Moldbug instructs me

(Note, March 26: the discussion continues.)

I guess it’s karma: what I’m always saying about mainstream conservatives, Mencius Moldbug says about me, that I’m really a liberal in spite of myself. He says that it is pointless to try to repeal Obamacare without first toppling liberalism, because Obamacare is an inevitable outcome of liberalism. Thus, faced with a law that places us under the unrestrained power of a menacing government, Mencius would have us do nothing about it, at least not until we had first transformed the entire nature of our civilization into a pre-modern form (or, more precisely, into the form of English Renaissance despotism under Henry VII). As though a people crushed and deracinated under a socialist regime would have the ability to undertake such a transformation. I like Mencius, as he is friendly, witty, and engaging, notwithstanding his occasional provocations such as that I am ignorant of English history. But the fact is that he is an extreme paleocon nihilist who, in the midst of a leftist revolution aimed at destroying our Constitution and reducing us to slavery, would, from the vantage point of his supposedly superior knowledge of history, undermine any effort on our part to stop it.

Mencius writes:

You keep seeing the ways in which conservatism is undone by liberalism. And I keep trying to persuade you to get out of the 20th century and see how this disaster happened. And you keep looking for the roots of the tree in its branches. In reality, America suffered its first major attack of liberalism in the 1760-’80s, and another in the 1850s-’70s. Both of these attacks are woven, in highly mythologized ways, into your fabric of history. Physician, heal thyself! I have tried numerous times to get you to read primary sources from these periods, in which you would instantly recognize your opponents of today. E.g., try the John Adams / Samuel Adams letters.

Eating certain kinds of foods to excess can cause certain kinds of cancer. However, if you already have cancer, you should not expect to cure it by eating less of those foods. Liberalism causes nationalized medicine. However, if you already have liberalism, you should not expect to cure it by repealing nationalized medicine.

But maybe there is a different way. Can you consider the possibility that the tradition you seek to preserve (no, not to preserve, but to restore) is not American by nature, but in fact English? In this worldview, you can see American history as a relatively late development in Anglo-American history, i.e., English history. Rather than asking what George Washington would make of Barack Obama, you could ask what Henry VII would make of Barack Obama. (The answer is pretty much the same.) And rather than asking what George Washington would do with America as it stands today, you can ask what Henry VII would do with America as it stands today. (The answer is pretty much the same.)

Henry VII is just as ancestral to the American tradition as George Washington. But because Henry VII is not a part of your schoolboy mythology of American history—in fact, you probably don’t know him from Adam—anyone today can learn and experience the perspective of Tudor England with fresh eyes. And more to the point, it is possible for reasonable men to argue whether or not George Washington was a liberal. It is not possible for reasonable men to argue whether or not Henry VII was a liberal!

In reality, I would argue, America is still burning through cultural capital that very much dates to Tudor England—and before. Well before. The candle has been burning for quite some time, and is now quite short. It was originally very tall! Here is a Victorian introduction to this lost world, which might help you understand what it was.

See also my solution.

Jim C. writes:

Mencius is certainly not a nihilist—what he is, is a deep thinker. Think Locke. Try to go one week without using pseudoconcepts like paleocon, nihilist, and other judgmental nouns.

BTW, liked your Podcast—interesting

LA replies:

It’s not judgmental, but descriptive. If a person so removes any value from his present system, denying that it has any value, that he won’t lift a finger to defend it even from a terrible threat, that is a form of nihilism: the denial of the good, and the will to destroy everything that exists to achieve something better.

See my further reply to Mencius’ next comment, below,

Phantom Blogger writes:

Why should I ask what Henry VII would think of Obama or Nationalized Heath care? What do I learn from this and if the tradition we seek to preserve is not American by nature, but is in fact English, what does that tell us about how to handle the problems that arise from modern liberalism.

You don’t explain were the relation between American Goverment and Tudor England (which seem so far removed from other) begins. What do I learn about America thought, the American people and the American Founding from Tudor England. You seem to be almost caught in a Infinite Regress of Political Thought were you feel the need to keep going back in civilisation to find that one idea that is the origins of Liberalism itself, and anyone who believes in any ideology or system created after that is a liberal and part of the problem.

When people look back to the Founders, they are looking back to see the nature of America, what is was intended to be and how to preserve that. Wondering what George Washington would do is the people’s way of trying to see the identify of America, rather than seeing it as a institution or just mere land upon which to carry out liberal ideological goals or economic transactions. Trying to Understand George Washington through asking these questions is the a way of trying to find the very heart and soul of America in order to know what were fighting for and what were fighting against.

I don’t see how asking questions about Henry VII helps us understand America or provides us with answers to any of the problems we are up against.

But I’m willing to be corrected.

Mencius Moldbug writes:

It is not necessary for Americans to transform their civilization, only their government! If that civilization has decayed, it has decayed under long and continuous pressure from a corrosive form of government inimical to it.

Government can heal a society as well as corrode it; but without the infection, it will also heal itself. Government has broken society. Your parody of my remedy is: to repair government, first heal society. My remedy is: to heal society, first repair government.

The natural order of government is not a secret. Aristotle knew it. It is natural for children to respect and obey their parents. It is natural for parents to guide and support their children. It is natural for the poor, weak, and ignorant to respect and obey the wealthy, strong and powerful. It is natural for the wealthy, strong and powerful to guide and support the poor, weak and ignorant.

Why do ghetto blacks vote for Kennedys? Why do Kennedys repay them for these votes with government welfare? Because they are recapitulating this natural feudal structure, albeit through a broken political system that perverts its every good to evil.

Why did “healthcare reform” experience a burst of support when it prevailed? Because, pace Osama, people like a strong horse. This too is natural. They flock to winners, however perverse, and abandon losers, however noble.

Because your conservative vision of the defeat of liberalism is in fact modeled on historical events in which liberalism prevailed over conservatism, it is a fantasy that can never succeed. Decay is an entropic, progressive process that feeds on itself. A little decay leads to a lot of decay. A little fire leads to a lot of fire.

Restoration is an anti-entropic process. A little restoration does not lead to a lot of restoration. It is an intrinsically futile act—a candle that soon goes out. Rather, if order is to be restored, it must be restored entirely in one step. A house can be ruined incrementally. It cannot be renovated incrementally.

Is this one step more difficult than the little, incremental steps you encourage? Yet to other conservatives, your little, incremental steps (ending Muslim immigration! Repatriating Muslims!) seem grandiose, incredible, impossible.

And they are. Not, though, because they are too big; because they are too small. In the ruined house (picture America as an old mansion in Detroit), Powerline wants to start by cleaning and sanding one floorboard. This inspiring act will spread to the next floorboard, and so on, and eventually the house will be clean and new. Destruction works in this way. Renovation does not.

You would like to remodel the kitchen. The whole kitchen! And the result will be—a ruined house in the slums. With a state-of-the-art kitchen.

Who would sign up for this task? Who would volunteer? No one, because the task is obviously futile. For one thing, the rest of the house is still full of the same old squatters. They can ruin your lovely kitchen in a week. Sooner or later, they will.

It is this futility, both of your approach and of Powerline’s, that creates the deep apathy of the discontented American population—the people who give Congress a 14% approval rating. The 86% could sweep away this body with a tap of its finger—if only they could agree on an alternative to replace it with. They have no such alternative. So it rules, forever.

But suppose you sign up volunteers for the whole job—cleaning and renovating the whole house. Dismantling all the myths of American history, both liberal and conservative. Building a structure which all our great ancestors, from William I to Henry VII to Cromwell to John Adams, could look down on without sorrow and dismay.

If you ask people to support the one big step—a complete transition of government—you are asking them to support something that, if it succeeds, will actually work. Your horse will be weak at first, because it is small. The bigger it grows, the stronger it looks. If you ask Americans to help repair the existing government, you will not rouse them from their apathy—because however many Americans you recruit, you will fail as Nixon and Reagan did. They can delude themselves that Washington is repairable, but in their hearts they know it’s not. Thus you can never win their hearts, and thus they will remain apathetic.

And worse: the primary obstacle to any such renovation is that, as a matter of practical politics, it cannot succeed without either (a) an equal alliance of cultural liberals and cultural conservatives, or (b) a savage struggle, violent or otherwise, in which one side triumphs for good over the other. I do not favor (b).

Yet (a) requires both sides to abandon their entire political mythology at once. Which seems a daunting task. It is infinitely less daunting, however, than the task of converting liberals to the conservative mythology—or vice versa.

LA replies:

I think that, as in the past, you get fundamentally wrong what I stand for, cartoonishly wrong, as though you had read snippets of my writings and jumped to conclusions based on those snippets, looking at them through your preconceptions. Let’s just say that what I stand for is something substantially more than remodeling the kitchen and something less than demolishing the entire house—demolishing all of Americans’ beliefs about American history. To destroy all of a people’s beliefs about their history, which is what you advocate, is to destroy them as a people. Your recommended cure has the quality of an acid trip. Which is why I once compared you to Jimi Hendrix’s “Astro Man.”

LA continues:

And, by the way, as a pro-Yorkist, I see the man you treat as the model for us to follow, Henry VII, as the man who by defeating and killing Richard III, the last of the Plantagenets, brought to an end the medieval order of England and introduced Renaissance style despotism, which was expanded by his son Henry VIII into the first all-out modern style despotism, overturning the historical and religious order of the society. So it looks as though you haven’t gone far back enough in time. You’re hung up in modernity and the worship of power, not in the traditional, tripartite order of human society that you appeal to but which is contradicted by your liking for total destruction and despotism.

posted March 26, 2 a.m.

Zachary W. writes:

You wrote:

And, by the way, as a pro-Yorkist, I see the man you treat as the model for us to follow, Henry VII, as the man who by defeating and killing Richard III, the last of the Plantagenets, brought to an end the medieval order of England and introduced Renaissance style despotism, which was expanded by his son Henry VIII into the first all-out modern style despotism, overturning the historical and religious order of the society. So it looks as though you haven’t gone far back enough in time. You’re hung up in modernity and the worship of power, not in the traditional, tripartite order of human society that you appeal to but which is contradicted by your liking for total destruction and despotism.

LOL—Mencius just got pwnd.

If not you’re familiar with the term, he explains it here:

The word “pwn” remains in use as Internet social-culture slang meaning: to take unauthorized control of someone else or something belonging to someone else by exploiting a vulnerability.

Clark Coleman writes:

Mencius Moldbug wrote: “Eating certain kinds of foods to excess can cause certain kinds of cancer. However, if you already have cancer, you should not expect to cure it by eating less of those foods. Liberalism causes nationalized medicine. However, if you already have liberalism, you should not expect to cure it by repealing nationalized medicine.”

I don’t hope to cure liberalism by repealing nationalized medicine. I hope to cure the peculiar problems of nationalized medicine by repealing nationalized medicine. I hope to cure liberalism by continuing to educate and persuade others of its errors, but I cannot do that fast enough to suit my tastes, so I have to undertake certain short-term political projects along the way as a defensive measure. The long term and short term projects are not mutually exclusive.

I wonder that something so elementary needs to be explained.

LA replies:

Because Mencius (as he himself has admitted in past discussions) lacks common sense. Indeed he boasts of having an extreme view outside the usual human ways of seeing things. Starting from the premise that everything in the world today is completely screwed up, he takes notions which are as contrary as possible to common sense and the world we know, and goes all the way with them, thinking that his pure contrarianism represents some kind of higher wisdom and a true alternative to current reality. He doesn’t try to form a whole picture of things, with different things in their true proportions and interrelations. He forms as extreme a picture as possible. He himself has said at his blog that he sees his intellectual function as being like a mind-altering drug which messes up his reader’s normal sense of reality, to break them free of the false consciousness of modern America. But where can that lead, except to more and more intellectual perversity for its own sake?

I think Mencius was born “far behind his rightful time”—the acid dropping Sixties. So to compensate for that missed experience, he creates his own verbal equivalent of LSD at his blog.

Aaron S. writes:

I liked your reply to Moldbug (the one starting, “And, by the way, as a pro-Yorkist … “)—it nails the matter rather precisely.

He doesn’t seem to realize that he is espousing not Aristotelianism, Thomism or any other expression of classical order, but a peculiar, regressive form of a very modern position: historicism. He excoriates you for arguing that America as a society is tenable, taking as his premise that you don’t sufficiently understand America’s roots in English civilization, and that one must go backwards to a certain point to see that the trunk was corrupted with disease before the branch sprung forth.

All well and good if one assumes that the “branch” is entirely comprehended by the “trunk”, and that there was some point at which the tree, given proper care, could have sustained itself indefinitely. But real societies aren’t like that. If we must employ a natural image, they are related as clumps in a thicket of vines—or at least that’s how they appear from the viewpoint of mere empirical history. Wall off one section, and someone will always find an errant vine or two leading to something else—this is precisely what you’ve done in the last entry.

There’s something deeply unsatisfying about this approach, and it’s a dead end for conservatives. The “progressive” historicist, or Marxist, will always gain the rhetorical upper hand over this position, since his chosen archetype has the advantage of being gloriously untainted: the future resolution of all present conflicts. Contrarily, the reactionary historicist is locked into a useless pedantic race to outpace doubters by throwing up further minutiae. (No, HERE’S where the slide began! You didn’t know about that, did you!?)

I’ve always enjoyed that aspect of VFR where you’ve been willing to criticize the constitution or the founders; they, too can be mistaken about their own society’s nature. For us, history is a necessity, but it should never be regarded as sufficient. Moldbug’s argument is in the end no different in kind from those advanced by constitutional purists or hero-worshippers of the founding moment. He appears deeper because he knows more, but he has merely shifted the lines of the same debate without any conceivable practical benefit. It is a fine pose for a curmudgeon, but neither philosophically cogent nor politically useful.

Gintas writes:

Sam Francis diagnosed the problem with our ruling elite, yet was at a loss to find an answer. Where does a degenerate ruling elite come from? A degenerate society! How in the world would a degenerate society replace its ruling elite with something better? There is no parallel ruling elite ready to step up. Since he wasn’t a Communist ready for blood in the streets, he dreamed of “Middle American Radicals,” who were very soon led down a primrose path to more liberalism by … the degenerate ruling elite in place already.

I know you hold out hope for some real conservatives to step forward, that the ruling elite isn’t degenerate without exception. A repeal of Obamacare would be a sign of life, I’ll hold onto that hope because the only alternative is something most of us can’t face, standing exposed and defeated on the plains swept by howling liberal winds.

Francis’s dream of MARs wasn’t completely a fantasy, because anger in the Middle America really did exist. It could have been used by a good insurgent elite, had such a thing existed. Mencius dreams of a “reboot.” All he has is history and ideas. I guess it’s the intellectual’s fantasy that if we all just agree to think differently, everything will change. People don’t just think liberalism, they are liberals. They cannot not answer the call of their liberal rulers.

This isn’t total pessimism. There is hope: utter collapse will do the job in a hurry. Forty years in the desert, and liberalism will be dead with mostly everyone over 20 years old. It’s what God did with the Israelites who weren’t fit for the promised land because of their love of Egyptian slavery.

Mencius Moldbug writes:

Would I demolish all of Americans’ beliefs about American history? No—just the ones that aren’t true. I.e., the mythology. Replacing historical mythology with historical truth is not vandalism, but reconstruction. Not LSD, but Thorazine.

America is already on an acid trip. America has been on an acid trip since the 1770s. [LA replies: Mencius, you’re a nice guy, but statements like that tend to discredit you intellectually and make it impossible to take you seriously.] America needs to come down. It needs to come down because it has squandered all its God-given gifts. Its only remaining option—economic, cultural, political—is reality. In short, it’s 12-step time.

See what Carlyle wrote in 1850. [LA notes: Mencius sent a 700 word long extract of Carlyle which was too long for a discussion. You can read it at the link.]

Are not the Pythons and Megatherions arrived? For that matter, did not they arrive in 1860? Was Carlyle, too, on an acid-trip? He predates Albert Hofmann by quite a number of years! (Note also that when Carlyle says “Anarchy plus a street-constable,” he is referring to the fashionable Manchester liberalism of his day—aka, libertarianism.)

Mencius continues:

And as for Henry VII, Cromwell, etc, I have no hesitation in agreeing with you that the birth of the Renaissance centralized monarchy, and the end of the feudal order, was the germ that grew into the modern democratic-socialist state. In principle, I too prefer the feudal order. As you note, however, this is in no way available to us—at least, not directly.

But Henry VII did not destroy feudalism in England. The Wars of the Roses destroyed feudalism in England. William I did not destroy the Anglo-Saxon monarchy. The Norse invasions destroyed the Anglo-Saxon monarchy. Even Cromwell did not destroy the Stuart monarchy—Parliament and the Puritans destroyed the Stuart monarchy. Cromwell, who was created by the Revolution rather than creating it, spent most of his energy in fighting the radical left-wing fringe of Puritanism. Similarly, Napoleon did not destroy the Bourbons, Augustus the Roman Republic, etc, etc.

Despotism—in the literal sense of the word, i.e., unlimited personal government—is not the goal of restoration. The goal of restoration is stable, effective, and responsible government. None of the despots above named achieved all three, because none of them created a permanent order, i.e., one which lasted until the present. However, all of them achieved the last two, for which I would settle! And there is plenty of time to work on the first.

If you can think of any historical example of a decayed state being restored without effective personal government, I would love to hear it. I know of no such thing. And I am hardly an expert on everything and everywhere, but I do know a good bit of history.

Think of how those who lived in the age of Augustus saw the restoration of Augustus. The transition from Republic to Empire ended an age of bad government which had lasted for the entire lives of those then living, and began an age of good government which lasted for the entire lives of those then living. Does America deserve anything less?

LA replies:

All right, now you’re speaking in sensible language which can be the basis of discussion. And the way to get there is to drop your “Washington and Madison were acid-heads” version of American history, and look at the present. America may very well be over. If Obamacare is not overturned by the Supreme Court, and not repealed by Congress, then the historic American order is over, and then we either (A) surrender and accommodate ourselves to the new order, (B) try to overthrow the new order and impose a better order, (C) or take control of a geographical part of the new America and try to secede, or (D) go as individuals or groups into internal or external exile. I think that exhausts the logical possibilities. You are talking about one approach to option B, whereby a strong man brings back a livable order. I’ve always felt that Augustus, as unappealing as he was personally, was one of the great leaders of history. He rescued the ruined Roman world which was on the verge of disintegration and saved it for another five hundred years, and, through Byzantium, for another 1,500 years. So your scenario of a strong leader taking over a ruined post-America and imposing a livable and decent order is reasonable, or as reasonable as any other. But note: I speak of this scenario in the context of a possibly soon-to-be post-America which has lost its historical order, not of an America which has been “on an acid trip since the 1770s.” You seem not to know that the Augustan order was not founded by trashing all of Roman history prior to the time of Augustus (as you have trashed America), but by honoring it and trying to bring back its ideals and standards. Such an attitude is precluded by your all-out trashing of America since its founding.

So Mencius, if you want us to be on the same page where useful discussion is possible, let’s talk about where America is now, not about your fantasy of early America on LSD.

March 26, 4 p.m.

Richard P. writes:

I’m baffled by some of your recent correspondents. First you have Karen. She was adamant that America lost our way when we abandoned hereditary monarchy. I thought she had to be pulling your leg. Could anyone really see the preservation of a traditionalist order upheld by Elizabeth II? But now you have Mencius Moldbug. He argues for the greatness of the Tudors and suggests that the American Revolution was just a bit of a spat in a long English history. Men like Washington and Adams were merely misguided liberal fools who didn’t realize what they were destroying. He links to his “solution” to our crisis. It is a long vague plan for Americans to elect ourselves a king.

Pardon me while I gag.

Moldbug suggests that we fetishize the founders and don’t recognize the greatness of men like Henry VII because we don’t truly understand English history. I would suggest that Moldbug longs for the return of the divine right of kings because he doesn’t truly understand American history. The brilliance of our Constitution is not in bringing democracy, or in the Bill of Rights. It was in the separation of powers. Government was divided and subdivided into parts that were often at each other’s throats. In some areas a local sheriff could overrule a state governor, who in turn could overrule a president. Governors and presidents were subject to the whims of legislatures. All of these institutions had to deal with the courts. No one man could wield too much power for too long. There were always other jealous institutions willing to check them.

This whole system—the separation of powers, checks and balances, supermajorities for amendments—came about because of a unique view of humanity. The founders saw man as corruptible, as a fallen creature who must be guarded against. It is a view that was missing from the French Revolution and the many Marxist revolutions. They saw man as perfectible. If only they could create the right conditions, all would be happy. It was society that was the problem, not man. And it is largely Europeans that have fallen for this utopian foolishness again and again while dismissing Americans as na├»ve bumpkins. Funny that. [LA replies: these last two paragraphs are an excellent explanation of the central idea of the American government, which is not democracy, but republicanism. As Richard says, the essence of republicanism is separation of powers, as distinct from monarchy in which one person (or one body) holds all power. See my Amazon review of William Everdell’s The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicanism, in which I expand on this idea.]

Many people cry out for a strong man in times of crisis without considering the consequences. You are correct that Augustus saved Rome. But the concentration of power he gathered was also wielded by Caligula and Nero. Marcus Aurelius was followed by Commodus. Henry VII led to Henry VIII. Wishing for good kings does not prevent bad kings.

America is part of the West. But America is not the old nations of Europe. The New World brought a new order and we should not easily surrender it for the comforts of a velvet gloved tyranny under a shiny crown. This is an argument that I never thought I would have to make.

In a follow-up exchange Richard adds:

I’m baffled that there are people arguing for hereditary monarchy, and not just as a philosophical flight of fancy. A monarchy is only as “traditional” as the current regent. It is an argument that borders on lunacy, while slandering the most providential group of men in the last millenium. I’m glad you posted them because I never expected to hear those arguments outside of pot-filled dorm rooms. It’s so bizarre.

Jim B. writes:

I find myself (surprisingly) agreeing a little with Mencius in this discussion. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the early 19th century in America (Daniel Walker Howe’s “What Hath God Wrought” is excellent, and I highly recommend it.), and what I find is that, while the founding fathers envisioned a Republic along the lines of Rome, with a franchise restricted to property owners and balanced to avoid tyranny, within a generation they had lost control—once they had overthrown the monarch, they had started down the slippery slope to democracy (which is itself only a waystation on the road to tyranny).

I think we need to realize that the American Republic, as with all Republics, was an unstable thing. It is is long dead. The only question for us now is what sort of Empire it will evolve into. The Empire of Augustus, or of the five Good Emperors? Or that of Commodus or Nero? From our perspective, is a “good” emperor worse than a “bad” one, since a well-administered Empire is likely to be more harmful to liberty than a poorly run one? I’m not entirely sure …

Mencius writes:

Of course, I wasn’t literally suggesting that the American revolutionaries of the 18th century were on LSD. LSD was first synthesized in 1943. It’s an analogy, man. [LA replies: Thanks, Mencius. I do understand the use of analogy and metaphor. And I think and expect that everyone reading VFR understands it.]

What they were on was 18th-century Enlightenment philosophy. Which in that same century, in France, produced forms of government which fully anticipated the 20th century and perhaps even LSD. Speaking of LSD in the context of the Marquis de Sade is not at all far-fetched. [LA replies: what in blazes does the Marquis de Sade have in common with the American founding?] Likewise we find ecstatic political madness, although much less, in the English Civil War with the Diggers, Ranters, Quakers, etc. All of liberalism is anticipated in this period—right down to sexual libertinism. (But not LSD—just because they didn’t have LSD.) And Rousseau is clearly influenced by these freaks—the philosophy of the French Enlightenment is substantially de-theized radical Protestantism, I feel.

These insane phenomena were mostly absent from the American Revolution, but not at all entirely. There was no American de Sade. The philosophy of the American Revolution included many unprincipled exceptions which made George Washington and John Adams very unlike Barack Obama and Saul Alinsky. But these High Federalists were the best of the bunch, i.e., the closest to Tory. Samuel Adams was perhaps the closest thing to an 18th-century American Alinsky. Even he would have been horrified by the real Lucifer-worshiper. But if you look for raging, mindless mobs in American history, you will find them—it’s just that the Devil never quite sat on the throne. Not yet.

Here is the difference between mythical, cardboard, 2-D history and real, 3-D history. When your history is in 3-D, you can actually judge and understand the players as you do the political figures of today. You can say: I like Peter Oliver and Thomas Hutchinson quite a bit, George Washington and John Adams okay, John Hancock and Sam Adams not so much. You can say: the Loyalists tend to tell the truth, the Patriots tend to dissemble. Or not. It depends on how you judge the sources. But you will never get to 3-D without reading those sources yourself. [LA replies: your constantly repeated assumption that I have a one-dimensional, slogan-based view of American history, as though I were Sean Hannity, or some neocon mouthpiece celebrating the victory of “freedom” in Iraq, is insulting, and shows again that you really do not read me. Not that you have to read me, but if you’re going to launch a lengthy critique of my world view, then you ought to read me.]

For me, America’s real heritage is this 3-D history—history as it actually happened, as it you would have perceived it had you been there. By definition it is far deeper and richer than the mythology. Discarding the mythology is thus an act of reverence, not an act of nihilism. Rather, it is cynical nihilism that causes us to forget and/or disdain the real past and the real people in it. Such is to be expected from our enemies, but not from our friends.

And in the mythology, the Constitution as interpreted by John Paul Stevens is the same document ratified in 1789. In reality, the present American form of government was inaugurated in 1933 and has as little to do with the document of 1789, as amended, as it can possibly get away with. I feel that no one who knows the real 1789 and the real 1933 can possibly retain any reverence for Washington as it is, because I feel that the real founders of both 1789 and 1933 would regard the Washington of 2010 as what it is: totaled. And it was totaled long before 2010, too. [LA replies: Your argument is against a straw man version of Lawrence Auster who doesn’t know how the Constitution has been changed and perverted.]

Therefore, you cannot fully defeat liberalism until you recognize that liberalism is not an invention of the 1960s, but appears perennially in American and even English history across the last four centuries. But, recognizing this, you have the perspective of the (largely unknown) opponents of liberalism across those four centuries to fall back on. You are thus connected to the past, rather than detached from it. And you gain a large army of intellectual reinforcements—many of extremely high caliber!

So, for instance, I see your relationship to the American radicals of the 1850-70s and 1760s-80s as very similar to Powerline’s attitude toward the civil-rights movement. Powerline cannot regard MLK with a critical eye; having accepted and canonized MLK, a prerequisite for mainstream acceptability, Powerline must find the conservative MLK (easily done in his mendacious, mealy-mouthed, Communist-written speeches), and discover MLK the opponent of racial preferences, believer in America, etc. MLK can then be compared quite favorably with the race hustlers, quota queens and corruptocrats of our era. And a credible neoconservative narrative emerges. As you and I know, this narrative, though credible, is thoroughly fallacious and misleading.

In the same way you find a Civil War and an American Revolution in which all sides, somehow, were conservative. At least, you certainly can’t argue that Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Lord Germain and Banastre Tarleton were a bunch of flaming liberals! Which you certainly can argue for Sam Adams, Ben Franklin, Thoreau and Thad Stevens. Now, the latter group might change their minds if they could see the America that liberalism made; but that would be a change. Whereas the former group would see their every prejudice confirmed.

Thus, your enemies defeat you by disconnecting you from the real American history which is yours, and which if you knew it would empower you tremendously. You see the present in 3-D, as does Powerline. Powerline’s 3-D vision goes back to the ’70s and is very uneven in the ’60s. Yours is solid in the ’60s and starts to crackle and fade in the ’50s. Before that is only dates, names, mythologies, cardboard.

Which is normal. What is my history of medieval France? Of the Qing Dynasty? Dates, names, mythologies, cardboard. If that. I know enough to know that I know nothing. But the thing is: Anglo-American history post 1600, being the very cradle and nursery of liberalism, is tremendously relevant to the political problems we face today. The Qing Dynasty is not. Therefore, the task of understanding these four centuries, in 3-D—a tremendous task which I can barely even comprehend—strikes me as an essential prerequisite to the task to which you have set your hand, ie, restoring or replacing the American political system.

LA replies:

I have said many times—it’s a central idea of traditionalism as I see it—that the American Founding had serious flaws that have led ultimately to the present liberalism. Most importantly, the Founding made explicit only its liberal, procedural principles, while its conservative, substantive principles were only implicit or stated in documents that were not the principal Founding documents (for example, the Constitution leaves out the Christian Protestant basis of American society and of the Constitution itself). And therefore over time the explicit, liberal principles have grown stronger and stronger while the implicit, conservative principles have grown weaker. And therefore traditionalists need to go back to the founding and correct its mistakes while keeping what is good. How does that match your statement that I think that everything in America prior to 1960 or 1950 was hunky dory?

At the same time, the fact is that on March 21, 2010, America passed a line which, if the action is not reversed, means the unambiguous end of the government formed by the Constitution. So, as I said in a previous comment, you don’t need to keep up your argument that America stopped being America in 1933 or 1867 or 1776 or whenever, an argument that most people will find bizarre, and at the very least not understand or agree with. However, many, perhaps most, conservatives will understand that Obamacare means the end of the government formed by the constitution. And this will require a rethinking of everything. So Obamacare has done your work for you, and my work for me. See my entry from March 23, “Barack Obama—the greatest conservative community organizer in history,” where I wrote:

The passage of Obamacare has instantly done something that decades of traditionalist conservative writing, blogging, activism, organizing, and politicking could not do and probably could not have done: created a vast mainstream conservative population which recognizes that liberalism is really leftism, that liberalism is a relentless force that aims at the extinction of our liberty and our Constitution, and that only the defeat of liberalism (or our removal of ourselves from its power) can save us.

To the extent that people recognize that the rule of liberalism itself is the problem, that the rule of liberalism leads ultimately to Obamacare and the ruin of our Constitution and our country, they will be ready for the deeper consideration of the flaws of liberalism that you and I both believe is necessary, though we may see the problem differently.

Mencius Moldbug writes:

Gintas, you put the problem exactly right. Where does the new elite come from? Well, you’re looking at it, I suspect. But the burden is heavy! What is needed is a VFR that is as far above the VFR of today, which has no real competitors, as the VFR of today is above Little Green Footballs. Elites climb mountains, then make new mountains to climb.

Clark, I understand your plan. What I don’t understand is why you expect it to work. Those who forget history, etc.

Carleton Putnam had exactly the same plan for competing with the civil-rights movement. Have you heard of Carleton Putnam? Try his excellent work—Race and Reason, 1961

Obviously, Carleton Putnam was right. Who did he educate? Quite a few people, actually. The Putnam letters were published by newspapers all over the South. Where are those who read them? Pushing up the daisies, mostly. How many little educating steps will you have to take until you reach an America where Carleton Putnam is mentioned in the textbooks, where his ideas are taught, where Americans learn that he was right and the good and great were wrong?

The answer is: a lot. So, by repealing healthcare reform, you’re renovating one floorboard in the kitchen, and thinking that will make it easier to renovate the next floorboard. Destruction works this way. Renovation doesn’t. Whether you know it or not, your model of social and cultural change is a liberal model. It works for them but not for you—or Carleton Putnam.

LA replies:

I repeat: Mencius’ position that it is a waste of energy to repeal the health care bill because that would leave the deeper liberalism untouched, is the height of irresponsibility and surrender. It is, as I said at the beginning of this thread, practical nihilism. If armed thugs were breaking into Mencius’ house to take his property, kill his family, and burn down the house, would he say that there is no point in repelling these thugs because that would leave untouched the larger problems of liberalism that allow such thugs to exist? Obamacare is the armed thugs breaking into our house—right now. It is a deadly threat to our freedom—right now. And that has to be dealt with—right now.

So, Mencius, will you help America turn back this immediate threat, or not? If you won’t, then don’t expect us to have much interest in your historical theories.

March 27

Mencius Moldbug writes:

You know what this discussion reminds me of, in an odd way? Your interaction with Richard Hoste, where Hoste repeated the standard liberal/libertarian/paleocon line about comparing 9/11 to car accidents, or whatever.

In that conversation, you were dead right and Hoste was dead wrong. An attack is not an accident. The response of a sheep, if the sheep next to it disappears: “oh, it looks like sheep 174 is gone.” Whether sheep 174 fell down a well, was struck by lightning, or was eaten by a wolf, doesn’t really matter. To a sheep. At least, to my caricature of a sheep.

But people are not sheep. If sheep were people, they would fence off the well, philosophically accept the unavoidable reality of lightning, or organize some defense against wolves. To get a human society to philosophically accept the unavoidable reality of wolves, ie, terrorists who are trying to murder them, requires a level of anesthetic propaganda that’s almost unequaled in human history. For whatever reason, left-libertarian/paleocons have accepted this weird pacifist mindset, which of course is produced by their worst enemies, the liberals.

Hence your reaction to “healthcare reform.” Yes, it’s true, Washington has f***ed us. Not the first time! And not an accident, either. This really is a tyrannical government by many reasonable historical definitions—a tyrannical government being one that, as an organic imperative of its structure, tends to abuse its own citizens. The marriage of America and Washington is a bad marriage. It needs nothing more, and nothing less, than a divorce.

So when I advise you not to struggle against this, I am not taking a Richard Hoste line in which Washington is an inanimate force, like lightning, to be endured. It is not an inanimate force, it is a human force, and if you can get 51% of Americans on the same day to snap their fingers and say, “Washington, go away,” it will disappear instantly & for good. Just like the Soviet Union. Just like it! And after that day, lightning and other natural misfortunes will still be with us. But Washington won’t.

But—on the historical scale of tyrannies to be endured, Washington remains a 3 out of 10. Maybe with this, it’s gone from a 3 to a 4. 4 is endurable. When it goes from 4 to 5 to 6 to 7, you’ll be praying to God to get your 4 back. You and other conservatives *can* endure it, you can survive it, and you can do so without forgetting that it is not lightning but human beings, who if pricked bleed, have fscked you. All I’m saying is: don’t go off half-cocked, and eat your revenge cold, and make sure you have an actual realistic plan which involves actually winning. Humans do this, too.

I feel the battered-wife analogy is a very good one for American conservatives. Americans love their country, and rightly so. Battered wives love their families, and rightly so. They also love their husbands, and wrongly so. Thus, the conservative lets his love of America bleed into love of Washington. He cannot picture America without the perfect and ideal institutions he learned to revere in high school, just as the battered wife cannot picture her family without the tall, dark, funny stranger she fell in love with all those years ago.

And she fixates on the same point—“he’s my husband and I love him. He shouldn’t be hitting me.” And then there is rage and crying and throwing of plates. And perhaps even a hug and an apology—that would be your Reagan Revolution, your Contract with America. And then it starts all over again. No, honey, the time for drama is over. You don’t need drama, you don’t need rage and crying and throwing of plates, you don’t even need hugs and apologies. What you need is a divorce. Pack a suitcase, put the kids in the car, get behind the wheel and drive.

LA replies:

The way you develop ideas is by constructing extremely elaborate and inventive analogies, and the analogy gets farther and farther removed from the subject actually being discussed, so that your reader not only needs to exert an inordinate amount of energy to understand the analogy, but in the end still has to figure out how the analogy relates to the subject under discussion. You demand more effort of your interlocutors than is appropriate or workable.

As Gertrude pleaded to Polonius: More matter, with less art.

Devin F. writes:

I’m surprised that you see the passage of the health care bill as the definitive crossing of the line. The health care system has been de facto government controlled for decades. There are reams of regulations on both the federal and state level that control every aspect of accrediting doctors, managing hospitals, buying insurance, regulating life saving drugs, etc. A relative who works at a major hospital recently wrote me an email about her job saying:

Last Tuesday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) showed up on our doorstep for a two-week unannounced visit. There are 16 surveyors. They have the 300-page Conditions of Participation book and they go thru the standards one-by-one. There are no shades of gray. No judgment is allowed. You do it or you don’t. I’m in charge of the Command Center. I’m absolutely fried.

If this isn’t unconstitutional, government controlled health care, I don’t know what is. And this was before the Obama plan passed. Left-libertarian Kevin Carson works at a hospital and describes it as a “Soviet Gosplan”. His recent paper ( The Healthcare Crisis: A Crisis of Artificial Scarci ) is a great overview of the perversities of the existing sytem.

The Obama plan is bad, but it does not represent a government takeover of health care—the takeover already happened. The Obama plan represents one more beam distegrating in a rotting house. The process is incremental. Even if the Obama plan can be repealed, the repeal would only slow the decay. Congress would continue to pass incremental bills—bills of the kind that have already turned the healthcare system into the bureaucratic hell that my relative describes above.

LA replies:

I categorically reject the assumption that keeps popping up in this debate that because B (Obamacare) resembles A (Medicare) in various respects, therefore B does not represent something fundamentally new and different from A. The differences between Medicare and Obamacare are not just differences in degree but in kind. If, despite all that we know about Obamacare, you don’t see that, I don’t think I can persuade you of it.

Which is not to say that Medicare is good. The root of the problem is the third party payer system, which encourages constant increases in demand and thus increases in prices.


Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 25, 2010 03:25 PM | Send
    

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