Sunday, September 26, 2010


In the October issue of ‘The Atlantic’ Mark Bowden provides a political puff-piece about Joe Biden entitled ‘The Salesman’ (pp.93-105).

While the article’s title might mislead you into thinking that Bowden is going to be making some sober critical analysis, the text itself is primarily one long fax from the Biden PR flaks, who have stayed up all night trying to put this former car-salesman in the best light and pre-emptively spin his clearly undeniable weaknesses and failures in such a way as to seem like ‘good things’.

This piece comes as no surprise.

The Dems are in trouble. They have screwed a whole bunch of stuff up and their master game-plan of the past 45 years has come a cropper. (Which is not at all to say that the Republicans as presently constituted offer any useful solutions or political alternative.)

Biden is going to be gussied up as Mr. Progressive-Feminist for the ‘base’ and as Mr. Common-Man for that not-yet-extinct life-form that for some decades now the Dems had imagined would soon be extinct but as it turns out isn’t and – the hellhot ironies – the Dems now need the votes of.*

Sometime after 1965 the Dems decided that the New Deal electoral coalition of Jim Crow South and Northeastern Industrial was doomed because of the (very impressive) first-phase of the black Civil Rights movement. But then came the second and ‘revolutionary phase’, with much more dubious and questionable policies such as affirmative action**.

They then stumbled upon the reality that the postwar American economic and industrial primacy was coming to an end as, by 1970 or so, Europe and Japan were recovering and the Third World nations were starting to develop. Hence they calculated that the Northeastern Industrial demographic was going the way of the dinosaur and the dodo, and that therefore they needed to literally INVENT new demographic elements on the American electoral playing field.

Hence they went whole-hog for Youth, Women (as defined by the radical-feminists, anyway), Immigrants, and ‘Minorities’ generally (and also the Israeli Realm in order to rope in the American Jewish vote and its financial clout). Whatever ‘ideas’ justified these political gambits, whatever ideas justified the ‘demands’ of these ‘Identities’, were adopted with no elite thought as to Consequences and with no serious public debate allowed. (In 1965 Herbert Marcuse, refugee from the Nazis in 1933, had proposed, conveniently enough, that a ‘liberal’ state had to be intolerant of oppositional ideas in order to retain its liberal nature … and thereby introduced the toxic idea that a liberal state must be illiberal to stay liberal and that a great many ideas would therefore ‘not deserve’ to be discussed publicly – and Dr. Goebbels could not have put the dynamic more succinctly.)

The impatience and inexperience of callow Youth and the subsequent mockery of ‘maturity’; the Revolutionary Content (Deconstruction) and Method (imposition by vanguard elites) of the radical feminists and the subsequent declaration of the Constitution as ‘quaint’; the forced injection of huge numbers of individuals possessed of no working familiarity with the traditional ethos of the American democratic republic; the truckling acceptance of latter-phase Black separatist and Black Power demands; the wholesale politics of suspicion and hostility introduced by the Marxist roots of Identity Politics and Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”; the wholesale abandonment of any ideal of wide and deep and rational public deliberation and consensus and instead the ‘valorization’ of a politics of feelings and a politics of ‘emergency’ that refused to stop and look at consequences and costs … all of these the Dems (soon joined in their own way by the Republicans) loaded onto the nation’s buffet plate.

With nary a thought as to Costs and Consequences. And here We are today.

Sure enough, in 1971 Nixon had to abrogate the Bretton Woods Agreement of 1946 and take the country off the gold standard; economically, the 1970s were a queasy roller-coaster of shortages and assorted ‘-flations’ (stag-, de-, in-) even as the military reeled from its failures in Vietnam and the domestic polity was riven not only by the toxic whackeries enumerated above BUT ALSO by the Red-Queen Political Correctness that required all of the bubbling problems to be considered ‘progress’, ‘reform’, and ‘liberation’. The entire country became Alice’s Wonderland; by the time Bush-Cheney’s Deputy Mad Hatters launched their Iraq party, the country had been living in cloud-cuckoo land for quite a few years.

Rather than try to preserve the living standards that had made American workers the envy of the world, the Beltway (led by the Dems) decided on a sleazier strategy: they would collect votes from the Idenitites in exchange for pandering to every ‘demand’ and ‘agenda’ pushed their way; and at the same time they would collect cash from the corporations through PACs (Tip O’Neill’s shrewd legalization of the Gilded Age midnight bags stuffed with cash) for letting the corporations and the Wealth that controlled them do whatever they wanted to pursue ‘best returns’ around the planet.

Thus Wealth got to Outsource industrial jobs and facilities and so undercut Labor while the Deconstruction of the White, Male, Industrial (and Sexually Violent and Oppressive) culture made it seem like the most modern and ‘progressive’ of ideas.

Meanwhile, Reagan borrowed cash (the US became a ‘debtor’ rather than a ‘creditor’ for the first time on his watch) to keep Americans thinking that financially the country was still Number 1 and to keep the Identities happily burbling that Yes, you could have ALL THIS PROGRESSIVE CHANGE and still be Number 1.

When the borrowing ran out, there was under Clinton a wholesale selling-off of national productivity assets and the 1990s business vision was one of maniacal ‘downsizing’ (= getting rid of workers and jobs); the business of America seemed to be nothing more than shuffling papers .

And when THAT was done, then the Bubbles began.

And then the last of the Bubbles burst with a blast that did more damage than the entire Soviet nuclear arsenal could have managed.

And when the Dems took over as Bush sank into history, they were now so indentured to their Identity ‘bases’ and the corporate PAC-masters that they couldn’t take any corrective action without upsetting one or the other.

Thus they are now in trouble.

Thus, especially since the hoary victory-symbolism of a ‘black’ President only appeals to the still-ponytailed, Biden is being put forth as the Man for All Demographics.

To which I say Feh, Frak, and Phooey.

His “unique skills and attributes may prove ever more crucial to his administration’s success”. (p.93)

Note the weasel-word “may” – to keep the magazine from looking too foolish if nothing in this piece turns out to be true.

I suppose if he had three arms THAT would be characterizable as “unique” – but so what? ANYbody’s background and traits might be said to be “unique”.

He was elected when he was just 29, in 1972, ousting a veteran politician in that Boomery age when nobody over 30 could be trusted and – it was widely trumpeted – anybody under-30 was by nature possessed of the skills to successfully lead into the glorious future.

“Back home they compared him to Kennedy” (p.94) BUT shrewdly the piece doesn’t say WHICH Kennedy.

He is a “survivor”. (p.94) Of what? Of rape? Of cancer? Of the ever-useful play-dough concept of 'abuse'? Or just a 'survivor' of experiences that Life brings in its train? It doesn't matter - so long as you can tick off that 'box' as the Compleat Postmodern Person for All Seasons (and for All Voters). It's a step below 'victim' but THAT status would maybe make the Joe-ster look a little too un-masculine, so he'll settle for Survivor (although, as the military might say, without ribbons).

His “talents” have “matured”. (p.94) Yet his talents – as the piece will go on to reveal – are primarily those of the ‘talker’ and the ‘salesman’ … and when you have a Beltway that has now engorged as both National Nanny State and National Security State, and when you have an economic crisis from Hell, and when you have as a matter of deliberate national policy riven the polity through the corrosive acidity of Identity Politics, you need to concentrate on SUBSTANCE AND PRODUCT; Biden is a salesman without a worthwhile product to sell. But of course, for decades in the Beltway that hasn’t been a major concern.

Impressively (at first glance), the piece tackles the fact that in his abortive 1987 presidential bid Biden had said to a reporter that he would never accept a vice-presidential slot: “Absolutely, positively, unequivocally, Shermanesquely, no. No. No. I would not be anybody’s secretary of state in any circumstance I could think of, and I absolutely can say with certainty I would not be anybody’s vice president. Period. End of story. Guaranteed. Will not do it”. (p.94)

Bowden asked the Salesman about that rather clear statement in preparing this piece. In response the Salesman “shrugged”: “That was absolutely positively true when I said it. I swear to God. Ask anybody. I never, never, never, never aspired to be vice president”.

But that was then, apparently.

Bowden expands on Biden’s background and heritage as a car-salesman, exemplified in one of his trademark statements: “Here’s the deal”.

But that’s one of the most glaring problems – deficiencies – in American politics nowadays: there’s all this strategizing and all these ‘deals’ and yet no serious Vision or Plan, nor any of the thought or seriousness that would have to go into sustaining such a Vision or Plan. It’s all been a make-it-up-as-you-go-along sort of thing, and rely on your media contacts to ‘spin’ whatever you spew out as world-class mature political leadership and statesmanship.

Part of this goes back to Saul Alinsky’s “Rule for Radicals” – where that hugely popular 1960s Marxist figured you could take revolutionary Technique and deploy it in any ‘good’ cause – why let the Stalinists have such a great tool all to themselves? Thus, especially through the efforts of the radical feminists, revolutionary Technique was deployed in American politics AGAINST the American polity and ethos.

Of course, Alinsky didn’t imagine that revolutionary Technique would be deployed here in the service of revolutionary Content – that his own ideas would be blended in the radical-feminist kitchen with French Deconstruction in order to create a Universal Acid that would eat away Tradition, Ethos, Virtue, Reason, Maturity, Balance, Prudence, and Seriousness.

But that’s what happened and it was the Salesman approach – the ‘strategy’ of accepting whatever was on the table and trying to cut a deal acceptable to everybody who could elbow their way to the table – that destabilized and ultimately derailed American politics. And it was Biden’s generation of politicians, and Biden himself, that instituted this corruption and this treachery (there, I’ve said it).

From a high-school civics course (perhaps already “quaint”) you might imagine that in those new smoke-filled rooms, that Beltway ‘table’, The People would be represented there by the elected legislators. But no. The generations of pols going back to Biden – and surely the Dealer himself – aren’t going to be concerned for The People or the ‘common weal’ because all that is ‘abstract’ and actually have no ‘vote’ that an enterprising and play-dough flexible pol need be concerned about.

But then too, Saul Alinsky said in 1971 that there are no ideals and they shouldn’t ever be allowed to play a role in politics because – really, said Alinsky – ideals are simply rhetorical covers for ‘interests’ and there is no honor or idealism in politics or in the species (humans) that created politics. Nothing is on the level and the realistic Advocate must accept that or betray the sufferings, interests, agendas, and concerns of his/her chosen oppressees.

I cannot imagine a more poisonous and frakkulent assurance to give to a politician. And Alinsky (my Post on him is next on my list) gave that assurance not merely in the Machiavellian sense that one had to adapt to realities but rather in the Prophet’s sense of a fundamental and indisputable insight into the ultimate nature of human affairs and the human beings who generate those affairs.

Hence Our entire national politics has been corrupted and corroded: not only by the French Deconstructionists (building on the Marxist-Leninist corpus of wisdom, adopted whole hog by the assorted Identities, especially the radical-feminists) but also by Alinsky – who himself took his cue from the Marxist-Leninist playbook. Khrushchev turns out to have been right all along, though he envisioned the wrong modality by which he would be proven accurate: it was not the actual Soviet State that buried Us – it was the adoption of its whackulent and frakkulent ideas by IMPORTATION (the radical-feminists and assorted Black Power radicals) and by EMBRACE (by the vote-addled Dems who put the entire weight of the government behind them).

At this point what difference does it make whether Tweedle-Dum or Tweedle-Dee is elected President? Our very politics is so corroded now that nobody can survive the election process with any efficacious Vision intact. And if anybody were to … well, I think of JFK: in the course of a year or so he turned brother Bobby loose on the Mob; told the military that it couldn’t start World War 3 by backing up the invasion of Cuba by the Cuban ex-pats; told the CIA that had planned that invasion that he would like to break up their organization “into a thousand pieces”; and told the new Israeli premiere (in a July 5, 1963 official letter), that he would not stand still for an atomic-armed Israel in the cauldron of the Middle East … and a couple of months later he was killed by a ‘magic’ bullet fired, impossibly, as part of a fusillade by one lone whacko who managed to be both in front of and behind the limo at the same time and got off more shots with more precision than Rambo (who always used automatic weapons in the ‘spray’ mode), and Sergeant York (who took his time picking off his targets), and James T. Kirk (whose fazers didn’t even have aiming-sights and were simply fired point-blank). Yah.

We had stepped through the looking-glass and into the realm of ‘magic’ 50 years ago. And have simply been digging Ourselves in deeper ever since.

I don’t’ know whether Biden’s being “on the fringe” of Obama’s advisors is the way the Joe-ster wants it or whether Obama’s flaks now have to explain how a man whom the President has kept at arm’s length is now suddenly spun as co-president and trusted adviser. Bowden takes the line (p.95) that the Joe-ster didn’t want to be a “pain in the ass” to the Prez, so he “carved out a dynamic role” for himself … Yah.

“Joe Biden doesn’t just meet you, he engulfs you”. (p.95) Readers of a certain age will recall that this was precisely the M.O. of LBJ, whose bottomless confidence and bonhomie turned out to mask both a ruthlessness and a capacity for manipulation that created far far more troubles for the nation for any good that they did. And again, a democratic deliberative polity doesn’t require elected officials who ‘engulf’ nor a ‘politics of engulfment’ – but, revealingly, that’s precisely what We now have: citizens are continually bethumpt and engulfed by this and that ‘outrage’ and ‘emergency’ and stampeded into supporting (or, increasingly) merely accepting this or that Beltway initiative.

Bowden admits – decently enough – that Biden “is a confident and skillful public speaker, to be sure, but he is best at rousing the converted”. (p.96) This puts the Joe-ster right up there (or down there) with Teddy K, the Great Trumpeter (as in elephant). It is precisely this appeal-to-the-base approach that has suppressed consensus-building, persuasion, and reasonable debate in American politics, and replaced them with nothing but emotional outpouring whose extreme expression is somehow supposed to be a functional substitute for careful thought and discussion. The essence of Crapulence erected into a Plan.

Nor can it be anything but puffery to assert that “Biden’s special talent isn’t speaking, but talking”. (p.96) To ‘speak’ requires a serious vision and plan (nor does Teddy’s ‘dream’ approach the required heights), while ‘talking’ is something you can do about any old thing and kill time pleasantly enough while keeping folks feeling good and happy. Which, come to think of it, has been the Democratic political approach for quite some time.

In a stunning example of the chutzpah of contemporary spinmeistering, Bowden then says that “Though plenty smart, Biden is not an intellectual … An indifferent student at the University of Delaware and Syracuse University College of Law – he describes the latter as ‘boring’ – Biden got by with prodigious cramming sessions. Today, by contrast, he is described by Tony Blinken, Biden’s national-security adviser, as a compulsive studier who likes to be over-briefed”. (p.97)

To which one can only respond politely: “Ovvvvvvvvvvvvvvv Courrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrssssssse.”

How is anybody supposed to trust the word of a hired hand who owes his entire status and paycheck to his boss? That’s like asking a military judge if he’s truly ‘independent’.

And since in the very next paragraph Bowden (no doubt prompted) intuits that “As a senator, his proudest legislative accomplishment is the Violence Against Women Act of 1994” then you can see just how deeply connected the Biden-bored-with-law is to the frakkulently anti-constitutional legislation about which EVEN BIDEN HIMSELF ADMITTED “it may be a bad law but it sends a great message”.

THIS is precisely a clarion indicator of Biden’s personal inadequacy as an attorney and his official insufficiency as a legislator: being at heart nothing more than a Salesman, he is interested only in the ‘deal’ and not in any larger issues of Validity, Workability, Consequences or Costs.

Teddy K at least had that frakkulent and whackulent ‘Dream’; the Joe-ster merely has ‘the deal’ – cut in the PC-era’s version of the old ‘smoke-filled room’ among demanding Identities and professional ‘advocacies’, entrepreneurs with an eye for wherever the Beltway was going to spend its cash, and civil servants looking to make sure their board was Correctly positioned for the coming Wave.

Unsurprisingly, that Act of Biden’s initially ran into some negative Supreme Court review. But what survived judicial review was frakkulent enough: the queasy distinction-without-a-difference between ‘civil’ and ‘criminal; the deployment of police power within the theretofore Constitutionally sacrosanct realm of the Family and the Citizen’s Home&Hearth; the deployment of that police power on the single-party, ex-parte say-so of a complaining individual; the removal of any police discretion as to whether they could or should deploy that police power; the technically shrewd but substantively repugnant gamesmanship of loosening evidentiary rules by claiming that the Domestic Violence(DoVi) procedure was ‘merely civil’ while simultaneously enshrining any court’s Order stemming from an eventual Hearing as ‘criminal’; and in many States the maintenance of a DoVi registry, EVEN IF the male (almost always) was found innocent by the Court at Hearing.

And so the accurate descriptor that the Act “broadened law enforcement’s tools to protect women from abusive partners” is grossly insufficient, and probably not accidentally so: as with a city broadening a downtown avenue, the space to do such broadening comes from demolishing buildings along the street. Protocols governing the entrance of the government police- power into the domestic area were regressed back to a more primitive era when the Sovereign authority could enter the home of the subject; rules of evidence designed to protect the Citizen against the arbitrary deployments of the Sovereign authority and to narrow and refine the scope of any such authority – all were regressed in order to make room for this ‘broadening’.

Thus, in order to create the required ‘space’ within the American political, social and Constitutional ethos, much of the existing ethos had to be demolished – which is precisely what the philosophical policy of Deconstruction is designed to do.

Worse, in the name of ‘emergency’, the ancient demon of ‘delation’ was resurrected: the word of one person would be enough, unsupported, to trigger the police-power, as happened in both the Soviet and Nazi regimes. (It is inconceivable to me how so many of these truly frightening policies can be accepted by so many as ‘progressive’ when, in historical truth, they are actually profoundly ‘regressive’.)

In defense of the Act against substantive objections, Biden himself made the stunningly revealing comment that “It may be a bad law, but it sends a great message” – which is and shall ever remain a glaring indicator of how the American legal system AND American legislative integrity were profoundly derailed in the early 1990s by the ‘governance feminism’ initiatives that flooded in during the Billary administration (but with high levels of ‘bipartisan’ support) and with Biden leading the charge.

Clearly, despite the fact that the proposed legislation was considered “bad” by some legislators, and apparently was accepted as bad by Biden himself, YET STILL he continued to support the Act because of its symbolic value, that it would send a “great message”.

This is a landmark example of the awful confluence of ‘symbolic politics’ with ‘emergency politics’ and the ‘politics of stampede’ and the ‘politics of imposition’ (i.e. it’s not a good law but the government is going to make people go along with it anyway).

So to describe somebody who could work this ‘deal’ as being in any way helpful to the country is really a stretch. From Reagan the Actor to Biden the Salesman … does not seem to me to be much of progress.

Meanwhile, Bowden makes great note (p.105) of Biden’s down-home simplicity (going out to a movie complex with da wife when he’s home in Delaware, haw-hawing with a train conductor) in order to establish the Joe-ster’s creds as John Q. Public and a Friend of the White, Ethnic, Industrial, Macho, Family-Oriented, Male. That same creature that, to a sizable gimlet-eyed and sensible-shoed contingent of the Party’s base, is also Sexually Violent, Rapist, and Oppressive by Nature, constituting by its very existence a kulak class, an Infamous Thing which must be crushed forthwith.

Alas for Bowden and the Dems and Biden. It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this (that marvelous line, delivered in the last scene of “Judgment at Nuremberg” by Burt Lancaster’s now-convicted Nazi judge to Spencer Tracy’s Chief Justice of the Tribunal). The entire menu of Revolutions of the Identities would quickly and easily take over the polity, would indeed be greeted as liberators, with the powerful assistance of the Democratic Party; the evil Males and all their pomps and all their works would go the way of the Dodo or be reduced to the metrosexual, female-dependent clothes-horses or slackers We see everywhere today; the Goose would be killed but the Golden Eggs would continue to appear (magically, as in Teddy K’s ‘Dream’); and the entire country would be ushered into the broad sunlit uplands of transgression and rainbow-parity by an all-knowing, intuitive, and more than vaguely lesbian Nanny State.

And the Joe-ster and his ilk and his political spawn would broker The Deal! (The Most Reverend Teddy K presiding).

Now the Dems must pray with the late Hirohito: events have turned out not necessarily to our advantage. AND as was true of the Japanese militarist government in late 1944, so now it’s true of the Dems in late 2010: the actual Costs and Consequences of their frakkulent fever-dreams can no longer be hidden.

History is coming. Biden’s ‘deals’ – like von Papen’s in January of 1933 – will prove to have been too clever by half, and the only achievement of the Deal will be that the Vampire is invited in through the front door.


*In the Friday, September 24, ‘Wall Street Journal’, which post-dates the publication of the October issue of ‘The Atlantic’, the Dems are reported as planning to focus on Youth and Minorities – so the puff-piece’s efforts to make Biden look like Joe Q. Public may already be yesterday’s scam … errr, news.

I would also add that of all the major Identity-Minority groups (Black, Women, Immigrant, Youth, and Israeli Realm) it is precisely Youth and Immigrants who would be the most unfamiliar either with the American ethos as it existed before Identity Politics and Deconstruction or with American society - built upon a solid productive base - as it existed  before the Dems and then the Beltway generally implemented with gusto their Two-Source Plan: get votes by implementing Identity agendas with no thought as to consequences while you simultaneously rake in PAC money from Wealth and corporations that will be busily downsizing and out-sourcing the productive base infrastructure in search of larger immediate profits.

**The Australian writer J.M. Coetzee, in his 2007 book “Diary of a Bad Year”, reflects on the shock in South Africa in the 1990s when apartheid and its reservation of job-eligibility based on race was finally eliminated AND SUDDENLY returned by the ANC as government policy favoring blacks. Coetzee observes that “to liberals there could be no step more retrogressive, a step back into the old days when the colour of one’s skin counted for more than education or aspirations or diligence”. When liberals suddenly in the mid-1960s here had to accept that race-based imposition was a ‘good’ thing, the quintessential corrosion and corruption of liberalism as a coherent political position in this country was set in motion.

The only solution that follow-on Identity Politics Theory and Deconstruction Theory could offer was to assert that coherence was overrated and that incoherence in the service of liberation was no vice. But THAT gambit works only for a short bit, and then it corrupts and corrodes the very Ground of politics and any decent, mature human life at all.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Coincident with his official visit to the UK, an article has appeared in ‘The [London] Times On-line’, reprinted from the [London] ‘Times Literary Supplement’.

The piece is by the religion editor of the TLS, Rupert Shortt, who reviews a rather upbeat book entitled “Benedict XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed” by one Tracey Rowland.

Rowland’s rather upbeat approach to the subject provides an opportunity for Shortt to take the downbeat approach in his review, which he does. He’s nice enough about it, and comprehensive – and it is that very comprehensiveness that offers me an opportunity to make some comments about Shortt’s review and the general trend of Things Catholic since the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, now 45 years ago.

First, Shortt notes that in Benedict’s own volume of memoirs, published in 2000 and covering the years from his birth (1927) to his elevation to the Archbishopric of Munich (1977) then-Ratzinger did not mention the Holocaust or “the Jews” (Shortt’s term) even once. While a person’s memoirs are his own, and perhaps reflects an un-Correct set of personal priorities, it is a bit much to say that Ratzinger “leaves a sour taste in the mouth” because “given an ideal chance to deplore a catastrophe in which he had been a blameless bystander, [Ratzinger] instead chose to emphasize Hitler’s persecution of Catholics”.

But by 1977 the Israeli Realm had mastered the use of the Holocaust for its own purposes, and the American media had amplified that whole subject exponentially. But Shortt may be giving away a trade-secret of Correctness by taking Ratzinger to task for not Correctly putting himself on the record and – basically – ticking off that box on the Correct checklist.

And given his own religious background, Ratzinger is surely on solid ground by sharing his concern for Catholics. In fact, given that members of the Jewish faith had been historically given difficulties in pre-1933 Europe (although, especially in Wilhelmine and Weimar Germany and in the Polish and Russian territory they had developed a robust and comprehensive culture and in Germany had become rather deeply enculturated) it was probably more of a historical anomaly that the Catholics were persecuted.

(And, just to add a poignant note, recall that in the mid-1930s, as the Nazis tried to establish their hegemony over stubbornly recalcitrant Catholic Bavaria and the German South, Goebbels had tried to engineer a public-relations coup by having the State Prosecutor there bring charges against an entire monastery full of Catholic religious on charges of – wait for it – child sexual abuse.* The sturdy Bavarians refused to take that seriously and Goebbels had to back down, no doubt on the orders of a Hitler who realized that he wasn’t going to be changing a millennium-old religious culture of belief overnight. The man was not a complete fool.)

But as I indicated in the immediately previous Post, any totalizing State’s pretensions put it on a collision course with the ancient teaching of the Catholic Church, the essence of which is that there is a God and His Higher Law to which all States and monarchs and governments must conform and by Whom they all stand under judgement. And while in the course of human events national Catholic hierarchies tend to take the side of their national flocks and – alas – their nations, right or wrong, YET the core of the genuine foundational teaching of the Universal Church remains solid as a rock.

And that is gall and wormwood to State-friendly interests, especially when they are especially State-dependent. And this, nowadays, would include both the National Nanny-Regulatory State of the current Left as well as the National Security-Invasion State of the Rightists. (See the immediately previous Post.) So you can see where the Catholic Church is pretty much bound to dissatisfy a whole lotta powerful interests in the modern West, no matter which way it turns, unless it simply takes the ‘mainline Protestant’ approach of diluting itself into some form of a goo-goo religious Chowder-and-Marching-Band Society, spreading ‘liberation’ either in the form of self-indulgent ‘luv’ or in the form of democracy-by-bayonet-and-God's-Will.

And for those wondering where ‘liberation theology’ fit into all of this, it is that by the 1960s the Church became verrry leery of ‘revolution’ given its experience of the Soviet and Nazi revolutions (although Hitler had indeed taken dictatorial power legally, the Nazi and Stalinist Modus Operandi were similar in many vital, insidious, and bloody respects). And when the revolutionary Content and Method arose again, ‘baptized’ – its proponents imagined – by the Good Purpose and Good Intentions of ‘the poor’, the Church hierarchy, functioning as much as a keel and rudder as a sail**, worked to rein that horse in before it took the wagon (and the poor) over yet another revolutionary cliff, as had befallen the hapless Russian people in October of 1917 and subsequently.

Shortt won’t have any of this. Benedict, he says, made two big mistakes. First, “his discussion ignored the largely supine response to the Nazis of both clergy and laity”. Rather true, but grossly incomplete. Western clergy, laity, and commentators never had to face directly a brutal and bloody dictatorship on its own ground. There existed every possibility that if you stood up you – AND your family – would have suffered immediate and awful consequences.

Worse, for any prelate charged with responsibility for his flock, there existed the very real danger that the Nazis would simply start taking ANY members of an offending religious faith-group and use them as hostages or – as the Nazis (and the Kaiser’s forces before them) did in Occupied countries – shoot a bunch to shut-up the rest. Gandhi did not have to face this in the far more respectful – if not indulgent – British rule of India; there were no Gandhis or Martin Luther Kings in Nazi Germany because they would have been taken and executed long before they could work up to speed (as happened to the greatest of the resistant German churchmen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

So it’s not an impressive gambit for a later commentator to tar the Nazi-era German religious leadership and congregants as “supine” (although there were, as ever among humans, a few who went along to get along). A bishop or prelate or leader who declared opposition to the Nazis was risking not only his own life but the lives of his flock – men, women, and children – to State reprisals … and in the Nazi State, ‘reprisal’ tended to be on the extreme and bloody end of that term’s definitional range.

Secondly, says Shortt, Ratzinger “drew the highly contentious lesson that the Church can only resist dictatorships effectively when run as a very tight ship”.

Yeah, well, phooey.

First, the lesson is “contentious” only because there are a number of persons who – for any number of reasons, not to exclude political agendas and a reliance on sentimentality rather than rational deliberation – don’t like ‘tight ships’. And many of them are in the U.S., which in the years 1963-1968 experienced the Second Vatican Council, the success of the first-phase of the Civil Rights Revolution, the increasing failure (in so many respects) of the Vietnam War, the Summer of Love, the urban riots, three hugely significant assassinations (JFK, MLK,RFK), and – with an eye to the happy-face ‘success’ of Mao’s youthy and creatively-destructive ‘Cultural Revolution’ – a general sense of gaga over the positive possibilities of wide-ranging and free-range ‘revolution’ (radical feminism being the most organized fruit of Mao’s poisonous tree).

And it’s hugely significant that Shortt makes this classic objection to the Roman Catholic Vatican-heavy mode of governance: the ‘liberal’ Catholics of the Sixties were quite certain that ‘liberal democracy’ could work as well for the Church as it had for America itself. Which assumption seemed back in those days to be reasonable; America was a creative profusion of ‘democratic’ impulses and fever-dreams.

But now, given the inevitable (though never fully predictable) mutations and permutations imposed by almost half a century of vigorous History, there stands the awful Question: has American democracy been done in by too much Boomery, radical, fevered ‘democracy’? Is there any ‘there there’ any longer when you speak of ‘American society’ or ‘the American people’ as anything more than a geographically-defined term? Even Obama is trying to solve a problem he doesn’t dare admit exists: identity politics has shattered the American polity and any sense of common weal or common purpose, and enabled all sorts of ancient demons (Wealth (capital-W) being the most hoary of all) to return.

And – really – can you ever have a ‘radical democracy’?

If the Consequences of the Sixties are expressing themselves only now, half a century later, then perhaps the Church – and Benedict – will be proven right: that without some amount of serious guidance, very large bodies of folks are not going to be able to hold themselves together and sustain any effective sense of national identity. (Look at the mainstream Protestant churches in this country, for example, and ask yourself if they really remain vibrant and vital and distinctive religious communities of Christian belief.)

But of course, this comment of Shortt’s (did Benedict actually use the ‘tight ship’ image himself?) also emphasizes a verrry substantial difference in world view. A ‘ship’ is a constructed machine carrying a burthen of ‘souls’, a human community; moreover it requires a certain knowledge and skill to operate the ship safely, especially since its very reason for being is to traverse a very unpredictable and potentially lethal medium: the ocean, which is itself a potent brew of wind and weather and water – lots and lots of each.

THIS image captures many – but not all – of the major elements of the Church’s vision of humanity’s passage through History. You need a skilled and competent captain and crew to see this thing through, even as the passengers themselves conduct – within the parameters of the ship – their own lives and business.

But can you have a genuinely ‘democratic’ vision of humanity’s presence in this life and in human History and still subscribe to the ‘ship’ image? Surely not since 1968 or so, in the West, and certainly not in the U.S. ‘Total autonomy’ and the post-modern axiom that NOBODY can claim to really know what they’re doing to the extent that they can impose it on anybody else … you can’t very well run a ship and still remain congruent to current trends.***

But perhaps Human life together is neither a Ship nor a Garden, but just a ‘democracy’ of everybody doing what they can get away with and getting what they can get by ‘organizing’ and ‘pressuring’ for themselves and their preferred ‘group’ or ‘identity’ and figuring that there is no larger identity, no larger life, no Larger Life and no Larger Presence or Authority or Being. That’s a Flattening and ultimately enslaving and most surely dis-empowering approach, but in the short-run it sure LOOKS like a liberation … and if the Boomers loved anything more than not ever again being said No-to, they loved surfaces and appearances – since in their youthy salad days they hadn’t been around long enough to have to deal with the ‘bummer’ and ‘downer’ of Consequences and Limits and Reality (which last, by the by, post-modernism helpfully denies exists). Wheeee!

The question remains open at this point. But – if Benedict has bet on the right horse – humanity is still very much at sea on a storm-tossed ocean of existence, and in dire need of competence in order to stay afloat (in the metaphysical and moral, even more than the financial, sense).

Shortt’s conclusion is that the Pope’s memoir gives “the unintended impression … that its author, though urbane and intelligent, lacks common sense”. Which, come to think of it, could be the epitaph of an awful lot of elite commentators nowadays.

In the alternative, I would submit the very real possibility that the Pope’s wisdom – as the songster saith – “sank beneath them like a stone”. To use an image from the Cargo-Cult era of World War 2 in the South Pacific, when you know there are radio-waves, and are talking to South Seas Islanders who don’t even suspect the existence of such a dimension of reality and who are busily devising the best ritual for bringing the big silver birds filled with lotsa nice stuff, then your vision of how the world works is going to be lost on even the most elite of the native leaders.

I suppose there are innumerable modern elites who would take umbrage at being compared to Cargo-Cult natives, but there it is.

Ditto when Shortt then goes on to judge Benedict personally un-ambitious but still a “very ambitious promoter of his own model of church government”.

First, the whole idea underlying Identity Politics – especially in the Postmodern era – is that you promote your own visions and versions of how the world is supposed to work with gimlet-eyed, almost fanatical, resolve.

Second, Shortt seems to think that Benedict’s vision is just his own, personal, Benedict’s-eye-view of how the Church should operate. Perhaps Shortt confuses the Protestant polities with the Roman Catholic Church. But Benedict is standing-tall for the historic Roman Catholic vision, and also for the prudence that says If you’re going to change the foundations of a standing and occupied skyscraper, you really have to do so verrrrrry carefully and with a lot of serious thought; because even if in theory your changes will work, the consequences of your being wrong will wreck an awful lot of irreplaceable and vital human structure. (A thought that proved – alas – a Bridge Too Far for the eager churchy-embodiments of the post-Vatican 2 Boomers.)

Shortt goes on to accuse – gently – the Pope of “legerdemain” in his memoirs: from being a scholar who looked for more rational and reformed changes in the era before Vatican 2, Benedict went to being a rather careful (may I suggest ‘prudent’?) man in the era following Vatican 2’s termination in 1965. Shortt sees this as some form of conceptual inconsistency, and intentional at that. Although you could spend a whole lotta time with a Cray supercomputer trying to find the conceptual consistency in the agendas of today’s assorted Identities or even within each Identity; so, for example, trying to rationally harmonize the many sets, sub-sets, alter-sets, and oppositional-sets of overall Feminism at this point would be like trying to find conceptual consistency in the assorted Mensehivik, Plekhanovite, right-deviationist, left-deviationist, Old Bolshevik and New Bolshevik factions of Communism in the 1910s.

I can imagine Benedict’s thought as quite rational and reasonable: he saw opportunities for substantive reform but then realized that – given the tenor of the 1960s (not at all evident when the Council was conceived by John XXIII in 1959 nor even when it was convened in 1962) – the whole ‘change thing’ was going to go into frenzied overdrive and threaten to vibrate so violently as to wreck the whole structure. Like a car stuck in overdrive and rocking its own motor off the mounts.

So too Shortt thus accuses the author of the book here as subscribing to a “fantasy” – i.e. that Benedict has been fully consistent. To the extent that any serious thinker is ‘fully consistent’ over the course of decades, and to the extent that any serious thinker tries to adapt his presentations of his basic ideas to an idiom of expression suitable to the times in which he finds himself, and to the extent that his basic vision of things has remained steady and stable – to that extent I’d say that Benedict has been very respectably consistent, and far more so than an awful lot of ‘cutting-edge’ and ‘transgressive’ and even ‘progressive’ thinkers on the world scene today. (Which statement is not my commercial for pre-Vatican 2 Catholicism in every single aspect of practice.)

Perhaps Shortt here is simply trying to offer a counter-toned review of Rowland’s upbeat book.

Shortt notes that in the late 19th century, “Enlightenment rationalism was now to be answered with a Catholic counter-rationalism”. He refers to the deep embrace by the Church of Thomas Aquinas’s comprehensive – and I mean that in the fullest, pre-Modern and pre-Postmodern sense – attempt to rationally comprehend the vision of Humanity and its World as created by a loving God yet accessible to humans’ splendid Gift of a capacity for Thought and Self-Reflection that would guide the more universally mammalian Instinct and the unique, vital, but hard-to-master human Emotions.

The Catholic approach has always been an effort to deploy Mind in the service of a Soul that constitutes the most genuine reality of being a Human (Emotions indispensably a part of it as well), all the while understanding that the Human consisted not only of Mind and Emotion but also of a very real Soul, which was created in the image and likeness of a God Who actively seeks nothing less than a relationship-to-genuine-fulfillment with each Human and all Humans.

That’s quite a vision – and I challenge anybody to come up with as comprehensive a Model as Aquinas came up with (himself building upon both ancient Greek and early Christian thinkers). Indeed, while they have individually come up with interesting insights, the whole corpus of Western philosophers and thinkers since the beginning of the Modern Era (1600 or so) can be looked at as a whole bunch of players with their individual instruments trying to play, or even conceive of, a symphonic piece without reference to a Composer or Conductor. Would you pay good money (so to speak) to listen to an evening full of THAT at your local philharmonic hall?

And you always have to factor in – especially these days – a certain selective straw-man approach to commentary on the Church: you pick out what you don’t like, claim that the Church has been doing nothing but that all along, and then triumphantly claim that therefore the Church has to go (or at least ‘change’) in precisely the way you’d like to see. This is evident not only in the matter of deep philosophical and theological discussion but also in such more politically-driven and socio-cultural matters as the ordination of women, the morality of abortion, and the current fixation with a sex-abuse that – however much it may have been an active issue decades ago – appears to have been addressed with some real success (few newly-committed cases are to be found, certainly compared to the lurid intimations you find in the press).

Ratizinger, as Shortt notes, has always been concerned with “structural reform”. Good for him. That isn’t to say ‘foundational change’, but as a professional churchman Ratzinger has always been concerned with preserving the foundations, updating the structural elements that transmit the vitalities of the foundational elements to successive long-ages of human history, and effectively communicating, proclaiming, and sharing the vitality of the Church’s vision with all Humanity. Oh, and that presumes, of course, that you have to maintain a certain consistency of institutional identity. Oh, and that presumes that in the Church’s reality, God is always breathing Genuine and Ultimate Life into her so that she can continue to perform her God-given Mission.

It was for that complex of reasons that Ratzinger – and he was hardly alone – “decided that the liberal genie had to be returned to the bottle” after Vatican 2 began to gyrate wildly off the rails.

Genies – as anybody familiar with fairy-tales knows (at least if the tales haven’t been gutted by the mavens of Correctness) – are notoriously unreliable beings: you think you have formulated a reely reely great Wish, but then the Genie gets going on it and the next thing you know you’ve got what you asked for … but it’s somehow creating a whole mess of trouble that you never imagined but that the Genie helpfully instructs you were consequences contained logically within your dream-wish in the first place. (And can you say Iraq War?)

Or, to look at it another way, Benedict – like a shrewdly experienced emergency services director – realized early on that no matter how great the ‘emergency’ to which you must respond, you can’t drive an ambulance (or a dozen ambulances) at 120mph on crowded city streets.

At this point I’d like to propose something.

For all the decades since 1965 the appearance, if not so often the substance, of Great and Good Change has been maintained in the example – set forth to the world – of the United States: immensely rich and powerful, able to Change every old which way and still be Number One. In that context the Church’s rather prudent caution (she’s seen a lot of Change breed frakkulent unimagined consequences over the course of 2000 years) could easily be spun as stodgy, fuddy-duddy and worse – oppressive, hateful, insensitive, and you-name-it.

But it’s 2010, and 1965 was 45 years ago. And the United States – especially to eyes not soused by rah-rah American media ‘reporting’ – has come a substantial cropper. Its economy is a shambles and may never recover, its economic primacy is gone for good, and domestically its polity is riven and wracked by Identity Politics and the cumulative wrack of many decades of many revolutions; while in foreign affairs its ability to shape events is hugely reduced.

So too with American ‘liberals’ of the post-Vatican 2 era of the 1960s: whatever they demand now, the background context of ‘ever-changing and always-growing Success’ has dissolved into wrack and ruin.

This is NOT simply to say that some sort of neutral Hegelian thesis-antithesis dynamic is doing its inevitable thing. It is, rather, to say that so very much of what was embraced after 1968 or so has proven itself to have borne some awfully lethal poisonous fruit and that damage has now been done that may never be fully repaired. And that – in the eyes of future (read: unbiased) historians, the 21st century may now appear to them as similar to the West’s experience after the 6th century A.D., after the fall of Rome’s hugely advanced level of civilization and culture. (I read somewhere once that after Rome’s fall in the 500s,the average European ‘peasant’ did not achieve an equivalent level of living until the 1800s.)

We are not merely witnessing, perhaps, the end of a ‘change cycle’ and the counter-reaction. We are, I am saying, facing the cumulative Consequences of what can only be seen as the West’s self-destruction. Not through one huge series of world wars, such as World War 1 destroyed the achievements of late-19th century European civilization and culture. Rather, it has been a self-destruction through whackulently embraced Deconstruction.

Khrushchev did not bury the West. Rather, the West buried itself – and, in a hell-hot irony – it was precisely the collapse of the Soviet State that lured the U.S. into its most virulent frenzy of self-deconstruction (those years burbled by feministicals to be the flowering of their success under the benevolent aegis of Billary).

The Church has watched this as she once watched Rome herself slide down into the 500s.

You can imagine, then, why frenzied American criticism, liberal and progressive or fundamentalist, doesn’t make as much impression upon her as the American organizers would like. As National Nanny State – worshipping the fatuous frakkulence of ‘total individual autonomy’ – or as National Security State – worshipping the national government as a god (if only Bush had a horse to make a Senator!) … the Church has seen this sort of thing before. Been there, seen that.

Atheism – the presumption either that there is no God or that there are many gods (which is really a form of the old paganism) – is just a flicker of distracting energy on the surface of a dying thing.

This, I think, is a profound reality with which most Americans have not yet come to grips. But it is truly the key operative dynamic of history in Our time and for the forseeable future.

What resources – philosophical, theological, maturational – America and Americans possess to deal with this reality … now THAT is an interesting question.

But the Church, I would say, will draw on 2000 years of experience and on a Resource that is not dependent on the material world … and, if I were a betting person, will help shape whatever comes after Us.


*One article reports as an outrage the following: there are in the UK priests who have been convicted of some form of child sexual-abuse and served at least one year in prison and who are still carried on their diocesan rolls and listed in the comprehensive directory of priests. And this despite “recommendations” made by the sentencing judges that the convict be “laicized”.

A couple of thoughts. First of all, in this day and age it doesn’t take a lot to get charged or even convicted of sexually abusing a child (which, let me say, is NOT to imply that some of those convicted did not commit outrageous, genitally or otherwise seriously invasive acts with children). And if you were to draw a one-year sentence on such a conviction, that would seem extremely low, opening up the very real possibility that the conviction was for a relatively low-grade act.

Second, you can be an ordained priest and yet not practicing ministry and still be carried on the official rolls. You can even be barred by your bishop from any public ministry and still be carried on the rolls, although to all appearances you would be living as a ‘lay person’.

Third, it is then quite possible that a bishop took pity on a priest – perhaps of advanced years – who is released from prison and at this late stage in life, especially given the specific nature of priestly training and the job market in all the Western countries nowadays. And thus the bishop might decide that the Church still owed him some modest support, and carries him on the rolls to ensure health insurance or a stipend to see him through his remaining years.

This, to the professional advocacies, is gall and wormwood and – perhaps taking a page from Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” – provides yet another opportunity to keep the flames fanned: they want the priest – who has now not only lost his life’s occupation but also any possibility of livelihood AND has completed (and physically survived) a prison sentence – to be cast into the outer darkness.

This is rather a bit too much of a muchness. And it is not a judge’s place to be ‘recommending’ religious disciplinary action to the Church. The State’s legal process has been carried through, a sentence imposed and completed, and that’s as far as the State’s writ runs.

I imagine that if the offender-priest had been ‘defrocked’ the established advocacies would then declare their ‘outrage’ that he is still allowed to receive the sacraments and hasn’t been excommunicated (the Church punishment of being completely thrown out of the Church, which can be imposed upon any Catholic if the bishop sees fit). That gambit would fit rather well with Alinsky’s pointers on technique: always keep the issue on the front burner no matter how much you have to change your agenda to do so.

I would also point out that the technicalities of the statutes as most are written do not conform to the formal and official psychiatric manuals’ diagnoses: a ‘pedophile’ is compulsively attracted to prepubescents, whereas it is quite possibly that a number of these convicted priests were actually found guilty of an offense in regard to an adolescent or at least someone under the age of majority (usually 16 or 18).

**On a sailing ship, the keel serves to reach down deep into the water and stabilize the hull as it responds to the pressure exerted by the sails’ catching the wind and tends to heel over to one side or another; the rudder steers the moving ship. The sails high up on their masts and yards are designed for the opposite – or, better, complementary - purpose of catching the wind and harnessing its power to create movement. Both forces are necessary and complementary: the keel and rudder control motion while the sails provide it.

***And as I so often say, how then can you run an actual Navy of ships in the current Correct post-modern era?

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Monday, September 20, 2010


Just a quick Post because this point caught my attention.

Speaking to the Brits on his visit there, and they of course being the folks who struggled against Hitler as that monster tried to bomb them into submission with planes and starve them with submarines, and he of course being a man who spent time in the German military as a barely-eligible teen towards the end of that war, Benedict said to sovereign and people: “Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society”.

A quick reading might lead somebody to file this under Pope Decries Nazis As Godless and move on to something more bright and shiny.

But it strikes me that there’s more to it here.

Wishing to eradicate God from society is NEITHER the invention NOR the sole conceptual property of that abhorrent bunch known as the National Socialist German Workers Party. NOR is that game-plan the protected property of any of the Nazi thinkers, so-called.

I wish here to make no simplistic correlations. But I do point out that eradicating God from society – against which the Church has struggled even longer than the Brits of the Blitz generation – is high on the to-do list of a number of politically-active groups nowadays. In fact, some of those groups are rather proud of their project.

Or, to put it another way, although the Nazi threat is no more, the ‘Godless’ threat is alive and well – and coming at the Church from the heart of the West (as it has now devolved).

And alongside the Godless society is that other pillar that Hitler also used but did not own: the Totalizing Government: “nothing against the State; nothing outside the State; nothing above the State”.

Having created so vast a vacuum, the Godless State is incapable of refusing the temptation to become the functional equivalent of God.

In this regard, the Nanny-Regulatory State is as lethal as the National Security State. Indeed, Hitler’s ideologically-driven State was both a Nanny and a Security State. The State would form you and the State would protect you.

And, of course, then use you in its ‘logical’ Mission to spread the benefits of its domination to everybody else it can. But who wouldn’t want to turn over their life to such a great Purpose?

The Pope is on the right track here. And both the Nanny and the National-Security demons can sense that.

All humans dedicated to a fundamental and genuinely liberating human liberty – rather than the childish dampdream of a ‘total autonomy’ – need to look with a more skeptical and penetrating vision at the dynamics that are driving their world today.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010


A brief Post.

It was revealed that Edwin Newman had died on August 13; his family wanted time to grieve privately.

One of the generation of American newscasters who lived through World War 2, he trailed clouds of the glory of journalism in those times. Provided with the perfect foil of a truly and rather totally evil Third Reich and the seemingly-triumphant onrush of the Axis Powers, journalists – Ed Murrow comes most vividly to mind – rose to the occasion by telling it the way it was in real time; Murrow did broadcasts from London in the midst of the Blitz, on an overseas hookup with Americans huddled by their radios in the living room.

It didn’t really do American journalism much good when, once the Cold War settled into something of an established rhythm, and the genuine evil of Jim Crow had had the legal foundations knocked out from under it by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, American journalism started to create its own ‘truly and totally evil enemies’ to keep things going, accepting pretty much whole-hog the claims of this or that Identity of the newly-raised-up Identity Politics; each needed its own ‘evil enemy’ and each needed the media to amplify that claim in order to lubricate this or that demand and this or that agenda.

Herbert Marcuse (see immediately previous Post) and Saul Alinsky (Post forthcoming) were two of the ‘intellectual’ influences who helped this unhappy dynamic along. Marcuse, building upon his own experience of the Third Reich (from which he prudently escaped to America in 1933), joined the French postwar intellectuals in mistrusting ‘majorities’ and sanctifying the opposition by ‘minorities’ – which was a fine elegy on the underappreciated native German opposition to Nazism back in the day, but did not translate well to a working democratic Republic (for all its incompleteness and faults) like the U.S.

Alinsky – not to steal my own thunder here – tried to ‘baptize’ European ‘revolutionary’ methodology by simply setting it forth as merely a ‘Technique’ that could be translated, along with its presumptions (anything ‘established’ is probably baaad, and it’s a Machiavellian world deep down so ‘ethics’ get in the way of doing a Great and Good Thing) to any country – an established and working democratic Republic, say – without any ill consequences. After all, since the Established Thing is baaad anyway, then ill consequences are merely going to hasten its demise.

Which, alas, proved to be too, too true. And here We are today, trying to keep Our balance on the increasingly tilting deck of Our once great Vessel. Such is Our Modern American Reality and will be, now, for a long, long time. If not for the rest of America’s time as an existing entity on the planet.

Anyhoo, Newman had a thing for the English language – not only its beauties and nuances and tremendous capacities, but also – in an Orwellian sense – as a conveyor of truth. A language developed its rule of grammar for no less a reason than to achieve reliability and clarity in the conveyance of truth – perhaps, if you want to get ontological about it, Truth.

This sterling and – as it turns out – indispensable maxim was always annoying to kids: Grammar seemed to a school-child in the pre-1970 era as nothing less than or more than an arbitrary punishment cooked up by souless and ‘no-life’ old teachers to ruin an otherwise groovin’ afternoon.

And to impatient ‘revolutionaries’ Grammar was simply one more level of an oppressive and deceitful civilization’s layered fraudulence designed to distract, derail, obstruct and in divers other ways oppress everyone who didn’t belong to the Club. Crush the infamous thing!

And the Seventies - that queasy decade – were trying hard to get beyond the ‘uptight’ Fifties while also getting beyond the un-showered, unwashed denims and beads of the Flower Children of ’67 and the in-your-face combat-clothed Yippies of ’68. Enter polyester and Disco, and ‘loose’ – about everything.

Grammar clearly had to go.

It was not only ‘oppressive’ but ‘elitist’, requiring folks not used to employing it to jump through Honky’s hoops. And, of course, it was indubitably a sinister oppression designed by ‘mehnnnnn’ purely for that gender’s world-historic and sempiternal project of keeping non-white, non-male, youthy plants from running free along the Garden floor. Happy-face, Grammar surely was NOT.

Well – that was then. But since the U.S. is still – as of this writing – a going concern, then Grammar must still have a role to play. To the extent, anyway, that truth needs to be conveyed. (And I leave it to you to consider just how vital a priority that has become nowadays.)

I want to give just one example of the importance of Grammar.

The Framers – for whatever else you may have against them – were classically educated and a number of them were lawyers who had been trained in working in the fields of the Law. Then, as now, they knew the value of Grammar: a single comma could mean the difference between a very good and a very bad outcome, for the clients if they were in civil practice, or for a nation if they were engaged in the task of ‘nation-building’ or – more specifically – ‘government- building – which is precisely what they were up to at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

In the Fifth Amendment (part of the first ten Amendments, known as the Bill of Rights) they took up the question of criminal liability and process. Just how much scope should the government have in deploying its sovereign punitive power against its own Citizens if a Citizen were accused of a crime?

They answered with the careful text of the Amendment: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger …”

Note that comma there after “forces” and its mate after “Militia”. They serve a huge purpose: they add “Militia” to the main thought that the only time a Citizen in uniform can be held to answer for a serious crime without the assessment of a Gran Jury is if he is in the land or naval forces – or in the Militia – when those forces are operating in time of War.

It follows that if a Citizen is even in the military, he still has to be indicted by a Grand Jury – an independent jury of Citizens called from their usual daily occupations to assess whether the government’s attorney has enough of a case to warrant an actual indictment; and if not, not.

If you think about it for a minute, this is huge. The Framers were so cautious about the government – and the military – wielding the sovereign criminal power that unless there was an actual declared War going on, they didn’t even allow uniformed service-members to be put on trial unless a Grand Jury approved the merit of the government’s case.

That is quite a bit of fencing-in that the Framers did.

Throughout the 19th century the military chafed at this stricture. It did not wish to share judicial authority with ‘civilians’ – either civilian members of a Grand Jury or civilian judges. It wanted its court-marital authority to extend over all military personnel regardless of whether there was a War on or not.

It got so bad that in the 1890s the Supreme Court, which had to keep dealing with ‘military justice’ cases throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, finally opined that there were two ways of ‘interpreting’ that troublesome set of commas.*

The military understanding of the Grammar was that the phrase “when those forces are operating in time of War” only applied to the Militia. Although the rules of Grammar would have then required that there be no comma at all after “Militia” – but even THEN the “when those forces” phrase would STILL have applied to both the “land and naval forces” and “the Militia”. And, of course, the word “forces” in the “when those forces” phrase precisely repeats the use of the word “forces” in the first phrase about “the land or naval forces” … so it sure looked clear as a bell that the Framers didn’t want the military and its drumhead-courtsmartial afflicting Citizens, even servicemen, any more than was absolutely and minimally necessary.

Acquiescing to the government’s urging in 1895, the Court decided that there were two ways of ‘interpreting’ that pesky comma: it could, as clearly indicated in the general understanding of the rules of grammar, apply in such a way that the “in time of War” stricture applied to the army, navy, AND the Militia.

Or, the Court invented, there was an alternative – non-conventional interpretation: which, by the by, was exactly the opposite: despite the established rules of Grammar deployed by the oh-so-careful Framers, a reasonable person might opt for the alternative explanation that the commas were there merely for decoration and, anyway, applied only to “the Militia” and not to “the land or naval forces”.

In other words, the word ‘horse’ might be taken to mean any member and only any member of that group of living entities classified in the Linnean system as Equus caballus. OR the word ‘horse’ might be taken to mean anything NOT a horse. And the Court – giving some harrumphy thought to the matter – decided to opt for the second ‘non-conventional interpretation’. (A quick brush-up on Linnean classification is here.)

And so, based on that jaw-droppingly whackulent ‘interpretation’, the Court tried to solve the problem of just how much authority and scope the Constitution permitted to the ‘military justice’ system by claiming that Grammar was soooo flexible that it could mean either ‘A’ or ‘not-A’ with equal ease.

After a performance like that, it was only an afterthought when, after hearing the innumerable complaints of the Greatest Generation about ‘military justice’ as they came back from World War 2, Harry Truman told the Pentagon to get a Constitutional system of justice and – after waiting to see if he would lose the 1948 election (he didn’t) – the Pentagoons came up with what is now known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

If you are ready to believe a number of impossible things before breakfast, then you are ready for the military’s gambit: borrowing Stalin’s shrewd idea about courts and trials that if you control all the players and thus can be assured of the outcome, you can then make all the grand and glorious guarantees and assurances you need to (Stalin's mid-1930s Soviet Constitution actually provided on paper more guarantees of civil rights and liberty to Soviet citizens than the U.S. Constitution provided to Americans).

Thus – to this day – the military equivalent of the Constitution’s independent, multi-membered ‘Grand Jury’ is a single officer, subordinate to the general or admiral who decides to bring the court-martial proceeding in the first place. And if the Boss doesn’t like the recommendation of the underling (assuming any military subordinate would risk promotion and career to give any other recommendation than the one the Boss wanted) then the Boss can change it.

Which pretty much guarantees that the accused will go through the court-martial mill: where, by the by, the military owns, employs, and operates the judge, the jury, the prosecutor, the cops, and most of the witnesses. Oh, and the defense counsel. On top of owning the defendant, of course.

All on the basis of a couple of commas in the Constitution, the established rules of Grammar, and a Supreme Court that was looking to get on the national bandwagon and defer to the military.

You can see where things can go, once Grammar and the value of ‘words’ is rendered fungible and turned into the conceptual equivalent of play-dough.

When the Executive and Legislative and Judicial Branches can play a game like that, AND the Pentagon to boot, then not only Grammar but Democracy and the Republic are in biiiiiig trubble.

Upon Edwin Newman be peace.

I hope he has better luck working for Grammar from ‘the Other Side’ than he did when he was struggling down here in this increasingly dark Vale of Tears.


*See my Posts here and here.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010


I want to follow-up on my last Post with a look at Herbert Marcuse’s 1965 article “The Repressive Society”. The text – and it’s a worthwhile if lengthy (22 pages) read – is here.

I’m simply going to proceed down through the text and make comments and tie Marcuse in with the developments I think he very much helped (intentionally in some ways, unintentionally in others) fuel over the past 45 years that have led to Our present situation. As always, when I do this sort of thing, I will quote in full the passage I am commenting about, so that you don’t need to be flipping back and forth between the Post and Marcuse’s linked text.

Enough of the housekeeping chores and let’s get to it.

In the immediately previous Post I was discussing George Lakoff’s tactical exhortation to the liberal-progressive-Dems (the lib-progs and the Dems are for all practical purposes identical here) that they should play the Morality-Card against the Republicans.

Specifically, I had said: “Which is precisely why he makes sure to lecture that against their opponents the Dems must not ‘list their arguments and argue against them using their language. It just activates their arguments in the brains of listeners’. Which is the essence of Political Correctness: you cannot allow discussion of what you are trying to supplant; and the Revolution must control what the public talks and thinks about (though there can never be allowed any actual ‘deliberation’). Anything that does not support the Revolution must be erased from public consciousness, or delegitimized by incessant public manipulation; Correct cartoons can seem like wisdom if no objections or doubt are allowed. That’s Lenin 101 or Goebbels’s Introductory Course.”

It then struck me that this remarkably un-American (perhaps anti-American; see below) tactic of preventing anybody who disagrees with you from receiving a public hearing had to come from somewhere. And while I had mentioned Lenin and Goebbels it struck me that there must also be some source nearer in time to American’s Era of the Identities (and their Revolutions). And Marcuse came to me.

He is writing in 1965 here, just as MLK’s first phase of the Civil Rights Movement came to fruition - alas, to be soon overwhelmed and replaced both by the Black Power-separatist second phase and also by the government’s 1966-ish embrace of ‘good’ racism through what would come to be known as Affirmative Action. And, you recall, that second phase of the Civil Rights ‘revolution’ was quickly mimicked by follow-on ‘revolutions’, especially by the radical-feminists who had imbibed not only Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist theory and praxis but also Mao’s Long-March and Cultural Revolution ideas; and all that on top of their choosing to use the Jim Crow paradigm of the first phase of the black civil rights movement in order to further their own envisioned revolution and of their choosing to add French Deconstructionism into their mix.


Marcuse himself had left Nazi Germany in 1933 and come to America. Born in 1898, he was already an adult as the Weimar Republic struggled for footing, overwhelmed eventually by the wrack and ruin of successive financial crises (it had survived its first economic crisis by 1926, but couldn’t overcome the consequences of the Depression of 1929, especially with Hitler making hay of that whole mess).

So he had first-hand knowledge of a Conservative society and culture of the Industrial Age (Wilhelmine Germany) that was then rapidly morphed into a Republic which was then undermined by a dictatorship that used the formal processes of democracy to gain the willing support of many desperation-addled citizens. I think that what piqued Marcuse was the experience of watching democratic processes result – through some dark magic – in a frakkulent dictatorship, and with the willing support of a majority of citizens. Yet, he also saw how Wealth – especially when concentrated in the great Industries – ‘survived’ the fall of the Republic nicely enough, and quickly made its lucrative accommodations with the Third Reich.

When he came to the United States and as this country left the well-mapped waters of the 1950s and proceeded full-steam into the uncharted depths of the second half of the1960s, his own thoughts came to Us in this article, trailing clouds of his own formative political experiences.

And it shows. As I intend to demonstrate in the comments below.

In his article he wished to examine “the idea of tolerance in our advanced industrial society” (he is speaking of the America he knew in 1965). He gives Us, in the very first paragraph, the conclusion that he has reached: “that the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed”. [Italics mine]

What he is going for here is that in order to prevent bad ideas and policies from retaining a choke-hold on society, you must be intolerant of them – even if they are held by the most established elements of society and even if they are supported by a majority of the Citizens – and then you must be tolerant precisely of all the ideas and opinions which that Established Majority suppresses.

What I see here is the introduction (understandably enough in light of the work of Hitler that not only undermined Weimar but poured the Nazi dictatorship into the vacuum) of a dynamic whereby a society purposely represses what somebody judges as Established in favor of whatever opposes that Established vision.

And thus that you have to be INTOLERANT in the service of providing a “liberating” tolerance. Which starts to sound a hell of a lot like the Vietnam military thought (not yet expressed in 1965) that “we had to destroy the village in order to save it”. (And looking at America today, after 45 years of cumulative Revolutions, you have to ask yourself if indeed – in a hell-hot irony – that hasn’t happened HERE.)

Huge problems here as to how to make this idea work ‘on the ground’.

A society that purposely represses the open exchange of ideas has already taken a dangerous path, especially if it intends to remain a deliberative democracy (something the Germans never achieved, or ever really sought in Marcuse’s formative years).

And just WHO is going to have the authority to declare what is Established (and therefore must be suppressed) and what is anti-Establishment (and therefore should be given special preference of public notice)?

And is it ever wise to have a government – presuming that’s the Authority that can make the declarations – arbitrarily taking a position contrary to the majority sense of its Citizens? Especially if it’s a Constitutional, deliberative democratic Republic?

And is it ever wise for a government to take such a simplistic view of the political spectrum of its own polity: that what’s Established is therefore simply ‘bad’ and must be suppressed, and that what is ‘oppositional’ is therefore simply ‘good’ and must be heard …?

Perhaps a bit more thinking than the vote-desperate Dems were willing to do in the later 1960s.

And surely not something the Boomers needed to hear: if you ‘oppose’ the ‘Establishment’ then you are automatically right in whatever you say, think, or demand – so you must be listened to and anybody who disagrees with you must shut up or they will BE shut-up.

And once the Identities and their Revolutions decided to adopt the Leninist ‘vanguard elite’ approach to ‘politics’ (i.e. only the few cadres really ‘get it’ and nobody else is worth listening to anyway in the first place) then Marcuse’s ideas become fuel for a most unholy political conflagration.

Again, what happens to the civic competence of a Citizenry that is somehow manipulated – and by its own government – into simply accepting the content of public discourse as that discourse is controlled and manipulated by the government so that only the Politically Correct ideas, opinions and policies are given wide public exposure?

And what happens to the civic competence of students who are educated into this arrangement from the get-go?* And especially – what happens years down the road when those students are themselves chronologically-adult Citizens and are raising children of their own and sending them to college?

What passes for tolerance in current (1965) American society, therefore, is really, he says, “in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression”.

This introduces a certain lethal hall-of-mirrors effect in American political discourse: the appearance is not only different from the reality, but is actually completely opposed to the reality.

And this also adds a Marxist (though not necessarily inaccurate) twist: The appearance is different from the reality in ways that serve the Establishment and oppress everybody else. Nothing wrong here with a robust dose of Marxist suspicion of the Class Question and the abiding reality of Wealth seeking to engorge itself at the expense of Labor. But once you throw in Race (especially in its American post-1965 mutations), and then Gender, and Ethnicity, and Sexual Orientation, and Physical Ability or Disability, and so on and so forth, you wind up with a very volatile and not well-balanced brew. I don’t think it’s excessive to call the result a Witches’ Brew as classically defined.

But things might be ‘established’ merely because they are proven to work. And, correlatively, to dis-establish what is established, especially if you’re not sure what the result of such a (deconstructive) change might be, might well lead to more problems than you thought. Might even lead to lethal or even fatal problems, such that what previously worked no longer works, and what was imposed as a ‘change’ might not work at all. Compare the overall strength and competence of the nation in 1965 and today and let your mind range over the possibilities.

Marcuse admits that “at present [1965] no power, no authority, no government exists which would translate liberating tolerance into practice” but he believes that this is the task of intellectual: “to break the concreteness of oppression in order to open the mental space in which this society can be recognized as what it is and does”.

He gets a tad fuzzy there at the end of the sentence, but I respect what he’s trying to suggest: that intellectuals need to help further this transgressive but liberating approach to looking at things.

Which was certainly a reasonable and proper vision of something that intellectuals might do for society. But then his ideas were taken into an already-toxic stream of Deconstruction and Revolutionary Method (imposition by elite cadres who ‘get it’ against the lumpen-citizenry who ‘just don’t get it’) that itself was fully supported, sustained, and abetted by the government itself. Oof. Oy.

Governments, he decides from looking around (from the vantage point of 1965), have gotten their peoples used to accepting as ‘normal’ and ‘good’ all manner of militaristic repression not only of neo-colonial peoples but of first-world citizenries as well. And that’s certainly true – although it doesn’t seem to have gotten any better in the past 45 years and may well have gotten worse.

“The people subjected to these governments are educated to sustain such practices as necessary for the preservation of the status quo”. Again, hardly untrue.

But I add here that “status quo” is a verrrrry tricky concept; you can’t simply take it – as the Boomers did as lustily as they did what they did in the park on endless, gauzy summer afternoons – as a general and totally-accurate phrase.

Let me toss in my Airline metaphor here. An airline – let’s call it TWA since it no longer exists – has complete control over what color the uniforms of the flight crew and the aircraft upholstery is going to be, and can change that color scheme at will; it can change that ‘status quo’. At a higher level of complexity, if the FAA agrees, the flight rules governing altitudes at which Westbound and Eastbound aircraft will fly can be changed; with enough careful thought and preparation, that change to the ‘status quo’ can be made. But when it comes to whether you can fly a jet aircraft or a propeller aircraft in reverse … THAT element of the ‘status quo’ can’t be changed by any human authority because the principles of powered flight simply won’t work if you try to change that ‘status quo’ at THAT level.

In the 1960s and subsequently, this was altogether too much thinking for the Boomer-fueled Revolutions and their demographic-addled political panderers.**

And in the past 45 years We have been saddled with – who knew? – the consequences: from the Left in matter cultural but also jurisprudential and regulatory and legislative; from the Right in matters of economics; and who can forget the Iraq War (recently declared ‘ended’ in as fine a rehash of Nixon’s ‘peace with honor’ and ‘We hereby declare victory and are going home’ speech as you could wish).

“This sort of tolerance strengthens the tyranny of the majority against which authentic liberals protested”. In other words, since the majority has been hoodwinked into accepting what is actually an oppressive dynamic and an oppressive reality, then (to use a later phrase) ‘they just don’t get it’ and not only can be but MUST BE opposed.

OK. Put that idea out there and see how it works over time. But THAT is precisely not the Revolutionary Method, and Marcuse winds up – as things worked out – cheer-leading or at least ‘justifying’ a Revolutionary elite’s end-run around democratic deliberation (since The People ‘just don’t get it, why listen to them in the first place?).

And I would add that the agendas did not ‘succeed’ as well as they have because they were truly innovative and ‘liberating’ ideas, but simply because the vote-addled Beltway decided that whatever their new demographic Identities wanted was what was going to happen regardless of what the Citizens – or The People – felt about it.

And now the Dems – and the Beltway – are stuck between a rock and a verrrry hard place and they “cawn’t think why” (to use Gilbert & Sullivan’s fine phrase).

“Tolerance towards that which is radically evil now appears as a good because it serves the cohesion of the whole on the road to affluence and more affluence”.

Marcuse’s deeply-embedded memories of the Third Reich certainly seem to find voice here: the Nazi regime can credibly and reasonably be described as ‘radically evil”. But translated into the America of 1965 … ? Jim Crow could certainly qualify as “evil” and persons raised according to its precepts truly morally deluded. But what of the ‘necessary enemies’ raised up by follow-on Revolutions that adopted the Civil-Rights Paradigm?

Were ‘mehhhnnnn’ radically evil? Did ‘patriarchy’ even exist as an equivalent of the Third Reich? (Yes, said Betty Freidan in 1963, and Alice Miller in 1983, declaring war at a stroke on Family, Men, Parental Authority, and just about anything else (which was ‘everything’) that ‘mehhhnnn’ had touched.)

And could any democratic government actually declare Deconstruction and Reconstruction of its entire polity in the same way that the Federal Government ruthlessly (but legitimately) stepped in to clean up Jim Crow, as it had up to 1965? Let alone after 1965?

In what now appears a hell-hot irony, Marcuse immediately continues with some examples: “The toleration of the systematic moronization of children and adults alike by publicity and propaganda, the release of destructiveness in aggressive driving, the recruitment for and training of special forces [new in 1965 as Vietnam was just beginning to heat up], the impotent and benevolent tolerance toward outright deception and merchandizing, waste, and planned obsolescence …”. He’s going after a whole lotta things here, striking at the heart of American infatuation not only with power but with the affluence of a consuming-society.

I would say that in the ensuing 45 years the adoption of his ideas served not to reduce any of this (maybe the aggressive-driving was for a time reduced) but rather to ramp it all up. So that now the Citizenry possesses even less civic competence than it did in 1965, and national policy – foreign and domestic – has surely been wrenched into frakkulently awful paths as the Beltway pandered BOTH to Deconstruction of the very fundaments of the American ethos and polity AND to the engorgement of Wealth (that ancient and clearly real predator upon the population).

He then nods to the potential dangers of his insight: “Within a repressive society, even progressive movements threaten to turn into their opposite to the degree to which they accept the rules of the game”.

But it’s a half-nod, and selective at that. “The exercise of political rights in a society of total administration, serves to strengthen this administration by testifying to democratic liberties which, in reality, have changed their content and lost their effectiveness. In such a case, freedom (of opinion, of assembly, of speech) becomes an instrument of absolving servitude”.

Again, in his deeply-embedded personal template of the Third Reich (surely a society of “total administration”), the exercise of commonly-accepted political rights (voting, say, in Nazi-run elections after Hitler had consolidated his power) was merely a sham. Absolutely true.

BUT can he be credibly accepted when he describes American society – even in 1965 – as one of “total administration”? (Marvelously, the hyper-development of both the National Nanny regulatory State and the National Security protection-and-prevention State actually render his observation far more accurate now in 2010 than it ever was 45 years ago in 1965.)

Second, once his presumed template is accepted as it applies to America, then the exercise of political rights is completely undermined. And you can then see how a Revolutionary mindset would take increased comfort in its Deconstructive imposition of its agendas, since The People clearly ‘just don’t get it’ and their entire civic life is a sham (and, even worse, huge swaths of that People – as this or that Identity’s ‘necessary enemy’ – are themselves the ‘oppressors’ against whom the cadres must do ‘whatever it takes’). Oy.

Was the United States in 1965 (and not just the South’s pre-1965 Jim Crow regime) really the functional equivalent of the Third Reich from which Marcuse had wisely fled in 1933?

If not, then were the numerous Revolutions of the Identities, with their ‘necessary enemies’ and demanded Deconstructions and corrosively suspicious Identity Politics really justified? And were generations of Beltway pols justified in abetting such a comprehensive assault on the American polity?

“… [T]olerance as an end in itself is justified only when it is truly universal, practiced by the rulers as well as the ruled … [A]nd such universal tolerance is possible only when no real or alleged enemy requires in the national interest the education and training of people in military violence and destruction … [A]s long as these conditions do not prevail, the conditions of tolerance are ‘loaded’”.

Marcuse sets up an almost impossibly ideal condition here. When does any nation exist without “real or alleged” enemies? (Though clearly he is speaking here in terms of the Cold War and international rivalry and military expeditions.)

But once this idea is taken over by the Revolutions of the Identities – each with its own “real or alleged enemy” AMONG THE CITIZENRY ITSELF – then this becomes a recipe for no-tolerance-ever. Which, with Political Correctness, is precisely what We now see.

And not simply from the Left. Recall the monstrously queasy and truly alarming police gambit of the election of 2004 here: demonstrators were confined to ‘free speech zones’. I can only recall Lincoln’s huge irritation when, in reporting the victory at Gettysburg, General Meade telegraphed with a flourish that “the enemy is driven from our soil”: “When will my generals get it through their head”, Lincoln cried, “that the ENTIRE COUNTRY is our soil?” [caps mine] The entire country is a ‘free-speech zone’ – or should be, in the Constitutional Vision. But of course, that hasn’t been true for quite some time, either for reasons of ‘security’ or a Correct desire not to ‘offend’ by raising ‘issues’ when ‘you just don’t get it’.

Marcuse looks at John Stuart Mill – font of much of the classical Liberal worldview – and raises a meaty point: Mill “placed an important condition on tolerance: it was ‘to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties’”.

Biff! Pow!

This dredging up of one of Mill’s more careful strictures flies in the face of current American Correctness: NOBODY can say who is and who is not ‘mature’; and indeed ‘Maturity’ itself is a judgmental and thus oppressive concept (thus, in Revolutionary and Boomer style, it either doesn’t exist or doesn’t deserve to exist).

But, demonstrating robust creativity, the Correctness cadres can solve that: you are ‘mature’ only if you ‘get it’, and if not, not. The Revolution (for the cadres) or your youthiness (for the Boomers) is the axial criterion of ‘maturity’. Any other criterion – critical and skeptical thinking, competence to analyze and deliberate and discuss, postponement of gratification, the ability to tolerate dissonance and complexity while retaining one’s conceptual and emotional balance – is merely a tool of oppression and ignorance and serves only to extend the odious reign of that majority that ‘just doesn’t get it’. Ach!

But it gets worse. Marcuse continues quoting Mill: Before they are ‘mature’, “men may still be barbarians, and ‘despotism’ is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians”. So if ‘men’ (Mill would have meant ‘humans’ but nowadays you can never be sure, no?) are barbarians and therefore, of course, ‘just don’t get it’, then the only government they deserve is ‘despotism’. This would nowadays take the form not of Hitler’s Reich but rather the all-wise and ominipotently sensitive Mommy of Carol Gilligan’s breakfast table, dispensing an intuitive ‘justice’ to the squalling, frothy tykes around the table. As Pogo’s Albert the Alligator would pray: Gack!

Marcuse then heads into deeper water: “true and false solutions become distinguishable – never with the evidence of necessity, never as positive, only with the certainty of a reasoned and reasonable chance, and with the persuasive force of the negative”.

In other words, when you are trying to overthrow the oppressive Established ways of thinking and framing things, any solutions will be judged not as certainly positive (or ‘good’ or ‘effective’ or ‘workable’ or ‘prudently possible’). Rather they will be judged by whether they are reasonable and have a reasonable chance (of working?) AND of possessing the ‘virtue’ of not-being what exist now. Sort of a complex way of saying Whatever we do we definitely don’t want what we have NOW!

This is a youthy approach to judging the complex possibilities of a course of action that is both Good and Workable. And youthiness is not known for tolerating well such nuances. And neither are Revolutionary cadres.

So when push came to shove in American politics during the late 1960s and subsequently, the criterion became It’s New and It’s Change and It’s Not What We Are Oppressed by Now … and the games began. And here We are.

But Marcuse is no Post-Modernist. “Tolerance of free speech is a way of … progress in liberation, not because there is no objective truth … but because there IS an objective truth which CAN be discovered, ascertained only in learning and comprehending that which can be and ought to be done for the sake of improving the lot of mankind”. [caps mine]

Again, I can hear the echo of Marcuse’s plaint against the propaganda claims of the Nazi State: that there is no truth except what the State says to be the truth. It was either Goebbels or Goering who stated, to prewar Western journalists, that in the Nazi view, “truth is whatever we say is good for the German people”. Certainly, American mainstream journalism has taken a page from the gentlemen, and not in regard to the German people but to that People much closer to home.

But Marcuse does believe in an objective Truth, which, coming from Beyond the scrum of historical human events, can stand in judgement upon such ephemeral if lethal frakkulence as the Nazi regime.

But such Truth was gall-and-wormwood to the Revolutions of the Identities (as it was to the Nazis and to the Communists as well): nothing can stand or be allowed to stand in real or potential judgement of the Reich or the Revolution. The State is its own Ground and can be judged by no other power.*** As Mussolini pithly put it, the Fascist philosophy of government could be summed up as “Nothing against the State, nothing above the State, nothing outside the State”. It was equally true of the Soviets’ Revolution.

AND it is equally true of America’s assorted Revolutions which, having been granted a lock on the Beltway’s political affections, are very much interested in furthering the power of the State (and thus the National Nanny State poses as great a danger to the American ethos as the National Security State that was Marcuse’s primary concern).

But Mill, good Liberal in the classical sense, was under no illusions that there was any Beyond which would nurture Truth and ultimately avenge assaults upon Truth. Truth is “persecuted in history … and does not triumph over persecution by virtue of its ‘inherent power’, and which in fact has no ‘inherent power’ against the dungeon and the stake”.

Which means that if Truth is going to triumph, the good-guys are going to have to get down in the scrum, muddy themselves in doing ‘whatever it takes’, and what will justify those dirty actions is the End to which they are theoretically dedicated: liberation. (And can you say ‘Iraq War, preventive invasion, and torture’?) There can be no limits on what the ‘good guys’ (or ‘persons’) can do because there is no further assistance to bringing about Good in this world – and there is no other World above or beyond.

It’s a Flat reality to which Liberalism condemns humanity, despite its worthy intentions and bright hopes. And it paves the way not for a Hobbesian vision of people, but rather a Hobbesian vision of States and governments: they are liable, like rogue bull elephants, to suddenly take it upon themselves to go and squash everything in sight. But – unlike the beasts – always in a Good cause (at least the American elephant, anyway). Yah.

And Marcuse continues his observations on the assumptions underlying Mill: “free and equal discussion can fulfill the function attributed to it ONLY IF it is a rational expression and development of independent thinking, free from indoctrination, manipulation, and extraneous authority”. [caps mine]

Again, surely a valid point to make in trying to justify opposition to the Nazi regime. But to transplant it to the America of 1965? And then what happened when the cadres of the Revolutions got their hands on this idea?

Because if – as was true of Southerners raised in the ethos of Jim Crow – you are not capable of truly independent thinking, and have been from birth indoctrinated, manipulated, and pressured by ‘extraneous authority’ … then you don’t really deserve to enter into free and equal civic discussion and discourse. Not until you ‘get it’. And right now (in 1965) you ‘just don’t get it’ and are still one of Mill’s barbarians, and so until you do ‘get it’ – and we will use the government to make sure you do – then you have no legitimate place in public discourse.

And you see how quickly Marcuse’s insight turns lethal in the hands of cadres who will deploy it against the entire American polity.

Marcuse then makes a stunningly ominous point: he notes “the general helplessness of radical groups in a well-functioning social system”.

Now surely, if you stood up in any way, shape, or manner for rights and decency in the Nazi system, you would have been, by default, a ‘radical’.

But Marcuse here makes the unjustified leap that any ‘radical’ group anywhere at any time is therefore the moral equivalent of the hypothetically sainted opponents to the Nazi regime. Which is precisely what neither the Boomers nor the cadres of the Revolutions needed to hear.

Worse, in presuming that any established and well-functioning society is merely as unwittingly deluded and oppressive as the Germans were under Hitler, then he makes a plug for ensuring that any ‘radicals’ are given space to operate by MAKING SOCIETY NON-FUNCTIONAL; smash stuff up to give ‘change’ some room: Destruction (through Deconstruction) in the service of Liberation from Oppression! (In another hell-hot irony, this was the essence of mainstream American ‘business philosophy in the 1980s and 1990s: smash your own corporate cultures before somebody else takes you over and does it for you! Thus Tom Peters, Jack Welch, and a galloping herd of business gurus and managers in the red-suspender, blast-fax days of yore. And it worked! Although – ummmmmm – with certain unforeseen consequences. Who knew?)

And in addition, Marcuse here echoes the horror of the postwar French intellectuals at any UNITY of society, since in their experience and the French domestic political experience since the 1890s and the time of the Dreyfuss Affair, any 'unity of society' usually meant a rigid and potentially violent orthodoxy that was bound to create more problems than it solved. Better, they thought, to always keep society off-balance and prevent it from becoming too 'solid'.

And American society – and the dynamics of its core politics – was designed precisely NOT to have to deal with ‘radical’ change (the Framers could see in 1787 where France was going to wind up in 1789). The Citizenry, among themselves and governing their governors, would achieve consensus: providing a sort of filtration system that would take any proposed ‘change’ and make sure that it wasn’t so violently ‘change-ful’ that it would unbalance the equilibrium of the polity.

I suppose the Framers were thinking of an open-boat: there’s only so much change, or jumping around, any one person or group of persons can try before the whole thing tips over. This entire approach, of course, was gall-and-wormwood to any Revolutionary and, to Boomers who had never seen – much less been in – a rowboat, it would have seemed some over-30 senile memory or phantasm. And oppressive in any case.

Marcuse seeks honestly enough to be constructive in addressing his remarks to the America of 1965: “… democratic argument implies a necessary condition, namely, that the people must be capable of deliberating and choosing on the basis of knowledge, that they must have access to authentic information, and that, on this basis, their evaluation must be the result of autonomous thought”.

It’s a nice thought. A good thought. But if you’re going to try to somehow implement it through policy or law, it’s not ever going to work right. WHAT AUTHORITY in a democracy gets to say that such-and-such is genuine ‘knowledge’ and not merely unrecognized or sly fantasy? That this or that information is “authentic”? And who but Spock with the Vulcan Mind-Meld can ever guarantee that what any Citizen(s) hold is “the result of autonomous thought”?

So this idea of Marcuse’s is a worthwhile thought about an absolutely vital necessity for the health of democratic process. But it is a goal that is beyond the reach or competence of government to impose or ensure through imposition.

And it is here, I think, that Marcuse, like so many thinkers who have some respectable insights in the Liberal tradition, ultimately fail: they must ultimately rely on government because in their mono-dimensional world – unassisted by any Beyond – the only palpable power lies with sovereign States and government.

The early Liberals could simply presume the lineaments and fundaments of European civilization so profoundly Shaped by the Medieval world-view, with – almost literally – ideal forces and entities “ascending and descending” into the matters of this world to help fulfill its genuine potential. But as the Scientific and then Industrial Revolutions progressed – capped by the political earthquake of the French Revolution – there was less acceptance that any such Beyond even existed (let alone that it was presided over by the loving God and the Assistance of the panoply of Heaven of the Medieval synthesis). God, by the very core dynamics of the classical Liberal system, had to be Replaced by the State for all practical purposes.

And even now, God has been reduced either to merely another name for Oppression of Total Autonomy or to being – in Marge Simpson’s fine phrase – “a Divine Concierge”, existing merely to fulfill at the buzzing of a Service button every individual human’s every wish and personal pipedream (a gold Cadillac, a mansion, complete ‘happiness’, perfect kids, lotsa moolah … visit your local mega-church for details – warning: results not guaranteed and may vary).

And Marcuse is irritated that “the meaning of words is rigidly stabilized”. But wasn’t it precisely the problem with the Nazi manipulation of reality through propaganda – as Orwell also saw – that ‘words’ did NOT have any fixed meaning and were made to mean – as in the Red Queen’s realm – whatever Power wanted them to mean? But this was a boon to cadres who wanted to crowbar open ‘space’ for whatever their agendas demanded. Thus in culture ‘family’ came to mean something else altogether and in legal parlance all manner of actions (‘battering’, for instance) meant something the average person would take to be harmless (like being silent in a long-distance phone call). And ‘torture’? And ‘liberation’?

Marcuse here - intentionally or otherwise – winds up conforming to the frakkulent Deconstructionist assumptions that ‘facts don’t matter’ and that meaning is ‘socially constructed’ and has no independent reality beyond the individual perceiver. And, of course, classical Liberalism had already ruled out any such thing as Meaning with the capital ‘M’. He winds up buying into the illogical conclusion that if the six blind persons have given such diverse descriptions of the elephant then the Elephant does not really exist. Or that it exists only as what each of them ‘perceives’ or ‘constructs’ it to be. (When it came to War, the American military in the Postmodern era ran into the resounding wrongness of THAT approach ‘on the ground’, ‘up close and personal’.) Ach.

Then, looking at publicly reported ‘facts’, he opines that “when a magazine prints side by side a negative and a positive report on the FBI [his example in the 1965 text] it fulfills honestly the requirements of objectivity: however, the chances are that the positive wins because the image of the institution is deeply engraved in the mind of the people … or if the newscaster reports the torture and murder of civil rights workers [his example, again, in the 1965 text] in the same unemotional tone he uses to describe the stockmarket or the weather … then such objectivity is spurious …”.

HERE he grounds the Deconstructionist denial that any objectivity is ever possible or – from the point of view of this-worldly political agendas – desirable. Which was erected into a Plan by the American media with the early-1970s journalistic philosophy of Advocacy Journalism, which over time has morphed into the sensationalist and selective ‘reporting’ that now corrodes all public discourse.

And of course, if it is going to be ‘balanced’, then the media must be an ‘advocate’ for the Right as well as for the Left, for the government and Wealth as well as for the Identities and their claimed oppressions. Which is something Marcuse probably never would have wanted – but Consequences are not always predictable in human affairs (and can you say Iraq War? Or Housing Bubble?).

Worse, he presumes – again with a queasy and eerie taint of totalitarian praxis – that the role of the media is to manipulate rather than simply to inform The People. But then, to the extent that the American corporate culture since before World War 1 had adopted the advertising philosophy of the early 20th century Swiss, Edward Bernays (you had to CREATE a desire for your product where such a desire did not already exist – and Bernays applied himself to U.S. government propaganda in World War 1 with even more sinister results) then the use of media to not only manipulate but to actually create public perceptions was already established. But before the two great Wars of the 20th century, no Western government would have dared, or presumed, to ‘create’ public ‘emergencies’ as a matter of policy. That was then.

It’s anybody’s guess nowadays how many ‘emergencies’ have been created specifically to lubricate government policies.****

“The tolerance expressed in such impartiality serves to minimize or even absolve prevailing intolerance and suppression.” Again, a worthwhile insight, but ‘implementing’ it – translating it into broad public effect – is a hugely fraught challenge. And probably not one within the competence of a theoretically democratic government. Especially one that has now engulfed – though with their full cooperation, for due considerations received – the ‘elites’ of both Left and Right.

Well, let me not go on too long here.

I had not previously paid sufficient attention to Marcuse. But when We think of ‘thinkers’ and ‘ideas’ that helped prod the Beltway along the paths which have led Us to – charitably – Our Modern American Reality, it is clear that he played a great role.

But of even more significance is the fact that his ideas assumed, as it were, a life of their own as he injected them into the churning flow of American events.

And yet while many parties adapted Marcuse to their own purposes and interests – taking him perhaps in directions he would not personally have wished, though sometimes in directions his own thought implied – those parties and interests would always assure the public (when they deigned to explain themselves) that they were simply ‘taking the next logical step’ outlined by a ‘great thinker’. There are many worthwhile thinkers. But few who can be taken whole-hog.

It is the task of an informed Citizenry either to familiarize themselves with ‘thinkers’ who are put before them, or at least to take the time to look at those thinkers’ essential points with a careful eye; and thus fortified, it is the task of that Citizenry to let the political class know just what it thinks.

Then, thus Grounded in the Citizenry – and ONLY then – may ‘the politics’ begin.


*In this regard, the book “The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses” by Kors and Silverglate is well worth a look. Their idea is that when Marcuse’s ideas became the basis for the monstrous Political Correctness that was adopted in campus speech codes in the early 1990s precisely resulted in forming generations of college students into the habit of accepting as natural and as congruent with a deliberative-democratic ethos the continuous suppression and outlawing of Politically Un-correct ideas and discourse. Although this alarmingly totalitarian symptom was neatly disguised in the ‘liberal’ sheeps-clothing of ‘sensitivity’ and a kinder, gentler desire to prevent ‘offense’ and a desire to prevent ‘hateful’ speech and ‘hate speech’ and so on and so forth.

**In a very recent appearance on Jon Stewart’s ‘Daily Show’ the chairman of the DNC put it out that the Democrats are always in trouble (simply) because they are “the party of the underdog”. Which is neat, but hardly an explanation of why at this point the Dems are in such trouble and seem to have seriously turned-off a rather large ‘demographic’. Although, I would add, at this point the ship has hit the berg and I can’t see that changing captains is going to do any good – even if the Dems re-elect a ‘minority’ or they or the Republicans elect ‘a woman’ (or a ‘general’) or whatever. Our current national mess has progressed far beyond such symbolic ‘victories’ for half-century old political strategies that have themselves helped create the lethal mess in the first place.

***Except, of course, in the case of God’s Deputy (or Replacement), America, which can declare other States ‘Good’ or ‘Evil’ and invade at will, in the service, naturally, of Liberation – and shame on whomever thinks ill of it.

****And on this anniversary of 9-11 and all that has flowed from it – which itself followed in time decades’ worth of American domestic ‘emergencies’ in the service of this or that agenda – such a point deserves more than a brief moment of silence.


Marcuse introduces the hugely fraught suggestion that since Majorities can behave like herds and stampede the rights of individuals and minority views, then in terms of public-discussion, at least, such stampede-supported ‘bad’ ideas must by INTOLERATED (if I may) in the service of a more liberating Tolerance.

His insight reflects his experience of Nazi Germany where majorities – stampeded or deluded into supporting the noxious Nazi government and its doctrines and regime – lent support to the whole abhorrent thing; while the ‘good’ folks were ‘the minority’. He wants to prevent that happening again – and understandably so.

His insight parallels to some extent the postwar French intellectuals who sought to ever prevent large public consensus ever again, since from the time of the Dreyfuss Affair and all the way up through Vichy such ‘conventional and large public consensus’ had simply supported intolerant and noxious regimes large and small within the French polity.

But there has always been a potential fault-line in this position: that the very core dynamics of a functioning democracy – especially a deliberative one – are thereby prevented from operating, although in the well-intentioned desire to prevent the democracy from making such mistakes again. That, you may notice, is very similar to the gravamen of the arguments some of the Framers made in Philadelphia in 1787: most people can’t be trusted to govern their government; or – if I may – most people can’t be trusted to live up to the role of being The People. That Question – could ‘people’ sustain a common role as The People? – is the heart of the American Experiment.

Currently, the putatively liberal-progressives, especially in the person of Martha Nussbaum – noted feminist legal celeb professor – are trying to make the case for a cutting-edge legal theory that ‘the majority’ can never be trusted to respect the ‘rights’ – rather very broadly defined – of any ‘minority’ and that therefore ‘the courts’ must impose controls on the majority in order to prevent what can only be called a ‘miscarriage of democracy’.

The problem here, I think, is that Marcuse’s ‘minority’ trails clouds of the moral excellence and courage of the anti-Nazi few in Germany. The American definition of ‘minority’ – post 1965, certainly – is something else altogether, reflecting not so much a courageous moral opposition to an undeniably clear moral and human evil, but rather an Identity within Identity Politics seeking not to limit or purify government but rather merely – in Jesse Jackson’s accidental revolution – to ‘get a bigger piece of the pie’. And to do so by whatever means necessary, using political pressure and arguments that are not rarely dubious and Revolutionary Method that seeks nothing more than political power at whatever cost to the common weal.

A case could well have been made in 1965 that MLK’s first-phase black civil-rights demonstrators against Southron Jim Crow bore a credible substantive resemblance to the anti-Nazi opposition in Marcuse’s native Germany. But no subsequent ‘Identity’ could credibly make that claim, although all have sought to create the illusion that they too are fighting some Nazi-like ‘oppression’ that they have carefully created for the cameras and microphones. And, in a dark irony worthy of Tolkien, the government itself under Bush then tried to run the same play in the 2000’s, creating a new Fascistical Axis to serve as the classic Enemy, as Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and militarist Imperial Japan had once done back in the day.

I don’t think Marcuse could have envisioned the mutation of ‘minority’ as it devolved in the 1970s and subsequently in this country.

I certainly don’t think it was wise or prudent of the government to support wholeheartedly a political game-plan that required one large swath of the Citizenry to be labeled – for purposes of Revolutionary convenience and necessity – ‘Nazis’ or ‘monsters’ by another group that needed an Enemy to catalyze its demands.

Nor was it honest to insist that this was all ‘liberation’ and ‘Good’.

Much mischief – lethal mischief – has flowed from this, and still pours into the ripped hull at an alarming rate.

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