Thursday, 8/17/17

  1. Least popular crayon in the box
  2. Suppressing White Supremacy
  3. Swapping Social Conservatism for Tribal Nationalism
  4. WaPo’s Straw Man

1

What do these angry white boys in Virginia want?

There is some value in taking them at their word, or the 14 of them that make up the basic creed of the white-nationalist movement: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” Well, all right. I suppose there are a few campus radicals who oppose the existence of white people, though so far as I can tell this is mainly rhetoric rather than a plan of action. The angry white boys talk about “white genocide,” a concept that is as conveniently vague and amorphous as “white privilege,” of which “white genocide” of course is only the rhetorical obverse …

What does an angry white boy really want?

“A girlfriend,” comes the mocking answer, and there’s probably more to that than mockery. The proprietor of one of the nation’s premier websites for neo-Nazi knuckleheads advised his colleagues in Charlottesville that, after the protest — which included a murder — “random girls will want to have sex with you.” I ran this proposition past a few random girls, and I suspect that the apfelstrudelführers are going to go home disappointed. There are many shades of white, and Mom’s-basement white is the least popular crayon in the box.

What does an angry white boy want? The fact that they get together to play dress-up — to engage in a large and sometimes murderous game of cowboys and Indians — may give us our answer. They want to be someone other than who they are. That’s the great irony of identity politics: They seek identity in the tribe because they are failed individuals. They are a chain composed exclusively of weak links. What they are engaged in isn’t politics, but theater: play-acting in the hopes of achieving catharsis. Their online personas — knights, Vikings, reincarnations of Charles Martel — will be familiar enough to anybody with a Dungeons and Dragons nerd in his life. But sometimes, role-playing around a card table isn’t enough: Sometimes, you need a stage and an audience. In the theater, actors and audience both can forget ourselves for an hour or two. Under the soft glow of the tiki torches, these angry white boys can be something else — for a night.

(Kevin D. Williamson, Angry White Boys)

2

Matthew Walther at The Week, a young conservative author I’m watching rise, thinks that speech advocating white supremacy should be suppressed. It is a view with which I’m viscerally unsympathetic, but here goes anyway:

There has never been a community in which certain ideas have not been considered open [sic – I think he means “closed” — Tipsy] for discussion or debate. As Stanley Fish argued in his famous essay “There is no such thing as free speech, and it’s a good thing, too,”the liberal concept of freedom of speech is not some kind of immutable principle woven into the fabric of reality; it is an idea and a very new, albeit frequently misunderstood one.

As Fish points out, the ur-text for what we think of as freedom of expression … is John Milton’s 1642 treatise Aeropagitica. There the Puritan poet and pamphleteer makes many arguments that will sound familiar to Americans in the 21st century: Allowing the largest possible number of viewpoints to be expressed publicly means that we have access to more good ideas; the task of sifting through a wide range of opinions sharpens our intellects and forces us to refine our own arguments; moreover, actively proscribing certain expressions may lend them a certain kind of romantic credibility, whereas simply ignoring them will result in their being mostly ignored.

What almost no one acknowledges, except in the act of attempting to explain it away, is the following qualification, which was absolutely crucial for Milton:

I mean not tolerated Popery, and open superstition, which as it extirpats all religions and civill supremacies, so it self should be extirpat, provided first that all charitable and compassionat means be us’d to win and regain the weak and the misled: that also which is impious or evil absolutely either against faith or maners no law can possibly permit, that intends not to unlaw itself. [Aeropagitica]

In other words, Milton argues, all free speech is acceptable except any speech that promotes the teachings of the Catholic Church or paganism or atheism. Brushing this off as mere prejudice or oversight would be a gross anachronism. Milton makes this qualification precisely because Catholicism and atheism are incompatible with the kind of society for which he is arguing. Giving Catholics or atheists a hearing would be an act of violence tearing away at the foundations of the Christian commonwealth he hoped to establish ….

Walther believes, and I concur, that racial equality before the law is a core value of the commonwealth we wish to maintain. Slavery followed by Jim Crow are among the nation’s great shames, and our repentance of them must be resolute.

But still: I can’t find the exact quote, but Noam Chomsky said something along the lines that the way to keep a people docile was to circumscribe the topics they could discuss but then allow them to discuss those topics most robustly. I took that to be a critique of circumscribing topics, as I think Chomsky intended, but it seems right in line with Milton and Walther.

Now, can we define “suppress”? Walther approves GoDaddy kicking the Daily Stormer off its web hosting, but how much further would he go?

And how well-established need a core value be? The Left is, as I write, declaring certain aspects of the sexual revolution beyond debate, with the effort to raise questions being ipso facto hate speech — even if you’re off the clock and nobody has ever complained of actual discrimination. And be it not forgotten that, as the blogger Popehat pontificated, we now have realized both the pro- and anti-free speech extreme hypotheticals. We have neo-Nazis marching, vilfying, threatening, and even killing — and we have an Administration that no sane person would trust to decide what speech is allowable.

Seems inauspicious to change course just now, if ever.

3

By 2016 it had become evident that Burkean conservatism—its intellectual coherence, philosophical depth and rigor, and consonance with Biblical political theology—was the working ideology of a tiny circle of intellectuals, not the voice of a broad movement. Evangelicals as a group either did not understand or did not care about the deeper ideas supposedly beneath their own movement. There is still widespread opposition to abortion and (decreasingly) gay marriage, but little evidence that such opposition is rooted in the ideas that were supposed to have animated social conservatism.

Instead, evangelicals, particularly white evangelicals, appear to have gravitated away from the ideas of Burkean conservatism and towards nationalism. Nationalism is reflexive tribal loyalty to the majority culture—which is to say, white American Protestantism. This is confusing because the majority culture still professes Christianity (although there is very little distinctively Christian about “cultural Christianity”). As a result, some Christians wrongly equate loyalty to the United States with loyalty to the church.

The campaign, election, and administration of President Donald J. Trump has made clear the conversion of white evangelicals from social conservatism to nationalism. White evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Trump in the 2016 election, some 81 percent of them having voted for him. For many, their support was motivated by concern for the Supreme Court, which overrode concerns about Trump’s character, truthfulness, conduct towards women, ignorance of foreign policy, and xenophobia …

It is not that Trump has promoted progressive or liberal policy, such as abortion or gay marriage. Rather, the problem is that Trump’s presidency has a corrosive affect on the institutions of government and the mores of civil society, which Burkean conservatism says are vital for a healthy, functioning society. Trump’s public personality, rhetoric, and behavior are a walking rebuke to the traditions of American public life—traditions that social conservatives purport to venerate. Put another way, Trump is bad for the norms and informal rules that hold society together. Let me give just two examples. I’ve deliberately chosen two of the lesser examples.

First, Trump lies compulsively—he lied or made misleading statements almost five times per day, every day, for the first 162 days in office …

I’ve deliberately chosen the least-inflammatory accusations to illustrate Trump’s corrosive effect on American political culture. I could multiply examples. I could cite the Trump administration’s casualtreatment of classified information and subsequent endangering of American national security (and yes, I criticized Clinton for the same thing) and undermining of the rule of law. I could mention the Trump family’s evident use of public office for private gain. I could mention Trump’s regular criticism of the public institutions that are supposed to constrain him, including the free press, the intelligence community, and the courts, which transgresses American traditions and denigrates the checks and balances that are at the heart of our system of government.

Most worrisome, I could mention Trump’s firing of the Director of the FBI amidst the Bureau’s ongoing investigation of ties between his campaign and various Russian interests, and the possibility that he may have attempted to interfere in the investigation of his former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn.

The point is that Trump is a bad president, according to the criteria Burkean social conservatives should care about. If bad company corrupts good morals, Trump’s company corrupts good government ….

(Dr. Paul D. Miller, Social Conservatism vs Tribal Nationalism)

I don’t think that 81% of Evangelicals voting for Trump proves that they’ve become tribal nationalists. Many of them reported doing so on the basis that he was the least bad choice, or that he’d do them proud on Court appointments (a topic Dr. Miller discusses in portions of his article I’ve not quoted). Their unwillingness to admit that he’s awful, though, speaks very badly of them — or so it seems to me.

But I’m coming at it from the perspective that even if calling out his awfulness accomplishes nothing else, it’s important — to avoid sullying with complicity the name of my Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ — to bear witness that Donald J. Trump is not an acceptable President to those whose Christianity is pre-American and whose “conservatism” is actually conservative. Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit.

David French reaches a similar conclusion via the route of “small ball versus big picture”:

Last night there was an important exchange on Fox News, one that highlighted the growing divide on the right. In one corner was Trump supporter Laura Ingraham, in the other Trump critic Charles Krauthammer …

[I]n a nutshell it boiled down to this. Ingraham began with mild criticism of the president, based largely on the argument that his press conference was a distraction from his agenda. It was essentially an unforced error, and he needs to pivot quickly back to his policies. It was classic small-ball political analysis …

Krauthammer, by contrast, went big — calling out the president not for making a political blunder but rather for making a profoundly immoral statement:

To critique what [President Trump] did today on the grounds that it distracts from the agenda or was a tactical mistake, I believe, is a cop-out. What Trump did today was a moral disgrace. What he did is he reverted back to where he was on Saturday and made it very clear that what he read on Monday, two days later, was a hostage tape. Clearly reading off a prompter, saying these denunciations by name of the KKK et cetera — that wasn’t Trump speaking, that was the aids speaking. . . . What Trump is missing here is the uniqueness of white supremacy, KKK, and Nazism. Yes, there were bad guys on both sides. That’s not the point. This was instigated, instituted — the riot began over a Nazi riot, a Nazi rally. And the only killing here occurred by one of the pro-Nazi, pro-KKK people.

Or, let’s put it differently. Ultimately, culture matters more than politics, and when the leader of the free world inflicts cultural damage this severe, he’s doing far more harm than a few judicial appointments can remedy.

The pundit version of this cop-out is simply “calling balls and strikes.” Praise him when he’s right, critique him when he’s wrong, and keep your eyes focused firmly on that strike zone. Don’t think too hard about the larger implications of his words and actions. In this world, Trump makes “unforced errors” or he “shoots himself in the foot,” as if he’s Bill Buckner in 1986 — trying his hardest but, gosh-darnit, sometimes he screws up.

It’s time for conservatives to remember the cultural power of the presidency. It’s time for us to understand that Trump’s persona is — certainly for now — more influential than his policies … Krauthammer was right. Trump’s conduct yesterday was a “moral disgrace.” He exacerbated divisions that have existed since before the nation’s founding. He gave the vicious and vile alt-right it’s most important public victory. If he keeps it up, his “agenda” will be a footnote to history. Hate, division, and rage will be his true legacy, and that legacy will have far greater consequence than any policy he manages to pass.

4

The Washington Post inexplicably thinks that a cloying, click-baity straw-man “argument” is worthy of continued prominence on its Opinion pages:

Google Straw Man

It would have been nice if Samuel Freeman had troubled himself to engage James Damore’s argument before virtue-signaling his opposition. If anything, the concentration of female physicians in pediatrics confirms Damore’s generalizations about the sorts of things women tend to prefer, which generalizations others more qualified than I have confirmed are almost all scientifically sound (while in some cases questioning their relevance to Google’s diversity initiatives).

But his shame is shared by the Post for publishing it and then continuing to feature it prominently.

* * * * *

Fiat justitia ruat caelum

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.