Category Archive 'The Punditocracy'

16 Jan 2009

The Puritan Theocracy Rules On

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Mencius Moldbug, most prolix of bloggers, goes on at great length, but is still often worth a read.

The mysterious Moldbug, it has been learned, is a 1992 Brown graduate who majored in Computer Science. Further details here.

In this alleged introduction to his blog, Moldbug accurately identifies the enemy (complete with whimsical H.P. Lovecraft allusions).

[I]n post-1945 America, the source of all new ideas is the university. Ideas check out of the university, but they hardly ever check in. Thence, they flow outward to the other arms of the educational system as a whole: the mainstream media and the public schools. Eventually they become our old friend, “public opinion.” This process is slow, happening on a generational scale, and thus the 45-year lag.

Thus whatever coordinates the university system coordinates the state, through the transmission device of “public opinion.” Naturally, since this is 100% effective, the state does not have to wait for the transmission to complete. It can act in advance of a complete response, as in this case the Supreme Court did in 1967, and synchronize directly with the universities.

This relationship, whose widespread practice in the United States dates to 1933, is known as public policy. Essentially, for everything your government does, there is a university department full of professors who can, and do, tell it what to do. Civil servants and Congressional staffers follow the technical lead of the universities. The residual democratic branch of Washington, the White House, can sometimes push back feebly, but only with great difficulty. …

There are a few brief periods of true reaction in American history – the post-Reconstruction era or Redemption, the Return to Normalcy of Harding, and a couple of others. But they are unusual and feeble compared to the great leftward shift. Nor, most important for our hypothesis, did they come from the universities; in the 20th century, periods of reaction are always periods of anti-university activity. (McCarthyism is especially noticeable as such. And you’ll note that McCarthy didn’t exactly win.)

The principle applies even in wars. In each of the following conflicts in Anglo-American history, you see a victory of left over right: the English Civil War, the so-called “Glorious Revolution,” the American Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Clearly, if you want to be on the winning team, you want to start on the left side of the field.

And we are starting to piece the puzzle together. The leftward direction is, itself, the principle of organization. In a two-party democratic system, with Whigs and Tories, Democrats and Republicans, etc, the intelligentsia is always Whig. Their party is simply the party of those who want to get ahead. It is the party of celebrities, the ultra-rich, the great and good, the flexible of conscience. Tories are always misfits, losers, or just plain stupid – sometimes all three.

And the left is the party of the educational organs, at whose head is the press and universities. This is our 20th-century version of the established church. Here at UR, we sometimes call it the Cathedral – although it is essential to note that, unlike an ordinary organization, it has no central administrator. No, this will not make it easier to deal with. …

Whatever you make of the left-right axis, you have to admit that there exists some force which has been pulling the Anglo-American political system leftward for at least the last three centuries. Whatever this unfathomable stellar emanation may be, it has gotten us from the Stuarts to Barack Obama. Personally, I would like a refund. But that’s just me. …

intellectuals cluster to the left, generally adopting as a social norm the principle of pas d’ennemis a gauche, pas d’amis a droit, because like everyone else they are drawn to power. The left is chaos and anarchy, and the more anarchy you have, the more power there is to go around. The more orderly a system is, the fewer people get to issue orders. The same asymmetry is why corporations and the military, whose system of hierarchical executive authority is inherently orderly, cluster to the right.

Once the cluster exists, however, it works by any means necessary. The reverence of anarchy is a mindset in which an essentially Machiavellian, tribal model of power flourishes. To the bishops of the Cathedral, anything that strengthens their influence is a good thing, and vice versa. The analysis is completely reflexive, far below the conscious level. Consider this comparison of the coverage between the regime of Pinochet and that of Castro. Despite atrocities that are comparable at most – not to mention a much better record in providing responsible and effective government – Pinochet receives the full-out two-minute hate, whereas the treatment of Castro tends to have, at most, a gentle and wistful disapproval. …

[T]he problem is not just that our present system of government – which might be described succinctly as an atheistic theocracy – is accidentally similar to Puritan Massachusetts. As anatomists put it, these structures are not just analogous. They are homologous. This architecture of government – theocracy secured through democratic means – is a single continuous thread in American history.

15 Oct 2008

Douthat Defends the Rats

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Ross Douthat argues that a more successful McCain campaign with better poll results would have stiffened the spines of those representatives of the center-right punditocracy currently finding all sorts of reasons (“first class temperament”) requiring them to desert the Republican cause and make peace with a Marxist democrat.

Suppose that you accept the most cynical account of, say, Peggy Noonan’s uncertainty about whom to vote for in this election, or Christopher Buckley’s Obama endorsement – that they’re just craven, self-interested bandwagon jumpers who want to keep getting invited to all those swanky cocktail parties I keep hearing about. Suppose that you regard every right-of-center writer – or single-issue fellow traveler with the Bush Republicans, in the case of Christopher Hitchens – who’s publicly hurled brickbats at the McCain campaign as a quisling and a coward, a stooge for liberalism and a rat fleeing a fast-sinking ship. In such circumstances, what’s the best course of action – denouncing the rats, or trying to figure out why the hell the ship is sinking? Even if Brooks and Noonan and Buckley and Dreher and Kathleen Parker and David Frum and Heather Mac Donald and Bruce Bartlett and George Will and on and on – note the ideological diversity in the ranks of conservatives who aren’t Helping The Team these days – are all just snobs and careerists who quit or cavil or cover their asses when the going gets tough and their “seat at the table” is threatened, an American conservative movement that consists entirely of those pundits with the rock-hard testicular fortitude required to never take sides against the family seems like a pretty small tent at this point. And if I were Hanson or Levin or Steyn I’d be devoting a little less time to ritual denunciations of heretics and RINOs, and at least a little more time to figuring out how to build the sort of ship that will make the rats of the DC/NY corridor want to scramble back on board, however much it makes you sick to have them back. Who knows? It might just be the sort of ship that swing-state voters will want to climb on board as well.

Douthat is right in observing that, when you’re winning, the wimps, opportunists, and trimmers have neither need nor incentive to take French leave, but, alas! no political party, no philosophical school of thought can always win. Sometimes fate and circumstances are against you. Sometimes victory in a particular contest, in a particular election year, is impossible. And it is at those unfortunate times that we get to discover that in the contemporary political wars not everyone is another Roland or another Leonidas.

Read the whole thing.

16 Sep 2008

The Problem Is Not What You Don’t Know – It’s What You Know That Isn’t So

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Bradley Burston, winner of the the Eliav-Sartawi award for Middle East journalism

Bradley Burston, award-winning member of the chin-stroking International liberal commentariat, provides a very striking illustration of the truth of the old rustic apothegm in his What is truly frightening about Sarah Palin editorial.

It was in the taxicab this morning that it finally struck me about Sarah Palin.

I get it. I get that millions of Americans have a crying need for someone to stand up and say the things that Sarah Palin has been telling them.

I get that many, many Americans are fed up with big government and shame in patriotism and energy dependence and media condescension. I recognize that there are many on the right who are galvanized by a woman addressing the nation in condemnation of gun control and abortions. It’s clear that many in the heartland and even on the Blue State coasts have been waiting years to hear someone take a take-no-prisoners verbal lash to Beltway waste and liberal political correctness and, by implication, to cultural pluralism and tree hugging and the very mention of the word Washington.

But it wasn’t until I got into the taxicab this morning, that I realized what the American voter truly faces this November.

The radio was playing a clip from her ABC News interview, the one in which she was asked about the Bush Doctrine.

The problem was not that she was unacquainted with the doctrine. Millions of Americans are unacquainted with it.

The problem is that Sarah Palin was also asking those millions of Americans to put her first in line for the most important position in humankind. …

Asked during the interview if she had the ability and the experience to serve as president of the United States, she replied without hesitation, without reservation, without contemplation – and without knowing, on a profound level, what that would, in fact, entail. “I’m ready.”

Here is the answer that is truly frightening. It lets us know that the nation may be in danger of electing another leader bearing the most profound of George Bush’s shortcomings: blindness to one’s own shortcomings.

Blindness, that is, to the breadth and depth and height and shape of what one does not know. Say what you will about Donald Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary knew an unknown unknown when he saw one. Sarah Palin, for whom appearance is understandably significant, has one in her mirror.

But what about Bradley Buston’s blindness to his own shortcomings: his unjustified certitude, his complacency, his arrogance, and his misinformedness?

First of all, George W. Bush never identified any proposition as the “Bush Doctrine.”

That there is a Bush Doctrine at all is a pure journalistic invention, and wide-spread disagreement exists as to which of several formulations represents the alleged Bush Doctrine. Even how many alternative Bush Doctrines have been referred to is uncertain.

Charles Krauthammer, who claims to have been the first to use the phrase, identifies four versions of the Bush Doctrine.

Michael Abramowitz, in the Washington Post, quotes Paul D. Feaver, a member of the National Security Council, as having identified seven versions. Wikipedia used to agree, stating, as of September 13th:

The Bush Doctrine is a journalistic term used to describe some foreign policy principles of United States president George W. Bush, enunciated in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Scholars identify seven different “Bush Doctrines.”

But this inconvenient portion of the discussion has been edited away and the entry locked to prohibit further alterations. The old text is presently visible in Google.

This little case of journalistic malpractice could serve beautifully as a metonymy for the numberless cases of factual error, false interpretation, and complete misstatement served up by the establishment journalistic community as Truth and Wisdom during the Bush Administration’s years in office.

31 Aug 2008

They Picked Sarah Palin In June

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Not all members of the punditocracy are always wrong.

Here are some opinion-makers who thought Sarah Palin would make a terrific vice presidential selection for McCain more than two months ago.

Jack Kelly, of the Toledo Blade, is narrowly the earliest I’ve found, writing on June 7th:

There is one potential running mate who has virtually no down side. Those conservatives who have heard of her were delighted to learn that McCain advance man Arthur Culvahouse was in Alaska recently, because they surmised he could only be there to discuss the vice presidential nomination with Gov. Sarah Palin.

At 44, Sarah Louise Heath Palin is both the youngest and the first female governor in Alaska’s relatively brief history as a state. She’s also the most popular governor in America, with an approval rating that has bounced around 90 percent.

This is due partly to her personal qualities. When she was leading her underdog Wasilla High School basketball team to the state championship in 1982, her teammates called her “Sarah Barracuda” because of her fierce competitiveness.

Two years later, when she won the “Miss Wasilla” beauty pageant, she was also voted “Miss Congeniality” by the other contestants.

Sarah Barracuda. Miss Congeniality. Fire and nice. A happily married mother of five who is smart and drop-dead gorgeous.

But it’s mostly because she’s been a crackerjack governor, a strong fiscal conservative, and a ferocious fighter of corruption, especially in her own party.

Ms. Palin touches other conservative bases, some of which Mr. McCain has been accused of rounding. Track, her eldest son, enlisted in the Army last Sept. 11. She’s a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association who hunts, fishes, and runs marathons. A regular churchgoer, she’s staunchly pro-life.

Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal said Mr. McCain should run against a corrupt, do-nothing Congress, a la Harry Truman. If he should choose to do so, Ms. Palin would make an excellent partner.

“The landscape is littered with the bodies of those who have crossed Sarah,” pollster Dave Dittman told The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes.

Mr. Obama’s support has plunged recently among white women. Many Hillary Clinton supporters accuse him – I think unfairly – of being sexist. Having Sarah Palin on the ticket could help Mr. McCain appeal to these disgruntled Democrats.

Running mates usually aren’t named until the convention. But if Mr. McCain should name Ms. Palin earlier, it would give America more time to get to know this extraordinary woman. And because she’s at least a dozen feature stories waiting to be written, she could help him dominate the news between now and the conventions.

Another reason for selecting Sarah Palin early would be to force Barack Obama to make a mistake. He’d have to rule out choosing someone like Virginia Sen. Jim Webb as his running mate, for fear of exacerbating charges of sexism. And if he chose a woman other than Hillary Clinton, the impression Democrats are wimpy would be intensified.

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But only a day later, on June 8th, Beldar published what would become the first of a series of posts strongly arguing for Palin.

I’ve spent several hours now reading about, and watching video clips of, 44-year-old Alaska governor Sarah Heath Palin. There are indications that she’s on McCain’s radar, along with many other candidates. I, for one, am very, very impressed with her. Indeed, I’m convinced already that it’s no fluke that she’s more popular with her constituents than any other current American governor (roughly a 90% approval rating). And I’m finding myself increasingly receptive to, and even persuaded by, the idea that she would be not merely a bold pick, but a smart pick, as McCain’s running mate.

If you’re not acquainted with Gov. Palin already, you owe it to yourself to get up to speed. …

Sarah Palin actually risked her entire political career to take on her own party’s entrenched leadership, and then thoroughly and effectively cleaned house in the largest state in the Union. Between her and Obama, who’s already proven him- or herself more likely to provide the “change you can believe in”?

This spring she used her line-item veto to cut $268 million from state spending bills — in a state that, comparatively, is flush with money, which makes pork projects almost irresistible. She resisted, and it appears that she’s going to make her vetoes stick. That’s the antidote to Bridges to Nowhere! (Which she opposed, by the way; the federal money originally committed to it, she’s now re-directed into more appropriate infrastructure programs.)

As governor, she’s also pushed hard against other entrenched interests, including the energy companies (BP, ConocoPhilips, and ExxonMobil) who hold the lease rights to much of Alaska’s oil and gas wealth. She is a fierce, knowledgeable, and articulate advocate of responsible development of Alaskan resources to benefit not only its own residents — who actually pay among the nation’s highest gasoline prices and have the least access to affordable and clean natural gas — but also the other 49 states, and she recognizes that this is not just a matter of economic necessity, but ultimately of national security.

Palin has spoken out and brought suit to prevent radical environmentalists from exploiting the ridiculous naming of the polar bear as an endangered species, showing no hesitation to stand up against them or their well-wishers in the federal bureaucracy. Yet she and her family are enthusiastic outdoorsmen — engaging in ice fishing, hunting, and snow-mobiling (her husband has won the 2000-mile Iron Dog race four times). Check out this campaign video of her and her family loading up their single-prop float-plane (not a corporate jet!) with sporting gear — that’s got to be at least as cool as Obama shooting hoops.

It doesn’t hurt that Gov. Palin is attractive and photogenic. (She was not, as Jonah Goldberg recently wrote, Miss Alaska, but she was Miss Wasilla; last December Vogue Magazine came to photograph her and her three daughters back in Wasilla; and comedian Craig Ferguson declares that she has a “sort of naughty librarian vibe.”) But she’s climbed through local and state politics on her own — not based on who her daddy or her husband is (or was).

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Beldar may have influenced the thinking of sometimes-somewhat-Conservative Ann Althouse, who on June 12th, made a 10:06 video of a discussion with Rachel Sklar in which she strongly contrasted Palin with Hillary, as a woman who made it into high office on her own.

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They should all be feeling pretty good about now.


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