- American Doppelgänger
- Peculiarly loveless
- What to do about the statues
- The Rhetoric of Authority
- Grand Rapids’ Lutheran Work Ethic
- L’ennemi de mon ennemi n’est pas mon ami
We can grow and we can change. But the change is constituted by becoming light, not by becoming well-behaved darkness.
There’s a lot to think about here for Russophobes and Russophiles alike:
There is something mystifying about the American obsession with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The Kremlin’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, its military involvement in Syria and its meddling in elections abroad may help explain some of America’s sense of alarm. But they fail to explain why liberals in the United States are so much more vexed by Russia than they are by, say, the growing economic power and geopolitical ambitions of China, or the global ideological challenge of radical Islam or the sheer craziness of a nuclear-armed North Korea.
Russia suffers from demographic decline and arrested modernization. Its economy is overdependent on exporting natural resources. Its population has one of the highest percentages of university-educated people but the lowest labor productivity in the industrialized world …
Was it not just two years ago that President Barack Obama called Russia a “regional power”? … As the eminent American historian Stephen Kotkin wrote last year in Foreign Affairs, “For half a millennium Russian foreign policy has been characterized by soaring ambitions that have exceeded the country’s capabilities.” It is no different today.
As for many of the great questions of our times, an explanation can be found in Russian classical literature. In this case, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella “The Double.” It is the story of a government clerk who winds up in the madhouse after meeting his doppelgänger — a man who looks like him and speaks like him, but who displays all the charm and self-confidence that the tortured protagonist lacks. The doppelgänger in Dostoyevsky’s story does not drive the protagonist insane just because they look alike but because he makes the protagonist realize what it is he doesn’t like about himself. And such it is with the United States and Russia today.
If a leader is particularly gifted he could, in a moment of historical stress, succeed in speaking to the nation’s soul and moving its heart by addressing its brain. This kind of thing comes from love—of the country, our people, what we’ve been. It struck me this week as he spoke that his speeches and statements are peculiarly loveless. The public Mr. Trump is not without sentiment and occasional sentimentality, but the deeper wells of a broader love seem not there to draw from. Seven months in, people know they can look to him for a reaction, a statement, an announcement, but not for comfort, inspiration, higher meaning.
Matthew J. Franck thinks, as I recently and and publicly concluded, that “the statues” (of Confederate leaders) should come down:
To this day, admiration for Lee still runs very high in the American South. This is especially true among more conservative whites, most especially if they themselves have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. In the South, the enduring image of Lee is that of a Christian gentleman, a gallant soldier, and one of the most brilliant generals of any age. In the terrible conflict of the Civil War, the South was outmanned and outgunned, but thanks above all to Lee, it was not out-generaled, at least not until the ascendancy of Grant and Sherman. Hence it is a natural thing for southerners to be drawn to his memory and to look up in admiration at the many statues of him that dot the region.
But what do these mute statues and monuments—to Lee, to Stonewall Jackson, to the memory of other officers and soldiers of the Confederate army—really say in their own right? That is, setting aside any disagreements over Lee the man (who died in 1870, after all)—what do the statues of Lee and the others communicate?
We may place to one side of this question those memorials and monuments that appear in southern cemeteries. There the memories of the dead are a commingling of pride, tragedy, mourning, and love of one’s own—the stuff of elegies since men began to fight wars.
But what of the heroic statuary placed in parks, on the broad avenues of southern cities and towns, in the central squares and plazas? These are the flashpoints of controversy today, and rightly so. For understood in reference to their sordid origin, these statues were meant to say to black Americans, in the voice of the unreconstructed white majority, “We’re back in charge, and don’t you forget it.”
In what other country have the vanquished been permitted by the victors to erect public monuments to their heroes? The typical Lee or Jackson statue is an artifact of the period after the collapse of Reconstruction in 1877, when white supremacists themselves became the victors in the southern states once again. Whether they propagated the “New South” mythology—the lie—that the protection of slavery had not been the cause of secession, or clung to the hard-boiled “Lost Cause” defense of slavery itself, what the ruling whites of the post-Reconstruction South had in common was a devotion to their superior political and social position, which meant keeping the black race down, by law, by privation, and by violence.
But our friends of good will who wish to preserve something of all this should be willing to give up something too. That something should be the prominent statues and monuments in the great open spaces of our communities that we share with all our fellow citizens. For these are in their turn a gratuitous slap in the face of people who have felt the sting too much already. For a white Yankee like me, they’re bad enough. For black Americans, they must be intolerable.
Michael Brendan Dougherty is not focused on “the statues,” but if he’s correct, then I was wrong when I suggested recently that they incite and embolden the far Right to say again “We’re back in charge, and don’t you forget it”:
The Robert E. Lee statue was a MacGuffin — or, rather, he was Antifa bait, and the college town that it happened to be in was just a place where Antifa could be expected to swim. The organizers don’t want heritage, they wanted footage.
Really, what they wanted to do was to set a trap for conservatives. The explosive growth of Antifa during the 2016 campaign and since the election of Donald Trump has become a fixture in conservative media. Conservatives had warned that mainstream-media figures were summoning an awful thing into being by cheering on masked left-wingers who punched Nazis. Soon, anyone you wanted to punch would start looking like a Nazi.
Sure enough. Aggressive left-wing “direct action” started falling on conservative speakers on campus. And Antifa played the main role in shutting down speeches by Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter. Even if conservatives, of the type that wears loafers and bowties, had become used to holding Yiannopoulos and Coulter at arm’s length, the sight of left-wingers using violence and the threat of worse riots to shut them down caused some rallying effect.
The organizers of Unite the Right wanted to achieve the same thing for themselves. A spectacle would attract Antifa, who would predictably use violence. Some mainstream-media figures would endorse that violence, and some conservatives, they believed, would feel obliged to defend the ActualFascists because, hey, these left-wing mobs are attacking America’s legal and social norms of free speech. In other words, even if the assorted Jew-haters and fashy dorks can’t persuade conservatives to adopt a “no enemies to the right” posture, perhaps Antifa would.
And then one of these MAGA-fascists rammed his Dodge muscle car into peaceful protesters, killing a woman.
[T]he problem Charlottesville presents for the larger “alt-light” is serious. There seemed to be a real upside to cultivating a reputation as the edgiest and most transgressive political movement going. You’re free of the pieties that come from longer-lived movements. You look authentic, even fresh. And your stock goes up. But there’s an iron law at work here: As soon as anyone identifiably on the right gets the reward of attention for being transgressive, the Neo-Nazis swiftly show up, and the value of transgressive right-wing politics returns to its true value in America, near zero.
Most of the debate about Confederate monuments after Charlottesville has been a distraction. The rally organizers came prepared for violence, and they wanted it. They wanted footage of themselves getting punched and maced so that they could use conservative antipathy to Antifa to erode conservative antipathy to ActualFascists. Don’t fall for it.
(Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Fascists Were Using Antifa against Conservatives)
UPDATE: Patrick J. Buchanan, sadly, fell for it. His brand of conservatism has been out of the mainstream now for several decades (and by and large, that has been a good thing), but this is beyond the pale.
Peggy Noonan also addresses the status of “the statues” from more of “a 30,0000 foot view”:
In June in London, with time on my hands, I walked by Parliament to stare at it. I like the color of its stones. There I noticed for the first time a fierce-looking statue on a towering pedestal. It is a heroic rendering of Oliver Cromwell. He helped lead a revolution that toppled the government. He rose in the military ranks through a brutal civil war and signed the death warrant of an English king, who was beheaded. He brutalized Catholic Ireland and went on to function, arguably, as a military dictator.
He also helped implant the idea that monarchs had best not ride roughshod over Parliament, created England’s first national (and more democratic) army, and widened religious tolerance, at least among Protestants. He died of natural causes, and when the royalists returned, they dug him up and, in a piquant touch, beheaded his corpse.
Some fella. And yet there he is, put forth as one of the towering figures of his nation. He is not there because the British mean to endorse regicide or genocide. He is there because he is England. He is part of the warp and woof of that great nation’s story. He is there because the English still appear to love and respect their own history, which they know is one of struggle, not sinlessness. So he’s on a pedestal below which members of Parliament and tourists pass. This is what that statue says: I am Oliver Cromwell and I am here.
There is a movement now to take down our nation’s statues, at the moment primarily those of Confederate soldiers and generals. The reason is that they fought on behalf of a region that sought to maintain a cruel and immoral system, chattel slavery, which they did. But slavery was not only a Southern sin, it was an American one.
The Tear It Down movement is driven by the left and is acceded to by some on the right. This is the sophisticated stance. I do not share it. We should not tear down but build.
When a nation tears down its statues, it’s toppling more than brass and marble. It is in a way toppling itself—tearing down all the things, good, bad and inadequate, that made it. Or, rather, everyone. Not all of what made America is good—does anyone even think this?—but why try to hide from that?
Edmund Burke famously said we have a duty to the past, the present and the future. In the minds of the Tear-Downers only the present is important …
Polls suggest that the nation agrees with Noonan’s conclusion on this. Maybe we’d better try defusing the neo-Nazis other than by tearing down physical rallying points.
[T]he tendency towards pronunciamento is … a function of the self-image of the [New York] Times as the official arbiter of all that is good and right — which means that the paper is happy to allow that tone to manifest itself in all sorts of ways throughout the paper.
Take for instance this review by Beverly Gage of Mark Lilla’s new book on liberalism. At one point Gage writes, “He disparages Black Lives Matter as ‘a textbook example of how not to build solidarity,’ … This is a shame, because he identifies some truly important questions that liberals and leftists of all stripes will have to face together.” Note that Gage does not ask whether the political strategy of Black Lives Matter is flawed, or even inform us why Lilla thinks it is. Such things simply are not said: to note that he said it is sufficient for refutation.
This is the classic voice of the NYT, its serene rhetoric of unquestioned, unquestioning, and unquestionable authority. And if you hold the right views, as Gage appears to, then the making of pronunciamentos (even pronunciamentos by implication or suggestion) is actually preferred to the making of arguments.
(Alan Jacobs, the NYT’s rhetoric of authority)
The Michigan city’s robust industry and its residents’ Lutheran work ethic have helped preserve its culture of philanthropy—anchored by Acton supporters like Dick and Betsy DeVos.
(Mene Ukueberuwa, Wall Street Journal piece on Acton Institute) That has got to be the first time I’ve heard tell of a “Lutheran work ethic,” let alone hearing of Grand Rapids being suffused with it.
I have warned true social conservatives in the past that big business is not our friend. I do not consider the resignations of some business mucky-mucks from the President’s Business Council to be a manifestation of business hostility toward social conservatives, because Donald Trump is sui generis, not socially conservative. But neither does it warm the cockles of my heart in a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” sense. Big business has not put away the daggers it used in the Battle of Indianapolis.
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Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit.
There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)