Dear Reader, I think I’m a reasonably normal person. My primary loyalties are to those I love most (and how politics might affect us). Should the terrorist threat become dangerous enough, no sitting President, nor anyone responsible for the security of American citizens at home, will allow organized terrorist organizations a staging area in Afpak. The lower probability, but higher consequences, of a terror attack here, will likely dictate some sort of action there (SpecOps, intel, cyber warfare, drones etc.). This can affect my family/loved ones directly (the attack and the laws and policy coming out of the threat, and the incentives for all of us dealing with the threat).
People on the right, and myself more often, place higher value on defeating external threats. We’re more likely to route decision-making through a few nodes against these external threats (or tens of thousands of nodes in the current, bloated, semi-woke monstrosity of a Pentagon and contractor complex). I hope it’s in as good faith as possible.
The common defense is the primary reason we have a government in the first place.
People on the Left, as I see things, generally will see the primary threat within the West (the oppressor), and/or rally their troops against the threats to health/education and the institutions in which they gather (COVID safetyism and authoritarian impulses through the health/education industrial complex, for example).
My next ring of loyalty is to those few I know who’ve served in Afpak who are friends and fellow citizens. They volunteered and heard the call. They saw, and sometimes did, some shit…to keep us safer here. This is a thankless task. I live in a country of laws and borders. It’s a place. This place is my home. It comes with freedoms and responsibilities.
My next ring of loyalty (concentric rings) are to those standing up for policy and who claim to speak in my name as politicians and lawmakers, and maybe those who stand up for Afghanistan (Afghanis) with the help of our troops. This loyalty is much more negotiable for me personally, and lately, much more negotiable than ever in my lifetime. I simply don’t really trust our politics to handle immigration reasonably at the moment.
This saddens me, because some honorable, decent people are getting chopped up as a result.
The fact which worries me most: Our political leadership is especially sclerotic, failing in many important ways, for many important reasons. The Afghanistan withdrawal disaster was a conscious decision, and a clusterfuck.
Politics, to some extent, corrupts military leadership. The longer ex-generals hang around the political sphere, the less honor and respect they tend to wield. The longer politicians hang around Washington (especially past their sell-by date), the less honor and respect they hopefully wield (there’s probably a point of ideal ripeness/rottenness). At this point, the rank and file has more reasons than ever to question our political and military leadership. And we’re not even at the bottom of woke yet, with many illiberal and righteous actors leveraging bad knowledge in bad faith (as I see things).
The more conflicts that pile up from the bottom of a military hierarchy, and the more reasons anyone on the bottom has to question, bypass, endure or challenge the hierarchy itself, the more brittle the hierarchy.
Charles Hill strikes me as a man with actual, real-world experience, and an interest in theory. A man who focused on his students, challenging them beyond what he saw as anemic ‘issue-based’ thinking. This is getting a lot of things right, in my opinion.
It’s a pretty rough, and ‘real’, world out there.
Yes, the Chinese leadership is playing a longer game with Taiwan, Hong-Kong, its historical borders and the Belt and Road initiative. This is a strategic, deeply authoritarian vision, ruthless at times, and quite adversarial to many American interests. A sizable number of Chinese folks probably don’t agree with their own leadership. Good luck with that, Chinese folks, American policy-makers, American allies, and anyone along the Belt and Road.
We all have interests, reasons, and hard choices to make.
At home and in the Anglosphere, I like Eric Kaufmann’s practical suggestions for restoring some balance in our universities.
It’s almost like we’ve had a couple of generations of relatively unrealistic, questionable stewardship about what’s important. When it comes to Self-knowledge (instead of (S)elf-Worship wrapped in liberation fantasies and New Age claptrap), people, all too often, are finding themselves captive to rules and expectations.
This way lies further opinioneering:
Joe Biden was the establishment alternative to a populist-Left Bernie (something like a Socialist). Socialism, if fully implemented, is immiserating, soul-crushing and murderous. Old dreams die hard. If we’re lucky, here at home, Bernie’s leadership would mean a politics of fewer jobs and freedoms, lots of incompetence, strikes, and more violence.
Biden, after becoming Obama’s VP and with Obama’s imprimatur, has courted as much of the black vote as he can. He is also seeking to maintain the black-leadership vote (SPLC, ‘race’-leaders, Civil Rights and BLM wrongs). A good amount of such thinking flirts with Democratic Socialism, ‘baptized Marxism,’ and supporting the rule of law…some of the time.
Channeling such interests has led to a spate of new executive gun orders. As for me, Dear Reader, I choose to see Joe Biden as a decrepit, glad-handing product of his times and places, guiding an overbuilt and semi-functional executive branch (the next guy will have many similar incentives). He’s what vanishingly remains of the ‘moderate’ old-school Democratic leadership, back when people talked about War Bonds.
Much left-liberal sentiment, these days, is finding release by blaming lot of current political and media failures, and the country’s failures, on psychologically comforting sources like Trump (for all his faults) and various tribal enemies. Or by pursuing policies like gun-control and Teacher’s Unions'(I be-LIEVE the CHIL-dren are our FU-ture….).
It is what it is.
Oh, there will be politics. Where have you been seen?
In the meantime, many Country-Club Republicans have been seen a bit dazed, wandering local putting-greens, nursing martinis. Some Never-Trumpers have been seen posing as Democrats, sneering at rednecks and definitely seen as NOT RACIST. Some religious folks have gone woke, and some religious folks have gone crazy. Many traditionalists have been seen hiding out within traditions. Many folks in big-businesses and the corporate bureaucratic webs of influence, have been seen signaling professional wokeness as a matter of cultural relevance, and survival. A lot of people I know are interested in ‘Helping the Cause’ when they patronize a restaurant or buy a bit of stock (I be-LIEVE I WILL BE in the FU-ture…).
Once such right-of-center coalitions get into power, I’m expecting a fair amount of dipshittery and bad policy, too. There are always assholes and creeps in the mix. Politics is the art of the possible, after all. They’ll no doubt be a lot of finding release by blaming political and media enemies, and on psychologically comforting sources like The Left and Socialists (as real as I think these threats are to genuine freedoms).
Maybe, just maybe, there’ll be less government?
It’s probably too much to hope.
Political institutions, not too long ago, were still appealing to a profound American idealism with much more credibility than they have now. The call to higher things, these days, is very faint among better sorts, while the bellows are busy with hot emotions and worse people.
Socially and culturally, rural folks, gun-owners, and small-government types (me in this last category, definitely), are something of an out-group. The majority hasn’t held, and many longer trend lines have caught-up. Such folks are often mischaracterized and held to ridiculous double-standards. Sure, I don’t mind being someone it’s okay to piss on!
What a hot, glorious rain!
On a personal and professional level, I take people as they are, and hope they do the same for me. We’d probably get along in most situations.
With and increasingly sclerotic leadership bench (Bush–Clinton–Clinton–Younger Bush–Younger Bush–Obama–Obama–Trump–Biden), we’ve all got, needless to say, serious problems.
On that note, please enjoy some photos I’ve managed to take while out walking (not working, not with loved ones):
I’m getting to levels of passing incompetence with my iPhone 8:
“The Peloponennisian War created the sorts of tension in Athens that would appear to support Thucydides’ analysis. Obligations to the community required greater sacrifice and presented a clearer conflict with the self-seeking “Homeric” pursuit of one’s status, power and pleasure. In political terms, people had to decide whether or not to plot against the democracy to bring off an Olgarchic coup. In moral terms they had to decide whether or not to ignore the demands of the community, summed up in the requirements of “justice,” in favor of their own honor, status, power, and in general their perceived interest. Plato was familiar with people who preferred self-interest over other-regarding obligation; his own relatives, Critias and Charmides, made these choices when they joined the Thirty Tyrants.
Arguments from natural philosophy did not restrain people like Critias and Charmides. Democritus argues unconvincingly that the requirements of justice and the demands of nature, as understood by Atomism, can be expected to coincide. Protogoras rejects the view that moral beliefs are true and well grounded only if they correspond to some reality independent of believers; admittedly they are matters of convention, but so are all other beliefs about the world. This line or argument removes any ground for preferring nature over convention, but at the same time seems to remove any rational ground for preferring one convention over another.”
Bork argues that during the 1960’s, likely starting with the SDS, a form of liberalism took shape that promotes radical egalitarianism (social justice, equality of outcomes) and radical individualism (excessive freedom from the moral and legal doctrines which require an individual’s duty and which form the fabric of civil society). This is the New Left.
Grounded in an utopian vision, fed in part by the affluence of the previous decades and the boredom and yearning of largely well-off youth, the New Left blossomed not merely into the anti-draft Vietnam protests across the nation’s universities, but into a movement that has forever altered American life in mostly negative ways for Bork (see Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic: That Party At Lenny’s… for a rich account of the times).
Bork is quite explicit about the violence and threats of violence he witnessed, the barbarism on display, and the confused, tense years that unfolded (culminating in the Kent State debacle). He was one of two conservative law professors at Yale during the late 1960’s and he argues that events have rarely been represented accurately as he saw them. It is a personal account.
On Bork’s view, the New Left is still quite with us, for the New Left, to some extent, has morphed into the multi-cultural, diversity politicking, equality pursuing liberal left we’ve come to know and love. How much equality is enough? There’s never enough. How free is the individual? Well, he’s almost, if not totally, free. Radically liberating’s one’s self is central, usually from oppression, and once sexually, morally and politically liberated, utopia will arrive.
I think Bork is at his best when he highlights how portions of the radical individualist project continue to seek meaning in life through collectivist political philosophy, politics, political ideology, gender equality, feminism etc (whereas I would think Bork finds this meaning, a deeper, wiser meaning, in Church doctrine, but the Natural Law folks have problems with him). Bork even concedes that it may be something in the pursuit of liberty itself, as we do have liberty and equality defined in our Constitution, such as they are. On this view, the seeds of its destruction lie within liberty and our founding documents to some extent. Perhaps the old, classical liberalism (equality of opportunity, free markets, party of the working man) will eventually go soft and give way to more radical liberty, given due time. This is what Bork, as a nearly lone conservative amongst older-school liberals, claims happened at Yale in 1967-69.
Bork also puts forth an originalist interpretation of the Constitution. He makes the case that there are simply a lot of cultural elites legislating from the bench, using the Supreme Court as a means to the end of more diversity and equality-making, and that they’ve wandered far afield from the document itself (some background here, if you have a better link or better understanding, drop a line). They court an ultimate danger of undermining themselves, cultivating radicalized people and setting themselves up as the only authority capable of interpreting and directing those people:
If the Constitution is law, then presumably its meaning, like that of all other law, is the meaning the lawmakers were understood to have intended. If the Constitution is law, then presumably, like all other law, the meaning the lawmakers intended is as binding upon judges as it is upon legislatures and executives. There is no other sense in which the Constitution can be what article VI proclaims it to be: “Law….” This means, of course, that a judge, no matter on what court he sits, may never create new constitutional rights or destroy old ones. Any time he does so, he violates not only the limits to his own authority but, and for that reason, also violates the rights of the legislature and the people….the philosophy of original understanding is thus a necessary inference from the structure of government apparent on the face of the Constitution.
As to the legal aspects, I do know that Justices Clarence Thomas, William Rehnquist, and Antonin Scalia have been/were influenced by originalism to some extent. Of course, like Bork, this makes them targets for attack by the opposition:
I must say I find Bork refreshing reading when he helps to reveal the authoritarian (nay, totalitarian) impulses of the “personal is political” crowd. It’s fun to have someone provide context when observing the tolerance crowd keep on doing intolerant things, yet piously and humourlessly demanding tolerance all the same (see what FIRE does in response at college campuses). Many of these people actually do run our universities, or those who run our universities will cave to groups of the loudest activist professors and students.
***As an aside, I think what’s happened at Slate magazine helps advance the theory. While politically left, I liked Slate when it can be a bit edgy, thoughtful, occasionally more of a haven for artists, writers, creative thinkers and iconoclasts (Christopher Hitchens was a good example). As of this writing, I find a commitment to the shibboleths of the Left is the ruling order of the day (see the NY Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic as well): You have to toe the line with political correctness and gender and racial equality, and all that individual freedom has limits, obviously, and coalesces around regulated markets, trying to control the public square, and other Statist projects. Such collectivism should make every individual stop and think about how they fit into such a framework.
As for art, as T.S. Eliot points out, a first-rate poet can also chart a course back to church doctrine, though this blog believes art is best served when one points out the obvious problems that religion, politics, law, and polite society have with it. Robert Bork quoting Yeats and Auden is interesting though potentially problematic, but Robert Bork quoting rap lyrics to show cultural decay probably just emboldens the opposition.
I think Bork is arguing that unless we stay religious to some extent, and recognize that truth can be revealed to us through the word of God as well as through reason, we will decline (and there are all sorts of declinists out there).