Thursday, April 17, 2008 84 Comments

An open letter to open-minded progressives (part 1)

Are you an open-minded progressive? Maybe not, but you probably have friends who are. This essay is for them. Perhaps it can serve as a sort of introduction to this strange blog, UR.

If you are an open-minded progressive, you are probably not a Catholic. (If you are, you probably don't take the Pope too seriously.) Imagine writing an open letter to Catholics, suggesting ways for them to free their minds from the insidious grip of Rome. That sort of thing is quite out of style these days - and in any case, how would you start? But here at UR, we are never afraid of being out of style. And as for starting, we already have.

Is being a progressive like being a Catholic? Why shouldn't it be? Each is a way of understanding the world through a set of beliefs. These beliefs may be true, they may be false, they may be nonsense which does not even make enough sense to be false. As an open-minded progressive (or an open-minded Catholic), you would like to think all the beliefs you hold are true, but you are willing to reevaluate them - perhaps with a little gentle assistance.

There is one big difference between Catholicism and progressivism: Catholicism is what we call a "religion." Its core beliefs are claims about the spirit world, which no Catholic (except of course the Pope) has experienced firsthand. Whereas progressive beliefs tend to be claims about the real world - about government and history and economics and society. These are phenomena which, unlike the Holy Trinity, we all experience firsthand.

Or do we? Most of us have never worked for a government, and those who have have seen only some tiny corner of one. History is something out of a book. It isn't the Bible, but it might as well be. What is our personal experience of economics? Gasoline prices? And so on. Unless your life has been both long and quite unusual, I suspect your memories shed very little light on the great questions of government, history, etc. Mine certainly don't.

Of course, much of progressive thought claims to be a product of pure reason. Is it? Thomas Aquinas derived Catholicism from pure reason. John Rawls derived progressivism from pure reason. At least one of them must have made a mistake. Maybe they both did. Have you checked their work? One bad variable will bust your whole proof.

And is this really how it happened? Are you a progressive because you started by believing in nothing at all ("We are nihilists! We believe in nothing!"), thought it through, and wound up a progressive? Of course I can't speak for your own experience, but I suspect that either you are a progressive because your parents were progressives, or you were converted by some book, teacher, or other intellectual experience. Note that this is exactly how one becomes a Catholic.

There is one difference, though. To be a Catholic, you have to have faith, because no one has ever seen the Holy Ghost. To be a progressive, you have to have trust, because you believe that your worldview accurately reflects the real world - as experienced not just by your own small eyes, but by humanity as a whole.

But you have not shared humanity's experience. You have only read, heard and seen a corpus of text, audio and video compiled from it. And compiled by whom? Which is where the trust comes in. More on this in a little bit.

I am not a progressive, but I was raised as one. I live in San Francisco, I grew up as a Foreign Service brat, I went to Brown, I've been brushing my teeth with Tom's of Maine since the mid-80s. What happened to me is that I lost my trust.

David Mamet lost his trust, too. His Village Voice essay is worth reading, if just for the shock value of the world's most famous playwright declaring that he's no longer a "brain-dead liberal." There are about five hundred comments on the article. Perhaps I missed one, but I didn't notice any in which the commenter claimed that Mamet had opened his eyes.

Of course, Mamet is Mamet. He's out to shock, not convert. Even the word "liberal," at least as it refers to a present-day political persuasion, borders on hate speech. It's like an ex-Catholic explaining "why I am no longer a brain-dead Papist." John Stuart Mill was a liberal. Barack Obama is a progressive, and so are you. Basic rule of politeness: don't call people names they don't call themselves.

Worse, Mamet doesn't just reject progressivism. He endorses conservatism. Dear God! Talk about making your problem harder. Imagine you live in a country in which everyone is one of two things: a Catholic or a Hindu. Isn't it hard enough to free a man's mind from the insidious grip of Rome? Must he accept Kali, Krishna and Ganesha at the same time?

For example, Mamet endorses the conservative writer Thomas Sowell, who he claims is "our greatest contemporary philosopher." Well. I like Thomas Sowell, his work is certainly not without value, but really. And if you Google him, you will see that his columns frequently appear on a conservative website called townhall.com.

Click that link. Observe the atrocious graphic design. (Have you noticed how far above the rest Obama's graphic design is? Some font designers have.) Observe the general horribleness, so reminiscent of Fox News. Then hit "back." Or, I don't know, read an Ann Coulter column, or something. Dear Lord.

I am not a progressive, but I'm not a conservative either. (If you must know, I'm a Jacobite.) Over time, I have acquired the ability to process American conservative thought - if generally somewhat upmarket from Fox News or townhall.com. This is an extremely acquired taste, if "taste" is even the word. It is probably very similar to the way Barack Obama handled the Rev. Wright's more colorful sermons. When David Mamet points his readers in the general direction of townhall.com, it's sort of like explaining to your uncle who's a little bit phobic that he can understand the value of gay rights by watching this great movie - it's called "120 Days of Sodom." It's not actual communication. It's a fuck-you. It's Mamet.

But many people will think exactly this: if you stop being a progressive, you have to become a conservative. I suspect that the primary emotional motivation for most progressives is that they're progressives because they think something needs to be done about conservatives. Game over. Gutterball. Right back to the insidious grip.

Where does this idea that, if NPR is wrong, Fox News must be right, come from? They can't both be right, because they contradict each other. But couldn't they both be wrong? I don't mean slightly wrong, I don't mean each is half right and each is half wrong, I don't mean the truth is somewhere between them, I mean neither of them has any consistent relationship to reality.

Let's think about this for a second. As a progressive, you believe - you must believe - that conservatism is a mass delusion. What an extraordinary thing! A hundred-plus million people, many quite dull but some remarkably intelligent, all acting under a kind of mass hypnosis. We take this for granted. We are used to it. But we have to admit that it's really, really weird.

What you have to believe is that conservatives have been systematically misinformed. They are not stupid - at least not all of them. Nor are they evil. You can spend all the time you want on townhall.com, and you will not find anyone cackling like Gollum over their evil plan to enslave and destroy the world. They all think, just like you, that by being conservatives they are standing up for what's sweet and good and true.

Conservatism is a theory of government held by a large number of people who have no personal experience of government. They hold this theory because their chosen information sources, such as Fox News, townhall.com, and their local megachurch, feed them a steady diet of facts (and possibly a few non-facts) which tend to support, reinforce, and confirm the theory.

And why does this strange pattern exist? Because conservatism is not just an ordinary opinion. Suppose instead of a theory of government, conservatism was a theory of basketball. "Conservatism" would be a system of views about the pick-and-roll, the outside game, the triangle defense and other issues of great importance to basketball players and coaches.

The obvious difference is that, unless you are a basketball coach, your opinions on basketball matter not at all - because basketball is not a democracy. The players don't even get a vote, let alone the fans. But conservatism can maintain a systematic pattern of delusion, because its fans are not just fans: they are supporters of a political machine. This machine will disappear if it cannot keep its believers, so it has an incentive to keep them. And it does. Funny how that works.

So, as a progressive, here is how you see American democracy: as a contest in which truth and reason are pitted against a quasicriminal political machine built on propaganda, ignorance and misinformation. Perhaps a cynical view of the world, but if you believe that progressivism is right, you must believe that conservatism is wrong, and you have no other option.

But there is an even more pessimistic view. Suppose American democracy is not a contest between truth and reason and a quasicriminal political machine, but a contest between two quasicriminal political machines? Suppose progressivism is just like conservatism? If it was, who would tell you?

Think of conservatism as a sort of mental disease. Virus X, transmitted by Fox News much as mosquitoes transmit malaria, has infected the brains of half the American population - causing them to believe that George W. Bush is a "regular guy," global warming isn't happening, and the US Army can bring democracy to Sadr City. Fortunately, the other half of America is protected by its progressive antibodies, which it imbibes every day in the healthy mother's milk of the Times and NPR, allowing to bask securely in the sweet light of truth.

Or is it? Note that we've just postulated two classes of entity: viruses and antibodies, mosquitoes and mother's milk. William of Ockham wouldn't be happy. Isn't it simpler to imagine that we're dealing with a virus Y? Rather than one set of people being infected and the other being immune, everyone is infected - just with different strains.

What makes virus X a virus is that, like the shark in Jaws, its only goals in life are to eat, swim around, and make baby viruses. In other words, its features are best explained adaptively. If it can succeed by accurately representing reality, it will do so. For example, you and I and virus X agree on the subject of the international Jewish conspiracy: there is no such thing. We disagree with the evil virus N, which fortunately is scarce these days. This can be explained in many ways, but one of the simplest is that if Fox News stuck a swastika in its logo and told Bill O'Reilly to start raving about the Elders of Zion, its ratings would probably go down.

This is what I mean by "no consistent relationship to reality." If, for whatever reason, an error is better at replicating within the conservative mind than the truth, conservatives will come to believe the error. If the truth is more adaptive, they will come to believe the truth. It's fairly easy to see how an error could make a better story than the truth on Fox News, which is why one would be ill-advised to get one's truth from that source.

So our first small step toward doubt is easy: we simply allow ourselves to suspect that the institutions which progressives trust are fallible in the same way. If NPR can replicate errors just as Fox News does, we are indeed looking at a virus Y. Virus Y may be right when virus X is wrong, wrong when virus X is right, right when virus X is wrong, or wrong when virus X is wrong. Since the two have no consistent relationship to reality, they have no consistent relationship to each other.

There's a seductive symmetry to this theory: it solves the problem of how one half of a society, which (by global and historical standards) doesn't seem that different from the other, can be systematically deluded while the other half is quite sane. The answer: it isn't.

Moreover, it explains a bizarre contradiction which emerges beautifully in Mamet's piece. At one point he writes, in his new conservative persona:
What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow.
But earlier, he told us:
As a child of the '60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.
Okay, Dave. As a child of the '60s, you accepted as an article of faith that government is bad, but now you believe that... government is bad? Who's doin' donuts on the road to Damascus?

One of the fascinating facts of American politics today is that both progressives and conservatives hate their government. They just hate different parts of it, and they love and cherish the others. In foreign policy, for example, progressives hate the Pentagon, and love and cherish the State Department. Conservatives hate the State Department, and love and cherish the Pentagon.

Look at how nicely this fits in with our virus X-Y theory. Washington contains many mansions, some of which are part of the virus X machine, others of which are perma-infected with virus Y. Outside the Beltway is our herd of drooling, virus-ridden zombie voters. The X zombies hate the Y agencies, the Y zombies hate the X agencies.

But none of them hates Washington as a whole. So they can never unite to destroy it, and the whole machine is stable. See how beautiful this is? By separating voters into two competing but cooperating parties, neither of which can destroy the other, the two-party system creates a government which will survive indefinitely, no matter how much happier its citizens might be without it.

This is the prize at the end of our mystery. If you can find a way to stop being a progressive without becoming a conservative, you might even find a way to actually oppose the government. At the very least, you can decide that none of these politicians, movements or institutions is even remotely worthy of your support. Trust me - it's a very liberating feeling.

But we are nowhere near there yet. We have not actually found a genuine reason to doubt progressivism. Minor errors - some little fact-checking mistake at the Times or whatever - don't count, because they don't do anything about your conviction that progressivism is basically right and conservatism is basically wrong. Even with a few small eccentricities, progressivism as a cure for conservatism is worth keeping. It may not be an antibody, but perhaps virus Y is at least a vaccine.

Moreover, we've overlooked some major asymmetries between the progressive and conservative movements. They are not each others' evil twins. They are very different things. It is quite plausible that one would be credible and the other wouldn't, and the advantages all seem to be on the progressive side.

First of all, let's look at the people who are progressives. As the expressions "blue-state" and "red-state" indicate, progressives and conservatives in America today are different tribes. They are not randomly distributed opinions. They follow clear patterns.

My wife and I had a daughter a few weeks ago, and right before she was due to be discharged the doctors found a minor (and probably harmless) heart problem which required a brief visit from UCSF's head of pediatric cardiology. A very pleasant person. And one of the first things he said, part of his bedside manner, a way of putting us at ease, was a remark about George W. Bush. Somehow I suspect that if he had diagnosed us as hicks from Stockton, he would not have emitted this noise.

Rather, the good doctor had identified us as members of the Stuff White People Like tribe. This little satirical site has attracted roughly 100 times UR's traffic in a tenth the time, which is a pretty sure sign that it's on to something. The author, Chris Lander, only really has one joke: he's describing a group that doesn't like to be described, and he's assigned them the last name they'd choose for themselves.

Lander's "white people" are indeed overwhelmingly white, as anyone who has been to Burning Man can testify. But there are plenty of "white people" who are Asian, or even black or Latino. In fact, as Lander points out, "white people" are the opposite of racist - they are desperate to have minorities around. Thus the humor of calling them "white." In fact, as anyone who went to an integrated high school can testify, Lander's use of the word "white" is almost exactly the black American usage - as in, "that's so white." Add the word "bread" and you have it down.

Who are these strange people? Briefly, they are America's ruling class. Here at UR we call them Brahmins. The Brahmin tribe is adoptive rather than hereditary. Anyone can be a Brahmin, and in fact the less "white" your background the better, because it means your achievements are all your own. As with the Hindu original, your status as a Brahmin is not a function of money, but of your success as a scholar, scientist, artist, or public servant. Brahmins are people who work with their minds.

Brahmins are the ruling class because they are literally the people who govern. Public policies in the modern democratic system are generally formulated by Brahmins, typically at the NGOs where these "white people" like to congregate. And while not every progressive is a Brahmin and not every Brahmin is a progressive, the equation generally follows.

Most important, the Brahmin identity is inextricably bound up with the American university system. If you are a Brahmin, your status is either conferred by academic success, or by some quasi-academic achievement, like writing a book, saving the Earth, etc. Thus it's unsurprising that most Brahmins are quite intelligent and sophisticated. They have to be. If they can't at least fake it, they're not Brahmins.

The natural enemy of the Brahmin is, of course, the red-state American. I used to use another Hindu caste name for this tribe - Vaisyas - but I think it's more evocative to call them Townies. As a progressive you are probably a Brahmin, you know these people, and you don't like them. They are fat, they are exclusively white, they live in the suburbs or worse, they are into oak and crochet and minivans, and of course they tend to be Republicans. If they went to college at all, they gritted their teeth through the freshman diversity requirement. And their work may be white-collar, but it has no real intellectual content.

(It's interesting how much simpler American politics becomes once you look at it through this tribal lens. You often see this in Third World countries - there will be, say, the Angolan People's Movement and the Democratic Angolan Front. Each swear up and down that they work for the future of the entire Angolan people. But you notice that everyone in the APM is an Ovambo, and everyone in the DAF is a Bakongo.)

The status relationship between Brahmins and Townies is clear: Brahmins are higher, Townies are lower. When Brahmins hate Townies, the attitude is contempt. When Townies hate Brahmins, the attitude is resentment. The two are impossible to confuse. If Brahmins and Townies shared a stratified dialect, the Brahmins would speak acrolect and the Townies mesolect.

In other words, Brahmins are more fashionable than Townies. Brahmin tastes, which are basically better tastes, flow downward toward Townies. Twenty years ago, "health food" was a niche ultra-Brahmin quirk. Now it's everywhere. Suburbanites drink espresso, shop at Whole Foods, listen to alternative rock, you name it.

Thus we see why progressivism is more fashionable than conservatism. Progressive celebrities, for example, are everywhere. Conservative ones are exceptions. This is cold calculation: Bono's PR people are happy that he's speaking out against AIDS. Mel Gibson's PR people are not happy that he's speaking out against the Jews.

So when we question conservatism, we are thinking in a way that is natural and sensible for people of our tribe: we are attacking the enemy. And the enemy is, indeed, a pushover. In fact the enemy is suspiciously easy to push over.

Look at the entire lifecycle of conservatism. The whole thing stinks. Virus X replicates in the minds of uneducated, generally less intelligent people. Townies are, in fact, the same basic tribe that gave us Hitler and Mussolini. Its intellectual institutions, such as they are, are subsidized fringe newspapers, TV channels, and weirdo think-tanks supported by eccentric tycoons. In government, the bastions of conservatism are the military, whose purpose is to kill people, and any agency in which corporate lobbyists can make a buck, eg, by raping the environment.

Whereas virus Y, if "virus" is indeed the name for it, replicates in the most distinguished circles in America, indeed the world: the top universities, the great newspapers, the old foundations such as Rockefeller and Carnegie and Ford. Its drooling zombies are the smartest and most successful people in the country, indeed the world. In government it builds world peace, protects the environment, looks after the poor, and educates children.

The truth of the matter is that progressivism is the mainstream American tradition. This is not to say it hasn't changed in the last 200 years, or even the last 50: it has. However, if we look at the ideas and ideals taught and studied at Harvard during the life of the country, we see a smooth progression up to now, we do not see any violent reversals or even inflection points, and we end up with good old modern-day progressivism. Of course, by "American tradition" we mean the New England tradition - if the Civil War had turned out differently, things might have gone otherwise. But when you realize that Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a novel about a hippie commune 150 years ago, you realize that nothing is new under the sun.

As Machiavelli put it: if you strike at a king, strike to kill. Conservatism, which is barely 50 years old, which has numerous shabby roots, can be mocked and belittled and scorned. The difference between criticizing conservatism and criticizing progressivism is the difference between criticizing Mormonism and criticizing Christianity. You can't doubt progressivism just a little. You have to doubt it on a grand scale.

To say that conservatism is a corrupt and delusional tradition, no more than some "virus X," is to say that it's a tick on the side of America, an aberration, an abortion, an error to be corrected. A failure of education, of leadership, of progress. A small thing, really.

To doubt progressivism is to doubt the American idea itself - because progressivism is where that idea has ended up. If progressivism is "virus Y," America itself is infected. What is the cure for that? It is a strange and terrible thought, a promise of apocalypse.

And yet it makes an awful kind of sense. For one thing, if you were a mental virus, which tradition would you choose to infect? The central current of American thought, or some benighted backwater? The Brahmins, or the Townies? The fashionable people, or the unfashionable ones?

Copy your DNA into the New York Times, and it will trickle down to Fox News in twenty or thirty years. Copy yourself into Fox News, and you might influence the next election. Or two. But how lasting is that? How many people are intellectually moved by George W. Bush? (Repulsion doesn't count.)

As a Brahmin (I'll assume you're a Brahmin), you live inside virus Y. You are one of the zombies. Your entire worldview has been formed by Harvard, the Times, and the rest of what, back in David Mamet's day, they used to call the Establishment. Everything you know about government and history and science and society has been filtered by these institutions. Obviously, this narrative does not contradict itself. But is it true?

Well, it mostly doesn't contradict itself. It's very well put together. In some places, though, if you look really closely, I think you can see a stitch or too. You don't need to sail to the edge of the world, like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. All you need, for starters, just to tickle your doubt muscle and get it twitching a little, is a few details that don't quite fit.

Let's start off with three questions. We'll play a little game: you try coming up with a progressive answer, I'll try coming up with a non-progressive answer. We'll see which one makes more sense.

I don't mean these questions don't have progressive answers, because they do. Everything has a progressive answer, just as it has a conservative answer. There is no shortage of progressives to compose answers. But I don't think these questions have satisfying progressive answers. Of course, you will have to judge this yourself with your own good taste.

One: what's up with the Third World?

Here, for example, is a Times story on the fight against malaria. Often, as with politicians, journalists speak the truth in a fit of absent-mindedness, when their real concern is something else. If you read the story, you might notice the same astounding graf that I did:
And the world changed. Before the 1960s, colonial governments and companies fought malaria because their officials often lived in remote outposts like Nigeria’s hill stations and Vietnam’s Marble Mountains. Independence movements led to freedom, but also often to civil war, poverty, corrupt government and the collapse of medical care.
Let's focus on that last sentence. Independence movements led to freedom, but also often to civil war, poverty, corrupt government and the collapse of medical care.

I often find it useful to imagine that I'm an alien from the planet Jupiter. If I read this sentence, I would ask: what is this word freedom? What, exactly, does this writer mean by freedom? Especially in the context of civil war, poverty, and corrupt government?

What we see here is that independence movements - which the writer clearly believes are a good thing - led to some very concrete and very, very awful results, in addition to this curious abstraction - freedom. Clearly, whatever freedom means in this particular context, it's such a great positive that even when you add it to civil war, poverty, corrupt government and the collapse of medical care, the result still exceeds zero.

Isn't that strange? Might we not be tempted to revisit this particular piece of arithmetic? But we can't - because if we postulate that colonial governments and companies (whatever these were), with their absence of freedom, were somehow preferable to independence movements, which created this same freedom (the words freedom and independence appear to be synonyms in this context), we are off the progressive reservation.

In fact, not only are we off the progressive reservation, we're off the conservative reservation. No one believes this. You will not find anyone on Fox News or townhall.com or any but the fringiest of fringe publications claiming that colonialism, with its intrinsic absence of freedom and its strangely effective malaria control (note how the writer implies, without actually saying, that this was only delivered for the selfish purposes of the evil colonial overlords), was in any way superior to postcolonialism, with its freedom, its malaria, its civil war, etc.

And what, exactly, is this word independence? It seems to mean the same thing as freedom, and yet, it is strange. For example, consider this Post op-ed, by Michelle Gavin of the CFR, which starts with the following intriguing lines:
When Zimbabwe became an independent country in 1980, it was a focal point for international optimism about Africa's future. Today, Zimbabwe is a basket case of a country.
Let's put our alien-from-Jupiter hat back on, and consider the phrase: When Zimbabwe became an independent country in 1980...

In English as she is normally spoke, the word independent is composed of the prefix in, meaning "not," and the suffix dependent, meaning "dependent." So, for example, when the United States became independent, it meant that no external party was funding or controlling her government. If my daughter was to become independent, it would mean that she was making her own decisions in the world, and I didn't need to give her a bottle every three hours.

In the case of Zimbabwe, however, this word seems to have changed strangely and taken on an almost opposite meaning. From La Wik:
The Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) of Rhodesia from the United Kingdom was signed on November 11, 1965 by the administration of Ian Smith, whose Rhodesian Front party opposed black majority rule in the then British colony. Although it declared independence from the United Kingdom it maintained allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II. The British government, the Commonwealth, and the United Nations condemned the move as illegal. Rhodesia reverted to de facto and de jure British control as "the British Dependency of Southern Rhodesia" for a brief period in 1979 to 1980, before regaining its independence as Zimbabwe in 1980.
So, strangely enough, the country now known as Zimbabwe declared independence in 1965, much as the US declared independence in 1776. The former, however, was not genuine independence, but rather illegal independence. In order to gain genuine, legal independence, the country now known as Zimbabwe had to first revert to British control, ie, surrender its illegal independence. Are you feeling confused yet? It gets better:
When Zimbabwe became an independent country in 1980, it was a focal point for international optimism about Africa's future. Today, Zimbabwe is a basket case of a country. Over the past decade, the refusal of President Robert Mugabe and his ruling party to tolerate challenges to their power has led them to systematically dismantle the most effective workings of Zimbabwe's economic and political systems, replacing these with structures of corruption, blatant patronage and repression.
So: the independent rulers of the new, free Zimbabwe has refused to tolerate challenges to their power. Thus, the international optimism held by Ms. Gavin (who perhaps needed a bottle or two herself in 1980) and her ilk, has given way to pessimism, and the place is now a basket case. And who might have been challenging good President Mugabe's power? Presumably someone who did not intend to dismantle the most effective workings of Zimbabwe's economic and political systems - thus earning the friendship of Ms. Gavin and her not-uninfluential ilk. This independence, as you can see, is a very curious thing.

In the sense of doing its own thing and never, ever needing a bottle, there is actually one remarkably independent country in the world. It's called Somaliland, and it is not recognized by anyone in the international community. The Wikipedia page for Somaliland's capital, Hargeisa, achieves a glorious level of unintentional high comedy:
Aid from foreign governments was non-existent, making it unusual in Africa for its low level of dependence in foreign aid. While Somaliland is de-facto as an independent country it is not de-jure (legally) recognized internationally. Hence, the government of Somaliland can not access IMF and World Bank assistance.
Isn't all of this quite curious? Doesn't it remind you even a little bit of the scene in which Jim Carrey rams his yacht into the matte painting at the edge of the world?

Two: what is nationalism? And is it good, or bad?

This question is rather similar to question one. I thought of it when a progressive blogger for whom I have great respect made the offhand comment that "Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist." "Sure," I found myself thinking. "And so is Pat Buchanan." It wasn't the time, but I saved this little mot d'escalier and can't resist bringing it back up now, like bad fish.

Unlike independence, I think everyone pretty much agrees on the definition of nationalism. Nationalism (from the Latin natus, birth) is when people of a common linguistic, ethnic, or racial heritage feel the need to act collectively as a single political entity. German nationalism is when Germans do it, Vietnamese nationalism is when Vietnamese do it, black nationalism is when African-Americans do it, American nationalism is when Pat Buchanan does it.

And this is where the agreement ends. La Wik's opening paragraph is a masterpiece of obfuscation:
Nationalism is a term referring to doctrine or political movement that holds that a nation, usually defined in terms of ethnicity or culture, has the right to constitute an independent or autonomous political community based on a shared history and common destiny. Most nationalists believe the borders of the state should be congruent with the borders of the nation. However, recently nationalists have rejected the concept of "congruency" for sake of its reciprocal value. Contemporary nationalists would argue that the nation should be administered by a single state, not that a state should be governed by a single nation. Occasionally, nationalist efforts can be plagued by chauvinism or imperialism. These ex-nationalist efforts such as those propagated by fascist movements in the twentieth century, still hold the nationalist concept that nationality is the most important aspect of one's identity, while some of them have attempted to define the nation, inaccurately, in terms of race or genetics. Fortunately, contemporary nationalists reject the racist chauvinism of these groups, and remain confident that national identity supersedes biological attachment to an ethnic group.
Everything between them is pure nonsense as far as I can tell, but note the direct contradiction of the first and the last sentences. How can you be a nationalist, even a contemporary nationalist, if you believe that national identity supersedes biological attachment to an ethnic group? If nationalism isn't plagued by racist chauvinism, in what sense is it nationalism at all?

And so: if I'm a Czech and I live in Austria-Hungary, do I have a right to my own country? Should I make violence and terror and bomb until I get it? What if I'm a German and I live in Czechoslovakia? Should I make violence and terror and bomb?

A number of Germans noticed this very odd thing in the '20s and '30s. They noticed that America and her friends were very much committed to national self-determination, that is, unless you happened to be German. Czech nationalism was good - very good. German nationalism was bad - very bad.

Once you start looking for this little stitch in the canvas, you find it everywhere. It is good, very good, to be a black nationalist. In l'affaire Wright we have seen the intimacy between progressivism and black nationalism - so well illustrated by Tom Wolfe. Indeed, every reputable university in America has a department in which students can essentially major in black nationalism.

On the other hand, it is bad, very bad, to be a Southern nationalist. Any connection to Southern nationalism instantly renders one a pariah. Of course, Southern nationalists have sinned. But then again, so have black nationalists. Are Americans, black or white, really better off for the activities of the Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam, or even the good Rev. Wright?

Similarly, it is good to be a Vietnamese nationalist. It is still bad to be a German nationalist, or a British nationalist, or even a French nationalist. Germans, Brits, and Frenchmen are supposed to believe in the common destiny of all humanity. Vietnamese, Mexicans, or Czechs are free to believe in the common destiny of Vietnamese, Mexicans, or Czechs. (Actually, I'm not sure about the Czechs. This one may have changed.)

Does this make sense? Does it make any freakin' sense at all?

Since this subject is so touchy, I will let my feelings on it slip: I don't believe in any kind of nationalism. Of course, being a Jacobite and all, I also believe in Strafford's Thorough, so you might not want to be getting your constitutional tips from me.

Third: what's so bad about the Nazis?

Okay, they murdered ten million people or so. That's bad. There's really no defending the unprovoked massacre of millions of civilians.

On the other hand, I really really recommend Nicholson Baker's new book, Human Smoke. Baker is a progressive and pacifist of immaculate credentials (his previous achievement was a novel which fantasized about assassinating President Bush), and what Human Smoke drums into you is not a specific message, but the same thing I keep saying: the pieces of the picture do not fit together. They almost fit, but they don't quite fit. The genius of Baker's book is that he simply shows you the picture not fitting, and leaves the analysis up to you.

For example: we are taught that the Nazis were bad because they committed mass murder, to wit, the Holocaust. On the other hand... (a): none of the parties fighting against the Nazis, including us, seems to have given much of a damn about the Jews or the Holocaust. (b): one of the parties on our side was the Soviet Union, whose record of mass murder was known at the time and was at least as awful as the Nazis'.

And, of course, (c): the Allies positively reveled in the aerial mass incineration of German and Japanese civilians. They did not kill six million, but they killed one or two. There was a military excuse for this, but it was quite strained. It was better than the Nazis' excuse for murdering the Jews (who they saw, of course, as enemy civilians). In fact, it was a lot better. But was it a lot lot better? I'm not sure.

And as Baker does not mention, our heroes, the Allies, also had no qualms about deporting a million Russian refugees to the gulag after the war, or about lending hundreds of thousands of German prisoners as slave laborers to the Soviets. The idea of World War II as a war for human rights is simply ahistorical. It doesn't fit. If Nazi human-rights violations were not the motivation for the war that created the world we live in now - what was?

Furthermore, Baker, who is of course a critic of American foreign policy today, sees nothing but confusion when he tries to apply the same standards to Iraq and to Germany. If Abu Ghraib is an unbridgeable obstacle to imposing democracy by force on Iraq, what about Dresden or Hamburg and Germany? Surely it's worse to burn tens of thousands of people alive, than to make one stand on a box wearing fake wires and a funny hat? Or is Iraq just different from Germany? But that would be racism, wouldn't it?

Beyond this is the peculiar asymmetry in the treatment of fascist mass murder, versus Marxist mass murder. Both ideologies clearly have a history of mass murder. If numbers count - and why wouldn't they? - Marxism is ahead by an order of magnitude. Yet somehow, today, fascism or anything reminiscent of it is pure poison and untouchable, whereas Marxism is at best a kind of peccadillo. John Zmirak pulls off a lovely parody of this here, and while I have yet to read Roberto Bolaño the reviews are quite glowing.

Neither the Soviet Union nor the Third Reich is with us today, but the most recent historical examples are North Korea and South Africa. North Korea is clearly somewhat Stalinist, while apartheid South Africa had looser but still discernible links to Nazism. I welcome anyone who wants to claim that South Africa, whose border fences were designed to keep immigrants out, was a worse violator of human rights than North Korea, an entire country turned into a prison. And yet we see the same asymmetry - "engagement" with North Korea, pure hostility against South Africa. If you can imagine the New York Philharmonic visiting Pretoria in an attempt to build trust between the two countries, you are firmly in Bolañoworld.

Again: this is just weird. As with nationalism, each individual case can be explained on its own terms. Put all the cases together, and double standards are everywhere. And yet the inconsistencies do not seem random. There seems to be a mysterious X factor which the Nazis have and the Soviets don't, or the South Africans have and the North Koreans don't. The treatment may not just be based on X, it may be X + human rights, but it is definitely not just human rights. And yet X does not appear in the explanation.

X seems to be related to the fact that the Nazis are "right-wing" and the Soviets "left-wing." As the French put it: pas d'amis a droit, pas d'ennemis a gauche. But why? What do "right-wing" and "left-wing" even mean? Weren't the Soviet and Nazi systems both totalitarian dictatorships? If Communism is "too hot," fascism is "too cold," and liberal democracy is "just right," why not oppose Communism and fascism equally? In fact, the former is much more successful, at least since 1945, so you'd think people would be more worried about it.

Again, we are left with pure confusion. It is simply not possible that the horizon is made of canvas. And yet our boat has crashed into it, and left a big rip.

Continue to part 2.

84 Comments:

Blogger TGGP said...

Doctors like the one that told you the Bush joke are professionals, who were once on the right but have headed steeply left. Will Wilkinson shows graphs of the different class segments and their trends in voting here. More of that sort of political analysis here.

There are few who take seriously the cartel-like nature of the licensed occupations. Milton Friedman did, but that aspect of him was ignored and he is dead now. Dean Baker in The Conservative Nanny State does, but mostly as a stick to beat the right with rather than a proposal to right that wrong. Kevin Carson is pretty good on this, and his thoughts on the "New Class" are reminescent of Chesterton (or was it C.S. Lewis?) and Burnham on managerialism as opposed to the older form of "capitalism".

Are you going to follow this up with an open letter to conservatives? Your advised reading material for paleoconservatives seems like it would just confirm what they already believe?

As long as I'm pestering you with requests, since you've taken on pacifism and social justice, are you going to cover the other two Universalist ideals (fraternity and community)? In your roundup of the Iron Decagon are you going to get around to "the judiciary, [...] the "Hill" (congressional staff), the military, the Beltway bandits (defense and other contractors), and corporate holders of official monopolies (such as "intellectual property")."?

April 17, 2008 at 2:30 AM  
Blogger John S. Bolton said...

One part of your X-factor might be nationalism itself, as if atrocities on unimaginable scale get forgiven when dedicated to one-world loyalties.
This might be related to openness-valorization,as a literal virus, if it could prepare one and only one simple concept (or its precursor in genetics):command openness on others. All it needs is to get itself transmitted; the host could die young or old, once the basic program completes its cycle.
And principled nationalism is the entire obstacle to the parasitical life or thought-form of openness valorization.
The nation means the exact people in the defined territory, who are loyal to fellow nationals in at least that instance where the foreigner enters causing increse of aggression within the defined borders.
That being the principle of the thing, one-worlders and openness-valuers will have to raise every alarm over such and so many nationalisms as occur in DESIRABLE countries at least.
On Jacobin ideals freedom will mean freedom FOR aggression and hatred against freedom FROM aggression.
Not morals, but power-greed are behind all this, and perhaps the virus too. I guess that a herpes virus might be causing some of it, and some groups are more susceptible than others.

April 17, 2008 at 3:11 AM  
Anonymous Seamus McCauley said...

You will not find anyone on Fox News or townhall.com or any but the fringiest of fringe publications claiming that colonialism, with its intrinsic absence of freedom and its strangely effective malaria control (note how the writer implies, without actually saying, that this was only delivered for the selfish purposes of the evil colonial overlords), was in any way superior to postcolonialism, with its freedom, its malaria, its civil war, etc.

Not sure this is quite true - Niall Ferguson alludes to this position in both Empire and Colossus. It's hard to tell whether he doesn't come down more clearly in favour of it because he doesn't quite believe it or because he realises that, despite obviously true, it is currently so unfashionable as to verge on illegality.

April 17, 2008 at 3:44 AM  
Anonymous a young curmudgeon said...

Townies are, in fact, the same basic tribe that gave us Hitler and Mussolini.

I used to make that argument in the past, with the distinction that because Americans of this "tribe" happen to be born in a system that happens to have better institutions and a way of life than any else in history; this type of nationalism was a good thing by pure luck -- they just happened to be right by coincidence but are essentially the same tribe that voted for a Hitler.

Now I would argue that these guys form an integral part in the defense of individual liberty by being highly independent and skeptical of government, independent yeomen farmers that are a quintessential part of the english-speaking peoples, and form the bedrock of individualism. Saying that non-cosmopolitan, less well-educated people, presumably low-intelligence too, are somehow a "class" or "tribe" of people that everywhere just does what the stupid masses do doesn't seem to hold true for the english world. There are memes out there in this language, in their shared history, that are anti-government. Far from being like the guys who voted for Hitler. The situation in Europe is completely different, with extremely high population, a huge density of different languages and cultures close to each other, and all kinds of public good problems that pop up earlier leading to a more pro-state mentality. It is no surprise that protestantism emerged in small trading nations, and eventually the culture of liberty came to fruition in an Island nation that spread it across the globe.

April 17, 2008 at 4:22 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Progressives are people who believe in progressive taxation, programs like Social Security and National Health Care, and the need for organizations like the EPA and the Department of Education. All of these things are preferences and can't be true or false any more than a conservative's desire for flat taxation or ten commandments monuments can be.

Progressivism has almost nothing to do with the Third World, except that progressives tend to think that Something Should Be Done, because they are generally opposed to wide-scale death and destruction. What precisely Should Be Done is left as an exercise to the reader, and progressivism in general is not married to any possibility.

Now I'll grant you that most progressives don't think the answer lies in recolonizing the Third World, but that doesn't make progressivism in general a (false) religion. The average progressive probably has never even heard of Rhodesia and he certainly doesn't look up to Zimbabwe as a model of anything good.

April 17, 2008 at 5:05 AM  
Blogger Trurle said...

Three remarks:
1. Tribe theory refuted by example: I am software developer so I work with my mind; I feel much more comfortable in San-Francisco and New York than in fly-over state town, and I resent the strata and way of thinking you called Brahmins. And, as far as I am aware, my position is not an outlier.

2. Colonialism, if we define the word as a system of direct administrative control over the less developed countries - was a mistake from the very beginning, and the mistake became obvious in the beginning of the XX century: the costs of controlling the colonies vastly outgrew the benefits. So, regardless of the way one can see the impact of colonial powers on the indigenous population, the idea of restoring administrative control gets no traction.

3. If I am not mistaken, I've spotted some inconsistency in your text: at some point you describe the belief in the prospect of US military forces bringing democracy and prosperity to Iraq by force as an obvious nonsense, clear demonstration of conservative insanity. Later on you describe the inability of progressive to explain why the trick worked in Germany and Japan and destined to fail in Iraq as nonsense of the similar scale.

But, obviously, only one of the points may be right.

April 17, 2008 at 5:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While progressivism is well defined in everyone's minds, there is a lot of confusion over what Conservatism is.

I don't think it's George Bush or Fox News. Those are just things with negative appeal: GWB is not Al Gore (this was a big deal after eight years of the Clinton administration) and Fox News is not NPR (or broadly speaking, MSN political correctness.)

But they have no positive value in and of themselves. Like you said, no one is intellectually inspired by George Bush.

I'd say that real conservatism is better defined by Buchannan, Auster, Sailer; hell, even Michael Blowhard. And those guys are as anti-Bush and anti-Fox News as is your pediatric cardiologist.

- PA

April 17, 2008 at 6:15 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

tggp -- I was wondering the same thing about the open letter. . . I was talking to Orson Scott Card about MM and he cleared up a point of contention for me -- MM's Brahmin upbringing clouds him a little/lot to the actual workings and livings of the "townies"/etc. -- i.e. we end up with a lot more caricature than is warranted. Still I am interested in what the letter will be.

ja -- the first step in realizing that you're not an athiest but a believer in religion is to admit that any set of beliefs not independantly researched, discovered, and tested is a faith-based system, i.e. a religion.

trurle -- you like San Fransico and New York, you think Colonialism is a bad idea, and you enjoy pointing out inconsistencies to prove how smart you are. How are you not a Brahmin?

anonymous -- intellectual/libertarian/anti-neo conservatives can't discount FN and GWB just because they don't like them -- the core of the conservative power base still is in awe of the wonder twins (power of unwinnable wars!)

Mencius -- thanks for the info about Somaliland -- neat place!

Read my blog
,
GMP

April 17, 2008 at 7:46 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Steve Sailer has adopted the moniker whiterperson for the sort of person who likes things white people like. (Obviously, "white people" is far too broad to use for this unironically.) The word was google-clean, and it has the right suggestion of status comparison, so I'd think you might like it as a way of describing the cultural aspects of the Brahmin class.

As for "townies"... blech. Personal taste, but this is not a moniker I'm happy with. I didn't like Vaisyas, either, though. So, all I'm saying here is keep looking. I'd like to suggest proletarian as a perfectly good existing word for these people.

It's certainly true, as "trurle" points out using himself as exemplar, that there are whiterpeople with non-progressive politics. This would describe many libertarians, for example. It also describes you, so far as I can tell. Now it's true that there is a strong correlation between Brahmins and whiterpeople, but this is exactly the reason to have two word.

April 17, 2008 at 7:51 AM  
Anonymous Jeff W said...

I would like to second Young Curmudgeon's objection to claim that the “Townies are, in fact, the same basic tribe that gave us Hitler and Mussolini.

Politics in the USA is tribal, just as in other countries. Stuff white people like describes the preferences of the Northeast USA people, who also have settlements on the West Coast. They are Yankees who came from east England, together with the immigrant groups who settled in New England and New York, learned their scams, and contributed some new ones of their own.

The Townies are a different ethnic mix. The dominant ethnicity of the Townies, I would argue, is the Scotch-Irish, who are not by nature fascists.

The Scotch-Irish descend from Celts who lived outside the Roman Empire, and who did so by choice. Hadrian’s Wall had gates in it, but they chose to live north of the wall in primitive squalor. Why? I think it was because they could not stand to live in a place where Roman soldiers could rape women and beat anyone at any time with impunity. They were a people who could not endure such humiliation, and then smile and say to the Roman, “Have a nice day, sir!” People of some ethnicities are good at that sort of play-acting and deception, allowing them to make the best of a condition of slavery. Some are not. In response to such insults, some people feel compelled to say, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

After the Romans left, various Germanic tribes tried to wipe out the remaining Celts, but a few survived. After Scotland was absorbed by England in 1707, about 300,000 Scotch-Irish emigrated to America. The British Empire followed them here, but they were defeated in 1783. Later the Scotch-Irish got entangled in a war between two factions of English—the Southern plantation owners vs. the Northern bank and factory owners. They fought each other in that war, brother against brother, and lost badly.

The Townies are not at all happy about the way things are going in this country. The Northeast people—with their medical, legal, educational and governmental scams—are sucking up all the gravy, while the Townies are forced to attend diversity training sessions. But though they are angry and frustrated, they are still not fascists. They are not the tribe who gave you Hitler and Mussolini. You are confusing them with with Germans or Italians.

April 17, 2008 at 8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure either "townie" or "proletarian" is good for what Mencius normally calls Vaisaya and what is normally called "middle class."

These folks include blue collar euro-ethnics, Southerners, farmers and small-towners, military NCOs and officers, college-educated white collars, and upper-income professionals.

- PA

April 17, 2008 at 8:04 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

jeff w --

probably good and right -- you'd have to look at the religious/philosophical bent of germans and italians (and ergo Catholics) v the scotch/irish (calvanists and irish abandonders of catholicism)

but

we had a later influx of german/italians in the 19th century -- post civil war -- what is the resulting influence on "townie" thought?

GMP

April 17, 2008 at 8:09 AM  
Anonymous Jeff W said...

In answer to GMP, I would say that the USA is a hodge-podge of different cultural influences, but in any given geographic area one culture will tend to dominate.

The great immigrant wave of 1870-1920 mainly went to the northeastern cities. There the immigrants were absorbed into the dominant Yankee/New York culture. The smarter and more ambitious descendants of these immigrants are today Brahmins or whiterpeople. Other less gifted descendants are today blue-collar people who really do not compete for cultural dominance.

The Scotch-Irish culture dominates in a large swath of America from central Pennsylvania, south through the Appalachians, Tennessee and Kentucky, northern Alabama and Mississippi, Texas and Oklahoma. It is also influential wherever cattle roam the range, such as Montana and Wyoming. (Very few cowboys come from New England.) These areas did not have much immigrant influx in the post-Civil War era.

Scotch-Irish culture not only dominates a geographic section of America, it also dominates certain institutions. These include the (sometimes amazingly competent) U.S. military, NASCAR, country music, and evangelical churches. All of these institutions are viewed with contempt, if not hatred, by the dominant Brahmin class.

April 17, 2008 at 8:55 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Jeff --

So you'd set things up as Scotch-Irish Commoners v British Aristocracy? Certainly an interesting divide -- wonder how Mencius feels about it.

GMP

April 17, 2008 at 9:18 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

And what an interesting picture it paints of the S/I champeen president (GWB) who is actually a New England aristocrat. . .

April 17, 2008 at 9:25 AM  
Anonymous wilberforce said...

I hope the Jacobite comment was one of your groaners; if not I think you should hold off on part two of this letter until you explain your love for the Stuarts, as this promises to be good readin'.

The 'Human Smoke' recommendation was disappointing, even if it was to an imaginary 'progressive' reader -- as was your jibe against 'townies' that they were the folks to bring Hitler and Mussolini to power. The most notable Stateside support for those two chaps was from the Brahmin class (Eliot, Pound) and the Optimate one (Bush, Kennedy clans).

Anyway, I'm glad your back. Best wishes to the family.

April 17, 2008 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

wilberforce --

Eliot and Hitler? Or Eliot and Mussolini? I don't remember anything about that connection -- E was awfully pro-Brit and not Stateside by the time either came to power. Pound, of course, was an unabashed supporter of Mussolini but not of Hitler -- he and his mistress Olga Rudge hated Germans so much that they required their daughter Mary to speak only Italian in their presence (Mary is a Tyrolean and therefore a native German speaker).

I think you can find much greater support for Hitler/Fascism/Mussolini among people like Hank Ford than Eliot.

April 17, 2008 at 10:04 AM  
Anonymous wilberforce said...

gm palmer --

Thanks for the corrections to my poorly expressed comment. I meant more that Eliot's class was the one that was friendlier to the Germans (at least, before the war); he was of course in no way an actual supporter of Hitler and I am an idiot for implying he was.

Someone who's obviously better informed than me might know what sort of folks made up the German-American Bund, etc. The founder, Fritz Kuhn, was apparently German-born, a decorated lieutenant and some sort of chemist or engineer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fritz_Julius_Kuhn. Not very townie he.

April 17, 2008 at 10:27 AM  
Anonymous Jeff W said...

Here is another thought about the Brahmins:

It's too bad they don't get their money from energy or agriculture. In the economic conditions that are to come, they are likely to be pretty well screwed.

A lot of banking/finance jobs will vaporize in coming months.

State and local government jobs, including K-12 schools, will vanish due to decreased property tax collections. State-funded universities will also be affected.

Federal jobs will get axed when the feds hit their credit limit. A spike in interest rates will result in pink slips for thousands of Brahmins.

Good medical jobs may soon turn into bad civil service jobs with the advent of socialized medicine.

Trial lawyering won't be so great as medicine becomes socialized. (You can't sue the government.)

By the time it's over, many of these Brahmins may wish they owned 40 acres and a mule. That's where it's at these days.

The Brahmins will try to protect their jobs with a lot of inflation and funny money. But that will not work for long (see Germany, Weimar).

April 17, 2008 at 10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i understand your 'shtick' is to explore Big Ideas and explode Hypocrisy, but by trafficking in labels and dealing in Manichaean _currency_ you really ought to know better... see the irony -- as someone who ought to know better?

why not, as someone who is supposedly an empiricist, tell me that historical materialism is unfounded, people being people and continually forming and dissolving (multiple) in- and out-group relationships, usually along linguistic, ethnic, or 'racial' lines?

oh. wait.

have my terms not been defined to everyone's satisfaction? am i thus, stacking the deck in favor of my relig^H^H^H^H^HWeltanschauung?

gee. in that case, let us quibble.

April 17, 2008 at 11:07 AM  
Anonymous Lugo said...

Basic rule of politeness: don't call people names they don't call themselves.

Huh. So next time a ninja stands in my way as I'm trying to get off the metro, I should say, "Excuse me, ninja!", and that will be OK, because that's what they call themselves...

You will not find anyone on Fox News or townhall.com or any but the fringiest of fringe publications claiming that colonialism, with its intrinsic absence of freedom and its strangely effective malaria control (note how the writer implies, without actually saying, that this was only delivered for the selfish purposes of the evil colonial overlords), was in any way superior to postcolonialism, with its freedom, its malaria, its civil war, etc.

Deepak Lal, In Praise of Empires: "The thesis of Lal's provocative contribution to the debate on empire, globalization, and U.S. power is that empire, despite its current reputation, has tended to be a progressive historical force, providing order and the conditions for prosperity. In a breathtaking, quick survey of ancient and modern empire, Lal argues that empire has served as a governance mechanism for disparate peoples who otherwise would have been trapped in the conflicts and inefficiencies of anarchy."

The idea of World War II as a war for human rights is simply ahistorical. It doesn't fit. If Nazi human-rights violations were not the motivation for the war that created the world we live in now - what was?

The way to understand WW2 - from the US perspective, anyway - is to extend the logic of your interaction with Auster, in which you said, "The very existence of the Soviet Union, at least post 1919, was due to American liberals." In the discussion with Auster, the focus was on Wilson, and his role in ensuring the survival of the USSR through the end of the Civil War (primarily by limiting US intervention and undercutting Anglo-French intervention). However, US determination to ensure the survival of the USSR continued at least until 1945, and the entire history of US foreign policy from 1933 to 1945 should be understood as the effort of US Brahmins to defend the USSR against the Germans and the Japanese. For example, the US basically built the entire Soviet military-industrial complex (see Anthony Sutton's Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development, volumes I and II). The Brahmin desired end-state was a world order in which the Germans and Japanese were destroyed, the British and French severely weakened (and dependent on the US), and the US and USSR cooperated. That cooperation broke down - temporarily - after 1945, but the Brahmins indefatigably kept pursuing the golden dream of US-Soviet geopolitical cooperation, which eventually became known as "detente". (Worth noting that although this term came into vogue in the 1970s, literally every US president after 1945 sought "detente".)

US foreign policy from 1933-1945, had to be represented in the history books as a struggle against the "horrors of Nazism" and for "human rights", of course, because the actual facts - that the US deliberately brought the war on itself, and fought a bloody conflict, in order to aid the USSR - would have been politically unacceptable and detrimental to the ongoing postwar effort to attain US-Soviet detente.

Colonialism, if we define the word as a system of direct administrative control over the less developed countries - was a mistake from the very beginning, and the mistake became obvious in the beginning of the XX century: the costs of controlling the colonies vastly outgrew the benefits.

This is certainly not true "from the beginning". Colonies brought tremendous profits to the mother countries at least until 1900 - that's why there was such an intense struggle to control them, and why the European powers (most notably Britain and France) fought numerous wars over them in the 1700s and 1800s. Even through the end of WW2, the British Empire was a "net plus" for the British in the sense that it provided strategic depth and a source of high-quality troops that they couldn't recruit at home.

The leading world powers from 1492 to 1914 were colonial powers (including the USA and Russia, though in these cases the "colonies" were contiguous to the mother country instead of overseas). Mistake? Coincidence? Doesn't seem like it.

Colonialism fell apart not so much because it "cost too much" - except in the sense that the colonial powers were no longer willing to pay the political cost of the harsh measures needed to suppress colonial independence movements - but because the USA opposed it (and not for good reasons, in my opinion).

April 17, 2008 at 11:19 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

As an open-minded progressive, let me say welcome back. As a member of the working class (ie, someone who has to work), I don't have time now for a point-by-point response. Mostly I'll second what Jewish Atheist says, and whoever pointed out that treating progressivism and consveratism as theories that can be right or wrong is very misleading -- these aren't phlogiston vs. oxygen we are talking about here. Political ideologies are systems of moral value and social organization, they are embedded in history and biology, they surivive and propagate or they don't, but they aren't right or wrong the way a scientific theory is.

Reading your stuff is strengthening my commitments to progressivism and universalism by making me rethink their foundations.

April 17, 2008 at 11:54 AM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

Not sure this is quite true - Niall Ferguson alludes to this position in both Empire and Colossus. It's hard to tell whether he doesn't come down more clearly in favour of it because he doesn't quite believe it or because he realises that, despite obviously true, it is currently so unfashionable as to verge on illegality.

It is the latter. Anyone who came out openly in favour of colonialism today would be either laughed or shunned out the door in 2 seconds flat. NF seems to be arguing for colonialism, but indirectly. By cloaking his work as "historical" he gives himself distance.

It is of course possible that this is not entirely a concious process. He might just be lucky enough to have hit the exact right right combination of insight and kool-aid drinking to render his beliefs unfashionable but not verboten. In any case, bringing up NF among Brahmins of good standing will result in remarkable convulsions.

April 17, 2008 at 12:07 PM  
Blogger Byrne said...

mtraven

I'm not sure which goals conservatives and liberals disagree on. I rarely hear a debate in which the conservative says "We must cut school funding. Because while I agree with liberals that public schools are the best way to get people educated, I just don't think education is very important." Nor do I hear liberals explain that they agree that environmental regulations hurt the economy, but frankly they're more concerned with endangered species than with American workers.

There are a few moral premises on which they seem to disagree, but most of the debate (and all of the economic debate) is about means, not ends.

April 17, 2008 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

byrne -- what if public schools are the very worst way to educate people?

April 17, 2008 at 2:04 PM  
Blogger Byrne said...

G. M. Palmer

That's the point I'm trying to make. When I advocate shutting down government schools, it's not because I hate education -- it's because I think they're the worst way to provide it. Many liberals conflate wanting something done with wanting the government to do it (or at least they conflate opposing the means to opposing the end).

This may be a natural bias. I've had plenty of disagreements in which "We could do X better this way," is interpreted as "We should not do X." Perhaps this phenomenon has been studied.

April 17, 2008 at 2:11 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

I join the chorus welcoming your return.

During your well-deserved vacation I quite by chance discovered a couple of essays that I think shed very interesting light on the character of the class you have described as Brahmins.

Lists of "stuff white people like" or claims about ethnic/tribal origins, as suggested in some of the comments, seem to me to be superficial identifiers. They are less fundamental to the issue at hand than are the origins of the élite status of this class. Past élites have moved from the creation and husbanding of wealth in some form - whether in agricultural land, commerce, industry, or finance - to acquire social and cultural influence and political power. The Brahmins, however, have moved in the opposite direction, from the acquisition of political strength to the possession of wealth. The Clintons are obvious examples. Haivng spent the earlier part of their lives in politics or politically-related pursuits, they have realized over $100 million in post=White House income purely as a consequence of their presumed access to and familiarity with the levers of government. Obama offers another, somewhat more modest example, in the way that he acquired a $1.65 million house with the assistance of the political fixer and 'low-income housing' magnate Tony Rezko.

The peculiar way that the Brahminate has moved from power to wealth rather than in the opposite and more usual way, however unusual it may be, is not unique. Here as in many cases we see the truth of Mark Twain's quip that history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. A clear parallel to the modern Brahminate is illustrated in Hugh Trevor-Roper's two papers "The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century" (below referred to as GCSC) and "The Culture of the Baroque Court" (below referred to as CBC).

As Nick Szabo has pointed out, contrary to vulgar perception, mediæval kings were not absolute monarchs. They reigned often with very little direct authority over kingdoms that were patchwork quilts of substantially independent jurisdictional entities each possessing definite political property rights - here a feudal baron; there a lord of regality; elsewhere church lands infeft in the local parish, or cathedral chapter, or monastery, or held as an abbacy in commendam (possibly by a layman); or within towns and cities each of which had its jealously guarded liberties. Such arrangements constituted what theorists of the time admired as an Aristotelian "mixed monarchy," that of the Crown and Estates.

Trevor-Roper asks how it was that this ideal, still so admired in 1600, could have vanished completely by 1700. He finds the answer in political developments that took place during the Renaissance.

"It began in Italy. It was in Italy, the economic and cultural capital of Europe, that the previous model of government had been perfected, and it was there that it was transformed. That model was the commune, the city-republic ruled by a mercantile patriciate. Medieval Europe was, in a sense, a colony - at least an economic colony - of Italy. It was on the trade routes to Italy that the cities of Flanders, the Rhineland and South Germany grew rich, and it was from Italy that they borrowed their culture... International trade made these cities international, and being international, they looked, for their culture, to the greatest of international institutions, which was also Italian, the Church. This combination... determined the culture of the Middle Ages. It was Florence, Venice, Genoa, Milan, Ghent, Bruges, Augsburg, Nuremberg, not the feudal courts of Europe, which generated the great art, as they also generated the wealth, of that phase of history...

"Then, at the close of the middle ages, came the great crisis of the cities which was to end, almost everywhere, in the extinction of their liberties. First in Italy, then in Flanders, the old city republics were replaced by new monarchies. Almosty every Italian commune became a principality. Milan was transformed into a duchy, Florence into a grand duchy. The cities of Flanders were swallowed up in the duchy of Burgundy. the few city republics which survived drew in their horns and ceased to assert their independence...

"This take-over of the cities by the princes marked a profound social change in Europe, comparable, in its generality, with the eclipse of nineteenth-century liberalism by twentieth-century dictatorship. The princes, old and new, erected their power of a new social base and justified it by a new political philosophy. Against the urban patriciate, with its ideas of freedom and republican tradition, they relied on wider support; they mobilized the country against the city, the plebs against the patriciate.... The merchants then learned their lesson. The sons of the old patriciate turned away from the uncertainties of private commerce to the profits of office. They became courtiers, bureaucrats, farmers of taxes, court-monopolists, 'officers' of those close-knit, professional 'privy councils' which would replace the looser, more amateur 'chambers' of the old feudal princes." (CBC, pp. 224-5).

"We often speak of the Renaissance State. How can we define it? When we come down to facts, we find that it is, at bottom, a great and expanding bureaucracy, a huge system of administrative centralization, staffed by and ever-growing multitude of 'courtiers' and 'officers.' The 'officers' are familiar enough to us as a social type. We think of the great Tudor ministers in England, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, the two Cecils; of of the letrados of Spain, Cardinal Ximénez, the two Granvelles, Francisco de los Cobos, António Pérez; and we see their common character; they are formidable administrators, Machiavellian diplomats, cultivated patrons of arts and letters, magnificent builders of palaces and colleges, greedy collectors of statues and pictures, books and bindings. For of course these men, as royal servants, imitated their masters... But what is significant about the sixteenth century is not merely the magnificence of these great 'officers,' it is the number - the ever-growing number - of lesser officers who also, on their lesser scale, accepted the standards and copied the tastes of their masters. For all though the century the number of officers was growing. Princes needed them, more and more, to staff their councils and courts, their new special or permanent tribunals which were the means of governing new territories and centralizing the government of old...

"Thus the power of Renaissance princes was not princely power only; it was also the power of thousands of 'officers' who also, like thier masters, had extravagant tastes, and somehow, the means of gratifying them...

"(T)he bulk of an officer's gains came from private opportunities to which public office merely opened the door." (GCSC, pp. 56-7).

The parallel between the 'officer' class of the Renaissance state and the Brahminate of today is evident - in both cases, "the bulk... of gains came from private opportunities to which public office merely opened the door" - whether the officer was a Wolsey or a Clinton, a Cromwell or an Obama, or any of their countless subordinates, whether four hundred years ago, or yesterday.

Trevor-Roper argues that it was the weight of this large and extravagant bureaucracy that led to what he calls the general crisis of the seventeenth century. The productive capacity of the economy of the day was simply not enough to support it. Early efforts at reform proved failures:

"The reform provded ineffectual. Such reform almost always was, for it entailed the 'de-manning' of a powerful corporation. The courtiers were a solid 'interest,' a kind of trade union, concerned not with efficiency but with job-protection, full employment and union rates. In Milan, when the courtiers, at a time of crisis, were asked to accept a cut in their salaries, they drew together, and, with one voice, declared, 'No! Not a sou!' In London, when King James I appointed an outsider to rationalize and reduce his expensive household, the officers of the household similarly drew together and blocked the appointment. Voluntary reform, self-reform, was impossible; and so, in the end, it was war or revolution which transformed or destroyed those overblown Renaissance courts which were so ill-equipped for such a strain" (CBC, pp. 237-8).

Of course, historical parallels are not perfect, and to quote Marx's one correct aperçu, history repeats itself - first as tragedy and then as farce. We should have no doubt that ours is the era of farce, however little it may amuse us. A lot could be forgiven today's Brahminate if they had the exquisite tastes in architecture, art, music, and literature of the Renaissance officer class. There will be that much less to regret when they come to their well-deserved fall.

April 17, 2008 at 3:57 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

tggp - Kevin Carson's post on licensing is great. In the 1800's it was the norm for an architect, lawyer, or engineer to drop out of high school and then self study or do an apprenticeship to gain professional status. Now you are legally required to have 4-7 years of higher education. Every time I hear someone talk about funding more public education or college being the key to reducing inequality I want to pull out my hair. It's a textbook adaptive fiction, and everyone is completely blind to it. I really wish MM had talked about education instead of Nazism, as I think it could hit home with progressives a lot more.

April 17, 2008 at 5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Townies are, in fact, the same basic tribe that gave us Hitler and Mussolini.

What is particularly offensive about this statement is, who do you think kicked Hitler's ass? It wasn't the Ivy League Brahmins. The US Army in WW2 was largely an army of 8 million townies... vaisyas... bubbas... whatever you want to call them. The exact same type of people who kicked Hitler's ass also kicked Tojo's ass, kicked Kim Il Sung's ass, kicked Ho Chi Minh's ass (before the Brahmins threw the victory away), and kicked Saddam's ass twice. Apparently townies are good enough to stop bullets and win wars, but still earn nothing but contempt from the Brahmins.

April 17, 2008 at 5:47 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

P.S. - ot Wilberforce, on Jacobitism - it's not quite what it was cracked up to be. History is written by the victors, and James II was a loser. A valuable recent corrective on the history of this period is Schuchard's "Restoring the Temple of Vision" (Leyden, 2002: E.J. Brill). For a picture of what British politics was like under the first two Georges, read "Dashwood: The Man and the Myth" by Eric Towers. You'll learn why Dr. Samuel Johnson (who was a Jacobite, by the way) uttered his famous remark that patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel.

As long as we're discussing obscure political affiliations, let us note that in the strictest genealogical sense, the house of Hanover were Guelphs. If the opposite of Guelph be Ghibelline, the Jacobites must accordingly be Ghibelline in sympathy. Dante was a Ghibelline, and Johnson a Jacobite: amongst more distinguished political or literary company, one could not hope to be included.

April 17, 2008 at 7:13 PM  
Anonymous Wilberforce said...

Michael:

Thanks for the pointers. The Dashwood book looks interesting. But I can't see how Mencius really cares about forgotten succession quarrels, unless it's just a sort of cheeky way for him to come out against 'Republicanism.' For instance, I doubt MM is spending his retirement writing letters urging QE to surrender her throne to Franz Bonaventura Adalbert Maria Herzog von Bayern, Duke of Bavaria. His Highness looks like a nice chap, though, and if anyone here feels like carrying a torch for him, you can find some friends here:

http://www.royalstuartsociety.com/

April 17, 2008 at 7:42 PM  
Blogger John S. Bolton said...

There is one major defect in this discussion, including the comments.
Class Analysis
is itself a progressive dysfunction of mentality.
On Dr. JJRay's Dissecting Leftism
site, I found that there is a constant across all SES levels, determining the left and the right.
Ray found that how people react to the military and the police, whether with affinity or disaffinity, systematially predicts their left/right voting patterns,
independently of SES. Class anaysis is unfounded. How people react to aggression, whether rationally, supportively of the counter-aggressional institutions, such as the police; or emotionally, as the left rich or poor do, is determinative.
There is high genetic influence on this, although Ray places the opposite interpretation on it; that the right is indifferent to aggression and the left sensitive to it.
Politics is the ethics of aggression, but with endless lies and manipulations to avoid simple conclusions which would destroy the hopes of the power-greedy.

April 17, 2008 at 7:51 PM  
Blogger Fabian Tassano said...

A very interesting post, Mencius, but I should like to add what I think is a crucial point.

A retreat to ‘conservatism’, or the dumbed down version that is nowadays passed off under that term, seems the only obvious option to people like Mamet. But this is itself a symptom of the hegemony of 'progressivism'. (I would prefer to call it 'retreat-to-tribalism', I don't see it is aimed at genuinely advancing things, rather than reverting to a more primitive form of collectivism.)

You see this in the UK blogosphere. Because genuine alternatives to the il-liberal* consensus are rigorously excluded from the mainstream forums for cultural debate, those remaining who dislike it are on the defensive. In most cases, they are incapable of being assertive enough to say, “I reject your religion of belief in ‘liberal’ thinking, and see through it. I do not equate - as I am apparently expected to - being educated and cultured with being pro-government and anti-bourgeois.”

What they do instead is to retreat into a position which *is* still held out as legitimate, i.e. sticking your tongue out at intellectuals and culture generally and resorting to populism and sneering.

Mamet’s rejection of liberalism is about as helpful as that of Matt Stone (“I hate conservatives but I really f***ing hate liberals”). It’s glib, it rejects leftism, but it doesn’t really offer an alternative (all the available ones are supposed to be just as contemptible) so what use is it, if it means we end up with a world leader like Hillary because no one can bring themselves to vote for McCain?

Your thesis that America has always been progressive is very interesting. What I think has changed is that there is this automatic belief now that the state is the right way to achieve progress. A fundamental skepticism about the state and about authority, which originally formed the basis of American political philosophy, has fallen away. The same is true of Britain, though the historical dynamics are slightly different.

Individual ‘progressives’ are starting to be willing to see that something is rotten in liberal-land, but none of them are willing to depart from their basic premise that we *need* to have a programme of changing society for the better. And that is partly because the option of being truly conservative (as opposed to mediocratic conservative, i.e. pro-big-government) has become taboo.

BTW 1:
“You can spend all the time you want on townhall.com, and you will not find anyone cackling like Gollum over their evil plan to enslave and destroy the world.”
But nor, surely, did those running Germany or Russia in the 30s. If they had evil motives in their hearts, they will not have articulated them, if they were even conscious of them. “Hi there, Comrade Politburo Member. Gosh, aren’t we evil, eh? What fun.” Did Mengele think he was doing good? Interesting question.

BTW 2:
Knocking Fox is easily done, because what they do seems stereotyped and a little absurd, judged by the standards of the popular world view, which is 99% il-liberal*. But I would rather have Fox which has its own brand of distortion and bias, than no alternative at all. I think that Fox’s bias is much more obvious, and therefore much less harmful, than that of MSM.

* play on 'liberal' and 'illiberal', invented (I think) by David Horowitz

April 18, 2008 at 5:33 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Perhaps the third installment can be "an open letter to those of you who believe in interventionist government" -- which could cover both conservatives and liberals -- who, after all, are nothing more than Orthodox and Catholics who are splitting hairs about costume and choreography while embracing the same basic beliefs.

Read the blog if'n you love literature,
Michael

April 18, 2008 at 6:35 AM  
Anonymous CVD said...

Welcome back. I, for one, missed reading UR on Thursday mornings while I drank my coffee and ate a while wearing .

I agree with most of what Mencius said however I’m not sure how much it really undermines progressivism. As an anonymous commenter noted, it’s not exactly clear what logical steps connect the rejection of colonialism with the repudiation of progressive beliefs and policies. Let’s say I was a progressive and I agreed that colonialism was a better policy than the current anti-colonialism. It seems to me that the logical step for a progressive to follow would be some kind of soft empiricism. Would Mencius like the world better if progressives started overthrowing governments in underdeveloped countries and imposing new neo-colonial regimes? Wouldn’t we just end up with an expanded military empire AND universal healthcare if progressives took Mencius’ advice?

I don’t think any progressive will change his/her mind about progressivism even if Mencius convinces them that progressive policies actually hurt those whom they are intended to help. The reasons people are progressives is that (1) it makes them feel good about themselves and (2) it’s very sophisticated and trendy – in UR-speak, it’s the view of the Brahmin class. If you are a progressive, you can feel really good about yourself for wanting to help people. Moreover, all the really smart, sophisticated people agree with you – who are you to question them, after all?

UR is missing an ethical framework – the only one advanced so far, seems to be that violence is bad. Hence, stable, relatively violence-free, colonial governments are, in Mencius’ view, better than unstable “independent” ones. This is all fine and good (though Mencius has, as yet, not given his full theory as to why violence should be the main ethical criteria) but a progressive could easily flip this back on Mencius. For example, would a Rhodesia that was led small group of whites have really been more stable and less violent in the long term? I’m not sure he’s made that case. For a serious progressive to truly see the light, they’d have to have a UR ethical framework in addition to the political and historical framework that Mencius has so ably laid out. If Rawlsian ethics are incorrect, whose are correct?

UR readers may like
this piece as it touches on some topics Mencius is fond of discussing, even if it reaches slightly different conclusions. It's long, but that should certainly not disuade any readers of UR.

April 18, 2008 at 6:37 AM  
Blogger tooearly said...

are the Times and NPR really thought to be progressive media? good gad, i am really out of touch...

April 18, 2008 at 1:17 PM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

Dude, watch your </a>s…

April 18, 2008 at 1:18 PM  
Anonymous CVD said...

Yeah, sorry. The preview failed me.

April 18, 2008 at 1:38 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

On the Jacobite issue, MM will have to elaborate for himself, but I think his sympathy lies less with claims as to who may be the legitimate heir to the British throne than it does with the efforts of Strafford and Laud to suppress the Puritans, the ancestors of today's Brahmins. For similar reasons Julius Evola described himself as a Ghibelline, and did so despite the utter extinction of the Hohenstaufens. He admired their aims even though there was no legitimate successor to personify them.

Mr. Bolton's points about class analysis may be true but still do not invalidate the identification of an élite or élites. Surely he must agree that every society that ever was, including the one we live in, had or has an élite, possibly divided into two or more factions - and that these factional differences between élites exert disproportionate influence over the societies in which they take place. The social, cultural, and economic characteristics of particular élites have varied widely in various times and places - which tends to negate much of what has been advanced as class analysis. But there are still very definite points by which an élite may be identified.

A question I'd like to raise here is whether the Brahminate as described by MM can be described as a "meritocracy." In another thread during a protracted exchange with Mtraven, he replied to me that he'd rather be governed by a Brahmin meritocracy than by "aristocrats" of the type he thought I was defending. His understanding of what is meant by aristocracy was, unfortunately, that of "Harpers & Queen," whereas mine was from Aristotle.

I do not think the Brahminate can be described as an aristocracy from either of these points of view. More interesting, though, is the assumption that the Brahminate is a meritocracy. This hardly seems defensible. It has strongly non-meritocratic attitudes, the natural consequence of its philosophical commitment to equality of condition. Affirmative action is a Brahmin article of faith; challenge it and you are likely to be cut from whatever the Brahmin equivalent of Mrs. Astor's "400" is. And, of course, affirmative action is all about giving persons of favored ethnic origins preferential treatment over those not of such origins, even though the latter may have more "merit" as measured by something like a standardized test. Brahmin orthodoxy, indeed, challenges the value of such things as IQ tests; IQ is held to be meaningless, unless, of course, it should prove expedient in arguing before the appellate courts that some wretched blackamoor on condemned row be spared the electric chair because he has an IQ of 80 and could not possibly have understood that multiple axe-murder invites social sanctions.

MM has described the Brahmin class as associative rather than hereditary. I believe a better description is co-optative. One may, perhaps, join the 'outer party' of the Brahminate simply by associating with its ideals; but to become a member of the inner party, one must be chosen. I think we may be safe in assuming that journalism and the academy are co-optative Brahminical preserves. There is overwhelming conformity with Brahmin ideals in these branches of society. We find, for example, that all Princeton faculty members who have given to 2008 presidential candidates have given to Democrats ("Daily Princetonian," Jan. 24, 2008). Klein and Stern have found Democrat:Republican ratios ranging from 7:1 to more than 15:1 among faculty members at various universities they surveyed. Lichter and Rothman's "The Media Elite" and Kenneth Walsh's "Feeding the Beast" attest to similarly skewed political preferences among journalists.

It is certainly true that the possession of academic credentials is one of the tokens of admission to Brahmin ranks, but let us observe that possessing academic credentials does not necessarily denote "merit." Academic credentials can be and have been as easily devalued over the past century as has paper money. There was a time, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when public high schools had admissions examinations. Some of these examinations have recently been re-printed. I suspect the typical holder of the present-day BA degree would not be able to answer most of their questions.

The strikingly uniform adherence to particular ideals amongst academics and journalists is something these people probably justify in a manner most flattering to themselves They ask, aren't such ideals held by every smart person? Of course, we know they are not. It is far more reasonable to explain the biases of university faculties and journalists by the tendency of the people running these institutions to hire others of sympathetic views - irrespective of any objective measurement of merit. The opposite is also true - the unsympathetic won't be hired, or if a mistake is made, and someone with unsympathetic views is inadvertently hired, he will soon find himself unwelcome. Ask Larry Summers or James Watson.

Can anyone reasonably defend the position that Ward Churchill was hired by the University of Colorado on the basis of merit? that Susan Rosenberg was invited to teach at Hamilton College? How did Barack Obama's buddy Bill Ayers get to be a Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois? At least he's not teaching explosives engineering, at which he was singularly incompetent. How did his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, becaome a professor at Northwestern University Law School? Are all these people singularly meritorious scholars? Or has it rather been a question of finding a suitably comfortable situation for these veterans of the Long March?

Let's scrutinize those vaunted citadels of objectivity in the establishment press. Was the management of Howell Raines at the New York Times 'meritocratic"? Did he hire Jayson Blair on the grounds of 'merit'? Was Janet Cooke hired by the Washington Post on grounds of merit? How about the venerable New Republic, required reading for our Brahmin caste. Was Stephen Glass invited to join its staff because of his singular merits? Let us note that the fabrications of all these worthies were discovered only because of the persistent attention they drew from persons outside their lofty organizations. Had those enterprises not been so called into question, Raines, Blair, Cooke, and Glass might still be holding forth from them; Cooke might have held onto her fraudulently obtained Pulitzer, much as Walter Duranty posthumously clings to his.

No, the Brahminate is no more a meritocracy than any of the élites that preceded it, however much it likes to masquerade as one.

April 18, 2008 at 4:04 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 18, 2008 at 5:58 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Michael S-

The elite is meritocratic in the sense that members must pass selection tests ( grades, SATs, writing an article Brahmins want to read, making a successful grant proposal). People are not just born to their positions. For what it's worth (not much), these tests are somewhat correlated with raw intellectual processing power.

The system is not meritocratic in the sense that the selection tests are correlated with good governance. There is no prediction market for journalists so that only the writers with accurate world views get published. Civil servant pay is never correlated with good customer service. Professors don't lose tenure if their policy ideas fail miserably.

Contrast this to China where a city is ruled entirely by an executive - not by the journalists, factions, civil servants, or intellectuals. If the executive does a good job, he gets a promotion. I'd consider that a meritocracy. And maybe that's why their cities haven't yet devolved into a low level civil war.

The best that can be said about democracy is that it filters out obvious mistakes. For instance, most of the worst 60's housing projects have been dynamited. The trouble is that filtering out mistakes doesn't mean you get good governance. It simply means you have an entire system filled with programs and regulations are completely wrong in ways not obvious to your average Brahmin.

April 18, 2008 at 6:02 PM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

Say, while we're discussing the idea of resurrecting social structures that have been discarded perhaps erroneously, what do the rest of you think of the idea that the upper ranks of civil service ought to be reserved for eunuchs? Among other practical advantages, it allows demonstration of dedication, and would probably help officials to concentrate on their work.

I can't honestly endorse the idea myself, if only because it would require conceding that there ought to be such a thing as public servants. But is seems to me that someone should.

April 18, 2008 at 6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patrick, I'm puzzled that you cite SATs and similar exams as evidence the Brahminate is meritocratic when such exams are actually in rather low favor as selection criteria compared (for example) to the proper skin color (black or brown) or genitalia (female). If the Brahminate have their Thirty-Nine Articles, certainly affirmative action has to be close to no. 1 on the list.

I can think of several historical systems that were at least as meritocratic as the modern American Brahminate: the mediæval Catholic Church, the mandarin class of Imperial China, and the United States armed services. The latter are somewhat affected by the affirmative action concept, but I believe they do a better job of weeding out incompetents than do the universities or the journalistic media. The other point these alternative meritocracies illustrate is that the peculiar values of the Brahminate are not intrinsically the product of meritocracy. Other systems that are at least as meritocratic cultivated distinctly different principles.

April 18, 2008 at 7:36 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Anonymous - the average Ivy League student still has an SAT in the 98th percentile. Although you may be right in that the Brahmins would prefer to eliminate the SAT's entirely, but cannot due to student and parent demand. I agree that the Church, Mandarins, and Military were likely as meritocratic as our current university system.

April 18, 2008 at 8:10 PM  
Blogger Fabian Tassano said...

Patrick: "the average Ivy League student still has an SAT in the 98th percentile".

But does the average Ivy League professor? Let alone the average non-Ivy-League professor?

April 18, 2008 at 8:35 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Patrick, whether the universities are meritocratic does not in any event depend so much on the SAT scores of the students as it does on the selection criteria for the faculty.

I'd like to examine your suggestion that successful grant writing reflects a meritocratic process. There seems to me to be something vaguely unsatisfying about this, rather like the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest. When we ask how the fittest are defined, they turn out to be those that survive. It is a self-referential proposition.

If a person who writes grant proposals that result in grants is defined as having merit, as opposed to someone who writes grant proposals that do not obtain them, this presumes that grants are made on the basis of objective merit - how well reasoned the proposal is, and how well supported by factual evidence the claims made for its beneficial goals are. However, since both the requester and the giver of grants are likely to be members of the Brahminate - a group sharing a set of articles of faith - it could equally well be the case that whether the grant proposal obtains an affirmative response depends not on the excellence of its arguments or its documentation, but on how well it appeals to the subjective principles of the potential grantor.

Here's a Gedankenexperiment in grant-writing. Let us suppose we are to propose a grant for something we'll call the "Capital Justice Initiative." Only instead of the aims of this initiative being to thwart the application of capital punishment, they will be to expedite it. Lawyers and researchers will be engaged to support prosecuting authorities in capital cases. We will produce mounds of statistics on recidivism, on cases where the failure to execute a murderer has allowed him to take another life. We will do surveys that tend to show drops in the murder rate following executions. We will undertake to show that there is no racial or ethnic imbalance in sentencing that is not related to actual racial or ethnic imbalance in the commission of capital crimes - and so on.

Let us put the best, most persuasive grant writers on the project we can. Let us engage the support of James Q. Wilson, Robert Bork, and other sympathetic luminaries of bench and bar. And let us put our proposal before the usual sorts of trusts and foundations that make grants for legal activism, and see how far we get.

Snowball fights in Hades, the chances of Chinamen, and other clichés immediately come to mind for me - how about you?

This is not, I hasten to point out, because the case in favor of capital punishment is without merit, or has less merit than the case against it. In all candor, opponents in the debate over this (or many other) issues could go on for a long, long time, arguing equally ably on both sides, with ample statistics cited by each, and when it was done, one would have to call it a draw on the merits of their arguments. The decision to favor one side or another is made on some other basis - namely, the common and largely subjective assumptions of the grantor. And because those of the Brahminate are what they are, there are dozens of grants made to organizations that work against capital punishment, and none (to my knowledge) to support it.

One might observe of grant-writing and -making just as Lord Melbourne did in explaining the advantages of the Order of the Garter - "There's no damned merit in it!"

April 18, 2008 at 9:23 PM  
Blogger The Ashen Man said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 19, 2008 at 12:22 AM  
Blogger The Ashen Man said...

I have begun a blog somewhat relevant to these matters. Please visit!

April 19, 2008 at 12:25 AM  
Anonymous Jeff Williams said...

Whether the Brahminate today is meritocratic is, to me, beside the point. Creating excellent work—whether academic, journalistic, or artistic—is obviously not a priority. Do you see such excellence anywere? Obviously creative skills are not valued.

Their great project is the building of a grand coalition. The Brahminate is trying to put together enough support from enough victim and identity groups to make an unassailable majority, both in America and elsewhere. They dream of an international power base, with billions of the world’s downtrodden being gratefully led by the Brahminate.

Though the pursuit of excellence is discounted, the Brahminate does value political skills that can advance their project. If you have those skills, people will swoon.

April 19, 2008 at 6:38 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Michael S

We may be arguing over semantics. All I meant was that there is a selection process where you have to prove some skill or succeed in some defined task. Some might (probably erroneously) define this as a meritocracy. It's clear to both of us, that this selection process is completely corrupt, and is not related to the problem of good governance. In that sense, it is not a meritocracy at all.

April 19, 2008 at 8:44 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

I raised the issue of meritocracy only because one of my interlocutors here previously claimed that the Brahminate was one.

Every élite has had selection processes by which the incompetent were culled, even (for example) old-fashioned armies in which commissions could be purchased, or churches in which benefices were within the gift of lay patrons. In this respect they were no less meritocracies than the Brahminate is. I think we are in agreement, with the exception of that one commenter, that the Brahminate is no more a meritocracy than any of those previous élites, if as much so.

Surely in terms of the excellence of the results this is demonstrable. The Renaissance officer class as described by Trevor-Roper has striking parallels with the Brahminate, but look at their tastes compared with those of today's Brahmins. The Renaissance officer class had Alberti and Palladio for their architects; the Brahmins give us the alienating structures described by Tom Wolfe in "From Bauhaus to Our House." The Renaissance officer class had Michelangelo sculpt the Pietà; the Brahmins give us "Piss Christ." The Renaissance officer class had Palestrina, Tallis, Josquin, and Byrd compose their music; the Brahminate, John Cage and Philip Glass. Ugliness from an ugly bunch for an ugly age!

April 19, 2008 at 6:57 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Michael S., I disagree with your idea that our brahminate is not meritocratic. Yes, I'll certainly agree with some of the points you're making on the other side, but the point stands that the system by which we create powerful brahmins -- selection at the college stage, then the post-graduate stage, then the tenure-track job stage, then tenure itself, and finally elite publication -- all of these filter out dummies, and in fact most people with average or even somewhat above average IQs. Even our "dumb" politicians, like Bush, have 120 IQ, somewhat higher than a standard deviation up. The idea men manning (and women womanning) the idea factories, much more.

You can't take a bunch of exceptions like Ward Churchill and prove much. (Though I would note that he defrauded his way up through the racial spoils system quite skillfully; he does not seem to be a dummy from what I can make out.) Similarly, for every modern piece of crap art, there is plenty of good art being made. And in any case, the ability to produce good art is not exactly what I'd call "merit".

The whole question is "merit" is interesting. I agree that it does rather remind one of the theory of natural selection, but you are incorrect in suggesting in that case that the definition is self-referential. Rather, it is only partially. The environment is external to the organism, and provides the test of fitness. The fittest survive, and (more to the point) reproduce more than the unfit. Note, though, that in this meritocracy of reproduction, "merit" is by no means measurable. Luck is a huge factor in life.

One other interesting aspect of biological reproduction of interest in this analogy is sexual selection. To the extent that one's own species is an important part of the environment which one is attempting to optimize fitness to, weird loops can happen, including stuff that is, from a viewpoint outside of the species, fitness-reducing.

Back to merit in ruling -- I do not think it is the case that the point of the system is to produce good rule. Thus we cannot take the (lack of) quality of progressive rule as indicating lack of "merit". Rather, if there is any one object it is to perpetuate their rule. And there, I must say, they are quite good. So I do think they have a lot of "merit" in terms of what the system has filtered for. But this is getting back towards tautology. It is obvious that any system of rule that persists for long is fairly meritous in terms of perpetuating itself.

Anyway, I think for merit the thing we're most likely to agree on is measured IQ. Progressives have a love and hate relationship with IQ. They hate any public discussion of it, but in private, you bet they believe in it and care about it. Their own kids' test scores are of the highest interest to them, I assure you.

But one good thing about IQ as measuring "merit" is that we have a supereasy test of whether any particular subgroup of the people has IQ-merit. We know that in terms of group averages, Jews have higher IQs than whites, and white have higher IQs than blacks. Therefore, we can get very rough ethnic stats of a subgroup to determine if it has IQ-merit. If a subgroup overrepresents Jews by comparison to the group it is drawn from, and underrepresents blacks, then it is very likely to have be filtered by IQ, unless there is some other very obvious filter in place. So, take the set of leading progressives, whoever they are. Subtract out anyone overtly placed there (i.e., affirmative action hires). Look at who's left. So, do the ruling progressives have IQ-merit? Are they more than 2% Jewish, and less than 13% black? I think they are!

April 20, 2008 at 11:30 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Leonard, the questions really are 1) whether the Brahminate is any more meritocratic than any number of other élites have been, and 2) whether the characteristic Brahminical attitudes and positions are intrinsically meritocratic in origin, or something else. I believe the answer to question 1 is "no" - and I again offer the mediæval Catholic church, the mandarin civil service of Imperial China, and the officer corps of the present-day U.S. armed forces as examples of equal or greater meritocracy to that of the Brahminate. The answer to question 2 is "something else" - and can be demonstrated by reference to the attitudes and positions of the previously mentioned alternatives.

Élite ranks have always been disproportionately occupied by highly intelligent people. No matter what the nominal ticket of entrance to the selection pool may be, the pressure on those selected is brutal and those without ability are quickly culled. Does one seriously suppose that popes like Pius II or Sixtus V, soldiers like prince Eugène of Savoy, statesmen like Talleyrand or Metternich, or tycoons like J.P. Morgan, achieved what they did without possessing considerable acumen indeed? (Morgan is an interesting example - he was educated in mathematics, at Göttingen, then the leading center for mathematical research in the world. Karl Friedrich Gauss held forth there. Such was Morgan's mathematical ability that his teachers told him he was making a mistake to go back to his father's business, when he might become a professor if he stuck with his studies.)

It would be interesting to examine what a real meritocracy might be like, in contrast with the present Brahminate, or the ascendancies of earlier élites. Charles Murray wrote a series of articles in the Wall Street Journal some time ago urging greater attention to the early education of the gifted, with a view to their being (as it were) the feed-stock of economic and political leadership. His suggestions evoked indignant shrieks from all the usual quarters of the Brahminate. I suspect you are right that discussion of IQ amongst Brahmins is a furtive and guilty activity, rather like the consumption of pornography used to be amongst the respectable middle-class.

April 20, 2008 at 1:14 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Michael S -

What about in comparison to the monarchies and aristocracies of the 1600 and 1700's for which Mencius has so much fondness? It seems compared to those, the Brahmin class is quite meritocratic. I certainly remember hearing many stories of foolish and incompetent kings and nobles. But I do admit, I haven't studied this period all that much, so perhaps it was more meritocratic than believed.

April 20, 2008 at 2:36 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Patrick, I think if you examine the history of 17th-18th c. monarchy you will find that while any given monarch may have been a fool, the élite surrounding him was typically pretty sharp. Of course, some of the monarchs were no slouches themselves. Consider Louis XIV or Frederick the Great.

We must also distinguish between scientia (knowledge) and sapientia (wisdom) in their conduct. James VI/I was widely known as the "wisest fool in Christendom," i.e., he was a man of great learning but had little practical political or economic sense. Charles I was a man of thoroughgoing principle and philosophical depth, but inherited his father's impracticality. He had the character of a saint rather than that of a politician. Yet the Royal Society sprang from the little court of his sister, the Princess Palatine (e.g., Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Elias Ashmole [comptroller of ordnance to the king], bishop Wilkins, Sir Robert Moray [quartermaster of the royalist army] the Honble. Robert Boyle, and others not lacking in grey mattter).

Rudolph II in like fashion could be called the sanest madman in Europe. This patron of Tycho, Kepler, and Arcimboldo was a melancholic in the classic sense described by Ficino and Burton. Yet he somehow - despite the basic weakness of his position - maintained peace in his possessions between the religious factions that had torn the rest of Europe apart. After his death the floodgates were opened, and the Europe-wide war he had striven all his life to forestall broke out (the Thirty Years' War). If he was a failure, it was not for want of intelligence, but rather of will. He was too shy and too kind. The history of monarchy is all too often, apres quelqu'un, le deluge.

April 20, 2008 at 8:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the system by which we create powerful brahmins -- selection at the college stage, then the post-graduate stage, then the tenure-track job stage, then tenure itself, and finally elite publication -- all of these filter out dummies, and in fact most people with average or even somewhat above average IQs.

Let's leave aside the issue that not all "powerful brahmins" are created through such a process - not all "powerful brahmins" are in academia, and most academics are not "powerful" even when they are brahmins.

Even in the academic world, the system is a "meritocracy" in the sense that it is competitive. However, the competition is does not measure "intelligence" as such. In the liberal arts, many of these people spend their lives dealing with the most trivial issues, and believing things that are manifestly not true. In many cases, advancement is on the basis of ability to regurgitate politically correct dogma (perhaps in some "interesting new way") and in they are little different from confucian mandarins.

April 20, 2008 at 9:37 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Michael, I think the discussion of IQ amongst whiterpeople is perhaps more comparable to discussion of a child's gross deformity. That is, you simply don't do it publicly because it can only humiliate someone, so good taste demands silence. Privately, however, you have to talk about it to help the child deal with it, and there's no real shame in doing so.

Ever see the Seinfeld where they've all joined some old-folks helping org, and Elaine gets some woman with a huge goiter? Her reaction is pure whiterperson. She can barely force herself to look, yet she won't mention it until the woman directly brings it up.

Now, race is another issue. I think it is experienced among whiterpeople perhaps more akin to your suggestion of pornography, that is, it cannot be talked about even in private in any but coded terms.

I occasionally find a thrill amongst whiterpeople in offhandedly referring to someone who is black as "black", usually as the obvious means of distinguishing him or her from a group. It can be quite funny to be with such a group when one of them is struggling to identify a particular person to another, i.e., from among a set of not-well-known acquaintainces, but the person is refusing to use the most salient difference about the person being referred to -- that she is black, whereas everyone else is white. One simple word would make the ID clear to everyone, but it is avoided scrupulously until I blunder in, both to the relief and yet embarrassment of those present. (I am whiter enough that doing this does not cause serious loss of whiteface.)

April 21, 2008 at 7:13 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

It would be interesting (and probably impossible) to do a study of Brahminite intelligence -- that is, where in the standard deviations of intelligence do the king-makers of elite society fall? (S.D. being 100,115,130,145,160+, 130 being "gifted" and 145+ being "highly gifted"). This would be a little along the lines of Michael S.'s mention of the Murray series (link, MS?) but not completely.

As far as the Ivy Leaguers having generally high SAT scores, how many of them truly go on to Brahminism as opposed to Optimate-ism? I would warrant that there are few who go on to upper-echelon "townie" jobs but that wouldn't be unheard of -- but what percentage ivy-leaguers go on to red-state-bloc heavy jobs like finance, management, and business ownership?

My guess (which is tainted by arrogance) is that taste-makers fall into the "pretty smart" category (right there with Bush). I would hope that the policy-makers are somewhere above 145 but that's likely just a hope.

The whole idea of applying IQ to elite/meritocracy position (really, is there much of a difference between the two? They both require an a priori set of acquired skills -- where did you get them from if you're not elite?) is also self-limiting -- IQs above 130 are around 5% of the population (which is an awful lot of people) but moving above 145 takes you to about 1% and above 160 is something like less than .1% (which is still 300,000 Americans / 6 mil people). Take out the youth (28% 18 & under or, better, 35% under 25 [for America, the world is probably slightly higher]) and you're left with 200,000/4 million amazingly smart people. [note -- take out another 15% for old folks and you've got 170k)

This is where the idea of a "real" meritocracy breaks down (and why we have an elitist/club-type meritocracy and not a real one) -- Each one of these folks would have to be engaged in "world-building" for their intelligences to make a real impact. I would argue that most of them aren't (highly gifted people have abyssmal drop-out and drug-use rates) -- they are too cynical to buy into the "guvmint work" positions that will allow them to climb up the Brahmin hierarchy. That and if you guess that half of them are conservatives (or 1/3 are conservatives and 1/6 are moderates) you can guess that they don't want to do much Brahmin climbing anyway.

Wow. This got way too long. The point is that meritocracy is part of the right word (but not right because of [at least] the above).

The right word is crypto-meritocracy. That is, the cream rises to the top, but only the right kind of cream.

Read the blog,
GMP

April 21, 2008 at 7:16 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Back to the discussion of elites... obviously we have some differences, there. But I take your point (1) as, in essence, a concession that the Brahminate is, in fact, meritocratic. We are now merely quibbling over the degree to which it is.

I think that this question needs to be broken down into two subquestions. (1a) how large is the base set of people from which an elite can draw its members? If that set is any strict subset of "everyone", then that elite is not fully meritocratic.

The second subquestion (1b) is, given a base set of people, which people make it to the "top" -- into positions of power? To the degree that the power-order is strict, and it is determined by IQ, the result is meritocratic.

Note that my simple test for eliteness is implicitly relying more on 1a than 1b. Whereas I think you are more focused on 1b. I don't think any society, ever, has gotten very close to 1b.

My simple test clearly rules out most past elites as seriously meritocratic. Jews were not allowed amongst the ruling classes of Europe, and yet many of the smartest men alive were Jews. Only once capitalism really got going, with free entry, was an elite created which I'd call fully meritocratic by that standard. Indeed, almost everyone alive in Europe during the middle ages was not amongst the set of people that could rule. Only born aristocrats, a tiny subset of the people, could. Thus, no matter how meritocratic they were in terms of 1b, they could have had nowhere near the intellectual firepower that our elite does.

That seems enough to me, but I think that even in 1b terms, an aristocracy was not particularly strong. When the firstborn rules, you get some serious idiots in charge. Yes, you can surround them with true elites, drawn into the court on pure merit (and ability to flatter -- no so meritous), but they still make the decisions. Indeed, the Prussian invention of the meritocratic general staff -- an organizational revolution in warfare -- was so stunningly successful largely because it "routed around the damage" -- the idiots holding commissions, who had to be nobles, but who had no idea how to conduct a war.

Your specific examples are just more examples. For every Talleyrand there are many undistinguished nobles of his rank.

I agree with you that it would be interesting to examine what a real meritocracy might be like. However, in terms of the men manning it, I don't think it would be dramatically different than what we have. Again, in 1a terms, we are doing better than any society that has ever existed. In 1b terms we could improve, but only somewhat.

What's really at issue here is not the merit, or I should say "merit". Rather, it is that IQ-merit is by itself a rather pallid thing. Knowing the truth is much more important than smarts, which is why I can do things Isaac Newton couldn't. But every elite has always believed any manner of stupid things. Is our own elite particularly deluded by its ideology? I tend to think not -- only about as deluded as any other elite. But I am not really that firmly opined on this.

April 21, 2008 at 8:11 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

I wish I could provide a link to Charles Murray's Wall Steet Journal articles, but the only way I know to get them on line is to be a paid subscriber. If you are, you can search their archive. They are not in to be found the public archive. Considerable discussion of these articles and other questions related to the education of the highly intelligent can be found at www.jerrypournelle.com although the texts of the Murray articles themselves aren't there.

Leonard, I would dispute the claim that "only born aristocrats" could rule in the past. Dick Whittington was a young man with no good prospects but (whether or not his cat had anything to do with it) ended up a very rich man, and Lord Mayor of London. Wolsey was a butcher's boy. Felice Perretti was born in poverty and became Pope Sixtus V. If we wish to go back further, to the Roman empire, after the fall of the Julio-Claudian family, many emperors were men of undistinguished lineage, for example Dioclesian. Freedmen often rose to great wealth and high status, both amongst the Greeks and the Romans. Pasion, who begun as a banker's slave, was given his freedom, took over his former master's bank and became an Athenian citizen. Pasion was succeeded in his business by Phormion, who had started as a slave to Pasion. The nouveau-riche Trimalchio in the Satiricon of Petronius Arbiter is a parody of this social type.

That there is a strongly hereditary character to IQ has been indicated by numerous studies, from the time of Terman through the comparatively recent Minnesota twin family study of Lykken et al. Anyone can observe in his own circle of acquaintance that smart parents tend to have smart children. The phenomenon of 'reversion to the norm' is not without its effect, but this probably can be attributed to the importance of factors other than intelligence in the choice of a mate. Human social behavior makes the choice of a mate from within one's own class more likely than a choice that falls outwith it; and thus one would expect that as class becomes increasingly defined in terms of whatever we define as 'merit,' the possession of that merit will increasingly become hereditary.

One must remember in discussing the exclusion of Jews from previous western European élites that Jews were expelled from England in the reign of Edward I, from France under Philip the Fair, and from Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella. Thus it is not quite correct to point to the absence of Jews from the élites of those societies in the late mediæval and early modern periods as evidence that they were not meritocratic. Those élites drew from populations that had no Jews in them at all. The readmission of Jews to England (late 17th-c.) and France (18th.c) coincided with beginnings of modern capitalism, so to say that "only once capitalism really got going, with free entry, was an élite created which [was] fully meritocratic" is a sort of question-begging.

April 21, 2008 at 10:25 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

"Only" was overstating things, though not that much. Particularly via the church there was some avenue by which commoners could be exalted. But this was a pretty rare thing, I would estimate. Rather most of the high poobahs in the Church were of aristocratic origin.

A quick perusal of Wikipedia shows that Richard Whittington was an aristocrat. He was, to be sure, a younger son without a forture, but gentry nonetheless.

Diocletian reaches a bit further back than the ancient regime. It is true that in time of military rule, the army serves as a conduit to power, and because of the nature of war the army must use common men. It's unclear to me exactly how much military success tests IQ-merit as versus testing other qualities, i.e., physical bravery, masculine charisma, etc. Not to mention luck.

As for the Jews, it is not question begging to note their lack of political success. In every society, they have rapidly become highly successful in any "fair" domain -- i.e., they got rich (money-success) under enlightenment Western capitalism. However, at the very same time, they were not highly successful in politics. Thus, capitalism is more meritocratic by my standard; politics is less. It seems to me that the very existence of large numbers of Jews in the USA (specifically, the Ashkenazim) was an important filter inducing progressivism to drop Christianity. By doing that, it opened itself to their full integration into the ruling elite, and thus recruited the intellectual firepower to outcompete any rival Christian ideology.

April 21, 2008 at 12:17 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Leonard, obviously Jews cannot succeed politically in a society that has exiled them. Thus the absence of Jews from the English élite from 1290 to 1670 does not reflect any general failure during this period to reward merit by elevation to élite status.

What is perhaps interesting about this period is that countries in which Jews were present did not necessarily outperform either economically or politically those from which they were absent.

As was the case right up until the Holocaust, Ashkenazic Jews were heavily settled in Poland and in Russia. Those were considered backward, even barely civilized places in western Europe. The embassy sent by Ivan the Terrible to the court of Elizabeth I to bring her his proposal of marriage was regarded by her courtiers not only as exotic but as barbaric. Shakespeare alludes to it in "The Winter's Tale." Whether the backwardness of Russia at this period was attributable to its exclusion of Jews from its élite is at the very least questionable.

On the other hand, Protestant Holland, whence many of the Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain had fled, was already a center of commerce and flourishing economically, while the old Burgundian ports of trade in Flanders (the Spanish Netherlands) had begun to decline. The Jews whom Charles II had invited to England, and whom James II continued to protect (ignoring the complaints of the Puritan merchants of London, as Schuchard points out), were theese Dutch Sephardim, and became established and prosperous in England long before the first Ashkenazic Jews settled there.

In historically typical situations, a rising élite acquired wealth first, then political power; it took a generation or two for the Dutch Sephardim to acquire wealth in England, and another hundred years to produce Benjamin Disraeli. Such a timetable is not historically extraordinary.

What is extraordinary is that a rising élite should first acquire political power, and move from that to acquiring wealth. This is what distinguishes the American Brahminate from other élites, although as I pointed out earlier in this discussion, there are imperfect parallels with the Renaissance officer class described in Trevor-Roper's essays.

April 21, 2008 at 1:42 PM  
Anonymous m said...

Michael: it goes beyond anti-semitism in traditional societies excluding Jews from political power. Namely: Jews are absolutely terrible at politics, individualistic and short sighted long after reality has come crashing down on them.

See this by Netanyahu for a taste:
http://cgis.jpost.com/Blogs/netanyahu/entry/lessons_for_our_nation

It is ironic that the vast majority of Jews support the continued mass immigration of Muslims to America and the election of a president who may, in the end, turn out to be virulently anti-semitic. It is ironic that Jews view rogue states such as Iran that threaten the survival of their homeland with an enormous arrogance, projecting the view of the rational secular state onto them.

There's terrible destruction headed the world's way as a result of progressivism, which is enthusiastically embraced by the vast majority of Jews worldwide.

April 21, 2008 at 8:12 PM  
Anonymous m said...

I have a theory about the Abrahamic religions. It helps explain how messed up things are worldwide. The theory is that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are fatally flawed for different reasons, revolving around these four factors: a hard code for how individuals should live their lives, a hard code for how individuals should group together and the political goals they should pursue, the allowance for technological innovation, and ease of transmission of the religion.

Judaism has a code for individuals from the Torah and the allowance for technological innovation. As a result, Jews are very, very smart and on the cutting edge of all modern ideologies; they teach their lessons to their children (the Jews have had yeshivas for thousands and thousands of years, even before the Torah was given) and ensure race survival; their knowledge of technology is among the best there is, bar none. However, they are always subject to the whims of the majority as Judaism isn't a religion of conversion, and they're a huge mess politically because the Torah doesn't provide group or political direction.

Christianity has ease of transmission and technological innovation, but it lacks both group and individual codes (outside of the golden rule, which isn't much). Thus it's the fastest to completely fall apart, as we're seeing today.

Islam has a code for individuals through emulating the life of Mohammed through the Surrah and Sunnah, political goals through Sharia law, and ease of transmission, yet it completely lacks technological innovation - the Islamic Golden Age was an aberration, mostly the work of recently conquered dhimmis living under Islamic rule, and it petered out when Islamic expansion subsided.

What's needed is a religion, imo, that incorporates all four of these aspects. It's tricky, because the richer off people get through technological innovation, the less religious they become. The trick is to allow technological innovation and feed that back into the religion. Anyone have any ideas?

April 21, 2008 at 8:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is extraordinary is that a rising élite should first acquire political power, and move from that to acquiring wealth. This is what distinguishes the American Brahminate from other élites,

Uh, say what now? If you don't think the American brahminate started with money, you need to think harder about it. If you've been paying attention to MM at all, you know the American brahminate goes back a long way, and I can assure you that money has always underwritten their power. Do you think it cost nothing for the brahmins to gain and maintain control of the media and the universities?

April 21, 2008 at 9:41 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Michael, I tend to agree with anon on this: our Brahminate has been flush from long back, when they were still Christians. As they have broadened their base of support, of course they have gotten less wealthy on average. This is necessary in democracy, where vote-buying is practically a requirement. But these people, the teachers, junior government employees, low level NGO people, etc., are the footsoldiers, not the the generals.

I think what you're picking up on are two interesting features of the modern brahminate: one is its institutional breadth, and the other is its surprising ability to infiltrate and incorporate, borglike, formerly Optimate organizations. Much of the money that the Brahmins now control was not originally Brahmin money, rather it was earned by Optimates. This certainly is a sense in which power has preceded wealth.

April 22, 2008 at 8:48 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Anon and Leonard, the Brahminate started with money in the same sense the Renaissance officer class described by Trevor-Roper did:

"... The merchants then learned their lesson. The sons of the old patriciate turned away from the uncertainties of private commerce to the profits of office. They became courtiers, bureaucrats, farmers of taxes, court-monopolists, 'officers' of those close-knit, professional 'privy councils' which would replace the looser, more amateur 'chambers' of the old feudal princes." (CBC, p. 225)

They moved from having some money (from commercial origins) to having a great deal (from the exercise of political power). A parallel amongst the modern Brahminate is Hillary Clinton. Her father was a successful small businessman, lived in an affluent Chicago suburb, and had sufficient wealth to send his daughter to Wellesley college. However, this result of the "uncertainties of commerce" was as nothing compared to the "profits of office" - the over $100 million she and her husband have booked as income since they left the White House.

April 22, 2008 at 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Further to Leonard: the people you refer to as 'footsoldiers' (schoolteachers, lower- and middle-level bureaucrats, social workers, etc.) are a class called into existence by the expansion of the state. The Brahminate has an inner and and outer party, as in "1984" - and these folk are the outer party. They, like the indigent dependents of the welfare state, and the middle-class grievance groups (feminists, homosexuals) are part of the coalition of constituencies that support the Brahmin ascendancy.

It is interesting to consider what these footsoldiers might be if they were not what they are. The two Trevor-Roper essays, "The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century," and "The Culture of the Baroque Courts," assign responsibility for the Thirty Years' War and the collapse of the "schöne Kunst der Verschwendung" of the Renaissance princes, to the burden of an enlarging officer class. This led, in the subsequent age that saw the rise of monarchical absolutism, to an attempted reform of education. Renaissance schooling, which provided the feed-stock of the officer class, was to be revised to rationalize and bring down the apparatus of state to a juster proportion:

"To reverse the Parkinson's Law of bureaucracy, let them reduce he hatcheries which turned out the superfluous bureaucrats: grammar schools in England, colleges in France, monasteries and theological seminaries in Spain. Instead, let them build up local elementary education: skilled workers at the base of society now seemed more important than unemployable university graduates, hungry for office, which the Renaissance foundations were turning out. 'Of grammar-schools,' declared that great intellectual, Sir Francis Bacon, 'there are too many': many a good ploughboy was spoiled to make a bad scholar... Of colleges, declared the founder of the French Academy, Cardinal Richelieu, there are too many: the commerce of letters, if unchecked, would banish absolutely that of merchandise 'which crowns states with riches' and ruin agriculture 'the true nursing-mother of peoples'." (GCSC, p. 69)

This appears to me to have its parallel today, when there is a college for everybody, and the BA degree has replaced the high school diploma as just about the minimal requisite for anything more than menial employment, outside the dwindling remnant of a few skilled mechanical trades. If we can't say today that many a good ploughboy has been spoilt to make a bad scholar; perhaps we can say that many a good pastry cook or millwright has been spoilt to make a bad junior high school counsellor or unemployment compensation administrator. But to what general crisis must the twenty-first century come before this burgeoning of bureacracy is arrested?

The resolution of the seventeenth-century crisis was mixed. Protestant Britain went through the convulsions of civil war, restoration, and "Glorious Revolution," emerging as a prosperous trading power in which the landed gentry and haute bourgeoisie moved from strength to strength. Protestant Holland acquired a lucrative empire in the East Indies and became the comfortable bourgeois enclave depicted in the genre paintings of Rembrandt's followers. Economically, Catholic Europe did not fare so well. Louis XIV crushed the Fronde and established himself as an absolute king, with a thoroughly subordinate civil service. He revoked his sensible and tolerant grandfather's edict of Nantes, the main result of which was to drive Huguenot skilled tradesmen out of France into England and Switzerland (which derived great commercial benefit thereby), while France fell into economic stagnation and the stultifying thrall of the Jesuits:

"The secret of the Jesuits lay in their modernity. Like Marxist-Leninists today [Trevor-Roper's essay is dated 1979], they had studied the mechanics of power and understood the arcana imperii. They had captured, and then converted to the use of the court, the most up-to-date indeas, making them both fashionable and safe. By their teaching, the sceptical reason of Erasmus was converted into orthodox casuistry, the uninhibited statecraft of Machiavelli into ideologically justified 'reason of state', and the individual Renaissance courtier of Castiglione was replaced by the sophisticated, identikit servant of the Counter-Reformation prince."

When we look at the typical exemplar of the Brahmin inner party - the sort that shuttles between think-tanks, universities, and appointive posts in Washington, belongs to the Council on Foreign Relations, and attends the Gstaad conferences. Do we find, at the so-called "Renaissance Weekends," the "individual Renaissance courtier of Castiglione" or the "sophisticated, identikit servant"? I think much more the latter type, by far.

April 22, 2008 at 10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may have already been addressed, but nowhere does MM suggest that Colonialism ought to be restored, only that Colonialism at the time it was in force was better equipped to handle medical and social problems than is now true within the now-Independent post-colonial nations.

So MM could perfectly well have implied that the colonial empires ought not to have happened at all, in which case he would be saying the problem was not Colonialism, but the introduction of Western ideas of government, such as Democracy and Liberalism.

But these are interpretations, naturally.

April 22, 2008 at 3:30 PM  
Anonymous Evan Marcus said...

I'm trying to figure out why I subscribed to your blog feed. You must have said something that sounded intelligent at some point. Now, well, you started out well, pointing out the religious nature of progressivism, but then you resorted to idiotic snideness about your intellectual betters.

Thanks for the Mamet link, though. It was worth the twenty minutes of my life I wasted reading your post.

April 22, 2008 at 9:02 PM  
Anonymous Jeff W said...

It is interesting to try to visualize the end game for the Brahminate. To do this, I think of the Brahminate as a business enterprise (Brahminate, Inc.). As of now their enterprise is still doing fairly well, with billions of dollars rolling in.

But tax revenues are starting to be a problem (cf. State of California, current fiscal crisis of). They can’t tax their remaining manufacturers without cutting into much-needed export earnings. Service businesses seem gradually to be moving more into the gray and black markets. Money is now being printed to meet current expenditures. Business conditions are slow, but inflation fears keep long-term interest rates high. Commodity price inflation hurting business profits and tax revenues. Collapsing real estate prices are also cutting into tax revenues.

Brahminate leadership must choose from the following: fire some of the foot soldiers, print/borrow more money, or raise tax rates and institute get-tough tax collection policies. Any of these actions will reduce public support, which is the good will on their balance sheet.

The American Brahminate was built on revenues from big manufacturers, such as the massive payrolls from GM plants and US Steel factories. Its revenue base is shakier now, as is its currency, the U.S. dollar.

The future, as the say, is uncertain. The Brahminate enterprise could start skidding downward quickly from here. A Weimar-style inflation would wipe them out, as would a major tax revolt. On the other hand, it’s possible that they could weather the storm and recover. But I view this as unlikely. The enterprise is rotten: it has stupidly failed to protect its revenue stream. A third outcome is also possible, where the enterprise would maintain itself indefinitely in a crippled, reduced fashion, extracting reduced revenues from crippled American economy. This I also view as unlikely, as a crippled Brahminate would be vulnerable to attack from some outside group.

April 23, 2008 at 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found Michael S.'s argument for a co-optative Brahminate persuasive.

Interestingly [or not] this co-optative norm doesn't seem to apply for the lower orders. Can one descend in any meaningful way?

I suppose a middling upper class denizen of Hyannis could lower himself by merely moving permanently to Hawai'i or Minneapolis, but he would not be accepted in any meaningful way as a 'prole' or 'townie' except by his former compatriots.

When one reflects on known persons who have attempted to do so, one finds they invariably become writers, professors, intelligentsia &c., coming full circle to become leaders among the Brahminate.

April 23, 2008 at 3:13 PM  
Blogger Votes or Semen said...

I don't understand how Nazi's can be considered the extreme right. isn't facism the extreme left?
in a facist society the individual has no rights, all is surrendered to the state.

April 23, 2008 at 11:10 PM  
Anonymous Lawful Neutral said...

Jeff W,

a crippled Brahminate would be vulnerable to attack from some outside group.

Who? How? Control of the US Government means control of several thousand nuclear weapons, what outside group do you see overthrowing the Brahmins?

April 24, 2008 at 3:03 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

@ Jeff W., I think the end game for the Brahminate may be very much like that of the Renaissance officer class. As you suggest, it will be for the reason that it has become too top-heavily burdensome for the productive economy to bear. Either there will be some cataclysm whereby they are displaced - like the Thirty Years' War, or the English civil war and subsequent Stuart restoration - or a descent into absolutism, as under Louis XIV, the Spanish Bourbons, or in the Hohenzollern principalities. I'm betting on the latter, but it is too early to say.

@anonymous, your question about how one can descend from the Brahminate brings to mind the archetypal cabdriver with a Ph.D. He is someone who has been in the selection pool but who didn't, for whatever reason, make the cut. Such folk are like the would- be mandarins in Imperial China who had failed their exams. Descensus Averno facilis est - many are called but few are chosen.

More typically, an academic who doesn't get tenure moves to another institution at the next tier down, where he repeats the tenure track again. I have met some people who have followed this downward path through three or even four institutions. Their bitterness would put to shame that imputed by Sen. Obama to rural Pennsylvania gun-owners. Untenured faculty are among the footsoldiers of the Brahminate, worked hard (and put away wet!) for relatively meagre wages - unlike academia's favored few (e.g., Michelle Obama, whose salary from the University of Chicago was almost double her husband's U.S. Senate pay).

@votes or semen, your point about the Nazis being on the left rather than the right is much the same as Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn's in his book "Leftism." The essential parallels between Nazism, Fascism, and New-Dealism were well explored also by Wolfgang Schivelbusch in his book "Three New Deals." A recent biography of the British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley ("Black Shirt" by Stephen Dorril) reproduces his glowing comments about Franklin Roosevelt after Sir Oswald and Lady Mosley's visit to the U.S, in the 'thirties, There is much to indicate that Nazism and fascism were movements of the left.

How did they get their reputation as 'right-wing'? I believe it mostly has to do with the phenomenon of history being written by the victors. The principal victor of the Second World War - the only one that gained territory and plunder - was the Soviet Union. It, and its apologists in the West, had every reason to portray the war as one of ideological opponents. Thus the similarities between Bolshevism and Nazism were soft-pedalled, while their points of philosophical opposition were exaggerated. This was made easier to do by the relative sophistication and close focus of the Marxist-Leninist intelligentsia as compared to the incoherence of the Nazis (Mein Kampf is a prime example) or the broad diversity of the Fascists (contrast, for example, Giuseppe Bottai and Julius Evola).

I think there is no question but that the classes which feared Bolshevism, from the petit-bourgeoisie (MM's vaisyas or townies) all the way up to some of the old nobility, eventually embraced or at least came to a rapprochement with Nazism or Fascism if only because they saw it as the lesser evil. This choice was reinforced when Hitler (in the "Night of the Long Knives") and Mussolini (by suppression of the "arditi" and the restraint of the left in his own party) made clear that rights in private property would be preserved under their rule, even as some compatible left-wing measures, such as syndicalism, were introduced.

April 24, 2008 at 10:43 AM  
Anonymous Eric H said...

Townies are, in fact, the same basic tribe that gave us Hitler and Mussolini.

That's an effect of Virus Y, which has the effect after some time of passing itself or at least its complications off as Virus X in much the same way that certain constituents of cat feces cause rodents to lose their fear of cats. After we were done disposing of a competing Virus Y, we couldn't note its similarities to ourselves and had therefore to paint it as Virus X.

But really, one need only go back a generation to see that Robert Ely and Herbert Croly were substantially saying the same thing as Mussolini: countries in which things are left to chance can't compete in a world where others manage to a central plan. When they were joined by the Taylorists and Brandeis and their advocacy of scientific management, the appeal was too strong to resist. We could follow Bismarck's lead! War was just the thing to forge men from farmers! Planning boards could run the economy like one big business! Or army? Just because they didn't use a phrase like "Blood and Soil" doesn't mean they weren't cribbing from the same recipe books.

Lenin liked the Taylorist idea so much, he based a country on it. FDR liked the corporatist idea so much, he tried and almost succeeded in basing a country on it. Mussolini and Hitler weren't outliers, they were merely the men with the will and charisma to succeed in the task set before them by the Brahmins.

Or perhaps that's what you meant?

June 14, 2008 at 10:01 PM  
Blogger Moshea bat Abraham said...

For example, Mamet endorses the conservative writer Thomas Sowell, who he claims is "our greatest contemporary philosopher."

That is an accurate appraisal of Sowell.

July 22, 2008 at 10:56 AM  
Blogger Moshea bat Abraham said...

Townies are, in fact, the same basic tribe that gave us Hitler and Mussolini.

You keep saying this. In fact, it was Brahmins that created and made up the Nazi movement. They were highly educated people, full of the sense that they were saving the world from the corrupt. And if you chart the two groups' fetishes and beliefs, you will find that they are virtually identical. Nazis and American progressives both love health food, nudism, fake pagan religions, vegetarianism, excessive exercise, abstension from tobacco, government control of the economy while leaving private citizens as the nominal owners, hostility to Christianity, euthanasia to those they deem unworthy of life, etc. There are only two real differences. One is that they both believe in laws discriminating against people based on ethnicity, they just have a different idea about which groups should be privileged and which penalized. The second is that the Nazis had the sense to value military might, which progressives, as you have pointed out in your "temporarily arboreal neohominid" post, do not.

One good source of information about this is the very good though flawed Unholy Alliance by Peter Levenda. There's an excellent quotation from it I think you'd appreciate, from page 152, about the Ahnerbe, a Nazi organization made up chiefly of S.S. officers which was later formally incorporated into the S.S.

So, how to describe the Ahnerbe?

Imagine that the evening adult education program of the New School for Social Research had suddenly become an independent government agency with a budget as big as the Defense Department, with Lyndon Larouche as president and, perhaps, Elizabeth Clare Prophet as the physics chairperson.

Or maybe the summer session at the University of California, Berkeley, had become militarized and all the students had immunity from prosecution for any crime they had committed, or would ever commit, and could conduct any form of independent study they liked as long as they wore their black uniforms with the silver death's head insignia at all times and swore an oath of personal loyalty to the dean.

Then one might have some idea of what the Ahnerbe was, and of the type of people it first attracted to its ranks.

It was a humanities program. With guns.


There's also a documentary you can view online via Netflix: Architecture of Doom. It pointed out that most of the Nazi high command were failed artists. As one friend of mine commented, "No wonder they hated the world so much!"

Nazism is a Brahmin movement, through and through.

July 22, 2008 at 11:23 AM  
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January 15, 2009 at 8:49 AM  
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January 31, 2009 at 10:09 PM  
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February 12, 2009 at 2:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! thanks a lot! ^^

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March 2, 2009 at 10:12 PM  

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