THE ELEVENTH ANNUAL H.L. MENCKEN CLUB CONFERENCE
iS THE UNITED STATES STILL A NATION?
By Paul Gottfired
Excerpts from the Presidential Address, Delivered on November 2, 2018
I would not argue that everyone featured in any publication or broadcast of conservatism, inc. is a traitor to the Right. Many people associated with this enterprise say and write things we can agree with. If forced to listen to TV news, I certainly prefer Fox to CNN, because what I hear on the former shows a closer touch with reality, than what is reported on the latter. What I am attacking is the organizational framework within which “conservative” opinion is presented. Those who direct and pay for this framework do not generally belong to what for me is a recognizable Right. And they have systematically squeezed out of the conservative movement those who won’t go along with their rhetoric and priorities, naturally assuming that the undesirables are perceived as located “too far” on the Right that is to be rejected. “The conservative movement” that we’re examining is a carefully supervised form of entertainment being dished out to aging Republican couch potatoes. But I may be ascribing too much importance to a media carnival.
Yes, we do need a Right, and such a creature already exists in some parts of Europe. In Europe there are parties of the Right that exhibit what James Burnham and Sam Francis described as a “conservative Gestalt.” One searches in vain for such a Gestalt, except at the margins, in conservatism, inc. Not surprisingly Fox-news cannot mention a real right of center party in Europe without referring to it as the “far right” or “extreme right.” We are led to believe that only pro-corporate capitalist, culturally leftist parties in Europe qualify as “moderate” or “conservative.”
This brings me to the heart of the matter. It is essential for the future of our society that we have a less compliant Right fighting our battles. The present conservative establishment has moved well to the left of where American conservatism was even after the neoconservatives came to power in the 1980s.
The conservative movement did not start to go bad last year. It has been tending in that direction for decades. Discovering this was not easy in my case. Although I was never a “movement conservative,” I knew many people who were; and the ones I knew and who survived into the 1980s were generally unhappy with the direction in which the neoconservatives were taking their movement. It was easier to claim that the Right had been “stolen” or “shanghaied” by invaders from the Left than to admit the far harsher truth that we had witnessed widespread collaboration and betrayal. Those who worked for conservative foundations and publications were generally delighted to go over in return for further employment and social respectability. And they were willing to change their views and even hagiography in return for these benefits.
Now that I’ve encountered such quasi-official conservative positions as tearing down Confederate monuments and viewing Lee as a war criminal, I’m quite beyond being shocked by what Jack Kerwick has designated as the “Big Con.” I wouldn’t even be surprised if the Big Con expressed second thoughts about Obama and turned him into a conservative saint.
As far as I can determine, there are two moral reference points for the Big Con, serving sponsors and maintaining good relations with the Left Center. If there is a third one, I’ve still not found it. Despite my longtime research on the conservative movement, I remain astonished by its flexibility, particularly when it comes to getting funded and appearing non-extreme. While the country remains polarized between supporters and haters of Trump, the conservative movement embraces both with equal ardor. After all, who is to say that Jonah Goldberg, Meghan McCain, Ben Shapiro and Rich Lowry, who throw tons of sewage on the Donald, are not as least as “conservative” as Judge Jeanine or Sean Hannity, who identify Trump as the quintessential conservative? The “conservative” label is now a media bauble indicating who’s made it with the acceptable crowd.
One of the rejoinders I elicit when I make these statements is that I fail to recognize all the good the conservative movement has done. Do I really want to destroy this supposed check on the Left, because it doesn’t always please us? Here’s the answers I usually give when recovering from my shock at hearing these artless objections. Clearly conservatism, inc. has done a bad job of protecting us from the Left because our country has been lurching leftwards for decades. The same is particularly true of the conservative movement, which on many domestic issues is well to the Left of where the far Left was fifty years ago. Even more significantly, conservatism, inc. has engaged in unremitting war against anything or anyone located on its right. This further weakens effective resistance to the Left, unless one swallows the agitprop that whomever the movement destroys professionally is flirting with Nazism or white nationalism. I can assure everyone in this room as a longtime outcast from that movement that I’ve never flirted with either. The truth is a lot uglier. The Big Con cannibalizes those who stand in the way of its alliance-building, funding sources and the professional ambitions of those who are using it to make careers.
Unfortunately it may be hard to get rid of this Godzilla monster even if we saw it sinking into the Earth. The same sponsors would likely come forth to extract and resuscitate the sinking monster. Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, the Koch brothers, Messieurs Adelson, Murdoch and Singer, etc., would continue to look for media advocates among the same types who are now pushing their interests. Within possibly seconds of its disappearance, GOP operatives and funders would bring back their paid-for movement. Conservatism, inc. looks indestructible, or so it might seem.
It’s also clear that the MSM needs a “conservative” opposition of some kind to provide the appearance of open debate. But the Left also demands a congenial debating partner. There is a difference after all between insensitive reactionaries and a nice dissenter, say someone like Ross Douthat or Rich Lowry. But I’m not looking at who exactly wins the contest as the Left’s most inoffensive opponent. Rather I’m considering what kind of functional opposition it may be in the interest of the rational Left to keep in play. The establishment Left, as opposed to antifa psychopaths, needs a token opposition in order to give the impression of a balanced political conversation. This may be another reason that the MSM would not want a certain kind of “conservatism” to vanish from the scene completely.
As counterfactual history we might consider what the political landscape would look like if the now marginalized independent Right, not the Big Con, were the authorized opposition. This isn’t the case at least partly because the Left has a more pliable opposition that forms a convenient firewall against the “far Right.” But if things were different, one might ask, how would a more visible and truer Right affect our political culture? Needless to say, some political positions are obsolete or anachronistic, e.g., working toward a Bourbon restoration in France that would bring back the pre-revolutionary three estates or trying to restore a Confucian kingdom in China.
With regard to the American Right over the last forty years, however, the circumstances are entirely different. Here a handful of journalists, foundation heads and their sponsors handed over the movement they controlled to members of the Center Left. The lower orders in this movement generally went along, because they noticed that those who defied the new arrangements could suffer professionally. The movement once taken over continued to march leftward, as its new leaders built and extended their relations with the MSM. Those who pulled the strings took special care to please their sponsors, who in turn showered them with financial support.
Rejected in this process was not an antiquated Right but one that didn’t quite fit into a transformed conservative movement. Still it is possible to imagine a different Right from the authorized one we now have. It would stand up to the Left more firmly, not surrender on social issues, and retrieve rather than shoot its wounded. It would not have sacrificed entire generations of spirited, talented advocates of conservative positions in order to accommodate its sponsors and associates on the Left. And it is entirely possible that if such a Right were the established one, the Left would not have been able to move into its cultural Marxist totalitarian stance as easily as it has. The Left would have had to deal with a grim, principled opposition.
In spite of everything, there is a grass-roots Right, which was out in force in 2016 for presidential candidate Donald J. Trump. We might also note that there is a larger potential in this country for a powerful Right than in most of Western Europe. There the vote for what Fox-news calls the “far Right” rarely exceeds 20 to 25 percent, while Trump’s base may run as high as 40 percent. Unfortunately, there is no American movement of the Right that is presently in a position to represent that electorate fully. Moreover, I’ve no idea how we move from A to B, without the necessary resources. But I do know that a myriad of activists trolling in their grandmothers’ basements won’t get our side anything but derision. Nor will flaunting “white nationalist” labels in the face of an all-powerful leftist-neocon media. Irresponsible Altright behavior is to be condemned because it makes it harder for a serious Right to gain traction. It also diverts us from the goal that we should be single-mindedly pursuing, which is the acquisition of funding, which is prerequisite for gaining a media presence.
Given my professional isolation at the hands of the Big Con and absent any friendship with Las Vegas casino owners or Australian press barons, I personally am in no position to move the independent Right from A to B. But I can point to one heartening sign that may prefigure the desired change. Conservatism, inc. is playing to an aging audience and despite all its expensive efforts to reach the young, it has not succeeded in this matter very well. Subscribers to National Review and Weekly Standard and viewers of Fox-news are on average almost seventy, and these operations may have trouble finding replacements for their senescent devotees. The same may be equally true of left-center news sources other than those that are available on social media. Movement conservative celebrities woo their counterparts on the left-center partly in order to increase their professional opportunities. But these careerists may be tying their sinking ship to a larger vessel that is sinking more slowly. Republican foundations like Heritage and AEI will likely stay around longer because of generous benefactors. But it may be asked whether GOP policy tanks will remain relevant if future administrations don’t turn to them for policy positions.
Certain power structures become obsolescent, no matter how flooded with gifts they may be, and no matter how often their advocates appear on Fox-news. Godzilla may not have an infinite life span; and some other force, this one on the real right, may come along to replace it. It’s also conceivable that the Left may overplay its hand, and if this happens before the Left controls a majority of voters in this country, a swing to the Right of the kind we’d welcome could take place. Of course I’m not sure these predictions hold any water. Perhaps I’ve fallen captive to a vain hope that has led me to raise your expectations. And so it might be best to come back to my customary prescription. The indispensable strategy for our side is to find rich sponsors who would allow us to fashion an alternative media structure. Experience should have taught us that we can only enter the political country club by smashing through the gate; and right now we can barely crawl up to it. But as Plato once said: All great things become endangered because they suffer from inherent defects. Let us hope that Plato’s generalization hold true in the case of those whose loss of popularity I for one would welcome.
A false open society
By Keith Preston
The Myth of the Open Society
One of the pervasive myths of our time is that we live in an open society where contentious issues, and serious questions of public policy, are supposedly addressed by means of Socratic dialogue, or open discourse reflecting the principles of Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson or John Stuart Mill. For reasons that I will explain, this claim of an open society is false. I could certainly discuss multiple ways in which the open society claim is problematic. For example, I could examine many parallel difficulties such as over criminalization, overregulation, increasingly greater centralization, and ever pervasive bureaucratization. However, for the purpose of this discussion, I want to focus on ideological conformity, and the way in which ideological conformity is enforced in liberal democratic societies.
We live in an era of what has been called “liberal illiberalisms” by the libertarian writer Cathy Young. Young has provided multiple examples of how enforced ideological conformity works. Many such illustrations can be found and I will briefly mention a few examples.
In 2015, Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Council issued a warning against potentially offensive Halloween costumes. A professor named Erika Christakis objected that such a directive had the effect of undermining the students’ freedom of expression. The reaction was a barrage of indignation being levied against Christakis by members of the Yale academic community, including students as well as faculty and staff members. Christakis and her husband, also a faculty member, were physically confronted by student protestors. The students subsequently demanded that the couple be terminated by the university. The Yale University administration failed to support the Christakises who subsequently stepped down from their positions.
In 2015, a photo shoot took place in England to promote the film Suffragette, which is about the battle for the right of English women to vote. In the film, Meryl Streep plays the role of Emmeline Pankhurst, a leading British suffragist. Streep and three other actresses were shown wearing a T-shirt with a quote from Pankhurst that read, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.” The slogan was attacked for supposedly “trivializing the black experience of slavery and allowing white women to claim it as their own.” Others criticized the use of the words “rebel” and “slave,” claiming these terms amounted to the glorification of slavery as practiced during the Confederacy, even though the film had nothing to do with the Confederacy, or American history generally.
In 2014, the British National Student Union rejected a motion condemning ISIS on the grounds that the resolution could promote Islamophobia.
In 2015, the same reason was cited by the University of Minnesota to oppose a commemoration of the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist incident.
Cathy Young points out how accusations of cultural appropriation are used to attack everything from yoga classes (which were banned at the University of Ottawa, apparently on the grounds that yoga involves the appropriation of Hindu culture) to white people wearing the dreadlocks hairstyle to a kimono exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Ethnic food has been attacked as form of cultural appropriation. For instance, a burrito shop in Portland was closed after its white female owners’ described their having collected recipes white on a vacation in Mexico. Because of this, they were accused of stealing from Mexican culture, and practicing what was called “culinary white supremacy.”
Among others that have been attacked in this way was a professor who was reprimanded for “merely mentioning the belief that transgender identities are ‘not real’” or “female students having a ‘slut-shamey’ conversation about a fellow student described as a ‘bro-hopper.’”
Some universities have put up posters warning against the use of supposedly offensive words and phrases such as “crazy,” “you guys,” “illegal alien,” or “did you lose weight?”
The University of California established guidelines for avoiding microaggressions such as “asking an immigrant where she or he is from, encouraging a quiet Asian-American or Latino to speak up, or expressing the opinion that women in America today have the same opportunities as men.”
Within the pro-choice movement, pro-abortion rights activists have been asked to “avoid gender-specific language (such as ‘women’) so as to be inclusive to female-bodied individuals who may get pregnant and seek abortions but identify as male or non-binary.” Likewise, “an abortion rights fundraising event humorously dubbed ‘Night of a Thousand Vaginas’ was met with anger from offended activists who thought it excluded transgender women.”
Certainly, many other similar examples of thought and speech control could be cited. But the question that arises involves the matter where sentiments and actions such as these originate from.
Political Correctness as an Ideological Superstructure
At times, I am asked by leftists why I pay so much attention to this issue when surely my time might be better spent focusing on hate crimes, or other matters that are considered to be more substantive. I do so because the ideological extremism that I just described is presently a rising force in the wider society, concentrated in influential sectors, and gradually becoming part of the elite’s ideological superstructure. In fact, in order to understand the phenomenon that I am presently describing it may be helpful to engage in the intellectual appropriation of certain insights from Marxist theory. According to Marx, all societies have an ideological superstructure that is used to justify the existing society’s dominant institutions. In the ancient world, the superstructure may have been rooted in the idea that the emperor was a descendent of the sun-god. In medieval societies, the divine right of kings served as the superstructure. In modern democracies, the superstructure is derived from the idea that the government is elected by the people. However, Marx argued that beneath this ideological superstructure is a material base that he described as a substructure. The substructure involves certain sectors of the economy or forms of production that are associated with the interests of particular classes.
I would suggest that at present there is indeed an ideological superstructure that exists in societies like our own, and that there is a system of enforced conformity to this ideology. The ideological superstructure is what is commonly called “political correctness.” It is also important to understand that political correctness comes in multiple forms. An individual that frequently reads and comments on my work has used an analogy to the Church. We might say that there is a high church liberalism and a low church liberalism. Low church liberals are simply those who sincerely favor equal opportunity in education and employment, being nice to gay people, holds to the “melting pot” view of immigration, or perhaps favor universal healthcare. I know many people like this.
However, there is also a high church liberalism that is obsessed with the eradication of offensive history, promotes concepts such as cultural appropriation and micro-aggressions, insists on calling a manhole a “people hole,” and that takes offense to Halloween costumes, or to the serving of tacos in a university cafeteria. Recently, a representative of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals made the claim that milk is a symbol of white supremacy. These are the kinds of people that think it is perfectly fine if a 12 year old undergoes transgender surgery. It should also be acknowledged that there is a far-left and a center-left version of political correctness. The far-left version is represented by the campus protestors, the Antifa, the neo-Maoists, and other representatives of the extreme left. The center-left version is often manifested as a blend of PC culture with the American civil religion or civic nationalism. For example, it will be said that the reason the United States is a great nation is because we have gay marriage.
The Enforcement of Ideological Conformity
For the most part, this ideological superstructure is not enforced through traditional state repression, such as a knock on the door in the middle of the night which results in someone getting tossed in a gulag. However, there are some disturbing trends in this area, such as the fact that Marine Le Pen was recently ordered by a French court to undergo a psychiatric examination. This practice of declaring political dissidents to be mentally ill and responding with coercive psychiatric intervention is straight out of the Soviet playbook. But for the most part, there is little formal censorship in the Western democracies (with some exceptions related to fringe areas like Holocaust denial).
Instead, the enforcement of ideological conformity is farmed out to other institutions, such as the media, educational institutions, corporations, and technology companies. The means of enforcement involve the use of social, economic, and professional sanctions rather than the outright criminalization of dissidents. Ideological conformity is also enforced by means of extra-legal methods, such mob violence, shouting down speakers, the harassment political opponents or public figures in public places or even at their private homes, and the aggressive vigilante activities of groups such as the Antifa. It is for this reason that it is often necessary for gatherings of dissidents to take place on a clandestine basis. The proponents of the ideology of political correctness are heavily concentrated in influential sectors of society. Among the more significant examples are the electronic media and professional journalism, universities and public schools, the entertainment industry, left-wing professionals such as attorneys and healthcare specialists, the left-wing of clergy, the public sector bureaucracy, social services and human services, advertising, public relations, and corporate human resources and diversity officers.
However, one of the most significant sectors of these kinds involves technology companies. For example, Facebook recently purged over 800 pages with millions of followers, including pages with left-wing as well as right-wing perspectives, with the common denominator being that all of the purged pages represented some kind of anti-establishment perspective. It is also interesting to note that similar methods are used by the professional “watchdogs,” which typically focus most of their attention on the Right, but also attack leftist, African-American or other minority perspectives that are also considered to be outside the realm of acceptable liberal opinion.
The Socioeconomic and Demographic Basis of Political Correctness
It should also be noted that what I have called high church liberalism represents only a very small number of people when compared to the general public. A recent study involving the present political divisions in the United States was conducted by More in Common, a British organization that studies political conflict around the world. In their recently released report called “Hidden Tribes,” a term that was used to describe America’s major political divisions, it was observed that political correctness is overwhelmingly unpopular among all races, classes, religions, genders, and political affiliations in the United States. Approximately 80% of Americans expressed opposition to political correctness. The study also found that political correctness is more unpopular among Native Americans, Asians, and Hispanics than among whites, and only slightly more unpopular among whites than among blacks, with nearly three quarters of African-Americans expressing opposition to political correctness.
The authors of the report suggest that Americans are politically divided into seven so-called “tribes” with progressive activists constituting 8%, traditional liberals 11%, passive liberals 15%, the politically disengaged 26%, moderates 15%, traditional conservatives 19%, and devoted conservatives 6%.The only political affiliation of the seven where the majority of the “tribe” expressed a favorable view of political correctness was “progressive activists” who are only 8%. Even a substantial minority of progressives expressed criticism of political correctness (about 30%). The identity of the “progressive activist” political tribe was overwhelmingly white, affluent, and educated, along with a smaller group of elites among traditional minorities. In other words, the proponents of political correctness are largely concentrated in the left-wing of the upper middle class, among urban cosmopolitan professionals, and the newly rich from outside the traditional elite whose wealth has been generated by newer, high-tech industries. These sectors constitute what we might call the “left-wing of capitalism.”
It is interesting that many on the Right continue to fetishize capitalism when it has to be considered that present day capitalism differs considerably from the capitalism of the elite, top hat wearing plutocratic families of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Today, capitalism is just as likely to be represented by Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Madison Avenue as it is by the Chamber of Commerce, and by figures such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet or George Soros. In fact, the sociologist Joel Kotkin, himself a centrist Democrat, has argued that an alliance has developed what he calls the “techno-oligarchs” of Silicon Valley and the mass media, and what he terms the “new clerisy” associated with the various sectors that are involved with ideas, ranging from journalism to education to advertising.
As an aside, I would note that, contrary to another myth, from a historical perspective it was the left-wing of the upper-middle class that was the class base of leftist revolutions. It could be reasonably argued that the liberal revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth century were driven by the left-wing of an upwardly mobile middle class whose political ambitions were frustrated by the existing political order. I would also suggest that the real class basis for the Marxist revolutions of the twentieth century likewise originated from left-leaning middle class sectors. For example, the famous Communist leaders from the twentieth century were mostly teachers, doctors, lawyers, and other middle class professionals, with only Stalin himself originating from what could be considered a proletarian background. I would suggest that present day political correctness is a manifestation of the rising left-wing of the upper middle class. Political correctness is the foundation of their ideological superstructure with the technology industry and the various professional sectors previously mentioned being their material base.
If there are any solutions to be found to the challenges that are presented by this forced ideological conformity, one of these might be to extend First Amendment jurisprudence to corporations, media companies, technology companies, schools and universities, and cyberspace. In early American history, the Bill of Rights was considered by American jurisprudence to apply only to the states and localities. As the power of the federal government has grown, and the states and localities have largely been reduced to administrative units, constitutional jurisprudence has been extended to the states and localities. It may be necessary to extend the Bill of Rights to the aforementioned institutions since these institutions are essentially the equivalent of private states. For example, I would suggest that technology companies are not private businesses, but crony-capitalist or state-capitalist institutions that have made billions of dollars by piggybacking on technology that was developed by the government with taxpayer money. Therefore, cyberspace should be regarded as public space (like parks, streets, and sidewalks), and the fight for free speech in cyberspace might be compared to free speech fights in the early 20th century by the labor movement, or Free Speech movement of the 1960s. At present, the center-right has come to dominate the Supreme Court, and much of the federal judiciary. Therefore, this may be an opportunity, perhaps the last there will ever be, for constitutional jurisprudence regarding the First Amendment to be revised in the way that I have suggested.
IS NEW YORK STILL A CITY?
By James Kalb
We’re here at the conference to talk about whether America is still a nation. On this panel we’re discussing the limits of democratic pluralism. So I’ll discuss whether New York is a city these days, or whether it’s too plural and egalitarian for that.
Whether New York is a city sounds like a silly question. The dictionary defines a city as “an inhabited place of greater size, population, or importance than a town or village.” New York is evidently all that, so case closed. Or so it seems.
But current definitions tend to be NewSpeak. “Nation” is now defined as “a community of people composed of one or more nationalities and possessing a more or less defined territory and government.” If that’s correct, it’s not clear what this conference is about. The meaning of words relating to the topic has become so vague there’s not much to discuss.
So I’d like to turn to an older conception of city. The word comes from Latin civitas, “the social body of the citizens, united by law.” Related words include civic, civil, and civilization. All those things were thought to have an essential connection to cities.
So a city is a community defined by a people and their laws. In classical antiquity it was considered the basic community larger than the family. When Aristotle said man is a political animal he meant that man is an animal that lives his proper life in the community of the polis, which is Greek for city.
Nature and limitations
So on that older definition a city needs a certain unity and definition. That’s why cities made a big point of distinguishing citizens and non-citizens. And it’s one reason cities had walls.
All that means something. Suppose there were a megalopolis from Boston to Washington, divided for administrative convenience into districts centered on areas of somewhat greater density. Would each district be a city? It seems doubtful. There wouldn’t be much unity or definition, so they wouldn’t look like cities.
Or looking at the question from the other direction, would a collection of gated communities that live by online commerce and have very little to do with each other constitute a city? It’s doubtful, even if they shared utilities and trash collection.
The traditional Middle Eastern city was a bit like that. People lived in walled quarters defined by nation and religion. There was also a bazaar, a palace, and a military camp, but not much connection between government and people and not much civic life except the occasional riot. So there might have been a wall around the whole thing, but it wasn’t the classical idea of a city.
To move on to New York.
It was once clearly a city. The fluidity of population and devotion to commerce made community a bit thin, but the state of communication, transportation, and political organization meant people had to hang together and deal with each other. So it was a functioning community.
Washington Irving became famous for giving it a semi-mythological history. The history wasn’t very serious, but people liked it because it served a purpose. It helped define the place.
It even developed an aristocracy that produced high-toned writers like Henry James and Edith Wharton. Neither hung around town much, and the aristocracy couldn’t maintain its position because of all the new money, but it did exist for a while.
In general, though, New York has been notable for change more than coherent culture. At its peak it had a certain romance, but that had to do with energy and enterprise rather than tradition, culture, refinement, or solidity. People were impressed by the skyscrapers, the bustle of humanity, the Great White Way, and so on.
They were also impressed by the mixture of everything and the variety of neighborhoods. There were Jewish intellectuals, old-line WASPs, beatniks and bohemians, various immigrants, and lots of middle-class and working-class people, all in different parts of town.
People found it fascinating. They watched movies set in New York, read O. Henry, and looked at Ashcan School paintings. The place had a character of its own that was accentuated by the pause in immigration between the ’20s and the ’60s. There were Broadway musicals and jazz clubs. There were neighborhoods and bars where artists and intellectuals hung out and new movements got started. The results weren’t great art, great thought, or great literature, and they didn’t get better as time went by, but they were something.
I should mention that some people found it intolerable. New York at its peak was still a city without much civilization. The age of fascination with New York was also the age of literary exiles to Europe.
The end of classic New York
The modern exciting New York didn’t last any longer than the Old New York of Washington Irving or Edith Wharton’s aristocratic New York. Things don’t last there. When Park Slope writer Kay Hymowitz wrote a book about Brooklyn recently she found she had to mention “creative destruction” on every other page.
The destruction has been real, more real than the creativity. The Wikipedia article on New York culture doesn’t mention any new artistic movements emerging in the city after punk rock, hip hop, and graffitti in the 1970s. That might be just as well judging by the nature of those movements and the general direction things were going. But what we’re left with after that for cultural excitement mostly seems to have to do with food, pop culture, high-end consumption choices, and new frontiers in political correctness. And none of it has much to do with New York in particular.
So what happened to bring to an end the city of showgirls, smart-alecky cab drivers, Greenwich Village beatniks, Uptown WASPs, and so on?
The change was partly economic. In the 60s every problem in America landed on New York. Manufacturing moved out, “urban problems” moved in, liberals lost touch with reality, and the cost of social services and municipal salaries went through the roof. The population dropped by more than a tenth, and the city faced bankruptcy.
Mayor Koch, financial restructuring, and the stock market boom of the 80s restored some stability, but the city didn’t really right itself until Giuliani became mayor in 1993. That’s when bridges and subways were fixed, streets and parks became safe, and business could have trash hauled without paying off the Mafia.
The new New York
Ever since, New York has become constantly richer, more cosmopolitan, more diverse, and more boring.
Putting Rudy aside, the biggest changes have been brought by global finance, post-60s immigration, and post-70s gentrification, which means an invasion by floods of well-heeled young people from elsewhere who don’t have many children and like to live close to the center of things. Instead of stubborn American problems, New York has become a recipient of global wealth and fluidity.
So the city today is awash in money and foreigners. New construction is everywhere. We have mobs of foreign tourists and expats. Classic New York neighborhoods have been swallowed up by hipsters, yuppies, and arrivals from abroad. Real estate and the financial industry continue to spew out multi-millionaires. Districts of abandoned factories and warehouses keep turning into offices, co-op apartments, locavore restaurants, and expensive chain stores.
Manhattan’s Little Italy is a few tourist restaurants and heritage cheese shops in a much-expanded Chinatown. Young white professionals and their offspring populate playgrounds in Harlem. The outer boroughs are peopled by Bengalis, Fukienese, Koreans, Arabs, and Latin Americans of various nationalities. The barbers aren’t Italians any more, they’re not even eastern Europeans, they’re Jews from Uzbekistan. And the greater part of Manhattan south of Harlem—the Upper West and Lower East Sides, NoHo and SoHo, the garment, flower, and meatpacking districts, the East and West Village, the Wall Street area—is merging into a single glossy business, entertainment, residential, and shopping district.
It’s spread to Brooklyn, of course. The block where I live there was mostly notable into the 90s for street life, drugs, blocked-up buildings, and Al Sharpton, who lived in the next habitable building to our house. Now it has an offshoot of a well-known Austin barbecue joint on one corner, a fancy Persian restaurant next door, another fancy eatery at the other end of the block, and until recently an artisanal mayonnaise shop a couple blocks further on.
Not even Bill de Blasio, a man symbolizing the reaction against 20 years of relative competence and ideological rationality in City Hall, has been able to slow the tide of money and cosmopolitanism.
All this counts as the new vibrancy, the sort of thing the characters on Girls want a piece of, but it’s the new sameness. Like every place else, New York is becoming a locally-themed version of the global city, a place for tourists, high-end consumers, and international business, with immigrant service workers living somehow in places no one visits.
The city’s become repetitious in a way it never was before. One bank branch, high-end chain store, or hipster neighborhood is like another. But who else can afford the rents? Normal people with families don’t live in Manhattan. On weekends most of it looks like a high-end dating bar. Some of the tonier areas have actually gone dead in the evening, because apartments are owned by absentee foreigners who see them as places to park money and seek refuge if things turn sour back home.
A great deal remains, of course. We still have endless museums, libraries, performances, parks, beaches, botanical gardens, theaters, old-line clubs, learned societies, and associations of every kind.
We also have 800 languages, nine Chinatowns, endless blocks of bars and restaurants, and vast tracts in the outer boroughs where no one who reads the New York Times ever goes.
What’s it all for?
Put it all together and there’s no shortage of high and low class pursuits. If you want chamber music, sports, hot dog eating contests, traditional Catholicism, Uzbek cuisine, or free semi-professional opera, you can find it easily.
But the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Jumbling things together doesn’t polish them, and the city mostly makes people worse at what they are. In New York as elsewhere in the United States Latin American culture runs downhill. Yuppies and hipsters grow sillier and more self-involved. South Asian food stores stock fewer basic ingredients and more mixes and junk food. Ethnic parades are a stage for bad conduct that ranges from drunken boorishness on Saint Paddy’s Day to murder at the West Indian Day Parade.
All that suggests basic problems. The city is loaded with theaters, concert halls, museums, art galleries, and universities. Lots of artists, writers, musicians, actors, and dancers make their livings there. And it’s a world center of journalism, publishing, and broadcasting.
So in a sense it’s a big cultural center. But the culture isn’t exactly a culture since it doesn’t have much of a connection to people who live there. It’s more a specialized business or profession. The result is that there’s little that is distinct from what’s found elsewhere. It’s all hooked into the same commercial, electronic, and grant networks as everywhere else.
New York now makes everything from everywhere immediately available. That sounds wonderful, but it means the place has no culture of its own. Infinite diversity abolishes character. There used to be stock New York figures—the Irish cop, the outer boroughs cabbie—but no more. A yuppie or a Pakistani cab driver in New York is the same as anywhere else. Even New York accents are vanishing.
So what do you have instead of a culture in a city that’s not really a city but is more like a physical realization of the Internet?
What you have more and more is the urban equivalent of Twitter and Amazon.
Many New Yorkers are good people – kind, honest, wise, perceptive, public-spirited, amusing, and what not else. But without civilized order none of it goes anywhere. Particulars cancel each other out. They dissipate and vanish without effect.
What’s left is a mass of people trying to make their way in a world without community and without any idea what community might be. What passes for public life becomes a mass of impulses, hatreds, frauds, power grabs, and delusions that oscillate between conflict and temporary equilibrium.
There’s also lots of insanity. When Obama got elected people in my neighborhood partied in the streets all night. The world had been made new. When Trump won there were public meetings in churches in which well-intentioned high-functioning people shared their fears that vans were going to come and cart them off to camps. That really happened.
But it’s not just New York. Electronic media are turning the world into a global metropolis, a sort of virtual New York that incorporates Delhi, Shanghai, and Mexico City.
The Internet makes everything immediately available wherever you are. And the world’s imitating the Internet. My wife and I were in Istanbul lately. It turned out our Air B&B was in a hipster neighborhood. There were lots of vegan restaurants and signs in English not directed toward foreigners.
So the physical New York, the virtual New York, and the global New York are becoming harder to distinguish from each other. But what does that make any of them? No one can say, so each can construct the reality for himself. Or get it constructed for him by someone else. I think that explains a lot of today’s public life. Nothing’s real, and nothing stays what it is.
What to do?
Complaining doesn’t do a lot of good. Life goes on. People live their everyday lives, some well and some badly.
Even if the world is paved with asphalt or dissolved into electronics the grass pops up and breaks through here and there. Nature reasserts herself. But what can we do to encourage that?
In the 60s people used to say “turn on, tune in, drop out.” Today the best advice is probably to turn off, tune out, and read a book, or maybe drop into whatever’s actually going on right around you. Anything, so long as it’s more solid than virtual reality.
It seems doubtful that gestures of resistance will have major effect any time soon. Trump’s better than Hilary, but I doubt he’ll transform anything basic. High-minded people say that art and beauty will save us. That’s not likely. Others call for a religious revival.
The problems are entirely basic, and anything that goes deep enough to reverse them is likely to take a very long time and involve a great many unexpected developments. No doubt that will happen, because nothing lasts forever, especially lunacy. But for now it seems we’re stuck with gestures, palliatives, makeshifts, and the attempt to live well in truly odd times.
The Gender War and the Disuniting of America
By Carl F. Horowitz
Thank you for having me back again as luncheon speaker. I’m greatly honored.
Today I’m going to talk about one of our favorite subjects: sex. Or, as our friends on the Left prefer to call it, “gender.” Actually, unbeknownst to many misguided souls, the two terms are quite different.
Sex refers to biology. Humans, as we learned in our youth, normally have 46 chromosomes within each cell arranged into 23 pairs. The very last pair defines our sex. If it reads x-x, the person is female. If it reads x-y, the person is male. This is an unalterable reality. “Transgendering” – more on that subject later – cannot change that.
Gender, by contrast, refers to socially-constructed norms that correspond to sex. From the earliest age, for example, people learn there are “male” and “female” ways to walk, talk, dress, style hair, and resolve conflict. These ways overlap and vary by culture, but only up to a point. Gender identity requires distinctiveness of appearance, behavior and role – a separation rather than a blending of the sexes.
Feminism operates on the assumption that men’s affirmation of gender identity is what enables them to keep their own privileges and keep women down. From this, it follows that women must resist male dominance by stripping men of their gender identity, especially their sexual assertiveness. If the methods of resistance seem unfair, feminists typically will reply that men don’t play fair either.
To see the consequences of this mentality, one need only look at the #MeToo movement and its role in triggering the unplanned retirement of dozens of prominent men, and with virtually no protest from these men. What is truly alarming is that these accusations tend to be tempests in a teapot or outright hoaxes. And men have suffered as a result.
Here’s a #MeToo casualty you might not have heard about: Benny Fredriksson. A theater director in Stockholm and the husband of Swedish opera singer Anne Sofie von Otter, Fredriksson was fired in the wake of unsubstantiated claims by #MeToo activists that he sexually harassed his female employees. None of his male peers would defend him for fear of inviting bad publicity upon themselves. The social isolation hastened Fredriksson’s descent into depression. This March, he committed suicide.
His grieving widow rightly denounced #MeToo for its herd mentality. She hasn’t been alone. A couple of months earlier, in fact, about 100 French women, including actress Catherine Deneuve, denounced #MeToo. Perhaps European women really are more sensible than ours.
A herd mentality is exactly what #MeToo is all about. Its very name suggests a reflexive mass conformity. And its rise was predictable. People by nature tend to hop on a bandwagon if they see “everybody else,” especially within their peer group, hopping on. And who rides the #MeToo bandwagon? It is women Bravely Coming Forward, one by one, with personal stories of male oppression in the manner of a Greek chorus, with a large female audience lustily cheering.
There is nothing to admire here. By its nature, #MeToo subverts justice. Since male sexual harassment and rape are endemic to our culture, the feminist argument goes, it follows that men, save for perhaps gays, geezers and geldings, are guilty until proven innocent. Evidence is irrelevant. Due process doesn’t exist. The veracity of an accusation matters far less than the enticing prospect of generating morally-charged applause.
“Prestige” media amplify this echo chamber. Time magazine did its part almost a year ago by naming “the silence breakers” – women with stories of male sexual harassment – as Person of the Year for 2017. One imagines that Christine Blasey Ford will make this year’s short list.
This mix of sentimentality and aggression reached a noxious peak of sorts a few years ago in the form of Emma Sulkowicz. You probably remember her as the “mattress girl.” As a Columbia University senior majoring in visual arts, Ms. Sulkowicz spent the 2014-15 academic year toting a 50-pound mattress across campus from class to class to dramatize a rape allegedly committed against her by a male student a couple of years earlier. She vowed to stick with this ritual until the university expelled the assailant. She already had sued the university for not taking such action.
Campus administrators, in typically timid fashion, encouraged Ms. Sulkowicz. In short order, she became a national symbol of resistance. New York Times arts critic Roberta Smith called her protest “succinct and powerful,” adding that she has “set a very high standard for any future work she’ll do as an artist.” Hillary Clinton said of the lady and her mattress, “That image should haunt all of us.” Sulkowicz also was a personal guest of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., at President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address.
Unfortunately for these boosters, facts mattered. Columbia and NYPD cops conducted separate investigations and concluded that Ms. Sulkowicz’ claim didn’t hold up. They decided against recommending the case to prosecutors. The German-born accused student, Paul Nungesser, managed to avoid expulsion, but only after having suffered a great deal of harassment from female students. He sued the university and eventually settled out of court.
Affectations such as these are not about asserting rights. Virtually everyone in this country accepts the fact that women have rights. No, this is about seeking power. Reprehensible as such gestures are, they are understandable. The desire for power is not an aberration of human nature. It is human nature. And it represents a rejection of the ideology of social equality, even by those who profess to believe in it. Women, like men, seek dominance.
That leads to the question: Why do so many women readily invoke the principle of social equality if they don’t really believe in it? Hypocrisy? That’s too facile an explanation. A better answer can be found in Sam Francis’ classic essay, “Equality as a Political Weapon.”
The doctrine of equality is unimportant because no one, save perhaps Pol Pot and Ben Wattenberg, really believes in it, and no one, least of all those who profess it most loudly, is seriously motivated by it…The real meaning of the doctrine of equality is that it serves as a political weapon, to be unsheathed whenever it is useful for cutting down barriers, human or institutional, to the power of those groups that wear it on their belts; but, because equality, if nothing else, is a two-edged weapon, to be kept well away from the hands of those who merely want to fondle it.
In other words, the idea of social equality is a basis for rhetoric, not policy. The rhetoric may sound noble and stirring, a la Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but its underlying motive is a drive for collective power. That’s why even if affirmative action (which King supported) could produce equality of result across the board, nobody would recognize the outcome as such. Instead, egalitarian zealots would use statistics to show that our society “still has a long way to go.”
Stripped of egalitarian pretense, feminist activism, like racial activism, is about weaponizing collective grievance in the pursuit of power. And since there are only two sexes, this is a zero-sum game. Women win by ensuring that men lose, just as “people of color” win by ensuring that whites lose.
On its own terms, the feminist revolution has been remarkably successful in advancing women at the expense of men. Consider these indicators:
Within the 25-34 age bracket, the share of men who earned less than $30,000 (in 2015 dollars) a year rose from 25 percent to 41 percent during 1975-2016, whereas the share of women who earned less than $30,000 a year fell from 80 percent to 58 percent. Put more succinctly, women are getting richer and men are getting poorer.
The percentage of men ages 25-29 with a bachelor’s degree or higher was about 32.5 percent in 2015, while for women it was almost 40 percent.
Females outnumber males among current undergraduate college students by 56 percent to 44 percent.
Some feminists see such numbers as evidence of a dialectic of female triumph. Prominent among them is essayist Hanna Rosin. Her book of several years ago, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, though claiming to seek honest man-to-woman dialogue, resembled a pitch for misandry.
Ms. Rosin sees women as far better emotionally and cognitively equipped than men to handle the complexities of today’s world. Women, she argues, are tough-minded and flexible, like plastic. Men are clueless and rigid, like cardboard. Yes, those are her metaphors. Of course, she doesn’t literally seek the end of men. But she does believe that male dominance is doomed to extinction.
Feminists of the Right – e.g., Camille Paglia, Cathy Young, Christina Hoff Sommers, Wendy McElroy, Linda Chavez and Katherine Kersten – rightly reject such a view. Yet they prefer to aim their critique at a radical rump faction within feminism that supposedly holds women back rather than at feminism per se.
My better instincts say that feminism per se is a problem – a manageable one, to be sure, but a problem all the same. The “radical” and “sensible” factions aren’t that different. More to the point, the radical version is far better attuned to an innate female will to power. Far from harming women, radical feminism helps them. Why deny it? Surely women know their own interests. And they also know that in-your-face activism is the best way to maximize those interests. They will act “sensibly” in situations where there is no need to get rough. But if the need arises, radicalism is their back-up plan. And women can get very radical.
Just how radical? Consider an organization called Femocracy Global. Its online mission statement reads: “Femocracy Global is empowering and supporting Females’ rise to power in every corner of the globe. If you are male, submission now is your only hope for survival.”
It’s not as if these gals don’t like to have fun. The group proclaims: “Interact with like-minded Dommes and slaves in your city as we seek to accelerate toward a world of Female Supremacy and male submission. Plan to join us on the 3rd Saturday for our worldwide Female Supremacy Support Groups. Other events, such as conventions, Domme Birthday Celebrations, InService slave Auctions, and slave competitions may also be listed here.”
To say that this is Fifty Shades of Grey in reverse would be wrong. E. L. James’ novels (and the resulting movies) have explored an evolving, voluntary, private one-on-one relationship. Femocracy Global is more in the territory of postmodern dystopian fiction a la Philip K. Dick, William S. Burroughs and William Gibson. Except that it’s not fiction. And there’s a lot more where that came from.
From a purely policy standpoint, conservative feminists are right far more than they are wrong. But they still operate on the thin premise that women in Western societies, to say nothing of elsewhere, remain subordinate to men and that a great deal of unfinished work remains. Christina Hoff Sommers’ book, Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women, for example, rightly rebukes gender feminists such as Susan Faludi and Gloria Steinem for their nonstop trophy hunts for male patriarchy. But Sommers also believes that if women rejected the counsel of such pugilists, they would win broad support from men and complete their drive for equality.
This is naïve. Sommers can’t seem to admit that radical feminism, by intent and result, hurts men rather than women. Indeed, thanks to feminism, men are doing more than simply “falling behind.” They are ceding their rights, authority and money to women. This power shift has three prerequisites: 1) female aggression; 2) male submission; and 3) a legal system (heavily populated by feminist lawyers and judges) that favors females. All three factors are now in place. It is almost impossible to look at today’s sexual affirmative action mandates, elastic definitions of sexual harassment, rigged divorce settlements (against men), and female-led relationships, and conclude otherwise.
About female-led relationships, one of the stranger manifestations is the “financial dominatrix.” This is a fast-growing subculture in which young women order well-to-do men into handing over large sums of money and buying them expensive gifts. The men, apparently aroused, comply.
Here is how one practitioner explains her philosophy:
Think about it. Money represents power. It gives us the ability to attain life’s necessities and have the experiences that we want. As a domme, it’s an incredible feeling to know that I can take away a man’s ability to have some of the things that he wants – but it’s even better to know that he’s giving it to me willingly.
Now that’s zero-sum economics! Female-led marriages – and they are increasingly common – represent the legalization of such relationships. They amount to slave contracts enforced by blackmail.
The most dangerous, and insidious, form of the male-to-female power transfer is the willful breaking down of barriers between male and female sexual identity, also known as transgenderism. Let me digress here.
According to a report released in June 2016 by the Williams Institute, a project of UCLA Law School, about 1.4 million, or nearly 0.6 percent, of all adults in this country identified themselves as the opposite of their birth sex. That number, derived from Centers for Disease Control data, was double the institute’s 2014 estimate of 700,000, which was derived from various state surveys. The state-by-state breakdown in the 2016 report revealed that the phenomenon is occurring nationwide, not just in liberal (“blue”) states.
Now this is not to say that there are 1.4 million adults running around the country without their natural sex organs. Sexual reassignment surgery is the end stage of gender transition. Only a small percentage of the transgendered have gone that route (so far). What this number does refer to are people who have fully reversed their sexual identification, typically reinforcing the process with physical adjustments such as cross-dressing, face-sculpting, testosterone (or estrogen) blockers and hormone treatments. For such people, this isn’t about “dressing up” or “getting kinky” for a special occasion. It’s about life itself.
More distressing news: The figure of 1.4 million is almost certainly on the low side. There are two reasons for this.
First, public acceptance of transgenderism has accelerated noticeably since 2016. More than ever, Americans fawn over public figures making the “courageous” decision to transition, such as Caitlin (formerly Bruce) Jenner. A number of cities now mandate gender neutrality for bathrooms in municipal buildings and/or public schools. Transgender counseling is a growth industry. Many Fortune 500 corporations now ban discrimination on the basis of gender orientation. And health insurance plans increasingly are covering gender transition drugs and services.
Second, and even more disturbing, the 1.4 million number does not include adolescents and teenagers. Transgenderism especially is growing among minors, often with the acceptance and even encouragement of parents. The cover story of the July/August 2018 issue of The Atlantic noted that about 150,000 Americans ages 13-17 now define themselves as transgendered. The article also noted that there are about 40 youth gender transition clinics across the U.S., a number certain to rise given the frequent months-long waiting lists for new referrals.
Leaving aside the scandalous participation of the medical profession in this endeavor – presumably the price is right – transgenderism should be seen as a catalyst for female dominance. The blending of the sexes, biologically and behaviorally, is an egalitarian wet dream. Not only does it break down those dreaded “stereotypes,” it also increases the relative size of the population possessed of a feminine sensibility. This is true regardless of transitional identity direction. Male-to-female transitions add to the ranks of females; female-to-male transitions have a heavy “butch” sensibility. Either way, feminism gains.
The transgendered also are a natural fit for the Left’s power-seeking intersectionality coalition whose component blocs do their part to overthrow oppressive social institutions. It makes perfect sense that there is a special place at the table for the transgendered. What can be more revolutionary than rejecting one’s own biology?
All this reinforces my earlier point that feminism is the affirmation of femininity rather than its negation. It is femininity unleashed. “Social equality” is a rhetorical device designed to appeal to an audience’s sense of fair play. Operationally, however, it is meaningless. Its rhetoric is dramatic and triumphant. The individualist feminism of Wendy McElroy and Christina Hoff Sommers doesn’t stand a chance against the collectivist tribal theater of Linda Sarsour and Gloria Allred.
Where, then, does this leave males? Good question. Many men, chastened by personal experience and by what they read, properly sense the future is not on their side. And they are fighting back. Unfortunately, they often are doing so in the wrong ways.
Like the worst of femininity, the worst of masculinity is quite repellent. And apropos this year’s conference theme of national division, its rise strongly overlaps with the escalating “Red State vs. Blue State” political soap opera. Put simply, “female” is becoming a proxy for “liberal,” as women veer ever further leftward.
It was not always like this. Believe it or not, from 1958 until 1980, polls generally showed that women were more likely than men to vote Republican in congressional elections. The shift to the Democrats began during the 1980s. And it shows no signs of reversal. This “gender gap,” which owes a sizable debt to feminism, is less pronounced in presidential elections but it is recognizable all the same.
You may find out how wide this gap really is come Tuesday evening.
A Quinnipac Poll released four months ago found that women voters preferred Democratic to Republican candidates by 58 percent to 33 percent, whereas men voters preferred Republicans to Democrats by only 50 percent to 42 percent. Offsetting these numbers, and assuming identical turnout rates, this implies that Democrats will win next week’s elections by an average of 17 percentage points. Similarly, according to a much more recent Washington Post-ABC News Poll, women disapproved of the Senate confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court by 58 percent to 35 percent, while men approved of the confirmation by a far smaller margin of 48 percent to 43 percent. That’s a net spread of 18 percentage points.
Now I realize that even the most reliable polls contain a certain margin of sampling error. Moreover, a lot of voters make up their minds during the last few weeks of an election cycle. Yet even if the net spread of the actual vote turns out to be only several percentage points, this spells trouble for President Trump. The Democrats are primed to become a majority in the House of Representatives. That would make Trump’s impeachment for imaginary crimes a real possibility. The happiest woman in the country right now may be Nancy Pelosi.
This political split, however, goes well beyond voting. The dark reality is that many men are taking out their frustrations on women by adopting a vulgar, menacing posture and calling it patriotism. Such men, often via online message posts, delight in reducing people to easy stereotypes and heaping verbal abuse on anyone who disagrees with them. Their venom is directed not so much at women per se as it is at a pair of liberal urban stereotypes: 1) the Prius-driving, wine-tasting, New York Times-reading, feminized crybaby male; and 2) the unattractive, screeching, cat-owning, man-hating spinster female. Or something like that. Pick your own caricature, but it is clear that much of the hatred of “libtards” coming from the Right is rooted in a hatred of the sorts of people who embody gender reversal.
I have read literally tens of thousands of message posts on the Web by this fraternity of Red State cyber-badasses and can testify to their viciousness and ignorance. If you are male and you dissent from this ideological echo chamber, expect to be taunted as a “soy boy,” a “beta male,” a “delicate snowflake” and a “sissy.” You also will be informed that you “wear a tin foil hat” and “live in mommy’s basement.” Such Bloomsbury wit!
Conservative pundits often incite them. One of the more unreconstructed is Kurt Schlichter. His editorials fairly drip with contempt, derision and a barely concealed urge to inflict physical violence. He even aims his sights at seemingly effeminate conservatives. In an interview early this year, he happily declared: “The conservative movement is no longer represented by submissive, bow-tied conserva-nerds who’ve never been slugged in the face or slugged anyone else.”
In this worldview, serious writing and reading are for sissies, and all politics is war. Yet surely Schlichter, a retired army colonel and an active trial lawyer, knows that for millennia the rules of politics have operated differently from the rules of warfare – and that when politics descends into a war of words, it often descends further into war itself. The underlying purpose of politics, in all nations and throughout history, in fact, has been the rechanneling of man’s violent instincts toward peaceful conflict resolution. But don’t take my word for it. Take the word of wimpy, bow-tied, wine-sipping pansies like Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Spinoza, Grotius and Hume.
How, then, can the Right prevail against feminist power-seeking without inhabiting a crude Red State echo chamber? We must begin by rejecting the assumption that females are victims and males are persecutors. In addition to this, we must restore rule of law. As contemporary libertarians from Thomas Sowell to Robert Nozick to Richard Epstein have recognized, people behave better under predetermined rules than under predetermined outcomes. Feminism, with its decidedly egalitarian vision, favors the latter. That’s why feminists so often behave badly.
Rule of law doesn’t mean laying down the law and it doesn’t mean obeying it either. It means applying law without regard for special needs pleaded by racial, linguistic, economic, religious, sexual and other groups. Unfortunately, we are abandoning rather than affirming rule of law. We are a country of aggressive public welfare spending to appease “victim” groups, enforced affirmative action quotas and frivolous civil rights lawsuits.
As regards sex, here are two steps in the right direction:
Abolish all sex-based affirmative action. There is no moral argument for mandating preferences by sex any more than by race. Affirmative action, by now fully rechristened as “diversity,” is the realization of a zero-sum reward system. Singling out women for benefits necessarily singles out men for costs.
Raise the bar of proof for female accusations against males for sexually-related crimes on college campuses. No accuser should be taken at face value simply because she is a woman. I congratulate Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for rescinding an outrageous set of guidelines issued in 2011 by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights under President Obama that effectively robbed males of their due process in such situations. Her proposed rule change hopefully will clarify boundaries rather than muddy them.
Beyond this, I’m afraid, there isn’t much positive that government intervention can accomplish. Indeed, it may harm males. The State excels at discouraging and punishing acts of force or fraud, yet it is also captive of power-seeking interest groups. That includes feminist ones.
Some traditionalists may counter that government should strengthen families in ways that put men first. But that’s far easier said than done. Feminism has redefined marriage to the point where many men simply avoid it, especially if they’ve been down that road before. Anyone who lives in the real world knows that a wife is perfectly capable of dominating a marriage, and that if either she or her husband wants out, the wife can use the law to inflict enormous hardship on him.
This is an understated reason, I believe, why divorce has become far less common in America. Forget that lazy cliché known as “skyrocketing divorce rates.” Our national divorce rate during 1981-2016 actually declined from 5.3 to 3.2 divorces per 1,000 population – a drop of about 40 percent. Common sense dictates that if a woman holds the cards in a marriage, she won’t throw those cards away unless she is confident of snagging a better deal with someone else. An intact marriage isn’t necessarily a “good” one, just one that maximizes the interests of the husband and the wife in the foreseeable future.
Repealing the “marriage penalty” allegedly embedded in the tax code is another nostrum with surface appeal, but it, too, poses practical difficulties. The men who are least able or willing to support a family are precisely those who pay no personal income taxes. And if they hold down a modest-paying full-time job, they can receive a government bribe known as the Earned Income Tax Credit. By contrast, the families who bear the highest tax burdens tend to be married couples. Taxes don’t explain all that much.
Dramatically raising the bar for divorce is another triumph of hope over experience. Aside from not being needed, few people wish to be restricted in such a manner. One need only look at the fate of a popular gambit among social conservatives two decades ago, “covenant marriage.” These are state laws that require a bride and a groom, following premarital counseling, to clear extra-high hurdles if they seek a divorce later on. Only three states – Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana – have enacted such laws. In each case, only about one percent of all newly married couples since enactment have exercised the covenant option.
As for the business community, don’t expect too much. The men who run our corporations are petrified of lawsuits, boycotts, harassment accusations and other forms of “female trouble.” For them, it is far more expedient to fire an accused male than to keep him aboard. Business executives can be counted on to follow the line of least resistance when faced with a threat to their company’s image and profitability.
Another dead end is advancing the cause of feminism in order to expose the “hypocrisy” of its advocates on the Left. “We’re the real feminists,” is a common conservative war cry. “Liberals exploit women. They don’t want to help women like we do.” This is the equivalent of the phrase, “Liberals are the real racists.” Such virtue-signaling won’t work.
Here is an example. Think of the phrase, “the war on women.” It’s a common feminist trope. Female Democratic Party leaders such as Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi have used it to allege that conservatives are rolling back women’s rights. Feminists also have used the term in their books. Check out Susan Faludi, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women; Laura Flanders, The W Effect: Bush’s War on Women; and Barbara Finlay, George W. Bush and the War on Women: Turning Back the Clock on Progress. Such authors, needless to say, are setting their sights on President Trump. The reliably far-Left Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor-publisher of The Nation, for one, published a guest column in May 2017 for the Washington Post titled, “Trump Escalates the War on Women.”
One would think that the Right would call out this “war” for what it is – an exaggeration, if not a figment of the imagination. Instead, the Right too often invokes this specter in hopes of hoisting liberals on their own petard. Thus, we have seen the publication of “conservative” books such as Katie Pavlich’s Assault and Flattery: The Truth About the Left and Their War on Women, and Roger Stone & Robert Morrow’s The Clintons’ War on Women. None of this, predictably, has laid so much as a glove on the Left.
Fellow conservatives: When you accept the premises of your enemies, you effectively have agreed to do their dirty work – even if you’re not aware of it.
With time running short, let me now summarize.
The War Between the Sexes has been going on since the beginning of our species. Feminism, a recent development, did not create female grievances. It articulates them. It provides a vocabulary for female identity whether the arena is politics, business, government, literature, arts or therapy. It is also a worldwide movement. Feminism is not about to go away in India or China any more than it is about to go away in Denmark or France. At best, men can hold the pathological instincts of feminism in check without becoming pathological themselves.
Man-woman relationships by nature are a tangle of love and hostility. It is enough of an accomplishment to prevent the worst people from getting on top. This is a Hobbesian view – and a realistic one.
The actor Jack Nicholson said years ago: “I’m buzzed by the female mystique. I always tell the young men, there are three rules: they hate us, we hate them; they’re stronger, they’re smarter; and most important, they don’t play fair.” On that last one, it’s hard to disagree.
The best offense for men is a good defense. Such a sensibility not only can play hardball with feminism, but also can narrow our political divide. As a bonus, it may yet spare us further use of the hashtag #MeToo.
Thank you very much.
The Breakdown of Order in Late Mass Democracy
By John Derbyshire
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here, and thanks to Paul for what already looks like another very successful conference.
First somewhat of an apology. The title of my talk is misleading. I have the heart and soul of a freelance journalist, and we don’t bother much with titles. Titles to articles in newspapers and magazines were traditionally supplied by subeditors—the people responsible for headlines and photo captions. Where titles are concerned, a freelancer has to take his chances with the subs.
That’s not precisely what happened here. What actually happened was, Paul asked me if I’d join a panel on anarcho-tyranny. I said I’d be delighted. Paul asked if there was any particular subtopic I wanted to focus on. I said: “Nah, just give me a topic and I’ll run with it.” Paul then listed my topic as: “The Breakdown of Order in Late Mass Democracy.”
I tell you this to make it plain that I don’t, from long habit, take titles very seriously; and this is not Paul’s fault.
So I can now tell you that, after pondering the title Paul has supplied me with, I don’t in fact think there will be a breakdown of order in what—yes, I do agree—we can rightly call “late mass democracy.”
Not only do I think there will not be a breakdown of order, I fear the opposite thing: an intensification of order. Let me explain that.
I think the distinguishing characteristic of late mass democracy is the elites getting their mojo back. After a Century of the Common Man, elites are now saying to themselves, in the current popular idiom: “We’ve got this.”
To explain what I mean, let me take a brief historico-literary detour.*
When I was getting my secondary education back in England in the early 1960s, a common exercise for sixth formers—that is, high school juniors and seniors—was to read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and then to read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and to write an essay declaring, with supporting arguments, which of the two books you thought the actual future would more closely resemble.
Both these books presented the reader with a dystopia—a dark view of humanity’s future. The two dystopias were radically different, though.
In Orwell’s vision, as I’m sure is well known, the human spirit had been tamed by terror. A ruling elite, divided into an Inner Party and an Outer Party, maintained itself by fear. Outer Party members, who did the administrative grunt work, were kept under constant vigilance by the Thought Police. Dissidents were hauled away to be tortured and killed. A great sullen mass of proles, with no political rights, were kept pacified by a coarse kind of popular culture and frequent spasms of war fever, and were also under watch by the Thought Police, so that potential troublemakers could be quickly identified and eliminated.
Huxley’s dystopia was altogether different. Huxley’s planet is unified and at peace. Its affairs are managed by ten regional Controllers. Marriage, childbirth, and family life have been abolished, along with all kinds of suffering — even such minor kinds as disappointment and frustration. Also gone are the nation-state, war, religion, ethnicity, and all profound art and literature. Disease has been banished. Old age has been banished too, very nearly: Citizens are healthy, vigorous, and attractive until about age 60, when they decline quickly to death. Everyone lives in a state of contented hedonism, assisted by regular doses of soma, a freely available narcotic with no side- or after-effects. Sex is promiscuous and recreational, with universal free access to contraception and abortion.
The necessary work of Huxley’s society is carried out via a system of castes, with bright and capable Alphas at the top, then betas, gammas, deltas, down to dimwitted Epsilons at the bottom. Caste is determined in the Hatcheries, where good-quality eggs and sperm are mated to produce Alphas. Inferior zygotes are assigned to the lower castes and cloned. The production of well-adjusted citizens is completed in Conditioning units.
All this is accomplished so successfully that society is well-nigh self-regulating. The Controllers, though in theory they’re possessed of despotic powers, in fact have very little to do.
When I got this assignment around age 17, I pondered the matter and came down on the side of Huxley as having given us a more probable picture of the future. I can’t honestly remember my arguments, but I suspect my choice was mainly esthetic. Orwell’s vision was plainly horrible. It even smelled bad: remember how Winston Smith’s apartment building stank of boiled cabbage? Huxley’s world, on the other hand, didn’t sound bad at all. Universal peace; no more diseases; pop a harmless pill if you’re unhappy; guilt-free recreational sex; what’s not to like? When you read Brave New World, you know there’s something badly wrong with it; but it’s surprisingly difficult to say what, exactly, that is. Speaking as a bookish intellectual, I would say that what’s wrong is the stasis, the end of any quest for knowledge, for deeper understanding of the world.
When I look at the trends of our own time, it seems to me that my 1962 judgment was correct, however accidentally. Of course, Huxley’s vision was only very approximately predictive. He got a lot of things wrong. We don’t need a caste of dimwitted Epsilons to do the industrial work, we can have robots do it.
More glaringly, he did not foresee the great explosion in the populations of hopeless people seeking to escape chaotic nations—the crowds we have seen on our TV screens this past few weeks heading up through Mexico; with, looming up behind them, the prospect of—what is the latest UN projection? Four billion, is it?—desperate Africans by the end of this century.
Still, if the civilized world can find some way to deal with those issues, or can just fence itself off from them, the trendlines for our society are Huxleyan. Soma, the universal tranquillizer, is not yet with us, but with a couple more cycles of pharmacological advance, it likely will be. An alpha class of genetically superior humans could arise quite naturally and commercially from techniques of embryo selection already available. Something like it is anyway emerging naturally, from assortative mating among our meritocratic elites. As has often been noted: doctors used to marry nurses and lawyers used to marry their secretaries. Now doctors marry doctors and lawyers marry lawyers. Huxley’s feelies—entertainment fed in through all the senses—are not far from the Virtual Reality gadgets already on the market.
As for social disorder: well, Pat Buchanan—who turned eighty yesterday, by the way: Happy Birthday, Pat!—reminded us in a column just last month how very disorderly the USA, and the rest of the civilized world, was fifty years ago. The Weathermen and the Black Panthers; the Symbionese Liberation Army—remember them? The Red Brigades and the Baader-Meinhof gang; political assassinations; the 1968 Democratic Convention; Kent State and Cornell; …
Antifa put up a good show; and yes, I certainly agree that they illustrate the principle of anarcho-tyranny very well, controlling the streets while leftist politicians stand down the police forces. As a force for generalized disorder, though, they are not impressive. Antifa would run like chickens from a whiff of grapeshot.
The overall trend of our societies is Huxleyan. It is the trend Steven Pinker has famously described in his book Better Angels: towards a pacified, tranquillized, hedonistic caste society.
Here in the USA the trend lines can actually be traced some way back.
In every organized society there is a tension between order and liberty. We Americans love our liberty, of course; but my love of liberty stops well short of loving your liberty to break my leg or pick my pocket. There needs to be social order.
Our own conception of social order is a fermented brew whose original ingredients were sketched out by David Hackett Fischer in his 1989 classic Albion’s Seed. Fischer described how the four main stocks of British settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries each contributed an ingredient to the national culture, and in particular to our notions of social order.
The Puritans of New England, drawn heavily from England’s literate artisan classes, had a conception of social order Fischer defines thus: “A condition where everything was put in its proper place and held there by force if necessary … a condition of organic unity.” Crime stats tell the story. Further quote from Fischer: “Crimes against property were more common than crimes against persons. But crimes against order were the most common of all.” [My italics.] The examples Fischer gives are: violations of the sabbath, blasphemy, sexual offenses, idleness, lying, domestic disorder, or drunkenness.
The “distressed cavaliers” and rustic, illiterate English peasants and house servants who populated Virginia and the Tidewater South had a much less egalitarian, much more hierarchical notion of social order, with county sheriffs appointed in the name of the Crown, not elected constables as in New England. There was much more interpersonal violence here; but the violence too was hierarchical. Fischer: “It was often used by superiors against inferiors, and sometimes by equals against one another, but rarely by people of subordinate status against those above them.” Crimes of violence were more common than property crimes.
The Quakers of the Delaware Valley based social order on tolerance, forbearance, and the Golden Rule. Quote from Fischer: “There were no crimes of conscience in the Quaker colonies before 1755.” Social order meant social peace. Criminal penalties were generally lighter than in the other colonies; but, says Fischer: “They punished very harshly acts of disorder in which one citizen intruded upon the peace of another … Penalties for crimes of sexual violence against women were exceptionally severe.”
And then there were the Scotch-Irish of the back-country, drawn from the half-civilized border lands where England meets Scotland, and from those same border folks’ Protestant settlements in Northern Ireland. These people had the least structured notion of social order among all the colonists. Fischer: “The prevailing principle was lex talionis, the rule of retaliation. It held that a good man must seek to do right in the world, but when wrong was done to him he must punish the wrongdoer himself by an act of retribution that restored order and justice in the world … A North Carolina proverb declared that ‘every man should be sheriff on his own hearth.’” That didn’t leave much for government to do. This was a very individualistic culture. Property crimes were punished much more severely than crimes of violence. One 18th-century court gave the following sentences: for hog stealing, death by hanging; for the rape of an 11-year-old girl, one shilling fine.
Overlaid on these original order traditions were the political arrangements thrashed out by the founders of our republic. Just to remind you, in very brief: Anti-Federalists favored localism and democracy modeled on the classical age, as updated by Locke and Montesquieu—a loose collection of self-governing cantons with minimal central control. Federalists argued for a stronger central government as better suited for defense and financial stability. Out of these arguments emerged our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The Constitution was supposed to have settled this question: Could a republic of the classical democratic or aristocratic type, as somewhat modernized by recent thinkers, be scaled up to continental size, given that the only pre-modern unitary states of that size had been despotic empires?
You can make a case that the answer was “No” for the first hundred years or so of the U.S.A.; that the Civil War, whatever its proximate cause, showed the fundamental instability of the 1789 model; but that the model was then rescued, from the late 19th century on, by technology—particularly by mass communication, mass transportation, and mass education.
And thus we arrived at mass democracy: and not only us, but much of the rest of the world. And of course I am over-simplifying: the relevant developments have roots back in the 16th century, with printing and the Reformation—what the Third Duke of Norfolk dismissed with disgust as “this new learning.”
But we arrived at mass democracy, and the 20th century was the Century of the Common Man. We still had elites, of course; but under mass democracy—or, in the context of my title, early mass democracy—the elites had to pretend to be just lucky commoners. They had to practice the common touch.
The transformation is easier to see in cultures that came later to the party. Japanese elites used to wear fantastically elaborate uniforms. Palace flunkies used to stain their teeth black to distinguish themselves from the common herd. Now Japan’s elites strive to look just like middle-class salarymen. Or perhaps you’ve seen that juxtaposition of two photographs of female undergraduates at an Egyptian university, one taken in 1950 where they are in Western frocks and blouses, a westernized elite, the other much more recent with them all in burkas like peasant women.
Now, in the 21st century, the elites are making a comeback. They’ve had a bellyful of this Common Man stuff. How to do it, though? The traditional hierarchy of rank and genealogy—the pattern of order that shaped Europe and the old Tidewater South—is long gone. The violent egalitarianism of the Scotch-Irish has been corralled off into a few localities none of us ever need visit: inner-city ghettos and remote mountain villages. The totalitarian order of the big old 20th-century despotic utopias proved a bust, though it lingers on in a few hell-holes like North Korea.
What system of order is appropriate to an age of unbounded material plenty, ample leisure, an internet panopticon, and rapid growth of understanding in the human sciences and biotechnology? I think the goodthinking consensual model of Puritan Massachusetts set the model; except that, with sophisticated conditioning, a free ration of soma, and endless hedonistic distractions, there’ll be no need to burn witches or hang Quakers.
If we can just find some way to manage, or contain, those swelling tides of the hopeless heading for our borders, we shall reach the Brave New World at last.