Category Archives: US

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 that, Trumpian pugilism notwithstanding, 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 and 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.

Woman and the New Race

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The majority of the ideas one encounters in modern feminism can be traced back to two movements: suffrage and birth control. While suffragists agitated for political equality in order to redress various social and civic inequalities both real and imagined, the birth control movement sought liberation by controlling the one aspect of female biology intrinsic to the continuity of the human race itself.  By Margaret Sanger’s reasoning, womanhood could not be truly emancipated unless reproduction itself could be controlled.

While the woman suffrage movement had many notable proponents, the birth control movement’s preeminent intellectual was Margaret Sanger.  Sanger remains the acknowledged founder of Planned Parenthood, but her name and ideas are scarcely discussed nowadays even by those who ardently defend contraception and abortion in the public sphere.  After reading Woman and the New Race, it’s little surprise that this is the case.  Sanger may be superficially lauded as the Great Emancipator of Womyn for helping bring the first birth control pill to the market, but the beliefs she openly espoused in her writings reveal some views which I suspect would make many reasonable people recoil in horror. Especially sanctimonious PC social justice warriors. Sanger’s views were alternately vile, cynical, misanthropic, deeply delusional and, given her focus on poor and working classes, virulently racist.  It’s ironic given feminism’s smug posture of moral superiority, irritating virtue signalling and accusations of racism that are hurled almost by default by feminists and social justice warriors alike.

Woman and the New Race is both Sanger’s birth control manifesto as well as a foundational text for a great deal of the contemporary feminist worldview. Like the writings of her collectivist progenitors, it is rife with fallacious notions, utopian delusions, dubious assumptions, and fascistic overtones. However, this isn’t to say that the book is completely devoid of sound reasoning. There are a few solid points here and there as well as some genuinely surprising sentiments to be found amidst this slag heap of mad hattery. 

Sanger’s socialist sympathies were well known, and this book follows a pattern of reasoning common to socialists.  Rather than viewing humanity as individuals with individual agency, she sees humanity through a Marxist lens of class and gender oppression.

Whether she won her point or failed to win it, she remained a dominated weakling in a society controlled by men.

Sanger’s opening argument is little more than question begging. This is not to deny actual acts of repression or subjugation by individuals, but by the time of this book’s publication, women had attained full suffrage, property rights, access to education and labor markets and had made great strides towards equality of treatment under the law.  If men were as intent on controlling society as she alleges, would women have been granted any of these rights or opportunities in the first place? There’s also no acknowledgement of feminine “soft power”. In other words, there’s no acknowledgement of the fact that through both biological and evolutionary psychological imperatives, manhood has been motivated and energized by protecting and providing for women, and by extension, ensuring the continuity of the human race itself. In statements like these, one also detects the unmistakable hints of the possible origins of contemporary feminist victimology, messianic megalomania and theories of patriarchal oppression.

It makes no difference that she does not formulate industrial systems nor that she is an instinctive believer in social justice. In her submission lies her error and her guilt. By her failure to withhold the multitudes of children who have made inevitable the most flagrant of our social evils, she incurred a debt to society. Regardless of her own wrongs, regardless of her lack of opportunity and regardless of all other considerations, she must pay that debt.

Like all other socialists, Sanger is a would-be moralist and a socio-biological engineer who wears a fig leaf of secular rationalism in order to justify her misanthropic authoritarian designs to “remake the world”.  Also like every other demagogue, authoritarian, and cult leader, Sanger deploys her own theory of Original Sin right at the beginning. Sanger’s argument is essentially that all of the moral blights of humanity can be traced to womanhood’s subjection and subordination to a role of excessive and involuntary reproduction.  She immediately removes individual agency by generalizing and collectivizing all moral transgression. Sanger views the world through a lens of determinism and sees the solution purely through the management of biology.  To Sanger, the entire spectrum of human suffering, depravity and degradation from prostitution to poverty to war itself can be attributed to this phenomenon alone.

Caught in this “vicious circle,” woman has, through her reproductive ability, founded and perpetuated the tyrannies of the Earth. Whether it was the tyranny of a monarchy, an oligarchy or a republic, the one indispensable factor of its existence was, as it is now, hordes of human beings—human beings so plentiful as to be cheap, and so cheap that ignorance was their natural lot. Upon the rock of an unenlightened, submissive maternity have these been founded; upon the product of such a maternity have they flourished.

This is her core argument for birth control, and the remainder of the book is comprised mostly of exposition over this single fallacious argument. 

Sanger’s misanthropy and insanity really starts to pin the meter in Chapter 5, The Wickedness of Creating Large Families.  On its face, it’s a wildly perverse and hateful notion. Given the fact that Sanger dedicates the book to her own mother who gave birth to eleven children, it’s more than reasonable to surmise that Sanger is dealing with unresolved psychological issues and is engaging in some projection.  Obviously, there are women who give birth under duress and coercion under deeply inhospitable, unsanitary and inhumane circumstances the world over, but Sanger is presenting a pretty broad generalization about motherhood and child birth which flies in opposition to any basic notion of individual female agency.  Modern feminists constantly flog the primacy of individual choice when it comes to terminating pregnancy, but this bit of moralizing against any notion of choice regarding the creation of a large family seems pretty hypocritical.

The most serious evil of our times is that of encouraging the bringing into the world of large families. The most immoral practice of the day is breeding too many children. These statements may startle those who have never made a thorough investigation of the problem. They are, nevertheless, well considered, and the truth of them is abundantly borne out by an examination of facts and conditions which are part of everyday experience or observation.

She persists in her absurd insistence that there is a direct connection between the propagation of large families and the prevalence of child labor, poverty, and war. Not only does she fail to substantiate the claim, she’s baked some questionable assumptions into the phenomena she deems to be moral transgression. 

War, famine, poverty and oppression of the workers will continue while woman makes life cheap. They will cease only when she limits her reproductivity and human life is no longer a thing to be wasted.

Child labor has been canonized in history books as an inhuman relic of a bygone era, but mainstream discussion is devoid of any mention of how the movement to criminalize child labor was part of a larger effort to privilege unions. While there was undoubtedly truth to the worst horror stories of children working in dirty and dangerous conditions, these stories fail to take into account that, for many families, there were few, if any, alternatives. The undeniable trend in market economies the world over is that capitalism has been an engine of upward economic mobility and prosperity. Dangerous, dirty factories have given way to labor saving machines and mass innovations in automation and robotics. Given present levels of youth unemployment and the dearth of skilled labor in the current market, one could argue that this ingrained belief in the harm of child labor has contributed to an overall degradation of the principle of work as a virtuous activity

Sanger deploys the classic false antagonism between capitalist labor saving innovation and the demand for manual labor amongst the working classes, and predictably presents it as yet another zero sum game. To her credit, she attempts to groud her support of labor unions in an actual economic argument. She correctly posits that if the supply of labor is lower than the demand, employers will pay a premium in wages and benefits in accordance. Therefore, she argues that the only way to reconcile the cycle of antagonism between capital and labor is permanently lower the supply of working class labor through birth control. Naturally, Sanger completely ignores the opportunity that technological innovation presents for the acquisition of new skills for laborers as well as for enhanced productivity. Individual initiative, upward economic mobility through education, apprenticeships, and entrepreneurship play no role in Sanger’s grim, fatalistic calculus. For Sanger, the working class are just hapless dullards doomed to vie for scraps of a fixed pie of economic prosperity whose prospects are only improved by thinning the herd.  Nothing elitist or cynical about that at all.

It will be the drama of labor until labor finds its real enemy. That enemy is the reproductive ability of the working class which gluts the channels of progress with the helpless and weak, and stimulates the tyrants of the world in their oppression of mankind.

Sanger’s demonization of prostitution is yet another example of outrageous feminist hypocrisy, would-be moralism and puritanism which carries on to this day. Apparently, “my body, my choice” only applies to women seeking access to abortion clinics.  And it especially doesn’t apply if celebrity feminists disapprove. There are undoubtedly arguments to be made around the forces that contribute to anyone’s decision to pursue prostitution as an occupation, but Sanger’s denial of individual agency and self-ownership is deeply revealing. 

By far, her most asinine claim is that excessive child bearing is the cause of war.  While the nation-state certainly needs the malleable minds and youthful vigor of its population in order to power its war machine, she’s giving the politicians an inexplicable pass on the one moral question that truly deserves a more robust rebuke than the manipulative sophistry with which she presents us. It’s especially mind boggling that she would attribute warmongering to excessive breeding given the fact that her analysis of the deceptive machinations of the political class is surprisingly accurate.

Diplomats make it their business to conceal the facts, and politicians violently denounce the politicians of other countries. There is a long beating of tom-toms by the press and all other agencies for influencing public opinion. Facts are distorted and lies invented until the common people cannot get at the truth. Yet, when the war is over, if not before, we always find that “a place in the sun,” “a path to the sea,” “a route to India” or something of the sort is at the bottom of the trouble. These are merely other names for expansion.

Even sexologist Havelock Ellis’ preface parrots this moronic, elitist nonsense. Ellis and Sanger apparently share the belief that the decisions made by those who wield actual power don’t really count.  One wonders if he counts himself among the “the ignorant, emotional, volatile, superstitious masses,” or if he’s flattering the pretensions of intellectual superiority of his progressive audience. 

These facts have long been known to the few who view the world realistically. But it is not the few who rule the world. It is the masses—the ignorant, emotional, volatile, superstitious masses—who rule the world. It is they who choose the few supreme persons who manage or mismanage the world’s affairs.

Sanger attempts to bolster her case with what amounts to an extended appeal to emotion through a collection of anecdotes. She piles on one tale after another of crushing, Dickensian poverty and woe.  Using correspondence from what we assume are authentic letters from women living lives of abject desperation and are afflicted with physical ailments ranging from tuberculosis to typhus, Sanger plunges the reader into a pit of misery.  While it’s fair to concede that the stories were true, it’s equally fair to regard these stories with some measure of skepticism, too. If Sanger were truly an empiricist, she would have to perform a longitudinal study tracing economic outcomes for every child born into what she considers a large family to prove the causal link she asserted.

Conversely, she indulges another common fallacy that pervades contemporary intersectional feminist theory to this day. Sanger automatically accords legitimacy to the mother of financial means as one who is able to raise children properly and instill virtuous values.  Modern feminists reflexively view race and economic status as evidence of “privilege,” but Sanger views the mothers in good economic standing as good mothers by definition.  The possibility of a wealthy mother who is, in fact, a bad mother is never mentioned nor is the possibility that a mother of a large family is a good mother. Wealthy mothers are just as capable of abuse and neglect just as anyone else just as a mother of a large family of modest means is capable of providing love and guidance to her children.

Even when Sanger attempts to illustrate the medical reasons excessive child bearing is unhealthy, she punts her entire argument with what amounts to a handwave.  Nowadays, we can use the internet to look things up, but Sanger would have bolstered her case with some actual citations as she does in other sections. 

The opinions which I summarize here are not so much my own, originally, as those of medical authorities who have made deep and careful investigations. There is, however, nothing set forth here which I have not in my own studies tested and proved correct.

Sanger devotes a great deal of attention to the plight of immigrants and views their economic status and squalid lives as an intractable reality which leads directly to lives of moral degeneracy.  If Sanger were to utter these sentiments today, one presumes she would be as reviled as Donald Trump is today.  Sanger certainly raises valid questions around how well equipped immigrants were to compete in a market economy that was undergoing rapid industrialization and technological advancement, and they’re questions that are even more relevant now given the rising numbers of Muslim immigrants in Europe and the US.  Unless the government were to initiate a compulsory mass sterilization program as Sanger has proposed in other writings, contraception would not address the skill and education gap amongst of the immigrant population that was already alive.

Over one-fourth of all the immigrants over fourteen years of age, admitted during the two decades preceding 1910, were illiterate. Of the 8,398,000 who arrived in the 1900-1910 period, 2,238,000 could not read or write. There were 1,600,000 illiterate foreigners in the United States when the 1910 census was taken. Do these elements give promise of a better race? Are we doing anything genuinely constructive to overcome this situation?

Woman and the New Race reveals what is perhaps at the root of modern feminism’s pretentious aura of mysticism, mantle of unearned moral superiority and quasi-religious overtones. Throughout the book, Sanger makes appeals to the liberation of the “feminine spirit”.  She insists that this spirit is both unique to the female, and is also uniquely benevolent when liberated. For Sanger, this “liberation” means abstention from procreation, and It is a premise that is both unfalsifiable and vaguely supremacist.  If anything, this belief has been inculcated into subsequent generations of feminists and has metastasized into an overt hostility to motherhood. 

It is this: woman’s desire for freedom is born of the feminine spirit, which is the absolute, elemental, inner urge of womanhood. It is the strongest force in her nature; it cannot be destroyed; it can merely be diverted from its natural expression into violent and destructive channels.

One of the more delicious ironies of Woman and the New Race is how Margaret Sanger’s attempt to remove the fear of childbirth from sex and liberate women’s ability to enjoy sex more completely through the usage of contraception has become completely undermined by the fear mongering wrought by the modern feminist myth of a “rape culture”.  Sanger was a clear and vocal proponent of enjoying sex without the consequence of giving birth to a child, and yet, her “free love” advocacy has been completely upended by modern feminism’s pursuit of so-called “affirmative consent”.  If anything, feminists have seemingly turned back the clock on sexual liberation and are solidly intent on instilling a culture of fear through a state enforced neo-Victorianism.   Nowadays, you’re more likely to find Sanger’s brand of sex positivity coming from a porn star than a feminist. 

Perhaps the most interesting of ironies in the book is Sanger’s open opposition to abortion. Most people likely equate Planned Parenthood with abortion, but Sanger herself wasn’t terribly supportive of the procedure itself as a form of birth control.

While there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.

Woman and the New Race is a book that’s both of its time, yet completely contemporary in that so much of what she sought has been achieved and the ideas she promoted are so deeply embedded in feminist thought. Roe v. Wade is an article of faith for feminists everywhere, and anyone who opposes it is automatically branded an enemy of womynhood. Birth control of every kind is readily accessible, but if an employer dares to oppose compulsory payment on religious grounds, the feminist hysteria machine will go into overdrive because women are apparently too incompetent to purchase their own contraception without government subsidies or mandates. The feminist industrial birth control/media/academic complex are so deeply invested in propagating the notion that access to birth control educational materials, contraception and abortion clinics are a mere federal motion away from being outlawed out of existence. Feminists and Planned Parenthood activists seem unwilling to acknowledge how much ground they’ve gained and like Sanger herself, portray themselves as an embattled special interest under perpetual assault by forces that are so much more powerful.

The saddest legacy of Sanger and Woman and the New Race is that Sanger’s Marxist sophistry, nihilism, racism and postmodern, relativist moralism has become its own contemporary article of faith. Intersectional feminism has become its own perverse cult with pretensions of a secular morality which reflect the very rottenness and moral void at the center of Sanger’s wretched and detestable worldview.  The fact that we now live in a world where you demonstrate your commitment to “women’s rights” is by proclaiming your political allegiance to the politicians who promise access to abortion services is the very expression of the “morbidity” against which Sanger inveighed in her time. 

Margaret Sanger can be given a modicum of credit for challenging the strictures and prohibitions of her time by promoting birth control, and subsequently, a woman who enjoys greater liberty to procreate or not.  But the bulk of her philosophy must be recognized for what it was: a vile, hateful, supremacist, and cynical view of the world which negates individual responsibility and promotes a sense of victimhood. 

Federalist 10

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James Madison’s essay from 1787 is generally regarded as one of the most significant pieces of modern political thought, but 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, but 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.

Woman and the Republic

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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, in the sense that she examines the arguments and claims 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 and a set of grievances that were spelled out in the Suffrage Declaration of Sentiments and the History of Woman Suffrage among others. 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, 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 and the deafening silence from suffragists that’s exactly analogous to 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 combination of hard rationalism, a dizzying deluge of voting data and razor sharp rhetoric, 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, but 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

What Happened to the 80’s Anti-Apartheid Dream?

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You got to say I, I, I
Ain’t gonna play Sun City
I, I, I ain’t gonna play Sun City

Steven Van Zandt and a multiracial supergroup, Artists United Against Apartheid, created the anti-apartheid rallying cry heard around the world which played a role in turning public opinion against South Africa’s regime of racial segregation and towards full political enfranchisement for the black majority of South Africa. 

Artists United Against Apartheid was Van Zandt’s brainchild, and followed the pattern of other star-studded affairs by attracting industry heavyweights from across the music spectrum. It also distinguished itself by being tilted ever so slightly towards the edgier end of the pop spectrum by including jazz, rap and punk rockers.

As much as I might be inclined to view Macklemore’s loathsome preachiness as a phenomenon unique to our Age of Multiculturalism and Social Justice, he pales in comparison to the stadium level, globe spanning virtue signalling which occurred throughout the 80’s.  Pop music has always been a vehicle for political protest and social commentary, but the particular brand of “racial justice” grandstanding which is Macklemore’s stock in trade definitely had antecedents in the glossy megaconglomerations of the 1980’s.

Though USA for Africa, Band Aid and Live Aid captured the attention of the masses and drew widespread attention to the plight of starvation in Africa, Artists United Against Apartheid was unique in that it was a protest against the de Klerk regime, an organized boycott of the Sun City resort and a call for economic sanctions against South Africa.  While I can appreciate that the track and the project was animated by a genuine spirit of human goodwill and brotherhood, I think it’s worth taking a look of the song’s allegedly “apolitical” message and the quality of life for post-apartheid South Africans in light of recent current events in South Africa.

On the surface, the political situation in South Africa cried out for change and justice.  The repressions and abuses of the South African National Party and the facts behind the construction of the Sun City resort created a perfect subject for a protest track. State enforced segregation, violent crackdowns, and mass relocations were among the list of human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime.  Add Reagan’s policy of “constructive engagement”, and the standard narrative of the white supremacist conspiracy of capitalist state power writes itself. 

What’s more difficult to appreciate and less frequently discussed is that there was a sharp competition of economic ideas between the nascent ANC and the various militant African nationalist factions vying for political power and the minority National Party.

By his own account, Van Zandt sought the cooperation of militant group, AZAPO; a group which not only espoused socialist political beliefs, but were willing to use violence to achieve their political ambitions.  Van Zandt apparently had to dissuade them from targeting Paul Simon for assassination.

Listen, this is not gonna help anybody if you knock off Paul Simon. Trust me on this, alright? Let’s put that aside for the moment. Give me a year or so, you know, six months.

Van Zandt goes on to recount his disagreement with Simon over Mandela’s own political views. Van Zandt displays a typical leftist bellicosity towards Simon and dismisses his allegation simply because he cited Henry Kissinger as the source of his information.  But neither Kissinger’s or Simon’s claim was without foundations in fact. Mandela may not have been a communist, but he sure sounds like one.  

Today I am attracted by the idea of a classless society, an attraction which springs in part from Marxist reading and, in part, from my admiration of the structure and organization of early African societies in this country.

His association with the South African Communist Party wasn’t exactly a secret either.  While it wasn’t necessarily a carbon copy of the Communist Manifesto, the Freedom Charter was a solidly socialist program and became the guiding document of the ANC.  In his legendary 1964 Rivonia Trial speech, Mandela himself acknowledges as much.

Under the Freedom Charter, nationalization would take place in an economy based on private enterprise.

So what does this have to do with the “Sun City” track itself?

When Rolling Stone ranked “Sun City” as 100th greatest song of the 1980’s, Bono describes the message of the track in the following manner.

This is apolitical. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on — this is common sense.

See? It’s just “common sense.” But the lyrics are pretty explicit about the nature of the injustice in South Africa.

23 million can’t vote
‘Cause they’re black
We’re stabbing our brothers
And sisters in the back

Van Zandt was equally explicit about the call for economic boycott.

I thought in order to change the system, we need to enforce this cultural boycott as a means of getting to the economic boycott, which is really where the action is.

Despite winning the battle of public opinion, witnessing the release and election of Nelson Mandela, Van Zandt affected a phony posture of humility and declined to attend his inauguration and directs blame towards the Reagan administration for their alleged support of the de Klerk regime. 

Social justice warriors, artists and politicians alike agitated for economic sanctions, congratulated themselves for their moral righteousness, and went on to systematically ignore the consequences of these policies on South Africa’s already fragile economy. An economic contraction that would affect tax revenues and purchasing power for a population which depended heavily on redistribution.

One effect of this capital outflow has been a dramatic decline in the international exchange rate of the rand.  This means that imports are increasingly expensive.  It has also helped fuel South Africa’s inflation rate, which at 12-15% per year, is much higher than its major trading partners.

All of which brings us to the present. 

Longtime ANC veteran and current president, Jacob Zuma was charged with raiding the public treasury to fund improvements to his home to the tune of 246 million rand, or about $16.7 million at current exchange rates.

Where is the international condemnation of Zuma from artists?

Van Zandt and countless others agitated for universal suffrage and equal representation in the South African government, but has this made a material difference on the quality of life in South Africa?

By any objective measure, the results are negligible and have perhaps deteriorated further since the demise of apartheid.

Unemployment has remained stuck above 20% for years and certainly hasn’t improved since Mandela and the ANC came to power.  Few black children are raised by both parentsEducational performance is consistently dismalViolent crime persists, and a minority of taxpayers are subsidizing one of the world’s biggest welfare states.  Loose monetary policy has fueled the same speculative bubble in South Africa as it has throughout the developed world.  Politically motivated violence is a common feature of post-apartheid South Africa.

Everyone involved in AUAA was apparently so focused on the attainment of political power, but placed no emphasis on the necessity of economic development.  Even Bono has acknowledged that recently

But their hearts were in the right place, so why get so incensed over a pop track?

Perhaps. I would feel a little bit more charitable towards this effort if it was a one-time phenomenon, but this type of “racial justice” activism was at the very least, an early template for virtually every social justice campaign you can name.

Nowadays, if there anythng done or said that has the slightest perceived hint of a discriminatory attitude, the calls for retribution and censure from the social justice crowd is swift and immediate. With an equal disregard for economic consequences.  All that apparently matters is that egos are satiated by upholding the virtues of Social Justice prescribed by its self-appointed gatekeepers. 

But what about the track itself?

It’s pretty good.  It’s a stylistic hybrid that is a reflection of the people who recorded it; a hip-hop/Afropop flavored rave up with a fist pumping chorus.  It is propelled by its sense of righteous indignation so effectively, you can almost ignore its guilt tripping preachiness.  It doesn’t even get sunk by Lou Reed’s pretentious affectation in his laughable cameo. 

I do not doubt that Steve Van Zandt and the artists who contributed to the AUAA project had the best of intentions.  Unfortunately, we now live in a world where good intentions are often all that’s required with little or no attention given to the political consequences of good intentions. 

The standard narrative that the Reagan administration’s support for the de Klerk regime was animated by racism doesn’t stand up to scrutiny either. Not that anyone on the Left would be that charitable towards a conservative, but anti-communist sentiment was white hot during the 80’s, and even if the fears of communist global expansion were exaggerated, I don’t begrudge Reagan for fearing the rise of another socialist regime in South Africa.  Besides, if that criticism is going to be levelled at Reagan, then it should be made of his predecessors as well.

I also do not begrudge AUAA for making a bold political statement.  In fact, I would prefer to see more artists express their political convictions with such fervor.  Of all the realms of real economic cooperation, music and art is perhaps the one sphere of human activity which allows us to experience and appreciate our shared humanity and sense of purpose.  But if you are going to make a political statement like “Sun City”, don’t turn a blind eye to the consequences of your advocacy. Most of all, make sure you’re applying your criticism consistently and directing a comparable level of indignation towards the black politicians who abused their hard won political power.

Trumbo

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To say that Hollywood is inhabited by self-congratulatory, self-important, narcissistic egomaniacs is perhaps an understatement and self-evident. However, that’s not to say that the Hollywood creative class is without talent, skill or principle. If anything, a great, contemporary Hollywood film exhibits both of these qualities at once. Hollywood films are also very good at promoting Hollywood’s own self-righteous mythology of being inhabited by collection of pious crusaders who are On the Right Side of History and Trumbo is unequivocally one of these films. Trumbo is of course a biopic which dramatizes the life of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, but it also touches on issues of free speech and the First Amendment, free markets, the anti-Communist witch hunts of the 50’s and the Hollywood Blacklist. This film is roughly analogous to Reds in that it dramatizes a figure of the American Left who had Communist sympathies and was persecuted for his convictions, but it is far inferior to Reds in the sense that it utterly fails to pinpoint the failure of leftist and Marxist ideology and the reversal of roles that has taken place between the Right and the Left in contemporary society. In the latter respect, Trumbo is dismal bit of partisan hackery which seeks only to reinforce the mythology of the American Right as corrupt, vacuous authoritarians who are Wrong About Everything and the Left as the principled, virtuous rebels On the Right Side of History whose voices and spotless moral rectitude are under perpetual assault by those dirty ReTHUGliKKKans. Though it’s refreshing to get a Hollywood film that wears its political stripes on its sleeve, the solid philosophical points that it does make are completely undermined by its partisanship.

Trumbo starts off on very shaky ground and only devolves from there. We’re presented with an extravagant poolside party with Bryan Cranston’s Trumbo arguing passionately in favor of the beleaguered proles whose labor creates so much surplus value for the greedy Hollywood capitalists. The soulless and indifferent Hollywood executive with whom he was arguing haughtily dismisses him as a Dirty Red and walks away leaving a cloud of contempt in his wake. This incident portends the ostracism to come. Principled, Compassionate Leftist is just trying to speak his mind and stick up for the Little Guy and he’s just shut down by an Evil, Heartless Conservative. In a subsequent scene on the plush ranch he purchased from the earnings he made from the dirty capitalist system, Trumbo is taking his daughter Niki on a horseback ride. Niki nervously asks him if he’s a Communist to which he answers clearly and unequivocally, “Yes.” She asks him if she’s also a Communist. Instead of educating his child with history, economics, and sound reasoning and asking her to reach her own conclusion, he lays out a half-baked, simplistic analogy which offers no sound foundation upon which to make an informed choice. Rather than expounding on why he was sympathetic to Marxist politics, he likens Communism as being exactly equivalent to sharing a sandwich with a student at school. This is the level of vile sophistry and perversion of economics and history to which Hollywood has descended. Socialism is just charity and caring for your fellow man, proles. That’s all. Utterly contemptible and loathsome.

Anti-communist sentiment was on the rise, and Trumbo and his screenwriter colleagues banded together to oppose the ascendant persecution as well as affirm the freedom to assert their political convictions on First Amendment grounds. In another gathering of Hollywood elites, David James Elliott does a great job channeling John Wayne’s cartoonish patriotism and his anti-Communist bloviations. The roomful of executives and actors express their agreement with cheers, applause and laughter at every sentence spoken. Once again, we see the Dirty, Evil Conservatives in the thrall of patriotic groupthink and the Fearless, Intrepid Leftists who just want to assert basic American Constitutional principles. The gathering ends with a confrontation between Trumbo and Wayne in which Wayne is taken down a peg when Trumbo reminds him that his patriotism was only tested in the comfort of a Hollywood studio and not in the trenches of the battlefront. Playing failed actress, gossip columnist, Anita Sarkeesian progenitor, and all around contemptible bitch, Hedda Hopper, Helen Mirren giddily informs him that he will be ruined in the court of public opinion in her column.

Despite making waves for his political sensibilities, Trumbo’s star was on the rise and he signs a lucrative contract with MGM. As he’s about to sign on the dotted line, Louis Mayer holds up Hopper’s column and warns him not to make these kinds of headlines. He signs and simply advises him not to read the papers. He’s subsequently served a subpoena to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and is subject to an interrogation that most have come to associate with the term McCarthyism. He refuses on the grounds that he’s not being charged with an actual crime, but is ultimately charged with contempt of Congress. He is sentenced to time in the federal penitentiary along with nine others, and the infamous Hollywood Ten are born.

Hopper exerts her influence even further in a private meeting with Mayer. She pressures him into refusing employment to those on the Blacklist by threatening to tar him in her column and manipulating him with appeals to patriotism. Mayer tries to push back, but caves in when he realizes he’s cornered. She plunges the knife in further with a few choice anti-Semitic digs at him and other Jewish studio heads. Here, we see the filmmakers peddling the mythology of racism, Nazism, authoritarianism and fascism being the sole province of the Political Right. Never mind the Nazi’s application of Keynesian economic policy in the run up to World War II which mirrored FDR’s applications. Never mind FDR’s internment of the Japanese. The filmmakers clearly want the viewer to associate Nazism and fascism with the Political Right.

While in prison, he befriends a gruff and surly inmate, Virgil Brooks, who is in charge of prison supplies and happens to be black. Naturally, since Trumbo is a Leftist and Friend of the Dispossessed and Unjustly Persecuted, he is able to ingratiate himself to him sufficiently in order to obtain work typing up requisitions. Brooks offers him the gig, but reminds him that he will “fuck him” if he violates his trust at any point. During his period of incarceration, a former Trumbo actor colleague, Edward G. Robinson, is called to HUAC to testify and the inmates are able to watch the hearing on the communal television. Robinson confesses to being a liberal Democrat, but distances himself and outs his own former colleagues as Communists just to avoid the ostracism that Trumbo and the remaining Hollywood Ten received. After the testimony, Brooks says that if anyone in prison snitched like that, they’d be killed. That’s right, proles. Truly ethical behavior and real human virtue can be found in the prison population of America. The American criminal justice system is surely guilty of being overzealous in prosecuting an ever expanding sphere of illegality, but this persistent effort to invert reality and attribute virtue to all things Leftist is positively odious. This phenomenon is due in no small part to activism from both the black community and liberals alike, but you’re more likely to hear idiotic lectures about white privilege than you are admissions of their respective roles legislating these outcomes.

In another bit of blatant partisanship, Trumbo encounters fellow inmate and former HUAC committee member and interrogator, J. Parnell Thomas. Thomas was sentenced for corruption charges, and Trumbo takes a shot at him by reminding him that he’s the only real criminal between the two of them. Apparently, only conservatives are corrupt and abuse political power.

After serving his year long sentence, Trumbo returns to his family and attempts to revive his flagging career prospects. He’s forced to sell his plush ranch and the Trumbo family take up residence in the Los Angeles suburbs. His neighbors are aware of him and the persecution continues with threatening anonymous notes and vandalistic messages on their property. Desperate for work, Trumbo makes a deal with B-movie kingpin, Frank King, and agrees to write scripts under a pseudonym. During this time, he secures work for his blacklisted colleagues and enters into a period of relentless output and near perpetual solitude. In a family meeting in which Trumbo conscripts his family into his semi-clandestine script writing factory, Niki wonders how she will fit in time for her studies and her Civil Rights activism. Got that, proles? Leftists are smart, studious, industrious and of course, care deeply about Social Justice. Trumbo’s star is also quietly rising as he wins Oscars for penning Roman Holiday and The Brave One, but cannot claim credit due to his blacklist status. His relationship with his family is increasingly strained as a result of his punishing work schedule, and things come to head during Niki’s sixteenth birthday. She cannot believe that her own father cannot spare even a minute to share a piece of birthday cake on this momentous occasion, and she storms off in a fit of frustration. Trumbo seeks her out in order to attempt a reconciliation and finds her fighting patriarchy and racism at the racially integrated café. For once, the Hollywood film portrays the father as a positive influence on his daughter. Apparently, even Leftists have to affirm family values and the virtues of fatherhood every now and then.

Trumbo’s fortunes finally turn when Kirk Douglas asks him to work on the script for Spartacus. Douglas is able to win Trumbo over by telling him that Spartacus is the story of a man who stood his ground when the world was against him. Trumbo’s script catches the attention of filmmaker Otto Preminger and he’s offered another big opportunity to write the script for Exodus. Hopper’s defamation campaign is relentless and she attempts to manipulate and threaten Douglas for employing Trumbo, but ultimately caves in to Douglas’ resolve. “When did you become such a bastard?” asks Hopper. “I’ve always been a bastard,” retorts Douglas. What appears to be Spartacus’ Randian message of individualism against the tyranny of the collective is transformed into the facile collectivism of #JeSuisCharlie. The reign of repression is finally broken when Preminger goes to the press with an open admission that Trumbo is the writer of Exodus.

Trumbo is canonized with an award in the final scene, and here, the film commits its final atrocity of intellectual dishonesty and smug, self-congratulatory partisanship. In a speech, Trumbo asserts a hypocritical and contemptible moral relativism by claiming that there were “no heroes and no villains” during the anti-Communist purges. After two hours of demagoguery and demonization of the Political Right, the filmmakers just want you to believe that this was just a non-partisan slice of history without an agenda from which you can draw your own conclusions. It’s not as though the politicization of Hollywood began under FDR and has continued to push government propaganda ever since then. It’s not as though leftists have triumphed overwhelmingly in their legislative pursuits over the past century and those policies have contributed to any of the negative outcomes in America. It’s not as though leftists have overwhelmingly colonized academia and Hollywood and nearly all of the messaging reflects a solidly leftist ideological bent. It’s not as though leftist social justice activism has taken on the exact same characteristics as the McCarthyist witch hunts and people now lose their jobs and fortunes in the Star Chamber of social media. There are no failed leftist policies and there is no reckoning to be made with the historical connections to failed socialist states and contemporary leftist policy. Nope. It’s just those dirty conservatives and their nationalism, authoritarianism, racism, and dumb, selfish devotion to capitalism.

Trumbo is a an interesting story which touches on an earlier and highly politicized atmosphere in America from which important lessons can be drawn. Unfortunately, it’s just peddling the same lesson that Hollywood is almost always selling. As long as you’re a Leftist, you’re a Good Person. If not, you’re evil, racist and stupid and on the Wrong Side of History. Setting aside his socialist politics, Trumbo’s life stands as a testimony to the importance of free speech, the inextricable link between individual freedom and economic freedom that can only flourish under capitalism, and against the pernicious influence of the state in carrying out a political agenda regardless of its partisan origins. Everyone regardless of political affiliation can learn from these examples. It’s just too bad they’ve been papered over with the facile talking points of the Left.

Great Myths of the Great Depression

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I remember very little from the US history courses I took during my time in public schools. It felt like a relentless flogging of names and dates. I remember covering the major stuff. The Revolutionary War, the Constitutional Convention, the Civil War, the World Wars, and of course, the Great Depression were presented as a mind numbing barrage of details to be dutifully regurgitated in an exam. Beyond my impression that the Smoot-Hawley Tariff was a funny sounding name for a piece of legislation, the most I remember about the Great Depression was that capitalism failed and the government under FDR’s leadership saved the day.  Based on the sentiments expressed by progressives to this day, this impression seems widely shared. 

However, this romantic view doesn’t square with reality.  A great deal of clear eyed research has been conducted to expose the factual record, and Great Myths of the Great Depression is a fantastic primer on the true legacy of the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations. 

Written by Foundation for Economic Education president, Lawrence Reed, the piece is filled with interesting facts and summarizes the best of this research very effectively. Perhaps the most interesting revelation is how the Hoover administration’s economic activism paved the way for of the FDR administration’s highly interventionist policies of the New Deal. Contrary to popular mythology, Hoover was not the hands off, laissez-faire Republican many claim. 

Starting with a highly inflationary monetary policy spurred by the Fed which fueled the 20’s stock market bubble, the Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922 followed by the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 triggered deep contractions in agriculture and sparked an international trade war. In the wake of a global collapse in commodity and asset prices precipitated by the ’29 market crash, the Fed took a bad situation and made it worse by raising the Fed funds rate and throttling the money supply into a deflationary spiral.  Hoover only compounded the problems by increasing subsidies to businesses and farmers which were doled out through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the Federal Farm Board respectively. Just as modern politicians and would-be intellectuals believe that high wage mandates lead to increased purchasing power and higher consumer spending, Hoover’s Department of Commerce bullied businesses into keeping wages high.  This allegedly laissez-faire president threw another wrench into an already sputtering economic engine by passing the Revenue Act of 1932.  Hardly the legacy of a president friendly to free markets. 

Despite charging the Hoover administration of leading the country to socialism, promises of restoring fiscal rectitude and shoring up the gold standard, FDR escalated every one of Hoover’s policies in ways that prolonged and protracted the misery of the Depression. 

Paving the way for the eventual destruction of sound money, one of FDR’s first major acts as president was to criminalize the ownership of gold through the signing of Executive Order 6102.  When you’ve got a hard money supply and you’ve got designs on an expanded warfare-welfare state, the Fed can inflate the money supply a little more easily if the proles don’t own too much gold. 

FDR’s first big legislative move which had the unfortunate effect of turning business into quasi-fascistic wards of the state was the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933.  Instead of responding to the natural forces of supply and demand, businesses were forced to comply with a raft of arbitrary mandates imposed from on high. 

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One of the particularly horrific and wasteful mandates of the New Deal was the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933; a legislative abomination that seemed more befitting of Stalin than an American president.  Crops were burned, livestock were slaughtered and taxes were levied all in service of eliminating surpluses and increasing the purchasing power of agriculture producers. Despite being initially stricken down as unconstitutional in 1936, the AAA’s destructive consequences weren’t limited to kneecapping the agriculture industry. The seed of the eventual destruction of the gold standard known as the Thomas Amendment was written into the AAA which paved the way for unlimited credit expansion by the Fed.  FDR would eventually revive the AAA in 1938 and institute a vast array of agriculture price supports, quotas and subsidies through Federal Crop Insurance Corporation and Commodity Credit Corporation and enshrine an era of farm belt crony capitalism and big agribusiness. 

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By 1935, FDR implemented the Works Progress Administration; the bureaucracy which doled out millions to fund domestic infrastructure projects and left a seemingly indelible impression of the virtues of federal economic activism in the minds of the public. Though many roads were paved and bridges built, a closer examination of the WPA legacy reveals more than a few arbitrary mandates, squandered resources and crony coffers lined. 

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Things went from bad to worse with the passage of the quasi-Marxist National Labor Relations Act of 1935 aka the Wagner Act.  The Wagner Act took labor grievances out of the courts and into the purview of a new federal bureaucracy, the National Labor Relations Board. Under the cover of legitimacy accorded by the Wagner Act and NRLB, labor unions could threaten and intimidate employers and nonunion workers into compliance and acquiescence.

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As if these actions weren’t damning enough, the origins of the 2008 housing crisis can also be traced to Federal Housing Act of 1934.  The vast complex of government sponsored entities and federal agencies charged with overseeing home ownership mandates created a set of incentives which in conjunction with an inflationary monetary policy provided more than enough legislative and monetary helium for a housing bubble. 

The conventional wisdom about the government’s role in alleviating the Great Depression and the private sector’s role in creating it is badly perverted.  Sadly, politicians benefit by peddling promises of prosperity that they can never fulfill.  Each dollar diverted towards a subsidy is a dollar of wealth destroyed which could have been diverted towards private enterprise. Each dollar of subsidy dispensed by a bureaucrat enriches a crony, aggrandizes the bureaucracy and diminishes the sphere of voluntary exchange.  Each minimum wage increase is an increase in production costs and prices low skill labor out of the market.  Each federal agency charged with upholding abstract notions of “public good” creates a license for corruption and moral hazard which only diminishes people’s faith in private enterprise. 

As politicians agitate anew for yet more intervention into an economy to “fix” problems that were legislated into existence with the laws they wrote, the history and legacy of the Great Depression deserves a deeper reexamination.  Mr. Reed’s essay is an essential starting point. 

Selma

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Here are the million dollar questions.

If you criticize this film as a work of art, what are the odds you’ll be branded a RACIST?

If you question the premise that the acquisition of voting rights has resulted in greater self-determination for the black community, what are the odds you’ll be branded RACIST?

Survey says….100% CERTAINTY!

Though it may invite this kind of condemnation and censure from the online masses, I’m going to do both of these things.

By and large, it’s a decent film. It’s certainly not without flaws and just like King and his legacy, the themes and ideas at its core deserve closer scrutiny.

What’s good about it is its unflinching portrayal of the acts of violence and intrusiveness carried out by agents of the state as well as the manipulative and racist attitudes of who wield state power. I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t make libertarians out of everyone who watches it.

I also think that it buckles from the weight of the subject matter. It suffers from a certain turgidity. It’s a film so certain of the moral righteousness of King’s insistence on acquiring of political power that it feels like it’s own kind of psychological truncheon.  It has a faint air of propaganda.

The film is focused on King’s three month campaign to secure voting rights for blacks culminating in the signing of 1965 Civil Rights Act.

The film is unambiguously black and white in its portrayal of events and the individuals involved.

Up until the hamfisted Hymn to the Glory of Government ending, government power and its various agents and politicians are portrayed in a relentlessly negative light.

Aside from the controversy over the portrayal of the negotiations between Johnson and King, these aspects of the film are accurate.

The film sets the tone in the first two scenes.  Oprah Winfrey plays Annie Lee Cooper dutifully reciting American civics questions to a cruel bureaucrat who was solidly intent on making life as difficult as possible for her while she attempts to register to vote.  The following scene portrays a group of girls enjoying one another’s company at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama until their lives are tragically and abruptly cut short by a violent explosion.

From there, events are demarcated by log entries made by FBI spies who are monitoring events and phone calls.  The film is letting us know that the roots of the surveillance state are deep.

The scenes of King’s private negotiations with Johnson portray him as a callous and calculating politician who’s more concerned with his agenda than the war zone that’s happening right under his nose.

Martin Luther King Jr.: We need your involvement here, Mr. President. We deserve your help as citizens of this country. Citizens under attack.

President Lyndon B. Johnson: Now, you listen to me. You listen to me. You’re an activist. I’m a politician. You got one big issue. I got a hundred and one.

One could argue that little has changed.

Hoover exhibits the kind of black hearted malevolence which seems befitting of his legacy.

J. Edgar Hoover: Mister President, you know we can shut men with power down, permanently and unequivocally.

The scenes of police brutality are harrowing and realistic.

And so on.

On the flipside, the film seems doggedly determined to present King as a paragon of unambiguous virtue, restraint and composure.

No matter how much brutality the movement faces, King makes a consistent appeal for non-violent resistance.

The allegations of infidelity are glossed over.

When tensions are frayed, King exhibits a paternalistic gravitas which immediately calms all overheated emotions.

Despite the soaring speeches and appeals to democracy, it feels leaden.

The grand contradiction that’s seemingly overlooked is that his appeal to non-violence was completely at odds with his desire to acquire political power.

Blacks acquired the political power he sought.  Has this elevated the ranks of the black population in the way he hoped?

On the one hand, the terrorism and violence is less overt and severe than it was in that period.

On the other, one wonders whether the right to vote has enhanced black self-determination or thwarted it.

As events in Ferguson and Baltimore attest, having access to the vote did not forestall these crackdowns.  In fact, the vote has arguably created and exacerbated the conditions which allowed for these incidents.  Black politicians lent their support to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 which contributed directly to the militarization of the police, expansion of the prison complex and the swelling of the ranks of the police force.  Public subsidies for housing and government initiatives have only entrenched racial segregation and economic stagnation.

The vote hasn’t prevented many other manifestations of state repression of the black community either.

Government police brutality against blacks remains prevalentIncarceration rates remain very high.  Compulsory public schooling has simply created a bridge to the state prison industrial complex.  For black youth, labor force participation is down and unemployment rates are up.

Despite the grand intentions of the Great Society to elevate the ranks of the impoverished, one wonders whether government welfare has created upward economic mobility for blacks or kept them mired in poverty.

King openly equates voting with self-determination, but says nothing about economic self-determination. Have blacks achieved greater economic self-determination as a consequence of the ’65 Act or in spite of it?

Unfortunately, the grand failure of this film is that it seems only to buttress the current narrative around racism. In other words, that there’s no distinction to be made between state violence, arbitrary and irrational acts of unprovoked violence by private citizens and racist attitudes and speech. By today’s logic, the latter is the sole cause for historical and current acts of violence regardless of whether they are carried out by private individuals or police officers.  As perverse as it seems, we are now living in a time where speech itself is conflated with violence.  The whole phenomenon of microaggressions and the policing of speech is built off the ridiculous premise that being a self-appointed arbiter of “anti-oppression” both affirms your progressive bona fides and contributes to the delusion that being an obnoxious authoritarian will prevent the next Dylann Roof or improve the quality of life for blacks or for [Insert oppressed group of choice].

As I’ve argued with others, let’s just take the case that every act of white on black violence carried out by police officers is a product of racist attitudes.

Why isn’t anyone questioning why the police departments around the country seem so overloaded with racists?

Why is it that the social justice cops of the progressive left are dispensing idiotic lectures about “white privilege”, but are supporting the candidates who advocate for the very police state that continues to terrorize the black community in ways that are every bit as brutal as those carried out during the era in which the film is set?

Doesn’t this affirm Hayek’s argument that the  “the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful” in the ranks of government?

The other big disappointment of the film is that it perpetuates the myth that our humanity and basic ability to treat one another with decency and respect as well as our freedom to live self-determined lives is somehow fundamentally tied to the machinery of government.

What a sad and self-defeating message it is to assert that we are so inept as a civilization that we must prostrate ourselves before a collection of elites with guns in order to achieve moral outcomes.

The film ends with King delivering a soaring speech and cuts to the various individuals who went on to serve in seats of government power.

Due to intellectual property laws, the filmmakers were unable to use King’s actual words.  Perhaps this artistic license lent itself better to perpetuating the myth that politicians and civic leaders who seek social change through the power of the state have the power to create real racial harmony and economic prosperity.