As others see us

Writing from Czechia, after an evening with the family of Vaclav Benda:

At one point, we were talking about the atmosphere of militant progressivism in the West, and how hard it is for Czechs to understand what’s happening in American universities. One of the Benda family friends, an academic, asked me if I had heard of Jordan B. Peterson. Yes, of course, I said.

“He is a miracle!” said this man.

Someone present explained that under communism, underground Christians looked with admiration to the West. But now they see so much decadence in the West, and don’t want it ….

(Rod Dreher)



I keep having a slightly unnerving experience here, both in Hungary and the Czech Republic. People cannot understand the insanity coming from America, the UK, and the EU on LGBT and gender theory. It is literally incomprehensible to them. Just this morning I was talking to a seminary professor of moral theology who said that his thesis on alternative sexualities was laughed at; his colleagues could not believe that anyone would take this stuff seriously. This professor is no advocate for alternative sexualities, but he had lived and taught in the West, and he knows they are going to have to be dealing with this stuff here sooner or later.

I keep telling the people I talk to about this that they should not simply laugh this stuff off as incomprehensible. Several agreed with me that 40 years of communism served as a vaccination against susceptibility to ideological extremism, and that this might be why even atheists (most Czechs are atheists) find the gender theory types to be crackpots. But then, if you had told a lot of Americans in 1998 what would be mainstream in our country on this front in 2018, they would have laughed like the Czechs and the Hungarians laughed. But now look.

(Another Dreher blog installment)

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It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.

A man … is only a bigot if he cannot understand that his dogma is a dogma, even if it is true.

(G.K. Chesterton) Be of good courage, you who are called “bigots” by those who are unable to conceive seriously the alternatives to their dogmas.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Sins of the fathers

[T]he public debate about how Congress ought to respond to this latest mass shooting is guided by two broad principles. Dubious on their own, they are even more witless when combined. The first is the idea that the most important thing is to “do something.” The second is that we ought to look to high-schoolers for the answer.

This in no way diminishes the barbarity of what happened to the Parkland students. It is, however, to insist on the obvious: As terrible as their experiences were, the attack gives them no special insight into the complex array of public policies that might have prevented the slaughter.

… Is it really so unreasonable to insist that those pushing specific legislation or regulations provide evidence that the something they want done will in fact produce the results they claim?

It’s not just conservatives who have doubts. In an October 2016 article in GQ, the Guardian’s full-time gun-politics reporter conceded she was “shocked by how little evidence there was behind some of the most prominent gun control policies.” The year before, right after the San Bernardino killings, the Washington Post fact checker backed Mr. Rubio’s claim that gun laws would not have prevented any of the major shootings the nation had seen in recent years.

(William McGurn, Our Childish Gun Debate, Wall Street Journal)

I agree with every word of that, but I’ve been disturbed for years by the anti-legislation trope that, in effect, “there’s nothing effective we can do because there already are so many guns out there.” A case against gun control by David French took substantially that tack:

  1. Do people have a right of self-defense?
  2. Does that right include that the self-defense be effective?
  3. If so, you mustn’t ban AR-15s because they are in common use, only law-abiding citizens will yield them up in compliance with a ban, and such a citizen, defending against a criminal’s AR-15, is relatively ineffective if they’ve got something less.

The logic speaks for itself. Few deny the right of self-defense. The whole premise of trying to ban AR-15s is that there are so many of them and they’re so lethal. So only by denying the right to effective self-defense can most people support such a ban.

[Aside: If anyone from the left coast is reading this, I’d also caution you that people who live far from the police station in flyover country, not to mention those who live in rural areas and need to deal with varmints, will not be amused by a ban. Remember “bitter clingers’? Now they’re known as Trumpistas.]

I have no solution to the conundrum, but I now have a convenient myth to explain how we got here (“here” being zillions and zillions of guns protected by the Second Amendment): America’s original sin got us here. It’s especially convenient since, unlike the demonization of the NRA, it’s plausible:

The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country” (the Framers knew the difference – see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia’s vote. Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that . . . and we all should be too.

In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the “slave patrols,” and they were regulated by the states.

In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state. The law defined which counties had which armed militias and even required armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings.

By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South. Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put down slave uprisings. As Dr. Bogus points out, slavery can only exist in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias.

(Thom Hartmann, The Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery. H/T Lindsey Nelson on Facebook)

It’s tempting to “go full Jeremiad” and revert to Jonathan Edwards’ “Angry God” as the proximate cause of the gun plague and school shootings.

But I don’t know that we need that hypothesis. Sin ramifies. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. Poetic justice.

Pick your proverb. The dots connect intuitively for me, even if it’s difficult to articulate.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Shelby Steele on NFL & BLM

Stanford Historian and Hoover Institute Fellow Shelby Steele has a powerful essay in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, behind a pay wall, about the feckless NFL “take the knee” protests. He also touches on Black Lives Matter. You probably can get a copy of the Journal at Barnes & Noble or another news stand if you move quickly. Or there’s always your local library.

I’m going to quote his core claim and, what I find a most powerful illustration, and his reasoning on why protests continue:

The oppression of black people is over with. This is politically incorrect news, but it is true nonetheless. We blacks are, today, a free people. It is as if freedom sneaked up and caught us by surprise.

Of course this does not mean there is no racism left in American life. Racism is endemic to the human condition, just as stupidity is. We will always have to be on guard against it. But now it is recognized as a scourge, as the crowning immorality of our age and our history.

Protest always tries to make a point. But what happens when that point already has been made—when, in this case, racism has become anathema and freedom has expanded?

To hear … that more than 4,000 people were shot in Chicago in 2016 embarrasses us because this level of largely black-on-black crime cannot be blamed simply on white racism.

We can say that past oppression left us unprepared for freedom. This is certainly true. But it is no consolation. Freedom is just freedom. It is a condition, not an agent of change. It does not develop or uplift those who win it. Freedom holds us accountable no matter the disadvantages we inherit from the past. The tragedy in Chicago—rightly or wrongly—reflects on black America.

That’s why, in the face of freedom’s unsparing judgmentalism, we reflexively claim that freedom is a lie. We conjure elaborate narratives that give white racism new life in the present ….

I tried to comment on this, but that only made it weaker.

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Impeccable (in a reptilian sort of way)

There’s been a run of commentary, mostly negative, about “Catholic Integralism.” Look it up if you don’t know, which isn’t unlikely. I had only the vaguest idea. Some younger Catholics in particular seem to be flirting with it.

It may thus be providential that Patrick Deneen, after detailing the failure of liberalism, insists that we can’t go back (toward Integralism) but must go forward (to something—sigh—unknown); and that Romanus Cessario has (apparently unwittingly) given a vivid and prominent reminder of how Integralism worked as recently as 19th Century Italy. Cessario seems completely earnest about how Pope Pius IX did the right and necessary thing in taking six-year-old Edgardo Montarra from his Jewish parents, to a raise him as a Catholic, because he had been secretly baptized when his parents and doctors agreed that he was going to die.

Indeed, “we can’t go back” is what my viscera agree, precisely because Cessario’s logic is so impeccable (in a reptilian sort of way).

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

The Golden Globe deflection

Deflection as a media strategy has become an art form. Its purpose is to avoid answering a charge by misdirecting it and confusing the issue. It’s often used during crisis.

There are classics of the genre. After Princess Diana died in August 1997, the British press came under severe pressure, accused of literally driving the poor half-mad woman to her death. The paparazzi had chased her like jackals, raced after her car in the tunnel, surrounded it, and taken pictures after the crash. Fleet Street hunkered down in confusion, perhaps even some guilt. Then some genius noticed Buckingham Palace wasn’t flying a flag at half-staff. The tabloids rushed to front-page it: The cold Windsors, disrespecting Diana in death as they had in life. They shifted the focus of public ire. Suddenly there was no more talk of grubby hacks. Everyone was mad at the queen.

The best deflection has some truth in it. . The Windsors were a chilly lot …

I thought of all this last weekend as I watched the Golden Globes. Hollywood has known forever about abuse, harassment and rape within its ranks. All the true powers in the industry—the agencies, the studios—have one way or another been complicit. And so, in the first awards show after the watershed revelations of 2017, they understood they would not be able to dodge the subject. They seized it and redirected it. They boldly declared themselves the heroes of the saga. They were the real leaders in the fight against sexual abuse. They dressed in black to show solidarity, they spoke truth to power.

They went so far, a viewer would be forgiven for thinking that they were not upset because they found out about Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, et al. They were upset, as Glenn Reynolds noted on Twitter, that you found out, and thought less of them. Anyway, they painted themselves as heroes of the struggle.

Deflection is brilliant, wicked, and tends to work.

(Peggy Noonan)

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Bad Analogies

[N]o one, not the most wild-eyed critic of the principles underlying the civil-rights legislation of the 1960s, ever suggested that, if such laws were passed, they would lead to obscure Christian bakers’ being forced at the point of government bayonets to produce cakes for the celebration of homosexual weddings. (I write “principles” because the Masterpiece case is a challenge to a Colorado statute, not to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.) The slope is, in fact, slippery.

We ought to think a little about how far down the slope we want to go. We ought to think a little about how far down the slope we want to go. Americans look instinctively to our Constitution and to our national political principles for guidance, and our attitude toward them is the civic version of sola scriptura. We tend to generalize when we ought to specify and sometimes to specify when we ought to generalize. The social and political condition of African Americans in the 1960s was indefensible and incompatible with our national ideals. Something needed to be done, and something was, imperfectly. But our generalizing from that has not always been intelligent or prudent or constructive. Jews often were treated shabbily in our country, and sometimes still are, but the case against Princeton’s numerus clausus system of discriminating against Jewish applicants was not the same as the case against Mississippi’s suppression of African Americans. The situation of gay Americans in 2017 is not very much like that of black Americans in 1935.

It is not the case that discrimination is discrimination is discrimination. Telling a black man that he may not work in your bank because he is black is in reality a very different thing from telling a gay couple that you’d be happy to sell them cupcakes or cookies or pecan pies but you do not bake cakes for same-sex weddings — however much the principle of the thing may seem superficially similar. If the public sphere is infinite, then the private sphere does not exist, and neither does private life. Having a bakery with doors open to the public does not make your business, contra Justice Harlan, an agent of the state. A bakery is not the Commerce Department or the local public high school.

Sure, bakery customers may travel there on public roads. But tell me: Isn’t that EPA-regulated air you’re breathing?

(Kevin D. Williamson)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Hatchet-Job History

[I]nexcusably sloppy editorializing posing as scholarship has becoming increasingly characteristic of the conservative movement as a media phenomenon. Editorial opinions dressed up as as scholarship and then placed in book form and mass-marketed have become part of the new highbrow conservatism …

Perhaps one of the most ludicrous examples of the conservative movement’s recent attempt at being sophisticated was an exchange of equally uninformed views by talk show host Dennis Prager and Dinesh D’Souza, on the subject of the fascist worldview. The question was whether one could prove that fascism was a leftist ideology by examining the thought of Mussolini’s court philosopher Giovanni Gentile (1875-1944). Gentile defined the “fascist idea” in his political writings while serving as minister of education in fascist Italy. He was also not incidentally one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century; and in works like General Theory of the Spirit as Pure Act, adapts the thought of Hegel to his own theory of evolving national identity. It would be hard to summarize Gentile’s thought in a few pithy sentences; and, not surprisingly, the Canadian historian of philosophy H.S. Harris devotes a book of many hundreds of pages trying to explain his complex philosophical speculation.

Hey, but that’s no big deal for such priests of the GOP church as Prager and D’Souza. They zoom to the heart of Gentile’s neo-Hegelian worldview in thirty seconds and state with absolute certainty that he was a “leftist.” …

I still recall a column by [Jonah] Goldberg in which he exiled to the far left ultraconservative opponents of the French Revolution, because they didn’t believe in human rights. He then went on to compare the Catholic counterrevolutionary Joseph de Maistre to a black feminist advocate of affirmative action, because both associated human beings with the national identities into which they were born. Apparently anyone who views others in terms of their ethnic origin, no matter at what point in history, is a certified leftist. At that time I was puzzled (but am no longer) that Goldberg had no idea that political camps in 1800 were different from what they are now.

Let me close these observations by noting the obvious. There are still many respectable historical works that are produced by scholars identified, however loosely, with the American right. But there is also a plague of genuinely ridiculous writings on historical subjects coming from conservative media celebrities that surpass in their arrogant stupidity almost anything I’ve encountered in professional journals. As for people who yap about the ideologically tainted work that originate in our universities, one might hope they’d be somewhat better than those they declaim against. That’s not always the case.

(Paul Gottfried, Right-wing Celebrities Play Fast and Loose With History) I’m disappointed that Dennis Prager collaborated so recently with Dinesh D’Souza. I guess someone needs to be his friend if he’s ever to be rehabilitated, but that shouldn’t include joining him in the hucksterism to which his tragic flaws have presently consigned him.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Why do they hate us?

What They Saw in America:
Alexis de Tocqueville, Max Weber, G. K. Chesterton, and Sayyid Qutb

by James L. Nolan Jr.
Cambridge, 306 pages, $27.99

In the wake of 9/11, James Nolan was prompted to reflect on America to find a satisfactory answer to a simple question: “Why do they hate us?” He gives his answer by pairing the critical observations of three widely respected European writers, whose feelings toward America were at worst ambivalent, with those of Sayyid Qutb, an early leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose views were downright hostile.

Common threads in all four of his subjects’ criticisms of America lead Nolan to conclude that many traditional hallmarks of American exceptionalism—liberal democracy and individuality, free markets and free speech, pragmatism and pluralism—can be viewed as quintessentially American vices, and sources of perennial conflict with the outside world.

The problem, for Nolan, isn’t so much what these norms and institutions represent in themselves (which is very little, since most are only negations of positive values). Rather, the problem is what they leave behind once pockets of illiberal opposition, such as orthodox Christianity, fade away: little more than commodity fetishism and libido dominandi. Or so Tocqueville feared, and Qutb raged.

—Connor Grubaugh is assistant editor of First Things.

(First Things, January 2018. Paywall will disappear over the next month or so, article by article.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Some more on sexual harassment

In Monday’s Washington Post, Sally Kohn argues that “Sexual harassment should be treated as a hate crime”:

We have to stop seeing sexual harassment and sexual assault as some sort of flattery of women gone awry. In truth, sexual assault has nothing to do with sex, or sexuality, or flirting, or courtship, or love. Rather, sexual assault is a kind of hate. The men who gratify themselves by abusing women aren’t getting off on those women, but on power. These men don’t sexually assault women because they like women but because they despise them as subordinate creatures. We should call it misogynistic harassment and misogynistic assault, not sexual assault. These are hate crimes.

Had she stopped there, the column would have been another example of why “hate crime laws” are noxious weeds, but she didn’t stop:

I don’t mean this in the formal, legal sense. Hate crimes are already problematic ….

Whew! That’s a relief!

But then, what’s her point?

  • We need to fight the misogyny, sexism and the systemic marginalization of women and disproportionate empowerment of men. That’s what creates the society-wide dynamic in which men think they’re better than women …
  • the predictable dynamics of a society that hates women.
  • we need to see about how our boardrooms and stockrooms and classrooms and family dining rooms teach, incentivize and perpetuate misogynistic hate.
  • Employers also need to address misogynistic hate deep within corporate culture and rooted in business policies …
  • Whether we realize it or not, most men hate women. As do most women as well; studies show
  • we’ve all grown up inside the rotten barrel of a society that automatically grants men disproportionate power and privilege …
  • it’s the rotten air we’ve all learned to breathe. That’s the rot at the core of misogynistic harassment and assault — a rot within all of us, that has nothing to do with sex or affection and everything to do with hate.

My synthesis of that list of quotes is “our society is rotten, top to bottom and surface to core. Maybe even that nature is rotten.

I’ve complained that we’re not getting to the bottom of the sexual harassment revelations (and no doubt false accusations in at least a few cases), so I’ll give Kohn credit for trying to get more radical (that is, getting to the roots).

But her “woke” indictment is too sweeping to be of any use. It’s the secular counterpart to a generic Christian meta-explanation “Why? Because ‘sin,’ that’s why, dummy” or a Calvinist positing that it’s all fore-ordained to glorify God’s sovereign good pleasure.

The level of generality it too high to help. Only the “woke” will bite, and if they try to impose some specific top-down solutions to a society that is (according to Kohn) so fundamentally rotten, they’ll produce more populist backlash, more Donald Trumps, more Roy Moores.

Maybe there are a few nuggets in there, but I rate it, overall, “not helpful.”

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Maybe I’m too pessimistic about progress on sexual harassment thus far:

There is a radical change in culture. Things which used to be tolerated by both genders are now increasingly defined as inconceivable. And I find it interesting that this case focuses on the margins: You said, but you didn’t touch. It’s a good place for the debate to be. It’s an interesting indication how the culture has changed.

(Amitai Etzioni) “Inconceivable.” Oh! Wait! That was written 26 years ago! Never mind.

(H/T Joel Mathis, who’s somewhat skeptical himself.)

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Helpful—no, make that “Bracing”:

Sexual harassment is a filthy offense. However, it is impossible to restrain unless we acknowledge a standard of sexual morality.

To avoid conceding any such thing, workplaces have taken to defining sexual harassment as unwanted sexual attention toward another person. In other words, the point isn’t what one is actually doing, but how the other party receives it. It is entirely subjective.

Such a standard is unworkable, because the lecher cannot know whether his beastly attention is unwanted until he commits it. The rule merely encourages him to give it a try. If the other party is too intimidated to object, his behavior is not identifiable as harassment even then.

Suppose we define sexual harassment in the older way, as lewd attention toward another person. Whether attention is lewd does not depend on what the other party thinks of it.

Persisting in lewd behavior over the protests of the other person makes it still more despicable, of course. But it would have been despicable anyway.

(J. Budziszewski)

Note that the second paragraph is cognate with David French’s observation that for sex to happen, somebody must “make the ask.” French’s point was that consent is vitiated if the askor is disproportionately powerful relative to the askee.

Budziszewski is going a level deeper, and his definition would improve things. But even workplace flirtation strikes me as a problem when there’s a power imbalance.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.