Subscriber Community Thread (#6)
This time briefly public
I’m making this subscriber thread visible to all readers so that I can get out a few announcements at the same time, but the comments will remain subscriber only.
The first announcement is in fact that I’m going to begin making the comments on almost all posts subscriber only from here on out (including the free ones). This is not just because it will make a nice benefit for subscribers, but due to the scale of the open comment posts having started to grow beyond my ability to read and keep track of them, and moderate away the genuine nutters and OnlyFans bots. I think the community here will ultimately be better off for it.
Second, City Journal magazine has published a condensed version of my recent piece on central bank digital currencies. You can read that here.
Lastly, my next large essay will finally get around to the question of what the war in Ukraine means for China and the future of the global order (so you can stop asking me about this). I don’t think it’s easy to overstate how significantly this war has changed the state of the game, so to speak. This is a huge topic, however, so I’m not sure yet how long it will take me. Some smaller things like interviews are also in the works in the meantime.
And now for the usual roundup of some of the more striking things I’ve read in the last month. Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are on the above, the below, or anything else on your mind.
1. Aaron Sibarium, “The Takeover of America's Legal System” (Common Sense)
Let this long, bone-chilling piece by reporter Aaron Sibarium be your monthly reminder that no, the Revolution isn’t over.
In it we find law professors utterly terrified of their students, along with law firms that no longer dare to represent any remotely “controversial” clients because the partners are terrified of their young associates and their HR departments. Titular leaders are just hoping to retire before their company culture becomes “simply unbearable.” And we find bar associations now opposed to the presumption of innocence, because they believe the law should be equitable, not equal. And judges doling out punishment or mercy explicitly on the basis of the critical race theory courses they took in law school. And all of this rapid transformation of the American legal system, into what one liberal constitutional scholar decries as “a totalitarian nightmare,” being driven from the bottom up, by a generation of future lawyers and judges and Supreme Court justices trained to view the centuries-old cornerstones of American law as not only ideas worthy of near complete disdain but as obstacles to justice that must be overturned.
The adversarial legal system—in which both sides of a dispute are represented vigorously by attorneys with a vested interest in winning—is at the heart of the American constitutional order. Since time immemorial, law schools have tried to prepare their students to take part in that system. Not so much anymore. Now, the politicization and tribalism of campus life have crowded out old-fashioned expectations about justice and neutrality. The imperatives of race, gender and identity are more important to more and more law students than due process, the presumption of innocence, and all the norms and values at the foundation of what we think of as the rule of law.
All of sudden, critical race theory was more than mainstream in America’s law schools. It was mandatory. Starting this Fall, Georgetown Law School will require all students to take a class “on the importance of questioning the law’s neutrality” and assessing its “differential effects on subordinated groups,” according to university documents obtained by Common Sense.
At Boston College Law School this semester, a constitutional law professor asked students: “Who does not think we should scrap the constitution?” According to a student in the class, not a single person raised their hand.
The old-school liberals, those who have been around for three or four decades, say that none of this was supposed to happen.
Well, if “old-school liberals” are going to survive the decade they’re going to need to figure out why this has in fact happened, and fast.
2. Nathan Pinkoski, “Arming the People Against Revolution: Origins of the Spanish Civil War” (CRB)
Reviewing the works of Stanley Payne, one of the foremost historians of the Spanish Civil War, Pinkoski here lays out how Spain makes for a fascinating case study of “how democratic regimes can die from self-inflicted wounds.” He describes in detail how the peculiar nature of the left’s opposition to the Republic at the time – despising it while claiming to be defending it – kept the centrists in power deeply confused, unable to see what was happening even as the country began to tear itself apart:
Though a variety of parties helped set the revolution going, Payne argues that the chief culprits were the Spanish socialists. Unlike Bolsheviks, who seek to overthrow liberal constitutionalism by direct means, revolutionary socialists use the constitutional system to provide cover for their plan to dismantle it. They don’t overthrow the legal system, they exploit it. Legalists of the center and the Right struggle to respond to this tactic. In Spain, their failure was particularly acute. In The Collapse of the Spanish Republic, 1933–1936 (2005) and The Spanish Civil War (2012), Payne describes Spain’s descent into a brutal three-year war as the result of the socialist Left’s brazenness meeting the center’s carelessness and the Right’s pusillanimity.
Meanwhile the centrist governing authorities could only see the (in their view) more obvious threat presented by the far right, which colored their response:
[T]he center and center-Left enabled the descent into revolutionary politics by winking at the Left’s violence and punishing the Right’s. The rise of the “anti-fascist” trope in the 1930s, recounted in Paul Gottfried’s excellent Antifascism: The Course of a Crusade (2021)—which Payne himself has recently praised in an essay for First Things—served to stain anyone who disagreed with the Left. In Spain, it excused the violence of young socialists. Centrist authorities were unable or unwilling to stop attacks on private property, businesses, churches, convents, and clergy. Instead, they blamed the victims, arresting not the actual perpetrators but scapegoating monarchists and conservatives. As cultural theorist René Girard understood, this scapegoating does not break the cycle of violence, but intensifies it. When revolutionaries attempt to purify a corrupt state and society through scapegoating, those whom they kill become martyrs, whose sacrifice becomes redemptive for nascent counterrevolutionaries. In Spain, scapegoating monarchists and conservatives converted large sections of the population from apathy to anger. By letting murders go unpunished and unjustly punishing innocents, the Left created martyrs throughout Spain—galvanizing the counterrevolution and turning the conflict into a religious war.
And so in the end Spain became the victim of “a new, revolutionary kind of civil war [that] arose in Europe [in the 20th century], pitting irreconcilable conceptions of state, society, and culture against each other.”
In these conflicts, revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries aimed to establish radically different regimes. Payne is fond of quoting Joseph de Maistre’s dictum: “the counterrevolution is not the opposite of a revolution, but is an opposing revolution.” Once the revolutionary process begins, the old regime is finished. Both revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries—who are ostensibly interested in restoring the status quo ante—must found a new regime. As Carl Schmitt observes in Ex Captivitate Salus (1950), the determination of both sides to establish a new regime is the reason why revolutionary civil wars bring unprecedented levels of violence. The goal is to overturn the whole legal and political order associated with the enemy, leading to the call for the enemy’s absolute elimination.
Fortunately we don’t have to worry about any similar processes happening today, and so there are no potential lessons for us to learn from this tragic story.
3. Paul Kingsnorth, “Kill All The Heroes” and “Saturn's Children” (The Abbey of Misrule)
In these first two parts of an excellent series taking stock of our cultural upheaval, Kingsnorth lays out two concepts that I find quite apt and helpful. The first is what he describes as “a culture of inversion” that has taken hold in the West:
The West’s ongoing decline has caused its elites to lose faith in their cultural inheritance, and this loss of faith has now reached pathological proportions. As a result, the leading lights in Western society - the cultural elites, and sometimes the political and economic elites too - are dedicated not to upholding the cultural forms they inherited, but to turning them on their heads, or erasing them entirely… But this new worldview is - for now at least - almost entirely negative… It’s important to understand that the culture of inversion has not come about because new things are loved, but because old things are despised.
He describes how he came to see the last few years’ spasms of revolutionary outrage and iconoclastic violence as most comprehensible through this lens:
I saw all of it as a rolling statement by those who controlled the levers of power in the post-Western West, a statement that said: We are the opposite of what we once were. We reject our ancestors and our history. We condemn our past and its legacy. We have redrawn our cosmic map. We are now something entirely new - even if, as of this moment, we have no idea what.
The second concept is to understand what is happening in the West as effectively a process of internal colonialism:
But the most striking argument that [the late essayist and poet Robert] Bly made as he analysed our cultural collapse was that Western culture was now doing to itself what it had long done to others: colonisation. The methods that Western colonial administrators had used to demolish and replace other cultures - rewriting their histories, replacing their languages, challenging their cultural norms, banning or demonising their religions, dismantling their elder system and undermining their cultural traditions - were now being used against us. Only we had not been invaded by hostile outside forces: this time, the hostile forces were within.
America, said Bly was ‘the first culture in history that has colonised itself.’ Twenty five years on, America’s fate is also the fate of Britain and other European nations. Our internal colonisers have been ruthlessly effective in the intervening decades, and the ‘culture war’ is a product of their success:
If colonialist administrators begin by attacking the vertical thought of the tribe they have conquered, and dismantling the elder system, they end by dismantling everything in sight. That’s where we are.
4. Fraser Myers, “This is the end of free speech online: The UK’s Online Safety Bill is an authoritarian nightmare” (Spiked)
This week the long-awaited Online Safety Bill was published, which aims to make the UK the ‘safest place to be online in the world’ – in other words, the country with the most strictly regulated and censored internet of any liberal democracy. This mammoth piece of legislation was five years in the making, and those five years show. The bill is vast in scope, and terrifying in its implications for free speech.
I see that after taking back control Global Britain is continuing to do the hard work necessary to become an independent global leader in online censorship. And since we are doing reminders…
5. Emiko Terazono, “Food crisis looms as Ukrainian wheat shipments grind to halt” (Financial Times); Nate Rattner and Andrew Barnett, “Russia-Ukraine War Adds Pressure to Already High Food Prices, Threatening Food Security for Millions” (WSJ); Adam Korzeniewski, “Coming Food Shortages: How war in Ukraine conflict is creating a global humanitarian crisis” (Substack)
You of course also remember how way back in September of last year I had warned you about how, already, “Global food prices were up 33 percent year-over-year in August” thanks to pandemic response measures, and how, “Acute food insecurity is up 40 percent worldwide. 768 million people were undernourished overall in 2020, an increase of 118 million from 2019.” And how: “This is a situation that bears very careful watching, and not just because it’s a humanitarian tragedy – the link between food insecurity and civil unrest and conflict is one of the most robust yet established in terms of predictive techniques.”
Well now things are about to get much, much worse. Thanks to two of the world’s largest wheat exporters fighting each other, with the largest now under crippling sanctions – at the same time that we are in a global energy (and therefore fertilizer) crisis – the world may soon see outbreaks of famine and political instability not experienced in decades. This is probably the world’s biggest story right now, though it is only sparsely covered relative to the war itself. But while what is happening in Ukraine is a humanitarian catastrophe to be sure, much of the human toll could ultimately happen far from the battlefield in Europe.
6. Dan McLaughlin, “The Hater’s Guide to Woodrow Wilson” (National Review)
As a bonus, simply because personally I can’t resist a good denunciation of the man I consider to be among the most disastrous American presidents in history and the origin of countless problems around the world today (some pop trivia: how many people know that Wilson’s bungling was essentially responsible for the birth of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as Mao’s conversion to Marxism-Leninism?):
I come now not to explain Wilson, but to hate him. A national consensus on hating Wilson is long overdue. It is the patriotic duty of every decent American. While conservatives have particular reasons to detest Wilson, and all his works, and all his empty promises, there is more than enough in his record for moderates, liberals, progressives, libertarians, and socialists to join us in this great and unifying cause.
Thanks for bringing attention to the food crisis. I had heard only slight rumblings about this.
Also, your statement: "Well, if “old-school liberals” are going to survive the decade they’re going to need to figure out why this has in fact happened, and fast." strikes me as humorous and sad at the same time. Those "old-school liberals" worked very hard to produce what we have today. They simply didn't foresee its logical conclusion.
My theory is that liberals were very optimistic (like current techno-optimists) about human nature and thought that their ideas were ushering in a new age of magnanimity and equality. Instead, they ushered in an age of totalitarian-minded people who believe that if equality isn't happening, then we must make it happen by any means necessary.
What do you think?
Thank you for making comments subscriber only. It makes good sense.
I am looking forward to your article on the consequences of the Russia / Ukraine war on China’s behavior going forward. This is the a critical issue that I’ve been thinking about as Xi is not an ordinary thinker. I don’t believe it’s as simple as him taking Taiwan. He is thinking much bigger over a very long time frame.