The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?

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Arnold Kling reviews Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism:

Levin rejects the binary choice between strong central government and pure individualism. Instead, he extols what he calls the mediating institutions of families, local government, religious institutions, and charity. His idea of paradise would be a nation in which these institutions are allowed to experiment with a variety of ways of trying to help nurture and educate citizens who are capable of exercising freedom.

If Levin is right, then it would help to have the federal government back away from many of the responsibilities it has taken on over the past fifty years. Instead, more authority and responsibility should be left to these mediating institutions.

For me, Levin offers an appealing vision. However, I wonder if it can ever attract broad public support. In 2016, it appears to me that Americans do not value freedom as much as they used to. If President Obama represented the nostalgia for the era of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, then currently his party seems to be moving even further to the left, with many believing that some form of socialism is the answer. On the Republican side, it seems ironic that the candidate who gained ascendancy by promising to wall off our southern neighbors would appear to wish to run the United States like a Latin American strongman. And on college campuses, many students and administrators prefer “safe spaces” to free speech.

I worry that mediating institutions have lost their effectiveness. The broad middle class has given way to a bifurcated society, with the highly-educated and the less-educated no longer attending the same churches or sharing similar life experiences. The close-knit neighborhood has given way to the anonymous city, where local government is mostly responsive to powerful public sector unions and favor-seeking businesses. Perhaps this means that Levin’s vision is nearly as unrealistic as those that he criticizes. Restoring our mediating institutions might be yet another exercise in trying to squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube.

I share Kling’s pessimism. Not only will the left not allow government to back off, but even if government were to back off, it would be too late to rescue liberty in much of the country. In my commentary about David D. Friedman’s pro-anarchy tract, The Machinery of Freedom, I observed that the America of two or three generations ago

would have done quite will without government because its inhabitants — even the rich and powerful and best and brightest — were largely bound by common customs and common sense. [The America of today] — riddled as it is with dependency on the state and the divisions arising from the politics of “social justice” — has neither the collective will nor the wherewithal to resist the dictatorship or warlordism that surely would follow in the wake of the (extremely unlikely) replacement of government by anarchy.

Dictatorship or warlordism wouldn’t follow the restoration of constitutional governance in the United States, but neither would liberty blossom. For the reasons adduced by Kling and me, the partial vacuum left by the shrinkage of the central government would be filled by many a State and local government — at the behest of majorities of their government-addicted constituencies.

To find liberty, a person would probably have to move to a village, town, or small city in one of the States that has been solidly “Red” for a decade or more. But many such locales would eventually succumb to the influx of refugees from big-government, high-tax jurisdictions. Those refugees usually are fleeing the tax and regulatory consequences of the very programs that they support — and will continue to support because they don’t seem to understand that it is the programs they support which yield the high taxes and draconian regulations that they detest.

Liberty in the United States has been the victim of economic illiteracy and cupidity. Liberty might be rescued — temporarily — by the (unlikely) shrinkage of the central government. The permanent salvation of liberty would require eternal vigilance, accompanied by a strictly enforced ban on the promulgation of anti-libertarian ideas and anti-social practices. License granted in the name of liberty subverts liberty.

It is no coincidence that economic progress, which depends greatly on mutual trust and respect, has faltered badly since the arrival of the Great Society and the rise of the counter-culture. It is bread and circuses all over again.

The barbarians are within and at the gates.

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Related posts:

On Liberty

The Interest-Group Paradox

Rethinking the Constitution: “Freedom of Speech, and of the Press”

Well-Founded Pessimism

America: Past, Present, and Future

IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition

The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union

“We the People” and Big Government

The Culture War

The Fall and Rise of American Empire

O Tempora O Mores!

Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America

1963: The Year Zero

Society

How Democracy Works

“Cheerful” Thoughts

How Government Subverts Social Norms

Turning Points

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Logical Fallacy of the Day

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Cincinnati mourns gorilla killed to save boy.” That’s the headline of a USA Today story, which says (in part):

The Cincinnati Zoo was open Sunday for Memorial Day weekend tourists, but the gorilla exhibit was closed indefinitely after authorities killed a gorilla that attacked a 4-year-old boy who fell into the enclosure’s moat.

Zoo President Thane Maynard said the boy crawled through a barrier Saturday, fell 10 to 12 feet and was grabbed by the zoo’s 17-year-old male western lowland gorilla, Harambe.

The Cincinnati Fire Department said in a statement that first responders “witnessed a gorilla who was violently dragging and throwing the child.” The boy was with the 400-pound animal for about 10 minutes before the zoo’s Dangerous Animal Response Team deemed the situation “life-threatening,” Maynard said.

Police confirmed the child was taken to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center near the zoo and was treated for non-life threatening injuries.

“The choice was made to put down, or shoot, Harambe, so he’s gone,” Maynard said. “We’ve never had a situation like this at the Cincinnati Zoo where a dangerous animal needed to be dispatched in an emergency situation.”

Maynard said the Dangerous Animal Response Team followed procedures, which they practice in drills. He said no one had ever gotten into the enclosure in the 38-year history of the zoo’s gorilla exhibit.

“It’s a sad day all the way around,” Maynard said. “They made a tough choice. They made the right choice, because they saved that little boy’s life. It could have been very bad.”

After the gorilla was shot, zoo employees unlocked the gate and two firefighters quickly retrieved the child, according to the fire department.

Two female gorillas were also in the enclosure.

“We are all devastated that this tragic accident resulted in the death of a critically endangered gorilla,” he said in a news release. “This is a huge loss for the zoo family and the gorilla population worldwide.”…

The decision to shoot Harambe instead of tranquilizing the animal was made in the interest of the boy’s safety, Maynard said.

“In an agitated situation, it may take quite a while for the tranquilizer to take effect,” he explained….

Maynard also explained that while Harambe didn’t attack the child, the animal’s size and strength posed a great danger.

Before I get to the logical fallacy, I must comment on some aspects of the story. The first is the apologetic tone of Maynard’s statement. Why apologize for doing the right thing?

Then there’s the contradiction. Maynard is reported to have said that the gorilla didn’t attack the child. But the fire department’s statement says that the gorilla was violently dragging and throwing the child, which seems more plausible.

And why was the situation deemed life-threatening only after the child had been in the gorilla enclosure for 10 minutes? It was life-threatening the instant that he climbed into the enclosure. Perhaps it took the response team that long to arrive at the scene and decide to execute the gorilla — an unconscionable delay.

Anyway, the logical fallacy is that “Cincinnati mourns.” That’s typical headline guff, and a logical fallacy. To ascribe an emotion or trait to a geopolitical area (and thus to all of its inhabitants) is a form of reification, which is the treatment of an abstraction as if it had material existence.

There is no “Cincinnati” to mourn, grieve, or otherwise experience emotion. There are many, many Cincinnatians (and New Yorkers, Americans, etc.) who have many different emotional reactions to notorious events: the killing of a gorilla, the death of Princess Diana, and so on. One of those reactions is indifference, which is often the proper one.

The headline writer could have written “Cincinnati rejoices in rescue of child from gorilla’s clutches.” But that would have been just as fallacious. There are Cincinnatians (and others) whose  main (and sometimes only) reaction to the killing of the gorilla was to mourn it, and even to claim that it had been deprived of due process of law. But such views — I suspect and hope — are in the vast minority.

Were I given to reification, I would say that the events in Cincinnati reveal the callousness of America. The headline writer focused on “mourning” for the gorilla, while giving second place to the child’s well-being. And there were several bystanders who recorded the event with their cameras instead of turning away in horror.

I report, you reify.

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Related posts:

More Thoughts about Evolutionary Teleology

Creative Destruction, Reification, and Social Welfare

“We the People” and Big Government

Society

Pacifism

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Pacifism has several definitions, all of which are consistent with this one: an opposition to war or violence of any kind.

How does one oppose violence? Let me count the ways:

  1. Refuse to partake of it, regardless of the consequences of refusal (e.g., one’s own death).
  2. Oppose it by means of indoctrination and persuasion.
  3. Respond to the threat of violence by promising a forceful defense against it, and carrying through on that promise if aggression ensues, so as to prevent or reduce the harm that an aggressor might cause.

Option 1 is useless against aggressors, of whom there have been, are, and always will be an abundance. Given the permanence of aggression, option 1 amounts to a futile gesture. It doesn’t break the so-called cycle of violence because there is no such cycle. Aggression is something that many people just do, regardless of any provocation or lack thereof. In fact, many aggressors view supineness as an invitation to attack. Bullies are drawn to those who are obviously weak or cowardly, and they see pacifists as either or both. So option 1 really does nothing to reduce violence, and may even provoke it. The only beneficiary of option 1 is the pacifist who practices it; his family, friends, and countrymen may suffer because of it.

In option 2, indoctrination can be applied only to members of one’s own group (club, gang, nation), which means that it makes that group vulnerable to aggression by outsiders; that is, internal indoctrination may foster violence against the indoctrinated group.

Option 2 also contemplates diplomacy toward other groups (e.g., other nations), which may take form of pleading for restraint or (in effect) offering a bribe.

Pleading for restraint (e.g., by appealing to the other party’s better nature). This is unlikely to sway a determined aggressor, regardless of soothing public pronouncements that he may issue.

Offering a bribe (e.g., an economic or military concession). This may (temporarily) assuage an aggressive party, but it does so by enabling that part to acquire at least some of its aims without incurring the heavier cost of violence. And a demonstrated willingness to make concessions just invites an aggressive party to demand more of them — or else. This is the “better red than dead” strategy of appeasement preferred by leftists during the Cold War. Leftists are so wedded to the strategy that they refuse to admit that it was Reagan’s “provocative’ defense buildup that broke the back of the Soviet Union and eliminated it as a military threat to the United States. (The subsequent military build-down has, of course, encouraged the military resurgence of the Soviet Union, in the guise of Russia.)

Option 3 — deterrence — is a kind of persuasion, but it’s persuasion backed by force. When deterrence works, it works because the other person or the other side’s leaders believe (with or without justification) that violence will be met with violence of an unacceptable degree. Credibility is the key to deterrence. It requires the appearance and fact of resolve and an overt display of prowess. In international affairs, a display of prowess requires a nation to build and maintain substantial and obviously capable armed forces. (American leftists have been undermining the resolve of the nation’s leaders and the attainment of military might since the end of World War II.) Deterrence encompasses the resolve and ability to strike first when it becomes obvious that the other side is preparing to strike. The first blow can, in some cases, be the last one. When deterrence doesn’t work, it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway — because the other side is recklessly aggressive, and would have attacked in any event.

The pacifist believes that the world ought to operate in a certain way, that there ought not to be violence. And so he commits himself to nonviolence. But the pacifist’s ought disregards the is of human nature. Pacifism works only if everyone is a pacifist to begin with — a demonstrably false proposition.

A true pacifist is a person who will die for the sake of his pacifism, by refusing to defend himself. That’s quite all right with me if my group’s gene pool thereby becomes less pacifistic. But it’s not all right with me to be dragged into subjection and defeat by pacifists. Or by leftists whose policies are no better than pacifism.

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Related posts:

Defense as the Ultimate Social Service

A Grand Strategy for the United States

The Folly of Pacifism

The Folly of Pacifism, Again

PC-ness in Austin

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If Austin had a larger black population, the decision about renaming one of the city’s elementary schools probably would cause rioting. The upshot will be a lot of verbal fireworks from patronizing white “liberals” — the kind who oppose  the nickname “Redskins” even though most of the real ones don’t give a war whoop about it.

The decision about the school’s name, which has been months in the making, transforms Robert E. Lee Elementary to Russell Lee Elementary. It’s not only a late entry in the anti-Confederacy hysteria that swept campuses and Statehouses last year, but it’s a rather timid one. (Not that I care.) Here’s the story:

The Austin school board on Monday night voted to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary, the first time the district has changed the name of a school because of its ties to the Confederacy.

In an 8 to 1 vote, trustees chose Russell Lee Elementary, the name favored among the school’s parents and teachers….

Some community members voiced support for the name because the school already is referred to as just Lee. Two weeks ago, it appeared that a majority of trustees wanted to stick with the school community’s wishes.

Russell Lee was a critically acclaimed Depression-era photographer and the founding professor of the University of Texas photography department. He also lived in the neighborhood. A major collection of his work is archived at the University of Texas’ Briscoe Center for American History, and some of his work hangs in the hallways of the school.

Trustee Amber Elenz said hundreds of hours among the school’s community went into the decision and she felt the board should honor their choice.

“This name change is really only happening because the school asked us to make it happen,” Elenz said. “The decision of name choices came to us solely through the hard work, long hours and collaborative efforts of the school’s leadership within the campus’ advisory council. The recommendation to name the school Russell Lee Elementary is the result of a clearly defined, open, transparent and purposeful process that was developed by and for the Lee Elementary school community.”…

More than 240 suggestions were submitted as possibilities to replace the school name, including several sassy retorts probably from those opposed to making any kind of name change — such as Hypothetical Perfect Person Memorial Elementary School. In late April, the campus advisory council announced it had narrowed the list to eight.

The issue of whether to change the name of the campus was debated for months. In the wake of last year’s church shootings in Charleston, S.C. — which killed nine African-Americans and prompted a national conversation about whether flags and other Confederate symbols belong in public spaces and buildings — Austin community members called on the district to change the name of the school. Ultimately, more than 500 residents signed a petition calling for a new name for Lee, which was named after the Confederate general in 1939. Lee has been Austin’s only campus to request a name change.

Anyway, the thing that probably will cause the never-satisfied white “liberals” of Austin to rise up (verbally, of course) is the ironic fact that Russell Lee was white:

Russell Lee

I would have voted for Hypothetical Perfect Person Memorial Elementary School.

Old America, New America, and Anarchy

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I’m less than satisfied by yesterday’s post, for two reasons. First, my critical comments about David D. Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom are rather less abundant than they could have been. Second, and more important, I omitted the most telling criticism of Friedman’s book — and of political philosophy in general — which is a fixation on system, to the neglect of human nature.

It’s ironic that Friedman, an avowed and articulate anarchist, devotes a large fraction of his 378-page book to detailed descriptions of how justice and defense could be provided in the absence of government. Well, you might ask, what’s wrong with that? Justice and defense are important functions, and it’s reasonable to explain how they could be provided in the absence of government.

Here’s what’s wrong: the pretense of knowledge. No one has the foggiest idea of how actually to eliminate government, nor of how to avert dictatorship or warlordism in the wake of its demise. This might not have been the case two or three generations ago, before the dominance of the regulatory-welfare state and the eclipse of Old America:

The United States, for a very long time, was a polity whose disparate parts cohered, regionally if not nationally, because the experience of living in the kind of small community sketched above was a common one. Long after the majority of Americans came to live in urban complexes, a large fraction of the residents of those complexes had grown up in small communities.

This was Old America — and it was predominant for almost 200 years after America won its independence from Britain. Old America‘s core constituents, undeniably, were white, and they had much else in common: observance of the Judeo-Christian tradition; British and north-central European roots; hard work and self-reliance as badges of honor; family, church, and club as cultural transmitters, social anchors, and focal points for voluntary mutual aid. The inhabitants of Old America were against “entitlements” (charity was real and not accepted lightly); for punishment (as opposed to excuses about poverty, etc.); overtly religious or respectful of religion (and, in either case, generally respectful of the Ten Commandments, especially the last six of them); personally responsible (stuff happens, and it is rarely someone else’s fault); polite, respectful, and helpful to strangers (who are polite and respectful); patriotic (the U.S. was better than other countries and not beholden to international organizations, wars were fought to victory); and anti-statist (even if communitarian in a voluntary way). Living on the dole, weirdness for its own sake, open hostility to religion, habitual criminality, “shacking up,” and homosexuality were disgraceful aberrations, not “lifestyles” to be tolerated, celebrated, or privileged.

It is now de rigeur to deride the culture of Old America, and to call its constituents greedy, insensitive, hidebound, culturally retrograde, and — above all — intolerant.  But what does that make the proponents and practitioners of the counter-culture of the ’60s and ’70s (many of whom have long-since risen to positions of prominence and power), of the LGBT counter-culture that is now so active and adamant about its “rights,” and of recently imported cultures that seek dominance rather than assimilation (certain Latins and Muslims, I am looking at you)?

These various counter-culturalists and incomers have not been content to establish their own communities; rather, they have sought to overthrow Old America. Intolerance is their essence. They are not merely reacting to the intolerance that may be directed at them. No, they are intolerant, and militantly so. They seek to destroy what is left of Old America. — and they have enlisted the power of the state in that effort.

Old America would have done quite will without government because its inhabitants — even the rich and powerful and best and brightest — were largely bound by common customs and common sense. New America — riddled as it is with dependency on the state and the divisions arising from the politics of “social justice” — has neither the collective will nor the wherewithal to resist the dictatorship or warlordism that surely would follow in the wake of the (extremely unlikely) replacement of government by anarchy.

Now, it may seem that I am pretending to knowledge, and I am to some degree. But my assessment of the future of an (impossibly) anarchistic America is based on a realistic view of what America has been and become. What Friedman offers is, by contrast, a shallow and sterile exercise in dreamscape design.