Forbidden History: Excerpts from Tocqueville That You’ll Read Nowhere But Here

The second volume of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America was published in 1840.  Reading that volume’s initial overview of the plight of a Native Americans and of African slaves should be required of every high school history student.  I can see the former section about the clash of European and Indian cultures finding its place in today’s curriculum (with plenty of vitriol stirred in by the instructor, who will no doubt ignore Tocqueville’s stress upon the situation’s tragic complexity and opt, instead, for self-righteous denunciation).  The latter section—about the agonizingly durable practice of slavery—would likely be airbrushed from the record as racist, simply because the complexities here are too many to reduce to academe’s cartoonish Manichaeism.

My title above is a little pretentious: you can, of course, read Tocqueville readily in many formats.  But you wouldn’t read these particular passages on most college campuses.  They elicit too much thinking and indict too much hypocrisy: all we do in the Ivory Tower nowadays is gin up support for “protests”.  I’ll have much more to say about the excerpts (my personal translations) later, I hope.  For now, I need to stand back and let them speak for themselves.  Even as excerpts, they form quite a little mass of material.

Let me add that I do not offer Tocqueville as an inerrant source: no human being is that.  Yet not all sources are equal just because none lacks bias.  Tocqueville is a brilliantly shrewd observer with an admirable sense of fairness and a profound respect for the facts.  He has, perhaps, a tad too much of that French taste for irony and antithesis: the age of La Bruyère and La Rochefoucauld has not passed entirely out of sight in his writing.  For instance, I find his characterizing the South as averse to physical labor due to the link between sweat and slavery a bit absurd, given that a huge majority of Southerners had no slaves and a huge majority of those few slaveholders had but two or three.

Please do not indulge the snobby bigotry of our own time, furthermore, so far as to misjudge the final excerpts as racist.  The terror of race war was extremely electric in 1840, and the brooding sense that it was inevitable clung to the seeming impossibility of the two races ever mixing significantly.  Tocqueville by no means believes that a mulatto child would be somehow “degenerate”: he merely doesn’t see white society—either Northern or Southern white society—as capable of surmounting ingrained prejudices in a vast movement.  Let us remember that Lincoln very actively sought to interest free blacks in an expense-paid deportation to Panama (lest they eventually interbreed with whites).  Let us honestly ask ourselves, too, why those who most readily shout “racism” among us today appear most eager to induce something like a race war.  Time has not yet proved that a critical mass of good people exists to lay this hellish ghost to rest.

EXCERPTS

Racial prejudice seems to me stronger in states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere does it appear more intolerant than in the states where servitude has always been unknown.

It is true that in the north of the Union, the law permits blacks and whites to contract legitimate alliances; but public opinion would decry as infamous the white who would unite himself with a black, and it would be difficult to cite an example of such a deed.

In almost all the states where slavery has been abolished, electoral rights have been bestowed upon the black; but if he presents himself at a polling place, he risks his life.  He can seek legal redress if denied such rights, but he will find only whites among his judges.  The law, of course, opens a path for him to sit on juries, but prejudice pushes him back out.  His son is excluded from the school where the descendant of Europeans goes to be educated.  In theaters, he could not buy with solid gold the right to seat himself beside the man who was once his master; in hospitals, he lies in a separate quarter.  He is permitted to pray for the aid of the same God as do the whites, but not to pray at the same altar.  He has his own priests and sanctuaries.  The doors of heaven are not shut against him, yet inequality scarcely ceases at the brink of the other world.  When a black man lives this life no longer, his bones are cast to one side: differing conditions appear even in the equality of death.

Thus the black is free, but he can share neither the rights, nor the pleasures, nor the labors, nor the sorrows, nor even the tomb of him whose equal he has been declared.  He can nowhere manage to place himself in the same scene with this other, either in life or in death.

In the South, where slavery still exists, blacks are kept less punctiliously to one side; they sometimes share in the chores and amusements of the whites; a certain amount of mingling with them is allowed; legislation is harsher where it pertains to them—but customs are more tolerant and gentle.

In the South, the master doesn’t fear to elevate the slave to his level because he knows that he can always, should he so wish, cast him back down into the dust.  In the North, the white no longer clearly perceives the barrier that separates him from a degraded race, and he distances himself from the black with all the more care in that he fears integration with him some day.

But if the position of the two races that inhabit the United States is such as I have just described it, why have the Americans abolished slavery in the North of the Union, why do they preserve it in the South, and on what account are they aggravating its abusive qualities?

The answer is simple.  Where citizens of the United States are destroying slavery, they do so not in the interest of blacks, but in the interest of whites.

Note 78: … In 1740, the legislature of the state of New York declared that the importation of slaves should be encouraged as much as possible and that contraband should be punished severely, as tending to discourage honest commerce.

The colonies had been founded.  A century had already elapsed, and an extraordinary truth began to attract attention.  The districts that possessed practically no slaves were increasing in population, in wealth, and in quality of life more rapidly than those where they abounded.

Yet in the former places, the settler had been obliged to cultivate his own soil or to rent the services of another; in the latter places, he would find at his disposition workers whose labor he need not remunerate.  On the one hand, then, were hard work and expense, and on the other leisure and savings… but the advantage remained with the former.

The result seemed the more difficult to explain in that the emigrants, belonging all to the same European race, had the same customs, the same civilization, the same laws, and differed only in scarcely perceptible ways.

Time continued to advance.  Forsaking the shores of the Atlantic, the Anglo-Americans thrust themselves ever farther into the solitudes of the West.  There they encountered new terrain and climate; there they had to vanquish obstacles of a diverse nature.  Their communities mingled, Southerners veering to the North and Northerners descending into the South.  Amid all of these factors, the same phenomenon reproduced itself at every step: in general, a colony where slaves were very scarce became more populated and prosperous than one where slavery was thriving.

As the nation expended, one could not fail to notice that servitude, so cruel for the slave, was lethal to the master.

Note 79: Not only does Ohio not allow slavery—it prohibits the entry of freedmen into its territory and denies them the right to acquire property.

The free worker is paid, but he works more quickly than the slave, and speed of execution is one of the major determinants of an economy.  The white sells his services, but they are not bought except when they are useful.  The black can claim nothing by way of payment for services rendered, but he must be nourished at all times; he must be sustained in his old age as in his prime, in his unproductive childhood as during the fertile years of his youth, in sickness as in health.  Hence in the case of both men, work is obtained only by paying: the free man receives a salary, and the slave receives an upbringing, food, medical attention, clothing.  The money that a master spends to maintain a slave trickles out little by little in minutiae: it is hardly noticed.  The salary that the worker draws is delivered all at once, and it seems to enrich only its recipient—but in reality the slave has cost more than the free man, while his labor has turned out less productive.

Almost everyone in the southernmost States who devotes himself to commercial enterprises and makes use of slavery has come from the North.  Every day, Northerners circulate in this part of the American territory where the combination of practices has less to fear for them.  They discover ways of exploiting the collaboration that the more settled inhabitants haven’t noticed: adapting themselves to a system of which they disapprove, they manage to derive from it greater advantages than those who defend it after having founded it.

From the time when a northern state prohibits in this manner the importation of slaves, it draws no more blacks up from the South to transport into its midst.

From the moment when a northern state forbids the sale of Negroes, the slave [there], not being eligible for any local transfer of ownership, becomes an inconvenient property, and an incentive is created to transport him to the South.

On the day when a northern state declares that the child of a slave shall be born free, the slave loses a great deal of commercial value; for his posterity can no more be trafficked on the market, and—once again—an incentive is created to transport him to the South.

The abolition of slavery therefore does not cause the slave to reach a state of freedom; it only causes a change in his masters.  From the North, he passes to the South.

Note 84: The states where slavery has been abolished ordinarily apply themselves to dissuading freed blacks from residency in their territory through harassment; and since a kind of rivalry in this effort emerges among the various states, the tormented blacks can only choose among different miseries.

Note 85: A great difference exists between the death rate of whites and that of blacks in states where slavery has been abolished.  From 1820 to 1831, Philadelphia saw only one white die for every 42 belonging to the white race, while one black died for every 21 belonging to the black race.  The mortality rate is considerably less exaggerated among enslaved blacks.

Tobacco, cotton, and sugar cane grow only in the South; they represent the principle source of that area’s wealth.  In destroying slavery, Southerners would find themselves facing one of two alternatives: either they would have to change their system of cultivation—and then they would enter into competition with Northerners more vigorous and practiced in these new methods; or they would have to cultivate the same products without slaves—and then they would be forced to compete with other Southerners who still used slaves.

Thus the South has peculiar reasons for preserving slavery unknown in the North.

Here, however, is another motive force more powerful than all the others.  The South could certainly abolish slavery with sufficient determination; but how would it save itself from its black population?  In the North, slaves are chased out in the same motion as slavery.  In the South, one couldn’t hope to obtain this duel result at the same time.

When one announces that, starting at a certain date, the Negro’s child will be free, one introduces the principle and idea of freedom into the very soul of servitude.  The blacks kept in servitude by such legislation, seeing their children escape from it, would stand shocked by the inequity of the two destinies.  They would grow restless and irritable.  From that moment, slavery would lose in their eyes the kind of moral power that time and custom had bestowed upon it; it would be reduced to nothing more than a visible abuse of force.  The North would have nothing to fear from so shocking a contrast, because there the number of blacks is very small and that of whites quite large.  But if this dawn of liberty were to shed its light over two million people, their oppressors could only tremble.

These two factors [the deportation of slaves and the influx of European immigrants] cannot operate in the same manner among the Southern states.  On the one hand, the mass of slaves is too great for one to hope that they might be evacuated from the country; and on the other, Europeans and Anglo-Americans are loath to immigrate to a region where labor remains identified with vile servitude.  Besides, they rightly regard the states where the number of blacks equals or surpasses that of whites as under threat of grievous calamity, and they avoid transplanting their enterprises to such places.

As soon as one envisions whites and emancipated blacks being placed in the same position as two peoples alien to each other, one will easily grasp that the future offers only two choices: blacks and whites must either fuse racially or separate completely.

I have already expressed above my estimate of the first option’s occurring [i.e., that the obstacles it faces are too great].  I do not think that the white and black races will manage to exist on equal footing anywhere.

The danger, more or less distant yet inevitable, of conflict between the blacks and white who populate the south of the Union unceasingly haunts the American imagination like a painful nightmare.  Northerners discuss these perils every day, although they have nothing directly to fear from them.  In vain do they search for some means of conjuring away the catastrophe that they foresee.

In the Southern states, everybody stays mum.  One doesn’t speak of the future with strangers; one avoids trying to unravel it with one’s friends; everyone hides it from himself, so to speak.  The silence of the South has something more frightening about it than the clarioned fears of the North.

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Surviving “Progress”: A Report From Heartbreak Hill

During the very little time that I’ve had to read anything over the past week, I recall a piece chastising the anti-GMO crowd for condemning Third World residents to lives of misery and brevity.  Most people, claimed the author, don’t want to toil several hours a day in the field behind an ox or over a hoe.  Most people prefer air conditioning in the summer to the sticky, smelly, mosquito-ridden shade of a hovel.  Most people are willing to pay to have something done which will make their existence substantially easier or healthier rather than sap their strength every day to reach a bare minimum of sufficiency.  It’s called progress. Most people like it.

Here I sit, having finally unloaded—after almost a week—the 28-foot trailer that contained all of our worldly belongings, a trailer that I had spent the previous week stuffing to its nine-foot ceiling four states away.  My do-it-yourself approach probably saved me about $7,000… but the situation became almost suicidal when the haulers informed me at the other end that they couldn’t negotiate our quarter mile of winding rural driveway to our front door.  I had mistakenly assumed that a tractor-trailer could take on anything that the 18-wheelers of the building crew had surmounted; but, in fact, the builders had produced a road fit only for their species of big rig.  They appear to have dumped more loads of rock whenever heavy rains fell (and rains fell at a record rate this spring in Georgia). Never in this debauch of rock-dumping did they give a second thought to whether my wife and I could make the same drive comfortably—or at all—in our smaller vehicles.  Their convenience came first and last; anything else was exclusively our problem.

My worst day, in terms of desperation, was last Saturday, when another heavy rain came playing through and left our shuttling pickup truck mired along a steep upward slope, a heavy dining-room hutch pressing its bed.  I thought of wagon trains that had left pianos and massive oaken sideboards in their wake as they tried to grind along the Oregon Trail.  Eventually I discovered the technique of cutting down pine saplings (which grow here like weeds) and strewing them diagonally up the slope.  The hutch endured a few scratches, as did just about everything else… but we reached our objective.

My personal scratches, frankly, number a little more than a few.  My left thigh (where I instinctively catch loads about to slip from my hands, apparently) is such a complex constellation of bruises that an Ancient Alien theorist would suppose ET to have tattooed Orion into my skin.  My fingernails (one of which is about to fall out over a blue blister) and toenails are a wreck.  My left eyelid somehow got severely scarred, perhaps by a pine sapling that didn’t want to be enlisted for road duty.  My sides have been gouged repeatedly by staircase rails (since the haulers didn’t include the right kind of dolly to take heavy loads easily over step overhangs—and my builder, who promised to loan me his miracle-on-wheels, kept that promise about as well as he had many another).  I have some kind of strange rash which I mistook for sun poisoning, but which seems instead to be related to sweating profusely without taking in enough water.

The night before last, I lay shivering in bed for half an hour on a hot July night, wondering, “What in hell is this?  Is my body shutting done?”  I pride myself on being in very good condition for a 64-year-old man (and ex-academic)… but I do believe that I had just about hit the boundary wall of my physical ability.

So exactly why do people choose to undergo such hardship when progress offers a better way?  I know there are people in the world who slave in this manner for pennies on an almost daily basis… but is the image of a virtuous primitive deliberately embracing the life of manual labor just another idiotic Ivory Tower fantasy?

I pondered that question during many of my “runs” to and from the trailer in my pickup.  In the first place, I should point out that progress had failed me several times in my present circumstances.  The haulers had declined to tackle Heartbreak Hill. The construction workers had laid a road that gave them on-the-spot, for-the-moment transit without paying any attention to the points where rainwater kept cutting through and jumbling their crude stone pavers.  The builder had designed a dolly-resistant staircase.  Nobody, of all these “seasoned professionals” representing our high-tech society, had cut me any slack at all.

And this actually raises a second, more significant point about progress.  Things become generalized and regimented.  Operatives are unaware of the situation “on the ground”, or else they are so busily lining up new customers that they give current ones only as much notice as is contractually required.  The robust paycheck that allows a white-collar worker to scoff at the $7,000 I pocketed and spare his old body is generated by business practices emphasizing volume and speed.  I very much suspect that, even in the contested area of GMO’s, we would find hidden losers farther along the future’s road of a malaria-free, malnutrition-cured society.  Genetically modified crops don’t really seem suited to the lifestyle of the small farmer, if only because (once again) they favor volume and system.  So more small farmers sell their little plot of land and move to the city, where ever greater masses of unemployed are competing for ever fewer blue-collar positions as mechanization takes over assembly lines… and at the end of the day, our erstwhile farmer is consuming filthy air and water in a crime-ridden tenement rather than trying to survive on a bowl of rice per day under a blue sky where the rain is free.

My wife and I haven’t enjoyed the last two weeks, and I’m not romanticizing them.  The three physically most arduous days of my life have to be contained somewhere in those two weeks.  Labor isn’t virtuous when it beats you down until your body can take no more.  But who will save us from our “saviors”?  I wouldn’t have been so obsessed with keeping seven grand in my bank account if a conspiracy of realtors, building contractors, insurers, and bankers hadn’t just forced me to replace the perfectly sound roof on my previous house for a third of that amount.  No, nobody really wants to put in the sweat required to grow beans and potatoes out of the soil… but the alternative is to eat whatever “they” serve up to you, whether you think it’s healthy or not.

A subject for another day would be the curious espousal by “conservatives” of this “progress is good” position which commits us not only to constant change but also to a naive dependency upon the moral decency of our suppliers.  I agree that the Left far too often adopts tree-hugging as a strategy without bothering to question whether this particular sapling would better serve humanity lying in a mud slick.  Conservation on the Left tends to be all pose and no understanding.  But “progress” on the Right—usually from the very people who endorse Ayn Rand’s nihilist rationalism of self-interest—tends to leave you standing at the roadside with a sophisticated container holding all of your possessions on earth… and no way to get it home, unless you have deep pockets.

That’s why young voters don’t abandon the Left en masse and swing Right: because, ironically, they seem to sense with a child’s intuitive radar that “progress” nudges you into the car of a stranger offering luscious candy.  Will we ever find our way to a conservative conservatism?

From Incivility to Insanity: The Terminal Quality of the Twenty-First Century’s Teenage Years (Part Two)

The other day I wrote that the escalation in violent, anti-social, politically motivated behavior baffled me and left me groping for a theory.  That wasn’t entirely true, insofar as I have a speculation of sorts ready for launch; and the rowdiness of the moment, by the way—as wiseacres will rear back and yawn out (and as I kept remarking last time myself)—isn’t really new.  We could travel all the way back to the days of Apuleius’s Golden Ass if we wanted a snapshot of a society where attacks in broad daylight and boldfaced home invasions were routine.  Granted, such “civil unrest” was a phenomenon of the Roman Empire’s frontier and not so much of its urban centers, and it also lacked a political component.  Retreat, then, to everybody’s favorite example of dysfunctional society, the rise of fascism throughout Western Europe in the Thirties.  I just finished reading The Garden of the Finzi-Contini: Jews were being chased out of public libraries and banned from sporting events in cities like Ferrara at least a couple of years before anyone was rounded up for the concentration camp.

Nevertheless, such cases are far from posing precise historical analogies.  It was Otto Spengler, that inveterate enemy of Arian propaganda, who insisted that history never repeats itself to the last syllable (or even follows the same script for more than a scene).  The thugs who were harassing Jewish minorities along quaint sidewalks and in mom-and-pop shops were perhaps themselves in the minority—but the thuggery came to draw passive support from rank and file bourgeoisie who associated the Jew with the Bolshevik and Bolshevism with ruthless anti-clerical carnage.  To a certain degree, I do believe that the typical Trump booster partakes of that amused passivity.  Imagine an outbreak of brattiness in fourth-grade children utterly undisciplined by their parents. The greater number of responsible parents remains irrelevant to any solution, since these good parents can only impose correction within their own household.  Class plays and concerts are disrupted, recess has to be canceled, lessons can’t be taught because the teacher must spend most of each hour calling out trouble-makers… and futility gnaws away at every positive endeavor.  Then a big brute of a kid who’s been held back twice starts to push the brats around.  He smacks them in class and kicks them on the playground.  The teacher shakes her finger and the good parents feign shock—but behind hands raised in horror, all are smiling.

Yes, but… but again, the smacks and kicks in my vignette are only metaphorical if applied the activities of the MAGA crowd in our civic life (much as this distresses the mainstream media).  Physical attacks were all too real during the rise of fascism—and they are increasingly real in the conduct of our activist Antifa “brats”, who have carried acting up from feces-slinging Yahooism to club-wielding riot.  The fine points of the analogy are simply not matching up with anything I’ve ever read about or seen before.

So here is my theory.  Progressivism has grown to be a religious cult.  It was so, perhaps, at its inception: I will concede yet again that significant precedents exist.  The “unanism” championed by French novelist Jules Romains after World War I, while infinitely more humanist and liberal (in the word’s true sense) than what we see now, had the essential elements.  God was dead, but (and?) men were enlightened.  Scientific learning was proceeding at an exponential rate that thinkers like Ortega y Gasset underscored (with much more wariness than Romains).  Oh, yes, we would all die as individuals, and we all knew that nothing awaited us on the Other Side; but we were also awakening to the prospect of an immortality in the ever-advancing collective.  Jack and Jill would turn to dust—but their son Joe would walk on the Moon, and his daughter Jane would journey through time.  In the collective lay our hope: so claimed Romains’s unanism, and so sayeth the progressive gospel today.

A more anti-conservative keygma is inconceivable.  Most on the Right, indeed, have yet to grasp that the mere act of holding fast to old ground on any particular issue is itself odious and anathematic to the progressive.  We must change.  Everything must always keep changing.  Even when alterations appear to be destructive or retrograde, their failed experiments are mapping out better paths (hence the “virtue” of the old Soviet Union and Castro’s Cuba).  The one thing that we must never do is simply stand pat.  Such is the posture of dumb beasts of the field.  Those who want tomorrow to resemble yesterday are “unawakened”, as well as eligible for a host of less charitable and more spittle-ridden noun phrases: stupid idiot, dumb s—t, stupid c—t… the words themselves are already just a brick away from assault with a deadly weapon.

To me, the genuine panic of seeing anything from the Obama years (let alone from earlier decades, such as the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision) compromised or retracted is comprehensible in this light.  Think of it.  We’re all going to die.  We live this life for perhaps thirty or forty good years, then we start to wither and lose our ability even to enjoy basic pleasures.  Then… nothing.  What hope do we have?  Only that our mounting holocaust is steadily fueling the advance of future beings.  It’s a kind of postponed millenialism, with the Messiah ever drawing closer but never fully arriving.  And we are the Messiah’s approach—the fall of his sandal, the brush of his hem, the clearing of his throat… but only if we continue to distance ourselves somehow from the previous generation!  That failing, we have lost everything.  Our own lives plunge into irredeemable meaninglessness, the future that trusted in us is betrayed, and the past whose steps led up the staircase is nullified.  All is lost!  All is lost!

Such a mentality would not pause to mull over delivering a reasoned rebuke to the opposition, would it?  Rather, it would revile the idiot saboteurs (who are destroying their own one possible redemption, as well, without even realizing it) with words void of rational content but replete with sacred outrage.  We who would conserve are cursed as a Puritan would damn the Devil: not with an indictment of specific crimes, that is, but with an inspired loathing—a holy possession that sets its prophet rolling in the aisles.  Whatever words most faithfully translate furious expectoration are those which best suit us.

Need I add that raising polite protests about constitutional license and legal precedent before such zealotry is tantamount to arguing over doctrinal inconsistencies with a whirling dervish?  Progressive cultists no longer even trouble to couch their terror and their rage in vaguely constitutional terms.  The selection of a traditionalist Supreme Court justice, for instance, means instant abrogation of advances made in the past—never mind that judges even on that highest bench may legally only interpret law, not create or negate it.  Plebiscites are too slow; democratic republicanism is too unwieldy.  As science is forging ahead exponentially, so social change must shift into high gear.  This will require philosopher kings, peerless leaders, and big brothers.  The very suggestion that change proceed through the cumbersome process of deliberative arbitration is as maddening as an old priest’s insistence that prayers follow a formula or appear where the order of worship allows them.

This is how I am best able to understand what I see: that is, as the rise of a cultic fanaticism.  I find that I can muster a certain pity for those who suffer from such mania—but I also fear that too many of my fellow citizens haven’t adequately assessed where the delirious irrationality of their children and neighbors is likely to drive us all if handled merely as an opposing political ideology.

From Incivility to Insanity: The Terminal Quality of the Twenty-First Century’s Teenage Years (Part One)

Everyone seems to be writing about incivility these days—and no wonder.  To some, Donald Trump is the poster child of the uncivil.  Relishing the moment when people are bluntly told that they no longer have a job (and marketing that moment for many to enjoy privately who publicly disapprove), drifting from one supermodel-wife to another, slapping price tags on exquisite landscapes and seeking to deface them with hotels and casinos, the Trumpster has become a living caricature of the Ugly American.  His quondam henchman Corey Lewandowski, for good measure, has been accused of molestation by no fewer than two exponents of rightwing views.  And let us not forget the boorish remarks and Tweets about Carly Fiorina’s looks, Marco Rubio’s height, Ted Cruz’s honesty, etc., etc.  Again, all of that sniping took place well within the right side of the aisle.

But if one has a bit of class, one shows the impressionable how to take the high road—whereas the Left has exploited the “Trump pretext”, it seems to me, to unleash a war on every last vestige of civilization observable in our lives.  Of course, I remember the Sixties.  Hairy people in scant clothes with an insuperable aversion to soap are nothing new.  But the Hippies, besides, were distinctly non-violent as a group (perhaps thanks to a little chemical inducement).  While not zealots for hygiene, they also didn’t leave feces on cop cars or in mailboxes.  Antifa is something new under our post-civilizational sun.

New, as well, are incidents involving public attacks on public figures that stop just short of deadly force (or cross the line, if you include the shooting of Steve Scalise and several other U.S. senators).  I cannot recall another occasion during my six and a half decades of life when anybody—even an accused pervert or convicted murderer released from jail—was hounded out of a restaurant or mobbed at a movie theater or treated to damp projectiles while quietly visiting with friends and family.  No, this kind of thing has never happened before.  Not here: maybe in Paris of the Thirties, where fascist thugs would openly beat up citizens on street corners for being too “wimpy”.

Fascism: the Trump camp is supposed to bear that banner, with its outright loathing of “wimpiness” in all varieties.  But here’s where things get convoluted (or go helter-skelter, as Charles Manson would say): the wimpy side—people of indeterminate sexuality, people wearing vagina hats, people who hug trees—are now the pool of candidates from which street thugs are recruited.  The card-carrying NRA members, despite the mainstream media’s best efforts to cast them in contrary roles, are moms and dads whose most terroristic activity is to make their children do their homework.  The Squishy Left has usurped the part of the nihilistic, antinomian urban guerilla… or urban gorilla, if you prefer.

To be historically honest, this isn’t really a Blue Moon event, either.  In their days of infancy, if not throughout their lifespan, both Bolshevism and Nazism had strong ties with sexual deviancy and featured a cult-level hostility to traditional faith.  The deified Che was certainly a scintillant piece of work.  His own mentors in the art of mass-murder were disturbed by the prurient fascination he showed in those moments when a victim’s final sparks of life bled out.  That Guevara and Manson are two of the dark saints adored by people whose attention to their genitalia dictates a luxurious, pain-fleeing life is a profound paradox with which, collectively, we have yet to come to grips. Did sadism bring an orgasmic satisfaction to the two psychopaths… or does the mushy lifestyle of the Sybarite conceal inclinations known to the sadist?

Even as an individual, I’m not sure I get it… and now the phenomenal paradox, admittedly nothing new on a broad scale, is rising exponentially in our stressed republic.  Let me frame the conundrum this way: why are the best educated people who hail from areas of greatest affluence most likely to scream obscenities and coprologisms in public as they “demand” the utter breakdown of rational order?  Why does the cultivation of the mind in our society cause us (the young of our socio-economic elite, especially) to lose our minds?

Why do women who demand that mink and ermine no longer be slaughtered for their fur also demand the right to slaughter their own fetuses?  Why do people who demand that children not be parted from their parents also demand that “stereotypes” of the traditional nuclear family be expunged from textbooks?  Why do people who demand that guns be banned also threaten to rape commentators on the issue’s other side or to kidnap and brutalize their children?

I don’t have answers that completely satisfy me.  I suppose insanity, by definition, is inexplicable in rational terms.  But the escalation of this mass-insanity to a force that begins to have political clout is little short of terrifying.  Why don’t I just slap you in the face the next time we meet?  Well, because a certain mutual respect operates within civil societies… because sane adults do not resolve disagreements with physical violence (if skin color or a cap’s logo can constitute a disagreement)… because the slightest particle of spirituality should inform me that I’m not without flaws, either… and finally (if I’m too close to the animal state for any of the foregoing to gain traction), because I’ll go to jail for assault. But maybe I’ll get off, if I scream “Nazi!” and “Racist!” loud enough.  If I play one of our numerous get-out-of-jail cards, I can practically commit murder.

Where do these cards come from?  Why do we accept their paper as currency?  Why is it that a certain nexus of guilt-ridden ideas drives us to suppress our indignation when A walks up and spits on B out of the blue?

Is it a phenomenon of the Electronic Age—do we simply no longer connect with the Other as sharing the essential elements of the Self?  Or is it a product of childhood neglect, nourished both by smartphones and by AWOL parents, which allows any exhibitionist act a free pass?  Or could it be the predestined abyss of worldly affluence that drives the wealthiest man in the world to death traps like Everest and Antarctica in search of a new pleasure… or in search of that forgotten spice of life, pain?

I don’t know.  And I’m not sure that knowing would make any difference.  This seems to be a disease for which there is no cure other than anguishing affliction rewarded by a lifelong immunity in rare cases of survival.

Tyler, Texas: Biopsy of a Red, White, and Blue Cancer

Believe me when I say that I don’t really want to write these words—and I most certainly wish that the events behind them had never happened.  But they represent what’s on my mind to the point of crowding out other thoughts… and this reflection as a whole poses a contrastive kind of bookend to the promise of independence that my new residence held out during our July 4 visit. I usually like contrasts. I wish this one weren’t so stark.

We returned to Tyler, Texas, for one last span of packing and waiting.  At some point, a bad dream degenerates into a nightmare… and it is along that seam that our present lives appear to be unfolding.  Ever since an “inspector” stuck his nose into every corner of our 50-year-old house, things have been malfunctioning.  The oven’s light fades in and out according to cryptic rhythms.  A strange wet spot has appeared under the bathroom sink.  Now we find that one of the hot water heaters (no, I don’t know why we have two, and nobody can tell us) will not keep its pilot light ignited.  Perhaps the man who charged me $370 to replace a “faulty part”—only to leave the tank in the same cold coma as had gripped it before—was a con artist, or perhaps he was simply no more competent than I at knowing how to resuscitate this mysterious model.  I wish I’d never met the guy…

And I wish the “inspector” had never whirled through our house.  In the light of all the failed lights, etc., I picture his time on our property as a re-enactment of the scene in the Tain Bo Cualnge where Cu Chulainn first takes arms.  Seventeen spears are rattled to splinters before the frightful lad finds one to his liking, and seventeen chariots are shaken to shambles before one finally withstands his “inspection”.  Our “inspector” must have some ancient Celtic DNA in him.  The paces through which he put our old warhorse left her more dead than alive.

And why an inspection?  We never had to jump through this hoop before, though we sold three houses within ten years as I struggled to generate some kind of career out of the Ivory Tower slaughterhouse.  I think it’s because the buyers in this case have no interest in actually inhabiting our digs.  Though a few years shy of thirty, the couple seems to me far less concerned about starting a family than about being the next pair on Flip or Flop.  Because they seek a loan not just to buy the property but also to gut and transform it—for a regal profit—the bank is insisting on ironclad assurances that its money is being well invested.

I can understand that—and I’m not unappreciative of the realtor for reaching out to this couple immediately rather than slapping a lockbox on our door and forcing us to bail out of the house every time some home-hunter wanted to take a little fantasy voyage through it.  But my wife and I have begun to feel somewhat “played” on several occasions since the all-too-easy deal went down.  At this very instant, a squad of roofers is pounding and hammering just above my.  The roof doesn’t leak anywhere… but the “inspector” decided that it needed to go.  That’s another $1,700 of deductible before State Farm will pay anything.  (The property is worth nowhere near the almost 200 grand that SF plugged into its formula to ratchet up what we have to pay: I’ve never received an adequate explanation of the figure.)

This has to be what a wildebeest feels like as it lies dying and watches the first vultures peck at its ribs.  What I hate most about the feeling is not knowing if I’m being hoodwinked or if, after all, I’ve just grown a little paranoid in the flurry of activity.  The poor fool who “repaired” the hot water heater was probably just in over his head.  The “inspector” was probably just a bit overzealous in shaking joints and stressing connections.  The realty/roofing/insurance complex… there I start to assume a “cornered prey” posture.  And while I’m sure that the two future stars of Flip or Flop Tyler have no particular flim or flam in their young minds just yet, their relationship with our realtor strikes me as extraordinarily cozy.  He negotiated the price… will he, perhaps, stand to benefit in some way when they put the face-lifted Taj Mahal back on the market?  I wonder.  I can’t help but wonder.

For this is Tyler, Texas.  Without money, you don’t exist—and everybody wants to exist, to be somebody.  Twenty years ago, my humble family was quickly assessed (by various “inspectors”) and cast into the bone pile.  Actually, frugality has left me better-heeled than many of the city’s distinguished citizens… but they don’t know that, precisely because I don’t advertise it.  On the contrary, an old guy who mows his own lawn, cuts his own hair, drives a second-hand car, and wears his clothes until they fall off… who would consider him advantageous to know or enviable to contemplate?

I would have liked to sell the house to another young family—for it has a generous back yard which I modeled into a pretty passable playground for my son.  (The buyers want to dedicate half of it to a pool.)  As I was digging up my movable trees in a bid to save them from the impending purge, I sometimes got a little choked up.  Three of my apple trees, and certainly my two almonds, have prospered far too well this past year to endure uprooting and transport.  I raised them from seeds and sticks… as I did my son.  In this back yard, we fashioned baseball contests, one against one, that we played with tennis balls (until he was consistently knocking those over the fence).  The ghosts of a boy and a young father linger about permanent bald spots where we had a pitcher’s circle and a home plate.

And then the boy played Little League… and his love of the game was almost destroyed by a man who ordered him to stand up on the plate and try to get hit by pitches.  I dared to gather a few of the team for a practice at our local school one afternoon… and then I, too, was issued orders: stay away from The Man’s team.  He had a cabinet full of trophies and a dream of big scholarship money for his grandson, whom he was pitching in alternative tournaments—against the rules—over weekends.  That’s why we never practiced.

So the boy played in another league the next year—Tyler’s “Negro League”, the YMCA.  For one year, we had the time of our lives.  The following year, the league was forever ruined when its organizing elite decided to arrange games all over East Texas, the plan being to draw families onto the field (a series of fields) right at supper time and rake in big bucks from the concession stand—cold cash, money in a form that could go missing from the drawer without a trace.  Same venality, different cultural approach.

Then the boy played high school baseball—very successfully, until his senior year.  We were unwise enough to secure him a college scholarship at that point and to let our success be known.  The money-bags dad to whose son the coach had often promised Division I scholarship offers was furious, especially since his golden child encountered arm problems (another case of gross overuse in tournaments) and received no offers at all.  The coach, infuriated in turn, took it out on our son, bullying him for a while and finally benching him for good.

All of these adults, by the way, are active in their churches.  All profess that they have given their lives to Jesus Christ.  Same for the headmistress of my son’s first school—she who kept a Bible prominently centered on her desk.  When I transferred the boy in mid-spring to another school because of an abusive teacher whose snarling, glaring practices were not being modified, the staff were immediately told not to buzz in any of my family under any circumstances.  At the time, I was giving Spanish lessons gratis to several grades.

Tyler, Texas.  A predatory hunt for profits in every nook and burrow of the forest, coupled with an ostentatious but skin-deep piety that magnifies mere money-lust to a different category of depravity… how could I ever miss anything about this place?  I want to miss something.  I raised my son here; we spent the twenty most important years of our lives here.  Yet every time I trap a moment of nostalgia as I box up the house’s contents, the bittersweet pleasure is at once murdered by assassin recollections that surround it.  I would like to be able to bundle up a few fond memories… but all of them would conceal the bug of an infectious and fatal disease.  And so I leave them lying in empty closets and worn-out carpets.

As an academic of thirty years, I wish I could make the proponents of conservatism see that every problem in our society cannot be reduced to a) the propaganda of a progressive left and b) the grotesque dreams of that progressive left.  We have a sickness.  The rise of leftism has exacerbated it by distracting us from it and forcing us to treat superficial varieties of progressive lunacy… but it was a preexisting condition, that disease, and it cuts to the heart of our national soul.  Boys should be able to play a game without adults circulating sordidly around its edges to turn a profit.  Old men should be able to retire without packs of young jackals descending upon them to nip at their life-savings.  Government intervention isn’t the answer: we can agree upon that.  Practiced manipulators will always figure out ways, not only to skirt around the rules, but even to collaborate in making rules that favor their interests.  We’re all enduring an evolutionary stage now wherein we have to fight off the intrusions of a do-gooder Nanny State—intrusions that only leave the poor poorer and the rich richer.  We haven’t enough energy left over to address our impoverished spirits.

For what we really need is an uplifting of the spirit—something such as might be provided by… oh, I don’t know.  Maybe the Christian faith? But where is that faith?

Digging in Rock and Re-Learning the Stars’ Names

We spent all of July 3 and 4 in a house possessed of little furniture, as yet: a small table, three deck chairs, a pocket-sized refrigerator retrieved from a college dorm, and a cot (I slept in a bedroll on the floor).  By day, I spent most of my time swing-blading weeds that had grown waist-high since the construction crew last plowed an industrial mower through them (obviously months ago) and trying to pound holes in rock for my garden transplants.  The scything was urgent.  Wild critters tend not to approach a domicile too closely if you make and maintain a clearing, but they grow pretty bold if you have underbrush scratching at your windows.  As for the rocky soil, which thoroughly shocked me… I finally figured out that the builder had bored down to bedrock for the house’s foundation—good, very good—and had then simply strewn his stony shavings and scrapings all over the lot, to be kneaded into the red clay by massive treads.  Not so good.  And the same bulldozers had left piles of brush along the original clearing’s boundary rather than hauling off the deadwood.

I don’t know how much of such “minimalist” execution of duties is routine these days.  I recall my grandmother’s house in Austin, built in about 1875.  Yes, the floors creaked and the plumbing and electricity presented constant problems, even when I was a child; but the faux fireplaces were true works of art, and the plastering and wallpapering had lasted for decades without showing wear.  Frankly, the woodwork, for all its creaks, was sound and fresh.  All the corners joined.  In my new house, occasional stretches of molding are not even glued or nailed in along the floor.

I have to conclude that, a hundred years ago, people cared about the job they did.  They depended more on word-of-mouth advertising and repeat custom, true enough; but I also tend to believe that they just took more pride in their craft.  Now contractors are forced to engage gangs of laborers who move from job to job almost like gypsies, many speaking no English and having no sentimental tie to the region where this week’s contract takes them.  “In and Out” is apparently the name of a trendy hamburger franchise.  It might as well be the brand name of our entire private sector.

All of that having been said, I got a lot of satisfaction from clearing most of my “compound” out with my two hands in just a few hours.  I infinitely prefer such labor to pushing a snarly mower around the lawn, back and forth and forth and back, so that my curbside doesn’t embarrass the neighbors and draw a pink slip from the homeowners’ association.  The litter piles probably aren’t as bad as I’d thought at first.  I can burn the deadwood in a trench, little by little, and fertilize my grounds with the ashes.

Pounded rock and all, the soil in its present state hadn’t dissuaded most of my transplanted peanuts from greening up by the time we left.  (I’m going to let them stay in the ground and spread this fall; they’re my future protein source in the event of societal and infrastructural calamity.)  The Georgia rain had murdered two out of my three cactuses—but the antioxidant-rich prickly pear were booming along.  My blueberry and goji bushes were nestled in soft soil next to the house, safely within the deadly shoals created by the bulldozers.  They, too, would be fine in my absence.

On the outskirts of the rocky shoal, I at last found sufficient good dirt to plant my trees.  Oddly enough, the orange tree (which represents the last of any kind that I’ve been able to grow from grocery-store produce: GMO proponents take heed) seems to resist all efforts to kill it.  The pomegranates didn’t appreciate being blown about in a 70 mph wind for eleven hours… but some of them, too, will survive.  The pecan and apple had been dug up too soon in Texas, thanks to the builder’s continual fudging about our move-in date, and the former has undoubtedly fled its roots to wander Pecan Shadowland in spirit; but the apple, miraculously, was sending up the tiniest of green shoots out of an unpromising stump as we prepared to leave.  I thought of Noah’s doves.

For housing my tools, I had hurriedly bought a prefab shed at Home Depot.  (Rubbermaid, of all people, makes them!)  One of the features I liked was the solid floor pad—but I discovered that I hadn’t leveled a space with enough attention to create perfect stability.  I’ll carry back some old plywood pieces from Texas on my final run to slip beneath the pad.  Here and on several other occasions, I was struck by the importance of being “on the ground” and actually doing the job if one is to know what the job entails.  That our preferred method of operation, in all official—especially governmental—undertakings is instead to stick to some master-plan generated by remote bureaucracies doesn’t bode well for the nation.  There’s probably more energy, time, and expense wasted in conforming to inefficient boilerplate models than you’d spend in entering a work zone with no plan at all and flying by the seat of your pants.

The county code, for instance, requires that hot water heaters have pans beneath them if placed in the attic—but the dopes who drafted this wording assumed the presence of a single-story dwelling. Our tank is on the second story, not in the attic; so it lacks the pan necessary to ensure that the house isn’t ruined in the event of a rupture, and we’ll have to get a plumber out on our own to correct the gaffe.

At dusk on our final day, as she adjusted the cot, my wife alerted me that a “cougar” was walking along the gravel drive.  It turned out to be a bobcat—a colorless, long-legged silhouette ambling into the shrouded west.  I’m going to have to convince her to carry a small sidearm on her walks if she’s making T-Rexes out of geckos… and I thought she was a country girl!

My bedroll held down the far side of the fort (since we’re still a little unsure of what visitors might prowl by night).  From the floor, I stared for a long time at rising stars whose names I once knew but have mostly forgotten.  Sirius, Betelgeuse, Altair… Arcturus, Deneb, Antares… was any of these any of those?  Four decades have passed since I was a kid on the fringe of Fort Worth, inhabiting the last house before a prairie began.  Now all of that area is concrete, tarmac, traffic, and smog—and I’ve been living in other cities similarly immersed in a suffocating progress.  I need to go back to school and re-learn my constellations.  I should have plenty of leisure to do so, if God is patient with me.

When the Left Serves “Nazi”, the Right Volleys “Confederate”: Ping-Pong of Slurs (Part Two)

I wish ye all a… what?  A “happy” Fourth of July?  Happy, when man/boy relationships will soon be demanding the legitimacy of marriage, as we see in Europe?  When you may soon be hounded out of a restaurant because the owner finds that you have made a politically incorrect post on Facebook?  When parents are already taking their kids to the old ballpark and having to explain to them what the LBGTQ promotion is all about?  Well, enjoy the fireworks… and don’t get indigestion on your hotdog.

Speaking of things queer… what did I read in Star Parker’s columns (whose name I misspelled earlier, apparently) a week ago?  That the LBGTQ rainbow flag reminds her of the Stars and Bars in its symbolizing of suppressed speech (I think that was the analogy’s crux)? And, in a later post, that the near-fatal beating of abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks in 1856 is a precise historical analogue to Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ being shamed out of a restaurant?  Did I imagine that?  Or… Ms. Parker, have you, too, lost your ever-loving mind?

Our radical Left today, tout court, is the modern incarnation of the Southern Confederacy: that’s what I seem to be picking up from more and more “conservative” commentators.

Simply on the evidence of the prisoner-of-war question (reviewed briefly in Part One), a rational, fair-minded adult would be forced to conclude (as were the Union’s own officers, in several cases) that the North’s operations were much the most cynical, statist, and ruthless thing going in 1864.  Yet twenty-first century America—or a significant part of its intelligentsia—has decided to remember the Confederacy as our own closest brush with goose-stepping Nazism.  This is precisely Glenn Beck’s argument for preserving Southern monuments: that they remind us of the diabolical infamy that once poisoned a sector of our society, and that they should therefore stand forever as a cautionary kind of scarlet latter throughout the South.  Now we can add Bolshevism to Nazism.

It is, in fact, hardly surprising that Star Parker would echo Glenn Beck.  He has served as her publicist and benefactor in recent years—a service for which I give him due praise.  Yet I find it distressing that canny observers like Parker should be lured by the Beck mystique into equating the Confederacy with the Third Reich—and now, it appears, with Antifa.  Along with deploring Southern prisons as anticipating Treblinka and Auschwitz, Beck is also the loudest contemporary magnifier of the Sumner-Brooks incident.  I have little doubt that Parker absorbed it from one of his diatribes.  Sumner’s brutal caning is supposed to have been (sayeth the prophet) a kind of dry run for a KKK lynching, with the Senator’s advocacy of abolition the sole catalyst of the homicidal South Carolinian smackdown.  To hear Beck spin the tale, you’d never know that the feud had been simmering away for some while and that scurrilous, personally insulting language had flowed from both sides.  Brooks, indeed, had originally considered dueling with his senatorial adversary, but he decided that Sumner lacked sufficient gentlemanly credentials to be so honored.

Another recent Beck “adoptee” is Dinesh D’Souza, a genuine martyr for free speech cast into prison by the Obama “Justice” Department.  The other night I saw a very brief excerpt of D’Souza’s forthcoming documentary—saw a briefer portion than the brief one aired, because my blood pressure instantly spiked and I hammered the “off” button.  Abraham Lincoln, that lion of liberty who plunged his nation into war solely to strike off the chains of Southern slaves, was juxtaposed with another irrepressible champion of the people, Donald Trump.  Fireworks, flags waving… all stand—and no knees, please.  I suppose Trump could also have been Churchill, since “Confederate” is code for “Nazi”.

I share Beck’s deep admiration for D’Souza… and for Star Parker, Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz.  I am so familiar with the Beck universe, in fact, because I tried for years to tag along with his broadcasts, despite their causing me to cry foul from time to time.  The maligning of Debra Medina (Rick Perry’s quondam competitor for Texas governor) and Geert Wilders (whose name the Beck crew can’t pronounce but whose heart they have read) are but two cases that leap to mind.  Beck, alas, has repeatedly demonstrated a tendency to reach across the aisle to his ideological enemies and to join these detractors in savaging shared sacrificial victims.  Trump is only the most spectacular example of such “outreach”–and is actually fair game insofar as his conservative convictions seem very hard to locate; yet Beck’s “never Trump” opposition has already morphed into a MAGA baseball cap worn on the set (hence the green light to D’Souza’s Lincoln/Trump conceit).

The point of such hop-scotching along the boundary line of principle is perhaps to acquire some cred as a free thinker who works with both sides and only wants truth and goodness to prevail.  (“I’m not a partisan… you see?  I just shot one of our guys for you!”)  Yet I don’t really see such cynicism operating in Glenn Beck at a conscious level: I think his motive is a more pathological compulsion to keep heads spinning (perhaps, especially, his own: witness the frequent public confessions—“I was so wrong then! It was my fault, mea maxima culpa!”). Occasionally some minor, remote, or uninteresting figure comes available to slip into a load-bearing crevice of the cloud-climbing Beck edifice… and in that crack the figure must forever dwell.  Better that one should be squeezed beyond recognition than that The Prophetic Vision should come toppling down.

I see relative innocents like Parker and D’Souza being swept up in the rhetorical tornado of Beck and other dynamos of mass media whose impulses draw them toward tradition (and who therefore cling to words like “Christian” and “conservative”).  Ben Shapiro is probably in the group, though an Orthodox Jew.  Even Louie Gohmert played along during Beck’s exhibitionist “soccer balls and teddy bears” expedition to South Texas (a microscopically short-term and unhelpful response to the ongoing use of children as pawns in border politics).

The magnetism of this man’s charism upon younger or less dynamic figures is a shame… but probably inevitable.  I once felt that attraction myself; but the slandering of my ancestors—of people like my father’s father and my mother’s mother—as a race of irredeemably vile, degenerate human beings snapped my last tie to the microphone and the megaphone of Glenn Beck.  Those people, to be sure, had flaws, and well they knew it—and bitterly did they pay for it.  Yet we hope (do we not?) to see a Christian, especially one whose professions are so stentorian, to understand that even the footsoldiers who wore the Nazi uniform were not all utterly evil.

I leave this week’s ramble in the hope that I have raised two points worthy of consideration.  One, of course, is that the Southern Confederacy has endured well over a century of being deliberately, wickedly caricatured—and that naive thinkers have now been duped to accept the cartoon as a fixed historical constellation.  There really are a lot of analogous distortions ongoing in contemporary academe and the news media, if such things interest you!  The vast majority of these are launched by the Left, but…

But my second and final point is that we are witnessing the birth of a new “catch-all defamation” from the Right.  Conservative luminaries have for years quite justifiably protested their being labeled “Nazi” because they think that the two sexes should have separate restrooms or because they think that a nation should have a border.  Some among them, driven to distraction by the unfairness of it all, have apparently found an abundant puddle of mud to sling back: “Confederate”.  You call me a Nazi… I’ll call you a Confederate.  Take that!  “The Deep South that nurtured the KKK, you know, voted solid Democrat for decades.”  How many times have I heard this enthymeme from Beck and others—as if the party of Truman, even, were that of LBJ?  And then the same mouths, within an hour, will opine from their other side, “JFK wouldn’t recognize his party if he were alive today!”

The only constant in this shifting equation, it seems, is that Southerners have always been wicked racists… and you, Linda Sarsour, are a Confederate!  And you and you, Saul Alinsky and Margaret Sanger, are Confederates! Stars and Bars to you, Louis Farrakhan!

The irony is that Glenn Beck—or so I thought (so he said)—opposed Donald Trump precisely for exploiting this ruinous “us/them” instinct in a nervous, resentful electorate.  Now Glenn has found his own one-size-fits-all category of villain.  His example often makes me recall the classic Claude Rains line from Lawrence of Arabia: “A man who tells half-truths is worse than a liar—because a liar only conceals the truth, but a man who tells half-truths has forgotten where he put it.”