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“The greatest book since the Bible”: M. Stanton Evans and the vindication of Joe McCarthy

Posted by nouspraktikon on February 13, 2018

The best book since the Bible, kinda…

Alright, there are some serious competitors for that title, even if we limit ourselves to books on the cold war era.  Notably, Witness by Whittaker Chambers is a more literary, though less learned, revelation.   Yet beyond the hyperbole (courtesy of Miss Coulter) there lies a kernel of truth, or at least an application of the marginal utility theorem.   Unless you have, Blacklisted by History: The untold story of Joe McCarthy is the most important book that you have not yet read on American politics.  Indeed, it bears some faint likeness to the Bible, in that it centers around a resurrection, albeit in this case the resurrected reputation of a man who has been damned repeatedly by the Pharisaic court of American establishment history.  Like a Biblical epic, this damnation of Joe McCarthy transcends the fate of any particular man, however laden with interesting vices or admirable virtues.  Rather, this verdict has shaped the moral and legal precedents which have become the rotting core of modern America’s extra-constitutional political framework.  McCarthy and so-called “McCarthyism” (a term which is taken as synonymous with “witch-hunting”) have become the bywords and shibboleths of partisan conflict within our body politic, entailing the suppression of ideological meaning and accountability.

Indeed, the very contours of American history since WWII have been distorted through the astigmatic lens of Anti-McCarthyism, a standard narrative by which we presume to distinguish not just right from wrong, but left from right.  Yet, what if the standard narrative were itself wrong?  What if, instead of an ogre, Senator Joe McCarthy were a mid-20th century Paul Revere, cruelly shot off his horse while attempting to warn his fellow citizens of a stealth attack on their freedom and fortunes?   What if the opprobrium of  “McCarthyism” were a better characterization of the malicious and deceitful tactics of those who sought to thwart McCarthy’s investigation and subsequently endeavored, with near total success, to destroy his reputation?  If we are to believe M. Stanford Evans (1934-2015) the answer to all these questions is in the affirmative.  Moreover this is not just an impassioned cry by the late Evans, who as a libertarian and anti-communist might be expected to favor “tail gunner Joe”, but a measured verdict drawn from the vast amount of relevant empirical evidence which had become available by the time he started doing research for Blacklisted by History (2007).  This work stands at the apex of Evans’ long labors in the field of American political history, during which he was able to sift and reassess much of standard cold war narrative.

The currently available evidence, together with Evans’ skillful unraveling of the historical incidents which impacted McCarthy’s investigations, has newly empowered the pro-McCarthy narrative.  Yet even today, or rather especially today, truth telling is not a safe occupation.  Perhaps some future Oswald Spengler will pronounce the first half of the 1950s and the last half of the 2010s as the upper and lower harmonics of the same historical chord, or discord.  Evans termed the McCarthy story “the third rail” of cold war history, containing dangerous truths which, once grasped, might prove fatal to apprentice historians who long to stay respectable, employable, and keep up relations with polite society.   Fortunately Evans had the courage to grab the story and explore it with solid documentation and readable prose.  Hence today in the Trump era, as we labor under corresponding tales of deceit and betrayal, we can at last draw on the analogous events of a highly relevant historical period for our intellectual ammunition.  In the long run, Americans and all humanity have a vested interest in the vindication of truth, however distasteful such revelations may prove to be.  Where such revelation is rendered impossible, factions will be reduced to those modes of conflict resolution where the ammunition has ceased to be intellectual.

Context not pretext

Much of the value, and readability, of Blacklisted by History stems from the late Evans’ patient work as a re-educator, explaining the forgotten historical context of the cold war era, without which we can hardly form an intelligent judgement on its politics and policies.  The fact is, regardless of political opinion, that era, though within living memory, has become a persistent blind spot for the American public.  There are two reasons for this historical amnesia, the first being the conspiratorial motives of those who want the whole period either distorted or dropped down the proverbial memory hole.  However the public’s understandable distaste for an ugly era is perhaps an even greater factor.  American history nerds who can rattle off the precise number of musket balls embedded in the soil of Gettysburg are likely to profess astonishment on learning there were Soviet moles embedded  in Washington just sixty years ago…not to mention before or since.    As Evans notes, the fruit of this ignorance (whether willful or on account of deception) often leads to ridiculous error, like the popular image of Senator McCarthy chairing the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).   After all, you may not like the Electoral College, but you can hardly abolish bicameralism, at least not retroactively.

Evans begins by recounting the historical background which gave both meaning and impetus to McCarthy’s political mission.  Prior to some indefinable tipping point, possibly as early as the German defeat at Stalingrad, the synergy of the Soviet-American military alliance was nudging the two societies in the direction of an insidious moral convergence.  One concrete manifestation of this was the participation (at the time not considered infiltration) of Communists in the intelligence and foreign services of the United States.  Evans notes that it would have been miraculous if there had been no Communist personnel in key governmental positions, given the political dynamics of the period.  However all this changed with the onset of the cold war, after which Communist staffers were considered, quite rightly, to be a security risk.  During the immediate post-war period two broad developments occurred which were to have significant impact on the subsequent “McCarthy era” of 1950-1954.  First there were a series of preliminary investigations which identified, and presumably routed out, known Communists working for the American government.  Second, there was a changing of the old guard in the diplomatic and intelligence services, with stodgy conservatives being replaced by younger, more progressive, officials.  The new guard included such rising luminaries as Dean Achenson.  These two developments (the termination of the early investigations, and the rise of the new guard) would prove to be somewhat more than coincidental.

Two years after these preliminary investigations had been concluded, Senator Joe McCarthy raised the question of whether Communists were still being employed in sensitive government positions, issuing his challenge at first in a speech given in on February 9, 1950 in Wheeling West Virginia.  Clearly, the salient assumption in McCarthy’s mind was that the preliminary investigations had somehow been stalled, and the work which had commenced with great earnestness had at some point been broken off and left incomplete.  It is equally clear that, for whatever reason, certain people in the State Department and other agencies of the government didn’t want the issue of Communists working in the government reopened in public fora and, from the moment that McCarthy began speaking out, launched efforts to discredit his claims.  For the next several years a titanic battle waged over security and espionage in the Congress, the courts, and the media.  During these conflicts “tail gunner Joe” won some and lost some, but in the end was forced to retire from the field of battle in disgrace.  For several subsequent decades the moral credibility of Joseph McCarthy was generally ranked on a par with the divines of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the aftermath of the Salem witch trials.

However during these same decades, new archives and records have been made available to researchers such as Evans, frequently containing evidence which have compromised the exculpatory claims of McCarthy’s opponents.  Foremost among these are the Venona documents.  These are deciphered messages from the correspondence between Soviet intelligence headquarters (predecessor agencies of the KGB) and its operatives.  Actually cracked early in the cold war, this data could not be released during the “McCarthy era” for the same reason that the Enigma machine decodes could not be revealed until the Axis powers were defeated.  The personae mentioned in Venona bear a damning resemblance, not just to such celebrated Soviet assets as Alger Hiss and Robert Oppenheimer, but to many lesser targets of McCarthy’s investigations.  Apart from, and corroborating Venona, were piles of documents made available after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.  Last but not least were the dribs and drabs of documentary evidence released by the FBI and other alphabet agencies of the American government after their various statutory periods of sequestration had expired.   From these sources and others (i.e., retrospective witnesses and confessions) a very different image of the “McCarthy era” has emerged, and it is from these that Evans has assembled the most through vindication to date of the much maligned senator.

Manufacturing “McCarthyism”

At the beginning of the 1950s the Democratic party was still in control of Congress, and in response to the allegations which McCarthy had been making since the Wheeling speech, a select sub-committee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was empaneled  to examine the possibility of security risks lurking in government employ.  The chair of this sub-committee was Millard Tydings (Dem-Maryland) who from the outset of the proceedings assumed an adversarial stance towards McCarthy and his claims.  Rather than pursuing the question of whether there were in fact Communists and Soviet infiltrators embedded within the State Department and related agencies, Tydings focused on McCarthy himself, faulting him for reopening cases which had already been disposed of by previous committees.

Tyding’s overall strategy was to portray McCarthy as a hothead and a dissembling researcher who had failed to turn up any new evidence since the previous investigation of security risks at  State.  That previous investigation, conducted  in the late 40s, had managed to generate a list of persons considered security risks, called the “Lee list” after the clerk responsible for assembling eighty or so cases.  This was a masked compilation of data in which the persons described were designated by numbers rather than names, preserving their privacy.  Tyding’s initial strategy was to trivialize McCarthy’s claims by insinuating no new research had actually been added to the Lee list by McCarthy and his staff.  Since names were not mentioned at the outset, identifying how many security risks McCarthy had uncovered, rather than who they are, became the focus of inquiry.  This derailed the hearing into a ludicrous debate on the number of people under investigation, with Tydings and his allies focusing exclusively on the number (was it 57 or 81 or 108, or did it keep changing?) rather than the substance, of the charges.  All of this, of course, for the purpose of making McCarthy look like a fool who couldn’t even keep the accurate number of cases straight in his head.  The possibility that there were still active Communist cells operating in government employ took a back seat to debates over McCarthy’s competence and character.

As bad as such misdirection might be, as Mr. Evans reveals, there was worse to come.  Today our politically correct language virtually equates “McCarthyism” with slander.  Yet Senator McCarthy’s initial intention was to preserve the anonymity of his cases to avoid any stigma being attached to possibly (though unlikely) innocent individuals.  However, with  the validity of McCarthy’s research in question, Senator Tydings pressed him to reveal the identities behind the cases, presumably in order find out if new and ongoing security risks had been uncovered, or if McCarthy was just trying to ride to glory on the back of the now stale Lee list.  Evans, with the benefit of historical retrospect, informs us that McCarthy had indeed uncovered a significant number of new cases and data, and furthermore that many persons initially placed on the Lee list were still in government service.  However, at that time, McCarty was under tremendous pressure from Tydings, and consented to release the names at the outset of the investigation, proving that there were indeed real persons connected with the suspicious, but hitherto anonymous, case histories.  Thus McCarthy evaded the ridicule of conducting a snark hunt only by putting his investigation in danger of being called a witch hunt.

Hence, as Evans painfully demonstrates, the cruel Inspector-Javert-like persecution which we wrongly denominate “McCarthyism” was initiated by this unmaking of identities upon the insistence of Tydings and his allies on the sub-committee.   Indeed, if our language accurately memorialized historical realities, we would be calling this kind of hounding “Tydings-ism”!  The procedure adopted by Tydings was that of slandering the innocent (McCarthy himself) or one might say “McCarthying” (here the term is apt!) his opponent.  However in terms of outcomes, this Tydings-ism, rather than convicting the innocent, protected the guilty.  Even unmasked, the targets of McCarthy’s accusations were generally able to deny the charges, either through skillful evasion or invoking the Fifth amendment clause prohibiting self-incrimination.  In the meanwhile many of them continued to work in their government positions.  In hindsight, the Venona transcripts and  other corroborating evidence indicates that many, if not most, of these were Soviet agents.   To maintain that no innocents were convicted at the time is not to say that, as a result of the miscarried proceedings, great and incalculable harm was not done to many innocents, however indirectly.

Truman or Truth?

Hence Tydings and his allies nearly succeeded in obscuring the actual security issues involved, deflecting the investigation with procedural, technical, and ad hominim  material which resulted in a committee report which largely exculpated the targets of McCarthy’s investigations.  Evans notes that this report (and others of a similar nature) was written by a then-anonymous staffer at the behest of Tydings, and its unequivocal findings did not accurately reflect the give-and-take of the bipartisan sub-committee.  So ended the first “round” in the McCarthy era battles.  Tydings was soon to get his comeuppance  when he lost a bid for reelection to his Maryland seat.  Yet during the process of the Senate investigation a broad range of institutional actors had been brought into play, ostensibly to cooperate with, but more often to hinder, McCarthy’s investigations.   These included Truman’s White House and the State Department.  The FBI, then under J. Edgar Hoover, was savvy to the truth of McCarthy’s claim that espionage within the government had managed to survive the investigations which had generated the Lee list a few years earlier.  However the FBI was largely sidelined due to its subordination within the executive branch teamed with an often adversarial legislative branch.

Indeed, with so many (and such opaque!) agencies, actors, cases and claims involved, the McCarthy era is difficult to resolve into a simple narrative.  Thus the unbiased but superficial observer of the era is likely to turn away, citing the tangle as an excuse for moral indecision.  However Evans copes with the complexity by taking up each cluster of actions, organizations, individuals and outcomes separately, weaving each thread into a loose chronological order.  It is the task of the reader to keep this overall chronology in mind, as each strand of narrative weaves into and reinforces the other.  The end result is a unity and a vindication.  Not necessarily a vindication of McCarthy the man so much as of the essential rightness of his cause.

Many of the narrative strands which Evans picks up for the edification of today’s reader concern well recognized institutions and personalities of the WWII and cold war eras which have since dropped below the horizon of public recollection.  Outstanding in this regard was the notorious Institute for Pacific Relations (IPR) and its associated journal Amerasia. both of which operated as poorly disguised Communist fronts.  This is one of the major strands woven back and forth within the chronological framework of Blacklisted by History, in such a way as to illustrate the intimate connection between blatant Communist propaganda and the manipulation of American foreign policy during the 1940s.  The often cited (by Evans) Amerasia case is a good example of the kind of evidence which should have been common knowledge among McCarthy’s contemporaries, as opposed to the kind of evidence (like Venona) which we are only privy to in historical retrospect.  Thus, while we are on firmer grounds today than ever before in validating McCarthy’s claims, those claims ought not to have initially outraged his contemporaries since they were made against the background of, and links to, cases of betrayal and infiltration which had already received public censure.  Rather, any skeptical reception of McCarthy’s claims about ongoing espionage and sedition within the government had less to do with the plausibility of the cases, than with obstruction by gate-keepers who both withheld information from the investigations and harbored their targets from any severe sanctions.

This obstruction took a number of forms during the period of the Tydings investigation.  First of all, under Truman, a doctrine of executive privilege had been promulgated, which placed severe restrictions on the ability of Congress to subpoena documents from executive departments without the authorization of the President.  For those of us who interpret the Constitution as a document establishing the supremacy of the Congress, this seems like an odd practice.  None the less, under ongoing conditions of war (both cold and hot) the American people and Congress itself have long acquiesced to executive prerogatives which seem contrary to constitutional principles.  In this instance, as detailed by Evans, background dossiers on the subjects of  McCarthy’s investigations were either embargoed or delayed by the State Department, which pleaded the necessity of authorization by the Truman White House, a Democratic administration which was in no rush to grant any such authorization.

Another way in which the Truman administration ran interference to McCarthy, albeit in place prior to the Tydings hearings, was through the institution of an in-house loyalty system which seemed to obviate the necessity of any outside audit of executive personnel.  As Evans documents, both the Congressional interviews with suspect officials and, presumably, the in-house loyalty system, were based on the honor system.   A denial that one were a subversive or the agent of a foreign power was always taken at face value by Tydings, the majority report, and the Truman administration itself.

McCarthy agonistes

None the less, in spite of vigorous opposition on the part of a Democratic establishment, McCarthy was able to raise public awareness of the espionage threat.  One by one, the more egregious cases on McCarthy’s list were exposed and turned out of the government.  Of course, the anti-communist momentum in Congress and the country wasn’t an exclusive result of McCarthy’s efforts.  Alger Hiss, the biggest fish in the barrel, had been brought down by the testimony of Whittaker Chambers with the support of a young Senator from California, Richard Nixon.  In those days Nixon was still a hero, and his time of demonization was still far in the future, but McCarthy’s nemesis was much closer at hand.  Initially McCarthy benefited from the common front among Republicans, then operating as a minority.  Thus even future enemies such as liberal Republican senator H. Cabot Lodge were in momentary alliance with McCarthy during the Tydings period.

This was all to change when the Democrats were swept out of power in 1953.  With the 83rd Congress, the Republicans were in the (what would seem) enviable position of having captured the Presidency as well as both branches of Congress.  Yet with hindsight the historically informed know that this will be McCarthy’s apogee, and his doom is near, irrespective of our sympathies and whether we focus on the hubris of the man or the nemesis of his enemies.  Yet, while Evans prepares us for this fall from grace by titling one of his chapters “The Perils of Power” it would seem that McCarthy handled the temptations of power about as well as anyone could.  It was during this time that the junior Senator from Wisconsin, still a relative rookie, got his chance to chair the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI).  Obviously this was a prize bully pulpit, apart from any implication that the man who filled it was a bully.  Again, Evans informs us that our current state of illumination has benefited from the unsealing of the Senate’s own records, which for fifty years had shielded confidential and security-related testimony.  Out of this mass of data Evans has extracted a picture of McCarthy completely at variance with the prejudicial stereotype.  Unchained and in charge of his own subcommittee, McCarthy was, if not quite a perfect gentleman, “politic” in the mannered sense of the word.   More fundamentally, due process and confidentiality seem to have been upheld in the PSI hearings. As Evans explains it,

Another salient rule of the McCarthy hearings was the rule that no one should be named as a Communist or a pro-Communist or subversive unless the person named was given notice and opportunity to respond directly–though there were exceptions when another witness would do such naming on an impromptu basis.  McCarthy repeatedly admonished people testifying not to use the names of those they were accusing until these conditions could be met with.  One result of this procedure was a series of face-to-face encounters in which accusers and accused were brought together in dramatic fashion.  Blacklisted by History p. 457

Apart from the success or otherwise of the PSI at the start Eisenhower era, at this juncture the bitter divisions between ideological and establishment Republicans were starting to manifest themselves publicly.   In part this was a reaction to McCarthy’s activities, and would soon would lead to dire complications for the crusading senator.  Furthermore, a dedicated anti-McCarthy cabal was growing in numbers and sophistication, with the senatorial cudgel taken up by the newly elected  Benton of New York after the defeat of Tydings.  With the Democratic recapture of the 84th Congress, Benton was able to launch his own counter-investigation of McCarthy.  This counter-investigation did not restrict itself to the refutation of anti-communist claims, but began to burrow deeply into McCarthy’s private affairs and character.  Brick by defaming brick, the towering mythology of “McCarthyism” was being patiently constructed by the enemies of McCarthy.

Diverging legends of demonization and sanctification

A surprising plus for McCarthy, albeit one which failed to save him in the long run, was his capacity for genuine bipartisanship.  As an anti-Communist first and a Republican second, he welcomed allies wherever they could be found, and find them he did.  There is nothing more shocking to modern political sensibilities than to discover that the Kennedys, Democrats to the core, were ardent supporters of tail gunner Joe in his heyday.  Undoubtedly, today’s identity-obsessed left would dismiss this as no more than Irishmen scratching each others backs.  Yet, in those days  there were plenty of Irishmen in politics, but not so many political philosophers, let alone potential martyrs.  There appears to have been some zealous affinity at work here, especially between McCarthy and the solidly anti-Communist Robert F. Kennedy.

To Evans’ credit, the Kennedy connection isn’t used as a magical vindication of McCarthy.  Tail gunner Joe’s reputation must stand or fall on the basis of whether his investigations were honest and beneficial to the republic, not on the borrowed glamor of charismatic associations.  Regrettably, any excursion into Kennedy lore entails a certain amount of tabloid voyeurism, but Evans keeps this to the minimum, focusing on the unavoidable intra-staff jealousies which played a subsidiary role in derailing McCarthy’s career.   More importantly, the point in history when McCarthy-saffer RFK was striving (unsuccessfully) to be McCarthy’s right-hand man, was still an age of aspiring ideologists.  Later, as America ripened into an age of propaganda, principles would become less important than personalities, and a steamy mysticism would envelop chosen political bloodlines.  Evans draws our attention the disturbing power of this myth-making, which took as its substance two zealous co-workers in the garden of justice, Robert Kennedy and Joe McCarthy, molding them into opposing icons of good and evil.

To schematize a story which Evans tells in satisfying detail, the political chessboard as it was arrayed at the onset of the Eisenhower era was roughly as follows,

Pro-McCarthy: old right Republicans (Taft etc.), the Kennedys and a few other anti-communist Democrats, some regional press, Hoover’s FBI, conservative groups

Anti-McCarthy: liberal Republicans (H. Cabot Lodge etc.), most Democrats, most Ike staffers, State Department, other bureaus of the federal government, national press (New York Times, etc.), left wing press and organizations

As the battle lines were drawn with increasing precision, the tendency was for individuals and groups to defect from the pro-McCarthy camp, and for previously uncommitted groups to opt in favor of the anti-McCarthy front.  Notably, certain persons connected to the armed services, which at the beginning were not affected by McCarthy’s crusade, became increasingly critical of him as his investigation broadened into areas the military considered its own.

McCarthy’s “Waterloo”

Regarding his taking on of the Army, there might be some, however sympathetic, who would claim McCarthy’s crusade went a bridge too far.  Yet as Evans points out “Army-McCarthy” taken as terms of opposition, is a misnomer.  In the wake of security concerns being brought to the attention of McCarthy’s committee, he authorized an investigation of the huge Signal Corps facility at Monmouth NJ.  Initially things went smoothly in cooperation with on-site Army personnel, who were generally enthusiastic about the senator’s support of their own internal security investigations.  However  McCarthy quickly  ran afoul of a supervening bureaucratic apparatus charged with monitoring loyalty within Monmouth and other facilities.   As soon as the commandant of the Monmouth facility was blackballed for cooperating with McCarthy, the commander of the next base under investigation suddenly became uncommunicative.  Apparently some network operating within the Eisenhower administration was running interference.   The next obvious step would have been to ferret out and identify the higher ups who were shielding the Monmouth moles.  This was never done.  Not, to be sure, for want of trying on McCarthy’s part.

A number of factors contributed to this inability.  Foremost among these was the penchant of his  enemies for countering investigations by McCarthy with investigations of McCarthy and/or his staff.  Evans enumerates a minimum of five separate instances where hostile inquiries were instituted against McCarthy 1) the Ad hominum attacks which diverted the Tydings probe,  2) hearings by Benton (pinch-hitting as chief nemesis post-Tydings) on allegations that McCarthy’s allies had influenced Tydings’ electoral defeat, esp. concerning one particular libelous image (what we would today call a “meme”) , 3) a spin-off of the same hearing which made a lengthy foray into McCarthy’s personal finances, 4) the Army-McCarthy hearings, 5) hearings by Sen. Watson (R. Utah) on McCarthy’s misconduct on 47 counts which resulted in censure on 2 counts.

Of these, the most formidable sounding are the Army-McCarthy hearings.  However as Evans tells the tale, it smacks of harassment (by unknown somebodies) of McCarthy’s staff.  G. David Schine, a youthful staffer, was suddenly called up for military service.  This sounds cruel by the sensibilities of any era post-Vietnam,  but even by the compulsory standards of that time it was a fishy move.   People working in sensitive positions (like congressional security investigations) were frequently granted draft deferments.  Furthermore, as the skeptical Evans is quick to point out, nefarious bigwigs such as the youthful Alger Hiss had been exempted from conscription during WWII, enabling them to do their country (dis-) service in other fields.  Thus the staffer’s drafting smacked of a gambit in which a McCarthy pawn was being put in jeopardy in order to exert pressure on the senator and his investigation.  Unfortunately another staffer (Roy Cohn) took the bait and began pestering the Army on behalf of his erstwhile colleague, whether for deferral or promotion or either.  This was portrayed as political interference with on-duty military personnel.    It was this petty and misdirecting affair which formed the basis of the Army-McCarthy hearings, and which managed to distract and irritate a senator in mid-investigation, a veteran himself, who had initially tried to enter into an alliance with the security hawks of the armed forces.   Of necessity, Evans goes into the matter in great detail, but this becomes less a history of the cold war than a history of the degeneration of policy debate into tabloid journalism.

The fifth column and the fourth estate

Although inconclusive, the Army investigation served McCarthy’s foes well, forcing him on the defensive and evoking his ire, consequently viewed as intemperance.  The same distortion and sensationalism which hounded McCarthy and his staff were also impeding his own attempts at rooting out Communist agents in the military and the government.  Evans covers all the highlights of the various investigations, not just those of the PSI but those in which McCarthy himself was the target.  More importantly, he explores the context within which famous testimonies were made, context without which excerpted highlights serve only to confuse and malign.

The highlights (which frequently became misleading headlines) analyzed in Evans’ volume are too numerous to mention within the space of a short review, but a single instance should suffice.  If any one phrase from the “McCarthy era” has survived in the fading American mind,  it would surely be Army prosecutor Joseph Welch’s famous j’accuse  “…sir, have you no decency!”  This was uttered in reference to the supposed victimization of the Army counselor’s understudy, Frederick G. Fisher Jr..  The indecency in question was McCarthy’s alleged outing of Fisher’s association with a Communist front organization, on the grounds of which the assistant counselor was removed from the prosecuting team.  Whether or not this was a career-ender for the young attorney, it was Joe Welch, not Joe McCarthy, who first brought Fisher’s fellow-traveling to the attention of the public.  Evans, always scrupulous in documenting the relevant paper-trails, in this case provides a photocopy from an actual paper.  The skeptical reader can find the clipping from the New York Times story of April 16, 1954 reproduced on page 568 of Evans’ amply referenced tome.  The relevant passage reads,

Mr. [Joseph N.] Welch today confirmed reports that he had relieved from duty his original second assistant, Frederick G. Fisher Jr. of his own Boston law office, because of admittted previous membership in the National Lawyers Guild, which has been listed by Herbert Brownell Jr. the Attorney-General, as a Communist-font organization. (ibid. p. 568)

By the date of the article it would seem that the actual outing of Fisher took place six weeks prior to the famously “indecent” remarks of McCarthy at the Army hearings.  None the less, it is the latter exchange which lingers in public memory.  As Evans remarks elsewhere, “…in political Washington, then as now, reality often ran second to perception.”

In similar fashion Evans proceeds to deconstruct the entire litany of incidents used to build the edifice of the anti-McCarthy legend.  Case by painstaking case he is able to apply new or neglected evidence in support of McCarthy’s exoneration.  Retrospectively, McCarthy can be saved, because Evans, and we who read his and similar works have what McCarthy’s contemporaries lacked, time and perspective.  However in the rapid flow of simultaneous events it was indeed perception, not reality, which won the race, with the Senate’s motion to censure McCarthy being his final lap around the political track.  The censure proceedings were themselves characterized by a hysterical zeal similar to that which had been used in false characterizations of McCarthy himself.  Thus the Republican dominated Senate, filled with enemies and fickle friends on both sides of the aisle, allowed itself to be buffaloed into voting two counts of censure.  That was one out of 46 ad-hock charges submitted by an anti-McCarthy interest group, plus one for good measure on account of nasty remarks by McCarthy during the proceedings.  After all, the Senate had to look like it was doing something about the McCarthy “problem.”

Scapegoat and Savior

After the censure McCarthy was shunned, his effective career ended.  He died, as they say, a “broken man” at the ripe age of 48, disheartened but still in harness.  After a mid-term election William Proxmire (Dem-Wisc.) a veritable photographic negative of everything Joe McCarthy ever thought or did, gained his seat in the senate.  It might be said that if ever someone had lived in vain, it was old “tail gunner Joe.”  Of course, that is precisely what the authors of the mainstream narrative want you to think.  However the reality is far more complex, and it is gradually being articulated by dissenting voices, among whom M. Stanford Evans is thus far the most readable and convincing.

Perhaps you, having read my summary article, find yourself intrigued with this fallen hero of anti-Communism, or conversely, it may be that you cannot shake the impression that Joseph McCarthy was a moral monster.  In either case, I urge you to fortify your knowledge by obtaining and reading Blacklisted by History: the untold story of Senator Joe McCarthy.  I think you will find the late Evans a safe and trustworthy guide into the underworld of cold war history and the McCarthy era, and not only because the book is voluminous and packed with footnotes and hints for further research.  I trust this book because it is the fruit of a lifetime of investigation into the invisible war between freedom and its cruelest enemies.  M. Stanford Evans ran the gauntlet of 20th century scholarship and journalism, scion of the heartland (Texas) yet Ivy league grad (Yale), conservative activist and journalist, he knew his sources and their backgrounds with the immediacy of an insider who was a political outsider.  Most importantly, the theme of his work is not trivial.

It is not trivial because, as literary anthropologist Rene Girard has taught us, all regimes are built on the bones of scapegoats.  In many ways, the nuances and taboos of American politics are dependent on a negative evaluation of the McCarthy era.  Now that, for better or worse, the Trump administration shows signs of violating certain of those taboos, it is important that we reexamine the origin of those taboos in the past.  This is not a matter of whether one approves or despises the present administration, it is simply that the course of events are forcing us to ask questions which were long left dormant.

One very non-trivial issue concerns how the doctrine of separation of powers should affect the transmission of information within the government.  A study of the McCarthy era reveals that the present virtually hermetic seal between the executive and legislative branches is neither an artifact of the constitution, nor a holdover from wartime secrecy, nor even a promulgation of the security state and its notorious “three letter agencies.”  Surprisingly, it turns out to have much more to do with “gag orders” instituted by the New Deal administrations to obstruct prying by the Dies and McCarthy investigations into security matters.  Even more surprisingly, this informational firewall between the branches was continued and reinforced by the Eisenhower administration, and for much of the same reasons.  You don’t believe me?  Read Evans.

Which leads us to the final consideration, did McCarthy actually live in vain?  Of course not, and Evans devotes the postscript of Black Listed by History to an enumeration of our ingrate  inheritance from tail gunner Joe, that alleged ogre.  Without belittling the  long list of secret and not-so secret agents who were turned out of their top-secret clearances, it seems to me that the salvation of much of Asia is the most relevant legacy which we can celebrate today.  Imagine a world without a Taiwan or a South Korea.  True, it may come about in the near future, but it was scheduled to come about in the 1950s.  I don’t refer to the very understandable cupidity of a Mao or a Stalin, but of the ideologues embedded in the IPR and Amerasia who had the power, at a perilous moment in history, to turn off the spigot of American support.  Admittedly, McCarthy was not alone in preventing this, but he was part of the essential follow up.  You don’t believe me?  Again, read Evans.

In conclusion, I must apologize for comparing a profane (although gentlemanly) work to Holy Writ.  Allow me to explain that there is an extenuating circumstance, apart from merely seconding the redoubtable Miss Coulter’s opinion.  Evans concludes with the Biblical analogy of Samson bringing down the temple of the Philistines on his own head, and likewise the untamed McCarthy, whatever his subsequent reputation, was effective in causing a great deal of collateral damage among the enemies of freedom.  It is an analogy drawn, appropriately, from the Book of Judges.  At last in Evans’ book we may have a valid judgement of McCarthy’s work, and of blood which cries out from the ground, not just for vindication but for succession and continuation.

 

 

 

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Posted in Conspriacy Theory, Constitution, culture, Culture & Politics, Libertarianism, Paleoconservativism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Conspiracy low and conspiracy high

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 13, 2018

We need a “Critique of Pure Conspiracy”

For all things which are reproved are made manifest by light,
for whatever does make manifest is light (Ephesians 5:13)

What is generally called “conspiracy theory” has undergone a revival of considerable proportions.  Today everyone prides themselves on knowing that “all is not what it seems on the surface.”    This is obvious from the declining trust in public institutions, science, politics, and education.  Of course there never was a time when all was just what it seemed on the surface.  Still, there was indeed a time, and not so long ago, when propaganda systems enjoyed something closer to ubiquity due to the monopoly of broadcast technologies.

Now that everybody on your street (or at least your social media network) is a conspiracy theorist, one might reasonably ask why this hasn’t automatically translated into a free society.  Part of the answer to this question is that there is a whole lot more to establishing, or regaining, a free society than just the dissemination of information.  If there are elites who secretly control the world, they need to be fought, not just talked about.  In fact, there are indications that they enjoy being talked about, and that it fortifies and celebrates their power.

However, while mere information is not sufficient, it is certainly necessary in both great quantity and reasonable quality.  Today we certainly have the quantity, but much of what gets stuffed into that portmanteau phrase “conspiracy theory” is just plain bad.   Perhaps that’s just the way the conspiratorial cookie crumbles, as the mocking skeptics claim.  Or perhaps there is some sort of improvement in method which would at once validate and improve the quality of conspiracy theories.  As quixotic as it might seem, I would like to explore the latter possibility.

Why can’t you Kant?

What if we had a meta-theory of conspiracy theories in general?  It is one thing to support or debunk one or another notion, but are there some generic properties of conspiracy theory that make it vulnerable to skepticism?   Nobody denies that conspiracies, in the dictionary definition of the term, exist.  For example, “racketeering” is a phenomenon well known to forensic and legal science, and it always involves conspiracies in the most general sense.  Yet in our times Conspiracy Theory (yes, often spelled in caps) has become a stereotype.  It is not just a propensity to recognize that two or more persons are liable to combine towards secret and disreputable ends, but the claim that there is an all-inclusive Grand Conspiracy.   It is this this sort of all-inclusive theory which requires a meta-criticism, since  such Grand Conspiracy notions strive not just to understand particular conspiracies, but rather to construct a Theory of Everything (a phrase which gives rise to the quaint acronym TOE).

Contrary to the skeptics, not only do I think that the investigation of conspiracies is a worthy endeavor, but I am not even against a TOE on principle.  In pursuing a TOE, “conspiracy theory” is simply following the same procedure as any scientific paradigm.  All paradigms seek to subsume larger and larger data sets into their theories, and at its ultimate limit this would be a TOE.  However, I am wary of any claim that the TOE has been attained at a single bound, and this is what much of “conspiracy theory” sounds like.  Rather, conspiracy theorists need to arrive at a rational apportionment of their tasks, so that the TOE, when finally arrived at, will be both complete and plausible.

For the historically literate, this notion of an intellectual division of labor has a philosophical precedent in the works of Immanuel Kant.  Far from claiming his legacy, I am a severe critic of that sage of Koningsburg, yet in a notional sense, understanding the radically different ways in which our mind tries to figure out reality is just the right thing for lifting what we call “conspiracy theory” out of the abyss of speculation and into the the light of what used to be called “science”, but we can still claim as wisdom.

The Analysis of Conspiracy Theory: High and Low

Fortunately, conspiracy theory can be pulled apart into that most simple of analyses, a binary pair.  It is quite evident that some conspiracy theory deals with supernatural and paranormal phenomena, and this can be designated “high conspiracy”.  Distinct from this are those conspiracies which involve human actors operating in combination using natural, physical, and social means to conspire.  This can be termed “low conspiracy”.

It is frequently pointed out that the distinction between the supernatural and the natural is itself unnatural.  I agree.  Ultimately we live in a reality which is a continuum ranging from everyday entities like matchsticks and muffins and extending upward to auras and archangels.   Some day when we get our Theory of Everything worked out I am sure it will all prove to be a seamless web, equally natural and (because it is so wonderful) supernatural.  However in the meantime we must face up to what Immanuel Kant termed “the epistemological problem.”  That is to say, the limitations of our Earthly existence limits our knowledge in significant ways.  The knowledge that we have of palpable things is going to be different from the knowledge we have of spirits, and gaining each sort of knowledge requires different methods of investigation.

This is especially relevant when it comes to the understanding of conspiracies.  Conspiracies are, perforce, opaque things, realities towards which we are blind.   Furthermore, this opacity is complicated by the fact that we are dealing with intelligent, willing entities (humans or spirits) who are actively trying to obstruct our attainment of an accurate understanding.  So the task that confronts anyone trying to unravel any given conspiracy, let alone the Grand Conspiracy, is Herculean indeed.  Therefore the first step in making this task manageable needs to be a separation of our two ways of knowing, human and spiritual, or what we have been calling low and high conspiracy theory.

These two departments of theory require very different rules of evidence.  We cannot expect the kind of proof for high conspiracy which we demand of low conspiracy.  High conspiracy rests on faith more than provable assumptions.  Neither can we be so sloppy in our investigation of low conspiracy that we place our faith in every testimony.   Hence our methodology in each department is not just different, but in a sense, opposite.  When we investigate low conspiracy we must be skeptics, but when we turn to the contemplation of high conspiracy we may allow ourselves to be moved by faith and intuition.  I fully expect that some day, in both this world and the next,  these two departments will merge into a single Theory of Everything.  However in the meantime they tend to interfere with each other, and any preemptory synthesis is likely to mangle the testimony of both.

High Conspiracy isn’t for everybody

Not everybody believes in the supernatural.  This is tragic since there are a few things that everybody needs to believe in, notably, that God (as spirit) incarnated in the man Yehushua ben Yosef (as flesh).  For me, that is the bottom line.  However beyond a bare minimum of supernatural facts that everyone must assent to (conveniently summarized in a few creeds of the early church) I would assert that involvement in spiritual affairs is an option, not an obligation.  Even the Apostle Paul, whom we can take as the paragon of a spiritual warrior, saw what I am calling “high conspiracy” as an advanced topic.

For we wrestle not with flesh and blood but against principalities,
against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesisans 6:12)

Note that this was an insight which Paul had acquired by the time he wrote Ephesians, one of his latter “prison epistles” which implies that he already had a great deal of spiritual experiences, perhaps even what we would call experimentation, under his belt.   Yet we know that Paul, prior to writing even his earliest epistles, had a vigorous ministry.  While it would be wrong to say that Paul was ever blissfully ignorant of the forces of evil, still the idea of the political world’s domination by negative spiritual forces, or what we are calling “high conspiracy” was no doubt one of those insights which he had to work out step-by-step, “in fear and trembling.”  Thus we can infer that such wisdom, from Paul’s testimony at least, was and is supplemental to the normal life and faith of believers, let alone non-believers.  If it is too difficult or disturbing, it is best left alone.

I hasten to add that in my own world-view, as for many others, “high conspiracy” is an essential compliment to “low conspiracy” without which the data of my experience simply doesn’t add up.  However, like left and right shoes, things which are complimentary are neither substitutes for, nor identical with, each other.   Because they involve different methods of investigation, “high conspiracy” and “low conspiracy” need to be distinguished, and for some kinds of mentalities, the whole subject of “high conspiracy” should be avoided altogether.  There is no need to scandalize non-believers, or to disturb believers who’s faith is weak.  However we should keep the window of high conspiracy open, waiting for a time when we have better proofs, a time when skeptics will be able to overcome their cognitive dissonance and walk into the integral world of meaning which for us grand theorists is already a grand delight.

How low can you go?  Answer: Every man, woman, and child on deck!

For all things which are reproved are made manifest by light,
for whatever does make manifest is light (Ephesians 5:13)

It can be inferred from Ephesians 5:13, that everyone who is on God’s side should be shining their light in the darkness.  With the small flashlights of our ordinary minds it is hard to light up the heavens, since only the truly anointed with their spiritual searchlights can search the sky.  But our little flashlights should be able to clear up sundry mysteries on even the darkest night, provided we keep them pointed down.  Within those small but intense circles of light we can arrive at substantial conclusions, not speculations.

Please don’t think that I am advocating a false, foot-shuffling, humility or recommending preoccupation with safe and trivial matters.  Rather, I am sure you have already figured out that in the present context “high” has not been drawn from traditional usage, where “high conspiracy” once referred to courtly plots by princes and ambassadors (e.g., The Prisoner of Zenda), as opposed to the “low” of vulgar criminal gangs (e.g.,Ocean’s Eleven).  Likewise, here “low” refers to all activities down here on the surface of planet Earth, even if it involves countesses and caviar, bracketing out the influence of both Heaven and Hell.  Moreover, this “bracketing out” is a purely methodological principle, one which is not intended to deny the existence of transcendental realms.  However it is an essential measure, one which must be endured if we are to obtain initial clarity about any Earthly conspiracy.

In separating higher from lower, we not only avoid a lot of bad thinking, but we separate the Earthling from all claims to conscientious objector status in the war for the world.  In  the mind of a religious person, establishing the demonic origin of human malfeasance solidifies the assumption of evil, but to secular ears it sounds sufficiently like “the devil made them do it” to put legions of apathetic skeptics to sleep.  None the less, the secularist will normally abhor all the evil things that the believer witnesses to on Earth, namely murder, theft, fraud, addiction, lies, hatred, rape, slander, scapegoating and much else.  Yet in the mind of the secularist these evils are of purely human origin.   Be that as it may, as humans pledged to any sort of benevolent ethic, and moreover citizens of a particular community, the righteous secularist (no doubt endowed with an unacknowledged common grace) is obligated to inquire and to blow the whistle if and when the moral order of society has been subverted by sinister forces.

Two sets of rules

While “high conspiracy” theory can be synthetic and inclusive, “low conspiracy” theory must be analytic and exclusive.  Viewed from another angle, the latter must adhere to Popper’s principle of falsification.  It must be possible for the conspirators to be found guilty rather than innocent.  Hence, when the weight of data points to guilt, we can be satisfied that the outcome was evidence-based and not the formation of an appealing gestalt or some sort of confirmation bias.

With “high conspiracy” this kind of falsification is impossible, since we are taking an eagle eye’s view of the world as a whole, and the we are not at liberty (whatever progressives might think) to recreate the world.  It is the whole puzzle with all the pieces locked in place.  We can take the Book of Revelation as the best example.  The scripture itself is God-breathed and outside of time, therefore the events will never change, although we may arrive at a deeper understanding of the events through interpretation.  However when we look at a particular event or epoch in secular history, we only are viewing one particular corner of the world-puzzle.  This makes us less knowledgeable, our ignorant “low” as against an omniscient “high”…but it also gives us more freedom.  It will be possible for us to move pieces of the puzzle around to different locations, keeping the outcome in doubt until just the right fit is found and the outcome is locked in.

This freedom and confidence derives from the very strictures imposed on our investigations.  I can’t make an exhaustive list of these strictures, but there is no need to, since they correspond largely to what we assume whenever we deal with everyday, common-sense, reality.  Generally speaking, all of our investigative procedures must conform to the  constraints of time, space, and corporal existence.  For example, the same entity cannot located in two places at the same time.  Likewise, the causes of things must exist prior to their effects, albeit in various senses depending on whether we are dealing with efficient (mechanical) or teleological (planning) causes.  The fact that low conspiracies must be embedded in time, space, and corporal existence means that it should be possible to establish a chain of evidence for the deeds of the conspirators.

No, I am not saying that in the ultimate scheme of things these unities of time, space and corporal existence are absolutes.  Even without resorting to spiritual witnesses, consider physics, where quantum theory violates these strictures all the time.  However from the point of view of an investigator into low conspiracy, these violations of natural law lie on the other side of the division of labor.  For example, suppose we have a book containing records of great import which suddenly disappear from their repository, hindering the investigation of the conspiracy.  Of course, the book could have been translated into a different dimension through the agency of a demon or an angel.  I don’t deny that such a thing might occur.  However the investigator into low conspiracy would be in dereliction of their duty if this were their first assumption.  Rather, such an investigator has an obligation to explore every possible explanation for the disappearance which does not violate the unities of time, space and corporal existence.  If this avenue is pursued all the way to the bitter end, either the investigator will bag the conspiracy or the whole process will be revealed as a snark hunt.  It may be that during the process of investigation certain anomalies will crop up with rare persistence.  If so they should be noted and turned over to courts of high conspiracy theory.  However the work of the low conspiracy investigator is at an end.

In Conclusion

One should always provide concrete examples.  Our example of a Theory of Everything (TOE) is the Book of Revelations delivered to the Apostle John on the isle of Patmos.  For an example of a limited conspiracy amenable to empirical investigation, pick anything smaller than the universe.  In a future post I hope, God willing, to turn my attention to a really big (though low) conspiracy of the 20th century which still affects our intellectual climate today.  However the contemporary political world is smaller, stupider, and especially more vulgar…even worse than the 20th century, if such a thing is possible.   Unfortunately if I had to pick the most celebrated conspiracy de jour it would have be the Muller investigation into the present administration’s alleged conspiratorial  ties to Russia.  It is hard to call this a limited investigation, since it seems to have no limits of time or subject, none the less it is “low” in the sense that we have been using here.  Or is the Muller investigation itself a conspiracy?  I will leave that question to the discretion of Senator Gowdy and his colleagues.

All I want to say is that people should avoid calling Special Prosecutor Muller the Antichrist.  No doubt this will be a very satisfactory tie in to a Theory of Everything for some aspiring investigator into high conspiracy.  However the temptation should be resisted.  Speaking personally, if it does indeed turn out that Robert Muller is the Antichrist at the end of time…I’m walking out of the theater and asking God for my money back.

 

There’s conspiracy low and conspiracy high
and often the twain shall meet.
If  there neither were higher nor lower at all
it would indicate something akin to deceit.
Yet in spite of much evidence
lower and higher
the hawker of theory still sinks in the mire

(from “Counterindicators”-by M.R.S.)

Posted in Christianity, Conspriacy Theory, Constitution, Constitutionalism, culture, Culture & Politics, Esoterism, Law, Media, Politics, Theology, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Lawrence Dorr, Witness

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 7, 2017

Witness to….

The late Hungarian-American emigre who went by the nome de plume Lawrence Dorr has endowed us with a troubling but beautiful deposit of literature, loosely disguised as fiction, they chronicle a life born into the European gentry, ending up in the American suburbs, and passing through the torment of WWII and its aftermath, depicting life behind, and escaping from, the Iron Curtain.  I am wont to call him a witness to the tyranny of human passions and systems, yet he would not have it so.  Rather, Dorr (1921-2016) saw himself as a witness to Divine grace, that unaccountable influx of godly symbol and substance which makes bearable even the bleakest winters of the human soul.  And while I would gladly enlist him in the slender honor roll of American conservatives who wrote fiction, that would be a false characterization, somewhat on the order of dubbing Flannery O’Conner an activist for a Southern varient of Christianity.

Yet politics is in some sense unavoidable even though, in Dorr’s own order of importance, it was far down on the list of immanent concerns.  His hierarchy of values was readily apparent to anyone who met him.  God always came first, followed by family, relatives, friends, and associates.  Third in significance, after a multitude of significant others, was the written word, especially the living literature of his adoptive language, English.  Those who knew him in the flesh only saw a tall bearded man, ruggedly handsome even in old age, large hearted and forever either exposing or committing some folly.  Yet his thick Hungarian accent would have perplexed anyone who only knew him in print as the master of English prose whom he truly was, or as an incisive, Christian, critic of contemporary best-sellers.  This disjunctive impression was a mystery which could have been accounted for by Dorr’s polyglot past, since he had grown up among cosmopolitan folk who’s parlance in French and German was more in vogue than the curious, non-Indo-European, language of his native country.  Moreover, literature was Dorr’s life, and he made a special study of English, which to him was more than just a medium of communication, but rather, one of those several means of grace which the Lord had used to save him, since,  having escaped from the warring tribes of the European continent, he had found solace in the arms of a nurse, the daughter of an English parson.  Subsequently they married and moved to rural Florida.

I am tempted to list politics as high as number four in Dorr’s scheme of values, far behind literature and slightly ahead of sports, but if you include the equestrian sports of rural Florida, of which he was an enthusiast, I’m not altogether sure even of that.  None the less, the political cannot be expurgated from an understanding of Dorr’s writing without anesthetizing the reader from the historical context of his life’s odyssey.  And what an odyssey it was!  One writer provides a brief summary of its highs and lows…

At 20, he served in the Hungarian army during World War II, and later became a political exile after his association with a capitalist newspaper in the newly communist Hungary. After leaving Budapest, he took odd jobs across Europe, once performing as the front-end of a zebra in a traveling circus, serving briefly in the French Foreign Legion and working as a masseur in an Austrian entertainment house. He met his wife Clare in an English mental hospital, where he was an orderly and she was an occupational therapist. Together they immigrated to the United States, where they spent time in South Carolina and Philadelphia before becoming missionaries in the rural town of Frostproof, 70 miles from Orlando. The couple and their two small children later moved to Sebring, where Dorr worked as a cowboy until he suffered a serious back injury. The jack-of-all-trades even found himself working as an artist’s model in Miami, draped for hours across a crucifix while posing as a Christ figure. (from April Patten “The words of a master”July 25, 2004, Gainesville Sun)

These encounters with the tragic and the comic, often simultaneous, were buffered by Dorr’s faith and the uncanny intervention of providence into the life of a man who should have died a thousand times over, and yet was continually being reborn into new personae and circumstances.

Although, like most emigres, Dorr longed to put the sins and the sorrows of the Old World, especially its politics, behind a wall of forgetfulness, his vocation as a writer forced him to witness to the realities which he had suffered.  There is a chiaroscuro quality to his short stories, at least those set in Europe, some cloud or nemesis which stifles the life if the protagonist until the light of revelation breaks through.  The earliest stories, in terms of chronology, not writing, record the nationalistic animus which which pervaded the pre-war period.  Dorr, though an anti-communist was not, unlike many on the European right, a fan of ethnic nationalism.  Some of this may have been due to his background in the minority Calvinist tradition within predominantly Catholic Hungary, as well as as his houshold’s marital alliances with foreign, French, gentry.  However in the main this moral universalism was the product of his personal enlightenment, the shock of realization, once the dreaming was over and blood had been drawn, that the heroism of youth was being perverted towards criminal ends.  For most Americans the Second World War begins at Pearl Harbor, or for more objective students of history, Hitler’s invasion of Poland.  Yet for those, like Dorr, who lived through it, the pre-war animosities already included the substance of the wider conflict.  Hitler himself was not a novelty, he was the old man of sin, equipped with terrifying technology and gone wild.  It was this inescapable beast, the beast of European tribalism, into which Dorr was born.  Indeed, in brutal manifestation of the symbol, he eventually found himself in the bowls of a tank retreating from the Red army.

Witness against….

The second strata of stories concern the post-war period.  Again, there is a stifling cloud of material want and mental anxiety, and a new antagonist, Communism.  For Dorr, an adherent to the doctrine of original sin, the potential for evil is inherent in all flesh.  None the less, in Communism he saw an evil which was somehow sui generis.  This isn’t articulated in the stories so much as felt.  Unlike the prewar animus, Communism is a novelty, something which comes in imitation of Christ rather than in ignorance of Him.

In this second strata of stories, unlike the first which is clearly autobiographical, there is some ambiguity about the “he” who is the protagonist.  Dorr is writing from his own perspective, however it is not clear that he is writing purely from his own experiences.  Was he the first lieutenant who was held in a Russian concentration camp, or was he the resistance fighter who nearly eluded capture after sabotaging a supply truck of the Red army, or was he the refugee who managed to scrape together enough food to sustain his grandmother, only to find that she had died during the war?  Since Dorr is writing fiction there is no need for a definitive answer to these questions, which may or may not be mutually exclusive.  The various stories may each be segments of a single connected narrative, or they may be the record of several independent chains of events.  They may or may not be factual, but they are all truthful, in the sense of faithful witness to the realities of the human heart.  All these hearts are sinful, but some have been left to supervise the inhumanities of the system while others struggle to survive, and perchance attribute their survival to divine grace.

The third, and final, strata of stories deal with the homely adventures of an American family in the suburbs and rural areas of Florida.  When I gave a volume of Dorr to a young woman her comments after reading were, “I enjoyed the early, scary, stories but I didn’t like the later ones.  I felt envious of him and his family because they had such a happy ending after their troubles.”  That’s really the root of all our attitude problems isn’t it?  Envy, better known to Christians as breaking the tenth commandment.  It starts off as a kind of whimsical discontent, so  amusingly expressed in the young woman’s candid admission.  However after numerous historical and/or personal iterations it can develop into a truly hateful view of life,  and ultimately putrefies into the radical egalitarianism which converts people to the Marxian world-view.

The third strata of stories returns to something akin to an autobiography of Dorr, albeit the third person protagonist remains unnamed.  However it should not be assumed that Dorr’s American period was an uninterrupted Cinderella tale.  Like all emigres from Communist lands, he experienced the angst of knowing that his personal fortune was all the more bright in comparison to the continuing tragedy of those who had been left behind the Iron Curtain.  Furthermore, his day job as a technical writer surrounded by academics in an American university town subjected him to the condescending attitude of those who who’s leftist ideals had not been tempered by experiencing the realities of Communism. It was with impotent anguish that he followed the news of the Budapest uprising in 1956, and a heart rending discovery that many of his newfound academic peers were secretly relieved by the failure of an anti-Communist rebellion.

None of these experiences ever turned Lawrence Dorr into a conservative, let alone a movement conservative.  Like Solzhenitsyn he was a Christian whose Christianity had been tempered in the crucible of Communism, but he never became an activist.   Still he remains a witness, and a powerful one.

 

N.B. Lawrence Dorr was the author of A Bearer of Divine Revelation (2003) and several other collections of short stories, which can be obtained through Amazon and other book vendors.

 

 

Posted in Appologetics, Art, Christian Education, culture, Culture & Politics, Fiction | Leave a Comment »

In the aftermath of Irma, these volunteers won in Florida

Posted by nouspraktikon on September 19, 2017

We were still surrounded by the debris of Hurricane Irma when the Volunteers showed up

Actually, it was a football game, one of those compulsive rituals which neither “the powers that be” nor the hoi poloi can ever say no to.  After all, who could deny the local fans their bread and circuses in the aftermath of a disaster?  Well, everything depended on who won…whether the spectacle would go down in the record books as a morale booster or moral misdemeanor.  As providence (do I hear someone say luck? Nah!) would have it, Florida won in the last seconds of a crazy game who’s merits on either side will be endlessly debated.  The Tennessee Volunteers returned home, perplexed and saddened.  Florida had, once again, been saved from itself.

But there were other volunteers in town that day.  Linemen of a different sort, hailing from Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, and even parts of the state which were nursing their own hurts.  They weren’t watching football, although sometimes they worked within earshot of cheers and jeers from the high-tension game.  And yes, they were volunteers, even though they had been sent down by mammoth utility firms and could expect to draw overtime.  This is still America and nobody is forced to do any job they can walk off from.  But instead of “You can take this job and  shove it!” they arrived in large numbers, willing to work 24/7 in the humidity, often in the dark, and among the local fauna (think “gators” of the non-football ilk) which were spreading out into newly flooded zones.

In our neighborhood we had transformers down.  On the night of the storm, people had heard the  blast and seen the blinding blue ark light as the lofty cylinders seemed to turn into electric grenades.  Then darkness.  Days later there was still no electricity, and the Florida jungle was beginning to reclaim its own.  No heat, no cool, no refrigeration, no communication, and living off of canned and dry goods.  It could have been far worse as the water mains had kept their integrity.  Still, we were starting to wonder…

Then we saw the trucks.  We noticed (by we I refer to those who could read a map) a seal with the outline of the state of Indiana on its sides.  They had come a thousand miles, but the hardest part of their journey were the days of street by street, block by block progress until the worst hit part of town was rewired and on line.  They weren’t all from Indiana.  The man who went up in the bucket to replace our utility pole was from Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Bowling Green, Bowling Green

I wish I was in Bowling Green

Good old Bowling Green

And I bet he did!  But he had heeded the call to do a job which required a critical mix of physical endurance and intelligence.  The dead transformer was dangling in a virtual cats-cradle of wires and woods. When I murmured, “I can’t see how you will ever get that pole up.”  The Kentuckian answered, “Stick around and you may see more than you wager for.”  By literal hook and crook, mechanized to be sure, it all got up, poles, wires, transformers, until we heard the go ahead signal and the power returned.

I couldn’t help thinking that these men, who had come down from the regions around the Ohio river, were lineal descendants of the “volunteers” of yore, legendary men like Boon and Crockett, and the countless others who never became legends.  Historians can argue ad infinitum whether or not these were the men who “made America great,” or as per cultural Marxism, they were just land-pirates building a sand-castle civilization called the United States.  What is not arguable is that on short notice, their descendants had been mobilized and formed into an effective army to see that the swamp (here literally!) didn’t reclaim that network of urban humanity which calls itself modern Florida.

My general impression was that the whole operation, as befits volunteers, looked more like a “spontaneous order” than a command structure.  This was not to say that there was no planning, of which there was much evidence, but that the planning was horizontal rather than vertical, with the local agency and the out-of-state personnel cooperating on a case by case basis, combining local knowledge with volunteer can-do.  The federal government was invisible, although you could say that Floridians were the beneficiaries of a “national” effort by localities which had sent their people and resources across state lines to get the job done.  In military lingo you couldn’t say they weren’t regulars…just regular folks.

And that, my friends, is what makes America great.

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The Surprising Salvation in Salvador Dali!

Posted by nouspraktikon on June 27, 2017

Art (1930AD) catches up to Augustine (400AD)

For several decades had I tried, without much success, to understand the work of Salvador Dali.  And “if” (the obligatory caveat) I understand his work now, that is only because my fumbling around finally located the key to Dali, a key hidden in plain sight, and a key which I am willing to share with you now.

Dali was a Christian.

Pay no attention to the fact that Dali wasn’t your kind of Christian.  Dali wasn’t anybody’s kind of Christian, except Dali’s and (hopefully) Christ’s.  Nominally, he was a Spanish Catholic, and while nobody has ever doubted that he was very Spanish, the assessment of Dali’s Catholicism remains dubious.  Towards the end of his life the priest assigned to Dali “suggested” he illustrate the Jerusalem Bible.  These illustrations, while excellent, were hardly Dali’s best, and show uncharacteristic restraint.  Evidently Dali was put on some sort of spiritual diet, and in the process of “trying to be good” produced, predictably, good rather than great art.

When I mention Dali’s Christian art, I don’t mean his sunset productions as a Biblical illustrator, but those most tortured and characteristic works which the whole world recognizes as Daliesque.   To me, and I’m hardly alone, this art initially seemed utterly grotesque, or at best interesting as a stage in art history.  I vastly preferred Classical art, and some of the more lean and geometrical modern works.   However I was wary of the surrealists, and for that matter, today I’m more wary of them than ever.   Yet I have come to love Dali.

What changed was my perception of Dali.  I no longer hold him to either the cannons of Classical or Modern art.  I see him as a Christian artist, mediating the dispute of the ancients and and moderns, and overcoming both.

Keep in mind that Dali was always respectful of (or if “respect” is too un-Dali, “consciously indebted to”) Classical art.  In particular, he lionized Vermeer and Velasquez.  This must have irritated the artistic and literary radicals of  the mid-20th century.  The best thing that George Orwell (more sympathetic than most) could say was that Dali could pose as “a great draftsman.”  Modernists portrayed classicism as pictorial realism which had been rendered obsolete by the invention of photography.  Hence to imitate the classics was to reduce oneself to the level of a draftsman…an artist’s apprentice.

However the Christian critique of Classical art goes much deeper, in that, from the point of view of Christian witness to the effects of sin, any Classical “realism” is a lie.  However pious a Michaelangelo or even a Vermeer might be in private, the public image of their art remains essentially pagan, a portrayal of the beautiful surface of reality.  A panting like “The Artist in His Studio” by Vermeer, is either trivial or Platonic.  At worst it is trivial, a kind of pre-photograph which entertains us with the glimmering play of light on human and artificial surfaces.  At best, it is a Platonic illustration of timeless perfection, which unfortunately ignores the sin nature of both the artist and the subject.

This is the kind criticism of pagan art which Augustine of Hippo (c. 400AD) would have understood.  My hypothesis is that the young Dali had some similar inkling when he was a young man transiting from the drafting table to the surrealist salon.  Of course Dali was no theologian at the time, and whether he ever became one is a matter of conjecture.  But his intuition told him that representative art was either trivial or a lie, and thus to overcome Classical art, Dali would have to bear his cross and descend into hell.  And thus he entered the hell of surrealism.

Dali’s Divine Comedy

Here I must treat Dali’s decent into hell as a parenthesis.  The whole story is best categorized under the rubric of Cultural Marxism and sundry systems which have substituted the worship of the human mind and society for that of Abraham’s God.  I have written elsewhere, and at length, on this subject, and pending God’s permission, may do so in the future.  Suffice to say that Dali learned all the techniques of the diabolical arts and propaganda better than his masters themselves.  This greatly irritated them at the time and increasingly thereafter.

At the risk of oversimplification, a risk that I will harrow in preference to ambiguity, the surrealists were developing a technology which they hoped would drive men and women mad, not just as individuals, but in the mass, through the propagation of mass-art.  Today we are inured to the aftereffects of surrealism, in venues as diverse as European politics and American advertising.  We dismiss the MAD men as little more than a toponymic pun and reassure ourselves that nobody ever got food poisoning from watching a can of Andy Warhol’s soup.  However at its inception, the surrealist movement developed a toxic concentrate of images which were intended to drug the senses and more particularly to destroy the “common sense” of Western Civilization.  Today we can see that they, in collusion with other forces, have been quite successful.  However it took more time than the surrealists (mostly “revolution now” types) were willing to envision, which in turn has obscured their cause on our effect.

But for the moment, let’s voyage back to the mid-20th century, back to Dali.  Gradually it became clear that either Dali was not a genuine surrealist or that (as per Dali’s own view) he was the only surrealist and the others were all frauds.  Beyond the name-calling, what was really going on?  The surrealists expected Salvador Dali to put his technique at the service of their ideology.  However for Dali surrealism wasn’t an ideology, just another technique for the artist to command.  The Marxists and Nihilists could never understand this.  You aren’t supposed to be able revolt against the revolution or to annihilate nothingness.

Yet Dali did precisely that, through the employ of his not-so-secret weapon…humor.  Like Dante, he had descended into hell and emerged on the other side of the world, the side of God.  However there is a great difference between Dante’s Divine Comedy and that of Salvador Dali, i.e., the latter is actually funny.  Dante edifies but Dali entertains.

Yet there is a serious side to Dali as well.  Armed with two contrasting techniques, Classical realism and Surrealist illusion, the Spaniard was able to work in high fidelity to the message of the scriptures.  Humanity is indeed distorted and grotesque, an agent of sin descended from generations of twisted experience in the vicissitudes of time and lust.  None the less, the primal image of God is never quite erased.  Classical form remains as the necessary substance which perpetuates human existence, even when that existence has been twisted into monstrosities.  From this duality emerges an authentic picture of the human condition, a picture which neither Modernity nor Classicism on their own can portray.

Like his great predecessor El Greco, Dali distorts the classic form.  But while El Greco could only distort along one dimension (height, and that perhaps due to an ocular distortion) Dali could distort along multiple dimensions.  To give the devil his due, Dali learned this as a journeyman surrealist. Consequently, in Dali we see the painful weaving together of Humanity it both its fallen and its original state.  That this groaning of the  fallen world creates pleasure, even levity, when viewed as art is one of the enigmas of Dali, and not just of Dali but of that larger mystery of Christ in which that artist participated as a witness.

Posted in Art, Christianity, culture, Media, Politics, Theology, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Constitutional Contrary or Conundrum? The Imperial Presidency vs. the Unitary Executive

Posted by nouspraktikon on June 4, 2017

Strong President, Weak President

Setting boundaries and limits to power is the essence of politics in a republic.  No Latin word was ever belabored more than imperium in the era prior to Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon.  Originally it referred to the “sphere of power” which was exercised by a magistrate, great or small, beyond which the office holder infringed upon the rival authority of some other elected official.  With the atrophy of the Republic, it became a personal noun, the Imperator, the root of our term for a King of Kings, an “Emperor.”  The word, thus transformed, described a  person who’s “sphere of power” had become the whole world, thus annihilating the use to which its root had once been put, namely, to define and limit power.

Last year I predicted that Donald Trump, if elected President, would not become a fascist dictator, an “Emperor” so to speak.  Rather, the tremendous forces arrayed against him would ensure that the office would be brought to heel to a much greater degree than those who fear an Imperial Presidency are wont to imagine.  None the less, even I have been surprised by the extent of the weakness in the executive.  If we have passed any Rubicon, it seems rather that we have passed over from a concealed, to an open, form of oligarchy.

One way of coming to grips with this non-revolution is to admit from the outset that 1) the Imperial Presidency, and 2) the unitary executive, are contraries, not complements.  If we were to talk about official spheres of power with the fastidiousness of the ancient Romans, we might call the first, the President’s “lateral power” and the second the President’s “upright power.”  Imagine that presidential power is a rectangle of fixed area which loses depth whenever it is stretched horizontally.  I know that is a rather strange image to put in the service of a radical hypothesis, but bear with me.

Why the unitary executive is a great Constitutional doctrine

Generally when we ( and by “we”I mean, libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists, natural rights advocates, strict constructionists, etc.) hear the word “president” modified by the word “strong” we go into a fit of moral indignation, if not outright hysteria.  Yes, generally heads of state should be weak, lest they turn into tyrants.  However the American presidency is a unique institution, one which the founders of the Republic intended as a safeguard of liberty, just as much as the legislative and judicial branches.  To begin with, the very notion that the American president is a “head of state” is an extra-Constitutional notion, one which arises from the necessity of adjusting American nomenclature to the standards of  diplomacy.  Indeed, since the Congress is our premier branch of government, the Speaker of the House has a fairly good claim to be the federal head of state, on the analogy of parliamentary systems.

Leaving aside the symbolic, and rather silly, issue of heads of state, let’s turn to a more fundamental question which impacts on the idea of the unitary executive.  Each of the branches of the Federal government must conduct its internal affairs in hermetic isolation of the other, while being in constant cooperation as corporate bodies to conduct the governance of these United States.  Naturally, each of the branches will attempt to extend its sphere of authority, or what the Romans called, their imperium.

Now the matters which are of concern to each branch are well spelled out in the Constitution, but each of the branches always attempts to grow its authority by multiplying those things by which it exerts authority.   Thus the legislative branch attempts to grow its authority by increasing the volume and complexity of legislation, while the judicial branch attempts to grow its authority through the multiplication of rulings, judgements, and injunctions.  On the other hand, it is primarily the executive branch which attempts to grow its authority through the multiplication of offices.  Sad to note, but the three branches may remain evenly balanced while all of them grow in concert, disrupting the larger balance between governmental and non-governmental institutions in civil society.

Whatever cure there might be for the exponential growth of government in the legislative and judicial spheres, the theory of the unitary executive provides both a unique analysis and possible cure for burgeoning bureaucracy.  How so?

Strictly speaking, in the American republic there can never be more than one government officer at a given time.  The name of this officer is the President of the United States!

Oh yes, if you must quibble, there is also a deputy in case of death or incapacitation, the anomalous Veep.  None the less, two officers is a pretty strict limit for the bureaucracy of a large republic.  It reminds one of the twin consuls of Rome, a historical precedent which was never far from the thoughts of the American founders.  In terms of modern political theory we have arrived at genuine “minarchism”…an ungainly word which has been coined to express the most limited of limited governments.

Of course, for true unity of will and purpose, a person can never really trust anyone else to do their own job.  Hence the most pristine unitary executive would be one in which the President did all the work of executive branch personally.  We can imagine a President who, dispensing with the service of a secretary, was able to handle all executive correspondence personally.  (NB: The reason we can imagine it is that we live in a world of word processors, computers, and the internet.)  However other things, such as warfare, might be a bit more tricky, unless our chief magistrate had the strength of the Biblical Samson or a modern-day comic super-hero.

So to be on the realistic side, even our pristine unitary executive would, of necessity, need to contract out for a few staffers.  Hopefully these would all be temporary workers.  After all, the chief magistrate himself is a temporary worker, limited to four, or at the maximum, eight years of employment by the American people.

Now before you dismiss this as nothing more than utopian swamp fever, perhaps we should take a look at the way the doctrine of the unitary executive has played out in the history of the Republic.

 

The historical roots of a weakening unitary executive

Unfortunately, while the imperial Presidency is the most realistic of real-political realities, the concept of a “unitary executive” is little more than a constitutional doctrine which has had to go hat in hand through the corridors of history in search of application.  To put the theory in its clearest form, the unitary executive is the President himself, who is at once both the only employee of the American people, and also the boss of every federal office holder outside of the Congress and the Judiciary.  The theory seemed most incarnate in the reign of those generals who seemed to be able to wield their authority with the same imperious might in the Oval Office as on the battlefield.  One thinks of Andrew Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt.

That was then, and now is now, when Mr. Trump’s executive leadership seems more like an exercise in herding cats.  Yet people with even a tad of historical lore under their skulls recognize that The Donald didn’t suddenly fumble the unitary executive to the horror of his fans and the delight of his detractors.  Common wisdom suggests that the unitary executive began to unravel, at the very latest, in the aftermath of the Watergate (1973) scandals.  Legislation which sought to limit the presidential imperium resulted in severe checks on arbitrary presidential power.  However these reforms failed to check arbitrary governmental power in general, or to stave off the multiplication of executive projects, expenditures and offices.  Rather, by setting up checks and balances within the executive branch of the federal government, they added to the executive bureaucracy.  And this went to the extent that the “special prosecutors” who were the plumb in the cake of the post-Watergate reforms threatened to become a “Fourth Branch” of trans-Constitutional governance.

Those who can see beyond the historical horizon of Watergate are more likely to see the first unraveling of the unitary executive in the New Deal, and the multiplication of those “alphabet agencies” such as the ICC, TVA, and NRA, each of whom were endowed with judicial as well as executive authority.  Yet an earlier starting point is the Progressive era, which saw the rise of the intellectual in the federal administration, a creature who was less likely to be constrained by, or even understood by, whatever folksy president inherited the legacy of those hybrid characters like Wilson who both studied and practiced administration.

Loyalty vs. Merit

However these movements were actually just footnotes to the unitary executive’s original fall from grace, which coincided with the rise of a merit based civil service.  It was the Pendelton Act of 1878 which consolidated the system of permanently employed government service.  After that there was little reason to think that officers would be loyal to a politician who’s term of office was likely to be far shorter than the duration of their career.   Like all sea changes in the policy of the republic, the effect of this reform was not immediately apparent.  After all, presidents in the late 19th century were just expected to be “weak.”  Think Grover Cleveland.

Today, because we read history from public school textbooks, the pre-reform civil service gets a bad press.  Typically it is referred to as the “spoils system” which conjures up images (not entirely unsubstantiated) of bribery and largess.  However there is another side to this issue.  We should at least try to be “Mugwumps” that fanciful word for a person who was willing to consider the merits and demerits of a permanent civil service.  In the interests of fairness, I would like to exercise a bit of Mugwumpery and dub the temporary civil servant system the “Loyalty System.”  After all, the politically appointable (and removable) civil servant would at least have no vested interest sabotaging the chief executive who, unlike him or herself, was directly chosen through the electoral mechanisms of the Republic.

In certain moods our progressives and our conservatives might even agree that disloyalty is a bad thing and moreover presidents should at least have the chance to formulate policy on their own turf before being challenged by either the courts or the legislature.  However there is a libertarian remnant which stubbornly insists that a strong president is a bad president, and indeed that a strong administration is nothing more than a step along the primrose path to empire.

However, as illogical as it may seem, the presidency became “weak” before it became imperial.  After WWI and as the 20th century wore on, there was need to have an emperor to complement the existence of an empire.  However the discipline of the bureaucracy which manifested itself at this time was not due to the charismatic appeal of those politicians who became, willy-nilly, chief magistrates of the republic.  Rather, it was due to the professional association of those who had a vested interest in the expansion of state power, both internationally and domestically.  Presidential orders were obeyed because presidents of whatever party were (to a greater or lesser extent)  aligned with the expansion of a robust administrative state. In 1952 Sen. Taft of Ohio lost the Republican nomination against General Dwight Eisenhower.  Taft was the last mainstream presidential candidate to seriously challenge the operational premise of expanding state power.  Barry Goldwater and Ron Paul would later mount doomed, albeit educational, campaigns dedicated to challenging that same premise.

Then in 2016 Donald Trump was elected after campaigning on many of the same anti-statist planks that animated Taft, Goldwater, Paul and (very inconsistently) Reagan.  Trump had the good sense to mix his contrarian rhetoric with a dash of jingoist appeal.  So far, the bureaucracy is in somewhat less than full scale revolt.  But only a very naive observer would be surprised that the doctrine of the unitary executive has been utterly abrogated.

The not-so-deep-state and the demise of the unitary executive

Today when “deep state” has become a household expression, it is easy to substitute James Bond intrigue for fundamental political analysis.  No doubt there is a great deal of skulduggery going on in high places these days, but the unitary executive would have floundered without any alienation between the Oval Office and the intelligence services.  It is not just the Praetorian Guard who are in revolt, but the clerks…and there are a lot of clerks.  It is not just a cabal, but the system, a system in which managers are independent of elected policy-makers.  In the EU this system appears in its most naked form.  In the US it still has to make end runs around the remains of a Constitutional Republic.

As Richard Weaver said, “Ideas have consequences!”  One of the great, pure, ideas of the 19th century was civil service reform.  However in creating a permanent state independent of politics, civil service reform ensured that all future reforms would be bound inside the parameters of the managerial state.  The owl of Minerva takes flight at night, and only now do we see the luster of those single-minded individuals whom the progressives have been eager to denounce as dictators-in-waiting.  The aristocratic Washington, the Jacobin Jefferson, mean old Andy Jackson, the imperious Polk and (though they were already compromised by the permanent state) later figures such as Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.

Finally, we can at last see the wisdom of the Founders in endowing one third of the federal government with a vestige of monarchy.  At very worst a monarchy, but never, ever, an empire, since a strong individual, unencumbered by bureaucracy and backed by the people, might indeed succeed in ruling the daily affairs of one nation…but then it would be bedtime.

 

Posted in Constitution, Constitutionalism, culture, Culture & Politics, Economics, History, Law, Paleoconservativism, Politics, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Dammit Man!

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 18, 2017

A Pickup Placard Peccadillo

Driving along a trunk route of my community I was “shocked, shocked I tell you!” (well, kinda) to see an advertising placard on a pickup blazoned with the unique corporate moniker Dammit Man!  Dammit Man?  Not, mind you, a bumper sticker, but the name of the firm!  Well, context is everything, and from the barrels and tools in the back of Dammit Man’s pickup, it was evident that the  cussing commercial was advocating the services of a lawn care and cleaner-upper specialist.  Since my town is full of trees, deciduous and otherwise, there is a huge market for lawn waste removal.

Thus it took me less than two seconds to figure out the reference, which is a mark of good ad copy in itself.  Clearly, Dammit Man! was an unexpurgated expletive prefacing the tacit, but easily guessed proposition: “Dammit man, how did you get that lawn cleaned up so well…and in record time!”  Perhaps a local ordinance needs to be passed prohibiting foul language appearing as part of a corporate logo.  I suspect that most of our churches would line up in support of the motion.

However that really misses the point, both of the joke and the phrase itself.  Somehow I suspect that the Dammit Man, whether or not he can dispatch decaying vegetable matter with the celerity implied by the slogan, is a better Christian than most of us.  He has that seldom mentioned but welcome Christian virtue: Hilarity…or in plain language, a sense of humor.  It is the note of the pilgrim who is both seasoned and sincere on the spiritual path.

(And , incidentally, since I can’t resist a snarky soliloquy, this virtue was notably absent from the recently trounced politician who bore the name!)

On a deeper level, “dammit” is not an obscenity but an imprecation, and since we really don’t want to send our lawn-care specialists to the infernal regions, at least if they have done a good job, the expression in context has to be taken as an effusion of rare praise, not condemnation.  Therefore, since the vendor is praising himself using a curse word, the ultimate intent is humorous, even if the humor doesn’t exclude the likely “damn” goodness of the lawn care specialist.

But of course, real damnation is no laughing matter.  By “damnation” I don’t just mean the final, definitive judgement of sin before the throne of God, I mean condemnation in the broadest sense.  Every atheist dog-and-pony show purports to demonstrate that “damnation” was an innovation foisted on mankind by the God of Abraham, or rather by His ameneusis.

However damnation, in the broad sense of condemnation, is not something which we would have to wait on revelation before we learned of it.  True, when we consider “last things” there are some elements which natural reason could never have guessed, such as the immortality of the resurrected body, either for good or for ill.  That knowledge only comes from revelation, and admittedly it complicates things.  But that is not what we are concerned with at present, however much atheists would like to “put God in the dock.”

Rather, we are talking about what happens when human beings put each other “in the dock” or to paraphrase what Voltare said of God, “If damnation didn’t exist we would have to invent it.”

My contention is that we did.

 

When Man Damns

Indeed, damnation, rather than being fostered upon the human race by bad religions (Abrahamic or otherwise, indeed, there are Buddhist hells, and nasty ones at that) is an intrinsic category of the human mind.  Just as Adam Smith told us that “humanity has an intrinsic propensity to truck and barter,” likewise there is an “intrinsic propensity to damn” which has been shared by all human beings since the time of that Adam who was the progenitor of Mr. Smith and the rest of us.  For though the human race has no brimstone (or at least it didn’t prior to Hiroshima and Nagasaki) it has the faculty of condemnation in abundance.

Consider that we get our English word “damnation” from Latin.  Now in secular history the most revealing instance of total condemnation is the custom of damnatio memoria which was exercised from time to time during the Rome’s late republic and empire.  After an unpopular politician or emperor had been removed, either by natural causes or assasination, the Senate, by official decree, would order the erasure of all inscriptions mentioning the tyrant, and the removal of all his statues from public view.  Historians dispute how often and how effectively this rite was observed, but the intention was clear.  The victorious party in the Senate wanted to consign all memory of the condemned emperor to oblivion.

This desire to condemn and erase the past, or at least that part of the past connected with unpopular personalities, was by no means a uniquely Roman obsession.  Rather, contrary to the intentions of the Senate, the abundance of historical records during the Classical period, combined with a human delight in monstrosity, has assured an unwonted immortality to such “damned” creatures as Caligula and Nero.  Among more ancient civilizations, the local equivalent of the damnatio memoria was more effective.  Until Carter’s discoveries in 1922, Egyptologists had no more than an inkling of King Tut’s existence, since the boy monarch and his heretical Sun-worshiping dynasty had been rubbed out of the historical record by pious defenders of Egypt’s polytheistic faith.  This remarkably effective act of collective forgetfulness endured for three thousand years.  But as the saying goes, truth will out.

However we must go beyond the early civilizations to primordial times if we want to find the origins of damnation.  Was it not Cain who first issued a decree of oblivion to his brother?  He did not just murder, but buried Able, for we know that “his blood cried out from the ground.”  The mind of Cain, full of wrath, was inconsolable at the offense of Able.  And what was that offense?  Surely that his brother had been judged acceptable in the eyes of God, while he had been found wanting.  Cain had the choice of repentance…or, or what?  The only way to restore reality to its pre-judgement status was to erase the very idea of Able as an alternative to Cain.  It wasn’t enough to just terminate Able’s existence (murder), it was necessary to deny that Able had ever existed (burial).

If there had been no outside observer, it would have been the perfect crime.  However the Holy Spirit was recording the incident for our benefit.  Cain did have a brother, and though he failed as his “keeper” neither did he succeed as his “thrower-awayer.”  In this first case, and ever since, it has been hard to make the damnatio memoria stick.

If there is a God, history is for keeps.

The Rise of the Orwellian Memory Hole

As God-centered world views have been nudged aside by various forms of Humanism, especially the most consistent form of humanism, Marxism, the damnatio memoria has experienced a modern renaissance.  Instead of statues of Caesar being removed from the Roman forum, the images of Stalin’s rivals were airbrushed out of the picture.  Before…

And after…

This process was frequently repeated until only the reigning god, “Uncle Joe” himself, remained.

Marxism is not only the last stage of humanism, but it brings to moral completion the views of time that are implicit in all forms of secularism.  According to this world-view, only the visible world is real, and all unseen worlds are either imaginary or manipulable fictions.  This means that the present always has domination over a past which has disappeared from sight and only exists in archival or artifact form.  Thus the past is worse than non-existent, it is plastic in the hands of the present…liquid, and ripe for liquidation.  To the primordial animus which the human mind harbors towards its rivals, past, present, and future…Marxism has added a theory of history which grants moral superiority to whatever faction has most recently emerged from the struggles of time.  Add to this a penchant for organization and propaganda, and one gets a veritable “science of damnation.”

As Marxism has become the hidden, but hegemonic, ideology of America’s academic and journalistic institutions, this penchant for damning the past, rather than trying to understand it, has ascended to power.  Today, in the world of Photo-shop, Stalinist airbrushing seems crude and cartoonish.  But what can be done with the more substantial archives of the past, those made of bronze and stone?  Sadly, we discover that they are scheduled for removal in cities across the nation.

Like the busts of Caesar, the generals of America’s public squares are disappearing, and not just those who fought for the South during the disturbances of 1861-65.  One wonders how long Andrew Jackson, who conquered New Orleans from the British, will be left unmolested.  Certainly, Jackson was a flawed man, but none the less a man whom it is important to grapple with in order to understand vast chunks of American history.  He is now high on the list of those scheduled for the damnatio memoria.

And who shall replace General Jackson?  Dr. King perhaps?  Whomever it might be, it will not be someone who will be able to escape the gnawing criticism of the future.  New values and new demographics will come to the fore, and then the politically correct heroes of today will themselves fall victim to future damnatio memoria.  I believe it was Chateubriand who observed, “Like Father-Time, the revolution devours its own children.”  And what does this devouring consist of but a desire to see the past as totally evil, and the present as justified by its condemnation of the past?  However this is ultimately a suicide pact and a self-imprecation, since time flows onward, and in the Marxist view this flow is not morally neutral but a process of continuous judgement and re-evaluation.

History, thus construed, becomes a pyramid of skulls with a small band of executioners at the top.  From time to time there is a new work shift and the past shift’s executioners become the next band of victims, hence providing more skulls for the pyramid, ever growing in height and volume.  This is as good an illustration as any of the human form of damnation.  It is a damnation which, if not eternal, is at least infinite.  For time has no end.

Except that, in the Christian view, it does end, and the infinite damnation that humanity wished upon itself is eclipsed by eternity.

It makes me sad.  And I wish I had the innocent guile of that bold lawn-cleaner to say,  “Dammit man!  Stop your damn man-damning man!  Just look, listen….and repent!”

 

Posted in Anthropology, Christianity, culture, Esoterism, History, Philosophy, Politics, Theology, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

How Churchmen are changed into Ducks

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 9, 2017

George Whitfield (1714-1770)

Among the more formidable characters in church history is George Whitfield (sometimes spelled Whitefield but pronounced without the “e”) the preacher who spread a Calvinistic variety of Methodism in colonial America.  You must understand that at the time Methodism was, as the very name indicates, a methodology and not a sect.  It was Whitfield’s aggressive preaching method, not to the taste of some, which had such a tremendous effect on forming the unique spirituality of early America.

His odd looks (he was cross eyed) and forceful rhetoric must have convinced many that Whitfield  was more an angel than a man.  It was related that he could pronounce a word as neutral and exotic as “Mesopotamia” in such a way as to draw tears from his audience.  For some this was sorcery, but for others it was salvation, and the crowds that he was able to gather were a mighty tributary in that powerful river of revival which we call America’s Great Awakening.

Like his rival in preaching the good news, John Wesley, Whitfield was a life long clergyman in the Anglican church.  Oddly enough, this evangelist with Tory sympathies earned the esteem of freethinking Benjamin Franklin, and the two struck up a friendship which lasted throughout their mature lives.  None the less, it is hard to imagine Whitfield, who died five years before the outbreak of the American Revolution, throwing in his lot with the founding fathers.  For Whitfield being an Anglican was not a doctrinal affirmation, and indeed he despised most of what today would be called “Anglican theology.”  For him, membership in the established church was just the normative state of being born into the British branch of Christendom.  In the Whitmanian view, the established church didn’t get you into heaven, but you couldn’t get out of the established church.  A questionable deal, but a deal nobody could refuse in Britain or its colonies.

To Whitfield’s amazement, many of the Americans whom he had converted on matters spiritual in the 1740’s were loath to join his church, preferring to form into autonomous assemblies, notably Baptist associations.  Whitfield sighed, in reference to the immersion of his converts, “It seems that my fledglings have become ducks!”  From our modern perspective this seems odd as well, why would someone get evangelized by a preacher from one denomination and then go out and join another denomination?  Why did the Whitfield Christians “become ducks”?

Erastianism

To begin with, “denominations” in our contemporary sense didn’t exist, although there were already a multitude of sects.  What did exist was a passionate clash of opinions over ideological and theological issues which today seem obscure and unimportant.  A key word in these debates was “Erastianism” which dropped out of our household vocabularies a century and a half ago and has not been missed yet.

However, unless we know how this “Erastianism” could get people hot under the collar (both clerical and lay collars) we wont understand how churchmen became ducks.  Fortunately there is a term of  recent coinage which conveys much the same meaning to modern ears.  Among libertarian, Constitutional, and conservative circles “statism” has become the contemporary opprobrium of choice for what the colonists called “tyranny.”  Today we can define Erastianism as “statism applied to church governance”, or church-statism.  Keeping that in mind, and equipped with a Bible in one hand and the Declaration of Independence in the other, we are well underway to unravel the ecclesiastical conundrums of 18th century America.  We know what the outcome was, the rise of the Methodists and Baptists and the decline of the Anglican/Episcopalians.  Was this due to the vagaries of demographics or was there some underlying principle working itself out in the lives of Christian men and women?

Going back to the mid-18th century British America, one must keep in mind that Erastianism was not just a theory but a practice.  Take the colony of North Carolina as an example.  The Church of England was established as a public institution, essentially an arm of the state.  Did this mean that those early Tarheels were enthusiastic Anglicans?  Hardly!  In fact the region was largely unchurched during its early history.  None the less a system of church vestries (lay committees) was established paralleling the civil administration, and all subjects were required to pay taxes to maintain this apparatus.

As in all monarchical church-state systems the organization was pyramidal.  Yet, curiously, within British North America this was a truncated pyramid.  Above the vestries and the occasional parish priest, there were no high church officials.  North Carolina, and all other colonies (mostly outside New England) where Anglicanism was established, reported to the Bishop of London.  This led to a curious ambivalence on the part of the colonials.  Some persons, of an Episcopal persuasion, were eager to have cathedrals and bishops established on American shores.  They blamed the crown for foot-dragging on this issue.

Another, and presumably larger, party was heartily glad that the bishops had not yet arrived.  Their fear was that the crown was scheming to impose a hierarchy on the colonies, a hierarchy which would coerce believers in matters of doctrine and impose heftier church taxes.  This was a major item of contention among the colonists in the run up to the revolution, and the fact that it was not directly mentioned in the Declaration of Independence is, like the dog that doesn’t bark, rather a testimony to the seriousness of the issue than the contrary.  It was, like slavery, one of those issues that divided the Founders at a time when it was crucial to present a united front against the crown.

Voting with their (webbed) feet

Keeping these things in mind, perhaps it is easier to understand why the fruits of the Great Awakening, sparked by the evangelism of Anglican priests, did not redound to the Established Church.  Again, taking North Carolina as our example, there are records of a great increase in the membership of Baptist assemblies, while the Established Church remained largely a bureaucratic skeleton.  Converted by the Spirit (through the preaching of Whitfield, Wesley et al) the rustic colonists saw no need to perfect their salvation through works, where the “works” in question were attendance on the ceremony and obligations of local established parishes.  Moreover, such were were added on top of (prior to the revolution)the “work” of paying the church tax…that is regardless of one’s belief, atheist, dissenter or whatever.

Really, Whitfield ought not to have been surprised, for the Spirit was working through his eccentricities, not his Anglicanism.  The crowds swooned at his uncanny words such as “Mesopotamia”…I know not whether they would swoon at “Mother England.”

We too should cry when we hear the world “Mesopotamia”!

These things are of interest to me since I am persuaded by a kind of Calvinistic Methodism myself.  Albeit that I am only a Calvinist in supposing that all people are sinners, while my Method has little in common with that of the Wesley brothers.  Rather, the method consists in this, that (at least under ceterus paribus conditions, a.k.a., all things being equal) freedom is a good thing and coercion is wrong.

Now today in Christendom (or rather post-Christendom) we are no longer so clearly divided into and Established Church and Dissenters.  However the same perennial urges resurface under different guise.  Thus today we have Liberal churches and Conservative churches.  In both these “denominations” there are churches and individuals who seek to become an Establishment.  Both seek to establish a church-state, albeit according to a different view of what the proper function of the state might be.  The liberal churchmen, and churchwomen, want to be the altruistic cheerleaders of the journalistic-academic-welfare-health complex, while the conservatives want the church to be an official apologist for the military-industrial-banking complex.

However there is always a remnant which has been granted the wisdom to understand human folly.  Among the greatest of follies is what has been called “the tyranny of good intentions.”  This is when we try to force something good on someone.  If we try to force Christ on someone we get the Inquisition.  If we try to force “democracy” (a problematic concept in itself!) on a people we get…well, we get something like the contemporary Middle East, a region in constant turmoil where two thousand year old Christian communities are today on the verge of extinction.

It is we, not Whitfield’s auditors, who should weep when we hear that old name for Iraq and its neighbors…”Mesopotamia”!

Yet through the gloom of it all, let’s remember that Jesus loves us.  I’m afraid I may have increased the gloom by throwing a heavy theological tome at your head.  But at least I warned you…

Duck!

 

 

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Captain Obvious calling: What if Myths are just (you guessed it!) myths?

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 3, 2017

From unsophisticated lies to sophisticated rationalizations

I have spent more of my  life than I would care to admit trying to unravel the mysteries of myths and mythologies.   The dominant theories among anthropologists, psychologists and other scholars reflects the prevailing assumption that myth reflects a key to some deep primitive wisdom which modern people have gotten out of touch with.  Thus for Levi-Strauss, myth reveals the primitive meta-logic of the mind which is far more socially cohesive than the analytical categories of common sense logic.  Carl Jung goes further in seeing the primal spirituality of all human beings stored in a collective unconscious which from time to time is expressed in mythical terms.

The assumption is that there are truths too deep to be expressed in plain expository language.  But what if myth, far from expressing truths, is actually giving vent to falsehoods.  This is the viewpoint of Rene Girard, who sees in the incoherence of myth, a similarity to rationalization.  When the main character of a mythical narrative suddenly turns into a god or a totemic animal, Girard suggests that the hero was the subject of envy and fell victim to murder most foul.  To disguise the crime the survivors in society changed the narrative and promoted the hero from the status of victim to god.  Those who notice some similarity to Christ’s passion will not be surprised that Girard is a Christian and was influenced by the gospel narrative in framing his social theory.

One need not concur with all the details of Girard’s anthropology to see the wisdom of applying a forensic approach to myth.  If myths are primitive rationalizations of the great crimes committed in antiquity, this would go a long way to explaining the convoluted and contradictory logic which seems characteristic of all primitive societies.  As Mark Twain once said, “I don’t tell lies because its too much work to keep them all straight in my memory.”

From Fall to Falsehood

However the human race seems, on the whole, to have taken liberties with the truth at the price of developing a vast and often incoherent body of narratives which we call mythology.  To say that myths are lies and nothing more than lies, would seem to put the work of generations of anthropologists and folklorists to naught.  Yet this might be a true key to understanding the enigma of the human past.  All myths might be variations on one Big Lie which has been told generation after generation, growing in detail and complexity as each narrator attempted to put more distance between his contemporaries and some Primal Crime of deep antiquity.

In this context, it might be useful to note that the Bible, whatever “genre” we might assign to it, most certainly is not myth.  Even the most superficial acquaintance with scripture shows that its style and method is completely different from all the mythological systems which have been passed down through the traditions of the nations.  Indeed, scripture and myth are not just different but opposite, and comparing them is much like looking through a telescope alternatively from different ends.  Thus, while myths are human attempts at making a theology, the Bible was given us by God as a book of anthropology.  In understanding ourselves, we understand our relationship to God, or lack thereof.

Unlike myths, the Bible reveals to us the Great Crime which broke our fellowship with God.  It tells the truth in straight, unambiguous terms, in terms which would be recognized by any logician, whether or not such a logician accepted the moral of the story.  In contrast, mythology, the Bible’s primitive rival, is forever losing the logical thread of its narrative, much like dreams, which are simply the nocturnal counterpart of the mythological madness told in broad daylight.  When myth is on the witness stand the story is always changing, backtracking, and the names are changed to protect the guilty.

Not so with scripture, which radiates a clarity similar to the last pages in a classical “whodunit.”  Of course, this makes it unpopular with the criminal class, a class which (in regard to the Original Crime) includes the entirety of the human race.  Conversely this explains the popularity of myth which is, in the absence of other virtues…at least highly creative.

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The Gun You Should Reach For When You Hear the Word “Culture”

Posted by nouspraktikon on April 24, 2017

Why “Culture” is a loaded word which needs to be disarmed

All advocates of a civilized world, and most emphatically all Christians, need to be skeptical every time the word “culture” is mentioned.  Evolution and culture are the two key concepts which have destroyed genuine anthropology, anthropology in the Christian sense of the word.  If today we live in a world where the barbarians are at the gates, it is only because the vital distinction between civilization and barbarism was first erased from the scholarly vocabulary in the name of an ambiguous and relativistic understanding of human nature, an understanding which is encapsulated in the term “culture.”

The word “culture” (an otherwise unobjectionable term) was adopted by secular anthropologists as the label for a mental package deal known as “the culture concept.”  The essence of this concept is that human beings create their own mental reality.  Even humanists are humble enough to realize that human beings do not create their own physical reality.  That sort of thing went out of style with Renaissance magic.  Humanists claim that the universe has arisen through something other than human agency, and since human agency is the only rational design they recognize, they conclude that it is a result of chance plus vast quantities of time.  This is the celebrated theory of evolution.

There is another sense in which Humanists exhibit a minimal degree of humility.  The culture concept implies that “Man Makes Himself” to quote a title  from V. Gordon Child, from a day when even left-wing scholars could use masculine pronouns.  However the culture concept admonishes the would be Ubermench that human individuals do not make themselves, only groups have the power to shape the mental environment of their members.  Since the culture concept derives ultimately from the thinking of Immanuel Kant, this is an important revision in the theory.  Kant asserted that the human mind creates its own reality, but he was very abstract in his presentation.  He didn’t stress the role of groups in forming their own environments.  This was worked out in the century after Kant by various neo-Kantian scholars and passed down through the educational system in the form of anthropological dogma.

This formula, that 1) evolution makes the physical environment, and 2) culture makes our mental environment, is the one-two punch of all Humanist thought.  It is diametrically opposed to Christian anthropology, which sees the human race as part of creation dependent upon almighty God.  To be sure, in the Christian view the human race occupies a unique role in creation, as the thinking and governing part, just as in Humanism the humans are unique in possessing “culture.”  However there is a world of difference in these two forms of uniqueness.  The first uniqueness is related to something personal outside itself, a condition which renders objective morality possible.  The second uniqueness, the uniqueness of “culture” is purely self-referential.  It cannot be brought to the bar of any moral standard higher than itself.  From the Humanist viewpoint, this isolated uniqueness reflects the principle of human autonomy.  From the Christian viewpoint, it is an illusion resulting from sin.

Culture as the moral ultimate means that culture itself cannot be judged, and implies relativism.  The history of the culture concept is the progress of increasingly consistent forms of relativism.  In the 19th century anthropologists tried to rank cultures on the basis of degrees of civilization, or put negatively, emergence from barbarism.  However as the relativistic implications of the culture concept were systematized, notably by Franz Boaz and his followers, attempts at judging cultures were suppressed.   Today, all judgments of different cultures according to some objective standard outside culture are considered prejudicial.  However this moral conclusion is the consequence of the supposed impossibility of any objective standard.

When the Nazi German Propaganda Minister Goebbels famously exclaimed, “When I hear the world culture I reach for my gun!” he was diametrically opposed to the cultural criticism which we are trying to undertake.  Like Franz Boas, Goebbels was aiming for the idea of “high culture” as opposed to barbarism.  We should translate his words as “when I hear the word ‘civilization’ I reach for my gun.”  Both Nazism and cultural relativism have tried to make it impossible to isolate barbarism as a descriptive category and set it over against civilization.  Of course there were profound moral differences between Boaz, the liberal Jew, and Goebbels, the German fascist.  The latter went beyond theory and was determined to normalize barbarism by acting it out in real life.  However in the long run it has been the gentle scholar who has been more effective in destroying civilization, first as an ideal and then as a reality, among people of good intentions.

Yes, traditions exist

The major opposition to a frontal assault on the culture concept is the contention that culture aptly describes the variety and richness of human traditions found throughout the world.  However this diversity has always been recognized, certainly prior to the academic hegemony of the culture concept.  Some of these traditions were instituted by the Most High God, some are human innovations, and some have been inspired by lesser spirits.  Human innovation is not to be gainsaid, either for good or for evil, and neither is the vast diversity of traditions.

The culture concept adds nothing to our understanding of the richness of human institutions.  However by insisting on the human origin of our mental world, the culture concept begs one of the most significant questions which can be asked about history: Who, or what, instituted institutions?  Its long range effect is to flatten out the mental world into the single, flat, plane of human reality.  Cultural Humanists boast of having an “immanent frame” in which they are free to make any judgement they wish about human affairs.  However “any judgement” ultimately means that no judgment is authoritative, and hence that all are meaningless.  This default to meaninglessness and nihilism is the next to last stage in the decline of cultural relativism.

The final stage occurs when “culture” having outlived its usefulness in the promotion of nihilism is reabsorbed by “evolution” the master-concept which required culture as a temporary supplement and diversion.  When the ideals of humanity have lost their charm, the spiritual descendants of Goebbels will round on the spiritual descendants of Boaz, with guns metaphorical or otherwise.

It is to save these people of good intentions, these so-called “Humanists” from the fate which dooms their concepts, their bodies, and their souls (not necessarily in that order) that we must insist on a God beyond culture.

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