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Posts Tagged ‘History’

I have periodically done a collection of what I consider my better material, such as here and here.  I haven’t done one in a while so, for newcomers in particular, I have compiled what I consider some of my more interesting and enduring entries over the last five years. I hope you enjoy.  I truly appreciate everyone who takes the time to read, comment, and support this blog.  For conservatives, it is becoming a real time in the wilderness, so one small contribution I have tried to make here is to let conservatives know that they are not alone and to give them intellectual ammunition with which to defend common sense and basic decency.

Military and Foreign Policy

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Clearly, only the police can be trusted with firearms.

Aggrieved former LAPD cop Chris Dorner is on the run.  He’s killed three and released a long, angry, narcissistic, but otherwise coherent manifesto.  He sounds like an entitled, over-promoted guy who fell back on the old saw of racism when things didn’t go his way. His Navy career didn’t work out, he was a mediocre cop, and when his training officer was ready to call him out, he decided to lie about her.  After stewing for a few years, he finally decided to throw in the towel and get even in a blaze of glory.

He also was a liberal-leaning gun control supporter with opinions on just about everything.  Somehow this angry cop’s rampage is being used to support gun control.  But notice, suspending moral judgment for a second, how his actions and the overreaction of the Southern California cops provide strong evidence for one of the key foundations of the Second Amendment.  Second Amendment supporters say that the right to bear arms flows from our founding history, where armed Americans threw off the control of the British and its state-of-the-art military.  This possibility and this reserved “last resort” power was always supposed to reside in the people and their arms.  We are told it is unrealistic today that this would ever be necessary or that it could ever be effective.  But here we have one man without any supporting network tying up thousands of law enforcement officers who are used otherwise to operating in a permissive environment.  The police are crippled, over-reacting, and one man has created fear and chaos throughout Southern California.

If the government ever truly were resisted by even a smallish percentage of Americans, it would not get very far.  Dozens or hundreds or thousands of Dorners could easily destroy its ability to govern at all.  And we have seen this in our own history in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We have also seen it in the history of other nations such as Northern Ireland, Algeria, the West Bank, and today in Syria.

First world militaries and their tanks and planes and high tech gear are not so effective at addressing this kind of problem, and, in their over-reactions, tend to alienate the very people whom they purport to represent.  This is the essential “David and Goliath” paradox of guerrilla warfare.

Now Dorner is a grievance-collecting nutjob, as best we can tell. And he was also a former cop, which suggests letting “only the police and military have guns” is not necessarily such a bulwark against shooting rampages and mayhem.  Let’s not forget Nidal Hasan or the biggest shooting spree killer of all time, Woo Bum Kim, a pissed off South Korean police officer.

On a purely tactical level, actions like Dorner’s or of the DC Sniper or of any of the other criminals who go “toe to toe” with law enforcement, show that the ability of the government to police things when it is opposed directly (rather than merely evaded in the manner of the typical criminal) is very limited. And if this type of activity were to happen on a large scale in an organized or spontaneous resistance by, say, 1% of America’s 100mm gun owners, it would be utterly impossible for the military, police, and other apparatus of the government to govern.

This would be a nightmare scenario, of course, just as all wars are terrible affairs. One could not know that such claimed oppression and call to resistance were not the prelude to tyranny, as in the French Revolution. But political oppression, the greatest tool of mass murder in the last century, is also nightmarish.  To pretend that it is an unknown phenomenon of right wing fantasy and not a real threat to freedom in a decadent, divided country like the United States today is the real fantasy. At least in a world where we retain our arms, we have the means to protect ourselves from any number of threats:  common criminals, an oppressive government, or would-be oppressors masquerading as freedom fighters.

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Ten years ago today, our country and my family received a terrible blow.  We were attacked.  Our countrymen were murdered.  We were shaken. 9/11 is an important historical event that has defined much of the last ten years, but it was also a family tragedy for me, as my Uncle Donnie Regan gave his life that day in the line of duty with the New York City Fire Department.

I distinctly remember the day, as I’m sure most Americans my age do.  I was living in Texas at the time–taking time off and about to start my first law firm job in a few weeks–and received a call from a close friend.  They were evacuating the Dallas Federal Building.  I turned on the TV.  The first tower was already down.  I was stunned.  The second tower came down soon thereafter.  My alarm at this took a little time; at first, I thought this was a replay of the first tower falling.  Then I realized that this situation was even worse than I thought.  Rumors of the “mall in DC” being on fire were on the news.  No one knew the extent of it.   I spoke briefly to my parents, when I heard that Donnie–my uncle and the father of my cousins to whom I am closest–may have been at the towers.

(more…)

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Glenn Beck U

I enjoyed this lively piece at Reason’s website on Glenn Beck’s latest attempts to “teach history.”  In fairness, I like some of what Beck says, applaud him for addressing Obama’s racial agenda, and the people I consider myself aligned with instinctually and ideologically seem to like him.  But there is also something off-putting about him.  He’s herky-jerky in style and disorganized in his thinking.  One thing conservative intellectuals can do and should do is provide evidence and reason-based defenses of the prejudices of ordinary people.  These prejudices often have great wisdom built into them, but without some defense based on facts, social science, history, and other evidence, they remain mere prejudices and dissipate rather quickly under the assault of vice, propaganda, and false history propagated by th eleft.

But one problem Beck has is that he refuses to take on certain liberal gods.  He still thinks America’s history is tainted to the core by racism, but he resolves this conundrum by blaming liberals for all of America’s sins, even the ones that were the product of a certain kind of conservatism.  And he does this, often times, by the most convoluted and ridiculous conspiracy theories imaginable, such as blaming the Holocaust on the race prejudice of U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson.

I do believe history is complicated; it’s too easy to find and judge “villains” operating under very different circumstances in the past.  On this question of America’s “racist past,” I believe it was often more complicated than commonly presented, with unevenness of practice and local circumstances and other mitigating factors that deserve consideration as part of the entire record.  Finally, I think the disorder, violence, and decline of America in the age of “civil rights” counterbalances the scales of America’s earlier, often un-Christian racism, in no small part.

Setting aside the particulars of that rather large question, the big problem I have with Beck is best summarized at the end of Michael Moynihan’s article:

A tiny bit of knowledge (no, McCarthy wasn’t completely wrong), combined with an enormous Fox News constituency and an unflappable trust in one’s own wisdom, is a dangerous thing. Beck doesn’t demonstrate the perils of autodidacticism, but the perils of learning the subject while at the same time attempting to teach it.

Woodrow Wilson was an imperial president who cared little for civil liberties; the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression; the anti-communists were on the right side of history. Yes, yes, and yes. But these stories can be told without exaggeration, without relying on conspiracy, without the rehabilitation of a heavy-drinking senator who believed that Gen. George Marshall was a Soviet agent.

All things to consider when dispatching your application (and $79) to Glenn Beck University.

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Probably the scariest revelation I’ve had in recent years is coming to undesrtand how little the experts at the top know what they’re doing, even as greater and greater trust is placed in them.  As I’ve gotten older, friends have become CEOs, high level government officials, partners in law firms, and the like.  While most are conscientious and careful, they are also generally, as a group, aware of their limitations.  They are also aware that the public’s expectations and concomitant esteem for their respective roles is grossly out of proportion to their talents.  But the academic economists, some of whom have moved laterally to advising hedge funds and the like, are as cocksure as the most precocious graduate students, replete with “six sigma” predictions and prognostications.  And, as a consequence, a great many pension funds, homeowners, home builders, government authorities, foreign investors, FDIC insured banks, and other major institutions were long on housing well after the conditions for a major bubble had emerged.  And they were cheered on by numerous economists and their explanations of “impounded information” and “efficient markets.”

The cause, in part, has to do with the empirical blindness of many economists, who eschew deep historical, data-driven inquiry for elaborate–indeed “perfect”–models, viz.:

The mainstream of academic research in macroeconomics puts theoretical coherence and elegance first, and investigating the data second,” says Mr. Rogoff. For that reason, he says, much of the profession’s celebrated work “was not terribly useful in either predicting the financial crisis, or in assessing how it would it play out once it happened.”

“People almost pride themselves on not paying attention to current events,” he says.

In the past, other economists often took the same empirical approach as the Reinhart-Rogoff team. But this approach fell into disfavor over the last few decades as economists glorified financial papers that were theory-rich and data-poor.

Much of that theory-driven work, critics say, is built on the same disassembled and reassembled sets of data points — generally from just the last 25 years or so and from the same handful of rich countries — that quants have whisked into ever more dazzling and complicated mathematical formations.

Consider the view of economists on something like free trade, for example.  The free trade theory–a theory of comparative advantage–has been elaborated on by such diverse economists as Adam Smith and Ludwig von Mises.  But respond that a particular country did well and prospered under protectionism–such as the US in the late 19th Century–and they will say that the country would have done even better with looser tariffs.  Perhaps.  But what fact would prove or disprove this theory?  What kind of theory is it that can absorb any data set and not be adjusted thereby?  This is not real scientific inquiry.  It’s ideology . . . or religion.

It’s like Eliot Yeats said:  The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

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Most mainstream conservatives distinguish the good 1960s, in particular the civil rights movement, from the evil excesses of the hippies and the anti Vietnam War movement.  Shelby Steele does a good job of explaining the genesis of the Left’s contempt for mainstream America and Western Civilization as rooted in a narrative of the civil rights movement that identifies all the previous history of America as tained and evil and only capable of being admired insofar as it seeks redemption.  He writes:

Yet there is now the feeling that without an appeal to minorities, conservatism is at risk of marginalization. The recent election revealed a Republican Party — largely white, male and Southern — seemingly on its way to becoming a “regional” party. Still, an appeal targeted just at minorities — reeking as it surely would of identity politics — is anathema to most conservatives. Can’t it be assumed, they would argue, that support of classic principles — individual freedom and equality under the law — constitutes support of minorities? And, given the fact that blacks and Hispanics often poll more conservatively than whites on most social issues, shouldn’t there be an easy simpatico between these minorities and political conservatism?  ‘Compassionate conservatism’ was clever — as a marketing ploy.

But of course the reverse is true. There is an abiding alienation between the two — an alienation that I believe is the great new challenge for both modern conservatism and formerly oppressed minorities. Oddly, each now needs the other to evolve.

Yet why this alienation to begin with? Can it be overcome?

I think it began in a very specific cultural circumstance: the dramatic loss of moral authority that America suffered in the 1960s after openly acknowledging its long mistreatment of blacks and other minorities. Societies have moral accountability, and they cannot admit to persecuting a race of people for four centuries without losing considerable moral legitimacy. Such a confession — honorable as it may be — virtually calls out challenges to authority. And in the 1960s challenges emerged from everywhere — middle-class white kids rioted for “Free Speech” at Berkeley, black riots decimated inner cities across the country, and violent antiwar protests were ubiquitous. America suddenly needed a conspicuous display of moral authority in order to defend the legitimacy of its institutions against relentless challenge.

This was the circumstance that opened a new formula for power in American politics: redemption. If you could at least seem to redeem America of its past sins, you could win enough moral authority to claim real political power

I wrote something similar here in regard to the annoying, anti-American rhetoric of mainstream conservatives like Bush and Condoleeza Rice.

As far as connecting the dots, I think its important for conservatives to revisit the standard, liberal-leaning account of our recent past and defend the past and the authority of our civilization and institutions, all the way to the Crusades, in order to avoid the unravelling tendencies or mealy-mouthed cheerleading.  We need not defend every excess, but history, including evils in history, must be seen in their proper context and judged in light of the distinctly modern evils of our times.  I think more narrowly as an electoral strategy conservatives must be magnaminous but must dump their fantastic hope that alienated people in a milieu that encourages and sanctifies that alienation will all of a sudden become stalwart defenders of our civilization and join in a movement so devoted.  Grievance pays, as illustrated not least by the Obamas.

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The absolute craziest convention on Wall Street, at the Federal Reserve, and among academic economists is simply to ignore economic history before the Great Depression. It’s particularly wacky to do so as the Federal Reserve, which was billed as a means of avoiding economic dislocation after the Panic of 1907, was established in 1913. In other words, the Great Depression happened on the Fed’s watch.

What’s happening now to the economy: the bankruptcy of overly leveraged institutions, falling prices, a general sense of uncertainty, and calls for high levels of government spending and control are hardly unprecedented. We heard such rhetoric throughout the 70s. And this shift took place once before, in Europe, in the late 19th Century in response to the “Long Depression” of the 1870s and the associated anemic recovery.

For Christmas, I received among other books Norman Rich’s The Age of Nationalism and Reform, 1850-1890. This book might seem obscure and irrelevant to all but the most die-hard history buffs. But consider the following passage, and ask yourself if you think anyone at Lehman Brothers or on Bernanke’s staff like has had much familiarity with this episode and whether it might have been useful:

The 1873 crash set off an economic depression which was to continue for another two decades in the form of a slower rate of growth, rising unemployment, and a general feeling of economic insecurity. This depression appears to have been caused primarily by overspeculation and overproduction. There was a decline in the rate of railway building, and a consequent drying up of this immense market for goods and materials. At the same time European agriculture was depressed by the competition of cheap agricultural products from the interior regions of Russia, America, and Australia, to which the railroad had given access.

During the depression years there was an actually an increase in the real wages and a rise in the standard of living of many Europeans as a result of a steady fall in the prices of agricultural and manufactured products. The fall in prices, however, which brought hardship or outright ruin to many economic enterprises, together with the increase in unemployment and the overall sense of economic insecurity, aroused a widespread feeling of dissatisfaction with existing government economic policies and anger at the threat of foreign competition. The liberal doctrine of laissez faire was discredited as industry, agriculture, and labor alike clamored for protective tariffs and state aid. And everywhere in Europe, with the notable exception of England, the state responded to these pressures. The 1873 depression thus inaugurated a new period of state intervention in economic affairs which was to increase steadily to he present day. It also contributed to the growth of an economic nationalism which was to strengthen the burgeoning forces of political and ideological nationalism.

I used to feel somewhat sorry for Obama for the crises he must now manage, a good many of which were not of his making. But then I realized: he likes this situation and this is good for his personal goals, even though obviously quite bad for the country. Crises, real and imagined, allow someone like Obama to aggrandize power, push through the most radical and spendy proposals, and–like FDR–will make a great many people worship him even more without regard to results, so long as he manages his own image carefully. Far from feeling sorry for Obama, I feel sorry for my future children and grandchildren. It’s a scary time, and we have an immature and untested demagogue at the helm, whose historical loyalties are tribal, whose background is in the cesspool of Chicago politics, and whose outlook is replete with various artifacts of 1970s cracker-barrel liberalism.

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