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From Ike with love: The Age of Deception (1952-2016)

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 5, 2017

Nothing has changed except our point of view, but that counts for something

It is easy to think, as the left continues to overplay its cards, that something significant has occurred, and that our trajectory towards an Orwellian future has accelerated .  On the contrary, the Trump victory has triggered a new gestalt in people’s minds.  By 2017 fairly average people can see what only hardened conspiracy theorists were willing to hypothesize as late as 2015.   Whether or not we are at the beginning of a new era, for good or ill, is a matter of conjecture.  Indisputably, we have taken our leave of a period in political history which will prompt nostalgia among anyone but truth-seekers.  While it was hardly an era of good feelings, it was held up by its laureates as a time of consensus, or at least bi-partisanship.

Rather, it seems better to call our recent past the Age of Deception.  The Great Deception consisted in draping a de facto one party system in the vestments of a two party system.  If you had said this in 1965, or 1975, or 1980, or 1994, or 2001, or perhaps even 2008…most people would have called you an extremist.

However somebody, somebody who thought extremism in the cause of truth was no vice, had already pointed this out as early as 1958.  Sure enough, his opponents, and they were legion, labeled this man a slanderer, effectively burying  his work from the sight of the general public, first using savage opprobrium, subsequently silence, and at last retrospective ridicule.   The man was Robert Welch, and the “book” he wrote, initially penned as a private circular and later published as The Politician, targeted none other than President Dwight Eisenhower as an agent of communism.

Then as now, to the half-informed mind of the general reading public, such an allegation was patently absurd.  Eisenhower was venerated as a war hero on the basis of his direction of the Allied war efforts in Europe.  Now admitedly, there are a number of ways to think about the “heroism” of strategic commanders as opposed to direct combatants, but generally, if the war is won, the public will grant the former a triumph and allow them to retire in luxurious obscurity.  “Ike’s” not-so-obscure military retirement consisted of becoming President of Columbia University.  After that, for reasons most people are rather vague about, he was drafted to become the Republican candidate for another kind of presidency, nominated over Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, the last champion of the “Old Right.”

After that, we usually go to sleep in our American history class until it is time to wake up for Kennedy.  Indeed, this might be a kind of clue that something is amiss in the standard Eisenhower narrative, like the barking dog who falls strangely silent in the dead of night.  How many books, popular and scholarly, are published each year about JFK in comparison to good old “Ike” (even subtracting those chillers which focus entirely on Kennedy’s murder)?  I doubt that a ratio of a hundred to one would be far off base.  Either America’s political ’50s were incredibly boring, or there is a story which, in the view of some, were best left untold….

A few history mavens might even remember that “We…(presumably all Americans)..like Ike”…because (warning, redundancy!) he was “…a man who’s easy to like.”  And furthermore, as the campaign jingle continued with mesmerizing repetition…”Uncle Joe is worried, ’cause we like Ike!”  Of course, if Mr. Welch was anywhere close to on-target in The Politician, “Uncle Joe” a.k.a. Joseph Stalin had little to be worried about, at least in regard to Dwight Eisenhower.

If you are skeptical that “Ike” could have been a communist front man, then I can sympathize with you.  Frankly, I was skeptical myself…indeed, everybody has a right to be skeptical of startling claims.  On the other hand, if you think that it is disrespectful to raise the issue of presidential duplicity at all, then you are on shaky grounds.  You are on especially shaky grounds if you happen to be one of those people who think that our sitting president was sponsored by (today’s post-communist) Russia.

You see, after 2016 everything has changed.  Whether or not Mr. Welch’s claims regarding “Ike” can be vindicated, at the very least we are now in position to read The Politician as an objective historical account.  The Politician is a strong and scholarly witness of an already forgotten time, one that now can, and should, be approached without bias or malice.

Why Robert Welch didn’t “like Ike”

It is an uncomfortable but inescapable truth that once certain things come to one’s attention it is impossible  to “unsee” them.  There is a shift in perception which renders impossible any  return to “normal” however rosy that mythical past might have been.  For example, a beloved though eccentric uncle can seldom be restored to a family’s unguarded intimacy once he comes under suspicion of pederasty, and rightly so.  Likewise, the image of Eisenhower would be shattered, not so much as war hero, but as the epitome of a stable, normal and normalizing politician, were he to be exposed as a willing agent of communism.  Conversely, just as the suspect uncle would insist on due process, even if he knew himself to be guilty, the upholders of the Eisenhower legacy are apt to clamor for iron clad proof of what, according to mainstream historiography, would be considered an outrageous accusation.

Sadly, for the reputation of Eisenhower and our national narrative, the claims of Mr. Welch are well documented, coherent, detailed, and were compiled by a contemporary who knew the American political class of the 1950s like the back of his hand.  If you wish to keep Eisenhower in your pantheon of heroes, read no further.  If, on the other hand, you would like to see the claims against him substantiated, read The Politician.  Here, I can only provide a brief, albeit damning, sampling drawn from Mr. Welch’s researches.  Therein he documents the following egregious policies which were either authorized or enabled by Eisenhower:

*Even in his role as allied commander, the fountainhead of his public esteem, Eisenhower was allegedly (The Politician provides graphic details) complicit in the nefarious Operation Keelhaul, a rendition program which forcibly repatriated ex-Axis agents collaborating with the American forces to their home countries behind the iron curtain.  This eliminated numerous sources of “worry” for “Uncle Joe.”

*Eisenhower was instrumental, as President of Columbia University, in pushing that already left-leaning institution further in the same  direction.  He continued to associate with and hire left-wing and communist front faculty, procuring for them teaching/research endowments.  Again, the allegations in The Politician have been strengthened in the light of subsequent events.  Just ten years after the publication of Welch’s Eisenhower exposure, the University of Columbia erupted as an epicenter of the spreading “new left” movement of the ’60s.

*At the heart of The Politician’s allegations is “the politician” himself.  Prior to Eisenhower’s nomination as a candidate for president on the Republican ticket, all of his political associations had been with the left-wing of the Democrat party.  This is perhaps the most uncanny aspect of Eisenhower’s career, and the one most germane to the establishment of a faux two-party system beginning in the ’50s.  The only fig leaf concealing this duplicity was the absence of any prior political office holding (Democrat or Republican) by the President-to-be.  Again, historical retrospect adds, if not new facts, new irony to the narrative of The Politician.  Our current presidency is commonly considered exceptional, if not down right illegitimate, on grounds that Mr. Trump held no prior office and was not sufficiently initiated into the mysteries of the political class.  In the light of Eisenhower’s prior example this current “exceptionalism” can only be caviled at by those who either 1) adhere to the dangerous proposition that generalship is a political office, or 2) are willing to admit that such rules can only be broken on the left.

*Once inaugurated President Eisenhower continued the policies of FDR’s New Deal.  Indeed, programs and bureaucracies which existed only in embryo in previous administrations were fleshed out, expanded, and duplicated.  The agricultural sector is typical, and just one of the many that Welch enumerates. Amazingly, farm subsidies swelled to half of farmers’ revenue, a fact of which “Ike” was very proud.  Moreover, unlike FDR and the Democrats of the ’30s, these programs were not justified as “emergency” measures, but were considered a permanent and “normal” restructuring of the relation between the public and the private sector, i.e., de facto socialism.   This was enabled by the collapse of any meaningful two-party opposition due to the alliance between left-wing Democrats and the establishment Republicans who backed Eisenhower.  The monolithic bureaucracy, exemplified by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, long resisted by the “Old Right” was institutionalized under the faux two-party consensus.  Hence the public sector actually saw a spurt of growth in terms of employees and expenditure in the transition from Truman to Eisenhower.  Consequently, the national debt rose at a rate several times higher than even the Democrats had been willing to incur.

*As shocking as many of the above allegations might seem, the most controversial aspect of the Eisenhower administration was its acceptance and further entrenchment of the post-WWII National Security State system inaugurated under Harry Truman.  This has to be remembered both in conjunction with, and contrast to, the only quote that most people today are likely associate with Dwight Eisenhower, namely, his “prescient” warning against the dangers of the “military industrial complex.”  This utterance was prescient only in so far as Eisenhower was speaking prior to the Vietnam debacle, after which such forebodings became commonplace.  To the best of my knowledge Mr. Welch doesn’t reference this quote, which dates from a time subsequent to the initial redaction of The Politician, although not prior to later editions.  However, Mr. Welch frequently draws attention to rhetorical gestures made by Eisenhower through which he exculpated himself from responsibility for his suspect policies by seeming to condemn their inevitable negative consequences.   Thus he might condemn “galloping socialism” while rapidly expanding the public sector.  Seen in this light, we might take Ike’s warning against the “military industrial complex” to heart, while doubting the speaker’s innocence of the very thing he condemned.

Does this “Ancient History” even matter?

The short answer…yes, it does.

You might recall a scene in Starwars where Luke Skywalker asks Yoda about the future.  Yoda answers, “A strange thing the future, always in motion it is…”  In a sense the past is also in motion, shaped by the interpretation given it by the present.  Yet it would be too great a concession to the irrational forces of our times to say that this was a real, and not an apparent, motion.  The past must be uncovered, not invented…although the temptation to  invent myth is strong.

There is always a strong mental resistance to meddling with any society’s pantheon, or in more American terms, we might say, tampering with Mt. Rushmore.  In Mr. Welch’s day, The Politician seemed rude to the point of slander, while today it seems impious.  We might say “only” impious, when actually it’s the primal sin.  Mr. Welch mentioned something nobody was supposed to notice.  That’s impiety.

Or is it?  Note another odd thing about the Eisenhower myth, that there is no such myth!  Somehow or other Eisenhower has eluded both the pantheon and the rogue’s gallery of American history.  If the entire history of the Presidency during the ’50s elicits very little commentary, is that because the whole period was boring?  Hardly.  Rather, might not such a presidency be likened to a constant background noise, or better yet a universal solvent…the purpose of which is to set the standard of normality for “the end of history”?

Today we have come out the other end of “the end of history.”  Not that we really know how things will end, or for that matter continue.  All we know is that, for the first time in a long time the carefully scripted design for the future has suffered a setback.  The planners, whoever and whatever they may be (though from a galaxy far away I think they be not!) are in disarray and many things are back on the table which once were considered “settled.”  This may be a good thing, it may be a dangerous thing, and most likely both, but this is where we seem to be at present.

Consequently, under today’s conditions, reading, and taking seriously, the thesis in Mr. Welch’s The Politician, is no longer an act of impiety.  It is an essential measure of the road which we have traversed through the land of manipulated consensus.  Having finished that journey, we can look back at the trail-head, take stock, and get a new perspective.  However, in contrast to the fantasies of the “progressives” no perspective is better just because it is newer…only if it is truer to realities which transcend perspective itself.  Furthermore, to get at those realities one has to crunch a lot of historical data, and there is a lot of data to crunch, most of it rather unpleasant, in The Politician.

Only those with a deep urge for enlightenment need apply to the task.


Posted in Constitutionalism, Culture & Politics, Economics, History, Media, Paleoconservativism, Politics, 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.


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The Trump fizzle….the R3volution that wasn’t (and the one that was)

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 27, 2017

Trump’s non-revolution as an educational device

As of this writing pretty much everything which was promised in the salad days of Mr. Trump’s MAGA tours has been either hung up in pending legislation or put on the back burner.  Nobody, at least nobody who wasn’t born yesterday, really expected Ms. Clinton to go to jail or a physical wall to be built on the Mexican border, even assuming such things were desirable.  However few anticipated that  the President would morph into a double of his worst enemy, a.k.a., Sen. John McCain, which is pretty much what happened on foreign policy.  On the domestic front we now hear that refugee resettlement, something which is very different from voluntary immigration, can be expected to reach record highs.  The politics of blow-back, “invade the world and invite the world” is still as much the order of the day as it would be under any hypothetical Democrat administration.

I still retain a basic gut-level sympathy for Mr. Trump and his family, and a chivalrous disdain for the libelous attacks of the old-line media on their reputation.  None the less, I have lost any sense that a Trump revolution is afoot, unless that means a rebellion of Trump’s subordinates against their titular boss.  In place of a revolution, the most that conservatives and libertarians are likely to glean from this (possibly short-lived) administration is what, in patronizing terms, we refer to as a “learning experience.”  Yes, we are getting “a-lot-a-learning” taught to the tune of something far worse than a hickory stick…a broken heart.

On a deeper level, anyone who thought that a “Revolution”  was possible at this stage of American history is deluded.  However if we spell it R3volution, on the understanding that this is a counter-counter-revolution ( and if you see where the “3” comes in you are very clever!) then perhaps we have the basis, if not for hope, at least for a coherent narrative.

Put into schematic form that would be.

1.The original (libertarian) revolution against state absolutism. (a.k.a., the “Spirit of ’76)

2.The counter revolution of the administrative state under the pretext of various ideologies (egalitarianism, socialism, scientism).

3.The various attempts at counter-counter revolution launched against the New Order of the administrative/managerial state, usually labeled with that awkward term “conservatism.”

Basically, we are stuck at item 2, since we live in a historical situation where the administrative state has entrenched itself to the extent that most attempts at push-back fail before they become a credible threat to the New Order.  Mr. Trump’s revolution-manque is only the most recent and glaring example of this process.  Probably the best description of this situation was a series of essays written by an ex-editor of the Saturday Evening Post around the mid-point of the 20th century.

The Revolution Was

The man was Garet Garrett, a curmudgeon of the anti-New Deal resistance.  His thesis was that conservatives and moderates didn’t need to fear the advent of socialist revolution…since it had already occurred.  Of course by “revolution” he meant the authoritarian counter-revolution, not the American revolution, let alone any R3volution to restore the ideals of ’76.

Furthermore, Garrett underscored the permanence and near irreversible nature of the administrative state by articulating three reinforcing spheres in which the state made itself dominant and absolute. The welfare state, the system of international managed trade, and the system of collective security.  These were all solidly in place by the end of the Korean war.  These were each covered by an installment in his trilogy of essays, The Revolution Was(1938), Ex-America(1951), and The Rise of Empire(1952). (Note: the whole trilogy was packaged as The People’s Pottage , 1992)

Subsequent to Mr. Garrett’s analysis, but implicit in it, we see that so-called conservatives cavil at the welfare state, but accept it as the price of empire, while so-called liberals cavil at the empire, but accept it as the price of the welfare state.   Thus the people, through their representatives in Congress, were not liable to overrule the autonomy of the state bureaucrats, since the policy outcomes were always amenable to one or other section of the politically active classes.

A New (albeit false) Hope

Garet Garrett pointed out that at no specific point was the system of Constitutional government abrogated.  Rather, the Constitution was simply ignored and a substitute system of norms evolved to face changing contingencies.  Mr. Garrett dubbed this “Revolution within the form,” or in more exact nomenclature “counter-revolution within the form.”

The remedy therefore became opaque, since it was not a question of  legislating a new constitution, but of reasserting the salient provisions of the original, but neglected, law.  At the time of FDR the judicial branch occasionally still used it powers to limit the scope of the federal administrative state, a stance which was commonly thought to be the main justification for the doctrine of judicial review.  However, since that time, and especially since the ’60s the courts have become progressively (pun intended) subversive of the idea of any sphere of authority outside the administrative state.

An alternative to judicial redress was the possibility, however unlikely, that the American people would elect a libertarian president, or at least a kind of anti-FDR who would restore the Republic to its original vitality.  I had occasionally heard such sentiments voiced in libertarian and conservative circles prior to the election of Mr. Trump, however most people were surprised when the scarcely hoped for became incarnate in the form of a celebrity non-politician.  Or as it turned out, not.

We are left with what we should have started with, the prospects for political education and its impact on the legislative branch.  We now know that the “Hail Mary! pass” to a heroic chief executive doesn’t work.  Why? Because the theory of the unitary executive only works when it is in the interests of the administrative state.  When the chief executive opposes the interests of the (albeit “his own”) managerial class, the unitary executive crumbles like a sand castle at high tide.  We are at the high tide of statism.

If there is a silver lining to the present circumstances it is that the legislative branch can still throw a monkey wrench into the works, for good or evil.  In theory, a legislative branch that responded to the long range interests of the people, which is not that of the managerial state, could reverse the (counter-) revolution.  In theory, the right way to the right kind of freedom can be found…if only after exhausting every other way first.


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Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or, how to turn Normal People into Leftists

Posted by nouspraktikon on March 16, 2017

Seen the movie?  Now enjoy it in 3-D!

Well no, I’m not exactly claiming that your friends are being steadily replaced by zombies from outer space hatched from gigantic zucchinis.  None the less, something is definitely going on.   It is often revealed in the most ordinary of encounters.  Of course I don’t recommend dangerous inquiries.  Today we all know that complementing a woman on her good looks or remarking on the weather are inherently political topics.  Let’s just say, for example, you ask someone,

“How do you think the brackets in the College Basketball finals will work out?”

You may get, “The dialectical forces implicit in late capitalism will enable the proletariat to seize the commanding heights of socio-political dissemination.”

Or, desperate in search of an ice-breaker, you pipe up,”I like yogurt, what about you?”

Response?  “If it were up to me I would take the Bulgarian line on everything.  The Stalinists failed because they fell into a reactionary respect for national self-determination.  Zinoviev was right, all of Eastern and Central Europe should have been directly incorporated into the Soviet Union.”

Or, thinking that being trendy will get you somewhere, you venture, “Do you like the most recent album by Bruno Mars?”

“No, his most radical work is found only in the Grundrissa!  Later work such as the second and third volumes of Kapital were already infected by the bourgeois economics exemplified by Ricardo.  Genuine radicals will skip from the youthful essays directly into the Gramchian corpus in order to elucidate fault lines in the cultural meta-structure.”

Ok, sure, I’m exaggerating!

Worse, I’m cribbing from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, where he lampoons the tendency of every layperson of the era to put on theological airs.  Moreover, since I reside in a college town the leftward drift is more apparent.  But don’t get apathetic about the leftward-ho tendency of the present, since the politically conservative to moderate educator is today’s “canary in the mine-shaft.”

They came for the teachers and the guest lecturers and I did nothing….

None the less, despite my motto “Ideas have Consequences,” I want to briefly play the Marxist.  Ideas alone don’t have legs.  They are embedded in and transmitted through an institutional context.  It isn’t just bad ideas and bad teachers which are raising a generation of leftists.  There are other factors at work too, factors which the left knows about and you should too.  Yes, it has to do with education…but in a very different sense.

How to mass-produce a generation of leftists

This might not be the only or even the main causal chain, but it is of major significance any way you look at it.  By the numbers…

  1. Hire more university administrators and non-teaching staff, invest in elaborate infrastructure, increase tuition exponentially.  (N.B.: At the risk of extending the causal chain back ad infinitum, the attractiveness of this “industrialization” of education was stimulated by the expenses incurred by the tenure system and teacher unionization.)
  2. Make student loans available and the default option in financing the impossibly expensive university experience.
  3. Continue to promote the idea that a university degree is essential to getting ahead in the world even as an increasing number of graduates fail to find jobs in the workforce.
  4. Cultivate an ever larger debtor class among graduates who owe money for their college financing while not being able to make ends meet.
  5. Moot about the idea of debt forgiveness.
  6. Change the idea of debt forgiveness from a proposal (if a left administration were in power) to a demand (if a conservative administration is in power).
  7. Obfuscate the fact that the college loan system was a progressive idea that failed, emphasize that it involves “money” and hence is symptomatic of late capitalist decadence.

Note that during the campus protest movement of the 1960s the students were motivated by idealistic devotion to causes: i.e., Pacifism, civil rights, drug normalization/legalization etc..  However the left never was able to capitalize on these movements because the idea of turning the United States into a Soviet republic was so obviously against the practical interests of most people looking to graduate from an American university.

What has changed between 1967 and 2017 is that socialism is now arguably in the “class interests” of prospective (indebted) college graduates.  However the moot point is that this was not the determined outcome of impersonal economic forces a.k.a. “the dialectical contradictions of late capitalism.”  Rather, it is a crisis which has been deliberately engineered by the self-styled progressive forces in education and public finance, to create a debtor class.  (And by the way, isn’t it interesting how central bankers and leftists think along more or less the same lines?)

So the next time it’s necessary to buttonhole a stranger with the standard inquiry,  “What time is  it?”  you have the right to be amused if they reply, “Time is a function of labor multiplied by material costs when expressed as an inverse of objective material value.”

But if they go on to say, “…and soon it will be the centennial of the October Revolution.  It has taken us bourgeois Americans a hundred years to catch up to the heroic vision of Lenin,”  please remember the adage, fooled once, shame on you, fooled twice, shame on me.

There are no “iron laws of history.”  The would be world-controllers are just making history up as they go along, to suit their fancy.  That is to say, they are changing the cosmetic surface of reality.  The core of reality is controlled by Someone Else, but they don’t want to think too deeply about that.

And what about you and me?  Are we just passively watching as the alien zombies hatch out of their giant zucchinis?  Could it be that we are watching the man in the mirror?


Or we could wake up and do something….



Mark Sunwall


Posted in Christian Education, Constitutionalism, Culture & Politics, Economics, Philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Observations on the Christian Libertarian Conference (Aug. 2016, Austin TX), Pt. 2 Afternoon session

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 19, 2016

The Soul of the Entrepreneur

Dr. Victor Claar gave the most upbeat presentation at a conference which was distinguished by a generally upbeat tone.  One had the feeling of being in Sunday school, with plenty of scripture being quoted, and careful analogies drawn between the Biblical narrative and action in modern day society.  Claars’ premise was that entrepreneurial action was an image of God’s creative action.  Good uplifting stuff, albeit it tended to sell short the sense in which human finite reason and senses were only a poor hint at the fiat creation of an omnipotent and omniscient God.

A useful term for this same insight, which Dr. Claar did not employ, was J. R. R. Tolkein’s “sub-creation.”   All human activity, from art to entrepreneurship, is mundane mirroring of God’s creative action.  It struck me that there are actually two levels operative here, the moving about of productive factors within creation, and the imaginative reconstruction of the world with language.  These are different, with the former being closer to God’s creation in substance, while the second seems closer in terms of form.

One objection to any parallelism between entrepreneurship and God’s creative act is the presence of uncertainty in the former.  Theorists of entrepreneurship, such as the Austrian school’s Israel Kirzner, have talked about the entrepreneur as someone who is capable of “seeing around the corner” and discovering a gap in the market, some need or deficiency which has not been hitherto met.  However the entrepreneur cannot magically control the outcome of the enterprise.  This human capacity for being wrong renders the analogy between human action and creation less than perfect.  I mentioned this to Dr. Claar and he seemed to concur with this caveat.

The Plot Thickens: Enter Rene Girard as mimed by David Gornoski

“A Neighbor’s Choice” applied mimetic theory (MT) to the issues of politics and liberty.  Of all the presentations this was the one which came closest to offering a Christian solution to tyranny, and human bondage in general.  Most of the audience was probably unaware of the late Rene Girard’s work on social imitation, the mimetic triangle, and scapegoating.  As one of the conference attendees noted “libertarians scapegoat the state.”  Well, I am not sure that the way libertarians blame the state is congruent with Girard’s “scapegoat” theory, but the comment articulates an important truth.  The “state” is an abstraction which can only become incarnate in human action.  Therefore we must ask ourselves what is the primal human motive which results in the institution of elaborate and tyrannical systems of control.

For Rene Girard, it is the violation of the tenth commandment, Envy, which is at the heart of both social cohesion and conflict.  Imitation is the indispensable mortar for building individual bricks into a social structure, but imitation turns to nihilism as the fires of envy intensify and the continued existence of the imitated other becomes unbearable.  At the root of the problem is the unique quality of human imitation, which, unlike animal imitation is not just a miming of behavior but a imaginative appropriation of the other person’s desires.  This leads to rivalry and ultimately the assassination of the rival so that one can occupy and replace one’s rival’s very selfhood.  The assassination is then speedily mythologized, and turned into a religion to mask the aggression of the new leadership, a strategy which is generally successful in the short term, or at least until the fires of envy once again build up beyond a tolerable limit.

According to Girard, this pattern continued throughout human prehistory until it was unmasked by the passion of Christ.  In the gospel records for the first time ever, the narrative is related from the point of view of the victim.  Ideally, Christ should have been the last victim of mimetic rivalry, but as David Gornoski reminded the audience, the pattern has continued to operate up to the present and provide a rationale for that institution which we call “the state.”  Gornoski reminded the audience that the gospel accounts not only provide a diagnosis of the sinful basis of society, but also a strategy for dealing with mimetic rivalry…to eschew rivalry and usurping of the tyrannical rival’s functions, no matter if the overthrow and replacement be masked as “justice.”

It would seem that with Mr. Gornoski’s presentation we had got to a point during the conference where theory was beginning to give way to practice.  However the “practice” of a Girardian anti-mimesis would be less action than restraint on action, which brings to the foreground the common tendency of anarchism to encourage quietism rather than political activism.

Pico himself was beset by his usual theological scruples, and being a Girardian himself, though perhaps in bad standing, was eager to sound out Mr. Gornoski on the dangers of diverting the passion narrative from soterology to sociology.  Mr. Gornoski replied that he was convinced a sociological perspective on Christ’s victimhood in no way diminished the doctrine of the atonement, and that Girard himself (who became a practicing Catholic) saw no contradiction.  Pico was willing to let the matter stand, although this is a fundamental point which needs to be clarified in Girardian circles.

Conclusion: Political Burlesque and a Resounding Call to Inaction

It was inevitable that, in a Presidential election year, there would have to be some concluding fireworks…and that these would have to be managed so that the dangerous explosives didn’t blow apart the meeting in a satisfying but divisive finale.  This job was delegated to Jason Rink who’s semi-comic “Never a Chump: A Christian Libertarian guide to the 2016 Election” concluded with an appeal for libertarians to vote, not with their feet, but with their couch.  Even Mr. Johnson, the darling of the LP and other mild-mannered reformers, got the cold shoulder on the premise that if you don’t vote you aren’t morally responsible for the inevitable brutality of practical statecraft.  Of course this went double for Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton.

Wisely, there were no rebuttals due to time constraints, so partisan matches and fireworks were kept from any incendiary conjunction. The enthusiasts of Mr. Johnson just had to grit their teeth and defer to their anarchist betters.  However, just for the record, Pico would like to ask: Are there not crimes of omission rather than commission?

Let me get down to specifics.  After all, Pico has made no secret of the fact that he is sympathetic to the oh-so-terrible Mr. Trump, so let me take Mr. Rink to task on his logic.  With regard to the Republic slate in general, Mr. Rink correctly observes that the Christian Right have served as the useful idiots (a.k.a. “chumps”) for a G.O.P. which has become subservient to neoconservative policies and banking interests.  Rink therefore concludes that now is the time for Christians in general and libertarians in particular to assert their independence from the Republican machine.   Four or eight years ago this would have been a valid premise, and in fact many Evangelicals did desert the G.O.P in 2012, if only due to Mr. Romney’s religion.

However Mr. Rink fails to understand that a G.O.P. under the sway of the Trump movement is no longer the Republican party of pre-2016.  If Trump has his way (and in spite of the obtuse G.O.P. leadership he seems to be getting it) the only continuity between today’s party and the pre-2016 organization will be the name.  If Mr. Rink, and the rest of us, could get beyond labels and pose the question objectively we would ask: Can Christian Libertarians support the Bull Moose Party, or the Populist Party, or whatever moniker you fancy for Trump’s new breed? Indeed, it was a tremendous coup (literally!) for Trump and his people to retain the name and franchise of “Republican” but that’s a whole new animal you see walking around the elephant’s skin.  So we pose the question whether Christians should join fortune at its tide, and be counted among those who will have clout in a possible Trump administration, or not?  I have a hunch that a Trump administration might succeed in “Making America Small Again” which would be an improvement on the present globalist regime.  Of course don’t expect Mr. Trump to be saying any such thing, which would be against both prudence and his own expansive nature, its just that rhetoric and results are often polar opposites.

Still, I suspect that it is Mr. Rink and not Pico who had his hand on the pulse on the conclave’s membership.  The dominant strain in the organization, which is now three years old, seems to be pietistic semi-anarchism of the David Lipscomb variety.  That is a worthy tradition and not be gainsaid, albeit Pico has been tending more towards a theonomic perspective recently.

Most of all, whether we are inclined towards libertarianism or theonomy, it is important to oppose the mainstream Christian Right in its fatal love affair with militarism and American exceptionalism.  To that end, I was glad to see that Dr. Norman Horne, the conference organizer, had learned some hard lessons from his debate with Dr. Al Mohler, President Emeritus of the largest Protestant denomination in America, and an evangelical celebrity.  During this previous encounter Mohler had dismissed “libertarianism” as a distracting ideology which was inherently non-Christian if not anti-Christian.  By his own account, Dr. Horn felt he came off poorly in the debate, as one would only expect of an upstart idealist going to the mat with a seasoned polemicist.

Dr. Horne concluded that in a projected rematch he would be less inclined to mince words and accept Dr. Mohler’s premises at face value.  Rather, he would have recourse to libertarian first principles, which are in fact Christian first principles.  He would like to remind Dr. Mohler that aggression is not endorsed by the gospel and that power corrupts.

Whether there is a reprise of the Horne/Mohler debate, let’s hope that someone is listening.  War drums are beating ever louder, Ms. Clinton is solidly in the pocket of the neocons, and militarists are wrangling for influence with Mr. Trump.  Christians, both committed and nominal, still represent the biggest single demographic in America, and a force for good or evil depending on how they are mobilized.

Let us meditate deeply on what action, or perhaps inaction, we should take in 2016…and may God help us all.


Posted in Anthropology, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Economics, Libertarianism, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Congrats Brits!!! 2016 may be your 1776…(if you can keep it!)

Posted by nouspraktikon on June 24, 2016

A serious blow has been struck at the Globalist empire

It is with great pleasure that lovers of localism and freedom can contemplate the rejection of the unelected “federal government of Europe” by the  voters of the UK.  With the vote comes a reprieve from further alienation of the rights which go back to the Magna Carta and before.  Britain is back from the brink of absorption into a continent wide managerial state without due process, representation, or any of the other rights which were secured by the Wig Revolutions which rolled back the tyranny of the Tudors and Stuarts, ushering in that oxymoronic but workable form of republicanism which goes by the name of “constitutional monarchy.”

Thus in the future, the vote of June 2016 may be celebrated as a narrow escape from bondage to a faceless and unconstitutional tyranny.  The bracing question should be, “How did it ever come to this?”  Unfortunately the so-called “market” was a negative instance of Hayek’s principle of social evolution, for the EU was indeed an order “established through human action but not human design.”  Putting aside a few doctrinaire thinkers, few envisioned reestablishing the Holy Roman Empire, or the Kingdom of Charlemagne in post-WWII Europe.

Then who were the advocates of this grotesque system and why?  Oddly, it was the “marketers” in other words, the free-market liberals, those who today are more properly called the “libertarians.”  Freedom advocates had been so used to combating national socialism, fascism, and state communism, that the concept of an international market appeared as a panacea to the ills of narrow autarchic governments.   Few could imagine that the international network of trade, either on a continental or a global level, could itself be organized into a managerial authority which would hold entire nations at its mercy.  Like their liberal American counterparts who were so fixated on the corruption of local political machines that they overlooked the abuses of the military-industrial complex, Europeans emerging from the night of fascism and the Iron Curtain failed to see the anti-libertarian implications of a supra-national federal government.

That will be the retrospective sigh of relief if what has begun in June 2016 is followed through to completion.  The danger now is that vested interests will push back using either political or non-political means.  Having rejected continent wide federalism, Britons now need to reform their national system to end the very factors which invited supra-national tyranny into their islands.  The warfare-welfare state is still iniquitous on the local as well as the continental level.  The ancient British system was based on a population of freeholders bound together by contracts and covenants.  Returning to this system, based on common, not administrative, law should be the ultimate goal of “conservative” (really libertarian) politics.

To paraphrase what Benjamin Franklin said after the United States constitutional convention of 1787, the Brits now have their “constitutional monarchy” back again…if they can keep it!

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A Halfway Covenant: Can Anarchists Support Donald Trump? (Or Anybody?)

Posted by nouspraktikon on April 17, 2016

A Critique of Walter Block’s (Anarcho-) ” Libertarians for Trump”

Block has made a blunder, but for the sake of everyone’s political education, I’ll blunder in myself.  Now, just to set the record straight, Walter Block is a fine gentleman and a profound scholar.  In fact, he once graciously shared the speaker’s platform with me at a Ludwig von Mises Institute seminar.  While I don’t share all of his ideas, I deeply admire his courage in breaking intellectual taboos and confronting political correctness.  Hardly the sort to pull his punches, Dr. Block has always pushed libertarian principles to their ultimate limits, braving academic ostracism and public censure.  Indeed, the redoubtable lassiez-faire  thinker has made a career out of Defending the Undefendable (one of his book titles) and has succeeded in putting himself in the dock of scholarly opinion, defending his own, and by extension your and my, right to free speech.

Thus can anyone be surprised that Dr. Block is now throwing his support towards the impolitic and outrageous Donald Trump?  Certainly nobody who has taken the time to actually consider the Donald’s policy positions, which are far closer to libertarian ideals than anyone else running for a major party’s nomination.  Rather, the surprise is that Dr. Block has pulled his punches, and is giving the Republican front runner only lukewarm support.  The premise of Block’s “Libertarians for Trump” goes as follows:  “We will back Trump until he gets the GOP nomination, after which we will end all support for him.”  Never one for half-measures, Block’s semi-Trumpism is an anomaly which calls out for rational explanation.  Is Block summoning like minded anarcho-libertarians to agitate, seeing Trump as a Republican disruption agent who will cause the political establishment to implode?  Or are the libertarian purists just afraid to support someone who might be an effective POTUS, an office which they oppose on principle?

This is the kind of intersection between political theory and political strategy which generates salient questions about both.  Block is an extremely consistent thinker, and his strategy in this case can be deduced from his principles.  I happen to think that the principles are flawed, but if they weren’t, Block’s recommendations would be the winning strategy.  Not for Trump of course, but for freedom.

Contrary to Block,  it seems to me that freedom’s cause would be best served by going all the way and securing the inauguration of President Trump in 2017.  After that what?  Would he become a dictator?  Elsewhere I have explained why this is unlikely to happen, but if I am wrong, then and only then, would it be ripe for libertarians to mount a “Dump Trump” movement, no doubt with Dr. Block in the vanguard.  But let’s face it, a strategy of nominating a candidate whom you hope will lose in the general election is simply unworthy of serious consideration.  Of course “serious” excludes the present GOP establishment, who are showing signs of severe cognitive impairment.  In contrast, Walter Block is a serious thinker, and if his strategy is absurd, it can only be attributed to his ideology, not an incapacity for matching means to ends.  It is that ideology which is salient, so let’s give it a closer investigation.

Anarchism and politics…obviously a mismatch!

It is important to understand that Walter Block is an economist.  Typically economists (especially mainstream neoclassical types) have been too modest about the scope of their science.  This modesty has diminished as developments in the last century showed how economics could shed light on diverse fields, such as viewing  how people vote in an election as a “public choice” analogous to the markets for private goods.  However there is another tendency which sometimes crops up, in which economics is raised to the status of a “master science” to which all else is subordinated.   Anarcho-capitalists, following Murray Rothbard, tend to see social science as a subset of economic science.  However William Ropke and others have pointed out that it is society which supports the economy, and not the other way around.  Without laws and other institutions to serve as a basic social framework, the free market would collapse.

Now let’s consider the election of 2016.  To the best of my knowledge nobody has yet pointed out the striking characteristic of this election.  Ponder this, and without exaggeration or irony, that all the major party candidates except (possibly) Trump are anarchists!  Of course their anarchism is not the noble “anarchism” of Murray Rothbard and Walter Block, but the criminal anarchism of lawless government.  It is the rule of the mobs and the cabals through extortion and intimidation.  It is increasingly “rule outside the form”…in contrast to “revolution inside the form.”  It is the final triumph, to speak in Hayek’s idiom,  of administration over legislation.

This is why I am making such a big stink about anarchism.  Anyone familiar with anarcho-libertarians knows that they actually believe in law.  Indeed, they believe in law more firmly than most people, their only particularity regards the means of enforcement.  Therefore, only in the course of an actual event such as the election of 2016 can it be demonstrated that the libertarian self-attribution of “anarchism” is more than just a rhetorical blunder.  Everybody knows that the niceties of legal form can be imbecilic, we recollect the law-oppressed urchins in the works of Dickens and Hugo, not to mention the New Testament, sufficient to render anyone with moral sense a sentimental “anarchist.”  However petty legalism is not the clear and present danger, it is just one brick in a much larger wall.   Rather, the novelty of 21st century politics is that governments and their enablers are groping towards a post-legal order.  In this context, rhetorical “anarchism” is worse than useless, it actually conflates the forces of good with those of evil.

Trump’s movement, whatever its flaws and vulnerabilities may be, is making a heroic stand against the emerging post-legal order.   I realize that this is rather hard for libertarians to see.  The libertarian ideology which grew up in the latter half of the 20th century was still able to take legal norms as a consensual basis for its appeal.  Statist encroachments on liberty were conducted (to use Garet Garrett’s nomenclature) “within the form” and it made good rhetorical sense to appeal to a diminution of administration and regulation in terms of an ideal zero point.  However that zero point (in the sense of zero bureaucratic administration) was still a society of laws, and moreover laws within the context of sundry institutions (language, kinship, property etc.).  Today the situation (esp. post-9/11) has not only worsened but accelerated, to the point where the administrative parasite is killing the institutional bases of society.  Legality itself is under explicit attack, not just by criminals at the margins of society, but by elites at its center.

When this process reaches its ultimate conclusion people will recognize it as anarchy.  Unfortunately it will not be the “anarchy” espoused by the idealists of either entrepreneurial capitalism or leftist egalitarianism.  It will have gone from “revolution inside the form” to “rule outside the form.”  Anarchy will have paved the way, and indeed have become identical to, tyranny.  This is not a particularly novel thesis…unfortunately it is a timely one.

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Why I Have Not Been Blogging During Lent (Hint: Not a Vow)

Posted by nouspraktikon on March 11, 2009

Courtesy of the Wisdom of Thomas Babbage McCaulay

First of course, I can’t say anything about the economic or political situation which has not been said better, or more hysterically than anyone else.  My only comment at this point is DON’T BLAME ME I VOTED FOR RON PAUL!  Beyond that, I can think of nothing particularly eloquent…except to say that things are going to get worse before they get better.

It is easy to loose track of that “…before they get better” caviat.

(From Edinburgh Review, 1830) “If any person had told the Parliament which met in terror and perplexity after the crash of 1720London would be twice as large and twice as populous, and that nevertheless the rate of mortality would have diminished to one half of what it then was, that the post-office would bring more into the exchequer than the excise and customs had brought in together under Charles II, that stage coaches would run from London to York.” that in 1830 the wealth of England would surpass all their wildest dreams, that the annual revenue would equal the principal of that debt which they considered an intolerable burden, that for one man of £10,000 then living there would be five men of £50,000, that in 24 hours, that men would be in the habit of sailing without wind, and would be beginning to ride without horses, our ancestors would have given as much credit to the prediction as they gave Gulliver’s Travels

Thus a man of 1830 addresses himself to the hysteria surrounding the Panic of 1720.  The man was Thomas Babbington McCaulay,  the famous Scott Victorian writer and Whig politician.    The Whigs were the progenitors of the Liberals, who we in turn would call Libertarians today.  To be sure, not a “Raaaydical” as Murray Rothbard would say, but a kind of CATO Institute gentlemanly reforming libertarian.  Or perhaps a Victorian Voglinian, cautioning people to be on guard against “immanentizing the eschaton.”  After all, many people today would rather be vindictively right and live amid immanent crisis than see an upturn during Obama’s watch.  I understand the sentiment…but it is objectively rather perverse.  There is sure to be a morning after, with technology and economic institutions all the better for the shaking out.  Whether the present generations will live to see it is another matter entirely.

And while we are at it, a second nugget of wit from McCaulay on the futility of blogging in general.  Not that McCaulay would have understood what a blog was, or even thought  in terms of what contemporary economists call “oportunity cost”  but the principle of ars longa vita brevis has seldom been expressed better than in the following savaging  review.

(Review of a life of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley by Edward Nares, Edinburgh Review, 1832) “The work of Dr. Nares has filled us with astonishment similar to that which Captain Lemuel Gulliver felt when first he landed in Brobdingnag, and saw corn as high as the oaks in the New Forest, thimbles as large as buckets, and wrens of the bulk of turkeys. The whole book, and every component part of it, is on a gigantic scale. The title is as long as an ordinary preface: the prefatory matter would furnish out an ordinary book; and the book contains as much reading as an ordinary library. We cannot sum up the merits of the stupendous mass of paper which lies before us better than by saying that it consists of about two thousand closely printed quarto pages, that it occupies fifteen hundred inches cubic measure, and that it weighs sixty pounds avoirdupois. Such a book might, before the deluge, have been considered as light reading by Hilpa and Shallum. But unhappily the life of man is now three-score years and ten; and we cannot but think it somewhat unfair in Dr. Nares to demand from us so large a portion of so short an existence. Compared with the labour of reading through these volumes, all other labour, the labour of thieves on the treadmill, of children in factories, of negroes in sugar plantations, is an agreeable recreation.”

The last  joke would have seemed as insensitive to Victorian Evangelical reformers (of whom McCaulay was one) as to the present politically correct lobby.

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