Subscriber Community Thread (#11)
Essay responses; the most precious knack; highly dysfunctional leaders; the Elite and the Rest; woke puzzles; NGOs do their thing; Peter Thiel stares into your soul and mumbles about Saudi Arabia
Things have been a bit quieter than is typical around here, I know (this subscriber thread was supposed to be out in September). As usual this is the communists’ fault. China’s upcoming 20th Party Congress and some other chaos has been badly complicating my professional life, and will probably continue to do so through much of October. Which is why you should really all go ahead and subscribe so I can quit and write for you full time – and maybe also move into Ed West’s castle in Gascony, where I can pretend to be the Montaigne to this century’s Wars of Religion. (Subscribe to Ed too though, so he can afford the castle; mortgage payments on those things are really extortionate right now.) Anyway, I should be able to pick things up a bit after this month.
In other news, Substack has just released the long-awaited Android version of its very popular iPhone app. You can get it here if you’re interested:
Now, here’s the usual review and commentary for subscribers on some of the internet’s most interesting links from the last month (and a half). There’s a lot to cover…
R.R. Reno, “Liberalism and Double Standards” (First Things)
First Things Editor R.R. Reno has written a thoughtful critique of my “It’s not Hypocrisy, You’re Just Powerless” post in his magazine’s latest issue. His argument is essentially that the Class A oligarchs are more frightened of Class B peasants than they are reveling in their power:
To my mind, the true explanation for today’s blatant double standards rests in the weakness of Team A, not its superordinate strength. Our liberal establishment no longer feels it can afford the luxury of its liberal principles. “Our” democracy is at risk! They excuse their illiberalism because they’re convinced that much is at stake… The persistent appeals to emergency need not be cynical, or at least not always and only cynical. Most of us have a sense that things are coming apart. Our country is less coherent and less governable, more factious and increasingly angry. Team A is aware of these facts, and far from imbuing its leaders with a sense of limitless power, the negative trends fill them with foreboding. Their fears draw them toward questionable measures. They slide toward what Pierre Manent has accurately called “the fanaticism of the center,” a fanaticism that tramples those who dissent or resist. It fuels a thirst for ever greater control.
I’d say that’s probably true, but would also point out that fear and dismissive hatred tend to blend together rather easily, historically. But read the whole thing.
The Prudentialist, “Autopolitical Asphyxiation” (Substack)
Writing at his Substack, The Prudentialist has written a very interesting review of my City-Journal essay on a new right-wing counterculture. His main critique is that this counterculture risks falling into pure aestheticism and becoming kitsch before it gains any real influence:
What Lyons and Pogue have accurately pointed out is that these things are happening in normally left leaning or progressive areas of America’s elite settings of capital and technology. Austin, New York, and San Francisco, places that have been the epicenter of someone’s cringe compilation. This, of course, is why so much attention, the Eye of Sauron from the Paper of Record, is being put into this, but I do worry how much this is nothing more than their own transgressive version of getting their ideological rocks off. However, the monopoly stands [so] strong that the culture against those who resist will give the left even greater monopolistic control over body politic.
As click-baity as the title of this article is, my greater concern with this emerging “art right” or “new right” in general is the political transgressive nature of it all. While these art shows, conferences, and recruitment lead to something that can change the tide of things? Or will it snuff out its own oxygen supply as the fad runs dry and things just don’t hit the same? It is easy to be allured by the alternative vision of traditional Catholicism and Latin mass, or quoting Burnham at a house party, but if it leads to nothing more than just another club or subculture, then this may very well lead into the oxygen being snuffed out of any potential movement.
Rob Henderson, “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom” (Substack)
How do large numbers of people suddenly come to adopt the same view on an issue that, until recently, no one cared about?
Isaiah Berlin, writing in 1952, observed that no one had figured out how to predict in advance the “general line” of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union.
The abrupt and ferocious shifts of “correct opinion” puzzled not only outsiders, but Soviet citizens themselves. Even officials within the Communist Party were often bewildered at the sudden reversals of correct opinion.
The term “political correctness” was first used in 1917 by Marxist-Leninist devotees following the Russian Revolution. It was used to describe adherence to the policies and principles of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In other words, the Party line.
“Inability to predict curious movements of the line is a crucial failure in a communist. At best it upsets all his personal calculations; at worst, it brings total ruin upon him…But even allowing for disparate factors such as nationalism, human fallibility, and the confusion of human affairs in general, the irregular path traversed by the ideological policy of the Soviet Union still remains abnormally puzzling.”
Marxist doctrine helps to understand these zig zags.
This post by Rob Henderson explores how the ability to read the latest regime propaganda and quickly identify the “current thing” at any given time became what Berlin described as “the most precious knack” a citizen living in any totalitarian regime could acquire. And how sadly, “The inability to master the art of identifying the correct opinion to hold at the correct time led to many of the Soviet regime’s most faithful and devoted supporters to be exterminated.”
Read the whole thing, it’s fantastic. And oddly familiar…
Tara Henley, “On Collapse” (Substack)
Tara Henley cites several recent essays in local prestige media to note that the Canadian elite are now quite perturbed by a new trend: people who openly point out that things are not ideal right now. Some even dare to openly consider whether maybe “the current system of liberal democracy is inherently corrupt and corrupted, verging on collapse…” What is the best way to respond to those people who don’t think everything is wonderful, and say so? If your answer was “censor these dangerous extremists before they endanger the social and political order,” congratulations: you are a right-thinking Canadian!
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