Thursday, January 19, 2023

McCarthy and the New Deal: Target-rich environment

In his essay, Irving Kristol chides Sen. Joseph McCarthy for erasing the distinction between liberals and Soviet agents – of treating every “New Dealer as being by nature an embryonic Communist.” McCarthy and other anti-communists deserve to be called to account for their recklessness when they fail to distinguish between their political opponents and communist traitors. But we must also note that in the years since the “Red Scare” an equally wrong-headed idea has taken hold: that McCarthy, et. al. had no reason to criticize the FDR/HST administrations and had no evidence to back any of their charges.

In 1940, FDR himself told Martin Dies of the newly reconstituted House Committee on UnAmerican Activities:

I do not agree with you. I do not regard the Communists as any present or future threat to our country. In fact, I look upon Russia as our strongest ally in the years to come. As I told you when you began your investigation, you should confine yourself to Nazis and Fascists. While I do not believe in Communism, Russia is far better off and the world is safer with Russia under Communism than under the tsars. Stalin is a great leader, and although I deplore some of his methods, it is the only way he can safeguard his government.
Gary Kerr, A Death in Washington
This attitude permeated his administration and even his family. Eleanor, for example, intervened in 1944 to prevent the deportation of Raissa Browder – the Russian-born wife of the head of the CPUSA and a Stalinist operative in her own right. Son James happily rubbed shoulders with communists in Hollywood and China.

FDR and his administration actively covered up the Soviet's responsibility for the Katyn Massacre. The president himself colluded with Stalin to hide from the voters that the dictator was to have a free hand in post-war Poland.

It must be said that when McCarthy accused the New Dealers of being “soft on communism” he did not know the half of it. The VENONA files were still top secret. The soviet documents were still locked away in Moscow.

That's the thing that is often overlooked in the historiography of McCarthyism. The senator may have selected the wrong targets, but he was addressing a real problem. His critics, on the other hand, often defended the wrong targets and denied that there was or ever had been a real problem.


Saturday, January 14, 2023

The essence of “McCarthyism”: The Administrative State strikes back

In the March, 1952 issue of Commentary magazine, Irving Kristol gave the best explanation for the continued appeal of Joseph McCarthy and his anti-communist investigations.

For there is one thing that the American people know about Senator McCarthy: he, like them, is unequivocally anti-Communist. About the spokesmen for American liberalism, they feel they know no such thing. And with some justification.
“'Civil Liberties,' 1952—A Study in Confusion”

The American people had good reason to distrust the spokespeople for American liberalism. By 1952 there was plenty of evidence that communists agents had operated in the heart of government for two decades. The testimony of Krivitsky, Chambers, Gitlow, Gouzenko, and Bentley had laid it all bare. Yet liberal leaders and ex-New Dealers continued to stridently deny this manifest truth.

Kristol pointed out that by denying the obvious, those leaders were helping to make McCarthy's case for him.

Mr. Biddle, like Mr. Barth, refuses to admit what is now apparent: that a generation of earnest reformers who helped give this country a New Deal should find themselves in retrospect stained with the guilt of having lent aid and comfort to Stalinist tyranny. This is, to be sure, a truth of hindsight, an easy truth. But it is the truth nonetheless, and might as well be owned up to. If American liberalism is not willing to discriminate between its achievements and its sins, it only disarms itself before Senator McCarthy, who is eager to have it appear that its achievements are its sins.
The rise of Joe McCarthy was propelled, in large part, by the refusal of progressives and New Dealers to admit to any mistakes. Having claimed that social scientists and academic experts were better guides than the Founding Fathers, they were now revealed to be inept at the most important obligations of government.

In short, McCarthy and other congressional investigators were an existential threat to their public standing and newly acquired power.

Stephen Koch:

Any very public housecleaning of the Washington penetrations would have handed the populist right an all-too-powerful blunt instrument for attacking Yalta, containment, and their own position in power.
Double Lives

Why bureaucracies fail (II): Can experts admit to mistakes?

Hoover, McCarthyism, and the FBI

Friday, December 30, 2022

Hoover, McCarthyism, and the FBI

When we understand that J. Edgar Hoover was an OG of the Administrative State, it opens up new avenues of interest into the history of McCarthyism and the red-hunting senator from Wisconsin.

Hoover and his FBI are usually anathema to the Left. The three exceptions are telling. Hoover is praised for stiff-arming the Nixon White House which wanted aggressive investigations into leaks like the Pentagon Papers. ((This is the genesis of Watergate). His deputy Mark Felt is lionized for leaking (and lying) about the Watergate investigation. Finally, Hoover is cited as the good type of red-hunter in order to portray McCarthy as reckless, unscrupulous, and demagogic.

Hoover dismayed by McCarthy's methods
As serious an anti-communist as FBI director was, he felt name-calling senator damaged the cause

Surprisingly, someone who came to grips with McCarthy's detrimental effect early on was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, then perhaps the most prominent anti-communist in the country. Hoover's own personal experience with McCarthy led him to doubt the senator's claims and eventually realize that McCarthy's approach had the potential to do incalculable damage to principled anti-communism.

What if I told you that Hoover's opposition to McCarthy was not simply a matter of protecting progressives from wild charges of subversion?

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan has observed in his book Secrecy, the FBI has consistently maintained a cult of secrecy, obstructing concerned citizens, scholars and even government policymakers with a tight-fisted retention of all levels of information, from the trivial to the vital, under imperiously interpreted rubrics of national security and protection of personal privacy.
Gary Kern, A Death in Washington
McCarthy biographer Arthur Herman makes the key point that the senator was not primarily concerned with finding spies and subversives. His main focus was exposing the lax way the bureaucrats tasked with security carried out their duties.

The 200 or so Soviet espionage agents working in the government had been captured, expelled, or neutralized. That included the most dangerous of them all, the State Department’s Alger Hiss. But McCarthy understood that those who had allowed this disgraceful and dangerous situation to develop had to be held accountable. That meant, above all, the political party that had been in power during the years leading up to and during World War II: the New Deal Democrats.
McCarthy, then, presented a clear and present danger to Hoover, his bureau, and the progressive ideal of bureaucratic supremacy. Moreover, Hoover had a great deal to lose: the spycatcher had failed repeatedly catch Stalin's agents. The Rosenberg ring, the spies at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge, the agents of influence throughout government – all of these carried out their plots under the nose of the original G-Man. (And then there is the little matter of Pearl Harbor.)

For years Hoover had boasted that foreign spies posed no threart to America, because none could possibly penetrate the Bureau's steel nets. But Krivitsky described Soviet agents effortlessly entering the United States on forged passports, spending large rolls of counterfeit money, and using assassinationals to keep American communists in line. The idea that Moscow-dispatched assassins could gun down Americans in their homes -- even if they were communists -- was a public relations debacle for the FBI
Verne Newton, The Cambridge Spies

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Thursday, December 29, 2022

Worth noting

The essence of the administrative state.

The trouble with tyranny

Frank Goodnow, a leading Progressive and the first president of the American Political Science Association, explained to an audience of leading Boston citizens in 1916 that science had delivered up the fully rational state. Empirical knowledge about the historical process had rendered the people’s “superstitious” attachment to the Constitution an impediment to competent administration. The founders’ outmoded theories about checks and balances and separation of powers had been adopted “at a time when expert service could not be obtained, when the expert as we now understand him did not exist.” Abetted by new and objective insights from sociology and other empirical disciplines, “social expediency, rather than natural right,” would now guide bureaucratic government, freed from constitutional inhibitions.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:8-14

Saturday, December 24, 2022

A real life George Bailey

Not really a Christmas story, but it is history in the spirit of It's a Wonderful Life.

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury was the greatest reformer of the nineteenth century and one greatest men England has ever produced. At his death the great preacher CH Spurgeon was moved to say:

During the past week the church of God, and the world at large, have sustained a very serious loss. In the taking home to Himself by our gracious Lord of the Earl of Shaftesbury, we have, in my judgment, lost the best man of the age. I do not know whom I should place second, but I certainly should put him first—far beyond all other servants of God within my knowledge—for usefulness and influence. ... Take him whichever way you please, he was admirable: he was faithful to God in all his house, fulfilling both the first and second commands of the law in fervent love to God, and hearty love to man. He occupied his high position with singleness of purpose and immovable steadfastness: where shall we find his equal?
But this post really isn't about Shaftesbury – even though his story is remarkable and fascinating. I'm more interested in Maria Millis, a simple servant in the household when Ashley-Cooper was a child.

He received a fairly typical upbringing for an aristocrat of the Georgian/Regency period. His parents were distant, almost indifferent. The child was ignored when he was not being punished. The bright spot was Maria Millis, a simple, pious woman who showed the boy kindness and love and shared her Christian faith.

What did touch him was the reality, and the homely practicality, of the love which her Christianity made her feel towards the unhappy child. She told him bible stories, she taught him a prayer.
Geoffrey Best , Shaftesbury
A small thing at the time, and yet an important inflection point – for Shaftesbury, for Britain, for millions of the most miserable subjects of Queen Victoria. As he matured, the future earl eschewed the Regency amusements of gambling, drunkenness, and fornication: he was drawn to the Evangelical movement. Instead of the arrogance of privilege, from an early age he possessed a deep empathy for those not of his class.

He went into politics and worked for reform-- of working conditions, of child labor, and end to the opium trade, the treatment of the insane, the education of the poor. He did not always accomplish his goals and success rarely came easily. Nevertheless, he persisted.

One biographer argues that “"No man has in fact ever done more to lessen the extent of human misery or to add to the sum total of human happiness". His was, without a doubt, a great and consequential life and career.

And it began, in a very real sense, with the faith and charity of a nearly unknown servant.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Leadership and the limits of paternalism

A fascinating talk by Dr. Gary Sheffield on military leadership in Britain's armies in two world wars. He hones in on the centrallity of paternalism in the British officer class.

As Americans we are reflexively antagonistic to “paternalism” in all its forms. Sheffield offers a thoughtful defense of paternalism and deference as well as its practical limits.

In contrast to the “lions led by donkeys” myth, the paternalism of British officers led them to care about their soldiers well-being. Life for the Tommy in the trenches was vastly better than for the soldiers of egalitarian France.

The deference of the enlisted ranks was largely automatic given Britain's class system and the social mores of 1914. Deference, however, does not make an officer a leader. As Sheffield points out, soldiers had certain expectations of those in command. Officers were supposed to be fair, to be courageous, and to be competent.

Those three qualities make a pretty good basis for effective leadership in any context.


Winston Churchill involved himself deeply in military matters as Prime Minister – much more than did Asquith or Lloyd-George in the Great War. He understood he was breaking with precedent and was not shy in explaining why:

Norman Brook, secretary of the Cabinet under Churchill, wrote to Hastings Ismay, the former secretary to the Chiefs of Staff, a revealing observation: "Churchill has said to me, in private conversation, that this increased civilian authority was partly due to the extent to which the Generals had been discredited in the First War-which meant that, in the Second War, their successors could not pretend to be professionally infallible."
Call it irony or call it karma, but voters came to feel the same way about Churchill and his party. Sheffield believes that the unbroken litany of “defeats and retreats” from 1940 to 1942 undermined the culture of deference and helped doom Churchill's Tories. Just as those defeats marked the death of the Empire, they also undermined the foundations of conservative paternalism and popular deference.


It is impossible not to notice that most of our political class and public health bureaucracy failed this leadership test during the covid times. They demanded unprecedented obedience at the beginning of the crisis and largely received it (“deference”). Yet, over time it became obvious that both groups lacked any concept of fairness or honesty, were shockingly devoid of courage, and were less competent than they claimed.

Sheep ruled by donkeys?
Any discussion of “covid amnesty” must address this problem as a first step.

It may be optimistic of Oster, and others of the Virtual class, to try to restore public faith that Science Is Real. But it’s also understandable. First, for reasons of self-interest: those who drove Covid policy presented themselves not just as people doing their best, but as the sole bearers of rational truth and life-saving moral authority. Doubtless the laptop class would prefer that we judge Covid policy by intention, not results, lest too close an evaluation result in their fingers being prised from the baton of public righteousness.
A disaster becomes a catastrophe when social capital and communal trust is squandered. (“When do disasters become catastrophes?”). If the West is to avoid a near-term catastrophe, that trust needs to be restored. That cannot happen until we have an honest accounting and a reckoning.

But the rot goes deeper still, for the very foundation of that moral authority is a shared trust in the integrity of scientific consensus. And Covid has left us in no doubt that there is a great deal of grey area between “science” and “moral groupthink”. Where “science” shades into the latter, British care workers and American soldiers and police officers dismissed for refusing a vaccination that doesn’t stop transmission can attest that science is sometimes “real” more in the sense of “institutionally powerful and self-righteous” than in the sense of “true”.

This touches on another source of rage that many would doubtless like to forget: the asymmetry in whose shoulders bore the heaviest load. It wasn’t the lawn-sign people who bore the brunt of lockdowns — they could mostly work from home. Rather, lockdown shuttered countless small businesses permanently, or burned them to the ground in lawn-sign-endorsed riots that were justified on public-health grounds even as others were fined for attending Holy Communion in a car park.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

This may be a problem

MG Sir Vernon Kell, the first head of the British Security Service (MI5), had a clear idea of the attributes that made for a good security officer in a free nation:

Freedom from strong personal or political prejudices or interest; an accurate and sympathetic judgment of human character, motives and psychology, and of the relative significance, importance and urgency of current events and duties in their bearing on major British interests.
Clearly, the FBI opted for a different path.

“Strong political and personal prejudices” seems to be a requirement for advancement in the National Security Division – as long as those opinions are suitably liberal and sufficiently woke. Now we see much evidence of “accurate and sympathetic judgment” when they deal with citizens who do not share those views.

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Marlowe investigates the Hive Mind

4 February 1953

Raymond Chandler to Charles W. Morton of the Atlantic:

If this is the thesis of big business management in our time, it is also the thesis of Soviet communism. There is hardly a hair between them. There is the same overdriving of the individual to get the utmost efficiency out of him for the benefit of the firm or the state or whatever you choose to call it, the same instantly ruthlessly discarding of him the moment he begins to weaken, the same contempt for the individual as a person, and reward and admiration of him only as a tool of some vague purpose which in our country seems to be making a lot of money for big corporations and their stockholders and in Soviet Russia for the protection of the State.

As you know, I have always wondered why intelligent men occasionally become Communists, but it had never occurred to me before that the basic philosophy underlying big business and that underlying the Communist state were almost exactly the same.

There is some element of tragic humour in the fact that today the Atlantic is kept afloat with money from Apple, the world's most valuable company, whose profits are solely derived from the slave labor system of China, the world's largest Communist state.


The birth of the hive mind


Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Serial killer chic and the lies of the administrative state (UPDATED)

It is one of the perverse ironies of our age that the popular interest in serial killers was driven, in part, by the FBI. The Bureau, in a real sense, served as a press agent for these perverse monsters.

The serial killer “menace” was hyped by the FBI at a time when its mission was shrinking and its reputation was in tatters. At just that moment, the FBI discovered a new threat to America and its children.

As the FBI told it, dozens, maybe over a hundred, relentless killers roamed our highways and stalked our neighborhoods. They crossed state lines which made it almost impossible for local police to stop them. They were smart amd could evade conventional police work.

Fortunately, America had an organization that was ready, willing, and able to take on this scourge. The Federal Bureau of Investigation could operate nationally, their labs were cutting edge, their computers would make linkage blindness a thing of the past.

Best of all, they even had an elite cadre – the Behavioral Science Unit – that had made a special study of this type of criminal. The Bureau, it seemed, was the only law enforcement agency in the country with serial killer experts.

How fortuitous.

As Phillip Jenkins noted “the FBI was in effect making a power grab, claiming jurisdiction over crimes which were beyond its legal scope, and this could only be achieved by presenting the offenders as itinerant, and therefore violating state boundaries.” In doing so they were doing what they had always done. In the 1930s it was “automobile bandits” and kidnappers. Then Nazi spies, then Russian spies.

Times changed but the song remained the same. The FBI was always ready to hype any menace and jump on any bandwagon if that led to bigger budgets and more power for the Bureau.

Quite literally the FBI wrote the template for the growth of the administrative state. Hoover and the DOJ saw the war on John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd as a means of promoting the New Deal and the benefits of federal power.

The War on Crime would become a centerpiece of Roosevelt's push to centralize many facets of American government. It would be a focal point of his State of the Union Address in January. Thus a little known bureau of the Justic Department became a cutting edge of Roosevelt's New Deal policies. If Hoover and his neophyte agents could defeat "name brand" gangsters, it would be immediate and tangible evidence of the new Deal's worth.

The image of the serial killer that the Feds crafted in the 1980s was adopted by fiction writers and journalists alike. This is not surprising; public relations and image management have always been a core competence of the FBI. It may be the thing it does best.

"A typical reporter on deadline calls a couple of people and slaps something into the paper the next day."
--Scott Shane (New York Times reporter)
Journalists writing against deadline needed experts and statistics to write their stories. The FBI had a near monopoly on both. In the 1980s and 1990s there were almost no outside experts who could challenge the official orthodoxy.

For novelists and screenwriters like Thomas Harris (Silence of the Lambs), the Bureau offered access, a chance to add verisimilitude to stories, the opportunity to suggest that a work of the imagination was laden with inside dope and closely-held secrets. Most importantly, the “mindhunters” of the BSU had already crafted their histories in a fiction-friendly form.

Philip Jenkins:

The experts who gained the widest acceptance did so not because of their academic credentials, but because of their personal narratives of traveling to the heart of darkness that is the mind of the 'monster among us'. This is the language of shamanism rather than psychology.
This created an odd, even perverse dynamic. The BSU could make itself look good by exaggerating the skill, cunning, and intelligence of the criminal.

It takes a special kind of hero to catch catch genius criminals like Hannibal Lector....

Only a few brave souls have dared to point out several obvious but often ignored facts.

Like the fact that the FBI has an abysmal record catching actual serial killers. Or even identifying that a serial killer is at work. Or that most serial killers do not roam across state lines but instead operate close to home.

The killers, when finally caught, never live up to the FBI-created image. BTK was evil but no genius and Samuel Little was a small time criminal.

The press is rarely interested for more than a day when a criminal profile turns out to be radically wrong. (Remember the wild goose chase for a white man in a white van during the DC sniper spree?)

A reporter on the FBI beat runs great risks delving into these sorts of questions. Life is easier if the FBI takes your calls.

In 1992 Robert Ressler, one of the first of the FBI's “Mindhunters” warned America that the serial killer menace would turn our streets into a real life “Clockwork Orange”. When, instead, murder rates fell for over two decades, he was never asked to explain his failed prediction. It wasn't as if the press did not have the opportunity-- he gave interviews as he toured to promote his string of books on his heroic fight against human monsters.

FBI profilers are still treated as uniquely skilled experts even though their record in catching actual serial killers is weak. Luck still plays a larger role than FBI expertise. DNA has been the game changer not the pseudoscience of the BSU.

Thus, the press becomes an enabler of the bureaucracy. It eagerly hypes the panics that lead to large budget and more laws. It is much less interested in assessing the performance of the agencies on an on-going basis. The watchdog can be turned into a lap dog with a little access and a good narrative.

Hoover blazed a trail, not just for the FBI but for all the ambitious federal bureaucrats who came after him.

UPDATE (12/5/22): There is a new biography of Hoover out. Eli Lake interviewed the autho for his podcast.
The author highlights that Hoover's FBI was the avatar for the ideal of progressivism: power in the hands of dispassionate experts who were beyond the control of politicians.

Hoover believed in the administrative state—in the power of independent bureaucrats.

The New Criterion has a lengthy and insightful review of the book:

Federal foes


Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The trouble with True Crime: Assassins and serial killers

While history ignores the assassin, justice at least has it that no assassin can become more famous than his victim. By way of proof, who can recall, off-hand, the identities of those who killed Thomas à Becket, or Mahatma Gandhi?
Brian McConnell, The History of Assassination
It is good that this is so. We should remember and celebrate builders , not destroyers. That seems to be a very basic requirement for a healthy society.

David Gelernter:

What matters is our communal response to the crime. Evil is easy, good is hard, temptation is a given; therefore, a healthy society talks to itself.

Such ritual denunciations strengthen our good inclinations and help us suppress our bad ones. We need to hear them, and hear good acts praised, too. We need to hear the crowd (hear ourselves) praising good and denouncing evil.

So what should we make of popular true crime? Here, the victims are almost forgotten and nearly nameless. The killer is the star, often gifted with a headline-grabbing nom de guerre which adds a touch of unearned glamour to their infamy.

Simone Weil:

Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring.
Popular true crime follows popular fiction. Mindhunter is Silence of the Lambs with a patina of history and a large dose of truthiness.

We draw so many of our ideas about the world from what we see in the mass media and mass culture. One of the most disturbing aspects of this is the manner in which serial killers are often glorified and glamorized--through a process in which they are depicted as Super Males, even Supermen....Dr. Hannibal Lecter bears no resemblance to the defective, limited, unfeeling, and ungifted persons who are the overwhelming majority of multiple killers.
Elliott Leyton, Hunting Humans
Bundy, Dahmer and Gacy are dead and yet they are the stars of movies and streaming documentaries. They are celebrities in the truest sense of the word.

Aaron Haspel:

In an age of almost unimaginable abundance, celebrity is the last scarce good. Is it any wonder that people pursue it, and proximity to it, so assiduously?
We know that for some killers posthumous celebrity is something they think about (The media's vile calculus: If it bleeds, it leads and leads to more blood . More than one serial killer was willing to risk capture in order to grab press attention and notoriety.

Is this good for society? Or does it suppress the social immune system Gelernter writes about?

A crude culture makes a coarse people, and private refinement cannot long survive public excess. There is a Gresham's law of culture as well as of money: the bad drives out the good, unless the good is defended.
Theodore Dalrymple, Our Culture, What's Left of It