generation of men as they are; and therefore, sir, I tell you again, you are necessitated to break them.
— Oliver Cromwell

This is how you get a holy war, like those that consumed Europe after the Reformation. When Mary I had Protestants burned or John Calvin had Michael Servetus burned, they thought they were following the only moral course of action. The various dissenters were putting their wills before the will of God. They would lead everyone astray if they were allowed to do so. Such behavior cannot stand, especially if we are ever going to get to Jerusalem. You are necessitated to break them.

What we have here is a holy war in the making. At this time, we cannot say how hard is the road ahead. We sense that it will be hard going indeed, and we sensibly fear it. But we cannot turn from it. It is a road we must travel to get to our destination.

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.
— Abraham Lincoln, “Cooper Union Address”, 1860

Michael Hayden’s Complaint

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On Sunday, Michael Hayden, the former director of the CIA and the NSA, was on Face the Nation to discuss his new book, The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies. His quotes are taken from this transcript.

Hayden claims that we have entered what he calls a “post-truth world.” What does he mean by that? He identifies three contributory causes:

And, frankly, the first problem is us. It’s the broader society. It’s our social discourse or lack of social discourse. We’re making decisions based not on facts and data but on emotion, preference, grievance, loyalty, tribalism. We have a president who recognized that as a candidate, exploited it as a candidate and, frankly, I think, worsens it as a president by some of the things he says and does. And then, finally, we’ve got a foreign power coming in recognizing and exploiting both one and two above. And it’s all based on our moving away from basing our lives, our decisions, our dialogue on a view of objective reality rather than preference.

For this discussion, I want to stop at point one. It is valid, but it is not a new development. Almost one hundred years ago, Irving Babbitt was telling us that we were going to come to grief if we continued to move in the direction of placing emotion, preference and grievance above facts and data.

The Eighteenth Amendment is striking proof of our loss of grasp, not only on the principles that underlie our own Constitution, but that must underlie any constitution, as such, in opposition to mere legislative enactment.
Democracy and Leadership (1924), p. 250.

Babbitt was a proponent of what he called the New Humanism, which he sharply distinguished from what he identified as humanitarianism. As Babbitt saw, humanitarianism gave free play to expansive sentimentality, and no self-restraint was possible under such an ethos. He saw the religion of The People and the worship of progress for its own sake as opposite sides of the same coin.

The humanist exercises the will to refrain, but the end that he has in view is not the renunciation of the expansive desires but the subduing of them to the law of measure. The humanistic virtues-moderation, common sense, and common decency-though much more accessible than those of the saint, still go against the grain of the natural man — terribly against the grain, one is forced to conclude from a cool survey of the facts of history. Such, indeed, is the difficulty of getting men to practice even humanistic control that one is led, not necessarily to revive the dogma of original sin, but to suspect that the humanitarians, both Baconian and Rousseauistic, are hopelessly superficial in their treatment of the problem of evil. The social dualism they have set up tends in its ultimate development to substitute the class war for what Diderot termed in his denunciation of the older dualism the “civil war in the cave.”
— “What I Believe” (1930)

Babbitt found that right living requires both the intellect to know what to do and the will to do it. It is the will, more than the intellect, that falters.

In any case the assertion that one attains to more abundant life (in the religious sense) by getting rid of the don’ts sums up clearly, even though in an extreme form, the side of the modern movement with which I am taking issue. This book in particular is devoted to the most unpopular of all tasks — a defence of the veto power.
Democracy and Leadership, p. 5.

Babbitt called for more self-reform and less social reform at a time when the current was running very much the other way. Thus, few listened to him. At this time, we would do well to go back and understand what he had to say.

Already by Babbitt’s time, we had sufficient history to provide examples for those having eyes to see. Babbitt looked critically at the French Revolution:

In theory, Robespierre is, like Rousseau, rigidly equalitarian. He is not a real leader at all — only the people’s “hired man.” But at critical moments, in the name of an ideal general will, of which he professes to be only the organ, he is ready to impose tyrannically his will on the actual people. The net result of the Rousseauistic movement is thus not to get rid of leadership, but to produce an inferior and even insane type of leadership, and in any case leadership of a highly imperialistic type. This triumph of force can be shown to be the total outcome of liberty, equality, and fraternity in the Rousseauistic sense. Rousseau himself, as we have seen, would force people to be free. The attempt to combine freedom with equality led, and, according to Lord Acton, always will lead, to terrorism. As for Jacobinical fraternity, it has been summed up in the phrase; “Be my brother or I’ll kill you.”
— Democracy and Leadership, p. 127.

For Babbitt, there was plenty enough to learn, not only from how the Revolution progressed to how it ended, with Napoleon. Babbitt cited Burke’s predictions from as far back as 1790 that a military adventurer would ultimately sweep in and pick up all the marbles. Napoleon did not get much pushback from the acolytes of The People; most of them fell over one another to welcome and praise him.

After an experience of the theory that has already extended over several generations, the world would seem at times to have become a vast seething mass of hatred and suspicion. What Carlyle wrote of the Revolution has not ceased to be applicable: “Beneath this rose-colored veil of universal benevolence is a dark, contentious, hell-on-earth.”
Democracy and Leadership, p. 131.

As it turned out, this was not only true of the French Revolution, but of the Soviets and the volksgemeinschaft of the Nazis.

For Babbitt, Rousseau was the leading figure, though by no means the final word, in the development of expansive sentimentality as the preferred standard of judgment. Rousseau moved the locus of the struggle for good and evil outside of the individual. Rousseau wrote, “man is naturally good and it is by our institutions alone that men become wicked.” This grants the Rousseauvian the license to give way to his expansive desires, since they are perceived to be naturally good.

Since Babbitt wrote, we have seen the full development of emotivism, the idea that ethical claims are based on emotional attitudes. Emotivism is sometimes known as the hurrah/boo theory, because it recognizes no higher standard than what a person feels about an ethical idea. It is the total realization of decisions based on emotion, preference and grievance. It is the extreme end of the scale in this regard. A person might have a sense that this is not the way to make decisions, but could she articulate her basis for knowing that this is wrong? How would she explain why emotivism goes too far?

Meanwhile, a man in the position of Hayden is left way out on a limb. He wants to base his life and his decisions on objective reality, but in the service of people who want to base their lives and decisions on emotion and preference. He wants to uphold institutions, in the service of people whose philosophy tells them that their institutions are the source of corruption. As this plays out over time, he finds himself being ground between rollers moving ever closer together, leaving no escape. He wants to be providing means based on objective reality to people who choose their ends based on sentiment, but this is a source of increasing frustration to his public because the means do not reach the ends. He perceives, correctly, that the people blame him and those like him for not being able to magically produce the ends they desire.

What’s it like, trying to lead an organization whose function depends on recognition of objective reality, answering to people who don’t care about objective reality? Solzhenitsyn provided a compact summary:

And there were some bright engineers who pointed out a fourth reason as well: that, so they claimed, the necessity of setting up a perimeter fence at every step, of strengthening the convoy, of allotting a supplementary convoy, interfered with their, the engineers’, technical maneuverability, as, for example, during the disembarkation on the River Taz; and because of this, so they claimed, everything was done late and cost more. But this was already an objective reason, this was a pretext! Summon them to the Party bureau, give them a good scolding, and the cause will disappear. Let them break their heads; they’ll find a solution.
The Gulag Archipelago, vol. II, pp. 584-585.

We don’t have to care about your facts and data, Michael! Data is all in your head. Our feelings outrank your excuses. We can want whatever we want, and either you and your people break your heads to provide it or we’ll find someone else who will.

From this point of view, Donald Trump has produced two effects. First, he has raised the intensity of the game to the next level. More important than this, however, is the fact that he has shown the door can swing both ways. Many of the people who advocated sentimentality and good intentions assumed that people in power would always share their sentiments (Yes, we can!), and that those with whom they disagree are on “the wrong side of history.” Now, it seems history has turned a corner, heading in an unsatisfying direction. Thus we observe a sudden awakening of interest in facts and evidentiary data.

… the new American life-style has become a Disneyland version of the Weimar Republic for the whole family.
— Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (1987), p. 147.

The Weimar Republic didn’t end well; it voted itself out of existence and tossed the keys to the Napoleon wannabee of the era. I am not going to compare Trump to Hitler; I don’t find such comparisons warranted. The comparison Bloom made, of our contemporary society to Weimar, is much more apposite. Most of Part II of the book is his argument in support of this claim. Bloom also called our approach, “nihilism with a happy ending.” It will turn out that there are no happy endings for nihilists. The evidence for this is accumulating monthly.

If I can have my truth and you can have your truth, why can’t Donald Trump have his truth? Yes, it’s a little more scary, since he is in a position to do more with his truth, like sic the IRS on you or start a war. But either any of us get to have our own individual truth, or none of us do.

“We are approaching,” Rousseau declared, “the era of crises, and the age of revolutions.” He not only made the prophecy but did more than any other one man to insure its fulfillment.
— “What I Believe”

If each of us can have our own truth, then there is no possibility of settling our differences with words. If they are to be settled at all, that only leaves bullets as a means of settling them. Do not construe that I am endorsing violence. I would much rather be able to work out political disputes with words. But without a common truth on which to base an argument, any attempt to try to persuade another person with words is a fool’s errand. Rational citizens are scared of the eventuality of violent resolution, and rightly so, which is why so many critical issues go unresolved. The unresolved issues are piling up, weighing on us, demanding resolution.

Perhaps Trump can convince people that being out of power can even happen to nice people like you, and when it happens to you, process suddenly becomes important. Possibly, through his negative example, he can illustrate the consequences of cutting loose from facts and data when they are not emotionally satisfying, making these consequences come to life in a way no book can. If he is able to accomplish this, before we are reduced to violence, he will have done a great service to the country.

The belief that sentimentality and good intentions can provide an effective guide to morality is playing out before your eyes. Persons such as Hayden provide valuable testimony of the consequences of these ideas.

The day of reckoning is coming. Hayden provides one more item of evidence that it must come. When it comes, Irving Babbitt is still waiting to show us the way forward.

Written by srojak

May 8, 2018 at 11:13 pm

Oh, That Maggie Haberman

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Remember the 2016 WikiLeaks dump of John Podesta emails? Here is an excerpt from one of them. The author of this email is Nick Merrill, traveling press secretary for Hillary Clinton.

Placing a Story

As discussed on our call, we are all in agreement that the time is right place a story with a friendly journalist in the coming days that positions us a little more transparently while achieving the above goals.


For something like this, especially in the absence of us teasing things out to others, we feel that it’s important to go with what is safe and what has worked in the past, and to a publication that will reach industry people for recruitment purposes.

We have has a very good relationship with Maggie Haberman of Politico over the last year. We have had her tee up stories for us before and have never been disappointed. While we should have a larger conversation in the near future about a broader strategy for reengaging the beat press that covers HRC, for this we think we can achieve our objective and do the most shaping by going to Maggie.

So there is the evidence.

Is the Evidence Accurate?

Please notice that I did not say credible. I would be interested if I were seeing any discussion where Merrill produced evidence that this mail was fabricated, or Haberman produced evidence rebutting the claim that she was reliably teeing up stories for the Clinton campaign. I would still be interested in seeing such challenges to the evidence.

But I am not seeing that.

Or Can We Be Distracted?

Instead, I have been watching a small PR campaign to defend Haberman over the course of the past year and a half. Perhaps the high point, if you will, of the effort was the episode of CNN’s Reliable Sources on 3 Sept 2017, in which Brian Stelter hosted a little father-daughter outing for Clyde and Maggie Haberman. Awww.

Evidently Stelter and his colleague, Dylan Bylers, got into Haberman’s doghouse in May 2016 for arguing over the narrative of the Trump campaign. Maybe this was a make-good? I have a day job, so I can’t stay current on what the cool kids in journalism are up to.

Another Target of Donald Trump

On 21 Apr 2018, Donald Trump issued this tweet:

The New York Times and a third rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a Crooked H flunkie who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with, are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will “flip.” They use…

Here is the piece co-written by Haberman that triggered this outburst. We know that Trump swings wild; this show has been going on for over two years now. It’s part of his “plain everyday folks” shtick, along with the bad grammar and misspellings. He’s convinced that his people love him for it, and nobody is going to tell him otherwise. He’s going to run this play until someone provides undisputable proof that it doesn’t work anymore.

I’m actually disappointed that he didn’t say, “The failing New York Times“, like he usually does when he tweets. He must be having an off day.

I had an accounting teacher who had started businesses. He said that starting a business was like hunting rabbits. You don’t aim at a rabbit, you just point the shotgun and shoot until you hit a rabbit. This is what Trump’s tweets remind me of. Point the shotgun and blast away.

On Reliable Sources today, Stelter saddled up his high horse in defense of Haberman, providing an almost point-by-point rebuttal of Trump’s rundown of Haberman. Countering Trump’s claim that Haberman is “a third rate reporter”, Stelter cited the Pulitzer Prize awarded to her. He showed this image of Haberman and Trump together in the Oval Office in rebuttal to his “who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with” statement.

But the part I am interested in is the claim of her being a flunky for Hillary Clinton, and Stelter left that unaddressed.

When discussing this matter with people I know, someone else called Haberman a hack. I can see why Trump takes the approach that he does; if you disagree with someone, you apparently have to establish that they have no redeeming qualities at all. I can’t explain why that is necessary; it just seems to be something that some people do. I can see why, when Trump tweets, he just loads up the shotgun and blasts away. It seems to find favor with other people, though not with me.

The Issue at Hand

I don’t want to impugn Haberman’s journalistic achievements. For my purposes, I am prepared to take other people’s word that she is an excellent investigator, a great co-worker and a loving mom.

What I want to discuss is whether or not she was known to the Hillary Clinton campaign as a reliable stooge who could be used to tee up news stories to advance their agenda.

In this article, Jack Shafer took the line that, “the Podesta emails give us all a strong sense of how the news sausage is made.” If that is true, there is value in knowing that. But it doesn’t excuse or justify the behavior. Shafer wrote:

I don’t engage in that sort of ass-kissery, but if ass-kissery fills his notebook and produces good copy, I’m willing to suspend judgment.

But now we have a big uproar over news bias and whether journalists can be trusted. If a journalist is in the tank for a presidential candidate, how can that journalist be trusted as an objective source? So there is more to the job than filling a notebook.

The New York Times has launched an ad campaign centered on the idea of the truth. If their reporter is selecting stories to benefit a presidential candidate, are we getting all the truth that is fit to print? Or are we getting a selected subset of truth that favors a particular viewpoint?

Maggie Haberman has some ‘splaining to do. So do other journalists who behave in a similar manner to her. They have to be accountable if we are ever going to come together as a nation, have one version of the truth and trust the media again.



Written by srojak

April 22, 2018 at 6:03 pm

European Integration Timelines

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Here it is: the complete reference of events in time, starting with the European Coal and Steel Community and going all the way to Brexit. All the referenda, the countries that wanted in and those that didn’t.

Here is a diagram illustrating the overlapping relationships among European nations at the time of this writing.

Being a healthy bureaucracy, the European Union has more acronyms than you can shake a composing stick at. I am only going to use a few of those.


The treaties and the acts that significantly amended those treaties, with referenda where held.

Year Treaty Event
1951 Treaty of Paris Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany form the European Coal and Steel Community.
1957 Treaty of Rome The same six nations form the European Economic Community.
1986 Single European Act Amends the Treaty of Rome to create a single market by 1992. Expanded the power of the European Parliament. Signed by the 12 then-current member nations of the European Community.
1986 Denmark ratifies the Single European Act in a referendum.
1987 Ireland ratifies a Constitutional Amendment to permit the state to accept the Single European Act.
1992 Maastricht Treaty Signed by the 12 then-current member nations of the European Community.
1992 Ireland ratifies, by referendum, a constitutional amendment to allow the government to accept the Maastricht Treaty.
1992 France ratifies the treaty in a referendum.
1992 Denmark rejects ratification in a referendum.
1993 Denmark ratifies in a second referendum after Edinburgh Agreement provided four opt-outs for Denmark.
1997 Amsterdam Treaty Signed by the 15 then-current member nations of the European Community.
1998 Ireland ratifies, by referendum, a constitutional amendment to allow the government to accept the Amsterdam Treaty.
1998 Denmark ratifies the treaty in a referendum.
2001 Nice Treaty Signed by the 15 then-current member nations of the European Community.
2001 Ireland rejects ratification in a referendum.
2002 Ireland ratifies in a second referendum after the Seville Declaration established the priority of Ireland’s policy of military neutrality and renounced any plans to develop a European Army.
2004 Constitutional Treaty Signed by the 25 then-member nations of the European Community, this would have established a consolidated constitution for Europe and given legal force to the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
2005 Spain ratifies the Constitutional Treaty in a referendum.
2005 France rejects ratification in a referendum.
2005 The Netherlands rejects ratification in a referendum. Europe lost interest in the treaty at this point.
2005 Luxembourg ratifies the treaty in a referendum.
2007 Lisbon Treaty Signed by the 27 member nations of the European Community
2008 Ireland rejects ratification in a referendum.
2009 Ireland ratifies in a second referendum after the EU leaders agreed not to impose rules on Ireland relating to taxation, “ethical issues” (primarily abortion) or military neutrality.


At the time of the Single European Act, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution must be amended for the Irish national government to give to the EU powers granted to the national government by the Constitution. Ireland has responded to every integration treaty since with a constitutional amendment to accommodate the change, which must be ratified by referendum. There is every reason to expect further integration treaties would also require amendments to the Irish Constitution, with each having to go before the voters in a referendum.

Entry and Exit

Countries coming in — or not, staying in — or not.

Year Event
1972 France approves the EC Enlargement Referendum.
1972 Ireland approves a referendum to amend the constitution to allow joining the EC.
1972 Norway rejects a referendum to join the EC.
1972 Denmark approves a referendum to join the EC.
1975 The United Kingdom approves a referendum to have joined the EC (since the UK had already joined without a referendum in 1973).
1982 Greenland rejects a referendum to remain in the EC. Greenland left in 1985.
1994 Austria approves a referendum to join the EU.
1994 Finland approves a referendum to join the EU.
1994 Sweden approves a referendum to join the EU.
1994 Norway rejects a referendum to join the EU.
2003 Malta approves a referendum to join the EU.
2003 Slovenia approves a referendum to join the EU.
2003 Hungary approves a referendum to join the EU.
2003 Lithuania approves a referendum to join the EU.
2003 Slovakia approves a referendum to join the EU.
2003 Poland approves a referendum to join the EU.
2003 The Czech Republic approves a referendum to join the EU.
2003 Estonia approves a referendum to join the EU.
2003 Latvia approves a referendum to join the EU.
2012 Croatia approves a referendum to join the EU.
2016 Britain approves a referendum to leave the EU.


Referenda relating to significant financial events.

Britain and Denmark were given the option not to adopt the Euro as their currency (“join the Eurozone”). All other nations are expected to adopt the Euro upon meeting economic eligibility criteria.

Year Event
2000 Denmark rejects a referendum to join the Eurozone.
2003 Sweden rejects a referendum to join the Eurozone.
2015 Greece rejects a referendum on conditions to receive a bailout from the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. Afterward, the Greek government accepted similar terms anyway, as they had their backs to the wall.


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Events of the past year, and discussions about those events, caused me to take a deeper look at the subject of nationalism.

Is It a System of Political Organization?

To discuss nationalism, we have to agree on what we are discussing. This turns out not to be all that simple.

The idea of nationalism depends on the conception of the nation. By 1700, in Europe, some nations were clearly identifiable: France, Spain, Poland, Russia. Others were very confusing. Was Great Britain one nation, two (England + Scotland), three (+ Ireland) or four (+ Wales) ? Was Brandenburg rightly part of Prussia or Germany?

Nations such as France and Russia were identifiable from a common ethnic heritage. But the United States came into existence because of an idea of government. What was to demarcate the membership of the United States as a nation? There has always been some disagreement as to who could really be a citizen of the United States.

Nevertheless, by 1900 the nation-state dominated the world landscape. Those who did not have their own nation-state and were subject to rule by others longed for nationhood of their own. Over the course of the twentieth century, many of them obtained this, although not without much turmoil and some bloodshed.

Or Is It an Attitude?

Overlaid on top of this, to some extend out of necessity, is the attitude of the citizen toward the nation. Since the nation is more abstract than the clan, the nation requires a greater degree of emotional commitment from the citizen than does the clan or the nation would be irrelevant. The French Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle if it did not demand commitment from the citizens. This commitment revolutionized war, because the nation-at-arms could mobilize far more soldiers than the neighboring kingdoms.

Human nature being what it is, the citizen wants to believe that his nation is the superior nation, that his nation can tell any other nation where to get off. This attitude has often been identified as part of the package of nationalism. Einstein called nationalism “the measles of mankind,” likely focusing on the attitudinal aspect. This attitude has also been identified by various terms, such as jingoism or chauvinism.

While I recognize that others have considered the political organization and the attitude bundled together, I do not find it analytically useful to do so. Hereafter, my discussion of nationalism shall be confined to the political structure and not the attitude.

Alternative Sovereignty Structures

A sovereign political entity can make laws and engage in foreign relations. It has relationships with the individuals belonging to it where:

  • They identify themselves as belonging to the entity;
  • They accept the legitimacy of the entity to make laws, demand obedience and tribute and otherwise claim their allegiance.

The nation-state has been so predominant a unit of political sovereignty that it is useful to consider alternative possible forms.

The Clan

There are still places in the world where people identify themselves as members of a clan rather than citizens of a nation. In such places, the concept of citizenship as we know it has no meaning. Others in your clan are your people, whom you will rely upon to keep strangers off your back.

My brother and I against my cousin;
My cousin and I against the stranger.
— Arab proverb

In such an environment, if your people can’t count on you when the chips are down, you won’t be able to count on them, either. It is dishonorable to cut and run from your obligations to your people. All the various folk stories and fables from different cultures where the older, wiser man invites the younger men to break a bundle of sticks as a bundle are meant to reinforce this.

The Dynasty

The dynasty is larger than the clan, but still more personal than the nation. As it is personal, people owe service to the person of the king or lord. The king can have tenants-in-chief, such as dukes or counts, and delegate down. But you can’t have too many levels of delegation or the personal relationship, which is the glue that holds it together, falls apart.

Even as late as the 1800s, ordinary people in dynasties such as Russia or Austria felt a bond of obligation to the Tsar or Emperor. But it was fraying under the pressures of modernity and scale. The dynasties were growing bureaucracies, and while both bureaucrats and lords demand service, only lords offer service in return. The bond was also literally being alienated, in both senses of the word: estranged and converted into a fungible commodity that could be exchanged for money. The dynastic bond works better under feudalism than capitalism.

Britain and France led the world down two divergent evolutionary directions from the dynasty. France continued to be a dynasty, with unresolved conflicts regarding the rights and duties of different classes of subjects, until the conflicts blew up in 1789.

Britain had to confront its structure during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714). Britain had been formed one hundred years before as the personal dynastic union of England and Scotland under the Stuarts. Now the English Parliament did not want any more Stuarts after Anne, because they were all Roman Catholic. Where did that leave Scotland? Where did that leave Britain? Anne had pushed for negotiations aimed at keeping England and Scotland together, and the 1707 Act of Union officially recast the two realms as a unified nation. Thereafter, political development continued in the English direction, with Parliament collecting power at the expense of the monarch.


On the other end of the scale, there is internationalism. After the disaster of World War I, the idea of internationalism became attractive to many people as a possible means to end war. Certainly, if all the world were ruled by one government, there could not be wars between states because there would only be one state.

Whether or not it would end violent conflict was a different question. We don’t need two states to have violent conflict. All we need is an aggrieved minority and a ruling group who are unable to work out their differences any other way and resort to violence. Syria is the standout example of this, but there have been others.

All rulers in all ages have tried to impose a false view of the world upon their followers, but they could not afford to encourage any illusion that tended to impair military efficiency. So long as defeat meant the loss of independence, or some other result generally held to be undesirable, the precautions against defeat had to be serious. Physical facts could not be ignored. In philosophy, or religion, or ethics, or politics, two and two might make five, but when one was designing a gun or an aeroplane they had to make four. Inefficient nations were always conquered sooner or later, and the struggle for efficiency was inimical to illusions. Moreover, to be efficient it was necessary to be able to learn from the past, which meant having a fairly accurate idea of what had happened in the past.
— George Orwell, 1984

You might also want to think twice before promoting a plan to end war. As Orwell, speaking in the voice of Emmanuel Goldstein, pointed out, the possibility of a war your country can lose is the ultimate guarantee of your right to your own sanity.

The Settlement of Political Differences

Persuasion and rational argument look appealing as a means of settling political issues. However, they presume that there is some shared common ground among the participants upon which a persuasive argument can be based. If two sides with opposing viewpoints disagree on everything, including norms and even facts, it is very hard to resolve the differences with words. Both sides go home muttering about how arguing with idiots is like playing chess with a pigeon.

Most people don’t like conflict, so they try to put off resolution of political issues, kicking the can down the street if they have to. Unresolved political issues pile up and get noisy. They nag and demand resolution. If a political issue must be resolved and cannot be resolved with words, there is only one way remaining: violence. One side prevails, and the others go under.

Violence is very unpleasant, and I don’t want to be cavalier about contemplating it. Violence is what the internationalists are hoping to avoid. However, not having nations does not guarantee the avoidance of violence. It may make violence certain, as you rope together all kinds of people with no shared norms, values or moral foundations into a single polity which must be subject to a single law. How are they going to get any kind of agreement? How are they going to persuade one another rationally and peacefully?

“How will the other EEC countries feel about having to carry identity papers? Won’t they resist too?”
Sir Humphrey felt not. “The Germans will love it, the French will ignore it, and the Italians and the Irish will be too chaotic to enforce it. Only the British will resent it.”
Yes, Minister, “The Writing on the Wall”

Just bringing all of Europe together collects people with very different senses of the entitlement to privacy and the obligation of law, among other differences. It was always going to be a rickety structure that could shelter all of them under one common legal framework. And, because Britain has a political tradition that does not allow the politicians to ignore the people completely, or to keep asking the people a question until they get the “right” answer, it was inevitable that the British people drew a line under their sovereignty and said, “You will not go further.” Which is what happened in the Brexit referendum of June 2016.


Written by srojak

April 18, 2018 at 10:33 pm