The Other Prince
Recently I picked up Philip Bobbitt’s The Garments Of Court And Palace: Machiavelli And The World That He Made after hearing the author interviewed on the John Batchelor Show.
I’ve written sympathetically of Machiavelli elsewhere but I’ve only explored the topic superficially.
Bobbitt’s book has been, to put it mildly, a revelation. Unfortunately, this revelation has been mainly due to the fact that the Florentine has been so badly framed to begin with. Bobbitt sets out to correct the record in his succinct little work.
Machiavelli had a vision for Florence and Italy, a new order, but as he articulates this vision in The Discourses and The Prince he does so from a unique standpoint: “I shall depart,” he writes, “from the practices of other writers who depict an imaginary world and shall instead describe the ways princes actually behave and how the world reacts.” Out with utopias, in with experience and history (35)! Realism (dealing with the world as it is) trounces idealism (dealing with the world as it should be).
But to what end does he seek to ascertain lessons from the past? Continue reading
1) the action or process of appeasing. (google)
2) a diplomatic policy of making political or material concessions to an enemy power in order to avoid conflict. (wiki)
3) word used by all hawks to bludgeon anyone who doesn’t take a hardline stance against aggression. (my definition)
Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler at Munich was, at the time, not as controversial as it was a year later as German tanks stormed across the Polish border. In 1938 Chamberlain and the Brits, in general, had no desire to fight a war with Germany to uphold what they increasingly saw as an abusive and unjust Treaty of Versailles. Plus, Hitler seemed a strong bullwark in the middle of Europe against Soviet aggression. Plus, Britain’s military was stretched thin and underfunded.
And so Chamberlain came to a gentleman’s agreement with Hitler: the Sudentland for peace.
Of course, Hitler did not stop with the Sudentland and the agreement at Munich has now become a symbol of the bankruptcy of the strategy of appeasement. Indeed, it’s haunted American president’s ever since: Truman in Korea; LBJ in Vietnam; Reagan and Gorby.
It is a haunting, though, make no mistake. Hitler on the brain. The fear of the domino effect.
If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk, and then he’s going to take over your house, put a bullet in your brain, and bury you in the basement. So damn it, don’t give the mouse a cookie! Continue reading
One of my pet peeves are histories that make sweeping judgments of a nation or group of people. Hagiography is not history and yet it so easily masquerades as such these days with a generation raised by Zinn’s ilk. There are bad guys and there are good guys and this is a narrative about how the oppressed overcome the oppressors.
Not only is such an approach a recipe for terrible history, it’s boring. Wouldn’t you much rather hear a story about colonials and natives fighting it out, the future unknown and both sides fearful of defeat as they grasp and claw and bash and shoot each other? That’s some Grade A Drama there. Plus it’s true.
But we live in an era of identity-politics, that great crusher of nuance, irony, and fun.
Needless to say, it’s always a treat to read real history and come across lines like the one below: Continue reading
People wondered if Trump would tone down his belligerent declarations and tweets upon becoming President-elect.
Well, he hasn’t.
He’s still the Donald.
Last night yath00m and I puzzled over his most recent twitter storm: revoking citizenship for those who burn flags. It’s well-established that Trump makes bold opening offers to expand the realm of negotiation before ratcheting back his proposals to get what he wanted all along. If you’ve ever been to the souks of Jerusalem you know the game. Arab: “Oh, sir, that carpet is very special to me, my mother made it, I’m not sure I even want to sell it!” Smart Tourist: “How much?” Arab: “$1,000!” Smart Tourist: “I’ll give you $100.” Arab, looking insulted: “Oh, sir, do not insult me! $900!” Smart Tourist: “$200.” Arab: “$800.” Smart Tourist: “$250.” And so the game goes. Thing is, if the Arab had started at the actual price he wanted, say $400, he would have had no room to negotiate. That’s Trump to a T. He demanded mass deportations and a wall. Now when he moderates he looks reasonable and he still gets what he wanted all along: the wall. Continue reading
I’m no expert on international business.
But there seems to be an inherent illogical in the left’s approach to taxation and corporations.
“Big business does not paying its fair share!” “Income inequality!” “The wealth gap has grown massively!” “Occupy Wall Street!”
Crony capitalism is certainly a problem and oddly enough Donald Trump of all people rode the populist wave of discontent into the White House (his opponent, meanwhile, couldn’t seem to convince people that she wasn’t still in bed with America’s kleptocracy). As the WSJ pointed out the other day, Trump’s enemy is not globalism, but mercantilism in which corporations lobby government acquire subsidies, trigger bailouts, and increase regulations that only their army of lawyers can comply with and subsequently hamstring competitors (the little and middle guy), thereby increasing their coffers, and only then doling out the incidental sops to the rest of us.
Enemies share a smoke
The Left really did a number on themselves. This was not supposed to happen.
The thing is, as I’ve written elsewhere, while conservatives at their best tend to view their liberal foes sympathetically (healthcare for all isn’t a bad idea, but you can’t implement it that way), the Left at its best views the right as either stupid or sinister. The Left’s contempt was there before the election. Their terror is here now that Stupid has won.
As the dust settles, Trumpians begin to raise their hands to be counted and conversations have begun. The Left is still mad, but they’re beginning to listen, a bit, I think. Still, as one liberal coworker put it to me after I gave a rousing defense Trump: “How are we friends?” Amazing what being stuck in a carpool with someone ten hours a week will do to a person.
But that’s not a flippant aside. It’s the point: as a conservative, I’m friends with numerous liberal colleagues and on social media I interact with even more folks from the Left. These friendships and acquaintances have a way of breaking down stereotypes and making people listen to the other side. My coworkers and I laugh in the car and over beers about work, students, school administration, and culture. I’m conversant in their lingo and know their concerns and political passions. We talk about politics, but I’m also diplomatic. Part of this is self-preservation (no need to rock the boat too much). Part of it is my desire give them a window into the other side. Part of it is that I can’t help myself (you know, before going off on Trump’s deportation schemes, Obama has deported more people than any other president?). And they listen, sort of. Either way, at the end of the day, we know how to put those differences aside and laugh about that obnoxious kid from Brazil that plagues us all. Continue reading
Ding, dong, the witch is dead!
Keeping Things in Perspective
I’ve read a number of editorials reflecting on the life and times of Fidel Castro. They’ve fallen into two camps: moral euphoria at the death of a dictator and a recitation of his crimes; or, the mealy-mouthed moral equivalency game played by those on the left (see Obama, Trudeau, Junker, Corbyn et al.).
To be clear, Castro was a bad guy and any attempt to cover over his crimes by appealing to his good intentions is the sort of deplorable, high-minded elitism that average Joe sees for what it is: baloney.
Then again, we ought to keep Castro’s crimes in perspective: he was a two-bit thug who caused a great deal of trouble for his people and sparked fires in South America and Africa for decades. Given the chance, he may have been a monster on the scale of Mao and Stalin, but even in his own country his tyranny never reached such diabolical heights. He only brushed with global significance on the occasion of the Cuban Missile Crisis—a scheme driven by his boss in Moscow and not even of his own making.
Further, it should be added that Castro’s death is not “the end of an era.” Castro had long been out of circulation, a ghost of a man, and Cuba still labors and suffers under an entrenched, kleptocratic dictatorship created by the late Fidel. We will have more of business as usual. Continue reading
I don’t pretend to know what the Alt-right is. In fact, I’m not sure most supposed members of the group even agree on what it means.
According to white supremacists like Richard Spencer, the alt right is about white identity politics, but I have heard arguments from proponents of the alt-right that reject such beliefs entirely. One thing is clear, however, and that is that the media oligarchs wish to define the group with types like Spencer as the ultimate definition. This is why the left wins so well. They understand the age-old concept: He who controls language controls the conversation. If you can blast the airwaves and television channels with enough association of “alt-right” and other terms like “white-nationalist” and “anti-Semite”, then it starts to stick. Repetition creates memory which then forms assumptions. Once you provide a definition for the term, then the conversation moves onward, and nobody is listening to the dissenters who never agreed to being a reincarnation of Hitler’s ghost. This is because we live in a post-truth world of political media. The grinning newsreaders may look pleasant, but they are merely mouthpieces of an (mis)information fatwa. All of this is somewhat beside the point. What really interests me is why the far left despises types like Spencer so much, when he has much more in common with them than the new and surging populist conservatism of this election cycle.
Truly, Richard Spencer is a progressive. Yes, he may call back to historical examples of more ethnically homogeneous cultures as “traditional” in some way, but one of his primary examples of peaceful creation of ethnic statehood is the restructuring of nations following the first world war. I’m not exactly sure how the Paris Peace Accords and the formation of the League of Nations with the involvement of the most progressive American president of all time is supposed to represent any kind of “conservatism”, but I’m open to arguments. Spencer’s beloved concept of ethnic redistribution by fiat in order to form homogenous nations is utopian by definition. If only X social issue could be corrected by fiat, then society would be much better. This is how people talk about enacting gun control and mandating common core, neither of which are conservative in the least bit.
Look no further than what people like Spencer react against to understand how progressive he is. Spencer’s white nationalist corner of the alt-right is just as obsessed with identity politics as the radical leftists who sneer at him. In fact, he is exactly the caricature of the oppressive and self-important white male that they want to believe exists. Of course they hold Spencer up as the definition of the alt-right because he speaks their language. He lacks the nuance of conservatism because he is just as radical as the supposedly “liberal” identity politicians who are trying to make him the figurehead of the alt-right. He is the straw-man who actually believes in the white patriarchy as some kind of self-aware entity and revels in it. He’s playing their game by their rules. As a white male in the world of identity politics, you can either be a misogynist white supremacist or a flagellating self-hating eunuch. These two archetypes love and hate each-other equally, since they depend on the existence of the other to confirm the legitimacy of their paradigm.
I’ve said to people in everyday conversation about politics that the alt-right sprang into existence the day Salon started posting articles about how white men are a disease that must be stopped. The Richard Spencer wing of the alt-right is not only an invention of the left but an extension as well. Progressives compare them to Nazis because the progressives understand the underpinnings of Nazism from firsthand experience. After all, Nazism did not come from the rural plains of Germany but the universities and intelligentsia. As the old proverb goes: one fisherman recognizes another from afar. Progressive identity politics is entirely based on mythic narratives of racial power struggles, just like the Nazi ideology. If you replace the Jewish scapegoat with white males, then the picture becomes clearer. A shadowy ethno-homogenous cabal seeks to hold back the potential of a struggling race(s) and must be cast off for society to flourish. The progressive, identity politics obsessed elites choosing Spencer as the representative of their nebulous foes leaves no middle ground. It gives them the direct racial conflict they really want. Once politics boil down to a simplistic racial power struggle, there is no “liberal” or “conservative” to be found between the Richard Spencer types or the victim-autocrats of the social justice movement. They’re all just fighting over the armbands.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
A friend and I have been discussing what presently holds America together. It’s a grandiose question full of dire import (the end of the Republic, the death of America) and the potential for overwrought hand-wringing and silly wishful thinking (if only we had a George Washington!).
Both Left and Right and had staked out their territory on their respective positions and demographics. As of 2016 we seemed heading towards a turning point: would the Left finally triumph in a definitive sense? Was this the Flight 93 election? The tribes were well-established, the battle lines drawn, but then along came Trump who not only rewrote the political playbook, but re-framed American politics and national identity. What has he done?
Whither Have We Come? Whither Shall We Go?
From the start, America was a pragmatic and propositional nation. The early colonies didn’t exactly get along with each other. The constitutional convention was called for out of necessity, and the resulting constitution bears the marks of compromise. To call the American founding purely pragmatic, though, would be to miss the significance the Founders and their compatriots placed on ideals (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) and the importance of sound character (Never tell a lie. Early to bed, early to rise…etc.). Bereft of these propositions, Americans feared a descent into tyranny. The Founders were optimistic, though wary of human failings. The Constitution itself was designed to keep human ambitions and passions in check but was not sufficient to curb abuse. Men must be self-governing. As Lincoln put it some years later, “If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher.” The American experiment could work if Americans remained good citizens. Continue reading
They’re dancing now.
The fever pitch of this election has only started to abate. As people realize that Trump isn’t the second coming of Hitler, tempers and passions will cool. The pessimist in me thinks it will be, in the end, a return to business as usual. The optimist in me expects the economy to roar and the conservatives to lock down the Supreme Court for a generation. If we can avoid stupid wars, that would be nice too.
I’m not that old. This is the first presidential campaign I’ve really paid any attention to (the last one I was happily removed overseas). But that’s where reading books and talking to older people provides perspective.
There’s this couple I’m close to. They’re educated conservatives. They’re good people, and as long as I’ve known them, they’ve been peaceable folk. The last eight years of Obama, though, knocked the stuffing out of them. They didn’t like his policies or his condescending, arrogant tone. Hillary was as bad or worse. The last eight years plus the prospect of another four put them on edge like I’ve never seen.