“White Supremacy”

Our e-pal Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, has a post up about “white supremacy”, a loosely defined term that is very much en vogue just now. Dr. Vallicella quotes Robert Paul Wolff:

Hatred has fundamentally very little to do with White Supremacy. White Supremacy is a policy of domination and economic superiority of Whites in a multi-racial society. African-Americans are not worried about whether White people want to be friends. Most of the African-Americans I know have quite enough friends, thank you very much. African-Americans demand legal, economic, and political equality. And that terrifies many Whites, who do not want to give up the superior legal, political, and economic position in American society that they acquired through being born White.

Well, this may be a good definition of “white supremacy”; I don’t really know much about it. I can certainly say that it does not describe the views of anyone I know, or would care to know, in neoreactionary circles, or in what is sometimes called the “dissident Right”. It doesn’t even describe the views of people like Jared Taylor, who is often slandered in the mass media as a “white supremacist”.

Consider: a generation of identitarian politics across the West has deliberately cultivated tribal resentments among non-whites. For decades white people have been blamed in media and academia for all the world’s ills, while aggressive immigration policies have openly sought to make them minorities in every one of their homelands (a prospect that is widely celebrated in our mainstream institutions). In colleges and universities, white applicants are disfavored for admission, while curricula feature pugnacious courses on eliminating “whiteness”. At the Academy Awards, a black actor says of his latest film “I get to kill all the white people! How great is that?”, and the audience laughs and cheers.

Is it any wonder, then, that in this toxic climate, many white people are developing a sense of identitarianism themselves? This is not “supremacy”; it is nothing more than an perfectly natural (and, therefore, easily predictable) sense of unity and belonging, in an explicitly and increasingly hostile environment. Express this readily understandable sentiment in public, however, and you are now a “white supremacist” — and your sense of identity is not mere attachment, but can only be “hate”.

“White supremacist”, then, is nothing more than a cudgel, to be used without mercy against anyone who says, however reluctantly, that: yes, we are white, and we are not ashamed of it, and if you are determined to divide all of society into competing racial groups, then our people will have to play the game too. It is a truly awful state of affairs, and it will all get much, much worse before it gets any better. “Diversity is our strength”? Rubbish. As we are already learning to our sorrow, it is anything but: it is the death of peace and order and comity, and, at last, of nations and cultures.

In his post, Bill said this:

Perhaps Malcolm Pollack will comment on this definition over at his place. He tilts in the alt-right direction; I reject the alt-right.

As do I. The term has become irrevocably tainted, and is now a gathering-place for actual white supremacists (as defined by Wolff, above), actual Nazis, virulent anti-Semites, and other vileness. I reject them all, root and branch.

Bill then adds the following:

Here are some preliminary thoughts/questions of my own.

1) If White Supremacy is a policy, who is implementing it? The government? Is the government insuring the economic superiority of Whites? How? By what programs?

2) Blacks have every right to demand legal and political equality, but they cannot reasonably demand economic equality. That is something they have to work for.

3) Whites are in an economically superior position to blacks, no doubt, but one cannot validly infer from this that Blacks have been unjustly discriminated against.

4) It is false that Whites enjoy by birth legal and political privileges denied to Blacks. If you think they do, name the privileges.

5) Suppose a white Southerner considers slavery a grave moral evil and is glad the Union was preserved. He opposes, however, the Left’s iconoclasm re: statues of Robert E. Lee, et al. Is this person a White supremacist?

6) If ‘white supremacist’ is not to be just another smear word like ‘racist,’ then it has to be defined. How ought it be defined?

7) Suppose Whites as a group are superior to Blacks as a group in some respect R, and suppose Jones points this out. Is Jones a white supremacist with respect to R? This raises the question: How can White Supremacism with respect to R be a bad thing, which it is supposed to be, if it is true?

8) Wolff’s decoupling of White Supremacy from hatred suggests that he is thinking of it as something ‘institutional’ or ‘systemic.’ Are our institutions white supremacist? What might that even mean given that our institutions allowed for the elimination of slavery and Jim Crow?

These all reflect, quite exactly, my own thoughts and questions, and so my own impression is that Bill and I agree about all of this with near-perfect congruency.

What a miserable era this is becoming. What a sad decline — with, I think, much worse on the way.

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Diversity For Dummies

I’ve said quite enough about Diversity lately, so here’s statistician William Briggs to help shoulder the load.

Today’s Lesson

A comment on Charlottesville: this sort of chip-on-the-shoulder activism is a no-win for the Right. It attracts too many of the lowest, stupidest, and most undesirable elements, and as we have seen, it results in officially sanctioned violence.

I remember a slogan from back in the Vietnam War era: Fighting For Peace Is Like Fucking For Virginity. Creating disorder in the name of order is very much the same thing.

The Left is moving, with increasing energy, towards such offensive absurdities as to alienate ever-increasing numbers of normal and traditionally minded Americans. The social, ideological, and political structures it has created are collapsing from their own internal weaknesses, costs, and contradictions. As it accelerates leftward, the fractal nature of faction and grievance, and the absence of any limiting principles, begins tearing Leftism apart from inside, as its zealots turn upon each other.

As Napoleon said: never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. What the Right needs to do is simply to stand clear, be true to its principles, make its case where possible, and to prepare for, but not incite, violent conflict. It also has some very important historical and intellectual work to do, namely to understand what went wrong, and make sure that as we rebuild we do not repeat our errors.

In short, the reactionary Right needs to think of itself not as a battleship, but an ark.

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What Goes Around

What never seems to occur to those who anathematize and seek to bury the past is that they in turn prepare the future for their own erasure.

The result is a sullen and solipsistic presentism in which, as Burke foresaw, men become nothing more than “the flies of a summer”.

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Wagging The Dog

It is a great temporal vanity to see, in the study of history, only the present struggling to be born. It is, quite literally, preposterous.

Soft Construction With Boiled Beans


Pax Dickinson gives his eyewitness account of what happened in Charlottesville on Saturday, here.

[A quibble: Mr. Dickinson writes that the chaos created by the police stand-down (and the apparently deliberate throwing-together of the “Unite The Right” demonstrators with the hungry Antifa mob) “ultimately led directly to the vehicular incident that killed a woman and badly injured more than a dozen others.” I doubt very much that Mr. Dickinson knows exactly why the driver of that car did what he did.]


Commentary by DiploMad, here.

At the New Yorker, estimates of the likelihood of civil war range up to 60%. Seems a tad low.

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Four years ago, I wrote the following thing:

America’s ideological landscape is like the continent itself: transected by deep fault-lines at the irregular boundaries of rigid plates. Though crushed tightly together, these great masses seek to move in different directions, and so they strain relentlessly against one another. The pressure builds, and builds — until, sooner or later, it must release itself in a destructive convulsion. …

The plates press and moan and grumble. The water in the wells is rising, and muddy. Dogs and cats fidget restlessly. Farm animals are balky and skittish. Migraines are up sharply, and radios are on the fritz.

The ground began to tremble in earnest today. If you are the worrying sort, now would be a good time to start.

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Hold The Door!

Have a look at this time-looping defense of abortion, by Princeton professor Elizabeth Harman.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I just can’t help forming a sneaking suspicion that Professor Harman arrived at her conclusion first, rather than being dragged to it by the irresistible force of her argument.

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The Fools On The Hill

Every Tuesday evening, in the ten o’clock hour of his program, radio host John Batchelor discusses Russia with Stephen F. Cohen. Dr. Cohen is professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton and NYU, and is a rare voice of sanity in this time of anti-Russian hysteria.

Mr. Batchelor’s show is always worth listening to — it is one of the most interesting and informative current-events resources in all of media — but his discussion with Professor Cohen is a weekly high point. In last night’s conversation the topic was the latest round of Congressional sanctions against Russia, and how they are only making a very bad situation worse. Professor Cohen also explains why this new Cold War is even more dangerous than the first one.

You can listen to a podcast of last night’s show, in two parts, here and here. See also the website of the American Committee for East-West Accord, to which Professor Cohen is a contributor.

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Service Notice

More than a few readers have complained to me about the “Captcha” used to screen comments here. I’ve just installed a new one that, for most of you, shouldn’t be visible at all. I hope it works well enough that I can keep using it.

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The Narrowing Effect Of Diversity

I’ve just read an article at Crisis magazine called The Day the Music Died. (Hat-tip to Bill V.)

From the article:

When pursued to its logical conclusion, multiculturalism leads to monoculturalism, and eventually to a monochrome society. That’s because without a common culture to unite them, multicultures break down into competing subcultures. When this happens, the ruling authorities step in and make laws outlawing “hate” and “insensitivity” in the hope that everyone can be forced to respect everyone else.

Quite so. The mechanism by which this happens is simple, and easily understood. That it isn’t blazingly obvious to all can only be explained, I believe, by its conflicting with some higher creed that rules this self-evident truth out-of-bounds as a dangerous heresy. (Which it is: from the perspective of the hegemonic Universalist religion we call Progressivism it is a very dangerous heresy indeed — because it is so obviously true.)

I’ve written about this often, but I feel the need to summarize it from time to time, to keep it fresh in the reader’s mind, and to find new ways of clarifying the argument. I boiled it down last year in a post called Tractatus Logico-Multiculturalus, and examined it in practical terms back in 2013, in Simple Common Sense About Diversity and Immigration.

If you’re familiar with what’s called a Venn diagram, which is used to display the relations between sets, the analysis is transparently clear. (If you aren’t, spend a few minutes here before proceeding.)

Consider the following (I will quote in part from Tractatus Logico-Multiculturalus):

1) Every distinct culture (i.e. the “multi” part of “multiculturalism) has distinct features and properties. (Obviously they must, or what would make them distinct?)

2) This means that every distinct culture can be thought of as containing a set of beliefs, traditions, attitudes, affinities, aversions, etc. that, taken together, are what distinguish that culture from other cultures.

3) Given that we can in this way view cultures as sets of distinguishing features, we can create a Venn diagram representing the relation between two or more cultures. If the cultures are similar (say, Danes and Swedes), there will be a great deal of overlap between them. We can also easily imagine two cultures (e.g. Swedes and Sentinelese Islanders) where the two sets have almost no area of intersection.

4) Many of the properties that make up a culture are normative features; i.e. beliefs about how one ought to behave, ought to dress, what one ought and ought not say or do in public, and thousands of other mores and customs.

5) Norms are often contradictory in a way that, say, food is not. (Food and music, the most commonly cited blessings of multiculturalism, are non-normative. To the extent that music is considered normative, it becomes subject to cultural exclusion.)

6) Every acculturated human is normatively inclined to do, and publicly to favor, the things that his culture prescribes — and to avoid, and publicly criticize, what his culture forbids. (Even though normative prescriptions and proscriptions must, in principle, subtract absolute liberties, in an organic culture they do not do so in a meaningful way, because we do not feel our liberty diminished by compulsions or prohibitions regarding things we would or would not do anyway.)

7) Where normative cultural features are concerned, those that are not shared are often considered, by members of other cultures, distasteful or even offensive.

8) That which is offensive is discouraged in the public square, for the sake of “respect” and comity.

9) In terms of our Venn diagram, this means that the broader norms of the “multiculture” — that which is permissible in public expression — can only include the intersection of the two sets. Although this occurs in the name of “inclusion”, it is actually, and necessarily, a process of exclusion, namely of whatever cultural particularities are not held in common by all components of the multiculture. As we have seen above, as more cultures are added, this set of commonalities contains fewer and fewer elements.

Imagine, then, Culture A, with 10,000 enumerable cultural features. Because they are broadly shared by all, nobody is much offended by any of them, and so all of these features can be expressed as naturally in the public square as in the privacy of the home.

Now add a second culture, B, to the Venn diagram. The overlap is close, but not perfect; of the set of 10,000 properties in the first culture’s circle, the second culture shares 9,000 of them. However, because public expression is to be limited to the intersection of the two cultures’ properties, we have now, from the perspective of Culture A, reduced its freedom of public cultural expression by ten percent — from its full set of 10,000 properties down to 9,000.

Now add a third culture to the mix (and a third circle to the diagram). Because the third culture is distinct from each of the other two, it will, necessarily, further shrink the number of properties common to all three sets — and thus will further reduce the collection of common beliefs and behaviors that are available for public expression.

This means two things: first, that the more cultures you add to a society the narrower, not broader, the range of public expression becomes; and second, that there will be an ever-increasing disparity between private life (which is now the only place where the full range of cultural life is possible) and public intercourse (which necessarily grows more and more restricted). This is a meaningful limitation of public liberty that is keenly and easily felt by all. Where once the private square flowed almost unnoticeably into the public, now each group feels constrained by the others. This in turn leads to a withdrawal from public life, and a breakdown of social cohesion. Meanwhile citizens, in their public role as citizens, are reduced to the basest sorts of commonality.

In sum, then: multiculturalism limits public liberty, creates a tension between public and private life that reduces public participation and lowers social cohesion, fragments societies into competing groups and lowers public trust, and, by denying any culture full public expression and support, actually contributes to the decay and death of the world’s rich cultural diversity. Cultures that might live and flower in relatively homogeneous homelands now wither and die under the relentless pruning and curtailment that is necessary to make muticulturalism work at all, and the multicultural society itself becomes a shrunken and cautious thing. The organic order and harmony unique to each culture suffocates and dies; into that vacuum steps a top-down, external order that acts on citizens only as barely differentiated atoms.

Why would anyone want this? The alternative is what the world has always been until very recently: for every culture, a homeland in which it may express itself freely and fully, and in which public and private life join in the unique, organic order that arises from the cultural particularities of its own people.

How is that not a better, richer world?

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Derbian Minimalism

In this week’s podcast, John Derbyshire makes the case for a severe throttling-back of immigration. Listen here. The comment-box is open for discussion.

Resistance, And Reactance

With a hat-tip to Bill Vallicella, we have an essay by David Gelernter on the “Resistance” to Donald Trump, a term embraced even by some “conservatives”.

We read:

I’d love for him to be a more eloquent, elegant speaker. But if I had to choose between deeds and delivery, it wouldn’t be hard. Many conservative intellectuals insist that Mr. Trump’s wrong policies are what they dislike. So what if he has restarted the large pipeline projects, scrapped many statist regulations, appointed a fine cabinet and a first-rate Supreme Court justice, asked NATO countries to pay what they owe, re-established solid relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia, signaled an inclination to use troops in Afghanistan to win and not merely cover our retreat, led us out of the Paris climate accord, plans to increase military spending (granted, not enough), is trying to get rid of ObamaCare to the extent possible, proposed to lower taxes significantly and revamp immigration policy and enforcement? What has he done lately?

Conservative thinkers should recall that they helped create President Trump. They never blasted President Obama as he deserved. Mr. Obama’s policies punished the economy and made the country and its international standing worse year by year; his patronizing arrogance drove people crazy. He was the perfect embodiment of a one-term president. The tea-party outbreak of 2009-10 made it clear where he was headed. History will record that the press saved him. Naturally the mainstream press loved him, but too many conservative commentators never felt equal to taking him on. They had every reason to point out repeatedly that Mr. Obama was the worst president since Jimmy Carter, surrounded by a left-wing cabinet and advisers, hostile to Israel, crazed regarding Iran, and even less competent to deal with the issues than Mr. Carter was—which is saying plenty.

But they didn’t say plenty. They didn’t say much at all. The rank and file noticed and got mad. Even their supposed champions didn’t grasp what life under Mr. Obama was like—a man who was wrecking the economy while preaching little sermons, whose subtext was always how smart he was, how dumb they were, and how America was full of racist clods, dangerous cops and infantile nuts who would go crazy if they even heard the words “Islamic terrorism.” So the rank and file was deeply angry and elected Mr. Trump.

Read the whole thing here.

One point of disagreement: it should be obvious by now that the notion that we are ever going to “win” in Afghanistan, which has for centuries been the graveyard of empires, is an arm-chair fantasy, a universalist’s pipe-dream. Fourteen years into this pointless and impossible war, what, exactly, do we imagine we will “win”?

Eight years ago, on the morrow of then-President Obama’s announcement of a new troop buildup in this untameable place, I wrote:

The problem is that the situation is impossible; there simply are no good options. Never have I felt more pessimistic.

In brief:

If we leave, the Taliban will overrun the country again, al-Qaeda will set up shop as before, and nuclear-armed Pakistan will totter. The world will know, with certainty this time, that America (and the West generally) is a fickle ally that has no real stomach for a fight. As night falls, those in Afghanistan who have put their trust in us will find they have backed the wrong horse, and they will pay. The brave women and girls who have risked all just to go to school, to read a book — and who have been, for their trouble, beaten and murdered and burned with acid — will be ground into dust.

If we stay, we will never “win”. Afghanistan will be our tar-baby forever. We will never install a functioning democracy there, or a government free of corruption, or a reliable military dedicated to its preservation: these things cannot be done, any more than you can teach wolves to knit, or make butter from stones. We will fight and spend and bleed and die there forever.

Recognizing that we are now of modest means, and so cannot afford to hold our tar-baby forever, we have announced that we will begin leaving in the middle of 2011. This makes things easy for the Taliban, who have all the time in the world; they simply need to harass us patiently for 18 months, and then, as we step back, they will step forward.

We fight an enemy that is utterly unafraid to die, but we, good souls that we truly are, are afraid to kill. Our military is by far — by light-years — the strongest, best-trained, best-equipped, most sophisticated fighting force the world has ever seen; no enemy on Earth could hope to face us in full-scale conflict and live. But no army has ever won a war this way. Neither will we.

So: We have three options, none good:

A) We can leave now. B) We can stay and bleed forever. C) We can stay and bleed for 18 months, then leave anyway. (The fourth option, to cry “Havoc!”, and unleash our colossal war machine in all its incandescent fury, is not an option.)

Envelope, please?

C) it is.

I was mistaken about one thing. We appear to have chosen B).

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House Of Cads

Here’s a savory morsel: a class-action suit, filed by Democratic voters, against the DNC and the gratifyingly beleaguered Debbie Wasserman Schultz for their conspiratorial malfeasance during last year’s primary season.

Thanks to our indefatigable JK for the tip.

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Cats In A Bag

There was a bit of a ruction today in the White House press room, between Trump adviser Stephen Miller and CNN’s Jim Acosta. Acosta was taking the Trump administration to task for proposed immigration restrictions, in particular the frightful idea that an English-speaking nation might give preference to immigrants who can speak English. (Before I go on, let me make clear how refreshing it is to have an administration in place that would even consider such a thing. Establishing an immigration policy that actually puts the interests of the existing American nation first is what Donald Trump was elected for.)

The exchange followed the usual course for such things: leftist accuses someone slightly to his right of being racist, whereupon the man so accused splutters with indignation and vigorously denies the charge.

The climax went as follows:

Acosta: “It sounds like you’re trying to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country through this policy.”

Miller: “Jim, that is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant , and foolish things you’ve ever said…”

What’s worth noting about this exchange is that both appeared to agree, entirely reflexively, that actually to give a care about the demographic composition of the United States, which was simple common sense until 1965, would now be grossly, even unthinkably, immoral. (It’s worth pointing out that even in 1965, the ruinous Hart-Cellar Act was passed only after lavish promises from Ted Kennedy that it would not affect the nation’s composition to any significant degree.)

What we have here, then, is a “disparate impact” argument: Acosta suggested that favoring English speakers would effectively limit immigration to England and Australia (which would, by implication, be a national catastrophe). Miller was cut to the quick by the hurtfulness of this remark, and provided some crocodile tears for the camera. It was all very trite and tiresome.

Mixed in amongst all of this was what Steve Sailer has called The Zeroth Amendment, namely Emma Lazarus’s mawkish poem “The New Colossus”. Mr. Acosta invoked the poem, as of of course he was bound to do, believing it to foreclose upon all further argument; Mr. Miller tacitly acknowledged its power by mistakenly, and irrelevantly, insisting that it was grafted onto the Statue of Liberty as an afterthought. (It was actually written to help raise money for the statue’s pedestal. It was, however, written by a woman whose deepest allegiance was arguably not to the United States, but to the Jewish diaspora and to Zionism; I rather doubt that she would have invited all the world’s “huddled masses” to her own proposed ethnic homeland.)

Politics in America, 2017. How uplifting it is to be back to watching the news.

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Alien Corn

From my pal Dennis Mangan: a warning about industrial seed oils (which are everywhere in the modern American diet). Here.


I’m saddened today to hear of the death of guitarist Chuck Loeb. I hadn’t seen Chuck in many years (we worked together on many records and other sessions back in the 80’s and 90’s), but he was one of the finest musicians I ever knew, and a good man besides. He was only 61.

Chuck was never a household name, but chances are you’ve heard him play. He was greatly respected, and universally well-liked, in the tight-knit New York musical community of which I was a part. You can read about him here.

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I’ve just spent a few weeks almost entirely offline, paying almost no attention to the news (except for John McCreary’s weekdaily NightWatch digest, that is). Each day’s news being, in general, a reeking bucket of offal, the hiatus was pleasant — but old habits die hard, and I’ve had my nose back in the bucket again this week.

Of particular interest (unless you are the New York Times or other like-minded outlets) has been the story of the Awan family, a bunch of Pakistani grifters who, acting as IT specialists, wormed their way into the inner circle of various Democratic members of Congress, managed to get themselves top security clearances, sluiced millions into their pockets (and off to Pakistan), gained access to all sorts of privileged information, and generally played cat-among-the-pigeons until very recently, when Mr. Imran Awan was arrested for bank fraud as he attempted to flee the country, his wife having already absconded to Pakistan with a wad of cash (and a $283,000 bank transfer). At the center of the storm is the utterly unlovable Congresswoman and former head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose connections to Mr. Awan are deep and dark. It appears that she may be getting into some serious hot water over this. (One can only hope: with Anthony Weiner gone, Ms. Schultz is a strong contender for the vacated position of Ickiest Member of Congress. I do not wish her well.)

Andrew McCarthy has a good summary of the Awan story here.

Meanwhile, it appears that Donald Trump’s new communications director, a man by the name of Scaramucci, is a vain and loathsome little potty-mouth with, so far as I have been able to tell, no redeeming qualities whatsoever. (He gave a dismally revealing interview to Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker a little while ago that plumbed, for a senior White House official, new depths of public vulgarity and general odiousness.) Why on Earth did Mr. Trump choose this man, when no less than John Derbyshire himself had declared his own availability for the position?

Ah well, we already knew these were dark times. I’m afraid, though, that at this point I must put down the bucket; after all this time off I still find the stench rather more than I can bear for very long at one sitting.

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Plus Ça Change…

I’ve just finished an excellent book: The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation. The author is Richard M. Gamble, who holds the Anna Margaret Ross Alexander Chair in History and Politics at Hillsdale College.

The book covers the period leading up to, and immediately following, the First World War — a time when original Progressivism was in its fullest flower. For students of the evolution of modern Progressivism from the Puritans to our contemporary, hegemonic cryptoreligion, this is a fascinating period: an era of radical transformation in American Christianity. It was during this time that our holometabolous national religion began to pupate; it would in the latter half of the twentieth century complete the metamorphosis into its pestiferous adult form, with its God, and its soteriology, completely transformed and radically downgraded. The runup to the Great War was when the chrysalis began to develop.

It likely won’t be news to my historically literate readers on the Right, but something the average “Progressive” of today might not realize about this era was how thoroughly, and overtly, soaked in religion it was. So completely has the national religion become secularized in the past few decades, and so zealous the mission to expunge all reference to God from public life, that it may be startling to see the central role that theism, and the discernable will of the Almighty, played in all the great affairs of the day. If you have imagined that America joined the war for purely political, strategic, or economic reasons, you are missing, perhaps, the biggest part of the picture: a dominating idea, widely shared by the nation’s clerical, academic, journalistic, and political elites, that America was called to do Christ’s work on Earth — and that by taking arms against the pagan Huns, God’s chosen nation would wield His flaming sword of righteousness.

We read:

The consensus among the “right thinking” press seemed clear. … This was a war between the age of monarchy and the age of democracy. From the beginning of the war, many Americans interpreted the tumult as no ordinary rivalry among nations, but rather as an abstract war emptied of its historical content and infused with a transcendent significance, as a total war between absolutes: democracy against autocracy, Christian civilization against pagan barbarism, Good against Evil. Considering the temper of the times, it is not surprising that Americans interpreted the Great War as an event of profound religious significance. The early twentieth century was pervaded by a deep religious sensibility—at least by a certain kind of religious temper evident in the era’s metaphors and images, a spiritual atmosphere in which Teddy Roosevelt’s stand at Armageddon in the 1912 election accompanied by the strains of “Onward Christian Soldiers” made sense. To ignore this feature of American life circa 1914 is to miss the key to understanding the way many Americans interpreted world events.

The event was of such “profound religious significance” in no small part because mainstream American religion itself had undergone a profound — and to many of the traditional clergy, deeply misguided — transformation.

From the beginning of the Puritan settlement of America there had been a sense of a new covenant, of a “mission into the wilderness”. While the traditional “Pilgrim” narrative has made the story one of flight from persecution, the Puritans actually sought, perhaps foremost, to fly from what they saw as a sinful and corrupted English society. Here in the New World they could make a new beginning, and they believed they were given the chance to create God’s Kingdom here on Earth. The aim, as throughout Christian history, was the salvation of their own souls, but they believed that a Godly city would be evidence of their fidelity to the new covenant, and so a just God would allow them not only to survive in this hard and dangerous place, but even to prosper. In early years, Calvinist predestination — the belief that salvation was given only by God’s grace, and not through our own good works — prevailed. This was always controversial, though, and as time went by the competing idea, that Man could actually have an active hand in his own salvation, came to the fore. Increasingly, then, the sense of earthly mission became more and more directly associated, not merely with currying God’s favor for the well-being of the community, but with individual salvation.

What happened in the Progressive era, however, was that the social mission completely overturned and usurped the traditional concept of salvation itself. Working toward God no longer meant work on oneself for the saving of one’s individual soul, which now was scorned as sinful self-interest; the only soteriological pathway now ran through the collective, right here on Earth.

This was a major rupture in Christian belief, one that flew in the face of Christ’s own distinction between Caesar and God, the distinction that Augustine had made so clear in The City of God:

While maintaining that history possessed meaning and ultimately accomplished the will of God, Augustine saw no reason to believe that God was incrementally transforming this fallen world into His kingdom. Rather than a literal, thousand-year reign of peace, the millennial kingdom existed as the spiritual kingdom of God’s elect. It flourished as a union of the saints—both living and dead—in the one “City of God,” while the groaning creation struggled on as the “City of Man” awaiting the consummation of the ages. In the meantime, God desired His people to seek an eternal, rather than a temporal, kingdom. The progressive clergy, on the other hand, while retaining Augustine’s conception of unilinear history, removed the key distinction between the City of God and the City of Man. They fused sacred and secular history into a quest for temporal salvation and redirected the historical process toward the goal of an everlasting Golden Age…

… The doctrine of divine immanence, like the developmentalist theory of history, was inseparable from the progressive clergy’s rejection of Augustine’s two cities. Their consolidation of the City of Man and the City of God into one holy metropolis united the work of man and the work of God; it fused politics and religion into a single redemptive work. As historian Arlie J. Hoover noted in his comparative study of the British and German clergy during the First World War, the doctrine of immanence verges close to pantheism, and thus “the cleft between sacred and secular is bridged; every secular pursuit becomes ipso facto a service to God, including love of country.” Moreover, to the immanentalist mind, “culture is merely a continuous demonstration of God’s will for mankind.” By placing God within the historical process and by universalizing the kingdom of God, Hoover continued, “immanental theology practically erases the distinction between the two cities.” While this confusion might seem to have been an inconsequential by-product of the progressives’ untethered imagination, its implications both for the church and for civil society were profound. To combine the two citizenships is to venture to build the City of God through human agency, to assume the place and activity of God Himself, to presume to know His will and conceive of oneself as the instrument of that will. Fusing the two cities can lead, in principle and in practice, to political absolutism by enlisting the transcendent order into the service of the secular state. In its most extreme expression, as philosopher Eric Voegelin noted, this fateful tendency appeared in modern totalitarianism. In these political movements “the Christian faith in transcendent perfection through the grace of God has been converted—and perverted—into the idea of immanent perfection through an act of man.”

This has powerful and frightening implications:

To maintain the distinction between the two cities means that there are realms beyond the reach of Caesar; to remove the distinction is to render all unto Caesar, even if one claims the whole while, as the progressive clergy certainly did, that one is rendering all unto God…

… Writing in 1914, Princeton’s stubborn classicist and doubter of progress Paul Elmer More saw the new earthly minded, humanitarian religion as symptomatic of the general decline of the age: “For one sermon you will hear on the obligation of the individual soul to its maker and judge, and on the need of regeneration and the beauty of holiness, you will hear a score on the relation of a man to his fellows and on the virtues of social sympathy.” In short, More feared, humanitarianism had “usurped the place of religion.”

(Note, as always with leftward movements, the relentless leveling, the flattening of organic hierarchies. Here, we see Heaven itself shot down from the sky.)

Many in the clergy and in academia had, until the beginning of the war, been staunch pacifists. But there was a wave of prominent conversions as influential thinkers began, at first gradually and then quite suddenly, to see the conflict as a literal Crusade, a Christian war “to end war”. The deeply religious Woodrow Wilson was a notable convert; in 1905 he had said “There is a mighty task before us and it welds us together. It is to make the United States a mighty Christian nation and to Christianize the World.” H.G. Wells was another:

A noted advocate of international reorganization for perpetual peace, [Wells’s] ideas served as something of a model for liberal thought in America. In an article published in the New York Times on August 5, the day the peace delegates resumed their work in London, Wells called the war “righteous” and claimed his homeland wielded a “sword drawn for peace.” German ambition, he argued, thwarted civilization’s progress, and the spoiler had to be confronted. With German militarism defeated, Europe could then pursue the ways of peace and end the bloody age of armaments. He hated war, he told his American readers, but this was war of a different order. The war’s outbreak had not destroyed his hope for peace but rather had provided the very means to achieve it. This was a war for peace.

Professor Gamble comments here:

Wells’s logic revealed how easily the progressive mind floated between pacifism and war.

A quibble: what it reveals, I think, is not the fickleness Gamble suggests, but rather that the pacifism of men like Wells was simply a means to a higher end: to wit, ultimate peace and the Kingdom of God on Earth. If that higher end required the sacrifice and slaughter of millions instead of disarmament, so be it. No “floating” here, then, but fidelity to a higher principle.

The transformation and usurpation of traditional Christianity by the Progressive clergy didn’t stop there. It would not be enough for America simply to be Christ’s champion on Earth. For many caught in the sudden fever of holy war, the American nation was to become Christ Himself: the Son of Man physically dying for the salvation of others. The Broadway Tabernacle’s pastor had this to say (my emphasis):

Charles Jefferson summarized the liberals’ postwar enthusiasm well when he connected America, the servant nation, to the league [of Nations]: If we are true to our high calling, we shall always remain a servant. It is America’s high mission among the nations to be the servant of all. We are big and rich and strong, and therefore our service should be constant and generous. There is no permanent happiness for us as a people unless we go up and down the earth doing good. Our foreordained place is in a League of Nations because God created us to serve. Appealing to an unlikely image, unlikely at least for a Protestant minister who might otherwise have been expected to represent the Atonement as a finished work, Jefferson pictured Christ perpetually suffering on the cross, “dying in order to build a better world.” The immanent God suffered with mankind during the war and continued to do so during the peace. The war had taught the need for “great and constant self-sacrifice.” Without such ongoing sacrifice, it would be impossible “for humanity to be saved.” The progressive clergy’s image of America as the suffering servant—as the crucified Messiah—continued undiminished into the postwar era.

In other words: invade the world, invite the world — forever, or until God’s Kingdom On Earth is complete, whichever comes first. And if the nation serves as Christ’s proxy, then questioning the mission can only be the Devil’s work:

As the Nation perceived as early as October 1914, every side in the struggle claimed to be fighting for righteousness: “Each nation believes earnestly that it is in the right; that the war was forced upon it; that it is battling for righteousness and for civilization itself.” But in the case of the United States, the progressive clergy helped furnish the emotional and intellectual elements necessary for its side of this “war for righteousness.” The danger was not the progressives’ claim that God had a purpose in allowing the European War, but their special insight into God’s intentions. Knowing that God has a purpose in calamity is very different from knowing what that purpose is. The progressive clergy claimed to be able to read and to reveal what God was doing and why he was doing it. Moreover, they claimed to be the tool to carry out that divine purpose. This attitude created a single-minded passion, with, as Butterfield said, no room for compromise, or limited aims, or dissent. They transported the war out of the sordid but understandable realm of national ambition, rivalry, and interests—where policies and goals can be debated and defined—into the rarefied world of ideals, abstractions, and politicized theology, where dissent and limitations are moral failures or even heresies.

Dissent there was, however:

From Princeton Theological Seminary in 1923, J. Gresham Machen fired another salvo at Protestant liberalism in his Christianity and Liberalism, which Walter Lippmann later called “the best popular argument produced by either side in the current controversy.” Machen acknowledged the dramatic changes that had swept the world in the past hundred years, and he agreed with the liberals’ assessment of the basic question facing Christianity in the contemporary world, namely, “What is the relation between Christianity and modern culture; may Christianity be maintained in a scientific age?” From this point on, however, he disagreed sharply with the progressive clergy. It was one thing to admit that the world was changing, but quite another to say that Christianity had to change along with it. Machen proposed that liberalism had not rescued Christianity at all but rather had substituted something alien in its place. Liberalism had constructed an entirely new religion that diverged from the historic faith in every basic doctrine, from the nature of God and man, to the Bible, Christ, salvation, and the church…

… In 1924 Irving Babbitt, another relentless critic of the progressives, pointed to the dark side of the “crusading spirit,” a temper he considered to be the dominating feature of American life and thought, and which certainly typified the reformist clergy. This national idealism was so strong, he warned, that it was “becoming the dangerous privilege of the United States to display more of the crusading temper than any other country in both its domestic and its foreign policies.” He noted how thin the line was that separated the desire of the “uplifters” for “sacrifice” from their desire for control. Prohibition and other reforms, he cautioned, were being driven by the “will to power.”

And so it is today. A century later, nothing has changed at all, except for one Big Thing: having emerged from its chrysalis, the adult form of religious Progressivism — which is, make no mistake about it, the official religion of all major institutions in the modern West as I write, dissent from which is very poorly tolerated — no longer speaks of God and Christ. Why? Mencius Moldbug explains:

How did we fall for this? How did we enable an old, well-known strain of Christianity to mutate and take over our minds, just by discarding a few bits of theological doctrine and describing itself as “secular”? (As La Wik puts it: “Despite occasional confusion, secularity is not synonymous with atheism.” Indeed.)

In other words, we have to look at the adaptive landscape of ultracalvinism. What are the adaptive advantages of crypto-Christianity? Why did those Unitarians, or even “scientific socialists,” who downplayed their Christian roots, outcompete their peers?

Well, I think it’s pretty obvious, really. The combination of electoral democracy and “separation of church and state” is an almost perfect recipe for crypto-Christianity.

As I’ve said before, separation of church and state is a narrow-spectrum antibiotic. What you really need is separation of information and security. If you have a rule that says the state cannot be taken over by a church, a constant danger in any democracy for obvious reasons, the obvious mutation to circumvent this defense is for the church to find some plausible way of denying that it’s a church. Dropping theology is a no-brainer. Game over, you lose, and it serves you right for vaccinating against a nonfunctional surface protein.

In other words: a near-universal religious impulse that was powerful enough to impel the nation to global war as recently as 1917 doesn’t simply vanish in a few decades. America, and the modern West, is every bit as religious as it ever was.

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I Repost It Thus!

With a hat-tip to our e-pal David Duff, here’s a tasty little post by “Theodore Dalrymple” on the lasting value of Samuel Johnson’s clarity and insight.

Dalrymple notes Dr. Johnson’s observations about the utopian busybodies and professional uplifters of his day:

We must snatch the present moment, and employ it well, without too much solicitude for the future, and content ourselves with reflecting that our part is performed. He that waits for an opportunity to do much at once, may breathe out his life in idle wishes, and regret, in the last hour, his useless intentions, and barren zeal.

Says Dalrymple about this passage:

Barren zeal indeed! Is that not a description of the favorite state of mind of so many of us? A kind of theoretical zealotry, which never has the opportunity to test its ideas against reality, and knows that it never will, can keep a certain type of mind satisfied for years, decades, and even a whole lifetime. Let the heavens fall, so long as my ideas remain pure!

Such zealotry is not entirely harmless, however. It finds some few who are willing to act upon it, with what results the history of the 20th century (as well as many other centuries) attests. There are some people who prefer the syllogisms of their ideas to the complexities of reality. They are to the world what obsessional housewives are to a house, and they turn a morbid psychological state into a historical catastrophe.

A fine example of preferring “the syllogisms of their ideas to the complexities of reality” is the history of the Progressive movement in the years leading up to World War I, about which I have just read an excellent book. More on that shortly, I think.

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Making the rounds recently: an excellent article at Quillette about the ongoing purge of moderates and conservatives from the social sciences.

After beginning with some evidence that the purge itself is real, accelerating, and is driving the academic community sharply to the left, the author, Uri Harris, compares two ideological narratives. The first is the “liberal progress narrative”, as outlined by sociologist Christian Smith:

Once upon a time, the vast majority of human persons suffered in societies and social institutions that were unjust, unhealthy, repressive, and oppressive. These traditional societies were reprehensible because of their deep-rooted inequality, exploitation, and irrational traditionalism. . . . But the noble human aspiration for autonomy, equality, and prosperity struggled mightily against the forces of misery and oppression, and eventually succeeded in establishing modern, liberal, democratic… welfare societies. While modern social conditions hold the potential to maximize the individual freedom and pleasure of all, there is much work to be done to dismantle the powerful vestiges of inequality, exploitation, and repression. This struggle for the good society in which individuals are equal and free to pursue their self-defined happiness is the one mission truly worth dedicating one’s life to achieving.

Mr. Harris criticizes this description for its vagueness, and brings in Jonathan Haidt to sharpen it:

So, I take part in a lot of discussions, I’m invited to all sorts of lefty meetings about a global society and… you know… the left usually wants global governance, they want more power vested in the U.N., I hear a lot of talk on the left about how countries and national borders are bad things, they’re arbitrary. So, the left tends to want more of a universal… I’m just thinking about the John Lennon song… this is what I always go back to, Imagine. Imagine there’s no religion, no countries, no private property, nothing to kill or die for, then it will all be peace and harmony. So that is sort of the far-leftist view of what the end state of social evolution could be.

Harris focuses on two points in Haidt’s remark:

What’s interesting about Haidt’s alternative interpretation of the liberal progress narrative is that he mentions two elements central to the narrative—private property and nations. And what has happened to a large extent is that as the failures of communism have become increasingly apparent many on the left—including social scientists—have shifted their activism away from opposing private property and towards other aspects, for example globalism.

But how do we know a similarly disastrous thing is not going to happen with globalism as happened with communism? What if some form of national and ethnic affiliation is a deep-seated part of human nature, and that trying to forcefully suppress it will eventually lead to a disastrous counter-reaction? What if nations don’t create conflict, but alleviate it? What if a decentralised structure is the best way for human society to function?

What if the type of mass-scale immigration currently occurring in Europe, containing relatively large amounts of people with different nationalities, cultures, and religions, is going against some of the core features of human nature? Maybe it isn’t, but if it is, do we have to wait until after the fact to say ‘well, globalism doesn’t work’, as we did with communism? Surely there is a better way.

This is a key question: “do we have to wait until after the fact to say ‘well, globalism doesn’t work’, as we did with communism?” It certainly seems as if that’s the choice we’ve made: the field-testing we’ve already done — particularly in Europe — has already demonstrated that globalist Universallism is in many ways a self-evident disaster, on its way to becoming a civilization-wide catastrophe, yet, just as with Communism in China, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere, its proponents are doubling down. As I pointed out here, regarding large-scale immigration, it is very hard to know in advance where a calamitous “tipping point” will be, and once it has been passed, the damage is almost impossible to undo, “without recourse to great, often sanguinary, unpleasantness.”

Mr. Harris then suggests a different narrative of progress, which he calls the scientific narrative (my emphasis):

Once upon a time, human beliefs and practices were crude, steeped in superstition, and tightly regulated by central authority. Consequently, humans were at the mercy of not only an unpredictable and punishing environment, but also of each other. But the human aspiration for truth and stability eventually prevailed, as humans piece by piece began to assemble a model of not only their environments, but of human nature itself. With this understanding came the blueprint for establishing a robust, dynamic society that could withstand environmental pressures while effectively regulating human interaction. Thus, societies learned to harness human potential by working with human nature, not against it. Again and again, theories that were believed unquestionably true were replaced by better ones, often after heavy resistance. There is much still to be understood, but it’s clear that the struggle for a good society must be led by an uncompromising search for truth, however uncomfortable it might seem at the time. Any society that forces humans to behave against their nature is bound to eventually fail, and only truth can prevent this from happening.

How refreshing: a society that works “with human nature, not against it”. Imagine!

Read the whole thing here.

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Well, our daughter’s wedding happened this past Saturday, and it was a splendid event. We still have guests in town, and follow-on activities, but things are getting back to normal around the Pollack household, and I’ll soon be back in harness here at the blog. Thank you all for your patience.

Meanwhile, here are just a few links:

‣   A chronological collection of the famous first two chords of Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony.

‣   NOAA and NASA’s temperature data “are not a valid representation of reality“.

‣   Rod Dreher on Venice.

‣   Yes, men and women ARE different. (Duh.)

Normal operations will resume shortly.

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With a hat-tip to Nick Land:

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Service Notice

I apologize for the slowness around here. With house-guests, and a wedding coming up, the actual world has pre-empted the online world for a little while now, and will do so for another couple of weeks. If the Muse grabs me by the collar, I’ll find the time to write, but posting will likely be sporadic at best. Please feel free to browse our archives (4,462 posts as of this writing!), or try the “Random Post” link at upper right.

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President Trump gave a fine speech in Poland yesterday, in which he seemed, at times, downright reactionary. He spoke in rousing terms of the great Western heritage, and of the dangers it faces both from within and without. Some exhortatory excerpts:

As I stand here today before this incredible crowd, this faithful nation, we can still hear those voices that echo through history. Their message is as true today as ever. The people of Poland, the people of America, and the people of Europe still cry out “We want God.”

…Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty. We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are. If left unchecked, these forces will undermine our courage, sap our spirit, and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies…

We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers.

We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art that honor God. We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression…

[W]hat we’ve inherited from our ancestors has never existed to this extent before. And if we fail to preserve it, it will never, ever exist again. So we cannot fail…

We have to remember that our defense is not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will. Because as the Polish experience reminds us, the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have. The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?

Wow. “Brilliance”! “Excellence”! Reverence! Traditions! Heritage! The defense of the West! Protecting our borders! Preserving our civilization! Strong stuff, and as far as the epicene political, academic, and media elites of the modern West are concerned, it might as well be the language of Mordor. Can you imagine Barack Obama saying such things? The words would have burnt his tongue.

Sure, it wasn’t perfect — I would quibble, for example, with the speech’s NATO boosterism, at a time when we are slipping back into a foolish Cold War with Russia — but if the death of the West doesn’t matter, then nothing does. Please sir, let it be more than just words.

Update: Rod Dreher comments on the Left’s reactions to the speech.

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CNN Delenda Est

Here’s RamzPaul commenting on CNN’s publicly threatening to dox a meme-creator they don’t like. Normally I wouldn’t pay an awful lot of attention to this sort of thing — it is simply a given that mainstream news outlets like CNN are Cathedral clerisy, and will say and do whatever they believe advances their religious hegemony — but there’s blood in the water here, sharks are circling, and given CNN’s behavior over the past year or so it would please me enormously to see them devoured.

Ramz makes one common mistake here, though: he points out the inconsistency of CNN’s accusations of bigotry, when they themselves have done precisely the same thing (details in the video). This is an elementary misunderstanding, and a search for consistency in the wrong place. The left does have a firmly consistent principle, but it has nothing at all to do with playing fair, or applying the same standards to oneself that one holds others to. Rather, it is simply this: the enemy is the enemy, and must be attacked.

Here’s something else: once again Donald Trump has tweeted something boorish and juvenile, and the MSM’s reaction has been so hysterical and unmeasured that Trump comes out on top. CNN really blew some toes off this time. I hope the wound festers.

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When In The Course Of Human Events…

Here we are again: it’s Independence Day, 2017, and the nation feels more deeply divided than ever in my lifetime — even more profoundly so, it seems to me, than it did in the Sixties. I say this for two reasons.

First, back then the nation was far less heterogeneous; the real demographic inundation of the traditional American nation had begun only in 1965, with the Hart-Cellar Act. For all of the political and cultural stresses of that turbulent decade, we were still, by demography and cultural ancestry, broadly the same nation we had been since the founding. The demographic fault-line that led to the seismic events in America’s cities in those years was the same one that had shaken the nation a century earlier, and that still makes the ground tremble today.

Second, the Sixties were in many ways an era of hope. The successes of the civil-rights movement had finally forced the nation as a whole to acknowledge a basic moral and historical fact: that America’s black population, having been here since long before the Founding, were as much a congenital feature of the American nation as the white and European majority, and had every right to be treated as full citizens before the law. In other ways, too, there was a pervasive sense of possibility — and for all the careless cultural destruction of the Sixties, it was also a time of great artistic and scientific ferment and fertility. The vigor of the nation seemed as yet undiminished. Men walked on the Moon!

Now, half a century on, the results are in. On balance, what have the convulsive social upheavals, and the grand social experiments, of the 1960’s produced? I won’t answer that question here — it is better suited for a book than a blog-post — other than it should all remind the reader of the law of unintended consequences, the stubborn realities of human nature, and the eternal lessons of hubris. Another law that will come to mind is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which tells us that it is far easier to break down complex systems than to build them; that order is very much rarer (and therefore infinitely more precious) than chaos.

So: this time round, the divisions are at least as deep as they were in the Sixties, but they are also of a profoundly different character. Back then they seemed internecine; now we glare at each other almost as complete strangers having nothing in common — because, so often, we are. The childlike hopefulness of the “Summer Of Love”, now fifty years in hindsight, seems impossibly naive today. Now there seems to be nothing but factionalism, sullen anger, and a bitter struggle for power and spoils.

Patrick Buchanan has marked this gloomy Fourth with an essay that asks “Is America Still a Nation”? In it he quotes the French historian Ernest Renan:

“A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things … constitute this soul, this spiritual principle. One is the past, the other is the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present consent, the desire to live together, the desire to continue to invest in the heritage that we have jointly received.

“Of all cults, that of the ancestors is the most legitimate: our ancestors have made us what we are. A heroic past with great men and glory … is the social capital upon which the national idea rests. These are the essential conditions of being a people: having common glories in the past and a will to continue them in the present; having made great things together and wishing to make them again.”

Read Mr. Buchanan’s column here. And if nothing else, take time today to reflect on the extraordinary American experiment. Wherever it goes from here, it has been a magnificent enterprise, and one of the greatest chapters of human history.

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I found myself chatting online this morning with an old friend from my New York studio days. I was dismayed to learn that he’d moved to Florida.

I’ve never seen the appeal, I must confess, of the “Sunshine State”. It’s always seemed to me a tacky and unserious place — like southern California without the redeeming qualities. It’s also depressingly flat; the highest point, if memory serves, is a paltry 145′ above sea level (it may even have subsided a bit since I last checked that figure, which was decades ago).

Worst of all, though, is the climate: an oppressive combination of heat and stupidity.

If you added it all together, I’ve probably spent a couple of months down there. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a lifetime quota and then some.

I realize this is a harsh review, and there may be those of you out there who love the place. No hard feelings, I hope — you have my blessing, and I can promise you I won’t be adding to the crowds.

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By The Numbers

Here’s an interesting angle: using Benford’s Law to spot falsified data in academic papers.

Come ON Already

Donald Trump unbosomed himself of yet another pair of catty and adolescent tweets this morning, resulting in the usual fuss. Yes, Mr. Trump has been the object of relentless personal assault, and the vilest invective, since he became a candidate, but we expect that sort of thing from the spoiled and sullen Left. Would it be too much to ask that the President refrain from such low — and above all, wholly counterproductive — gossip and sniping?

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The Wrathful Sky

Beautiful, beautiful time-lapse storm footage, here. Watch in ‘full screen’.

Hyperintelligent Machines: Myth Or Menace?

Here’s a provocative item from Wired: a skeptic’s take on the idea of superhuman AI, by one Kevin Kelly. I haven’t time to comment on it now, other than to say that once you get past the “there are all kinds of intelligence” boilerplate, it raises some interesting points.

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Where Do They All Come From?

So many talented people! Here’s a splendid solo version of Eleanor Rigby by a gifted young musician named Josh Turner.

Russia? Fuhgeddaboudit.

In case you missed it: according to this item in the Washington Times, millions of noncitizens may indeed have voted in recent elections.

An Idea Whose Time Had Come

A while back a reader pointed out to me in an email that my e-pal David Duff and I often seemed to be oddly “in sync” with our blog-posts. Yesterday I visited David’s excellent blog Duff and Nonsense after a few days’ absence, and saw that like me, he’d also put up a post about Jon Ossoff’s loss in the recent Congressional election down in Georgia. Not only that, though: he’d also used the same photo of a morose CNN election-night panel. All fine so far: that photo had been making the rounds that day, for the simple reason that liberal tears are sweet nectar to the rest of us. What seemed eerie, though, was that mon ami Duff had, in his own item, resurrected the same Wildean “death of little Nell” quote that I had opened with.

This, I thought, wanted explaining. So I’ve settled on two possibilities, both summed up in familiar aphorisms. I think it comes down either to:

Great minds think alike


Fools seldom differ.

You can take your pick.

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No Good Options

Here is a depressingly thorough look at the problem of North Korea. It examines four things the U.S. might do: 1) pre-emption à la Thucydides; 2) smaller-scale military pressure; 3) decapitation of the Kim regime; or 4) more of what we’ve done so far, namely nothing.

Not one of these choices is appealing. It is common these days to imagine that every problem has a solution. Some, however, don’t.

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Power Tools

Some years ago I read The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene. The book, which has become an international best-seller, has its flaws, but it is, on the whole, a sharp and insightful distillation of timeless principles.

Today I ran across a half-hour animated summary of this vade mecum for the ruthlessly ambitious. Here it is.


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Molon Labia!

Presented without comment:

Beyond Pro-Choice: The Solution to White Supremacy is White Abortion

An excerpt:

White women: it is time to do your part! Your white children reinforce the white supremacist society that benefits you. If you claim to be progressive, and yet willingly birth white children by your own choice, you are a hypocrite. White women should be encouraged to abort their white children, and to use their freed-up time and resources to assist women of color who have no other choice but to raise their children.

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Racism And Murderism

Here is a brilliant piece by Scott Alexander on what we mean by ‘racism’. It’s long, but you should read it all.

It also includes this gem, right at the end:

I don’t want civil war. I want this country to survive long enough to be killed by something awesome, like AI or some kind of genetically engineered superplague. Right now I think going out in a neat way, being killed by a product of our own genius and intellectual progress – rather than a product of our pettiness and mutual hatreds – is the best we can hope for. And I think this is attainable! I think that we, as a nation and as a species, can make it happen.

I think he’s too optimistic, of course. But don’t let that stop you from reading this really excellent work of cultural analysis.

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Rise And Fall

Over at Jacobite magazine, Nick Land has posted an item called Modernity’s Fertility Problem. It addresses a liability that, although it presents itself in an especially virulent form today, is hardly unique to modernity, and has been the death of high civilizations since antiquity.

We read:

Modernity has a fertility problem. When elevated to the zenith of savage irony, the formulation runs: At the demographic level, modernity selects systematically against modern populations. The people it prefers, it consumes. Without gross exaggeration, this endogenous tendency can be seen as an existential risk to the modern world. It threatens to bring the entire global order crashing down around it.

We’ve discussed this here before. A couple of years ago, in precisely the same context, I wrote:

Observers of the life-cycles of civilizations long ago noticed that there is a natural demographic process that tends to enfeeble high civilizations as they reach their apogee. The idea is that as civilizations advance, they create more and more knowledge, literature, art, etc., and that for the civilization to continue to advance requires that there be enough people in each succeeding generation with the cognitive and behavioral capacity to absorb it all and carry it forward. The fact that these traits are highly heritable means that those in each generation who possess these necessary qualities must maintain a certain rate of fertility in order to ensure that there will be a large enough pool of such resources in the next generation.

The problem, however, is that high civilizations offer a great many agreeable distractions and diversions for these cognitive elites (not least of which is the work of building upon the knowledge and culture passed to them by their antecedent generation) — and so the messy, expensive, and time-consuming work of raising children becomes less and less attractive. Once the fertility rate drops below a certain critical point, there simply aren’t enough children of sufficient quality to shoulder the load, and the whole structure becomes more and more top-heavy. Eventually it collapses. This has happened again and again throughout history.

In his discussion of this phenomenon, Mr. Land focuses his attention on where the problem is, and has always been, the most acute: cities. He quotes an essay by William McNeil, Cities and their Consequences:

Intensified exposure to infectious disease was the traditional reason why cities did not reproduce themselves. […] But it is the cost of raising children in all urban environments, not disease, that best explains why urban populations generally decline without immigrants from rural areas. Wherever adults go off to work in factories, shops and offices, and small children are not allowed to accompany them, who looks after the young? How can they be readied for gainful employment? Public education and pre-schooling are seldom available in urban slums, particularly outside Western countries, but occasionally even within them, too. Grandmothers and elderly neighbors can sometimes do the job, but extended family coherence is not as prevalent in cities, and often such caregivers are not available. Professionals of various descriptions must then be found. That renders the cost of children’s upkeep high, and the nurturing that such professionals usually offer rarely matches their large fees. […] Even as children are more expensive in cities, they are less economically useful at an early age. There are few berries to be picked, no small domesticated animals to herd. There is a much longer wait until children can begin to contribute to family income in urban settings.

Land pauses here to identify recognition of this fertility crisis as a crisis as being roughly congruent with membership in the new Right (in his words, the ‘far right’). To the goodthinkful modern mind, if you notice this problem, and think it really is a problem, then you are already, if not actually beyond the pale, perched upon it, looking out toward the darkness.

Why is that? It’s because problems have causes, and because this problem has some causes that are rooted in sacred modern beliefs. If you start tugging on these threads, a good deal of contemporary social fabric will soon begin to unravel.

Land continues:

Feminism has been the first, inevitable target. It is tightly correlated with the collapse of fertility, and is something modernity tends (strongly) to promote. The expansion of female social opportunities beyond obligate child-rearing could scarcely lead anywhere other than to a drastic contraction of family size. The inexorable modern trend to social decoding – i.e. to the production of an abstract contractual agency in the place of concretely determined persons – makes the explosion of such opportunities apparently uncontainable. The individualism fostered by urban life might, to the counter-factual imagination, have been in some way restricted to males, but as a matter of actual historical fact the dereliction of traditional social roles has proceeded without serious limitation, with variation in speed, but no indication of alternative direction. The radically decoded Internet persona – optionally anonymous, fabricated, and self-defining – seems no more than an extrapolation from the emergent norms of urban existence. Feminist assumptions, at least in their ‘first-wave,’ liberal form, are integral to the modern city.

There’s a lot to unpack here. I wouldn’t have used the term “social decoding”, which as far as I understand, refers to the process by which different people will extract different meanings from social messages depending upon their particular cultural embedding (a deeply and typically postmodernist notion). In the context of “the radically decoded Internet persona”, I take the point here to be about the process by which, especially in the past half-century of the modern West, higher-level natural categories and individual particularities are stripped away.

This peeling away of properties and categories is due to a number of factors. First, it is a natural result of the simultaneous centralization and intrusiveness of government power, in which every aspect of life is increasingly managed and monitored; this is simply not possible, as a matter of scale, while preserving fully detailed individuality as regards the multitudes being so governed. In this way, then, the blooming profusion of qualities and particularities that differentiate every person must give way, in public interactions, to a smaller, and lower, subset of more basic commonalities. (It is precisely analogous to what computer science refers to as a “base class”; highly centralized governments must address their people through what a C++ programmer would call a “base-class pointer”.) Second, it is an equally natural consequence of postmodernism generally, which exerts an entropic and deliquescent effect on every salient, objective feature of the world. Third, it is due also to the uprooting of immigrants to cities from their homes, which provides an opportunity for self-reinvention. The range of possibilities for doing this would have been far smaller in earlier times (though still considerable), but nowadays it is practically unlimited.

These complexities aside, what is quite plainly and certainly true in the paragraph quoted above is that feminism “is tightly correlated with the collapse of fertility, and is something modernity tends (strongly) to promote”, and that the “expansion of female social opportunities beyond obligate child-rearing could scarcely lead anywhere other than to a drastic contraction of family size.” (If any of you reject that premise, I’ll be interested to know why.)

Religion is up next. Simply put, religious people have more babies.

Religious traditionalist lamentations in this regard are, of course, nothing new. Christianity – especially under Catholic inspiration – has connected modernity to sterility for as long as modernity has been noticed. A number of crucial factors have nevertheless changed. Since the early years of the new millennium, secular liberals have begun to notice the connection between religiosity and fertility, and to express gathering concern about its partisan political consequences. In a 2009 paper, Sarah R. Hayford and S. Philip Morgan discuss the transition from a traditional discussion of the topic, focused upon differential Catholic and Protestant fertility, to its contemporary mode, subsequent to the convergence of denominational differences, and now mapping more closely onto red / blue state partisan affiliations. Their abstract is worth citing (almost) in full:

Using data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), we show that women who report that religion is “very important” in their everyday life have both higher fertility and higher intended fertility than those saying religion is “somewhat important” or “not important.” Factors such as unwanted fertility, age at childbearing, or degree of fertility postponement seem not to contribute to religiosity differentials in fertility. This answer prompts more fundamental questions: what is the nature of this greater “religiosity”? And why do the more religious want more children? We show that those saying religion is more important have more traditional gender and family attitudes and that these attitudinal differences account for a substantial part of the fertility differential.

This should hardly be surprising; nearly every religion inclines a person to a viewpoint that extends beyond the atomic self, both horizontally and vertically, and fosters a sense of embedding in both time and culture.

Land continues:

“Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?” asked Eric Kaufmann in a 2010 book with that name. A peculiar twist in the Darwinian inheritance had begun to bring the heritability of religious attitudes into prominence, and linking it (positively) to the question of reproductive fitness. Those groups previously seen as having been unambiguously vanquished by a triumphant evolutionary science were now subject to an ironic – and from the progressive perspective deeply sinister – evolutionary vindication. This is a story that has still scarcely begun to unfold.

Exactly right, I think. I’ve believed for many years now that religiosity increases fitness, and that secularism is maladaptive. (I recommend David Sloan Wilson’s (aptly named!) Darwin’s Cathedral for a theoretical overview.) I wrote about this in 2009 from the perspective of social cohesion, but its depressing effect on fertility is perhaps an even more serious problem.

Land also touches on the profusion of sexual categories, which places ordinary, binary breedership at an increasing numerical disadvantage in the range of available options, but this is simply another manifestation of the current-day triumph of entropic postmodernism, radical skepsis, and atomization, in which everyone is condemned to define themselves, even down to the most basic (and actually objective) qualities. It is a lethal sickness.

Now we get to what Land considers an inevitable stage in the effect of urbanization in a small and globalized world — and in this, he may be right that we are in new historical territory. It is that great modern cities, in contrast to earlier times, have fully consumed their hinterlands, and now, due to the ease of travel in the modern era, attract more and more immigrants from everywhere in the world. In this way they become engines of demographic replacement, on a scale that even the greatest cities of the past cold never manage. This, argues, Land, leads in turn, quite lawfully and dependably, to reaction:

Politics, by prophetic etymology, is about cities. The inevitability of an emergent ‘Alt-Right’ in the mass politics of advanced modern societies is already fully predictable from a minimal understanding of how cities work. It is simple delusion to imagine that mere contingency rules here, perhaps under the guidance of particular political personalities. Rather, the urban metabolism – essentially – at a certain phase of its development, generates circumstances overwhelmingly conducive to the eruption of popular ethno-politics. Cities are demographic parasites. They trend intrinsically to a dynamic that – beyond a comparatively definite threshold – cannot fail to be perceived as a systematic policy of ethnic replacement.

Here we have got into more speculative territory, I think. “Cannot fail to be perceived as a systematic policy of ethnic replacement”? Really? I’m sure that it cannot fail to perceived as such by some, but, living as I do in New York City, and reading the media organs of those elites who run the place, and hob-nobbing with my affluent and bien-pensant friends and neighbors here in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I can assure you that it is hardly perceived that way by all. Indeed, to perceive it that way would be a thing from which most of the people I know around here would recoil in horror.

Land continues:

There is still much hope of coaxing toothpaste back into its tubes. In other words, there is a massive failure to appreciate the profundity and magnitude of the processes underlying the current global crisis. For instance, the incendiary language of migration-driven ‘genocide’ is not going away. It is bound, on the contrary, to spread, and intensify. The re-emergence of the race topic, and all of its associates, is deeply baked into the modernist cake. Comparative modernity is automatically racialized once global metabolism lends differential (urban/rural) fertility its ethnic specificity. What is unfolding, among other things, is the racial disaggregation of the ‘population bomb,’ with drastic inevitability. This is not a product of intellectuals, but of the modern process inherently, and all attempts by intellectuals to obstruct its cultural condensation are hubristically misconceived. “Who, actually, is having kids?” It is a species of insanity to think this question can be strangled in the crib.

In other words, there is “still much hope” that the reaction provoked by these fatal liabilities and inherent pathologies of secular modernity will at some point provoke a life-saving immune reaction in the body politic. Is that so? Or is it perhaps the case, as I have argued here, that it is the uniquely lethal property of our modern, postwar memeplex that it functions like AIDS: a memetic pathogen that I have labeled “CIV”, for “Cultural Immunodeficiency Virus”. It attacks the very mechanism by which a healthy, living culture would defend itself, and its wasting effects are already visible all around us.

This is not the first time around the wheel. This cycle of early vigor, high accomplishment, cultural complacency, decadence, irreligion, loss of virility, and plummeting fertility has been the rule, not the exception, in the arc of civilizations throughout history. Usually the story ends with accelerating pressure from, and finally invasion and conquest by, lean and hungry outsiders. Does this all not look familiar? Will this time be different?

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They’re Just Not That Into You

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: one would have to have a heart of stone to read of the death of little Jon Ossoff’s Congressional aspirations without laughing. This photo of CNN’s election-night panel as the loss became apparent is pure sunshine:

With the hope that springs eternal, however, Dems and their media (perhaps I have that backward) are spinning their defeat as a sign of “momentum” — despite that the Republican victor’s margin in Georgia’s Sixth District was considerably larger in yesterday’s contest than Mr. Trump’s was in the general — and imagine that they are now perfectly in position for a “wave” election in 2018.

As they say down South: bless their hearts.

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That Ship Has Sailed

Our previous post mentioned an article at National Review by David French. I’d also like to comment on another item by Mr. French, published two days earlier.

The piece was a commentary on Wednesday’s rifle attack, by left-wing kook James Hodgkinson, on Republican members of Congress as they practiced for a baseball game. Mr. French notes the increasingly harsh and angry tone of political discourse these days (perhaps I shouldn’t even call it “discourse”, as the word implies actual conversation), but worries about suppression of political speech in response. Rather, he argues, the problem is not with our liberty to speak, but lies an underlying degradation of comity, cohesion, compassion, and conscience.

We read:

The American experiment is built on a concept that’s rarely discussed in modern politics: ordered liberty. Edmund Burke famously and correctly argued that “the only liberty that is valuable is a liberty connected with order; that not only exists along with order and virtue, but which cannot exist at all without them.” When John Adams insisted that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people” and that “it is wholly inadequate to the government of any other,” he was getting at the same point.

All too often, the response to a breakdown in this scheme — and make no mistake, an act of political terrorism represents just such a breakdown — is to try curtailing liberty, rather than repairing moral order. The gun-control debate is a perfect example: A criminal violates the law, and invariably the cry rings out for more law and less freedom. The free-speech debate (especially on college campuses) is following suit: In response not just to crime but even to the “injury” of hurt feelings, the cry rings out for more law and less freedom.

The answer, says Mr. French, is not a call for “civility”, which is a superficial remedy that only suppresses the symptoms. We must, he argues, get at the disease itself:

What we’re losing isn’t so much “civility” but the fundamental worldview in which even our ideological enemies are seen as human beings created in God’s image and in which an “ends justifies the means” instrumentalist morality is shunned in favor of respecting universal moral standards that bind both sides.

Despite our fraying social fabric, ordered liberty still exists. In fact (and ironically, given our gun-control debates) there’s one American community that exhibits a demonstrable commitment to it: concealed-carry-permit holders. They carry weapons every day (that’s the liberty) and yet they commit crimes at lower rates than even police officers (that’s the order). In fact, the exercise of their liberties is inextricably linked to their respect for order.

That’s how the system should work. That’s how it was designed to work. Absent virtue, liberty can lead to disorder. In the face of that disorder, however, we shouldn’t restrict liberty; we should rebuild virtue. That doesn’t mean standing down in the great political conflicts of our time, but it does mean standing up for a deep truth: Freedom carries with it responsibility, and that responsibility includes respecting the fundamental humanity and individual dignity of even your greatest foes.

I find nothing to disagree with in any of this. The diagnosis is correct, and the essay expresses a noble yearning: let us arrest our decline by rebuilding virtue!

To this I must ask, however: upon what foundation, exactly, is virtue to be rebuilt? Upon our cherished Anglo-American traditions? Upon our sense of familial and cultural commonality, and our sharing of history and heritage? Upon the sacred principles of our Christian beliefs? Upon our reverence for the past, and our sense of duty to the future? Upon our modern-day cultural priorities of frugality, self-sacrifice, discipline, and deferment of present enjoyment for the sake of the greater good?

You see the problem, of course. Read the essay here.

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The French Defense

You may have heard about a depressing criminal case here in Massachusetts, in which a young woman, Michelle Carter, was accused of involuntary manslaughter for talking her boyfriend into killing himself. Ms. Carter was found guilty just the other day.

There’s no question that Ms. Carter did an evil thing. I had serious misgivings about the verdict, however — and so apparently did National Review‘s David French, who wrote a brief and lucid item about the verdict. Here’s the gist:

I see two serious problems with this verdict — one moral, the other legal. First, Conrad Roy is responsible for his death. To argue that Carter committed manslaughter is to diminish Roy’s moral agency. It denies his free will. It’s wrong to deny compassion to someone so troubled that they’d attempt suicide, but we can’t move so far in the other direction that we race to find who’s “really” to blame when a person voluntarily takes their own life. It’s still an act of self-murder, and while Carter undoubtedly played a persuasive role, I can’t imagine where we will draw the line. Will we prosecute mean people for manslaughter when troubled teens kill themselves?

Second, there are real First Amendment implications with this verdict. Carter’s actions were reprehensible, but she was sharing with him thoughts and opinions that he may have found persuasive but had the capacity to reject. A legal argument that renders otherwise-protected speech unlawful because it actually persuades would blast a hole in First Amendment jurisprudence.

Exactly right, I think. What Ms. Carter did was monstrous, and the memory of it should haunt her for the rest of her days. But law and conscience are two very different things, and the verdict was mistaken.

Read the rest of Mr. French’s article here.

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Living On The Edge

The other day I went for a stroll along the shore here in Wellfleet. The Outer Cape is very nearly the easternmost extension of the continental United States (save for a stretch of coastline in eastern Maine), and as I stood facing the sea I was aware of standing precisely on the boundary of two vastnesses: the great and stormy Atlantic before me, with the whole American continent stretching out behind.

But there was more to it than that: I stood also on the exact limit of a vertical frontier. Beginning precisely at the soles of my feet was nearly eight thousand miles of solid Earth, while above me the thin blue sky soon gave way to infinite and empty space.

As I thought about this I remembered that there was still another sense in which we all stand upon an edge, a boundary, a frontier: our occupation of the mysterious place that we call the present. It is always vanishing, but always with us; it is infinitesimally brief, but somehow it is where everything happens. Behind us, like the vast American continent, is the past; it is, like the land itself, “written in stone”. Ahead is the future, as teeming and unknowable as the ocean.

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Cold Civil War Heats Up

A disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporter directed rifle fire at a Congressional baseball-team practice in Alexandria today. The House majority whip, Steve Scalise, was shot in the hip, and several others were injured as well, including two Capitol policemen. The gunman, 66-year-old James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois, was killed. He had apparently asked Rep. Ron DeSantis, moments before the shooting, whether the people on the field were Republicans. (They were.)

Given that this was a man using a rifle from some distance away, it is remarkable that there weren’t many deaths (although as I write there are some reports that one of the injured has died). Some wags on Twitter have remarked that the body count would have been a great deal higher if it had been a right-wing shooter, because lefties generally know nothing about guns.

I won’t comment further, for now, other than to say that nobody should be surprised by this.

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Service Update

I must apologize for the lack of content here over the past week or so. As I mentioned earlier, it’s been a busy time: sadly, I still must labor to earn the daily crust, and meanwhile we have been preparing for a wedding. (Also, on Monday the 12th, the lovely Nina and I celebrated our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. How this beautiful, cheery and intelligent woman has put up with a dyspeptic gnashgab like me for so long I can’t imagine, but there it is.)

The real problem, though, is simply that for a little while now the Muse has been silent, and so the usual topics have left me more than a little flat. The news drones on: another terror attack somewhere; more political team-sport in Washington; more climate-change hysteria; more entropic postmodernist absurdities; more lefty religion (but I repeat myself); more celebrity-gawking; more outrage; more hashtags — just more and more of all of it, without even enough variety to make it really worth commenting on. Usually I would go on doing so anyway, to quote Mencken, “for the same reason that a hen goes on laying eggs”, but every now and then the ovary shuts down for a bit, and you start to feel you’ve said what you have to say. This is one of those times. They never last very long.

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Tired of the crap the kids are listening to? Do yourself a favor and buy this album, made by grownups.

Trust me on this; I know about these things.

Service Notice

A busy few days here. Back in a bit.

Cower Of London

Here’s Ed West, writing in the “Speccie”:

The reason we keep on hearing about ‘British values’ uniting our nation is precisely that they don’t; communities that genuinely do have a sense of group feeling don’t need to go on about a set of values that supposedly binds them. Why would they? This is not just about immigration; since the Second World War at least western societies have had a huge growth in values diversity, people being freer to chose their lifestyles; the internet has accelerated this. But these sort of values-diverse societies can only really run smoothly on the understanding that no one tries to blow the others up.

Yes, that no one tries to blow his neighbors up is a necessary condition for a happy and harmonious society, but it is hardly a sufficient one. It is, perhaps, sufficient for a well-functioning hotel, or parking facility — but not for a community, and certainly not for a nation.

Meanwhile, new vehicle-proof bulwarks have been installed on London’s bridges, as England’s descent into a wartime security state accelerates. (When you won’t build a wall around your country, you must build walls around everything inside your country.)

I’m glad that my father, who grew up in London and lived through the Blitz, didn’t live to see this. I’m sure he’d think it is far worse: what he saw in that hour was an ancient nation and people adamantly resolved to defend their home and culture, no matter the cost; what he would see today in the city of his birth is a deracinated and exhausted people adamantly resolved to do anything but.

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Western Man