Category Archive 'Decline and Fall'
13 Nov 2019

A Must-Read Interview

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In a must-read interview with Tablet Magazine, David Samuels discusses with Angelo Codevilla the decline of post-Republican Imperial America, the corruption of the elite, meritocracy and its current absence, the populist revolt, the rise of the surveillance state, Jonathan Pollard, and the deep state’s efforts to discredit and remove Donald Trump.

David Samuels:

No one runs America. That’s the terror and the beauty of American life in a nutshell, the answer to the secret of how 300 million people from many different places can live together between two oceans, sharing a future-oriented outlook that methodically obliterates any ties to the past. All prior lived experience is transformed into science fiction, or else into self-serving evidence of the present-day moral, intellectual, and technological superiority of the brave imagineers who are fortunate enough to live here, in the Now, while all who came before them are cursed. No one can or does control such fantasy-driven machinery, which seems incapable of operating in any other way than it does, i.e., in a space with no beginning and no end, but tending always toward perfection. Learning to accept imperfection and failure may be an emotionally healthy way for adults to negotiate the terrors and absurdities of human existence, but it is not the highway to the perfectibility of man or woman-kind. …

Which is not to say that America isn’t governed by an elite class, just like China, or Japan, or France is—only that the ability of that class to actually rule anything is even more constrained by the native culture. The idea that an advanced technologically driven capitalist or socialist society of several hundred million people can be run by something other than an elite is silly or scary—the most obvious present-day alternative being a society run by ever-advancing forms of AI, which will no doubt have only the best interests of their flesh-and-blood creators at heart.

Yet it is possible to accept all of this, and to posit that the reason that the American ruling class seems so indisputably impotent and unmoored in the present is that there is no such thing as America anymore. In place of the America that is described in history books, where Henry Clay forged his compromises, and Walt Whitman wrote poetry, and Herman Melville contemplated the whale, and Ida Tarbell did her muckraking, and Thomas Alva Edison invented movies and the light bulb, and so forth, has arisen something new and vast and yet distinctly un-American that for lack of a better term is often called the American Empire, which in turn calls to mind the division of Roman history (and the Roman character) into two parts: the Republican, and the Imperial.

While containing the ghosts of the American past, the American Empire is clearly a very different kind of entity than the American Republic was—starting with the fact that the vast majority of its inhabitants aren’t Americans. Ancient American ideas about individual rights and liberties, the pursuit of happiness, and so forth, may still be inspiring to mainland American citizens or not, but they are foreign to the peoples that Americans conquered. To those people, America is an empire, or the shadow of an empire, under which seemingly endless wars are fought, a symbol of their own continuing powerlessness and cultural failure. Meanwhile, at home, the American ruling elites prattle on endlessly about their deeply held ideals of whatever that must be applied to Hondurans today, and Kurds tomorrow, in fits of frantic-seeming generosity in between courses of farm-to-table fare. Once the class bond has been firmly established, everyone can relax and exchange notes about their kids, who are off being credentialed at the same “meritocratic” but now hugely more expensive private schools that their parents attended, whose social purpose is no longer to teach basic math or a common history but to indoctrinate teenagers in the cultish mumbo-jumbo that serves as a kind of in-group glue that binds ruling class initiates (she/he/they/ze) together and usefully distinguishes them from townies during summer vacations by the seashore.

The understanding of America as an empire is as foreign to most Americans as is the idea that the specific country that they live in is run by a class of people who may number themselves among the elect but weren’t in fact elected by anyone. Under whatever professional job titles, the people who populate the institutions that exercise direct power over nearly all aspects of American life from birth to death are bureaucrats—university bureaucrats, corporate bureaucrats, local, state and federal bureaucrats, law enforcement bureaucrats, health bureaucrats, knowledge bureaucrats, spy agency bureaucrats. At each layer of specific institutional authority, bureaucrats coordinate their understandings and practices with bureaucrats in parallel institutions through lawyers, in language that is designed to be impenetrable, or nearly so, by outsiders. Their authority is pervasive, undemocratic, and increasingly not susceptible in practice to legal checks and balances. All those people together comprise a class.

Another thing that residents of the broad North American expanse between Canada and Mexico have noticed is that the programs and remedies that this class has promoted, both at home and abroad, have greatly enriched and empowered a small number of people, namely themselves—while the broader American population continues to decline in wealth, health, and education. Meanwhile, the American Empire that the ruling elite administers is collapsing. The popularity of such observations on both the left and the right is what accounts for the rise of Donald Trump, on one hand, and of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the other hand, among an electorate that has not been historically distinguished by its embrace of radicalism. …

David Samuels: Where does the ethos of a class come from?

Angelo Codevilla: Here I speak with the prejudices of an academician. Because the ethos of the academy changed, evolved. And what drove the change was the growing contempt of professors for our civilization. And you Jews ought not to feel that you are any less the enemy of these people than we Christians.

I should say the defining feature of the ruling class is a certain attitude. And that attitude developed in the academy, and that attitude became uniform throughout the country because of the uniform academy. The uniformity of the academy transformed itself into the uniformity of the ruling class.

Because that was the institution that credentialed the otherwise uncultured American masses?

It credentialed the mind and the habits. The habits of the heart. It credentialed the habits of the heart. The habits of conversation. The habits of work. The habits of logic. The habits period.

Can you imagine a bright kid coming in contact with that kind of intellectual fraud? The smartest ones will say, “hey, I don’t want to be part of this.” He’ll do something else. He won’t be taken in. Which means that this class will continue to degrade itself.

RTWT

11 Oct 2019

The American Fish is Rotting From the Head

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Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1833-1836, New York Historical Society.

Victor Davis Hanson observes Contemporary Progressive “progress” and finds it rather lacking in comparison the past which it always sneers at and condemns.

In terms of learning, does anyone believe that a college graduate in 2020 will know half the information of a 1950 graduate?

In the 1940s, young people read William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pearl Buck and John Steinbeck. Are our current novelists turning out anything comparable? Could today’s high-school graduate even finish “The Good Earth” or “The Grapes of Wrath”?

True, social media is impressive. The internet gives us instant access to global knowledge. We are a more tolerant society, at least in theory. * But Facebook is not the Hoover Dam, and Twitter is not the Panama Canal.

Our ancestors were builders and pioneers and mostly fearless. We are regulators, auditors, bureaucrats, adjudicators, censors, critics, plaintiffs, defendants, social media junkies and thin-skinned scolds. A distant generation created; we mostly delay, idle and gripe.

As we walk amid the refuse, needles and excrement of the sidewalks of our fetid cities; as we sit motionless on our jammed ancient freeways; and as we pout on Twitter and electronically whine in the porticos of our Ivy League campuses, will we ask: “Who were these people who left these strange monuments that we use but can neither emulate nor understand?”

In comparison to us, they now seem like gods.

RTWT

07 Aug 2019

The Real Problem With America’s Elite

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Natalia Dashan brilliantly explains why the Radical Left is winning at elite schools like Yale and everywhere else in the National Establishment.

Western elites are not comfortable with their place in society and the responsibilities that come with it, and realize that there are deep structural problems with the old systems of coordination. But lacking the capacity for an orderly restructuring, or even a diagnosis of problems and needs, we dive deeper into a chaotic ideological mode of coordination that sweeps away the old structures.

When you live with this mindset, what you end up with is not an establishment where a woke upper class rallies and advocates for the rights of minorities, the poor, and underprivileged groups. What you have is a blind and self-righteous upper class that becomes structurally unable to take coordinated responsibility. You get stuck in an ideological mode of coordination, where no one can speak the truth to correct collective mistakes and overreaches without losing position.

This ideology is promulgated and advertised by universities, but it doesn’t start or stop at universities. All the fundraisers. All the corporate events. The Oscars. Let’s take down the Man. They say this in front of their PowerPoints. They clink champagne glasses. Let’s take down the Man! But there is no real spirit of revolution in these words. It is all in the language they understand—polite and clean, because it isn’t really real. It is a performative spectacle about their own morale and guilt.

If you were the ruler while everything was burning around you, and you didn’t know what to do, what would you do? You would deny that you are in charge. And you would recuperate the growing discontented masses into your own power base, so that things stay comfortable for you.

Yale students, if they weren’t powerful when they came in (and most of them were), they gain power by being bestowed a Yale degree. What would you do with this power? You don’t want to abuse it; you’re not outright evil. No, you want something different. You want to be absolved of your power. You are ashamed of your power. Why should you have it, and not somebody else—maybe somebody more deserving? You never really signed up for this. You would rather be somebody normal. But not, “normal,” normal. More like normal with options and vacations and money “normal.” Normal but still powerful. Or you want to be something even better than normal. You want to be the underdog. There is always a certain strange sense of pleasure in being an underdog. Expectations are lower. Whenever you accomplish anything at all—it is an accomplishment. You would rather have a narrative story of “coming up from the bottom.” Someone who not only does not have the responsibility of power, but someone who has a right to feel resentful of those who do. And better yet—someone who can use this resentment as a tool for self-interest.

How do Yale students give up their power? They do this in one of two ways. One way is termed selling out. This usually means taking a high-paying job at an institution that is at worst blatantly unethical, and at best not intentionally idealistic. A consulting job, a meaningless tech job, or a position at an investment bank. This is generally seen as the selfish route.

But there is more to selling out that nobody talks about. These jobs are the dream jobs of the middle class. They’re not supposed to be jobs for the sons and daughters of millionaires and billionaires—these kids don’t actually need the money. They want independence from their parents and proof that they can make it on their own—and prestigious work experience—but they have wealth acquired through generations that they can always fall back on. These people are generally as harmless as the middle class—which is to say completely harmless. They keep to themselves. They quietly grow their bank accounts and their 401ks. And just like the real middle class, they don’t want to risk their next promotion through being too outspoken. They have virtually no political power. This mindset is best encapsulated by: “I’ll go with the program. Please leave me alone to be comfortable and quietly make money.”

They effectively become middle class, because there is no longer any socially esteemed notion of upper class. They have a base of power, of f-you money, that they could use to become something greater than just another office worker or businessperson. But there is no script for that, no institutional or ideological support. What would it even mean to be an esteemed, blue-blooded aristocrat in 2019? So they take the easy and safe way.

How else do Yale students give up their responsibility?

They go in the other direction. These are the people who call themselves idealists and say they want to save the world. They feel the weight of responsibility from their social status—but they don’t know how to process and integrate this responsibility into their lives properly. Traditionally, structurally well-organized elite institutions would absorb and direct this benevolent impulse to useful purpose. But our traditional institutions have decayed and lost their credibility, so these idealists start looking for alternatives, and start signalling dissociation from those now-disreputable class markers.

But the capacity to really think through what an alternative should look like, and create one, is so rare as to be effectively nonexistent. Instead, idealists are forced to take the easy way of just going along with dominant ideological narratives of what it means to do good. They feel guilty about their wealth and privileges, and feel that they won’t be doing their part unless they do something very altruistic, and the idealistic ideologies reinforce these feelings. So they go overboard, and rush headlong into whatever they are supposed to do. They purport to speak for and be allied with underprivileged groups. They get their professors fired for minor infractions. They frantically tear down whatever vestiges of the old institutions and hierarchies that they can, and conspicuously feel guilty about the rest.

These are the people who buy clothes from Salvation Army and decline your Sunday brunch invitation because it’s too expensive, sometimes with the implication that they are saving their money to donate to more effective causes, if they aren’t pretending not to have it. They are the people who might attack or cut off their friends for ideological reasons. They discharge their personal responsibility by sacrificing everything outside of their distant mission, including friendships and social fabric.

It’s an understandable impulse. After all, given the state of legacy institutions, what else are you going to do with the energy of idealism? But ultimately, by going along with the narratives of an ideology that can efficiently capture these impulses, but has no structural ability to deliver on its promises, just diverts more energy from what a normal benevolent elite should be doing.

These people might sometimes say that they are “tired of fighting”—but this is not the full truth. Fighting is fun. It is always very fun to be a warrior—to have something you believe in that guides you. To be part of a tribe, working for the good of mankind. To be revered and respected for being on the bleeding edge of the paradigm.

Especially when you’re winning.

A must-read.

31 Jul 2019

CT Death Watch

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We left the 1712 5000+ sq. ft. house we lived in most of our adult lives. Local real estate taxes, over 20 years, went from $2000-a-year to $10,000, and the CT economy went into the tank. Nobody retires in Connecticut with the taxes being what they are.

Terry Kirkpatrick tells us that there is now a “People who have left or are leaving Connecticut” Facebook group and reports on the “CT Death Watch.”

Buy U-Haul stock. Connecticut residents are growing pessimistic about the state’s living conditions, according to a survey. A record percent of respondents (47 percent) also said they will likely leave the state within the next five years.

Even in banks? Connecticut to help 10,000 felons get a job in three years.

We like illegals. Gov. Ned Lamont is directing police in Connecticut to not cooperate with raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Glad to help out. While Connecticut lawmakers sold the progressive tax as a way to provide middle-class tax relief and reduce property taxes, neither occurred. Instead, everyday taxpayers have been hit with recurring income and property tax hikes.

Tax those movies. Governor Lamont’s budget seems designed to accelerate the decline. It increases spending by $2 billion while extending the state’s 6.35% sales tax to everything from digital movies to laundry drop-off services to “safety apparel.” It adds $50 million in taxes on small businesses, raises the minimum wage by 50%, and provides the country’s most generous mandated paid family medical leave.

21 Jul 2019

Liberals and the Space Program

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The New York Times’ derisive response to the 50th Anniversary of America’s triumphant landing on the Moon made the blood of many people boil, but really wasn’t anything new.

The liberalism of the American Establishment moved significantly in the direction of the rancid radical Left in the six years between the death of JFK and the Apollo space crew’s moon landing. Even as far back in 1969, as Steven Hayward notes, the liberals were turning against the Space Program.

[W]e shouldn’t underestimate how dramatically liberals turned against the Apollo project at the moment of its triumph—a sign of the larger collapse of liberalism in the 1960s. The moon landing had been set out as a lofty goal by the liberals’ hero, John F. Kennedy, and the moon landing was an occasion of national pride and celebration for most Americans. Here, amidst the rubble and gloom of the 1960s, was something that had gone splendidly right. Many leading liberals, however, could only sniff that while the moon landing was undeniably impressive, the money for the moon landing would have been better spent on social problems on Earth. The popular cliché of the time went: “Any nation that can land a man on the moon can [fill in the blank].” (The total cost of the decade-long moon landing project was less than three months’ worth of federal spending for social programs in 1969.)

Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield said that “The needs of the people on earth, and especially in this country, should have priority. When we solve these problems, we can consider space efforts.” Even the brother of the man who issued the call to go to the moon, Sen. Ted Kennedy, expressed weariness with the space program: “I think after [the moon landing] the space program ought to fit into our other national priorities.”

This may have been the moment when liberalism certified that it had become a crabbed and negative force in American life. It has never recovered.

RTWT

01 Oct 2018

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Victor Davis Hanson sees the old American norms transformed in the Kavanaugh process, and he sees all this as a major milestone on the road of American decline.

The Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and their endless sequelae have ended up as an epitaph for a spent culture for which its remedies are felt to be worse than its diseases. Think 338 B.C., A.D. 476, 1453, or 1939.

The coordinated effort to destroy Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court required the systematic refutation of the entire notion of Western jurisprudence by senators and much of the American legal establishment. And there was no hesitation in doing just that on the part of Senate Democrats, the #MeToo movement, and the press. And I write this at a moment in which conservatives and Republicans still control the majority of governorships, state legislatures, the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court and the presidency—a reminder that culture so often is far more powerful than politics.

So, here we were to be left with a new legal and cultural standard in adjudicating future disagreements and disputes, an utterly anti-Western standard quite befitting for our new relativist age:

    The veracity of accusations will hinge on the particular identity, emotions, and ideology of the accuser;
    Evidence, or lack of it, will be tangential, given the supposed unimpeachable motives of the ideologically correct accuser;
    The burden of proof and evidence will rest with the accused to disprove the preordained assumption of guilt;
    Hearsay will be a valuable narrative and constitute legitimate evidence;
    Truth is not universal, but individualized. Ford’s “truth” is as valid as the “Truth,” given that competing narratives are adjudicated only by access to power. Ford is a victim, therefore her truth trumps “their” truth based on evidence and testimony.
    Questionable and inconsistent testimony are proof of trauma and therefore exactitude; recalling an accusation to someone is proof that the action in the accusation took place.
    Statutes of limitations do not exist; any allegation of decades prior is as valid as any in the present. All of us are subject at any moment to unsubstantiated accusations from decades past that will destroy lives.
    Assertion of an alleged crime is unimpeachable proof. Recall of where, when, why, and how it took place is irrelevant.
    Individual accusations will always be subservient to cosmic causes; individuals are irrelevant if they do not serve ideological aims. All accusations fit universal stereotypes whose rules of finding guilt or innocence trump those of individual cases.
    The accuser establishes the conditions under which charges are investigated; the accused nods assent.

Our cultural traditions are being insidiously rewritten in this new Dark Age. We know now that Euripides’s Phaedra should have been believed, as a female accuser of rape. Perhaps university presses can either reissue properly corrected editions or ban the Hippolytus entirely. No doubt we will ban Racine’s Phèdre as well. Harper Lee’s Tom Robinson deserved his fate because his female accuser should have been believed—and perhaps To Kill a Mockingbird should be rewritten as well. In our time, we have finally and only now belatedly realized that Tawana Brawley’s voice was stifled.

RTWT

VDH is not wrong.

01 Sep 2018

The Cuirassiers Of The Frontier

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Goths, Vandals, Huns, Isaurian mountaineers,
Made Roman by our Roman sacrament,
We can know little (as we care little)
Of the Metropolis: her candled churches,
Her white-gowned pederastic senators,
The cut-throat factions of her Hippodrome,
The eunuchs of her draped saloons.

Here is the frontier, here our camp and place—
Beans for the pot, fodder for horses, And Roman arms.
Enough. He who among us
At full gallop, the bowstring to his ear,
Lets drive his heavy arrows, to sink
Stinging through Persian corslets damascened,
Then follows with the lance—he has our love.

The Christ bade Holy Peter sheathe his sword,
Being outnumbered by the Temple guard.
And this was prudence, the cause not yet lost
While Peter might persuade the crowd to rescue.
Peter reneged, breaking his sacrament.
With us the penalty is death by stoning,
Not to be made a bishop.

In Peter’s Church there is no faith nor truth,
Nor justice anywhere in palace or court.
That we continue watchful on the rampart
Concerns no priest. A gaping silken dragon,
Puffed by the wind, suffices us for God.
We, not the City, are the Empire’s soul:
A rotten tree lives only in its rind.

— Robert Graves,

28 Mar 2018

A New Kenneth Clark Biography and the Subsequent Decline of the West

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Remember Kenneth Clark’s magisterial tour d’horizon of Western Art, the thirteen-part Civilization documentary television series that appeared on the BBC in 1969 and in America on PBS in 1970?

The New York Review of Books is reviewing the 2016 James Stourton biography, Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and Civilisation, just being released now in the U.S.

Kenneth Clark is an interesting biographical subject, a talented and fortunate fellow who lived a rich and glamorous life devoted to the appreciation and explication of the Fine Arts. But I was even more struck by the reviewer’s, Richard Dorment, a former Art Critic for the British Telegraph, bald opening discussion of just how far contemporary academic fashion has left behind Kenneth Clark and the Civilization he so brilliantly described.

Once the most celebrated art historian in the world, Kenneth Clark’s star began to fade in the 1980s when a new generation of scholars rejected the object-based scholarship he epitomized and began to study works of art using Marxist, feminist, and psychoanalytical theory. When Clark placed a painting or a building in its historical setting it was to understand more fully how and why it was made, and what it meant to those who first saw it.

Theory-based art history takes the opposite approach: broadly speaking, the scholar is interested in the work of art not as an end in itself but for what its making might tell us about the society that created it, particularly its attitudes toward subjects like race, gender, and social inequality. This kind of art history is taught in most universities on both sides of the Atlantic today. The scholarship Clark represented survives mainly in some museums and exhibition catalogs. Whereas his books were once required reading in undergraduate courses, many are now out of print. Civilization, the television show that introduced millions of people around the world to art history and lit the spark that led to the mass popularity museums and galleries enjoy today, is largely forgotten.

RTWT

One shudders in horror to realize that it has come to this, that it is our fate to live in such a time, when the enemy of Civilization is not only within the gates, but occupying all the leading academic chairs and in control of all the leading museums, cultural institutions, and even the book reviews.

Kenneth Clark would shake his noble head in annoyance, then smile ruefully and say: “Oh well, after all, this, too, shall pass!”

13 Oct 2017

America the FUBARed

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Bill Jacobson feels gloomy (with good reason) on the occasion of Legal Insurrection’s 9th Anniversary.

I don’t know if there are any uncorrupted institutions left that matter. The education system, from public grade school through public and private higher ed, is gone. The frontal assault on free speech on campuses is the result. If you think this is just a Humanities and Social Sciences problem, stay tuned. In 3-5 years, if we’re still here, we’ll be writing about how the social justice warriors have corrupted the STEM fields. It’s happening now, it’s just not in the headlines yet.

There is a rising tide of absolutism in ideas and enforcement of ideological uniformity that is palpable. I feel it in the air, even at Cornell which is far from the worst. Incredibly, the new Cornell President has charged a newly-formed task force to explore, among other things, “legal mechanisms [which] are available to the university to prevent, address and counter situations in which protected expression on campus is harmful to those vulnerable to its effects.”

Even language as a means of communication is corrupted, with terminology manipulated and coerced to achieve political ends. It started on campuses, and it’s moved into the AP stylebook and the mainstream.

The press could stand as a bulwark against this slide, but it too is corrupted. The greatest threat to freedom of the press is not Donald Trump’s bloviating about FCC licenses (which has been a favorite threat traditionally of Democrats), but the mainstream press itself which has abdicated even the pretense of neutrality and joined #TheResistance.

The lack of respect for the vote is also what has alienated me from the so-called conservative movement. There now is a cottage industry of self-appointed guardians of conservatism whose main job is to delegitimize the vote, and to encourage a soft coup because they didn’t get their way in the primaries.

The Republican Party? Hah. Don’t get me started.

So I’m thinking through what it will mean to live without institutions.

Sorry to be a downer on our blog birthday. I’ve always tried to be honest with you, and honestly, this blog birthday I’m filled with dread, not good cheer.

It’s impossible not to agree. Just name an institution, from the Boy Scouts to Colleges and Universities, from the NFL to the Entertainment Industry, everywhere you look Progressivism has taken over, revolutionized, gutted, and destroyed.

28 Sep 2016

Malfeasance of the Ruling Class Produced 2016 Election

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Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1833-1836, New York Historical Society.

In Claremont Review, Angelo M. Codevilla describes how “the malfeasance of our ruling class” has transformed America and brought us to the point of this year’s disgraceful presidential election.

in today’s America, those in power basically do what they please. Executive orders, phone calls, and the right judge mean a lot more than laws. They even trump state referenda. Over the past half-century, presidents have ruled not by enforcing laws but increasingly through agencies that write their own rules, interpret them, and punish unaccountably—the administrative state. As for the Supreme Court, the American people have seen it invent rights where there were none—e.g., abortion—while trammeling ones that had been the republic’s spine, such as the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech. The Court taught Americans that the word “public” can mean “private” (Kelo v. City of New London), that “penalty” can mean “tax” (King v. Burwell), and that holding an opinion contrary to its own can only be due to an “irrational animus” (Obergefell v. Hodges).

What goes by the name “constitutional law” has been eclipsing the U.S. Constitution for a long time. But when the 1964 Civil Rights Act substituted a wholly open-ended mandate to oppose “discrimination” for any and all fundamental rights, it became the little law that ate the Constitution. Now, because the Act pretended that the commerce clause trumps the freedom of persons to associate or not with whomever they wish, and is being taken to mean that it trumps the free exercise of religion as well, bakers and photographers are forced to take part in homosexual weddings. A commission in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts reported that even a church may be forced to operate its bathrooms according to gender self-identification because it “could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public.” California came very close to mandating that Catholic schools admit homosexual and transgender students or close down. The Justice Department is studying how to prosecute on-line transactions such as vacation home rental site Airbnb, Inc., that fall afoul of its evolving anti-discrimination standards. …

No one running for the GOP nomination discussed the greatest violation of popular government’s norms—never mind the Constitution—to have occurred in two hundred years, namely, the practice, agreed upon by mainstream Republicans and Democrats, of rolling all of the government’s expenditures into a single bill. This eliminates elected officials’ responsibility for any of the government’s actions, and reduces them either to approving all that the government does without reservation, or the allegedly revolutionary, disloyal act of “shutting down the government.” …

The ruling class having chosen raw power over law and persuasion, the American people reasonably concluded that raw power is the only way to counter it, and looked for candidates who would do that. Hence, even constitutional scholar Ted Cruz stopped talking about the constitutional implications of President Obama’s actions after polls told him that the public was more interested in what he would do to reverse them, niceties notwithstanding. Had Cruz become the main alternative to the Democratic Party’s dominion, the American people might have been presented with the option of reverting to the rule of law. But that did not happen. Both of the choices before us presuppose force, not law. …

In today’s America, a network of executive, judicial, bureaucratic, and social kinship channels bypasses the sovereignty of citizens. Our imperial regime, already in force, works on a simple principle: the president and the cronies who populate these channels may do whatever they like so long as the bureaucracy obeys and one third plus one of the Senate protects him from impeachment. If you are on the right side of that network, you can make up the rules as you go along, ignore or violate any number of laws, obfuscate or commit perjury about what you are doing (in the unlikely case they put you under oath), and be certain of your peers’ support. These cronies’ shared social and intellectual identity stems from the uniform education they have received in the universities. Because disdain for ordinary Americans is this ruling class’s chief feature, its members can be equally certain that all will join in celebrating each, and in demonizing their respective opponents.

And, because the ruling class blurs the distinction between public and private business, connection to that class has become the principal way of getting rich in America. Not so long ago, the way to make it here was to start a business that satisfied customers’ needs better than before. Nowadays, more businesses die each year than are started. In this century, all net additions in employment have come from the country’s 1,500 largest corporations. Rent-seeking through influence on regulations is the path to wealth. In the professions, competitive exams were the key to entry and advancement not so long ago. Now, you have to make yourself acceptable to your superiors. More important, judicial decisions and administrative practice have divided Americans into “protected classes”—possessed of special privileges and immunities—and everybody else. Equality before the law and equality of opportunity are memories. Co-option is the path to power. Ever wonder why the quality of our leaders has been declining with each successive generation?

A must read.

05 Sep 2016

Factions and the Fate of Nations

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Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire — Destruction, 1836, New York Historical Society

Richard Fernandez pessimistically compares the current governing styles of Russia and the United States.

Russia is pretty representative of many states which are simply collections of informal power groups. Whether these groups are called cartels, clans, sects or Communist parties, they may essentially be described as what James Madison called factions. He regarded them as both a danger to democracy and the natural forge of leadership and so spent a lot of time figuring out how to control them.

    in the fall of 1787, when he was still in his mid-30s, [Madison] began collaborating with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to write a series of 85 newspaper essays explaining the U.S. Constitution and urging the people of New York to adopt it. …

    Given the talismanic power the word “democracy” has to modern ears, it is worth reminding ourselves that the U.S. Constitution was largely an effort to curb or trammel democracy. Democracies, Madison wrote in Federalist 10, the most widely read and cited of the essays, “have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” Why? A mot often attributed to Benjamin Franklin explains it in an image. “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” …

    The biggest threat to “popular” governments, he wrote in Federalist 10, are “factions,” interest groups whose operations are “adverse to the rights of other citizens” or the “permanent…interests of the community.” Factions are thus not accidental. They are—famous phrase—“sown in the nature of man.” Why? Because freedom and the unequal distribution of talent inevitably yield an unequal distribution of property, the “most common and durable source of faction.” …

    Madison’s solution was the creation of a large republic in which a scheme of representation and a large variety of interests “make it less probable” that they will be able to “invade the rights of other citizens” successfully. … Madison’s central insight was that power had to be dispersed and decentralized if it was to serve liberty and control faction.

The paradox that Putin exemplifies is that while factions breed formidable conspirators, they also create poisonous leaders. They succeed in themselves but cause the society around them to fail. That is because they dispense a favoritism which is ultimately ruinous for the nation. The result is a self-vetoing enterprise. Marian Tupy observed that Chile began to succeed at the moment when its junta began to allow economic freedom while Venezuela started to fail by going the other way. But few ruling elites have the sense to get themselves out of the way. Usually they have to be shoved aside.

The question is whether Madison’s defenses failed and the factions are inside the wire. America for a long time beat the odds but recently things have taken a turn for the worse. It is no accident that many of America’s troubles have coincided with the growth of identity politics, special interest groups, foreign lobbying and corruption. If so they have spread their poison and created an American version of the “informal networks” that proved so fatal in other countries, as Madison feared.

Moreover, the American factional system operates in the worst possible way. The Clinton Foundation and private email scandal is a portrait of venality without competence. The peculiar characteristics of American factionalism have bred something singular; a phenomenon at once cunning yet stupid, both corrupt and inept. America is no longer exceptional, just another bum in the ring. Yet while Putin can often outwit Obama (and Hillary when she was in State), the Russian cannot seem to turn anything to lasting advantage. The outcome is a kind of impotence afflicting both sides.

2016 should have been an election charged with passion, but it is atmospherically deadening, as if many voters wished the candidates would just go away. If the 20th century was one in which people believed government could solve all the world’s problems, the 21st century is fast developing into one where government has become like the weather: chaotic, capricious and ultimately arbitrary — something everyone talks about but no one can do anything about.

Read the whole thing.

09 Jun 2016

Reading Lists

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TRReading
Theodore Roosevelt Reading

Intellectual Takeout tells us that the LA Times recently asked The Donald what he was currently reading. Trump identified a book about Hillary, whose title he could not remember, which he was obviously reading for purposes of opposition research, and another book, whose author and title he couldn’t name, that he’s reading presumably in search of a role model.

I’m reading the Ed Klein book on Hillary Clinton,” Trump answered, without specifying which one — Klein has written two, “The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She’ll Go to Become President” and “Unlikeable: The Problem with Hillary.”

Trump then said that he’s reading a book about Richard Nixon, but was unable to recall the title or author, telling Wolff, ‘[W]ell, I’ll get you the exact information on it.’”

Politico asked Hillary the same question back in 2014, and Hillary had a perfectly-considered list all ready, one belle-lettres title establishing her intellectual cred, one PC title demonstrating her attention to diversity authors, and one best-seller thriller assuring the common people that she reads trash, too, just like them, as well:

‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt; ‘Mom & Me & Mom’ by Maya Angelou; and ‘Missing You’ by Harlan Coben.”

To see how far the American leadership class declined in a just over a century, compare the reading list Teddy Roosevelt shared with Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler in 1903:

The History of the Peloponnesian War Thucydides
The Histories Herodotus
The Histories Polybius
Plutarch’s Lives Plutarch
Oresteia Trilogy Aeschylus
Seven Against Thebes Aeschylus
Hippolytus Euripides
The Bacchae Euripides
Frogs Aristophones
Politics Aristotle
Early Age of Greece William Ridgeway
Alexander the Great Benjamin Ide Wheeler
History of Egypt, Chaldæa, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria Gaston Maspero
Chronicles Froissart
The Memoirs of Baron de Marbot Baron de Marbot
Charles XII and the Collapse of the Swedish Empire Robert Nisbet Bain
Types of Naval Officers AT Mahan
Critical and Historical Essays Thomas Macaulay
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Edward Gibbon
The Life of Prince Eugene Prince Eugene of Savoy
Life of Lieut.-Admiral De Ruyter G Grinnell-Milne
Life of Sobieski John Sobieski
Frederick the Great Thomas Carlyle
Abraham Lincoln: A History Hay and Nicolay
Speeches and Writings Abraham Lincoln
The Essays Francis Bacon
Macbeth Shakespeare
Twelfth Night Shakespeare
Henry IV Shakespeare
Henry the Fifth Shakespeare
Richard II Shakespeare
Paradise Lost John Milton
Poems Michael Drayton
Nibelungenlied Anonymous
Inferno Dante (prose translastion by Carlyle)
Beowulf (Samuel H. Church translation)
Heimskringla: Lives of the Norse Kings Snorri Sturluson
The Story of Burnt Njal (George Dasent translation)
Gisli the Outlaw (George Dasent translation)
Cuchulain of Muirthemne (Lady Gregory translation)
The Affected Young Ladies Moliere
The Barber of Seville Gioachino Rossini
The Kingis Quair James I of Scotland
Over the Teacups Oliver Wendell Holmes
Shakespeare and Voltaire Thomas Lounsbury
Sevastopol Sketches Leo Tolstoy
The Cossacks Leo Tolstoy
With Fire and Sword Henryk Sienkiewicz
Guy Mannering Sir Walter Scott
The Antiquary Sir Walter Scott
Rob Roy Sir Walter Scott
Waverly Sir Walter Scott
Quentin Durward Sir Walter Scott
Marmion Sir Walter Scott
The Lay of the Last Minstrel Sir Walter Scott
The Pilot James Fenimore Cooper
Tom Sawyer Mark Twain
The Pickwick Papers Charles Dickens
Nicholas Nickleby Charles Dickens
Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray
The History of Pendennis William Makepeace Thackeray
The Newcomes William Makepeace Thackeray
The Adventures of Philip William Makepeace Thackeray
The White Company Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Charles O’Malley Charles Lever
Poems John Keats
Poems Robert Browning
Poems Edgar Allan Poe
Poems Lord Alfred Tennyson
Poems Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Poems Rudyard Kipling
Poems Bliss Carman
Tales Edgard Allan Poe
Essays James Russell Lowell
Complete Stories Robert Louis Stevenson
British Ballads William Allingham
The Simple Life Charles Wagner
The Rose and the Ring William Makepeace Thackeray
Fairy Tales Hans Andersen
Grimm’s Fairy Tales Grimm Bros
The Story of King Arthur Howard Pyle
Complete Tales of Uncle Remus Joel Chandler Harris
The Woman Who Toils Bessie Van Vorst
The Golden Age Kenneth Grahame
All on the Irish Shore Somerville & Ross
Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. Somerville & Ross
Asia and Europe Meredith Townsend
Youth: A Narrative Joseph Conrad
Works Artemus Ward
Stories of a Western Town Octave Thanet
My Reminiscences of the Anglo-Boer War Ben Viljoen
Through the Subarctic Forest Warburton Pike
Cross Country with Horse and Hound Frank Sherman Peer
Ways of Nature John Burroughs
The Real Malay Frank Swettenham
Gallops David Gray
Napoleon Jackson Ruth Stuart
The Passing of Thomas Thomas Janvier
The Benefactress Elizabeth von Arnim
People of the Whirlpool Mabel Osgood Wright
Call of the Wild Jack London
The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come John Fox
The Captain of the Gray-Horse Troop Hamlin Garland
The Gentleman from Indiana Booth Tarkington
The Crisis Winston Churchill
John Ermine of the Yellowstone Frederic Remington
The Virginian Owen Wister
Red Men and White Owen Wister
Philosophy 4 Owen Wister
Lin McLean Owen Wister
The Blazed Trail Stewart Edward White
Conjuror’s House Stewart Edward White
The Claim Jumpers Stewart Edward White
American Revolution George Otto Trevelyan

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