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