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On brave Palestinians, Cordell Hull, David French, Harold Pinter, Robert Bork, and more
There are too many names to know about and remember in this crowded world, but I hope I can hang on to “Rami Aman” for a while. He has been in the news lately. And he is in custody, in the Gaza Strip. You don’t want to be held in Gaza, if you can possibly help it. Rami Aman is in the hands of Hamas.
He is a peace activist, the leader of a group called “the Gaza Youth Committee.” For five years, the group has had video chats with Israeli counterparts. The participants speak in English. Their chats have gone under the playful name “Skype with Your Enemy.” Essay writer
You may read about this in the New York Times, here.
On April 6, there was a chat, not on Skype, but on Zoom. More than 200 people took part, more than had ever taken part before. Free essay writer
Palestinians and Israelis talked about all manner of things: What’s life like on the other side? What are you doing in social isolation? What are the possibilities for future peace of free essay writer?
Not everyone was thrilled about this conversation. As the Times reports, online essay writer
[Rami Aman] came in for vituperative criticism online, and early Thursday morning, a freelance Gaza journalist, Hind Khoudary, posted angry denunciations on Facebook of Mr. Aman and others on the call, tagging three Hamas officials, . . . to ensure it got their attention.
Oh, it did. Hamas promptly arrested Aman and others. Their crime? “Holding a normalization activity.” Argumentative essay writer
I want to make it a point to remember at least Rami Aman’s name — there are other arrestees too, of course — and to remember that there are brave and heroic souls among the Palestinians, as among all peoples.
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One more thing: Conservatives like me often mock peace activists. Often, they are mockable. But there are some really good and gutsy ones among them, all over the world – free essay writer online. I have met a few. More than a few. Impressive essay writer help.
• Cordell Hull has been on my mind. Strange, I know an essay writer cheap. Hull, you recall, was the Tennessean who served as FDR’s secretary of state. He held that position for almost the whole of that long presidency. In 1945, Hull won the Nobel Peace Prize, chiefly for fathering the United Nations, which free essay writer online would succeed the tattered fast essay writer League.
A few weeks ago college essay writer, David Frum published a remarkable piece called “The Coronavirus Is Demonstrating the Value of Globalization.” The subheading: “We are experiencing a painful introduction to anti-globalism and its consequences.”
David quotes Hull, who, in the summer of 1942, said the following: “Nationalism, run riot between the last war and this war, defeated all attempts to carry out indispensable measures of international economic and political action, encouraged and facilitated the rise of dictators, and drove the world straight toward the present war.”
David then writes, how to become a better essay writer
Hull was 70 when he spoke those words — old by the standards of his time. Some of the younger New Dealers dismissed him as an anachronism – pro essay writer. His ideas about free trade, they said, should be consigned to the dead past, not the exciting new future of national planning and state control. The old man was right, though, and the bright young New Dealers were wrong my essay writer. Hull’s memory of how things had been proved the opposite of reactionary. Adapted to the new conditions of the postwar world, the old ideas delivered even more abundant prosperity and an even more secure peace than they had before essay writer software.
We need Cordell Hulls for our time.
Hear, hear. As I read David’s piece, I was reminded of Hull’s peace prize, which I wrote about in a 2012 book, Peace, They Say. That’s a history of the Nobel Peace Prize.
I would like to quote a paragraph from the book:
Giving the presentation speeches in 1945 was a new committee chairman, Gunnar Jahn — an economist of the Liberal party, a Resistance leader during the war.
Let me interrupt to say that we’re talking about Norway, in whose hands Alfred Nobel placed the peace prize. (The other prizes were to be handled in Sweden, Nobel’s native country). Okay, let’s continue:
In his speech for Hull, [Jahn] cited and praised the laureate’s fathering of the U.N., of course. But he spoke about much more than that. Hull had evidently not received the Nobel prize for the U.N. alone. Jahn spent some time on Hull’s career-long devotion to lower tariffs and free trade, hailing him as “representative of all that is best in liberalism, a liberalism with a strong social implication.” He also made a point of Hull’s opposition to isolationism in foreign policy.
Names come and go. Cordell Hull’s was a very, very big one, for many years. But now . . . faded out almost entirely. I have enjoyed getting reacquainted with him a bit.
• Let me recommend an interview with David French, late of National Review, published in Reason magazine. It is superb — because of David, of course, but also because of Stephanie Slade, his interviewer, who asks probing questions. The interview is like a Back to Basics, politically speaking. And we have sore need of those basics today, I think.
The Right is splintered, with the word “conservative” all but meaningless. Some people call themselves “common-good conservatives.” David says, “I tend to think that liberty has independent value. . . . I think the protection of liberty is a common good.” So do I.
“Common good” sounds good, doesn’t it? But beware: It usually boils down to “Do it my way. Not yours, mine.” People are always trying to bring others to heel — ever and always, from myriad angles.
Anyway . . .
• People like me talk about “the media.” “The media” this, “the media” that. My recommendation is: Don’t let us get away with it, too much. There are many writers, many talkers, many outlets in these United States. There are even many writers and many talkers within individual outlets. Usually, when we say “the media,” we mean writers and talkers and outlets we don’t like. Almost no one uses “the media” positively.
When one of us says “the media,” you may want to ask, “Whaddayou mean? Did some article or column or ‘cable hit’ tick you off?” (The answer is probably yes.)
• At his press briefing on Tuesday evening, President Trump threatened to walk out. He threatened to leave his own briefing, because he didn’t like a reporter’s questioning. “Keep talking and I’ll leave,” he said.
I was reminded of Harold Pinter. My friend and colleague David Pryce-Jones made Pinter leave his own dinner table one night. And get this: David wasn’t even there. A guest mentioned P-J favorably, and Pinter was so affronted, he left his own table, in a snit.
• I was watching Lucrezia, who gives Italian lessons on YouTube. The particular lesson involved the phrase “Grazie tante,” which means “Thanks a lot,” sarcastically. (Or “Thanks for nothin’.”)
You might say to your older brother or sister, “Hey, would you help me with my homework?” He says, “Nope, I’m playing a video game.” You might say — if you were Italian — “Grazie tante, eh?”
I was reminded of Robert Bork — who was talking about the difference between classroom discipline now and classroom discipline then. When he was in school — high school, I think — he was sent to the principal’s office simply for saying “Thanks a lot” in a sarcastic tone of voice.
I approve. (Of Bob’s being sent to the office, I mean.) (I think he approved too, later.)
• This obit is headed “Bruce Baillie, ‘Essential’ Avant-Garde Filmmaker, Dies at 88.” Interesting life, interestingly written up. The obit ends, “Mr. Baillie lived his Zen.” I’m not sure what that means, but I like it, a lot.
• I also like this TV-news report from Long Island. It tells a story of innovative help in this time of pandemic. A text accompanying the video says, “You’ve probably heard of people making and donating masks because of the shortage during the COVID-19 crisis. But volunteers in the East End are putting together face shields.”
At the end of the video, my glorious nephew Drew appears. (Just sayin’.)
• Speaking of glorious kids, though this one’s much younger: Check out a video, in which a little boy is asked by his father, “Did you kick your brother in the head?” What ensues is just marvelous. Should win some kind of award, for short film or something.
My favorite part, I think, is when the dad says, “So do you say you’re innocent?” The boy, after thinking it over, says, “Half.”
• Here is another video, from a group called “New York City Relief.” This is a group that aids the homeless. Furthermore, there is a project called “Commissions4Covid,” in which Wall Street firms partner with such groups as New York City Relief.
I will quote from a press release: “Financial services professionals are pledging their salaries and trading commissions on Friday, April 17, 2020 to COVID-19 relief organizations.”
Lotta good going on in our country, and throughout the world, as civil society kicks into gear.33
• An amazing photo, over an article in the Boston Globe, here. The article’s headline: “Separated by coronavirus, 88-year-old Watertown man uses bucket truck to see wife at nursing home.” The faithful husband commented, “They could have lifted me ten stories, and it would not have bothered me. As long as I got to see her.”
Talk to you soon, everyone. Thanks.
David French and Sohrab Ahmari: What Are We Debating?
Sohrab Ahmari has set off a bitter debate, but it’s not at all clear what that debate is supposed to be about. Classical liberalism? Civility? President Trump? The collected works of David French? So far, it seems to be about all of those things put in a blender — which is not a recipe for maintaining useful distinctions. I’ll try to separate some of the discrete issues.
First, about liberalism: Often when people are arguing about it they are using different definitions of it. I don’t know that French believes that government has to aspire to strict neutrality about rival conceptions of the good life, or that it must abjure the promotion of virtue as a goal. I don’t know, either, that Ahmari denies that human dignity requires governments to refrain from coercing people to adopt particular religious beliefs or practices. So, again, I’m not sure what the argument is about.
Second, about civility, politeness, and so forth: Ahmari portrays French as begging liberals to respect conservatives’ freedom of conscience; French portrays himself as insisting that they do. While I think French’s description better matches his career history, the disagreement itself suggests that there is no necessary connection between classical liberalism and the political timidity Ahmari opposes.
Third, about French: His response to Ahmari makes a strong case (so far unrebutted) that his views have been misrepresented. On Twitter, Ahmari commented that he salutes French’s military service and legal advocacy; his argument, he suggests, is with a destructive form of liberalism. So is it Ahmari’s view that French embraces this form of liberalism as an intellectual matter, in what he has written, but has not lived down to his bad principles in practice? But then we hit the problem that Ahmari has not identified the false ideas in French’s work. (Ahmari more or less tells us that he’s not going to be concerned with specifying and refuting particular tenets, since he’s writing in opposition to a “sensibility.”)
Finally, there’s Trump — on whom every conversation in America, apparently, must ultimately focus. Over the last year and a half Ahmari has become much more supportive of Trump than he used to be, and he is criticizing French from this new position. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind after added reflection, and Ahmari has done it before on larger matters, as he describes in his recent memoir. But I think there are two oddities in Ahmari’s case that could stand still more reflection.
I cannot count the number of times that social conservatives have justified support for Trump by reference to the weakened state of their movement. Because the law and the culture have become increasingly hostile to religious traditionalism and traditionalists, they say, they were impelled to defend a deeply flawed man who would at least serve as a defense. If you’re a social conservative who’s unhappy about defensiveness and neutral principles such as religious liberty, you ought to be pushing back on this large strand of pro-Trumpist social conservatism. (As French has.) And if this pro-Trump sentiment is right, it suggests that a social conservatism that demands more than freedom for its adherents will fail.22
The difference between French and Ahmari with respect to Trump is also elusive. It’s clear that French is more critical of the president than Ahmari is these days. Ahmari suggests that there is something rotten about French’s welcoming some developments that have occurred under, through, and thanks to Trump while maintaining this stance toward the president. But Ahmari still regularly offers his own criticisms of the president. So what amount or degree of criticism is acceptable before crossing the line? Surely the answer cannot be that all conservatives have to be exactly where Ahmari is on Trump at any given moment.
We should all be willing to listen to one another — if that is not too civil and naïve a thing to say — especially given our many shared convictions. I’m not “against Sohrab Ahmari-ism.” But I wish I had a better sense of what it is.
An Eloquent Witness and Wit: David Berlinski on Human Nature
Persons are not gods, but neither are they robots.
Human Nature, by David Berlinski
(Discovery Institute Press, 330 pp., $22.95)
NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLEThe logic of increasing, centrifugal specialization and deliberation (“knowing more and more about less and less”) in both academic and professional life and work is nearly irresistible, but brings with it dark shadows: At what point can or should the human person undertake an opposite movement of mind and spirit, what might be called engaging centripetal knowledge of the personal self (and of human nature generally) in making decisions and taking actions? Knowledge is endless, but life is short. The revolutionary American linguistics scholar Noam Chomsky on British television in 1978 made a revealing comment that has become notorious: “As soon as questions of will or decision or reason or choice of action arise, human science is at a loss.”
Chomsky’s point is that there is an existential, personal, even fideist dimension to commitment, decision-making, and the intellectual and moral life generally. Whatever one thinks of his politics, no one can deny that he has exhibited this personal engagement, both in his academic work and his political advocacy. His allies on the far left are often most uncomfortable with his adherence to this traditional metaphysical dualism, as they are with his revolutionary resurrection of Cartesian, pre-“Enlightenment” dualism in asserting that the disposition of the human person to acquire language is innate, as against reductive, monistic, environmental-evolutionary theories of human animality and malleability. (Chomsky famously attacked B. F. Skinner’s radical behaviorism on these grounds in 1959.) The outrage can be sampled in the attack on Chomsky in Decoding Chomsky: Science and Revolutionary Politics (2016), by the leftist British anthropologist Chris Knight. For Knight, Chomsky’s epistemological dualism is a dishonest screen to hide the fact that at MIT his whole scholarly-research career has been subsidized by the American military-industrial complex, which in his public political career has been the chief object of his hatred and criticism for over 50 years: a bitter or delicious irony, depending on your point of view.
Chomsky has written for the distinguished, Paris-based scientific Internet journal Inference, founded by the polymath David Berlinski, and linguistics is the subject of one of the essays in Berlinski’s eloquent, wide-ranging new book Human Nature (2019). The danger of rejecting or undervaluing specialized expertise is blatantly obvious in contemporary commercial and political culture: “Terrible simplifiers” swoop in to acquire money, fame, and power by providing simplistic overviews, answers, and summations that flatter large numbers of readers or viewers, relieving them of the anxiety of complexity itself.
Berlinski’s writing is a very healthy, deft, and witty antidote both to premature simplification and closure and to interminable investigation and indecision. In some of his previous books he has brilliantly illuminated specialized terrain in the light of the indispensable human realities of decision-making and ethics. He has written books on evolutionary biology and on aspects of mathematics, and a particularly wise and invigorating philosophical book entitled “The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions” (2008), in which he does not hide that he himself is a pious but agnostic Jew.
The most powerful, valuable, and memorable essays in Berlinski’s Human Nature are the ones focusing on the First World War, its causes, character, effects, aftermath, and significance, and more generally on the history and historiography of the world since 1914. The American philosopher Sidney Hook, a repentant ex-Marxist, rightly called the post-1914 world “the Second Fall of Man,” all the more bitter because of the growing optimism, about irreversible human progress, that had been more and more indulged and promoted over the previous 150 years, from Gibbon and the French philosophes and Jacobins and on through British Utilitarians and European Marxists and utopian Romantic radicals (see my “History as Wisdom,” NRO, July 20, 2019). Hook, a very secular Jew, could not have been happy that his immensely influential teacher John Dewey, after decades of “progressive” public moral instruction (in his mind-numbingly opaque prose style), finally delivered himself clearly about world affairs — Communism, Nazism, and Italian and Japanese Fascism — in a 1939 article about American foreign policy and impending war: “No Matter What Happens — Stay Out.” The world is fortunate that Franklin Roosevelt didn’t listen.
Berlinski’s targets, and his candidates for the most fatuous, flattering optimists of our time, are two best-selling contemporary intellectuals — Harvard’s Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of Our Nature (though of course Pinker doesn’t believe in angels), and the Israeli historian Yuval Harari, in Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (though of course Harari doesn’t believe in the Incarnation). Pinker alleges confidently that “we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence.” One should not underestimate the jolly, eupeptic effects of a tenured professorship at an Ivy League university on the point of view of a thinker. In Harari’s very speculative Homo Deus, the futurist tells us that “during the second half of the twentieth century, the Law of the Jungle has finally been broken, if not rescinded” (this from a resident of the contemporary Middle East). He also observes that free will and consciousness do not exist, before going on to tell us that in the future men will be gods. After carefully and wisely critiquing these claims, Berlinski concludes: “Men are not about to become like gods. Harari has been misinformed.”
When Lemuel Gulliver visited Brobdingnag, the land of giants, in part 2 of Swift’s great 1726 satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels, he soon forgot the decent virtues that he himself had so nobly displayed in the sojourn in Lilliput in part 1. Evincing more and more ethnocentric “Enlightenment” vanity about the allegedly superior civilization of Europe as compared with the technologically simple Brobdingnagians, he tries to prove European superiority by offering the King the secret of gunpowder, and he brags about its effects and Machiavellian possibilities in the hands of the King. The King is horrified at Gulliver’s description of the effects of guns and gunpowder, spurns the temptation of the will-to-power, and forbids Gulliver ever to speak of such military technology again, on pain of banishment. Shocked at the King’s “unsophisticated” response, the smug, complacent Gulliver dismissively mentions to the reader that the King and the Brobdingnagians concentrate “only” on mathematics, history, literature, and ethics, “wherein they must be acknowledged to excel.”
Berlinski’s satirical tone and approach are often similar to Swift’s. He assumes that, like the Brobdingnagians, reflective persons have a culture: elementary logical knowledge (e.g., mathematics), a historical sense (at least of the world since 1914), some knowledge of great literary works, and a prime concern for truth, justice, and morality. His wit, as well as his specialized expertise (philosophy, linguistics, mathematics, biology), are centripetally engaged on behalf of the rational human being. As much as Swift, he is a metaphysical dualist, knowing that ethics can neither be derived from nor reduced to scientific empiricism, although empiricism is also an indispensable component of our knowledge and education.
Berlinski’s essays on the First World War and on recent history generally are earnest, antiseptic efforts to stimulate the reader’s rational-ethical sensibility, to illuminate the reality of human inadequacy, incompetence, and tragedy in history — especially recent human history. They remind one of the sage and saving perspectives of earlier, 20th-century thinkers such as T. S. Eliot, Reinhold Niebuhr, Herbert Butterfield, Martin Luther King, Malcolm Muggeridge, and the heroic Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
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In this light, Berlinski takes on the largest of our sacred cows, Darwinism, knowing well — as the child of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany — that the steps from Darwin to Hitler and Nazi eugenic “racial science” were logical, utilitarian ones. Darwinian “racial science” was as bogus and catastrophic as Communist “scientific socialism,” but their tragic credibility and popularity were largely due to their claims to be scientific. They weren’t; but their zealous reductionism is one of the banes or poisons of our era in history. Two prominent contemporary philosophers, for example, promote what they call “eliminative materialism,” making actual what Swift fantasized and mocked in the linguistic “reformers” of the Grand Academy of Lagado in part 3 of Gulliver’s Travels, who take literally the motto of the scientific Royal Society, “Nullius in Verba” — there is nothing in words. “Eliminative materialism”: words used to destroy the credibility of language itself. Lagado revisited.
Berlinski’s book adds to an impressive modern literature critiquing reductionism and scientism, particularly in their Darwinist form: the often-reprinted Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage (1941), by the great cultural historian Jacques Barzun; the classic Social Darwinism in American Thought (1944), by Barzun’s Columbia colleague Richard Hofstadter; Gertrude Himmelfarb’s magnificent Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (1959); Evolution as a Religion (1985), by the philosopher Mary Midgley; From Darwin to Hitler (2004), by Richard Weikart, historian of Germany (see my review, “Murderous Science,” in NR, March 28, 2005); Why Us? (2009), by the versatile, Cambridge-educated English science-writer James LeFanu; and the recent Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False (2012), by the eminent American philosopher Thomas Nagel (see my review, “Rationality vs. Darwinism,” in NR, October 25, 2012). Nagel speaks eloquently for all of them when he deplores “Darwinist imperialism” and “the scientism and reductionism of our time.”
In using wit and satire in addition to specialized expertise to criticize and puncture our dominant, oversimplifying paradigm and its talkative boffins, Berlinski — like Swift — is actually doing something democratic, populist, or egalitarian: He is appealing beyond specialists and specialized discourse to that centripetal or intuitive rationality that the great polymathic savant Blaise Pascal called “l’esprit de finesse” and contrasted with the centrifugal and specialized scientific rationality that he called “l’esprit géométrique.” While drawing on large stores of specialized knowledge, Berlinski essay deplores and mocks the vast verbiage of a nominalist, positivist cultural establishment that perversely, pervasively, and perpetually undermines the fund of civilized wisdom on which minimally decent contemporary cultural order utterly depends for its sanity, and which it is a chief traditional purpose of educational institutions to convey, especially in literature, history, civics, and philosophy.
In the 20th century men did not “turn into gods,” despite millennial expectations, nor will they do so in the 21st century. But in the 20th century many of them — often highly educated ones — turned into devils. Not long after the Second World War, the German-Jewish refugee philosopher Leo Strauss (1899–1973) wrote a lapidary summary. “The idea of progress in the modern sense implies that once man has reached a certain level, intellectual and moral or social, there exists a firm level of being, below which he cannot sink.” Gibbon and the subsequent “Whig historians” congratulated themselves and their complacent readers on this pleasing progressive prospect. But Strauss concluded about essay writer: This progressive “contention, however, is empirically refuted by the incredible barbarization which we have been so unfortunate to witness” in the 20th century (emphasis added).
Smug, fatuous optimists from Gibbon to Steven Pinker ignore crucial facts of history and human nature, facts that science itself (“l’esprit géométrique”) cannot within its terms of reference discuss or even identify properly: Only history, philosophy, literature, religion, or ethics can do this. Specifically and quantitatively, Berlinski recounts the barbarities of modern history since 1914, and not only of the infernal period 1914–45 but of the subsequent decades as well, to expose Pinker’s flattering illusions and Harari’s utopian hopes.
For actual history has truths of a normative character that should be available to all reflective, rational persons, and not just specific facts and changing theories available only to specialists. The relentless attempt to separate facts from “values,” and to assert the arbitrariness and subjectivity of the latter, is a form of guilty, transgressive, self-contradictory intellectuality that Michael Polanyi called “moral inversion” and C. S. Lewis called “the abolition of man.” Leo Strauss showed that Max Weber himself failed to achieve this separation. Writers such as Strauss, Niebuhr, Polanyi, Lewis, F. R. Leavis, LeFanu, Leszek Kołakowski, and Berlinski have realized that the attempt to purge language of value attribution is an infinite regress, self-refuting by means of the very language employed in the attempt. As E. A. Burtt put it nearly a hundred years ago, the only way to avoid metaphysics is to say nothing: Language, conceptualization, rationality, and mentality themselves are unavoidably metaphysical. To believe, assume, or assert the opposite is a thematic-performative self-contradiction: The performance (statement or belief) contradicts and therefore refutes and cancels the reductionist theme being argued. If Yuval Harari really does not believe in consciousness and free will, then we have no reason (and no power) to believe anything he says, which is merely epiphenomenal: as are we. As Dr. Johnson told Boswell, if Hume really believed that there was no basis for ethics, then Johnson would count his silverware before allowing Hume to leave his house after dinner.
Persons are not gods, but neither are they robots.
Darwinism, racialism, imperialism, World War I, grotesque and hysterical Fascist and Communist ideologies, World War II, the Holocaust, atomic weapons, ethnic conflict, environmental and cultural degradation: These are central to Berlinski’s sense of human nature because they indubitably happened, against the liberal, secular, progressive expectations of intellectuals all over the West, from Gibbon and Jeremy Bentham onward. Berlinski quotes Thomas Babington Macaulay’s dismissive attack on the conservative English Romantic poet Robert Southey, who deplored the industrialization and urbanization of Britain in his Sir Thomas More, or Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society (1824). Critiquing Southey’s worries (which were like those of his contemporary Carlyle and his successors Dickens and Ruskin), Macaulay complacently remarked: We “rely on the natural tendency of the human intellect to truth, and on the natural tendency of society to improvement.” Berlinski remarks: “Why the tendency is natural, Macaulay did not say, and that it exists, he did not demonstrate.” Nor can anyone else.
Though highly informed in several specialized fields, the polymathic Berlinski ultimately wishes to defend the public, linguistic idiom of rationality and ethics that has been so painfully and painstakingly fought for since Socrates instructed and inspired the Greeks to essay critique and transcend the unjust standards of the inherited aristocratic order and the brutal models of The Iliad. His task is thus not only intellectual but literary — to use the public idiom to defend the public idiom, perhaps the very idea of a universal, ethical “republic” itself, the idea of civilization.
The Englishman James LeFanu, an M.D. in practice and a gifted, award-winning science writer (Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 2001), has done the same thing in his fine books, including Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves (2009; see my review, “Science Illuminated,” in Modern Age, Fall 2011). In a dense but lucid chapter critiquing the modern neo-Darwinian synthesis, LeFanu, himself a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, carefully considers the problem that originally spurred the philosopher-mathematician Berlinski to skepticism about Darwinism. For Berlinski it was the 1966 Wistar Symposium on mathematical objections to neo-Darwinism, which he discusses in the last section of Human Nature.
LeFanu goes into more detail in looking at the researches of three mathematically inclined biologists who attempted to salvage the plausibility of the neo-Darwinian synthesis from obvious and deep logical objections lodged against it. Of one of these biologists, English genetics professor Ronald Fisher, LeFanu writes apologetically: “The purpose of reproducing here just a small part of Fisher’s twenty-five page statistical proof of his major work, The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, published in 1930, is not to clarify his argument but simply essay writer to convey its most salient point — its impenetrable obscurity.” He adds that Fisher, spurning excessive modesty, “compared the explanatory power of his ‘Fundamental Theorem’ to Newton’s laws of gravity.” All three of these biologists “started from different premises, employed different mathematical techniques, and came to different conclusions as to how the new, revised evolutionary theory actually worked.” Welcome back to the Grand Academy of Lagado.7
The distinguished philosopher Nagel goes so far as to say that he “would like to defend the untutored reaction of incredulity to the reductionist neo-Darwinian account of the origin and evolution of life.”
David Berlinski is thus in very good contemporary company. Like Swift, he is playing wittily for very high stakes. Much is to be learned from his book, which also, by design, increases in the reader what can be called either intestinal fortitude or intellectual courage.
America, Ice Cream, and More
My Impromptus column today is headed “Our old friend personal responsibility, &c.” It has a range of items, as the “&c.” implies, and it begins with — you guessed it — personal responsibility, our old friend.
I just read George F. Will’s column today, and it is a thing of intelligence and beauty, as usual. I was particularly interested in the phrase “the burden of personal responsibility.” It comes in the second paragraph of the column. I will quote the first two — the first two paragraphs:
Today’s pandemic has simultaneously inflicted the isolation of “social distancing” and the social solidarity of shared anxiety. In tandem, these have exacerbated a tendency that was already infecting America’s body politic before the virus insinuated itself into many bodies and every consciousness.
It is the recurring longing for escape from individualism, with its burden of personal responsibility. It includes a concomitant desire for immersive politics, whereby people infuse their lives with synthetic meaning by enlisting in mass movements or collective efforts. These usually derive their unity from a clear and present danger or, when that is lacking, from national, ethnic, racial essay writers or class resentments (e.g., Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’s not-so-very-different populisms of those who feel victimized).
I’d now like to publish a little mail, concerning a Corner post I had about America’s role in the world (if there is to be one): “Between Albania and Zimbabwe.” A retired U.S. diplomat writes,
. . . I will end with a quote we both like from a great American we both treasured: “Decline is a choice.”
Our letter-writer thinks that Americans will choose wisely:
When I was a diplomat, I used to quip, when things were looking bad for us, that “no one ever made money betting against the United States.” If I was speaking to an audience especially skeptical of the U.S., I’d say, “No one ever made money over the long term betting against the United States.”
So, who was the “great American we both treasured” who said, “Decline is a choice”? That was Charles Krauthammer — whom I thought of while reading a David French column. Actually, when I watched a YouTube clip that David linked to essay writer online: this one.
It shows Michael Corleone, in The Godfather Part III, saying, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
David meant that he was going to have to defend America’s constitutional order against the illiberals who would undo it, making us an un-American kind of nation.
Years ago, I had an email exchange with Dr. K., which I noted in an appreciation. I will quote from that piece, that appreciation:
About the Middle East, he wrote regularly, always keeping an eye on it. One day, he had a column about Israel — another one. I sent him a note, saying, “Charles, I find that I can barely write about the Arab–Israeli conflict anymore, so weary am I from doing it, year after year, decade after decade. I’m glad you’re not weary — or that you push through it, to say the necessary, again.” He replied, “I know exactly of your weariness. My reluctance to write about it once again is enormous. It’s only a sense of duty — and the shocking realization of how few are prepared to say the obvious truth anymore — that makes me do it.”
David’s column with the Michael Corleone clip is here. He then wrote the column he knew he had to write: here. When I tweeted it around, I did so with the comment, “You would think that defending the American Way — ordered liberty, in sum — would be like defending chocolate ice cream: not all that necessary to do. But no. It has to be defended against Right and Left all the time.”
My friends, you would be amazed at how many people are prepared to go negative against chocolate ice cream. I thought it was universally popular, pretty much. I’m not sure about that now. (A typical comment from the naysaying tweeters: “Bitter.”)
Rum raisin? (Nah, that’s a minority taste.) (By the way, Pat Buckley loved rum-raisin ice cream, and Bill did too, but his favorite, by far, was coffee.)
I want to end with another YouTube clip — not The Godfather Part III, but a musical performance. It is of “America the Beautiful,” and it was put together by my friend Robert Kahn, a young conductor. He was a college classmate of another wunderkind, Theodore Kupfer of NR.3
In the video I have linked to, students of the Curtis Institute, the conservatory in Philadelphia, play “America the Beautiful” in self-isolation, wherever they happen to live. And they come from all over the world. The performance is dedicated to the health-care workers who are acting heroically, for the sake of humanity at large.
Again, watch it here. Kids from all over the world, playing “America the Beautiful,” in an expression of thanks. (Essay writing services. Robert himself is from Holland, by the way.) That is very American, and outstandingly human.
Is England Still Part of Europe?
Britain has a last chance to re-embrace the free-market democratic world that it once helped to create.
British prime minister Boris Johnson is desperate to translate the British public’s June 2016 vote to leave the European Union into a concrete Brexit.
But the real issue is far older and more important than whether 52 percent of Britain finally became understandably aggrieved by the increasingly anti-democratic and German-controlled European Union.
England is an island. Historically, politically, and linguistically, it was never permanently or fully integrated into European culture and traditions of essay writing.
The story of Britain has mostly been about conflict with France, Germany, or Spain. The preeminence of the Royal Navy, in the defiant spirit of its sea lords, ensured that European dictators from Napoleon to Hitler could never set foot on British soil. As British admiral John Jervis reassured his superiors in 1801 amid rumors of an impending Napoleonic invasion, “I do not say, my lords, that the French will not come. I say only they will not come by sea.”
Britain’s sea power, imperialism, parliamentary government, and majority-Protestant religion set it apart from its European neighbors — and not just because of its geographical isolation.
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The 18th-century British and Scottish Enlightenment of Edmund Burke, David Hume, John Locke, and Adam Smith emphasized individualism, freedom, and liberty far more than the government-enforced equality of result that was favored by French Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It is no accident that the American Revolution was founded on the idea of individual freedom and liberty, unlike the later French Revolution’s violent effort to redistribute income and deprive “enemies of the people” of their rights and even their lives.
France produced Napoleon, Italy had Mussolini, and Germany gave the world Hitler. It is difficult to find in British history a comparable dictatorial figure who sought Continental domination. The British, of course, were often no saints. They controlled their global empire by both persuasion and brutal force.
But even British imperialism was of a different sort than Belgian, French, German, Portuguese, or Spanish colonialism. Former British colonies America, Australia, Canada, India, and New Zealand have long been democratic, while much of Latin America, to take one example, has not until recently.
In World War I, the British lost nearly a million soldiers trying to save France and Belgium. In World War II, England was the only nation to fight the Axis for the entirety of the war (from September 1939 to September 1945), the only Allied power to fight the Axis completely alone (for about a year from mid-1940 to mid-1941), and the only major Allied power to have gone to war without having been directly attacked. (It came to the aid of its ally Poland.)
Historically, Britain has looked more upon the seas and the New World than eastward to Europe. In that transatlantic sense, a Canadian or American typically had more in common with an Englander than did a German or Greek.
Over the last 30 years, the British nearly forgot that fact as they merged into the European Union and pledged to adopt European values in a shared trajectory to supposed utopia.
To the degree that England remained somewhat suspicious of EU continentalism by rejecting the euro and not embracing European socialism, the country thrived. But when Britain followed the German example of open borders, reversed the market reforms of Margaret Thatcher, and adopted the pacifism and energy fantasies of the EU, it stagnated.
Johnson’s efforts as the new prime minister ostensibly are to carry out the will of the British people as voiced in 2016, against the wishes of the European Union apparat and most of the British establishment. But after hundreds of years of rugged independence, will Britain finally merge into Europe, or will it retain its singular culture and grow closer to the English-speaking countries it once founded — which are doing better than most of the members of the increasingly regulated and anti-democratic European Union.
Europe is alarmingly unarmed. Most NATO members refuse to make their promised investments in defense. Negative interest rates are becoming normal in Europe. Unemployment remains high in tightly regulated labor markets.
Southern European countries can never fully repay their loans from German banks. The dissident Visegrád Group, composed of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, seeks to create a mini essay – alliance inside the EU that promotes secure borders, legal immigration only, nuclear power, and traditional values and Christianity.31
Britain has a last chance to re-embrace the free-market democratic world that it once helped to create — and distance itself from the creeping statism it once opposed.
Courage and Discretion Go Together
I think they’re both mostly right.
French is absolutely right that defense of our liberties, and our deepest beliefs will require courage. But I think he cedes much of Shapiro’s point when he describes his own personal and legal counsel to people under duress. He writes:
Silence (and sometimes outright opposition) from fellow Christians and conservatives was so common that it became a standard part of my warning to clients. “If you file this case, I’m with you every step of the way. I’m here for you morning, noon, and night. But on campus you’ll be alone. You’re fighting for people who won’t thank you, who won’t support you, and might even oppose you.”
In other words: Count the cost. During the contraception mandate debates of the Obama years, I went on MSNBC and not only defended the Church’s legal reasoning, but the Church’s moral prohibition against artificial contraception itself. I had defended that teaching before at Business Insider with Pascal Gobry. That had gone well. But it carried some risk. I’m a sinner and believer, not an exemplar. The MSNBC appearance didn’t go so well. This was before outrage culture really gained steam. But I still hadn’t anticipated that strangers would threaten to get my wife fired from her job for what I said. What were the ripple effects of my courage? I’m still not sure.
There were other things I couldn’t quite anticipate, like the way that even the Catholic litigants — like Notre Dame University — would crumble under faculty pressure. It’s relatively easy for people in the controversy business to be at the center of controversy. Lawyers and pundits get in uncomfortable situations when defending unpopular causes, but they don’t typically risk their livelihoods. For most normal people, there is no day in court coming to vindicate them. Just a pink slip. It’s notable that the two clients French vindicated have had their subsequent careers defined by advocacy rather than the course of study they initially pursued. Of course some of us need to be open to the adventures life imposes on us. But all? James Damore – essay writer of Google seems to have tried to make that transition as well. Not as successfully. Be innocent as doves, yes. But also wise as serpents.
The part of Shapiro’s essay that deserves even more attention is his plea for leadership. It was harder for Catholic journalists to speak up for the Church’s position in its controversies because Church leaders tried not to speak up about it, fearing even their own parishioners. Christian and conservative leaders have special social burdens in this climate, and should be careful about piling on supererogatory demands on people whose risks they don’t truly share.
Shapiro suggests reforms to libel law, and particular measures that affect giant social-media and internet companies when they are used to destroy the lives of non-public persons.
Let’s make it a civil offence punishable by fines for the professional press to disseminate the name or likeness of any individual who is not a public figure without contacting that individual and granting them unedited response to an event. That would stop something like the Covington disaster from happening, protecting people from the vicious and instant disaster of the online mob.
Let’s pass a law that allows people to submit a request to Google to remove their name from search results when they have been targeted by an online mob and their life destroyed. …
Let’s pass tech regulation that holds more Twitter or Facebook accountable when they allow their trends to destroy the lives of non-public individuals.
David writes of Shapiro’s proposed changes to the law this way.
He suggests some rather astounding legal reforms that would blast apart the liberties of Christians and conservatives with every bit as much force (if not more) than it would protect the rights of conservatives to speak. He’d loosen libel laws, require media companies to grant private figures unedited access to their public platforms as a condition of disseminating their name or likeness, and implement massive fines when companies allow trends to “destroy the lives of non-public individuals.”
Great ideas . . . right up until you come to the rather elementary realization that those powerful new state instruments would be turned on your allies with a vengeance.
I’m not quite sure about all of Shapiro’s suggestions. Designed improperly and they could criminalize much behavior that should be deemed innocent. But I know I’m not worried about the ones aimed at social media giants. Free Will Baptist Search Engine and The Catholic Diocese of Rochester Social Network will not feel the wrath of these new laws.
In fact, some of Shapiro’s ideas seem like protections I’m happy to share and extend to our cultural and political rivals. If some non-public person at IBM or Dairy Queen says something regrettable while defending Democrats, or shares a Tankie meme on Facebook, I don’t want some right wing site to whip up an outrage mobs to destroy that destroy his life either. Subjects of outrage mobs frequently commit suicide. French invokes people who died for their faith, and their country. Those are high and noble deeds. But not applicable in most of the circumstances here. The Founders pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor collectively. These controversies tend to single out one or a small handful of people, isolate them, and destroy them.Stay Updated with NR Daily
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French adds later:
Never in my life have I seen conservatives more eager to rationalize essay writer and passivity, and seek the aid of politicians to make their lives easier. They look to politicians — even incompetent, depraved politicians — and cry out, “Protect us!”
Protect you? You have the Constitution. Use it. You have nondiscrimination laws. Use them. You have the power of your voice. Use that. Otherwise, your liberty will start to slide away, cultural change will eventually lead to legal change, and your grandkids will one day ask what happened to our free nation.
“Even incompetent, depraved politicians.” Do we think there is a House and Senate majority made up exclusively of high-character people? Non-discrimination laws were passed by scoundrels, too.
Yes, much of the fight against outrage culture and for the protection of moral minorities will require personal courage, bottom-up social change, and social leadership. We need churchmen and conservatives to show that we will make unjust victims of this kind of abuse more than whole. But it’s not unthinkable that new challenges requires new laws. RFRA was passed because legal trends and social facts led to a demand for new legal protections.5
Shapiro is thinking of the next generation. Historically, the truly excruciating fear during times of testing is the fear or apostasy of our children. There are genuinely difficult prudential judgements at hand, and our children depend on us to make brave and wise ones. Destroying your family’s livelihood to play Don Quixote in the wrong cause is as likely to cause it as cowardice and passivity.
The internet has created a pseudo–global commons with no shared common culture underneath it. This is a profound and even revolutionary development in life, and discussing whether it should be legal for major media companies to enable mob-driven defamation on an eternally persistent, easily accessible permanent record and sell ads against it is part of using the Constitution and our voice.