Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Do We Have What It Takes?

It's all very well to imagine a war against liberals, as I did yesterday.  You can conjure up a purpose, to turn back the administrative state, and objectives, to demoralize and delegitimize liberals, and so I did.

But do conservatives have what it takes to turn back the administrative state and fight the decisive battle against liberal cultural and political hegemony?  Back in the early 20th century, conservatives and liberals like to remember, Antonio Gramsci called for a "long march through the institutions."  Well, liberals did that, and so they control the parameters of all the great cultural institutions of our society -- excepting a few redoubts like talk radio.

More to the point, the ordinary young person grows up in the culture of liberalism: it is the water in which he and she swim.  How can conservatives hope to penetrate the citadel of liberalism to get a chance to communicate to young people, let alone actually persuade them of the glories of an America freed from the fetters of the liberal administrative state?

The short answer is that it can be done.  It has been done.

Let us take as our example the great wars between Britain and France.  In the Hundred Years War the British were continually invading France, from the time of Edward III to Henry V.  They were always winning battles: Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt.  But Britain just did not have the power to defeat France.  At the end of it, the Brits decided to go in for the civil Wars of the Roses back home.  So that was the end of the conquest of France.

Never mind.  After the civil wars of the 15th century and the civil wars of the 17th century, the Brits got a Dutch king, and the first thing the Dutch King William III did was to start another war with the French, sending John Churchill off to fight the War of the Spanish Succession. It was the first bout in the Second Hundred Years War.

Only this time, in the Second Hundred Years War from 1690 to 1815, the Brits won.  They beat them in North America; they beat them in India; and they beat them in Europe, with the culminating Battle of Waterloo.  France was never the same again.

Want to know why the Brits won?  The answer is Dutch Finance.  The Brits paid for their century long war with a gigantic National Debt.  Here is what it looks like, from ukpublicspending.co.uk:

Yeah.  It's impressive, making the debt for the 20th century wars look puny in comparison.

The National Debt is key because, unlike the French, the Brits in the Second Hundred Years War never went through a national financial collapse.  They were always able to keep paying interest on the National Debt, and that meant that there were always more people willing to lend money to the Brits.  Look at that chart.  The Brits cranked the National Debt all the way up to 250 percent!  But they never succumbed to sovereign debt default.

Conservatives today are in the position of the Brits in the First Hundred Years War.  We can score fantastic victories against the liberals, like the Reagan era in the 1980s.  But it doesn't stick.  So we need a paradigm change, something equivalent to the Dutch Finance that William of Orange brought from the Dutch Republic to London.  Something that transforms the correlation of forces.

Otherwise our glorious conservatism will be limited to the modern equivalent of the fine speeches at Harfleur and Agincourt conjured up by Shakespeare to make a national icon out of Henry V.

And a modern French cynic will be able to say: "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre."

Monday, July 29, 2013

Who Is The Enemy?

You may not be interested in war, said Trotsky, but war is interested in you.  In a US context we could say: You may not be interested in the culture war, but the culture war is interested in you.  In other words, things like abortion, marriage, single parenthood, gay marriage, divorce, pornography, the anti-hero, egalitarianism, Obama's "fundamental transformation" are all battles in the overall culture war.

What is the culture war?  It is the war to determine whether the United States shall be a society centered on civil society, the voluntary socialization of family, church, association, and free enterprise, or the progressive administrative state.  If you want a civil society then you need to defend and value love, marriage, children, religion, neighborhood, free association.  If you believe in equality and the administrative state then all these things are just, at best, superstitious survivals from a past era.  And the sooner they are left behind the better.

Yes, but do we have to have a war over this?  I'm afraid we do.

I used to think that the Reagan revolution had proved that the administrative state was a failure and that we were now all agreed that the way forward was one in which the political sector kept its distance from the economic sector.  It looked, for a while, with Clinton and Blair and the Third Way, that Democrats and liberals grudgingly agreed.

But the rise of the angry "netroots" in the 2000s and the election of Barack Obama tell us that the liberals are like Bourbons, they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.  Their whole being is still centered around an attack on the bourgeoisie and its relaxed, sociable culture of free people that live and let live in a culture of trust and respect.  Liberals believe in the political in everything.  So we must fight.

Angelo Codevilla in the second edition of War: Ends and Means, is remarkably clear-headed about conflict.  The object of all war is peace, he writes, but peace on our terms.  Unfortunately, we in the West are remarkably skittish about the whole thing.  Here we are in a major war with radical Islamism, but we really don't know what we are doing, and what we want, and what we are prepared to do about it.  Other than wish it would go away.

Here is Codevilla boiling his whole doctrine down to a sentence:
[T]he only reliable guide through the fog of war is an understanding of one's own purposes and from those purposes a reasonable deduction of objectives, so one can say: "if we can manage to do this or that then we will have gotten what we wanted , and the whole effort will have been worth it."
If you haven't thought about your purposes and objectives then you are going to lose.

Now the purpose of modern conservatism is to encourage and protect a civil society that can flourish at a distance and in relative freedom from political power.  Civil society, we believe, cannot flourish when government is forcibly taking something like 35-40 percent of the wealth produced by society and then redistributing it.  In other words, government free stuff is the enemy of a just and peaceable society.  Why?  We can see it all around us.  Once people get their mitts on free stuff they will not give it up until they are looking out across a wasteland, as in the City of Detroit.  And even then they still demand their free stuff.

It is not just that the administrative state and its free stuff is unjust.  The bigger problem is that it is unworkable.  It sets the whole of society in concrete and prevents the correction of mistakes and the adapting to new conditions.

That is our purpose, but how do we get there?  There is only way.  We must delegitimize and demoralize the liberal ruling class.  For it is the liberal ruling class that uses the power of the centralized state and dangles the promise of free stuff before the voters in order to get political power and keep it.

In the short term it is easy to see what is needed.  We blame the liberals and their Keynesianism, their anti-business regulation, and their crazed global warming hysteria for the sluggish economy.  But the bigger objective is to delegitimize the whole welfare state and its dysfunctional government functions from health care to education and welfare.  We want to persuade the American people that they will never get good health care from government; they will never lift the poor up through government welfare, and they will never get a decent education for their children with government education.  And what's more, the liberals run and benefit from the current corrupt and dysfunctional system. Asking them to reform their creation is like asking a dictator to give up his power.

The problem with war, military, political, or cultural, is hate.  It doesn't take much for all partisans to end up like Howard Dean: I hate Republicans and everything they stand for.  If conservatives mount a war on liberals and everything they stand for, will we end up sounding like Howard Dean?  Or, to put it differently, is it possible to win the war against the liberal administrative state without riling up the conservative rank and file with a violent hatred for everything liberal?

We can only hope.

But the alternative is despair.  As I wrote: Once you turn the whole of society into an administrative government program you cast your society in concrete.  You make it impossible to change without the political equivalent of nuclear war: violent revolution.  People will not give up their "benefits" without a fight.  But then, that's the fate of every decadent empire or civilization.  Unable to change, it succumbs in the end to invasion or revolution.  Either way, it means unspeakable suffering for the little people that our liberal friends profess to represent.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dividing the Pie

The way you get kids to play fair is to tell them that one of them gets to cut the pie, but the other one gets to choose which piece.

But that is not the way that politics works.  In politics it's winner take all.  If you divide the electorate the right way then you get to run the government, and you get to rub the noses of the losers in it.  Whatever it is.

The only downside is that you make the losers really mad.  But that's not the end of it.  Eventually many of the people on the winning side get pissed off.

A politician is like a guy romancing a whole bunch of girlfriends at once.  Girls being girls they each think that she is the one he loves.  Until it turns out that only one or two get the weekend getaway to Vegas.  Hell hath no fury, etc.

The point of all politics is to divide, and the worst scandal in the world is the divisive and extreme politics of the guys in the other party.  Liberals make a way of life out of activism and protesting, but when the Tea Party arose and began protesting liberals were outraged by the divisiveness and the extremism of it all.  Naturally, conservatives return the compliment and experience most liberal political acts as divisive and extreme too.

So you can see that not only is politics division.  The whole point of it and the whole art of the politician, the political practitioner, is not just to divide but to define the other guys as beyond the Pale.  Not just Us and Them, but Good and Evil.

But don't despair, conservatives.  Let us get an encouraging word from Angelo Codevilla in War: Ends and Means. Says he: When you go to war you better have a strategy and it better be right.

In the context of the present race wars swirling around George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, the strategy is what, exactly?  Let us agree that the race card played against George Zimmerman back in 2012 worked for President Obama and got the black vote all ginned up for November.

But suppose you are a Hispanic.  Or suppose you are a moderate white woman (Let alone a moderate white man).  What do you think?  You think that for President Obama and the media you are outside the charmed circle.  You are not the girl that gets to go on those wild weekends in Vegas.  You are the girl that gets a booty call at 2:00 am.

It is said that George Zimmerman is/was an Obama voter.  You think he still is?  You think that a million young Hispanic guys aren't thinking about what might happen to them if they got into an altercation with a young black guy?  You think that millions of moderate white women, the ones that are supposed to hate division and political name-calling, aren't worried by the scenes of young blacks rioting in the street about Trayvon Martin?

The reason that politicians cool the rhetoric after the election is over is that they want the populace to be nice and peaceable most of the time.  They want them riled up at election time, because you need to rile people up to get them out to vote.  But after the election they want the people to do what they are told.

Ever since the 2000 election the Democrats have been running a "permanent campaign."  It certainly helped them get Congress flipped in 2006 and Obama elected in 2008.

But since then, I would argue, it has not worked so well.  After all, with all the divisive rhetoric the GOP won back the House in 2010 and the president got reelected with only a 4 point margin.  How's that divisiveness working, Barack?

Here's the thing.  The way that politics works, it is fairly easy to persuade the voters  after about 6-8 years that the government stinks and it's time for a change.  But when you are the government, when you are the ruling party, it is not so easy.  Too many people have been disappointed; too many pretty girls have seen other girls get the trip to Vegas.  Then the divisiveness game starts to cut against you.

They say that Republicans need to reach out to Hispanics.  But what if Obama and the media and the race industry is doing the Republicans' work for them?  What if all over the country this week Hispanics are thinking: Wow.  It looks like when the chips are down the Democrats are going to side with those lazy ass blacks instead of with me. (Polls tell us that Hispanics think blacks are lazy.  Whites do not).

The thing about politics and dividing up the pie is that most everyone ends up being disappointed.  That's why conservatives think we need less politics and less government.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Many people sneer at the famous words of that slave-owning white guy written down a couple centuries ago.  So let us think what these words should mean to moderns like us in the year 2013 CE.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
What does it mean to have an unalienable Right to Life?  No doubt it meant to those old white guys the right not be be killed at the pleasure of some government functionary or puling aristocrat.  But in our age we understand more completely what it means.  It means that we are not on this earth to follow a career, or to be a creative artist, or a political activist.  It means that our job has to do with Life, its creation, its birth, its nurturing, its preservation.

In the old days the facts of life were inescapable; that's why the rules about courtship and marriage were so strictly enforced.  But ever since the sexual revolution and the practical availability of effective contraception and abortion it has been possible to forget about the facts of life, to treat the sanctity of life with oblivious disregard.

We humans are here on this earth firstly to attend to Life.  And for the vast majority, a life that ignores Life is a life wasted.  In other words, a life without children is a life of folly.  The fact that we have loosened the bonds of custom to allow people to live lives oblivious the the facts of Life means that people are free to make the life-wasting decision to utterly ignore the importance of Life.  The right has responded to this by attempting to legislate boundaries to abortion, but I think that is a mistake.  We criminalize too much in our society.

We should build a culture that celebrates Life, that judges a childless life to be an incomplete life.  We should build a culture that makes abortion safe, legal, and shameful.  We should brand sexual libertines as selfish children.  But let's keep the criminal law out of it.

What does it mean to have an unalienable Right to Liberty?  No doubt it meant to those old white guys the freedom of the city against the serfdom and the domination of the landed aristocracy.  But for us it means the right to live your life without constant supervision from the administrative state.  It means that everything that is not specifically forbidden is allowed, and that the list forbidden things should be short and succinct.  This does not mean that everything is allowed and Katy bar the door.  It means the real meaning of freedom: we are free to make mistakes.  If we do not allow young people to go off and make mistakes, then we do not have Liberty.

What does it mean to have an unalienable Right to the Pursuit of Happiness?  No doubt it meant to those old white guys the acquisition of property.  That is how John Locke presented it before Thomas Jefferson changed life, liberty and property to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  But it was a felicitous choice of words, for it implies more than just the economic world of work and acquisition.  It suggests instead a larger life project.  It suggests the individual's right and responsibility to find his own way to contribute to society.  For happiness is not just the bliss of release from work on a weekend, but the satisfaction of having contributed something to your fellow humans.  He cannot be happy who has merely worked and labored for himself alone.  He is happy who has labored and created for others, and loved and thought of others.  The rights of Life and Liberty only make sense if they free us to contribute to our fellow humans in social cooperation.

Today, July 4, 2013, the United States of America stands in a perilous place.  The plans and the shibboleths of our educated ruling class lie shattered and twisted all around us.  America aches for a new birth of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, yet no savior offering Hope and Change is in sight.

Nor should there be.  The millennarian hope that climaxed in 2008 in the days after the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States was a chimera.  All extravagant hope based upon politics is a chimera.  What is needed, what is always needed, is for each individual, and each little platoon, to use his or her right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness to build hope and change in his own life and in the lives of those immediately around him.

In that is the promise of America, and in that is the foundation of our glorious American Exceptionalism.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Is Politics Violence?

In his excellent manifesto, The End is Near and it's Going to be Awesome, Kevin D. Williamson advances the idea that "politics is violence."  Here is how he describes his notion in Chapter 2.
Politics is violence. Perhaps that seems too strong for you?  If so, try the following experiment: Stop paying your taxes, or refuse to send your child to the local government school or a government-approved alternative, or build an addition onto the back of your home without approval from the local authorities, or have your child sell lemonade on the sidewalk without official blessing, or feed the poor in Philadelphia without government permission, and see how long it takes for the government to dispatch to your home a team of men with guns to enforce your compliance, seize your property, or put you in a cage.(p.38)
Why, even the Department of Education has guns.  "Kenneth Wright of Stockton, California, got a good close look at them when the Department of Education sent a tactical-entry squad to his home in the early hours of June 7, 2011."(p.41)  No doubt that arises because so many clauses in legislation involve the words "the Secretary shall enforce..."

Er, wasn't it the KGB that used to specialize in early morning visits?

Then Williamson invokes the shade of George Washington that "Government is not reason.  It is not eloquence.  Government is force".(p.43)  Only it seems the first president never said it.  But you get the point.

So let us ventilate a couple more Williamson quotes. "Politics is the art of obtaining and using the power of government."(p.44) Or this, after a discussion of justice, fairness, liberty, equality and the problem of anyone establishing the "superiority of [their] first principles to the satisfaction of the general public": "The politician is the man who has the power to make his preferences mandatory."(p.72)

But actually, the politician is the man who divides the voters into for or against.  His profession is to rally enough voters into voting for him and/or voting against the other guy.  Then, when he gets into office, he and his faction work to exploit divisions in the legislature to pass their program of coercion.

Therefore I argue that politics is not exactly violence, or the "art of applied violence."(p.44)  Politics is division.  The art of the politician is the art of assembling a majority -- of the voters, of the legislators -- on some program of government force.  And he does it by finding the seam of division, finding the sweet spot to divide people into us and them, that will assemble enough people to vote him into office or vote his program into force.  Some people are already for or against.  Some people can be persuaded.  Some people can be intimidated.  Some people can be bought.  We know that politics is division because politics is always a question of "issues."  An issue is a point of disagreement between people in the public square.

But whatever politics may be, Government is force.  Whatever George Washington may have said or not said, that is the fact.  But it is an inconvenient fact.  That is why governments expend so much effort into presenting themselves as sweetness and light and the friend of the little guy and the fount of compassion.  That is what NPR is for: broadcasting stories about nice compassionate government programs helping people.  Yet people are wondering these days why the government is purchasing so much ammunition.  The answer is that government is force and no government department thinks itself serious unless it has its own corps of enforcement officers.  Government is force.

We know that government is force by the way that politicians and activists go out into the world to seek support for their programs.  The issue is always force.  Back in the 1800s the issue was the oppression of the workers that could only be ameliorated by force.  In the 1900s it was the poverty of the workers that could only be improved by compulsory social insurance.  Now we have race, sex, gay marriage, and the remedy is force.

No doubt force is needed.  There will always be pirates and plunderers.  But the whole point of humans is that we are social animals.  The great achievement of the agricultural revolution was that it reduced homicidal death by a factor of ten from 500 deaths per 100,000 people per year to 50.  The great achievement of the industrial revolution is that it has reduced homicidal deaths by another order of magnitude down to five deaths per 100,0000 per year and better.

Yet the politicians call for force.  It's not that politics is violence, although it certainly encourages violent emotions and worse.  Politics is the art of dividing people on programs of force.

Or more simply: Government is force; politics is division.  And the intersection of politics and government is war.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Inventing Conservatism 3.0

If modern conservatism were a software product, then Burkean classical liberalism would be Conservatism 1.0.  Supply-side economics and Reaganism would be Conservatism 2.0.  The new books by George Gilder and Kevin Williamson would be Conservatism 3.0.

Let us use the concept of "less wrong" as developed by Kevin Williamson in The End is Near and It's Going to be Awesome.  He asks the question: "How do private companies know what to produce for public use" without someone issuing specific orders?  The answer is simple.  They respond to their mistakes.  They realize from day to day that they are getting things wrong, and so they work to make things "less wrong."
The system works because the underlying spontaneous order, even though its vast complexity is beyond our understanding, has a built-in mechanism for getting less wrong over time, mostly through trial and error -- which is to day, mostly through failure.
Actually, what we are really looking at is the vital importance of death.  "When hordes of people don't show up to buy the product, the product dies."  So why is America in such a mess?  The answer is politics.  Here is the money paragraph:
The problem of politics is that it does not know how to get less wrong.  It is as a practical matter impossible to design a national health-care policy that can be tweaked and improved every quarter, or on-the-fly in real time as software is...  Resistance to innovation is part of the deep structure of politics.  It never goes out of business -- despite flooding the market with defective and dangerous products, degrading the environment, cooking the books, and engaging in financial shenanigans that would have made Gordon Gekko pale to contemplate.
I suppose that the root of the problem is the whole question of Social Darwinism.  What do you mean that biological evolution is science but social evolution is horrible?    Death and extinction apply to everything living.  Animal species that can't compete go extinct, and so do cultural species, such as corporations and nation states and empires.  Ask the Soviet Union.

George Gilder in Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How It is Revolutionizing Our World applies the lessons of Claude Shannon's communication theory to the economy.  Claude Shannon defined information as surprise.  But Shannon's law does not such apply to communications.  It applies also to the economy.  For surprise in the economy has a difference name.  It is called profit.  Profit is a surprising surplus in the corporate accounts.  That is how the iPod worked.  It was a surprise.  Nobody back in 2000 imagined how light, portable electronics would revolutionize human communication.  That is how Apple climbed back from near bankruptcy.  One "i" surprise after another.

Gilder argues that the world is noise.  But knowledge is information.  So it is that humans, by learning and creating, are inserting surprising information into the limitless ocean of noise.  Every little surprise has the potential to add to our knowledge, and create more information in the ocean of noise.  Living things, of course, are such islands of surprising information.

Governments, of course, are opposed to surprise.  So governments are forces that are trying to rub out the little surprises of life that turn into knowledge and prosperity.

You see how both Gilder and Williamson are saying the same thing.  Learning from mistakes, getting things less wrong, creating surprises.  This is nothing less than life itself.

Not learning, not adapting, not changing, not creating surprises.  That is the road to death and extinction.

It's not really that hard to understand.