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Hillary Clinton Sets Us All Straight

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Was it a right-wing crank who said this on October 9?

You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.

No, that was Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and Democratic candidate for President. What a relief — I was afraid it was some person fresh from the basket of deplorables.

I am sure that the gang at PolitiFact would be running up to claim that I am taking this statement out of context. I am a historian, so let me provide some historical context.

Welcome to the Club; We Have Jackets

Let’s consider some other people who claim that a political party wants to destroy what they stand for and what they care about. There are plenty of them around.

Evangelical Christians

Evangelicals had gone far out on a limb over Prohibition, Creationism and, often, Fundamentalism as well (I don’t want to characterize all Evangelicals as Fundamentalists, although many are). Writing in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963), Richard Hofstadter summarized their experience since the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial:

The fundamentalist mind has had the bitter experience of being routed in the field of morals and censorship, on evolution and Prohibition, and it finds itself increasingly submerged in which the great and respectable media of mass communication violate its sensibilities and otherwise ignore it. [p. 134]

Yet, being routed and being beaten are two very different outcomes. Hofstadter himself encountered the distinction, reporting with evident despair of a touring theater production of Inherit the Wind in Montana at which a member of the audience stood and shouted “Amen!” at one of the speeches by Matthew Harrison Brady, the character based on William Jennings Bryan. [op cit., p. 129].

What had happened was that Evangelicals tried to pull back into their own communities. They did not abandon their faith — how could they, if they were truly faithful? Instead, they treated the modern cultural situation as a kind of Babylonian captivity. They hoped that, if they renounced worldliness and ceased to assert their beliefs in the national political arena, they could live their lives and raise their kids by their own values in peace.

They would not be allowed to do this. As early as 1907, in School and Society, John Dewey was imagining the school as an engine of social progress. Dewey didn’t exactly come out and call for school to oppose the influence of the family, but neither did he allow the family any role in child development that opposed the ideologies to be preached in the school. Dewey’s writing is notoriously obscurantist, evidencing both poorly thought-through ideas and what Westbrook called “the politics of protective coloration.” [John Dewey and American Democracy, p. 113]

.. with the Everson decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1947, God was pitched out of school on His ear entirely.
— John Taylor Gatto, “Absolute Absolutism

As we advanced into the 1970s, Evangelicals found that more and more of the program being pushed on their children at school was entirely opposed to their basic values at home. Their children were being prepared to be good consumers and tolerant to the point of having no moral standards. This was morally repugnant. Evangelicals began to realize that they needed to engage in politics or they would have tire tracks up the sides of their faces. It was obvious that the Progressives were out to destroy what Evangelicals stood for and cared about.

Small Business Owners

It is hard to remember this, but small business owners were part of the New Deal Coalition. The reason that it is hard to remember is because developments in Progressivism since that time have tended to favor large corporations at the expense of small businesses, as corporatism took root and promoted business stability and economies of scale.

The American Bantam Company of Butler, PA created the original Jeep. They pitched it to the Army, hoping to keep the company alive in the Depression. American Bantam won the contract, but it did them little good. Willys Overland and Ford used their political influence with the Army to obtain contracts to produce the Jeep, on the ground that American Bantam lacked production capacity. American Bantam was relegated to making T-3 trailers for the Jeep.

Theodore Lowi identified the pattern in his 1979 book The End of Liberalism (2nd. ed.)

Privileges in the form of money or license or underwriting are granted to established interests, largely in order to keep them established, and largely done in the name of maintaining public order and avoiding disequilibrium. The state grows, but the opportunities for sponsorship and privilege grow proportionately. Power goes up, but in the form of personal plunder rather than public choice. It would not be accurate to evaluate this model as “socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor,” because many thousands of low-income persons and groups have profited within the system. The more accurate characterization might be “socialism for the organized, capitalism for the unorganized.” [pp. 278-279]

As if that weren’t enough, the general cultural trend was to describe the business owner as a parasite skimming off the income that is rightly owed to labor. In fact, being an owner means that you are last in line to get paid. But, by 1990, Marxism was in retreat everywhere in the world except the American university. There, holy-rolling Marxist true believers had staked out control of many faculties and were engaged in aggressive promotion of their political views to their captive audiences of students. You sent your children off to a good university to get a good education, and you got dime-store versions of Che Guevara and Rosa Luxembourg back.

The final insult was health care. A poor person who doesn’t work can get subsidized health care, but you can’t. Many small business owners either have to go without it or only have catastrophic coverage. It’s as if, as a person who mobilizes the efforts of others to produce wealth, you not only don’t deserve what you earn, but you have some sort of obligation to see that unproductive people are taken care of first. And let’s not even rehash “You didn’t build that.”

This is why small business optimism sprang up by 10 points after Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election. Small business owners are confronted with a political party — Democrats — who want to destroy what they stand for and care about.

Being out of Power

I had hoped that the Trump presidency would at least show Democrats what it is like to be out of power in a way that previous Republican administrations had not. The Constitution is designed to provide refuge to those who are out of power, in the form of processes. The idea is to not run roughshod over the opposition when you are in power, in the expectation that you won’t be run over when you are out of power. Donald Trump is giving Democrats a taste of their own medicine.

However, the Democrats, like the Bourbon Kings of France, have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. All this experience has taught them is that they must get back into power by any available means. The Hillary Clinton statement is both regrettable and inevitable. We have no choice but to learn from it. The Republicans have been playing Greco-Roman wresting, while the Democrats are having a no-holds-barred cage match.

We Have Been Here Before

Democracy does not just happen. No outside power gave us democracy. Our political ancestors paid for it with blood on many occasions in Anglo-American history:

  • 1215: The baronial revolt that ended with Magna Charta;
  • 1265: Simon de Montfort’s revolt which, though defeated, create the House of Commons;
  • 1642: The First English Civil War begins;
  • 1689: The rebellion against James II leads to the English Bill of Rights;
  • 1775: The American Revolution begins.

The English Civil Wars were a traumatic experience for the country. Over 200,000 people died out of an English population of about 5.1 million. Men died in combat, of diseases, of malnutrition. People died when starving soldiers came to starving civilians looking for food. But, had our forebears been afraid to fight and die for their beliefs, we would still have an established church with police power to torture dissenters and a king who believes himself to be a “little god on earth.” It was something we had to go through.

When I was in grade school, we used to sing this song:

Freedom is a word often heard today,
But if you wanna keep it there’s a price to pay.
Each generation’s gotta win it anew,
‘Cause it’s not something handed down to you.

Freedom isn’t free! Freedom isn’t free!
You gotta pay a price…You’ve gotta sacrifice,
For your liberty.
— Paul and Ralph Colwell

Sounds great, but talk is cheap. In daily practice, what does it mean? Jamal Khashoggi was tortured and killed for his principles. Several Russians have been murdered in the street for theirs. What are we prepared to sacrifice?

The Uncivil War

Nobody in their right mind wants to resort to violence. We know that bullies, large and small, count on that to get away with their bullying. From the totalitarian dictator to the neighborhood busybody, they depend on other people not having the will to oppose them. Richard Adams summarized the mentality in his novel Watership Down:

What he had learned from all his experience of fighting was that nearly always there are those who want to fight and those who do not but feel they cannot avoid it.

The difference between those two is will. It is not sufficient to have the intellect to know what to do. One must have the will to do it.

I first read the poem The Gods of the Copybook Headings, which Rudyard Kipling wrote in 1919, back in the eighties. I found the end of the poem very disconcerting:

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

I didn’t want the Gods of the Copybook Headings to return with terror and slaughter. I still don’t. But what if we are called to make the next payment on liberty? What will we do?

What will you do if things get really ugly? Now is the time to think about it, to inoculate yourself beforehand.

We are looking at questions that cannot be resolved by compromise. You either have individual justice or social justice. You either have liberty to direct your life or you don’t. You either have freedom of conscience or you don’t. We either have a justice system that requires accusers to come forward and substantiate their accusations or we don’t. Either the persons who create wealth deserve what we have, or we don’t. As Peter Drucker wrote:

The decision maker gains nothing by starting out with the question, “What is acceptable?” For in the process of answering it, he or she usually gives away the important things and loses any chance to come up with an effective — let alone the right — answer.

What do you stand for and really care about? What will you tolerate from a political party that wants to destroy them? What are your limits? Now is the time to set them, or events can outrun your decision-making.

I also turn to another Kipling poem, “Recessional” (1897), which ends like this:

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word —
Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord!

It is hard to balance resolute defense of values with Christian humility, but we have to make the effort.


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