Sep 08

Impotent radicals

A minor SF writer of radical Marxist political convictions recently uttered a rather incoherent rant in which, among other things, she accused me of “simple-minded right-wing” views. I’m not going to name her because I don’t dislike the woman enough to want to add to her troubles. But I’ve heard this song before from other Marxists, and I can’t resist commenting on why I find such accusations darkly amusing.

Continue reading

Aug 29

Getting Orwell Wrong

The interpretation of George Orwell could be a paradigm for how dead literary figures get knocked from pillar to post by the winds of political interpretation. During his lifetime, the author of 1984 and Animal Farm went from darling of the left to exile for having been willing to write the truth about Communist totalitarianism in allegories too pointed to ignore.

With the end of the Cold War, forty-two years after Orwell’s death, the poisonous fog breathed on Western intellectual life by Soviet agents of influence slowly began to lift. It became possible to say that Communist totalitarianism was evil and had always been evil, without being dismissed as a McCarthyite or reactionary not merely by those agents but by a lot of “no enemy to the left” liberal patsies who should have known better. In this climate, Orwell’s uncompromising truth-telling shone even more brightly than before. For some on the left, belated shame at their own complicity with evil transmuted itself into more adulation for Orwell, and more attempted identification with Orwell’s positions, than at any time in the previous fifty years.

Then came 9/11. Orwell’s sturdy common sense about the war against the fascisms of his day made him a model for a few thinkers of the left who realized they had arrived at another of Marx’s “world-historical moments”, another pivot point at which everything changed. Foremost among these was Christopher Hitchens, who would use Orwell to good effect in taking an eloquent and forceful line in favor of the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq. For this, he was rewarded with the same vituperation and shunning by the Left that had greeted the publication of Orwell’s anti-totalitarian allegories fifty years before.

Hitchens, who coined the term “Islamofascist” for the ideology of Al-Qaeda and its allies, is in particular responsible for having given renewed currency to the following Orwell quote addressing the war against the Nazis:

Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically
help out that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, he that is not with me is against me.

Reading it in its original full form, in a 1941 essay Pacifism and the War published in Partisan Review, only makes it clearer how directly the quote applies to the War on Terror.

Stung by this, various creatures of the pro-Islamofascist Left (and, alas, some liberal and libertarian patsies who should have known better) responded by asserting that Orwell repudiated this position in his 1944 essay As I Please. But a careful reading of this essay shows that there is less here than meets the eye.

What Orwell actually warns against in this essay is not the concept of “objective pro-fascism”, it is any unwarranted leap from noticing that someone is objectively pro-fascist to assuming that the person is intentionally pro-fascist. Orwell explains that confusing these categories is dangerous because it can cause you to mis-predict peoples’ behavior.

There is nothing exceptionable here, and nothing that repudiates the substance of the earlier quote. Yes, Orwell does observe “I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once”, but his “guilty” is a rhetorical flourish, a setup for his real point about confusing effects with intentions.

Both essays are examples of the determined stab, straight through cant to the heart of the matter, that Orwell did so well and so consistently. It was perfectly consistent with the rest of his work for him to observe that there is such a thing as objective pro-fascism, then insist that we not confuse that condition with intentional treason.

As for those who would like to use this “retraction” to take Orwell out of the fight…your behavior is objectively pro-fascist in precisely the sense he intended. At the very least, it is evidence of careless reading and sloppy thinking.

Aug 28

Katrina and the Kos

About twelve hours ago I toyed with the idea of writing a satire in
which the Bush-haters blame W. for the magnitude of the disaster
bearing down on New Orleans. I discarded the idea on the grounds that
it’s (a) not funny, and (b) not believable enough. I mean, who could
really imagine that theory even from a barking moonbat?

Shows you what I know. One of the contributors at Daily Kos has already
flung those feces,
before Katrina lands, yet. And — here’s the funny part —
the charge is already falsified by the facts on the ground.

I’m not a fan of George W. Bush. But when his opponents are
this transcendently foaming-at-the-mouth idiotic, it’s hard not to
wind up supporting him.

Aug 02

Libertarian realism

I hate war. Even when the results of defeat would be worse than
the results of war, I hate war. It kills people and makes government
stronger. But when the results of defeat would be worse, I face
reality and support war.

Our Islamist enemies want to kill us all — starting with Jews and
gays, but continuing to anyone who doesn’t convert to Islam and accept
shari’a and the whole nine yards. That’s not melodrama, it’s
reporting of the plain and simple statements Al-Qaeda uses in their
recruiting videos. They want to kill us all. They demonstrated
the deadly seriousness of this aim on 9/11.

The choice between “support the war” and “allow the pressure off of
enemies who want to kill us all” is not a difficult one. As a libertarian,
I’m deeply sorry we live in a world where governments are doing the fighting
for us, and I fear the consequences of the power they will amass while
doing so. But I don’t see an alternative.

If I had a magic wand that could instantly materialize a world of
private security agencies, insurance pools, and mercenaries capable of
fighting the war on terror, I would have waved it long before 9/11.
But I am not capable of changing the objective conditions of the war
any more than I am of changing the murderous intentions of our
enemies.

Though I’ve been accused of abandoning my libertarianism for a
conservative position, I still believe in the non-initiation of force
as strongly as I ever have. I saw one damn huge freaking initiation
of force on 9/11 — not just an attack on one city or one country
but an assault on Western civilization. Everything al-Qaeda’s
propaganda organs have said since confirms that is what they intend.

George Orwell, writing during World War II, wrote:

Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common
sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically
help out that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining
outside such a war as the present one. In practice, ‘he that is not
with me is against me.’”

If Orwell were alive today, I have no doubt he would view this war
as equally pressing, nor which side of it he would choose. And all
libertarians should heed his words. We’ve shown far too much of a
tendency to slide into denial about the war on terror and the
consequences of refusing to fight it.

Sliding off into denial and fantasyland is not noble, it’s an
abdication of our responsibility as human beings and members of a
civilization. If that denial becomes “the” libertarian position, our
statist opponents will damn us as for deserting our neighbors and our
civilization in its hour of need — and they will be right to
damn us.

Other libertarians may fail this test. I will not.

Aug 02

The “Bush Lied” lie

Today’s entry in the Belgravia Dispatch
does an excellent job of demolishing the “Bush lied, people died!”
canard so popular among the anti-war left — Greg Djerejian
echoes my own conclusions when he writes: “But if you dig into the
weeds of the investigations that have taken place — one must
judiciously conclude that he didn’t.”

But let’s suppose that George W. Bush had in fact lied about Iraqi
WMD during that State of the Union address. I long ago concluded that
I would not care if he had lied. To see why, let’s try looking at this from
George Bush’s (simulated) point of view…

Continue reading

Jul 26

Kurds in the Coal Mine

How will we know if the attempt to reconstruct Iraq is failing?

This is a serious question. With as much hysterical anti-Iraq-war,
anti-Bush-Administration fabrication going in the media as there has
been, it’s tempting for a rational person to dismiss every negative
report as just another load of Michael Mooronism and dismiss it. That
would be a mistake. Things could still go very bad there. How would
we tell?

Continue reading

Jul 24

Sowing Dragon’s Teeth

David Lucas’s op-ed
in the Knoxville News-Sentinel combines with this story about active-duty military personnel criticizing Edward
Kennedy and Dick Durbin’s “gulag” rhetoric about Guantanamo Bay to suggest something interesting about the long-term political impact of the Iraq War.

Historically, one of the major byproducts of American wars is politicians. While it’s rare for a career military man to carve out a successful political career as Dwight Eisenhower did, there’s a strong pattern of non-career junior officers serving in combat returning to civilian life to become successful politicians. John Kerry, though he failed to win the presidency, has had a successful enough political career to count as one of the most recent examples.

I expect the Iraq war will produce a bumper crop of future politicians from its junior officer corps — men like David Lucas who are already making public names for themselves. So it’s worth asking what these people believe, and how the lessons they’re learning in Iraq will affect the attitude they bring to careers in civilian politics.

Recent surveys showing that 80% of the serving military officer corps voted Republican in 2004 combine with exceptionally high in-theater re-enlistment rates and op-eds like Lucas’s to paint a picture of a military that believes very strongly in the rightness of the Iraq war — a belief which appears to be strong not just among careerists but among short-timers who expect to return to civilian life as well. A related piece of evidence is negative but almost equally strong; the anti-war wing of U.S. politics has failed to discover or produce any returning veterans of Iraq who are both able to denounce the war effectively in public and willing to do so.

We already know, because they’re telling us themselves in mil-blogs, that the military serving in Iraq has developed a bitter contempt for the mainstream media. Biased, shoddy, and selective reporting with a heavy sensationalist and anti-war slant has had consequences; it has played well among bicoastal liberals in the U.S. but angered and alienated the troops on the ground. They know that reality there is greatly different from what’s being reported, and increasingly they’re willing to say so.

The Washington Times story shows that anti-war posturing by leading Democrats is angering and alienating the serving military as well. An increasing number seem to think they are seeing what is in effect a conspiracy between the mainstream media and the Democrats to make a just war unwinnable in order to score domestic political points. In the longer run, this is a disaster in the making for Democrats. It means that this war’s crop of successful politicians and influence leaders probably going to trend Republican and conservative to an unprecedented degree.

This is not a prospect that fills me with glee. Given their military background, the political children of the Iraq war seem more
likely to reinforce the authoritarian/cultural-conservative side of the Republican split personality than the small-government/libertarian one. In the worst case, military resentment of the Democrats could fracture the strong unwritten tradition that keeps the serving military out of civilian politics. That could be very bad.

I think that worst case is still quite unlikely. But if it happens, the Democrats and the mainstream media will have nobody but themselves to blame. Their irresponsible and destructive political games have sown dragon’s teeth; let’s hope we don’t all come to regret the harvest.

Jul 22

American Empire Redux

A respondent to my previous post on American Empire said “For non-Americans, the concern is not necessarily “does America behave like an empire?”, but “can we trust it not to act like one when the chips are down?” (e.g. if oil supplies dwindle to the point where the US economy is at real risk).

The answer is “of course not!”. You can never trust any nation-state not to go imperialist in a crisis of that kind, if it has the power to do so. But the United States is demonstrably exceptional in one important respect; it doesn’t hold on to its gains when the survival crisis is over.

Ask the Japanese or Germans, defeated in World War II and ruled by American proconsuls for years afterwards. Both became independent and prosperous nations. Or ask the Iraqis — defeated twice by the U.S., but now drafting their own constitution.

Contrast this with the great 19th-century and early 20th-century imperia. The British pattern was to shellack the hell out of the natives when they got uppity, then rule them lightly and (with only sporadic exceptions) quite benevolently. This was a small improvement on the French and German empires (almost as civilized, rather more nakedly exploitative) and a large one on the extremely brutal Belgian, Japanese, and Russian empires. But the Americans go the Brits one better; they civilize the natives and then get the hell out.

And why is this? I was travelling in Europe a few years back, and some Euroleftie began blathering in my presence about America’s desire to rule the world. “Nonsense,” I told him. “You’ve misunderstood the American character. We’re instinctive isolationists at bottom. We don’t want to rule the world — we want to be able to ignore it.”

The play of expressions on his face as he rethought his history was hilarious to watch. The other Europeans laughed at him, as well they might. Because it’s true. Whatever Americans may get up to abroad when some Hitler or Hussein needs squashing, at the end of the day they invariably do the one thing no previous global hegemon’s soldiers ever have. They go home.

Jul 21

American Empire

The American Left, and some of the Buchananite/isolationist elements of the American Right, have spent a lot of time and rhetorical energy fretting about the “American Empire”, and/or the “global system of American hegemony”. Lee Harris has written a very informative essay on Hegemony vs. Empire in which he points out that these two words mean different things, and delves into the history of “hegemony” as a form of voluntary organization of groups of states against external threats.

Harris’s implicit point is that in the post-9/11 world, confusion between “hegemony” and “empire” serves the ideological purposes of the enemies of our civilization — the head-hackers, the suicide-bombers, and the rogue states behind them. But even if the word “hegemony” had not been misappropriated and trashed by the anti-American left, the phrase “American Empire” would still have a sting. The implication, quite intentional, is that the U.S. aims to rule the known world after the manner of the Romans or the British.

Does the United States have an empire? There are at least two ways to address this question. One is extensional: ask to what extent the U.S. behaves as imperial powers have historically behaved. The other is intensional; ask what purpose empire serves for the people who control it, and then ask if the U.S. has created a structure of control that achieves the purpose. (The second question is useful partly because it may enable us to discern imperialism that dare not speak its name.)

Let’s take the second question first. What is the purpose of empire? In fact, this turns out to be an easy one. The one consistent feature of all empires, everywhere, is that commerce between subject regions and the imperial center is controlled so that the imperial center imports goods at below-market rates and exports them to the subject regions at above-market rates. The mailed fist, the satrap, and the gunboat are just enforcement mechanisms for imperial market-rigging.

This economic criterion may sound dry and abstract, but it is the one thing that relatively benign imperia like the British Empire have in common with out-and-out despotisms like the Russian or Persian empires. Thus, for example, the Roman grain ships feeding the population of Rome with wheat harvested by slaves in conquered Egypt; the British destruction of the Indian textile industry so its customers would be effectively forced to buy shoddy cloth made in the English Midlands; and, more crudely, the tribute wagons rolling to Persepolis.

Over time, imperial means of squeezing their subject nations’ economies have become more subtle. Early empires looted; later ones used discriminatory taxation; still later used preferential tariffs (all, and this is the point, enforced by the imperial military). Does the U.S. have an empire by this criterion?

Some would argue that it does, and cite U.S. attempts to force an American-style patent regime and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act on its trading partners. The trouble with this theory is that the U.S.’s negotiating leverage comes from the size of its economy, not fear of its military. Not even the most tinfoil-hatted of paranoids imagines that U.S. troops will ever land in (say) Brazil to enforce the DMCA; rather, it’s the prospect of being locked out of the world’s biggest export market that alarms Brazilian politicians. Reasonable people may reject the U.S. patent regime and the DMCA, or differ about the fairness of the Brazilo-American relationship, but “empire” is not a good word for it.

(Arguably the U.S. in fact did have an empire by this criterion until the 1950s, in parts of Central and South America and the Pacific. However, that is the past. I am addressing the question of whether “American Empire” is a true or useful description of the present.)

To reduce the market-rigging claim to absurdity, consider oil. If the U.S. truly were an empire, Venezuela (which supplies 25% of U.S. oil needs) would have been subjugated and annexed long since rather than left to the tender mercies of an unstable anti-American dictator like Hugo Chavez. The corrupt and despotic House of Saud (supplying a much higher percentage I don’t have at my fingertips) would likewise have been replaced by American puppets, not left unmolested to dole out billions of back-channel petrobucks to any anti-American terrorist who can pronounce the word “Wahhabi”.

In both cases, these would have been distinct improvements and among the best arguments one could muster for imperialism in the 21th century. But the U.S. has neither done them nor sought the power to do them. It fails the intensional test of empire.

To perform the extensional test, let’s look at some things that previous empires normally did and ask if the U.S. does them. To make the anti-American case as easy as possible, I won’t pick straw-man brutalities like crucifying, impaling, or machine-gunning entire populations in order to suppress revolts, the sorts of things the Soviets or Mongols or Japanese routinely got up to; instead, I’ll confine myself to the subset of common imperial practices engaged in by the Victorian Britons. If the U.S. fails even to replicate the behaviors of that least oppressive empire in human history to date, it’s hard to see how the term “empire” can sensibly be applied to the U.S.’s situation at all.

  • Does the U.S. impose U.S. law by force on conquered peoples without giving them citizenship or representation in the national government?

  • Are there any places outside the U.S. where treaties with subject nations stipulate that an American citizen will be subject only to U.S and not local law?

  • Does the U.S. routinely conscript large portions of its armies from subject peoples who lack U.S. citizenship?

The answer to all these questions is, of course, “no”. The U.S. fails the extensional test of empire as well.

Nevertheless, I am certain the charge will continue to be flung. The most forgivable reason for flinging it is gross ignorance of history and what actual empires are like. Far too often, however, people raising the cry of “American Empire” would not actually care about the facts if they had them; it is the emotion of anti-Americanism that drives their convictions, rather than the reverse.

Jul 18

The Hollywood Left is from Venus?

David Koepp, the screenwriter behind the current blockbuster movie
War of the Worlds has said:
“the Martians in our movie represent American military forces invading
the Iraqis.”

As InstaPundit observed, you just can’t make this stuff up. It’s
hard to lampoon the Hollywood left any more, because they keep
uttering inanities that venture beyond far, far beyond parody —
yea and verily, into the Land of the Barking Moonbats. Nevertheless,
here at Armed and Dangerous we’re not afraid to
try…

OK, Mr, Koepp, let’s see if I have this straight. The Americans in
the movie aren’t Americans. they’re Iraqis. The Martians aren’t
Martians, they’re Americans. Fine, I follow you so far. Is there a
scene where the Martians collect toys from the Red Planet to give to
American children? Do they build schools and powerplants for the
Earthlings who are blowing them up with IEDs? Is there a scene where
the Martians depose the brutal American dicator George Bush —
you know, the one who fought a pointless war with Mexico and
nerve-gassed the population of the upper Midwest? Do we get to see his
twin daughters amusing themselves by feeding dissidents feet-first
into industrial shredders?

Koepp would have it that War of the Worlds is a fable
about the perils of military adventurism. As an anarchist who
believes that war is the health of the State and an overly healthy
State is a damnably bad thing, I daresay I’m more dead set against
“military adventurism” than he is; I’ll bet he thought it wasn’t so
bad when, say, Soviet tanks were rolling into Prague in 1968, if he
was alive then.

But “adventurism” is a peculiar word to use in this context. Not
the movie, but what he claims it refers to. Um. Just checking,
now…four years before the movie began, did the two tallest buildings
on Mars get flying saucers crashed into them by terrorists operating
from Guatemala? Did every intelligence service on Mars believe, and
tell their leaders, that the terrorists had been getting training and
logistical support from the CIA? Did the Martian press repeatedly
publish investigative stories about the terrorist/American connection
and urging Mars to do something about it — stories that were
believed clean across the political spectrum before a campaign for
Supreme Xyglfrntz made it convenient for one faction of Martians to
forget that?

Probably not. But that’s the movie I want to see. You know,
the one where John Kerry does a cameo as a failed candidate for Supreme
Xyglfrntz who voted for the invasion before he voted against it.

Jul 05

Punishment, Coercion, and Revenge

Because I’m both both a libertarian and famous for conducting a
successful propaganda campaign, libertarian activists sometimes come
to me for tactical advice. During a recent email exchange, one of these
criticized me for wishing (as he thought) to “punish” the Islamist
enemies of the U.S. and Western civilization.

I explained that I have no desire to punish the perpetrators of
9/11; what I want is vengeance and death. Vengeance for us, death for
them. Whether they experience ‘punishment’ during the process is of
little or no interest to me.

My correspondent was reflecting a common confusion about the
distinctions among coercion, revenge, and punishment. Coercion is
intended to make another do your will instead of their own; vengeance
is intended to discharge your own anger and fear. Punishment is
neither of these things.

Punishment is a form of respect you pay to someone who is at least
potentially a member of the web of trust that defines your ethical
community. We punish ordinary criminals to deter them from repeating
criminal behavior, because we believe they know what ethical behavior
is and that by deterring them from crime we help them re-integrate
with an ethical community they have never in any fundamental sense
departed.

By contrast, we do not punish the criminally insane. We confine
them and sometimes kill them for our own safety, but we do not make
them suffer in an effort to deter them from insanity. Just to state
the aim is to make obvious how absurd it is. Hannibal Lecter, and his
all-too-real prototypes, lack the capacity to respond to punishment
by re-integrating with an ethical community.

In fact, criminal psychopaths are not even potentially members of
an ethical community to begin with. There is something broken or
missing in them that makes participation in the web of trust
impossible; perhaps the capacity to emotionally identify with other
human beings, perhaps conscience, perhaps something larger and harder
to name. They have other behavioral deficits, including poor impulse
control, associated with subtle neurological damage. By existing,
they demonstrate something most of us would rather not know; which is
that there are creatures who — though they speak, and reason,
and feign humanity — have nothing but evil in them.

On the behavioral evidence, Saddam Hussein and his now-deceased
serial-rapist son Uday fit the DSM-IV criteria for psychopaths
exactly; by contrast Qusay, the other deceased son, appears to have
been a merely ordinary thug. But it would be a dangerous mistake to
dismiss Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and their ilk as merely
psychopathic — they don’t have the deficits in impulse control
and other areas that would imply. I fear they are examples of a
phenomenon even more troubling — neurologically normal
non-psychopaths who speak, and reason, and feign humanity, and
have nothing but evil in them.

Osama bin Laden is a religious fanatic, not a psychopath. He
suffers not from lack of conscience but from a particular kind of
conscience, principles that drive him to plan and execute mass
murder. Like a psychopath, he apparently lacks any capacity to
identify with his victims; but rather than being neurological, his
disorder is possession by a killer idea. He is a memebot.

Fanatics of bin Laden’s intensity are like psychopaths in that
reason cannot reach them and punishment only fuels their rage. We
have seen bin Laden’s like before in Hitler, Savanarola, and a
thousand pettier examples. Their belief systems are closed, circular,
self-justifying, bordering on if not becoming actually delusional.
You can confine them or kill them, but they cannot be re-integrated
into the ethical web of trust by the measures we use on mere
criminals.

The attempt to fit the treatment of fanatical terrorists into
a “criminal” frame, as though they were shoplifters or second-story
men or even ordinary murderers, is symptomatic of a deep blindness
in all too many Westerners — often a willful blindness. It
is as though, by denying that these people are irredeemably evil,
the tender-minded think they can edit evil out of the world. The
rest of us, if we ever had that illusion, lost it on 9/11.

Feb 12

Lies and Consequences

Eason Jordan has resigned as CNN’s chief news executive following
rumors that he said at a conference in Davos that the U.S. military
had deliberately targeted journalists for death. Jordan denied making
this allegation, but two U.S. legislators who were present agree that
he did, and the Davos organizers have denied repeated requests to
release the session video.

But I am not writing to argue about what Eason did or didn’t do. I
want to address the way some people have reasoned about the worst-case
interpretation of his remarks. The blogosphere pressure for release
of the video from Davos has been described
this way: “…tire-necklaced by a bloodthirsty group of utopian,
bible-thumping knuckledraggers” to “benefit the torturing,
gulag-building blood-cult known Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld’s Republican
Party.” Even leaving aside the bloody-minded partisanship, this
seems, shall we say, a little over the top?

Nobody should want journalists ever to fear attacking the behavior
of the U.S. military when they have actual evidence that it is wrong.
Militaries are dangerous and terrible things, and a free press is a
vital means of keeping them in check. It is right and proper that
we make heroes of those who speak damning truths to power.

But it makes all the difference in the world when a journalist does
not have actual evidence of wrongdoing. Especially when
the journalist is a U.S. citizen and the claim gives aid and comfort
to the declared enemies of the U.S. in wartime. Under those
circumstances, such an attack is not heroic but traitorous.

I hope this is a teachable moment. Oliver Wendell Holmes observed
that shouting “fire” in a crowded theater is not protected speech; if
the speaker has no evidence of actual fire, the consequences to that
speaker should be as dire as the risk of death by trampling he created
for others. The Holmes test should be applied in politics as well.

And yes, I agree that test should be applied to the Bush
administration — but, unlike the “Bush Lied, People Died”
crowd, I haven’t forgotten that the warnings about Iraqi WMD were not
only backed by British and French intelligence reports, but echoed
assessments made by the Clinton administration and endorsed to this
day by Clinton himself. Whatever errors Bush & Co. may have made
on this score, they believed they had evidence to back them.

Assuming Eason Jordan said what the witnesses say he did, his
behavior was far worse — because his own account of his remarks
makes clear that does not believe he has evidence for any claim of
deliberate targeting. It is good that he has been forced out over
this. It will be better if his disgrace frightens other journalists
into paying more attention to details like having some evidence up
front. The best outcome, though probably too much to hope for, would
be the end of reflexive oppositionalism in American media.

After Vietnam and Watergate, a lot of journalists (and other
people) lost the distinction between speaking truth to power and
simply attacking whoever is in charge (especially any Republican in
charge) on any grounds, no matter how factually baseless. Mere
oppositionalism was increasingly confused with heroism even as the
cultural climate made it ever less risky. Eventually we arrived at the
ludicrous spectacle of multimillionaire media personalities posing as
persecuted victims and wailing about the supposed crushing of dissent
on national news and talk shows.

But now, for the first time in decades, irresponsible
oppositionalism just cost a major media figure his career. Better yet,
the campaign that forced him out was a grass-roots effort by people
who take seriously their responsibility to hold the media to account
for its truthfulness. These are both grounds for celebration, and for
hope that the horribly dysfunctional culture of American newsrooms
will improve in the future.

Dec 30

Susan Sontag is Dead

Imagine a writer/playwright/intellectual whose most famous single
remark was “the black race is the cancer of human history”. Who said
“The Pinochet revolution is astonishingly free of repression
and bureaucratization.” Who praised the attack on Pearl Harber as a
brave deed. Do you suppose such a person would collect laudatory
tributes and glowing obituaries on the occasion of her death?

Substitute “white” for “black”, “Cuban” for “Pinochet”, and “9/11″
for “Pearl Harbor” and you’ll have remarks Susan Sontag actually did
make, and never retracted. (She later glossed her equation of white
people with cancer as a slander on cancer patients). Her equally
abominable expressions of racism, tyrannophilia, and anti-American
hatred have either gone totally unmentioned in the New York
Times
, Philadelphia Inquirer and AP wire service
stories, or else been surrounded by exculpatory verbiage about
Sontag’s alleged devotion to high ideals.

Sontag’s willingness to say in 1982 on the occasion of the
anti-communist Polish worker’s revolution that “Communism is Fascism
with a human face” has been much feted. In fact the utter
anti-humanity of Communism had already been demonstrated by the
Kronstadt massacre and other atrocities years before Sontag was born.
Her failure to absorb that lesson forty years sooner than she did led
her to utter a great deal of toxic garbage, and should neither be
forgotten nor forgiven.

George Orwell once said that “There are some ideas so wrong that
only a very intelligent person could believe in them.” In the AP
obituary, author author Francine Prose says Sontag “represents
something that I’m afraid that’s passing, I don’t think that many
people these days say, `Oh, I want to be an intellectual when I grow
up.’” Not the least of Sontag’s crimes is that Prose is right —
by repeatedly living out Orwell’s observation throughout her lifetime,
Sontag is one of the people who taught Americans by her example to hold
intellectuals in contempt.

I have spoken ill of the dead here in order to make a point about
the living. The damage Sontag did is in the past, but the
muddleheadedness of her eulogists and their willingness to embrace
the same evils she did is a problem for the present and the future.
Only by confronting and condemning those evils can we excise the
true cancers of human history.

Dec 29

The Journalist as Herd Creature

In September 2004, well before the elections, I wrote an essay on
the collapse of
mainstream media influence
. I predicted that the Rathergate
scandal and the Swift Boat Vets would lock up the election for George
W. Bush, despite the MSM’s most determined efforts to get Kerry into
the White House. I related this to a long-term decline in MSM influence as
plunging communications costs erode its gatekeeper role, and predicted
that decline would continue.

(For anyone who came in late, “MSM” is how bloggers abbreviate the
“mainstream media”. But that term is imprecise, because the category
actually excludes the contrarian/conservative but mainstream Fox News
and includes certain niche media outlets such as National Public
Radio. What MSM really refers to is what I have sometimes called the
“dominant media culture”. The centers of this culture are the New
York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the LA Times, ABC,
CBS, NBC, and CNN. The MSM peddles news made by and for elite
bicoastal liberals. One conservative commentator has aptly described
the MSM as an “echo chamber of left and further-left scribblers and
talkers and self-reinforcing head nodders who were overwhelmingly
anti-Republican, anti-Christian, anti-military, anti-wealth,
anti-business, and even anti-middle class”, which indictment could be
dismissed as political ax-grinding if sociological studies by the Pew
Foundation and others had not consistently shown journalists and
editors to have exactly the voting and political-contribution patterns
that description would suggest.)

Two months later, my predictions appear to have been correct, and
have been repeatedly echoed in postmortems by Democratic political
analysts. The wailing and gnashing of teeth in the MSM has been loud.
The latest eruption is from Nick Coleman of the Minneapolis
Star-Tribune, in which he frenziedly
attacks
the editors of one of the blogs that helped break the
Rathergate scandal. Coleman has been quite properly slapped around
for his frothy, hysterical. ad-hominem rhetoric by both his
targets
and many other bloggers (here
is one representative shellacking).

Coleman’s anger so possesses him that he stoops to casting
aspersions on an opponent’s genital adequacy. But spare him some pity
along with your condemnation, because his rage transparently
springs from fear — the fear that he’s being beaten at his own
game of opinion-molding by amateurs, by bloggers, by (worst of all)
Republicans.

What Coleman is acting out on an individual level is the same rage
and fear that is rippling through the entire MSM. This rage and
fear has three causes, intertwined but distinct and all readily
discernable in Coleman’s rant.

First, the MSM is reacting badly to its loss of power. Few people
would claim now what Newsweek editor Evan Thomas did less
than six months ago, that the MSM can swing a national election by 15
points in the direction it wants — not when the 2004 elections
swung by at least three points in the direction it didn’t
want.

Second, the MSM is acting from a genuine fear of the social
consequences of the loss of its power. Many of its influence leaders
genuinely believe that conservatives are evil thugs bent on plunging
the world into a theocratic, imperialist dark age, and that it
is their job to fight the good fight against this.

Third, they are most terrified of all at discovering how out of
touch they are. In the past, your typical MSMer surrounded by other
MSMers has believed that he is mildly “progressive”, merely holding
the opinions that all reasonable people hold and opposed by at most a
tiny and dismissable fringe of kooks and rednecks. MSMers are more
undone than anything else by the discovery that the mainstream of the
American population is rejecting them in droves for Fox News, talk
radio, and the blogs.

The first two causes induce fear, but I think it’s the third one
that tips it over into irrational panic. Almost all the working
journalists I’ve ever met (and I’ve met boatloads of them) are herd
creatures — they may talk about individualism and subverting the
dominant paradigm, but they have a very strong need to believe that
they’re “of the people”, simply writing the things that 99% of the
people would think and write if they were capable.

It’s a short step from this belief to Coleman’s flavor of
quasi-paranoid ranting. Anybody who doesn’t think like the MSM cannot
be authentic, but must instead be a paid or suborned tool of evil
forces. Watch for this theme to show up more and more frequently in
the next year as most of the MSM sinks ever-deeper into denial.

Dec 08

Left2Right – a critical appraisal

I’ve been reading a new blog called
Left2Right, founded in
mid-November 2004 as an attempt by a group of left-wing intellectuals to reach
out to intelligent people on the right of the American political spectrum.
It is indeed a thought-provoking read, but the thoughts they are provoking
are not necessarily of the sort they intend.

This response is intended for the Left2Right authors, so I’ll
rehearse what will be obvious to regular Armed and
Dangerous
readers; I’m not a conservative or right-winger
myself, but a radical libertarian who finds both ends of the
conventional spectrum about
equally repugnant
. My tradition is the free-market classical liberalism of Locke and
Hayek. I utterly reject both the Marxist program and the reactionary
cultural conservatism of Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, and (today) the
Religious Right. Conservatism is defined by a desire to preserve
society’s existing power relationships; given a choice, I prefer
subverting them to preserving them.

One advantage my libertarianism gives me is that while I disagree
violently with a lot of right-wing thinking, I understand it much
better than most leftists do. The reverse is not quite as true; while
I do believe I understand left-wing thinking pretty well, most
right-wing intellectuals are not so ignorant of leftism that I have an
unusual advantage there. They can’t be, not after having passed
through the PC indoctrination camps that most American universities
have become.

A right-winger, noting the concentration of philosophy and
humanities professors in the Left2Right bios and the number of them
who list topics like “race and gender issues” as interest areas, would
say that the contributors are typical members of the elite that runs
those camps. But one of the things that Left2Right suggests to this
libertarian is that even these people are prisoners, locked in by
their own group-think. The toughest challenge they face in reaching
out to right-wingers is not a problem with right-wingers — it is the
unexamined premises and lacunae in their own reasoning.

The post
that is at the top of the blog as I write is a subtle but perfect
illustration of this point. J. David Velleman, writing on Bush
administration strategy about the liberation of Iraq, argues that they
fell victim to a philosophical error, believing that giving the Iraqi
people freedom would be sufficient to pacify the country. He writes
“These decisionmakers seem not to have considered the possibility that
freedom alone may not induce people to do wonderful things if they
lack a shared sense of confidence in the legitimacy of the social
order”.

This is a refreshing change from the dimmer sort of left-wing
narrative, in which Bush and Cheney head a sinister cabal who dream
of an American empire that enslaves the Iraqis and steals their oil
for Halliburton. It’s an intelligent criticism; possibly even a
correct one.

But…and this is a large ‘but’…the when Velleman goes on to
imply that “shared confidence in the legitimacy of the social order”
is one of the “values of the left” without which the “values of the
Right are simply not viable”, he reveals himself to be inhabiting some
sort of ahistorical cloud-Cuckoo land. He is making an archetypally
right-wing sort of argument here, one which would sound far more
likely from Russell Kirk or an eighteenth-century clericalist than from
anyone who purports to be part of the tradition of Karl Marx or
Mikhael Bakunin or Emma Goldman.

Velleman’s blythe unawareness of the reactionary tenor of his own
argument suggests more than just a ignorance of right-wing political
thinking that is crippling for anyone engaged in Left2Right’s project;
it suggests that Left thought has become so empty of any content of
its own, so stuck in reflexive oppositionalism, that all that remains
to it is to grab at any concept that can be used to oppose George W.
Bush.

In fact, this model of a Left stuck in reflexive oppositionalism is
exactly what conservative intellectuals believe about it. Their
narrative goes like this: once upon a time, Left thought was a genuine
world-system, a coherent if tragically mistaken competitor to
classical liberalism and capitalism. The Soviet Union used this
theory for evil purposes, to seduce the intelligentsia of the West and
foment among them anti-American, anti-capitalist hatred. When the
Soviet Union collapsed, the Left’s world-system collapsed with it.
All that remained was a catalogue of resentments clothed in the
tattered remnants of Marxist theory, but the Left intelligentsia never
let go of this. As the theory crumbled, the resentments
became the theory. So we are left with a Left that is more
hysterically anti-American than ever, and willing to suck up to
monstrous dictators like Saddam Hussein, precisely because it no
longer knows what to be for.

Now: reread the above paragraph, then ask yourself what Velleman’s
rhetoric will inevitably sound like to a conservative intellectual. You
will know you have gotten it when your hair stands on end.

We continue with a post
by Jeff McMahan on “Support our Troops” bumper stickers. McMahan
appears to mean well, but when writes as though he thinks that the
owners of SUVs and vans who bear these stickers are performing some
kind of Machiavellian calculation about oil-shock risks he is merely
proving that he is laughably out of touch with the thinking of
ordinary Americans.

A gentle hint for Mr. McMahan: People who own vans and SUVs
live in the suburbs. People who live in the suburbs
predominantly vote Republican; this is a cold demographic
fact known to almost everybody whose horizons are wider than those of
an average NPR radio-show host. The fact that you don’t know this, and
instead chase after paranoid all-about-the-oil theories, makes you the
sort of person conservatives laugh about and and point out as a
paradigmatic example of left-liberal cluelessness.

The ahistorical J. David Velleman speaks some good sense in

debunking a dead horse
. He may be dead-ignorant of right-wing thought
but he clearly isn’t stupid. Like all the contributors he radiates a
sense that he is honestly trying.

David Estlund’s The
First Data Point on Anti-Terrorism
starts as fairly standard-issue
Bush-bashing; he ignores the fact that, if the Bush administration was
culpable, the Clinton administration was even more culpable on the
same “knew or should have known” sort of argument. The intelligence
estimates that made al-Qaeda out to be imminently dangerous long
predate the 2000 elections.

The more interesting part of his post is his repetition of the meme
that Republicans won’t listen to arguments or evidence from
intellectuals like him. He is so full of self-congratulation about
the Bushies’ alleged inability to let the evidence lead them where it
will (and by implication, his own superior ability to do so) that he
completely misses the real reason conservative policy makers tune his
kind out.

Mr. Estlund, how can I break this to you gently…the Bushies ignore
advice from left-wing academics because they believe the source is poisoned.
They believe you hate America and want to destroy it. Given
that belief, it would be their duty to listen to your advice only with
the determination to do the exact opposite of anything you recommend.

Now, mind you, in pointing this out, I am not alleging that you
actually do hate America and want to destroy it. My claim is
that from the point of view of most conservatives, that is the only
model that plausibly explains your speech and behavior. They do not
merely pretend to believe your kind is evil as a matter of rhetoric or
tactical positioning, they actually do believe it. With the
best will in the world to listen to critics and weigh evidence, they
still wouldn’t take policy advice from you any more readily than you
would accept it from a Nazi.

(Allow me to contrast this with the position I think more typical of
libertarians, which is that left-wing academics are not evil per se
but have been so canalized by Marxist-derived ideology that on most
politico-economic issues they should be ignored on grounds of
irremediable incompetence.)

So, if you want to be listened to in Washington, your problem (one
which is general to left-wing intellectuals) is how to falsify
conservatives’ belief that you hate America and want to destroy it.
This is not going to be possible at all as long as you express
contempt for the values and reasoning ability of the majority of
Americans that voted for George Bush.

But your problem runs deeper than that. To be listened to, you
will need to demonstrate that you share what present-day American
conservatives think of as their core beliefs, including but not limited
to:

  • The practical and moral superiority of free-market capitalism
    over socialism and all other competing visions of political economics.
  • American exceptionalism — the belief that the U.S. is uniquely
    qualified by history and values to bring liberty to the oppressed of
    the world.
  • Islamic terrorism is an unqualified evil which cannot be explained
    or excused either by “root cause” analysis; further, that laying it
    to past failures in U.S. policy is a form of blaming the victim.

(Note that I am not endorsing these beliefs, simply pointing out that
conservatives generally hold them.)

As long as conservatives believe that you do not share these core
beliefs with them, they will conclude that your policy “help” on Iraq
or the War on Terror would be an active detriment. And — here’s
the hard part — they will be justified in that belief
(which, as you doubtless know, is not the same as the assertion that
the belief is confirmably true).

But you have yet another problem, which is not about the beliefs of
conservative intellectuals or policymaking elites. It is that in
rejecting the core beliefs I have pointed at, you are not merely
defining yourself out of the policy conversation conservatives are
ready to have, you are also out of step with the majority of the
American people. The voters. As long as that continues to be the
case, the Left will continue to lose elections.

Estlund’s posting responds to the previous one, in which Gerald Dworkin
says intelligent things about the Bush administration’s apparent success
at preventing major terrorist acts in the U.S., and the electoral ramifications
thereof. Excellent; if the Left is prepared to face reality this squarely,
there is hope for them yet.

J. David Velleman has more sensible things to say about the
politics of homosexuality. His distinction between the respect that
we owe “gay rights” and the problematic status of “gay pride” is
astute. I think leftists also need to understand that many
conservatives (and libertarians like myself) feel a deep and
principled revulsion not just against “gay pride” but against all
forms of manipulative identity politics, and are heartily fed up with
having leftists construe that revulsion as bigotry.

Stephen Darwall’s School
Resegregation and the Exurbs
, on the other hand, feels like an
attempt to force new wine into old wineskins. The Left’s tendency to
turn every policy argument into a diatribe about racism (too often,
racism that existed nowhere but in the Left’s imagination) was always
one of its least attractive traits. We could do without a
revival.

Again, I am not just discussing elite opinion here. If you go to
the voters with the argument that wanting to live in exurbs is
evidence of racism, they will stiff-arm you. Actually, I think it is
only the hothouse atmosphere of the academy that has kept racism alive
as a topic in American thought for the last fifteen years or so.

In Being
Forthright
, Seanna Shiffrin says nothing at all that has any
chance of increasing understanding between Left and Right, and does so
at some length. Her screed reads, to any conservative (and even to a
libertarian like me) as extended self-congratulation about how Left
convictions are so obviously correct that if leftists trumpet them
loudly enough the people will come.

This is a perfect example of the wages of groupthink. In fact, if the
six election cycles since 1980 demonstrate anything, it is that being
more “forthright” about left-wing positions is a recipe for electoral
disaster.

Kwame Appiah takes
the opposite tack
: “In these circumstances I think it would be
better to show up first with an offer to listen than with an offer to
talk.” A commenter correctly observes that this may be the most
useful thing we have heard a Democrat say since the elections.

Unfortunately, the rest of the posting is yet another narrative about
left-wing superiority, though Mr. Appiah gives it the novel twist of
ascribing this belief to right-wingers! For this he is quite properly
taken to the woodshed buy some conservative commenters.

Speaking as an observer who is (once again) not a
conservative, I salute the commenter who said “I think you go
profoundly astray in this understanding of why conservatives rail
against the liberal media. It isn’t about being liked. It is about
believing that the liberal media distorts the truth and manipulates
beliefs by using such distortions. They rail against the political and
social power which they believe is being corruptly used.

I’ll go further than that. I resent the way that the Left uses its
effective control of the mainstream media to manipulate belief even
when the manipulation advances causes I agree with —
for example, abortion rights. I don’t like “pro-lifers” and I don’t
agree with them — but that doesn’t stop me from noticing that
they get stigmatized as all being yahoos and routinely associated with
clinic-bombers by the same media that is very painstaking in
separating the Left’s violent crazies from allegedly more
“respectable” organizations like Greenpeace or PETA.

It is wise of Joshua Cohen to have noticed
that gay-marriage initiatives probably actually hurt Bush rather than
winning him the election. If the Left continues to comfort itself by
believing its only real problem is with Christian evangelicals, it will
slide further into denial and irrelevancy.

The American rejection of what Cohen calls “progressive values” is
much, much broader based than that. As an agnostic Wiccan who thinks
the War on Drugs was a huge toxic blunder, I am not personally
thrilled about this development, but I recognize it as fact
nevertheless. Mr. Cohen is to be commended for urging this unwelcome
news on the Left.

On the other hand, J. David Velleman’s post
on the Academic Bill of Rights does not go nearly far enough. His is
a more sophisticated form of defensive crouch than the outright denial
we usually see, but merely admitting that “large regions of the
humanities and social sciences have become increasingly ideological,” doesn’t
even come close to addressing the actual magnitude of the problem.

I am, in an important sense, an applied humanist/sociologist. My
analysis
of the anthropology and sociology of open-source software development
has a significant reputation in academia; it has been cited with the
coveted adjective “seminal” and spawned quite a number of master’s and
doctoral theses. My work has required that I enter the conceptual
world of modern “humanities and social sciences” — not merely to
theorize about these disciplines, but to use them in ways
that have helped trigger transformative changes in the software
industry.

I have immodestly set forth these qualifications here because my
experience requires an even stronger indictment than David Horowitz’s,
let alone the mild one that Mr. Velleman will admit. I have
encountered entire academic fields that have been effectively
destroyed by Left politics, in the sense that they can no
longer talk about anything other than power relations. Postmodern
literary criticism is only the most obvious example; for that matter,
postmodernist anything is reliably a nihilist swamp obsessed
with ‘agendas’ and ‘power relations’ to the exclusion of its
ostensible subject matter.

Here’s one that affects me particularly: the damage done to
cultural anthropology has been horrific, with the perverse effect of
making my amateur and tentative essays in it look far stronger than
they would have if the field were actually healthy.

I don’t have a fix for this problem. But I do know that more than any
mere housecleaning is needed. Some of these dwellings are so rotted out
that they will have to be razed and rebuilt before they are habitable
by anything but political animals.

Don Herzog is right to ask, in
Religion and politics
, exactly what conservatives want when they say
Americans should agree that we a “Christian nation”. This is exactly the
sort of question that the Left, if its continued existence is to mean
anything useful, should be pushing.

J. David Velleman makes the surprising concession
that Roe V. Wade was bad politics and bad law. As a pro-choicer who
nevertheless agrees with conservatives on this point (and largely for
the reasons Velleman states), I have been wondering when the Left
would begin to wake up on this point.

Groupthink shows up again in Gerald Dworkin’s Less
contempt; more mutual ground
. I’m thinking in particular of his claim
that “Both those who advocate gun-control and those who oppose it can
agree that trigger-locks and other safety devices are desirable.”

It is evident here that Mr. Dworkin has no idea what pro-firearms
activists like myself actually believe. It seems likely he has never
actually spoken with one; otherwise he would know that we regard
trigger locks as bad things, because they reduce the utility of
firearms for one of their principal purposes — self-defense. If
your friendly neighborhood junkie breaks into your home and menaces
your family with a knife (or, as in one recent case, a branding iron)
you need to be able to get the weapon into play fast.
Trigger locks and soi-disant “safety devices” primarily benefit
criminals by reducing their risks.

In fact, we regard the push for trigger locks as an underhanded
attempt to make self-defense impractical so that popular support for
firearms rights will lose a major prop. If Mr. Dworkin had ever discussed
this issue outside a UC Davis faculty meeting, he would probably know
this.

In Not
Too Bright
, J. David Velleman misses a central point about
American hostility to the “intelligentsia” because he falls back into
the comforting Left groupthink about the Christian evangelicals and
“moral values”.

I’m an intellectual myself, not a Christian, not a conservative.
Yet I understand the emotion Mr. Dworkin reads as
“anti-intellectualism”; I even sympathize with it to some extent. It
is a folk reaction to what Julian Benda called le trahison
des clercs
. The West’s intelligentsia — not all of it, but
enough of it to tar all of us — was a willing accomplice in the
terrible totalitarian crimes of the 20th century. Today, the same
segments of the intelligentsia that cooperated with Stalinism are
issuing apologetics for al-Qaeda. (This is not just metaphorically but
literally the case, as the pedigree of A.N.S.W.E.R. and the
“Not In Our Name” organizers shows.)

Until the academic Left faces up to the evil at the center of its
own history, it will completely fail to understand why
“anti-intellectualism” is common even anong people who find Christian
“moral values” argument as off-putting as I do.

We could ask for no better illustration of the blindness induced by
comforting groupthink than Elizabeth Anderson’s
What Hume can teach us about our partisan divisions
.

She writes “If interests were all that divided us, the Democratic
Party (what there is of the Left that has institutional power) would
enjoy an overwhelming majority, since it represents the interests of
the bulk of the population, while Republican policies favor mainly the
rich. Most people understand this, and the Left can offer sound
arguments and evidence to persuade those who disagree.”

I am not a Republican. I have never been a Republican. But claims
like this, presented as though they are unassailable fact, utterly
infuriate me. And if they infuriate me, imagine how they
would affect an actual conservative!

As a matter of political economics, I believe that the high-tax,
high-spending policies of the Democrats benefit nobody except
a small class of elite parasites and a slightly larger one of welfare
clients; the “bulk of the population” gets shafted, forced to pay the
bill for redistributive programs that wind up doing net damage to
society. Nor is there any reason, given that the Democrats now rely
more on wealthy contributors than the Republicans, to credit the
worn-out canard that Republicans are tools of the rich.

It is not, however, the factual falsity of Ms. Anderson’s claim
that is most infuriating, but its smugness, its blind arrogance,
its casual assumption that no reasonable person could possibly
disagree with the premises. Anyone who decides to reject Julian
Benda’s analysis need look no further for an explanation of
American anti-intellectualism than this. After reading it, I’m
almost ready to torch the nearest ivory tower myself.

It is a good thing that the skein finishes (actually, begins) with
David J. Velleman’s honest puzzlement about conservative notions of “absolute
evil”; otherwise, with the taste of Ms, Anderson’s purblind parochialism
in my mouth, I might have to conclude that Left2Right’s project is
unsalvageable.

What can we conclude from Left2Right’s first three weeks of
postings? My own evaluation begins with praise: comparing with what I
read elsewhere, I think these writers truly do represent the best of
the modern Left. I see more willingness than I might have expected
to honestly question some of the Left’s sacred cows.

Unfortunately, the news is far from all good. Too many smug
shibboleths are also being repeated here. There is too much talk and
not enough listening – not enough attempt to engage the Right’s
beliefs (as opposed to a comforting left-wing parody of those beliefs).

Kwame Appiah is right. If you really want to build a healthy
dialogue with the right-wing majority in America, you need to approach
them not to teach but to learn.

Nov 18

What happens if the Democrats collapse?

I’ve written several blog essays recently
[1]
[2]
[3]
[4]
pondering the deep trouble the Democratic party is in. I believe,
on current demographic and political trends, that their problems
are going to get worse and might actually prove terminal —
especially if the Republicans have the strategic sense to run Condi
Rice for President or Vice-President in 2008.

I’m not going to rehearse all their problems here. Instead I’m going
to try to think through some scenarios for what U.S. politics might look like
after a Democratic-party collapse, and discuss why I think they are
plausible or implausible.

The common premise for all of these scenarios is that the Democrats
collapse or split into warring factions once they discover that they
just cannot win elections any more. The party breaks apart along the
Democratic Leadership Council vs. hard-lefty split that’s been the
main axis of tension within it since the 1980s. The variables are
about what happens to the left-wing and centrist/DLC factions
afterwards. I’m taking for granted that the handful of
Zell-Miller-like conservative Democrats left in congress would jump
the aisle to the GOP.

Case Gray: Republican Triumph

In this scenario, the left faction runs off to the Greens and
minor Red parties such as the Socialists. The centrist/DLC types go
Republican or exit politics. This one is a recipe for really
long-term Republican-party dominance, with the Greens retaining some
degree of clout in a handful of coastal cities and university towns;
it’s the Karl Rove wet dream.

I rate this one moderately likely, and I’m not happy about that.
It has benign possibilities, but it has fairly ugly ones too. Which
we get depends on whether small-government conservatives or the
Religious Right get the upper hand in the GOP’s factional struggles. The
former seems more likely (especially since all those ex-Democrats will be
pulling against the Religious Right). But the latter possibility is
actually fairly scary.

At the worst-case end, we’d end up in the theocratic U.S. of Robert
Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100. Mind you I think this is
highly unlikely, and the widespread lefty panic about it seems to me
to be mainly hyperventilation and hysteria — they’d have
you believe it’s happening right now, whereas I see a decade
or more before the threat could become acute. But it remains an outside
possibility.

The more likely long-term outcome would be that the Republicans themselves
split along small-government vs. cultural-conservative lines.

Case Green: Green Party Triumph

The Democratic-left refugees run more to the Reds. Greens get some
of them, but absorb a larger cohort of the centrist/DLC refugees and
evolve into a stronger and less left-wing party as a result, one with
prospects to increase its mass appeal. In effect, they become the
successor party of the Democrats and the familiar Democrat/Republican
seesaw resumes, with the Greens out of power most of the time.

I rate this one very unlikely. The problem is that if it were
possible for the DLC to come up with a new, centrist platform and stem
the long-term decline in their base, this scenario (dump the lefty
moonbats and reposition) is exactly the scenario they’d be engineering
themselves as a means of institutional survival. Since they
don’t seem to be able to manage it, I doubt the Greens (who are even more
Red-infiltrated than the Democrats) could either.

Case Gold: Libertarian Party Triumph

The left runs to the Greens and Reds. The centrist/DLC types join
the Libertarians. Small-government-Republican types drift to them, a
process which accelerates as it gradually weakens the holdouts inside the GOP.
At equilibrium, the Libertarians effectively replace the Democrats while
the Republicans become more and more a hard-right party of evangelicals
and nativists.

The key to Libertarian success in this scenario is gun owners.
This is the largest single captive bloc in the Republican voter base
at 50% of American households, one no less a politician than Bill
Clinton has identified as the swing group in the 1994 election and
subsequent Democrat disasters. The Libertarians succeed by prying
them loose from the Republican base.

As a libertarian and a gun owner, this is the one I’d most like to
see. However, I rate it unlikely. While I believe libertarian ideas
could be much more effectively marketed than they are, the LP has
proven almost comically inept at actually doing so. Post-9/11, its
isolationist foreign policy is a non-starter as well; I do not think
Americans will buy this until they perceive that the threat of Islamic
terror has been broken.

I’m, frankly, skeptical that the LP can overcome its own history
effectively enough to grasp this opportunity. But I’d love to be
wrong about this.

Case Red: Reds Triumph

This is Michael Moore’s wet dream — a major comeback for American
Marxism. It only happens if the Angry Left turns out to have been correct
about the DLC/centrists sabotaging their efforts to tap a huge pool of
naturally leftist voters. After the centrist/DLC types have faded from the
scene or gone to the GOP, one of the Red parties successfully markets
itself not just as a replacement for the democrats but in a way that
peels off a significant part of the Republican voter base.

I’ve listed this one for completeness. I think it’s wildly
unlikely, because I think the Angry Left’s belief that it can become
the vanguard of a mass movement is a drug dream. I don’t believe
there is any group in the majority-Republican voter base that is
vulnerable to a Marxist pitch, so even if they cornered all of the
Democrat base they’d still be in a minority position.

Case Blue: New Centrists

The lefty refugees dissipate themselves among the Reds and Greens.
The centrist/DLC types either keep the Democratic rump or boot up a
new party that abandons the socialist-economics and identity-politics
side of the Democrat platform, fights the War on Terror hard, and
remains strongly liberal shading towards libertarian on other social
issues. The result is, in effect, a new party of classical liberalism
— the Barry Goldwater Democrats.

As in Case Gold, their key tactical move is to peel gun owners out
of the Republican base. Over time, small-government Republicans drift
over from the GOP, which goes harder-right in consequence.

Nowadays I think this one is more likely than Case Gold. The key
to it may be the blogs, in which I see a kind of pro-War-on-Terror
libertarian centrism emerging as a new political force. The blogs
have been far more successful than the Libertarian Party at creating a
movement with mass appeal, quasi-libertarian attitudes, and enough
influence to have already arguably scuttled one presidential campaign
(Kerry’s, over Rathergate).

Case Blue is different than Case Gold in that the new centrist
party is not tied to libertarian ideology and pursues a
neoconservative foreign policy. This is the future in which “Glenn
Reynolds for President!” doesn’t sound crazy.

Nov 16

Condoleeza Rice in 2008!

So Condi Rice is going to replace Colin Powell as Secretary of State.
I have to think this means she’s being groomed for the Republican ticket
in 2008.

Well, I hope so anyway. I know very little about her, but I’ve discovered
that I really want to have a ringside seat on the farcical hijinks
that will certainly ensue if the Republicans run a black woman for President,
or even Veep.

Just so my position is clear, it is quite unlikely I’d vote for
her. As in, not unless the Libertarian candidate is a werewolf or
something. It’s just that the thought of Democratic strategists
having shit fits over the hemhorraging black vote greatly amuses me.
The panic and confusion that would reign on the New York Times
editorial page as their political-correctness bias clashes
(for once) with their anti-Republican bias would be good for many
guffaws. I might actually listen to NPR just to hear them choking.
In general, just watching the machinery of smug left-wing duckspeak
seize up and damage itself on Condi’s blackness would be
delicious.

Watching Republican racist/nativist types hold their gorges down
for the sake of party unity would be entertaining too, but probably
much less so as that type seems rather rare these days. In lieu of
that, I’d just have to content myself with the screams of insenate
rage that would issue from the neo-Nazis at Stormfront. Why, they might be
almost as angry as the “Bush=Hitler” crew over at Democratic
Underground. With any luck we might actually get to watch a few of
the vicious morons on both sites die of thundering apoplexy.

Truly, what’s not to like?

There are, of course, excellent reasons for the Republicans to try
this maneuver. Mainstream blacks are far more socially conservative
than most of the other interest groups in the Democratic coalition. I
personally do not consider this is a good thing, but there is no
denying that it makes them pretty ripe to be the next demographic that
gets chiseled out of the party (following southerners, rust-belt
blue-collar whites, and most recently Catholics).

But having a corner on the black vote is important to the Democrats
for more than just raw poll numbers. On it, now that the whites at
the bottom of the socio-economic scale have gone majority-Republican,
rests their last tenable claim to be the Party of the Oppressed. This
claim has become so important to their image and internal mythology that,
without it, the Democrats might very well collapse.

Who’s going to be their next favorite victim group to hang this
myth from? Homosexuals won’t do; there are too few of them at 4%.
The Jews wouldn’t do either, at 2%, even if the Dems hadn’t gotten
badly tainted by the creeping anti-Semitism of their own left
wing. Hispanics used to look promising, but they’re in a late stage of
assimilation and obviously headed the way of the Italians or Irish –
they won’t remain an ethnic voting bloc for even another decade.

It’s hard to peddle your outfit as tribunes of the disadvantaged
when your main powerbases are the public-employee unions, Hollywood,
and the Upper East Side. The Republicans have gotten pretty good at
nailing the Democratic leadership as the spoiled children of wealth
and privilege even with the blacks in the Democratic column;
without them, it’s just going to get uglier. And Condi Rice would be
the perfect wedge candidate.

Your average Democrat’s reflex seems to be to blame the sinister
machinations of Karl Rove for this state of affairs. The trouble with
this theory is that Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, and Condi Rice do
actually exist. They’re not just fantasies, and they
represent a degree of access and power black people never had under
any Democratic administration.

Cynical tactical positioning? Maybe. Who cares? No matter what
the Republicans mean by it, the cause of equality gains and the
hate-spewing race-baiters on the left and right lose. Condi in
2008!

Nov 05

Mobilizing the Poor and Other Delusions

Yesterday a Democratic friend of mine emailed me in part: “There is a big constituency of poor people who are just not making it at all.” This is one of the American Left’s conventional dogmas — that there is some vast ocean of descamisados out there waiting to be mobilized into a political force that will sweep away all those nasty uncaring conservatives.

I laugh when I hear or read things like this, because — unlike most Americans — I know what real poverty looks like. I have lived in poor countries. I’ve seen the shantytowns that surround Caracas and the acres of concrete Stalinist shitboxes that ring Eastern European cities; I’ve played scoppa with rural peasants in Southern Italy who are worn out from toil at forty.

We have nothing like that here. Our poor people are fat. They have too much to eat. They have indoor plumbing and houses and cars and televisions. Real poverty no longer exists in the U.S. at any level above statistical noise, and hasn’t since civilization reached the last pockets of the Appalachians during my childhood.

This has political consequences. Mainly, that you can’t get American ‘poor’ people angry enough about their economic situation to make a voting bloc or a movement out of them. In fact, in the U.S. the poor are more conservative than the rich. American lefties think this is because the poor suffer from anti-revolutionary false consciousness, but this is exactly the kind of patronizing piffle that just lost lefties the 2004 elections. The truth is that in their calculus of their own interests, other things are more important to the American poor than bringing down the bloated plutocrats. In this particular election, those other things included supporting the liberation of Iraq and opposing gay marriage.

Believing that poverty is a live political issue is a form of self-delusion by elite liberals for which conservatives should be very grateful — it leads liberals into vast wastes of effort. But it isn’t just liberals who get taken in. A conservative friend who was in on the email discussion said to me, in effect, “But what about the homeless?”. His argument was that homeless people are America’s ‘real’ poor, and he has a point. The trouble with taking that argument any further is that there are too few homeless people to have any effect on politics other than as an emotive issue that wealthy white activists can flog to make themselves feel more virtuous.

And there will never be a politically significant homeless population in the U.S., for simple and obvious climactic reasons. Over much of the U.S., if you can’t find shelter, winter exposure will kill you fairly quickly. On the coasts you need to be south of about latitude 40 for survivability. The winter-kill zone reaches further south in mid-continent. There’s a summer-kill zone, too, that includes a lot of the Southwest.

If you can’t pay for a roof over your head, you have either build one or borrow one somewhere that the owners aren’t around to object. Wigwams would be conspicuous even if homeless people knew enough woodscraft to build them, so building is largely out. In general, finding a sheltered space to sleep where nobody will hassle you is quite difficult outside of large cities and not easy even inside them.

To check this theory, I went and looked for homeless population counts on the web. Leaving out the most obvious noise — figures pulled out of thin air by advocacy organizations with a drive to inflate them — I found almost no hard numbers.

Yes, you get people throwing around figures in the two million range. They’re bullshit. If we had that many homeless it would have obvious consequences we’re not seeing. Like, corpses littering the streets of Philadelphia on January mornings.

One reference said San Francisco, which has a reputation for a particularly large and visible homeless population, counted 4,535 in December 2003. In 2003, the New York city government estimated 1,560 people sleeping on the streets in Manhattan (at latitude 41 Manhattan is well into the winter-kill zone). I recall Philadelphia counting 3,500 a few years back. That’s numbers 1, 14 and 5 of the nation’s fifteen largest cities by population. Extrapolating from these, I’d bet the nationwide homeless count is almost certainly less than 40K, probably less than 20K.

Which brings me back to my original contention that real poverty is statistical noise in the U.S. Even if the homeless population were an order of magnitude larger than I’m estimating, you cannot build a political base out of 400K people in a nation of 300 million. There’s no electoral traction in one tenth of one percent, especially when most of the rest of the country has more or less correctly written off the homeless as largely being composed of addicts and the mentally ill.

Americans aren’t stupid. They know there has been genuine, large-scale poverty in this country’s relatively recent past — the folk memory of the Great Depression is still with us. They know there are lots of places in the world where the plight of the poor is still a genuine problem today. But that contrast only makes the posturing of today’s self-designated advocates for the American “poor” look more like a form of careerism, moral vanity or one-upmanship. Which, in most cases, is exactly what it is.

UPDATE: Supporting evidence for the nonexistence of real poverty in the U.S. here. Some commenters pointed out that my estimate of homelesness may be low because two of my three baseline cities are in the winter-kill zone. The main point, though, is that the homeless population is not within an order of magnitude of the numbers needed to have an an electoral impact.

Nov 03

Are the Democrats becoming a regional party?

The 2004 elections are over. Bush won, of course, but I want to focus on an interesting question raised by the red-state/blue-state map of the outcome. It looks suspiciously as though the Democrats are on their way to becoming a regional party.

Specifically, a regional party of the urban Northeast and the West Coast metroplexes. The state-by-state voting patterns since 1980, and especially in 2000 and 2004, point clearly in this direction. The Democrats have lost the South, and they’re losing their grip on the Upper Midwest — Daschle’s loss to Thune and the size of Bush’s margin in Ohio are leading indicators.

I’ve written a couple of previous blog essays on the hole the Democrats are in. They have serious problems. Ronald Reagan peeled away the (private-sector) union vote after 1980; today they’re losing the blacks over gay marriage and the Jews over Israel and the Terror War. Their voter base is increasingly limited to public-employee unions and brie-nibbling urban elites — they’re no longer the party of the common man but of the DMV, Hollywood and the Upper West Side.

The state-level election results reinforce this picture, and I predict that county-by-county numbers will make it even more obvious, especially when correlated with SES. Add to this a serious structural problem, which is that their street-level cadres are largely drawn from a hard-left contingent that wants to pull their platform even further away from anything most Americans will vote for.

This was very clear here in Malvern; even in this staid suburb the Democratic pollwatchers looked like Central Casting’s idea of a fringy radical, bushy-haired and besweatered and festooned with paranoid slogan buttons. The DNC used to rely on unions to supply troops at campaign time; they can’t any more, so they have to lean on organizations like MoveOn.org and Democratic Underground.

Even this they could survive if the mainstream media retained the ability to deliver the 15% swing for Democrats that Evan Thomas of Newsweek boasted of a few months back. But the all-too-blatant partisanship of CBS and the New York Times actually backfired this time, most obviously when the bloggers caught Dan Rather trumping up an anti-Bush story on obviously-fake documents. I think Instapundit is on to something when he says the longest-term result of this election will be the collapse of mainstream-media credibility. With that will go one of the most effective weapons the Democrats have.

A serious rethink of the Democratic platform is in order. The smartest single move they could make is to try to peel off the single largest bloc of Republican-leaning voters — gun owners like me. Bill Clinton has pointed out that alienating the 50% of American households which own guns lost the Democrats the 1994 elections and has cost them critical swing votes in every national election since.

The sane thing for the Democrats to do would be to go unreservedly pro-Second-Amendment. Alas, I do not think they are a sane party any more.

UPDATE: My prediction about the county-by-county numbers proved correct,
according to USA Today’s
map.