U.S.

The End of an Era

Loading...
Jonah Goldberg

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (No, really),

This is my last G-File under the National Review flag. It will soon fly under a new banner, one might even say a pirate flag. More about that at the bottom. What I want to say up front is: I love you. Okay, technically not all of you. Some I merely like. But as a collective, I cannot begin to express how much the National Review audience has meant to me over the years, starting in 1998 when I joined NR and started the Goldberg File (a blog before we had the word, then a column, then a “news”letter, and, soon, a dessert topping and a floor wax), straight through the launches of NRO, the Corner, and all the rest. I’ve made real and lasting friendships — in the meat space, not just in the digital space — with some of you, and I’ve learned a ton from a lot of you.

My appreciation for you, Dear Readers, is only exceeded by my appreciation for my friends and colleagues here at NR, starting of course with Rich Lowry. I often say he hired me to pay me back for saving his life in prison — WFB loved that joke — but the truth is, he took a flier on me early in his role as editor, and I’m eternally grateful for it.

Speaking of Bill Buckley — another object of my eternal gratitude — he liked to say “Lowry, what were you thinking hiring this guy?” But he also liked to say, “Expressio Unius Est Exclusio Alterius.” Really. He’d say it like it was a normal thing for a person to say. It roughly means to include is to exclude, and he often invoked the phrase to explain why he couldn’t thank everyone in attendance at a meeting or talk. There are so many friends and colleagues I am grateful for that if I start naming them, I’ll run the risk of forgetting someone or using up this entire “news”letter calling the roll of my indebtedness. Also, while I may be leaving the magazine, I’m not leaving the family. I’ll be staying on as a fellow at the National Review Institute and staying in touch with everybody. Even so, I feel like I’m amputating part of my soul. Okay, enough with that.

If I keep going the pollen out here will only get worse.

Down (And Up) With the French

One of the earliest traditions of NRO was, to put it bluntly, French-bashing. I used to write an annual Bastille Day G-File recounting the perfidy of what my longtime NR colleague John Miller called in a book by the same name “Our Oldest Enemy.” Long before the anti-French boom during the lead-up to the Iraq war, I was quoting Groundskeeper Willie’s (of The Simpsons) felicitous phrase, “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” I became so associated with it that when the “freedom fries” folderol started, countless major news outlets attributed the epithet to me, even though I never claimed to have coined it.

I bring this up because of a strange irony. As I head out the door, NR is caught up in an outpouring of pro-French sentiment. Of course, I don’t mean the country but the man (mensch is a better label) David French. (Please buy my album, Rational and Seamless Segues Were Never My Bag, Baby.)

Sohrab Ahmari, a very decent fellow whose writings I’ve long admired, has been on quite an intellectual journey. Almost exactly two years ago, he wrote an insightful essay for Commentary entitled “Illiberalism: A Worldwide Crisis.” It was — to stick with the French theme — both a cri de couer and a tour d’horizon of the global crisis of faith in classical liberalism. “As an ideology and as a governing philosophy, liberalism is fast losing ground,” Sohrab warned. Russia’s Putin and Hungary’s Orban weren’t the only avatars in the rising tide of illiberalism, Sohrab wrote: “Trumpism (and Bernie Sanders-ism) are but the American symptoms of a global phenomenon: the astonishing rise of illiberal movements of the far right and far left.” They represented a pas de deux of illiberal convergence. “The strength of the Trump and Sanders presidential candidacies has revealed the hollowness of this liberal consensus in the 21st century.”

No better proof of that hollowness can be found than Sohrab’s own metamorphosis. I am not accusing Sohrab of bad faith. His conversion to one form of illiberalism — or, if you prefer, anti-liberalism — is surely sincere and a byproduct of his good-faith Catholicism. But that just demonstrates the point. For Sohrab, to be a good Catholic, as he understands it, requires jettisoning – or again, in abundance of fairness, questioning — the classical liberal and civil-libertarian faith in pluralism that David French models in almost everything he does (though his fondness for Aquaman remains troubling).

But while I can’t gainsay Sohrab’s sincerity and personal decency, I also can’t adequately express my conviction of his profound error in analysis and strategy. The idea that David French — and the civility and decency he manifests daily — are what’s holding social conservatives back from “victory” in the culture war strikes me as one of the most preposterous claims to be taken seriously by intelligent conservatives in recent memory. I can’t really improve upon the replies by David himself and Charlie Cooke, and I really do like Sohrab, so I’ll just endorse what they said.

Victory You Can Taste but Never Swallow

Instead, let me turn to the larger project Sohrab is associating with. The First Things crowd, and various allied parties, have become intoxicated with the bizarre notion that social conservatives can win the culture war if they lean into Trumpism, nationalism, and some of the worst caricatures of the Christian right. R. R. Reno, the editor of First Things, is giddy about the fact that Trump broke the old conservative consensus around limited government, free markets, individual autonomy, and the foundational metaphysical claims of the American Founding. He sees the New Deal as a nationalist attempt to impose social solidarity from above. And he’s right. He just celebrates the effort, while traditional conservatives do not.

Last March, Reno organized a group of intellectuals — some of whom I admire — to sign a manifesto of sorts. It drips with disdain for capitalism, or to be fair, it creates a platoon of strawmen, calls that “capitalism,” and then sets fire to it. Now, let me be clear: I agree with many of their concerns. Though Reno clearly didn’t bother to read my book before “reviewing” it, I wrote at great length about many of the problems they identify, including the role capitalism itself can play in eroding vital institutions, most importantly the family, organized religion, and traditional communities.

Still, my disagreement stems from what I think is a mix of bad analysis of the roots of the problem and worse thinking about what to do about it. As Sohrab often implicitly concedes, most of the outrageous assaults on religion don’t come from liberal democratic capitalism, but from the state. Capitalism didn’t attack the Little Sisters of the Poor, the state did. And as both Charlie and David note, the best and only available means of defending such victims are the tools provided by the liberal order and the Constitution. Religious liberty is a concept as close to being definitional of the American order as any I can think of.

The potted idea that a policy of right-wing statism — fight fire with fire! — is the solution rather than a compounding of the problem is deeply dismaying me to me. I’m reminded of my favorite exchange from A Man for All Seasons, in which the cinematic Thomas More (a different fellow than the real one) explains why rules matter:

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety’s sake.

Conceding the idea that the State should impose one faction’s conception of virtue on the entirety of the country is only a smart play (in the realpolitik sense) if you’re sure your faction is the one that gets to call the shots. When your faction is in the minority with few prospects of becoming the majority, it’s tantamount to turning the asylum over to the inmates.

Since David French set this whole thing off, I’ll use an analogy he’ll like. Like the Greyjoys in Game of Thrones, the First Things coterie are a belligerent band that is formidable only in proximity to their own shores. The farther they extend their forces, the weaker and ultimately ineffectual they become. They can dream of ruling, but they should recognize that’s all it is: a dream. In the larger game — i.e., the game of power — the best they can do is harass the enemy from their home base.

The idea that observant Catholics — a group I admire and sympathize with — can successfully win the culture war entirely on their terms is absurd, particularly if part of that strategy requires defenestrating the likes of David French — not to mention countless secular conservatives, traditionalists, and libertarians — for the sake of not theological or ideological purity but mere tactical consensus. David’s emphasis on “decency and civility” (Sohrab’s words) offers one of the only plausible ways of converting large numbers to the cause. More importantly: Since total victory is impossible, convincing the unconverted and unconvertible, that religious conservatives nonetheless deserve fair treatment and autonomy in a pluralistic society requires first convincing them that the religious right’s real objective isn’t to seize the commanding heights of the culture and turn their guns on the enemy. If average Americans, forget progressives, think the religious right wants to use the state to force everyone else to heel, the assault on religious liberty will only get worse.

But hey, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the First Things crowd has a brilliant plan for mounting a successful — and permanent–– benign, mildly theocratic takeover of all three branches of the government, the administrative state, as well as the universities, media, and state and local governments:

Step One: Purge the Frenchian Squishes

Step Two: ?????

Step Three: Bask in “a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.” (Sohrab’s words).

And let us just take two seconds to chuckle at the notion that Donald Trump is precisely the man to pull that off.

Back to the Future

Now, I don’t think Sohrab’s utopian society, if achievable, would be such a terrible place. But “utopian” is a neologism that means “no place.” The only goal we can strive for is eutopia, which means “good place.” And the Founders believed that a good place was a polity where individuals were free to pursue an individual conception of happiness. You can argue that this idea has gone off the rails, as Sohrab does, and I’d have some sympathy. But let’s be honest about their proposed solution: to have the state impose on people its conception of virtue.

Replying, “Yeah, but that’s what the state is doing now and their definition of virtue sucks,” doesn’t require surrendering to the idea that the Right should do it too, throwing out the metaphysics of the founding in the process.

It’s a cliché to say that nationalism’s resurgence is a response to globalization. Obviously, there’s truth to that. Less discussed is the fact that American nationalism — both on the right and the left — is a response to, well,  nationalization. What I mean by that is that technology has tended to make the nation smaller and more intimate. Distances are shorter. Media — social, cable, the Internet etc. — creates a national racket where the equivalent of small-town busybodies thrive. We feel like we’re living cheek by jowl with people who actually live thousands of miles away from us. This feeling arouses anger and animosity because we’re exposed to people we think are living wrong and that leads to the desire to use the state or Twitter mobs to make people live the right way.

On the left, this is a very old argument. Woodrow Wilson thought the Constitution had outlived its usefulness in an era with railroads and telegraphs. The whole of the country was now bound together and must now live as a single organic whole (George Will’s forthcoming book is excellent on this, and many other, points). Wilson repudiated the Constitution stem, branch, and root because the Madisonian vision of letting multiple factions bloom was inorganic and divisive. Progressivism, from the New Deal to the Great Society to Obama’s New Foundation, never shed this basically Wilsonian view. The only two important players on the board are the government and the individual whose first commitments and basic needs would be met by it. Classical liberalism doesn’t want a nation of Julias; modern liberalism does.

As I noted in my forthcoming conversation with George Will on CSPAN, what’s amazing to me is that at the precise moment conservatives are finally recognizing the moral horror of the Wilson administration, they are simultaneously adopting his premises.

The idea that a vast, and vastly diverse, continental nation can be united in a singular conception of national purpose that gives everyone a sense of meaning and belonging is just as ludicrous when ornamented with right-wing verbiage as it is when it comes out of the mouth of Wilson, Obama, or the vast horde running for the Democratic nomination. It’s even more dangerous because it would make the race to statism bipartisan, with no serious movement arguing for the ideas and ideals that made this country great.

Again, the solution isn’t to get the best right-wing technocrats to run the economy and the culture. It’s to deny the state the power to run either. Send power back to the communities where people live. If North Dakota wants to be a theocracy, that’s fine by me as long as the Bill of Rights is respected. If California wants to turn itself into Caligula’s court, I’ll criticize it, but go for it.

The enemy here is the state, because by aggrandizing to itself the power to tell people how to live, people put all of the blame on a far-off government in Washington — or even more distant “globalists” — for their problems. Federalism, part of the forgotten portions of the Bill of Rights, is the only system that lets the most people live the way they want to live, in communities they have power to influence and direct. In a real community, there are no faceless “powers that be.” There’s Phil and Sarah, or even Mom and Dad.

And the glorious thing about this kind of pluralism — i.e., for communities, not just individuals — is that if the community you’re living in isn’t conducive to your notion of happiness or virtue, you can move somewhere that is. We want more institutions that give us a sense of meaning and belonging, not a state that promises to deliver all of it for you.

People are misdiagnosing the problem of social, institutional and familial breakdown. A healthy society is a heterogeneous one, a rich ecosystem with a thousand niches where people can find different sources of meaning or identity. A sick society is one where people find meaning from a single source, whether you call it “the nation” or “socialism” or any of the other brand names we hang on statism.

Heck, don’t call it federalism if that sounds too ickily modern to your ear. You can call it “subsidiarity,” a good Catholic word.

The bipartisan love affair with statism — whether it’s called nationalism or socialism — is simply a modern-sounding version of the old games of thrones from the past. Substitute Protestant for “progressive” and Catholic for “traditionalist,” and these fights would be recognizable to Europeans three or four centuries ago. The ideas being thrown around by the new nationalist conservatives aren’t new. The only new part is that conservatives, long the heroic defenders of the American Founding, are spouting them.

Various & Sundry

Well, I guess it’s only fitting that the final installment of this “news”letter ends with a sweaty rant written in nicotine-fueled haste with dogs constantly demanding my attention. I didn’t plan on this topic (because I never plan this thing), but I did choose it this morning because I think it addresses one of the central concerns of this “news”letter from the beginning: defending conservatism as I understand it.

Now, as my wife hears me say all too rarely, it’s time for some housecleaning. The G-File will live on. For the next few months (and possibly beyond) this “news”letter will only be available as an email newsletter. (For legal reasons, I cannot take my subscription list with me, so I have to recreate it as best as possible.)

The price will more than quintuple: from zero to zero. In the future, its frequency may increase with added brevity and newsiness on weekdays, but there will always be the traditional Friday version. I can’t really say that separating from the mothership will free me up to make it more outspoken because Rich always let me fly my freak flag any way I wanted in this space. But who knows what changes are in store?

So if you want a front-row seat for the adventure ahead, or if you feel like part of the Remnant and don’t want to feel so lonely, or if you agree with Rusty Reno that I “[exemplify] the decadence and dysfunction of today’s public discourse” and you crave such decadence

— or if you just want to continue to receive canine updates — I would be honored and grateful if you subscribed. Contra Reno, I promise to keep the nudity tasteful and integral to the plot. And we’ll never sell or share your email with anyone. Ever.

You can sign up for it here.

Canine Update: It’s been quite a week. The Fair Jessica has been out of town since last weekend, and my daughter’s been crashing on finals, so the beasts and I have had a lot of quality time. Whenever Jessica — whom they love more than me — is gone, they get super needy and worried. I knew it was going to be rough when Pippa watched Jessica get into an Uber from the window next to the front door and started to whimper and cry. They follow me from room to room as if they think I might somehow escape if they lose visual contact with me. If I leave the house, even to take out the garbage, they greet me upon my return like I’m their East German family reunited after the Wall came down. The other night, Zoë even found it necessary to become a cliché and eat my daughter’s homework. But I’m doing my best to burn off the anxiety with extra long perambulations and workouts in the mornings and the evenings. And Kirsten helps enormously with the midday workday walks — and swims. Perhaps Pippa’s forced independence from the mater familias is even causing her to stick up for herself more. The other day at the creek, she didn’t let the big dogs get her ball. The only problem is that the eau de chien after their midday visits to the creek can assault the nostrils with an almost Sex Panther intensity. They are holding up their end by constantly keeping the crows at bay, and Zoë is helping in other ways, like burying treasure for a rainy day and procuring much needed supplies. All she asks demands in return is adequate scritching.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Hollywood’s Georgia paradox

Trump can’t blame Mueller for his approval ratings

On Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton

The latest Remnant, on bears

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Wednesday links

Relatable robot

cc: SMOD

John Wick 6

Imperial March

Dog detectives

Radioactive Giant Clams

Lake Erie’s salt mines

Who among us

Vicious wolves

Keanu

The horror…

Cursing Elmo

So you’re lost in the woods…

And you had a bad day…

Bored teens launch operation space

Fossilized school of extinct fish

Chocolate conching and cement mixing

Aretha Franklin’s handwritten wills

Elon Musk’s satellites cloud the night sky

Weird fabrics

New global measurements

Neptune’s tiny moon

LeBron James loves candles

Politics & Policy

The Problem with Certainty

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Including those of you having this read to you while you white-knuckle the steering wheel trying to get to wherever you’re going for the weekend at the pace of Zeno’s arrow),

We’ve had so many good times. The volcano lancing, the sweatiest-movie-ever polls, the homage to women’s prison movies, and of course, our debate about the best necrophiliac gay-porn title to describe the Florida recount (“Hanging Chad” was my pick). I feel like Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” should be playing in the background as we flash back to scenes like the first time I walked into the National Review offices wearing my spaghetti-strainer codpiece. (Note: I’m evoking the song’s perceived meaning of wistful nostalgia from its presence in TV show finales and graduation parties, not its actual, slightly harsher meaning.) That look on Priscilla Buckley’s face!

I’m getting all verklempt because this is my penultimate “news”letter under the National Review shingle, and I don’t know what to do about it. I’m sitting in my car in a parking lot for some nature preserve out in Bethany, Delaware, smoking a cigar and trying to keep the glare of the sun both out of my eyes and off my laptop screen, which makes me a kind of sundial. It also makes me more than a bit melancholy. But as Bill Clinton said when the intern wet T-shirt contest started to drag on, I must persevere.

Certainty, True and False

I recently listened to an outstanding episode of EconTalk on the topic of certainty. It inspired me to buy Robert Burton’s book on the topic, which I’ve only been dipping into because I’m still working on George Will’s — so far, wonderful — magnum opus on conservatism. The main takeaway of Burton’s On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not is that certainty is not always what you think it is. More to the point, in your brain, certainty is a feeling. As Burton puts it:

The message at the heart of this book is that the feelings of knowing, correctness, conviction, and certainty aren’t deliberate conclusions and conscious choices. They are mental sensations that happen to us.

If you’ve never had the sensation of knowing you are right about something — a line from a movie, the year something happened, the airspeed of an unladen swallow — only to find out you were completely wrong, you are probably a very scary person who shouldn’t be trusted with large earth-moving equipment or fissile material.

I have a love–hate relationship with certainty. I often cannot stand people who inveigh against certainty as if it is a great evil. My go-to example of this is Anthony Lewis’ thumb-sucky (the thumb is silent) “Big Conclusion” of his career. He said: “Certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity in people who are sure they are right, like Osama bin Laden and John Ashcroft.”

The first response to this, which would cause one of Harry Mudd’s android friends to implode, is “Are you certain about that?”

Certainty, like dogma, is one of those things that people hate only when they disagree with what people are certain (or dogmatic) about. Certainty about evil things is almost always evil (even when good people are mistakenly certain about it). Certainty about good things can lead to evil if applied poorly (see The Bridge on The River Kwai). But certainty is not an evil thing in itself. I am certain that slavery is bad. I am certain that torturing puppies for fun is bad. My certainty about such things doesn’t make me an enemy of decency any more than being certain that decency is generally a good thing.

When people insist certainty is bad, what they really mean is that closed-mindedness about things that should be open questions is bad. But again, even here, that’s a judgment call. As the guy from Internal Affairs says in NYPD Blue, “everything is a situation.”

Burton makes a persuasive case that Rashomon situations, where witnesses differ over the same event, aren’t just the product of different people having access to different facts or perspectives — like the blind men and the elephant. They are also a byproduct of the fact that our brains take in the same information differently depending on a host of factors. The seasoned warrior who’s lived through a dozen firefights will remember a fresh battle differently than the rookie who has never been in such a situation. The soup of hormones and emotions that the veteran has learned to control but the newbie hasn’t experienced will result in a different recording in their mental hard drives.

It’s important to note that while each of the blind men around the elephant have reason to be sure the trunk is a snake or the tail is a tree, none of that changes the fact that the elephant remains an elephant. The fact of the pachyderm doesn’t care about the feelings of the blind men (though it might be annoyed at being felt up by a bunch of dudes). The elephant’s ontology isn’t dependent on their phenomenology.

 

Everyone on the planet can be certain that two plus two equals five, or, for that matter, Phyllis Diller’s hat; it won’t change the fact that two plus two is four. In other words, as Agent Mulder likes to say, the truth is out there, regardless of what’s in our heads. If truth was made by feelings, planes wouldn’t fly — at least not reliably. That’s because if the science “works,” it works regardless of how we feel about it (sorry, Social Text). Moreover, scientific knowledge accumulates in roughly arithmetic fashion, but political or social knowledge only advances in fits and starts. Every generation, we have to reargue the case for democracy or civil rights, but we don’t have to start from scratch on the boiling point of water or the airspeed of that unladen swallow.

Bad Certainty

Where I agree with the critics of certainty is that certainty can be dangerous. Other than anger, few things define a mob more than the collective feeling of certainty. Like a flood, it swamps decency and bursts through the levee of the law.

Even in science, certainty closes off avenues of inquiry, which is why the phrase “settled science” is a font of mischief and closed-mindedness. But science has procedures to test certainty. In a sense, the most important discoveries in science aren’t the first ones, but the second ones — when the results are replicated by someone else, often by someone else who wants to disprove the first.

This points to why I have become so entrenched in my Hayekianism. Hayek understood the problems with certainty intimately. Technocrats, planners, and leaders of mobs are certain that they know the truth and try to impose it on the rest of us. For Hayek, the market is a process of discovery, as is tradition. No individual person can possibly know all the variables that go into a price. Competition lets actors discover the price of something. It’s not technically science, but it works in a similar way. Every certainty is tested by players in the game and in the process productivity and innovation are made possible. Traditions form through trial and error creating social tools that solve problems. Sometimes those traditions outlive their utility like, perhaps, Chesterton’s fence. But the first key to deciding why a tradition should go is to first understand why it emerged in the first place.

The Perils of Social Justice

Vox’s Dylan Matthews has an interesting article on how Raj Chetty, a popular and serious economist now at Harvard, wants to change the way we teach economics.  He’s taking dead aim at Harvard economist Greg Mankiw’s introductory text book and course (EC 10), which in Matthew’s telling are benchmarks of traditional (capitalist) economic theory.

Reading through Mankiw’s introductory textbook, one gets a sense that economics is the study of supply and demand. Reading through the syllabus for Chetty’s Economics 1152, one gets a very different sense of the field. The economics he describes is, essentially, a kind of applied statistics, an attempt to use quantitative data to answer social questions. 

Later, Matthews writes:

[Chetty’s] class attempts to be clear about what economics can, and cannot, tell students about public policy. If Ec 10 tells students that minimum wages are inefficient, that taxes harm growth, that free trade lifts all boats, and so on, Ec 1152 tries to draw a sharp distinction between empirical fact and moral values. 

I’m not dismissive about all this. It’s obvious from the piece that there’s a lot of interesting and even important stuff going on here by serious economists. But the clear upshot, from both Matthews and Chetty is that economists should be taught first and foremost as a tool of social justice.

The way economics is taught is “very different from the sciences, where as a kid you have a sense, it may not be very precise, but that people try to cure cancer,” Chetty says. Matthews adds: “He wants to give students a sense of the kind of economics that cures: that cures inequality, that identifies and fixes bad schools.”

Matthews says this “shift could change economics itself, by attracting a new breed of students who are intrigued by the field’s new empiricism, not put off by its mathiness and high theory.” He adds: “It could make economics departments more diverse, and more open to new perspectives from women and students of color.”

Among the many remarkable things going on here is the notion that this is a remotely new idea. For much of the 20th century, progressives argued, pushed, and cajoled for precisely this interpretation of economics as a tool for social justice (whether they used the term or not). This was the worldview of John Dewey and the progressive intellectuals who believed they were smarter than the markets. This is why many looked with envy at countries like the Soviet Union. Stuart Chase, who would become one of the most prominent New Deal intellectuals, visited the Soviet Union in 1927 and expressed his envy of the great experiment unfolding. In America, “hungry stockbrokers” make all the decisions, while in the Soviet Union, it was economists and social engineers (then not a pejorative term) “informed by battalions of statistics” with “no further incentive than the burning zeal to create a new heaven and a new earth which flames in the breast of every good Communist” were using numbers to impose their certainty from above.

No, I’m not saying Chetty, Matthews, or any of these people are Communists, but as Russ Roberts is quoted in the article:

“Numbers don’t speak on their own,” he warned. “There are too many of them. We need some kind of theory to help us decide which numbers [to] listen to. Inevitably, our biases and incentives influence which numbers we think speak the loudest.”

The numbers are the elephant. As Tom Sowell noted on my podcast recently, numbers can mislead if you don’t know the why behind them. For instance, consider the black poverty rate. Sowell notes in his Discrimination and Disparities that “despite the high poverty rate among black Americans in general, the poverty rate among black married couples has been less than 10 percent every year since 1994.” He asks, “Do racists care whether someone black is married or unmarried?”

Scientists describe how things behave with a high level of confidence because behavior can be observed, chronicled, tested, etc. Scientists are far more humble about questions of “why.”

Among my problems with the logic of social justice is that its practitioners start from the answer and then look for the right questions to fit it. They start from the conclusion that women make less, on average, than men because of sexism, and then they design questions that confirm the conclusion. Inequality is bad because shut up, it just is. Inequality exists because capitalism is cruel and bigoted at its heart.

The world should be a better place than this. And if it’s not, the reasons are an indictment of the system, not the free choices made by individuals or the political choices made by enemies of the market. Capitalism is always to blame because there’s some perfect alternative just waiting around the bend to replace it.

For instance, the Washington Post recently ran an article on the sh**show — often literally speaking — that is San Francisco. That once-wonderful city has been run not just by Democrats, but very liberal Democrats for decades. The mayor is a Democrat. The most powerful politician in America, Nancy Pelosi, represents it. The governor is a Democrat — from San Francisco. The state legislature has a supermajority of Democrats. And, the people themselves are overwhelmingly Democrats. And the reason San Francisco is a hot mess is, apparently, capitalism.

“This is unregulated capitalism, unbridled capitalism, capitalism run amok. There are no guardrails,” says Salesforce founder and chairman Marc Benioff, a fourth-generation San Franciscan who in a TV interview branded his city “a train wreck.” 

The New York Times’s Farhad Manjoo should be praised for this piece, which makes up somewhat for his recent liquidate-the-billionaires column: “America’s Cities Are Unlivable: Blame Wealthy Liberals.” I may have quibbles here and there, but at least Manjoo doesn’t start with the answer — capitalism bad — before asking the right questions. Capitalism doesn’t create insidious zoning laws and the like, humans do. Yes, capitalism makes some people rich enough that they can manipulate local politicians for their own ends. But again, the blame for the policies rests not in capitalism but in the human actors restricting capitalism for their own ends.

Anyway, my kid wants to go get lunch and go to the beach now so I’m going to wrap up. I’m not certain about a lot of things, but I’m certain that’s more important right now.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The Fair Jessica is leaving town for a week when I get back, which means there will be a lot of quality time — and quality video — of me and the beasts over the next week. If you’re feeling stressed, might I recommend watching a minute plus of Dingo-scritching. It’s very Zen. Followers of the canine duo are fond of noting how different the two are. It’s not quite a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. It’s more a little bit backwoods fighter and a little bit goofy aristocrat. But I do wish more of each would rub off on the other more. I wish Zoë cared less about getting into scrapes with other dogs and just pursued harmless passions as Pippa does (and no, trying to kill bunnies doesn’t count). Likewise, I wish Pippa stood up for herself a bit more. In recent weeks, Pippa’s let herself get mugged by Samson, a sweet lab (I know that’s a little redundant). I’m told that after one egregious robbery, Pippa did give Samson a piece of her mind. But I don’t think Sam was chastened. I did laugh when I saw that both Zoë and Pippa were like “What’s wrong with this guy?”

Anyway, I gotta go. But in case you were worried, Pippa is very skeptical of Bernie Sanders.

ICYMI

Last week’s G-File

The last-ever Game of Thrones GLoP

My last-ever Game of Thrones take

How Roe v. Wade warped the abortion debate

This week’s first Remnant, on Generational Warfare

The silliness of the generational conflagration

This week’s second Remnant, on Iran

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Sushi stories

Mascot struggles

Sea sketches

Lord of the Rings > Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones > Game of Thrones

Brushes with Mengele

Romania from above

Monks bring back old beer recipe

Rats take over NYC

A wild story

Alligator on alligator action

Hiding from cats

Astronaut farts

Who among us…

Herbal remedies

Mail hype

Scary robot

Deep-sea lantern fish have a weird way of seeing colors

Bacteria can be created with manmade genomes

YouTube now has a summer camp

Mixed race children in the Third Reich

Medieval kings regulated the fish market

Dunkin’ Donuts’ new nail polish line

Elections

Bill de Blasio, the Sponge of Woke Platitudes

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Including all of the Democrats not running for president. Let’s have lunch),

And then there were 24.

Of course, you normally don’t say “And then there were X” when the number increases. You’re supposed to say it in such situations as when your softball team has been kidnapped by a Moldovan blood-sport ring. You sit in your dank holding cell beneath the streets of Chisinau, watching as your buddies are taken away in ones and twos to fight to the death with tire irons and shovels for the amusement of the Moldovan illuminati until it’s just you and a once-pudgy, urine-soaked accountant who’s become a lean, death-dealing gladiator and has decided the only way to survive is to accept that this is the only life he knows. You hear the outer door open and see burly men drag in the bloodied corpses of both your former first baseman and your centerfielder and dump them in the corner. Then one of them comes to the gate of your cell and says “Si apoi au fost doi” — Romanian for “And then there were two.” A macabre grin appears on the accountant’s face.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. There are now 24 Democratic presidential contenders, give or take any who may have announced since I emailed this to NRHQ.

One of the things I find amusing is how each candidate must come up with some unique qualification for why they should be president that sets them off from the others. Some are just platitudinous — Joe Biden’s experience — but some are awfully niche:

Cory “Almost Spartacus” Booker says he’s “the only senator who goes home to a low-income, inner-city community” in Newark.

Michael Bennet says, “I have a tendency to tell the truth to the people I represent in Colorado and I want a chance to do that with the American people.”

Kirsten Gillibrand explains that what sets her apart is the fact that “as a young mom, I’m going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own.” She’s 52, by the way.

John Hickenlooper is going for the crucial magical-realism bloc. “I’m running for president because we need dreamers in Washington, but we also need to get things done.”

At this rate, I think the 30th candidate will say “I’m running for president because I rarely wear underwear, and when I do, it’s usually something unusual.”

Oh, I left out Bill de Blasio, who says that his unique contribution is his bully-fighting superpower. Of course, that’s not his only superpower, he also has the ability to make evidence of his superpowers invisible to the general public. It’s a very niche superpower.

De Blah-sio

I have a fair amount of confidence that after today, I won’t need to write about Bill de Blasio again, save perhaps in passing, à la: “The overflow from the Biden event was so large, the crowd butted up against the dunk tank, where another 2020 hopeful sat, unable even to persuade the locals to throw the ball at the target. After an hour, he remained dry, save for the heavy coating of sweat drawn from the beating midwestern sun and more than a few of his own tears drawn from anticipation of the political beating to come.”

Now, I don’t want to get locked-in; he could say or do something so spectacularly dumb that I will be compelled to comment — occupational hazards of the pundit trade and all that — but that will be a judgement call, not a necessity. As I suggest in my column today, I think he’s a remarkably unserious candidate. Yes, that’s been said in this space about other candidates, one of whom is currently in the Oval Office, but say what you will about Donald Trump, he had a gift for drawing contrasts with other candidates.

(Before I continue, I love sentences like that. Years ago, a friend of mine came up with a bunch of statements one could say about the GOP that would sound positive to people who wanted to hear something positive and negative to people who wanted to hear something negative. One example he offered: “With Ted Cruz, the GOP finally has the leadership it deserves.” I’m not a Cruz basher, but I still find that funny. “Donald Trump has a gift for drawing contrasts” makes me chuckle, too.)

The reason it is very unlikely that de Blasio will replicate the success of Donald Trump in the Democratic primaries is that he cannot offer any contrasts that matter. He isn’t entertaining, he’s tiresome. He isn’t charismatic, he’s unctuous. He talks like the president of a small liberal-arts college, spouting clichés plucked from a flier on an assistant professor of Peace Studies’ door. He seems convinced that the glassy expression on the faces of the students and faculty in the audience is awe, not a soul-numbing tedium that is a few desperate heartbeats away from resorting to self-harm just to feel something again.

That’s not to say there aren’t interesting things about the man. His habit of sleeping late is amusing, even charming. The possibly unfounded rumors that every day is 4/20 at Gracie Mansion are fun. His honeymoon in Castro’s Cuba is so on the nose that Tom Wolfe would have cut it from an updated version of Bonfire of the Vanities (perhaps renamed Bonfire of the Chronic). The fact that he married a lesbian is legitimately fascinating, though I’m not sure how it will play in certain quarters of the left given that converting gay people to heterosexuality is not as popular as it once was.

Stork v. Ferris

But the most interesting — and disturbing — thing about de Blasio is that he is such a conventional politician. In my column, I argue that he’s a Ferris Bueller — someone who jumps in front of an existing parade and thinks he’s actually leading it. I’ve used this analogy before, and I have a longtime reader who always emails me — including this morning — to say I’m getting my movies confused. He thinks I’m talking about Animal House, specifically this scene with Stork (played by Douglas Clark Francis Kenney, one of the co-founders of National Lampoon):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1v0jB3OswM&feature=youtu.be

But this is wrong. When Stork takes over the parade, he actually does take it over, leading the entire marching band into a dead-end alley. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I know Stork, sir. And Bill de Blasio is no Stork. De Blasio is a Bueller because all he does is lip-sync the words to someone else’s song and dances for the crowd.

And that’s what I mean about what’s disturbing about de Blasio. There is not an original bone in his body. He’s a sponge of woke platitudes, acquired over a lifetime of shared pleasantries with disgruntled left-wing academics, activists, red diaper babies, and rent-control Maoists. The sponge is boring. But what he’s soaking up is more than a little terrifying, because it reveals what’s in the atmosphere around him. After all, the conventional wisdom is that de Blasio is frustrated that the Democratic party has moved leftward toward his worldview, and he’s not getting credit for being there first.

The very first words of his presidential announcement video — i.e. the central message of his campaign — are: “There’s plenty of money in this world, there’s plenty of money in this country, it’s just in the wrong hands.”

Let that sink in, like a cliché through the blood-brain barrier in de Blasio’s skull.

Bumper-sticker socialism

When Proudhon said that “property is theft,” he had something of a point. He wasn’t talking about all property, but land specifically in the tradition of Roman law. And if you check the video of history, you could find more than enough evidence to make the case that the land owned by aristocrats and royals was taken from somebody else at some point.

Marxists took the phrase “property is theft” — which Marx himself criticized — and turned it into “capitalism is theft.” This incredibly stupid aphorism — no doubt tattooed between the shoulder blades of some Antifa thug (the irony that it was paid for with the red blood cells of capitalism, money, was probably lost on him) — is predicated on the Marxist idea of the “surplus value of labor.” This potted notion holds that all of the value in a widget comes from the workers on the widget assembly line. The inventor of the widget, the investor in the inventor’s idea, the managers and engineers who figure out how to make the factory cost effective, and the salesmen who hawk the widgets add no value. So all of the profit from each widget sale is theft from the laborer.

I don’t want to get even deeper in the weeds (“Did someone say ‘weed’?” —Hizzoner). But among the myriad ways this idea is ridiculous is that the ultimate value of a widget is determined by the price it can fetch on the market. Without a market, it has no real price. And without a price, there is no possibility of profit, or even compensation for labor — unless the state decides to take resources from someplace and reward unproductive labor. That’s how real socialism works, which is why socialism is theft.

Which brings me back to de Blasio’s spongey sputum. The idea that there’s “plenty of money” to do the stuff we want and it’s just in the wrong hands is literally the logic of the bank robber. Its pernicious radicalism is stunning on the merits, but it’s all the more gobsmacking that a banal political opportunist sees political opportunity in spouting it. I know I keep quoting Wayne Booth’s definition of rhetoric — “the art of probing what men believe they ought to believe.” But the idea that this is something a conventional Democratic pol should say is incredibly disheartening. When Bill Clinton admitted that the government could return the budget surplus to taxpayers, but that this would run the risk of taxpayers spending the money the wrong way, it was considered a modest gaffe. It worked on the same assumption of de Blasio’s — that “the money” out there belongs to the government, and what you get to keep is a question left to the politicians. But de Blasio takes it further. Because at least Clinton was talking about money that was already in the treasury. De Blasio seems to think he’s running to be the ringleader in a heist movie.

That de Blasio is seen not as a radical fringe candidate but a sad sack trying to catch up with the cool crowd is a damning indictment of the Democrats, but also of defenders of the free market for being unable to foster a climate where such statements would be seen as the insipid prattle of an irrelevant stoner.I would be more impressed with de Blasio if he were a Stork, but I find him more worrisome because he’s a Ferris.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Not much to report this week. The struggle to keep the beasts clean amidst all the rain has been particularly intense. The mud and surging creeks are just too much to resist, particularly for the spaniel. This means going to the hose more often and occasionally the full shampoo job. The main problem here is that there’s a little-known rule in the Human-Canine Compact of 12,000 b.c. (subsequently modified and amended) that if you over-bathe dogs, they will punish you by rolling around in extra awful stuff, like deer poop, dead things, etc. Both Zoë and Pippa have exercised their rights under this clause this week, and they made no apologies for it. As I think I said last week, I am heartened by the fact that some folks on Twitter are confessing that they are actually on #TeamZoë. I mean, the dogs don’t care. One of the defining features of doggy goodness is that they don’t care about such things. Still, I sometimes feel bad for Zoë, who in many ways is a vastly more interesting creature than Pippa. I love them both, but Pippa is a girl of very simple tastes, emotional states, and desires. Zoë is full of mystery and contemplation But what’s very weird for the Fair Jessica and me is how so many people now think Zoë is so “chill” and “mellow.” I understand why folks think that, but it’s just funny, because for the first few years Zoë was easily the most difficult dog we ever had or even knew. It took years of training and mellowing to get to the point where she reliably comes when called and doesn’t get into trouble. I sometimes miss the wild child, until the memories come flooding back in. And then I realize how much better off we are now.

ICYMI

Last week’s G-File

A follow-up to my G-File

Bill Barr didn’t break the law

My appearance on the Acton Institute podcast

This week’s first Remnant, from and about Chicago

The second Remnant with incoming AEI president Robert Doar.

The latest GLoP Culture podcast

On Bill de Blasio’s presidential campaign

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Monday links

Debby’s Friday links

Wow!

Concrete explosion

Best places to find Bigfoot

Cool find

Kids these days

Awesome

Barr’s bagpipes

And I found you, flightless bird…

Black ball mystery

The words people look up on Mothers’ Day

Dr. Strange and Medieval alchemy

What color is a tennis ball?

Doris Day heroics

Penis probe

Stress balls being destroyed

Endgame behind the scenes

How starfish walk 

Stories from the set of Mad Max 2

And from The Mask

Free cats

Misplaced Uranium

Getting your citizenship at McDonald’s

Dnieper River from space

Politics & Policy

Rules, Regulations, and Right-Wingers

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Including all of you having a constitutional crisis),

A hundred years ago, if you wanted to tell a lot of people across the United States that the people of North Dakota had secretly been replaced by enormous bipedal otters in human skin suits, it would have been extremely difficult to pull it off. There were probably a dozen, maybe two dozen, people who could possibly afford to buy ads in newspapers in every state and town to warn everyone that “North Dakota is only the beginning!” and “The Otter people are coming for you!”

There were probably another dozen people sufficiently famous or important that if they held a press conference in New York unveiling the terrible news that there was an Otter Man Empire rising up from within, the press could be relied upon to get the news out fairly quickly.

Of course, most of the coverage would be along the lines of:

Talk of Impeachment Roils Washington as President Harding Has Breakdown

Sees ‘Mammalian Conspiracy in Dakotas’

Not since former president Wilson’s stroke has official Washington been more concerned about the mental capacity of the commander in chief. At his hastily called press conference on Monday, the president warned of a “weasel menace” and “otter occupation.” “They will take the food off your table and eat it on their soft bellies while swimming in our lakes and rivers,” the president said as aides endeavored to remove him from the rostrum. “They’re here! They’re living amongst us already with their wee beady eyes!”

But at least the story would get out.

Things changed with the radio. (Fun fact: 1920 was the last year when the cutting-edge communications technology for political campaigns was recorded speeches on records you played on the gramophone.) By the 1930s, the number of people capable of warning large numbers of people across the country of the unfolding Ottergeddon probably increased to the low hundreds. Of course, it would still take work. Radio was mostly a regional communications technology where “national” shows were relayed over networks and the like.

More to the point, if a radio host tried to get the truth out, the company he worked for would probably fire him or turn off his microphone before he could rally the militias under the banner of “Hell is Otter People.”

TV expanded the number of people who could technically get away with something like this, but the institutions that owned and regulated broadcast television served as a pretty reliable check on some Howard Beale–type character telling people to go to their windows and shout, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take these otters anymore!” The rise of cable expanded opportunities even more. But you get the point.

But just in case you don’t, let me make it explicit: Since the dawn of mass communication until very recently, there were strong laws, norms, customs, and institutions that served as a check on the ability to be wildly irresponsible or outright deceitful when “informing” the public. None of this is to say that newspapers didn’t print a lot of garbage or that enterprising people didn’t have success sneaking past gatekeepers with graffiti, pamphlets, newsletters, faxes, videotapes, or DVDs. But such efforts remained difficult and largely confined to the periphery.

All of that is gone now. There are now thousands, even tens of thousands, of one-man–band media operations that use big platforms to belch whatever they want out their nether regions. And that doesn’t even capture the multiplier effects from retweets and other forms of signal-boosting from allied accounts and platforms. Just the other day, the president of the United States retweeted people who in a bygone era a president would never want to be associated with.

The Price of Wealth

But before we get into all of that, it’s worth highlighting something the folks shrieking about censorship and free speech tend to overlook. I’m one of those folks like Steven Pinker, Marian Tupy, Ronald Bailey, Russell Roberts, Donald Boudreaux, Matt Ridley, and other misery-deniers who feels compelled to point out how much better we have it than people in the past. By many metrics, the average middle-class person today is richer than the average billionaire a hundred years ago. Of course, your choices in real estate would be much greater as a fat cat in 1920, but your choices in cuisine, air-conditioning, transportation, medicine, communication, etc. would be far worse or simply non-existent.

Kevin Williamson points out a scene in The Count of Monte Cristo in which the count hosts a dinner at which he serves a staggering variety of fish to his guests. How many kinds of fish in this lavish repast? Two. The count describes this largess as a “millionaire’s whim.”

The point here is that in terms of the ability to communicate — both to friends and family and the broader public — we’re unimaginably wealthier today. Wealth isn’t simply about money, it’s about the ability to do things. Financial wealth manifests itself in the expanded number of choices you have to do and have stuff. The mid-market cars of today have features that were reserved for the wealthy two decades ago and that were reserved for science fiction a hundred years ago.

Platform Luxury

The reason this is important to keep in mind is that so much of the talk about “de-platforming” has individual people borrowing arguments that once applied in practical terms to a relative handful of institutions — newspapers, TV stations, etc. — and adapting them to pretty much everyone with a Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube account. I’m not saying that’s wrong. I have long argued that the First Amendment isn’t a special right for journalists and media companies. We all have the right to commit journalism.

But just imagine how weird this debate would have seemed just 30 years ago. If a newspaper dropped a popular columnist because he started writing bigoted garbage, would so many conservatives call for the government to intervene? A few folks on the right complained when Bill Buckley rightly fired Joseph Sobran for indulging his metastasizing obsessions with the Jooooz. But I don’t think anyone called for the federal government to force his reinstatement.

I get that the current — and I would bet temporary — dominance of a few Big Tech firms makes this situation categorically different, but that insight cuts both ways. We’ve never been in this kind of situation before, and that should cause thoughtful people to have a little humility before setting their hair on fire about the obvious injustice of denying, say, Laura Loomer the “right” to spread bigoted lies and conspiracy theories about staged mass shootings on a privately owned platform. And I think it’s deeply revealing that so many people can muster blind rage for the “silencing” of people like Loomer and Milo what’s-his-name but can’t rouse themselves to criticize any of the stuff these people did or said that got them in hot water in the first place. Most of the same people wrapping themselves in the First Amendment for Milo cheer every time the president talks about opening up the libel laws and taking away broadcast licenses. So forgive me for not seeing them as champions of principle here.

Big-Tech Bogeyman

I have my problems with various Big Tech platforms. For instance, I’m open to various regulatory reforms such as making it easier to depart Facebook and take your data with you. I’m more sympathetic to stuff like the “right to be forgotten” than I used to be. But stuff like this?

Come on.

And even if this were true. Even if the heads of all these outfits were secretly meeting in the bowels of their volcano headquarters to plot how to kill “conservatism of all stripes” — right before they ban the semicolon and right after they give Steve Gutenberg’s career a boost — the notion they could succeed is sophomoric nonsense betraying a wildly perverted understanding of what conservatism is. (Hint: It’s not the unadorned right to use someone else’s platform to monetize owning the libs.)

Indeed, I sometimes suspect that the paranoia overtaking parts of the right and so-called right these days stems from a sneaking terror that certain business models aren’t sustainable anymore.

Still, the hilarious thing about the calls from the right for the government to step in is that they think that will solve the problem. Yes, by all means, let’s give government bureaucrats the power to determine what speech should be permitted, they’ll always give conservatives the benefit of the doubt. You’d think the fact that Mark Zuckerberg wants the federal government to take over the task of policing harmful content on its site would give these people pause. There’s a long history of corporate behemoths wanting the government to regulate them because it not only takes risks and costs off its balance sheets but also makes them too big to fail.

Again, times are different today. But perhaps they are not as different as the people who believe they have an unalienable right to have their jackassery boosted over someone else’s microphone think. Back before the Internet, writers and other public figures understood that certain obligations came with both the right and the privilege to use someone else’s newsprint or TV cameras. Don’t lie. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t encourage bigotry and thuggery. These rules weren’t just professional codes of conduct, they were cultural codes of conduct — codes at the heart of the best forms of small-c conservatism. Violating these codes had consequences not just professionally but socially. But now we live in a time when any consequences for our own asininity are definitionally unjust. I fail to see how that’s a trend conservatives should celebrate, never mind fuel.

Who’s a Right-Winger?

Last week I wrote that I wanted to talk about the brouhaha over Louis Farrakhan being lumped into the “right-winger” category in The Atlantic, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Politico, and elsewhere. A lot of conservatives took great umbrage over the designation, and they certainly have a very good point. Left-wing activists routinely praise or refuse to repudiate the deranged dapper bigot. Not long ago, Bill Clinton shared a stage with him. Meanwhile conservatives have denounced Farrakhan for decades. But whenever Farrakhan prattles on about the perfidious and satanic bagel mongers and conservatives call on liberals to repudiate him the way liberals are constantly calling on conservatives to repudiate David Duke, the media reverts to the “Republicans pounce” formulation.

Even if I were inclined to, I wouldn’t defend these outlets, because they are clearly guilty either of laziness or the well-known habit of believing that bad equals right-wing.

But some of the defenders of calling Farrakhan right-wing have a point. This can get a bit confusing and weedy so if you’re not interested in conservative taxonomy, feel free to skip ahead to the canine update.

“Before the Reformation,” wrote Lord Hugh Cecil, “it is impossible to distinguish conservatism in politics, not because there was none, but because there was nothing else.”

Skipping ahead, after the Reformation, we got the Enlightenment.

Friedrich Hayek, in his famous and famously abused, essay “Why I Am Not a Conservative” writes:

Conservatism proper is a legitimate, probably necessary, and certainly widespread attitude of opposition to drastic change. It has, since the French Revolution, for a century and a half played an important role in European politics. Until the rise of socialism its opposite was liberalism. There is nothing corresponding to this conflict in the history of the United States, because what in Europe was called “liberalism” was here the common tradition on which the American polity had been built: thus the defender of the American tradition was a liberal in the European sense. This already existing confusion was made worse by the recent attempt to transplant to America the European type of conservatism, which, being alien to the American tradition, has acquired a somewhat odd character.

What we often call “classical liberalism” was originally a left-wing phenomenon — to the extent the “left” and “right” labels had any meaning outside 18th-century France. It stood opposed to the closed systems of throne, altar, and guild.

The liberals — before some of them carried their ideas to a tragic excess that transformed them from liberals into radicals — championed reason, individualism, free minds, free trade, and democracy or republicanism.

To varying degrees, and with more than a few setbacks, the liberals eventually won the argument in France but more decisively in England, the Netherlands, and Scotland. Their greatest triumph, as Hayek notes, was in America, the first nation to be founded from scratch on (heavily English-influenced) liberal ideas and ideals. Then socialism emerged, and suddenly the liberals were cast into the role of right-wingers of a sort because they were now the defenders of an existing order rather than rebels against the old one. The liberalism that both Marx and Mussolini railed against was the “Manchester liberalism” of free trade and free markets.

But back when they were still the rebels, the “right” of the “counter-enlightenment” repudiated the universalism of the early philosophes and their peers across the channel. Joseph de Maistre, a brilliant ultramontane monarchist conservative of the old type, grounded his opposition to the Enlightenment not just in religious orthodoxy and tradition but in what we would today call “identity.” “Now, there is no such thing as ‘man’ in this world. In my life I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, and so on. I even know, thanks to Montesquieu, that one can be Persian. But as for man, I declare I’ve never encountered him.”

Other conservative opponents of liberalism argued that class and aristocracy were part of the natural order. People were born into a certain station in life, and each station came with a different menu of rights, responsibilities, and privileges. (With the rise of “scientific racism” — an unfortunate offshoot of the Enlightenment — these atavistic arguments were retrofitted in the name of “race science”).

Such arguments have an ancient conservative pedigree, more ancient than anything found in American-style conservatism, which is at least partly rooted in an adherence to the Founders’ animosity for titles of nobility and monarchy.

Confusing things even more was the rise of nationalism, national-socialism, and Nazism. For Communists, the operating rule was that they had a monopoly on what counted as the left. Hence socialist and nationalist movements not loyal to Moscow were dubbed “right-wing” or, at first, “right-wing socialism,” according to Stalin’s “Theory of Social Fascism.” Through the magic of Marxism, classical liberals, Manchester liberals, Monarchists, traditionalists, anti-Communist progressives, and socialists (including John Dewey, Norman Thomas, and FDR), and anyone else to the “right” of Communist fellow travelers and useful idiots were dubbed “right-wing” or “fascist.” A similar but mostly unrelated phenomenon occurred domestically in the U.S. In the 1930s, all opponents of Roosevelt were labeled “right-wing” even if the criticisms came from labor unions, free marketers, or syndicalists like Father Coughlin.

This classification system eventually broke down a good deal after World War II, but there are vestigial bits and pieces all over the place. For decades, American progressives have wanted to see in their domestic conservative opponents aspects of “right-wingness” borrowed from these old classifications. Capitalism, which depends on classically liberal notions (and a force for the liberation of women and minorities), is still “right-wing,” we’re told, because it’s a tool of the white man to keep rich white men rich and everyone else poor.

Another confusing variable is that as the Left embraced identity politics and popular-front thinking, opponents of “the system” were operationally part of the Left if they were “oppressed” in some way. This is why knobs like Jeremy Corbyn see no contradiction between their socialism and their support for Islamic terrorists, various Communist insurrections, and other supposed freedom fighters against the hegemonic power of America, the capitalists, or the Jews (though that’s all redundant in Corbynist eyes). Tribal loyalties of “outgroups” trump ideological commitments almost every time. Tell me who your enemies are, and I’ll tell you who you are.

Enter Louis Farrakhan. The Nation of Islam — which isn’t really Muslim — is a bizarre ethno-nationalist cult. Like neo-Nazis and alt-righters, they see the world as divided between good races and evil ones (“6,600 years ago” an evil scientist named Yakub invented evil white people in a lab, according to the NOI. Among the problems with this theory: The number of years since this horrible crime has never changed in nearly a century of Nation of Islam teaching). If Farrakhan’s goofball, Otter-insurrection level stupid theories of black racial supremacy were trotted out by white people for white people, today’s progressives would have no problem denouncing him in heartbeat. The Nation of Islam under Malcolm X ridiculed the essentially classical-liberal arguments of Martin Luther King Jr. Heck, the Nation of Islam tried to form an alliance with the American Nazi Party in the 1960s because they had so much in common.

What makes everything such a hot mess now is the emergence of the alt-right from the swamps it has lurked in for decades. Thanks to the signal-boosting of social media and a mainstream media eager to give them greater prominence, as well as boneheaded right-wing defenders suffering from their own tribal popular-frontism, we now have a visible faction of so-called conservatives who subscribe to views that would be perfectly welcome within the Linda Sarsour coalition if they came out of the mouths of racial-minority crackpots like Farrakhan.

So in a sense, I have no problem with calling Farrakhan a right-winger so long as the person doing it actually applies such distinctions rigorously. Of course, that’s not what is happening. If classical liberalism and traditionalism in the Anglo-American tradition are right-wing, then Farrakhan is not a right-winger. If racial essentialism and hatred for classical liberalism and Anglo-American traditionalism are right-wing, then I’m not a right-winger and neither are most American conservatives.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Zoë’s been a little under the weather lately, and we’re not sure why. We think she might have hay fever or something like it. She occasionally makes these weird wheezing noises that are bit disconcerting and she’s been a bit Jeb-like in her energy levels. We’re keeping a close eye on it. Pippa also seems to be getting a bit stiffer after big workouts, so we have to moderate a bit more than she’d like when in the heat of things (not that kind of heat). But both of them are still having a lovely spring. But with spring hijinks comes heightened expectations. They want to be outside constantly and do not have a full appreciation that I have other demands on my time. I am heartened that some people are rising up to demand more time for Zoë in my Twitter feed. Even Zoë seems to realize the mismatch. The thing is, Zoë has not only mellowed, she really is hard to manage for video purposes. When all a dog wants to do is play ball and play in mud or water and ideally do all three, it’s pretty easy to get good video. Meanwhile when Zoë only wants to sniff, chew flowers and grass, hunt varmints or rough house with someone her own size, quality footage is elusive unless you luck into it. But she did get to play with Sammie this week. And they both have plenty of energy for the truly important stuff.

ICYMI
Last week’s G-File

On Game of Thrones

This week’s Remnant

Where is the real Democratic Party?

Washington’s secret: No one knows anything

And now, the weird stuff.
Debby’s Wednesday links

Debby’s Friday links

Bees!

Nebraska Man > Florida Man?

Florida woman disagrees

Gator disagrees

Leonardo Da Vinci’s claw hand

Best places to face the void in D.C.

Audiences reacting to Eraserhead when it was first released

Wasps are smart

Who is Taylor Swift, really?

The Pokémon region

Inside a scam call center
What did the Romans know?

!@#$

Michael Crichton weeps

Beautiful Barryland

Who among us…

Law & the Courts

The Bill Barr Chicanery Is about Controlling the Narrative

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Including Jacob Wohl, who might need help with the big words),

I’m leaving in a little while to chaperone a New York City weekend get-together for my daughter and 15 other 16-year-olds. So . . . pray for me. This might mean that this week’s “news”letter is not only abbreviated but also a bit snitty.

Speaking of snitty — and I don’t mean the eighth dwarf —  I really don’t want to write about the Bill Barr brouhaha bedeviling the Beltway Brahmins, but alliteration beckons and beguiles, perforce the professional pundit proceeds with perhaps pusillanimous, perchance pugnacious, pontification on the pending pertinent predicaments.

Sorry, I won’t do that again.

You know that feeling when you and your fellow Knights Templar are sitting around drinking absinthe-flavored Fresca watching turtles play chess, but no one else notices that the bigger turtle, which is actually a rare breed of parrot that likes to wear unlicensed Phish concert T-shirts, brings its queen out way too early? No wait, that’s a different feeling. A somewhat related one is when everybody is screaming about stuff you don’t think is scream-worthy.

That’s how I feel about this Barr stuff. On the substance, I mostly fall in with my colleagues on this one. Bill Barr stands accused of a heinous cover-up. But he didn’t actually cover up anything. He wrote a letter that characterized the findings of the Mueller report in terms that were favorable to the president, but not inaccurate. The monster! He then released the report less than a month later with minimal and, by most objective accounts, perfectly reasonable redactions.

In the long history of attorneys general playing the role of political fixers and cronies, this doesn’t seem to amount to much. George Washington’s first — “handpicked” — attorney general, Edmund Randolph, served as a political operative and confidante of the president. JFK appointed his 35-year-old, unqualified brother to run interference for him. FDR’s first AG was a former head of the DNC who spent much of his tenure concocting dubious constitutional arguments to give the boss wartime powers over the economy. If you’ve seen Boardwalk Empire, you probably know that Harding’s AG, Harry Daugherty, was a piece of work.

Give Me Narrative or Give Me Death

Anyway, Eli Lake asks a good question:

So what are Democrats so upset about? Is it that they lost a precious 25 days — from March 24 to April 18 — to spin Mueller’s findings to their liking? This is worse than Watergate! They will never get those news cycles back.

E. J. Dionne has the answer: Yes, that is exactly what they are upset about:

It’s not good enough that a redacted version of the report was eventually made public. For 27 days, the debate over Mueller’s findings was twisted by Barr’s poisonous distortions that implied a full exoneration of President Trump. Many public statements and much punditry were devoted to insisting that Trump’s opponents owed the president an apology, that the Russia matter was never what it was cracked up to be, that the president was free and clear. 

Back to Eli:

This complaint is not only picayune but also hypocritical. Since Trump won the 2016 election, the narrative (that word again) that he might be a Russian asset or may have conspired with Russia has been a near article of faith for the resistance. If Democrats can chastise Barr for spinning Mueller’s report for 25 days, then why can’t Republicans ask why Mueller didn’t end all the speculation about a Trump-Russia conspiracy as soon as he found out it wasn’t true? 

Much like that time the border patrol opened my car’s trunk during my Bolivian-tree-frog-smuggling phase, a few things jump out at me.

The first is that Eli says it was 25 days and E. J. says it was 27. I will not adjudicate this because I was promised there would be no math. But I am tempted to split the difference Salvador Dali style and say it was melting clock number of days.

Second, I think E. J. has a point, I just think it’s a strange one to get so angry about. Barr did throw a monkey wrench into the gears of the juggernaut of the media-industrial complex. I have no quarrel with folks who think Barr overstepped in an effort to blunt the spin of the report. But Mueller declined to make a call on obstruction, leaving that up to Bill Barr. He decided not to pursue charges of obstruction for debatable, but certainly defensible, reasons. Once he made that decision, it would be odd for him to lend aid and comfort to those who would disagree with it no matter what.

But the really amazing part is the way the imperative of narrative is overpowering everything else. I’m with Eli in being a little exhausted with the thumbsuckery about narratives these days. But this is remarkable. Barr’s “cover up” amounts to accurately describing the conclusions of the Mueller report, but not in a way that would have chummed the water for the media and the Democrats.

This is a categorical change in the way we normally talk about scandals. Dionne — along with many others — is sincerely outraged that pundits were denied their preferred column fodder for 27 days. Mueller himself also seems perturbed that the Barr letter contributed to a narrative that was less hostile to Trump than the one he wanted. And, to be honest, I get it. I think the Mueller report is far more damning of the Trump administration than the pro-Trump narrative-crafters claim. But successfully winning a battle in an ongoing spin war is not a “cover up,” never mind a “crime.”

The assumption seems to be that a great opportunity to gin up public outrage was lost by Barr’s chicanery and that it now unfairly falls to the Democratic House to make its case on the merits. I get why partisans would be pissed off about that. I can recount countless examples of Bill Clinton winning spin battles with similar “cheating” during his impeachment struggles. But at the end of the day, winning a spin cycle is not an affront to the Constitution.

One last thing. I do think many criticisms of Barr have some merit, but I am deeply skeptical of the various theories about his motivations. All of this talk about how Trump has finally found his Roy Cohn or Eric Holder strikes me as another form of narrative maintenance. If someone does something that is beneficial to Trump, it must be proof that they’ve gone over to the Dark Side or some such. But it still strikes me as possible, indeed probable, that Barr’s motivations are nobler. Remember the anonymous op-ed in the New York Times? The author said he was one of many administration officials working to blunt or thwart the president’s “worst inclinations.” Don McGahn arguably saved the Trump presidency by refusing to do some of the “crazy sh**” Trump wanted him to do. Gary Cohn reportedly stopped Trump from pulling out of NAFTA and a trade deal with South Korea by snatching the paperwork from his desk. I know too many people in the administration who see themselves as doing the right things despite Trump, not because of him, to immediately assume everyone in there is a less stupid Jacob Wohl.

It is not obvious to me that Barr’s actions aren’t consistent with these kinds of efforts. Who knows what Barr had to do to get Trump’s permission to release the Mueller report in a timely manner? The widespread assumption is that Barr wrote that memo about the Mueller probe as a way to curry favor with the administration. Maybe. But it’s also possible that he sincerely believed the Mueller probe was fatally flawed on the merits, as many of my friends around here believe as well. Maybe he is trying to salvage the Department of Justice as an institution. The public facts make this seem preposterous to people who think that anything that is good for Trump must not only be bad but also come from bad motives. Barr has certainly taken a reputational hit since he became attorney general — a job he didn’t need — but we don’t know what he is getting for paying that price. But the history of all this has yet to be written, and I’m willing to hold off final judgment until it is  — or at least until we have better facts than the ones currently on offer.

Various & Sundry

There’s a bunch more stuff I wanted to write about today, but I don’t want to start stuff I won’t be able to finish before I have to head to New York. So my unconventional take on the media’s labelling of Louis Farrakahn as a “rightwinger” will have to wait. As will my fairly conventional theory about the head of Alfredo Garcia.

Meanwhile, if you’re still feeling intellectually peckish after this “news”letter, you might want to nosh on my lengthy essay for the special capitalismpalooza issue of National Review. It may well be my last piece for the magazine — as a senior editor. I hope to still grace (and be graced by) NR’s pages in the future.

It’s been a good week for The Remnant podcast. For episode 100 (?) I talked with the great Thomas Sowell. For episode 101 (?) I finally convinced my bride, The Fair Jessica, to talk with me about her career as an author and ghostwriter, her roots in Alaska, our shared dog-love, and a host of other topics (warning: I apparently giggled a lot). Going by the feedback on Twitter, it was one of the most popular episodes ever. The latest installment features my friend and colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty, discussing his book, staggered identity, Ireland, and the disenchantment of the world.

Canine Update: The middle-age mellowing of Zoë continues apace. Kirsten our indispensable canine perambulator sent Jessica and me a text the other day: “Wow, so ZZ found some ancient bone and Obi [a member of the pack] went to investigate and all she did was tell him off. That would have been a face ripping offense once upon a time. I’m kind of proud of her.” Some evidence of Zoë’s meddling might just be a misreading of the data. She is a little overweight (we’re working on it), and so she’s lost a step when it comes to chasing rabbits and squirrels. It could be that when we get her back down to fighting weight, she will be able to add to her metaphorical necklace of critter skulls. Still, she seems more content with smelling (and occasionally eating) the flowers than she used to be and more content with scritches too. Though she still considers guarding the pack a non-negotiable part of her portfolio, even if she sometimes thinks Pippa should fight her own battles. Meanwhile, Pippa remains the indefatigable ball of energy she’s always been. As she matures, that puts a bit more pressure on us to regulate her butt-waggling spanielness since she came without any factory-installed regulator. Regardless, they’re good dogs, no matter what Comfortably Smug says. And Gracie is a good cat. When she chooses to be.

ICYMI

Last week’s G-File

This week’s first Remnant, with my wife

The NRA in disarray

A special Game of Thrones GLoP

More on Game of Thrones

This week’s second Remnant, with MBD

Will the right defend economic liberty?

Is the right forgetting Hayek?

And now, the weird stuff.

University title generator

What is STEVE?

Fun ferries

Answering the important questions

Hedgehog spike wound

Gross

Also gross

Classic storytelling

This seems excessive

The ventriloquism museum

Good news

Cocaine shrimp

Nature is scary

https://twitter.com/BrendanClancy/status/1123582887339724801

Don’t cheat at marathons; this guy will catch you

Lake Erie’s mystery beast

Yeti discovered; crossover Bigfoot erotica to follow?

Politics & Policy

Who Cares about National Unity?

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Including those of you in prison who would read this “news” letter to inform your decisions come election time in a Sanders administration),

Here’s my succinct request to Donald Trump and all the Democrats and Republicans trying to unseat him.

Stop trying to unify the country.

I’ll wait a minute for those of you who need to clutch your pearls or breathe into a paper bag to compose yourselves.

Okay. Now, if you felt a certain amount of horror, revulsion, or rage at that statement, ask yourself why you want the country unified. (If you felt a sudden burst of sexual arousal, I think you stumbled on the wrong “news”letter.)

Seriously, why is unity good? Think about it, please.

Now as I’ve written a zillion4 times, I think the desire for unity is an evolutionary adaptation. So there’s no need to review all that again, except to say that this doesn’t mean unity isn’t valuable. Love in all its forms, friendship, loyalty, altruism, and all sorts of other things we value are good — or can be good — and they have genetic components too.

But what is it exactly about unity that you think is so damn important? If your answer is simply that “disunity” is bad, that’s understandable. But is that true either? I mean, can’t 300+ million Americans disagree on some stuff without everyone getting weepy? Moreover, it seems to me we’re slicing distinctions as thin as the garlic in the prison cell dinner scene in Goodfellas when people say diversity is among the highest virtues but disunity is one of the greatest vices. If diversity — real diversity — is good, then it is irrefutably the case that some disunity is good too. In a condition of maximum diversity and maximum unity, it follows that all of these very different people — different races, genders, religions, abilities, traditions, etc. — would have to all think alike.

There’s something downright Orwellian about the prospect of shouting at people “We must unite around our celebration of our differences!”

Who the hell wants to live in a world like that?

Unity is Power

Perhaps you desire unity because unity is required to get important things done. This is wholly defensible, and even admirable, depending on the sincerity of the person saying it. Despite what you may have heard, Washington has plenty of decent, civic-minded, and patriotic politicians, policy wonks, and journalists who decry partisanship for the best of reasons. They want to deal with real problems, from the national debt to climate change to various threats from abroad, and they are stymied by the unrelenting ass ache of the current political climate.

But note how the argument here is instrumental or utilitarian, not aesthetic, psychological, or philosophical. We need to unify to get X done. In other words, unity is a tool, a means to an end, not a good in itself. Fire is a tool that can be used for good or evil. Unity is the political equivalent of fire — a source of power. This is why the desire for unity became an evolutionary imperative. The unified group was better at hunting and defeating its enemies than the group lacking a sense of common purpose.

So here’s the thing: That means unity is only as good or bad as the goal you want to attain with it. No one likes a good heist movie more than I do. The gang gets together to rob a bank or casino, and they pull it off by sticking together. But all reasonable people understand that in the real world, that’s an immoral goal (hypotheticals about ripping off bad guys — gotta love Kelly’s Heroes! — notwithstanding). Really unified rape gangs are still evil. Indeed, their evil is compounded by their unity.

What is true of rape gangs is also true of evil regimes. Was Nazi Germany less evil because it could plausibly boast of the sense of unity and common purpose felt by so many Germans? In fact, mobs tend to be evil, or at least dangerous, even when they are unified around an ostensibly noble purpose — because unity can be an intoxicant, causing us to surrender our individuality to the group.

But the unity here is merely the mixer in the intoxicating cocktail. The 100-proof stuff is the power that comes with the unity. For instance, Democrats routinely wax nostalgic for the 1930s and the 1960s as times of great unity. As a historical matter this is crazy talk. The 1930s were a time of violent labor strife and protest. The 1960s were even worse, with domestic terror attacks, political assassinations, and massive protests filling the headlines. This is a great example of how unity is the mask power wears to justify itself. What liberals are nostalgic for is not unity but the kind of power they had back in the good old days. They can’t say, “Man, I really miss having the kind of power to do what we wanted,” so they gauze it up with false phantasms of national unity lost.

This is a particular weakness of intellectuals who, like all humans, tend to crave what they don’t have. That’s why they look enviously on regimes that put into action what they advocate here. Tom Friedman drooling over Chinese authoritarianism is one example. Stuart Chase — the New Deal egghead who marveled over the Soviet Union’s accomplishments — captured this spirit well when he wrote, “Why should the Russians have all the fun of remaking a world?”

What the Founders Did

The Founding Fathers were profoundly aware of the perils of unity, which is why they set up the first government in human history deliberately premised on the idea that disunity was valuable. Sure, the Romans and others had systems where power was shared between a monarch or emperor and some kind of parliament. But those systems emerged organically as compromises between different power centers. The kings of England did not want to be weak compared to their French peers. Circumstances, not design, made them so.

The founders studied the past with an eye to seeing what might work for the future. They subscribed to Edmund Burke’s view that “In history a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from past errors and infirmities of mankind.” The founders put on paper what history had ratified by experience. “Example is the school of mankind and he will learn at no other” Burke said, in perhaps my most overused — and favorite — Burke quote.

The founders wanted to create a new kind of country where individuals — and individual communities — could pursue happiness as they saw fit. They didn’t achieve that instantaneously, and we still don’t have it in meaningful respects, but they set up the machinery to make it achievable. This doesn’t mean the founders were against unity in all circumstances. Their attitude could be described as in necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas. In essential things unity, in non-essential things liberty, and in all things charity. In other words, they understood that unity was a powerful tool, best used sparingly and only when truly needed. Odds are good that this was — or is — the basic, unstated rule in your own family. Good parents don’t demand total unity from their children, dictating what hobbies and interests they can have. We might force our kids to finish their broccoli, but even then we don’t demand they “celebrate broccoli!” I wish my daughter shared my interest in certain things, but I have no interest in forcing her too, in part because I know that’s futile. Spouses reserve unity as an imperative for the truly important things. My wife hates my cigars and has a? fondness for “wizard shows.” But we tend to agree on the big things. That seems right to me.

What is fascinating to me is that in the centuries since the Enlightenment, unbridled unity, enforced and encouraged from above, has been the single greatest source of evil, misery, and oppression on a mass scale, and yet we still treat unity like some unalloyed good.

Just Drop It

Okay enough of all that. Let’s get to the here and now. Joe Biden promised this week that if he’s president, he will unite the country. Newsflash: He won’t. Nor will any of the other Democrats. Donald Trump won’t do it either — and certainly hasn’t so far. George W. Bush wasn’t a uniter. Barack Obama promised unity more than any politician in modern memory — how did he do?

For the reasons spelled out above, our system isn’t designed to be unified by a president — or anybody else. The Era of Good Feelings when we only had one party and a supposed sense of nationality was a hot mess. It’s kind of hilarious to hear Democrats talk endlessly about the need to return to “constitutional norms” in one moment and then talk about the need to unify the whole country towards a singular agenda in the next. Our constitutional norms enforce an adversarial system of separated powers where we hash out our disagreements and protect our interests in political combat. Democracy itself is not about agreement but disagreement. And yet Kamala Harris recently said that as president, she’d give Congress 100 days to do exactly what she wants, and if they don’t she’ll do it herself. You know why Congress might not do what she wants it to do? Because we’re not unified on the issue of guns. In a democracy, when you don’t have unity, it means you don’t get the votes you need. And when you don’t get the votes you need, you don’t get to have your way. Constitutional norms, my ass.

So here’s my explanation for why I don’t want politicians to promise national unity. First, they can’t and shouldn’t try. Tom Sowell was on the 100th episode of my podcast this week, and one of the main takeaways was that we shouldn’t talk about doing things we cannot do. Joe Biden has been on the political scene since the Pleistocene Era. What evidence is there that he has the chops to convince Republicans to stop being Republicans? When President Bernie Sanders gives the vote to rapists and terrorists still in jail, will we be edging closer to national unity? When President Warren makes good on her bribe of college kids with unpaid student loans, what makes you think this will usher in an era of comity and national purpose?

But more importantly, when you promise people something you can’t deliver you make them mad when you don’t deliver it. I’m convinced that one of the reasons the Democrats spend their time calling every inconvenient institution and voter racist is that they are embittered by Barack Obama’s spectacular failure to deliver on the promises he made and the even grander promises his biggest fans projected upon him. When you convince people they’re about to get everything they want and then you don’t follow through, two reactions are common. The first is a bitter and cynical nihilism that says nothing good can be accomplished. The second is an unconquerable conviction that evil people or forces thwarted the righteous from achieving something that was almost in their grasp. The globalists don’t want us to have nice things! The corporations keep the electric car down! The Jooooooooz bought off Congress! The Establishment pulled the plug! The Revolution was hijacked! The system was rigged! The founders were Stonecutters!

Finally, whenever you make things that are supposed to be above or beyond politics and make them part of an explicitly political agenda, you inevitably convince the people opposed to that political agenda that your invocations of grander themes are simply political. If you think nationalism is a great thing, using it to sell tax cuts, school choice or religious liberty will inevitably make opponents of those things dislike nationalism even more. The same applies to patriotism, religion, and every other grand concept.

Church attendance is plummeting in the United States. I think there are many reasons for this, ranging from popular culture to the decline of the family to our education system. But one important reason is that Christianity is increasingly seen as an adjunct of the Republican party. From the AP:

David Campbell, a University of Notre Dame political science professor who studies religion’s role in U.S. civic life, attributed the partisan divide to “the allergic reaction many Americans have to the mixture of religion and conservative politics.”

“Increasingly, Americans associate religion with the Republican Party — and if they are not Republicans themselves, they turn away from religion,” he said.

Yes, I understand this is a complex phenomenon. Some of this is a result of the fact that the Democrats have grown so rhetorically hostile to religious liberty and religion itself (they booed God at the 2012 Democratic Convention!). The GOP certainly shouldn’t be equally hostile to religion for the sake of national unity. But it’s also a product of the fact that many prominent spokesmen for Christianity have made it entirely reasonable to think that you have to be a loyal Republican to be a good Christian. They quote scripture to defend Republican’s sinful behavior and they quote scripture to condemn Democrat’s sinful behavior.

When politicians push national unity in the service of a political agenda, they are insisting that politics is the only metric that counts in determining what it means to be unified.

This country is wonderfully unified on all sorts of questions. For instance:

The vast majority of Americans agree that believing in individual freedoms, such as freedom of speech (91%), respecting American political institutions and laws (90%), accepting people of diverse racial and religious backgrounds (86%), and being able to speak English (83%) are somewhat or very important to being American.

We’re also unified on the myriad other apolitical questions. I don’t have the polling in front of me, but I am confident that the vast majority of Americans believe that families are important, education is good, good manners should be celebrated, slavery is wrong, crime should be punished, children should be protected, hot dogs are not sandwiches, the Super Bowl is fun to watch, Fox shouldn’t have cancelled Firefly, they’re all good dogs, etc. The best way to make these issues sources of division is for politicians to turn them into partisan issues.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: It was a stressful week for the pups, as they had to go to the vet and get poked and prodded. Both of them have good reason to hate the vet. Zoë spent a long time there in the ICU when she almost died from parvo. Pippa had surgery there a couple years ago. But I think they hate the vet because, for dogs, it must smell like the abattoir in Hostel or Saw. Pippa in particular is a nervous wreck there. She is always happy to get in the car. But she knows we’re at the vet in the parking lot outside and she cowers in the back like she’s going to be dragged to her doom. Anyway, they both made it out alive. But I got a call yesterday saying they both tested positive for the “presence” of Lyme Disease. This has happened before — the test merely says there’s evidence they had it in the past. We don’t think they have it now. But, to be sure, the vet wants us to bring in urine samples. I asked how I should do this, and the tech on the phone said, “Oh just bring some Tupperware and slip it under at the right time. First of all, not with my Tupperware, thank you very much. Second, I’m not going into the details about how the girls pee, but there are some particular logistical problems in getting the kind of clearance required. Moreover, even if that could be worked out, if I lunge at one of my dogs with some Tupperware at the precise moment they are peeing, there are many things they might do, but the one thing I am certain they would do is: STOP PEEING. Anyway, we’ll figure it out.

Meanwhile, they’re both good otherwise (though we’re going to put Zoë on a stricter diet, which probably means she will try to augment her caloric intake with some neighborhood varmints). Zoë is getting her scritches, Pippa her ball, Zoë is stopping to eat the flowers, and Pippa is getting her ball, Zoë is heaping scorn on Pippa, and Pippa is getting her ball. They’re both getting in some swim time, though Pippa is also getting her stick. Oh, and Samson beat her to the ball, which was good for her spirit.

ICYMI . . .
Last week’s G-File
On Game of Thrones
This week’s first Remnant, a nationalism “discussion”
The Democrats’ impeachment morass
My appearance on the Bulwark podcast
The 100th episode of the Remnant, with Thomas Sowell
The latest GLoP
I appeared on Jon Ward’s excellent podcast, The Long Game, in which I talked about a bunch of stuff, including that other thing I’m doing.
Friday column
And now, the weird stuff.
Scientists reactivate mammoth cells
The internet finds a homeless man’s lost pet rat
HoverCopter
61 year old wins 544 mile race in Australia
Company offers to ‘Fake a Vacation’ with doctored photos
So what happened to Julian Assange’s cat?
If you’re going to burglarize a home, don’t get stuck in the chimney
Pick up your trash or go to war
The Easter Bunny has started hanging around a tough crowd
Texan cavemen ate rattlesnakes
Piranhas have migrates to the UK
Please don’t use iguanas as weapons
I said no pictures!
The rat is a parrot
Potato AirBnB
Chimpanzee discovers social media
Rare live footage of G.K. Chesterton

World

What’s So Great about Western Civilization

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter),

One of the things I tell new parents is something that was told to me when my daughter still had that new-baby smell: “Prepare for long days but short years.” No statement more succinctly captures the exhaustion, excitement, and melancholy nostalgia that come with parenthood. I have no doubt whole books have not covered it more eloquently.

This week I had a similar sensation thinking about the two big news stories of the week: The fire at Notre Dame and the release of the Mueller report.

Time may be linear, but our comprehension of it isn’t. All around us events are taking place that we do not perceive as events because they are moving at a pace that we really can’t comprehend. Imagine if you could make a film of the planet earth from its birth to its demise. If you played the movie fast enough, the formation of mountains would look like terrifying clashes between continents. The breakup of Pangaea might look like a jigsaw puzzle thrown into a hot tub. Playing the film a million times slower would still probably make the rise and fall of ancient redwoods seem like nothing more than the instantaneous and momentary emergence of some colors on a canvass. Think of it this way: If you reduced the entire history of the planet to a 24-hour cycle, humans don’t even show up — some 2 million years ago — less than one minute before midnight.

Against such a backdrop, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris emerges and disappears too fast for the naked eye. As for the controversies about Donald Trump, never mind the Mueller report, they take up a fraction of time words cannot capture.

But if you slow things down enough for the mind to take it in, Notre Dame is like a mountain. Not quite eternal in a literal sense, but eternal enough by human standards. As I mentioned the other day, I once wrote and produced a documentary called Notre Dame: Witness to History (I don’t really recommend it; I wasn’t a great TV producer and I certainly didn’t have a great budget). The title was clichéd but accurate. Notre Dame was the central location for so much of French and really Western history, its scars and embellishments are almost like rings in an ancient tree recording whole eras of Western history. Signs of the Huguenots’ assault on the Church — and the Church’s assault on the Huguenots — can be found in its nooks and crannies like the tiny indicia of a plague of locusts in a bisection of an ancient oak. The last time the Spire burned, it was at the hands of the Jacobins who briefly turned Notre Dame into a “Temple of Reason.”

Putting History on a Stop Watch
I bring all this up for a few reasons, not least because the “process” for this “news”letter amounts to taking my brain pan and upending it like a kid emptying his toy chest in search of the Lego pieces required to build a time machine. The controversies of the day are important, but they are like the crises of parenthood: Hugely important in the moment, but likely to turn into the faintest squiggles in the tree rings of time. That’s not foreordained, of course. There are daily crises with your kids that can turn into existential ones — as anyone who’s taken their child to an emergency room can attest — which is one of the reasons the days of parenthood can feel so much longer than the years.

I’m not sure what the right terms are, but there’s an analogy here. Some controversies are important (and some are just incredibly stupid) but they are important in the moment alone. Others transcend the fierce urgency of now and apply across generations. For some, climate change is precisely such a challenge. For others, it is the civilizational friction between the Muslim world and the rest, or the rivalries between America and China. The Cold War was certainly larger than any confirmation battle or scandal.

The most worthwhile daily arguments are the ones that work within a timeline measured by more than 15-minute increments in a Nielsen report on last night’s cable ratings. For instance, Jussie Smollett’s transgressions are great for feeding the ratings beast, but they are only significant to the extent they illuminate the larger dysfunction of a culture that encourages racial hoaxes because we have turned victims into heroes. And even then, that context is usually used as a pretext just to keep jaw-jawing and preening for the perpetual outrage machine.

I’m the first to admit that it is hard to know where to draw the lines between seriousness and exploitation, or mere infotainment, particularly since this “news”letter darts back and forth across the borders like the Viet Cong running the Ho Chi Minh trail. But one of the things I despise about the current moment is how the Big Things are so often turned into just another Twitter controversy and the Small Things are elevated into existential crises of the first order.

President Trump, lacking anything like a historical memory, is fond of claiming that this or that outrage or accomplishment is the worst or best thing “ever.” “Our African American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in before,” Trump declared in 2016. “Ever, ever, ever.” That might have been news to the Africans-Americans lynched in the 1920s or the Africans auctioned off in Charleston in the 1820s. I still laugh whenever I think about Sebastian Gorka ranting about the alleged FISA warrant abuses of the Obama administration. “It has to be put in the context of the history of our great nation,” he said in expert-mode. “This is 100 times bigger.” More recently he explained that the Democrats were a continuation of Stalinism because they’re coming for our hamburgers.

Western Civilization 0, Twitter 1
The other day Ben Shapiro offered what should have been an utterly banal statement about the fire at Notre Dame:

Now, I have no problem with quibbles (and neither does Ben) from Catholics who point out that Notre Dame was a monument to the glory of God and what Catholics believe to be the One True Church as delineated in the Nicene Creed. But, I doubt any of those Catholics took offense at what Ben said. And if they did, they should probably lighten up. I’d also point out that Cathedrals were the space programs of their day (“The Knights Templar were the first Space Force”: Discuss). Cities and nations constantly competed to see who could build the tallest Cathedral — which is why most are built on the tallest ground available. The idea was both theological and political. Theologically, the idea was to get as close to God as possible. Politically, it was a desire for, well, national greatness.

Anyway, what I have a huge problem with is the bonfire of asininity that ignited from people who think “Western civilization” is a term reserved solely for the alt-right and other bigots (David French addressed the point well here). In a piece about Ben’s excellent book on Western civilization — I’ll reserve my quibbles for later — The Economist labeled him an “alt-right sage” and a “pop idol of the alt right.” To The Economist’s credit, they retracted and apologized. But the immediate assumption that praise for, or pride in, Western civilization is a species of bigotry and racism is a perfect example of the sort of civilizational suicide I describe in my own book on the subject.

So adamantine is this absurdity that some Shapiro haters actually assume he’s not actually saying he thinks the West is superior, only “tacitly” suggesting it.

Ben might as well be standing in the center of Times Square waving a giant foam finger that reads “Western Civ #1” on it. But the idea is so offensive to some people they think he wouldn’t dare say it outright.

What’s So Great about Western Civilization?
I’ve covered much of this at length — book length but also in this G-File — elsewhere. So I’ll go in a slightly different direction.

Forget calling it Western civilization for a moment. Instead think of a kind of party platform with a bunch of planks:

  • Support for human rights
  • Belief in the rule of law
  • Dedication to democracy
  • Free speech
  • Freedom of conscience
  • Admiration for science and the scientific method
  • Curiosity about other cultures
  • Property rights
  • Tolerance or celebration of technological and/or cultural innovation

I’ll be generous and stipulate that 90 percent of the people who are offended by pride in Western civilization actually believe — or think they believe — in most or all of these things. They just have a problem connecting the dots, so I’ll try.

Where do they think most of these ideas come from? Where were they most successfully put into action? What civilization today or in some bygone era manifests these values more? Chinese civilization? Islamic civilization? Aztec? African? Indian? Persian? Turkish?

I’m not trying to belittle any of those cultures, nor deny their contributions to human history. I’m not even trying to argue – here, at least — that Western civilization is objectively superior in some scientific or God’s-eye-view sense. As with the debates over nationalism, there’s no arguing — and no reason to argue — with a French patriot about whether or not America is “better” than France. I would think less of a Spaniard who didn’t love Spain more than he or she loves France. It’s like arguing whose family is better, we love what is ours. As Bill Buckley liked to say, De gustibus non est disputandum.

But the weird thing is that many of the people who are outraged by benign nationalism or the benign pan-nationalism that is pride in Western civilization take no umbrage when someone from Iran or China says they think their civilization is best.  This of course is a manifestation of the ancient cult of identitarianism, which the best traditions of the West have battled internally at great cost for thousands of years. Saying Western civilization is great hurts the feelings of some people invested in some other source of identity. And it hurts the feelings of some Westerners because they think it’s a sign of enlightenment to get offended on other people’s behalf or to denigrate the society that gave them their soap box.

The irony is that the willingness to entertain the possibility that some other culture has something important to offer or say to us is actually one of the hallmarks of Western civilization (and the condescension with which many Americans treat other cultures is also a more regrettable side of Western culture). We “borrow” stuff from other cultures constantly, starting with Christianity itself.

This is particularly true of America, which is why our menus read like the requested meal plans from a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. This profound lack of self-awareness manifests itself most acutely among progressives who wear their Europe-envy on their sleeves. Oh, they’re so much more civilized over there. Well, what civilization do you think “over there” is part of?

Western civilization is a work in progress because that’s what civilization means. If you want a Cliff’s Notes version of what my book was about it’s simply this: Every generation, humans start from scratch. As Hannah Arendt said, every generation Western civilization is invaded by barbarians — we call them “children.” As babies we come into the world with the same programming as Viking, Hun or caveman babies. These barbarians need to be civilized and that’s a job primarily done by families, which is why the days are long and the years are short. We teach barbarians how to be citizens in the broadest sense of the word, through formal education, religious teaching, social norms and the modeling of proper behavior. In other words, we assimilate people into a culture.

As Alan Wolfe writes in his discussion of Immanuel Kant:

As cultivating a field yields a better product, the arts and sciences cultivate us by improving the quality of who we are. No wonder, then, that when we look for a term that expresses the way we improve upon nature, we use “culture,” which has the same root as “cultivate.” And civilization—expressed in German not only as Zivilisation but also as Kultur — far from corrupting our soul, makes it possible for us to bring good out of evil.

The way you sustain and improve upon a culture is by fostering a sense of gratitude for what is best about it. You celebrate the good in your story while putting the bad in the correct context. Conservatism is gratitude, and as I noted on Fox the other night, one of the most compelling things in reaction the fire of Notre Dame was seeing how many people recognized their own ingratitude for this jewel of their own civilization. The Church was in peril because the French took it for granted. But, like that feeling one gets deep in the soul when a loved one in peril, millions were overcome with a sense of what they might lose. And now France is devoting itself to restoring what was almost lost.

Has Western civilization made mistakes? Sure (cue the Monty Python skit about Rome). Terrible things have been done in its name, a statement one can make about every civilization that has ever existed. But to say that the mistakes define us more than the accomplishments is suicidally stupid. And if you subscribe to those planks I mentioned above, I’d like to suggest that telling people they’re bigots for taking pride in the civilization that brought them forth better than any other is like taking a sledgehammer to the soapbox you’re standing on.

And to do it in the name of virtue tweeting is one of the purer forms of asininity.

Various & Sundry
Canine Update: Pippa’s limp keeps coming back when she overdoes it, which is a challenge since Pippa only has a handful of settings. Overdrivewaiting for opportunities for overdrive and recharging after overdrive. Zoë in her middle age has a richer emotional range. We’ll be taking her to the vet if it persists. Some readers have suggested it might be from an infection like Lyme disease. We’ve seen that sort of thing before. Zoë once had a terrible infection from a tick bite, that cleared up very quickly with the right medication, but it was scary how fast and severe it came on. But they remain decidedly happy beasts. Though it seems like they have a problem with Bernie Sanders.

Some of my Twitter followers have protested about Gracie, AKA the good cat, getting equal time in my feed. They think it’s “off-brand.” I get it, but she’s such an exceptionally good cat (admittedly graded on a feline curve) and besides my daughter lobbies on her behalf so much, that I think you’ll just have to put up with it. Besides, I find her contempt for the dogs hilarious.

I’ll be on Meet the Press this Sunday.

Oh, and if you’re curious about what’s going with my next thing, I’m afraid I can’t share much right now. But you should check in to my personal website from time to time for updates. The first such update is here.

And have a Happy Pesach and/or Easter!

ICYMI…

Last week’s G-File

On Notre Dame

On Trump’s lib-owning

Skinflint Beto

Bernie and abortion

This week’s Remnant

Mueller report muddle

My Monday hit on NPR

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

Beautiful photo of horses galloping through a lake

Florida man steals a police car immediately after getting out of jail

Asteroid bombing

Drinking beer helps you lose weight… why hasn’t that worked for me?

Real life battle-royale

Marvel Studios’ secrets revealed

Haunted Appalachian mountain with disembodied voices

Doc Oc on the roof

Ouch

The most relatable Florida man yet

Bedazzled skeletons

Giant sea cucumber species named Cthulhu

Brad Pitt, Baby Shampoo, and a Unitard: The Story Behind That Meet Joe Black Car Scene

Scientists partially revive disembodied pig brains

65 year old Florida woman fends off half naked burglar with baseball bat

Selfie deaths are getting out of hand

Australian real estate company’s raunchy property advertisement

Oil rig workers save a dog 135 miles out to sea

What would actually happen if Thanos snapped?

Politics & Policy

Partisanship versus Ideology

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Including those of you about to be dropped off in a sanctuary city),

Damn Jim Geraghty. Damn him straight to hell, or Newark airport, whichever comes first.

He basically wrote about what I wanted to write about this morning, in spirit plagiarizing what I was going to write.

One of the reasons our politics is so contentious and angry is that we can’t agree on what the rules are. Some of us want to argue that certain policies are good and certain policies are bad. But a vocal chunk of Americans don’t really care about what the policies are; they would much rather argue that their side is right. They don’t care if these are the same policies or comparable to those they denounced earlier. The system is clogged with bad-faith arguments, hypocrisy, and flip-flopping.

Jim runs through a bunch of examples, the most obvious being the follow-the-bouncing-ball standards for Julian Assange, a hero for much of the American Left when he was undermining American national security and putting Americans and allies in jeopardy, but a villain when he helped Vladimir Putin damage Hillary Clinton.

Even as a I write this, I can hear a lot of conservatives saying, “Yeah, damn hypocrites!” about the Left’s changing standards.

But hold on. Assange became a hero for many on the right for the very same reasons. He was a villain for working with then–Bradley Manning for a lot of people. But that was all forgiven when he helped Putin damage Hillary Clinton.

Similar reversals can be found with regard to Vladimir Putin himself. In 2012, Mitt Romney says Russia was our No. 1 geopolitical foe, and Democrats laughed and laughed (“the 1980s called, Mitt, they want their foreign policy back,” hah-hah snort). Since 2016, lots of right-wing pundits have, like one of the Real Housewives of New Jersey with a glass of chardonnay, thrown that in the faces of Democrats who now think Russia is the focus of evil in the modern world. But the same right-wing pundits are pretty silent on the fact that Trump, and many rank-and-file Republicans, now themselves disagree with Romney. They enjoy pointing out the other team’s flips but mumble about their own team’s flops.

If it’s your view that Assange was noble for undermining the U.S. war effort or national security but evil for undermining the DNC or Hillary Clinton, then your standard for such things is entirely team-based. And if it’s your view that Assange was evil for undermining the U.S. war effort or national security but noble for undermining the DNC or Hillary Clinton, your standards are also entirely team-based.

In short, partisanship is a helluva drug.

As Jim selfishly noted before I could, this is an old story. When Republicans are in power, Democrats fret over the deficit while Republicans insist it doesn’t matter. When Democrats are in power, Republicans pound the table over the deficit while Democrats shrug. Of course, there are some exceptions, and the details of how Republicans and Democrats want to accrue more debt differ markedly. Democrats want to spend money, except on defense. Republicans want to cut spending, except in defense. Democrats want to raise taxes, but only on the rich. Republicans want to cut taxes, especially for the rich. Blah blah blah. These agendas have pluses and minuses on both sides, but concern about the deficit is something that moves with possession of the ball.

And the ball is power. For partisans, invoking principles — or simply the rules of the game — is very often a question of whether you are on offense or defense.

Of course, this stuff is so much more obvious — at least to me — and more pronounced in the age of Trump than it has been at any time in my life. But the dynamic is ancient, because it is human. The enemy of my enemy is my friend is a concept that predates modern politics and philosophy by — someone check my math — a kajillion years.

Two Cheers for Partisanship
To be honest, I’ve always had some sympathy for this aspect of partisanship. Imagine you’re a defendant in a criminal trial. You want your defense attorney to be a partisan for your side. If the prosecutor violates the rules or simply contradicts himself, you want your lawyer to point it out as aggressively and effectively possible. In other words, partisanship is often the only force that causes political combatants to invoke the rules. In sports, when the other team breaks the rules, your team appeals to the ref to enforce them. Likewise, in politics, partisans invoke the rules for their team. The fact that they do it selectively for their own team’s benefits isn’t a bug of our Madisonian system, it’s a feature. And — here’s the important part — the hypocrisy of the partisans invoking the rules isn’t an indictment of the rules. If a teammate double-dribbles, it’s entirely understandable if you don’t go running to the ref to point it out, even if five minutes earlier you pointed out the double-dribbling of a player on the opposing team.

When Bill Clinton was in the hot seat (not the one that costs extra at the Bunny Ranch), his partisans invoked the argument that even the president deserved the full benefits of the legal system. When Donald Trump was in Mueller’s crosshairs, his partisans made the same arguments. Many of these players are, by conventional political standards, eye-watering hypocrites precisely because they switched positions based upon the party affiliation of the president in peril. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the rules they were invoking were wrong. What’s wrong is the inconsistent and selective application of them.

More on this in a moment.

Partisanship has another benefit. It forces the agenda of politicians to be about something more than pure political self-interest. A party, according to Edmund Burke, “is a body of men united, for promoting by their joint endeavors the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed.” By requiring politicians to get the approval of parties, politicians become beholden to the party that brought them to the dance.

It was Martin Van Buren who basically invented the two-party system. Van Buren was arguably the most underrated thinker in the history of American presidents. He’s underrated in part because he was a decidedly meh president according to historians, though I think many presidential scholars were distracted by his indisputably bad-ass mutton chops. He set out to create two parties that united around policy programs instead of personalities or narrow regional interests. When parties are strong, they force politicians to be beholden to the party’s agenda. When parties are weak — or non-existent — then whoever is in power is effectively unconstrained by his own side. As Joseph Postell writes:

In addition, Van Buren suggested that party nominations would prevent elections from descending into contests of personality. Understanding that Andrew Jackson was likely to win election in 1828 whether or not he was the party’s nominee, Van Buren sought to constrain Jackson’s ambition by making him the instrument of the party rather than his own ambition.

Postell quotes a letter from Van Buren:

The effect of such a nomination on Genl Jackson could not fail to be considerable. His election, as the result of his military services without reference to party, . . . would be one thing. His election as the result of a combined and concerted effort of a political party, holding in the main, to certain tenets & opposed to certain prevailing principles, might be another and a far different thing.

The best things Donald Trump has done, from a conservative perspective at least, stem from catering to the demands of the GOP or the conservative movement. He appointed judges from the Federalist Society’s list because he had to (before this was made clear to him, he was still talking about putting his sister on the court). His positions on guns, taxes, health care, defense spending, abortion, etc. are products of his transactional relationship with the institutions of the GOP establishment and the conservative coalition. The best proof of this is that he used to be pro-choice, anti-gun, pro–socialized medicine, etc.

Three Cheers for Ideology
One of the strangest things — at least for me — these days is how partisanship and ideology have become almost interchangeable terms. A day doesn’t go by where someone doesn’t tell me I am a “fake conservative” because I remain both critical and skeptical of Trump. They also call me a “RINO” — “Republican in Name Only” — as if being insufficiently loyal to the party is the same thing as being insufficiently conservative. This reasoning would have seemed preposterous to many of the founders of American conservatism who often fought the GOP hammer-and-tongs. In 1944, Russell Kirk voted for Norman Thomas, the socialist candidate, to reward his anti-imperialism. National Review was a hotbed of anti-Eisenhower vituperation. Willmoore Kendall reportedly voted for LBJ over Goldwater. Frank Meyer couldn’t find a dime’s worth of difference between JFK and Nixon, and National Review refused to endorse any presidential candidate in 1960, thanks largely to opposition by Meyer and Bill Rusher, the magazine’s longtime publisher. William F. Buckley and Nixon sparred constantly, and, while he was friends with Reagan, he certainly didn’t refrain from disagreeing with him publicly when warranted. In 1988, Buckley helped topple Republican senator Lowell Weicker by backing his Democrat opponent Joe Lieberman. You can certainly make the case that such episodes are proof of RINOism. But if you want to argue that Kirk, Buckley, Meyer, et al. weren’t conservatives, don’t be surprised when the nurse tells you it’s time for your medication.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s imagine that the totality of conservative ideology is defined by being pro-dog. You are pro-dog, and you support the GOP because it claims to be pro-dog as well. Then the Republican president starts talking about how great cats are. It appoints pro-cat people to key positions and imposes draconian leash laws in dog parks. Are you any less conservative for objecting to these moves?

Partisanship is an important source of authority, but it is best understood as a prudential one. You support a party because it is the most desirable or least objectionable vehicle for your agenda or principles. Ideology has prudential aspects, and wise ideologies take into account practical considerations of what is possible and at what cost. But ideology’s authority derives from something else: Truth. It can be revealed truth as in religion or experiential truth as discovered through the Hayekian or Burkean process of discovery over time. But the thing about truth is that it lies outside the election cycle and the vicissitudes of political fashion and circumstance.

The challenge of today is that partisanship is masquerading as principle, and principle is being denounced as a racket. Facts are becoming instrumental plot points in competing “narratives” bendable to the needs of the storyline. Kim Jong-un is a murderous thug, even if he’s friends with the president. Putin is a goon and enemy of American interests, even if he helped in the beclowning of Hillary Clinton. Tariffs aren’t paid for by foreign countries, even if the president says so all of the time. Assange and Manning are villains, regardless of the messaging problems they cause for one party or another. Sexual assault is repugnant, whether you have an R or a D after your name, and the other side’s hypocrisy in selectively being outraged about it doesn’t validate your own.

This is what I am getting at when I tell people I’ve never been more politically homeless even though I’ve never been more ideologically grounded. Taken seriously, being called a RINO doesn’t bother me one whit, because it’s true: I am a Republican in name only. If I wear a Los Angeles Lakers jersey and the team lets me sit on the bench one night as an honorary member, I would still only be a LINO.

And this gets us back to Jim’s point. Politics these days are so ugly because partisan considerations are turning into ideological commitments, and ideological commitments are becoming mere partisan tools.

Ideological commitments aren’t just the stuff of right and left, conservative and liberal. They’re the stuff of Americans. There was once a consensus about the rules of the game because Americans shared a broad idea about how the “game” was supposed to be played. Democrats now openly tout the need to pack the Supreme Court, a move that was once taught as out-of-bounds in civics class. Now it’s a great idea — but only if Democrats do the packing. If Court-packing is good, legitimate, and desirable, what is the principled argument against President Trump packing the court right now? If your answer is “But he’d appoint the wrong judges,” you’re not actually making an argument from principle, you’re using a principle as a partisan tool for power. If you’re against crony capitalism when it helps Solyndra but in favor of it when it supports sugar growers or car manufacturers, you’re not actually against crony capitalism, you’re against crony capitalism for “capitalists” you don’t like.

That’s what explains all of these double standards. They are merely tactical shifts in the name of the larger single principle: Our side should win, and their side should lose. The dilemma is that in this populist and romantic era, we no longer have any refs to appeal to enforce the rules. Because these days, when a referee rules against my team, it’s proof that he’s trying to rig the system for the other team.

Various & Sundry
This has been one of the busiest and most interesting weeks of my professional life. I was in NYC (with a detour to Wisconsin for a speech) working on that other thing. I think I’ll write an update on all that soon on my personal website. But for now, I’ll just say I am very excited and very exhausted (hence the relative paucity of jocularity in this week’s “news”letter).

I wasn’t around much for the doggers, but reports are that they were, yet again VGDs (Very Good Dogs). Many of you have asked about Pippa’s limp. It seems to be improving, but it comes and goes. Part of the problem is that once Springer Protocol Alpha is activated, Pippa basically goes numb to any physical restraints and can overdo it. It’s very hard to get her to calm down once she gets the zoomies, and when she’s doing her zooms, there’s no sign of any problem. But, as with 50-year-old cigar-smoking pundits, when the exertions end, the aches and pains materialize. But even then, Pippa is always ready to press her ideological commitments. Because they make her so happy. Zoë knows this, which is why she sometimes tries to exploit Pippa’s passions. The other day, Zoë treated a ball she found the way Ramsay Bolton treated Ricon Stark, simply as bait for Pippa in the role of Jon Snow. Anyway, they were very happy to see me last night, and Gracie at least acknowledged my return as well (I know what she wanted).

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Because I was out of town, this week’s Remnant was guest-hosted by Jack Butler. I haven’t listened yet, but I hear nothing but good things. Jack is off to run in the Boston Marathon this weekend. Wish him luck.

The latest GLoP

On Kirstjen Nielsen’s exit

On “taxing the rich”

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Tuesday links

Four bees living under a woman’s eye

Turns out, its gets worse than just bees under your eye

The Swiss decide to stop stockpiling coffee

A Florida man threatened to destroy everyone with a turtle army

Jar Jar Kinks and Grabba the Butt

Blink 182 singer’s UFO hunting academy is in a $37 million hole

Some real modern-day Han Solos

Game of Thrones’ dragon sounds are actually tortoise sex moans

TSA confiscation highlights

Filipino customs officials seize 757 tarantulas mailed from Poland

Poisonous frogs invade Florida town

Don’t neglect your goldfish, the government will come after you

Everything went wrong for Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote movie

Giant rainbow squirrels

Real life Mary Poppins

Apparently three-parent-babies are possible now

That’s one way to ease back pain, I guess

Service with a smile creates alcoholics

Bald eagles relocate trash to suburbs

Politics & Policy

Acceptable Bigotries

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (And victims of wind-noise cancer everywhere),

I’m sitting about a block north of the Trump Hotel on Central Park West smoking a cigar on Thursday afternoon trying to write this “news”letter. If seven-day units of time were people, this one would be wearing a Millard Fillmore mask, slathering itself with salmon viscera and running through the nearby polar-bear enclosure at the Central Park Zoo shouting “Trieste belongs to the Italians!” — which is my way of saying it’s been a crazy week.

I wrote my column today on Joe Biden and the effort to un-person him over the fact he has a long history of acting around human beings like a small child at a toy store; Oh, let me see! I just want to touch it! Can I hold that? Oooooo soft!

Now I want to be clear — not in the Scientologist sense, but in the expository sense. I dislike the entire suite of Biden mannerisms and affectations. I do not think he’s a bad person, nor do I think he’s an idiot despite the many nakedly ridiculous things he’s said over the years. Here’s how I put it almost 14 years ago (typos corrected):

He says interesting things, from time to time. I think he makes a fair point here and there. He was correct, for example, that Congress needed to have a real debate over the war. I think he has some obvious verbal intelligence. But, again, what’s fascinating — and what might be distracting some folks from seeing his underlying-yet-occasional smarts — is that he lets his ego and vanity get in the way. The man loves his voice so much, you’d expect him to be following it around in a grey Buick, in defiance of a restraining order, as it walks home from school. He seems to think his teeth are some kind of hypnotic punctuation marks which can momentarily disorient the listener and absolve him from any of Western civilization’s usual imperatives to stop talking. Listening to him speechify is like playing an intellectual game of whack-a-mole where every now and then the fuzzy head of a good point pops up from the tundra but before you can pin it down, he starts talking about how he went to the store and saw a squirrel on the way and it was brown which brings to mind Brown v. Board of Ed which most people don’t understand because [TEETH FLASH] he taught Brown in his law-school course and [TEETH FLASH] Mr. Chairman I’m going to get right to it and besides these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. . . .

I don’t like the way Joe talks (and talks and talks, occasionally using words borrowed without attribution) and I don’t like the way he touches people either. He is a space invader, as in personal space, and I generally cannot stand close encounters with space invaders. People who touch me on the arm to emphasize a point drive me crazy, and if it weren’t for the rule of law and all that, I would have stabbed a few in the forearm with a ballpoint pen on more than one occasion, including on national television.

Biden’s behavior toward women offends me, but not because of Me Too but for old-fashioned, fusty, fuddy conservative reasons. Men, especially powerful men, should not take liberties touching anybody, but especially women. I once had to take an online sensitivity course for an employer (don’t get any ideas; everyone else there did too). When the instructor explained that you shouldn’t just start giving women back rubs without their permission and that you shouldn’t keep asking subordinates out for a date after they’ve repeatedly said “No,” I thought to myself “Self, this is a great example of how we have to repackage good manners in the guise of ‘diversity training.’”

So yeah, Biden’s behavior is bad. And, I think Emily Yoffe makes a very good case that he’s getting what he deserves. As she writes, “Joe Biden is now living in the world of accusation he helped to create.” Biden reminds me of that line from The Dark Knight: “You’ll either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” If he had checked out or simply retired from public life in 2016, he would be remembered as a hero by many of the very people now trying to weaponize his legacy against him.

So I will not cry for Joe if he’s undone by all this. But it still doesn’t feel right to me.

The Most Acceptable Bigotries
It’s funny. Progressives are quick to defend the customs and mores of non-Western peoples. They celebrate women who wear the hijab. They defend non-traditional cultures at home and traditional cultures abroad. This doesn’t bother me, really. Indeed, in some cases I often find it admirable and wish more conservatives would do likewise. But what does bother me is how this tolerance tends to be selective. For many progressives, when the practices are usefully at odds with mainstream traditional culture, diversity is wonderful. But when the practices are consistent with or — shudder — reinforcing of traditional culture, progressives are often appalled.

For example, it was revealed a while ago that Mike Pence has some onerous rules for how he behaves around women, and progressives were horrified. But Pence’s practices would be celebrated or at least defended were he a devout Muslim. Just last week Beto O’Rourke found it necessary to apologize for thanking his wife for taking the lead on raising their kids. What was he supposed to do? Denounce her for meekly accepting the traditional gender roles of the patriarchy?

This is a good example of having such an open mind your brain falls out. It also calls to mind Robert Frost’s observation that a liberal is someone who is so broadminded they won’t take their own side in an argument.

But the glib and fashionable double standard against traditionalists and orthodox Christians isn’t what I have in mind. It’s the far more widespread and fashionable bigotry against the past.

If a visitor from Sudan comes to your house for dinner, it’s simply good manners to make allowances for the cultural differences. If you go to a foreign country, it’s understood by most decent people that you should be making the lion’s share of adjustments to how people do things. The quintessential ugly American refuses to bend to — or even respect — the norms of foreign cultures, norms that can sometimes be ugly, nasty, or backward by a lot of Western standards.

The arguments in favor of deferring to foreign cultures ranges from Emily Post bromides about etiquette to swirling torrents of words about colonial this, patriarchal that, and imperial the other thing. Fine.

But now imagine that someone comes from the past, which is a kind of foreign land as well. For some people, particularly those wielding the “nightstick of wokeness,” as Peggy Noonan calls it, carrying any old values or assumptions into the present day is a form of heresy or, really, contamination. Beto thanks his wife, and the thronging wokesters shout the equivalent of “2319!” and bust out the cultural hazmat equipment.

Again, Biden’s habits are unappealing to me, and I understand why people accuse him of being insensitive to other peoples’ comfort with his antics. But there’s a remarkable amount of insensitivity going the other way as well.

Forget Biden for a moment. I’ve never understood why we immediately assume that young people are more open-minded, forward-thinking, or moral than older people. Sure, sometimes they are. But sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re just open-minded about the things they believe and closed-minded about everything else. And there are few things they are more closed-minded about than the past. I don’t just mean the iconoclastic goons tearing down statues on college campuses, I mean many generally decent and intelligent young people who seem to take it as a given that moral progress has advanced in lockstep linearity with technological progress. Today, people — at least the right people — are simply better people than those from earlier generations.

I think there’s a lot of mythmaking about how Biden simply represents a bygone style of politics that was common for men of his generation. I don’t recall Sam Nunn or Bill Bradley Eskimo-kissing anybody. And his case is by no means the best illustration of my point. But there’s just something about the smug self-confidence of the most socially awkward generation in American history, many of whom struggle to talk on the phone, never mind go on a date, asserting with moral righteousness that their customs and norms are so obviously superior. If Biden were a visitor from another country, we’d hear how charming his customs are. But because he allegedly comes from the past, it’s fine to give a full airing to your bigotry against those kinds of people.

Various & Sundry
So now I’m at the Acela waiting area at Penn Station taking in the effulgent stench of this fetid hate crime against architecture which manages the unlikely feat of looking worse than it smells, something only Harry Reid and certain neighborhoods of Gary, Ind., have accomplished. Just to give you a sense of the kind of week I’ve had: On Tuesday I had my appeal for my IRS audit; Wednesday, I had my colonoscopy. Rarely have I ever moved from the figurative to the literal in such a short period of time. I will spare you the details of throwing away all of those Paul Krugman columns during my Dark Night of the Bowl in preparation for the procedure. This is a family “news”letter after all. But then Thursday I came to New York for business reasons, and I’ll be back here all next week. At some point I’ll be able to brief you all about everything, but for now it’s time for the . . .

Canine Update: So I’m a little worried about Pippa’s workout regimen. She’s been limping a few times over the last couple weeks, and I think her age is starting to compete with her joi de vivre. Meanwhile, Zoë has been a pill. The other night, the Fair Jessica left a tray with some chicken bones on it unattended, and Zoë took one and was less than willing to give it back. A few nights before that, Pippa was snuggling in my lap while Zoë was resting in Jessica’s.  Zoë got jealous and complained, even though she was getting attention too. In a funk, she took a log of firewood off the pile and very ostentatiously made a scene about chewing on it with subdued rage. Meanwhile, out in the world, the girls are just loving the spring.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Why is the media covering for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

Is Donald Trump pretending not to know how trade works, or does he actually not know?

Why is the Guardian publishing propaganda for North Korea?

This weeks first Remnant, with David French

Trump is wrong about the border crisis, but Democrats are wrong that there is no crisis

Notes on nationalism

This week’s second Remnant, with Michael Strain

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s April Fools’ Day Links

Corgis in the garden

Inside the Panopticon

Some long-lost Raiders of the Ark footage

Ridley Scott elbow-deep in sheep intestines

Cane-wielding grandma rescues her priest

This is how werewolf transformations should be done. Take notes, Hollywood

Not even cancer can take down the mighty Tasmanian Devil

Anyone down to get drunk and shoot each other in bulletproof vests? No one?

The running of the . . . sheep?

Lemur yoga

My kind of championship

Amsterdam’s new 5-D pornographic-movie theater

Don’t try to park in LA

Skrillex protects you from mosquitoes

Lithuanian flying to Italy gets a Boeing 737 all to himself . . . imagine the legroom

Elon Musk raps about dead gorillas

I can finally tuck my kids into bed like a burrito, as they’ve always wanted

Politics & Policy

The Dangers of Unchecked Nationalism

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Including those of you under sealed indictment in Chicago),

I have to write this quickly because I have to head down to the National Review Institute Ideas Summit and Basket Weaving Expo to debate — or “engage” — my friend and boss Rich Lowry on the question of how conservatives should think about nationalism. So in order to organize my thinking, I’m going to lay out my basic view here.

But before that, I have to get on my one millionth conference call in the last 72 hours (someone check my math on that). I have a lot on my plate these days, figuratively speaking (“And quite often literally speaking, too” — The Couch). Indeed, my days are a blur. (My nights, a blood-soaked terror.)

Speaking of having a lot on your plate, I made a bit of a confession last night on Twitter:

I was no pro. Joey Chestnut or Matt Stonie could eat circles around me, particularly if the circles were made out of hot dog links. I was more like the guy at the bar who was only too eager to make a friendly wager on a game of pool, or an android happy to play stabberscotch with the Colonial Marines.

True story: In high school, some friends and I ran a booth at a Make-A-Wish Foundation fair with a hand-drawn sign that said “We’ll Eat Anything You Want If You Pay Us Enough.” No, you couldn’t scoop a Paul Krugman column off the sidewalk and get us to eat it. But we loaded a table with all manner of foodstuffs and opened the bidding. Among the highlights of my own endeavors that day: I ate a whole brick of uncooked Ramen noodles and, later, a stick of unsalted butter. I peeled the wax paper like a banana and just chewed away (though I took the second half of the stick and put it in a hot dog bun with some horseradish — that didn’t make it a sandwich by the way). It was awful. In college and my twenties, my reprobate friends and I would often issue challenges to eat very large quantities of food in short periods of time.

The last time I did the bareknuckle boxing version of competitive eating was while I was still dating the Fair Jessica.

I came back late from a night out with my friends looking sweaty and guilty. Jessica asked me, “What’s going on?”

I told her I had something to confess.

“What did you do, Jonah?” she asked, suspecting something awful.

“I don’t want to keep any secrets from you, Jessica. I consumed an entire tray of baked chicken and a beer in ten minutes. If it makes you feel better, I won like fifty bucks.”

She looked at me with that “My God, what have I gotten myself into” face that helps men want to be better men.

But enough bragging.

Back to Nationalism

For this nationalism conversation thing, it would be best if I said he’s for it, and I’m against it. But that’s misleading. I haven’t read Rich’s book yet, but we’ve chewed this over like a younger me in a chicken-eating contest enough for me to know that Rich’s position is more nuanced than that. In his big essay with Ramesh, he championed “benign nationalism.” As I noted at the time, the “benign” does a lot of work. And as Rich would concede, there are many kinds of unbenign nationalism. You could look it up.

My position is nuanced, too. While I can live with the formulation that there are good kinds of nationalism and bad kinds, I think more in terms of degrees of nationalism. A little nationalism is necessary for holding together a nation-state or a people. If there isn’t some conception of “us,” then there is no investment in the success of the collective enterprise. Countries without a sense of being a nation do not last and cannot get much done.

I don’t want to overly wallow in nuance, but sometimes even a lot of nationalism can be a good, or certainly necessary, thing. Nothing arouses the nationalist spirit more than war (and few things can arouse the spirit of war more than nationalism). That’s because from the earliest humans onward, we have evolved an instinct to unify in the face of an external threat. Our success on the food chain derives only secondarily from our intelligence. Our primary advantage was our ability to cooperate.

As Darwin noted in The Descent of Man, our capacity for altruism and cooperation was the key to the survival of our genes. “If the one tribe included . . . courageous, sympathetic and faithful members who were always ready to warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other, this tribe would without doubt succeed best and conquer the other.”

A tribe of prehistoric disciples of Ayn Rand — “this tuber is mine and you can’t have any of it!” — would not last long against a band of small-browed ruffians that worked well as a team. The John Galts of the Savannah would scream, “You’re violating my property right!” as the brutes smashed their faces in with a rock.

As G. K. Chesterton put it, “Nationalism is the consciousness of nationality; and the consciousness of nationality comes from the constant consciousness of danger.”

This goes a long way toward explaining why nationalist movements inevitably find themselves using the language of war. As I recently wrote in National Review, it’s no coincidence that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez constantly invokes World War II as a rationale for the Green New Deal.

The language of war flips a switch in our brains that causes us to drop other concerns and considerations. It’s like the episode of Little House on the Prairie when Carrie falls down a mine shaft. Everyone drops what they’re doing, forgets about property rights, commerce, or other personal priorities and rallies to save the girl. Nels Oleson, the owner Oleson’s Mercantile, doesn’t charge anyone for the lanterns, kerosene, or ropes he lends to the effort. Nobody says, “You can use my horses, but it’ll cost you five bucks.”

In times of emergency, we’re all in it together. And that’s a good thing.

But there are two caveats. The first is that emergencies do not last, and when the emergency is over, the old rules need to come back. If they don’t, then capitalism, democracy, and liberty are done for. Emergencies must be the exception to the rule, because if we make the spirit of emergency the rule, then we no longer live under the rule of law, but the rule of tyrants or mobs.

The second problem is that real emergencies must be obvious to all — or at least nearly all. There are moral equivalents to war. A girl down a mine shaft is one. A meteor heading to earth is another, as are various forms of natural disasters, zombie, vampire, and C.H.U.D apocalypses, etc.

The Allure of Power

The problem is that there are people who are very attracted to the power that comes with emergencies. Power is seductive in whatever form it takes: Emergency powers, money, Infinity Stones, the One Ring, or, as we’ve seen in the case of Jussie Smollet, the cultural power that comes with being able to claim you are a victim.

This leads people to declare emergencies when they do not exist or to exaggerate real challenges so they can do an end run around the conventional rules of democracy. There’s been a lot of the latter over the last decade or so.

My problem with nationalism is that, left unchecked, it devolves into the spirit of emergency. By placing the logic of “us” above all, it must create thems that must be defeated. It casts about for threats to justify a cult of unity. As Orwell observed, “As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks, or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit.”

It is fine to talk of “benign nationalism” being a good thing, but this is a kind of tautology. Benign simply means good. So of course, good nationalism is good in the same way that good violence is good. A policeman who uses violence to thwart a rapist is using good violence. A nation that uses nationalism to defeat Nazism is deploying good nationalism.

The hitch is that the concept of “good” lies outside the four corners of the concept of nationalism. Rich and Ramesh write that “Nationalism is a lot like self-interest. A political philosophy that denies its claims is utopian at best and tyrannical at worst, but it has to be enlightened. The first step to conservatives’ advancing such an enlightened nationalism is to acknowledge how important it is to our worldview to begin with.”

I have no quarrel with this. But think about that. Self-interest is not necessarily a personal, social, or abstract good. Serial killers act on their self-interest, as they define it. Not to go all Thomist, but my understanding of Christianity (and Judaism and conservatism and the liberal arts) is that we must use reason to inform and form the conscience to define self-interest in moral and productive ways. Nationalism is only good when it is informed, tempered, and constrained by ideas outside of nationalism.

Or as Rich and Ramesh write, nationalism “should be tempered by a modesty about the power of government, lest an aggrandizing state wedded to a swollen nationalism run out of control; by religion, which keeps the nation from becoming the first allegiance; and by a respect for other nations that undergirds a cooperative international order.”

In other words, for nationalism to be good it must be countered and constrained by the concept of the good. If nationalism were an unalloyed good — like, say, love — it wouldn’t need the adjective “benign.”

In its raw form, the only concept of the good contained within nationalism itself is the good for us. This is why nationalism is, like violence, at best an amoral concept. And like any amoral thing — violence, tools, fire, whatever — good or bad comes from what you do with it. The Iranians are nationalists; the Nazis were nationalist; Maduro, Chavez, Stalin, Castro, Mussolini, the Kims: They’re all nationalists. So were Washington, Lincoln, Churchill, and de Gaulle. What differentiated the heroes from the villains was how they deployed nationalist sentiments.

Nationalism and Socialism, Again.

My objection to the new nationalist fad is that many of its practitioners do not do what Rich and Ramesh do; they skip the part about nationalism needing to be tempered and constrained by things outside of nationalism. Championing nationalism qua nationalism is simply championing power. “Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception,” Orwell writes. “Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also — since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself — unshakably certain of being in the right.”

This is why, historically, nationalism and socialism are kindred phenomena. I’ve written dozens of times that, as an economic matter, nationalism and socialism essentially mean the same thing. When we nationalize an industry, we socialize it. And vice versa. Some doctrinaire Marxists think nationalism and socialism are opposites, because they subscribe to the straw-man concept of global Communism, or they unwittingly still subscribe to the Stalinist propaganda known as the “theory of social fascism.” Stalin came up with this notion as a way to excommunicate any socialist or progressive movement that wasn’t loyal to Moscow. He felt it necessary to promulgate his totalitarian encyclical because it turned out that lots of people liked the idea of socialism, they just also liked the idea of nationalism — hence national-socialist movements that were stealing Bolshevik market share.

From the Bolshevik/Trotskyite perspective, any nation-state that puts its interests above others is betraying the global cause. But in the real world, this is nonsense. Because once socialists take power, national interest and the self-interest of the ruling classes force the rulers to talk and govern in nationalistic ways. That’s what happened with Stalin, Castro, and every other Communist regime.

Looking Backward

Rather than rehash all of that, let’s look at Edward Bellamy.

Edward Bellamy was, by any fair accounting, a socialist. His utopian novel Looking Backward did more to popularize socialist collectivism in America than anything Karl Marx ever put to paper. When he died in 1898, The American Fabian eulogized:

It is doubtful if any man, in his own lifetime, ever exerted so great an influence upon the social beliefs of his fellow-beings as did Edward Bellamy. Marx, at the time of his death, had won but slight recognition from the mass; and though his influence in the progressive struggle has become paramount, it is through his interpreters, and not in his own voice, that he speaks to the multitude. But Bellamy spoke simply and directly; his imagination conceived, and his art pictured, the framework of the future in such clear and bold outlines that the commonest mind could understand and appreciate.

Looking Backward inspired a mass “nationalist” movement, dedicated to “the nationalization of industry and the promotion of the brotherhood of humanity.” The first Nationalist Club appeared in Boston in the summer of 1888, founded by a labor reporter for the Boston Globe. The following year it started publishing the Nationalist magazine. It didn’t take long for clubs to sprout up across the country. Two years after the publication of the book, there were clubs in 27 states and the District of Columbia. In Chicago, the Collectivist League, which had been founded in April of 1888, changed its name to the Nationalist Club of Illinois ten months later on February 12, 1889. Soon there were hundreds of such clubs. One estimate held that were some four thousand “Bellamy societies” in the United States and hundreds more in Holland, Denmark, and Sweden.

Looking Backward offers an insight into how nationalism and socialism occupy the same part of our brains, even if some ideologies try to keep them separated. Bellamy was at first reluctant to call himself or his work “socialist,” even though it was instantly recognized as such by his avowedly socialist contemporaries. “Bellamy was anxious that his plan of social and economic organization be called Nationalism because he wished to distinguish it from other and more vague forms of socialism and because it was to proceed by the nationalization of industries,” writes John Hope Franklin. Socialism for Bellamy seemed too divisive a term. Nationalism was more inclusive.

The nationalist movement died in labor while giving birth to the populist party. But the populist party gave way too much of the progressive movement which was very nationalistic. But contained within progressivism is a greater loyalty to power and the most important tool for exercising power: The state.

Nationalism isn’t statism, but left un-tempered and unconstrained, it always expresses itself as statism, and statism is the enemy of all the ideas that make America’s form of nationalism valuable and unique.

Various & Sundry

So I am writing this part after I did the panel with Rich. It went fine. You can probably find it on C-SPAN. We didn’t change each other’s minds about anything, but it was fun nonetheless.

Canine Update: The beasts are doing great. When I was writing this this morning, the girls were having a grand time, which was quite distracting. I understand that Pippa is more of an internet sensation than Zoë, but it’s important to remember that in the Goldberg household, Zoë is still the alpha dog (and Gracie is the alpha cat), even if she throws Pippa a bone from time to time and every now and then Pippa forgets. (Also, Zoë takes a nice picture, too). The important thing is they really do love each other.

Anyway, I really gotta go. So here’s the rest of the other stuff.

I’ll be on Face the Nation this Sunday (and Rich will be on Meet The Press).

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

On Mueller vindication

On Captain Marvel

The latest Remnant

On the never-ending collusion story

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast

On Democrats and climate change

And now, the weird stuff.

Your honor, I dismembered dad, but I did not kill him

High school thespians do Alien

Behold: Hover-Owl

Squirrel flung into orbit

Why women live longer than men

The dreams of a man asleep for three weeks

Not even airports can frustrate Keanu Reeves

Lewdest town names in every state

Dog suicide bridge… I’m not crying, you’re crying

Oh, Florida Man, how I love you

R2-D2 observatory

Priceless manuscript museum burns in St. Louis

Poaching is forcing elephants to evolve without tusks

A seagull imitating competition?

I take back everything negative I have ever said about Florida

Imagine hating your job so much you call the cops to get out of a shift… okay maybe it’s not that hard

Double the womb, triple the children

Uri Geller plans to stop Brexit through telepathy

Metal necrophagic Dead Sea microbes

Please get out of my car, Mr. Koala

Microscopic life is horrifying

A win for freedom

U.S.

Political Theatrics

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Including all you whippersnappers under the age of 50),

I’m writing this from somewhere over the Atlantic. At least I hope that’s the Atlantic down there.

After watching American politics from outside the fishbowl for the last couple weeks, I feel a bit like a bartender or bouncer who works at a whorehouse and now has to return to the job after a brief respite away. The whole fetid, depraved spectacle of it, glimpsed through the distorted fisheye lens that is the steamed-up peephole of Twitter, has left me feeling a bit despondent for America.

Of course, America isn’t as unhealthy as the image through the lens. And even if she is, she is worth salvaging. America is still the last best hope for mankind — and it has pretty great Tex-Mex food, which I miss terribly.

Where to begin? Well, while I was gone, the president of the United States attacked George Conway in fairly juvenile, personal, and pathetic terms, and Conway’s wife came to the president’s defense.

I don’t want to dwell on it, because I’ve known and liked the Conways for years, and the whole spectacle is sad. I don’t care which of the three you think is the villain, heel, chump, or victim. It’s sad.

But it’s also gross — regardless of what soap-opera reality-show interpretation of this spectacle you subscribe to. I don’t care if you think it’s kayfabe, deadly serious, or something in between. It’s repugnant.

And if you can’t see that, you’re part of the problem.

America, The Series
Here’s an easier example: Eric Bolling. I have considerable disagreements with Bolling — though he’s personally always been a decent guy to me. I can certainly understand why people are critical of him. But using the tragic death of Bolling’s son as a cudgel because of a political disagreement is not simply horrible; it’s evil. It’s a corruption of the soul.

But that’s the thing: The political disagreements are the least of it now, because almost none of it is really about policy anymore. It’s all about theater.

Speaking of the theater: On Wednesday, I took my family to see Les Misérables in London. It’s not my favorite musical for a bunch of reasons, but it was a really stellar performance, and my daughter loved it.

Anyway, at the end of the show, when the actors come out to take their bow, something strange happened. Or at least it was strange to my wife and me. When the performers who played the conniving Thenardiers and also the actor who played Javert came out to a mostly thunderous standing ovation, a smattering of people in the audience booed. Both my wife and I got the distinct impression that the boos were intended for the characters, not the actors themselves (the Fair Jessica was almost certain). The actress who played Madame Thenardier even made a face when she heard the boos that suggested she’d experienced this sort of thing before.

Maybe the booers were tourist from a land where this is common. Maybe they were just joking around. But, at least figuratively, it felt like this was part of what I am getting at. The guy who mocked Bolling was mocking the character in his mind, not the actual person. These kinds of category errors virtually define our politics now. “That side isn’t just wrong, it’s evil” may not be the dominant view among normal liberals and conservatives, but it is the official opinion of the loudest ones.

Ever since I wrote my book, I’ve been going on about how we watch politics as if it’s a form of entertainment. Your brain changes when you watch entertainment. Or, rather, it unchanges; it reverts back to something closer to its original design. (The real change to your brain is the one that takes place outside the theater; the one that makes it possible for you to get along with strangers and not hit them over the head with a rock when you want their Toostie Pop.)

When you watch entertainment — movies, plays, video games, etc. — you can yell: “kick him again!” or “finish him!” You can cheer when a character you detest suffers beyond all deserving. Most of the time this is cathartic, healthy, humorous, or otherwise harmless — because it’s not real. What happens in the movie theater stays in the movie theater. Now, with Twitter and Facebook, we never really leave the theater, because we’re watching the story unfold everywhere — including New Zealand.

But the news is real — or at least it’s supposed to be.

Of course, politics — as in the stuff politicians say and do — has always had less reality than straight news because so much of politics is performative. When an orphanage is burning on live TV, there’s little acting on the screen. When a politician visits the ashes and vows to hold so-and-so responsible, there may indeed be some acting going on.

Even so, politicians may be full of fakery, but that fakery is the tribute rhetoric pays to reality. The false sincerity, the “spontaneous” outrage when the camera light goes on, the lachrymose pathos, and the earnest pretending that somewhere in a steaming pile of double standards is a golden nugget of principle we’ve come to associate with politicians — these may all be forms of acting on the political stage, but they are not strictly speaking fictional, the way Star Wars or Frankenstein is fictional.

Let me put it more simply: I do not believe about 80 percent of the outrage I hear spewed from senators’ mouths, but that outrage is intended for effect in the real world, to sway votes inside and outside of the chamber. It’s not the same thing as a speech by Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, where both the actor and the audience alike understand there is a suspension of disbelief at work and the emotional response from the audience is an end in itself, not a means to an end as it is in politics.

Even the infotainment-y bilge flung at the audience between ads for adult diapers and gold coins like a monkey tossing feces through the bars of his cage on a nightly basis is supposed to be more real than pure entertainment. Instead, the lines are blurred, and people treat TV “personalities” like they are TV characters, and the TV characters say insane things that the audience is supposed to believe are real.

When Mark Antony waved the bloody tunic, he was performing, but the desire was to incite the mob for a political goal, not to put on a rousing show. Much of political commentary is intended for little more than getting people to tune or click in tomorrow, by telling the audience that the enemy is even worse — and we are even more victimized — than you thought!

What Shall We Believe?
In other words, the line between rhetoric and entertainment is blurring. Rhetoric, Wayne Booth once said, is “the art of probing what men believe they ought to believe.”

What, I wondered over these last two weeks, are we teaching people to believe?

Every time I looked through the Twitter peephole or listened at the doors of the brothel bedrooms, the president was saying something outrageous or heroic depending on where you sit. What stuck out to me was not merely his demeaning of John McCain but the various conservatives leaping to Trump’s defense. Apparently it’s not only defensible but laudatory to piss on a former POW’s grave, according to various Republican politicians and consultants, because McCain is a useful “foil” for Trump. Dead men often are (I can out-debate any corpse in the world).

The rhetorical gibbeting of McCain was grotesque.

Meanwhile, other conservatives and Republicans — who obviously know better — simply stayed mute or rolled their eyes at anyone who criticized Trump on the grounds that this is “who he is” and everyone should just get used to it because we have a “transactional” relationship with him. They sound like pimps making allowances for abusive Johns because “that’s who they are” and we’re running a business here.

Worse, some keep telling us that Trump’s behavior — all of it — is actually manly. I pity the son whose parents tell him, “Be like that guy,” and I fear for the daughter whose parents say, “Behold a man in full” when Trump is on the screen.

The Anti-Trump Corruption
But if this were all about Trump, I wouldn’t be all that despondent. I’ve drained a spleen venting about the corrupting effects of Trump on the right. And when I do, I always get a nice pat on the head from liberals for it. But the same liberals seem blind to or celebratory of the rot on their own side.

Call it Trump derangement syndrome, moral panic, the righteous arrogance that comes when you substitute politics for religion — I really don’t care what label you put on it. But the simple fact is that the Democrats are behaving horridly too. Is there moral equivalence? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

But when I hear liberals say: “What about Trump!?” all I hear is deflection or the insinuation that “better than Trump” is an acceptable standard for liberals. After all, liberals saying “What about Trump?” bounces off me just as much as when MAGAers shriek “What about Obama?” at me. I’ve remained consistent. They haven’t.

This is a personal peeve of mine. But when I hear sophisticated liberals tut-tut “both sideism” these days, it drives me a little bonkers. I am very comfortable in my bothsidesism because both sides offer plenty to criticize, and when people like me or David French or Charlie Cooke denounce Democrats, we aren’t trying to distract anyone from anything.

But forget about me. “Whataboutism” is such a strange argument from people who claim Trump is a demonic force in our politics. I am happy to beat up on Trump’s transgressions, but if you are going to bleat and wail about Trump’s violation of democratic and constitutional norms while staying silent as Stacy Abrams flatly lies about winning her governor’s race — questioning the outcome of an election! — spare me the accolades for speaking up about Trump and “my side.”

I don’t know how much credit or blame Trump deserves for goading the Democrats into a kind of nervous breakdown of radicalism, but the fact is Trump could resign tomorrow and the rhetoric of our age would already be horribly disordered. And, yes, on both sides.

Notes from The Peephole
According to Democrats today, the Constitution — which we are supposed to revere, but only when Trump defiles it — is a relic of white supremacy and tyranny when it proves modestly inconvenient to Democrats.

Indeed, in the politics as-the-crow-flies that defines so much of progressivism — and a great deal of Trumpism — inconvenience is the divining rod for discovering what your actual principles are. For Trump, inconvenience is defined entirely egocentrically. Ideas, individuals, institutions, even marriages that lay between him and where he wants to go are, at least rhetorically, flowerbeds to be trampled in order to cut the path of least resistance.

For progressives, inconvenience, too, marks the boundaries of principle. Because inconvenience is like the gravel on the road to personal liberation, and the moment you feel the smooth ride give way to unpaved road, it is time for the government to come clear the path ahead. So “socialism” means not having to deal with private health insurance paperwork (according to Kamala Harris), or college tuition, or struggling to find a job — or even working at all according to the Green New Deal.

Even the convenience of restrictions on verrrrrry-late-term abortions is the very definition of tyranny now. I’ve lost count of the number of Democrats who, when asked specifically about late-term abortions or babies accidentally delivered after botched abortions, respond with platitudes and euphemisms about choices and “women’s bodies” — even when the relevant body in the scenario is no longer inside the woman’s body.

Beto O’Rourke may or may not agree with all of this from his Democratic opponents. We won’t know for sure until he’s elected because, like Obamacare, we have to vote for Beto first to find out what’s in him. But inconvenience defines Beto, too. He finds it too inconvenient to have an opinion on many policies, so he’s literally asked his biggest fans to tell him what he should believe. He asks his supporters to tell him who to be and to “shape” him.

Rhetorically, this makes him the defining candidate of our age. While Trump loves to play his greatest hits at rallies, Beto is taking requests for new material. He’s asking the people to lead, and he’ll follow them, because rhetorically that’s how we define leadership today: pandering to the base, servicing the fans, and telling the people what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.

Various & Sundry
Well, I’m about to land, so I don’t have much time for this portion, which is okay because I don’t have much of a canine update for you. The doggers have been doing great with Kirsten, our dogwalker, and if you’ve been following me on Twitter, you probably knew that already. After I get the full story from Kirsten, I will have a more fulsome canine debrief next week.

Oh, one last thing, my thanks to everyone who wished me a happy birthday. It was very much appreciated.

And now the other stuff.

ICYMI . . .
Last week’s G-File

Part one of my AZSU podcast

Part two

The latest Remnant, on the opioid crisis

Look in my eyes, what do you see? The cult of personality…

Don’t abolish the Electoral College

And now, the weird stuff.
Debby’s last Friday links; Debby’s Monday links; Debby’s this Friday links

Cher calls into C-Span

Jack the Ripper’s identity uncovered

Meet the Flintstones while you still can

The only way your parents’ funeral can get any worse… being sucked into their grave

Flat Earthers head to the “edge of the world”

The hunt for the U.S.S. Wasp

Don’t doubt Herodotus

We don’t deserve dogs

Hula hoops are— were good fun

Run free, sweet wallaby

Eat mor chikin

iPhones > plate armor

The last of a dying breed

I always knew modern art reminded me of a pig sty

The best of NASA

Don’t use pepper spray upwind

Even sharks can’t reach all their itchy spots

Tell your kids to wash their hands

Culture

Shibboleth Is a Fun Word

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Estimado Lector (y todos mis amigos a través del Atlántico),

Greetings from Barcelona. And it is Bar•ce•lona, not Barth•e•lona. That pronunciation is a shibboleth of the Castilian hegemony, and I am decidedly on the side of the Catalan separatists (I suppose this means I should have written “Benvolgut Lector (i tots els meus amics de l’Atlàntic).”)

Shibboleth is a fun word, and not just because it sounds like what one of the kids from Fat Albert would say if he went to prison, got hard and mean, and told someone to “Shiv old Les.” You know like, “Shib ol’ leth in da shower durin’ the guard change.”

For those who don’t know, it comes from the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible. Long story short, the Gileadites beat the stuffing out of the Ephraimites. When the surviving Ephraimites wanted to get past the River Jordan incognito, the Gileadites had a test to tell them apart from other travelers. They first asked the strangers if they were Ephraimites. If they said “No,” the soldiers asked them to say the word “shibboleth,” which referred either to a part of a grain plant or maybe a flood. But the definition didn’t matter, the pronunciation was everything — because the Ephraimite dialect pronounced “sh” words with an “s” sound. So anybody who said “sibboleth” got the business end of a sword (or perhaps a spear or some sort of pike — I’m no expert on such things). According to the Bible, some “forty and two thousand” Ephraimites went to their maker wishing they had a lisp like Cindy Brady.

By the way, lest you indulge your desire to condemn the ancient Hebraic penchant for smiting and wrath, similar stories were common across Christian Europe. In 1302, the Flemish massacred every Frenchman they could find in Bruges. They identified them by asking them to pronounce the phrase schilt ende vriend (shield and friend). In 1794, the Sardinians rounded up Piedmontese officers who couldn’t say nara cixidi, the Sardinian word for “chickpea.” And the list goes on.

In modern usage, a shibboleth can be anything — a custom, tradition, pronunciation, an old wooden ship named “diversity,” etc. — that distinguishes one group from another. When American soldiers asked potential Nazi spies who won the World Series, they were using a shibboleth. When you say in mixed company: “I can’t believe what Jonah Goldberg’s couch said this week,” it can serve as a shibboleth distinguishing between people who use their time productively and the dear readers of this “news”letter.

EU & The Land of Shibboleths

Of the many things I inherited from my Dad, a love of walking around cities and looking at stuff is one of the most obvious — other than my chin, my love for cured meats, and a few other things. When I say “looking at stuff,” I mean exactly that, stuff. My Dad loved museums more than I do, but we loved people watching and stuff-looking equally (he was the guy who spotted the Hop Bird, after all).

I’ll save some of those observations after I finish my time in Madrid next week, the Capitol of the Spanish Panem in my personal version of The Hunger Games (though in this version, the battles are waged over who can eat the most Iberian ham). But one of my habits is to see how many blocks I can go before I see a building that doesn’t have at least one window or balcony with a Catalan flag, sign, or banner hanging from it. Almost every building has at least one. There are other shibboleths all over the place. I don’t know much about the Catalan language, but it sure does like the letter “X,” and it seems to be everywhere the Spanish use a “ch,” and a few other places to boot.

I’m not going to get deep in the weeds on Catalan secessionism, in part because I don’t want to get arrested walking from my hotel to Steve Hayes’s apartment this weekend (on Saturday I head to Madrid, where Hayes has been holed up swilling Spanish wine and plotting schemes and scheming plots). What interests me is how the EU makes secessionism more attractive, and I don’t mean in the Brexit sense. In the U.K., Brexiteers want their nation to leave the EU; in places like Catalan, the separatists want to leave their nation.

Twelve years ago, I wrote a column on this. It began: “You probably don’t realize it, but we are living in an unprecedented historical moment. For the first time, Belgium has managed to be interesting without getting invaded by Germany or abusing an African colony.” What made it interesting? Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons were squabbling like siblings in the backseat at the end of a long car ride. Okay that wasn’t the interesting part, exactly. Rather it was the fact that Belgium — itself a kind of mini-EU — was coming apart at the seams because the Belgian national project was being dissolved by the Belgium-led national project.

As I wrote at the time: “The European Union is in effect subsidizing nationalism in Belgium and across the Continent. As the EU assumes more of the responsibilities of states — regulations, the economy, currency, possibly even defense — the cost of independence becomes lower.”

This process can be seen all around Europe. As the “European” identity solidifies, national identities start to melt, and regional ones take on more meaning. The more the Scots can rely on the EU for state functions, the less they need — or want — to be with the English. This creates powerful incentives for old shibboleths to take on renewed significance.

The Dialect of Identity

The most obvious one is language.

Starting with Henry VIII, the English tried to eradicate the Welsh language. The Welsh are trying to bring it back. Similar stories are unfolding across Europe, from the Basques and Catalans to the Irish.

Modern nationalism was born as a rebellion against French cultural and political imperialism. Johann Fichte and Johann Herder both made the case for German nationalism largely on the glory and “purity” of the German tongue. “Spew out the ugly slime of the Seine,” Herder exhorted French-speaking German elites, “Speak German, O You German!”

“Men are formed by language far more than language is by men,” Fichte insisted in his Addresses to the German Nation. The German tongue was pure, it had defied the corruption of the Roman Empire and its Latin taint. “The Germans still speak a living language and have done so ever since it first streamed forth from nature, whereas the other Teutonic tribes speak a language that stirs only on the surface yet is dead at the root.” This fact made the German people unique — a new chosen people whose destiny was to rise up and redeem all of humanity. “Of all modern peoples it is you in whom the seed of human perfection most decidedly lies and to whom the lead in its development is assigned. If you perish in your essentiality, then all the hopes of the entire human race for salvation from the depths of its misery perish with you.”

Indeed, one of the things that fascinate me about the biological racism at the heart of Hitlerism was that the structure and framing of it was established a century earlier around mere language.

The EU seems to understand the phenomenon, which is why it takes such a hard line against regional separatism. There are 276 distinct regions within the EU, and if even a fraction of them go down, the secession route the EU is doomed, because if membership in the EU means dissolution of nation states, it is a political suicide pact for national governments.

What fascinates me about all of this is how the need for identity creates a need for shibboleths, in part because shibboleths, broadly understood, are what define the contours of identity. At my brother’s funeral, several of his wife’s relatives brought flowers. The rabbi gave a fascinating little story about how Jews used to put flowers on graves but stopped millennia ago as a way to distinguish Jewish customs from non-Jewish ones. Since then, a whole Talmudic tradition has evolved around the Jewish customs of putting stones instead of flowers on graves. One explanation is that there should not be distinctions of class in such matters. One of the best Jewish burial customs — with which I have too much experience — is that everyone should be buried in a simple wood casket, because everyone is equal in death. I find the idea that loved ones should go into extra debt to inter their beloved in gaudy coffins very off-putting. The tradition of putting stones instead of flowers on graves is understood in part because stones are eternal.

The coalition instinct — that topic of endless fascination for me — is amorphous in that it can attach identifiers of identity (which I suppose is a redundant phrase) to anything. Gang colors, inside jokes, idiosyncratic pronunciations, knowledge of sports statistics, subtle distinctions in religious doctrine, fondness for podcasts that indulge in Dune trivia — the list is endless. Shibboleth isn’t necessarily the best word for all of them — some are badges, insignia, MAGA hats, or other forms of signaling. But the concept is basically the same.

Shibboleths of the Meritocratic Class

Like just about everyone, I am mesmerized by the college scam story. I write about it in my column today.

But before I go on about that, one of the things I found intriguing about the reaction to it on Twitter was how so many people felt the need to divulge their own college admissions narrative, as if to signal they weren’t one of them. My favorite tweet actually came from someone owning — if only in jest — his privileged status:

https://twitter.com/bendreyfuss/status/1105488904579309568

Still, I will join the ranks of the outraged by disclosing my own bona fides. I went to college the old-fashioned way: by applying to an all-women’s school right as it went co-ed. As I often like to say, my freshman year Goucher had 30-odd men and more than a thousand women — and I do mean 30 odd men.

Before being an affirmative-action success story, I was rejected from every other college I applied to. My high school record was, at best, a Rorschach test. On the one hand, I had the worst GPA of any student in my class who wasn’t kicked out. On the other hand, when I was interested in a subject, I did very well, winning various awards for papers and whatnot. My SATs were fine (thanks mostly to the verbal section), but most admissions officials looked at the Rorschach blots on my transcript and saw a train wreck rather than a diamond in the rough.

For what it’s worth, my high school at the time was the subject of an intense debate about its status. It can be summarized by the question, “Was it the worst school on the A list or the best school on the B list?” Dwight at the time was the school you went to if you couldn’t get into Collegiate or Horace Mann — or if you failed out of them.

At Dwight, I saw firsthand how some of the most middlebrow kids at my New York private school organized their whole lives — or let their parents organize it for them — around the box-checking quest to get into an elite college. These kids didn’t have many interests or hobbies — just a singular focus on grades, test prep, and extracurriculars. Since I indulged my interests — social, nerdy, intellectual alike — to the detriment of my grades, this bred a good deal of resentment in me.

When I was in my twenties, that resentment carried over. I had something to prove, which is why when I started out at AEI, I threw myself into learning stuff I either felt I missed in college or thought my mostly Ivy League policy-wonk peers already knew.

The chip on my shoulder shrunk and finally vanished over the years because it’s a stupid thing to get hung up on (though I do enjoy speaking at all the colleges that rejected me, never mind the ones I never dreamed of applying to in the first place).

Having worked in the worlds of think tankery and eggheady journalism for three decades, I’ve learned to take people as I find them. Ramesh Ponnuru is possibly the smartest person close to my age I’ve ever met, and he went to Princeton — where he was a star student. Arthur Brooks, the outgoing president of AEI, is another of the smartest people I’ve ever known. He got his college degree by mail from Thomas Edison State College. Conversely, I’ve met more than my share of buffoons and cranks with impressive degrees (Jerome Corsi has a PhD from Harvard!). They may not have been true morons, but they couldn’t hold a candle to some college drop-outs I’ve known — without burning their fingers.

Anyway, this story has brought back a lot of that resentment. It’s not personal, really, but that only makes it more sweeping. As I write in my book, higher education is like a training academy for the New Class. It is a giant shibboleth factory for a new caste and class system. Even if it were working properly, the meritocracy industry would have a lot to answer for, as people like David Brooks, Charles Murray, and Ross Douthat have chronicled for years.

For the children of the affluent, particularly those outside the STEM fields, higher education is both a kind of Game of Thrones citadel where the Maesters get their chains conferring special status and a four-year Rumspringa for crapulent social strivers. Kids are taught to be hostile to, and ungrateful for, the very civilization that lets them live like princelings.

I don’t want to repeat what I wrote in my column, but I do think it’s worth noting that these literal indictments are not quite the figurative indictments many are making them out to be. It’s instructive that the first reflex of much of the mainstream media has been to search for vindication of minorities who benefit from affirmative action. I understand why. But keep in mind, the rich and famous parents ensnared in this scandal may go to jail for what they did. In other words, there’s a deep contradiction between saying, “this is how the system really works” while overlooking the fact that the government is filing criminal charges against the very people you’re holding up as examples of how the system works.

The implied remedies some people are touting would make the system less, not more, fair because it would give even more arbitrary power to the clerisy running higher ed. The assumption seems to be that since the wealthy have so many advantages (true), the bureaucrats need to substitute their own judgment even more in the name of social justice. We already know this is happening, because the most systemic discrimination in elite college admissions is against Asian Americans who have the right grades and test scores but haven’t mastered the shibboleths of wokeness the gatekeepers are looking for.

I’m a pretty conservative guy, but on this stuff I am increasingly radical. I’d say burn it all down and rebuild on the ashes, except I worry that the people who would get all the reconstruction contracts are the ones who created the problem in the first place.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: So I have nothing first hand to report since I haven’t seen the beasts in eight days. But we are getting some excellent proof of life updates from home. It seems Zoë in particular is getting quite bossy with her parents gone, sort of like a teenager who thinks she’s in charge, not the babysitter. That probably explains some of her misbehavior. It also seems like the girls miss us and think we’re hiding in trees. Even so, it’s amazing how not worrying about the dogs while on vacation makes it so much easier to relax.

Ah, and before I forget: March 28-29 is the National Review Ideas Summit in Washington, D.C. I will be there to discuss (the polite term for “debate”) nationalism and populism with my handsome and powerful boss Rich Lowry. But honestly, as important as that debate is to me, it’s only one among many reasons to attend. The cast for the Summit is amazingly, almost ridiculously stacked. You’ll find both your favorite NR types (Kevin Williamson, the so-called “notorious MBD,” David French, etc.) and a sizeable smattering of political types (Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Senator Marco Rubio, Congressman Dan Crenshaw, and more) among the featured speakers. If none of this can convince you to come, then surely the karaoke sessions afterward will. (Note: They may or may not be happening.) Remember also that, in mild Brigadoon-like fashion, these things happen only every other year, so don’t skip out thinking you can just come next year. Sign up here.

And now, the other stuff.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

This week’s Remnant,with Arthur Brooks, on loving your enemies

My column on the college conundrum

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

It me

RIP

Robots are coming for dog jobs 

The urban planners inspired by Sim City 

George Washington’s beer recipe

Badass

Insanity

Squirrel-hunting

Own a piece of the Great Escape

Noir Spider-Man

How to catch a pig 

You had one job

Michigander loses it

Ohioan does Lent right

German town celebrates fat rat rescue

The only good thing a phone has ever done

Send in the wolves!

?laer si levart emiT

A good boy does his best

Politics & Policy

The Aristocracy of Victimhood

Loading...

Editors Note: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (including Paul Manafort, who will finally have the time to catch up on back issues of this “news”letter),

Imagine a semi-prosperous middle-aged white guy saying something like “The Jews are bad and not just because they smell like cabbage.”

I think it’s fair to say that some reasonable people would call that ridiculous or anti-Semitic or some combination of the two.

Now imagine a one-armed lesbian Yemeni refugee with a cleft palate, a severe gluten allergy, and a really rough childhood saying the exact same thing.

Does the statement become any more true? Do I suddenly, as if by magic, start to emit the odor of cabbage? When all eyes turn to me for no obvious reason and people start asking “Is someone making sauerkraut?” is it because the One-Armed Yemeni has called out my people again?

The reason I ask is that I’m still noodling over James Clyburn’s statement yesterday. From The Hill:

Clyburn came to Omar’s defense Wednesday, lamenting that many of the media reports surrounding the recent controversy have omitted mentioning that Omar, who was born in Somalia, had to flee the country to escape violence and spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to the United States.

Her experience, Clyburn argued, is much more empirical — and powerful — than that of people who are generations removed from the Holocaust, Japanese internment camps during World War II and the other violent episodes that have marked history.

“I’m serious about that. There are people who tell me, ‘Well, my parents are Holocaust survivors.’ ‘My parents did this.’ It’s more personal with her,” Clyburn said. “I’ve talked to her, and I can tell you she is living through a lot of pain.”

Now, I’m tempted to cut Clyburn some slack. The more I think about it, it might be his way — his really, really poorly worded way — of saying: “Don’t pay too much attention to her, she’s kind of messed up.”

You know, like the uncle who just got out of prison who threatens to stab you in the hand with his salad fork at Thanksgiving dinner when you reach for the bread rolls. “Please excuse Uncle Roy. He was ‘away’ for a long time. He’s still getting used to life on the outside.”

But I don’t think that’s the case, and it’s certainly not how it was received. Clyburn seems to be suggesting that because of her experiences and identity, her ideas deserve more latitude than those of another person with the exact same views.

Now, I have to admit, I have trouble with the logic here on a number of fronts. Ilhan Omar had a rough childhood in Somalia. She apparently went through the ringer in a Kenyan refugee camp. And therefore she earned the right to bitch about Israel and the Jews?

I’m just missing some of the connective tissue here. If she had been born in Chad and spent time in a Nigerian refugee camp, would that give her some special dispensation to rip into the Irish? I mean, what the hell did the Joooooooooz or Israelis have to do with her youthful travails?

This just seems like Dewey Oxburger logic to me. Dewey, you’ll recall, was the John Candy character in Stripes who understood that you can convince an idiot of anything if you do it with great confidence and authority. There’s the scene where he and his low-IQ comrade “Cruiser” arrive in the barracks in Italy, and Cruiser jumps up on the top bunk. Dewey says:

What are you doing? No, no . . . get off. Get off. See . . . you gotta make my bunk. See, we’re in Italy. The guy on the top bunk, he’s gotta make the guy on the bottom’s bunk . . . He’s gotta make his bed, all the time. See, it’s in the regulations. See, if we were in Germany, I’d have to make yours. But we’re in Italy, so you gotta make mine. [shrugs his shoulders] Regulations.

The problem is, we’re not all idiots.

The Suck-Up Instinct
I already wrote a column about this, and David French has the intersectionality beat covered, so I want to come at this from a different direction.

Because the vast majority of my readers are humans, I’m confident that nearly all of you have some experience with the phenomenon of sucking up, and I don’t mean the form of sucking up where you find yourself on your hands and knees in a motel room outside Albany at 4:00 a.m. trying to salvage the tequila from the soaked carpet after you accidentally dropped the bottle because you got too worked up singing both parts of Donny & Marie’s “I’m a Little Bit Country, I’m a Little Bit Rock and Roll.”

An intern tells you a joke: “What do you call a can opener that doesn’t work? A can’t opener.

You might chuckle. You might throw a stapler at his head.

Now, imagine the CEO of your company or the dean of admissions for your kid’s dream school told you that joke. You might, might, laugh a bit harder than the joke deserved on the merits. And even if you’re a rock in such matters, I’m sure you’ve seen some version of this dynamic in others.

I remember talking to Rich Lowry about how amazing it was that Barack Obama could offer the most modest quip at a rally — “I guess I’ll have a salad.” “I picked the wrong day not to bring an umbrella.” — and there would always be a couple of people in the background who laughed so hard you had to wonder whether you were missing something.

This is part of human nature. And, as with anything that comes preloaded into our operating system, we shouldn’t get too worked up about it. What fascinates me is how this aspect of human nature manifests itself in different contexts.

In pre-Enlightenment societies, this deference to power was codified into law and custom alike. Of course the king’s jokes are funnier, his insights wiser, his Paul Krugman columns less foul-smelling in the chamber pot.

I won’t get all deep in the weeds on Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment, but the gist of his argument was that the priestly caste turned the hierarchy of morality on its head. They made virtues — strength, honor, etc. — into vices, and vices — meekness, weakness, etc. — into virtues.  Now, Nietzsche’s ideas of what constitute virtue and vice are not my own, but his analysis was brilliant nonetheless.

As I wrote recently, we’ve turned victimhood into a source of incredible cultural power to the extent that some people, like Jussie Smollett, make a perversely rational choice to turn themselves into victims because they know that if they can pull it off, they’ll gain status, fame, and money as a result. It’s not always as cynical as that, of course. Victimhood has cultural power because victimhood is a new source of meaning, and people are desperate to find new sources of meaning these days as religion recedes further from modern life. Rachel Dolezal didn’t don blackface — blackbody? — to mock or ridicule black people. She did it because she thought she could fill the hole in her soul with a can of shoe polish.

At least in pre-Enlightenment societies, the corrupt deference to power made some sense. In a society ruled by a monarch or an aristocracy where power flowed from the point of a sword, a certain amount of sucking up made sense. If I ever go to prison, I can guarantee that I’m going to laugh pretty damn hard at some jokes that aren’t all that funny.

Sumptuary Laws, Ancient and Modern
This is the premise of the fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes. A bunch of people deliberately or delusively convinced themselves they could see something that wasn’t there, because to do otherwise would risk their status or position.

In medieval and ancient societies, rulers codified their power in myriad ways. Among my favorites were sumptuary laws, which delineated the kinds of garments people of different stations could wear. Henry VIII issued an edict that no one could wear “any silk of the color of purple, cloth of gold tissued, nor fur of sables, but only the King, Queen, and the King’s mother, children, brethren, and sisters, uncles and aunts; and except dukes, marquises, and earls, who may wear the same in doublets, jerkins, linings of cloaks, gowns, and hose; and those of the Garter, purple in mantles only.”

Barbara Tuchman writes:

Proclaimed by criers in the county courts and public assemblies, exact gradations of fabric, color, fur trimming, ornaments, and jewels were laid down for every rank and income level. Bourgeois might be forbidden to own a carriage or wear ermine, and peasants to wear any color but black or brown. Florence allowed doctors and magistrates to share the nobles’ privilege of ermine, but ruled out for merchants’ wives multicolored, striped, and checked gowns, brocades, figured velvets, and fabrics embroidered in silver and gold. In France territorial lords and their ladies with incomes of 6,000 livres or more could order four costumes a year; knights and bannerets with incomes of 3,000 could have three a year, one of which had to be for summer. Boys could have only one a year, and no demoiselle who was not the châtelaine of a castle or did not have an income of 2,000 livres could order more than one costume a year.

This ability to figuratively wear power on your sleeve by literally dictating what everyone else’s sleeves could look like was rooted in how society understood power. Today, because we’ve turned identity and the presumed victimhood that attaches to certain identity groups — Muslims, gays, the transgendered; but not the Jooooz — into a new form of aristocracy, that manifests itself in bizarre ways.

This is how I think of cultural appropriation. Victim identity is a resource. So when white people use the accoutrement of that identity, they are seen as stealing cultural power. How dare you make Korean tacos, whitey! These clothes, that hairstyle, this music: They belong to us, and when you appropriate them, you are diluting their brand value. It’s the cultural analogue to copyright infringement. My brand’s value depends on my monopoly on this stuff, so you can’t use it.

Anyway, as the serial killer said before he went to the truck to get the plastic tarp, I should wrap this up.

The aristocracy of victimhood can be seen everywhere if you train your eyes to see it (don’t get me started on the new push for reparations). And the corrupting power of this cultural shift is profound. Because we’re not just heaping praise on victims, we’re investing extra legitimacy to their ideas and arguments. If we as a culture want to say that the Pale Penis People can’t wear sombreros or cook Korean food, I’ll pound away at my keyboard about how stupid that is. But ultimately, that idiocy falls under the loosey-goosey rubric of fashion and manners. If we’re going to start saying that victims’ ideas are “more right” simply because the people spewing them are victims, then we are committing a kind of civilizational suicide. I don’t care if you spent your youth at the bottom of a pit putting the lotion in the basket when commanded to, you’re still wrong if you tell me two plus two equals seven.

If anti-Semitism is wrong, it shouldn’t matter how bad Ilhan Omar’s childhood was. If racism is wrong, it doesn’t become less wrong if a survivor of Auschwitz says something racist.

Various & Sundry
Canine Update: So the doggers are doing great, and not because they won the Twitter dog competition this week. One of the reasons dogs are great and why people love dog Twitter is that dogs just don’t care.  Still, I want to thank everyone for rewarding the hard work I put into bringing my Twitter followers the best dog content I can. Haters like @comfortablysmug be damned, Zoë and Pippa are good dogs.

Anyway, I’m in Sea Island for work. And after a big speech, I got over-served by the bartenders. Before I left, I made sure to get in some extra quality time with the beasts, because I leave from here with the (human) family for a vacation in Spain and, briefly, London. I’ll say hi to Steve Hayes for you when I’m in Madrid. The good news is that Kirsten, our super-dog-walker, will be dog- and house-sitting while are gone. The dogs love her with a passion that sometimes makes us jealous, but that’s okay because it also removes the guilt of leaving them behind. And Kirsten knows how important it is to send proof-of-life pictures and video. So, I’ll still be tweeting the beasties.

ICYMI . . .
Last week’s G-File

Capitalism, socialism, and corporatism

The whomp in the swamp!

Trump at CPAC

Finally, a mediocre superhero movie for women

This week’s Remnant, with Rob Longalso available as a GLoP episode (with hideous photoshop)

Trump and masculinity

Democrats and Fox News

House Democrats and anti-Semitism

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Tuesday links

Where does fake movie money come from?

Does a bear think in the woods?

Just read the title

Psychics are real? Were real?

Photos of pre–World War I Russia to be shown at the Library of Congress

Exactly what you don’t want to hear while at the beach with your kids

What not to do with your rare-coin collection

Cheesy parenting

New healthy-beverage craze!

Nessie is real. Change my mind

McDonald’s-burger scented candle that lasts as long as their food does

Don’t cuddle your fish

Mathematical literary perfection

Charles Dickens may have hated his wife . . . a lot

Not quite as good a smuggler as Han Solo

Finally, a reason to actually visit France

What a way to go

The Incas took climate change a bit too seriously

The disappearing anus trick

The Crufts Dog Show

U.S.

Stay-Puft Socialism, Luxurious Infanticide

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Including the Amy Klobuchar intern kept in a crate in the back office),

One of my favorite Twitter accounts is the official Twitter feed of the Socialist party of Great Britain. Folks often criticize me for engaging with it because it is so irrelevant, even in socialist circles. That in itself is a kind of accomplishment. It’s like the guy who attends Civil War reenactment-society meetings, but dresses in full Klingon battle regalia and screams at everyone that no one knows how to fight Romulans. “You call yourselves warriors, but none of you even knows how to swing a Bat’leth!

Virtually every time anyone says anything critical of Maduro’s — or Stalin’s — socialism, the SPGB Twitter feed leaps into action, raining “ACKSHULLYS” down like a UFC fighter beating on a 98-pound mugger. “Actually” real socialism is collective ownership of the means of production! Real socialism has never been tried! Soviet Communism was “state capitalism!” You can almost smell the old socks and stale urine wafting up from the guy tweeting from some public-library computer, his overstuffed shopping cart full of dog-eared copies of Das Kapital and back issues of Juggs close by his side.

But that’s kinda what I like about the SPGB. At least they take their ideas seriously. They’ve constructed a wholly hypothetical alternative world that is simultaneously as plausible and impossible as Middle Earth or Westeros or a great meal at a Wolfgang Puck Express at the Newark airport. It sounds like it could be real, and it’s kind of fun to think about, but it’s not actually reality. It’s like they think they can pluck the Platonic ideal of a hamburger out of the ether and use it as a rhetorical cudgel to say a Five Guys burger “isn’t a real hamburger! Real hamburgers have never been tried!” Even the Wikipedia entry on the SPGB says: “The party’s political position has been described as a form of impossibilism.”

Impossibilists of the World Unite!

I don’t think anyone will be shocked to know that I’ve won several chicken-eating contests, but that’s not important right now. It also shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that I’m no expert on Carl Jung, rumors of my ass-tattoo notwithstanding. But I do find some of his ideas interesting, and not just his stuff on the designated hitter rule. I think there’s something to the idea of the collective unconscious. Certain ideas or concepts — archetypes according Jung — pop up in every culture.

I once listened to a great episode of Radio Lab in which they talked about a fossilized skull of a young human that had been grabbed by a giant bird and carried off (they could tell from the talon marks inside its eye sockets. Let that image sink in). In our prehistoric past, there were birds that preyed on us, and that’s why, they speculated, we get even to this day that creepy fight-or-flight feeling when a shadow passes over our heads. We’ve got some “Oh crap, run!” programming in us left over from when a shadow from above terrifying. According to Jung, people all around the world have snake dreams even though they may never have seen a snake or Michael Cohen.

This is how I mostly think about socialism now (as I recently discussed on the Tikvah podcast). At its core, it’s not an idea or even a program: It’s a feeling. The world of liberal democratic capitalism is unnatural. “Unique among species,” Robin Fox writes in The Tribal Imagination, “we created the novel environment, and the supernovel environment that followed on the Miracle, by ourselves and for ourselves.” But just because our environment is new, our programming is still very old. A pampered dog that has never known life outside a big city probably still dreams of running through the woods in a pack, and somewhere deep inside of us we dream of living in a tightknit community, a tribe or band, where we share all of our possessions and are “all in it together.”

Indeed, Marx’s vision of the glorious end of history tracked nicely with various romantic fantasies of what man’s life in a state of nature was really like. Of course, these fantasies bore little resemblance to the real world of our ancient past where giant fricking birds could pluck us from the savannahs and feed us, piecemeal, to giant baby birds.

Capitalism In the Side Pocket

I was eight when I first saw the George Burns movie Oh, God, but one line always stuck with me. God/Burns is explaining some of his big mistakes. “Ostriches were a mistake. Silly looking things. Avocados . . . Made the pit too big.” But he also said, “The reason I put everyone here naked . . . I wasn’t trying to be cute. It’s just that with clothes there’s right away pockets, and pockets, you gotta put something in ‘em.”

There’s a point there. Private property is divisive. It arouses envy, and envy is a hugely powerful emotion, a driver of all manner of political evils. But in a state of nature, it’s a tool of social cohesion, just like altruism and shame. Envy is one of the emotions that leads to sharing, because it causes the group to demand the haves to share with the have-nots.

The thing is, where humans are nomadic, it’s hard to accumulate too much private property when you can only keep what you can carry.

Now we can have a lot of property, but we also have a lot of baggage in the form of an inarticulate yearning to restore an imagined past. It’s an instinct for solidarity that manifests itself in different forms in different ages, grafting itself to different priestly or technocratic lingo. But you can incant all the Marxist verbiage you like, it doesn’t make the underlying idea more modern.

In Ghostbusters, when the very Jungian Gozer the Gozerian says: “Choose the form of your destructor,” the team tries to keep their minds blank. But Ray couldn’t help himself. “I couldn’t help it. It just popped in there.” And that’s all it took for a Godzilla-sized Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man to materialize.

“I tried to think of the most harmless thing,” Ray says. “Something I loved from my childhood, something that could never, ever possibly destroy us: Mr. Stay-Puft.”

Socialism works in a similar way. Whether it’s the Socialist Party of Great Britain or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or the millions of young people who think they’re socialists, they think socialism is a good thing that can do no wrong, and if it does wrong it must be because it’s not really socialism. I understand why conservatives think socialism is evil — because there are so many examples of socialism being evil. But most socialists don’t think they’re evil — nor is it their greatest dream to steal our hamburgers: Socialism is just their word for fixing what’s wrong with the world. The problem is that when you give yourself over to a single idea of how things should be, you check yourself into what Chesterton called “the clean and well-lit prison of one idea” and you become “sharpened to one painful point.” You are bereft of the “healthy hesitation and healthy complexity” that lets you grasp the world as it is and understand the crooked timber of human nature.

In the fantasy world of the SPGB, we’d all share equally society’s wealth. But what this vision leaves out is the socialist with the clipboard that keeps track of who gets their “fair share” and the men with guns who protect the man with the clipboard from those who disagree with his decisions. The man who says “get in line for your share” is the new ruler of every would-be utopia. The clipboard becomes a totem of power no less ominous than the ball and scepter, the whip, the fasces, or the phone the person in power uses to make you disappear. Humans make hierarchies of status and privilege for themselves whenever the opportunity avails itself. This is why all socialist systems that do not work within the constraints of a liberal democratic framework of the rule of law inevitably descend into tyrannies. Give the state unbridled power, and the denizens of the state will use that power toward their own ends.

But socialism is just one form of destructor that can be unleashed to trample the complex ecosystem of liberty in pursuit of a single idea. Nationalism, fascism, and almost every other ism can, in service to the same cult of unity, do the same damage.

One-thingism is the enemy of all freedoms, even the one thing of freedom itself. As Peregrine Worsthorne once noted, a doctrine of total freedom pursued to its logical conclusion is a world where bullies are free to do their will. Ordered liberty is a different concept altogether because it balances the tension between the need for both order and liberty. We are free to do the things that do not harm others unjustifiably. Which brings me to . . .

The Freedom to Kill Babies

I don’t like debating abortion, but every now and then I get dragooned into it. The other day, I was on Guy Benson and Marie Harf’s radio show, and we got into it because Ben Sasse’s Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act bill had just gone down in flames. I like Marie quite a bit, and I think she tries very hard to give conservatives a fair hearing, so I don’t mean any of this as a personal criticism. But she ran through all of the usual arguments, the chief of which was the old saw about how conservatives are hypocrites because they want the government out of everything, yet they want the state to regulate women’s reproductive choices.

My problem with this argument is that it suffers from a profound category error. The first obligation of the state is to protect human life. This is what Max Weber was getting at when he said the state has a “monopoly on violence.” In a decent and free society, this monopoly has only a handful of legitimate exceptions. The most important and obvious is the right to self-defense, which is an absolute natural right that is prior to any form of government. You cannot pass a just and enforceable law barring people from fighting for their life when attacked.

The other exceptions are fairly minor and still fall under the regulatory power of the state. Boxers need licenses after all. Police have discretion about how to deal with bar room fights. Whether or not spanking is good or bad for kids, I think parents have a right to do it. But we all recognize that the state has a right to intervene when parents go much beyond that kind of thing. A swat on the backside for a misbehaving child isn’t the government’s business. A parent who beats or burns their kid should have their kid taken away.

This sliding scale has an analogue in the abortion debate — not theologically or scientifically perhaps — but culturally and politically. Most Americans favor abortion rights shortly after conception through the end of the first trimester. Even larger majorities are opposed to late-term abortions.

Again, putting aside the philosophical, scientific, and theological arguments, this simply makes sense. People can understandably debate whether a young embryo should be considered a human being. But there is simply no credible moral argument that a viable baby should not be considered a human being. A late-term fetus strikes most reasonable people as a baby, not some abstracted and euphemized thing called “uterine contents” or whatnot. And a delivered baby outside the womb or in the process of delivery is, simply, a baby. The Barbara Boxer view that a baby miraculously becomes a baby only after you bring it home from the hospital is a moral monstrosity.

And this is why conservative pro-lifers are not hypocrites when they say the state should intervene on the behalf of babies. The real hypocrisy cuts the other way. Liberal abortion rights supporters — speaking broadly — have no principled objection to the state regulating the size of our sodas, banning plastic straws or regulating free speech. But going by the statements and votes of the last month — by Ralph Northam, Andrew Cuomo, Kamala Harris, and so many others — they draw the line at regulating infanticide.

From LifeNews about Kamala Harris’ recent comments:

Harris, a 2020 hopeful who voted against Republican Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse’s bill, would not say if abortion was ever immoral.

“I think it’s up to a woman to make that decision, and I will always stand by that,” she told The DCNF. “I think she needs to make that decision with her doctor, with her priest, with her spouse. I would leave that decision up to them.”

Harris supports the Women’s Health Protection Act (as do Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Kristen Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, and Bernie Sanders). It would eliminate nearly all limits on abortion from late-term bans to abortions based on sex-selection (one wonders how they would feel if transgender fetuses could be identified in utero).

This isn’t ordered liberty; it’s the freedom of the jungle which says you can do whatever you can get away with. It’s fine to argue that “abortions” of viable, healthy, babies are rare (putting aside all the begged questions implicit in the word “healthy.” Do otherwise healthy kids with Down Syndrome count as unhealthy?). But what we’re talking about is the principle. If I said, “Look, it’s extremely rare for women to kill left-handed dudes named Todd who think E.L.O was better than the Rolling Stones,” that would be a true statement. It would not be an argument for killing that poor unlucky Todd with terrible taste in music (Jack’s view notwithstanding).

Just as socialism represents an atavistic impulse to return to pre-modern understandings of politics, the new push for killing inconvenient babies — in principle — is a barbaric step backward to pre-civilized past. Infanticide in our natural environment was incredibly common. This is from part of my book that didn’t make publication:

With the exception of the Jews, virtually all ancient societies, Western and non- Western, routinely butchered, burned, smothered or otherwise slaughtered their own children (and the children of their enemies even more). The Svans of Ancient Georgia murdered newborn girls by filling their mouths with hot ashes. In parts of Ancient China, female babies were killed by submerging them in buckets of cold “baby water.” In feudal Japan, the practice of Makibi (a term borrowed from rice farming meaning “thinning out”) was widespread. Unwanted babies — mostly girls, but also some boys, particularly twins (which were considered unlucky or dangerous in many pre-modern societies) — were snuffed out with a wet cloth. In India infants were sometimes thrown into the Ganges as sacrifices or had their throats cut.

As the anthropologist Laila Williamson famously wrote:

Infanticide has been practiced on every continent and by people on every level of cultural complexity, from hunters and gatherers to high civilization, including our own ancestors. Rather than being an exception, then, it has been the rule.

In pre-historic times, which were no Eden, our ancestors often killed their offspring because they were a real burden and adoption agencies were few and far between. And when I say a real burden, I mean a real burden. Mothers often didn’t have enough milk to feed two infants, which is why the killing of twins was so common. Crying babies when enemy tribes or predators are about are as inconvenient as hungry toddlers when food is scarce.

One aspect of the amazing miracle of the environment we live in now – i.e. civilization — is that killing babies is no longer a necessity, but a luxury. This move to disguise this hideous luxury as a new form of necessity is not a sign that we are advancing as a civilization, but that we are regressing, back to when killing babies was natural and normal.

Various & Sundry

As the Klobuchar staffer who accidentally hung her boss’s pant suit on a wire hanger said, “Dear God, what have I done?” By now, you probably heard that I am going to be stepping down as a senior editor of National Review in the coming months (details have yet to be worked out). I cannot begin to describe how difficult and painful this decision was, despite how excited I am about this new chapter of my professional life. I love this place. I’ve given the bulk of my adult life to it (“Your ‘adult’ life? So like, six months?” — The Couch). Some of my closest friends have been made here. This is also where I got to know you, Dear Readers, many of whom have become friends in the corporeal realm outside my email box. National Review is part of me, and always will be. I want it to succeed, and I want to stay part of the family (which is why I will stay on as a fellow at the National Review Institute). I am incalculably grateful to Rich Lowry and literally every one of my colleagues, and, again, to all of you (except for that Todd guy). There will be plenty of time for me to get weepy (again) about all of this, and I don’t want to use National Review to promote my new venture with Steve Hayes. But if you’re interested in getting updates on the project as it proceeds, you can send an email to HayesGoldberg2019@Gmail.com, and we’ll keep you in the loop. We’ll never sell your email or anything like that. And that’s enough about all that for now.

Canine Update: So there’s this new trail I’ve been taking the beasts to that Zoë particularly likes because it’s infested with deer and fat, slow squirrels. Since they both partake of our public waterways quite frequently, I didn’t think much of the fact that they went into the creek there, too. But the water didn’t seem to be right. And they both got sick. For about 24 hours, Zoë was farting to the extent that I think she would be banned under the Green New Deal. And both of them were relieving themselves in a way that suggested they had bad tummies — at times it was like a fine mist of Paul Krugman columns. Perhaps because Zoë has an iron stomach that allows her to eat stuff best left to the buzzards, or perhaps because she merely took a few sips rather than immersing herself, spaniel-style, Pippa seemed harder hit. She always had her energy out on walks. Tennis balls — and even floppy frisbees — are like anti-Kryptonite, giving her super-canine stamina. But when home, she had only Jeb-like energy levels and wouldn’t eat her dinner (though one night, the Fair Jessica managed to hand feed her a little). If she didn’t seem better this morning we would have gone to the vet. But the good news is it seems the bug is gone. Pippa’s appetite is back, and Dingo flatulence levels are back within normal parameters. Beyond that, everything is good. The Dingo is happy and frisky and demanding of attention. And Pippa is Pippa.

In other news, theirs is a fierce competition on Twitter for the best conservative dog-tweeting account. So far, we’ve been sailing through the early contests. But the tough competition is ahead. If I make it through this round, I could soon face Nikki Haley and her unfairly cute pooch Bentley (I’m tempted to demand a blood test). As of this writing, Bentley is in a fierce dog-eat-dog contest with dark dog contender Yoko (of Neontaster fame). There could be an upset, which would roil the betting markets on both sides of the Atlantic.

A surprise Yoko upset might be best — despite his indisputable game — because the Fair Jessica works for Ambassador Haley. So far, Jessica has not asked me to take a dive if it comes to a head-to-head contest. But if, somehow, the dynamic duo of Dingo & Spaniel gets past Bentley, the odds-on favorite in the finals is none other than Dana Perino and Jasper, the Hungarian-American wunderhound who inherited the undisputed title of “It Dog of the American Right” after Cosmo the Wonderdog’s demise. I love Dana and have boundless respect for Jasper’s skills. But I am hoping that there will be some reward for my steadfast dog tweeting. Only time will tell.

ICYMI…

Last week’s G-File

Democrats are actually being socialists now

This week’s first Remnant, with Tim Carney on his hugely important and good book.

The Mueller muddle

Cornyn didn’t endorse Mussolini, but some of the original New Dealers did

Rules of engagement

Thoughts on Cohen

This week’s second Remnant, with David French in which David and I had a grand time covering everything from abortion and Michael Cohen to the EMP that prevents Westeros from developing transistors.

Trump’s North Korea failure is almost success

And now, the weird stuff.

Spiders eat opossums now

Breaking news: Yosemite is incredible

Don’t worry, you can eat a zombie deer

Rats can’t handle their whiskey

Slovenian MP quits after stealing a sandwich

LegoDune

Minnesota dog mayor passses away

Fat rat stuck in a manhole cover

Lucky Charms flavored beer? This can’t be good

Nero was a neckbeard

Poppy seeds can mess with drug tests

Train passengers stuck in snow are finally close to reaching Seattle

Be glad you don’t have a tooth in your nose

Smuggling snakes into Scotland in shoes

Acrobatic chimpanzee

Nurses release cockroaches to get a ward transfer

Escaped emu crosses border from Florida to Georgia

Where was this poor bicycle taken?

Vietnam deports fake Kim Jong Un the day before the real one arrived

Hummingbird fencing

Electro-BandAid

China won’t show Lady Gaga winning her Oscar because she met the Dalai Lama

Don’t steal mummy heads

Siberian black snow

PC Culture

The Hate-Hoax Bonfire

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Including those of you merely pretending to be readers as part of some elaborate ruse to get more attention),

Here’s something you might not know: In Nazi Germany, very few Jews staged bogus hate crimes against themselves.

Here’s some more trivia: Very few blacks in the Jim Crow South went to great lengths to pretend that they were harassed or attacked by racists.

You know why? Because that would be incredibly stupid. What, exactly, would the German Jew who staged an assault on himself gain from it? Where would he or she go to ask for sympathy or recompense? Conjure any horror story you like, the Nazi official you brought it to would say, “Yeah, and . . . ?” The black sharecropper who took the time to make his own cross and burn it on his own property would benefit . . . how?

Why am I bringing this up? Well, for a bunch of reasons. I have more points to make than can be found at an English Setter competition.

First, people who live under real oppression have no need to fabulate oppression. To paraphrase Madge from the old Palmolive ads: They’re already soaking in it.

Second, when you live in an oppressive country, there’s no one you can take your grievances to because that is what it means to live in an oppressive country! For God’s sake, people, you’re making me use exclamation points and italics here. If you’re an inmate in the Shawshank prison, you can’t go to the guards to complain. When you live in North Korea, you can’t go to the local police and gripe about your working conditions or the sawdust in your bread.

I feel like one of the Duke Brothers explaining how you might find bacon in a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. But in oppressive societies, the oppression isn’t a bug — it’s a feature. That’s why they’re called “oppressive.” Complaining about oppression in such societies is like a fish complaining that there are a lot of fish in a barrel of fish.

What a Free Society Means

Which brings me to the third point: In non-oppressive countries, there are people to take your case to. Sohrab Ahmari put it nicely in an essay a couple of years ago:

And as Pascal Bruckner wrote in his essay “The Tyranny of Guilt,” if liberal democracy does trap or jail you (politically speaking), it also invariably slips the key under your cell door. The Swedish midwives driven out of the profession over their pro-life views can take their story to the media. The Down syndrome advocacy outfit whose anti-eugenic advertising was censored in France can sue in national and then international courts. The Little Sisters of the Poor can appeal to the Supreme Court for a conscience exemption to Obamacare’s contraceptives mandate. And so on.

This is a hugely important point, and there’s an urgent need for more people to understand it. A free society is a rich ecosystem of competing institutions. Some are powerful, some weak. Some have great influence in a specific sphere of life: the American Bar Association, the military, the Catholic Church, whatever. Some only have power in a certain place: the county zoning board, the local police, your parents, etc. But none have unchecked power over the whole of the society and, thanks to the Constitution, that goes for the government itself, too.

A free society is a honeycomb of safe havens, competing authorities — legal, moral, cultural — that allow for people to find safe harbors from other institutions (“And, apparently, a safe harbor from mixed metaphors” — The Couch). The pursuit of happiness is an individual right that can only be achieved communally with the communities the individual chooses to be part of.

But, as I’ve been writing a lot lately, when statists, planners, nationalists, socialists, et al. embrace the language of crisis or war — metaphorical or otherwise — they are trying to board up these safe havens, to close off avenues of dissent or simple apathy about a given cause. Culture warriors demand that you care. They demand that you be part of the solution, and if you’re not, you’re part of the problem. When this spirit takes over, there’s no one to appeal to for your grievance, because everyone is in on the new crusade or too afraid to say they’re not. Oppressive societies are societies where you don’t have the right to exit.

A host of liberals are bleating about conservative “gloating” over the Smollett debunking. What they seem to sincerely not understand is that their instant acceptance of the story and their instant condemnation of anyone who voiced skepticism over it was an act of oppression. “You must care!” “You must believe!” There is no safe harbor. No right to skepticism or even reflection. He is our Horst Wessel, and you must grasp your complicity in evil. That this response came from Hollywood types who make a living off giving free rein to their emotions is not shocking. That mainstream journalists did it wasn’t shocking either, but it was appalling. It was appalling because they really can’t see how invested they are in this kind of narrative peddling, how convinced they are that they see the world as it is, and the people who disagree are not just fools, but evil.

And now that the truth is out, they are flummoxed, and this consternation is appalling, too.

From Kyle Smith’s piece about the widespread shock in the media that Smollett’s story was a fraud:

Ana Cabrera, CNN anchor, was equally flummoxed Saturday night: “The big question, then, is why?” she asked. “Why he would make something like this up?”

CNN’s senior entertainment reporter Lisa France was comparably engulfed by confusion. “If he actually did this, why in the world would he do this?” she asked. “Why? That’s what everyone wants to know.”

A bit later, Stelter chimed in again: “This is about why he might — and, so far, we don’t know. But why he might have made this up. It just boggles the mind.”

If you think it’s mind-boggling, then you’re part of the problem.

The Smallness of Jussie Smollett

The Jussie Smollett story is not mind-boggling, it’s not even mind-yahtzeeing. It’s normal in these abnormal times.

I’ve been exhausted with the Smollett case since the story of his brave search for a Subway sandwich deep in the heart of MAGA country first made headlines. Like most conservatives I know, I greeted the story skeptically from the outset. The idea that the upscale streets of Streeterville are like a modern Mogadishu with roving bands of MAGA hat-wearing, Empire-watching, bleach-and-noose carrying hooligans just waiting to pounce on gay black dudes in the wee hours of the morning on literally one of the coldest Chicago nights in decades struck me as implausible.

MAGA Thug: “I know it’s cold. But just wait. We know those gay black guys need to eat, and they can’t resist the gray translucent turkey product at Subway . . . Wait! There he is! Grab the bleach!”

But I just couldn’t muster the energy to follow every detail, which is why I’m grateful to our Kyle Smith for all his due diligence.

I’m not trying to sound superior. I wish I’d called bulls*** on the story the way Kyle did from the get-go (and the way I did on the UVA rape story). But I’ve been trying not to join Twitter mobs, even when I suspect the mob is right. That’s the danger of trying to follow a policy of not rushing to judgment; you sometimes end up forgoing the satisfaction of saying, “I told you so!”

But there’s another reason I was reluctant: Smollett’s hoax isn’t that unusual. I’m already running long, so I’ll spare you the data, but hoaxes happen all the time — and so do actual hate crimes. They’ve happened under Trump, and they were happening for decades before Trump. That’s why it’s particularly galling to see Al Sharpton opine on the Smollett case given that his entire career stemmed from the Tawana Brawley hoax and his role in a real hate crime that killed seven people.

I’ve been following this stuff ever since I witnessed such hoaxes as a college student. I think the first book I ever reviewed professionally was about student activism. The author, Paul Rogat Loeb, had a whole chapter about racism on college campuses. He focused on a hate crime at Emory. It was only after dozens of pages about all the wonderful consciousness-raising — and shakedowns of administrators — that resulted from the response to the atrocity that he acknowledged that the victim orchestrated the whole thing. But that was irrelevant, according to Loeb, because “other racial harassment has unquestionably occurred again and again, at colleges nationwide.” And besides, so much consciousness was raised! I wrote at the time, “When students are taught that the coin of the realm is race and rage, invariably some will spend that currency on self-aggrandizement and controversy.”

And that gets me to my next point.

We’re Asking For It

A truism of economics is that you get more of what you subsidize and less of what you tax. I have no quarrel with that. But it seems to me we don’t think enough about how this principle applies to areas we see as outside of economics.

For instance, contrary to what one hears in the left-wing punditsphere, there’s a high cultural penalty — a tax, if you will — on open racism, which is one reason there is so much less of it today. Already, I can hear throats clearing to say “Oh yeah, what price has Donald Trump paid!!!?!?!” Well, leaving aside the merits of the cases for and against the claim that Donald Trump is a racist, it’s transparently obvious that he’s paid a political price for the perception that he is one. The reflexive opposition to Trump by many of the media outlets from which he craves approval is driven in no small part by the widespread liberal assumption that he’s a bigot of one kind or another. Similarly, he’s almost surely paid a price among many independent and moderate voters, including the millions who voted for both Trump and Obama, because of how he’s perceived, fairly or not.

But my point here isn’t to talk about Trump, but to check the box so I don’t have to talk about him further.

In our culture, as with any culture, we reward certain behaviors and penalize others. Think of the young women who made sex tapes as a stepping stone to celebrity. In a different culture, this would not be a wise career strategy. But in our current click-baity climate (which has been this way since long before we had the term clickbait), controversy, attention, etc. are their own reward. Positive attention may be better than negative attention, but negative attention is superior to no attention at all (an insight exploited to great extent by an increasing number of politicians).

Well, slattern chic is just one shining facet of the disco ball of asininity that our culture has become.

The sort of racism Smollett manufactured has never been lower in the United States, but rather than celebrate or express gratitude for this incontestable fact, people look for proof it’s worse than ever. Bereft of giants to slay, they construct windmills and pretend they are heroes for levelling their lances at them. Like the elders of Salem, they mistake their quiet hysteria for sober reality and believe every tale of witches beyond the tree line. On the principle that some things have to be believed to be seen, wearing a blanket at Oberlin is all the proof one needs for a moral panic over the invading armies of the Klan, just as the splash of a dolphin’s tale was proof of mermaids for horny sailors centuries ago.

This, too, is just a facet of the larger tapestry, just one rhinestone glistening off a Liberace cape of self-indulgence.

H. Auden’s prophetic poem “For the Time Being,” keeps coming to mind. Auden predicted that in the “New Age”:

Knowledge will degenerate into a riot of subjective visions & Justice will be replaced by Pity as the cardinal human virtue, and all fear of retribution will vanish & The New Aristocracy will consist exclusively of hermits, bums and permanent invalids. The Rough Diamond, the Consumptive Whore, the bandit who is good to his mother, the epileptic girl who has a way with animals will be the heroes and heroines of the New Age, when the general, the statesman, and the philosopher have become the butt of every farce and satire.

Not all of his examples fit, but he was onto something. If there was a commodities market for pity when Auden was writing, he would have been wise to take a large position because the pity bubble has been expanding for decades now. The New Aristocracy also includes both women with biological penises and those who want to abort their babies in the delivery room — but not the babies themselves. Gay men who travel cross country to buy cakes from pious bakers are heroes and even old Jewish socialists are villains for the crime of Having a Penis While White (and not thinking that should disqualify them to be president).

But pity is a soft emotion that needs something hard to brace against. And that’s why hate belongs in every bullish portfolio, too. We prove our virtue by pitying the right victims and hating the right victimizers. And in any booming market, the incentives for counterfeiting skyrocket. And so people give in to the temptation to manufacture reasons to be pitied, and the buyers can’t resist the pitch because it comes with the opportunity to hate included.

Hoaxes and hysteria-fueled misinterpretations are common on the left because a certain kind of pity and hate has become institutionalized, monetized, and sacralized. But while pity and hate take a certain recognizable, custom-made form on the left — call it bespoke woke — the left doesn’t have a monopoly on the larger phenomenon. Donald Trump demands pity almost daily, and he gets it. And the pitiers get their opportunities for hatred, too. Christopher Hasson is an exceptional case, but only because he took the rhetoric of pity and hate duopoly to an extreme conclusion.

But the rhetoric itself is all over the place — and it’s getting worse. The amount of self-pity on the right is staggering, and it produces an enormous amount of hatred — not so much racist hate, as various liberal elites would have us believe, but hatred at the liberals because they believe it. We’re victims because they hate us, so we must hate them. Pity and hate, hate and pity, for as far as the eye can see, like a snake eating itself.

So I’ll leave with this depressing prediction. Obviously more Smollett-style hoaxes are coming. If the negative attention heaped on mass shooters is enough to inspire other losers to commit that kind of evil, it’s easy to imagine that the attention Smollett has gotten will inspire losers to do likewise. But that’s not my prediction. There will be a hoax involving MAGA hats, but the fake victims will be those wearing them. We already saw the hunger for this kind of thing in the Covington case — but those kids were in fact victims. President Trump invited that kid named Trump to the State of the Union precisely because he wanted to exploit this great reservoir of pity. And the coverage of this legitimate outrage will no doubt encourage others to get a piece of that on the cheap.

So mark my words, some loser, desperate to be lionized by Candace Owens or applauded at CPAC, will manufacture some story of victimhood that will ignite a bonfire of outrage on the right and a riot of sympathy about MAGA persecution. The mainstream media will suddenly remember the professional integrity it forgot in the Smollett case and debunk it. But before then, the pitiables of the right will claim victimhood by proxy and denounce the insensitivity of an uncaring media that hates them. The roles will be reversed, but the script will be the same, and the actors will all yell just a little bit louder, as the snake ups the tempo of its own repast.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: So Pippa has been extra spanielly this last week or so. The cold weather, the mud, the snow, the ice, and in particular, the combination of all four have brought out the true essence of Pippa and provided the content people seem to crave. This video has over 123K views. And this one has been viewed 141 thousand times (though I suspect a lot of that is from repeat viewers). The problem is that when Pippa is truly joyous, the constraints of civilized society vanish, and because she is truly joyous when she gets in muddy water, that behavior also leads her to do very bad things, like roll in fetid foulness. Worse, all of these things lead to baths, which in turn make her all the more desperate to erase the bourgeois scents of modern society, making these cycles repeat themselves.

But that’s my problem. Both girls are having a really good time these days. They were a little too needy when the Fair Jessica was out of town. Zoë is even willing to be captured in action on video. Here she is with her bestest friend Sammie. People keep asking me about the cameos from other dogs that Zoë and Pippa know. Sammie is Zoë’s buddy from her midday pack. They have a very close and special relationship. They’ve been playing like this since they were puppies. And it’s always great when they get reunited. But fear not, Zoë still makes time for Pip.

I hope that continues, but we’ve decided that Zoë needs to go on even more of diet, which is hard because we only really feed her once a day as it is, and it’s not like she doesn’t get a lot of exercise. If anybody has any good advice, please send it my way.

In other news, I can’t begin to tell you how stunned and flattered I was when I heard the news that my appearance on EconTalk was selected as the audience favorite for 2018. I consider Econtalk the gold standard in egghead podcasts. I learned so much from it, I mentioned it in the acknowledgements of my book. So it was particularly awesome that my talk about the book beat out some really amazing competition. Thanks very much to everyone.

On another note, there’s a whole bunch of stuff going on in my life; I’ll hopefully fill you all in when the smoke clears. But there may be a hiatus in G-Filing in the next few weeks, in part because I’ll be travelling for much of March. I’ll be in Spain — when I turn 50! — but, don’t worry, you can save on international postage by sending your pallets of cash, scotch, and cigars to my office at AEI.

ICYMI…

Last week’s G-File

This week’s first Remnant, on Marxism

The Green New Deal and crony capitalism

Trump’s national-emergency declaration is an act of weakness

The freakout over CNN’s decision to hire…a self-professed Republican

This week’s second Remnant, with Charles Cooke

The identity-politics left now despises Bernie Sanders

Thoughts on strategy

And now, the weird stuff.

Karl Lagerfeld’s cat is to inherit $200 million

Not exactly how I like to relax on a plane

The origins of the Stonehenge monoliths is finally discovered

Hipster drinks are going a little too far

Underwater Virgin Mary

Sign me up

Smurfs invade Germany

Take your next mile time with your dog

Want to catch a 20lb goldfish? Use a biscuit

Kid’s cute reaction to seeing clearly for the first time

Geniuses at work

Who says lawyers can’t be romantic?

Colorized footage of George Washington Carver at Tuskegee University

Dog reunited with its family after the wildfire

Used hot-dog napkin cracks 26-year-old murder cold case

This kid is way too happy to get ketchup for Christmas

This koala is sexier than you

A good dog

A smart teen

A big bee

White House

The Failure of the Deal

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (But especially Sammie),

I had my say on the emergency declaration yesterday, and I’m sure I’ll have to say it all again not very far down the road.

But there is a point that I think needs to be made. The reason President Trump finds it necessary to declare a national emergency stems from the fact that he is not the world’s greatest dealmaker.

If President Trump had signed the budget deal last December, he would have gotten more wall funding than he did after forcing a government shutdown. For two years, Republicans controlled Congress, and no wall was built. If you want to blame the congressional GOP for that, be my guest. But then don’t give sole credit to the president for everything Congress did pass.

What I mean is there’s a weird heads-Trump-wins, tails-the-establishment-RINO-cuck-Congress-loses dynamic to how Trump’s defenders talk about his record. If Trump is responsible for getting tax cuts — or anything else — through a GOP-controlled Congress, presumably he’s also responsible for the things he didn’t get through Congress, too. But when he wins, it’s proof of his deal-making prowess. When he loses, it’s because of the Deep State, the weak-kneed establishment, Democratic obstruction, polarization, gridlock, CHUDs, whatever.

All you needed was eyes to see to know that he wasn’t going to score some great deal in that December 11 Oval Office meeting. He preemptively took credit for a shutdown, and he got a shutdown and came out the other end worse off.

The reason I point this out isn’t to gloat or say, “I told you so.” It’s to point out that Trump — and his fans — get into trouble by constantly switching rationales for his presidency. In 2016, there were two central themes to the case for Trump. The first was that he was a fighter, a counter-puncher, a paladin against political correctness and all that. The second was that he was a dealmaker who could cut through the stupid dysfunction in Washington. As he said when he announced he was running: “So I’ve watched the politicians. I’ve dealt with them all my life. If you can’t make a good deal with a politician, then there’s something wrong with you.  You’re certainly not very good. And that’s what we have representing us.” Or in a presidential debate in February of 2016:

No, a good deal maker will make great deals, but we’ll do it the way our founders thought it should be done. People get together, they make deals. Ronald Reagan did it with Tip O’Neil very successfully, you didn’t hear so much about executive orders, if you heard about it at all. You have to be able to get a consensus.

And it’s worth noting that he didn’t say, “This is going to be tough and I’m going to need your help.” He didn’t say “These problems are hard and they’re going to require compromise or sacrifice.” He said it would all be “so easy.”

These two rationales overlapped each other with the promise of endless winning. He’ll fight to make deals, and he’ll make deals to win. And it worked — on the campaign trail. But campaigning and governing are different things, and as time has gone by, the two rationales have coiled around each other like a two-headed snake fighting itself.

By wanting to seem like a fighter, he makes it harder to be a dealmaker, because being a fighter has come to be defined as not giving in, not compromising, and not earning the wrath of Ann Coulter’s Twitter feed.

The Tyranny of the Gut

Trump’s definition of being a great dealmaker is merely a facet of his core belief that his instincts are superior to anyone else’s expertise, facts, or judgment. “I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody’s brain can ever tell me,” Trump told the Washington Post.

To paraphrase Ben Shapiro, Trump’s feelings don’t care about anyone’s facts.

This is why my eyes roll like billiard balls on the deck of the Titanic whenever someone claims that Trump has some long-term plan to out-maneuver his opponents. We saw a riot of this stuff during the shutdown.

Talk to virtually any Republican senator (away from a television camera), and they’ll tell you that Trump’s insistence upon going with his gut from moment to moment makes it almost impossible to craft deals because they never know whether he’ll change his mind or honor his commitments.

There were multiple opportunities to cut immigration deals throughout his presidency, but because he responds to stimuli more than arguments or planning, he missed them all. Remember Paul Ryan’s Border Adjustment Tax? Not only would it have made Mexico pay for the wall, it would have really replaced NAFTA rather than modestly update it. The Oracle of His Gut took a pass. A year ago this week, he could have gotten $25 billion for a wall in exchange for a DACA deal. The Gut said no. Or rather, Stephen Miller went over Lindsey Graham’s head to Trump’s gut. And again, last month his intestinal homunculus vetoed a deal that was better than the one he just signed.

And so that’s why he’s declaring a national emergency. He drove past every off-ramp provided over the last two years, because his gut was giving him directions from the shotgun seat. And now, with the Democrats controlling the House, he’s out of gas on the issue. There is no national emergency now, but he steered himself into a political one. And neither he nor his cheerleaders can see the difference.

Gangsterism and Socialism

On the latest episode of The Remnant, I talked with my AEI colleague Roger Noriega about the situation in Venezuela. If you’re interested in a deeper dive than the usual fare on what’s going on — both down there and in the White House, I think it’s worth a listen. And for those of you who think I can’t praise Trump when called for, let me say that I think the Trump administration has handled the Venezuela issue very well.

But Roger made a point that helped me flesh out something that’s been gestating in my head for a while. I have no problem with conservatives who want to highlight the horror in Venezuela as a cautionary tale about socialism.

But as Roger noted, there’s a lot of explanatory power in seeing Venezuela as a gangster state. The regime behaves like a crime family, buying support like a Don who gives everyone a turkey come Christmastime. And, if you read my book, you’d know that I think the way Mafia Dons operate is one of the oldest and most natural forms of political organization. It’s how Ancient Rome worked — competing clans buying loyalty or “true friendship” in exchange for protection and, often, food. This is the politics of the Big Man, which defined most tribal societies for millennia.

What’s interesting to me is how thin the line between this form of politics and socialism (or fascism) is. The most important thing about the rule of law — including property rights — is that it insulates society from this form of politics. In “natural” societies, justice follows blood. Certain people get different treatment because of their status or class. One set of rules for the prince, another for the peon. Under the rule of law in the Anglo-American tradition, everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. A man’s home is his castle isn’t just a phrase, it’s a cultural norm that stretches from feudal England to the Fourth Amendment. Even the king or the police need a good and lawful reason to violate your rights, even if you’re a nobody.

Look, I know very well there are many kinds of socialism. But wherever socialism has teeth, it veers closer to gangsterism because it depends on the use of arbitrary power, either by the state or, in essence, the mob. If you really want economic equality, you need to take money from people who earned it and give it to, or spend it on, people who didn’t. “Fighting income inequality” doesn’t change the fact that the state is using force based upon an aesthetic conceit about how society should look.

When you hand power over to planners, technocrats, or commissars to substitute their judgement for the rule of law, you are behaving like an outlaw, because you are literally outside the law.

Now, you might object that if socialists come to power democratically and pass laws to “abolish billionaires” or otherwise confiscate wealth to give it to people “unwilling to work” or pay for the Green New Deal, it’s not unlawful. This gets thorny, and I don’t want to get deep into the weeds of Hayek’s distinction between law and legislation. But we don’t need to do that. First of all, one of the reasons we have a Bill of Rights is that the founders recognized that laws can be as illegitimate and dangerous as any monarchical whim. I would hardly be surprised if Nicholas Maduro and Hugo Chavez before him could point to some law or judicial ruling for every horrible thing they did. We know the Soviet Union had plenty of laws, but that didn’t make Stalin any less of a gangster. Once you are outside the rule of law, you live under the rule of force.

When the law moves away from neutral rules applicable to all, it moves toward arbitrary power, which is a form of tyranny. As John Locke put it, “tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to.” Tyranny is just a fancy word for gangsterism, because in both cases it’s about someone’s individual will being the ultimate authority. If it is tyrannical for a single ruler to violate your rights, it becomes no less tyrannical if 535 elected legislators do it.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The Fair Jessica is out of town this weekend at a family get-together, and the dogs are pissed. Well, not so much pissed as crazy needy, even though I took them out this morning for an extra special adventure. Expect a lot of dog-tweeting. Anyway, they had quite a week. On one outing with Kirsten, our cherished workday dogwalker and their beloved pack leader, Pippa had a grand time. Too grand. She found a rich deposit of goose poop and said “YOLO” and did her best Andy Dufresne impersonation. When Kirsten brought Pippa home, poor Jessica had to rinse her for fifteen minutes before she even bothered with the soap. As expected, the #TeamPippa hordes on Twitter took the spaniel’s side. Perhaps because of the bath trauma, Pippa was on good behavior for about 48 hours. Then on Thursday, Zoë once again got fed up with Pippa’s tennis ball act and literally said, “If I can’t play, no one can.” Okay she didn’t say it with words, but with deeds. The interesting thing about the video of Zoë burying the ball is that this is very typical behavior of Carolina dogs, though in their natural environment they often do it with their poop. Zoë doesn’t bury her poop, though she does like to kick some leaves over it. But she has a long track record of burying: bones, squirrels, chipmunks, sticks, and now, Pippa’s tennis balls. Meanwhile, Gracie is fine. And I’m sure my wife’s cat is doing okay somewhere. Oh, and reports from my Mom’s house are that Fafoon continues to judge you.

ICYMI…

Last week’s G-File

The Disruptors to Come

Ilhan Omar’s Lazy and Anti-Semitic Tweets

Oh, FAQ Me

Northam’s Vanity Project

Glop Ep. 112: Dirty Laundry

The Remnant Episode 86: Venezwailin’

Trump Can Win Again Only If Democrats Keep Moving Leftward

There Is No New Deal

We’ll Regret This

New Deals (Even Green Ones) Are Bonanzas For Big Business

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Valentine’s Day links

Rabbits surfing on sheep to escape rising floodwaters

Barsik the cat voted more popular than other mayoral candidates in Siberian city

Henry VII’s bed has unknowingly been used by guests in a hotel

Canadians being Canadian and freezing their hair

Snowball fight turns into a riot near West Virginia University

Wildlife center will name salmon for your ex, feed it to a bear

Monopoly on love

Good dogs

Man hits his brother with a lamp in a fight over who owns their cat

Aircraft carrier launches a truck off its deck

Dogs before Instagram

The Westminster Dog Show

Woman attacks a store with a baseball bat because they were out of her favorite patties

Border collie perfection

We all knew this was true

Get her the breadstick bouquet she really wants

Naked pooping

The tragic death of American hero: Mars rover Opportunity

In case you ever felt like eating breakfast in a stadium bathroom

Black Leopard

The real reason Will Smith turned down The Matrix

Runner (not Jack) fights off mountain lion

Energy & Environment

Udder Madness

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Including all of the Democrats who wore blackface but forgot to tell anybody),

Where is Gary Larson when you need him?

I loved Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Dilbert, and Bloom County, but I was in awe of The Far Side. Larson could do more in one panel — daily — than the best often did in three. And he was weird, and I like weird (you’d know that if you could see what I’m wearing right now).

Anyway, I could write about Larson all day long, so long as the armadillo I have under my breastplate doesn’t need to go to the bathroom.

But I should get to the point.

Larson loved cows, and he made them into cultural things like no one before.

“I’ve always thought the word ‘cow’ was funny,” Larson once said. “And cows are sort of tragic figures. Cows blur the line between tragedy and humor.”

And that’s why we need him now.

Contained within the FAQ for the Green New Deal is one of the greatest sentences ever written with the intention of being taken very, very seriously:

We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.

I love this sentence so much I want to stand outside its house holding up a boom box blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.”

I love the attempt to seem pragmatic. We’re not crazy radicals here, we’re just going for net-zero emissions rather than zero emissions in ten years because we are part of the reality-based community.

This is like the straight man in a comedy team saying something banal and serious to set up his partner for the punchline. “We just need a little more time to get rid of the farting cows and the airplanes.” It’s like Ben Franklin’s “Fart Proudly” essay, except they’re not really in on the joke.

And this is where we need Larson. The Green New Dealers don’t want to get rid all of the cows because bovine genocide is not part of the Commissar’s Ten-Year Plan. But fear not, we’ll get there one day. And even the farters have a little more than a decade to get their affairs in order. But make no mistake: We’re coming for you flatulators (shut up, I need that to be a word). We’re like Kurt Russell in Tombstone, and there’s gonna be a reckoning for you cud-chewing milk-beasts because while we like the cheese we get from you, you must be liquidated for the sin of cutting the cheese.

Leave aside that “Farting Cows and Airplanes” would make a great band name. Forget that it can be read in such way that the airplanes fart too. How many Far Side cartoons could we get out of the image of cows turning on each other for the sin of letting one rip? Remember, all cows fart. (I want to thank the Powers that Be for giving me the opportunity to write that sentence in the context of a serious public-policy debate.) So singling out just the “Farting Cows” as if they are a separate class of animals — the hooved climate kulaks of Al Gore’s Animal Farm remake — conjures images of cows throwing each other under the bus when the Green Commissars show up.

“It was Clarence!” Shouts a cross-legged cow.

“Shut up, Bessy! The Inspector knows that whoever smelt it dealt it!”

You know what you call the cows that successfully survive the purge? The laughing stock.

(On that note, as Dom DeLuise shouted from his trailer before coming out in a Speedo, let me apologize for what you’re about to see next.) It would be udder chaos as each cow tried to be neither seen nor herd because the steaks would be so high. I know I’m milking this by butchering a very serious topic. I don’t want to steer you wrong, and I understand why you might have beef with all of these puns that have moved pasture your lactose tolerance.

They Put It in Writing
Don’t have a cow — I know I am having too much fun with this. And, yes, I know that the methane from cattle is a serious issue. But come on. Just look at this whole thing from a hard-nosed political perspective and you have to see what an unbelievable gift this whole thing is to the very people whom believers in the Green New Deal hate the most.

If you tilt your head and squint, this whole thing looks a bit like Jerry Maguire.

If you’ve never seen the movie, you should. It’s good. But I’m going to assume you did and not recap the whole thing. The kid of a hockey-player client makes sports-agent Jerry Maguire feel guilty about how he exploited his dad. Combined with a bout of indigestion, Jerry writes a 25-page manifesto on why his firm should have fewer clients. He distributes the memo to all of his partners and they all applaud, knowing in their cynical hearts that he signed his own career death-warrant. Soon, he’s asked out to lunch by his Beta — excuse me, Beto O’Rourke-esque partner Bob Sugar to get the bad news. “You did this to yourself. You said ‘fewer clients.’ You put it all on paper,” Sugar explains.

Later, Jerry realizes the full scope of his screw-up and why he’s “cloaked in failure.”

They will teach my story to other agents on “do not do this” day in agent school. Why? Lets recap. Because a hockey player’s kid made me feel like a superficial jerk, I had two slices of bad pizza, went to bed, grew a conscience and wrote a 25-page Manifesto of Doom!

Now, I know some of you are thinking, “How’s that armadillo doing?” He’s fine. Don’t worry. I also know that others of you are thinking that I self-owned myself because Jerry Maguire has a happy ending. Well, here’s the thing: This isn’t a movie.

I’m not going to go over all of the reasons why anything like the Green New Deal will never happen — though I covered a couple in my column. All you have to do is contemplate the tens of millions of jobs — automotive, oil and gas, manufacturing, agricultural — that would be destroyed to understand why politically the Green New Deal, as proposed, might as well be a call to mandate that vegan unicorns crap iPhones. And you can promise to tackle farting cows and planes down the road all you like, it won’t sound any more reasonable to the voters who decide every election. I mean, it’s never a good sign when Nancy Pelosi — who considers climate change her defining issue — brushes you off like she’s a high school principal handed a student petition to abolish homework.

And yeah, I know, the Green New Dealers have an answer: Think of all the jobs we’d create building a new electric grid and high-speed rail system, retrofitting every building in the United States, not to mention the Great Round-Up of the Gassy Cows.

Even if one were to take all of that seriously — an if larger than Egon’s hypothetical Twinkie in Ghostbusters — you don’t have to be Mancur Olsen to understand that the interests invested in the economy as it is aren’t going to bite at your offer of magic beans, and not just because beans make you fart.

Don’t Uncork the Champagne
Nancy Pelosi has many faults, but she understands the facts on the ground. It was Pelosi more than Obama who pulled off Obamacare because she understood that you have to co-opt the “stakeholders,” not declare war on them, to achieve anything significant. She knows that if she were to embrace the Green New Deal (or Medicare for All) it would be the greatest gift she could give to Donald Trump and the GOP, because the stakeholders would stampede, like a herd of cattle fleeing the fart police, to the party that promises to save them.

There’s a reason President Trump proclaimed in the State of the Union last year a few days ago, “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.” If Trump is going to get reelected — another giant-Twinkie-sized if in my opinion — he needs to reignite the Flight 93 Binary Choice panic that allowed him to pull off his win in the Electoral College last time. (As of now, there’s almost zero chance he can win the popular vote.) The White House is reportedly — and understandably — giddy over the Dems’ lurch left. Kamala Harris recently told Jake Tapper that she would like to erase the insurance plans of more than 100 million Americans and destroy private insurance companies wholesale. Where will those voters and insurance PAC dollars go if they took her seriously?

Yet none of this means all is good with the world. Many conservatives — including yours truly — are having great fun watching leading Democrats embrace something that can so easily be turned against them.

It’s a quaint memory now, but the goal of the conservative movement was not to make the GOP more conservative. That was step one in a two-part plan. The real goal was to make the country more conservative. That requires moving the center of gravity in politics rightward. How does that project look today?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpUWrl3-mc8

So while it may be good news in the short-term for Republican politicians for the Democrats to veer wildly to the left, it’s not good news for the country or our cause that conservatism has been redefined as Trumpism for millions of Americans (including millions of conservatives). When large swaths of young voters — the largest bloc of voters in America — look to someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as their spokesperson, the Overton window moves in a direction conservatives should not celebrate because it is likely to slam shut on our squishy bits. Many of the people spinning the largely frivolous Trump State of the Union as a masterstroke are implicitly endorsing his moves leftward on legal immigration, infrastructure, trade, paid family leave, and — I would argue — foreign policy.

The larger point is that when you ask for and get a “disruptor” in the Oval Office, you don’t necessarily get to choose the form of the disruptions you get. Conjure a Stay Puft Man or Godzilla all you like, there’s no guarantee that the behemoth will only smash the things you want smashed. Retaining walls that serve valuable purposes will likely get smashed, too.

The Democrats have become radicalized in no small part because of their hatred of Donald Trump. And because that is the defining mindset of the Left these days, it creates breathing room for other forms of radicalism. The people pushing Trump to declare a national emergency to build his wall will undoubtedly rationalize the move on the grounds that he was elected to be a disruptor and the fact that the Democrats are so “obstructionist.” Maybe he’ll get the wall, maybe he won’t. But he will leave in his path enough flattened barriers to executive power that the next Democrat will have no problem using the exact same talking points for her or his emergency declaration. (As I write in the new cover story for National Review, the Left is much better, and has a far richer history, at declaring national emergencies to justify its power grabs.)

More broadly, the Trump years may mark some significant policy and political victories, but culturally it has been a boon for the Left. Just in the last week or so, we’ve seen the Democrats come closer than ever to literally — not figuratively — endorsing infanticide and socialism. Again, that’s arguably good news for partisans looking at the next election, but it’s a nightmare in the larger context, in part because the Democrats could still win despite that baggage. And while the Unicorn Caucus will never get everything that it wants, you can come well short of the slaughter of the farting cows and still do profound damage to the country.

Various & Sundry
Canine Update: It’s generally been a good week on the dogger front, though last night Zoë got angry about all of the attention I was giving Pip. People following my dog tweets understandably think Pippa is the star of the Goldberg Canine Show because she brings so much action, but the truth is Zoë is still the alpha and gets the alpha’s share of the spoils. And sometimes, she’s even the star on Twitter. Still, Pippa was feeling good about herself because she conquered a personal goal earlier in the day. And she gets her share of attention too. Oh and here’s a special treat. While cleaning up my hard drive I found some old Puppy pics of Zoë.

The real challenge on this front is meeting the unexpected demand for Fafoon content. Fafoon is one of my mom’s three cats and I’m constantly asked for more Fafoon tweets (mostly by @ComfortablySmug). Since I’m only up at grandma’s so often, it can be difficult to make supply meet demand.

I’ll be on Face the Nation this Sunday.

As I mentioned above, I have the cover essay in the new issue of National Review (which prompted Rich Lowry, for the first time ever I believe, to cite something I wrote as one of his Editor’s Picks on the Editor’s podcast. Though he did deliciously grumble about my shots at nationalism).

We’ve had a string of great Remnant podcasts of late, including two this week with Noah Rothman and Daniel Hannan.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

My Rundown appearance

My now out-of-date SOTU prediction column

Lord of the Rings is not racist

My now out-of-date plugging of my now-out-of-date SOTU prediction column

No one will host the Oscars

The Virginia mess

Rothman Remnant

On Cold War movies

The dangerous Green New Deal

V&S

Debby’s Tuesday links

Mutant squirrels

Good dog

Closet monster

Using the internet in the 21st century

D.C.’s Beltway, elsewhere

Was James Brown murdered?

How the Klan almost bought a university

Crypto misfortune

Bigfoot lives?

Your lost family photos might be in seal feces

The bunny murderer

Papal ninja upgrade

China’s tiny garbage men

Goat invasion

Florida politician face licker resigns

Culture

The Definition of Dogma

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Including those looking to pounce on this “news”letter),

One of my three favorite essays by George Orwell begins:

Somewhere or other Byron makes use of the French word longeur, and remarks in passing that though in England we happen not to have the word, we have the thing in considerable profusion.

Well, I have need of a word, not for a thing so much as for a kind of word.

I need a word for the kinds of words that people think are universal and objective but are used by those same people only selectively and subjectively.

For example, for years I’ve written about how almost everybody believes in censorship, but they only use the word censorship to describe censorship they don’t like. There are people who genuflect to “Banned Book Week” but also insist that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be pulled from libraries because it uses the N-word. But they don’t call that censorship. There are people who are totally for free speech, but if you ask them if it should be legal to broadcast hardcore porn on Saturday morning broadcast TV, they suddenly start replacing the word “censorship” with things like “reasonable regulation” and “community standards.”

One of my favorites is “hate.” Decrying hate has been a thing for a long time. JFK was visiting what became the “City of Hate” when he went to Dallas (unfortunately for the narrative-mongers, he was killed by a different kind of hater: a Communist). And I’m sure people paid lip-service to hating hate long before that. But the volume really got amped up with the gay-rights movement in the 1980s. Somebody made bank on those “Hate Is Not a Family Value” bumper stickers.

But the thing is hate is a family value. By a show of hands, who thinks I’d be a great dad if I said to my daughter, “I don’t hate Nazis” or “You shouldn’t hate racism”? Yeah, I know Christians have that whole “Hate the sin, not the sinner” thing, but the point stands. You’re supposed to hate what is hateful. As Proverbs says, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.”

Once you start looking around, you see these kinds of words all over the place — fair, pragmatic, realist, et al. — that claim to be universally true but are really used selectively. They’re not euphemisms, per se, because the people using them think that they’re using them sincerely.

Consider certainty. The late Times man Anthony Lewis insisted that one of the two great lessons he learned over the course of his career was that “certainty” is a great evil: “[C]ertainty is the enemy of decency and humanity in people who are sure they are right, like Osama bin Laden and John Ashcroft.”

How I wish I could have asked him if he was certain about that.

But more to the point, this is ridiculous. Was Martin Luther King Jr. the enemy of decency and humanity because he was certain that black people had a right to be treated with decency and humanity? As they say on Twitter: big if true.

Of course, part of what I am talking about is simply the plague of double standards. But that’s not exactly it, either. First, because behind every double standard usually resides a hidden single standard someone is afraid to admit. But also because there are some words that are supposed to evoke a single standard. Wealth isn’t that kind of word because everyone understands that wealth is relative. Tall, short, fat, hot, cold, and a thousand other adjectives all assume a context. Hot compared to what? Tall compared to whom? Phoenix in July is hot, but it’s downright frigid compared to the surface of the sun. Andre the Giant was tall, but not next to a redwood.

Meanwhile, the words I have in mind are categorical. Rape and murder are wrong. Everywhere, always. If you’re in a situation where you think a rape or murder might not be wrong, it’s probably either because there was doubt about whether it was really a murder or rape or because you’re a terrible person.

This is what Kant meant by a categorical imperative — something that is true regardless of context. For Kant, the one clear categorical imperative was essentially the Golden Rule: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” We should all “act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in another, always as an end, and never as only a means.” I’ll be the first to admit that’s a tall order.

Moral progress, or the story of civilization, is a scavenger hunt for categorical imperatives, a search for truths that are — or should be — true everywhere. And that process is best understood as dogma formation.

If I should ever accomplish enough that people try to find a theme in the great swirling pudding of my collective writings, they could do worse than to say I sought to restore the good name of dogma.

Dogma, Now and Forever

Whenever I hear someone opine how dogma is dangerous or bad or a sign of closed minds, I always wonder whether they realize how dogmatic they sound.

Dogma derives in part from the Greek dokein, meaning that which seems good. “Seems” is an important word here, because sometimes what seems to be true isn’t. And therefore, responsible thinkers should question dogma from time to time. But intellectually serious questioning isn’t synonymous with undermining, dismissing, or destroying. It’s like an inspection of a machine or a barracks or a business model. Sometimes you discover everything is working the way it should. If I check to make sure my daughter is sleeping safe and sound, I don’t wake her up if I find her as expected and hoped. I leave her be.

Since at least Rousseau and Nietzsche, and straight through the American pragmatists, questioning dogma has come to mean dismantling dogma. And this, in itself, has become a kind of dogma.

We teach people that they should reject everything from the conventional wisdom to the teachings of organized religion. Be a maverick. Be true to yourself. Don’t be a conformist. It’s gotten to the point where a superficial nonconformity is the new conformity. Herds of independent minds think that they are rebels by rebelling in great ravenous packs against anyone who disagrees with them. Like flocks of starlings they move in awesome tandem, thinking they are soaring independently when they are in fact swarming together to the beat of their own dogma.

This gets to the heart of why I am a conservative. Civilization is a verb. In our natural environment, murder wasn’t defined as the unwarranted or unjust taking of a human life, but of the unjust or unwarranted killing of a member of my tribe. And even then, the definition of “unjust and unwarranted” was unjust and, often, unwarranted. Rape of the enemy’s women wasn’t evil — it was a right, a just dessert. It was only through thousands of years of trial and error, of religious discovery and cultivation, that the definition of good and evil got closer to the categorical.

In short, we learned some lessons. Even today, among the supposed anti-dogmatic free-thinkers, the majority of their most strongly held moral convictions are dogmatic ones. Are you dogmatically opposed to racism, or do you like to take such questions on a case-by-case basis? What are your views on rape? Murder? Genocide? Do you have an open mind on these things? Do you need to hear both sides?

Abraham Lincoln was right when he said the following in 1861:

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country.

Shall we — in the name of open-mindedness — revisit the “dogmas of the quiet past” and treat slavery as an open question, or shall we all agree, dogmatically agree, that the question of slavery is settled?

The notion that conservatives are the dogmatists and progressives are the free-thinkers is one of the greatest triumphs in the history of the intellectual marketing of bullsh**. Conservatives simply acknowledge that we have dogma, that some questions are settled, and that while they can be questioned or revisited, the amount of new evidence required to overturn them should be monumental and decisive, not faddish and rationalized in the emotions of the moment.

If anything, progressives are the more dogmatic precisely because they think that they are free of dogma, free to fly from one conclusion to another as the crow flies, with no concern for the trial and error that came before. Social justice is not a philosophy. If it were, its practitioners would not struggle in vain to come up with a definition for it. It is priestcraft. It is a self-justifying writ for the power of a mob that is sure it is right. Because they think that they are free of dogma, whatever feels right at any given moment must be right.

As Chesterton said, “In truth there are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogmas and know it, and those who accept dogmas and don’t know it.” Conservatives have been wrong and will be wrong again. But at least conservatives wait for the truth to fully reveal itself, because we recognize the danger of overturning dogma without a good reason.

This is the main point of my book(s). Declaring war on your own civilization because it’s not changing at the pace you want it to be is a kind of autoimmune disorder, an intellectualized childishness. Children think they are ready — to drive, to cross the street alone, to drink alcohol, whatever, before they are. They say, with frustration, “I know how” when they do not.

The importance of family; the value of “bourgeois norms”; the right to be free to speak, pray, defend yourself, reap the fruits of your labors; the dangers of centralized planning, arbitrary power, faction, and the mob: All of these things are part of my dogma. I know this. I celebrate it. And I am happy to debate it all, because I know what my dogma is, and I know that it was learned at a cost paid for with the blood of billions of humans over thousands of generations.

The reason I get into so many fights with my fellow conservatives these days is that many of them have grown contemptuous of their own dogma. The free market is now just a tool, the Brain Trusters of the New Deal were right after all: If you put the right people in charge, they can plan your life better than you can. Meanwhile the pagans of the alt-right call constitutionalists “paper worshippers,” “vellum supremacists,” and “parchment fetishists.”

Acknowledging your dogma is like acknowledging your biases; it’s a necessary step to thinking seriously. Chesterton said it best: “Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense . . . becoming more and more human.” He continues:

When [man] drops one doctrine after another in a refined skepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

On Infanticide

What put me in this frame of mind is the latest debate over abortion (which I write about here). I have complicated views on abortion that don’t line up perfectly with most pro-lifers. But my views on infanticide are not complicated. It’s murder. And until very recently, it was normal. “Infanticide has been practiced on every continent and by people on every level of cultural complexity, from hunter-gatherers to high civilizations, including our own ancestors. Rather than being an exception, then, it has been the rule,” writes anthropologist Laila Williamson.

I am perfectly willing to concede that the number of women who seek to “abort” fully viable, born, or near-born babies is small as a statistical matter. But so what? It’s not zero. (If it were, Kermit Gosnell wouldn’t be in jail.) The number of truly innocent people put to death via capital punishment is smaller. That doesn’t make killing an innocent person any less outrageous. Barbara Boxer famously suggested that it’s not a baby until you bring it home from the hospital. That is grotesque. It’s like a magical incantation that rewinds the clock of human progress by millennia, made no less barbaric because it was said on the Senate floor. Indeed, saying it on the Senate floor made it more barbaric. When barbarians hacked and cleaved one another in the Black Forest, their barbarism seems natural. When they sacked Rome, the backdrop sets off the barbarism.

When we talk about capital punishment, opponents and supporters alike pay tribute to the importance of safeguards and due process. When supporters of abortion on demand talk about abortion, they make it sound like any talk of safeguards is an outrage and any outrage over the murder of a baby is religious extremism and — shudder — dogmatism.

Various & Sundry

It’s on! The National Review Institute’s Ideas Summit is coming to Washington, D.C., on March 28 and 29! This year’s conference, “The Case for the American Experiment,” will bring together the conservative movement’s most influential thinkers and policy makers to debate our dogma. Space is limited, so please register today!

And since we’re on the subject of grand conservative confabs, on March 30, ISI will announce the Conservative Book of the Year. And, I’m proud to say, I’m in the running. Details here.

Canine Update: The quadrupeds are doing better with the weather than the bipeds. Some #TeamPippa loyalists were concerned that Zoë was being too rough on Pippa this week. Fear not. They roughhouse all the time, and Zoë knows that if Pippa uses her safe word (it’s very hard to spell given it’s a high pitched squeal), the Dingo will back off. This doesn’t mean they don’t have their arguments. And that’s understandable because Zoë and Pip just have different priorities. Even if they share certain passions.

The worst part of my week was when Pippa squealed even worse at me. On Sunday night, while I was trying to unfurl a poop bag to pick up the Paul Krugman column Pippa left on a neighbor’s lawn, Pippa was barking at me to kick her tennis ball. I kicked it hard, and it beaned Pippa right in the eye. She squealed and ran in a circle. Given her previous eye problem, I was consumed with guilt and worry. It turned out okay. It was a little swollen for a day, but now she’s fine.

Oh, one last dog-related thing. On the latest episode of The Remnant, Kristen Soltis Anderson came on to talk about politics, polling, etc. But more importantly, we spent the first fifteen minutes talking about dogs and her new beau Wally, a Turkish Golden Retriever imported to America to do jobs American dogs won’t do.

ICYMI…
Last week’s G-File

(The B-side)

The Trump/AOC double standard

Me on Glass

The latest GLoP

The new gridlock

Feelings vs. facts

Poor John

The left takes the low ground on abortion

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Tuesday links

Debby’s Friday links

Robot loses job

Avalanche dog training

Confused dog

Hero dog

The bear necessities?

[Citation needed]

What Alec Guinness thought of Star Wars during its production  

Florida Man doesn’t disappoint 

Unexpected whimsy

No, you’re not high

Sled dog

Frankenfood

A good decision

Foiled again!

Awww…

Oldest animal ever discovered by scientists

Newfound Distant Space Rock May Be Missing Link of Planet Formation

Scientists Prepare for Mission to Jupiter’s Icy Moon Europa

There’s a snowman in space

Stranger Holds Umbrella for Deputy Paying Tribute in the Rain to Fallen Comrade

Man bites croc

The World’s First Smart Toilet for Dogs Has Arrived

Ancient Egyptian wine cellar containing coins and ceramics discovered by archaeologists

Giant Teddy Bears Are Taking Over Paris

Politics & Policy

The Problem of Identity

Loading...

Editor’s Note: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (And everyone who won so much from the government shutdown),

World-renowned rodent fornicator Roger Stone was arrested this morning, providing a wonderful moment to be literal, figurative, and literary all at once: for it would take a heart of Stone not to laugh. This lexicological ménage à trois should not be confused with the sort of threesome Roger solicited in Local Swing Fever.

By the time you get this “news” letter, you will probably know the details, so we won’t linger over them the way he lingers over his own pecs in the mirror or the glutes of the single dude who answered Stone’s Web ad:

Hot, insatiable lady and her handsome body builder husband, experienced swingers, seek similar couples or exceptional muscular . . . single men,

And some of Stone’s defenders call me a “cuck.”

My point is, this isn’t like the situation with Michael Flynn, a man who gave decades of courageous service to his country and ended up straying from the path (to one extent or another). Even Paul Manafort, who shares many of Stone’s ethical and moral shortcomings — going back at least to their work together defending various Third World dictators as leaders of the “Torturers’ Lobby” — is a different creature than Stone. Manafort at least maintained the pretense of decorum and decency in public. The defining attribute of Manafort is simple, swampy greed. Stone literally brags about his sleaziness. He wears it on his immaculately tailored sleeves. When a New Yorker writer asked him why he moved to Miami, he quoted a Somerset Maugham line: “It’s a sunny place for shady people. I fit right in.”

It’s funny because it’s true.

It was thanks to his contacts with the Florida sex industry that Stone successfully orchestrated the downfall of Eliot Spitzer. While I am the first to concede that there were some silver linings to seeing that thuggish Javert removed from the public stage, that doesn’t compel me to admire the man and his means (including, for instance, his threatening prank call to Spitzer’s 80-year-old father).

Similarly, the predawn raid on his home may have been over the top (time will tell if Mueller had a good reason for it), but the idea that it should arouse so much sympathy for a man who boasts of his lack of sympathy for others, his alleged threat on a man’s dog if he cooperated with Mueller, his habit of wishing death on inconvenient women and of hurling dimwitted racist taunts, not to mention his bottomless record of dirty tricks, strikes me as a moral red herring.

Speaking of bottoms, I’m more torn about the plethora of jokes on the Twitter on how he might enjoy prison given his proclivities. And I’m not referring to his back tattoo of Richard Nixon, which would make for a great visual as he worked out à la Robert De Niro in Cape Fear.

I’m torn because jokes about prison rape are justifiably condemned these days. Like any rape, it’s a heinous crime. But that’s not what I’m getting at.

You see, Stone is an avowed “libertine” who says “I’m trysexual. I’ve tried everything.” So while Stone doesn’t hesitate to say, “Die, bitch,” or express hope that his interlocutor kill herself, I am not wishing any violence on the man. Even his threat to disappear a man’s dog — which raises particular rage in me — should not cause one to stoop to his level (even though it says in the Bible, “Verily, ye may bathe in the blood of lawyers and sophisters, a man’s dog is beyond the reach of vengeance”— okay, it’s implied).

Stone often wooed the ladies by noting that, thanks to his tat, “you’ll never meet another man with a d*** in the front and a d*** in the back,” another bon mot that might become both literal and figurative — if not quite literary — should he be incarcerated.

More seriously, I understand that the party line keeps moving from “Nothing happened” to “If it happened, what’s the big deal?” to, sometime soon, “You’re damned right it happened, and thank God it did!”

But working with foreign adversaries to criminally hack the servers of an American political party would be bad, regardless of what you — or I — think of Hillary Clinton (and to be clear, Stone has not been charged with that, yet). And no amount of shrieks of “But Uranium 1!” or “But her emails!” can change that fact. If the situation were reversed, the “But her emails!” people would be the first to admit this.

Moreover, lying to Congress and witness tampering are bad, too. That these are the charges Mueller is leveling at Stone lends credence to the appointment of Mueller in the first place. People are correct when they say that Congress is the proper venue for such investigations. But since Congress seemed uninterested in pursuing or exposing these lies, who else but Mueller was going to do it?

Regardless, if Stone is proven guilty, he should go to prison. And if he does, Stone should enunciate clearly, for, given his reputation, some of his confrères might be forgiven for mistaking his “But her emails” rants for a casting call for buttery males.


The Suicide of America, an Allegory
I was mugged a few times as a kid. In each instance, the mugger was black or Hispanic. If I were to write that, due to these experiences, I know all I need to know about black or Hispanic people, I’d be open to all manner of charges — racism and stupidity chief among them — and rightly so.

You know what else happened to me as a kid? Someone I didn’t like smirked at me (including a couple of the muggers). Why would it be any less idiotic to suggest that I now know everything I need to know about the smirkers amongst us? And yet, this week, a lot of people did exactly that:

Of course, they weren’t offended by all smirkers, just the white male smirkers — or white male Catholic smirkers. But the point is the same.

The Covington-kids controversy exposed what lies at the very heart of what ails our society these days. I’m not referring to the very real bigotry against Christians in general or Catholics in particular. Nor do I have in mind the equally real problems with social media or the various battle lines of the culture war. These are all expressions or manifestations of the underlying problem.

I am referring to the problem of identity. In mathematics, the transitive property of equality holds that if X equals Z, and Y equals Z, then X and Y are the same. But the social concept of identity holds that if person X is white, and person Y is white, then person Y is the same as person X. The language is rarely so simple as that, but the idea is.

During the Kavanaugh brouhaha, I wrote a column arguing that the fight was so intense because it was essentially an allegory. Why was Kavanaugh so angry about being called a drunkard and rapist, I asked? My answer:

The most common explanation — the hot take so hot it melted the conventional wisdom and forged a new concrete groupthink — is that Kavanaugh was so angry because he represents White Male Entitlement.

The WME explanation is a form of allegory, not argument. In allegories, the characters aren’t real people so much as metaphors for certain ideas. For instance, in The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), the main character is named Christian, and on his trek he encounters other abstractions in human form, such as Mr. Worldly Wiseman.

Kavanaugh is now Mr. White Male Entitlement, and as such, he is by definition wrong because that is his assigned role.

In the Covington spectacle, all of the players were assigned allegorical roles that stripped away any notions of true individuality. For untold thousands — or millions — of people, all you needed to know about the individuals involved was that they fit into pre-assigned roles of identity. The kids were white, they were Catholic, and some even wore MAGA hats. Nathan Phillips, the drumbeating Native American, was a Native American, he was old, and he was a veteran. Even when the truth started to trickle — and then flood — out, invested observers couldn’t let go of their original idea of how the story in their minds was cast.

The kids were harassed by a cult of bigots known as “Black Israelites.” But since they were black, countless people, from Phillips to the folks at the New York Times, struggled mightily to minimize or dismiss their pernicious role. Even when it was revealed that Phillips was at best, extremely deceptive, or more accurately, deliberately dishonest, people clung to the idea that he was the wronged party.

And, as Rich Lowry chronicles, even after it was revealed that the kids mostly behaved admirably, the witch hunters fell back on condemning them anyway because they wore those talismanically evil hats. As someone at Vox wrote: “The hats extinguished pretty much any benefit of the doubt a liberal observer might have given these kids.” David Simon declared: “Once a campaign prop, a MAGA cap now fronts for such raw evil.” Leading public intellectual Alyssa Milano declared that MAGA hats are “the new white hood.”

I want to move beyond the Covington thing to stay on my larger point, but it’s worth addressing one last example. My colleague Nicholas Frankovich penned a blog post that joined in the pile-on, because he made the understandable mistake of believing the initial video and the press coverage of it. His post wasn’t National Review’s editorial position any more than this “news” letter is.  When the truth was revealed, we deleted the post, and he and the magazine apologized. Since then, we’ve run some of the most thoughtful pieces condemning the pile-on. But because transitive-property thinking is so powerful, there are still hordes of people out there who simply refuse to let go of their anger at National Review and all its writers. They know the facts, they just don’t care because they are committed to a larger manifestation of this mindset. Despite numerous pro-Trump or Trump-sympathetic writers at National Review, despite all we’ve published about the Covington controversy that aligns with their views, we are seen as traitors to the cause among those who’ve invested themselves totally in Trump, Trumpism, and their fantasies of the glorious world Trump will deliver — or would deliver, if their allegorical hero had not been stabbed in the back. We are an evil “Them” now, and there’s no desire to rewrite the script to fit reality.

Me, Us, Them
“Identity,” Leon Wieseltier once suggested, might be thought of as “the solution to the problem of individuality.”

Wiseltier also argued that “individuality is ancient, identity is modern.” I understand what he meant, but I think he was wrong. Both are ancient concepts — timeless, actually — in the sense that both ideas lie at the heart of what it means to be a human. We all, to one extent or another, think of ourselves as unique, if for no other reason than the fact that we have access to our own minds and emotions, but not to other peoples’ — at least not in the same way. We don’t experience life through anybody else’s senses. The motivations of others may be knowable from time to time — and even shared — but they aren’t felt the way we feel our own wants and desires. (I should probably note that Wieseltier had some difficulty controlling his wants and desires when they conflicted with those of some women he worked with.)

What is true is that the idea of individuality, how we think about the rights and privileges we attach to the individual person, have changed across time and locale. But the individual conscience, the idea that “I am me,” has always been there because it is an emanation of the instinct to survive, which we all have.

Meanwhile, identity, the notion that the Me shares something important with others like Me, is eternal as well. We are a cooperative species that has managed to survive this long only because we figured out how to work together. For most of human history, tribes invested huge importance in the equivalent of MAGA hats. It was important — vital — to distinguish Us versus Them. So how one group wore their hair, painted their faces, or whatever else was a signal to distinguish friend from foe and was every bit as vital as the different uniforms of opposing armies. In a state of war, which is man’s natural state, the transitive property is a survival mechanism. One enemy warrior — or, for that matter, a bear or tiger — is no different than another, and not just because they look (or dress) alike.

In a modern, liberal democratic civilization, this form of thinking is dangerous. But because the tide of prosperity is sweeping away the traditional warrens of meaning and belonging, people are searching for off-the-shelf individuality, which is really a form of conformity to some flavor of identity. A certain amount of identity is inevitable — and often healthy — because we all belong to abstract categories that have meaning for us (though it’s always better to find meaning in more-substantial sources of identity). But the drive to replace individuality is often a sign of shallow and cheap individuality.

If one fears to be judged on your own merits because you know, deep in your soul, you’ll be found wanting, you’ll attach yourself to some abstract identity that gives you meaning you did not earn. The man who never served who claims to be a veteran, the veteran who never saw battle who claims to have fought bravely, the loser who falls back on his white skin to claim to be better than others, the minority who blames his failures or bad luck on the innate evil of the majority, the young activist who insists she must be listened to solely because she was born more recently than her more-informed elders: These and so many others are types of people who want to buy status on the cheap. And it is the very cheapness of the identity that causes us to cling to it ever more angrily. Women are more liberated than ever before, but they grow louder about their oppression. White supremacy has been erased from most hearts and from the law books alike, but we are told that this has only freed the menace to grow.

“An affiliation is not an experience,” Wieseltier writes. “It is, in fact, a surrogate for experience. Where the faith in God is wanting, there is still religious identity. Where the bed is cold and empty, there is still sexual identity. Where the words of the fathers are forgotten, there is still ethnic identity. The thinner the identity, the louder.”

Our system cannot work if we don’t honor the moral obligation to take people as we find them. And yet everywhere you look, you hear or read supposed intellectuals and moral influencers reducing vast swathes of people to abstract categories. From Black Lives Matter activists who only see skin color — or police uniforms — to supposed deep thinkers who make sweeping statements about Christians or the products of Christian education. Ta-Nehisi Coates is an intellectual rock star for reducing millions of people to their skin color. Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and their allies see “billionaires” as evildoers to be punished or eradicated solely for their membership in a class of people. Blacks rightly complain about the phenomenon of being singled out for the crime of “driving while black.” For the new levelers, the wealthy are guilty of the crime of existing while rich.

Large swathes of the Right are equally guilty, and not just the poltroons of the alt-right. In Texas, some Republicans wanted to defenestrate a Muslim Republican solely because he was a Muslim. Many on the right reflexively behave like the mirror image of Black Lives Matter, instantly crediting anyone who wears a police uniform, regardless of what they did.

When President Trump announced his candidacy he said:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Since then, the argument has changed somewhat. To his credit, he emphasizes the distinction between illegal and legal immigration more, but he also talks less and less about any “good people” coming here illegally. Instead, illegal immigrants are increasingly an undifferentiated mass of criminals, rapists, drug dealers, and sex traffickers. Of course, some are. And we have every right to fight illegal immigration, even when the illegal immigrants are good people.

But utterly lost in Trump’s increasingly desperate attempts to paint all illegal immigrants as an undifferentiated blob of danger is any attempt to recognize the humanity of the individuals involved. With the help of his enablers, every evil illegal immigrant is held up as X and every illegal immigrant, we are led to believe, equals X. And it’s a lie.

The transitive property is what makes identity politics and allegorical thinking possible, and it is incredibly dangerous to what this country is supposed to be about. I know a**holes who wear MAGA hats and I know great people who wear MAGA hats. I know wonderful, compassionate people steeped in a Christian education, and I know people who use their Christian credentials as a racket. There are illegal immigrants who should get the chair or rot in prison, and there are illegal immigrants who live honorable lives making wonderful contributions. Reducing millions of people to abstractions, indicted by collective guilt, because of the actions of a specific individual is the habit of mind that has led to more deaths — by which I mean murders — and systemic cruelties than any other in human history.

For God’s sake — and ours — try taking people as you find them.

Various & Sundry
My apologies for the epically long “news” letter today. As often happens, I planned to write about one thing and then the gods of the news cycle intervened. And I felt like I couldn’t let the Stone thing go, if for the only reason that I think it’s so funny to say “But her emails” five times fast and have it turn into “Buttery males.”

Canine Update: The girls are prospering — perhaps a bit too much. We’re increasingly worried that Zoë is getting too Rubenesque. The thing is, we really don’t overfeed her, and she gets plenty of exercise. Also, any diet that she interprets as favoritism toward Pippa could be a problem, not least because Zoë has no problem with eating Pippa’s food when she feels entitled. Any suggestions about how to deal with this are welcome. In the meantime, they’re loving life in the cold weather — and in the warm confines of our home. Though Zoë sometimes finds the mid-morning wait for adventure a melancholy affair, there are remedies for that. But Pippa is really enjoying her ability to show off her camouflage skills, and the ice doesn’t last long. Even the denial of mud service imposed by Old Man Winter can’t take the waggle out of Pippa’s caboose. And few things are more exciting than the return of the mater familias.

And now the other stuff

This week’s first Remnant, with Charles Lane, was a fun one. And hopefully by the time this reaches you the second Remnant will be up, on missile defense with Tom Karako. You can look here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Last week’s G-File

Last week’s G-File . . . B-side?

Will Trump get a primary challenge?

America doesn’t need a helicopter-mom-in-chief

Missing details

The mess we’re in

Good news for Suicide of the West (the book)

What might have been

Congressional Republicans and shutdown blame

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

Debby’s Friday links

Last words

Drunks for hire

Dog bites man, then . . . dog’s owner bites man

Nature’s revolt

Nature is revolting

Always wondered why no one ever did this

The world’s largest airport terminal

I bless the rains

“Bohemian Rhapsody” on a carnival organ

Reporter rescues drowning jogger

The Seventh Seal has been broken

Behold: the blood moon

Beware the EMPs

Tanning-salon Godfather

Staying safe on ice

U.S.

The Case Against National Solidarity

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Including all of the TSA Agents who’ve replaced woke children as the voices of wisdom in American life),

In my eons on the internet, one lesson I have tried to take to heart — not always successfully — is that in the long run, it’s best to stand on the sidelines of the great race to be wrong first.

To that end, I’ll just say that I don’t know if the BuzzFeed story alleging that Donald Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, and other nefarious doings, is true. One of the main reporters may or may not be trustworthy. All of the sources are anonymous. The story claims that there are documents supporting the charge, but the reporters may not have seen them, so if the sources are lying about the major facts, why wouldn’t they lie about the corroborating facts as well? As Brit Hume often likes to note, exclusive bombshells don’t stay exclusive for very long. If we go much longer without another news outlet corroborating the story, it’s likely because it can’t be corroborated for a reason.

But are the charges believable?

Trump defenders are right that we’ve been here before. Blockbuster allegations are reported. A few days later, the story either falls apart or deflates significantly. But here’s the interesting thing. Between the time of the initial report and the correction, one rarely hears the professional defenders say, “This story is unbelievable and false.” It’s only when the correction comes that they are suddenly overcome with indignation that anyone would suggest such a thing. Only after they have a factual backstop do they shriek, “you had to be suffering from Trump derangement syndrome to have believed the report in the first place!” These rhetorical lacunae are revealing, because I think it shows that the praetorians believe the charges are possibly true. (Also revealing: The tendency to stop shouting “Fake News” whenever MSM reporting is beneficial to the White House.)

But here’s the question: In your heart, do you think it’s believable that the president told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress? I mean, do you really think given his character, history, and temperament that it’s inconceivable that he would do such a thing?

I think it’s believable because we already know that the president has no problem with lying and encouraging others to lie about his dealings with Russia (and a few other things). During the campaign and after being sworn in, he categorically denied business dealings — ongoing or potential — with Russia. Before Cohen told Mueller that he had lied to Congress, Trump’s position was unequivocal.

After the Cohen testimony and other evidence came to light (including this signed letter by Trump), he didn’t say Cohen made it all up. He said it was no big deal that he looked “lightly” into such a deal. This is a recurring pattern.

So yeah, sure, the BuzzFeed story may be wrong in whole or in part, and if it is, BuzzFeed should pay dearly for it. But the fact that the story is so believable is both damning and significant.

Think of it this way: If your wife or husband thinks it’s entirely believable that you might be committing adultery, your marriage is in trouble regardless of whether or not you actually are cheating. That it is utterly believable that the president would do such a thing is an indictment of his presidency in and of itself.

This same logic applies just as forcefully to the FBI as well. I don’t subscribe to the various Deep State theories being peddled by the praetorians, but it is damning nonetheless that such theories are remotely plausible.

Changing Gears
So I’m doing something weird here (thank God there’s no video with this “news”letter), but that’s my business. I’m also doing something unusual. I just cut the rest of what was my nearly completed G-File to switch gears entirely. I’ll post the rest of my argument about Trump on the site, and hopefully by the time this thing goes out, there will be a link to put here.

I just caught my friend and colleague David French on MSNBC defending Karen Pence and the Christian school she’s going to teach at. I love listening to David defend Christian teachings in the MSM because he manages to be simultaneously unapologetic about his apologetics and wholly decent and un-scolding in the process.

Anyway, one of the points David made is right in my wheelhouse: He wants there to be as much freedom as possible for different schools and other institutions to teach their faith. If you’ve read or listened to me rant about federalism and civil society you know how dorkily passionate I am about this topic.

And that put me in mind to a question I got from an academic from a religious school last weekend when I was speaking at a conference for AEI’s Values and Capitalism program. After my usual rant about federalism and the importance of civil society, this guy asked me what’s wrong with First Things editor Rusty Reno’s calls for rethinking the Founding and the Enlightenment in pursuit of some new kind of Catholic-informed, New Deal-style project of national solidarity.

National Solidarity is Overrated
And that reminded me that Rusty has returned, like a dog to his vomit, to his attacks on me. If you recall, Rusty wrote a dumb review of my book a while back which began with the declaration: “Jonah Goldberg exemplifies the decadence and dysfunction of today’s public discourse.” For reasons I explained here, I thought this was impressively stupid, revealing the decadence and dysfunction in Reno’s Rusty-thinking.

In his latest effort, he puts the decadence and dysfunction on display yet again. But he also says some interesting things, and if you’ll forgive the self-congratulatory tone, they’re interesting because they track an argument I make at great length in my book. He argues that elites haven’t held up their end with regard to the rest of America. This is not a new argument, of course. It can be traced from Joseph Schumpeter to James Burnham to Irving Kristol and Christopher Lasch to Charles Murray in his prophetic Coming Apart.

As I discussed here last week in the context of Tucker Carlson’s jeremiad, I have no problem criticizing elites, but I think people are focusing mostly on the wrong elites.

My disagreement with Reno — aside from all the snide nonsense and bad faith — is the same problem I have with all of these arguments for centralizing power in Washington to “bring the country together” or some similar treacle.

Which brings me back to David French’s comments and Reno’s little project.

There’s an old joke about how the best form of government is the “good Czar.” The problem is that if you create a system dependent on the wisdom of a good Czar, you leave society defenseless against the rise to power of a bad Czar.

This insight, perhaps more than any other, is at the heart of the American political system envisioned by the founders. If men were angels, we wouldn’t need government, and if you could guarantee that every Czar is an angel, you wouldn’t need democracy, checks and balances, or divided government of any kind, either.

National solidarity is awesome when it’s on your terms. It’s only when people you don’t like get to define what constitutes national solidarity — which is synonymous with some notion of “national purpose” — that its proponents suddenly realize the problems. Then, when the people who say that “there’s no such thing as someone else’s child” or think that the Knights of Columbus is an ersatz hate group come into power, they’re suddenly like Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge Over the River Kwai asking, “My God, what have I done?”

The Founding, Again
The founders were acutely aware of this, which is why they opposed an established church like the Church of England. They saw how minority faiths had been persecuted in the name of national solidarity. The exhaustion after the religious wars of Europe minted the right to be wrong in the eyes of the majority or the state. In other words, they championed pluralism. As Ben Sasse writes in Them, we should all see ourselves as members of minorities.

Madison encouraged everyone to conceive of themselves as creedal minorities.

Assume that if you believe anything important or hold anything dear, it will not always align with majority opinion. Wise republicans (small-“r” republicans) — by which he meant all citizens of this new experiment in liberty, who had just observed a century-plus of religious war in Europe — should be aiming to preserve space for peaceful argument and thoughtful dissent. Government isn’t in the business of setting down ultimate truths. It doesn’t decide who’s saved and who’s damned. Government is merely a tool to preserve order, to preserve space for free minds to wrestle with the big questions. Government is not the center of life but the framework that enables rich lives to be lived in the true centers of freedom and love: houses and communities.

Reread George Washington’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

The founders, especially James Madison, understood that the kind of national solidarity Reno desires and Rousseau celebrated is not scalable for a large, diverse, ultimately continent-spanning nation — at least not while preserving liberty. Even Rousseau thought his (largely totalitarian) conception of the General Will could not work on a polity larger than his beloved Geneva.

The way to prevent tyrannical invasions into the liberties of others was to divide power, not just between the three branches of government, but between the central government and the states and smaller jurisdictions. Each state has divided government, as do most cities and even towns and counties. And it’s not just state power. Institutions, starting with organized religion, must be given substantial immunity to interference by the state – at any level.

Divide power and then divide it again and again, and you prevent factions from grabbing power and imposing their will on the whole. As Madison writes in Federalist No. 51: “Extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength and to act in unison with each other.”

Delaware’s John Dickinson put it well at the Constitutional Convention: “Let our government be like that of the solar system. Let the general government be like the sun and the states the planets, repelled yet attracted, and the whole moving regularly and harmoniously in their several orbits.”

This idea, which evolved organically and slowly out of English culture, became a philosophical program (See Hume’s Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth) and ultimately a “new political science.”

But don’t tell that to Reno. He ridiculously thinks he’s caught me in a great contradiction by celebrating Hayekian trial and error while heaping scorn on the “Bold persistent experimentation” of the New Deal. He writes:

But wait a minute. By Goldberg’s account, we’ve gotten to the Miracle by trial and error. It’s taken thousands of generations of experimentation. Thus, the Miracle, too, has been arrived at by “the very definition of the authoritarian method.” In other words, the liberal miracle is in the upshot of a crypto-fascist approach. This explains why Suicide of the West is full of denunciations of those who disagree with Goldberg. That’s what ideological authoritarians do. They don’t argue with reason and decency. They pillory, ridicule, and smear.

This is preposterous. The New Dealers wanted to crush the normal divisions of power (and had considerable success). Planners like Rex Tugwell thought they were smarter than the market and could set the prices for everything from Washington. They believed individuals could have enough knowledge to plan other peoples’ lives better than they could. That’s not bottom-up-trial and error from the little platoons of society (nor is it Catholic subsidiarity). It’s what Hayek called the Road to Serfdom. A previous editor of First Things, the late great Father Neuhaus, recognized this. As he and Peter Berger wrote, policymakers had to recognize and respect the role of intermediating institutions to advance e pluribus unum. “unum is not to be achieved at the expense of the plures. . . .the national purpose indicated by the unum is precisely to sustain the plures.”

It’s fine if Reno likes the New Deal — progressives of all parties tend to. And it’s certainly true that the New Deal borrowed influences from Catholic social thought, particularly from folks like Father John Ryan (and for a time Father Coughlin). But this is mind-bogglingly dumb, dishonest, or ignorant (or maybe all three).

The philosophical pragmatism of the technocratic progressives was the exact opposite of what I talk about in my book, and if he can’t see that, no wonder he gets so much else wrong.

But here’s the point. If you want to knock out what remaining safeguards there are against another New Deal, green or otherwise, you should ask yourself: Who will run it? And what will that mean for the things you hold dear? And how long will it be run by the good Czars you like?

After all, Obama wanted a new New Deal. How did his administration treat Catholics? How would it treat the schools David French is talking about? I understand that Rusty thinks he’s very persuasive, but count me skeptical that his new corporatist (in the real meaning of the word) New Deal  — or whatever he would call the tangible result of his gaseous wish casting — would have a particularly Catholic flavor or would treat Christian schools, charities, adoption agencies, or the Knights of Columbus as full partners in the project.

And even if this ridiculous pipe dream were to come to be, how corrupting would it be of those institutions in the long run? The very thing that has corrupted the elites Rusty denounces would in all likelihood corrupt the new elites too. How faithful is Catholicism in China today? How much witness did the Russian Orthodox Church bear in the old Soviet Union? Hell, give some religious “leaders” a taste of good radio ratings or a sweet land deal and a little fame these days and you can see how far they stray. Imagine what compromises they might make for the greater good and for the cause of national solidarity when they had real power. Power and status are more seductive than 30 pieces of silver.

Rusty bleats a lot about “Conservatism Inc.” as if it were a particularly clever or novel epithet. But oddly he also thinks he’s using it correctly. Here I am invoking the central arguments made by conservative thinkers from the founding until 2016 — including, for most of its history, his own magazine. I am defending the vision of the founders, the insights of Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, William F. Buckley, and the causes of religious and economic liberty which have made this country one of the most glorious accomplishments in all of human history, and he’s whining about how I’m being mean to the New Deal, which put an immigrant in jail for charging too little for pressing a suit and tried to erase religious practices that did not align with its central planning.

That’s not Conservatism Inc. That’s conservatism. American conservatism.

Conservatism Inc. these days is the lusting for the power, relevance, and fame we see all around us, and I guess Rusty wants his slice.

Various & Sundry
Canine Update: For the most part, all is great with the beasties. But there was one very bad incident for which we haven’t forgiven Zoë. The Dingo hasn’t gotten into a scrap with another dog for months, and she’s generally been an amazingly good girl about such things. We actually kind of thought we turned the corner. But then, while I was in Florida and my wife was shoveling snow, the Dingo got out of the house off leash at exactly the wrong moment. There are two very nice miniature spaniels on our block, and Zoë hates them with a blinding passion. Out in the park, she’s not territorial, but on our block she’s a member of Hezbollah and every other dog is an Israeli settler. She went after the dogs — who always try to pick fights with her, I should add — and she hurt them in the ensuing tussle. They’re okay now, but they did have to go the vet and we’ve obviously offered to pay the bill and have apologized profusely. Still, we need to revisit our security protocols. These things happen, but we hate it and we take it very seriously.

On the lighter side, that same weekend, the Fair Jessica had the dogs on a snow-covered trail along the Potomac. The only other person on the trail was a guy on a mountain bike riding in the snow (I didn’t think this was a thing). The guy said to her “Are those Jonah Goldberg’s dogs? Zoë and Pippa?” My wife thinks he thought she was the dog walker, so she said, “Yeah, those are <sarc> Jonah Goldberg’s </sarc> dogs.

I do think that one of the reasons Zoë was bad is that snow definitely brings out the wild side in her (and also the regal side). She doesn’t listen as well to the humans because it’s all so exciting! Pippa’s the same way, but as America’s Most Harmless Dog® it doesn’t really matter, and she always stays near the ball thrower anyway. But man do they love the snow! Pippa doesn’t even mind that no one noticed her new hairdo. The snow is also great because it depletes their batteries at an accelerated rate (once you get them inside). It also just makes them more photogenic.

ICYMI. . .

I’ve lost track of how many people said this latest episode of The Remnant podcast was among their favorites.

In fairness, I’ve also lost track of how many people have said “Shut up, cucks.” Decide for yourself.

Last week’s G-File

Will the shutdown ever end?

Chuck and Nancy vs. Nancy and Chuck

Trump’s “jokes”

The Russia muddle

What will the 2020 election be about?

Nancy Pelosi. . .is. . .right?

Giuliani isn’t helping Trump

How the media could hurt Democrats

The return of interbranch conflict?

Trump’s MacGuffin wall

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

What’s the loudest sound in the universe?

Did you get that memo?

RIP one of the greatest Americans who ever lived

The past resurfaces

We have a lot of cheese

The swing at the end of the world

Lab-grown human blood vessels

I thought this was America!

Pizza for eels

King Tut’s space dagger

Maine’s giant ice disk

2018’s award-winning ocean photos

Otters on a water slide

Vatican track team

Don’t do this
Fat clubs

Curing potato depression

Accidentally tasting peppermint

Whack-a-mole for dogs

How each Michigan county got its name

Politics & Policy

The Elite Convergence

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Even those otherwise occupied by their doorbell love),

Like Jeffrey Epstein when the new Sears Junior Miss catalogue comes out, I don’t know where to begin.

About 20 minutes ago (my time), I caught some of Senator Kamala Harris’s road show on Morning Joe. If there were a platitude-eating fungus that rapidly reproduced, by the end of the segment, everyone would have died from the crushing weight of the world’s largest mushroom.

I don’t really take offense at the platitudes, given that we are talking about a politician and also a U.S. senator running for president. What did bug me quite a bit, though, was how she oozed the sense that she was just nailing it. And no, this isn’t a sexist thing. I know we’re in the phase of the asinine conversation when we’re supposed to believe that finding a specific liberal woman annoying or unlikable proves that you hate all women.

I reject all of this and all attempts to bully me into compliance. I belong to the school that says women are human beings, and that means they are distributed up and down the likability scale, just like men. I find Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez likable, but not as likable as Amy Klobuchar, and more likable than Elizabeth Warren. And, just to establish a baseline,  compared to, say, the late Helen Thomas (the Stygian goblin who used to roost in the White House press gallery, her scaly talons glistening under the camera lights), they’re all so likable I’d join their cross-country Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants if it meant not sitting next to Thomas on a short flight.

Anyway, former senator Bill Bradley had the same quality as Harris. He’d say something like “Elections are vital to democracy” and then stop talking, as if the audience needed time to absorb the shockwave of a truth bomb of such magnitude. I read somewhere that Bradley didn’t like to hear applause at the end of his speeches because he interpreted silence as a sign of the audience’s awe at his wisdom.

Harris wasn’t that bad, but it was close.

The Ties that Bind

But there’s a more important point to make. I caught her in the middle of a dense disquisition on how diversity and unity are not in conflict because we all have so much more in common than what separates us. I wasn’t taking notes, and there’s no transcript, but fortunately National Review ran a piece three days ago that has all of these supposedly spontaneous observations from this morning verbatim.

Here’s that version of those remarks:

“The vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us,” Harris said. “When people are waking up in the middle of the night with the thing that has been weighing on them . . . they aren’t waking up thinking that thought through the lens of the party with which they’re registered to vote. They are not thinking it through some demographic upholster.

When they wake up thinking that thought, it usually has to do with one of very few things: It usually has to do with their personal health, about their children, or their parents,” she continued. “Can I get a job? Keep a job? Pay the bills by the end of the month? Retire with dignity?”

Now, taken as a platitudinous slurry of pabulum — and how else could one take it? — this is largely true of all Americans. But you know who else it’s true of? Canadians. And Germans. The French. And many, many other humans. Admittedly, in places like Yemen or Syria the middle-of-the-night concerns are more stark: “Will my house get bombed?” “Will the militia conscript my son?” But what Kamala Harris is really saying here is only slightly more interesting or profound than noting that Americans are united by their bipedalism or need for oxygen.

Harris’s riff reflects a profound tension running through contemporary progressivism that has roots going back more than a century.

I don’t think I need to remind readers that I have my problems with the new fad for nationalism on the right. But it may be necessary to remind some that I have been railing against the nationalism of the left for 20 years. For all of its problems, right-wing nationalism at least draws on important and diverse wellsprings of meaning — history, culture, religion, tradition, and, most obviously, the concept of a nation. Left-wing nationalism draws its power almost entirely from a single source: the state. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about left-wing nationalism is that it doesn’t even acknowledge its nationalism. AOC may want to nationalize industry in the name of national unity, but because she calls it “socialism” it’s not scary.

As I noted in my column about the Green New Deal (and in dozens of other columns, scores of blogposts, and at least two books), the through-line of 20th- and now 21st-century liberalism has been William James’s idea of the moral equivalent of war. From the progressives of the Wilson era to the progressives of today, the idea has always been to use the state to unify the country by turning citizens into clients of the government in Washington. Wilson and FDR had elements of right-wing nationalism to them because they were products of an age when liberals could still invoke traditional concepts and customs that today are considered atavistic carbuncles on the body politic. But programmatically, they were left-wing nationalists in the sense that they wanted to use the government in Washington to guide the whole country in a single direction.

Real freedom required abandoning the individual pursuit of happiness and instead pursuing collective endeavors. As James’s disciple John Dewey argued, notions of individual rights and liberties were outdated impediments to getting us all to work together. “Natural rights and natural liberties exist only in the kingdom of mythological social zoology . . . organized social control” via a “socialized economy” is the only means to create “free” individuals.

The great thing about war, according to James and his disciples, was that it caused people to abandon their sense of individuality and rally around the state for large causes. James was a pacifist, but he loved that aspect of war, which is why he thought America should organize as if we were at war to conquer nature (the idea behind the Green New Deal — that we must organize as if we are at war to conquer climate change — has some ironic differences, but it’s basically the same notion). FDR wanted to use the technique of war to fight the Great Depression. From Kevin D. Williamson:

Roosevelt’s statement upon signing the NRA’s enabling legislation (the National Industrial Recovery Act) on June 16, 1933, clearly invoked the holy grail of sacrificial solidarity: “The challenge of this law is whether we can sink selfish interest and present a solid front against a common peril,” the president explained. Roosevelt specifically called upon the memory of the First World War: “I had part in the great cooperation of 1917 and 1918,” he said, “and it is my faith that we can count on our industry once more to join in our general purpose to lift this new threat and to do it without taking any advantage of the public trust which has this day been reposed without stint in the good faith and high purpose of American business.” F.D.R. was hardly modest in his claims for the act: “It is the most important attempt of this kind in history. As in the great crisis of the World War, it puts a whole people to the simple but vital test: — ‘Must we go on in many groping, disorganized, separate units to defeat or shall we move as one great team to victory?’”

So let’s look again at the things that Harris says unite us. Concerns about personal health, the health of loved ones, the ability to work, pay the bills, and retire with dignity.

I am not saying that there is no role for government in addressing these concerns. But two things are worth noting: Nowhere does she say that the things that unite us are a concern about our rights and freedoms. Nowhere does she say that what we all share is a desire to pursue happiness as we see it, enjoy the fruits of our labors, or be allowed to practice our faiths or to raise our children the way we want to. Her definition of national unity hinges on the idea that we should all come together as clients of the federal government. In this, she’s offering nothing new to FDR’s “Economic Bill of Rights.” All she’s doing is coating the pill with a film of cliché.

My Elite Problem — And Theirs

Until yesterday, I’ve stayed mostly quiet on the Tucker Carlson debate raging across the right. One of my frustrations, I must say, is that there were more worthy and timely opportunities to debate these issues than a cable-news diatribe aimed at defending the current administration and the forces it has unleashed. This debate is long overdue, but there were better touchstones for it, like Charles Murray’s Coming Apart or J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy or even Rick Santorum’s presidential bids.

Anyway, here’s a very brief summary of the relevant and smart disagreements (there are a plethora of irrelevant and dumb disagreements) that probably leaves out way too much nuance. Tucker argues that “elites” have rigged the system for their own benefit and that they have done so deliberately. David French and David L. Bahnsen concede that elites have made some poor policy decisions, but they do not subscribe to the conspiracy-theory version of this tale. More importantly, they argue that the real problem is cultural and can be summed up in the phrase “personal responsibility.” Government policies — and larger economic forces that government has little control over — may have made circumstances more difficult for some Americans, but that doesn’t mean they should be treated as victims or see themselves as such. I agree with them.

Meanwhile folks such as Michael Brendan Dougherty and Reihan Salam argue that personal responsibility is of course hugely important, but that doesn’t absolve elites from their culpability, nor does it mean we shouldn’t fix the policies that have led to various problems. I agree with them, too.

Where I disagree with pretty much everybody is that we are mostly looking at the wrong elites. With the complicated and limited exception of the immigration question, I share David French’s skepticism that if we only had listened to the Oren Casses, Patrick Deneens, Tucker Carlsons, and Michael Brendan Dougherties of ten, 20, 50 (or in Deneen’s case 300) years ago, we wouldn’t have many of the same problems we see today.

The supposedly halcyon age of the 1950s and early 1960s was not as idyllic as the nostalgia merchants often claim (just ask blacks, women, Jews, gays, cancer victims, the disabled, people born too late for the polio vaccine, Korean War vets, et al).

More to the point, the factors that made the 1950s economy seem so desirable depended on things that cannot be easily replicated and/or were largely outside the power of policymakers to meaningfully effect. The Great Depression and World War II created enormous pent-up consumer demand at precisely the moment that America was singularly well-positioned to exploit. Europe was in rubble, and our industrial base was massively expanded. Returning soldiers were eager to get to work, and technology was poised to make all manner of gadgets and geegaws affordable.

The idea that all of our problems since then can be attributed to our trade, monetary, or industrial policies, and that we’d be better off if only the propeller heads at the OMB or Commerce Department had embraced economic nationalism, strikes me as wildly unpersuasive, and at times vaguely Marxist.

For instance, post–World War II feminism has many authors, but among the most important are technology and education. For centuries, the division of labor between home — where women ruled — and outside work, largely a male domain, was fairly equitable. Men did not have it great in the fields, factories, mines, or trenches, but the work required to maintain a home was no picnic. Modern technologies freed wives and mothers from often backbreaking and always exhausting labor. And that’s a good thing. Mechanization reduced the need for a strong back, and education opened the opportunities for women to do much of the same work that men did, sometimes better. And that’s a good thing. Betty Friedan’s claim that being a housewife was like being a Jew in a “comfortable concentration camp” was grotesquely asinine, but the more basic point that morally, philosophically, and practically there was no good reason to keep women barefoot and pregnant — when they didn’t want to be — was hard to argue with. Similarly, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out, the birth-control pill had more to do with the breakdown of all sorts of norms than anything Gloria Steinem wrote, just as the automobile had done more to transform sexual norms than any French novel or German philosopher.

I bring this up because to the extent that the problems facing marriage and the family are the result of elites making bad policy decisions, the policy decisions that would have prevented most of those problems are ones few of those cheering Tucker’s monologue would consider reversing. I mean maybe Mike Pence in his heart would like to get rid of birth control as the first president of Gilead, but that’s not going to happen.

So which elites do I have a problem with? Let me put it this way. For years, conservatives have quoted my late friend Andrew Breitbart’s pithy rephrasing of a very old idea: “Politics is downstream of culture.” The odd thing is that, almost overnight, many of the same conservatives now argue as if industrial and trade policy is upstream of culture. Some even shriek about how the “neocons” don’t understand that the free market is just a tool, when it was the neocons who had made this argument for decades and were chastised by the “true conservatives” for it (see Irving Kristol’s “Two Cheers For Capitalism” or “When Virtue Loses All Her Loveliness”).

Where I agree with many of my new nationalist brethren on the right is that patriotism is important. Assimilation is important. Gratitude for this wonderful country and all that it has done is important. Forget important, these things are vital. The elites who have helped fray the social fabric, who have argued that self-expression is more important than self-discipline, that religion is for suckers, that morality is situational but judgmentalism is immoral, that instant personal authenticity is the only ethical lodestar, these are the elites I have a problem with, because they have done more to undermine notions of personal responsibility than all of the U.S. trade representatives combined.

Capitalism does play a major negative role in all of this, as Schumpeter predicted and as I discuss in my book. It forces efficiencies on institutions that depend on their quirkiness to be attractive, erodes both good and bad customs and traditions, and makes instant gratification ever more attainable. But the solution to these problems must be cultural and rise from the bottom up, not statist and imposed from above.

I have been arguing with conservative nationalists for a couple of years now that my problem with nationalism as an ideological imperative is that by its own logic it must be centralizing, because the state is the only institution that can speak for the whole nation. The perplexed expressions from my friends in response to this critique has perplexed me. But in the wake of Carlson’s diatribe, many of the same conservatives have made my point for me. The government in Washington is now, all of a sudden, upstream of culture, and once good-intentioned nationalists control the knobs and buttons of the state, we’ll fix all of the problems with our culture. They sound a lot more like Kamala Harris than they realize.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The dogs were very, very happy to greet us upon our return from vacation. They’ve been very good girls, though Pippa’s sense of entitlement is getting out of control. Yesterday, after we got back from our morning walk, she kept barking at the Fair Jessica and me, demanding additional fun in the backyard. When I manfully yelled “No!” she walked off in a huff to the dog bed and pouted. She would not even look at me. Indeed, both of them tend to look at me these days as if I owe them money or I forgot their birthday. But before you take their side, let me assure you that I still give them lots of attention. In other news, I’m taking my daughter with me for a speech in Florida today. But the Fair Jessica will be taking Pippa to the beauty salon for a new ’do. Fear not: We will not get rid of her trademark toupee, even though it sometimes leads to static problems.

ICYMI . . .

The last G-File

Dogs are good

Trump’s character

Military eminent domain is dumb

On the doorknob licker

Trump can’t declare an emergency to build the wall

This week’s first Remnant, with Oren Cass

The Green Leap Forward is dumb

Trump’s border wall speech was lacking

The Green Leap Forward is stale

Someone says I need to smoke more, doesn’t know me very well

Why the UN is awful

The free market is more than a tool

Steve King’s bigotry is anti-American

This week’s second Remnant, with Michael Strain

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s New Year links

Vegetables and sound effects

Lusty toads

Hangover cures

Combat hummingbirds

The Passion of Dr. Strangelove

Isaac Asimov’s predictions for 2019

Goodbye Burger City

The dogs of 2018

How to recognize fake AI-generated images

The temple of the flayed lord

Digitally tour the Brazilian museum consumed by fire last year

Nature’s parasites

Ultima Thule gets a theme song

Spilled chicken

Vulcan

Nebraska’s navy

Bounty hunters don’t exi–

The tunnels of Traverse City state hospital

J.R.R. Tolkien reading Lord of the Rings aloud

Wholesome

Aliens

Who among us…

Politics & Policy

The Power of Symbols in Our Politics of Disgust

Loading...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (particularly those disappointed to find out that we ran out of Dear Reader gags and weird links one week before the end of the year),

I’m writing this from the Big Island. I said the Big Island, not “Big Island,” the sinister sobriquet for the cartel behind all island-related industries.

In other words, I’m in Hawaii, with my family and a big chunk of her family. I could tell you it’s not lovely, but it is. I could tell you I’d rather be back in Washington, but who would believe that?

Almost 36 hours into island living, I’ve had time to reflect. And one of the things I’ve learned is that I don’t want to work too hard at this “news”letter, but I also feel, as many Hawaiians who work at road repair do, that I should at least put in the bare minimum.

My column today is on how the most important factor driving our politics isn’t ideology or partisanship, but symbolism. Rather than repeat the whole argument again, I’ll wait while you go read it.

Okay, whether you did or not, here’s my thing. Symbols are enormous storehouses of meaning, identity, and experience. They are not trivial. We tend to talk about “interests” as being largely economic. But people can have deep interests in symbols, because symbols often represent our conception of the moral order that we want to live in. The rich Saudis who fund madrassas do not do so for profit, yet they consider it in their interest just the same.

Ever since Marx — or perhaps since Cicero, the popularizer of the phrase cui bono? — there have been people who want to reduce politics to a battle of economic interests. The fact that politics cannot be reduced to mere economic interests can drive some of these people nuts. Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? was a classic example of this frustration.

“People getting their fundamental interests wrong is what American political life is all about,” Frank wrote. “This species of derangement is the bedrock of our civic order; it is the foundation on which all else rests.” According to Frank, working-class people should support politicians who will serve their economic interests — and that’s it. A pro-life Catholic truck driver is a fool to vote for anyone who will not be good for truck drivers. Of course, we almost never hear the reverse of this argument: A pro-choice truck driver should vote for a pro-life politician so long as the politician looks out for truck drivers.

This form of analysis is itself a kind of derangement. Nowhere in the world, at any time, in any place, in any culture, has economics been the only consideration in political life. Fighting for the “Glory of Rome” is not an economic rallying cry. The split between Sunni and Shia may have economic components, but only a fool would argue it is fundamentally about economics. Even economists increasingly understand that economics is not really the study of “homo economicus,” or at least they understand that reducing humans to this mythical creature has explanatory power for only a fraction of our lives.

The Marxist historian who feels compelled to prove that commitment to the Confederate flag was rooted solely in class interest might truffle-pig out some evidence, but the dots he connects won’t yield a picture that represents reality.

Some symbols can be rational. The oak leaves that designate the rank of major in the U.S. Army are symbolic, for the simple reason that military organizations need ranks to function. Other symbols can be rationalized — the 50 stars on the U.S. flag, for instance, one for every state — but the meaning captured by the symbol is hardly purely rational. Both flag burners and flag wavers can agree on one thing: The flag has meaning beyond the merely instrumental necessity of having a piece of cloth that identifies a legal jurisdiction.

The Politics of Disgust

In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt describes how our brains are preprogrammed with the ability — the need — to categorize some things as sacred or profane. And when we encounter something truly profane, the part of our brain that activates a sense of disgust is triggered.

Without any sense of sanctity, debates about abortion and cloning would be entirely utilitarian. Absent an instinct for sanctity, environmentalists would not recoil in horror at the paving of forests and would not have lapsed into epileptic fits of disgust at the BP oil spill, and the only arguments conservationists would offer in opposition to PLT sandwiches — Panda, Lettuce, and Tomato — would be about costs and benefits.

In other words, this is not a right–left thing. Ideological and religious considerations often determine what one faction or another is disgusted by, but the tendency to see the world through these lenses is universal.

And when I say sacred, I do not mean in a theological sense, though that is obviously one of the major outlets of sacralization. In our natural environment, we did not have bright lines between magic and science, superstition and reason, individual identity and group identity, or between religious dogma and hygiene. Indeed, as Haidt notes, our intuitions about sacredness and hygiene are deeply linked. The instinct for disgust probably evolved as a way to keep us from eating tainted food such as rotting carcasses, feces, or 7-Eleven sushi. But because humans are social animals, the disgust instinct became an important tool for social cooperation.

Rules about food preparation, sex, and bathing, and rules about moral hygiene, are, historically, tightly bound together in virtually every society. Hindus and Hebrews aren’t just overrepresented at Ivy League universities, they also share a rich history of merging notions of moral and religious hygiene with notions about food, sex, and cleanliness.

The rules manifest themselves differently in different places, of course. You can tell me that the people who freak out about genetically modified foods are dispassionate slaves to the facts, but you’ll have to work pretty hard to persuade me that their passion isn’t fueled by pre-rational associations of sacredness and hygiene. The fights over gender-neutral public bathrooms touch on a lot of different concerns, but it’s hard to deny that at least some of the outrage over the issue isn’t driven by these instincts (pretty much every family has gender-neutral bathrooms at home).

The Body Politic

Michael Burleigh has written several books exploring all of this from a very different angle. He argues that all of the supposedly secular ideologies that replaced the world of the divine right of kings were at root religious projects by another name. Nazism and Leninism were political religions, moving the lines between the sacred and profane in revolutionary ways, but ultimately keeping the lines themselves (Burleigh’s The Third Reich was a big influence on my first book).

The “body politic” — the idea that society is akin to a living organism — can be traced back to antiquity. But with the advent of the scientific revolution and, later, Darwinism, the metaphor was plucked from the realms of theology and mysticism and grounded in science. Nations were like living things, and all of the people and institutions within them were supposed to function like organs of the body. This meant that dissenting or wayward institutions or populations were seen as tumors or intrusions of foreign objects. The first German nationalists talked of foreign languages and customs as poisons and contaminates. Jews were parasites, an invasive species leaching the purity of the German essence. They often sounded like 18th-century versions of Colonel Ripper from Dr. Strangelove, who fretted over the purity of our precious bodily fluids.

The Nazis were obsessed with different notions of hygiene, most famously racial hygiene. The first victims of Nazi slaughter were “defective” Germans themselves, who were seen as a cancer on the body politic. The American progressives pursued the same line of thinking, albeit with less horrific results. But “less horrific” than the Holocaust leaves a lot room for horror, and the forced sterilizations, the persecution of “hyphenated Americans,” and other atrocities committed by American progressives are not absolved simply because they fell short of Hitler’s standard.

When I hear President Trump or his defenders argue for a wall in order to keep out diseases and to keep the country from becoming “dirtier,” I don’t hear Hitler or even Woodrow Wilson, but I do hear appeals to hygiene and sanctity far removed from strict public policy arguments.

My Year in Review

I hadn’t planned on writing this “news”letter this week because I’m on vacation. But since I can’t write one next week because of travel hassles, I figured I should grind this one out. It’s not a great hardship to sit by the pool smoking a cigar, my wife’s dirty looks notwithstanding. (Somehow they do not abate when I tell her it’s just the moral hygiene center of her brain talking.)

All in all, it’s been a better year than I feared it would be, but perhaps not as great as I might have hoped, had I not embraced the fact that hope is simply the word we use for the false confidence that comes between kicks to the groin.

Still, I have a lot to be grateful for. I’ll skip being overly sentimental about family and friends, while stipulating they are the sources of my deepest gratitude. I’ll stick to the professional stuff.

My book did well. It lingered on the bestseller lists for a respectable period of time, sorta like the creepy dude at the newsstand perusing the cooking and business magazines before “stumbling” on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. And it’s still selling nicely enough that should I ever be drunk enough to agree to write another one, it won’t be huge financial risk.

I don’t mean to make light of the work I put into Suicide of the West (the book, not the phenomenon). I think it had some real impact and moved the debate to some modest degree. Yes, it would be nice if the impact were more of a crater and less of a dent, but even moving the needle a little is a victory to be proud of (and, please don’t harangue me about mixed metaphors. I mix metaphors like a blender beating a dead horse).

Nor do I want to give the impression that I only care about the filthy lucre. I know there are people who write books — or put their names on books somebody else wrote — just for the money. But that’s not me — at all. If it were, you can be sure I’d have had fewer pages and footnotes.

I don’t mean to sound superior, because the truth is, most of the people in my line of work aren’t in it for the money. Certainly no one at National Review chose this career because they thought it would be the fastest or most surefire route to a segment on MTV Cribs. Ramesh Ponnuru, for instance, could have used his Vulcan brain on Wall Street quite easily. Or he could have gone to medical school like pretty much every other Ponnuru in Kansas. Heck, David French and Andy McCarthy actually went to law school and worked as fancy-pants lawyers. They could have monetized their expertise and experience on a grand scale. With that accent of his, Charlie Cooke could be making bank narrating nature documentaries or starring in commercials asking the guy in the next Bentley if he has any Grey Poupon. Instead, once every two weeks, we all line up in front of Rich Lowry’s office to be paid in chickens, because this is the life we’ve chosen.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a set up for a National Review Institute fundraising pitch (but if you’re so inclined, helping out would be great). It’s simply to say that I feel very fortunate to be doing what I’m doing and being able to provide for my family in the process.

Oh sure, I still have my grievances. Indeed, I initially thought I might air them here, for grievances are among the greatest of all muses for a writer, particularly for “news”letter writers such as yours truly. And I won’t pretend that if sufficiently prodded I couldn’t give voice to my desire to visit the sort of wrath most associated with the God of the Hebrew Bible on various people. But that’s because writing a book is like having a kid in all sorts of ways. The people closest to you are very happy for you — at least after the first one — but no one really cares as much as you do. The small slights seem negligible to observers at a distance and like grievous and unforgivable wounds to the parent. But after a while, you come to understand it’s just part of life.

But back to the year that was. I’m enjoying hosting a podcast far more than I thought I would. And with the exception of Episode Eleven, I find that the physical toll it takes to be negligible.

My biggest concern, again professionally, remains the same as it was at the end of 2017, and 2016. And it should be utterly familiar to readers of this “news”letter or listeners of the aptly named Remnant. At a time when I’ve lost my taste for tribal, partisan fan service, the market for tribal, partisan fan service is raging — across the ideological spectrum. It causes me to worry for the country and the conservative movement — which are far more important considerations than my own prospects, of course. But since I’m talking about me (“Gosh, that’s a refreshing change of pace for this ‘news’letter” — The Couch), it’s also profoundly disorienting. Even if I could keep it from being personal — which I struggle to do, not always successfully — the fact is it is personal for others. Indeed, the whole reason politics have grown so ugly is that everywhere you look “the personal is political” — a phrase once the rallying cry for feminists and post-modernists. The personalization of politics is now the animating spirit of our age.

Earlier this week, I wrote a column about Donald Trump’s bad character, and, as I predicted, hordes of people took it personally. Many thought the smartest rebuttal was to attack me personally, as if proving I am a bad person would somehow disprove my argument. I understand the reaction. But the reaction doesn’t change the facts or how I see them. I’ve been writing against the psychology of populism for 20 years, I don’t see why I should cave to the spirit of populism at the precise moment I’m being proven right.

But the fact remains the times are changing, and I’m not inclined to change with them, at least not on the important things. That makes navigating the new landscape challenging in ways it’s never been before. So I just want to say thank you to you, dear readers, who have stuck it out with me as I’ve groped my way through it all, like Bill Clinton playing pin the tail on the donkey at the Playboy mansion.

Here’s to 2019, when we’ll all look back nostalgically on the sobriety and reasonableness of 2018.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: We’ve left the beasts behind. It’s for the best given that I don’t think either of them are well-suited to air travel. But I must say the dogs would love it here, particularly Zoë. The house we’re staying in is up in the hills of the big island on a nice plot of land. There are wild turkeys wandering the property, not to mention mongooses (mongeese?), and the occasional wild pig. I don’t know how Zoë would fare against either (though I definitely suspect the pigs would be too big a bite, as it were). But man would she love the challenge. There are also enough lesser rodents to keep her self-esteem high. It’s funny though, both my wife and I like hiking (she more than me, to be honest), but we both feel like hiking without dogs defeats some of the purpose. We were in Utah before Hawaii, and it took a huge amount of effort not to keep talking about how much Zoë and Pippa (and occasionally Gracie and Ralph — the good cat and my wife’s cat respectively) “would love it here.” Somehow, Gary is no substitute for the Dingo & The Spaniel.

We’ve left Zoë and Pippa in the best possible hands (sorry Jack Butler). Kirsten our dog walker is house-sitting, and the girls love Kirsten at least as much as they love us (of course, she’s like the fun aunt who feeds the kids ice cream and lets them stay up late). She is sending regularproof of lifeupdates from home, which I’ve been posting on Twitter. It’s amazing how much easier it is to enjoy yourself when you know your dogs aren’t miserable — or trying to tunnel out of a kennel. Though we do feel bad for Kirsten sometimes, since she has to deal with this sort of thing.