Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
They Said It:
Pluralist society is free society exactly in proportion to its ability to protect as large a domain as possible that is governed by the informal, spontaneous, custom-derived, and tradition-sanctioned habits of the mind rather than by the dictates, however rationalized, of government and judiciary. Law is vital – formal, statute law – but when every relationship in society becomes a potentially legal relationship, expressed in adversary fashion, the very juices of the social bond dry up, the social impulse atrophies. The genius of the English common law lies not only in the social and communal roots of this law, as these are to be seen in the history of England during the Middle Ages, but also in its tacit concern, repeatedly expressed in judicial decision, that as little as possible be transferred from the nonlegal, nonpolitical lives of human beings living in a social order to the necessarily legal and political lives of the same human beings conceived as subjects of the sovereign. Nothing, it would seem, so quickly renders a population easy prey for the Watergate mentality of government as the dissolution of those customs and traditions which are the very stuff of morality and, hence, of resistance to oppression and corruption.
Paul Nisbit, The Restoration of Authority, 1975.
HARVEY WEINSTEIN AND BREAKING A FEW EGGS.
We’re going to start today with a little quiz. We’ll give you two quotes. You try to figure out who said them. OK? Let’s go:
First quote: “I think that you can demonstrate character most effectively by what you fight for and for whom you fight.”
And the second quote: “[My business] has the best moral compass, because it has compassion.”
We’ll give you a minute.
If you guessed that the first quote is from Bill Clinton, you’re either a very smart political junkie or someone who recalls that we’ve used that quote countless times as an example of the Left’s moral decrepitude, its belief that personal character doesn’t matter, as long as you hold the right opinions and signal the proper virtues.
If you guessed that the second one was also Bill Clinton, then you’re wrong, but we’ll still give you partial credit. After all, it’s the same sentiment, expressed slightly less elaborately. Personal character doesn’t matter, as long as you believe the right things and believe them really, really hard.
Now, if you happened to guess that the second quote is from Harvey Weinstein, the now-former movie mogul who spent the last few decades sexually assaulting or harassing anything that moved, then you get a gold star. Harvey is off to “sex rehab” now – since, apparently, raping at least a half-dozen actresses over the years constitutes “sex” in Hollywood’s twisted collective imagination. But the consequences of his “scandal” are both real and serious.
On the off chance you have either been living under a rock or have the exceptionally good sense to avoid any of this country’s popular culture for the last half-century, Harvey Weinstein is a giant of the film industry, the producer or executive producer of such pop-schlock favorites as Airbud, Scary Movie, Spy Kids, and of course Good Will Hunting. Weinstein – along with his friends Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, the costars of Good Will Hunting – was a mega-liberal activist. He donated over a million dollars to Hillary Clinton alone and gave money hand-over-fist to various left-wing causes. Or to put it another way, he fought for the “right” things and people and demonstrated compassion by shelling out big bucks to people who didn’t really need it.
Today, of course, Weinstein is rebuked by his old friends and supporters. “Gasp!” they shriek, “how could we possibly have known Harvey was a gigantic lecher? How could we possibly have had any idea at all that he was so naughty?” Meryl Streep, the actress famous for a bunch of movies we’ve never seen and for attacking President Trump repeatedly for his alleged misconduct, once called Harvey Weinstein her “god.” She insists that all of this is news to her. The fact that Weinstein’s behavior – his criminal behavior – was a well know “open secret” in Hollywood for years and even the subject of sly, insider-jokes on such TV shows as 30 Rock, apparently never rang any bells for Miss Streep. Nor for Dame Judi Dench, who excitedly showed the world that she had Weinstein’s name tattooed (perhaps temporarily) on her geriatric backside. Everyone is shocked – shocked, we tell you! – to find out that their old pal, their old producer, their old friend and donor, and their old god turned out to be a serial rapist.
The politically engaged community – i.e. various politicians and the collective political commentariat – has treated the Weinstein story as a cautionary tale about hypocrisy. On the Left, they have seen various conservatives call out Weinstein and his ties to the Democratic Party, and they have responded not by condemning the new “Big He,” but by attacking Republicans for not being sufficiently critical of Donald Trump. How, they wonder in 144 characters or less, can you hypocrites condemn Weinstein, but not Donald “Grab-em-by-the-p***y” Trump?
We’re not sure if these folks know the difference between talk and action, or if they know the difference between being a boor and being a rapist. Moreover, we’re pretty sure that they didn’t get the memo: yes, many of the conservatives condemning Weinstein DID condemn Trump. Indeed, many are adamant and vocal NeverTrumpers. But then, we’re also pretty sure that charges of “whataboutist” hypocrisy are pretty lame in any case.
On the Right, of course, charges of hypocrisy have also been tossed about quite frequently and quite loosely. How, conservative commentators have wondered, can the Democrats and Hollywood be so brazen? They condemned, harassed, and berated a good and decent man like Mitt Romney for awkwardly referring to his “binders full of women.” And yet they placidly sat by for decades, never doing a thing about a vile, gross beast like Harvey Weinstein. How duplicitous can these people get?
To emphasize their point, some conservatives reminded the Left and the Hollywood stars that Weinstein’s brutishness had, over the course of decades, been documented countless times by countless sources, especially sources within the entertainment industry. The Meryl Streeps and Judi Denches of the world could continue to pretend that the Harvey they knew was a stand-up guy, but that would only serve to make them look more ridiculous and pathetic.
John Podhoretz, to name one, took this latter line of attack, writing in Commentary magazine that:
Weinstein was universally known to be a terrible person long before the horrifying tales of his sexual predation, depredation, and assault were finally revealed. And — this is important — known to be a uniquely terrible person. His specific acts of repugnant public thuggishness were detailed in dozens of articles and blog items over the decades, and were notable precisely because they were and are not common currency in business or anywhere else. It was said of him after the latest revelations that he had mysterious abilities to suppress negative stories about himself, and perhaps he did; even so, it was a matter of common knowledge that he was the most disgusting person in the movie business, and that’s saying a lot. And that’s before we get to sex.
To take one example, Ken Auletta related a story in the New Yorker in 2001 about the director Julie Taymor and her husband, the composer Eliot Goldenthal. She had helmed a movie about Frida Kahlo produced by Weinstein. There was a preview screening at the Lincoln Square theater in Manhattan. The audience liked it, but some of its responses indicated that the plotline was confusing. Weinstein, whose hunger to edit the work of others had long since earned him the name “Harvey Scissorhands,” wanted to recut it to clarify the picture. Taymor didn’t, citing the audience’s favorable reaction. Then this happened:
He saw Taymor’s agent . . . and yelled at him, “Get the fuck out of here!” To Goldenthal, who wrote the score for Frida, Weinstein said, “I don’t like the look on your face.” Then, according to several witnesses, he moved very close to Goldenthal and said, “Why don’t you defend her so I can beat the shit out of you?” Goldenthal quickly escorted Taymor away. When asked about this incident, Weinstein insisted that he did not threaten Goldenthal, yet he concedes, “I am not saying I was remotely hospitable. I did not behave well. I was not physically menacing to anybody. But I was rude and impolite.” One member of Taymor’s team described Weinstein’s conduct as actually bordering on “criminal assault.”
Given this, we can understand conservatives’ frustration. Weinstein hobnobbed with the Clintons and palled around with the Obamas. He hosted big, swanky fundraisers for all of them, and invited all of his very rich and very famous friend. These same political hacks who accused Mitt Romney of giving a women cancer and of belonging to a radical, misogynistic religion, had given a free pass to their vile, villainous pal, simply because he only supported politicians with “Ds” after their names. Why shouldn’t these sham moralists be called on the mat for their duplicity?
For our part, we agree in principle with these conservatives. (Shocking, we know.) Democrats shouldn’t get a pass on hypocrisy. They should be called out for it every time they’re hypocritical.
But there’s a problem in this case. From the contemporary Left’s perspective – and from the perspective of anyone who understands what the contemporary Left is thinking and doing – there is no hypocrisy here. We know it’s hard to believe, given the seemingly glaring double standard, but it’s true. There is no hypocrisy in the Harvey Weinstein business. Just as there was no hypocrisy in the Bill and Hillary Clinton business.
If you’re confused by what we mean, you simply have to remember that the defining conflict of our times is the clash of moral codes. On the one side of this clash, you have the traditionalists, who believe that morality is an individual matter, defined by traditional expectations of behavior, evaluated against enduring and unchanging standards, and ultimately judged by God for every single person. One’s personal behavior is the measure by which this morality is ultimately appraised.
On the other side, you have the post-modernists, the post-traditionalists, the “enlightened” folk who have no knowledge of or even conception of the classical virtues embodied in the Judeo-Christian tradition, in the writings of Aristotle, or in the synthesis between the two produced by St. Thomas Aquinas. This side doesn’t believe that morality is a matter of personal behavior, but is, rather, a matter of group power, of the use and misuse of language to manipulate the notion of reality to advantage or disadvantage specific identity groups. This is a “collective” morality, one that, as Bill Clinton put it, hinges on the groups for whom one fights, the collectives for which one goes to war.
It was OK for Bill Clinton to have a one-sided and coercive affair with a White House intern because he was “pro-woman” in the generic sense. It was OK for him and his lawyers to plan to destroy the intern with whom he had an affair and to plant stories with the media that she was a little crazy, a little stupid, and a whole lotta obsessed, because he favored “women’s rights” in the broader sense. It was OK for him to harass and then settle out of court with Paula Jones, to likely harass Kathleen Willey, to rape Juanita Broaddrick, and to cheat on his wife with Gennifer Flowers and who knows who else, because he was pro-abortion and appointed pro-abortion justices to the Supreme Court. Indeed, as the journalist Nina Burleigh declared – AFTER we all learned about the Lewinski business – she would “gladly” service Bill in Monica-esque fashion, just to “thank him for keeping abortion legal.”
Similarly, it was OK for Hillary to destroy – or to attempt to destroy – the women with whom her husband cheated on her, because she too was pro-woman. And it was OK for her to be an unindicted coconspirator in at least one scandal and a key player in several others, because she too favored women’s rights. It was OK for her to run for a Senate seat representing a state in which she’d never lived because she too was pro-abortion and would confirm pro-abortion justices to the Supreme Court. And it was OK for her to lie, cheat, steal, and to hide and then destroy classified emails on a private email server because she is a woman. Indeed, she is a liberal woman, and as such, she represents all women, everywhere; their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations. Hillary is everywoman. To heck with this Virgin Mary gal, Hillary Clinton is, was, and ever shall be the perfect embodiment of all womanhood. Or something like that.
All of this, in turn, applied to Harvey Weinstein as well. It was OK for Harvey to be Harvey because he supported the people who were pro-woman, pro-women’s rights, pro-abortion. He believed what they believed in the abstract. And he had money, power, fame, and most especially the ability to affect the culture to promote the collective’s ends. He could produce movies like, say, The Cider House Rules. Don’t remember that one? Well, here’s a bit of a reminder from Rev. Paul McNellis, a Jesuit priest and a professor of philosophy at Boston College:
If Hollywood were to offer us a movie in which a father, guilty of incest with his daughter, was treated as a dignified, even sympathetic character, would anyone be offended? Would anyone notice? And if this same movie treated abortion as a sacramental rite of passage, akin to confirmation or bar mitzvah, would anyone notice that? Apparently not, judging from the reaction to the film version of John Irving’s Cider House Rules.
The film has received seven Academy Award nominations. What’s more, the national president of Planned Parenthood is delighted with the film. Referring to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Gloria Feldt said, “The timing of this release couldn’t be better.” Planned Parenthood plans to host “private screenings, fundraisers, and discussion groups led by local film critics,” all with the goal of “reminding viewers of the threats to reproductive choice.” I have even heard members of the pro-life movement pronounce it “a beautiful movie.” I’ve heard no one describe it as cynical or pernicious. It is both.
Set in the 1940’s, when abortion was illegal, the movie opens with the local orphanage’s physician, Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine), saying, “Here in St. Cloud’s not even the decision to get off the train is easily made, for it requires an earlier, more difficult decision: Add a child to your life, or leave one behind.”
Well, not exactly. “Being left behind” at St. Cloud’s means either being born or being aborted, going into the orphanage or into the incinerator. Is one fate preferable to the other? Not necessarily, in the doctor’s view. An unadopted orphan is still an unwanted child, the result of an unwanted pregnancy.
A compassionate man, the doctor never “interferes” in such choices. “I do not even recommend,” he says. “I just give them what they want: an abortion or an orphan.”
The only character opposed to abortion is Dr. Larch’s orphan apprentice, Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire). Though Homer has never attended high school, he has acquired, thanks to Dr. Larch’s private tutorials, “near-perfect obstetrical and gynecological procedure.” Yet Homer refuses to use such skill to perform abortions, and the best reason he can come up with is “it is illegal.” Dr. Larch, clearly annoyed and impatient with his protégé’s refusal to perform abortions, assigns him the task of disposing of the aborted fetuses in the incinerator . . . .
Once Homer leaves the orphanage he has a conversion. He sees that for a truly compassionate man, a rule need never become a principle. Homer puts away childish things and accepts his manly duty to perform an abortion. We’ve been told, by such groups as Planned Parenthood, that abortion can be a “maturing experience” for a woman. This film now tells us that abortion can be a coming-of-age experience for the abortionist, provided only that he has the requisite skills. This is the most sinister aspect of “The Cider House Rules”: To become a real man, just say yes to abortion. Only after performing an abortion can Homer return to the orphanage as the qualified and worthy successor to Dr. Larch.
Consider The Cider House Rules the payment for an indulgence in the post-modern moral code. Weinstein delivered a piece of cultural propaganda and, in return, he was not merely allowed to continue doing what he does, he was congratulated and awarded for doing so. He proved himself a worthy post-modern moral icon – or god, if you prefer.
If you’ve paid attention to a handful of soft-conservative writers over the last several years, you might know of something known as the “hidden law.” The term was conceived by Jonathan Rauch and popularized by Jonah Goldberg – whose platform at National Review found a larger and more receptive audience than did Rauch’s at The New Republic. In his original article on the subject, Rauch wrote that the hidden law consists of “the norms, conventions, implicit bargains, and folk wisdoms that organize social expectations, regulate everyday behavior, and manage interpersonal conflicts.”
Over the course of the last century or so, the Progressive-turned-liberal movement has done great harm to the hidden law by attempting to codify and regulate behavior that was formerly more effectively and more “liberally” managed by the hidden law. Rauch used assisted suicide as his first and most readily comprehensible example. He put it this way:
Until recently, for example, hidden law regulated assisted suicide, and it did so with an almost miraculous finesse. Doctors helped people to die, and they often did so without the express consent of anybody. The decision was made by patients and doctors and families in an irregular fashion, and, crucially, everyone pretended that no decision had ever been made. No one had been murdered; no one had committed suicide; and so no one faced prosecution or perdition.
Hidden law is exceptionally resilient, until it is dragged into politics and pummeled by legalistic reformers, at which point it can give way all at once. The showboating narcissist Jack Kevorkian dragged assisted suicide into the open and insisted that it be legalized (and televised). At that point, the deal was off. No one could pretend assisted suicide wasn’t happening. Activists framed state right-to-die initiatives, senators sponsored bills banning assisted suicide, and courts began issuing an unending series of deeply confused rulings. Soon decisions about assisted suicide will be made by buzzing mobs of lawyers and courts and ethics committees, with prosecutors helpfully hovering nearby, rather than by patients and doctors and families. And the final indignity will be that the lawyers and courts and committee people will congratulate themselves on having at last created a rational process where before there were no rules at all, only chaos and darkness and barbarism. And then, having replaced an effective and intuitive and flexible social mechanism with a maladroit and mystifying and brittle one, they will march on like Sherman’s army to demolish such other institutions of hidden law as they encounter.
Goldberg, for his part, put the hidden law into more practical, less philosophical terms, suggesting, for example that:
Once you start looking for examples of the hidden law, you will see it everywhere. The shotgun rule for car seats is part of the hidden law. Stealing a friend’s girl is against the hidden law, and so is taking credit for somebody else’s work. Table manners, restrictions on double-dipping potato chips, and common courtesy are part of the hidden law.
The two writers clashed on the question of adultery and specifically – given that Rauch’s original article was published in 1998 – Bill Clinton’s adultery. Rauch argued that adultery was a matter covered by the hidden law and that people, namely Republicans, should just get over Clinton’s infidelities and do everything that they possibly could to keep adultery out of the public sphere, away from the gnarled, calloused hands of politics. “Yes,” Rauch wrote, “the man is a lowlife. And, yes, it is best not to have a lowlife as president. However, when you do have a lowlife as president, the best way to save a bad situation is to pretend he is not a lowlife.”
Goldberg countered, suggesting that the biggest problem with Clinton’s behavior, at least from a political perspective, was that he got caught:
Custom dictates that the community look the other way about adulterous behavior when it is possible to do so. Discretion when committing adultery is not just a way to hide your behavior; it is a courtesy to everyone, most especially your spouse. But this is not a blanket social writ to go around cheating on the spouse. If you are caught, exposed, or simply so wantonly flagrant in your behavior that your behavior can no longer be ignored — or, in Bill Clinton’s case, all three — then society must judge.
What neither Rauch nor Goldberg seemed to realize is that the cultural Left – the post-modern moralists – has its own hidden law, its own “norms, conventions, and implicit bargains” that regulate behavior. While Rauch and Goldberg were arguing over the question of how best to deal with a lowlife president, the post-modern moral code had already moved beyond such pedestrian questions, judging Clinton’s personal behavior irrelevant. For them, society had no right to judge, no right to intervene and address Clinton’s personal actions, because those actions didn’t matter. All that mattered was “what he fought for and for whom he fought.”
We see the effects of the post-modern moral code and its hidden law at work in the Harvey Weinstein case as well. For Weinstein, even overtly and acknowledged criminal acts were irrelevant. They didn’t matter, as long as he remained a dedicated cultural and political warrior for the cause. Think about that for a moment: for Harvey Weinstein, the actual written law was completely irrelevant, as long as he continued to do what good followers of the post-modern moral code do, i.e. support the collective cause. Don’t believe us that the post-modern hidden law was that flagrant, that dismissive of and antipathetic to the actual, written law? Well, consider the following, published by the paparazzi/shock news site/show TMZ late last week:
TMZ is privy to Weinstein’s 2015 employment contract, which says if he gets sued for sexual harassment or any other “misconduct” that results in a settlement or judgment against TWC, all Weinstein has to do is pay what the company’s out, along with a fine, and he’s in the clear.
According to the contract, if Weinstein “treated someone improperly in violation of the company’s Code of Conduct,” he must reimburse TWC for settlements or judgments. Additionally, “You [Weinstein] will pay the company liquidated damages of $250,000 for the first such instance, $500,000 for the second such instance, $750,000 for the third such instance, and $1,000,000 for each additional instance.”
The contract says as long as Weinstein pays, it constitutes a “cure” for the misconduct and no further action can be taken. Translation – Weinstein could be sued over and over and as long as he wrote a check, he keeps his job.
We would like to say that this is shocking, but to do so, we would have to feign shock. This is, we’re afraid, perfectly expected, perfectly in line with what we’d anticipate finding in the hidden set of rules governing the behavior of a man who made a lot of money, wielded a lot of power, and put both to use in the service of the “greater good.” Harvey Weinstein could destroy as many lives as he wanted, ruin as many careers, upend as many psyches and break as many people as he wanted – as long as he continued to make money and to use that money to support the “moral compass” that has “compassion.” The only thing he couldn’t do – unlike Bill Clinton – was get caught by society at large. Or as TMZ noted, “[Weinstein’s] contract has specific language as to when the Board of Directors can fire Weinstein – if he’s indicted or convicted of a crime…
The problem with all of this, as you may have guessed, is that devalues individual human life virtually to nothing. The post-modern moral code is a collective moral code, a utilitarian code in which the individual is largely irrelevant. Bill Clinton and Harvey Weinstein destroyed individual womans, while (supposedly) advancing the cause of women. And those womans – including the truly damaged and emotionally wrecked rape victims like the actress Rose McGowan – were inconsequential. They were merely the eggs that had to be broken to make the omelet.
We don’t want to sound melodramatic here, but the consequences of all of this are quite frightening. The sanctity of the individual life is the foundation for much, if not all of what we consider the legacy of Western civilization. The Judeo-Christian tradition posits that each person, each soul is special and valuable. Or as the Book of Jeremiah puts it: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you.” The Thomist synthesis, the Lockean social contract, and indeed the American founding documents all hinge on this notion that the individual is unique, special, and guaranteed certain rights that supersede any government or law.
The post-modern moral code undermines all of this and therefore threatens the very fabric of our civilization. If a powerful man is allowed to rape, harass, and brutalize a woman, simply because he is supportive of some broader, more nebulous concept of “women’s rights,” then the individual no longer has any value at all, no longer is considered worthy of society’s protection.
The only good news is that as of now, this sacrifice of individual human worth to the collective remains hidden, unwritten, and merely implicit. But it will not remain thus forever. Already we see the collective morality seeping beyond the borders of the hard Left. Diehard Trumpers – those who will justify any action in the name of “sticking it to the Left,” – share some of the same collective morality, some of the same disregard for individual men and women who stand in the way of the pursuit of collective ends.
All of which is to say that Angelo Codevilla’s warning that we may look back one day at Trump with nostalgia for his decency and moderation continues to haunt us – as it should you.