SHOULD HAVE STAYED:

THE COLD WAR COMES TO VERMONT (The Attic)

Solzhenitsyn and his wife considered Canada, but despite “proper winters,” it seemed “boring. . . Like a pillow.” Touring New England, they chose Cavendish for remoteness and its proximity to Dartmouth College where Solzhenitsyn might do research.

In September 1976, “happy to have hoodwinked the KGB,” Solzhenitsyn and his family slipped quietly into Cavendish. Within days, a media circus descended. Hundreds of reporters. Cameras. A helicopter flyover. Citizens of Vermont, suddenly drafted into the Cold War, fought with their best weapon — Yankee silence. Solzhenitsyn had asked for nothing more.

Speaking to town meeting, Solzhenitsyn praised Vermont’s “simple way of life, similar to that of our Russian peasants.” Forgive him, he said, for building a fence around his property. Understand, he begged, that “my life consists of work, and this work demands that it not be interrupted.”

Cavendish was impressed. “He’d always been a fairly enigmatic person,” said Town Manager Richard Svec, “and him making a public appearance to the local townspeople, that went a long way with the folks.”

The “dear neighbors” answered Solzhenitsyn’s plea — they left him alone. He settled in to work, writing long into the night.

On into the 1980s, Cavendish made Solzhenitsyn a secret all over town. At the general store, a sign read: “No Restrooms, No Bare Feet, No Directions to the Solzhenitsyns.” When asked, kids steered strangers on wayward paths. A neighbor drove Solzhenitsyn’s sons to school. The writer’s wife, Natalya, and her mother became Celtics fans. The local postmaster arranged with Boston authorities to screen his mail for bombs or more poison.

Beyond Cavendish, America besieged Solzhenitsyn with letters, telegrams, requests to speak. In 1978, he made a rare appearance, using hIs commencement address at Harvard to denounce Western culture. “The human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits. . . by TV stupor and by intolerable music.”

Acerbic and irascible, Solzhenitsyn remained an exile. “Nothing seems the same in a foreign land; nothing seems yours. You feel a constant anguish in those conditions under which everyone else lives normally — and you are seen as a stranger.”

But in Cavendish, he found a home. For 18 years, until the Cold War ended, Solzhenitsyn lived what he considered the best days of his life. Just before his return to Russia, he strolled through Cavendish, enjoying an “enchanting parade.” Again he spoke to town meeting.

“Lately, while walking on the nearby roads, taking in the surroundings with a farewell glance, I have found every meeting with any neighbor to be warm and friendly. And so today, both to those of you who I have met over these years, and to those who I haven’t met, I say: Thank you and farewell. I wish all the best to Cavendish. God bless you all.”

JUST A SMIDGE:


The Road Away from Serfdom: A new book makes the case for the renewed relevance of F. A. Hayek’s 1944 classic. (Alberto Mingardi, Dec 06 2023, City Journal)

One lesson of political capitalism may be that even a hint of economic liberty, if given after years of economic oppression, can be enough to unleash substantial economic growth. Such growth is the result not of government or the state but of individuals acting to improve their lot. One can also look at demography and see how globalization, by uplifting millions, multiplied opportunities that enabled growth. “Complete” liberty, if such a thing exists, was not necessary to produce growth—human beings are enterprising enough that just a little elbow room goes a long way.

IT IS UNCERTAINTY THAT TERRIFIES THE IDEOLOGUE:

The Cosmic Tragedy of Modernity and the Virtues of Liberalism: Safeguarding personal and social autonomy from the ever changing conditions of modernity (Ábris P. Bendek, Dec 5, 2023, Liberal Currents)

Liberalism is not an organic part of modernity as much as one possible framework of social response to its intrinsic moral vacuum and self-developing informational complexity. This is not to stay that, as a framework of response, liberalism did not contribute to modernity’s substance or accelerate many of its more intrinsic processes, particularly the rise of the state. Rather that some kind of social response was necessary to modernity and its cosmic tragedy, and it is especially in this context of necessity that the virtues of a liberal social organization become apparent.

Of course, such necessities are not acknowledged by Deneen and his creed: they are thrown away in favor of a historicised, yet radically ahistorical, time. The Rousseauian temptation in postliberalism is apparent. Its reactionary psychology does not admit the observation that before bourgeois modernity, the huge majority of people at any rate lacked the mental and material autonomy necessary to reflect on their supposedly flourishing spiritual contexts. Life by any means was “nasty, brutish and short“, and even if a certain amount of people truly found joy and meaning in their culture and communities, as the little Rousseau inside postliberalism suggests, for most it could not be the predominant sensation in life. Once modernity has been unleashed, gains in literacy and wellbeing certainly allowed some, and then quite a many, to long back for a historicised illusion of meaning that people in turn could anxiously project into their modernity-structured political hopes.

But this longing and this projection are ultimately self-defeating. They cannot in fact recover the meaning thought to be once possessed; they only impoverish its symbolic remnants through the use of power. Nietzsche writes: “Attempts to combat nihilism without enacting a change in values only deliver the opposite result, and sharpen the original problem (my translation)”. The remedy becomes poison. Subjected to power, the meaning of God, family and country reformulates into totalitarian nihilism. The anxiety and inner conflict with which modernity is contrasted with meaning translates only to will’s radical claim towards belonging and existential security, ultimately nurturing a totalitarian psyche and a secular religion around the leader, all grounded in the forced march on nihilism in which postliberalism has now partaken.

The other way the totalitarian spirit haunts the reactionary mindset, of course, is the latter’s necessary resort to the state’s power-machinery. To fulfill the mission of discharging from bourgeois modernity—from the historical dynamism of capitalism, reformation, science, Enlightenment and beyond—postliberalism cannot but build an omnipotent state. Either way (or both), reaction renounces itself in flirting with the totalitarian – and inescapably modern – mind.

Totalitarianism’s own way to responding to the cosmic tragedy is not trying to recover meaning; it is to replace it by the immanent (and radical) design of the transcendent. The totalitarian cosmology is rooted in the revolutionary psyche; it is the perpetuation of the Le Bonian moment when Durkheim’s infamous maxim that society is God emerges to absolute immanence, and the crowd’s whims and passions dictate moral and political consciousness. Yet in order to cool down, control and finally direct the crowd’s will, one further step is necessary. One needs to embody that will in the state and the leader; one needs to build a perpetual, deranged magic in which the nation is one and one is the nation. One needs to “reenchant“ the world through the crude essence of state, technology and ideology. One needs to build a Volksgemeinschaft.

The logic of a liberal social organization, needless to say, is radically different from that of reaction or of totalitarianism. Liberalism does not aim to secede from bourgeois modernity, and thereby create its own. It tries to continuously adapt to the evolving problem—and power-configurations—of modernity, so we can protect our personal and social autonomy against its changes, and not be subjugated by the will to power which would deny us this very autonomy. From the logic of adaptation, in turn, it derives that a liberal social organization can only live up to itself if it not only enables, but positively contains both socialist and conservative voices which sufficiently increase the whole paradigm’s responsivity to the corrosive effects of modernity, and to its very own, general need to continuously balance itself along the changes of the latter. Indeed, the emphasis is not on liberalism as an ideology as much as liberalism as a social order, which permits a diversity of viewpoints in the pursuit of autonomy against facing modernisation.

This process necessarily implies a great deal of uncertainty.

Liberalism’s dirty secret is that it is pre-modern.

GLOBALIZATION IS AMERICANIZATION:

America’s undying empire: why the decline of US power has been greatly exaggerated (Tom Stevenson, 30 Nov 2023, The Guardian)

The US has military superiority over all other countries, control of the world’s oceans via critical sea lanes, garrisons on every continent, a network of alliances that covers much of the industrial world, the ability to render individuals to secret prisons in countries from Cuba to Thailand, preponderant influence over the global financial system, about 30% of the world’s wealth and a continental economy not dependent on international trade.

To call this an empire is, if anything, to understate its range. Within the American security establishment, what it amounted to was never in doubt. US power was to be exercised around the world using the “conduits of national power”: economic centrality, military scale, sole possession of a global navy, nuclear superiority and global surveillance architecture that makes use of the dominant American share of the Earth’s orbital infrastructure.

If proponents of the end of the US global order do not assert a decrease in the potency of the instruments of American power, that is because there has been no such decrease. The share of global transactions conducted in dollars has been increasing, not declining. No other state can affect political outcomes in other countries the way the US still does. The reach of the contemporary US is so great that it tends to blend into the background of daily events. In January 2019, the US demanded that Germany ban the Iranian airline Mahan Air from landing on its territory. In September 2020, it sanctioned the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court for refusing to drop investigations into American citizens. In February 2022, at US request, Japan agreed to redirect liquefied fossil gas, which is critical to Japanese industry, to Europe in the event of a conflict with Russia over Ukraine. At the height of that conflict, the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, found the time to visit Algiers to negotiate the reopening of a gas pipeline to Spain via Morocco. These were all quotidian events, unremarkable daily instances of humdrum imperial activity. The practical operation of the empire remains poorly understood, not despite its ubiquity, but because of it.

From this perspective, the menial adherence of Britain to the US global project is at least intelligible. Historically, American planners divided their approach to the rest of the world by region. In western Europe and Japan, American interests were usually pursued by cautious political management. In Latin America and the Middle East, constant interventions, coups and invasions were needed. In east Asia and south-east Asia there was military exertion at scale. As long as it lasted, the Soviet Union was cordoned off and contained, against the wishes of the generals in the US Strategic Air Command, who would have preferred to destroy it in a nuclear holocaust. The major US allies were on the right side of this calculus and had less reason to begrudge it.

When dealing with the US, elites in countries on the periphery of the global economy still often behave as though they are dealing with the imperial centre.

It’s not just that other nations aspire to be like America but that the only way to achive that is Americanization. No one can escape the End of History in the long run.

CAN’T HAVE A CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS WHEN THERE IS ONLY ONE:

China, America, and Thucydides’ Trap (Richard Allen Hyde, December 1, 2023, Providence)

Thus, these two powers have already traded places, come into armed conflict once, and are now in a position of relative parity. One would think that their chances of avoiding the Thucydidean Trap are pretty good. Both countries are at the top of the world’s economic heap and very risk-averse. Both have much to gain from their relationship and much to lose if it breaks down, as does the rest of the world.

A major shooting war between the two countries would be a disaster for both and for the world at large, an even greater disaster now than it would have been a few years ago because of the major shooting war in Ukraine. China (rather quietly) backs the Russian invasion. The US and most of Europe are sending military aid to Ukraine. The conflict is leading to a major upset of the world economy. China can certainly weather this storm, but it cannot be happy about the effect on the world economy and is apparently in no mood to bail out Russia with substantial aid. This brutal and clumsy invasion will certainly not make China’s intended digestion of Taiwan any easier. The chance of the Taiwanese voting to become part of China now looks more remote than ever.

Nevermind that China’s economy peaked at a GDP per capita half of Mississippi’s, it is now taking on basket case status. Treating it as a peer is really just a case of old “Yellow Menace” terrors.

rEALISM IS ABOUT OPPRESSION:

The tragedy behind Kissinger’s realpolitik (ROBERT D. KAPLAN, 11/30/23, UnHerd)

Kissinger’s beliefs, which emerge through his writing, are certainly not for the faint-hearted. They are emotionally unsatisfying, yet analytically timeless. They include: […]

[O]order is more important than freedom, since without order there is no freedom for anybody.

The Realist elevation of “order” above freedom is little more than collaboration with evil.

FOR IDENTITARIANS, THE CRUELTY IS THE POINT:

Greatness Without Cruelty: Young Nietzscheans should look to Tocqueville as a more politically responsible source for a new politics. (Daniel J. Mahoney, 11/29/23, Religion & Liberty)

[N]ietzsche threw the baby out with the bathwater. He indiscriminately blamed Platonic philosophy and Christianity for the excesses of democracy and the “degeneration and diminution of man into the perfect herd animal…this animalization of man into the dwarf animal of equal rights and claims” (BGE, #203). In doing so, he confused love of neighbor with resentment of greatness, and the search for timeless truths with the abdication of the willing and striving that defines humanity at its noblest. His defense of cruelty, of rank as an end itself, and of the “blond beast,” may not be his final word as a philosopher. But that kind of rhetoric was both intoxicating and grotesquely irresponsible.

Leo Strauss memorably argued in his 1957 essay “What is Political Philosophy?” that Nietzsche “used much of his unsurpassable and inexhaustible power of passionate and fascinating speech for making his readers loathe, not only socialism and communism, but conservatism, nationalism and democracy as well.” In doing so, “he left them with no choice except that between irresponsible indifference to politics,” a kind of self-satisfied aesthetic nihilism, “and irresponsible political options. He thus prepared a regime, which as long as it lasted, made discredited democracy again look again like the golden age.” Strauss added with true profundity that Nietzsche’s excessive valorization of the human will, of “will to power,” of “the triumph of the will,” would lead his descendants, from Heidegger to the existentialists to the even more vulgar postmodernists, to renounce “the very notion of eternity,” of the true and unchanging, of the enduring things. Man would sacrifice his nature, and the very order of things, to give free reign to his will.

Young enthusiasts on the Right take note: There is another way. As Harvey Mansfield once remarked, everything that is true and solid in Nietzsche can be found in an infinitely more responsible way in the thought of Alexis de Tocqueville. The great French thinker and statesman, too, despised socialism and the despotism of the soft which is the moral core of “soft” or “tutelary” despotism. But he did not reject Christianity, democracy, or equality rightly understood. He wrote nobly in the first volume of Democracy in America that “there is in fact a manly and legitimate passion for equality that incites men to want all to be strong and esteemed.” At the same time, he derided “a depraved taste for equality in the human heart that brings the weak to want to draw the strong to their level and that reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.” As Pierre Manent argues in An Intellectual History of Liberalism, Tocqueville criticizes the pathological softness that can accompany and deform democracy without ever praising “‘harshness’ or even ‘cruelty.’” Against the humanitarian Left and the atheistic Right, the party of pity and the party of cruelty, he defends a noble and elevated conception of “political freedom” that “makes men come out of themselves to live in a common world, providing the wisdom for judging their virtues and their vices; only political freedom allows them to see themselves as both as equals and as distinct.”

Tocqueville called this path “liberty under God and the law.”

LAST MEN:

People, stop being crybabies: Life is better now than ever (Quin Hillyer, November 27, 2023, Washington Examiner)


Far too many people have become spoiled, ungrateful, whiny wretches.

That’s the proper conclusion from a Wall Street Journal poll showing that barely more than a third of people believe “the American dream — that if you work hard, you’ll get ahead — still holds true.” Compared to the 36% who say it still holds true, 45% said it once was true but not anymore, and 18% said it never held true.

Only the 36% have it right. The rest are, to put it bluntly, pathetic defeatists. Likewise for the 50% who say life for ordinary Americans is worse than it was 50 years ago, against only 30% who say it is better.

We have a powerful urge to be the hero of our own stories, which we can’t be if we acknowledge how affluent we are and how easy modern life is

THE TRUE BELIEVERS:

The End of History and The Last Man and Liberalism and Its Discontents (Pierre Lemieux, Fall 2022, Regulation)

[F]ukuyama realized that liberal democracy could meet obstacles on the path to the end of history. One danger would be a drift into extreme equality at the cost of freedom. The more equal society becomes, the more remaining small inequalities seem to stand out. As a result, society could splinter into closed identity groups. Trying to create an equal society could also result in building a new class of privileged rulers, as happened under communism. The equalizers tend to not be the equals of the equalized.

Fukuyama noted that the perils of liberal democracy are accentuated by a current philosophical crisis over the “nature of man.” For many environmentalists, man is just another organism, due no special respect. This view has not changed over the past three decades.

Another peril is the return of thymos from those affected by megalothymia, who want to be more recognized than others—as opposed to isothymia, the equal recognition of all in a democracy.

We know this as Identity politics.

hISTORY eNDS EVERYWHERE:

Shock therapy, please: A frustrated Argentina has chosen radical economic reform (David Smith, 11/22/23, The Critic)

In the eyes of the voters here, the folks in power had for so long buried decency in a mafia-style political operation, designed to keep themselves in power forever — robbing one of the richest countries on the planet for themselves. They have been making almost half the population certifiably poor and dependent on government handouts, despite a rhetoric of inclusion and social justice that had the old Left in Europe celebrating the ruling Peronist party.

In this scenario, libertarian maverick Milei, an economics professor barely known three years ago, stormed the country with a chainsaw, promising to slash the state and get rid of the entrenched caste of politicians. Anarcho-capitalist, he calls himself. He’s never knowingly undersold.

Milei’s voters were overwhelmingly young, across the entire country, showing how much this means to them. The next generation of Argentines saw this election as do or die — or do or leave — and voted in overwhelming numbers for the former goalkeeper with a boyhood aspiration to be Argentina’s Mick Jagger. To them, the economics professor offered hope: a future that might keep them in a country they love. His message was direct and TikTok savvy: completely blunt on the need for radical change, with private property and capitalism as the guarantees of freedom.

It worked. On the 40th anniversary of its return to democracy, Argentines stood up to be counted and positively chose shock therapy. To protect the integrity of their polling stations, tens of thousands of volunteers watched over every vote cast. Amazingly, all sides ended up acknowledging that the democratic process on voting day was exemplary; the result was accepted as the will of the majority. Again, a positive.

The Second Way failed everywhere.