Cue Chumbawumba

Last night I sat up late, ruminating on Tuesday’s result, and weighing defiance against despair.

I thought about how the tone and content of this blog (which are of course just a mirror of the tone and content of its author) had been taken over, more and more as years went by, by the need to understand and resist the deadly disease afflicting America and the West.

In its early days this website was a very different place, which must mean that I too was in some important sense a very different person. The content was broadly varied (see, for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). I wrote about philosophy, the nature of mind, music, chess, martial arts, inner work, evolution, the absurdity of the passing scene, and much more.

There was a lightness of spirit here that is now largely gone, displaced by a grim concern for the great calamity of our time: the slow and deliberate suicide of our nation and of its rootstock, the high civilization of the West. I had many interesting commenters, back then, who don’t come around any more. I miss them. (Browse our early archives, and you’ll see what I mean.)

If it is to be despair or defiance, give me defiance. Despair is death, and we must choose life. We must do what we can, and we must continue to speak the truth, no matter the cost. (Indeed, this watershed election makes clear that we now have nothing to lose by frank and unapologetic consistency with our axioms: we ran a man who was more willing to compromise and dilute conservatism than any conservative ought to be, and we lost nevertheless.) We must also find a way to survive among the ruins, and to preserve what we can of our fallen society, and the timeless principles that once made it great. That requires that we continue to analyze, understand, and explain the political, ideological, and demographic forces that drive the accelerating changes all around us, and that those of us who are committed to building some sort of ark in which our civilization can ride out the Flood must brace ourselves to this duty. We’ve been beaten, yes, roundly and soundly. But we aren’t dead!

So: if we will not despair, then it is vital for the battered spirit to remember that there is still light and beauty in the world, and boundless opportunity for wonder and fascination, for love and laughter. There is much more to life than this grim struggle, and it’s time to pay attention once again to good things long neglected around here.

Related content from Sphere


  1. Bill says

    Yes, we do need to change our focus from time to time to the things that make life worth the living. That is not to say that we should quit striving to explain and educate where possible.

    Actually, taking a break from the political can restore perspective. When we lose, it looks grimmer than it usually is.

    I think in two years it will look a lot different in some positive ways–people will finally find out what is in ObamaCare and be horrified and desparate to get rid of it.

    Posted November 8, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Permalink
  2. Dom says

    You’ll find this interesting:

    Posted November 8, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink
  3. the one eyed man says

    Barack Obama is the first Democratic President since FDR to be elected to two terms, in which he won over half of the popular vote in both elections. After seeing the Democrats run the table in the Senate, elect people like Elizabeth Warren, and defeat people like Allen West, I said to a friend: I feel like I’m living in my country again. So I guess it depends on your perspective.

    Jonescu’s piece encapsulates why McConnell is minority leader and Romney/Ryan lost their home states (for Romney, that would be his three home states plus his birth state of Michigan). When you separate his thesis from the bile (“Barack Obama is neither a good man nor one who wants what is best for America. He is a bad, conscienceless man, who wants to undo America in the name of a very foreign model of social organization”), you can see why views like his would further marginalize the Republican party and the conservative movement in general.

    Let’s borrow a razor from the beardless William of Occam. The Republicans’ defeat was because they didn’t get enough votes. Meaning: not enough people agree with their agenda to tip the balance in their favor. The majority of Americans simply do not favor the hard right positions on abortion, immigration, Medicare, taxes, and pretty much everything else. Republicans can enforce ideological purity or they can win elections, but they can’t do both. This is to the good: democracy is supposed to work based on the competition of ideas.

    It was widely noted that after kowtowing to the Tea Party during the primaries, Romney became unelectable in the general. His enthusiasm for self-deportation and his choice of a running mate who wrote legislation to criminalize abortions under all circumstances won’t win many votes from Latinos or women (or men who also favor abortion rights).

    There was a flash of the Romney who could have won in the first debate and in his gracious concession speech. If the Republicans want to see the inside of the oval office again, the only way to do that is to nominate a RINO. As poorly as Romney did, someone like Santorum or Gingrich would have done much worse.

    Another reason Romney lost was they his campaign apparently believed that the putative failure of the Obama administration is an a priori fact which is self-evident, and hence they didn’t have to come up with substantive policies detailing what they would actually do about taxes, health care, or entitlements if they got the levers of power. However, most Americans think that Obama did a decent job under the circumstances he was handed, so while Romney could have made the sale by having real agenda and real proposals, he let the opportunity pass by.

    Most importantly, Romney lost because he ran a thoroughly dishonest campaign from start (an ad which shows Obama quoting McCain, but makes it appear that he is speaking for himself) to finish (a Jeep ad so mendacious that he was called out by the CEO’s of GM and Chrysler for it). While he may not have won Ohio if he didn’t put the Jeep ad up, having newspapers which endorsed Romney sharply criticize him for the ads may have made any victory out of the question.

    My mother raised me to be gracious in victory or defeat, and I am striving mightily not to be smarmy or any more insufferable than I normally am. I certainly have no problem if Republicans continue to commit political suicide by running candidates like Akins, Murdouck, and McMahon (who has now cost them two Senate seats). However, I would prefer to see an opposition party which is vibrant and robust, rather than one which slinks towards irrelevance as demography becomes destiny. The essence of governance is compromise, and if the right takes the stance endorsed by Jonescu, both the polity and conservatism will suffer.

    Posted November 8, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Let’s borrow a razor from the beardless William of Occam. The Republicans’ defeat was because they didn’t get enough votes. Meaning: not enough people agree with their agenda to tip the balance in their favor. The majority of Americans simply do not favor the hard right positions on abortion, immigration, Medicare, taxes, and pretty much everything else…

    If the Republicans want to see the inside of the oval office again, the only way to do that is to nominate a RINO.

    I completely agree. As I said in this post:

    …we ran a man who was more willing to compromise and dilute conservatism than any conservative ought to be, and we lost nevertheless.

    As Jim Kalb wrote:

    In time liberalism remakes conservatism in its own image by forcing it to give up everything distinctive for the sake of consensus.

    And as I said in my previous post:

    The problem here was not Mr. Romney, or even Mr. Obama. The problem is that the American people themselves are no longer what they were. Mr. Obama spoke of “fundamentally transforming” America, but to imagine that he has done so is to confuse cause and effect. Had the fundamental character of this nation not already been transformed, he never would have succeeded.

    So: America gets the government it wants, and that it deserves. We have chosen “equality” over liberty; free lunch over freedom; reassurance over responsibility. It will not last: it is utterly unsupportable. It will quickly be the death of America’s greatness, and will lead soon thereafter to the death and decomposition of America itself. But this is what we, the people, have chosen.

    JFK wouldn’t even be able to get himself elected today.

    Another thing you say here that is exactly right is to point out one of the two principal reasons we find ourselves in this situation (or, more accurately, it is the proximate cause that rests on an even deeper primary cause): demography is destiny. I’m surprised to hear you say it, because it contradicts your closing statements in this enormously extended thread, but it is precisely correct.

    Posted November 8, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Dom, that’s a nice piece, and much of it is in line with the spirit of this post.

    And yes, as the author of the Cafe Hayek piece points out, this was a very close election. GoV has a piece by Tahuan Seiyu today lamenting, in detail, how it might have been otherwise.

    I’m not interested in wallowing in that, though. For me the key line in the item you linked to was this:

    If we can’t beat this guy, it’s over.

    It’s over.

    Posted November 8, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    By the way, Peter:

    “Barack Obama is neither a good man nor one who wants what is best for America.”

    You shouldn’t dismiss that as mere “bile”. The author simply thinks that Barack Obama is neither a good man nor one who wants the best for America. A great many people — possibly, nearly half of Americans — would agree.

    Posted November 8, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Permalink
  7. Alex says

    T S Eliot said, “The pursuit of politics is incompatible with a strict attention to exact meanings on all occasions.”

    An inference from Eliot’s dictum is that all politicians are liars and we should treat them as such. This would tend to ‘inspire’ only ironical commentaries on political matters. Well, I wouldn’t go quite so far, but I am suffering from ‘campaigning fatigue’ and it’s good to be reminded that there’s more to life than mere politics.

    If this website could recover its former ‘lightness of spirit’, maybe it would attract (again) a more varied group of correspondents – of which none might be a polymath exactly, but some enjoy a cultivated life of the mind.

    Hope all that doesn’t sound too preachy coming from a reader who isn’t particularly assiduous.

    Posted November 9, 2012 at 3:22 am | Permalink
  8. the one eyed man says

    Obama may have a different view of “what is best for America” than Jonescu, but that does not make him a “bad, conscienceless man.” It simply means that the two men have different philosophies and worldviews. Ascribing malevolence, without a whiff of substantiation, to someone simply because he sees the world differently is contemptible.

    We have had lots of leaders who were bad and conscienceless. Nixon spied on his adversaries, his Vice President took bribes, and three of his Attorneys General were imprisoned for felonies. Reagan’s deputies were convicted for their role in selling arms to Iran to fund illegal payments to the Contras. Clinton behaved abominably with Monica. Cheney authorized the outing of a CIA agent in a political vendetta, and then suborned perjury when his lieutenant was convicted for lying about it. These are bad, bad things.

    On the other hand, George Bush caused too many catastrophes to keep track of, but was a good and honorable man who did what he honestly thought was “best for the country,” wrong though he may have been.

    Most Americans view Obama as a good man, a good father, and someone who is doing his best to clean up the mess he inherited. His personal approval ratings have always been high – higher than the approval ratings for his policies. To be sure, there are many who get their news from Sean Hannity and Donald Trump, and who buy into the caricature of Obama as an America-hating, lazy, apologetic, and feckless Muslim from Kenya. Outside of dead enders suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome, Obama is a popular and respected leader who got over half of the vote in his two elections for President.

    Jonescu’s argument is wrong on the merits, but he undercuts it further with ad hominem attacks which are untethered to reality. Those who comb over the bald spots in their argument with unsubstantiated obloquy and columny do nothing but humiliate themselves and make it difficult for anyone to take them seriously.

    Posted November 9, 2012 at 5:27 am | Permalink
  9. ‘The Kraut’ (as I call him), offers some words of warning but also hope to the GOP.

    If the ‘semi-sighted man’ thinks electing a lying clown like ‘Fauxcahontas’ indicates maturity on the part of her electorate then I despair. She is the Democrat equivalent of those Republican candidates who revved up their mouths without first putting their brains in gear!

    Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink
  10. the one eyed man says

    Calumny, not columny.

    Posted November 9, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink
  11. Dom says

    Keeps on ticking:

    Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    I’m weary of this, but I can’t let that pass without comment.

    Clearly we disagree about the personality and intentions of Barack Obama. As do many others, I consider him to be an arrogant, malignant, self-protecting, pathological narcissist, of the sort that often emerges from dysfunctional childhoods of serial abandonment and dislocation. He is quick to blame others, quick to tell a lie for his own protection, or for the sake of his own self-constructed mythos, and never accepts responsibility for his failures. He basks in the personality cult that surrounds him, relishing the role of, as he put it, “a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” Even in moments of national crisis, he is bizarrely aloof and self-involved, as is characteristic of his pathology and its presumptive origin; in his first speech after the Fort Hood shooting, for example, he spent several minutes making light-hearted introductory remarks and “shout-outs”. Immediately after our ambassador and three others were brutally slaughtered in Benghazi, he swanned off to Vegas, and later joked around (with his ever-fawning hosts) on various television shows.

    This aloofness and self-centeredness is typical not only of pathological narcissism arising from childhood trauma, but also of the cultural anthropologist who studies an alien culture and learns, in an intellectual sense, its language and traditions, but remains apart. (His mother, of course, was exactly such an anthropologist, with profound anti-colonialist and anti-capitalist sympathies.)

    As for his feelings about America: one only has to look at the people who have surrounded and influenced him all his life (and most tellingly, the people he chose to associate himself with in adulthood): his fellow-traveler mother; his anti-colonialist father and stepfather; his training in the Chicago radical Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation, and subsequent years of teaching workshops on the Alinsky method in his role as a Chicago “community organizer”; his long friendship with Weatherman Bill Ayers; his decades in Jeremiah Wright’s church; and of course his marriage to his wife Michelle, whose thesis at Princeton was a jumble of grievance and resentment, and whose first shred of pride in her country, as she herself told us, came only when it elected her husband.

    Mr. Obama has made abundantly clear his “oikophobia”: his disconnection from, and distaste for, traditional American society. He described his only brief experience working at an actual private-sector business as being “behind enemy lines”, he has whipped up race-based resentment with calls for various racial groups to “punish” their “enemies”, and he tellingly dismissed vast swaths of ordinary Americans and their traditional principles as “bitter clingers” to “guns and religion”. In his zeal to use the power of government to impose his vision of radical equality, he has made clear that he would favor high taxes on the wealthy even if he knew it would raise less revenue. He referred to his own grandmother as a “typical white person”.

    As I said: many people believe that Barack Obama is “neither a good man nor one who wants the best for America”. They have ample reason to believe this, and I am one of them.

    Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  13. Malcolm says

    That’s about all I have to say about this for now, and perhaps for quite a while. We’re stuck with this man for another term, barring impeachment or unspeakable calamity, and now that the election is past, further grousing about his personality is useless. As I explained in this post, I’m sick of dwelling on this disastrous presidency. I’m sure I will have more to say on matters social and political going forward, and no doubt there will be horrifying developments in the news, worthy of some analysis here, now that Mr. Obama is, horrifyingly, free of political accountability — in particular I expect a swift assault on the Second Amendment — but I’ve had enough of this sort of thing for the moment.

    Posted November 9, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    That didn’t sound preachy at all, Alex, and certainly not by comparison to the bulk of this thread.

    Posted November 9, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink
  15. I do wish, Malcolm, that you would stop beating about the bush and tell it the way you see it!

    Posted November 9, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  16. Malcolm says

    From Jonah Goldberg’s weekly email, a pithy remark:

    Government undermines civil society and marriage, and as a result people demand more government to compensate for the deterioration of civil society.

    Posted November 9, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  17. The Republicans lost not because of their economic views but because their social views were too closely associated with restrictions on homosexuality and abortion.

    If they had managed to project a more tolerant image on these issue without losing evangelical support, they would have defeated the Democrats.

    This isn’t to say that I have no qualms about, e.g., abortion, but rather that the Republicans need to distance themselves from their too-close embrace of moral traditionalism, without explicitly disavowing it, and emphasize the economic issues.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    Posted November 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink
  18. the one eyed man says

    I think you left out the part about his cloven hooves.

    Considering that I view President Obama as a great American, and you see him as a scoundrel, my guess is that we will not resolve this.

    As you note, the election is over. It will be quite a while before my first waking act will be checking statistics savant Silver’s daily tracking of undecided Ohio Latina waitress Moms.

    Personally, I will move on to more compelling topics of inquiry, such as: who exactly is General Tso, of eponymous chicken fame? And what precisely is his connection to chicken nuggets bathed in a gloppy orange sauce?

    Inquiring minds are eager to know.

    Posted November 9, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Permalink
  19. Robert says

    My response to the election is also to move on for now. In the next few years the American people are going to get what they voted for-good and hard. I think there will, sooner than most think, be a Second Republic. Until then I ignore DC as much as possible, plan, train, build my local community raise my family.

    When the Deluge comes, it’s going to be quite an interesting time.

    Posted November 10, 2012 at 3:39 am | Permalink
  20. I wouldn’t be too gloomy — 8 years of Obama just about balance out 8 years of Bush, and there will be another election in 4 years. I’m not in love with Obama, but I never understood why people hated him so much. I wasn’t thrilled about Romney, especially his policies towards China, but I think he could have done a good job. The nice thing about living in a constitutional republic was supposed to be that who’s president isn’t altogether decisive in how the nation is governed, and if the deadlock of the last 2 years is any indication, I think the nation is running along just like the founding fathers intended. After all, wasn’t their hope to pit the opposing factions against each other to ensure that, in the meantime, if the government couldn’t do a great deal, it also wouldn’t do a great harm?

    I know the big issue was the economy, that we’ve all been worried about where we’re heading and where we’re stuck, but on that point I take comfort in the idea that economic questions are close to philosophical questions — people have ideas about the matter, but these aren’t simple systems, and when bad or good things happen they’re often unexpected.

    And even if worse comes to worst, we can endure it with dignity, and that’s the best thing: to enjoy what’s good with self-restraint, to endure what’s bad with virtue.

    So what helps me, in the end, is trying for skepticism — so long as I think we don’t have the control over our affairs we imagined ourselves to have, I can say the whole thing belongs to nature and try my best just to cope with what happens. In the meantime we can attempt to sway each other and to reason with each other, and we’ll learn many things.

    Posted November 10, 2012 at 3:52 am | Permalink
  21. Alex says

    Alex Leibowitz writes,….even if worse comes to worst, we can endure it with dignity, and that’s the best thing: to enjoy what’s good with self-restraint, to endure what’s bad with virtue.

    This is well said.

    For my part, I shall grumble for the rest of my life that the times are out of joint – though it’s futile to worry about things that cannot be altered. Realistically, I do not expect that any ‘great man’ or moral movement will arise in my lifetime which could turn things around and start reversing the destructive social trends of the last few decades. It’s possible that a cataclysmic event could shatter the so-called liberal consensus and mend the epoch. But nobody in his senses wants an apocalypse. Meanwhile, Western society – formerly known as Christendom – is in a mess that we’re stuck with.

    Like Heyst in Conrad’s Victory, perhaps we should learn to see life outside the flattering optical delusion of everlasting hope, of conventional self-deceptions, of an ever-expected happiness.

    Posted November 10, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink