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 threat 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 assassinations 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

Journalist Edward Jay Epstein had a chance to discuss the Hiss case with Richard Nixon long after his resignation. He asked the former president why Hoover and the FBI were so lax about Soviet subversion in the 1930s and 1940s. Nixon's explanation was succinct and on-point:

"Hoover had a pretty good nose for which way the wind was blowing,” Nixon replied. “He was more interested in preserving his power than catching 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

Friday, November 25, 2022

From the annals of regrettable forecasts

Prime Minister William Pitt, February 1792:

There never was a time in the history of this country when, from the situation in Europe, we might expect fifteen years of peace than we may at the present moment.
Within a few weeks Europe would be at war with Revolutionary France. Instead of fifteen years of peace, England endured over two decades of war and preparations for war.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Pondering: Learning from disaster

After the Fall of France and the retreat from Dunkirk, Winston Churchill moved quickly to avoid recriminations and focus the nation's attention on what lay ahead.

If we open a quarrel between the past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.
It was the right decision at the time. For Britain, the supreme crisis of the war was at hand. What was required was unity and focus on the tasks at hand.

Six weeks that saved the world
The US took a different tack after the Pearl Harbor disaster. The quarrel went on for years as investigation followed investigation. Though they never threatened the war effort, they did manage to harden party lines and distract the Republican base.

After Prussia was crushed by Napoleon in 1806, its army decided to risk the quarrel and set about to determine the causes of defeat.

Commissions of enquiry at the end of a war, especially one ending in defeat, are not uncommon. But the investigation'sscale and intensity were unprecedented at the time and may not have been equaled since. The commission began work toward the end of 1807 and continued until the summer of 1812.
Peter Paret, The Cognitive Challenge of War: Prussia 1806
The Prussian army benefited immensely from the effort. In less than a decade, a prostrate nation-- little more than a French satelite – was a vital part of the coalition which crushed Napoleon and sent him into exile.

A century later, the Prussians (Germans) did it again. Defeated in 1918, they interrogated the past to create the future.

[Hans] Von Seekt organized no fewer than 57 committees to study what really happened on the battlefield of 1918 in excrutiating detail. [He wanted] short, concise studies on the newly gained experiences of the war" especially "which new problems put forward by the war have not yet found a solution.
Williamson Murray, "Thinking About Revolutions in Military Affairs"

Whereas the Germans assigned experienced officers to analyze tactics -- the lowest ranking army officers assigned to tactical doctrine studies in 1919-1920 were experienced captains who had been admitted to full membership to the General Staff corps -- the British War Officer in 1920 assigned the task of rewriting the infantry tactical manual to Basil H. Liddell Hart, a twenty-four-year-old lieutenant of limited experience.
James C. Corum, The Roots of Blitzkrieg: Hans von Seeckt and German Military Reform

The French became too pedantic, too theoretical, and not practical enough; their doctrine was more suited for the classroom than for the battlefield. And in their classrooms, officers were not rewarded for being innovative; they were rewarded for absorbing huge amounts of information and learning to apply a series of fairly standard responses (one could almost call them formulas) to particular situations. Sadly for France, memory became a more precious quality for officers than judgment.
Robert A. Doughty, The Seeds of Disaster: The Development of French Army Doctrine, 1919-39

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Saturday, November 19, 2022

Lincoln: Practical greatness

Die when I may, I would like it to be said of me that I always pulled up a weed and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.
Abraham Lincoln
No president ever faced greater challenges than Lincoln when he came into office in 1861.

No democracy had ever waged war on such a scale. No nation had ever before waged a modern war where mass armies, mass production, mass media, and machine transport came into play. Lincoln, unlike his opponent Jefferson Davis, had no military education, possessed little military experience, and had never held a policy-making position in Washington.

And yet, it was the ignorant neophyte Lincoln who guided his nation to victory.

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.
Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition
While Lincoln never lost sight of his goal of victory and reunion, he also stayed true to his chosen epitaph. The War President did not fail to plant flowers.

Lincoln asked for and got what Adam and Clay would have envied: internal improvements, including a railroad to the Pacific, the cheap sale for settlement of western public lands, subsidized state universities, a protective tariff, a centralized banking system, and even, while the war lasted, a federal income tax.
John Lewis Gaddis, On Grand Strategy
Gertrude Himmelfarb summed up Lord Acton's approach to writing history-- “Acton had the highest ideals and the most modest of expectations.” That assessment could just as readily apply to Lincoln and his statecraft. He lacked Napoleon's megalomania which eventually drove the Emperor into Russia and disaster. Nor did he have Wilson's unbending self-righteousness which turned potential allies into real enemies.
Lincoln: "Stand with anybody that stands RIGHT. Stand with him while he is right and PART with him when he goes wrong." Speech at Peoria, Illinois (October 16, 1854),
When Lincoln found Grant he found a kindred spirit and the fate of the Confederacy was sealed.

Grant seems a very modern man, with the problem-solving approach of a practical engineer. He can be imagined in charge of developing an oilfield; or sorting out a loss-making major industry. That cannot be said of Lee any more than of Washington or Wellington.
Correlli Barnett and The Lord Dannatt, Leadership in War: From Lincoln to Churchill

Friday, September 30, 2022

Civil War 2.0: A Biden when we need a Lincoln

The Twitter Kids running the Biden Regency keep ratcheting up the divisive and eliminationist rhetoric.

WH adviser Keisha Lance Bottoms says 'MAGA Republicans' want to 'destroy the United States of America'

Bottoms continued the Biden administration's warning that Trump supporters are a threat to the nation
They keeps doing it because all too many in the media cheer them on.

So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot.
 George Orwell, Inside the Whale
The Solemn Keepers of the Sacred Norms are strangely silent even when the rhetoric results in real world harm.

Democrats need to stop urging political violence

The media forget themselves on political violence

Pro-life volunteer recovering after being shot while passing out pamphlets in Ionia Co.
None dare call it stochastic terrorism.

Quite a contrast with how Lincoln confronted the possibility of civil war on the day he was inaugurated in 1861:

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies." Those are the words of a statesman eager to preserve unity and peace in a time of crisis. What we are getting from the current White House is something decidedly different.

Mediated democracy and the temptations of Leninism

Friday, September 09, 2022

The past isn't really past

Stalin: his own avatar by Gary Saul Morson

Like other liberal and radical leaders of tsarist Russia, Stalin grew up in an ideologically charged milieu. Ideas mattered, and one’s attitude to literature and “science” defined one. According to Lenin and Bolshevik theory, Marxist scientific socialism had proven that maximum violence against one’s enemies was not a regrettable necessity but a moral imperative. To spare a class enemy was to commit treason to the workers. Any tendency to compassion or pity (vices in Soviet thinking) indicated that one still clung to outmoded religious ideas about the sacredness of human life, which explains why, when Stalin ordered the arrest of thousands by quota, local party bosses demanded to arrest even more. The term “merciless” was one of the supreme words of praise in the Soviet lexicon.
It is easy to dismiss these local party bosses as craven cowards who were desperately trying to appease the crocodile. But that is simplistic and misses the fundamental nature of the Stalinist mindset.

Dostoevsky understood the appeal of ideology to the mediocre and morally weak: "causes' are attractive for another reason, because they provide an excuse for behaving badly."

If it were only ignorance and the fear of the NKVD which fueled Stalin's cheerleaders, then we would expect intellectuals outside of the USSR to be early and vocal critics of the Soviet Union. The opposite was true.

Tony Judt:

Western intellectual enthusiasm for communism peaked not in the time of 'goulash communism' or 'socialism with a human face,' but rather at the moments of the regime's worst cruelties: 1935-1939 and 1944-1956. Writers and professors and teachers and trade unionists admired and loved Stalin not in spite of his faults, but because of them. It was when he was murdering people on an industrial scale, when the show trials were displaying Communism at its most theatrically macabre, that men and women were most seduced by the man and his cult. Likewise the cult of Mao in the West.
The Soviet Union may have lost the Cold War, but the Stalinist mindset is alive and thriving in the West.


Mediated democracy and the temptations of Leninism

The birth of the hive mind

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Christians and journalism in light of James 4:11

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it.
William Barclay's commentary on this passage brought me up short:

The word James uses for "to speak harshly of" or "to slander" is "katalalein" .... "Katalalia" is the sin of those who meed in corners and gather in small groups and pass on confidential tidbits of information which destroy the good name of those who are not there to defend themselves. The same sin is condemned by Peter.

(Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. I Peter 2:1)

This is a much needed warning. People are slow to appreciate that are few sins which the Bible so unsparingly condemns as the sin of irresponsible and malicious gossip.

As any carful reader of the news will recognize, a great deal of modern journalism qualifies as gossip by this standard: "pass[ing] on confidential tidbits of information which destroy the good name of those who are not there to defend themselves."

Edward Jay Epstein noted the close connection between gossip and journalism decades ago:

Only two forms of knowledge cross this principle: gossip and journalism. The gossip purposely obscures his sources, saying in effect, 'Don't ask who I heard it from,' to make the story more titillating. The journalist obscures his sources out of self-interest, claiming that unless he hides their identities, they will not provide him with further information. This claim assumes the sources are acting out of altruistic motives. If, however, they are providing the information out of self-interest-- and much information comes from publicists and other paid agents-- then their motive is part of the story.

I've never understood the journalistic argument for concealing sources except that it is self-serving. While a source might talk more freely if he need take no responsibility for what he says, he also has far less incentive to be completely truthful. The only check on the source's license to commit hyperbole, if not slander, under these rules is the journalist himself. But the very premise of concealing sources is that the journalist needs the cooperation of the source in the future. This makes the journalist himself an interested party.

The problem with sources

Where does that leave us as Christians? When we engage with these stories, especially when we accept the substance of the unsourced revelations, are we not guilty of Katalalia?

Sunday, August 28, 2022

It's simple really

Roger Scruton:

Intellectuals are naturally attracted by the idea of a planned society, in the belief that they will be in charge of it.
They think they will be in charge because they see themselves as superior to the vast body of their fellow citizens. Related:

The continuing appeal of the hive mind

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Worth noting, now more than ever

The rule of law is no simple achievement, to be weighed against the competing benefits of some rival political scheme. It is the sine qua non of political freedom, available only where law is independent of the executive power and able to stand over it in judgment. Without a rule of law opposition has no guarantee of safety, and where opposition is unprotected it also disappears.

Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left
Roger Scruton

Monday, August 08, 2022

You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to recognize perverse incentives

This scheme was Big Pharma’s holy grail. Vaccines are one of the rare commercial products that multiply profits by failing. Each new booster doubles the revenues from the initial jab.

The Real Anthony Fauci
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

The fine line

The world would be a poorer place without those who blazed against the abuses and tyrannies of sin. But too often this is made an excuse for petulant and self-centered irritation.

William Barclay
Letters of James and Peter

Thursday, July 14, 2022

How technology makes us stupid and angry

Weak Men Are Superweapons

The straw man is a terrible argument nobody really holds, which was only invented so your side had something easy to defeat. The weak man is a terrible argument that only a few unrepresentative people hold, which was only brought to prominence so your side had something easy to defeat.
From the dak ages of this blog:

In the bad old days, you had to build your own strawmen when arguing politics. Now, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you can just pick one off the cyber-shelf.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

How disasters become catastrophes: Seeds of destruction

When analyzing the grotesque failures of our COVID response, I think it is useful to keep this quote from Sir Michael Howard in mind:

This is an aspect of military science which needs to be studied above all others in the Armed Forces: the capacity to adapt oneself to the utterly unpredictable, the entirely unknown. I am tempted indeed to declare that whatever doctrine the Armed Forces are working on now, they have got it wrong. I am tempted also to declare that it does not matter that they have got it wrong. What does matter is their capacity to get it right quickly when the moment arrives.

Michael Howard, "Military Science in the Age of Peace"
One can forgive early mistakes when confronting a novel threat. What matters is how quickly an organization can recognize its mistakes and make corrections. This is where Fauci and Co. failed and failed grievously. As the mistakes piled up, they insisted that they had all the answers and were well nigh infallible.

This is a recipe for catatrophe.

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.

Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition
Americans used to be good at learning on the fly when the balloon went up:

Despite the shock of Pearl Harbor, which crippled the battleship fleet and rendered the existing warplans obsolete, the Navy moved swiftly and with strategic focus.
We fumbled and we failed but we learned:

Bernard Lewis:

One was that they were unteachable. When America entered the war, we in Britian had been at war for more than two years. We had made many mistakes, and had learned something from them We tried to pass these lessons on to our new allies and save them from paying again the price that we had paid in blood and toil. But they wouldn't listen -- their ways were not our ways, and they would do things their way, not ours. And so they went ahead and made mistakes -- some repeating ours, some new and original. What was really new and original -- and this is my second point lastiing impression -- was the speed with which they recognized these mistakes, and devised and applied the means to correct them. This was beyond anything in my experience.
Our most successful organizations consciously tried to learn from failure:

Every action-report included a section of analysis and recommendations, and those nuggets of hard-won knowledge were absorbed into future command decisions, doctrine, planning, and training throughout the service.

Ian Toll, Pacific Crucible
We also understood the need to clear the decks by removing failed or compromised leaders.

We did none of these things with COVID.

Kaus-Reynolds with a vengence*
We are paying a high price for these failures. When the general public understands that it did not have to be this way, the fallout may be earth-shattering.


When do disasters become catastrophes?

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

Why bureaucracies fail: Politics and enforced solidarity

The hubris of the learned and the perils of technocracy

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Watergate: A legend turns 50

50 Years Later, the Motive Behind Watergate Remains Clouded

Despite the abundance of transcripts, FBI reports, and memoirs from those involved, we still know more about the cover-up than we do about the infamous political scandal.

One strange thing about Watergate, the scandal that led Richard Nixon to resign as president, is that 50 years later we still don't know who ordered the core crime or why.

Watergate as legend and myth is too important to be researched or scrutinized. So the MSM repeats the same old (discredited) cliches.

Watergate and history

Americans Aren’t Getting The Real Watergate Story From John Dean And CNN

Friday, April 29, 2022

"Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims. “

One tweet that cuts to the heart of the fatal flaw of NeverTrump. "Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims. “ 

The whole thread is well worth pondering.

GK Chesterton:

When everything about a people is for the time growing weak and ineffective, it begins to talk about efficiency. So it is that when a man's body is a wreck he begins, for the first time, to talk about health. Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims. There cannot be any better proof of the physical efficiency of a man than that he talks cheerfully of a journey to the end of the world. And there cannot be any better proof of the practical efficiency of a nation than that it talks constantly of a journey to the end of the world, a journey to the Judgment Day and the New Jerusalem. There can be no stronger sign of a coarse material health than the tendency to run after high and wild ideals; it is in the first exuberance of infancy that we cry for the moon. None of the strong men in the strong ages would have understood what you meant by working for efficiency. Hildebrand would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for the Catholic Church. Danton would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for liberty, equality, and fraternity.
The populist right often often taunts the establishment wing with the jab-- “What has Conservative, Inc. actually conserved?” The French Davidian wing's obsession with processes and “norms” suggest that they recognize that conserving anything of substance and value is beyond their power.

Oddly enough they are certain of one thing. Though they may be weak, exhausted, frightened, and out of ideas, they still presume that they are the natural and ordained leaders of the American right.

Is it any wonder that so many red state conservatives view them as Cromwell viewed the Rump Parliament?

It is not fit that you should sit here any longer. You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing lately … In the name of God go.


Monday, April 25, 2022

Tories contra Chicago

Thomas Carlyle:
If the cotton industry is founded on the bodies of rickety children, it must go; if the devil gets in you cotton-mill, shut the mill.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
You talk about making this article cheaper by reducing its price in the market from 8d to 6d. But suppose in doing so you have rendered your cvountry weaker against a foreign foe; suppose you have demoralized thousands of your fellow-countrymen, and have sown discontent between one class of society and another, your article is tolerably dear, I take it, after all.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Rejoice! He has risen!

Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.

And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:

And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,

Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

And they remembered his words,

And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.

It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.

Luke 24: 1-12

Friday, April 15, 2022

"Wood and nails and colored eggs"

First Posted 22 March 2005 ​

This passage from Martin Bell's remarkable little book The Way of the Wolf: The Gospel in New Images seems especially timely this Easter season.

God raised Jesus from the dead to the end that we should be clear-once and for all-that there is nothing more important than being human. Our lives have eternal significance. And no one-absolutely no one-is expendable.

Colored Eggs

Some human beings are fortunate enough to be able to color eggs on Easter. If you have a pair of hands to hold the eggs, or if you are fortunate enough to be able to see the brilliant colors, then you are twice blessed.

This Easter some of us cannot hold the eggs, others of us cannot see the colors, many of us are unable to move at all-and so it will be necessary to color the eggs in our hearts.

This Easter there is a hydrocephalic child lying very still in a hospital bed nearby with a head the size of his pillow and vacant, unmoving eyes, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs in his heart, and so God will have to color eggs for him.

And God will color eggs for him. You can bet your life and the life of the created universe on that.

At the cross of Calvary God reconsecrated and sanctified wood and nails and absurdity and helplessness to be continuing vehicles of his love. And then he simply raised Jesus from the dead. And they both went home and colored eggs

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Palm Sunday

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

GK Chesterton