Thirty years from now, will America look more like Denmark? 

Heather Wilhelm argues that government is a poor substitute for family:

Regardless, the debate rages on: Why is socialism so hot right now? Is the socialist movement the new Tea Party? Can socialism sell in the Midwest? Thirty years from now, will America look more like Denmark?

This last question became a bit awkward for some on the left this week, given a New York Times report from Copenhagen focusing on the socialist-leaning state’s new immigration policy: “Starting at the age of 1, ‘ghetto children’” — that’s apparently the official term used by the Danish government — “must be separated from their families for at least 25 hours a week, not including nap time, for mandatory instruction in ‘Danish values,’ including the traditions of Christmas and Easter, and Danish language. Noncompliance could result in a stoppage of welfare payments.”

Big governments, in other words, tend to do big-government things, and they might not always be good, and you might not always like it.

Millennials are “known for favoring known for favoring socialism more than any other age group in the United States” and “also tend to share some interesting ideas about marriage, child-rearing and family life” – as two new surveys reveal.  (Pew Research, and the Morning Consult for the New York Times.)

Wilhelm goes on to say, “These might have more to do with socialism than one might think.”

Together with the marriage statistics reported by Pew, these answers paint an image of an increasingly atomized and individualist generational subset — at least in terms of their personal lives. It’s worth wondering whether these trends also happen to heighten the appeal of a completely different kind of “togetherness” — albeit a forced togetherness — found in the form of socialism.

The real irony, of course, is that socialism can actually work, as long as it’s not in statist form. I’m talking, of course, about the family — the original socialist organization, also known for dramatically fighting poverty when it remains intact. Families might seem fairly off-trend, at least if you believe the latest round of statistics. Perhaps Millennials can bring them back. As they might find out, the government can be a poor substitute indeed.


Michael Brendan Dougherty agrees that the depletion of social capital could be contributing to the surge of interest in both socialism and nationalism:

When I talk to people, I refer to these trends as the depletion and disappearance of a social treasury. GDP goes up. Incomes sometimes go up. Real wages tick up. But, at a basic level, people live in a world where fewer and fewer people owe them consideration, compassion, favors, tips for getting ahead in a career, or consolation for getting through life’s disasters.

This is the background noise behind our politics today. And it is unsurprising that the two insurgent ideological trends on the left and on the right — socialism and nationalism, respectively — emphasize shared burdens, our duties to one another.

It’s easy to see how the depletion of the social treasure informs the politics of the Right’s populists. It explains some of the contrast between the feelings of precarity that Trump voters report and the income stats that suggest they may be doing just fine, or better. And it partly explains the upsurge in socialism, as well.

But one of the under-remarked things is that America’s elites are not immune from these trends either. They may have the wherewithal, the talents, and the preexisting social capital to successfully navigate a world in which their communal life has been almost entirely displaced by a networking life. For a while, they often succeed more when liberated from a life that would impose obligations. They throw themselves more fully into careers and social milieux that run on a more disguised form of conditional favor-trading, rather than reciprocal duties.

But it is precisely because they see so clearly how much their outcomes in life depend on the favors they put into and extract out of a network, that they dread their loss of status which they value most keenly. While leisure hasn’t entirely died among American elites, they constantly betray themselves as overworked and under-cultivated.

The decline of the social treasury is not easily amenable by political policy.

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America’s creativity and capacity for renewal

Walter Russel Mead writes that despite predictions of doom, America’s Decline Never Seems to Arrive because our “Our institutions show an unrivaled capacity for weathering disruptive change.

And yet somehow, the flag has continued to fly. Why does American power look so fragile and remain so resilient? One reason is that the U.S. emerged just as the pace of human history was accelerating. In the mid-18th century, the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution unleashed ideas and technologies that would transform the world. Modern capitalism exploded into being. The social turmoil, geopolitical instability, and technological change now battering the global system are only the latest stages in a long process whose end we can’t yet see.

The U.S. has stood the challenge better than most. Now in its 230th year, the American political system is one of the world’s oldest. But the revolutionary force of capitalism isn’t finished with us. The social and political changes of the 21st century challenge the institutions that humanity so painstakingly assembled in the second half of the 20th. Across the globe, societies must renew themselves as the information revolution reshapes the way people work, think, interact and engage in politics.

This is doubly hard for the U.S., which must not only reform its own domestic institutions but also act as custodian of a world system under strain from globalization, technological disruption and great-power rebalancing.

As Franklin well knew, there are no guarantees that the American experiment will work. Yet he and his fellow Founders designed a system of government to weather the stress and the strain of revolutionary times. The strength and flexibility of Madisonian federalism have enabled the American system to flourish amid more than two centuries of successive upheavals.

But constitutions, however elegant, can’t breathe life into dead polities. It is the union of sound institutions with a strong national spirit—ordinary Americans’ patriotism, democratic faith and enterprising ambition—that has made America such a force in the world.

Noisy extremists on the political fringes notwithstanding, that spirit still rules in America today. As long as it does, the country will continue to astonish the world with its creativity and its capacity for renewal. For now, at least, we can still answer Francis Scott Key’s anxious question in the affirmative: our flag is still there.

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A more perfect union

Joseph Tartakovsky, writing in the WSJ, argues our culture sustains our Constitution:

The truth that justice will be forever approximated but never achieved is reflected in the paradoxical words of the Constitution’s preamble: the aim of forming a “more perfect” union.

That impossibly shrewd phrase suggests that Americans have a miraculous thing that we must nevertheless strive to make better…

“Every banana republic has a Bill of Rights,” Justice Antonin Scalia told a Senate committee in 2011. Written guarantees are meaningless without a culture to sustain them. Russia’s Constitution purports to secure the freedoms of speech and press, but Muscovites shrugged in 2001 when Vladimir Putin seized the last independent television network. Imagine if the White House swallowed up Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, one after another. Americans may bicker over “fake news,” but an attempt at censorship like that would unite us in virtuous rage.

Every American generation has a vocal minority that considers itself doomed to live in an age of constitutional degeneracy. The supposed fall from purity began about 600 days into the Constitution’s life, when the Virginia Legislature, in November 1790, denounced George Washington’s financial policies as constitutionally blasphemous. But Americans chose to cannonade each other with pamphlets, not artillery. And so the orderly transitions of power went on, one after another, like a never-ending football game in which the parties eternally gain and lose yardage.

Constitutionalism is not a mere institutional form but a culture—a set of sentiments, habits and assumptions, a permeating spirit that animates an otherwise lifeless paper scheme. Without this instinctive loyalty, the Constitution’s checks and balances are barricades of foam and counterweights of butterfly’s breath. It is not in having a constitution that our strength lies, but in cherishing it. So long as we keep the faith, our Constitution will be displaced no sooner than an ant tips over the Statue of Liberty.

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The fairness doctrine?

James Lilek’s take on the Fairness Doctrine, from his June 25, 2018 “Athwart” column:

What’s really striking about this call for a Fairness Doctrine is the disconnect between intention and result. Imagine this conversation:

So you want the government to monitor all speech and use the power of the state to require the expression of certain viewpoints and mandatory contradiction of ideas with which the government disagrees. Why, exactly?

“To prevent authoritarianism and fascism!”

Uh-huh. Makes sense. Any other reasons?

“To prevent the silencing of voices by corporate entities!”

Uh-huh. And you also support private companies such as Twitter and Facebook setting up content-monitoring groups with Jacobinical names like the “Truth and Safety Council,” which mostly cancel Twitter accounts that say things like “Women don’t have penises” on the grounds that it’s hate speech? Isn’t that corporate silencing?

“That’s different. Hate speech has no protections.”

Uh-huh. And you can’t see a situation in which these tools would be used against you.

“No! If we like our First Amendment, we can keep our First Amendment.”

The Fairness Doctrine’s return wouldn’t be enough, of course; it would have to be applied to YouTube and Twitter and Facebook, so Wrong-Think could be hunted down no matter what hidey-hole it bolted into.

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Marcuse: making hate great again

Nice summary of the ongoing influence of Marcuse and “Repressive Tolerance” (his 1965 essay) by David French in National Review.

Herbert Marcuse still afflicts America, and even activists who have never heard his name live in the activist culture he helped create. Every shout-down, every screaming fit, every hunger strike, every economic boycott, every social-media shame-storm, and every riot furthers his legacy. It turns vice into virtue, makes hate great again, and creates new generations of men and women who want to hurt their enemies and feel morally righteous as they do it.

Fred Bauer summarized Marcuse thusly:

Only some viewpoints should be tolerated, Marcuse contended. This “discriminating tolerance” would, as he put it, “mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.” For the sake of true tolerance and of liberation of the human spirit, tolerance would be withdrawn from viewpoints that Marcuse considered harmful. His work and that of other members of the Frankfurt School has been greatly influential in politically correct culture and campus politics…

Defending Marcuse’s “discriminating tolerance,” Sculos and Walsh argue that “conservative and reactionary elements have distorted” it by characterizing it “as a categorical attack on free speech,” the views of conservatives and “reactionaries” being “frequently predicated on aggression, sexual repression, and discrimination.” The authors take issue particularly with my claim that Marcuse’s approach to tolerance makes a “case for repression — of thought, conscience, speech, and science.” What’s striking about their argument is that, to refute my claim, they use the same passage from Marcuse that I used to justify it. Discriminating tolerance, that passage reads,

would include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc. Moreover, the restoration of freedom of thought may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions which, by their very methods and concepts, serve to enclose the mind within the established universe of discourse and behavior — thereby precluding a priori a rational evaluation of the alternatives. And to the degree to which freedom of thought involves the struggle against inhumanity, restoration of such freedom would also imply intolerance toward scientific research in the interest of deadly “deterrents,” of abnormal human endurance under inhuman conditions, etc. 

Sculos and Walsh try to discount the anti-liberal implications of this viewpoint by arguing that Marcuse here is calling for the repression only of “those thoughts and words that promote destruction, bigotry, racism and deprivation. Any science repressed is that which is geared toward developing technologies of war, environmental catastrophe and human exploitation.”

However, Marcuse’s criteria for repression may be far broader, and far more open to abuse, than Sculos and Walsh might think. After all, the question of which “thoughts and words” really promote “destruction, bigotry, racism and deprivation” is itself a topic for debate. Many opponents of abortion, for instance, might argue that support for legal abortion is a movement in favor of the destruction of human life. Conversely, feminist defenders of abortion might argue that opposition to abortion is a form of bigotry against women. Or take racial preferences. Some might argue that state-sponsored racial preferences extend racism and bigotry; others see contemporary racial preferences as an anti-racist remedy to the legacy of racism.

To note these disputes is not an invitation to nihilism or a suggestion that there are no right answers to the questions. But the controversies do suggest that, on many important issues, there is not an immediately obvious, universally agreed-on viewpoint.

Here’s a long excerpt from French’s piece, which covers how the phenomenon has spread from the campus:

I make no pretension to being a scholar of Marcuse or of the so-called Frankfurt School of critical theory. Others can write (and have written) about the malignant effects of critical theory on the American academy. I want to focus instead on a simple idea of his that still resonates with the Left today — unleash the forces of censorship and repression for the sake of the new tolerance to come. It is good (necessary, even) to be intolerant in the name of tolerance. There is no virtue in what the mainstream culture defines as “tolerance” if that tolerance will preserve the status quo. Instead, achieving true, new tolerance will require driving out the old. Here’s how Marcuse began:

This essay examines the idea of tolerance in our advanced industrial society. The conclusion reached is that the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed. 

What followed was a dense and wordy exploration of a few central themes. Among them: Toleration of free speech is empty if there is intolerance of revolutionary action. That toleration of free speech ends exactly when speech contradicts or inhibits revolutionary goals:

This tolerance cannot be indiscriminate and equal with respect to the contents of expression, neither in word nor in deed; it cannot protect false words and wrong deeds which demonstrate that they contradict and counteract the possibilities of liberation. Such indiscriminate tolerance is justified in harmless debates, in conversation, in academic discussion; it is indispensable in the scientific enterprise, in private religion. But society cannot be indiscriminate where the pacification of existence, where freedom and happiness themselves are at stake: here, certain things cannot be said, certain ideas cannot be expressed, certain policies cannot be proposed, certain behavior cannot be permitted without making tolerance an instrument for the continuation of servitude. 

Critically, Marcuse also believed that the “distinction between true and false tolerance” could be made “rationally on empirical grounds.” Grounding his ideology in rationality meant that Marcuse saw his opponents as inherently irrational. Labeling opponents as irrational makes it all too easy to reach his conclusion, that liberating tolerance means “intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.”

When Marcuse wrote his essay, he lamented that “no power, no authority, no government exists which would translate liberating tolerance into practice.” In other words, since his ideas challenged entrenched power, by definition no power yet existed to impose this new tolerance. He was merely laying an intellectual foundation. Others had to make his dream real.

Enter the campus radical. In the 1960s, the mob was the instrument of intolerance. By the 1990s, the mob had gained tenure. By the 2010s the mob and the mob’s children possessed enormous power and influence throughout the higher-education establishment, and that power and influence passed into Hollywood and into corporate America…

Intolerance of alleged intolerance was the very definition of the “liberating tolerance” that Marcuse dreamed of. Fortunately for the First Amendment, the federal courts have thus far been unwilling to “translate liberating tolerance into practice” and have struck down every Marcusian speech code they have directly addressed.

Universities were rebuffed, but the radicals were undeterred. Whether explicitly conscious of Marcuse or not (likely not; you can read any number of modern apologetics for campus censorship without seeing his name), the concept of intolerance for the sake of true tolerance had struck, and if the Constitution meant that public agencies, including state universities, couldn’t be instruments of “liberating tolerance,” then private citizens and private corporations most certainly could.

A university may be unwilling to fire a dissenting professor, but how many dissenting professors are willing to stay at jobs where they may face — as Nicholas and Erika Christakis did at Yale when Ericka had the audacity to defend the right of adult college students to wear the Halloween costumes of their choice — screaming gangs of furious students demanding that they leave the school? In corporate America, how many conservatives are willing to risk their mortgage or their kids’ college tuition to raise even the slightest objection to uniformly orthodox expressions of progressive values?

In many ways, however, the modern Marcusian intolerance is even worse than it was 25 or 50 years ago. Then, the subjects were more predictable — the Vietnam War, the Johnson administration, and then Reagan and Bush, the Cold War, abortion and homosexuality. The lines were clear. Now they’re not, and even some liberal professors tremble at the unpredictable potential wrath of their radical students.

For that, they can thank “intersectionality,” one of the most incoherent and pernicious of the gifts the modern academy has given our contemporary culture. In a way, intersectionality is a joke made real. Back when I was applying to law schools, white students used to say that their application had a chance “unless it’s up against a lesbian quadriplegic from Nairobi.” The greater the number of victim categories, the greater the affirmative-action boost.

Intersectionality, in a nutshell, holds that your cultural and political power increases with the number of victim categories you belong to. As Nathan Heller of The New Yorker put it in an excellent exploration of the phenomenon at Oberlin, intersectionality “sees identity-based oppression operating in crosshatching ways. Encountering sexism as a white, Ivy-educated, middle-class woman in a law office, for example, calls for different solutions than encountering sexism as a black woman working a minimum-wage job.”

Intersectionality puts a premium on “experiential authority.” That is, the person experiencing the “oppression” gets to define both the oppression and the remedy. The role of less-oppressed allies, typically white progressives, is to defer to the experience of the more oppressed, learn from them, and support their struggles. That can mean that even liberals in good standing are blindsided by controversy, such as the Claremont McKenna dean who resigned amid protests and hunger strikes when she had the audacity (in a sympathetic e-mail) to tell a Latina student that she strove to serve those students who “don’t fit our CMC mold.”

You cannot question the victim. You must support the victim. And (here’s the hidden shout-out to Marcuse) intolerance in the name of tolerance works to advance social justice.

It’s entirely possible, however, that the very subjectivity and capriciousness of intersectionality may be its downfall — and that Marcusian intolerance could once again go into remission. …

(T)here is a growing recognition that the radicals went too far…  A sense of unease pervades the campus culture. Do the riots at Berkeley and the attacks at Middlebury represent the natural progression from the screaming protests that disrupted Yale and so many other campuses in 2015? Will the age of Trump give the radicals an even longer list of grievances and an even greater sense not just of moral certainty but of moral urgency? Will we see buildings burn, as during the Vietnam War, or will a blaze of bad publicity lead to a temporary retreat, as at my law school in 1993?

We simply don’t know. But this we do know: that Herbert Marcuse still afflicts America, and even activists who have never heard his name live in the activist culture he helped create. Every shout-down, every screaming fit, every hunger strike, every economic boycott, every social-media shame-storm, and every riot furthers his legacy. It turns vice into virtue, makes hate great again, and creates new generations of men and women who want to hurt their enemies and feel morally righteous as they do it. Lurking behind the rage is his singular idea, which we should not allow to curse us forever, that America’s “tolerant” citizens should be the most intolerant of all.

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Fixing the broken system?

Over at The Federalist, David Harsanyi tells the democrats that The System Doesn’t Need To Be ’Fixed’ Every Time You Lose An Election.

Two excerpts:

If you’re under the impression that the system exists merely to facilitate your partisan agenda, it’s not surprising that you also believe it’s “broken” every time things don’t go your way. This is why so many Democrats argue that we should “fix” the Electoral College when they lose a presidential election and “fix” the filibuster when they run the Senate and now “fix” the Supreme Court when they don’t run the Senate.

During the Obama presidency, liberal pundits groused about the supposed crisis posed by a “dysfunctional” Congress. In political media parlance, “dysfunction” can be roughly translated into “Democrats aren’t able to do as they like.” Congress, as you know, was only “broken” when President Obama wasn’t getting his agenda passed, not when his party was imposing a wholly partisan, unprecedented health-care regime on all Americans.

In any event, the political establishment spent six years wringing its hands about subsequent GOP electoral success, which was an organic political reaction that strengthened separation of powers and reflected the nation’s ideological divisions. Although you’d never know it listening to political coverage, it meant the system was working just fine

The real anxiety driving liberals is the reality of President Trump getting another Supreme Court justice, the kind of nominee any conservative president would likely have picked. This person will presumably help constrain progressive policies because many of those policies rely on coercion and unconstitutional intrusions into personal freedom. Maybe it’s not the system that’s broken, but rather rather the Left’s agenda.

The arrogance of the age — maybe every age — is that intellectuals believe, by default, that they’re smarter, more moral, and more evolved than those who came before them. We often hear the Left gripe about the antiquated nature of the Constitution. It was Klein, after all, who once claimed that the Constitution was confusing document because it is old.

We can disagree about the usefulness of Enlightenment ideas. But when Klein contends that the “chaotic, ugly realpolitik that followed Justice Antonin Scalia’s death” necessitates a “fix,” he is being transparently partisan. Nothing is more chaotic than altering the rules every time you experience a political defeat. And nothing says realpolitik more than attempting to “fix” a system for practical political concerns when your ideological goals fall short.

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Kennedy retires

Feeling pretty certain that we’ll get a justice more reliable than Kennedy, and not as extreme or ideological as Ginsberg or Sotomayor.

About Gorsuch being a “stolen seat,” recall that Kennedy was, for all intents and purposes, the original stolen seat.  His ascension after the Bork nomination was when the Left invented the modern, total-war approach to SCOTUS vacancies.  In other words, they “stole” that seat from Bork and it made a huge difference for 30 years.

That is also all the proof one needs to understand that, on the matter of the Garland nomination in 2016, had the roles been reversed, so too would have been the parties’ respective positions and behaviors.  Nothing brings out the hypocrisy of both parties more than a SCOTUS nomination does.  (If the Bork affair isn’t enough proof for you, or too far in the past for you, Google Miguel Estrada.  Or compare the votes that the GOP gives a Dem president’s nominees to the votes the DEMs give to a GOP president’s nominees.)

from the WSJ:

The Supreme Court’s year wasn’t successful because it achieved this or that policy outcome. It succeeded because the Court defended the core liberties and structure of the Constitution from those who would subvert it for their preferred policy outcomes.

from TWS:

Democrats are still embittered by Senate Republicans’ hardball refusal to hold hearings on the man who would have been Barack Obama’s third Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. It’s easy to appreciate their resentment, even if we don’t quite buy their high-minded protestations. If the Democrats held the Senate and one of the court’s liberals died or retired giving a Republican president the opportunity to nominate a third Supreme Court justice in the final months of his presidency, we’re confident they would do the same. Of course, the constitution doesn’t require the Senate to vote on judicial nominations at all, but Senate Democrats know this already: Minority leader Chuck Schumer vowed in 2007, remember, not to hold votes on any further nominations by George W. Bush. Nonetheless we expect Schumer and friends to recruit every bit of that leftover resentment in the coming battle over Kennedy’s replacement.

They might have rested easier if Harry Reid, then Democratic majority leader, hadn’t in 2013 abolished the filibuster for almost all executive and judicial nominations, excluding only Supreme Court nominees. He imposed this major rule change against the vehement wishes of the minority on a party-line vote. So although Democrats could, technically, mount a filibuster against Trump’s nominee, Reid’s foolish abolition of the minority’s ability to stop objectionable nominations guaranteed that Republicans, once back in the majority, would effect the same maneuver for Supreme Court nominations. That’s why there was no filibuster of Neil Gorsuch, and why there will be none of the next nominee. Indeed, thanks to Reid, the only two people whose opinions the administration need worry about are both Republicans: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine.

But liberals shouldn’t despair. They fear that the Trump presidency will make the federal bench more “conservative.” But judicial “conservatism,” at bottom, only means constitutionalism. Constitutionalists abide by the law as it’s written, not as they think it should have been written, and their approach often yields results favorable to those of a more liberal or progressive worldview.

Even so, many on the left are beside themselves that Kennedy didn’t wait to retire until a Democrat took Trump’s place. They were counting on some 5-4 victories over the next two years, and those are likely to become 4-5 losses. But this is the world the American left has created with its judicial activism—a world in which many of their most lasting achievements were brought about not by congressional votes but by court decisions. To keep scoring such victories, however, you need to keep winning elections; and Democrats find it harder and harder to dominate America’s elective branches as their opinions and rhetoric creeps further and further to the left. As Justice Kennedy’s departure and the consequent panic of the Democrats remind us, those who live by the courts, die by the courts.

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