The ‘dissident feminist’ on the intersection between feminism and debate.
Camile Paglia writes: History moves in cycles. The plague of political correctness and assaults on free speech that erupted in the 1980s and were beaten back in the 1990s have returned with a vengeance. In the United States, the universities as well as the mainstream media are currently patrolled by well-meaning but ruthless thought police, as dogmatic in their views as agents of the Spanish Inquisition. We are plunged once again into an ethical chaos where intolerance masquerades as tolerance and where individual liberty is crushed by the tyranny of the group.
The premier principles of my new book, Free Women, Free Men, are free thought and free speech—open, mobile, and unconstrained by either liberal or conservative ideology. The liberal versus conservative dichotomy, dating from the split between Left and Right following the French Revolution, is hopelessly outmoded for our far more complex era of expansive technology and global politics. A bitter polarization of liberal and conservative has become so extreme and strident in both the Americas and Europe that it sometimes resembles mental illness, severed from the common sense realities of everyday life.
My dissident brand of feminism is grounded in my own childhood experience as a fractious rebel against the suffocating conformism of the 1950s, when Americans, exhausted by two decades of economic instability and war, reverted to a Victorian cult of domesticity that limited young girls’ aspirations and confined them (in my jaundiced view) to a simpering, saccharine femininity. Read the rest of this entry »
Source: Eugène Delacroix
Doesn’t America already have one Napoleon already? (Actual Newsweek cover from November of 2012 on left.)
What are Trump’s politics? Like Napoleon’s, no one quite knows, beyond an equally burning desire to make his nation ‘great again.’
For a decade and a half Napoleon wrecked Europe. He hijacked the platitudes of the French Revolution to mask his own dictatorship at home and imperialism abroad. Yet today, two centuries after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, he remains an icon for many in, and a few outside, France. Why? How could geniuses like the novelists Victor Hugo and Stendhal acknowledge Napoleon’s pathologies and the damage that he did to the early 19th century European world, and yet enthuse that he made the French feel both politically and morally “great”? Most French even today believe that he did.
“Donald Trump is not going to invade Russia, but he is starting to sound a lot like Bonaparte, well aside from a similarly narcissistic convergence of America’s future with his own Napoleonic persona.”
Of course, for a while at least, Napoleon really did “make France great again,” at least in terms of territory and power. At its pinnacle between 1806-11, Imperial France ruled the continent in a way not seen again until the Third Reich’s briefer rule between 1940 and 1942 from the Atlantic Ocean to the Volga River. It threatened to do away with the incompetent and reactionary regimes in every European country and replace them with a supposedly meritocratic class of social reformers, beholden to a natural Napoleonic hierarchy.
Moreover, Napoleon’s own political agenda was a mishmash of conservative authoritarianism and populist social justice. So effective was the strange brew that even to this day scholars fight over whether Napoleon was a proto-Hitler whose unhinged ambitions led to millions of innocent European, Russian, Caribbean and North Africa dead, or a loyal defender of the French Revolution, whose eleventh-hour iron hand alone kept alive the threatened ideals of fraternity and egalitarianism. Read the rest of this entry »
Francis Fukuyama and other critics misinterpret democratic messiness as existential crisis.
Adam White writes: The ink was barely dry on the new Constitution, and Benjamin Franklin had just left his fellow Framers behind in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, when a woman accosted him on the street and asked, “What type of government have you delegates given us?”
“A republic, madam,” Franklin purportedly answered, “if you can keep it.”
This familiar tale makes a simple point: Franklin and his collaborators had succeeded in framing the new republic. To the extent that their creation might someday prove unsuccessful, it would be not their fault but rather the fault of the people. But does this story give Franklin and his fellow Framers too much
credit—and the people too little? Francis Fukuyama thinks so. That’s the ultimate warning of his recent book, Political Order and Political Decay, the second volume of his landmark two-part examination of political order.
The first part, The Origins of Political Order (2011), traced the history of political development from its pre-political origins in the state of nature—not Hobbes’s or Locke’s theoretical constructs but, quite literally, chimpanzees—to the late-eighteenth century’s American and French Revolutions. (See “The Dawn of Politics,” Spring 2011.) Looking not only to familiar Western sources of republican government but also to Chinese bureaucracy and Egypt’s Mamluk warrior class, among other Eastern contributions to modern state-building, Fukuyama examined three fundamental political institutions—the state, the rule of law, and notions of accountability—and how societies develop them over time.
But now, in Political Order and Political Decay, Fukuyama meditates on how things fall apart. Though “the American Revolution institutionalized democracy and the principle of democracy,” the American state two centuries later “is not working well, and its problems may be related to the fact that it is too institutionalized.” Decay’s closing chapters argue that the structure of American government, its checks and balances, has become a “vetocracy,” providing too many opportunities for special interests to prevent the government from enacting necessary and popular reforms.
“Institutions are created to meet certain needs of society, such as making war, dealing with economic conflicts, and regulating social behavior,” Fukuyama writes. “But as recurring patterns of behavior, they can also grow rigid and fail to adapt when the circumstances that brought them into being in the first place
themselves change.” Worse still, such rigidity can be exacerbated by the elite classes’ misappropriation of state power for their own primary benefit. Those two
dreaded forces—rigidity and elite self-dealing—are the sources of political “decay,” Fukuyama’s ultimate focus.
[Check out Francis Fukuyama‘s book “The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution” at Amazon.com]
His criticisms are harsh and substantive. Yet three significant problems underlie his analysis, weakening its force. While he calls for greater “autonomy” in federal agencies, his notions of “autonomy” and “expertise” seem flatly at odds with nearly a century’s worth of experience with the structure of federal agencies. More fundamentally, his narrow view of the Founding Fathers’ objectives prevents him from grappling seriously with the actual constitutional mechanisms that they created into law. And his disparagement of modern political stalemates manages to oversimplify, to the point of caricature, the policy debates that he cites as evidence of governmental decay. Read the rest of this entry »
The Triumph of History Over Time (Anton Raphael Mengs, 1772): Allegory of the Museum Clementium, celing fresco in the Camera dei Papiri, Vatican Library.
The Apocalypse Tapestry is a 14th century French work commissioned by the Duke of Anjou. In over 90 scenes it portrays the apocalypse as described by John in the New Testament book of Revelations. Allusions to the 100 years war with England are also present. The Anjous held the tapestry for a century before gifting it to Angers Cathedral. During the French Revolution the tapestry was stolen, cut into pieces, and used for functional purposes ranging from floor mats to insulating stables. During the 19th century a canon of the cathedral located the pieces (all but 16 were successfully recovered) and began restorative work. After World War II the tapestry once again moved, this time to Chateau d’Angers. In order to preserve the 300 foot masterpiece a special gallery with dim lighting and custom ventilation was built within the castle where it remains on view today.
As the young and entrepreneurial flee, the country struggles to compete and pay for its massive welfare state.
For City Journal, Pascal Bruckner writes: Not long ago, I attended a colloquium of French scientists and philosophers in Corsica, France, called “How to Think About the Future.” With few exceptions, the astrophysicists, economists, physicians, and social theorists on hand offered dark visions of tomorrow. A new financial crisis, water and grain shortages, endless war, a general collapse of ecosystems—we were spared no catastrophic scenario.
A month earlier, as it happened, I had been invited by the environmentalist think tank Breakthrough to San Francisco, where I reflected with a group of thinkers on the Schumpeterian economic idea of “creative destruction” and its application to energy production.
“…dozens of books are published in France affecting the charm of despair. The French don’t like themselves any longer—they’re one of the world’s most depressed populations…”
My experience there was quite different. Three days of vigorous and sometimes tense debates followed among advocates favoring, respectively, nuclear power, shale gas,and renewable energy sources. Defenders of threatened species had their say, too, but no one doubted in the slightest that we had a future, even if its contours remained unclear.
“…Our beloved country, in other words, has been losing not only its dynamic and intelligent young people but also older people with some money. I’m not sure that this social model can work over the long term.”
I recall an observation that Michael Schellenberger, Breakthrough’s president, made in the proceedings: “The United States’ greatest hope at present lies in shale gas and in the 11 million illegal immigrants who will soon become legal, 11 million brains that will stimulate and renew our country.” Such a comment, whatever one’s views on the specific policies that it implied, exhibited a hopefulness completely missing in Corsica—and hard to find in
today’s France, which has outlawed not only the development but even the exploration of possible reserves of natural and shale gas, and which sees every stranger on its soil as a potential enemy. France has become a defeatist nation.
A striking indicator of this attitude is the massive emigration that the country has witnessed over the last decade, with nearly 2 million French citizens choosing to leave their country and take their chances in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the United States, and other locales. The last such collective exodus from France came during the French Revolution, when a large part of the aristocracy left to await (futilely) the king’s return. About a century earlier, almost 2 million Huguenots fled the country, frightened by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which had put Protestants on an equal legal footing with Catholics. Today’s migration isn’t politically or religiously motivated, however; it’s economic.
[Be a hero and check out Pascal Bruckner’s book “The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism“ at Amazon, and other books at Pascal Bruckner’s Amazon Author page]
A review of Yuval Levin’s Book The Great Debate
Jon Bishop writes: We too often assume that the left and right divide began with the eruptions of the ’60s or with the presidency of FDR. It is in fact much older — ancient, even, for it is not out of the question to assume that Greece and Rome faced similar questions. So Yuval Levin, with his The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, has done modern American political discourse an incredible service by reminding us to always consider the historical context.
Levin takes the reader on a guided tour of the Enlightenment-drenched late 18th century and demonstrates how Burke and Paine, who serve as Levin’s representatives for conservative liberalism and progressive liberalism, respectively, adapted the thinking of the age to their approach to political questions. He draws from both their letters and published works — which make for great reading, by the way. Both, after all, were wonderful rhetoricians.
Klint Finley writes: Many of us yearn for a return to one golden age or another. But there’s a community of bloggers taking the idea to an extreme: they want to turn the dial way back to the days before the French Revolution.
Neoreactionaries believe that while technology and capitalism have advanced humanity over the past couple centuries, democracy has actually done more harm than good. They propose a return to old-fashioned gender roles, social order and monarchy.
You may have seen them crop-up on tech hangouts like Hacker News and Less Wrong, having cryptic conversations about “Moldbug” and “the Cathedral.” And though neoreactionaries aren’t exactly rampant in the tech industry, PayPal founder Peter Thiel has voiced similar ideas, and Pax Dickinson, the former CTO of Business Insider, says he’s been influenced by neoreactionary thought. It may be a small, minority world view, but it’s one that I think shines some light on the psyche of contemporary tech culture.
Enough has been written on neoreaction already to fill at least a couple of books, so if you prefer to go straight to the source, just pop a Modafinil and skip to the “Neoreaction Reading List” at the end of this post. For everyone else, I’ll do my best to summarize neoreactionary thought and why it might matter.
Who Are the Neoreactionaries?
“Reactionary” originally meant someone who opposed the French Revolution, and today the term generally refers to those who would like to return to some pre-existing state of affairs. Neoreaction — aka “dark enlightenment”— begins with computer scientist and entrepreneur Curtis Yarvin, who blogs under the name Mencius Moldbug. Yarvin — the self-described Sith Lord of the movement — got his start as a commenter on sites like 2blowhards before starting his own blog Unqualified Reservations in 2007. Yarvin originally called his ideology “formalism,” but in 2010 libertarian blogger Arnold Kling referred to him as a “neo-reactionary.” The name stuck as more bloggers — such as Anomaly UK (who helped popularize the term), Nick Land (who coined “dark enlightenment”) andMichael Anissimov — started to self-identify as neoreactionary. Read the rest of this entry »
And their consequences—for his era and ours
From the Autumn 2013 Edition of City Journal, this is a long article but highly recommended, save this to read at leisure, it’s good — Sunday Nov. 10 – The Butcher
Myron Magnet writes: On November 30, 1774, a 37-year-old Englishman—an ex-privateer, ex–corset stay maker, ex–tax collector (fired twice for dereliction of duty), and ex-husband (also twice over)—arrived in Philadelphia with a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin in his pocket. The old philosopher’s praise was understandably restrained. This “ingenious worthy young man,” Franklin wrote, would make a useful “clerk, or assistant tutor in a school, or assistant surveyor.” Four months later, however, the shots that rang out at Lexington and Concord galvanized the newcomer’s hitherto aimless life into focus and purpose. “When the country into which I had just set foot was set on fire about my ears, it was time to stir,” he recalled. “It was time for every man to stir.” And so, adding a final “e” to soften the surname he was born with, he began to write under the byline “Thomas Paine.”
Celebrated around the world for his key role in the American Revolution, Paine went on to play an important part in the French Revolution, as well.
He found he had a literary gift that almost instantly turned him into one of history’s greatest revolutionary propagandists—not just of one major revolution, as it happened, but of two. But as his thought developed—and except for the Norfolk grammar-school education that ended when he was 13, he was self-taught—his radicalism, so lucid and solidly grounded during the American Revolution, lost sight of the darker realities of human nature. As a result, when he and his close, like-minded friends, the Marquis de Lafayette and United States ambassador to France Thomas Jefferson, plotted reform together in Paris in the fateful final years of the 1780s, they disastrously misread the French Revolution as it gathered and burst forth. While Jefferson luckily went home to America with his illusions intact, Paine and Lafayette both ended up wasted with illness in pestilential prisons, and Paine escaped the guillotine by the most capricious of chances.
Decapitated Head Speaks
Centuries-old tales have described severed heads that seemed to live on for a few seconds — blinking, changing expressions, even attempting to speak.
During the French Revolution, an executioner reportedly held the severed head of Charlotte Corday (who assassinated politician Jean-Paul Marat) aloft and smacked its cheek. Witnesses claimed Corday’s eyes looked at the executioner, and an unmistakable expression of disgust came over her face.
More recently, in 1989, an Army veteran told of seeing a friend decapitated in a car crash. According to the story, the severed head showed emotions of shock, followed by terror and grief, its eyes glancing back at its separated body.
Its devotion to central planning has endured from the French Revolution to Obamacare.
The fundamental problem of the political Left seems to be that the real world does not fit their preconceptions. Therefore they see the real world as what is wrong, and what needs to be changed, since apparently their preconceptions cannot be wrong.
A never-ending source of grievances for the Left is the fact that some groups are “over-represented” in desirable occupations, institutions, and income brackets, while other groups are “under-represented.”
The old regime fears a revolution
Does Alexis de Tocqueville have anything to say to the current generation of Chinese leaders?
In recent decades, the case study of political change of greatest interest to Chinese leaders has been the passing into the dustbin of history of the Soviet Union, that most powerful of all Communist regimes. Some analysts blame Mikhail Gorbachev for political reforms that precipitously undermined the government’s hold on power; others point to the sclerosis that overtook the Soviet system and the failure of its leaders to adjust socialist principles to new circumstances; others still—good Communists to the end—see the hand of the West at work, manipulating internal weaknesses to bring down America’s superpower rival.
Interest in this question is more than academic. For the Chinese -government and its supporters, the overriding concern is to head off a similar fate for their own Communist party. But as a new generation comes to power, many increasingly doubt they can avoid such a turn. Major protests throughout the country continue to alarm and bedevil the government and the party, and with good reason. The economic growth that for 30 years helped keep hopes high and dampen social tensions is slowing dramatically. University graduates struggle to find good jobs, even as nouveaux riches proliferate. The party’s ubiquitous slogan, “Social Harmony,” is at odds with what everyone sees. Corruption remains pervasive, elites secrete their wealth overseas, and party “robber barons” appropriate land from farmers only to turn it over to the developer who promises the middleman the biggest cut. Add to this the environmental disasters China faces and the looming demographic crisis (too few females; too few younger workers to support a rapidly aging population), and it is no wonder that so many Chinese leaders worry about the future—not only for their country but also for themselves.
Given these challenges, some in China seem to feel they have extracted all the lessons one can from the fall of the Soviet Union. Which brings us to Tocqueville, who, according to the Economist, has “been enjoying an unusual revival in bookshops and in the debates of intellectual bloggers.”
Even high-ranking officials are now reading Tocqueville—apparently including Li Keqiang, China’s new premier. Feng Chongyi, a Chinese academic teaching in Australia, recently wrote in the Australian Financial Review that many Chinese government officials, “including two members of the all-powerful Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party,” are studying The Old Regime and the Revolution, Tocqueville’s other classic, a book that analyzes the causes of the French Revolution and which is barely known to most Americans. Chongyi observes that while “it sounds bizarre that such a book published more than 150 years ago on the history of a seemingly remote country would become popular among top leaders in China at this juncture, . . . a lot of strange things are taking place in China nowadays.”
Strange indeed, but Tocqueville’s Old Regime may be exactly the book for this moment in Chinese history. As Tocqueville himself explains, his aim in writing about that bloody and ultimately disastrous revolution was “to discover not only what illness killed the patient, but how the patient could have been cured. . . . My purpose has been to paint a picture both accurate and instructive.”
Some major themes of the book cannot help but remind the Chinese of their own circumstances. For a Chinese reader, the revolution of 1789 is neither the revolution of 1911, which overthrew the last imperial dynasty and established the Republic of China, nor the Communist revolution of 1949, but the revolution they wish to avoid in the future by achieving a successful transition from their current situation to a more stable order. This reading suggests, paradoxically, that the Chinese are still living under the Old Regime.