The Great American Racial Awakening (Part Three): “It Wasn’t Me!” and Something to be Done.

American society, American whites, non-black minorities, and even some African Americans, have not fully absorbed the fact that American slavery was a long story of atrocities. It was also an endeavor of mass rape, as the light skin color of many African Americans demonstrates. (It was rape by definition; human “property” does not have the ability to give consent.) Soon after the abolition of slavery, incapacitating legally defined inferior treatment of black Americans descended on much of the country. In the South – the historical home of slavery – extra-judicial murder was frequent enough to keep many blacks timid and in partial subjection; sometimes, the resort to intimidation rose to mass murder. Incidentally, this forgetfulness is why I am glad that National Geographic, first, and Pres. Biden second, recently chose to showcase the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. Whatever the latter’s real motivation, that may be the first good thing he did.

Of course, the question should arise, must arise, of responsibility regarding both slavery and segregation. This for two reasons. First, long lasting acts of inhumanity should not go un-described lest ignorance do harm in the next generations. Second, the treatment of African Americans was, for centuries so spectacularly at variance with long standing Anglo-American tradition that some sort of explanation is required. But there can be no explanation, of course without a recognition of who the actors were, of their identification. In fact, there are voices among the pushers of Wokeness claiming that all whites are guilty by definition. (I choose my words with here care.) “It wasn’t me; I wasn’t even here,” reply many white conservatives. Below is an examination of the white case I know best, mine,

I am immigrant. I landed in the US as an adult for good in 1963. It was too late to contribute much to racial segregation. If one of my approximately 30 family antecedents since 1865 had made it to American shores before me, I think the news would have reached me through family lore. So, I am almost certainly innocent on the account of aiding segregation, including trans-generationally innocent. Slavery is another issue.

Assessing my antecedents’ possible contributions to slavery is more dicey because of the greater remoteness in time but, especially, because of the multiplicity of family lines one would have to follow. (I think that to arrive even at 1800, one would have to research up to 64 linkages.) It seems that both sides of my family going back to my great-great-grandparents at least come from eastern and northern France, hundreds of mile from the western coast slaving ports. This does not exclude the possibility that one young man or other among those who sired me found his way there and signed up for a slaving voyage or two without leaving a record worthy of notice. There is also no obvious record of anyone with my last name, or my mother’s maiden name being a slave owner in America. This leaves open the possibility that some of the other branches with different surnames reached here and held slaves. As they say, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Still, on the whole, my antecedents are less likely to have profited from slavery than many, many people of coastal African descent, for example. Late into the 19th century, for example, the economy of the west African kingdom of Benin was centered on slave trading, including feeding the remaining cross-Atlantic trade. It would be surprising if some descendants of American slaves or some recent Nigerian immigrants were not also descendants of Benin slavers. Also, take the Kenyan Obamas, for example, with their Arabized first names… (“Barack” means “blessed,” in Arabic, a pious way to say “luck,” or “lucky;” and the aunt the president would not acknowledge was named “Zeituna,” Arabic for “Olive.” No olives grow in Kenya, I am sure. So, why “Olive”?) How did these names happen given that they are not Muslims? Could it be that the older Obamas were involved with the Arab slave traders of Africa’s east coast (who plied their trade much longer than anyone based in America)?

This mindless genealogical excursion is coming to an end, finally. There was a point to it though. It is this: It’s easy enough for many, possibly for most white Americans to argue that they should not be held to account either for slavery or for racial segregation because they were not here, in America, when those happened. What’s more, it’s likely that none of their ancestors were. The immigrant (legal, I hope) who landed yesterday from Russia certainly can make that claim, same as I do. It seems to me that the claim is largely irrelevant. In fact, and thinking realistically and cynically, if we looked for culpability through blood lines, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the average African American of today is more related to slave owners of the past than is the average white American. (This speculation is based on the pretty good assumption that most of today’s white Americans trace all their American ancestry to post-1863 immigration.)

Thus my point here is not that American conservatives should wallow forever in useless guilt (like a liberal wimpette) because of some supposed culpability based on race. Neither do I think that they should help feed – by supporting this claim – a sense of impunity among black criminals preying mostly on innocent African Americans. Nor do I suggest that my fellow conservatives should yield to any of the endless, diffuse race-based blackmails filling our media today (in 2021). My point rather is that we, Americans, including, and especially American conservatives, should fix what we can. I explain the ethical reason why we must do so below.

Yesterday’s immigrant, and I, and most Americans probably, live, exist, some thrive, in part thanks to the existence of a federal state that guarantees our safety from exterior threats. It’s the same federal state that makes possible a certain peacefulness, a degree of predictability of daily life without which we couldn’t even contemplate the pursuit of happiness. The fact that it does so with a heavy hand and at a high cost that I often deplore, does not change the basic fact that it does. If your libertarian beliefs make it difficult to think of this, look at Nigeria for the past ten years and at Mexico during its current elections (June 2021). However, the same federal state, in a straight historical line again, the very same federal state, engaged without discontinuity, in slave catching for fifty or one hundred years. It went on until the very eve of the Civil War. I don’t mean that the Federal Government went hunting for slaves in Africa but that it cooperated in returning runaway slaves to their owners. The practice was thunderously re-affirmed as late as 1857 in the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott Decision. For all, we know, slavery as a regional economic system might have collapsed early if the long boundary between free and slave states had been one great big open door devoid of federal interference.

It seems to me that there is no way to affirm honestly: Yes, I am appreciative for the benefits I derive from the Federal Government but I am in no way responsible for any of its past actions. Rather, I think, the following conservative principle must prevail:

The Federal Government is my servant; I am responsible to repair what my servant damaged.

I hasten to say that I don’t know how to compensate anyone for the great physical and emotional damage slavery and then, segregation inflicted on their ancestors. I confess this while noting that financial compensation for pain and suffering stands right in the middle of the mainstream of Anglo-American legal tradition. I want to focus instead on something more tangible: income.

Money often comes down through the generations. It also often fails to so come down, it’s true. This is a complicated matter. What is sure is that if the ancestor has not money, the descendant will not inherit his money. If the ancestor has no money to transmit because he is lazy, a drunkard, a whore-monger, or even simply handicapped, it’s not really any of my business as a citizen of this federal state. If, on the other hand, the descendant inherits nothing because of something my servant did to his ancestor, it’s clearly my responsibility to try and do something about it.

An unresolved concrete matter from both slavery and segregation is one of unpaid wages, and of income that could not be realized in part because of the actions of the Federal Government. I mean, my Federal Government, yesterday’s immigrant’s Federal Government, and also my Hispanic neighbors’ Federal Government. I think we all owe some compensation to our fellow citizens who have slave ancestors. (I am also ignoring here the possibility that segregation adversely affected black immigrants, people with no US slave background, because, I think, there were hardly any until recently. In general, I am skeptical of immigrants’ claims, as I indicated earlier.)

Forty-five years ago, economists Fogel and Engerman showed in Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery that slavery could fairly rigorously be subjected to conventional quantitative economic analysis, including if memory is correct, that of wage equivalencies. (The fact that the book soon became controversial only means to me that many readers don’t know how to read figures, or don’t care to.) It shouldn’t be beyond the power of modern economists to give us a rough estimate of the wages slaves would have been paid if they had not been slaves. The figure might seem surprisingly low, incidentally, because slaves were housed and fed, after a fashion, and housing and food constituted the two main recurring expenses of unskilled free workers.

Whatever the case may be, Americans in general, or just conservatives, could announce an overall amount of wages owed to slaves and, separately, of potential income black citizens lost to segregation, both augmented by accumulated interest. Proposals for discharging this collective debt should be submitted to broad public discussion. Ideally, personally, I would prefer a single payment or partial payments spread over how long it would take all made to those contemporary citizens who can show slave ancestry in the US. Since I have no illusion that any method of direct payment to individuals would have any chance of being accepted because of ambient puritanism, my fallback position would be educational/ training grants awarded to any descendant of slaves upon reaching legal maturity. I like this solution because there is good evidence that education is a reliable income and wealth multiplier. Enhanced education/training thus creates -however slight – the possibility that American society might leave that particular portion of a more general problem behind forever. Help with down payment on real estate would also probably be favored by many and for the same reason. (It seems that owning a house is the main mean of saving for most Americans.) There are many other possibilities.

Ideally, the funds for this historical compensation would come from a voluntary levy, from a subscription (a method for financing public goods not tried often enough in my view). African Americans with slave ancestors and ancestors hurt by segregation number no more than 45 million. My back-of-the envelop suggests that if everyone else reserved 1 % of his income for slavery and segregation reparation that particular debt might be extinguished in less than a lifetime. (Just a general idea; my calculations are not to be trusted literally, of course) Failing a voluntary levy, a new dedicated federal tax could accomplish the same end, of course.

Do I hope that this kind of limited compensation to the descendants of slaves could be managed in a fair, organized, decent way? Not really. I think though that it could put a damper on the present liberal temptation to replay the whole long, disastrous War on Poverty of Pres. Johnson. It would point to another way to deal with a festering wound. In any case, the inability to describe how a mission ought to be conducted should never stop us from admitting openly, even announcing, that the mission is necessary. The main virtue of this proposal would be to free to some extent those who contribute from the moral servitude resulting form our having servitude imposed on others with the help of our servant, the federal state. Acting in good faith toward other individuals is its own reward. It may even inspire others.

Beyond this, I think the Woke culture is going to collapse soon under the weight of its own ridiculousness. In the meantime, it will have ruined the careers of a few important people, including highly visible liberals who did not have sufficient alertness to duck in good time and to offer proof of their virtuousness without being asked. Even academia will regain its senses eventually though it will take some time because it’s so well protected from reality. I am betting that what will be left of this (2020-2021) societal frisson of righteousness will be the empty and therefore poisonous word “equity.” It will no doubt be used and used again until it ends exhibited in the pantheon where the Left keeps the equally empty and equally poisonous terms: the “rich,” and “fair share.” We may not prevent this but we, conservatives can keep the voice of sanity alive.

I conclude by affirming to my possibly scandalized conservative friends that nothing in this three-part essay alters my view of the broader American political context of today (2021). Pres. Biden’s administration is the worst in my long lifetime. Like everything that dampens economic growth, its policies will turn out to be especially noxious for African Americans. And liberals and progressives will blame our “selfishness,” of course.

The Great American Racial Awakening (Part Two): “Get over it!”

For most of my fifty-plus years living in this country, I have thought that white Americans have not digested the facts of slavery beyond the most basic level. I think they have avoided emoting about them and also about the much nearer-in-time ninety years of segregation in some of the country, at least. (Reading the memoirs of traveling black Jazz musicians led me to believe that segregation was not just in the South. They tell how on arriving in a new town anywhere in the country, the first thing they did was inquire about lodging accepting blacks if arrangements had done been made in advance.)

It’s hard to tell what liberals know and feel about the country’s racial history broadly defined. First, since most of them vote Democrat, they have an internal conflict of interest that must stand in the way of both clarity of mind and of sincerity of expression. Historically, their party is the party of unfailing support for slavery and then, it morphed into the party of racial segregation. I don’t know how you deal with this on an individual level. Second, I find it personally hard to tell what really moves liberals because many are the kind of people who tear up at the violent spectacle of three puppies wrestling in their containment basket.

I am pretty familiar however with my fellow conservatives’ expressed views of the whole matter. (Of course, I don’t know what they feel their hearts of hearts.) Three responses keep coming up. The first is a reference to the hundreds of thousand dead of the Civil War, implying it was payment enough for the evils of slavery. No, I am sorry, the Civil War only stopped the evil of slavery. It did not make up for it. It did not stop the transmission of its perverse effects through the generations. I does not help that some conservatives include the Confederate dead who gave their lives in defense of slavery even if it was not always clear to them.

The second common response is a nonchalant: “Get over it; it was long time ago.” That’s not a reasonable response, I believe, as a conservative, specifically. I think many good things, and many bad things, come down through families, even from ancestors way back. My own narrow experience tells me that it’s so. My paternal grandfather was killed in WWI, in 1916, exactly, twenty-six years before I was born. That’s more than one hundred years ago. My mother was thus brought up in an all-female family. Had that not been the case, she would have raised her own children differently, I think. Note that I don’t say, “better” because, I don’t know. It’s just that she would have been a different person herself, a different woman. Again, I am only trying to make the point that family experiences reach far forward in time.

I knew my maternal grandmother well. Though there were merrier aspects to her personality (as I recount in my book, I Used to be French…..) she was a mostly silent presence for all the time I knew her. I don’t know that she may have a had a wealth of experience, or simply stories, she would otherwise have shared with me. I was brought up without a grandfather. (There was an other one but alcoholism had made him dysfunctional.) Had I had a grandpa, I am certain I would have been a different man, a nicer one. Incidentally, I only came to realize this clearly when I became a grandfather myself, a very distinctive and nurturing role. If the repercussions of the simple and common fact of not having a grandfather can be carried across a hundred-plus years, I tell myself, imagine the cumulative, tenacious effect of having had all slave predecessors for hundreds years. In my book, it’s not that consequences of slavery might live on today among African Americans, it’s that they surely do. It seems to me that this is hardly open for discussion. (Though w you should feel free to argue with me on this point.)

Another detour is in order here. I am only discussing the burden of the majority of black Americans who do have slave ancestors. The implied moral calculus is not relevant to the large and growing minority of black Americans who are immigrants and children of immigrants. (The fact that their numbers are increasing fast, in itself, speaks volumes.) Don’t like it here for whatever reason? Go back to Jamaica; go back to Nigeria; go back to Haiti. This calculus also does not concern the invented category “Hispanics.” Except for the special case of Puerto Ricans, they are also practically all immigrants and descendants of immigrants. They have no right to complain just because heir parents or other ancestors had the good sense to cross the border, often at great cost and at great risk, so they could enjoy a standard of living and a freedom vastly superior to those they left behind. In most cases, such American Hispanics are entitled to citizenship in their ancestral land or, they can regain it easily. Even Puerto Ricans, whose country the US annexed without consultation, have the latitude to go home where they are unlikely to be exposed to racism. All those so-called minorities can thus easily avoid current alleged white American racism and, to the extent that they carry a special burden, it’s because of choices their own antecedents made. It seems to me none has any right to blame America nor to expect favored treatment on this account.

Expecting the descendants of slaves to “get over it,” is not reasonable, as I said. The likelihood is quite high that the adverse consequences of slavery have followed their ancestors, their parents through the years like a pig moving through a python. There is not particular ground to believe that these negative effects must automatically become diluted over time. This assessment is possible (and, I think, only fair) irrespective of whether we know what to to about it. Recognizing that a problem exists does not require that one know its solution.

In the next and last installments of this three-part essay, I will look at resolutions after introducing the third common attitude of conservatives: “It wasn’t me.”

Nightcap

  1. Conventional economics is more radical than Marxism Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  2. What is “conservatism” in the US these days? Daniel McCarthy, Claremont Review of Books
  3. The cultural contradictions of American education Kay Hymowitz, National Affairs
  4. Political bargaining in a federation: Buchanan meets Coase (pdf) Mark Gradstein, CEPR

Post-Mortem

Mr Trump is practically gone and he is not coming back. (For one thing, he will be too old in 2024. For another thing, see below.) The political conditions that got such an un-preposterous candidate elected in 2016 however, those conditions, don’t look like they are going away. (I hope I am wrong.) A large fraction of Americans will continue to be ignored from an economic standpoint, as well as insulted daily by their better. Four years of insults thrown at people like me and the hysterical outpouring of contempt by liberal media elites on the last days of the Trump administration are not making me go away. Instead, they will cement my opposition to their vision of the world and to their caste behavior. I would bet dollars on the penny that a high proportion of the 74 million+ who voted for Mr Trump in 2020 feels the same. (That’s assuming that’s the number who voted for him; I am not sure of it at all. It could be more. Currently, with the information available, I vote 60/40 that the election was not – not – stolen.)

I never liked Trump, the man, for all the obvious reasons although I admired his steadfastness because it’s so rare among politicians. In the past two years, I can’t say I liked any of his policies, though I liked his judicial appointments. It’s just that who else could I vote for in 2016? Hillary? You are kidding, right? And in 2020, after President Trump was subjected to four years (and more) of unceasing gross abuse and of persecution guided by a totalitarian spirit, would it not have been dishonorable to vote for anyone but him? (Libertarians: STFU!)

Believe it or not, if Sen. Sanders and his 1950 ideas had not been eliminated again in 2020, again through the machinations of the Dem. National Committee, I would have had a serious talk with myself. At least, Sanders is not personally corrupt, and with a Republican Senate, we would have had a semi-paralyzed government that would have been OK with me.

One week after the event of 1/6/21, maybe “the breach” of the Capitol, many media figures continue to speak of a “coup.” Even the Wall Street Journal has joined in. That’s downright grotesque. I don’t doubt that entering the Capitol in a disorderly fashion and, for many, (not all; see the videos) uninvited, is illegal as well as unseemly. I am in favor of the suspects being found and prosecuted, for trespassing, or something. This will have the merit of throwing some light on the political affiliation(s) of the window breakers. I still see no reason to abandon the possibility that some, maybe (maybe) in the vanguard, were Antifa or BLM professional revolutionaries. Repeating myself: Trump supporters have never behaved in that manner before. I am guessing the investigations and the prosecutions are going to be less than vigorous precisely because the new administration will not want to know or to have the details be known of the criminals’ identity. If I am wrong, and all the brutal participants were Trump supporters, we will know it very quickly. The media will be supine either way.

It’s absurd and obscenely overwrought to call the breaching of the Capitol on January 6th (by whomever), a “coup” because there was never any chance that it would result in transferring control of the federal government to anyone. Develop the scenario: Both chambers are filled with protesters (of whatever ilk); protesters occupy both presiding chairs, and they hold in their hands both House and Senate gavels. What next? Federal agencies start taking their orders from them; the FBI reports to work as usual but only to those the protesters appoint? Then, perhaps, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs interrupts the sketchy guy who is taking a selfie while sitting in the VP chair. He says he wants to hand him the nuclear controls football. (Ask Nancy Pelosi, herself perpetrator of a coup, though a small one.) If you think any of this is credible, well, think about it, think about yourself, think again. And get a hold!

That the Capitol riot was a political act is true in one way and one way only, a minor way. It derailed the electoral vote counting that had been widely described as “ceremonial.” Happened after (after) the Vice-President had declared loud and clear that he did not have the authority to change the votes. The counting resumed after only a few hours. There is no scenario, zero, under which the riot would have altered the choice of the next president. If there had been, the breach would have been a sort of coup, a weak one.

On 1/9/21, an announcer, I think it was on NPR, I hope it was on NPR, qualified the events as a “deadly” something or other. He, and media in general, including Fox News, I am afraid, forgot to go into the details. In point of fact, five people died during the protest and part-riot of 1/6/21. One was a Capitol policeman who was hit with a fire extinguisher. As I write, there is no official allegation about who did it. There is no information about the political affiliation, if any, of the culprit(s). For sure, protesters caused none of three next deaths which were due to medical emergencies, including a heart attack. The fifth casualty was a protester, who was probably inside the Capitol illegally, and who was shot to death by a policeman. She was definitely a Trump supporter. She was unarmed. Many people who are busy with their lives will think that Trump supporters had massacred five people because of the mendacity of the language used on air. Disgraceful, disgusting reporting; but we are getting used to it.

Today and yesterday, I witnessed a mass movement I think I have not seen in my life though it rings some historical bells. Pundits, lawmakers, and other members of their caste are elbowing one another out of the way to be next to make extremist pronouncements on the 1/6/21 events. Why, a journalist on Fox News, no less, a pretty blond lady wearing a slightly off the shoulder dress referred to a “domestic terror attack.” With a handful of courageous exceptions, all lawmakers I have seen appearing in the media have adopted extreme vocabulary to describe what remained a small riot, if it was a riot at all. I mean that it was a small riot as compared to what happened in several American cities in the past year. The hypocrisy is colossal in people who kept their mouths mostly shut for a hundred nights or more of burning of buildings, of police cars, of at least one police precinct (with people in it), and of massive looting.

It’s hard to explain how the media and the political face of America became unrecognizable in such a short time. Two hypotheses. First, many of the lawmakers who were in the Capitol at the time of the breach came to fear for their personal safety. Four years of describing Trump supporters as Nazis and worse must have left a trace and multiplied their alarm. Except for the handful of Congressmen and women who served in the military and who saw actual combat, our lawmakers have nothing in their lives to prepare them for physical danger. They mostly live cocooned lives; the police forces that protect them have not been disbanded. (What do you know?) I think they converted the abject fear they felt for a short while into righteous indignation. Indignation is more self-respecting than fear for one’s skin.

My second hypothesis to explain the repellent verbal behavior: The shameful noises I heard in the media are the manifestation of a rat race to abandon a sinking ship. Jobs are at stake, careers are at stake, cushy lifestyles are at stake. “After Pres. Trump is gone, as he surely will be soon,” the lawmakers are thinking, “there will be a day of reckoning, and a purge. I have to establish right away a vivid, clear, unforgettable record of my hatred to try and avoid the purge. No language is too strong to achieve this end.” That’s true even for Republican politicians because, they too have careers. Trump cabinet members resigned for the same reason, I think when they could have simply declared, “I don’t approve of…. but I am staying to serve the people to the end.”

Along with an outburst of extremist public language, there came a tsunami of censorship by social media, quite a few cases of people getting fired merely for having been seen at the peaceful demonstration (all legal though repulsive), and even a breach of contract by a major publisher against a US Senator based solely on his political discourse (to be resolved in court). And then, there are the enemy lists aired by the likes of CNN, for the sole purpose of ruining the careers of those who served loyally in the Trump administration.

President-elect Bidden called for “unity.” Well, I have never, ever seen so much unity between a large fraction of the political class – soon an absolute majority in government – the big media, and large corporations. I have never seen it but I have read about it. Such a union constituted the political form called “corporatism.” It was the practical infrastructure of fascism.

As if political correctness had only been its training wheels, the vehicle of political censorship is speeding up. The active policing of political speech can’t be far behind. It won’t even require a revision of the federal constitution so long as private companies such as Twitter and Facebook do the dirty work. Soon, Americans will watch what they are saying in public. I fear that national police agencies will be turned to a new purpose. (The FBI, already proved its faithlessness four years ago, anyway.) Perhaps, there will be little collective cynicism involved. It’s not difficult to adopt liberalism, a self-indulgent creed. And what we understand here (wrongly) to be “socialism” only entails an endless Christmas morning. So, why not? The diabolical Mr Trump will soon be remembered as having incited some misguided, uneducated, unpolished (deplorable) Americans to massacre their legitimately elected representatives.

Incidentally, in spite of a near consensus on the matter, I have not seen or heard anything from Pres. Trump that amounts to incitement to do anything (anything) illegal. There are those who will retort that inviting his angry supporters to protest was tantamount to incitement to violence. The logic of this is clear: Only crowds that are not angry should be invited to protest. Read this again. Does it make any sense? Make a note that the constitutional propriety of Mr Trump’s belief that the election had been stolen is irrelevant here. One does not have to be constitutionally correct to have the right to protest.

Night has fallen over America. We are becoming a totalitarian society with a speed I could not have foreseen. Of course four years of unrelenting plotting to remove the properly elected president under false pretenses paved the way. Those years trained citizens to accept the unacceptable, to be intellectually docile. Suddenly I don’t feel safe. I am going to think over my participation in the social media both because of widespread censorship and because it now seems dangerous. As far as censorship is concerned I tried an alternative to Facebook, “Parler,” but it did not work for me. Besides, it seems that the big corporations, including Amazon and Apple, are ganging up to shut it down. The cloud of totalitarianism gathered so fast over our heads that all my bets are off about the kinds of risks I am now willing to take. I will still consider alternatives to Facebook but they will have to be very user-friendly, and reasonably populated. (If I want to express myself in the wilderness, I can always talk to my wife.) For the foreseeable future, I will still be easy to find in the blogosphere.

Best of luck to all my Facebook friends, including to those who need to learn to think more clearly, including those whose panties are currently in a twist.

How I understand left and right today

One of the things that I discussed in my Ph.D. dissertation some five or six years ago was the concept of left and right in politics. In the context of my dissertation, the discussion had to do with the fact that 19th century Brazil had primarily two political parties, the Liberal and the Conservative. I was trying to find ways to make sense of these two parties. My advisor said that the Liberals were the left, and the Conservatives the right. I came to the opposite conclusion, but mainly because we were using different criteria to define what is left and what is right.

At least in my experience, people call left something that is closer or more sympathetic to socialism. Right is something that is opposite or aggressive towards socialism. This explains why most people believe that nazism and fascism are far-right movements: they are perceived as archenemies of socialists. Liberals (in the American sense) are also considered left-wing, although true liberals would not go so far as to embrace full socialism. Conservatives and Libertarians are in the right because they are more opposite to socialism. The left is also identified with revolution, for wanting to radically change things, while the right is perceived to be conservative (with a small c) or even reactionary.

Even when I was in high school, learning these things for the first time, I found them to be somewhat confusing. Really, what is the difference between Hitler and Stalin? How can it be that one is on the far-right and the other on the far-left if I perceive them to be so similar? In my 15 or 16 years old mind, a possible explanation was that left and right are not in a straight line, but in something that resembles a horseshoe, with the extremes very close to each other. I thought about that sitting in my high school History class before I read it anywhere, and it served me well for many years. All I had to do, I thought, was avoid the extremes, for they end up being equally totalitarian. For many years I thought of myself as a social democrat, in favor of a substantial welfare state and some level of economic intervention by the state, but only when market forces were unable to do their job right.

Since I truly started learning about classic liberal, conservatives and libertarians, my horseshoe theory started to make less sense. I think that the traditional way to think about left and right already makes less sense because we have to bend the line like this for it to work somehow. But also, I think that this model has a problem because we use socialism as a reference: we classify things and people as left or right depending on how they relate to people and things like Marx, Stalin, Lenin, and the USSR! Intuitively I think that there is something wrong with that. And that’s when I started to think that we should classify things as left and right according to how they relate to individuals.

Today I think of left and right according to how much freedom we are willing to give to individuals. In my mind, far-right means maximum freedom. Far-left means minimum. That’s it. Of course: Rousseau will say that people are not really free until they are free according to his definition of freedom. In a Rousseauian state you might believe that you are in chains, but you’re actually free and your process of reeducation is still ongoing. Granted, Christians think something in similar lines: you’re not truly free until you serve God. However, I think that this is mistaking freedom and flourishing. You can have whatever understanding of what human flourishing (or happiness) really means, but the point is that if you want people to be free, you can’t force it on them.

And so, that is it: when I think about left, I think about forcing on people your concept of human flourishing. When I think about right, I think about letting people free to figure this out by themselves. I don’t think it’s a perfect system. After all, am I not forcing upon people the concept that they have to find their flourishing ideal by themselves? But I avoid thinking about that. Of course, this model might make some conversations harder, because I’m thinking about Hitler and nazism as far-left movements, while a lot of people (maybe the majority) learned to think about them as far-right. But on a personal level, it has helped me to think about politics. On my part, I believe that a society where people are in general free to choose (Milton Friedman) is a better society. Generally.

 

Nightcap

  1. Hayek’s rapid rise to stardom David Glasner, Uneasy Money
  2. Why I am not a natural lawyer FH Buckley, Law & Liberty
  3. British Imperial Federation (pdf) William Smith, Political Science Quarterly
  4. The people who profited from the Trail of Tears Caitlin Fitz, Atlantic

A very short note on despotism

Democracy was once viewed as a counterweight to despotism. Democracy was also once more exclusionary, too.

However, once democratic regimes in North America and France were established in the late 18th century, despotism flourished. How to deal with democratic despotism is at the heart of the conservative-liberal split (socialists embrace democratic despotism).

Conservatives believe a stronger executive “branch” will temper democracy’s excesses, while liberals believe a stronger judicial apparatus will do a better job of keeping democratic despotism at bay. (By “liberals” I mean libertarians.)

Thus Hamilton and Trump argue for a stronger executive branch. Thus Madison and Hayek argue for a stronger judicial branch. Thus Marx and Sanders argue for more power to the people. This is at the heart of all political disagreement, and not just in the United States. Indeed, it’s at the heart of politics itself. Discuss.

Nightcap

  1. Obama, Houellebecq, and modernity Christopher Caldwell, Commentary
  2. Meet the “reocons” (“reactionary conservatives”) Laura Field, Open Society
  3. The vigorous foreign policy debate on the Right Conor Friedersdorf, Atlantic
  4. On the liberal world order’s resiliency Duedney & Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs

Nightcap

  1. Michel Houellebecq’s fragile world Siddhartha Deb, New Republic
  2. Classical liberalism vs libertarianism John McGinnis, Law & Liberty
  3. State capacity libertarianism is just old fashioned conservatism Samuel Hammond, Niskanen
  4. Meritocracy and capitalism in China today Long Ling, LRB

Nightcap

  1. Sir Roger Scruton (1944-2020) Johnathan Pearce, Samizdata
  2. Sir Roger Scruton and free market economics Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  3. Roger Scruton’s conservatism Bradley Birzer, American Conservative
  4. The problem of defining civilization Nick Nielsen, Grand Strategy Annex

Nightcap

  1. How the French Revolution reshaped the Catholic Church Glauco Schettini, Age of Empires
  2. The man who saved the Electoral College Christopher DeMuth, National Affairs
  3. Is the name of the country Myanmar or Burma? Mark Clifford, Asian Review of Books
  4. Suicide is not an act of cowardice Ken White, the Atlantic

Nightcap

  1. Why the left keeps losing elections worldwide Jonathan Rodden (interview), Jacobin
  2. In praise of religious pilgrimages Santiago Ramos, Commonweal
  3. Conservative arguments for radical ideas Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  4. The mysterious Pieter de Hooch Roderick Morris, TLS

130 years of Republic in Brazil

Yesterday Brazil celebrated 130 years of Republic. It might be a personal impression but it seems to me that there is growing support for monarchy among conservatives. It’s very funny.

Brazil was initially a monarchy. Dom Pedro I, the prince regent of Portugal, declared Brazil’s independence from his father’s country in 1822. But he had to go back to Portugal less than 10 years later, leaving his son, Dom Pedro II, in Brazil. Dom Pedro II was too young to govern, and the 1830s were a mess in Brazil. When he effectively became emperor, things got much better.

Dom Pedro II ruled Brazil for about 50 years. To my knowledge, he was a wise man, genuinely concerned about Brazil. The 1824 Constitution was fairly liberal, and so were the emperors. Centrally, Dom Pedro II wanted to abolish slavery, but he was going against Brazilian elites on this. It’s not a coincidence that slavery was abolished in 1888 and the monarchy fell in the next year.

To my knowledge, Brazil had two good emperors and the constitution that ruled the country at that time was mostly good. However, Brazil was extremely oligarchal, and there was little that the emperors could do about that. I believe that Dom Pedro II was a wise and patient man, who slowly did the reforms the country needed.

I don’t know if Dom Pedro II’s daughter, Isabel, would have been a good empress. But I know that Dom Pedro II himself didn’t offer resistance when some republicans changed the regime. He peacefully went to exile in Europe. Dom Pedro manifested on some occasions that he was a republican. Maybe he was being ironic. Maybe not. In any case, I believe that he was glad to see the country coming to age, and being able to take care of itself without an emperor.

The first 40 years of Republic were not too bad. They were not perfect either! Slavery didn’t make a comeback. The republican constitution was written after the American one. The economy was mostly free, was it not so from the fact that coffee oligarchies ruled things to benefit their business. Things got really bad when the horrendous dictator Getúlio Vargas came to power in 1930.

I think there is something funny in the way some conservatives miss the monarchy. It wasn’t too bad. But it was also a time when Brazil suffered a lot under slavery and oligarchy. I’m certainly not sure if the monarchy was the best antidote to that.

Nightcap

  1. Wars makes us safer and richer Ian Morris, Washington Post
  2. Sovereignty is no solution Dalibor Rohac, American Interest
  3. American conservatism and Marxist paradigms Mary Lucia Darst, NOL
  4. Libertarians and the legitimacy crisis Arnold Kling, askblog

Nightcap

  1. Why Hayek was wrong about American and European conservatism, I Barry Stocker, NOL
  2. Why Hayek was wrong about American and European conservatism, II Barry Stocker, NOL
  3. Why Hayek was wrong about American and European conservatism, III Barry Stocker, NOL
  4. Why Hayek was wrong about American and European conservatism, IV Barry Stocker, NOL