Battleground

The phrase battleground state has taken on a whole new meaning. 

As reports from various urban battlefields come in, the picture of what is happening is becoming clear. Let’s summarize. (1) In a number of American cities protests turn into organized violence once nightfall arrives. The violence does not appear to come from protesters, but appears to come from organized groups intent on stoking and escalating violence.  (2) Federal law enforcement officers have been ordered to some areas by the Trump Administration with orders to protect federal property. It appears that at least some federal law enforcement officers  have engaged in conduct that is clearly illicit. That conduct includes but is not limited to detaining citizens, handcuffing them and then releasing them without any justification or charges. Further, the evidence strongly suggests that some of these detentions were conducted by federal officers without proper identification using unmarked vehicles. Moreover some of these detentions have taken place well beyond perimeters established for protecting federal property. (3) Local authorities have been unable or unwilling to contain the violence. 

For some perspective, it is worth taking a look at what is going on in some (but not all) cities. The You Tube video (below) taken in Portland is an example of the violence; but it is not necessarily generalizable to other cities. On the other hand it is worth noting that the national media has been reluctant to characterize this type of violent behavior as violent as … violent.

Protest in Portland Oregon

Further complicating matters is the legal situation.  The extent of federal authority to intervene  to establish order absent a request from local authorities is unclear. Certainly the federal government may use federal law enforcement to protect federal property. But that authority is  narrow. It seems reasonably clear that federal law enforcement lacks the authority to free-lance and expand its mission beyond the narrow one of protecting specific federal properties. It certainly does not empower law enforcement to go searching for alleged miscreants outside of narrow perimeters established to protect lives and federal property. 

It is also clear that local law enforcement is not enforcing state and local laws. And the reason for it is that they have been instructed not to do so by locally elected officials. In the U.S. system it is elected officials, not police who are charged with determining the extent to which the laws will be enforced. Moreover the police have no legal obligation to protect lives or property, which is to say they are not vulnerable to a civil lawsuit for a willful refusal to protect lives or property. This is further complicated by the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity” which makes it virtually impossible for police officers to be sued individually for their behavior, no matter how outrageous. 

Let’s also note that it is highly probable that the Trump Administration has escalated the situation simply for political advantage in the upcoming election. It is also the case that  Democratic office holders are fairly silent about the violence because (1) they see no need to comment while Trump is busy committing political suicide and (2) they see no profit in antagonizing the party’s left wing, which they need to prevail in November. 

So what is to be done?

The simple answer is that the remedy lies at the ballot box. Local officials are for the most part responsible for managing police and setting policy. They have the legal authority to determine the extent to which public resources will be deployed to enforce state and local laws. The line of both authority and accountability runs straight from the citizenry to the ballot box to elected officials. The same logic applies to federal elections. 

Citizens, who are sovereign, have a democratic choice to make. They can elect federal, state and local officials who promise to enforce the laws on the books to protect lives and property when they are threatened. Or they can elect officials who think it is more important to deploy public resources in other ways they deem to be more important. Citizens can also choose to elect local public officials who will take responsibility for the management of public agencies like police departments and education bureaucracies, or they can continue to vote for officials beholden to public sector unions. Citizens who don’t like the results can leave. 

Those are the harsh realities; but they are realities. To govern is to choose. Unless citizens hold elected officials accountable for conditions on the ground over which they have control, results will not change. We will simply have more of the same until the next explosion. That seems to be where we are headed. 

JFB

Please follow and like us:

Natural Rights, Positivism & Austrian Economics

Judge Andrew Napolitano presents the case for natural rights (as opposed to positivism) as the foundation of the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution. He makes his case at the Mises Institute, named after Ludwig Von Mises a past professor from NYU and one of the founders of the Austrian School of economics.

The libertarian Austrian School also claims Frederich von Hayek, Murray Rothbard and Carl Menger as founders along with Mises. The Austrian School rejects much of the mathematicization of contemporary economics, preferring instead a teleological approach to the study of human action. Human actors are rational beings and so in the Austrian School the purpose of human action must be studied with respect to desired ends.

This emphasis on means and ends stands in rather stark contrast to the more positivistic approach of modern economics which tends to be expressed with respect to causes and effects. The difference between the schools of thought is subtle. Modern economics infers causes and effects using advanced statistical models–but the underlying mathematics is based on the experimental methods of the physical sciences. For instance the Black-Scholes options pricing model shares characteristics of the heat equation first developed by Joseph Fourier in 1882.

The Austrian model posits voluntary and purposeful human action taken with ends in mind as the proper focus of study. Knowledge and reason drive individual behavior and without planning to do so, through market mechanism they create spontaneous order, to use Hayek’s famous terminology. It is a spontaneous order that no one human being could ever plan or produce because no one person or organization could ever acquire sufficient information and knowledge to do so. But freely transmitted price signals from voluntary transactions in the market provide the necessary knowledge and information for spontaneous order.

The 1 hour lecture by Judge Napolitano, shown below, connects the Natural Law School and the Austrian School and is well worth watching.

Judge Napolitano at the Mises Institute

JFB

Please follow and like us:

A Failure of Governance

“The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.”

Mao Zedong

“It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.”

Edmund Burke

________________________________________

Two months after the killing of George Floyd in police custody, cities in America are still besieged by unrest, often violent, that civil authorities are either unwilling or unable to contain. 

From the Washington Post.

“[The Seattle Police declared a riot…] after protesters set fire to a construction site for a juvenile detention facility and as the police department reported that one person had breached the fencing surrounding the East Precinct, the site of nightly clashes in June that led to a nearly month-long protest occupation, and officers saw smoke in the lobby.” July 26, 2020.

From the New York Times.

“Carrying signs such as “Feds Go Home” and shouting chants of “No justice, no peace,” some among the crowd of about 5,000 protesters stopped at the site of a future youth detention center and lit buildings there on fire. Some smashed windows of nearby businesses, ignited a fire in a coffee shop and blew an eight-inch hole through the wall of the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct building, the police said.” July 26,2020.

Since May 25, 2020 when George Floyd was killed in police custody, America has been roiled by protests. And rightly so. But in short order citizen protests against police misconduct were hijacked by violent revolutionaries with an entirely different agenda. 

The use of violence, torching buildings and tossing fireworks at police officers is not protest. It is thuggery. The radicals among the protesters are obviously trying to get law enforcement officers to over react. “Worse is better” is the battle cry of all revolutionaries. And so local police departments, for the most part, have backed off. Partly as a result there has been a spike in violent crime in America’s large cities. 

As arrest rates have fallen violence has risen, sometimes dramatically. In Atlanta 93 people were shot from May 31 to June 27 of this year. That compares with 46 in the same period 1 year ago. In Minneapolis activations of ShotSpotter and 911 gunshot calls have more than doubled from a year ago. While overall crime is down in Chicago and New York from the year ago period, there has been a rise in gun violence. 

Much of the June spike in New York’s gun violence occurred in 10 precincts. According to NYPD Chief of Crime Control Strategies Michael Li Petri, “Those communities are being overrun by the small percentage of gang members who have no regard for their own life and absolutely zero regard for the community.” See stories here and here in National Review.

We should be clear what is going on here. Radicals have hijacked the movement to reform policing and have shifting it toward “defunding the police” and a whole host of left wing causes. In response, police departments have retreated and effectively abandoned some neighborhoods. The result has been a spike in violent crime. And that spike is not taking place on Park Avenue. 

In the meantime, the largely Democratic political machines that have mismanaged city governments for decades have cynically joined the cry against “institutional racism” as if they were not the people in charge of those institutions to begin with. Moreover they have pointedly refused to make a distinction between  peaceful protestors exercising their constitutional rights and the radicals who have fomented violence.  But plenty of them, like Mayor Bill DeBlasio, are plenty eager to shut down religious services. 

Come to think of it, using the coercive force of government to attack political enemies, while refusing to protect the constitutional rights of citizens is exactly how the Jim Crow South worked, with the KKK as its enforcer.  

Kind of makes you wonder. 

JFB

Please follow and like us:

The Moderate Mr. Biden

Former Vice-President Joe Biden accused federal law enforcement officials of “brutally attacking peaceful protesters” in Portland Oregon. The officers, he said, were operating “without a clearly defined mandate or authority”. He went on to say, without a hint of irony, that the White House was “trying to stoke the fires of division in this country”. This while the “protesters” were setting actual fires, specifically to a federal courthouse. 

It should also be noted that the police found a body of a man who had been burned to death in one of the buildings the “peaceful protesters” set on fire in Minneapolis. 

In case there is any doubt about what is going on here, take look at the video below. It is anything but peaceful. The video was published by Bloomberg, hardly a right wing extremist organization. It is titled “Portland Protesters Set Building on Fire.” That description seems to be reasonably self explanatory. Presumably, Joe Biden has the mental capacity to understand what it means.

We keep hearing that Biden is a moderate who is going to stand up to the radicals who increasingly dominate his party. Attacking federal law enforcement officers who are defending federal property from arsonists is a funny way to demonstrate it. 

Portland Protesters Set Building on Fire

JFB

Please follow and like us:

The Ongoing Cultural Disaster

Q: What accounts for the grotesque state of American politics?  

A: The grotesque state of American culture. 

Politics is, and always has been, downstream from culture. Sure, politics and policy can influence culture, but that influence is largely ephemeral. Cultural attitudes are far more deeply embedded in the polity than, for instance, party affiliation.  Margaret Thatcher had it exactly right when she said “Win the argument, then win the election”. Conservatives and classical liberals ought to think about that because they have spent a good deal of time playing electoral politics only to have the cultural ground shift underneath them. 

Which is something that conservatives and classical liberals ought to be thinking about. 

The cultural ground did not shift overnight and it was not by an accident of nature. The cultural foundation of U.S. society came under relentless attack by radicals who sought to undermine Western liberal institutions. The strategy, articulated by the Marxist Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, was to begin “a long march through the institutions” to achieve control of the commanding heights of the culture.  Once achieved the project of turning America into a socialist paradise would go into full swing. 

Which is where we are now. 

There is not one important facet of American life or civil society that has not come under full scale attack by the cultural left, most of it disingenuous to say the least. Let us look at a few examples.

The bedrock of Western Society is the nuclear family. While our legal doctrines are expressed in terms of individuals, social organization is, and has been, with respect to the nuclear family. And the nuclear family is the transmission agent of culture. It is through the nuclear family that parents—both of them—teach their children what is right and wrong, and why. Parents raise their children in their faith tradition, if they so choose. Children learn about love, loyalty, respect, manners, rights, responsibility and authority.  They begin to learn the skills they will need to flourish and thrive. 

The family is not simply a temporary agglomeration of randomly chosen individuals. The husband and wife choose to form a family unit and vow its permanence. They choose to have children. Not only that, there are very strong biological ties among family members.  As a result, the nuclear family is the primary unit of civil society that stands between individuals and the coercive power of the State. 

For that reason the nuclear family is a primary target of radicals who seek to break individuals to the yoke of the State, which they mean to control.  The first instinct of a totalitarian, (and a Progressive State is a proto-Totalitarian State) is to break the family. Anyone who doubts that the Totalitarian State means to crush the traditional family needs only look to China’s one-child policy. And if you can stand it, read this article about what Communist China’s regime is doing to Uighur Women. See the Uighur article here.

In the West, the assault on the family takes on a different form. One of the earliest manifestations of the subjugation of the family to State power was to deny to people (actually to criminalize) the right to marriage between people of different races. Another was to deny welfare benefits to women when a man was present. Government substituted itself for the traditional male breadwinner. 

Not surprisingly, illegitimacy rates soared. In 1965, 24% of  black infants and 3% of white infants were born out-of-wedlock. Now out-of-wedlock births of black children are around 70%; the white rate is approaching 30%. The extraordinarily high black rate of out-of-wedlock births is an entirely new phenomenon. In 1940, for instance, the black illegitimacy rate was 14%. The reason for this is clear. The welfare state first lowered the cost of producing illegitimate children, and then the social stigma was erased. The result was an explosion of out-of-wedlock births and the destruction of the traditional family structure, especially among low-income groups. (See this article by Walter Williams).

While tactics have changed, the goal of destroying the family remains the same. Anybody who doubts this simply has to look at the Black Lives Matter website. Among other pronouncements there is this:

“We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.”

The preferred tactic is to destroy the family unit by redefining it. So we have same-sex “marriage” which somehow became a constitutional right. The transgender movement completes the picture by institutionalizing the idea that there is no such things as biologically determined sex; that sex is just a social construct.  As part of this parental authority is denied. In many states parents do not have the right to prevent their young children, some as young as 12, from getting state financed gender reassignment hormone treatments. 

The coup de grace is a woman’s right to abortion on demand. That serves two goals. First it places married men and women in positions which are legally adverse to each other, each possessing different rights and responsibilities defined by the State. So much for the two became one. Second, it makes sustaining the life of an unborn child contingent on the wishes of the mother for any reason or no reason at all. In so doing it denies the intrinsic worth and dignity of that child. 

Closely related to the attack on the family is the ongoing attack on the first amendment, particularly the free exercise clause. The attack currently takes place under the guise of “reproductive rights” and public health. In the name of stopping the pandemic Democratic Governors across the country have imposed restrictions on religious practice that are far more severe that those imposed on “essential businesses”. Those essential functions include such life and death operations as state liquor stores and lottery sales. 

The restrictions that Governors have placed on religious practice have been pretty consistently swatted down by various courts. But keep in mind that Senate Democrats, led by Sheldon Whitehead, have threatened to pack the Supreme Court. Which leads us to the next attack on the free exercise clause. The Obama Administration (that would be the Obama-Biden Administration) attempted to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to supply insurance coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients for their employees, a clear violation of their first amendment rights. That too was swatted down by the Court in a 7 -2 ruling. 

But this is not going away. There are now cases in the courts where government is trying to force Catholic hospitals to engage in practices that are directly contrary to their religious beliefs. One case seeks to force a Catholic hospital to perform a hysterectomy on a “transgender woman”. It is a clear violation of Catholic teaching to harm or remove a healthy organ unless if it is medically necessary.  

Why the attack on religious belief and especially, religious practice? It is because in the United States legal system and (pre-progressive) tradition, unalienable rights are natural rights endowed by the Creator. Those rights are a fundamentally at odds with progressive ideology, which asserts an all encompassing State sovereignty.  Religious institutions, the family, and individuals must be broken to the yoke of the State. And to accomplish that, the free institutions of civil society must be crushed by the State. 

What is to be Done?

We face a serious, perhaps existential, problem. But the solution is not simply to win an election. It is to persuade. The prerequisite for doing that is to wrest control of the schools from the propagandists who run them today. That will require taking two steps. First: Bust the teacher’s unions. There is no reason why they should hold a monopoly over the education of American kids. Especially given the appalling results they have produced, most particularly in big city schools which are essentially propaganda mills.

Second, American kids should be getting a first rate education; that can be accomplished by financing charter schools for primary and secondary education, and using vouchers. Another way to do it would be to provide education credits through the tax system. They key to reform is to bust the monopoly that the unions have and in so doing  provide parents with choice. In a word, fund the students, not the schools. 

This is a long term project that will require a lot of time and effort. It will require fighting the bureaucracy and launching lawsuits. It will require organizing. It will require winning local school board elections, avoiding the small stuff and keeping an eye on the big picture.  There is already a lot of good work being done here by conservative and libertarian think tanks. It is work that is absolutely essential to reclaim the schools, our Western liberal culture and our freedom. 

JFB

Please follow and like us:

Minneapolis–Progressive Paradise

Minneapolis has long been one of, if not the, most progressive city in America. It also is the city where George Floyd was killed in police custody. And it is home to one of the widest income gaps between white and black Americans. Progressives are perplexed by this. They shouldn’t be. Their policies caused it. See the video below.

John Stossel on Minneapolis

JFB

Please follow and like us:

Jonathan Haidt: Viewpoint Diversity on Campus

Jonathan Haidt is a psychologist and professor at New York University. His research includes a great deal of cutting edge work applying moral psychology to the study of politics and business ethics. Currently he is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership in the Stern School of business at NYU. Professor Haidt is concerned about the group think that is enveloping America’s great universities, and as a result he co-founded Heterodox Academy that works to increase viewpoint diversity. He has also been visiting university campuses discussing how the academe has become so monolithic in its outlook and what we can do about it.  One of the lectures he presented at Duke University in 2015 is in the video below. It should be watched by anyone who is concerned about the state of the nation’s universities. 

Jonathan Haidt at Duke University

JFB

Please follow and like us:

The Other Hitchens–Peter, not Christopher

Before his untimely passing Christopher Hitchens developed quite a following. Hitchens, a one-time Trotskyite who remained a man of the left until his passing, was a brilliant writer and polemicist who pulled no punches.  He was a student and admirer of George Orwell. His biographical essay about Orwell, “Why Orwell Matters” is an example of both the style of Hitchens’ writing and the substance of his thought. Though he was an admirer of Orwell he did not write a hagiography. He forthrightly examined what he considered to be Orwell’s strengths and weaknesses. 

Less well-known is Christopher Hitchens’ brother, Peter, also an intellectual. (Christopher and Peter did not get along.) Peter Hitchens, a former Bolshevik takes aim at the authoritarian left relying in part on his past experience as a leftist. Like his brother, he gives no quarter and calls it the way he sees it. Take a look at the video below of Peter Hitchens being interviewed about the silencing of voices of dissent and the cancel culture, a culture that is rapidly spreading through American society. 

Peter Hitchens Interview

JFB

Please follow and like us:

Cancel Culture is Out of Control

There was a time not so long ago when leftists routinely charged that the radical right, roughly defined as anybody who didn’t agree with leftist orthodoxy, consisted largely of a bunch of Neanderthal book burners. Well, look who the book burners turned out to be.

America’s institutions are failing because, among other causes, America’s elites are not willing to defend liberal values. Free speech is under attack by social justice warriors who want to destroy anybody who doesn’t buckle under. Take a look at the John Stossel Video below.

John Stossel

JFB

Please follow and like us:

The Great Awokening

America has had several waves of Awakening in its history, characterized by intense religious enthusiasm and social activism. These waves stemmed from American Protestantism, often accompanied by a profound sense of conviction and redemption. They tended to be evangelistic, with an increase in evangelistic church membership and the formation of new denominations. The Awakenings were led by charismatic preachers who imbued in followers a profound sense of personal guilt and a need for redemption through Christ. 

The original Awakening in the early 1700s was mostly an elite affair. The Second Awakening “The Great Awakening” took place in the late 1700s and lasted until the around 1850. It spread beyond New England elites and made its way to the Midwest. It also was a time when Black attendance at mainline white Protestant churches declined precipitously. At the same time dozens of free Black churches were formed and served Blacks who were abandoning white mainline churches. There is a case to be made that this resulted from white discrimination against Blacks, but it is not a settled matter. In any event, as many scholars have noted, there is no place in America that is more segregated than church on Sunday.   

It should be noted that the Great Awakening coincided with progressive reforms including abolitionism, temperance and women’s rights. Note that social reformers and the Awakened often came from the same ranks.

The Third Awakening was also a profoundly Christian affair.   It was characterized by missionary work, the Social Gospel and was instrumental in fostering revivals in American cities. Out of the Third Awakening came the YMCA, Christian and Sanitary Commissions that provided medical relief to Union Armies, and Freedmen’s Societies that provided educational services to freedmen in the South after the Civil War.  

Fast forward to 2020. We are in yet another Great Awakening, known as the #Resistance. After all, why do you suppose that the #Resistance refers to itself as “woke”? 

This one however is different from the others in that it is anti-religious.

The #Resistance has all the earmarks of an Awakening. Its adherents are profound believers in the cause (however poorly defined). It has charismatic leaders. It is a mass movement. It is not cerebral; it is dominated by feelings, emotion and a profound sense of alienation, resentment and guilt. The movement (like all movements) is remarkably intolerant of people who don’t toe the party line. They are the Other; they are “deniers”. Skeptics  are canceled over the least variation from orthodoxy. Ritualized confessions of guilt are increasingly common.

Most importantly it is a movement that tries to fill a hole in the search for meaning that is lost in the soul of secularized man. It is a cry for help. 

The irony is that the secularization of society began with a quest for pluralism and equal justice, associated with the 1960s. It quickly turned into an attack on the basic institutions of a free society, including the traditional family, the rule of law, property rights and most importantly, religion. 

Why the attack on religion? It is the most important facet of the Gramscian long march through the institutions because religious authority stands above State authority. (That is why in the U.S. a priest can not be legally compelled to break the seal of confession.)

Religion ultimately succeeds by persuasion rather than by force (a principle honored in the breech). And it holds a privileged position in the U.S. legal system. Religious belief enjoys the protection of the free exercise clause of the First amendment. The U.S. Declaration is crystal clear that we have natural rights that are unalienable, endowed by the Creator. Rights are pre-political; they do not come from government, and government has no authority to take them away. Every individual is a unique being possessing intrinsic worth and dignity. That doctrine is a dagger pointed at the heart of collectivism. 

Woke citizens (as opposed to their leaders) are searching for justice and dignity in a world without the Creator and without Redemption. They want to, need to, create a world without sin. It is a fool’s errand; it requires the perfectibility of man, which is to say it requires the creation of  a “New Man.”  In turn that requires a great man, an extraordinary man, for whom the rules, which are mere social conventions, don’t apply. There are no rules; just the will to power. 

In Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the attorney Petrovich Porfiry refers to an academic article written by the protagonist Rodion Raskolnikov when he was a student.

Porfiry provides a summation of the article:

“In his article all men are divided into ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’. Ordinary men have to live in submission, have no right to transgress the law, because, don’t you see, they are ordinary. But extraordinary men have a right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way, just because they are extraordinary.”

Rodion Raskolnikov replies by adding nuance:

“[An]…extraordinary man has the right…that is not an official right, but an inner right to decide in his own conscience to overstep…certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfillment of his idea {sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity}.”

In making his argument Raskolnikov makes the case for the nihilism that would shortly engulf the 20th century. The brutal ideologies of that century, communism and fascism, resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people at the hands of Mao, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Fidel, Ho Chi Minh. Atheists all. Long after the facts were clear they were still supported by Walter Duranty, Jean-Paul Sartre, Earnest Hemingway and Theodore Dreiser among others. 

When man’s yearning for meaning and dignity is divorced from faith in the Creator, the ultimate law-giver, what is left is nihilism. There is no truth; only “my truth”. There is no justice; only “my justice”. Decency is simply a matter of convenience. Who is to say that one system or action is superior to another? There are no facts, only interpretations. Which implies that all questions are then reducible to power and decided by the exercise of that power. And all power comes, according to Mao, from the barrel of a gun. 

We have gone down this road before, many, many times. The result is always the same, and it isn’t pretty. It would be nice to avoid another go around.  But that would require that liberals defend liberalism, and it doesn’t look like that is going to happen any time soon. 

JFB

Please follow and like us: