Machiavelli meets Alinsky. Are there any survivors?

  1. You are the Power
  2. The Emperor’s New Nuptials
  3. Right and Wrong Compassion
  4. Intentional Infliction of Miffedness
  5. Lifelong Equilibrium


[W]hat happens when Machiavelli’s Prince reads and employs “Rules for Radicals”? In 2009 President Obama’s friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett was asked on CNN about media bias, particularly at Fox News, and she responded: “What the administration has said very clearly is that we’re going to speak truth to power.” I remember thinking: “Wait a minute, you’re the White House. You are the power.”

(Pete Peterson)


Oddly, I was thinking about writing something along the lines of a Rod Dreher Monday item. And then on Tuesday he published an item that prompted me to write Tipping Point. So what follows feels a touch anachronistic, and I’m not going to sweat the eloquence of it.

I’ve been so busy (time permitting) arguing against the categorical message “Discrimination is wrong. Period. Full stop.” that it might appear to the biased reader that I favor discrimination. It’s not true, were it that simple.

Based on the old “you can’t legislate morality” (I know: which side cites “you can’t legislate morality” depends on whose ox is getting gored), I am sympathetic with the libertarian argument for limiting discrimination laws to the most egregious historic cases of systemic discrimination. In other words, I tend to think that some discrimination of which I morally disapprove nevertheless ought to be lawful simply because generally the market will make such discrimination rare (by making it costly to the pocketbook) and nobody gets hurt beyond bruised feelings and a little inconvenience.

But Dreher’s pseudonymous source, Nick, isn’t talking about that libertarian theory, but about what he sees as possible (attainment of which is the art of politics):

It’s one thing to protect a big company from having to pay for abortion-causing drugs, but you’re not going to be able to give them the “religious right” to fire their gay employees. And it’s a right they’re not asking for, even in private.

“We have a whole list of things we want to protect – religious schools, adoption agencies, licensure in the workplace, and so on,” he said. “And we have a list of things that none of us want to protect, like a restaurant owner that sees a gay couple having dinner in his place and throws them out because he hates gays. We are going to have to let that kind of thing go ….

Nick said that this is hard for many on the religious right to understand — and he is highly sympathetic to that struggle. Many leaders believe that giving in on any point is conceding the argument to the LGBT side.

I’m miles away from Nick’s league as a political strategist, but I think it’s true to say that (essentially) nobody thinks its morally right to kick a well-behaved gay couple out of your restaurant (my Hypothetical #1). The harder cases (sigh, here we go again; I fervently hope you can see that the cases are harder) are whether artisans should have to accept commissions for custom cakes, floral arrangements or photo portfolios of gay weddings. I’ve offered a spectrum of prototypical situations from easy case (declining goods unjustified) to hard (urge to decline service at least understandable).

I still intend to try before too long to analyze in terms of moral theology (or is it philosophy?) whether it’s ever morally mandatory for someone who understands the meaning of marriage to refuse creative commissions to help celebrate imposter weddings. I’ve read several pop stabs at that question, both of which concluded that it’s not mandatory, but I think they both missed a key point. I’ve now also read a professor of moral philosophy whose column assumed without explanation that it is mandatory to refuse. A Priest I respect has prescinded himself from officiating at the Emperor’s New Nuptials.

Don’t miss the rest of Nick’s points, including his top-level rubrics:

1. The LGBT movement has hegemonic influence in the Democratic Party. No Democrat, whatever his private views, will stand against them any more than a Republican, whatever his private views, will stand against the NRA. And some Republicans will cave when the business community yells in their ear.

2. The news media are totally in the tank on this issue. “There is a level of shameless, advocacy journalist we don’t see on any other issue,” he said. “There is this swaggering confidence that this is the new civil rights movement. Plus, the fact is that there are so few people of faith in the news media that they just can’t imagine why religious people ought to be protected.”

3. The secularity of younger people. There has been a huge shift in the percentage of younger people who never attend religious services or who identify as the “religious nones” in just the last generation.

On the third rubric, I’d add that there are a number of young people who still are in the Church have been deeply influenced by the PR campaign for the full “gay rights” spectrum. What they’ll do when the cognitive dissonance rises to the surface probably will vary, with some bailing out of Church, others repenting of their delusion.

Despite it all, Nick is hopeful for a Utah-type compromise to protect our most cherished religious freedoms, though the three or so Hypothetical #1 merchants in the cosmos will feel that they’ve been thrown under the bus.


In our day, the seduction and redirection of the emotions and desires has achieved its greatest success with the feeling of compassion. In compassion we feel with the sufferer, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do this. One way relieves his suffering, the other relieves what I suffer for him; one gives him what he needs, the other merely gives him what he wants—or just puts him out of sight. Compassion ought to make us visit the prisoner, dry out the alcoholic, help the pregnant girl prepare for the baby, and encourage the young homosexual to live chastely. But how much easier it is to forget the prisoner, give the drunk a drink, send the girl to the abortionist, and tell the kid to just give in. False compassion is a great deal less work than true.

In the short run it causes me less conflict with other people, for I sympathize with whatever anyone may feel. It certainly requires less moral reflection, because I believe every sad story and give in to every tearful “I want”. It fits in particularly well with the inclinations of teenagers, who are discovering sympathy for the first time, find it as intoxicating as catnip, and love to hear sad stories of the heartlessness of the grown-up world. If they have not had clear moral training, it even seems to them to resemble the Golden Rule. “If I got pregnant, I know I wouldn’t want to have the baby; if I were gay, I know I wouldn’t want anyone telling me I couldn’t get married.” This property makes false compassion especially useful for corrupting the minds of the very young, stuffing them with false wisdom before the true wisdom has time to develop.

(J Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know)


“We live in a new world, and everyone has to adapt. When a guard drives to the basket and initiates contact, even when he has to go out of his way to make that contact, you have to call that as a foul. You can’t reward defenders for being innocent bystanders. And take the Tyus Jones flop. That kind of thing just has to be rewarded. It’s the same as when someone files a law suit claiming to be so offended by something that doesn’t affect them at all. People can be harmed by stuff that just happens in their imagination. But it’s still a real harm and deserves rectification.”

Several reporters asked [NCAA President Mark] Emmert about the perception that the referees began calling the game differently in the second half. “Rules are meant to be changed,” Emmert noted. “And that should go for the constitution too. Even Coach K’s haranguing of the officials during half time is just a part of the game, like the media jumping on the Indiana legislature after it passed the religious freedom law. You have to let influential people intervene to change the rules of how any game is played. If important people aren’t allowed to determine the rules, then who will?”

(Stephen Webb)

In this spirit, I propose recognition of a new tort action: Intentional infliction of miffedness. As with “racism,” the only offenders will be the putatively powerful, which is to say the newly marginalized.

(Here endeth the main thread of the day.)

* * * * *


So: Why didn’t I have a dark night of the soul? I’m not feeling envious of Brooks and Dreher, mind you, but the mid-life crisis (“dark woods” in Dante terms, according to Dreher) is such a staple that it’s puzzling to me that I passed that stage of life unscathed.

I suspect it’s because I never ceased spending a fair amount of time on Brooks’ “eulogy virtues,” giving myself over wholly to pursuing the “resumé virtues.” That has kept me off the cover of the Super Lawyer magazines or the older equivalent, the Martindale-Hubbell “AV Rating.”

Mind you, I really had little choice in the matter. Had I been forced to spend 100 hour work weeks on law to the exclusion of all else, I’d have ended up in divorce court, an asylum, drug rehab and/or a drunk tank. That just not the way I’m wired (giving heed to nature) or was wired (giving heed to nurture, including self-nurture).

But when you get right down to it, maybe the dark woods experience tells us it’s not how anyone is wired.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.