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Big Science and the shrunken head of post-modernity

Posted by nouspraktikon on February 26, 2018

Its a small world after all

Occasionally the geeks “get it” and see beyond the multiple layers of illusion spawned by “big science” a somewhat more euphonious term for what scholars call “scientism” or “the religion of science.”   Any random geek in meditative reverie risks, like Toto pulling at the veil of the Great Oz, seeing a glitch in the matrix and hence being compelled to write or say something courageous about an alternate view of reality.  This is apt to causes a flutter of journalistic butterflies until the inevitable default back to the standard naturalistic model.  The geek (i.e., science journalist) then goes on to some other theme, because the market for science columns is based on wonders, not world-views.

An amusing example is the article by Frank Wilczek, “Intelligent Life Elsewhere? Maybe It’s Hiding” Wall Street Journal Feb 17, 2018.  Wilczek points out that the universe is too big and too old to conceal the alien super-civilizations which have not only a probable claim to existence, but indeed the probability of existence in great abundance.   Of course his tacit reference point is the standard naturalistic model of the cosmos, concerning which he has, perhaps unwittingly, managed to articulate a glaring contradiction.  Dismayed by the non-appearance of aliens, who should have (probability remember!) arrived long ago, Wilczek comes up with what he deems a novel solution to the problem.  Epitomized, the solution is “good thinks come in small packages.”  In other words, those alien civilizations are surely out there, but they may have lost their taste for expansion, for trekking bravely where no species X,Y, or Z has ever gone before, or even for communicating over vast distances in search of their alien alter-egos.  Rather, it may be that the super-aliens have forsaken extensive for intensive development, and that they now pride themselves in a miniaturized obscurity.

The plausibility of Wilczek’s thesis is dependent on everyone’s (on Earth that is) familiarity with the development of information technology and the relentless progress of Moore’s Law, especially in relation to the concentration of data within the ever narrowing boundaries of electronic micro-structures.   We are reminded that computing speed puts a premium on compact space such that the light-inch has become more germane to transcendence than the light-year.  Hence we are supposed to think that this talk of small, hidden, aliens is terribly novel since, after all, IT is today’s “it” and yesterday’s future.

Not so fast, and I mean that in terms of inference, not computation.  Please if you will, try to recall a certain wrongheaded fellow named Rene Descartes who was raving four hundred years ago about something called a “soul” and how it didn’t have any extension in space.  You don’t remember?  Well, it doesn’t matter much, but keep in mind that “mind” has rarely been portrayed as something large, slow and observable.  The dimensionless soul of Descartes was no doubt a late corruption of   widespread traditions concerning extra-corporal intelligence (among divine, human, angelic, or demonic entities) as small, intense, and quick.  Egos may be big, brains may be massive, but the soul, the actual operating soul (or mind if you prefer that term) is small…perhaps vanishingly small.

Of angels and pin-heads

The mocking moderns, prior to assassination by their post-modern children, were notorious for “angel jokes.”  Nobody in the scholarly world makes these jokes any more, although the genre has lingered on in politically correct late night television.  The jokes were never really about angels but about people stupid enough to believe in them.  Correspondingly, it is one of our blessings that we have been liberated from fake Christianity and the equally fake Botticelli angels which once guarded the ceilings of the Western imagination.  Today there are those among us who have recovered what the Apostle Jude called “respect”… acknowledging that angels (divine or fallen) are beings of numinous terror and the question of how many can dance on the head of a pin, whether capable of any ultimate solution, can again be posed in earnest.

Indeed, that is precisely the question that Mr. Wilcezk and his scientific mentors are asking, albeit without recognizing the question itself.  If they don’t actually pose the question in its angelic form, it is not on account of any lack of intelligence on the part of their own tiny souls.  Rather, as in the words of the pop song, they have been blinded by science, big science.  The blindness is so comprehensive that even when Mr. Wilczek and his like summon up the courage to “think small” big science tricks them down a false path, just as it did back in the days of that Cartesian rationalism which we now consider transparently false.

The alien vs. the spiritual

The trick which late modernity fell for was the substitution of extra-terrestrials for the extra-corporeal.  Big science could get away with this ruse due to its very bigness.  Similar to big banking, big science has managed cause inflation, not of the currency, but the cosmos.  The accelerated expansion of the nebular hypothesis, dogmatically expressed by LaPlace and Kant in the 18th century, has today inflated into a cosmos so enormous that it can no longer satisfy the gnostic aspirations of its designers.   The increasingly empty universe which first destroyed geocentric humanism, now threatens, to the chagrin of Mr. Wilczek and his scientific betters, even the aliens.  Like the wheels within wheels of the Ptolemaic system, the bad infinity of modern astronomy is starting to show signs of internal contradiction and over-complexity.  The equivalent of currency collapse in the sphere of cosmology is likely to occur when it is realized that neither time nor space are substitutes for the primacy of personality.  Then the world will turn either magical or godly.

Either way, humanity will have to recognize that the world is a much more wonderful, and dangerous, place than the materialists were willing to admit.  The faithful, and those who have managed to escape deception, have known this since long ago.  We don’t need to pierce the canopy of outer space to search out alien intelligence.  Indeed, there are intelligent beings which always are seeking us out, beings smaller than a light-nanosecond, from arguably closer than a light-year.  Some will bear true light from true light.  Others otherwise.

This isn’t rocket science, but neither is it just words.  The coming deflation of cosmology and the revelation that personality, not time-space, is the primary substance, is something which is going to be very tangible.  It is something well underway, and understood intuitively by many people who are rejecting “big science.”  Unfortunately just rejecting science isn’t good enough.  Post modernists reject science, but often they substitute it with something even less substantial, with movements like the “literary turn.”  This is the same kind of turn that an ostrich performs when it turns its head down and plunges it into the sand.  The scientists themselves have never heard of this turn from science to literature.  They will never hear of it unless it affects their funding, which not likely to happen soon.  Until then the Frankensteins will just keep on frankensteining.

All souls are small but some are smaller than others

We ought to pray that our souls, though small, are not small in the wrong way.  Mr. Wilczek has alerted us, or rather anyone who needed to know, that the world might be the size of a thimble and yet be burgeoning with a myriad of civilizations.  Actually, he thinks it is much larger than a thimble, but the cat is out of the bag none the less.  A little further reflection will convince you that ideas like proximity and scale are equally negotiable, and soon you will be packing away your telescope and returning to your garden with your trowel and your soul.  At that point you will be prepared to encounter, not an extra-terrestrial, but an extra-corporeal.

However a word of caution is in order.  Small isn’t good, it is just small.  There is good small and bad small.  The good small is the real scientist, puttering in whatever restricted field providence has planted a tiny scientific soul, be it Mendel laboring at his bean-pods or Archimedes in his tub.  The good scientist does not seek to form a theory of everything.  The good scientist seeks to understand bats and butterflies, but not Being.  Being is not an object of study, it is a name of God.

So much for the good small.  As for the bad small, it is really too terrifying to commit to exact description.  Suffice to say that the the Garradine demoniac, restored to his right mind, probably knew more about it than anyone in recorded history.  He knew precisely how many entities could dance on a head… his own head.  The knowledge did not make him happy, let alone a great scientist.  He just happened to have the great fortune of being in the path of a perfect man who perfectly understood his condition.   The perfect man not only understood the condition, he cured it as well, and that without compensation.

The Greeks, with their imperfect understanding, called that act a sign of “magnaminity.”  In our language we could translate it as “great-souled.”  Of course there is no reference to physical scale implied.  None the less, it is comforting to know that there is a good big as well as a bad big.



Posted in Appologetics, Christianity, culture, Culture & Politics, History, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Science, Theology, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

American dark age: How did the Cold War Era change from history to politically correct mythology

Posted by nouspraktikon on February 18, 2018

Rightly dividing historical periods

Schopenhauer said that the world exists as our representation.  No where is this more true than in the field of history. Yet God has not shared with humanity His prerogative of creation-from-nothing rather, even in the world of fiction we are but sub-creators, building our worlds up from the elements of thought and language with which our Creator has endowed us.  Moving beyond fiction we come to history and journalism, where we may bring our narrative style to the table of fact, but we are forbidden to create fables.  None the less, the falsification of history by a sinful humanity is ubiquitous to the point that even the best  chronicles contain a great deal of myth.   Contrary to the expectations of the Enlightenment, this promiscuous myth-building has not been dispelled by the dawn of scientific historiography or the rise of quantitative methods in the social sciences.  Rather, increased sophistication of technique has led only to larger and more comprehensive myths.

As Jaques Elul would no doubt reminds us, we have long since passed through the ominous portals of the Propaganda Age and are now deep into its final, most degenerate stage. And was it not another Frenchman, Malbranch, who assured us,

Fear not that I will lead you into a strange country

Perchance I will teach you that you are a stranger in your own country

Alas, and passing strange would it be if this very America that we claim to know and love is little more than a tissue of myths held up for our mental adoration.   Yet that is the very claim of those who are generously denominated “the left”…those who have reduced the early history of Anglo-America to little more than caracature, a semi-comic tableau of Delaware crossings, cherry tree choppings, of log cabins and caps made from the fur of raccoons.  Against this bathos they juxtapose the high seriousness of critical history, with terse chronicles of minorities and women struggling for various quanta of equality along a variety of indicators.  In all this struggle between the comic and the tragic side of American history, the left fails to tell us that it is they, not conservatives, who are really teaching us only the expurgated and trite Classics, and that we are not supposed to raise any embarrassing questions about the origins of our actual social order, not quite the ominous “New World Order” but the socialized American order, one settling into a cantankerous middle age.

This is quite marvelous, since we are forever hearing that the left is the sworn enemy of Classicism, and champions of the raw, the real, and the contemporary.  Yet the truth is almost the exact opposite.  The left is loath to depart from the most ancient and shop worn narratives of early America.   It avoids talking about recent times, at least anything which is genuinely novel, except where it can find some narrative continuity with the corrupted remains of the ancients.  I know that this sounds paradoxical to the point of incredulity, but you will find that it is true if you can see history, and historiography, with new eyes.  The key to this paradox is simple.  The left only wants to talk about those periods of American history prior to the left’s complicity in establishing the present regime.  Everything after this establishment is taboo, while everything before the present regime is seen through a standard narrative, a new Classicism where America plays the same part that Rome did in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.

Finding a starting point

Dredging up facts is the herculean task of journalism, not history.  For history the great work is establishing the correct boundaries between eras which differ in their essential characteristics.  The standard narrative of American history has not been mythologized through the inclusion of false facts, plentiful as such errors might be.  Primarily, history has been mythologized because the boundary markers between different regimes have either been moved, or were never clearly demarcated to begin with.  It is the very chronological framework which has been tampered with, and false facts have only been introduced where they have been required to shore up a fictional framework.

The idea that there have been fundamentally different regimes operating underneath the legal and symbolic superstructure of American history, while hardly the staple of public school history, is a reality tacitly acknowledged by historians of various political ilks, all of whom can hardly be brushed away as eccentric or biased.  A good synoptic vision of America’s saga through tacit regime change can be found on the website (  http://www.friesian.com/presiden.htm#new ) of neo-Kantian philosopher Kelley Ross, where he refers to the First (1789-1860) Second (1861-1933) and Third (1934-present) Republics, which to any historically educated mind recalls the similar sounding, but standard, divisions of French political chronology.  Of course the reason this kind of division is non-standard for American history, reflects a situation where each of the “republics” in question did not, as in the case of France, originate through the public proclamation of a new constitution.

Admittedly,  the idea of constitutional emendation crops up during and immediately after the Civil War of 1861-1865, endowing the “Second Republic”with three amendments pertaining to slavery, citizenship, and civil rights.  Conversely, the onset of the third regime, dating from 1934, exhibits no explicit change whatsoever in the organic foundation of the American state.  The legal framework remains fundamentally the same as that promulgated in the Constitution of 1787, but the  interpretation and application of that framework is fitted to an entirely new understanding of governance and policy.  Therefore, this third change in regime was not so much a change in the laws as a transition from legal to post-legal norms of social governance.

Garet Garrett, journalist and political commentator, coined the phrase “revolution within the form” to describe the political transition beginning in 1934.  As per the above, the constitutional form was retained, giving all subsequent political life in America a duplicitous flavor, since there was, even at the level of ideas, a double standard of constitutional standards and policy goals, a duplicity qualitatively different from the corruption of moral and legal norms which characterize all political systems to one degree or another.  Unlike “corruption”, i.e., evasion of public morality, there were now two established but competing systems of public morality.

To Garet Garrett’s mind this “revolution within the form” was a veritable coup d’etat against the constitution.  However he was singularly unsuccessful in convincing his compatriots and contemporaries that a genuine regime change had been effected.  Hindsight has vindicated Garrett, but at the time there were a number of factors which rendered this regime change opaque.  I refer to factors other than the popularity of the New Deal, and that many felt it to be both a boon to the American people and in their own advantage.  Rather, those who opposed the New Deal rarely saw its revolutionary character.

There were a number of reasons for this, beginning with the relative ease with which the  New Deal revolution was commenced.  It seemed to be a revolution accomplished almost entirely without violence, commendable at first blush, but serving to desensitize the public to the magnitude of the changes which were being worked on the body politic.   Furthermore, the ways in which the new managerial state differed from a constitutional republic were obscure to the public.  It was not immediately apparent that the combination of legislative/judicial/executive functions within the “alphabet agencies” were at fundamental variance to the principles of classical liberalism and the separation of powers.

Change in parties vs. regime change

However the most important reason why the public was not alarmed at the occurrence of regime change in 20th century America was due to the conflation of two qualitatively different processes, change in parties within a parliamentary republic, and regime change.  The latter was made to look like an instance of the first, and more over, was dragged out  over such a long period of time that the process looked legitimate and moderate.

When we take a slice out of time and see party X (supposedly committed to ideology A) and party Y (supposedly committed to ideology B) iterate between themselves, it is electoral politics, in all its glory and/or shame.  However when we take two slices of time and see that, at time T1 party X was espousing ideology A and party Y advocating ideology A’, and at time T2 party X is now espousing ideology B and party Y is advocating ideology B’ we know that sometime between T1 and T2 regime change has occurred.   The problem is that it may be hard to locate the precise moment when this happened, since the process is likely to have been both covert and insidious.  Certainly this is what we see in the extra-constitutional evolution of the body politic in the United States.

Not for Americans the Gallic clarity of having a “Second Empire” or a “Third Republic”, or a historical deluge marked by barricades and clarion voices chanting the Marseilles.  Rather, it is as if we wanted to be tricked into our future, without either violence (commendable) or deliberation (lamentable).    Perhaps two theories, both inherited from perfidious Albion, explain this susceptibility to “revolution within the form”: Whig history and Darwinism, which are just the natural and political sides of one potent thought, both internally coherent and morally ambiguous, if not catastrophic.  For those convinced that change is both incremental and beneficial, there seems no compelling reason to set boundaries or limits to anything.  This is particularly obvious with regard to legislation, since continuously sitting legislatures guarantee that there will always be more statutes, not fewer, until the very notion of laws becomes too complex for the human mind and everything defaults to judicial fiat.  Hence there can be no such thing as regime change, even if moral day turns to immoral night, since all variations are points along a continuum.

The War Against Clarity

None the less, a good case can be made that the era of regime change, that is,change into the political system that we know and love (or love to loath) happened sometime early in what we call “the cold war.”  We might even accept the nomenclature of Dr. Ross and call ours a Third Republic, and yet dispute his identification of 1934 and the start of the New Deal with the start of a new regime.   During the 30s and 40s there was still an opposition to the New Deal, which maintained its status as a partisan ideology.  Only in the 1950s did the New Deal (as substance, not slogan) become the actual regime.  This is because the old Right, largely the Republican party, maintained its stance of opposition.  Granted the opposition was sporadic and not particularly effective.  However there was still some unknown quanta of potential energy stored up in the opposition, and the hopes and fears of those alive at the time were limited by the thought that the hammer would drop and the normality which had existed before the depression and the war would be restored.  After the election of Eisenhower the kinetic energy of this dream had been expended, and it quickly became apparent that bureaucratic centralism was the new normal.

The “Cold War” is in some sense a misnomer.  First if all, it contained within its ambit a number of very large-scale hot wars.  However it was also a kind of dark age, in the sense that it was a time of multiple contradictory narratives which entwined in such a way as to mutually invalidate one another.  Following upon WWII, the American people had gotten used to conditions of censorship in the media and the public square.  The half-light of a cold war prolonged the obscurity, and lowered public, and even Congressional, expectations of executive transparency.  Those elements of the left which remained embedded in the government continued their duplicity, which may be taken as a constant.  More salient was the failure of the conservatives at the time to understand the situation with any degree of clarity.  On the whole they seem to have been incensed by the threat of foreign operatives, and unwilling to see that there were flaws in the  body politic which automatically generated leftward drift.

It all depends on what you mean by “was” was

As Garet Garrett famously noted in the 50s that “the revolution was” and the republic of Lincoln had long since been supplanted by the social democracy of Roosevelt by the cold war.  Furthermore the social democracy and the national security state were essentially the same organism, continuing the apparatus used to fight the depression and WWII into the Truman years, and then normalized by Eisenhower.

The Old Right of the time was powerless to do much more than react with righteous indignation at the post-Constitutional character of the new order.  Part of this was due to a lack of developed economic and historical doctrines on a par with the seemingly sophisticated Marxist system.  Granted, a renaissance in conservative thinking was well underway, first popularized by the publication of F. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom in 1944.  However these findings, notably those of Austrian economics, were still ill-digested among conservative politicians and poorly propagated within society.  As a result conservatives gazed outward at the Soviet threat, and their program was easily confused with that of the national security bureaucracy.  Initially, these were two distinct tendencies, and only later would a political ideology arise (neoconservatism) where they merged.  Moral consistency and concern for the rule of law were largely restricted to anti-communist investigations, and even this was dampened down after the demise of McCarthy.

Hence Social Democracy had crept in over the objections of the Old Right, and even over the will of the American people to replace a Democratic administration with a Republican one.  However, if we can epitomize those Old Right objections according to the understanding of Garet Garrett, that “the revolution was” we are left with an enigmatic doctrine of history, one that is conspiratorial in the pejorative sense of the word.  This would be the notion that, through a ruse, the government had been cunningly usurped by social democrats in 1934.  That was the best historiography that most conservatives could muster in the 1950s.

Now that was certainly a true thesis as far as it went, it is just that it didn’t go back far enough, either in terms of chronology or causation.  In fact the Great Depression, long presumed to be the socio-economic Big Bang which necessitated the New Deal, in fact had antecedent causes in the policies followed by central bankers.  American central bankers were, in turn, creatures of the Federal Reserve Act (1913) which was in turn the outcome of a confluence of interests between the Trusts and the legislators of the Populist era.  Contrary to Garrett, this was an era in which both the constitutional form and the social substance changed.

So how many revolutions does that leave us with?  Well, following on the Civil War we have the Progressive era as our Third Republic.  Thus we must revise the scheme of Dr. Ross and rename the New Deal, and all subsequent to 1934, the “Fourth Republic.”  Nothing has really changed since then in terms of the extra-constitutional organization of the state.  The significance of the 1950s is that this was period in which reorganizations of America’s system of governance (not necessarily something sinister in itself) was surreptitiously and, as it were, retroactively codified into regime changes.

Propaganda, then and ever since

This metamorphosis of America’s history, from the story of constitutional development to the story of extra-constitutional evolution, is an artifact of the Propaganda Age, whose unstated goal is to remove from the population its capacity to rationally articulate the basis of the commonwealth in an objective social contract.  This inability has, as one of its major consequences, an incapacity to distinguish between licit behavior and criminality.  What then, is this “propaganda” this potent elixir which is deemed capable of thrusting civilizations back into a state of nature?

Ellul informs us that this vaunted “propaganda” is nothing more than “technique.”  Not all technique is propaganda, but all propaganda is technique.  Specifically, the technique of persuading populations to concerted opinion and action.  The replacement of contract with propaganda as the major bond of society is correlated with the replacement of principles by psychology.  We see the effects of this in the postmodern world with the increased emphasis on feelings at the expense of facts, particularly in educational contexts.

However this is only the consequence, of which propaganda is the cause.  The early 21st century is no more propaganda-driven than were the 1950s, at which time the process had already attained full-throttle.  The cold warriors found themselves in the middle of this syndrome, and not just on account of the bitter American-Soviet rivalry.  Due to the perceived necessity of bureaucracies to protect themselves and the ongoing alarms of perpetual war, information restriction and manipulation became normalized, with consequences too far ranging to be mentioned in a short essay.

Here I only note that the most important consequence of this fostered ignorance was the retrospective understanding of America’s history itself, which ceased to be the clear outline of a constitutional republic, but the narrative of a democracy in which the popular will was constantly engaged in social metamorphosis.  From a progressive point of view this is a good thing, and of course we are not arguing about that here, since there can be no dispute over first principles.  However what can be stated without argument is that the normalization of this “progressive” viewpoint was attained through propaganda, or the substitution of objective cognition by emotional manipulation.  Clarity was the first casualty.

Political Mythos or Political Logos: The Ultimate Significance

If the principle of the rule of law is to have any meaning then the operations of government must be deduced, if not to philosophical premises, then at least to an original law-establishing covenant.  There must be an unbreached historical and legislative continuity from the moment of the covenant to the present moment of application.  If we focus on the moment of the covenant, through promulgation or revelation, the regime in question has a revolutionary legitimacy.  If we focus on the transmission, through time and legal deduction, then the regime has a traditional legitimacy.  Actually, revolutionary and traditional legitimacy are two sides of the same coin.  One might even venture that it doesn’t matter so much if the American regime was established in 1776, or 1787, or 1865, or 1913, or 1934, provided we can all agree on a starting point and then deduce the proper moral, judicial, and legislative applications for the present.

However this rational model of statecraft has ceased to be salient ever since we have entered into the Age of Propaganda.  Propaganda is not concerned with truth but with the power of information, be it true or false information, to control the commanding heights of society.  Hence in order to establish a propaganda regime it is necessary to obstruct any logical regression of current policy back to first principles.  Is it not fairly clear that something like this has been going on in America ever since the middle of the twentieth century?  Moreover this was not the predetermined outcome of technological development, but a consequence of the government’s vastly increased responsibility over welfare and warfare, responsibilities which required control over both the dissemination and restriction of information.

This is why even people who enjoy the study of American history are inclined to skip over the cold war.  It is, by very definition, a period of collective “black out” after which the body politic wakes up in a strange bed, forced to reorient and go on as well as possible.  The way back to any possible Age of Reason is blocked by multiple taboos, “McCarthyism” and whatnot, guarding the  historical rupture with all the assiduity of cherubs policing the portals of Eden.

Of course there are those, including Ellul himself, who suppose the  political Age of Reason, to be itself a myth.  Ellul bases his view on an argument that both reason and propaganda are the morally indifferent contraries of grace.  However this is theological meat too gristly for the children’s table, and since here we are dealing with simpletons, politicians and policies, I will leave the topic for future discussion.  Rather, let us suppose that it is better to persuade people with reason than to manipulate their desires.  Let us suppose that while Thomas Jefferson and Karl Marx were equally sinners there was a significant difference in their policies.  Let us suppose that there is a logos, a fundamental sense of justice, or what C.S.Lewis called a “tao” innate in natural humanity which, while but the shadow of grace, still merits consideration and preservation.

On the basis of such principles, however endangered, conservatives and libertarians may go back and declare that the “revolutions” of 1913 and 1934 were deviations from correct constitutional practice, and anticipate a future restoration.  To that end it is imperative for historical investigators to penetrate the dense ideological, policy, and social fog of the cold war era, in the prospect of finding a genuine logos behind the standard mythos.


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

“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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Why do the heathen rage? In part, the futility of futurity.

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 31, 2018

Of time and the river

Why do the heathen rage

against God and his anointed? (Psalm 2)

Time is a slippery thing, it gets away from you quickly.  None the less, in our minds we attempt to catch it, pinning moments of time down the way a collector sticks a pin through a rare specimen of papillonoidia.   Time is the last thing we are likely to think of since it is a ubiquitous river in which we float, swim, or sink.  Economists talk about time-preference.  People who value the enjoyment of present time often wind up as debtors to those who value the goods of future time.  The moralists have a great deal to say about this, which is of value to those who would be prudent.  All other things being equal, as the economists are wont to say, planning is a very good thing for families, firms, and fellowships.

Social planning is a different matter.  I have in mind the great five, ten, fifteen, and twenty year plans of the Soviet Union.  These were plans drawn up by politicians, technicians, and engineers and imposed on people who had scant notion of what they were being drafted into.  They were great leaps forward which inevitably landed flat on their face.  The failure of these grandiose plans often led to want, starvation and death.  We look back at this kind of 20th century socialist experiment with the same kind of detached historical curiosity with which we gaze upon the cuneiform records of the Assyrian conquests.   The Age of the Soviet Planner has become a byword for past iniquity, and so we shudder and exit the museum, grateful that we are no longer blighted by the ancient curse.  Except that the death of Total Social Planning has been greatly exaggerated.  It did not depart on the last comet for oblivion but remains among us, incognito but in plain sight, and arguably stronger than ever.

The Christian and the Magical view of time

These thoughts came to me as I watched the gnashing of teeth by the Democrats during the President’s State of the Union message.  It is frequently observed that many on the left have been driven mad since the last election.  What is driving them mad and who (if anybody) is in the driver’s seat remain open questions.  I don’t seek to exonerate the President or the Republicans, who are far from perfect, but when I look at the emotional reaction of their opponents, I smell a whiff of some far deeper mystery, a mystery of malice and iniquity…and my hunch is that it has something to do with different attitudes which mortals can take towards that one medium in which we are all embedded…time itself.

The pagan world, the world outside the gospel, is fatally divided on the subject of time.  Indeed, what divides pagans is the notion of “fate” itself.  Throughout the millennia fate has served as the high god of the wretched.  Whether in the field or in the kitchen, they knew that their mumbled invocations, however sincere, were ultimately impotent to break the chains of the celestial powers-that-be.  Thus they trudged obediently through the corridors of time from birth to grave for countless generations, alternately blessing and cursing their stars, but always knowing them to be immobile.

Against this universal fatalism arose the select company of the magicians.  Originating in the dazzling enchantments of the East, but reborn (hence “renaissance”) around the 15th century in Western Europe, they sought to break the high edicts of fate through a combination of science and alliance with lesser, presumably manipulable, gods.  Perhaps in the beginning the magicians just wanted to wrest more of the good things of life from the hands of fate itself, more love, more wealth, more health and ultimately an unlimited amount of time on Earth, a false immortality. Understandable, albeit futile, goals.

Insidiously, this program of self-betterment was transmuted into an agenda for dethroning fate and establishing total control over reality by an elite.  I cannot say whether Giordanno Bruno was the last of the old magicians and Francis Bacon was the first of the new order, but the emphasis gradually switched from the individual and the eccentric, to the orderly and the planned.  However the goal remained the same, to hammer the edicts of fate into the instruments of a chosen destiny.

What a difference there is between the Christian and the magical view of time!  So different that the magician will sneer at the gospel and claim that the whole system of Christianity is just a variation on the old idea of fate.  Indeed, the Christian is taught to be humble, to “wait on the Lord” and to be patient.  However this is not fatalism.  Rather we have the supreme magician on our side, Jesus, who has broken the celestial powers of fate and rewritten our stories with the happiest possible ending.  The Christian remains inside of time, but trusts that there is a Power far above either the edicts of fate or the wiles of the magicians.  In the meantime, the Christian should not be too interested in predicting the distant future, or determining social outcomes with quantitative precision.  The future belongs to the Lord.

Of men and women, time and monuments

So we return to the present, since (apart from prophecy which is a different subject) the future is not ours to see.  However there is no prohibition against knowing the past.  In fact, one of the most common criticisms that Christians encounter runs “why are you always sticking your nose into that ‘old book’ [a.k.a., the Bible]” Indeed, the Christian is not just allowed, but enjoined, to study the past.  However this study comes with the admonition that “there is nothing new under the sun.”  In other words we study the past in order to understand human nature, not to change human nature.  Thus throughout history we see men and women engaging in complementary roles, even though the content of these roles may alternate given variations in technology, environment, region and epoch.   However we never see men turning into women or women turning into men.  Or rather, when we see these things happening we know that we are dealing with fables, like Ovid’s Metamorphosis.  As we mature in our study of the past we gradually sharpen our ability to distinguish fact from fable, and notice that magic is subject to severe limitations.  For,

It is he who has made us, and not we ourselves (Psalm 100)

Today very few people, outside of entertainment and the occult, would describe themselves as magicians.  Even fewer would fess up to being social planners in the grand Soviet sense of the word.  Simply because the word is not used doesn’t mean the thing itself has vanished.  The thing itself wants us to think that it has vanished.  However sometimes there are slip ups when we can see the ugly shadow of the thing itself.

I told you that I saw the shadow of the thing itself on the faces of the Democrats at the State of the Union message.  Not that those Democrats are any worse sinners than you or I, but in this instance the shadow of an ugly spirit possessed them.  Why?  Well, during the last election time had come to a certain juncture, and the train of events went off on the right rail rather than the left rail.  People talk about “parallel universes” which is bad science but a good metaphor here.  Those Democrats felt themselves hurtling down the wrong branch of a parallel universe which they hadn’t bargained for.  It wasn’t that they were angry at a man named Donald J. Trump.  Of course they were, but only superficially.  The real source of their anger was far deeper…they were losing their religion.  They had lost control of time itself.

To speak of human beings “losing control of time itself” seems like a lunatic notion.  I doubt that any of the Democrats grinding their teeth in the chambers actually thought they were personally in control of future history.  Rather, they were the hitherto happy minions of persons or beings who had mapped out a line of events far into the horizon of futurity.  That future had a palpable reality for them, and the destruction of those future mile stones was as disorienting as pulling down a beloved monument to the Founders would be to us.  Hence the madness.

No, we conservatives don’t worship the past, we just respect it.  When we raise our Ebenezer stones it is to memorialize the blessings which we have received in the past, and it is the Lord and giver of the blessings whom we honor.  However there are those who actually worship the future, and try to tie it down to a certain destiny.  I have not been there myself, but I have heard that on a desolate patch of soil in the state of Georgia, a monument to future events has been raised.  You might consider that an uncanny thing, but mental monuments to an uncertain future are endemic to our present society, and capable, when disturbed, of driving people to desperation.   I don’t know of any remedy to this epidemic other than a gradual and delicate reeducation, unless it were prayer.



Posted in Appologetics, Conspriacy Theory, Constitution, Culture & Politics, Esoterism, Law, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The case against Space

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 7, 2018

Losing my religion?

Space is a hoax!

I don’t mean that Apollo 11 and the others didn’t go to the Moon.   I’m quite sure they did, and although I can’t prove it, nobody can prove the contrary.  Sure, we all know that it is harder to prove the non-existence of a nothing-burger than a fistful of factual fries, but clearly, even the best (non-rocket) shots of the Apollo skeptics miss their target by a wide margin.  By far the most salient objection to the historical reality of the Moon landings is the supposed impossibility of passing through the Van Allen radiation belts.  Although these ugly belts (which actually make life on Earth safe from cosmic rays) conjure up grotesque images of astronauts being zapped into zombies, they are actually pretty easy to navigate, once the ballistics of trans-orbital insertion has been mastered.  Granted the belts are not very good to lounge around for any considerable duration, which is why the International Space Station and similar ventures always park themselves at disappointing altitudes like 200 miles above Earth.  However the Apollo rocket was able to zip through the belts before the astronauts got zapped through the guts, at least by anything close to a lethal dose.  And from an engineering point of view, it was actually easier for the vacuum-tube technology of the 1960s to traverse the belts than for the sensitive circuitry of the 21st century to endure cosmic bombardment.  Even down on the ground, our cell phones, TV remotes, bluetooth interface and other devices, the more intelligent they seem, the more they seem to go haywire.  Back then,  they had safety brakes called “retro-rockets” and it seems that when it comes to rocket science, retro often rules!

Oh yeah, and there is all that suspicious photography.  I still can’t figure out what made the American flag flap in a vacuum, but I am sure some future genius will figure it out.  To me, a far greater enigma would be some sort of omnipotent gag rule which prevented tens of thousands of NASA and affiliated personnel from leaking the hoax of the millennium.  Furthermore, it would be a sad comment on some of the most intelligent and heroic persons in our nation’s history if they had been secretly recruited into a conspiracy to hoax the public.  These persons, the engineers, scientists, technicians, support staff, and (most importantly) the astronauts themselves, were the cream of American society in the ’60s and early ’70s.  Whatever their failings as sinful human beings might have been this didn’t extend to such a gross crime as faking a Moon shot.

None the less, while the astronauts and their support team did their jobs superbly well, like anyone else they were not necessarily happy with the way their “shop” was run.  With the termination of the glamorous Apollo space program they were “rotated out.”  In other words, they lost their jobs on a massive scale.  Today, those of us struggling between the heroic official narrative and the inverted narrative of the Apollo deniers have to be willing to lose something more than a job, we have to be willing to lose our religion, the Religion of Space.  This is hard, because the Religion of Space is one of the most beautiful and compelling myths ever to be hatched from the minds of men or demons.  Let me elaborate on that.

Misdirection more powerful than any hoax

Even though the Apollo astronauts really did go to the Moon (albeit Apollo 13 only orbited, not land) the space program of the 1960s was in essence a grand illusion.  Subsequent programs have also been illusory, albeit progressively diminished from the grand gesture of the Moon landings.  That those landings had a palpable reality adds, rather than subtracts, from the illusion.

Consider stage magic.  A magician might draw the attention of her audience to an egg in her right hand while concealing a bird under her left sleeve, ready to be produced as “the prestige” i.e.,the reappearance of something which had mysteriously vanished.  Now does the egg itself have to be illusory?  Certainly not, and in fact a tangible egg is all the better, since its function is to misdirect the attention of the audience from the bird.  Likewise, the space program has accomplished actual feats of engineering and events in space.  However it has seldom (even today, and certainly in the 1960s)  been motivated by any intrinsic scientific or economic benefit.  Rather, it has functioned as propaganda for a hidden political order.  Much like the misdirecting egg in the hand of the magician, the space program has managed to draw attention away from affairs on Earth which were thought best unnoticed.

Thus have our eyes been drawn towards the Heavens.  Compare the space program to the Bible.  Perhaps 2% (being very generous!) of the Biblical narration consists of scenes which take place in the courtyards of the Lord.  For example, there is the famous audience of Satan with God at the beginning of the Book of Job, and a few other passages scattered throughout scripture, which leaves  98% of the action to occur on planet Earth.  Indeed, the Bible is an anthropology book written by God, not a theology book written by men.  Since the Bible is intended to enlighten us, it  draws our attention towards those matters which ought to be of most concern to us.  Thus there is mention of angels in the Bible, enough to let us know that angels exist and have importance, both to our persons and in the history of the world.  However those individuals who have sought to major in “Angelology” often express frustration at the lack of information provided by scripture, and eventually resort to extra-canonical sources.

Hell on Earth and Pie in the Sky…circa 1957

The Cold War was a kind of hell on Earth, a hell with which historical accounts have never been adequately settled.  Of course, as General Grant famously said, (hot) war is  hell, however the Cold War had certain peculiar characteristics, for in addition to circumscribing a number of actual hot wars, it raised the level of political duplicity to heights perhaps unparalleled in the history of civilization.  If the general run of American citizens had possessed both discernment and adequate information, and they had access to neither, they might have sensed something sinister in the zeitgeist…left wing Western elites professing opposition to Communism, joined in semi- (or perchance pseudo-) conflict with right wing Eastern elites professing opposition to Capitalism.  These battle lines, or lack thereof, were fundamentally at variance with the narrative which represented the acceptable limits of opinion for the ordinary citizen, a narrative in which the American government was supposed to be a sincere advocate, on a global scale, of freedom along the lines represented by its Founders.  Actually, though the fearful motifs of the Cold war were ubiquitous throughout the 1950s and early 60s, sustained meditation on the topic was tacitly discouraged.  It was just part of the atmosphere, something not to be analyzed.   Then as now, there were plenty of distractions, from music to movies to sports to humor…but the situation was so grave that mere distraction was insufficient.  What was needed was misdirection, and misdirection on that order of magnitude required nothing less than a new religion.

“Sputnick,” the first man-made satellite, provided the new gospel with a convenient incarnation, an orbiting spermatozoon launched by the spirit of Antichrist.  After a moment of terror, it impregnated the American consciousness,  eliciting admiration, and more importantly, emulation.  Suddenly, the Religion of Space, which had been little more than a cult of Russian rocketeers and futurists dating back to the early 1900s, acquired a mass following in America.   It broke in at an opportune time, when political sleight of hand was gestating what we today call “the deep state” and when the traditional Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism of America had lost their unifying power.  Americans at last had something which would provide them with a rallying point.  Not something negative like anti-Russian xenophobia, but something they could be proud of, something daring, and something which prolonged the traditions of manifest destiny all the way to infinity…a “new fronteer.”

A god which failed

If the Apollo moon landings had been a hoax, they would have been much more cost-effective.  For better or worse, they were for real, and drained a vast amount of revenue from the federal government at the time.  By any objective measurement, it was a colossal waste.  However values are not objective.  The value of a national religion, one which persisted throughout the otherwise factious 60s, was incalculable.

Furthermore, affection for the religion was not feigned.  I know because I was one of the more fanatical followers myself.  Even after official support for the faith had been withdrawn, it experienced a major revival during the late 70s, with the “O’Neel concept” of artificial habitats in space.  Leading the charge was the arch-hippy Timothy O’Leary,  for whom psychotropic chemicals were but an entrance drug to the stronger and more addictive Religion of Space.  However time and tragedy took their toll on the faithful, until the Religion of Space dwindled to what it is today, a minor cult within the pantheon of the 21st century’s secular gods.  On a positive note, space is at last becoming a legitimate industry, with sustained revenues flowing from essential services.  That holds true especially for near space, however the further out in the cosmos one goes, the more likely that the old religious mentality will cling to a project, the latest refuge of dream-mongering scoundrels being…drum-roll….Mars.

In retrospect, the period from 1957 to the mid-70s of the last century witnessed a dislocation of America’s social consciousness, not dissimilar to the dislocation created by the events of 9/11 post-2001.  However there were significant differences.  The shock of Sputnick was not altogether unpleasant.  Rather, it combined on the one hand numenous terror with, on the other, an almost erotic desire for rapture, the essential components of all religious feeling.  It was remarkably effective for many years, then, like a drug, it wore off.  Most people barely noticed its disappearance, but others, addicted to space, fought against the powers that be to reinstate the “new fronteer” on something like its 1960s scale.  To no avail.

The moon landing denial movement, though bizarre in its claims, is perhaps the final stage in the extinction of the Religion of Space, at least in its classic 1960s form.  As with any broken trust, the victim lashes out in hostility to whatever has previously given life meaning…now exposed as a fraud.  In the case of space, not a literal fraud, and we can expect the garden to technology to continue its outward growth from the Earth.  None the less, the materialistic spirituality of the Religion of Space served the forces of corruption well, a story which is seldom grasped in its entirety.  The damage that it did was commensurate to the high ideals and daring that it exploited.




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Centers of Barbarism: An Architectural Parable for America’s Academic Apocalypse

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 20, 2017

Reverting to Pictures…and Structures

Words cannot describe, indeed, words are no longer permitted to describe, the tragedy of American higher education.  From beacons of light, freedom of thought and expression, edification, and religion, our universities have become Centers of Barbarism.  Today, the untutored thought of the average garage mechanic is likely to be more liberal, more sincere, more unprejudiced than the snarky chit-chat of today’s illiberal colleges of arts, and I might even venture, that the mechanic’s conversation is actually less “mechanical”  in terms of knee-jerk predictability.  With but a few rare exceptions, the American academy has become noxious, a parasite both dependent upon and poisoning society as a whole.

We are left speechless, which is the intent of the modern educators, namely, to destroy language and hence the capacity for thought.  What use is dialectical refutation when the evil a person tries to denounce is embraced through what Friedrich Nietzsche called “the trans-valuation of values.”  I show you the evil of your ways, you say that yesterday’s evil is now good, and rejoice.  As the expression goes, what can a person wash down their throat with when they are choking on water!

Indeed, how should we argue, we who are sworn against the evils of the times?  Well, perhaps when words become vain, pictures will suffice, for a timely parable will often quicken the spirit even while reason slumbers.  Sadly, but usefully, the Academic apocalypse has a material analogy, for the very stones cry out in an elegant revelation of our tragedy and its origin.  Anyone who strolls through an old, established, American campus can see this great tableau of moral and intellectual decline engraved on the monuments which have been erected by successive generations of scholars, students, and sundry souls.  I’m talking about buildings, or what the moderns and their post-modern heirs would call “the physical plant.”  There is good and bad architecture, and their correspondence to correlative moral epochs is no accident.

Physical light has always been the analogue of mental enlightenment.  Where do we see this amplification of light but in the architectural style exclusive to Western Europe and its outliers, the vertical  style of the great cathedrals of the middle ages.  Abbot Suger (France 12c.) put it best when he described the upward intensity of light leading the soul to the Father of Lights himself, an experience which was made available in the ancient “virtual reality” of stone and glass work, the “poor man’s bible” of the middle ages.  Yet this style has been stuck with the label “Gothic” since the late Renaissance, the Renaissance being the first attempt by Westerners to sweep their own past into the dustbin of history.  Originally the Gothic style had been called “French-work” from the epicenter out of which it spread over the civilized world.  Yes, I make bold to say, over that portion of the Earth which was then most civilized, an inescapable value judgement.   One can never avoid aesthetic judgments, and neither can one avoid moral judgements.  No two things are ever equal in value, least of all architectural style.

We may not agree on either our opinions or our nomenclature,  but the fact remains, some things (including buildings) are essentially barbaric, while other things are essentially civilized.  Note that on the surface, the advocates of multiculturalism seek to abolish the civilization/barbarism duality.  However in practice, even they cannot avoid valuation.  Rather, they now stigmatize Western Civilization as barbaric, even if the word “barbarism” is avoided to give the illusion of value-freedom.  The previous valuation has simply been inverted, with the non-West now being viewed as civilized in relation to the barbaric West.

Where have we seen this before?  We have seen it in the literal demonization of traditional Christian architecture ever since the late Renaissance.  It is called Gothic,  but  what does that mean?  To those who revived the classical architecture of pagan antiquity, Gothic meant barbaric, while to our contemporaries, “Goth” is something or someone dark, dangerous, perhaps even satanic.  In reality, the Goths were an ethic group, now vanished, who were migrating into Christendom, struggling, however inconsistently, towards the light.  They had nothing to do with the architectural style now called “Gothic.”  Therefore, even if we must conform to the accepted nomenclature and call this style Gothic, we must remember that it is the physical embodiment and symbol of civilization, while its critics (Islamic, classical, or modernist) are to varying degrees  barbarous.

As a preliminary exercise, let’s compare the Gothic cathedral of the middle ages and the mosque of the same era.  We will make a little gamble, and the winner will get to pick what we call “civilization”.  After all, we have to play the game fairly. If I maintain that there is always a preeminent civilization, and that all other cultures must be evaluated according to its standard, then we must entertain the possibility that this preeminent civilization is not the West, but some other culture on the face of the Earth.  The middle ages is an interesting case in point, for there are many sober and diligent scholars who claim that the Islamic world was the most advanced portion of the globe during the time span of roughly 1000-1500AD.  During this time, it is claimed, the Christian West declined into relative barbarism. Furthermore, this is is not just a sectarian dispute, since the thesis is upheld by many Christian and secular scholars as well as by, of course, most muslims.  If you are a philosopher and can judge the works of say, Averroes against those of, say, Aquinas, then perhaps you can form an educated opinion on the matter.  Most people can’t, so they need a “poor man’s bible”…a sensory object against which they can make an aesthetic judgement, and hence to the basis of a moral judgement.  An aesthetic judgment goes as follows “…yes, that is beautiful…but not as beautiful as this.”  Of course, aesthetic judgements may be wrong, and may even change as a person’s perception becomes more refined.

Now, compared to the barbarism of modern secular architecture, the classical Islamic mosque is beautiful indeed.  However compared to the Gothic cathedral, the mosque seems unoriginal, even boring.  The enthusiast for mosques will, at some point, try to diverge into the subject of ornamentation, however I want to stick with the fundamental structural principles characteristic of architectural styles.  The mosque (and yes, anything can be a mosque in a religious sense, I am talking about the typical mosque of the Near East during what we call the middle ages) was largely dependent on the architectural principles which had already been developed by the time of the late Roman empire.  Interior space had been enlarged by putting a dome upon four supporting walls, a feat made possible by the plasticity and strength of Roman concrete.  A prime example of this is Haggia Sophia in what was once Constantinople, now Istanbul.  One or more towers was added to this Roman design, and voila, we have a mosque.

The development of the Gothic Cathedral also started out on the basis of late Roman, or “Romanesque” architecture.  However the cathedral diverged from the Roman plan in a radical way that the mosque did not.  Height and interior space was enlarged by buttresses, and the ratio of building material to surface was minimized, making room for enormous, translucent, windows.  The salient point here is that while the Roman and Islamic form depended on material strength, the Gothic style solved the problems of height and space through pure geometry.  To put it in more prosaic terms, it was by structural engineering rather than by material engineering that the cathedrals were constructed.  The cathedrals did not spring up from the Earth, they were translated to their sites from the heavens of the mind.

I know that this sounds fanciful, but the builders and patrons of the cathedrals themselves saw their works not as mere constructions, but as the manifestations of pure geometrical forms, sometimes called Platonic Ideas, and being Christians, they believed that these Ideas were not naturally birthed in the minds of mortals, but rather needed to be quickened in their souls by the operation of the Holy Spirit.

From Gothic to Barbaric

The “Gothic cathedral” cannot be stuffed into a secularist pigeonhole called “religion.”   During the middle ages the cathedral was also a school, until it got too large and had to be moved into an annex and called a university.  Thus Gothic style and the Western academic tradition were coeval and indistinguishable.  One was the physical correlative of the other, but as we have seen, even the physical plant of the early academy was spiritual in both design and intent.

In contrast, the architecture of modernism reflects the fact that today’s academic system is, for the most part, a vast money-making and consciousness-molding machine.  To go into the details of the machine would be tedious, but simply to consider, in the eye of the mind, the structural principles which house the machine is  revealing.  The modern university consists mainly of large rectangular concrete blocks, devoted to residence, instruction, and administration.  The academic environment is marked off from the rest of the urban environment by greater uniformity of structure which creates a clean, almost antiseptic, space which is generally safe for both humans and their supporting devices.  There are also oblong temples for the body, called sports areas.  These arenas augment the otherwise soulless academic environment with a kind of spirit, ostensibly a clean spirit, though never quite the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit was not expelled from the academy in a single act of apostasy.  Here we are eschewing intellectual history, the insidious and multi-faceted rise of secularism, but rather would epitomize the fall of the West through the story of its monuments, the degeneration from Gothic, to neo-Classical, and finally the modern.  This was not a single line of development, but a surge of iterating movements, each adapting, rejecting, or ignoring the stage before it.  Originally there was no such thing as “academic Gothic”   for there was no separation between school and church,  and hardly any between the chapel and the quadrangle, the vertical and the horizontal Gothic.

The classical style was a step backwards, quenching the Spirit, yet initially it was the product of good intentions, a quest for purity.  Granted, the mental and material reformations were somewhat out of sync.  While Cranmer and Hooker both preached and studied in the Gothic halls of England, their American successors took up lodgings in the neo-Classical as soon as they could move out of log cabins.  Even Darwin was a Cambridge divine at first, and it took many decades before the acid of his thought was able to eat away at the stones which nurtured him.  It was in America where academic and ecclesiastical architecture first parted ways, but not for long, as the neo-Gothic movement surged back and captured the imagination of the romantic generations.   The enthusiasm for the old architecture soon infected the academic world, even though 19th century materialism had given secular studies a charter of independence from the church.  It was a revival in stone which mirrored the many spiritual and intellectual revivals of America’s new republic.

Despite the church bona fides of the neo-Classical style (eg., St. Paul’s of London) the Gothic revival arrived as a protest against secularism.  Is it too broad an accusation to claim that the neo-Classical was a secret portal to atheism?  We may esteem Jefferson and his practical design of Monticello, but the faith of Jefferson was that of an Epicure who admired Christianity from afar.  Neo-Classical was the style of the Puritan divines, but also of men who’s orthodoxy was less than pure.  The rational principles of Neo-Classical  architecture became embedded in the secret language of deists and occultists, and the building profession itself lent its name to a great secular fraternity which in some times and places has operated as a secret alternative to the church, even to this day.  In contrast to this modern Masonry, neo-Gothic raised the banner of that faith once delivered to the cathedral builders.

In American Gothic (the movement, not the painting!) one name stands out above all others.  It was Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942) who revolutionized, or perhaps we should say, “reactionized” American ecclesiastical architecture.  Yet this Gothic tsunami swept beyond the church and into the heart of American higher education, and without this revolution we would scarcely even have our stock image of “ivy covered halls.”  Apart from his church buildings, the palisades of Rice University (Texas) are usually considered Cram’s masterpiece.  It was with Cram’s style that, as a child living in a another university town, I grew up.

Whatever Cram’s faults (and he was more than a bit of a snob) he understood the essential principle, that the spirits of men must exist in harmonic resonance with their dwellings.  Cram, the arch-Goth of American architecture, imitated his Creator by placing a firmament between the ecclesiastical and academic applications of his art.  He understood that that the era of transcendence was past, and that the Man of the Earth had arrived.  Accordingly, when he designed Rice University he eschewed the vertical architecture which characterized his cathedrals.  A comparison of St. John the Divine and the Rice administration building gives a wordless testimony to how, even by the early 1900s, a half-way covenant had been made with secularism.  Rice is more Romanesque than Gothic, and indeed has a Moorish flavor about it, as if the Alhambra had been spirited off to Houston.   The temple of American learning remained a palpable temple, however it was no longer the First Temple, that of Solomon, but the Second Temple, that of the Idumeans and the Arabians.

It would seem that Cram, cathedral architect, had taken (or mistaken) modern scholars to be children of lesser gods, hence he stooped down to provide them with decent, if not uplifting, habitations.  The experiment worked, and for several generations thereafter it was possible to stroll along an academic porch and gently converse over the ideas of Nietzsche and Freud with the same tenor and consideration that one might grant to a reading of Jane Austen.  The eclectic architecture of the mid-20th century reflected a half-way covenant between civilization and barbarism, and indeed, it lasted so long that people began to mistake it for a genuine covenant, rather than a truce.

Insidiously, the corrosive ideas of modernity began to eat away at the stone, as each cohort of graduating scholars received a fainter imprint of the original Spirit which had animated Western learning.  A time came when it was thought suitable to construct buildings without any reference to antecedent human tradition, buildings which were smoothly operating machines designed for human habitation.  Such machines can be well oiled without being truly anointed.

I will not foster any hypotheses on you.  Did the minds make the buildings or the buildings make the minds?  I have my notions about efficient and final causes, but they are irrelevant here.  I am not interested in making arguments or “causing a scene” in front of those whom I would deem barbarians, those who have made civil discourse impossible.  Rather than my words, look at the scene itself, look at the bricks and the stones, and see if you can draw out their inner spirits.  Stroll through any college campus and look at the testimony of those monuments which speak softly of antiquity and modernity.  See when they were built, and imagine what kind of person would have constructed such an edifice.

Then use your own mind, use it like the staff that Moses used to strike the rock in the dessert.  You will find palpable truths written in stone, and discover that you have become an archeologist, a discoverer of the past, present, and possible future of Western civilization.  Not, “an” endangered civilization….but civilization, which is endangered.


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Three possible anthropologies: the Man, the Crowd, or the Battlefield

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 13, 2017

Christ, Durkheim, Marx

There are only three anthropologies (and here by an “anthropology” I mean what most people would call a “world-view”) which remain possible for the West as it vanishes into post-modernity 1)Christianity, 2)Positivism, and 3)Marxism.  It is not a choice between three men, since two of them, by their own admission, are dead.  It is a choice between one living man and two systems struggling for the loyalty of the world.  These three are irreconcilable, yet those people who once prided themselves, whatever their background, as “children of the West” generally tried, with varying degrees of success, to mix the three principles.  Here I just want to sketch their differences and send the reader off on a rewarding path of future research.  I think this is an important course correction for conservatives, since I have noticed that Marxism has come under under a more than sufficient amount of criticism.  I say amount rather than degree of criticism, since the depth of Marxian evil is difficult to overestimate.  However Marxism didn’t just break into the sanctuary of Western thought like a thief, carrying away the chalice of impeccable philosophy.   Long before the barbarians broke through the gates, the capitalist West had yoked itself to an ideology which was more than sufficient to destroy religion and morality.

That ideology was, and remains, the Positivism of Auguste Compte and his disciple Emile Durkheim.  Today Positivism is buffeted by the scathing winds of post-Modernity, and the uncritical observer might presume that its supporters had dwindled to a deplorable basket of geeks and nerds, eking out a troglodyte existence in the basements of Engineering departments and Physics laboratories, while pathetically awaiting replacement by their own robotic creations.  Yet while mechanistic materialism remains a distinctive legacy of Positivism, its influence within the social sciences is far more alive and important today, for it continues to shape the moral presuppositions of many who consider themselves sober, mainstream thinkers…even self-described conservatives.  And while the physical philosophy of Positivism has been outflanked by quantum theory, its sociology has only been enhanced by bureaucratic globalism.

When we hear the word “collectivism” we are apt to think of Karl Marx and his disciples, and in a rhetorical sense both the friends and foes of Communism have gotten a lot of mileage out of the term.  However it is Positivism, not Marxism, which has been the major source of Western collectivist ideology since the early 19th century.  It is Positivism, not Marx, which replaced God with Society as the ultimate object of fear, concern, and worship.  We must at least credit Marx with intellectual consistency, since he recognized that God was irreplaceable and that respect for anything, be it Human Society, the Earth, the Moon, or the Cow that jumped over it, would soon go out of vogue among a population of convinced atheists.

Positivism is nothing if not respectful.  We can briefly pass over the career of August Compte, since the man was a hopeless lunatic.  Most atheistic conservatives, while craving order and respect, are unwilling to enlist in an organized “Religion of Humanity” with an actual atheist pope (as per Compte himself!) or ritual postures of adoration towards women (theoretically, as the respected “bearers of Humanity” but in practice, Compte’s mistress playing the Virgin!).  Even gender feminism hasn’t quite gotten to demanding that!  Atheists, on the whole, just want to get rid of God, they don’t want an atheist church preaching morality and sentimentality.  They may, some future day, be coerced into joining something like an atheistic church, but they won’t join one voluntarily, as per Compte’s abortive experiment.  This is significant.

A generation after Compte, in order to divest Positivist ideology from its ridiculous cocoon of pseudo-Catholic ritualism,  Emile Durkheim founded the modern discipline of Sociology as a (supposedly) objective line of academic  inquiry.  Yet the core ideology, that religion is “Society worshiping itself” remained the guiding principle of this modernized Positivism.  This is the ideology of the group-mind, an ideology which no longer is likely to absorb the world into an atheistic variant of the Jesuit-Catholic church (in spite of the efforts of the present pope!) but which is implicit in the modern network of banks, bureaucrats, and the modern media.

Durkeheim saw 19th century society slouching towards what he termed an “organic” society.  In a surprising reversal of the usual technical nomenclature, he described traditional societies as “mechanical.”  In other words, they were societies which were built up of homogeneous blocks, families grouping together with similarly structured families to form communities, tribes grouping together with similarly structured tribes to form nations.  In contrast to this building block world, modern society is based on functionally different groups interlocking with each other to form wholes, much like an organism.  Thus the modern bond of social solidarity is actually stronger and more permanent than the traditional versions.  Tribe A and tribe B can separate (secession) but industry or profession A cannot separate from industry or profession B without collapsing the interdependent system.  Hence, whatever your feelings about today’s processed foods, modern society is intrinsically “organic” in Durkheim’s scheme of things.

From a Positivist point of view, even in lieu of a formal “Religion of Humanity” this increasing interdependence should create ever deepening harmony and unity of mind, albeit one person’s harmony and unity of mind is another person’s tyranny and death.  Dream or nightmare?  It largely depends on what one thinks about individual sovereignty in contrast to the efficiency of ever expanding spheres of collective responsibility.  For the collectivist, there is a spiritual release in surrendering the individual ego to the will of the crowd.

Marx, no lover of the individual, none the less thought he saw a flaw in the Positivist program.  Anti-religious to the core, the pseudo-Catholic regalia of early Positivism spurred him to ridicule.  Marx didn’t want to worship society, he wanted to destroy it, and replace it with something better.  He reasoned, correctly, that society, conceived as an aggregated whole, was illusory.  For Marx classes were the actualities lurking under the mask of “society.”  However Marx didn’t protest against one abstraction only to replace it with another, for he knew that “class” was just as much a mutable phantom as “society.”  Rather, the core of human reality, according to Marx, was conflict, an idea which he found robustly confirmed in the works of Darwin.  Love and harmony among or within a class or classes was not the object.  The object was war, class war.  For Marx there is no such thing as humanity in the abstract, there is only a battlefield called human history.

Can you see the trap into which the conservative, the moderate, the well wisher of humanity is likely to fall?  Sober and sensitive minds will exclaim, “Surely we cannot allow chaos to reign, we must return to order and harmony!”  Surely, but how?  “We must not let particular class-interests guide our actions, we must do everything for the good of society as a whole!”  Really?  But what is society?  It is a ghost, an abstraction…in short, it doesn’t exist!  None the less, this phantom of the social god, first hatched in the lunatic mind of Compte, has been clothed in scientific legitimacy since the time of Durkheim.  Today’s college graduates assume that society is a reality, and that it obliges us to do something, ether for it (conservative) or to it (radical).

Anyone who is seriously opposed to collectivism must recognize that collectivism antedates Marxism, and moreover that Marxism is a reaction to the collectivist notions of Positivist social science.  These two systems, Marxism and Positivism, are both hostile and irreconcilable.  None the less they reinforce each other, order breeding chaos and chaos breeding order.  Is there no way out of this ring of fire?

Well, here is a hint towards the way out.  Readers of my essays know that I am always talking about something called “anthropology” and that this “anthropology” means something very different from what most people think.  Neither Marxism nor Positivism have use for anthropology in this special sense, although they both recognize that there is an anthropoid species homo sapiens, which has somehow or other gotten control of affairs on planet Earth.  Hitherto this dominance over the planet has just been due to chance and good luck.  But now a self-conscious elite of planners is ready to take control.  For Positivists the planners are social scientists, for Marxists the planners are revolutionary agitators.  For the time being these planners are, or seem to be, members of the human species, but this is not essential.  In the future they may be machines, or spirits, or space aliens.  From a scientific perspective (either Marxist or Positivist) it doesn’t particularly matter, as long as someone is in control.

However there is also a third way, the way of Christianity, which is a genuinely anthropological way.  A hint that Christianity might not just be “a” way, but actually “the” way, is the manner in which it solves the problem of love.  In Christianity love is not just an abstract humanitarianism, it is manifest in the special love of individuals for other individuals.  From the point of view of both Positivism and Marxism, special love-relationships seem narrow and privileged.  Even humanitarianism must give way to love for the Earth, and ultimately the Universe.  The individual, from the point of view of Positivist science, is a small affair, and liable to be sacrificed on the alter of the greater good.  From the point of view of Marxism, the individual may be unknowingly evil or heroic, depending on where their fortunes fall in the bloody wars of the historical dialectic.  Only in Christianity is the individual, not just the species, conceived as the image of God.

This Christian view of the individual, as image-bearer, is attractive to many people who aren’t even professing Christians.  Indeed, the image-theory lingers in the minds of many who profess various scientific or revolutionary creeds, softening morals and manners, and making their adherence to Positivist or Marxist in-humanism inconsistent.  This phenomenon is what Alexander Soltzhenitsyn called “…the ever diminishing social capital inherited by the West from the Gospel.”  Today we are down to our last pennies.  To replenish that capital would require a revival, a return to the belief which engendered all the humane consequences of the Christian world-view.

Modern common sense tells us that anthropology (humanity) is included within ontology (the universe), not the other way around.  Whatever their disagreements Positivism and Marxism are of one accord in rejecting any special status for humanity in the cosmos.  There is no King except the momentary “king on the hill” of survival.  Therefore, as much as people might wish to return to the Christian world-view in order to experience the ethical benefits of living in a Christian society, there is a stumbling block which bars the way.  That stumbling block is a seeming absurdity.  In Christianity the divine essence incarnates in an individual, the individual saves the species, and the species saves the universe.  Why, this is virtually Darwin stood on his head!  Instead of mankind being inside the universe, the universe is, so to speak, inside a Man.  Most people find this grossly insulting to their common sense.  Rather, the Earthling is more willing to render assent to Carl Sagan’s expression “We are star-stuff.”  Better a lonely, dead universe, which can somehow be rendered romantic through poetry, than to risk a “leap of faith.”

Only those “in Christ” are likely to see the sanity of the alternative.

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Human Action as a treatise on Philosophical Anthropology

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 4, 2017

Human Action;  It’s not your college “Economics”…but what is it?

Anyone with even the slightest acquaintance with the works of Ludwig von Mises knows that, while his works deal with economics, his thought is distinguished by what might be called,  misleadingly, a “multidisciplinary” approach.  I say misleading because Mises doesn’t just wander into various fields of history and policy at random.  Rather, at least in his magnum opus, Human Action, von Mises bases his exposition of economics and other social phenomena on a level of abstraction far too general to be circumscribed within one particular field of the social, or better said, the human sciences.  Even the term “science” here is somewhat suspect as importing all sorts of positivist notions regarding predictability, measurability, and so forth.  Perhaps “human studies” is the broadest description of areas which Mises was wont to involve himself in.  If we were to find a single word equivalent to “human studies” then certainly Anthropology would be the most apt substitute.  Yet nobody calls Human Action a work of Anthropology.  Why?

Superficially, this is because Mises takes an implicit understanding of Classical Christian anthropology and develops it in the direction of what we call “economics.”  More fundamentally, it is because few people today would even recognize Classical Christian anthropology, especially when it manifests itself in the work of an author who neither professed Christianity nor was writing explicitly on anthropology.  After all, von Mises embraced all sorts of moral and intellectual tenants which comport poorly with the classical Christian world-view, such as evolution and (fortunately, non-quantifiable!) utilitarianism.  None the less, because von Mises was part of the broader Judeo-Christian tradition, the bedrock of Christian Anthropology frequently breaks through the surface exposition of his putative “economic” treatise.  However, you won’t see it if you don’t know what to look for, and it doesn’t help that this classical, or Christian, anthropology goes against the very grain of Modernist and Post-Modernist “common sense.”

While in most Modernist views the human race is little more than the end result of myriad material causes, in classical Christian anthropology, “Man” in the sense of a singular “Anthropos” is the principle behind the universe, from which, as “Word” or “Logos” all other realities proceed.  The entire framework of this classical anthropology can be summarized as a movement through four terms, as follows:  From the Anthropos proceeds the individual, from the individual proceeds the species, from the species proceed groups.  Elsewhere I will try to explicate the framework in more detail, here I want to show how it is manifested in such an unlikely place as von Mises’ treatise, Human Action.

Again, I don’t want to make von Mises into some sort of Christianizing Platonist, or deny that much of the content of Human Action is based on Neo-Kantian or utilitarian principles which are alien to the basic framework.  None the less, the classical framework manifests itself in the very organization of the work, as can be seen from the arrangement of the contents.  The organization of the work in seven parts actually can be reduced to four themes.  I have highlighted the ontological/anthropological categories which Mises seems to have in mind at the right hand column.

I. The ideal

  1. Action as human essence         pt. 1            Anthropos–>Individual
  2.  Society                                         pt.2            Species–> Groups
  3. Individual exchange                 pt. 3             Anthropos–> Individual
  4. Market                                        pt. 4           Species–> Groups
  • The pathology, collectivism pt. 5              Groups–>Individual
  • attempts to compromise the ideal and pathology  pt. 6
    • History                              pt. 7

Structure of Human Action itself points the reader in the direction of methodological individualism.  You should be able to see the topical movement from essence, to individual, to species to group, repeated twice.

It may be that this organizational structure is not to be taken literally as von Mises’ last word on the ontological place of humanity within the universe.  It may even be that this organization was just the way von Mises thought a primary treatise on human action should be properly structured, somewhat like the scholars of the middle ages who felt that all treatises should be arranged according to the framework of Peter the Lombard, whether or not they agreed with Peter’s content or not.  None the less the framework bears the imprint of the classical Anthropological model, and testifies to  that model’s ubiquity and importance.  Certainly it differs from standard modernist and positivist expositions, which are based on the framework “from matter proceeds things.” This latter being what your man or woman on the street thinks of as “economics.”

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An Epistle at the apex: Paul and the the Biblical basis of Libertarianism

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 15, 2017

From Turtles to Principles

You have probably heard the story of that old woman who insisted the Earth rested on the back of an enormous turtle.  If queried what the turtle rested on, she would respond, logically enough, “Another turtle.”  However if a persistent questioner asked what, in turn, the second turtle rested upon, she would laugh derisively, “Sonny, it’s turtles all the way down!”

This infinite regress of turtles is akin to the view that many Christian libertarians and constitutionalists share with regard to “the charter of our liberties.”  Now rest assured that I consider this to be the enlightened view with regard to the origin of human rights, that “We are endowed by our creator….” and that the contents of this endowment has not been left to the vague recollection of tacit understandings, but rather, made clear in major historical documents which have spelled out the liberties of free men and women without prevarication or ambiguity.  I applaud my fellow freedom lovers who have embraced the theory that the natural rights made explicit in  human covenants is founded on the will and ways of God.

None the less, it seems to me that there is a gap in the understanding of most libertarians, even among those who profess Christianity in one form or another.  On the one hand, freedom is said to be founded on the basis of a “Judeo-Christian ethos.”  On the other hand, the content of this ethos is held to have been been specified by such major documents as the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Constitution of the United States of America (1787), and the Bill of Rights (1791).  These are sometimes called “founding documents” but in fact they represent the fruits of a tradition, not an origin.  Now what was the immediate inspiration of these documents?   This is well understood and well researched, and we can trace what F.A. Hayek called “the constitution of liberty” back step by step through the Whig Revolution, the English Civil War, the conflict between King John, the great barons and the church, and even into the misty years subsequent to the Norman Conquest.  Each of these epochs left a deposit of law in the form of written covenants, of which the Magna Carta (1215)is only the most famous.

However if we ask, “What is the ultimate (not immediate) origin of the Bill of Rights, etc.” we come up against a situation similar to that infinite regress of turtles which are needed to support the Earth.  All we get is a string of documents which leads back from the Magna Carta to the Norman Conquest and then, for a combination of linguistic and documentary reasons, stops.  Beyond that where do the precedents come from?  On the one hand, there are those who hypothesize a kind of Anglo-Saxon democracy as the matrix from which both political liberty and common law sprang.  On the other, there are those, such as Hayek himself, who wish to tie the British tradition of liberty back to the classical political philosophy of Cicero, Stoicism etc..  Keep in mind that Hayek was an evolutionist, albeit more of concerned with cultural than a biological evolution.

On the other hand there are Christians who state that the series of freedom covenants published in the course of British and American history have their ultimate root in the “Judeo-Christian ethos.”  However the “Judeo-Christian ethos” does not constitute the first item in a series of written documents.  It is indeed a case of “turtles all the way down” where “down” is not the true bottom or rather a quasi-bottom begging for further explanation.  Of course, Christians are in possession of a document which provides them with written warrant for thought and action, and it happens to be called the Bible. Note the irony of the ambiguous “Judeo-Christian ethic” being promoted as a basis of politics and rights theory by the same Christians who would insist on a scriptural warrant for any issues outside of politics.  It would seem that there is a special fear of becoming excessively scriptural when it comes to the Biblical foundations of politics.

And as a matter of fact, this fear is well founded.  For there are at least two deviations into scriptural politics which are likely to have catastrophic results, if indeed they are not outright heretical.  I will give a capsule critique of these theological tendencies before moving on to what I consider the true scriptural basis of politics.

Bad Axioms: The Violent Bear It Away

In our search for the axiomatic we don’t want to endorse the catastrophic!   Humanity is always looking for a principle to predicate its violence upon, a “causus belli” as it were.  Marxism is the best contemporary example, though there be others.  Those sects within the church which have been unknowingly or knowingly coaxed by Marxism into a united front frequently march under the banner of “New Testament Christianity.”  In this context, “New Testament” means up to and excluding the cross.  It is the moral teaching to, and subsequently of, the twelve disciples, led by Peter. I don’t think it is putting too fine a point on this teaching to characterize it as perfectionism and communism.  It was a teaching appropriate to those who were striving after moral purity to separate themselves from an apostate Judaism, along lines similar to John the Baptist, or the Essene community at Qumran.   After the cross these teachings were replaced by the gospel.  Though they remain edifying and historically important narratives, they are not Christianity, at least, they are not the heart of Christianity.

However these teachings, perfectionism and communism, are useful for those who seek to sow confusion among Christians.  The virtue of these principles, for Marxists and other enemies of the cross, is that they don’t work, thus their adoption gives people the impression that Christians are not a church but as a camp of confused idealists. This vast camp of deluded Christians, who are not just those at the fringe of “liberation” theology so-called, but the majority of those within the mainstream denominations, are no doubt earnest in their desire to put their politics on a Biblical basis.  Unfortunately they have wrongly divided scripture, not realizing that, in truth, much of the so-called “New Testament” is in fact a continuation of the Old Testament, that the four evangelical witnesses which we call “gospels” are historical and biographical narratives which are only a preface to the Gospel of Grace proclaimed in the letters of Paul, this latter being the only operative gospel for our age.

At the other extreme from “Liberation theology”, there are genuine Christians who fuse together New and Old Testaments into a single covenant theology.  When this is applied with great rigor, the result is a rigidly legalistic system, such as was classically illustrated by Calvin’s Geneva, or the early Massachusetts Bay colony.  Unlike Marxist-inspired theology this covenant view is not a deception, but an honest error.  None the less, it is an error which has burdened and oppressed people in the past, and is likely to do so in the future, if there is any chance of its adoption.  No, we cannot go back to Moses.  Not that Moses is to be despised, for we are edified by the history of Israel.  But to treat Moses as a living letter of law is a misapplication of scripture, and inimical to the true gospel, just as Paul explained to the church in Galatia.   It is to Paul whom we must now turn.

The Pauline Basis of Christian Libertarianism

The way to make progress in ethics is through more geometrico, the much abused and needlessly feared geometrical method.  That is, in morals we ought to start with an axiom and end up with a body of legislation.  What we are offered today is, by and large, the reverse, since we begin with one or another collection of precepts in bad need of simplification and adaptation.  The precepts might alternatively be “the Judeo-Christian ethic” or New Testament theology, or the Mosaic code.  In all such systems the starting point is vague, complicated, and casuistic.  Now, reasoning out cases (casuistry) is a good and very necessary thing, but it should come at the end of a process of deduction, not at the beginning.

Fortunately, scripture is true to its word and provides us with the axioms necessary, not just for our salvation, but for organizing our societies.  The tendency towards axiomatic thinking is evident even in the pre-resurrection teachings of the Savior.  Christ’s willingness to group the precepts of the law into a hierarchy, with the law of love at the apex, contrasts sharply with the predominant rabbinical teachings on the law.  According to the rabbis each of the precepts stood on its own merit, without need of justification by any higher principle.  Conversely, a constant theme of Christ’s teaching was to point out how these independent precepts, if taken literally, would lead to rote behavior drained of empathy for one’s fellow creatures.  This early teaching to the disciples, as noted above, was not Christ’s authoritative message  to the church, which would commence on the road to Emmaus  and climax on the road to Damascus.  However the former teaching was prophetic in the broadest sense, not as prognostication but as propaedieutic, i.e., a kind of introduction.  It was hinting that Christian ethics, unlike rabbinical tradition, would be fundamentally axiomatic rather than casuistic.

The Apostle Paul is the primary revelator and redactor of church truth.  If we search his letters we are sure to find, among many other treasures, the key axiom upon which the organization of a godly society depends.  This axiom is found in a few verses within the most controversial and difficult chapters in the entire Bible, the 13th chapter of the book of Romans.  Now I realize that the very mention of Romans 13 is enough to cause alarm among Christian libertarians, and it is true that this is a portion of scripture which has been notoriously wrested into a shape cut to the specifications of tyrants.  However this reading, which we may designate as the authoritarian reading of Romans 13, I believe to be profoundly in error.

On the contrary, it is Romans Chapter 13 which, read aright, contains the authoritative formulation of the non-aggression axiom.  I am not aware that this has been previously noted, even by commentators who are generally considered sympathetic to libertarianism.  Generally, commentators are mainly interested in soterological issues, therefore those portions of scripture dealing with civil society, like Romans Chapter 13, are passed over without extended comment, except to note that obedience to legitimate governance is enjoined.  Few have done entire commentaries where the primary focus is on politics, economics, or civil society.  One exception is Dr. Gary North, who has written an Economic Commentary on Romans.  Yet even Dr. North who’s  quasi-libertarian views are well known, veers off from the fundamental moral issues discussed in Romans 13, in order to pursue some rather technical observations on the morality of debt, to the exclusion of other considerations.  His commentary on the heart of Romans 13, which are found in verses 8 through 10, is worth reading, if only to note its extremely narrow approach to the content of the epistle.

“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” John Murray does not think that love is an obligation. Rather, the sense of the passage is this: “Owe no man any thing, only love one another.” “He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” But what does this mean? Does it mean that dealing with others justly is the way that we should demonstrate our love toward them? Or does it mean that loving them fulfills the law? Which law? Moses’ law? Christ’s law?

Paul says which law: the Mosaic. “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The summary follows the Septuagint’s translation of Deuteronomy 5:17-21.The final clause is based on Leviticus: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:18). Here is the same theme as the one Paul introduced in the previous chapter: no personal vengeance. Christ used a similar approach in his summary of the Mosaic law. “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 19:16-19).

Love is mandatory, Murray writes. “If love is the fulfillment of the law this means that no law is fulfilled apart from love. . . . It is only through love that we can fulfill the demands of justice.”Murray places the decalogue, and through it, the Mosaic law, at the heart of Paul’s injunction. “This appeal to the decalogue demonstrates the following propositions: (1) the decalogue is of permanent and abiding relevance. (2) It exemplifies the law that love fulfills and is therefore correlative with love. (3) The commandments and their binding obligation do not interfere with the exercise of love; there is no incompatibility. (4) The commandments are the norms in accordance with which love operates.”

The closest that North (here following, rather surprisingly, Murray) gets to the non-aggression axiom is his observation on the prohibition of vengeance.  Murray, North, et al, are wrong to think that Paul is endorsing the Mosaic law, although as covenant theologians we ought not to be surprised that they follow this line.  Rather, Paul is using elements of the decalogue the same way that an artist would use pigments of primary colors to paint an entirely new composition.  Romans 13 vv. 8-10 is not just a rehashing of Moses, rather, it is an entirely new revelation establishing human relations on the firm foundation of the non-aggression axiom.

In order to come to an understanding that Romans 13 is nothing less than the divine promulgation of the non-aggression axiom, it is helpful to divide the chapter into three portions.  I. 13:1-7 on civil governance, II. 13:8-10, the non-aggression axiom, III.13:11-14 provision for the coming of the Lord.  Although most readers of the scriptures read sequentially, which in the case of Romans 13 leads to highlighting the section on civil governance, as if it were the topic paragraph of an essay, an alternative method sometimes used by discerning Bible students is to structure the passage according to its “chiastic” pattern.  According to this method, the key elements in a Bible passage are liable to be found in the center of the reading, with the former and latter verses forming mirror images around a core concept.  Thus in the case of Romans 13, we would have the pattern,

I. 13:1-7 human governance ( duties towards civil magistrates)

               II. 13:8-10 the non-aggression axiom

III. 13:11-14 divine governance (duties in preparation for the return of the Lord)

Note how the non-aggression axiom seems encased like a jewel between present and future worlds, humanity and divinity.  This draws us into the center and substance of the relationship between sovereignty and justice.  Thus the student of scripture is compelled to take a closer look at the key text vv. 8-10, which appears following (in E.W. Bullinger’s translation).

Owe no one any thing, if not to love the other : for he that
loveth the other hath fulfilled…law.
For this,“Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not
kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,Thou shalt not covet;”
and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, namely,
“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Love worketh no evil to his  neighbour: therefore love
is…fulfillment of…law.
Although Paul is doing something more than simply reiterating the Mosaic revelation, the selection of Mosaic elements through which the new message is expressed is very precise and gives us the key to the new law.  Note that only those elements of the decalogue which prohibit aggression are listed.  To be sure, the decalogue also requires positive obligations such as honoring parents, but the empahsis here is on prohibitions not obligations.  Specifically, these are commandments which prohibit the violation of the rights of others.  One might quibble at the inclusion of the tenth commandment against envy, in so far as this is a psychological state and not an active violation of someone’s rights.  However this list is not a bill of particulars, but the anatomy of aggression in general, and psychological realism informs us that envy is the primary motive force for the violation of personal and property rights. What we have in vv. 8-10 is in reality a type of equation, and a very exact equation at that, such that…
Decalogue 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10=the Law of Love
Everybody who knows even the first thing about Christianity has heard about the “law of love”…in the formula “love thy neighbor etc.” the problem is to define what love really means in this context.  This is what the central passages of Romans 13 reveals to us.  Again, substituting one side of the equation,
Do not (6,7,8,9) violate your neighbor’s rights, in fact (10) don’t even think about it!=the Law of Love
or if we phrase it in terms of political theory
The Non-Aggression Axiom=the Law of Love
This formulation will startle many people on the grounds that “love” in this context seems to be divorced from passion, and typically we think of love as a passion.  However, when we are trying to approach revelation on its own terms we are not obligated to define its words according to our own preconceptions and feelings, rather we have to let context determine exegesis.
From Paul to Locke
Skeptics will claim that I am reading the Lockean theory of natural rights back into Paul.  On the contrary, I suggest that John Locke, writing at the turn of the 17th and 18th century may have got his inspiration, not just from Christianity in a general way, but from a study of Paul’s first century epistles.  We know that Locke was a close student of scripture, and of Paul in particular.  To be sure,  Locke has always been problematic for Christian orthodoxy, which is why he was received into the cannon of the West as a philosopher, not a theologian.  However here we are speaking of the divine promulgation of rights theory, and its meaning for our own times, not the question of what  John Locke as a believer thought of the Trinity, or the non-Jurors, or the Book of Common prayer.
From John Locke the tradition of natural rights flowed on to the Whig radicals, on to the writers of the American founding documents, on to the abolitionists and other social movements of the 19th century, on to the populists of the American guilded age, on to the Old Right and non-interventionism, on to those movements which today call themselves libertarian.  However this Whig/Classical Liberal/Libertarian thinking has manifested as more than bare ideas, it has been written into covenants which have rendered rights explicit and binding.  To be sure, the non-aggression axiom has passed through non-Christian, even anti-Christian minds, notably Herbert Spencer, who is always mentioned in that regard.  But this does nothing to mitigate against the possibility, to my mind the virtual certainty, that the non-aggression axiom is ultimately a thing of divine institution.  Need we, like overzealous Donatists, fear that the sacrament of liberty has been defiled because it has passed through unclean hands?  Certainly not!  None the less, at the level of documentary tradition, what  a wonderful thing it would be if we could be sure that there was an unbroken chain of binding covenants, beginning with Paul’s writings and continuing down to the Bill of Rights and beyond.  Indeed, how enlightening it ought to be, for anyone to grasp that the non-aggression principle and the law of love were two but aspects of the same divine axiom.

Posted in Christianity, Constitution, Constitutionalism, Culture & Politics, Libertarianism, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

A god who failed: William F. Buckley and his “conservative” movement

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 30, 2017

A Fabian Conservatism?

There are two systems operating on this Earth.  According to one, every man, woman, and child strives with carnal jealously to grasp and hold on to their rights to self and things, and when there is more than enough, the excess is disposed of, given away, or traded on the open market.  That is the better of the two systems.  According to the other system, men and women quest for virtue and renown, seeking to bring the Kingdom of Heaven down to this world, by violence if necessary, and we are further told that at the end of this process a man shall appear who resembles Christ in certain regards.  It is this second system which attracts the best and the brightest.  The late William F. Buckley Jr., 1925-2008, practicing Catholic, family man, nominal patriot and putative spy, Yale graduate, novelist, journalist, polymath and polyglot, yet above all things, “intellectual”, was certainly among the brightest of his generation.  As a general principle, we ought not speak ill of those whom God has loved and endowed with great talents, yet it is incumbent upon anyone who wishes to preserve both truth and memory to render judgement on matters of public record, and especially those actions or omissions which have led the American body politic down its present primrose path.  If we are the proverbial tin can, well then, Mr. Buckley was a chief contender among those who kicked us down the road and into the ditch.  Assuredly, we have every right to inquire into his mind and motives.

My first memory of William F. Buckley is the televised image of two posh, erudite men engaged in a furious altercation over the merits of the Republican presidential nominee in 1964.   The one on the left (from the viewers perspective) was a scandalous representative of the liberal avant guard, an inconsistent and curmudgeonly  libertarian/left/democrat, surely an entertaining character if one were to consider him in isolation.  However he could barely gain a point against the other man, the one on the right (again keeping perspective in mind) who seemed an utter novelty, the Adam of a new race which was awaiting formation, or rather self-formation.  Gore Vidal, (stage left) has kept a loyal following of fans and detractors, yet Vidal by himself would never have become an epochal, or a defining figure of those crisis years.  It was Buckley’s, not Vidal’s, video debut , which marked off a new era, not (sadly) of American political thought, but of rhetoric and reality television.

Thus was born, at least in the viewing public’s mind, that oxymoron, the “conservative intellectual.”  The hokum of Dogpatch, an image of the American right as rustic buffoons so carefully crafted by liberal opinion makers was momentarily shattered by a visible presence.  Since I was a kid, I didn’t know that Buckley had already attained considerable celebrity in literary and journalistic circles, as early as 1950, with the publication of his  God and Man at Yale, but now the word had become flesh, visible to millions upon millions of couch dwellers and potato chip eaters.   He spoke, and he spoke well, interspersing his verbal darts with the flick of a serpentine tongue across tightly drawn lips.  Suddenly, the viewers glimpsed a crack of light shining through the deadening conformity of consensus politics.  Was this the chiaroscuro dawn of a new day, or just a hoax?  It was ominous when, in a fit of peek, the new god dropped his smooth mask to coin a notorious neologism.  Vidal, he fulminated, was an “octo-moron!”  In those days of civil discourse you didn’t just go calling someone an eight-fold idiot in front of America’s families…not to mention the lexicographers!

Fast forwarding to the present, and the perspective of the post-Trump, post-civil discourse era, it becomes painfully clear that this erudite “conservatism”  has failed. Someone once observed that Hegel only “died” in 1933, a watershed beyond which many conceded that his “dialectic of history” bore scant resemblance to the logical deductions of some charitable and edifying Deity.  We might likewise reckon that  Buckley “died” in 2016, when it became abundantly clear that the chattering of the political class could no longer be confined to a salon discussion constrained by the niceties of an Americanized high tea.   Today we must reluctantly acknowledge that even domestic politics is war, perhaps not quite violent war, but war none the less.  But then, shouldn’t we have known that all along?  If we didn’t it was mainly our own fault, yet no thanks to Bill Buckley and others who were only too happy to perpetuate our fond illusions.  Hence, those moderates who have managed to wake up to the situation often discover that they are very late into a long war of attrition conducted by the left, poised on unfavorable terrain, and desperately short of intellectual ammunition.

Not that all possible ideologies which might be denominated as conservative are bankrupt, rather, it is especially the smug, above-the-fray “conservatism” defined by William F. Buckley which circumstances have rendered impotent.  Herein is the real eight-fold idiocy, not that Buckley was able to concoct a new ideology, which he had the brains and the perfect right to do, but that he usurped the nomenclature of a previous movement, the Old Right, and applied it to his novelties.  A guileless Buckley would have decanted his fresh ideological wine into new, or at least newly labeled, wine-skins.  Accordingly, Buckley might have dubbed his concoction “Fabian Conservatism” or some such critter…but he insisted on preserving the illusion of continuity with the anti-New Deal coalition.   Ironically, the moderate Socialists of the early 20th century showed a greater respect for intellectual property rights by relabeling themselves as Fabians, thus permitting the revolutionary Bolshoi to maintain their identity as “Reds.”

Actually, “Fabian” would have been a far better moniker for whatever Buckley was up to.  For one thing, the progressives, then and now, have never intended to give up a single inch of political gain.  It is always a matter of advance to the front, either slow and Fabian or fast and revolutionary.  In contrast,”conservatism” as it was reinvented by Buckley’s National Review in in the 1950s, has been much closer to the strategy of Quintus Fabius “the delayer”(Rome, 3rd c BC)…defining itself as the weaker side and then enlisting for a long, indeed perpetual, retreat.  Today we are experiencing the results of this capitulation.   Buckley, much like Keynes “in the long run”, did not live to see the full consequences of this “Fabian” defeatism, a nation in which the conservative brand as a whole has been discredited, and where only a retrenched populism and leftism remain as the primary  engines of our uncivil  discourse.

Pied Piper of the Establishment

Was Buckley’s defeatism a matter of principle?  Was it motivated by an Oswald-Spenglerian ennui in the face of irresistible winds of change?  Or was it something else, something less intellectual but more human, a quest for power and social acceptance by a man with the smarts and social connections to become a celebrity, combined with a secret contempt for moral absolutes?   John F. McManus considers this question in his William F. Buckley Jr.: Pied Piper of the Establishment, a look at the public words and actions of America’s most famous, so to speak, “conservative.”  In this concise and readable work McManus illustrates how virtually every major premise of conservatism was contravened by Mr. Buckley and his associated writers at National Review.  Did Buckley really “delay” the advent of the current unpleasant situation through judicious compromise, such as might merit the title Fabian Conservatism?  Or did he hasten on the day of reckoning by sapping the bulwarks of more authentic brands of resistance?  Mr. McManus doesn’t rush to judgement, but judge he does, by patiently building up a bill of particulars which will strongly incline the reader to embrace the latter hypothesis.  The major, though not the only, items that McManus itemizes in the antithetical “conservatism” of Mr. Buckley are the following.

  1. Buckley substituted an unidentified “conservatism” for the explicit definition of good government found in the Constitution.
  2. He shielded an unholy alliance between leftists, capitalists, and statists, or what Mr. McManus calls, “the conspiracy” from the public, by denying its existence and targeting its foes.
  3. By accepting membership in the Council on Foreign relations, he supplied dignity and cover to a key element of this conspiratorial apparatus, or what today might be called the shadow government of the deep state.
  4. He contributed to the undermining of the nation’s morality.
  5. He led Americans away from involvement in the kind of principled activism (a.k.a. any continuation of the anti-war, non-interventionist Old Right conservatism, such as flourished in the Robert Taft era).

If Mr. McManus has been able to give us a comprehensive account of Mr. Buckley, his ideology, friends, and actions, it is because, as a young conservative he was a Buckleyite himself.  Initially having no alternative to the narrative introduced by National Review which smeared the remnants of the Old Right, and in particular its revival in the organizational form of the John Birch Society, Mr. McManus was an enthusiastic “Fabian” conservative.  However the providential arrival of a letter from a total stranger (in those days before the internet when it was hard to canvass opinions beyond one’s circle or standard journalism) led McManus to question the spin which National Review had put on the distinction between “right-wing” and “conservative.”  Subsequently, McManus did his own investigations which forced him to completely rethink the ambiguous ideology of William Buckley and embrace a principled philosophy of freedom.  This in turn led to membership and later leadership in his once-scorned but now beloved John Birch Society.

Now in order to form a just estimate of William Buckley, such as McManus and others have attempted, one has to understand the context of the world into which this new “conservatism” (Buckleyite, Fabian, or just “faux”) emerged.  The Second World War had been a global victory which came at the price of weakening every domestic institution in America other than the state, and the conscience of the Old Right urged a return to something like a peacetime society and economy.  It was well understood, and not just by conservatives, that there was a natural iteration between times of war and times of peace, and that a condition of perpetual war was a recipe for tyranny.  True, there was the very real threat of Communism to be dealt with, but it had to be dealt with in such a way that the very institutions used to fight Communism did not replicate the evil they were designed to overcome.

However the wisdom of turning America back into a normal society was not so easily put into practice.  The vast wartime tangle of bureaus and red tape (into which many actual “Reds” had insinuated themselves) proved easier to dedicate to new missions than to mothball.  Predictably, the same political party which had given America the New Deal were enthusiasts for the National Security State (activated by legislation passed in 1947) which perpetuated and legitimated all the essential wartime security and military apparatus.

This rapidly consolidating system was rightfully seen by many conservatives as “Orwellian” (a coinage of that era, since 1984 was written in 1948).  Moreover, for objectors the remedy was both obvious and Constitutional, i.e., “Throw the bums out!” and restore a peacetime, lassez-faire economy.  According to the myth of the two party system, that was the expected order of things, with frequent turnarounds in power both affirming the sovereignty of the people and harmonizing  extremes of policy.  Around 1954, similar to the Trump election of 2016, enemies of the status quo envisaged that if their party won fair and square the “loyal opposition”  would consent to a fundamental reorientation of national policy.  Alas, then as now, the concept of “loyal opposition” proved to be an oxymoron…if not an eightfold idiocy!  Whatever the hardships and tragedy of the New Deal and the Second World War, the truly sinister development wasn’t triggered until, after a twenty years hiatus, a Republican administration was finally inaugurated.  To the shock and dismay of genuine conservatives, rather than a return to normality, under Eisenhower the progress towards a managerial welfare/warfare state was affirmed and even accelerated.

It was at this juncture of history that William F. Buckley Jr. appeared in the forums of public life.  Initially National Review shared the outrage of the Old Right, sill smarting from the primary defeat of Taft, at the wholesale adoption of New Deal programs and apparatus by the nominally Republican administration which had replaced Truman.  McManus notes that…

In December 1957 Buckley himself scolded President Eisenhower for his sorry leadership.  During a forum in New York City sponsored by National Review he excoriated Ike for having allowed the “problem of internal security” to grow to “to a state far worse than that under Mr. Truman.”  Insisting that “Mr. Eisenhower must, inevitably, be repudiated.”  Buckley lamented that he didn’t expect anything to be done because “Eisenhower does not take stands, except against [Senator Joseph] McCarthy and the Bricker Amendment [stipulation that treaty law did not supervene US sovereignty].”  His remarks were later published in the National Review.

Thus, early on in the editorial career of the National Review, a policy line was taken which seemed indistinguishable from the base of the Old Right/Taft Republican movement.  However as soon as these conservative bona fides were established, Buckley took a new tack, ingratiating himself to left and center by taking a more establishment approach to the issues, and, most importantly, positioning himself on the acceptable side of the “right-wing extremist” vs. “conservative” divide.   Conveniently, the criteria for judging this distinction were largely devised by Mr. Buckley himself. An initial omen of this strategy was McCarthy and his Enemies (1954) a book coauthored by Buckley  on the anti-Communist investigator, an ostensible defense which contained so many unseemly observations of its subject and his cause that it diminished both.  By the early ’60s it should have been clear that Buckley had done a two-step, 1) appropriate the label “conservative” through his initial appeals to the Old Right, and  2) change the definition of “conservative” by stigmatizing most of the positions traditionally held by the Old Right.

It is important to remember that the Old Right (used here as equivalent to the anti-New Deal coalition) was a lassez-faire, generally anti-war, limited government movement.  It was not “right-wing” in the pejorative sense that subsequent political rhetoric has framed the term.  Significantly, such genuine rightists as existed in the America of the ’30s and ’40s seldom opposed the New Deal in principle.  The segregationist “Dixicrats” were all aboard FDR’s gravy train, and the scattering of minuscule groups which sought to ape European fascism could only complain that the New Deal was insufficiently centralized, militarized, technocratic, paganized or dictatorial.

The making of a god

However, if one is positioning oneself as the ascending god of public opinion, it is not sufficient, though it may be necessary, to redraw a nation’s ideological cartography.  As McManus repeatedly points out in his criticism of Buckley, which is in fact a criticism of the way conservatives “do politics,” ideology is generally overrated as a ground of human action.  Contrary to whatever Richard Weaver may have intended, it is people, not ideas, who create political  consequences…at least in the short run.  To put it according to the myths of the old pagans, whether one is Oedipus or the King of Alba Longa, one must slay the god of the harvest if one wishes to establish a new religion.  In the case of William F. Buckley Jr., it was not enough to displace, disparage, and assume the mantle of a bloodless abstraction such as “conservatism” or the generic, and geriatric, “Old Right.”  As in days of yore, a living sacrifice was necessary.

Now it so happened that, preceding and shadowing the career of our Ivy League tyro was another man, a very different sort of fellow, a practical businessman and independent researcher, yet one who, in the technical definition of anthropologist Rene Girard might be reckoned as Buckley’s “double.”   That man was Robert Welch, who founded the John Birch Society in 1958.  Whatever the merits of Girard’s theories might be, it  is said that in a mimetic universe (that is, a society populated by imitative creatures, which indeed sounds rather familiar) it is impossible for doubles to long coexist.  Buckley and Welch were doubles in the sense that one or the other was destined to become the rallying point of the conservative cause.  One or the other, not both.

To translate from mythic to political terms, an assassination was in order!  Fortunately for Welch, especially considering Buckley’s career in operational intelligence, assassination of character was deemed sufficient.  Welch, having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil  (something Buckley was especially dedicated to preventing among his fledgling “conservatives”) was cast out of the paradise of polite company, and into the valley of wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Except that Welch neither wailed nor gnashed his teeth, but took his public stigma, or what Girard would call his “skapegoating” with charitable fortitude.

Just as Girard’s mimetic theory would predict, it worked like a charm, this exchange of fates between Welch and Buckley.  McManus quotes Buckley biographer Judis on the potent effects…

Buckley’s attack on the John Birch Society also transformed him as a public figure.  He [Buckley] was no longer the pariah of the McCarthy days.  He was a public representative of the new conservatism that television producers and college deans could invite to appear without provoking an outcry.  Whether intentional or not, Buckley’s attack on the John Birch Society prepared the way for his own celebrity. (McManus p. 153)

[N.B., Pay attention to how  “without provoking an outcry” appears, from the vantage of the present,  on the forward side of a half-century historical parenthesis! Intimidation of speech outside of the left’s allowed parameters is not a novelty of the post-Trump era, but has been a frequent academic constraint in both 20th and 21st century America.  Perhaps the intermission of good feeling and toleration was only due to “Fabian” self-censorship on the part of conservatives.]

The scapegoating of Welch and the new ideological cartography mutually reinforced and validated each other.  One doesn’t have to be a Harry Turtledove to imagine an alternative historical scenario, a world in which Welch did the scapegoating and Buckley became the sacrifice.  The major obstacle to the realization of this alternative universe was the basic decency and fair-play of Welch himself, who refused to be drawn into mimetic rivalry with fellow conservatives.  Welch illustrated his own attitude by prefacing his response to the scapegoating with lines from the poet Edwin Markham…

He drew a circle and shut me out–

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in!  (McManus p.154)

Furthermore, the inverted ideological map of the alternative universe would actually make far more sense, with Welch positioned as the centrist and Buckley as “far right-wing.”  Most people at the mid-point of the 20th century would, setting aside propaganda, have regarded Welch as the solid “bourgeois” and Buckley as the scheming, effete, aristocrat.  Indeed, it was this almost French Bourbon air of amorality and private immunity which gave Buckley much of his charm and influence.  And if such quirks of character were not enough enough to make one suspect that Buckley was far to the “right” of Welch, what about the secret societies, the espionage, the pornography and similar intrigue?  I won’t go into the details here as McManus documents them extensively in his book.  However it might be  useful to take a synoptic glance at what McManus evidently considers Buckley’s most damning characteristic.

Barking up the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

To reiterate, Buckley made a sacrifice of Welch, thus becoming a divinity, the god of a new conservative movement formed in his own image.  However, there is a curse attendant on all mortals who pretend to godhood, that they must sleeplessly patrol the bounds of their sacred groves against the onslaught of fresh rivals.  We may liken Buckley to the cherub charged with guarding paradise, however the tree that he was set guard over was not that of life, but rather concerned a very specific form of knowledge.

To be sure, Buckley was not against knowledge or intellect, and with the exception of one particular form of knowing, he was pleased to spread abroad all sorts of chatty information and innuendo.  This included exposure of the more outrageous left wing follies, and to this was added his police function as a maintainer of conservative standards of belief and decorum.  In short, he was smart, and he was on a mission to save America from its own stupidity, stupidity and error of such magnitude that it threatened to lose the Cold War and bring Western Civilization to an untimely end.  Nor was he against knowledge in the sense of “carnal knowledge” and he had a Playboy interview to prove it.  That too was smart, in the sense of currying favor with “the smart set” of the ’60s.

Most significantly, as intellectual-in-chief, Buckley enjoyed the role of contrarian, stimulating all sorts of fascinating conversations by reversing conservative thought on key social and economic issues.  Should Richard Nixon have instituted wage-and-price controls?  Well, why not give it try?  Contrary to everything which the Austrian school of economics had painstakingly demonstrated, that wage-and-price controls would sabotage production and exchange, Buckley felt that one had to be open minded on the topic.  Should the Supreme court have had authority to determine whether abortion was murder?  Why not?  True, two-thousand years of Christian teaching had already provided a clear answer to this question.  However Mr. Buckley, though a Catholic, felt that discussion on the topic needed to be opened up and freed from dogma.  In addition to abortion and price controls, Mr. McManus lists over a dozen “indefensible positions”(pp. 220-229) where Buckley either reversed the conservative stand or introduced moral ambiguity.  And should we have been surprised?  After all, settled doctrines don’t sell magazines or increase the ratings of televised talk shows the way that controversy and factional in-fighting do.

Yet for all his delight in upsetting the apple cart of knowledge, there was one angle which Buckley declared taboo.  With regard to American government policy, and to some extent other institutions of society, all investigation had to take place within the smart/stupid framework.  The alternative framework, the good/evil framework, was strictly out of bounds.  Any policy commentator who suggested that there was a conspiracy in high places actively engaged in undermining America’s best interests, was just a dog barking up the tree of forbidden knowledge, and needing to be silenced.  These barking dogs were many, including not just Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Robert Welch, and Herbert Hoover, but ironically Buckley himself together with the staff of National Review, prior to his apotheosis as the god of a new conservatism.  Yet as early the mid-’50s it was clear that a new paradigm was taking hold.

In August 1956, at about the same time that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was warning of a “conspiracy so monstrous” that one “cannot believe that it exists,” Buckley offered his contrary view that America’s problems were occurring “spontaneously, not in compliance with a continuously imposed discipline.”  In effect, he was saying, “Don’t listen to Hoover, the House Committee, or the Senate Subcommittee.  Ignore even my own statement in McCarthy and His Enemies.  The bad that happens to our nation is the result of spontaneous stupidity, not orchestrated design.”  (McManus pp. 128-129)

Apart from questions of historical accuracy, why is this still a big deal?  Of all the trees in the political garden, why does the fruit of this one matter in a unique way?  Let’s pay attention to the observations of Mr. McManus….

Concluding that willful conspirators rather than mere bumbling do-gooders are at the root of such problems stimulates activity because of human nature’s most powerful instinct: self-preservation.  Most who decide that the disastrous transformation of America is the work of deliberate evildoers will do whatever they can to save their country, themselves, and their loved ones.

But those who become convinced that the damage being done results from well-intentioned mistakes will do little except grumble.  Even while witnessing the ongoing destruction, they will shrug their shoulders, continue working to keep their heads above water, and naively expect others in government and elesewhere to eventually see the error of their ways and take corrective action.

Today, as never before, many are willing to impute evil to their governing officials.  Unpleasant as this might be, it at least gives us grounds for reevaluating Buckley’s assessment that stupidity and not conspiracy was at the root of America’s ills.  Fewer and fewer people today would concur with this assessment, however time and energy have been lost through distractions…not the least of distractions being Buckley’s influence, an influence which both intellectualized and demoralized political discourse on the right.

Postscript on Intellectuals and Pseudo-Intellectuals

It was a balm to the pride of conservatives in the 20th century that thinkers on the left consisted not of actual, but of false or “pseudo”, intellectuals.  In contrast, Mr. Buckley and his cohorts could be trotted out as examples of the genuine article.  To be sure, Buckley and his friends were more erudite, not to mention amiable, than your average Weatherman.  However, in some ultimate sense Mr. Buckley was as “pseudo” as they came, and for reasons that should now be apparent, that, being a conscientious objector to the war against evil, he whiled away his time in the garden of ideas.

That is not to say that ideas cannot be serious.  However the number of people for whom ideas are central to existence is few indeed.  For Bill Buckley ideas were toys, baubles of the mind which could be entertained as hypotheses, not principles which compelled moral action.  How many of us can say that we deal with ideas in any other way?  Are we all not pseudo-intellectuals to one degree or another?  Perhaps that is our nature, the nature of those of us who are less than gods.  Perhaps it is good to be only a pseudo-intellectual.

Those who truly sought salvation in ideas have nearly vanished from the Earth.  Plato, Plotinus, Hypatia of Alexandria, and later during the Renaissance, Pletho and  Pico before his conversion by Savonarola, and perhaps a few others.  William F. Buckley was not among their company, and neither was Jesus of Nazareth.  So in spite of old Bill’s long list of sins, which I have barely touched upon here, this speaks well for his soul, that he was not an intellectual in the absolute sense.  There is always hope.



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