Category Archives: conservatism

Robert Nisbet: Conservatism: Dream and Reality

.facebook_1510107988761.jpg

Since the election of Donald Trump, conservatism is increasingly being conflated with fascism, Nazism, racial supremacy and xenophobia. For some, it’s a direct equivalence. Unfortunately, the incessant usage of these smears has not only undermined the true meaning of conservatism, but the entire suite of words used as epithets against conservatives. Given progressivism’s rampant vandalism of language, it’s especially useful to peel back the layers of autistic screeching that have besmirched the mantle of conservatism and take stock of its ideological roots. For anyone seeking a good primer on the classical conception of conservatism, Robert Nisbet’s Conservatism: Dream and Reality is a good place to begin. Both a worthwhile companion and more succinct synthesis of Russell Kirk’s Conservative Mind, Nisbet’s Conservatism is a tour through the anatomy of conservative thought. Conservatism, in both cultural and political terms, is fundamentally about the conservation of values, institutions and traditions, and Nisbet’s overview also shares Kirk’s affinity for the thought of the movement’s inspirational forefather, Edmund Burke. Using Burke as his intellectual lodestar, Nisbet’s survey brings to bear the entire lineage of conservatism including Burkean contemporaries like Joseph de Maistre, Benjamin Disraeli, Louis Gabriel Ambroise de Bonald, and Alexis de Tocqueville. The contributions of modern exponents such as Russell Kirk, Michael Oakeshott, Irving Babbitt and TS Eliot are also acknowledged. What all of these men had in common was a shared conviction in the sanctity of traditionalism and a determination to ward off the steady encroachment of conservatism’s two adversaries: liberalism and socialism.

Sparked by Burke’s seminal rebuke to the French Revolution, modern conservatism arose as a response to both the Jacobin fervor for equality and the broader Enlightenment consensus which now forms the bedrock of Western modernity itself. Conservatives viewed the liberal fixation on radical individualism and rational empiricism as an assault on traditional life, and by extension, the hard won fruits of stability, order and civil society. Underneath the conservative conception of the entire social order was a natural epistemological framework for discerning cultural knowledge which forms the basis of the conservative relationship to all institutions of authority. Or to use Burkean terminology, the primacy of prejudice and prescription. Burke and his contemporaries argued that prescription and prejudice was a prerational wisdom borne from popular consciousness and intergenerational knowledge which arose organically from a stable social order. Family, church, and community all formed independent spheres of authority which simultaneously served to constrain behavior, build stable institutions, and mitigate the influence of the State. Burkeans maintained that the very notion of liberty itself hinged on the conservation of this social order. Subsequently, the liberal pursuit of abstract principles and the clinical application of the scientific method in an attempt to distill universal laws by which to govern human affairs was capricious, dehumanizing and detrimental to the very cornerstones of society they sought to conserve.

Liberalism’s tendency to consolidate its thought in an aristocracy of academic elites is one of the perennial gripes that binds every generation of conservatives. In contrast to the feudal conception of dispersed spheres of authority espoused by conservatives, liberalism relies very heavily on a system of education lead by a vanguard of intellectual gnostics in order to reproduce the effect normally cultivated within the institutions of traditional society. Stated in contemporary terms, the progressives need propagandists. Beginning with Burke’s savage attacks on Rousseau to the seething contempt poured on the clinical abstractions of Jeremy Bentham, academic elites have long been reviled by conservatives as the engineers of social dissolution.

.facebook_1510334569016.jpg

Yeah, well Edmund Burke didn’t know queer theory, did he? Checkmate, conservatards.

Where the conservative mind accepts humanity as it is, the liberal zeal for reform seeks to eradicate all vestiges of the traditional order so that the era of emancipated brotherhood can be fully realized. This religious pursuit of a reformed consciousness is the singular hallmark of all leftist revolutionaries from Rousseau to Lenin to its current manifestation in the postmodern, social justice Left. Both Tocqueville and Burke saw the French Revolution as a pursuit of radical egalitarianism engineered by academics. Within these criticisms was a recognition that the “French revolution inaugurated a kind of revolution of the Word, something previously found in only evangelical, proselytizing religions.” It’s a pattern that repeated itself during the Bolshevik Revolution in the 20th century and appears to be resurfacing now within the postmodern Left.

pronouns

Conservatives from Bonald to Hegel argued that the transference of the locus of moral authority away from the spheres of family and church and into the hands of the State is the mental carcinogen at the core of the revolutionary mindset. Rousseau himself was very explicit in the Social Contract that the goal was to institute a “civil religion.”  In contrast to the conservative conception of independent spheres of authority of which both family and church play an essential role, the progressive appropriates the divine sanction the church confers upon the State and bends it towards a revolutionary end. For the progressive, the moral is political. Subsequently, all areas of life must be subordinated to the “civil religion” of #SocialJustice.

Lead by the feminist vanguard, the assault on family life is now out in full display. Conservatives opposed feminism on the grounds that it undermined the traditional role of women as wives and mothers. While relatively few openly embrace the mantle of feminism, the fruits of the feminist crusade for taxpayer subsidized abortion, no fault divorce and gynocentric child custody law are more than evident in declining birth rates, rising divorce rates, unfavorable outcomes for boys and a perverse obsession with gender neutrality.  Add in the progressive obsession with importing immigrants and the conservative argument only gathers strength.

 

Where family pride ceases to act, individual selfishness comes into play. When the idea of family becomes vague, indeterminate, and uncertain, a man thinks of his present convenience; he provides for the establishment of his next succeeding generation and no more. Either a man gives up the idea of perpetuating his family, or at any rate he seeks to accomplish it by other means than by a landed estate. – Alexis de Tocqueville

.facebook_1510354017178.jpg

One of the more surprising revelations of Nisbet’s research is the conservative opposition to industrialization and laissez faire and its attendant effect on the relationship to property. Contrary to the modern perception of conservatives as heartless and calculating champions of dog eat dog capitalism, a theme that echoed throughout the writings of early conservatives is an outright hostility to free markets that even surpasses those of the Marxists. Disraeli, Coleridge and Bonald along with many others rejected the atomizing effect capitalism had on society. In laissez faire, they saw the erosion of social bonds and destruction wrought on rural life.

Closely related to the conservative critique of free markets is an equally fervent critique of property rights under capitalism. As the laws of entail and primogeniture were whisked away under the modern capitalist order, so too would it undermine the belief in private property itself and eventually pave the path for full scale socialism.

One of Nisbet’s most provocative claims is that the longstanding conservative opposition to liberalism is that it’s a Trojan Horse for totalitarianism. He contends that the veneer of liberation only severs the cultural bonds of family and community that simultaneously form the basis of a stable social order and serve as a bulwark against an oppressive State. In light of the current state of the Left throughout the West, it’s hard to say they were wrong. In fact, the entire multicultural, social justice project seems like a perverse and artificial inversion of the organic forms of social organization championed by conservatives. In place of the network of religious, cultural and familial constraints on behavior, progressives are attempting to fill every crevice of society with overzealous reinventions and policing of language coupled with weaponized identity politics.

One notable figure to whom Nisbet makes repeated reference throughout the book is Joseph de Maistre. Isaiah Berlin sees him as the architect of modern fascism whereas Nisbet places him alongside classical European conservatives like Burke, Bonald, Disraeli and Tocqueville. Though Maistre may not have been an easygoing guy, I am inclined to think that Berlin’s reading of Maistre’s work is uncharitable and his overall appraisal incorrect. Admittedly, Maistre doesn’t engender the warmest feelings when discussing the importance of the role of the executioner in society, but among other things, his opposition to the rationalist consensus of the Enlightenment and the secular tyranny of the French Revolution was entirely well founded.

I further propose that Berlin’s attempt to pin fascism to Maistre or classical conservatism not only contravenes conservatives’ steadfast opposition to state engineered collectivism and feudal conception of dispersed authority, it represents an early attempt by a liberal to attribute the phenomenon of fascism as the exclusive province of the political Right. Christopher Dawson correctly asserted that fascism should be viewed as a product of liberalism since it ultimately seeks to collectivize the individual with the State. The fact that fascist regimes appropriated elements of conservative dogma only changes the particular flavor of its collectivist and leftist ethos. Though Berlin was a thoughtful scholar, this tendency among liberals to assign blame to conservatives for the fundamentally socialist character of fascism has continued unabated. As Paul Gottfried has repeatedly argued, it is not only a feature of contemporary social justice orthodoxy, but it has congealed into a dementia that has consumed the progressive Left.

Nisbet rightly points out that throughout the past few centuries of Western democracy, there has always been a delta between conservatism as pure ideology and as a set of prescriptive cultural norms versus political conservatism. Quoting Benjamin Disraeli, Nisbet emphasizes the fact that political conservatives are creatures of their age, and subsequently, are subject to all of the vagaries that accompany the acquisition of political power.

The truth is, gentlemen, a statesman is the creature of his age, the child of circumstance, the creation of his times. A statesman is essentially a practical character ; and when he is called upon to take office, he is not to inquire what his opinions might or might not have been upon this or that subject he is only to ascertain the needful and the beneficial, and the most feasible manner in which affairs are to be carried on. – Benjamin Disraeli

While this accounts for conservatives’ numerous concessions to progressives, political scandals, ideological purity tests and plagues of corruption, it also creates a bit of a conundrum for conservatism itself. If conservatism is about upholding fixed principles, cultural tradition, intergenerational knowledge and a restraint on state power, what has American, or European, political conservatism actually conserved?  Nisbet concedes its failures, but is sanguine about its future.

Quite apart from symbolic value and even genuine, concrete reference, family, kindred, neighborhood and locality, even region and race, have a universal historical meaning that is not likely to be entirely eroded away by the acids of modernity. – Robert Nisbet

.facebook_1510354123468.jpg

Nisbet may have been a little too optimistic. The Trump era has ushered in what is probably the most fervent and concerted attack on conservatism. Through Trump can hardly be considered a doctrinaire conservative on any given issue, the issues on which he has taken firm public positions that are genuinely conservative are deeply consequential for the future of the republic. The progressive Left is fully possessed by a revolutionary nihilism which only seeks to eradicate all vestiges of the past and has shown nothing but contempt for any form of historical American tradition. We are living in an time in American history in which the Left’s thirst for power is so unrestrained, they are willing to foment both racial antipathy and open hostility to family life. The Left has abandoned the idea of a country with borders and a set of dominant cultural norms in favor of a radical cultural egalitarianism and a globalist utopianism. While the Left revels in its smug certainty that conservative insistence on immigration restriction is inherently bigoted and a design flaw in the conservative mindset, it is more rightly viewed as the time honored recognition of a pluralism of values and the necessity for the preservation of national values. The Left has made it clear that there is nothing to defend, nothing to uphold and nothing to conserve in the American tradition. When we’ve reached a point when even “The Star Spangled Banner” is a bone of contention between progressives and conservatives, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the conservative is the real radical of the 21st century.

.facebook_1510433753371.jpg

 

 

Advertisements

Whither Libertarianism? Reflections on the Revolution Within

I empathize with those who find ideological categories and labels confining and reductive. Many people hold a wide variety of positions which defy one easy overarching classification while others claim Radical Centrism® either out of extreme cognitive bias, intellectual laziness, logical incoherence or moral cowardice. Still others claim one set of principles in the marketplace of ideas, but subordinate them to one of the dominant political parties out of a sense of pragmatism. The political process certainly doesn’t help matters by herding people into the rigid confines of partisan bickering. The flattening of political thought is only exacerbated by the outrage du jour that is now a staple of our 24/7 social media enabled news cycle. As problematic as labels may be, they serve a purpose of distinguishing broad principles and ideas around which people organize. Words have meaning, and when it comes to political philosophy, it’s especially important to be able to clearly specify principles and objectives. If there’s one political philosophy which distinguishes itself on adherence to principles above all else, it’s libertarianism. Or at least that’s what I thought.

For those who aren’t in the liberty movement, libertarianism is undergoing a bit of identity crisis. This is nothing new. It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. Scorned and ridiculed by conservatives and progressives alike, libertarians have always had a reputation for being the gadflies of politics. If you thought the 2016 election cycle was fractious for conventional partisans, it was even more divisive for libertarians. Libertarians are already divided over numerous issues, and if anything, infighting and disagreement are features of being in the liberty movement. The aftermath of the 2016 election only seems to have amplified these divisions. In the run-up to the 2016 election, you had self-described libertarians for Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and most inexplicably, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. And that doesn’t even include the anarchists who didn’t vote. If that doesn’t leave you a little confused over what libertarianism means, you’re certainly not alone.

On the one hand, it’s great that there is such a diversity of thought and a robust culture of debate within the liberty movement. On the other, having such disparities in political activism dilutes what is a fairly well established body of thought. Such diversity may not lend itself towards building a future for a movement that is already vilified as a collection of nerds who are more invested in being militant iconoclasts than in achieving tangible political goals.

Is it important for libertarians to have a uniform ideology? Will having clearly defined principles result in purity tests and purges? Can an ideology that’s so resolutely individualistic and anti-state build a meaningful coalition? Is deference to state authority too deeply imprinted into the human psyche after thousands of years of psychological evolution? As the ultimate hierarchical organization, does state authority provide a salutary psychological benefit that libertarianism takes for granted? Are historical examples of anarchist societies evidence that anarchy can work or are they proof of their anomalous and unstable nature? Is state power an inherently corrupting influence on those who wield it or is the corruption merely a reflection of the absence of morality within the culture over which it presides? Moreover, is it realistic to advocate for a stateless society given that libertarianism is already a marginal philosophy within the context of what was arguably the most overtly libertarian attempt at a limited state: the United States of America? If true libertarianism is strictly defined as advocacy for the abolition of the state, are the ideas strong enough to sustain a lasting social order? Specifically, is the Non-Aggression Principle sufficient to sustain a stable and cohesive society? Or would it require strong familial, cultural, and religious communities? Do libertarians ultimately have to accept that large swaths of human civilization will simply not voluntarily buy into the idea of a stateless society? Is standing up for pure libertarian principles a brave position or is it little more than the libertarian version of virtue signaling?

While I don’t have definitive answers to these questions, I still regard libertarianism as a beautiful and edifying vision. I also believe that the most trenchant critiques of state power are found within the liberty movement. In light of the schisms that have emerged, I think it’s useful to take a look at the various libertarian factions and evaluate their respective merits.

LP/Cato Libertarians

Roughly comprised of beltway think tanks, tenured academics, LP aspirants, Reason readers and Radical Centrists® disenfranchised from the two party duopoly, this group of libertarians seeks to cast the widest net for the liberty philosophy. This crowd also seems most eager to lay claim to the legacy of classical liberalism by building a largely secular libertarianism from the likes of Hayek, Friedman, Nozick, Rand and Mill. What they lack in criticisms of central banking and the warfare state, they make up for in advocacy for legal weed and prostitution. Though there is a wealth of good journalism, research, and libertarian theory emanating from this corner, there are also some troubling sops to social justice activists, Islam apologists, open borders crusaders, and “post-scarcity” futurists cheerleading for universal basic income. This also happens to be the home of the “libertarians” for Hillary. That should have been an oxymoron, but for some reason, it was a thing.


What is to be made of the LP and Gary Johnson contingent? Johnson ran for president on the LP ticket in 2012 and 2016, and let’s just say his candidacy left most libertarians uninspired to say the very least. Most people saw Johnson’s credibility go up in flames over the infamous Aleppo gaffe, but the sad truth is that his debate and town hall performances did the job for him. While most libertarians were craving a principled candidate willing to articulate the liberty philosophy with clarity and conviction, what they got instead was a bumbling figurehead who seemed caught flat footed with every question. His mealy mouthed platitudes about being “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” just made him sound like Republican Lite. Since most libertarians spend a good chunk of their time and energy honing their arguments for liberty, Johnson’s intellectual lethargy was especially galling. He often seemed like he just wanted to be a more respectable “libertarian” version of Jeff Spicoli. Among many other dubious statements, Bill Weld’s rather open embrace of Hillary Clinton didn’t exactly endear him to movement libertarians either.
wp-1509412460429..jpeg

Despite fielding candidates like Ron Paul and Harry Browne in past elections, the LP has beclowned itself in several ways recently, too. If the striptease at the LP convention didn’t leave you bewildered, might I recommend a look at their Twitter account. Some of their recent flacking for North Korea has prompted both ridicule and revulsion. Judd Weiss’ sobering expose of the behind-the-scenes cannibalism and backstabbing of the 2016 election dispelled all notions that the LP were somehow above the bloodsport of major party politics. And that’s saying nothing of Nicholas Sarwark’s strange, unprovoked attack on Tom Woods. Though the LP has a radical caucus, it’s future prospects are murky at best.

wp-1509407199683..jpeg

Seriously, LP?

Left Libertarians

wp-1509500490632..jpeg

It’s like dialectical materialism, but way more #WOKE, dude.

Basically, these are the SJWs of the liberty movement. They seem almost wholly consumed by cultural progressivism and railing against entire spectrum of -isms that most have come to associate with the term “social justice warrior”. Best exemplified by the Center For Stateless Society and Bleeding Heart Libertarians, these so-called libertarians are putting a market mutualist spin on the entire progressive agenda from universal basic income to healthcare. There is surely some overlap with the Cato Libertarians, but for my money, there’s little daylight between this crowd and your garden variety gender studies freshman. For a group of people who claim to be promoting heterodox thought, it sure sounds a lot like the establishment.

Rothbardians/Austro-libertarians

wp-1509407367640..jpeg

The real schism in libertarianism seems to reveal itself when it comes to where you stand on the work of the Mises Institute, Murray Rothbard or Hans Hermann Hoppe. Given the fact that Murray Rothbard himself was excommunicated from Cato and split from the LP, it should come as little surprise that the Mises institute and everyone in their orbit seem to attract the most controversy. Unsurprisingly, this is also where you’ll find the most robust vision of libertarianism.

The two recent speeches given by Jeff Deist and Hans Hoppe demarcate the divide between the punters and the warriors for liberty. Both speeches laid out a practical way forward for the liberty movement while avoiding the temptation to impose abstract ideals of libertarian universalism. Deist laid out a strategy for radical decentralization from the grip of an overextended federal state and the tentacles of globalism coupled with a return to localized cultural and familial bonds. Hoppe echoed Rothbard’s call for libertarian populism by laying out a very specific set of actions where libertarians could make common cause with the broader conservative movement in order to make greater advances towards a libertarian social order. Besides his very explicit contention that libertarianism is strictly the advocacy for a stateless society, Hoppe’s speech was also a stinging rebuke to Libertarianism Lite as well as the Alt Right.

Naturally, both speeches drew a chorus of autistic screeching from every ideological corner. Deist’s speech was reviled as a crypto-fascist “blood and soil” screed while Hoppe’s speech was similarly attacked as a white supremacist dog whistle. The Rothbardian tradition has synthesized Lockean natural rights with a radical theory of laissez faire free markets and Burkean traditionalism. It’s an elegant and logically consistent ideology while taking into account human nature, history and tradition.

But libertarianism is staring down the corridor of history filled with centuries of monarchies, city states and nation states. Human psychology has evolved to submit to some kind of sovereign governing body. Even if some small scale version of Ancapistan is created, it will be forced to coexist alongside actual formal nation states. Its members will have to perform a private equivalent of every function currently performed by actual nation states. Including and especially border control and collective defense. And if necessary, physical removal.

wp-1509660563497..jpeg

Can libertarianism win and secure its victory for posterity? Can libertarianism win exclusively through persuasion in the marketplace of ideas? Can a meaningful coalition be built by completely eschewing the acquisition of state power? Would a polycentric society lend itself towards the kind of stability of tradition which Burke and other classical conservatives envisioned? I don’t know for sure, but I know it’s going to remain a hard sell. It’s perhaps the toughest pathway by which to build a consensus, but perhaps the one which presumably will grow the deepest roots amongst its adherents.

On Modernism, Postmodernism and the Degradation of Western Values in Art

Salvador Dali

Concomitant with the ascendancy of the trends themselves, conservatives and liberty-minded intellectuals ranging from Ayn Rand to Dennis Prager have inveighed against modernist and postmodernist trends in art on the grounds that it represents a degradation of aesthetic standards and, by extension, Western values. As an artist myself and one who is and has been sympathetic to these modes of expression, this is an argument to which I’ve devoted considerable thought. While I agree with the central propositions put forth by these individuals, I’m not ready to throw the modernist baby out with the bathwater. Art can and should affirm immutable, transcendent values that will carry on beyond the lifetimes of their creators. Art should also be grounded in tradition and those who pursue it should be held to the highest standards.  I propose that modernist and postmodernist trends, or what was once regarded as avant-garde, have largely supplanted any notions of Western traditionalism. Objective standards of beauty and excellence have indeed given way to a bottomless relativism. Contemporary art is a little too consumed by nihilism, ugliness and abstraction for its own sake.  If artists consume themselves with rebellion against values and standards to which no one is holding them accountable, then it’s little more than empty posturing.

Modernism was transgressive in its day because the standard bearers of traditionalism were the mainstream in art. When the impressionists departed from classical realism, it was transgressive because classical realism was the standard. The various movements that defined the 20th century saw art moving further and further away from these traditions to the point where avant-garde no longer has any meaning other than to signify a broad body of artistic expression defined by a departure from or outright annihilation of any semblance of traditionalism.

Pablo Picasso

If artists have no commitment to uphold anything sacred or beautiful and the profane and ugly are the default settings, then it reflects a rottenness in the cultural soul just as Ayn Rand asserted.

Art (including literature) is the barometer of a culture. It reflects the sum of a society’s deepest philosophical values: not its professed notions and slogans, but its actual view of man and of existence. – Ayn Rand

Art, at some level, must edify and exalt the divine spirit or some universal idea of cosmic Oneness. Without it, humanity drifts towards solipsism and nihilism. The avant-garde only has power to shock when it serves as a counterweight to an overbearance of traditionalism. In the world of art, there is literally no boundary which has not been transgressed, no sacred idol undesecrated nor profanity unspoken. We’re pretty far away from any kind of hegemony of traditionalism in the art world. Just as atheism and anarchism may be philosophically and logically untenable positions, each argument serves as a permanent counterpoint to institutional power. I believe that the avant-garde is the active attempt to concretize these philosophical positions.

Willem de Kooning


Jackson Pollock

People are generally attracted to art, music and literature that has identifiable structure, steady rhythms, heroism and the pursuit of justice, themes which address relatable slices of life in memorable and clever ways, and emotional content that’s somehow uplifting. For better and worse, the avant-garde has generally eschewed these conventions. Conversely, people generally do not want to consume art that is too abstract or dwells on humanity’s tendency towards depravity.

That said, the avant-garde has produced a wealth of innovation which cannot be denied. There is a place for expressionism, abstraction and pastiche. The surreal and the grotesque have their place in a panorama of artistic expression in which the traditionally beautiful occupies a prominent position. Admittedly, avant-garde has rebel cache because it was used as both anti-communist propaganda by the CIA and was repudiated by the Nazis as “degeneracy”. Anything that scandalizes the upper crust intelligentsia, pisses off the Nazis, and gets subsidized to fight communism despite being created by artists largely sympathetic to communism is going to have some built-in appeal. The avant-garde’s associations with dubious ideologies should not be ignored, but that should not preclude exploration or reevaluation of the ideas either.

Yves Tanguy

From my perspective, the avant-garde only occurs as such in proportion to the degree to which the tradition from which it departs is recognizable. Oftentimes, the most innovative artists walk a fine line between tradition and modernism and find a way to reconcile seemingly disparate aesthetics.

The critics of the avant-garde have a point. If nothing else, the central proposition that animates nearly every avant-garde movement is the departure from objective reality.  As much as I am supportive of a revival of classical standards in art, I’m equally enthusiastic about the renewed vitality it will bring to the avant-garde.

René François Ghislain Magritte

The Founder (2016)

A cynic might view John Lee Hooker’s portrait of Ray Kroc, The Founder, as an indictment of the American Dream itself. McDonald’s has come to signify everything illusory, toxic and and inhuman about American capitalism and idealism. Whether it’s Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, or any of the various #FightFor15 campaigns, the progressive Left has the fast food industry squarely in the crosshairs. Depending on the outrage du jour, the fast food industry is underpaying workers, poisoning the population with toxic food, contributing to the obesity epidemic, hastening the global warming crisis and propping up oversized agribusiness conglomerates. No other restaurant chain embodies all of this amoral rapacity, soulless industrialism, and ruthless expansionism more than McDonald’s. Of course, there is some truth to the charges leveled at McDonald’s and the fast food industry. However, as this film brilliantly illustrates, these qualities were features of Ray Kroc’s personality flaws and what he injected into the McDonald’s brand rather than design flaws in the fabric of American values or even the fast food industry.  

The Founder is a fairly straightforward historical biopic which, like its subject matter, succeeds on economical storytelling and tasty performances. It’s a fascinating story because it reveals how McDonald’s and fast food became synonymous with American values. More importantly, it shows how Ray Kroc deformed those values through his own ruthless ambition. 

Hollywood films often present their subjects through an ideological lens of progressive politics, and I suspect the filmmakers of The Founder had a similar aim. As long as you recognize that, the film presents some fairly decent lessons in market economics, industrial engineering of food production, contract law ethics, and brand building. The title of the film is very loaded because it draws up an assumption in your mind about its meaning. What Ray Kroc “founded” is not exactly what you might think.

Before McDonald’s, Ray Kroc was a mediocre traveling salesman trying to hock milkshake multimixers to the burgeoning fast food industry.  The drive in was the dominant model and it included features of the fast food experience that have been long consigned to the historical memory bin. Hamburgers and fries were served on washable dinnerware and delivered to your car by waitresses on roller skates. Ray Kroc had a mass market mentality, but no one in the middle American fast food business seemed to share it. His attempts to appeal to American ingenuity and Say’s Law fell on deaf ears.

Ray Kroc: But if ya had the Prince Castle, 5-spindle, multimixer… with patented direct-drive electric motor we’d greatly increase your ability to produce… delicious, frosty milkshakes, FAST. Mark my words. Dollars to donuts, you’ll be sellin’ more of those sons of bitches… then you can shake a stick at. You increase the supply, and the demand will follow… Increase supply, demand follows. Chicken, egg. Do you follow my logic? I know you do because you’re a bright, forward thinking guy who… knows a good idea when he hears one. So… What do you say? 

When Kroc receives an order for eight multimixers from a burger joint in San Bernardino, his hopes and curiosity intensify. Kroc arrives at McDonald’s and he is thunderstruck. He receives his order instantaneously, the wrappings are completely disposable, there’s no wait staff, and there’s a line of customers as far as the eye can see. However, all of this innovation came from the minds, sacrifices and work of Dick and Mac McDonald. Through a combination of ambition, courage, and Dick McDonald’s ruthless pursuit of cost savings and production efficiency, McDonald’s changed the fast food game for all time. Kroc is captivated and ingratiates himself with the McDonald brothers. 

Kroc pitches the McDonalds a national vision for the restaurant. The Golden Arches are more than just a visual brand; they are the symbolic glue between the Christian cross and the American flag. The McDonalds aren’t sold because they tried franchising the restaurant but couldn’t maintain quality control. Dick McDonald was a master of industrial food production and a capitalist through and through, but he didn’t want to lose control over the quality of the product. Being the more sentimental of the brothers, Mac sees a possibility for the kind of national success that eluded them and persuades his hard headed brother to sign a deal with Kroc.

Kroc returns to the Midwest with his sights set on complete domination. He makes appearances at Rotary clubs, churches and synagogues and begins recruiting families into the McDonald’s franchise with the fervor of an evangelist. Kroc may not have invented the food production system, but he did succeed in grafting the idea of McDonald’s to the psychological infrastructure of American ideals: family, opportunity, optimism. 

Despite his early success, his is unable to repay his business loans due to the small percentage allotted in his contract. He grows increasingly impatient with Dick McDonald’s insistence on quality control. Kroc really turns an ethical corner when he forms a real estate holding company at the advice of Harry Sonneborn.  By owning the land on which the franchises are built, he is guaranteed a larger revenue stream and capital base. Most importantly, it offers him leverage over the McDonalds. When he sees a possibility to cut costs with milkshake mix instead of real ice cream, Kroc sets himself on a collision course with the McDonalds. Kroc amasses enough power to buy his way out of his contract. Through the process, he kicks his wife of 39 years, Ethel Kroc, to the curb and courts the wife of franchisee, Rollie Smith. 

The film tips its partisan hand in a final scene which shows Kroc rehearsing a speech he’s preparing for an event in which Governor Ronald Reagan is scheduled to attend. Kroc is rehearsing all of the catch phrases and appeals to American ideals he perfected during McDonald’s ascent. When he finally approaches the part of the speech involving the first restaurant, he stammers and stumbles. Yes, we get it, folks. Republicans are shallow hypocrites who don’t uphold the ideals they espouse. But that’s a little too simplistic. Kroc won the McDonald’s enterprise, but he sacrificed its soul in the process. He took Dick McDonald’s industrial food production innovation and replaced it with a ruthless Benthamism. The McDonalds were the Jeffersonian capitalists who wanted to keep their idea regional and decentralized, but Kroc was the Hamiltonian who wanted a strong national identity for McDonald’s.

If you walk away from The Founder with the impression that American capitalism and idealism are false and hollow, you bought the cynicism that Hollywood is always selling. Fortunately, it’s a film that I believe has more meat on its bones than the average agitprop shit sandwich. Corruption, soulless industrialism, megalomaniacal ambition and hollow appeals to nationalism aren’t inextricably linked to capitalism. If that’s what the business is projecting into the world, that says more about the values of the individuals behind it. In the case of McDonald’s in its contemporary incarnation, the blame for these phenomena lies squarely at the feet of Ray Kroc. The McDonald brothers embodied American idealism without any grandiose speeches or national ambitions. Capitalism takes on the characteristics of the individuals behind it, and McDonald’s was ultimately hijacked by a particularly ruthless individual.  If there’s any overriding message of The Founder, that is surely it.  

Thomas Paine: Common Sense

Just like the famous shot heard around the world from the battle of Lexington, Thomas Paine’s liberty treatise from 1776 opens with a fire of clarity and purpose. Trumpian pugilism notwithstanding, it is a rare commodity in today’s era of political obscurantism and postmodernist chicanery.

Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

In four sentences, Paine draws a critical distinction that has been buried under years of political rhetoric and false morality.  In the classical liberal formulation, the nation state exists only to punish violations of individual liberty and property.  In the modern progressive mind, the nation state is the ultimate arbiter of virtue whose guns and prisons can somehow be repurposed to serve a seemingly endless list of moral imperatives.  The ballot box can magically confer an ever expanding list of “rights” to any group claiming the mantle of oppression.

Thomas Paine embodies what is now referred to as classical liberalism. Since today’s liberals have perverted and collapsed this basic distinction beyond all recognition, Common Sense restores the word “liberal” to its true meaning.

In Common Sense, Paine makes an appeal to American colonists to secede from British rule and form a constitutionally limited State. It is, in many ways, the first #Brexit. It is equal parts polemic, Biblical history and political philosophy.

It’s easy to understand why this wouldn’t go down so well in today’s Age of Social Justice. Besides being the work of a white male, Common Sense’s primary object is anathema to the modern Left: liberty.  In contrast to the childish romanticism of the modern Left’s conception of the federal State, Paine views government without the blinkers of progressive pablum. He sees it as at best, a necessary evil, and at worse, an engine of destruction.

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.

Paine even attempts an argument that has been all but abandoned by the modern Left: an appeal to economic common sense.  Paine views the construction of a naval fleet as a unique opportunity for economic gain and common defense. Rather than being another screed of a tyrant reaching for imperial power, we hear a humble man making a rational appeal to economic logic in service of rallying the skills and resources of his countrymen in order to fulfill a single revolutionary objective.

No country on the globe is so happily situated, or so internally capable of raising a fleet as America. Tar, timber, iron, and cordage are her natural produce. We need go abroad for nothing. Whereas the Dutch, who make large profits by hiring out their ships of war to the Spaniards and Portuguese, are obliged to import most of the materials they use. We ought to view the building a fleet as an article of commerce, it being the natural manufactory of this country. It is the best money we can lay out. A navy when finished is worth more than it cost. And is that nice point in national policy, in which commerce and protection are united. Let us build; if we want them not, we can sell; and by that means replace our paper currency with ready gold and silver.

Paine even expresses a concern for fiscal prudence and the burden that profligate spending would place on future generations.  The disdain he heaps on the politician who trades political favors for power is especially refreshing.

But to expend millions for the sake of getting a few vile acts repealed, and routing the present ministry only, is unworthy the charge, and is using posterity with the utmost cruelty; because it is leaving them the great work to do, and a debt upon their backs, from which they derive no advantage. Such a thought is unworthy a man of honor, and is the true characteristic of a narrow heart and a pedling politician.

Paine promoted a fervent belief in religious freedom, and the idea that it is the indispensable duty of government to protect this freedom.

As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of all government, to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government hath to do therewith. Let a man throw aside that narrowness of soul, that selfishness of principle, which the niggards of all professions are so unwilling to part with, and he will be at once delivered of his fears on that head. Suspicion is the companion of mean souls, and the bane of all good society. For myself, I fully and conscientiously believe, that it is the will of the Almighty, that there should be diversity of religious opinions among us: It affords a larger field for our Christian kindness. Were we all of one way of thinking, our religious dispositions would want matter for probation; and on this liberal principle, I look on the various denominations among us, to be like children of the same family, differing only, in what is called, their Christian names.

It’s very easy to read this and use it as a bludgeon against contemporary pro-Trump/anti-Muslim sentiment, but I believe it’s important to remember that this sentiment came from an avowed deist, and specifically, one who was raised in the Christian tradition. Has any similar sentiment arisen anywhere in Islamic culture? Does Islam promote a diversity of religious opinion now or at any other point in history?  To what extent is this belief of religious pluralism shared by contemporary Muslims?  Will progressives hold Muslims to this standard when they profess intolerance towards non-belief in Islam? Paine may have been appealing to what people in Western society regard as universal principles, but it doesn’t follow that every culture will share these principles.

What’s especially refreshing about Common Sense is the absence of the stink of academia.  That’s not to say that all academic thought is staid and stolid, but Paine’s prose burns with vigor because this is the work of a man who grasps the historical portent of the moment and knows that he has a winning argument.

At the center of Paine’s plea for liberty is an appeal to posterity, decency and yes, common sense.  Though Paine is largely viewed as one of the founding fathers of modern liberalism, the contemporary Left has all but abandoned Paine style liberalism.  Modern progressivism has traded the generosity of spirit and moral clarity of Paine for a shrill, condescending elitism which prioritizes identity politics and subservience to perceived institutional expertise over individual liberty. I doubt any progressive would concede the point, but you’re more likely to find the unifying message of Paine in an average Trump supporter sporting a MAGA hat than you will in a dyed hair collegiate gender studies major Berniecrat.

On these grounds I rest the matter. And as no offer hath yet been made to refute the doctrine contained in the former editions of this pamphlet, it is a negative proof, that either the doctrine cannot be refuted, or, that the party in favour of it are too numerous to be opposed.Wherefore, instead of gazing at each other with suspicious or doubtful curiosity; let each of us, hold out to his neighbour the hearty hand of friendship, and unite in drawing a line, which, like an act of oblivion shall bury in forgetfulness every former dissension. Let the names of Whig and Tory be extinct; and let none other be heard among us, than those of a good citizen, an open and resolute friend, and a virtuous supporter of the rights of mankind and of the FREE AND INDEPENDANT STATES OF AMERICA.

Betsy DeVos Versus the Government Education Establishment


I have family members and close friends who currently or previously worked in public education, and I can assure you, dear reader, that the libertarian argument for free market education isn’t a position that’s held in high regard in my world. It is my sincere hope that those of you reading this who also oppose a competitive market for education services will take this post in a spirit of promoting a real diversity of political opinion. 
Betsy DeVos has been nominated for the Chair of the Department of Education, and as is the case with everything Trump says or does, the progressive establishment is having a conniption. Whether it’s her lack of Ivy League credentials, her advocacy of charter schools or her positively abhorrent donation to FIRE, Betsy DeVos has been branded Public Education Enemy Number 1 by the entire government education apparatus. In his recent piece in Reason, Robby Soave very carefully and methodically points out why all of them are wrong and it is they who are the ideologically hidebound zealots. 

Here’s the deal. 

Pretty much everyone agrees that education is important. The larger and more important question is over how best to promote real education; as in independent thought, critical thinking, a curious mind, marketable skills and a lifelong love of learning, versus just going to school.

It’s easy to view education as a “right”. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not. If you are honest, you will easily be able to recall numerous occasions when school felt pointless and utterly without value. And the real world bears this out.  Unless you cultivate entrepreneurial skills, a high school education is basically worthless in the marketplace.  A bachelor’s degree doesn’t necessarily add much more value to your marketability either. When you treat any good or service into a “right” for which the government makes provision, you destroy the incentive to provide actual value. 

Whenever the failure of public schools is discussed, “Reform” is the default cliché deployed. Anyone who suggests a market based alternative is just someone who hates children and only wants rich people to have education. Sadly, the Left is very good at painting opposition to government education as opposition to education itself while portraying themselves as Guardians of Knowledge and Social Justice from the mindless hordes of conservatards who just want to plunge America into a regressive New Dark Age of mandatory Christianity. It should be obvious to everyone that there is no such thing as “Reform”. Once you place a giant institution like education behind the government wall, there’s little you can do to truly reform it.  

Institutional learning only reinforces deference to itself. If you want to promote real individuality and critical thinking skills, a bureaucratic, compulsory school system won’t produce that result.  

I have plenty of skepticism over whether Betsy DeVos is going to make any meaningful difference, but I’m certainly willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. The public school bureaucrats are the real zealots here. It’s easy to point the finger of reproach when you enjoy the tacit protection of the government. And no, it doesn’t make one goddamn bit of difference that she doesn’t have fancy degrees.  She’ll be in charge of a gigantic bureaucracy which sets the agenda for other bureaucracies. 

If nothing else, she should do everything in her power to squelch the Title IX jihadists and the campus star chambers dispensing extrajudicial “justice”.

Laurie Penny Goes Full Retard Over Brexit

Not that it’s a particularly new phenomenon or is somehow different from any occasion in which she opens her mouth to speak, Laurie Penny goes full retard in her latest New Statesman piece over the Brexit vote. 
As expected, it’s another annoyingly predictable slab of collectivist guilt tripping and preachy recriminations leveled at the allegedly racist, xenophobic, “neofascist” Neanderthal Right. She is indignant over how they are hopelessly stuck in the past and just won’t atone for Britain’s colonial repressions by accepting the arbitrary rule of globalist technocrats in Brussels.

Mx. Penny seems to believe that you can legislate kindness and decency, but Britain’s exit from the goatfuck known as the EU will not prevent a single individual from cultivating those virtues in the social sphere. Mx. Penny also seems to be asserting that moral virtue is tied to the ballot box and this is simply not the case. Trade, tariff and immigration policy are in no way shape or form tied to how individuals behave towards one another. She bemoans the Right’s supposed absence of #Tolerance© while failing to recognize that the Western world, including Great Britain, has been blazing trails by ensuring rights for LGBT communities. Despite a noticeable absence of reciprocal behavior in the Islamic world, the West has been bending over backwards to make accommodations for Muslim minorities and refugees. One can certainly advocate for tolerance towards different sexual preferences, lifestyles or religious beliefs, but people are going to formulate judgments regardless of which laws are passed. Calling conservatives bigots achieves little other than to confirm the smug elitism of her readership. It’s patently obvious that her reproach is solely directed at her conservative, white countrymen.  I’m willing to wager she wouldn’t dare lecture Muslims about their attitudes towards gays or utter a peep of skepticism towards the advent of Sharia courts in the UK.

Her invocations of Britain’s imperial past seem little more than a dumb and pathetic attempt to instill guilt and shame.  Britain ceased to be any kind of imperial power after WW2. She whinges away over the diminished prospects for the young people she insists have been deprived of opportunity as a result of this vote. This is the country and the descendants of the people who rebuilt London after being reduced to ashes after the Blitz, and this petty, elitist pillock has the gall to whine about colonialism. Equally contemptible is her blathering over the supposed dashed hopes of the “millions” of downtrodden millennials who’ve never even faced a fraction of the hardships of their forebears. She presently enjoys the freedom for which her ancestors bled and died.  She’s part of one of the oldest and proudest civilizations in the history of the world, but all she focuses on are Britain’s conquests while simultaneously ignoring the actual achievements of the British. According to Laurie Penny, you should disregard the contributions of Sir Isaac Newton, Samuel Johnson, Augustus Pugin, Alan Turing, Jethro Tull, Jane Austen, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Locke, Francis Bacon, Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare, Michael Faraday, CS Lewis, Francis Fowke, Margaret Thatcher, Henry Fox Talbot, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Stuart Mill, Mary Shelley, JRR Tolkien, Sir Walter Scott, Jimmy Page or John Lennon, and focus solely on all of the colonial repressions and things Brits appropriated from other cultures during its years of imperial expansion. Just feel guilty and hang your head in shame, you stupid degenerates. Someone with white skin and a British accent did something bad in the past and you should feel bad about it. Penny is either unaware or unwilling to acknowledge that there isn’t a single advanced culture in the world that hasn’t cracked a few skulls in order to establish some semblance of order. And in the case of Muhammad (PBUH), tens of millions of skulls cracked and enslaved over the course of many centuries.  But never mind all that.  Focus on the bad, imperialist British white man.

The West has been reasonably successful in having a pluralistic society with a multiplicity of opinions and beliefs.  It’s imperfect, but who would expect it to be anything other than imperfect? 

How many multicultural paradises are there in the Islamic world?  Perhaps Mx. Penny would prefer it there over the jackbooted oppression of Great Britain. 

All of her ridiculous and hyperbolic invocations of the rise of a fascist British state are just laughable. If anything, the idea of a globalist super state trying to manage a disparate collection of countries with different cultural traditions is an ill conceived idea from the start.  It is also one that is likely to destroy any vestiges of national identity and uniqueness. She claims to want the country of JK Rowling and David Bowie, but the successes of these artists was only possible within the context of free market capitalism; a system she openly wishes to dismantle.  It is also a system that would be increasingly constrained within the UK by Eurocrats. She wants a world of increased “kindness”, but spends an entire article branding the Leave contingent the racist, xenophobic, “frightened, parochial lizard-brain” of Britain. The country she apparently wants back is a monolith of uniform political opinion which is ultimately subordinate to socialists and globalist technocrats. It’s a country of Us versus Them, and Them is anyone who opposes the Leftist globalist agenda. It’s sounds every bit like the thinking and demagoguery of a totalitarian.

Her insistence that Britain submit to an Orwellian, globalist One World Democracy super state seems counterintuitive if what she really wants is “her country back”. Maybe the neofascist you’re looking for is the one in the mirror, Laurie.

James Madison: Federalist 10

image

James Madison’s essay from 1787 is generally regarded as one of the most significant pieces of modern political thought. Its reputation and importance seem a little overrated since it identifies the very political maladies the newly formed federal republic sought to mitigate, but ultimately amplified.  It’s essentially a refutation of the limits of federal power the Constitution was theoretically meant to constrain. 

Federalist 10 focuses on mitigating political faction; the tendency of a political group to overwhelm and trample the rights of a minority. 

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

Madison was obviously attuned to the corrupting influence which accompanied the acquisition of political power as well as the attendant tendency of politicians to pit citizens against one another. He essentially asks you accept that this phenomenon is inevitable. He further proposes that there are only two courses of action; abolish all personal liberty or somehow engineer a mass consensus of uniform opinions and interest. 

There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.

Madison’s perception of man’s tendency to exploit the apparatus of state power to exploit and inflame the passions of citizens against one another is incisive and relevant. 

So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.

His specific identification of greed and envy and the tension between Haves and Have Nots that has animated the passions of political sociopaths for centuries is also spot on.

But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.

He begins to go off the rails by suggesting that statesmen are “enlightened” in the first place or that the “public good” is something that can be defined or achieved through the legislative process.  This sounds more like an admission of futility than an affirmation of sound principle.

It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.

The solution to this inevitability is to mitigate the effects.

The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.

The specific mechanism by which this would be achieved is through a republican mode of governance over a democratic one.  Much is made of the difference between a democracy and a republic amongst Constitution wonks and paleoconservatives, and Madison draws a few useful distinctions between the two.

Madison rightfully points out the that the main flaw of democracy in which all are granted perfect equality of representation is that it devolves into tyranny.

Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.

A republic, on the other hand, is a form of government in which citizens delegate power to a select number of representatives.  The distinction seems pretty arbitrary if those in power trample the liberty of the citizens, but Madison insists that this difference is crucial. 

The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.

Madison argues that these “enlightened” delegates presiding over the Union would somehow thwart this tendency towards faction, but each of the “wicked projects” he feared have materialized. Ironic, given that the first one he mentions, the “rage for paper money”, didn’t take very long to materialize and Alexander Hamilton is the guy who agitated for it. 

The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project.

Each of the “wicked projects” he names were enacted or are being actively championed by one interest or another. Based on the palsied state of affairs and the dim view of Washington the public holds, the factious spirit is more an entrenched reality of the political process than ever.

If anything, Federalist 10 gives more credence to the Anti-Federalist position that the Constitution under consideration in Philadelphia in 1787 was destined for mission creep.  It seems less an affirmation of the soundness of the Constitution and more of a vague hope that things won’t degenerate quite as badly as other experiments in democratic government.

On the other hand, the political class has followed Madison’s advice very closely, and used it to their advantage. Despite the veneer of a vast ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans, the two party duopoly has been very successful in engineering a uniform consensus.  The limits on federal power were trampled starting with the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion and were arguably completely eroded during the Woodrow Wilson administration.  Presently, the President of the United States governs by Executive Order, and no one in Congress raises a peep of opposition. Democrats and Republicans are now completely united in preserving the institutions, policies, programs as well as the abuses, manufactured outrages and animosities which keep Americans obedient to the system.

The Constitution was meant to produce what John Adams famously described as “a government of laws, and not of men.” It was meant to delimit and constrain the power the federal government could exercise. In Federalist 10, James Madison seems to be preparing you for the inevitable destruction of that principle.

Helen Kendrick Johnson: Woman and the Republic

image

The attainment of women’s suffrage which accompanied the passage of the 19th Amendment is generally regarded as synonymous with Human Progress. Like the abolition of slavery or the passage of ’64 Civil Rights Act, I’m doubtful you’ll find many people who’ll see women’s suffrage as anything other than a badly needed step of evolutionary human progress to redress a boorish and retrograde inequity. Nor are you likely to find a history book or media depiction of the suffrage movement as being anything less than heroic and principled.  It’s difficult to even fathom the idea that there was anyone who was opposed to women’s suffrage, let alone a woman. Surely, anyone who would argue such a position is beneath contempt and unworthy of mention in the annals of history. 

As it turns out, Helen Kendrick Johnson was that woman and that’s precisely what makes her anti-suffrage treatise, Woman and the Republic, such a fascinating read. Published in 1897, Woman and the Republic is roughly analogous to Thomas Sowell’s 1984 book, Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality. Johnson examines the arguments of suffragists and scrutinizes their claims against the historical data and the daily reality of life in late 19th century America.  At the time of its publication, the suffrage movement was fifty years old and suffragists had a very specific agenda. Their grievances were spelled out in the Suffrage Declaration of Sentiments and the History of Woman Suffrage. Johnson proceeds to demolish these arguments one by one in a very elegant and systematic fashion. You could say she was both a proto-Christina Hoff Sommers and Phyllis Schlafly. Not all of Johnson’s arguments stand up to scrutiny, but when one measures her arguments against the claims of contemporary feminists and progressives, one can certainly assert that she was correct about more than most would be willing to concede. 

The single most astonishing revelation of Woman and the Republic is that the grievances of the suffragists are exactly identical to the grievances of contemporary feminists.  This book is 119 years old, and Johnson could easily be teleported into the 21st century and would find herself exasperated that feminists are still griping about the same things as their 19th century forebears. 
The clearest example of this is Johnson’s elegant yet brutal takedown of the 19th century wage gap.  Yes, indeed.  Just like feminists of the 21st century, suffragists of the 19th century were in fact whinging about the wage gap back in 1897 and Johnson disposes of these claims like a boss.  While rational people who value empiricism over manipulative, demagogic claims have been trying to stamp out the wage gap myth for decades, Helen Kendrick Johnson was the clearly the mythbusting OG. Though largely arguing from biological determinism but always grounded in sound economics, Johnson supplies a trove of data indicating that women are properly compensated according to skill. She further contends that they suffer no unequal access to the labor market and that wage discrimination is largely influenced by the fact that women often leave the labor force to have children. Johnson rightfully points out the glaring absence of outrage around female representation in physically strenuous and technically challenging fields. The deafening silence she received from suffragists is exactly analogous to the selective outrage exhibited by contemporary feminists. 

The Suffragists did not decry man’s “monopoly” of the honorable and profitable but severe professions of civil engineering, seamanship, mining engineering, lighthouse keeping and inspecting, signal service, military and naval duty, and the like. These, and the drudgery of the world’s business and commerce, man was welcome to keep.

Nowadays, feminists blame “socialization” for disparities in representation and have gamed the political system in order to feed at the taxpayer trough. Johnson was attuned to this phenomenon as well.

The influence of women upon politics, and the influence of politics upon women, have already been degrading. This is true of political intrigue in the old world, and of the “Female Lobby” in Washington. It is astonishing to what an extent it is true in our new country, with our fresh and sweet traditions.

Johnson challenges the mantle of victimhood that was a feature of suffrage, and is the hallmark of contemporary feminism. Modern feminism hinges on a theory of an all-encompassing system of male patriarchal oppression, and Johnson’s criticism feels way ahead of its time.

While the counts contain concrete statements, the closing clause—”the law in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands”—sets forth an abstract idea in justification of which they furnish no proof.

Even worse, the divisive, supremacist beliefs that are commonplace among feminists were also espoused by suffragists. The following quote from Utah State Senator and champion of suffrage, Martha Cannon, as well as numerous other examples gathered by Johnson demonstrate that these sentiments were not isolated phenomena.

Of course I am. It will help women, and it will purify politics. Women are better than men. Slaves are always better than their masters.

In another striking parallel between the 21st century feminist grievance machine and the 19th century suffragists, Johnson illustrates how access to higher education was politicized. Johnson persuasively argues that the market was already providing expanded opportunity for women, and that this was neither hastened by granting suffrage nor a matter that required enfranchisement. While the world rightfully cheers Malala Yousafzai’s heroic efforts to bring female education into the Islamic world, women of the West suffer no lack of access to higher education. If anything, the vote has only enshrined a culture of entitlement and a toxic alliance between government power, illiberal feminist activism and the entire apparatus of higher education.

The central pillar of opposition to which Johnson devotes much of the book is her contention that woman suffrage is too closely aligned with socialism and collectivist anarchism. 

Johnson devotes a significant portion of the first half of the book to failed attempts at woman enfranchisement throughout the Union.  Using a dizzying deluge of voting data and razor sharp logic, Johnson piles layer upon layer of scorn on the various proponents of suffrage who espoused an affinity for socialism, fiat currency, disdain for family, sexual profligacy, and disregard for Constitutional principles.  It’s easy to dismiss Johnson as narrow minded, uptight prig whose views belong in the dustbin of history.  Even if you view prostitution, pornography, sexual liberation and non-traditional family arrangements favorably, it’s impossible to deny the ongoing advancement of everything else she warned against. 

Johnson insists that if women are going to agitate for suffrage, they must also share in the responsibility that accompanies the maintenance of the nation state.  In other words, be prepared to back up the law with force.  She sees no diminution of woman’s sphere of social or civic influence by honoring the traditional biological division of labor that has defined most societies through the centuries.  If anything, she argues that this traditional separation has privileged womanhood and allowed her to exert an even greater sphere of influence in the realm of private relations and family.

To give women a position of apparent power, without its reality, would be to make our Government forever unstable.

The one point where Johnson’s argument feels the most prescient is her concern that suffrage would lead to military conscription for women.  On this point, Johnson was not only Phyllis Schlafly’s philosophical progenitor, but she unwittingly exposes the rank hypocrisy of feminists.  As politicians and military leaders advance legislation that would mandate Selective Service registration for women, the silence from feminist media and blogosphere is deafening. Despite the often desperate and pathetic attempts to brainwash the public to believe otherwise, contemporary intersectional feminism has nothing to do with “equality.”  No matter how often feminists say they want to “smash the patriarchy,” it’s patently obvious that feminists are thoroughly uninterested in smashing this particular expression of “patriarchy.” If anything, the abiding lesson of Johnson’s message is that if you start treating voting as a universal “right” or use the voting booth to agitate for positive rights over the preservation of negative rights, don’t be surprised when the politicians decide to trample your liberty in order to expand their own power.  Most of all, don’t mindlessly regurgitate talking points about “equality” when there is state enforced gender discrimination which places the burden of military conscription squarely on the shoulders of men. 

Women can be seriously destructive; but no one will claim that organized military duty is really practicable for them. And the suffrage proposition does not look to anything of the kind. The Suffragists demand equal vote in sending their fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, and lovers to the military field of action, and propose to be absolutely exempt from equal share in the duty that that vote now lays upon male voters. Before the law there could be no distinction of duty on account of race, sex, or previous condition of servitude. The “emancipated” woman would be emancipated into that which the Declaration of Independence expressly called for, “the right and privilege of the people to bear arms.”

Johnson righteously attacks the dubious equivalence between the suffrage and the abolitionist movements. She devotes an entire chapter to the delta between the rhetoric of suffragists and abolitionists. It’s yet another remarkable example of a phenomenon that lives on in feminist and social justice circles alike, and serves as a potent reminder that the feminist script remains largely unchanged. To this day, feminists use the legacy of slavery to inculcate shame and guilt and claim an unearned mantle of moral authority by drawing a non-existent equivalence between the abolitionists of the 19th century and 21st century intersectionality.  Johnson opens the chapter by lauding the abolition of slavery as a triumph of human freedom, but credits the achievement to “enlightened rulers” in the federal government. She attributes the abolition of slavery to the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, but devotes no real attention to the moral argument against slavery itself.  Johnson’s views could be described in contemporary terms as paleoconservative. She consistently appeals to tradition by arguing that the United States federal government was conceived to be confined to limits prescribed by the Constitution for the express purpose of preserving liberty. From her vantage point, suffrage was granted to those who had property rights for the express purpose of upholding the sanctity of property rights as a general principle. The fact that this limited suffrage was the province of men was not only proper and just, but necessary for the preservation of liberty. Under universal suffrage, there’s an inequality of self-interest with respect to the preservation of property rights and a danger that the law could then be perverted to serve as an apparatus of plunder as it is presently. She castigates the champions of woman suffrage who used the abolition movement as a moral fig leaf, but otherwise, denigrated the institution of marriage, favored communism over property ownership, or otherwise held no principles or stake in the institutions which conferred the liberty they enjoyed even without suffrage rights.

The pauper was excluded from the ballot as not being worthy to share with freemen the honor of its defence. The unfortunate was excluded by an inscrutable decree of Providence. The criminal was excluded as being dangerous to society. The women were exempt from the ballot because it was for their special safety that a free ballot was to be exercised, from which the pauper and the criminal must be excluded. They were the ones who have given to social life its meaning and its moral, the ones who give to civic life its highest value.

Tackling yet another shopworn cliché that was commonplace among suffragists and is just as alive in progressive and feminist circles, Johnson addresses the suffragists’ contention that the Christian Church not only maintains the subjection and subordination of women, but actively cultivates bigotry, intolerance, and arbitrary authoritarianism. Johnson rightfully challenges the claim that Christian Church’s alleged encouragement of a subordinate role for women will be alleviated somehow through suffrage. If anything, it’s feminism that treats women as a class of people under perpetual assault and in need of constant special attention.  If any ideology is promoting the powerlessness of women, it’s feminism.

By far, the most burning question with which Woman and The Republic leaves the reader is what has been the true consequence of woman suffrage?  Has it wrought greater liberty and a reign of justice or a cult of obedience to the Church of Democracy and never-ending list of rights to be bestowed?  Has suffrage conferred a deeper appreciation of the principles of liberty or transferred all moral authority to the State?  Helen Kendrick Johnson argued that none of the perceived or actual inequalities in civic life for which suffragists sought redress would be solved with the ballot. After a more than a century of enfranchisement and little to no change in the feminist script, one certainly wonders if, in fact, she was completely correct.

Cure by ballot has been the one and only remedy suggested by Suffrage conventions for all the ills, real or imaginary, that are endured by women.

If nothing else, this book underscores the challenge of upholding liberty.  Those who agitate for an expansion of state power are always able to secure support from those want to expand the influence of the state. In Johnson’s time, there was arguably greater sympathy for removing the sphere of influence of the state in public affairs, yet suffragists sought to politicize everything.  Based on what you hear from your average intersectional feminist, Johnson’s warnings seem prescient.

As time goes on, this spirit becomes more injurious, because progress is carrying philanthropy into higher fields of moral action, and in so doing is carrying it away from and above the plane where rests the ballot-box. While Suffrage effort is directed toward keeping all issues in the political arena, the trend of legislation is to take them out of politics.

Helen Kendrick Johnson was not a gender egalitarian.  She favored economic liberty, property rights, educational access and equality before the law for men and women alike, but she was unequivocally what feminists would disparagingly call a gender essentialist. She held no objection to women pursuing higher education or employment in the private sector, but absolutely saw an essential role for women in motherhood and building a stable home life. She could be accused of being overly deferential towards men and insufficiently skeptical of state power, but she fundamentally saw virtue in manhood. She argued that the preservation of liberty and peace is best secured by attending to the most essential building block of human civilization: the family.  And in this role, she argued that women had a unique and critical role to play that was, in fact, largely biological.  She believed that the sexes were, in fact, different and each gender is edified by recognizing and celebrating this difference as opposed to repeating dogmatic mantras of Equality

My main objection to the Woman-Suffrage organization is this, that a wrong mode is employed to gain a right object. The right object sought is, to remedy the wrongs and relieve the sufferings of great multitudes of our sex; the wrong mode is that which aims to enforce by law, instead of by love. It is one which assumes that man is the author and abettor of all these wrongs, and that he must be restrained and regulated by constitutions and laws, as the chief and most trustworthy methods. I hold that the fault is as much, or more, with women than with men, inasmuch as we have all the power we need to remedy the wrongs complained of, and yet we do not use it for that end. It is my deep conviction that all reasonable and conscientious men of our age, and especially of our country, are not only willing but anxious to provide for the good of our sex.

When contrasted against the prevailing orthodoxy of intersectional feminism, gender neutrality and biological denialism, Woman and the Republic feels weirdly transgressive and revolutionary.  Even if Johnson was a bit of a hidebound biological determinist, her robust defense of liberty, property rights, market economics, and Constitutional principles has only accumulated strength in the years since its publication. Underneath it all, Helen Kendrick Johnson was putting forth a deeply radical notion: women do not need government in order to be powerful.  It will likely continue to be ignored or reviled purely on the basis of her opposition to full suffrage for women all by itself, but in this age of Progressive orthodoxy, this is precisely the kind of heresy that needs to be propagated far and wide. It’s imminently clear that no quantity of legislation will satisfy the grievance machine that is modern feminism. There isn’t a single argument being made today that wasn’t destroyed by Ms. Johnson back in 1897. The question is how long it’ll take for feminists to recognize that, if ever.  After all.  It’s 2016, SYSTERS