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Honesty in politics

Amy B. Wang of The Washington Post [1] is calling on experts to answer an important and timely question: was Abraham Lincoln a “paragon of honesty,” or was he rather a “shrewd politician who was not above stretching the truth”?

“Lincoln was certainly essentially honest,” but he was also “a consummate politician,” according to Pulitzer Prize-winning Lincoln biographer Eric Foner; that is, “Abe may not have lied, but… he stretched the truth now and then.”

“We don’t really have an example of his telling a lie,” according to Lincoln historian James Cornelius. Characterizing his notoriously secretive subject as “the most recorded person in the 19th century,” Cornelius avers that “checking [Lincoln’s recorded words] against Lincoln’s own later statements pretty well demonstrate[s] that he was honest with himself and honest to others.”

“All his life,” Lincoln exhibited “impeccable, peerless, gratifying honesty,” according to Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer. “Even as a young man, he was the guy most often recruited to judge horse races and wrestling matches.” Plus, his wife said so. Yes, “Lincoln truly deserved the sobriquet ‘Honest Abe.’”

For the record, in a speech to the Republican State Convention at Springfield, Illinois on June 17, 1858, Abraham Lincoln accused President Buchanan, former President Pierce, Chief Justice Taney, and Senator Douglas of a secret conspiracy to establish national slavery: to “push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new, North as well as South.”

Let any one who doubts, carefully contemplate that now almost complete legal combination — piece of machinery, so to speak — compounded of the Nebraska doctrine and the Dred Scott decision. Let him consider, not only what work the machinery is adapted to do, and how well adapted, but also let him study the history of its construction, and trace, if he can, or rather fail, if he can, to trace the evidences of design, and concert of action, among its chief architects, from the beginning.

[…]

We cannot absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places and by different workmen, — Stephen [A. Douglas], Franklin [Pierce], Roger [B. Taney], and James [Buchanan], for instance, — and when we see these timbers joined together, and see they exactly make the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortises exactly fitting, and all the lengths and proportions of the different pieces exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too many or too few, — not omitting even scaffolding, — or, if a single piece be lacking, we see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared yet to bring such piece in, — in such a case, we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first blow was struck.

Thanks, Abe, but I think I’ll side with Franklin Pierce on this one (1856):

Perfect liberty of association for political objects and the widest scope of discussion are the received and ordinary conditions of government in our country. Our institutions, framed in the spirit of confidence in the intelligence and integrity of the people, do not forbid citizens, either individually or associated together, to attack by writing, speech, or any other methods short of physical force the Constitution and the very existence of the Union. Under the shelter of this great liberty, and protected by the laws and usages of the Government they assail, associations have been formed in some of the States of individuals who, pretending to seek only to prevent the spread of the institution of slavery into the present or future inchoate States of the Union, are really inflamed with desire to change the domestic institutions of existing States. To accomplish their objects they dedicate themselves to the odious task of depreciating the government organization which stands in their way and of calumniating with indiscriminate invective not only the citizens of particular States with whose laws they find fault, but all others of their fellow citizens throughout the country who do not participate with them in their assaults upon the Constitution, framed and adopted by our fathers, and claiming for the privileges it has secured and the blessings it has conferred the steady support and grateful reverence of their children. They seek an object which they well know to be a revolutionary one. They are perfectly aware that the change in the relative condition of the white and black races in the slaveholding States which they would promote is beyond their lawful authority; that to them it is a foreign object; that it can not be effected by any peaceful instrumentality of theirs; that for them and the States of which they are citizens the only path to its accomplishment is through burning cities, and ravaged fields, and slaughtered populations, and all there is most terrible in foreign complicated with civil and servile war; and that the first step in the attempt is the forcible disruption of a country embracing in its broad bosom a degree of liberty and an amount of individual and public prosperity to which there is no parallel in history, and substituting in its place hostile governments, driven at once and inevitably into mutual devastation and fratricidal carnage, transforming the now peaceful and felicitous brotherhood into a vast permanent camp of armed men like the rival monarchies of Europe and Asia. Well knowing that such, and such only, are the means and the consequences of their plans and purposes, they endeavor to prepare the people of the United States for civil war by doing everything in their power to deprive the Constitution and the laws of moral authority and to undermine the fabric of the Union by appeals to passion and sectional prejudice, by indoctrinating its people with reciprocal hatred, and by educating them to stand face to face as enemies, rather than shoulder to shoulder as friends.

It is by the agency of such unwarrantable interference, foreign and domestic, that the minds of many otherwise good citizens have been so inflamed into the passionate condemnation of the domestic institutions of the Southern States as at length to pass insensibly to almost equally passionate hostility toward their fellow-citizens of those States, and thus finally to fall into temporary fellowship with the avowed and active enemies of the Constitution. Ardently attached to liberty in the abstract, they do not stop to consider practically how the objects they would attain can be accomplished, nor to reflect that, even if the evil were as great as they deem it, they have no remedy to apply, and that it can be only aggravated by their violence and unconstitutional action. A question which is one of the most difficult of all the problems of social institution, political economy, and statesmanship they treat with unreasoning intemperance of thought and language. Extremes beget extremes. Violent attack from the North finds its inevitable consequence in the growth of a spirit of angry defiance at the South. Thus in the progress of events we had reached that consummation, which the voice of the people has now so pointedly rebuked, of the attempt of a portion of the States, by a sectional organization and movement, to usurp the control of the Government of the United States.

I confidently believe that the great body of those who inconsiderately took this fatal step are sincerely attached to the Constitution and the Union. They would upon deliberation shrink with unaffected horror from any conscious act of disunion or civil war. But they have entered into a path which leads nowhere unless it be to civil war and disunion, and which has no other possible outlet. They have proceeded thus far in that direction in consequence of the successive stages of their progress having consisted of a series of secondary issues, each of which professed to be confined within constitutional and peaceful limits, but which attempted indirectly what few men were willing to do directly; that is, to act aggressively against the constitutional rights of nearly one-half of the thirty-one States.

Now, to a competent biographer (say, Albert J. Beveridge), Lincoln was many things: cunning, ambitious, slippery, perhaps vindictive, and above all secretive. As for his honesty, we may turn to Edgar Lee Masters in Lincoln: The Man (1931):

The First Inaugural furnishes texts for a constitutional survey sufficiently complete by which to test Lincoln’s theories and his acts as president. The subject as a whole would require a volume by itself, and therefore great condensation must be observed. Lincoln first adverted to the recent secession of seven Southern states, the first being South Carolina, which had seceded a little more than a month after the presidential election in the fall of 1860. Of this Lincoln said: “I hold that in the contemplation of universal law, the union of these states is perpetual.” What “universal law” was, or had to do with the question, he did not stop to explain. “Perpetuity is implied,” he went on, “if not expressed in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.” In other words he urged the fact that no government ever provided for its own termination as proof of the false conclusion that no government was terminable. Then he went on: “Continue to execute all the express provisions of our national constitution, and the Union will endure forever.” That could have been said of the Union under the Articles of Confederation. “It being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.” This was a truism, a platitude, which had no logical bearing upon the question of the right of states to get out of the Union, if they chose to do so.

[…]

He announced that he would take care that the laws of the Union should be faithfully executed in all the states. How was that to be done in the seceded states? There was no Federal officer to execute any law. Every one of them had resigned: Federal judges, collectors, postmasters, marshals — there was not one left in office in all the seceded states. This was not nullification where a state was still in the union, but resisting its laws; but it was secession where there were no laws to execute, and no officers to execute them. What could he do therefore to execute the laws there except to do it himself? And how could he do it himself save as an emperor, a czar? There was no other way. As his words could mean nothing else but this, they constituted a declaration of war. It was advice to the South to get ready for battle, just as the fulminations of the war ministers of George III were notice to the Thirteen States to prepare for invasion. Lincoln then declared that he would so observe his oath until “my rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold the requisite means.” Did that mean that he would do nothing until Congress acted? The American people can act no other way save by their Congress. No, he did not mean that. For in six weeks he was to inaugurate a war without the American people having anything to say about it. He was to call for and send troops into the South, and thus stir that psychology of hate and fear from which a people cannot extricate themselves, though knowing and saying that the war was started by usurpation. Did he mean that he would bow to the American people when the law was laid down by their courts, through which alone can the law be interpreted as the Constitutional voice of the people? No, he did not mean that; because when Taney decided that Lincoln had no power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, Lincoln flouted and trampled the decision of the court. Did he mean that there could be a plebiscite on his acts, whereby his rightful masters might approve or reject and forbid what he did? That could not be in the nature of things. There was no provision in the Constitution for any such process. There was only provision for the voice of the American people to speak through Congress and the Courts — and through Lincoln, in obedience, always, both in peace and war, to the Constitution.

In truth Lincoln’s words in this particular had no meaning whatever. There need to be no bloodshed, he said; yet “the power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy and possess the property and places belonging to the Government, and to collect the duties and imposts.” Could that be done without invasion? He had said at Indianapolis that marching an army into South Carolina would be invasion, which he would not do. But if to hold Fort Sumter or to collect duties at Charleston required an army, then there was invasion; and thus his words were contradictory here. Moreover he would appoint no Federal officers to take the place of those resigned in the seceded states. Then how could duties be collected in New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, except by sending men there to do so, who would not be Collectors under the law, but representatives of Lincoln? And these would have to be supported by an army. For Lincoln knew that the seceded states were preparing for invasion, and that such processes would be considered invasion. He would deliver the mails, unless they were repelled; if they were repelled he did not say what he would do.

This was the Lincoln program. Yet all this quibbling and sophistry was clarified by war, was enforced by imperial arms, and what is remembered most now are the words with which he closed. When his feelings were moved, and, by consequence, when he wanted to move the feelings of his audience, he had a singular mastery of words. “Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust in the best way all present difficulties.” And yet he would have nothing to do with the Crittenden Compromise; he would not receive or recognize the Commissioners of the Confederate States who came to Washington to negotiate about the forts and places of the late United States, and to pay for them in full; he would not treat with his old friend Stephens at Hampton Roads in 1865 when the South was exhausted and wanted peace if they could be assured that their capitulation did not mean dishonorable and cruel vanquishment, as it turned out to be when they battled on to Lee’s surrender. “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you.” So, as of old, in the debates with Douglas and in his speeches, was Lincoln putting himself on the defensive, and fastening the wrong of aggression upon the other side. But he was not speaking the truth. He meant to “put the foot down,” to assail and coerce the South. Lincoln took no oath to protect the Constitution against the sovereignties which had rejected it. As originally written Lincoln had closed with the words concerning his oath to protect the government and the lack of an oath on the part of the South to destroy it, which was pure sophistry also. When Seward saw the draft of the Inaugural, he wrote these words for a conclusion: “I close. We are not, we must not be, aliens, enemies, but fellow countrymen and brethren. Although passion has strained our bonds of affection too hardly, they must not, I am sure they will not be broken. The mystic chords of memory which, proceeding from so many battlefields, and so many patriotic graves, pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours, will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation.”

Then Lincoln took this paragraph, which Coolidge, or Garfield might have written, and made this prose poem of it: “I am loath to close. We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as they surely will be by the better angels of our nature.” Upon these moving words, and others of similar beauty, the fame of Lincoln rests; his blunders, his thinking power which was small, his lawyer-like honesty of mind and his many lacks of intellectual honesty, his mouth-tributes to liberty and his liberticides, his weaknesses and his strength, his sophistry and his cruel prosecution of the War — all these pass from memory. These words remain. They will not be dislodged from American thinking, even among men who have studied his life sufficiently to know how and where to put blame upon him.

Sources

  1. Amy B. Wang, “Being truthful isn’t what made Abraham Lincoln a great politician” in The Washington Post (2016)

Sneak attack

The war that we have carefully for years provoked
Catches us unprepared, amazed and indignant.

Robinson Jeffers

Not long ago, Americans commemorated the seventy-fifth anniversary of a totally unexpected Japanese surprise attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor.

Former US president and World War II naval aviator George H. W. Bush presents one popular historical narrative in USA Today [1]:

Like everyone, I was stunned that someone would attack our country. In the preceding years, President Roosevelt had tried to steer a course of neutrality, attempting to keep America out of the building conflagration that was consuming both Europe and Asia.

There are a number of weaknesses in (what we might call) the neutrality narrative, which bears a striking resemblance to American World War II propaganda.

In The Washington Post, for example, Ishaan Tharoor concedes that “Roosevelt was steadily trying to engage in the conflicts abroad, no matter his rhetoric” [2].

In March 1941, Roosevelt persuaded Congress to pass the Lend-Lease Act, which “loaned” arms and ships to the beleaguered Allies in Europe [meaning the British Empire and the Soviet Union]. U.S. warships engaged Nazi [meaning German] submarines in the Atlantic and protected convoys bearing relief supplies to the British.

For consistency’s sake, if the German armed forces are “Nazis,” then the Russians are Commies, the English are Tories, and the Americans are New Dealers.

Months of secret diplomacy with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill already bound Roosevelt’s administration to the Allied cause, but the United States was not yet formally in war. The attack on Pearl Harbor in December gave Roosevelt all the ammunition he needed. Germany, in alliance with Japan, declared war on the United States four days later, saving Roosevelt the trouble of having to do it himself.

But the author also warns us to ignore the wild-eyed, half-cocked “conspiracy theories” of “a coterie of revisionist historians alleging [Roosevelt] deliberately bungled military coordination and obscured intelligence in order to provoke the crisis that led to war. Most mainstream historians dismiss these claims.”

Here the author seems to conflate three distinct claims:

  1. That Roosevelt wanted a war and was happy to get it. This is obviously true and is accepted by everyone who knows anything about the history of the war, including Ishaan Tharoor, but apparently not Herbert Walker.
  2. That Roosevelt deliberately provoked an attack by Japan. This is also obviously true and is accepted by everyone who knows anything about the history of the war from a source other than Roosevelt’s own speeches.

In a bizarre commemorative essay published by CNN [3], Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick agree that “the Japanese attack had given President Roosevelt the pretext he sought to bring the US into the war,” but they go on to say:

By 1941, Roosevelt surreptitiously maneuvered the US into confrontations with both [Germany and Japan]. At Newfoundland in August 1941 [the Atlantic Charter conference], he told Churchill that he “would wage war, but not declare it” and do everything he could to “force an ‘incident’ that could lead to war.”

The most notorious primary source is the diary of Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War, in which he outlines a meeting with the president on November 25, 1941: “The question was how we should maneuver them [the Japanese] into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.”

Which brings us to the ultimate Pearl Harbor “revisionist” claim:

  1. That Roosevelt knew, specifically, in advance, that the Japanese fleet was about to attack Pearl Harbor — but refused to warn the base. This may be debatable, but it is certainly plausible and is accepted by many experts.

A blog is probably not the place to write up the relevant facts, but if this is the sort of thing that interests you, I can recommend a few places to start:

  • William Henry Chamberlin: America’s Second Crusade (1950)
  • Charles Callan Tansill: Back Door to War (1952)
  • Harry Elmer Barnes (ed.): Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace (1953)

And pertaining more specifically to the Pearl Harbor attack:

  • George Morgenstern: Pearl Harbor: The Story of the Secret War (1947)
  • George Victor: The Pearl Harbor Myth: Rethinking the Unthinkable (2007)
  • Percy L. Greaves Jr.: Pearl Harbor: The Seeds and Fruits of Infamy (2010)

Finally, on the subject of surprises, here is an unrelated image of Anna Kendrick:

Anna Kendrick: no known involvement with Pearl Harbor attack

There is currently no evidence linking Anna Kendrick to the Pearl Harbor attack

Sources

  1. George H. W. Bush: “75 years after Pearl Harbor, strength renewed” in USA Today (2016)
  2. Ishaan Tharoor: “75 years ago, what if Japan never attacked Pearl Harbor?” in The Washington Post (2016)
  3. Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick: “Without Pearl Harbor, a different world?” in CNN (2016)

America’s latest fighter plane, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, is an “exceptional” aircraft, according to Todd Miller at The Aviationist [1]. And yet, despite its evident “sophistication” and “unique capabilities,” “many continue to question the performance and value” of the $400,000,000,000 project. Some people, apparently, some idiots, just “do not grasp the war the F-35 was designed to deter — or fight. 21st century warfare and capability has about as much in common with wars of the past as your 1970’s land line has to your smartphone.”

In 1970, of course, the United States of America, land lines and all, was fighting a lengthy, undeclared war in Vietnam, while also bombing Laos and Cambodia. At the time, to the best of my knowledge, Air Force Colonel Jacksel Broughton (vice commander, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing) registered few complaints about the capabilities of his prehistoric Republic Aviation F-105 Thunderchief. In retirement, on the other hand, according to his obituary in The New York Times, Broughton vented “his anger at President Lyndon B. Johnson, Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and the Air Force for limitations that he believed cost pilots’ lives and destroyed any chance America had of winning the Vietnam War” [2].

“We were poorly utilized, we were hopelessly misdirected and restricted, and we were woefully misused by a chain of stagnant high-level civilian and military leadership” that lacked fortitude in a “war that they ineptly micromanaged,” Colonel Broughton wrote […]

Citing restrictions on hitting important targets like major ports, antiaircraft-missile sites under construction and MIG fighters on the ground during the bombing campaign called Rolling Thunder, Colonel Broughton lamented “what was probably the most inefficient and self-destructive set of rules of engagement that a fighting force ever tried to take into battle.”

Makes you wonder how our 21st century smartphones would stack up:

“We have the capacity to annihilate the Taliban threat. But because of the rules of engagement under the new mission, our hands are tied,” said an American adviser to the coalition in Helmand, who described the rules as incomprehensible. [3]

Before they shoot, U.S. troops have to navigate a tricky legal and political question: When is it OK for them to kill Taliban?

[…]

At headquarters, the lawyer and officers focused on several concerns: Was there a risk that an airstrike would kill civilians? Were the men actually militants? Even if they were, did they pose a threat that made them legitimate targets on this particular night? [4]

Aviationist Miller is certainly right about one thing: I have absolutely no idea what kind of war the F-35 is designed to fight or deter. Last time I checked, the United States was bombing Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Iraq, and Yemen. Someone please explain to me: what sophistication, which unique air combat capabilities, does a rusty old F-16 lack against the mighty air power of Yemen?

I’m sure we’ll find out when the F-35 deploys to the region later this year — “for the real thing,” as The Aviationist puts it [5]. Until then, the last word on warfare and international law goes to Thomas Carlyle in “The New Downing Street”:

When the Continental Nations have once got to the bottom of their Augean Stable, and begun to have real enterprises based on the eternal facts again, our Foreign Office may again have extensive concerns with them. And at all times, and even now, there will remain the question to be sincerely put and wisely answered, What essential concern has the British Nation with them and their enterprises? Any concern at all, except that of handsomely keeping apart from them? If so, what are the methods of best managing it? — At present, as was said, while Red Republic but clashes with foul Bureaucracy; and Nations, sunk in blind ignavia, demand a universal-suffrage Parliament to heal their wretchedness; and wild Anarchy and Phallus-Worship struggle with Sham-Kingship and extinct or galvanized Catholicism; and in the Cave of the Winds all manner of rotten waifs and wrecks are hurled against each other, — our English interest in the controversy, however huge said controversy grow, is quite trifling; we have only in a handsome manner to say to it: “Tumble and rage along, ye rotten waifs and wrecks; clash and collide as seems fittest to you; and smite each other into annihilation at your own good pleasure. In that huge conflict, dismal but unavoidable, we, thanks to our heroic ancestors, having got so far ahead of you, have now no interest at all. Our decided notion is, the dead ought to bury their dead in such a case: and so we have the honor to be, with distinguished consideration, your entirely devoted, — FLIMNAP, SEC. FOREIGN DEPARTMENT.” — I really think Flimnap, till truer times come, ought to treat much of his work in this way: cautious to give offence to his neighbors; resolute not to concern himself in any of their self-annihilating operations whatsoever.

Thomas Carlyle: Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850)

Sources

  1. Todd Miller: “Four of the most experienced USMC F-35B pilots speak about their aircraft. And they say it’s exceptional” in The Aviationist (2016)
  2. Richard Goldstein: “Jack Broughton, 89, Dies; Pilot in Vietnam Turned Critic of Leaders” in The New York Times (2014)
  3. J. Donati and H. K. Totakhil: “U.S. Military Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan Questioned” in The Wall Street Journal (2016)
  4. Michael M. Phillips: “Afghan War Rules Leave U.S. Troops Wondering When It’s OK to Shoot” in The Wall Street Journal (2016)
  5. David Cenciotti: “U.S. Marine Corps Planning F-35B Deployment to CENTCOM Area Of Responsibility To Get ‘First Taste Of Combat’ In 2018” in The Aviationist (2017)

The marriage woes of modern woman, courtesy of NPR [1]:

When I first met him, it was undeniably a passionate love affair. […] He’s seven years older than I am, and we met at work, where his power and seniority at the office was insanely attractive to me.

So far, so good. But the very year they married, her husband decided to quit his high-powered career in… whatever, go back to graduate school, and “follow his dreams,” spending all of his money and taking a huge pay cut in the process.

It’s fine, it’s not a problem: her own career “skyrocketed,” and she happens to be “a huge believer in women in the workplace and always will be. If they become the breadwinners in marriage, more power to them.” In theory, at least:

I’m very close to a breaking point, and I never stop thinking about leaving my husband. And no matter what other reasons I come up with, it always leads back to money, power and sexual attraction. I hate myself for it. I hate my sexist, wealthy, materialistic father, who likely instilled these ideals in me. I hate my mother-in-law, who thinks women shouldn’t have to work. I hate that I want a more traditional lifestyle with a husband who can provide for me. I hate that I’m not confident enough in myself to have children because I don’t think I can be the financial provider and a mother.

Obviously, no one is asking me for relationship advice, nor should they, but if I had to take a wild guess: maybe what you’re feeling — nameless, childless white career woman, circa now — is betrayal, because the ideology in which you’ve been indoctrinated (by schools and universities, newspapers, corporations — in short, by everyone except your “sexist” father), the ideology of sexual equality, turns out to be a poor fit for human nature — for what you actually want out of your one life.

I know, it’s profoundly anti-feminist to think that women should be allowed to live a “traditional” life — maybe even with a family. What can I say? I am a troglodyte.

There’s a relevant passage somewhere in Richard Weaver’s Occam-bashing tome:

I put forward here an instance which not only is typical of contempt for natural order but which also is of transcendent importance. This is the foolish and destructive notion of the “equality” of the sexes. What but a profound blacking-out of our conception of nature and purpose could have borne this fantasy? Here is a distinction of so basic a character that one might suppose the most frenetic modern would regard it as part of the donnée to be respected. What God hath made distinct, let not man confuse! But no, profound differences of this kind seem only a challenge to the busy renovators of nature. The rage for equality has so blinded the last hundred years that every effort has been made to obliterate the divergence in role, in conduct, and in dress. It has been assumed, clearly out of this same impiety, that because the mission of woman is biological in a broader way, it is less to be admired. Therefore the attempt has been to masculinize women. (Has anyone heard arguments that the male should strive to imitate the female in anything?) A social subversion of the most spectacular kind has resulted. Today, in addition to lost generations, we have a self-pitying, lost sex.

There is a social history to this. At the source of the disorder there lies, I must repeat, an impiety toward nature, but we have seen how, when a perverse decision has been made, material factors begin to exert a disproportionate effect. Woman has increasingly gone into the world as an economic “equal” and therefore competitor of man (once again equality destroys fraternity). But a superficial explanation through economic changes is to be avoided. The economic cause is a cause that has a cause. The ultimate reason lies in the world picture, for once woman has been degraded in that picture — and putting her on a level with the male is more truly a degradation than an elevation — she is more at the mercy of economic circumstances. If we say that woman is identical with man except in that small matter of division of labor in the procreation of the species, which the most rabid egalitarian is driven to accept, there is no reason why she should not do man’s work (and by extension, there is no reason why she should not be bombed along with him). So hordes of women have gone into industry and business, where the vast majority of them labor without heart and without incentive. Conscious of their displacement, they see no ideal in the task. And, in fact, they are not treated as equals; they have been made the victims of a transparent deception. Taken from a natural sphere in which they are superior, they are set to wandering between two worlds. Women can neither have the prestige of the former nor, for the fact of stubborn nature, find a real standing in the latter.

So we began to see them, these homunculae of modern industrial society, swarming at evening from factories and insurance offices, going home, like the typist in The Waste Land, to lay out their food in tins. At length, amid the marvelous confusion of values attendant upon the second World War, came the lady marine and the female armaments worker. It is as if the centripetal power of society had ceased. What is needed at center now drifts toward the outer edge. A social seduction of the female sex has occurred on a vast scale. And the men responsible for this seduction have been the white-slavers of business who traffic in the low wages of these creatures, the executives, the specialists in “reduction of labor costs” — the very economists and calculators whose emergence Burke predicted for us.

The anomalous phase of the situation is that the women themselves have not been more concerned to retrieve the mistake. Woman would seem to be the natural ally in any campaign to reverse this trend; in fact, it is alarming to think that her powerfully anchored defenses have not better withstood the tide of demoralization. With her superior closeness to nature, her intuitive realism, her unfailing ability to detect the sophistry in mere intellectuality, how was she ever cozened into the mistake of going modern? Perhaps it was the decay of chivalry in men that proved too much. After the gentleman went, the lady had to go too. No longer protected, the woman now has her career, in which she makes a drab pilgrimage from two-room apartment to job to divorce court.

Women of the world’s ancien régime were practitioners of Realpolitik in this respect: they knew where the power lies. (One wonders what Queen Elizabeth would have said had feminist agitators appeared during her reign over England’s green and pleasant isle.) They knew it lies in loyalty to what they are and not in imitativeness, exhibitionism, and cheap bids for attention. Well was it said that he who leaves his proper sphere shows that he is ignorant both of that which he quits and that which he enters. Women have been misled by the philosophy of activism into forgetting that for them, as custodians of the values, it is better to “be” than to “do.” Maternity, after all, as Walt Whitman noted, is “an emblematical attribute.”

If our society were minded to move resolutely toward an ideal, its women would find little appeal, I am sure, in lives of machine-tending and money-handling. And this is so just because woman will regain her superiority when again she finds privacy in the home and becomes, as it were, a priestess radiating the power of proper sentiment. Her life at its best is a ceremony. When William Butler Yeats in “A Prayer for My Daughter” says, “Let her think opinions are accursed,” he indicts the modern displaced female, the nervous, hysterical, frustrated, unhappy female, who has lost all queenliness and obtained nothing.

Richard M. Weaver: Ideas Have Consequences (1948)

Sources

  1. Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed (Dear Sugars): “I Don’t Want To Be The Breadwinner In My Marriage Anymore!” in NPR (2016)

VICE News [1] reports a poster-based hate-speech crisis developing in Canada, where absolute tolerance and total diversity have proven surprisingly elusive:

Edmonton residents woke up Monday to posters […] that heralded white identity and encouraged people “tired of anti-white propaganda” to check out websites linked to the so-called “alt-right” movement. […] In Hamilton, Ontario, flyers also found Monday targeted those who wish to “preserve our culture,” while other versions plastered around Toronto asked white people whether they were “tired of being blamed for all the world’s problems.”

While many have swiftly condemned the posters as hate crimes and acts of white supremacy, it’s still unclear who exactly is behind them, and whether they’re isolated acts or proof of a broader, earnest effort.

To some, it’s still unclear why a poster objecting to anti-white propaganda qualifies as a crime of any kind, let alone a “hate crime,” or an act of “white supremacy.”

At least one Edmonton resident is fighting back “with love” [2]: Matt Edmonds, by defacing the posters, is said to be “spreading love instead of hate,” and letting people know “‘that these ideas aren’t welcome in Edmonton, or anywhere.’”

“Tired of Anti-White propaganda?” the poster asked.

“Nope,” he scrawled. [3]

Really, Matt? You wanted the moral high ground, and picked this hill to die on?

A Vancouver- and Toronto-based group, the Northern Dawn [4], named on some of the anti-anti-white thought-crime hate-posters, had this to say in its defense:

The posters have revealed controversy which already exists and has existed for some time. Most of these posters did nothing more than note that globalization and mass immigration have been detrimental to white interests, a sentiment shared by many across the country too afraid to speak out publicly, lest they be subject to ginned up hysteria and hand-wringing.

That sentiment alone has been sufficient for some people to call for hate speech investigations.

All this hateful talk of sharing ideas through speech reminded me of this:

The transition from free speech to enforced silence is no doubt painful. What torment for a living society, used to thinking for itself, to lose from some decreed date the right to express itself in print and in public, to bite back its words year in and year out, in friendly conversation and even under the family roof.

But the way back, which our country will soon face — the return of breathing and consciousness, the transition from silence to free speech — will also prove difficult and slow, and just as painful, because of the gulf of utter incomprehension which will suddenly yawn between fellow-countrymen, even those of the same generation and same place of origin, even members of the same close circle.

For decades, while we were silent, our thoughts straggled in all possible and impossible directions, lost touch with each other, never learned to know each other, ceased to check and correct each other. While the stereotypes of required thought, or rather of dictated opinion, dinned into us daily from the electrified gullets of radio, endlessly reproduced in thousands of newspapers as like as peas, condensed into weekly surveys for political study groups, have made mental cripples of us and left very few minds undamaged.

Powerful and daring minds are now beginning to struggle upright, to fight their way out from under heaps of antiquated rubbish. But even they still bear all the cruel marks of the branding iron, they are still cramped by the shackles into which they were forced half-grown. And because we are intellectually isolated from each other, they have no one to measure themselves against.

As for the rest of us, we have so shriveled in the decades of falsehood, thirsted so long in vain for the refreshing drops of truth, that as soon as they fall upon our faces we tremble with joys. “At last!” we cry, and we forgive the dust-laden whirlwind which has blown up with them, and the radioactive fallout which they conceal. We so rejoice in every little word of truth, so utterly suppressed until recent years, that we forgive those who first voice it for us all their near misses, all their inexactitudes, even a portion of error greater than the portion of truth, simply because “something at least, something at last has been said!”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn: From under the Rubble (1975)

Sources

  1. Rachel Browne: “Not-right” in VICE News (2016)
  2. Jeremy Simes: “Edmonton resident fights ‘alt-right’ posters on Whyte Ave with love” in Metro News (2016)
  3. Madeleine Cummings and Doug Johnson: “Pro-white posters appear on Whyte Avenue and draw swift responses from critics and supporters” in Edmonton Examiner (2016)
  4. Joseph Saint-Pierre: “Northern Dawn Talks With The Edmonton Examiner” in Northern Dawn (2016)

Celebrity classicist Mary Beard lashes out in The Sunday Times [1] against certain irresponsible interpretations of the fall of the western Roman empire; specifically, “the idea that it was caused by ‘immigration’ and so acts as a terrible warning against modern immigration is not just bunkum, but dangerous bunkum.”

Academic historians “know a lot,” you see: they know that some interpretations “are just wrong.” This one in particular is wrong because — well, it’s complicated, but I gather it has something to do with “deconstructing the idea of ‘borders’ and ‘barbarians,’ and exploring the ‘Romanness’ of some of those whom it became convenient to brand ‘foreign’” — look, just trust her: it wasn’t immigration.

For the record, this is how Professor Beard described the barbarian invasions while explaining “why ancient Rome matters to the modern world” in The Guardian [2]:

By the late fourth century CE the river Danube had become Rome’s Calais. What we often call the “invasions” into the Roman empire of barbarian hordes (or “swarms”, perhaps) could equally well be described as mass movements of economic migrants or political refugees from northern Europe. The Roman authorities had no better idea of how to deal with this crisis than our own authorities do, and, predictably, they were less humane. On one notorious occasion, uncomfortable even for some Roman observers, they sold dog-meat as food to the asylum-seekers who had managed to get across the river (dog was off limits for human consumption then as now).

Dear God, feeding them the wrong food? If only the Romans had treated their barbarian hordes as gently as modern Europeans are treating ours, Rome would never have suffered “a series of standoffs, compromises and military conflicts that eventually destroyed central Roman power in the western part of their empire.”

(That was the lesson, right? That’s what we’re supposed to learn from this?)

Well, I’m no expert on late antiquity — but Edward Gibbon was, so why don’t we ask him? He’s not nearly as proficient at deconstructing things with scare quotes, but give it a shot. This is some of what he had to say about economic migrants at the Danube in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1906):

In the disastrous period of the fall of the Roman empire, which may justly be dated from the reign of Valens, the happiness and security of each individual were personally attacked; and the arts and labours of ages were rudely defaced by the Barbarians of Scythia and Germany. The invasion of the Huns precipitated on the provinces of the West the Gothic nation, which advanced, in less than forty years, from the Danube to the Atlantic, and opened a way, by the success of their arms, to the inroads of so many hostile tribes, more savage than themselves.

Let’s play a game. It’s called: does any of this sound familiar?

After Valens had terminated the Gothic war with some appearance of glory and success, he made a progress through his dominions of Asia, and at length fixed his residence in the capital of Syria. […] But the attention of the emperor was most seriously engaged by the important intelligence which he received from the civil and military officers who were entrusted with the defence of the Danube. He was informed that the North was agitated by a furious tempest; that the irruption of the Huns, an unknown and monstrous race of savages, had subverted the power of the Goths; and that the suppliant multitudes of that warlike nation, whose pride was now humbled in the dust, covered a space of many miles along the banks of the river. With outstretched arms and pathetic lamentations, they loudly deplored their past misfortunes and their present danger; acknowledged that their only hope of safety was in the clemency of the Roman government; and most solemnly protested that, if the gracious liberality of the emperor would permit them to cultivate the waste lands of Thrace, they should ever hold themselves bound, by the strongest obligations of duty and gratitude, to obey the laws, and to guard the limits, of the republic. […] As long as the same passions and interests subsist among mankind, the questions of war and peace, of justice and policy, which were debated in the councils of antiquity, will frequently present themselves as the subject of modern deliberation. But the most experienced statesman of Europe has never been summoned to consider the propriety or the danger of admitting or rejecting an innumerable multitude of Barbarians, who are driven by despair and hunger to solicit a settlement on the territories of a civilised nation. When that important proposition, so essentially connected with the public safety, was referred to the ministers of Valens, they were perplexed and divided; but they soon acquiesced in the flattering sentiment which seemed the most favourable to the pride, the indolence, and the avarice of their sovereign. The slaves, who were decorated with the titles of prefects and generals, dissembled or disregarded the terrors of this national emigration, so extremely different from the partial and accidental colonies which had been received on the extreme limits of the empire. But they applauded the liberality of fortune, which had conducted, from the most distant countries of the globe, a numerous and invincible army of strangers, to defend the throne of Valens; who might now add to the royal treasures the immense sums of gold supplied by the provincials to compensate their annual proportion of recruits. The prayers of the Goths were granted, and their service was accepted by the Imperial court: and orders were immediately despatched to the civil and military governors of the Thracian diocese, to make the necessary preparations for the passage and subsistence of a great people, till a proper and sufficient territory could be allotted for their future residence. […]

During this suspense of a doubtful and distant negotiation, the impatient Goths made some rash attempts to pass the Danube, without the permission of the government whose protection they had implored. Their motions were strictly observed by the vigilance of the troops which were stationed along the river, and their foremost detachments were defeated with considerable slaughter; yet such were the timid councils of the reign of Valens that the brave officers who had served their country in the execution of their duty were punished by the loss of their employments and narrowly escaped the loss of their heads. The Imperial mandate was at length received for transporting over the Danube the whole body of the Gothic nation; but the execution of this order was a task of labour and difficulty. The stream of the Danube, which in those parts is above a mile broad, had been swelled by incessant rains; and, in this tumultuous passage, many were swept away and drowned by the rapid violence of the current. A large fleet of vessels, of boats, and of canoes was provided; many days and nights they passed and repassed with indefatigable toil; and the most strenuous diligence was exerted by the officers of Valens that not a single Barbarian, of those who were reserved to subvert the foundations of Rome, should be left on the opposite shore. It was thought expedient that an accurate account should be taken of their numbers; but the persons who were employed soon desisted, with amazement and dismay, from the prosecution of the endless and impracticable task; and the principal historian of the age most seriously affirms that the prodigious armies of Darius and Xerxes, which had so long been considered as the fables of vain and credulous antiquity, were now justified, in the eyes of mankind, by the evidence of fact and experience. A probable testimony has fixed the number of the Gothic warriors at two hundred thousand men; and, if we can venture to add the just proportion of women, of children, and of slaves, the whole mass of people which composed this formidable emigration must have amounted to near a million of persons, of both sexes and of all ages. The children of the Goths, those at least of a distinguished rank, were separated from the multitude. They were conducted, without delay, to the distant seats assigned for their residence and education; and, as the numerous train of hostages or captives passed through the cities, their gay and splendid apparel, their robust and martial figure, excited the surprise and envy of the Provincials. […]

An undisciplined and unsettled nation of Barbarians required the firmest temper and the most dexterous management. The daily subsistence of near a million of extraordinary subjects could be supplied only by constant and skilful diligence, and might continually be interrupted by mistake or accident. The insolence or the indignation of the Goths, if they conceived themselves to be the objects either of fear or of contempt, might urge them to the most desperate extremities; and the fortune of the state seemed to depend on the prudence, as well as the integrity, of the generals of Valens. […] A spirit of discontent insensibly arose in the camp of the Barbarians, who pleaded, without success, the merit of their patient and dutiful behaviour; and loudly complained of the inhospitable treatment which they had received from their new allies. They beheld around them the wealth and plenty of a fertile province, in the midst of which they suffered the intolerable hardships of artificial famine. But the means of relief, and even of revenge, were in their hands; since the rapaciousness of their tyrants had left, to an injured people, the possession and the use of arms. […] But the generals of Valens, while their attention was solely directed to the discontented Visigoths, imprudently disarmed the ships and fortifications which constituted the defence of the Danube. The fatal oversight was observed and improved by Alatheus and Saphrax [the leaders of the Ostrogoths], who anxiously watched the favourable moment of escaping from the pursuit of the Huns. By the help of such rafts and vessels as could be hastily procured, the leaders of the Ostrogoths transported, without opposition, their king and their army; and boldly fixed an hostile and independent camp on the territories of the empire.

Next, political refugees defeat a Roman army at the Battle of Marcianople.

Lupicinus left his arms and standards, his tribunes and his bravest soldiers, on the field of battle; and their useless courage served only to protect the ignominious flight of their leader. “That successful day put an end to the distress of the Barbarians and the security of the Romans: from that day, the Goths, renouncing the precarious condition of strangers and exiles, assumed the character of citizens and masters, claimed an absolute dominion over the possessors of land, and held, in their own right, the northern provinces of the empire, which are bounded by the Danube.” Such are the words of the Gothic historian, who celebrates, with rude eloquence, the glory of his countrymen. But the dominion of the Barbarians was exercised only for the purposes of rapine and destruction. As they had been deprived, by the ministers of the emperor, of the common benefits of nature and the fair intercourse of social life, they retaliated the injustice on the subjects of the empire; and the crimes of Lupicinus were expiated by the ruin of the peaceful husbandmen of Thrace, the conflagration of their villages, and the massacre, or captivity, of their innocent families. […]

The imprudence of Valens and his ministers had introduced into the heart of the empire a nation of enemies […]

One of the most dangerous inconveniences of the introduction of the Barbarians into the army and the palace, was sensibly felt in their correspondence with their hostile countrymen, to whom they imprudently, or maliciously, revealed the weakness of the Roman empire. A soldier, of the life-guards of Gratian, was of the nation of the Alemanni, and of the tribe of the Lentienses, who dwelt beyond the lake of Constance. Some domestic business obliged him to request a leave of absence. In a short visit to his family and friends, he was exposed to their curious inquiries; and the vanity of the loquacious soldier tempted him to display his intimate acquaintance with the secrets of the state and the designs of his master. The intelligence that Gratian was preparing to lead the military force of Gaul and of the West to the assistance of his uncle Valens pointed out to the restless spirit of the Alemanni the moment, and the mode, of a successful invasion. The enterprise of some light detachments, who, in the month of February, passed the Rhine upon the ice, was the prelude of a more important war. The boldest hopes of rapine, perhaps of conquest, outweighed the consideration of timid prudence or national faith. Every forest and every village poured forth a band of hardy adventurers […]

At this point, asylum seekers kill Emperor Valens at the Battle of Hadrianople.

The vehement Jerom might justly deplore the calamities inflicted by the Goths and their barbarous allies on his native country of Pannonia and the wide extent of the provinces, from the walls of Constantinople to the foot of the Julian Alps; the rapes, the massacres, the conflagrations; and, above all, the profanation of the churches, that were turned into stables, and the contemptuous treatment of the relics of holy martyrs. […]

Whatever may have been the just measure of the calamities of Europe, there was reason to fear that the same calamities would soon extend to the peaceful countries of Asia. The sons of the Goths had been judiciously distributed through the cities of the East; and the arts of education were employed to polish and subdue the native fierceness of their temper. In the space of about twelve years, their numbers had continually increased; and the children, who, in the first emigration, were sent over the Hellespont, had attained, with rapid growth, the strength and spirit of perfect manhood. It was impossible to conceal from their knowledge the events of the Gothic war; and, as those daring youths had not studied the language of dissimulation, they betrayed their wish, their desire, perhaps their intention, to emulate the glorious example of their fathers. […]

A formidable tempest of the Barbarians of Germany seemed ready to burst over the provinces of Gaul […]

The effects which were produced by the battle of Hadrianople on the minds of the Barbarians, and of the Romans, extended the victory of the former, and the defeat of the latter, far beyond the limits of a single day. A Gothic chief was heard to declare, with insolent moderation, that, for his own part, he was fatigued with slaughter; but that he was astonished how a people who fled before him like a flock of sheep could still presume to dispute the possession of their treasures and provinces.

Theodosius the Great stabilizes the migrant crisis in the eastern empire.

A numerous colony of the Visigoths was seated in Thrace; the remains of the Ostrogoths were planted in Phrygia and Lydia; their immediate wants were supplied by a distribution of corn and cattle; and their future industry was encouraged by an exemption from tribute, during a certain term of years. […] They required, and they obtained, the sole possession of the villages and districts assigned for their residence; they still cherished and propagated their native manners and language […]. An army of forty thousand Goths was maintained for the perpetual service of the empire of the East; and those haughty troops, who assumed the title of Foederati, or allies, were distinguished by their gold collars, liberal pay, and licentious privileges. Their native courage was improved by the use of arms and the knowledge of discipline; and, while the republic was guarded, or threatened, by the doubtful sword of the Barbarians, the last sparks of the military flame were finally extinguished in the minds of the Romans. Theodosius had the address to persuade his allies that the conditions of peace which had been extorted from him by prudence and necessity were the voluntary expressions of his sincere friendship for the Gothic nation. A different mode of vindication or apology was opposed to the complaints of the people; who loudly censured these shameful and dangerous concessions. The calamities of the war were painted in the most lively colours; and the first symptoms of the return of order, of plenty, and security were diligently exaggerated. The advocates of Theodosius could affirm, with some appearance of truth and reason, that it was impossible to extirpate so many warlike tribes, who were rendered desperate by the loss of their native country; and that the exhausted provinces would be revived by a fresh supply of soldiers and husbandmen. The Barbarians still wore an angry and hostile aspect; but the experience of past times might encourage the hope that they would acquire the habits of industry and obedience; that their manners would be polished by time, education, and the influence of Christianity; and that their prosperity would insensibly blend with the great body of the Roman people.

Notwithstanding these specious arguments and these sanguine expectations, it was apparent to every discerning eye that the Goths would long remain the enemies, and might soon become the conquerors, of the Roman empire. Their rude and insolent behaviour expressed their contempt of the citizens and provincials, whom they insulted with impunity.

Theodosius the Great, having thus deconstructed the idea of borders and barbarians, died in 395 AD. In 410, undocumented Visigoths sacked Rome.

Sources

  1. Mary Beard: “Infamy! Infamy! The b@rbarians have all got it in for me” in The Sunday Times (2016)
  2. Mary Beard: “Mary Beard: why ancient Rome matters to the modern world” in The Guardian (2015)

Waves of confusion

A world in turmoil! “Waves of nationalist sentiment are reshaping the politics of Western democracies in unexpected ways,” according to Nature News [1]: “nationalist parties are rising in popularity across Europe,” parts of the United States are becoming “more politically extreme,” and researchers are “baffled.”

The Nazis [I was wondering when they were going to show up.] took advantage of the extreme economic hardship that followed the First World War and a global depression, but today’s populist movements are growing powerful in wealthy European countries with strong social programmes. “What brings about a right-wing movement when there are no good reasons for it?” [Helmut] Anheier asks.

Interesting question. Could it — and I’m just guessing here, but — could it have something to do with the ongoing Third World invasion of the West? Indeed,

political scientists are tracing the influence of cultural tensions arising from immigration and from ethnic, racial and sexual diversity. But researchers are struggling to understand why these disparate forces have combined to drive an unpredictable brand of populist politics.

Struggle on, my semi-scientific friends! cries Yascha Mounk of Harvard University, that data-driven, data-crunching titan, armed to the gills with mail and phone surveys and a three-factor formula of his own design:

Academics must redouble their efforts to understand the nationalist wave and help policymakers to address it, he adds.

“In times of freedom and prosperity, it was nice for us to sit around and pretend to be scientists,” Mounk says. [No comment — I mean, no argument.] “But right now, if you are twiddling your thumbs with your statistical models instead of thinking about how we can save liberal democracy, you are doing something immoral.”

Academics, redouble your efforts! Cast down your models and your data; strike down the voters’ immoral populist hydra that a policymakers’ democracy might forever reign. All this and more from the “international weekly journal of science.”

Great struggles confront our scientific friends, professors of truth, makers of policy; and of course it is up to them, not us, to sort it out for the best. Still, in case one of those masters of the universe should happen across my blog in search of answers, I would be remiss if I omitted Thomas Carlyle’s very timely warning.

“Do you ask why misery abounds among us?” he wrote in “Jesuitism.”

I bid you look into the notion we have formed for ourselves of this Universe, and of our duties and destinies there. If it is a true notion, we shall strenuously reduce it to practice, — for who dare or can contradict his faith, whatever it may be, in the Eternal Fact that is around him? — and thereby blessings and success will attend us in said Universe, or Eternal Fact we live amidst: of that surely there is no doubt. All revelations and intimations, heavenly and earthly, assure us of that; only a Philosophy of Bedlam could throw a doubt on that! Blessings and success, most surely, if our notion of the Universe, and our battle in it be a true one; not curses and futilities, except it be not true. For battle, in any case, I think we shall not want; harsh wounds, and the heat of the day, we shall have to stand: but it will be a noble godlike and human battle, not an ignoble devil-like and brutal one; and our wounds, and sore toils (what we in our impatience call ‘miseries’), will themselves be blessed to us.

But if, on the other hand, it were a false notion which we believed; alas, if it were even a false notion which we only pretend to believe? What battle can there be, in that latter fatal case! Our faith, or notion of this Universe, is not false only, but it is the father of falsity; a thing that destroys itself, and is equivalent to the death of all notion, all belief or motive to action, except what the appetites and the astucities may yield. We have then the thrice-baleful Universe of Cant, prophesied for these Latter Days; and no ‘battle,’ but a kind of bigger Donnybrook one, is possible for hapless mortals till that alter. Faith, Fact, Performance, in all high and gradually in all low departments, go about their business; Inanity well tailored and upholstered, mild-spoken Ambiguity, decorous Hypocrisy which is astonished you should think it hypocritical, taking their room and drawing their wages: from zenith to nadir, you have Cant, Cant, — a Universe of Incredibilities which are not even credited, which each man at best only tries to persuade himself that he credits. Do you expect a divine battle, with noble victories, out of this? I expect a Hudson’s statue from it, brisk trade in scrip, with Distressed Needlewomen, Cannibal Connaughts, and other the like phenomena, such as we now everywhere see!

[…]

Consider it, good reader; — and yet alas, if thou be not one of a thousand, what is the use of bidding thee consider it! The deadliest essence of the curse we now labour under is that the light of our inner eyesight is gone out; that such things are not discernible by considering. ‘Cant and even sincere Cant:’ O Heaven, when a man doing his sincerest is still but canting! For this is the sad condition of the insincere man: he is doomed all his days to deal with insincerities; to live, move, and have his being in traditions and conventionalities. If the traditions have grown old, the conventionalities will be mostly false; true in no sense can they be for him: never shall he behold the truth of any matter; formulas, theologic, economic and other, certain superficial readings of truth, required in the market-place, these he will take with him, these he will apply dextrously, and with these he will have to satisfy himself. Sincerity shall not exist for him; he shall think that he has found it, while it is yet far away. The deep, awful and indeed divine quality of truth that lies in every object, and in virtue of which the object exists, — from his poor eyes this is forever hidden. Not with austere divine realities which belong to the Universe and to Eternity, but with paltry ambiguous phantasms, comfortable and uncomfortable, which belong to his own parish, and to the current week or generation, shall he pass his days.

There had been liars in the world; alas, never since the Old Serpent tempted Eve, had the world been free of liars, neither will it be: but there was in this of Jesuit Ignatius an apotheosis of falsity, a kind of subtle quintessence and deadly virus of lying, the like of which had never been seen before. Measure it, if you can; prussic-acid and chloroform are poor to it! Men had served the Devil, and men had very imperfectly served God; but to think that God could be served more perfectly by taking the Devil into partnership, — this was a novelty of St. Ignatius. And this is now no novelty; to such extent has the Jesuit chloroform stupefied us all. This is the universal faith and practice, for several generations past, of the class called good men in this world. They are in general mutineers, sansculottes, angry disorderly persons, and a class rather worthy to be called bad, who hitherto assert the contrary of this. “Be careful how you believe truth,” cries the good man everywhere: “Composure and a whole skin are very valuable. Truth, — who knows? — many things are not true; most things are uncertainties, very prosperous things are even open falsities that have been agreed upon. There is little certain truth going. If it isn’t orthodox truth, it will play the very devil with you!”

Did the Human Species ever lie in such a soak of horrors, — sunk like steeping flax under the wide-spread fetid Hell-waters, — in all spiritual respects dead, dead; voiceless towards Heaven for centuries back; merely sending up, in the form of mute prayer, such an odour as the angels never smelt before! It has to lie there, till the worthless part has been rotted out; till much has been rotted out, I do perceive; — and perhaps the time has come when the precious lint fibre itself is in danger; and men, if they are not delivered, will cease to be men, or to be at all! O Heavens, with divine Hudson on this hand, and divine Ignatius on that, and the Gorham Controversy going on, and the Irish Tenant Agitation (which will soon become a Scotch and an English ditto) just about beginning, is not the hour now nearly come? Words fail us when we would speak of what Ignatius has done for men. Probably the most virulent form of sin which the Old Serpent has yet rejoiced in on our poor Earth. For me it is the deadliest high treason against God our Maker which the soul of man could commit.

And this, then, is the horrible conclusion we have arrived at, in England as in all countries; and with less protest against it hitherto, and not with more, in England than in other countries? That the great body of orderly considerate men; men affecting the name of good and pious, and who, in fact, excluding certain silent exceptionary individuals one to the million, such as the Almighty Beneficence never quite withholds, are accounted our best men, — have unconsciously abnegated the sacred privilege and duty of acting or speaking the truth; and fancy that it is not truth that is to be acted, but that an amalgam of truth and falsity is the safe thing. In parliament and pulpit, in book and speech, in whatever spiritual thing men have to commune of, or to do together, this is the rule they have lapsed into, this is the pass they have arrived at. We have to report that Human Speech is not true! That it is false to a degree never witnessed in this world till lately. Such a subtle virus of falsity in the very essence of it, as far excels all open lying, or prior kinds of falsity; false with consciousness of being sincere! The heart of the world is corrupted to the core; a detestable devil’s-poison circulates in the life-blood of mankind; taints with abominable deadly malady all that mankind do. Such a curse never fell on men before.

For the falsity of speech rests on a far deeper falsity. False speech, as is inevitable when men long practise it, falsifies all things; the very thoughts, or fountains of speech and action become false. Ere long, by the appointed curse of Heaven, a man’s intellect ceases to be capable of distinguishing truth, when he permits himself to deal in speaking or acting what is false. Watch well the tongue, for out of it are the issues of life! O, the foul leprosy that heaps itself in monstrous accumulation over Human Life, and obliterates all the divine features of it into one hideous mountain of purulent disease, when Human Life parts company with truth; and fancies, taught by Ignatius or another, that lies will be the salvation of it! We of these late centuries have suffered as the sons of Adam never did before; hebetated, sunk under mountains of torpid leprosy; and studying to persuade ourselves that this is health.

And if we have awakened from the sleep of death into the Sorcerer’s Sabbath of Anarchy, is it not the chief of blessings that we are awake at all? Thanks to Transcendent Sansculottism and the long-memorable French Revolution, the one veritable and tremendous Gospel of these bad ages, divine Gospel such as we deserved, and merciful too, though preached in thunder and terror! Napoleon Campaignings, September Massacres, Reigns of Terror, Anacharsis Clootz and Pontiff Robespierre, and still more beggarly tragicalities that we have since seen, and are still to see: what frightful thing were not a little less frightful than the thing we had? Peremptory was our necessity of putting Jesuitism away, of awakening to the consciousness of Jesuitism. ‘Horrible,’ yes: how could it be other than horrible? Like the valley of Jehosaphat, it lies round us, one nightmare wilderness, and wreck of dead-men’s bones, this false modern world; and no rapt Ezechiel in prophetic vision imaged to himself things sadder, more horrible and terrible, than the eyes of men, if they are awake, may now deliberately see. Many yet sleep; but the sleep of all, as we judge by their maundering and jargoning, their Gorham Controversies, street-barricadings, and uneasy tossings and somnambulisms, is not far from ending. Novalis says, ‘We are near awakening when we dream that we are dreaming.’

Thomas Carlyle: Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850)

Sources

  1. Jeff Tollefson: “Researchers baffled by nationalist surge” in Nature (2016)

The course of history is being diverted, according to the latest research by top political scientists, as reported by The New York Times [1]. The experts, having “gathered and crunched” the relevant “data” and run it through “a three-factor formula” of their own design, have computed that “democracies are not as secure as people may think,” and could in fact “be at serious risk of decline.” Oh noes!

Of course, this is just one paper. And the researchers’ approach, like all data-driven social science, has limitations. It is only as good as the survey data that underlies it, for instance, and it does not take into account other factors that could be important to overall stability, such as economic growth. At least one prominent political scientist argues that [Yascha] Mounk’s and [Roberto Stefan] Foa’s data is not as worrying as they believe it to be.

Not enough factors in our model, you see; not enough high-quality mail- and phone-survey data to feed into the engine that drives our social science. Excuse me, Mr. Spengler, I hate to interrupt your dinner, but do you have a moment to estimate the risk of democracy’s decline? Not to mention these other limitations:

  1. you cannot perform controlled experiments on history;
  2. you cannot model society with mathematical equations.

Here, try this, if you can stand the lack of formulas:

I have now given shortly the actual history of popular government since it was introduced, in its modern shape, into the civilised world. I state the facts, as matter neither for congratulation nor for lamentation, but simply as materials for opinion. It is manifest that, so far as they go, they do little to support the assumption that popular government has an indefinitely long future before it. Experience rather tends to show that it is characterised by great fragility, and that, since its appearance, all forms of government have become more insecure than they were before. The true reason why the extremely accessible facts which I have noticed are so seldom observed and put together is that the enthusiasts for popular government, particularly when it reposes on a wide basis of suffrage, are actuated by much the same spirit as the zealots of Legitimism. They assume their principle to have a sanction antecedent to fact. It is not thought to be in any way invalidated by practical violations of it, which merely constitute so many sins the more against imprescriptible right. The convinced partisans of democracy care little for instances which show democratic governments to be unstable. These are merely isolated triumphs of the principle of evil. But the conclusion of the sober student of history will not be of this kind. He will rather note it as a fact, to be considered in the most serious spirit, that since the century during which the Roman Emperors were at the mercy of the Praetorian soldiery, there has been no such insecurity of government as the world has seen since rulers became delegates of the community.

Henry Sumner Maine: Popular Government (1885)

While you’re at it, put this in your model and crunch it:

A witty statesman said you might prove anything by figures. We have looked into various statistic works, Statistic-Society Reports, Poor-Law Reports, Reports and Pamphlets not a few, with a sedulous eye to this question of the Working Classes and their general condition in England; we grieve to say, with as good as no result whatever. Assertion swallows assertion; according to the old Proverb, ‘as the statist thinks, the bell clinks!’ Tables are like cobwebs, like the sieve of the Danaides; beautifully reticulated, orderly to look upon, but which will hold no conclusion. Tables are abstractions, and the object a most concrete one, so difficult to read the essence of. There are innumerable circumstances; and one circumstance left out may be the vital one on which all turned. Statistics is a science which ought to be honourable, the basis of many most important sciences; but it is not to be carried on by steam, this science, any more than others are; a wise head is requisite for carrying it on. Conclusive facts are inseparable from inconclusive except by a head that already understands and knows. Vain to send the purblind and blind to the shore of a Pactolus never so golden: these find only gravel; the seer and finder alone picks up gold grains there. And now the purblind offering you, with asseveration and protrusive importunity, his basket of gravel as gold, what steps are to be taken with him? — Statistics, one may hope, will improve gradually, and become good for something. Meanwhile it is to be feared, the crabbed satirist was partly right, as things go: ‘A judicious man,’ says he, ‘looks at Statistics, not to get knowledge, but to save himself from having ignorance foisted on him.’ With what serene conclusiveness a member of some Useful-Knowledge Society stops your mouth with a figure of arithmetic! To him it seems he has there extracted the elixir of the matter, on which now nothing more can be said. It is needful that you look into his said extracted elixir; and ascertain, alas, too probably, not without a sigh, that it is wash and vapidity, good only for the gutters.

Thomas Carlyle: Chartism (1840)

I feel better now. But heaven preserve us from “all data-driven social science.”

Sources

  1. Amanda Taub (The Interpreter): “How Stable Are Democracies? ‘Warning Signs Are Flashing Red’” in The New York Times (2016)

Transitioning as gracefully as possible, which is not very, from John Stuart Mill on barbarism to Anna Kendrick (qt6.28) on dating in Scrappy Little Nobody [1]:

Something amazing happened to me when I hit my mid-twenties. I don’t know how it happened — I didn’t even notice it at first — but I stopped liking guys who didn’t like me back. In fact, I stopped liking guys who were bad people. […]

I thought I was destined to fall for assholes forever. Misanthropic and fifteen years my senior? Sign me up! Makes misogynistic jokes but thinks I’m “feisty” for calling him on it? It’s love!

So remember: if you’re a man in your thirties and you want to date Anna Kendrick in her twenties, you need to make sure you’re treating her very badly.

Wait, I had something for this… oh, yeah:

Now that women have the political power to obtain their just rights, they will begin to lose their old power to obtain special privileges by sentimental appeals. Men, facing them squarely, will consider them anew, not as romantic political and social invalids, to be coddled and caressed, but as free competitors in a harsh world. When that reconsideration gets under way there will be a general overhauling of the relations between the sexes, and some of the fair ones, I suspect, will begin to wonder why they didn’t let well enough alone.

H. L. Mencken: In Defense of Women (1918)

Unamusement Park: your number one source for hundred-year-old dating tips.

Sources

  1. Anna Kendrick: Scrappy Little Nobody (2016)

Academic inferno

Courtesy of The Harvard Crimson [1]: contributing writer Nathan L. Williams, student of government, finds himself trapped in “Academic Purgatory.”

With the advent of the Digital Revolution, I think it makes little sense to read incomprehensible theories written by overrated, arrogant, European men, especially when simplified versions exist online. Last year, I was assigned a particularly difficult reading on John Stuart Mill. After struggling with his archaic language for an hour, I turned to a helpful philosophy series on YouTube. Within a matter of minutes, I was well on my way to writing a decent paper.

This is an excellent example of the opposite of everything I believe; at least, it is difficult for me to imagine how to make this paragraph worse. To recapitulate:

  1. “Archaic” is the word for John Stuart Mill’s perfectly lucid modern English.
  2. A university student abandons his homework after “struggling” for a whole entire “hour” (gee) to comprehend “a particularly difficult reading.”
  3. Since he was able to grasp a “simplified version” in “a matter of minutes,” why should anyone bother to read the actual author’s actual words?
  4. Why, indeed, read any books at all? After all, we can watch videos on computers now, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is far more “digital.”
  5. Obligatory casual denigration of “European men.” (In the words of the People’s Front of Judea: What have the Romans ever done for us?)

I think it’s only fair to give the final word to the man himself:

Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion. Until then, there is nothing for them but implicit obedience to an Akbar or a Charlemagne, if they are so fortunate as to find one. But as soon as mankind have attained the capacity of being guided to their own improvement by conviction or persuasion (a period long since reached in all nations with whom we need here concern ourselves), compulsion, either in the direct form or in that of pains and penalties for non-compliance, is no longer admissible as a means to their own good, and justifiable only for the security of others.

John Stuart Mill: On Liberty (1859)

But Mill fails to tell us if mankind, in the absence of benign compulsion, may eventually revert to such a state of barbarism. Maybe he thought it was obvious.

Sources

  1. Nathan L. Williams: “Academic Purgatory” in The Harvard Crimson (2016)

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