Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
They Said It:
The roots of [American] order twist back to the Hebrew perceptions of a purposeful moral existence under God. They extend to the philosophical and political self-awareness of the old Greeks. They are nurtured by the Roman experience of law and social organization. They are entwined with the Christian understanding of human duties and human hopes, of man redeemed. They are quickened by medieval custom, learning, and valor. They grip the religious ferment of the sixteenth century. They come from the ground of English liberty under law, so painfully achieved. They are secured by a century and half of community in colonial America. They benefit from the debates of the eighteenth century. They approach the surface through Declaration and Constitution. They emerge full of life from the ordeal of the Civil War.
Russell Kirk, The Roots of American Order, 1992.
WHEN TRAGEDIES DIVIDE.
Last week, there was a horrendous and tragic mass murder in a little town in Texas, and while the bodies were still warm a “celebrity” “comedian” named Chelsea Handler blamed it all on the “Republicans.” Not surprisingly, her remedy was gun control. Now this was not a novel thought on her part, but, being as how she blamed us for this crime, by association, we thought we might offer an alternative theory, that being to blame her, by association. Not, by the way, with her affiliation with the Democratic Party, or with the liberal establishment per se. No, we are speaking of her membership in a much more powerful and elite group, which, for lack of a better term, we will simply describe as the “new intellectuals,” i.e., those who seek to replace the nation’s traditional political and religious leaders as the arbiters of its moral, ethical, and social standards.
You see, Ms. Handler is a major force in America’s post-modern culture. Indeed, she is an intellectual power house, who is making judgement calls on highly complex social issues of great national importance, and is being listened to by others in her community and by the mainstream media. So popular and influential has she become that following the shooting in Texas last week she announced that she is taking a break from her career as an entertainer to “devote as much time as I can to becoming a more knowledgeable and engaged citizen and to focus on projects that have significance to me.”
And what pray tell are her qualifications for such an important role, other than being funny?
Well, according to Wikipedia, she attended High School in Livingston, New Jersey, during which time she had two abortions at the age of 16, which she openly cites as evidence of her “honesty.” She graduated in 1993 and went to California to “pursue acting and worked as a waitress.” At the age of 21 she “decided to pursue stand-up comedy after telling her story about a DUI to a class of other offenders, who found it funny.” Today, she is a big time celebrity. Indeed, in 2012, Time Magazine listed her among the “100 most influential people in the world.” Wikipedia said this:
Handler has her own columns in Cosmopolitan and NOW, a UK celebrity magazine. In May 2009, she was the host of the 20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco. In June 2009, she was named as Grand Marshal of the 2009 Los Angeles LGBT PRIDE Celebration “for her visible and vocal support of equality”. . . In March 2012, she hosted the Human Rights Campaign Gala in Los Angeles.
Of course, there is nothing new about folks like Ms. Handler and her compatriots, who have no apparent expertise in any particular field of study but have gained a powerful voice in the national debates over highly complicated matters involving economics, politics, religion, morality, ethics, and custom.
In fact, in his classic 1930 book, The Revolt of the Masses, the great Spanish philosopher José Ortega Y Gassett discussed at length the subject of the rising influence of those whom he described as the “masses.”
Now, it is important to understand that Ortega y Gassett was not referring to a specific social class when he spoke of this phenomenon. In fact, his interest was almost exclusively focused on the spread of pedestrianism to upper and educated classes. To wit: “A characteristic of our times is the predominance, even in groups traditionally selective, of the mass and the vulgar. Thus, in the intellectual life, which of its essence requires and presupposes qualification, one can note the progressive triumph of the pseudo-intellectual, unqualified, unqualifiable, and by their very mental texture, disqualified.”
[This] individual finds himself already with a stock of ideas. He decides to content himself with them and to consider himself intellectually complete. As he feels the lack of nothing outside himself, he settles down definitely amid his mental furniture. Such is the mechanism of self-obliteration . . . [He]does not suspect himself; he thinks himself the most prudent of men, hence the enviable tranquility with which the fool settles down and installs himself in his own folly. Like those insects which it is impossible to extract from the orifice they inhabit, there is no way of dislodging the fool from his folly, to take him away for a while from his blind state and to force him to contrast his own dull vision with other keener forms of sight. . .Once for all, he accepts the stock of commonplaces, prejudices, fag-ends of ideas or simply empty words which chance has piled up within his mind, and with a boldness only explicable by his ingenuousness, is prepared to impose them everywhere.
This was new. And important. Both then and now. You see, Ortega Y Gassett was the first to recognize that the barbarism that was sweeping post-war Europe was not emanating from the rabble, as Marx has predicted it would, but from the middle class, the “masses,” the ordinary man. As Ortega Y Gasset saw it, “heap after heap of human beings have been dumped on to the historic scene at such an accelerated rate, that it has been difficult to saturate them with traditional culture . . . In the schools, which were such a source of pride to the last century, it has been impossible to do more than instruct the masses in the technique of modern life, it has been found impossible to educate them.” He continued:
The characteristic of the hour, “is that the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be commonplace, has the assurance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and to impose them wherever it will . . . The sovereignty of the unqualified individual, of the human being as such, generically, has now passed from being a juridical idea or ideal to be a psychological state inherent in the average man.
The result, according to Ortega y Gasset, is that masses “are in possession of power in such an unassailable manner that it would be difficult to find in history examples of a Government so all-powerful as these are. And yet public authority — the Government — exists from hand to mouth, it does not offer itself as a frank solution for the future, it represents no clear announcement of the future, it does not stand out as the beginning of something whose development or evolution is conceivable. In short, it lives without any vital programme, any plan of existence. It does not know where it is going, because, strictly speaking, it has no fixed road, no predetermined trajectory before it . . . its activities are reduced to dodging the difficulties of the hour; not solving them, but escaping from them for the time being, employing any methods whatsoever, even at the cost of accumulating thereby still greater difficulties for the hour which follows.”
Now one of Ortega y Gasset’s specific concerns of the ascension to power of the masses was blurring the distinction between the state and society, creating a permanent atmosphere of argument and change within the realm of politics. Or to put this in another way, it was the total breakdown in the communal sense brought on by the dramatic loss of influence in Christianity in the post-World War I Europe in the face of the rise of nihilism. He put it this way:
Without commandments, obliging us to live after a certain fashion, our existence is that of the “unemployed.” This is the terrible spiritual situation in which the best youth of the world finds itself to-day. By dint of feeling itself free, exempt from restrictions, it feels itself empty. An “unemployed” existence is a worse negation of life than death itself. Because to live means to have something definite to do – a mission to fulfill – and in the measure in which we avoid setting our life to something, we make it empty.
The result was the appearance of a plethora of political parties that represented all spectrums of ideological belief, including but not limited to socialists, communists, anarchists, and, in Germany, France and Italy, strange mixtures of fascism, nationalism, and national socialism, all angry about something and all bent on using the state to advance their personal agendas, and more than willing to destroying the state if it stood in opposition to their dreams.
At that time, the United States was relative free from this problem. While there were significant policy differences between the two political parties, each subscribed to the Judeo-Christian moral code as well as the nation’s traditionally honored customs, mores, and social norms.
In 1949, however, the great Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek raised the spectrum of the rise of a competitive belief system that was garnering the support of a new and different sort of “intellectual” community. He put it this way in a paper entitled “The Intellectuals and Socialism.”
The typical intellectual [today] need . . . not possess special knowledge of anything in particular, nor need he even be particularly intelligent, to perform his role as intermediary in the spreading of ideas. What qualifies him for his job is the wide range of subjects on which he can readily talk and write, and a position or habits through which he becomes acquainted with new ideas sooner than those to whom he addresses himself. . . .
Until one begins to list all the professions and activities which belong to the class, it is difficult to realize how numerous it is, how the scope for activities constantly increases in modern society, and how dependent on it we all have become. The class does not consist of only journalists, teachers, ministers, lecturers, publicists, radio commentators, writers of fiction, cartoonists, and artists all of whom may be masters of the technique of conveying ideas but are usually amateurs so far as the substance of what they convey is concerned. The class also includes many professional men and technicians, such as scientists and doctors, who through their habitual intercourse with the printed word become carriers of new ideas outside their own fields and who, because of their expert knowledge of their own subjects, are listened with respect on most others. . .
There is little that the ordinary man of today learns about events or ideas except through the medium of this class; and outside our special fields of work we are in this respect almost all ordinary men, dependent for our information and instruction on those who make it their job to keep abreast of opinion. It is the intellectuals in this sense who decide what views and opinions are to reach us, which facts are important enough to be told to us, and in what form and from what angle they are to be presented. Whether we shall ever learn of the results of the work of the expert and the original thinker depends mainly on their decision. . .
And it is specially significant for our problem that every scholar can probably name several instances from his field of men who have undeservedly achieved a popular reputation as great scientists solely because they hold what the intellectuals regard as “progressive” political views; but I have yet to come across a single instance where such a scientific pseudo-reputation has been bestowed for political reason on a scholar of more conservative leanings. This creation of reputations by the intellectuals is particularly important in the fields where the results of expert studies are not used by other specialists but depend on the political decision of the public at large. There is indeed scarcely a better illustration of this than the attitude which professional economists have taken to the growth of such doctrines as socialism or protectionism. There was probably at no time a majority of economists, who were recognized as such by their peers, favorable to socialism (or, for that matter, to protection).
Needless to say, the concerns of Ortega y Gasset and Hayek are alive and well in the person of Ms. Handler and her circle of progressive “intellectuals.” The important thing to understand is that their fight is not against “guns,” but against the Judeo-Christian belief system that once immunized the United States from the ills of post-Christian Europe.
GUNS, MORAL CODES, AND CLASS WARFARE.
As you well know, we have spent much of the last two decades hitting two themes especially hard: the clash of moral codes and the war between the ruling class and the country class. Sometimes these themes may appear abstract or extraneous, given the host of issues facing the nation today. We don’t think that’s the case, obviously. We think they are vitally important and help to explain a great deal of what happens in this country and why.
Take, for example, the shooting the past weekend in tiny Sutherland Springs, Texas. Mass shootings such as this one are both horrifying and, it would seem, horrifyingly frequent. And in their aftermath, the question that most people ask, “why can’t we, as a country, do anything to stop this madness?” The answers to that question have a great deal, we think, with the two themes we’ve emphasized for years.
For example, in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, various high-profile members of both sides of the political divide offered their thoughts and sympathies to the families of the victims and also offered help in whatever way they could.
On the political Right, that offer of help came in the form most often proffered by those with traditional moral beliefs and with faith in a higher power, prayers. Everyone from the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to President Trump sent “thoughts and prayers” to those in Texas and their families. On the Left, the offer of help came in a different fashion, in the form of demands for gun control. Before the bodies were even counted, much less cold, those on the Left who advocate stricter regulation of firearms – which is almost everyone on the Left these days – were insisting that the only appropriate thing to do now is to take guns out of the hands of people who would use them for evil. And short of that, the higher power – in this case the federal government – must make it harder for those people to acquire guns in the first place.
Of course, neither side was particularly happy with the other’s suggestion. The Right denounced the gun-control advocates as “ghouls,” and berated them for advocating policies that are either in place already or would be ineffective in preventing the types of mass shootings we have seen in this country. The Left, whose anger was equally palpable, if not more so, immediately accused those various commentators and politicians who publicly offered “thoughts and prayers” as crass charlatans who would sooner do nothing tangible than dare to take on the all-powerful “gun lobby.” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s response was typical, if less vulgar than most. “We have pastors, priests and rabbis to offer thoughts and prayers,” Cuomo tweeted, “What we need from Republicans in DC is to do something. Lead.”
There are literally dozens of reasonable explanations as to why Washington has been unable to do anything at all in response to these mass shootings, be it to pass gun control, to provide funding for more and better mental health resources, or to harden soft targets by providing greater access to and funding for better security. One of these explanations is that this crisis is an existential one that necessitates cultural upheaval rather government policy. Another, more practical reason, is that the two sides in this debate are, more or less, the same two sides in ALL of our political debates. And not only do they not see eye to eye on anything, they distrust the others’ motives and, in many cases, openly hate those who disagree with them. This is the clash of moral codes in action.
A third reason for the seeming paralysis on the question of how best to handle these demented mass shooters is that the issue has become so totally corrupted by politics that there is zero chance for a reasonable discussion of what might be done by Washington that actually would make a difference.
For example, Barack Obama spent much of his eight years in office mocking his political opponents as paranoiacs for thinking that he was coming to get their guns. I just want “common sense” restrictions, he would say, and laugh at those who thought otherwise. In the same breath, however, he would praise the alleged gun control success in Australia, for example. And how, exactly, did Australia achieve this success? It banned certain firearms – semiautomatic rifles and shotguns – and then confiscated up to a million of those guns. Sure, it called the program a “buyback,” using tax money to pay for the guns, but the buyback was mandatory, which is to say that the government was going to take the guns regardless and offered financial compensation as a fig leaf for its appropriation.
Moreover, some guns rights supporters – including the NRA itself – have noted that many of the highest-profile advocates of gun control also happen to be very rich and very powerful people who have no need to own guns themselves since they are protected by security professionals who carry weapons. Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton, to name three, all have the Secret Service. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg employs private security to keep him safe, as do various gun-control-advocating celebrities. Now, certainly, one can dispute the value of arguments such as these, but the fact of the matter is that they resonate with a great many people – people who are inclined not to trust their political “betters” in the first place.
Finally, there is the question of who will enforce any new laws and how effectively they will do so. Max Weber may have seen bureaucracy as a rational organizational development in the face of rapidly modernizing world, but most Americans see it as a royal pain-in-the-backside that will only add to the problems with the issue, even as it provides little relief. And again, in this matter, there is really no reason why they should think otherwise. National Review’s Robert Verbuggen provides the details:
In 2012, the Texas shooter fractured his infant stepson’s skull and assaulted his wife as well. Then in the Air Force, he was court-martialed and sentenced to a year’s confinement.
This domestic-violence conviction disqualified him from legal gun ownership. But the military failed to submit the records for inclusion in the federal database used to run background checks, so he was able to acquire guns by simply walking into gun stores and buying them. He didn’t have to steal a gun, or have a “straw purchaser” buy one for him, or buy from a private seller who’s not required to conduct a background check.
He is the second church shooter in the past few years to buy guns this way despite being prohibited. The Charleston shooter should have been disqualified too, but when he tried to buy a gun, this is what happened:
The firearm application was referred to a NICS Examiner as the suspect’s arrest record showed an arrest for a felony drug charge. The arrest record, however, showed no conviction on the drug charge, so it was not by itself a basis to deny the firearm purchase. The Examiner delayed the application and sought additional details on the arrest. However, because the suspect’s arrest record incorrectly showed the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office as the arresting authority, the Examiner, after running down many leads with the local authorities, was unable to confirm the suspect’s conviction or his admitted possession of a controlled substance within the 3 business day grace period that would have triggered a denial on the grounds that the suspect was an unlawful drug user or addict.
After that “grace period,” the government can still retrieve guns that were sold improperly. That didn’t happen either.
Now, we’re not saying that all of today’s complex social and political problems can be effectively viewed through the filters of the clash of moral codes and the country class/ruling class battle. But many can. Which is why we keep referring to them, time and again. The post-modernists hate the traditionalists, who hate them right back. And the country class hates the ruling class, which hated it first. This is where we are as a country.
Copyright 2017. The Political Forum. 3350 Longview Ct., Lincoln NE 68506, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.