Sunday, December 30, 2007

Year-End Recap of All History, Philosophy, Politics


As this blog’s first calendar year ends (more or less), let us start from the beginning — by following up on yesterday’s promise of a Kors-influenced history of the universe that explains my political philosophy in under 500 words:

Not only matter but time and space themselves began with a Big Bang (as far as we can tell extrapolating from existing evidence), making speculation about what happened “before” the Big Bang or “caused” it quite possibly meaningless.

We can either shape our beliefs as inhabitants of the resulting universe by empirical observation — and the cautious framing of refutable hypotheses and theories — or we can sit in our armchairs engaging in metaphysical speculations about what “sounds right” or “feels intuitively plausible” to our limited brains, the latter approach quite possibly producing fanciful or at least erroneous conclusions (such as, commonly, the belief that “Someone up there must be watching out for me because it’d be sad if no one were” or, less commonly, the belief that one’s negative thoughts are caused by evil zombies living beneath the Earth’s crust, as Richard Shaver thought — making him a natural McCain supporter if he were still alive, as explained yesterday).

Left with empiricism and direct experience of pleasure and pain, we can still shape a common-sense morality (and give some measure of respect to moral codes that were not developed common-sensically but get much of the same job done) by observing the rules and patterns of behavior that tend to increase human happiness and the ones that tend to decrease human happiness.  No rational law can descend from the metaphysical skies to make one desire others’ happiness, but (a) neither are metaphysical rules such as natural law or rights or the commandments of a supposed God ever observed to descend from the cosmos and enforce themselves, (b) most people as a practical matter are made more happy when — all else being equal — they think their actions are compatible with others’ happiness, and (c) even when people flout happiness-increasing rules, we can still objectively describe such rules and label the flouting “evil” — just as we can with objectivity call an eating pattern fattening even if the chastised eater does not himself care about the consequences of his actions.  That gets us a long way in using fairly conventional moral language to productive, descriptive ends.

In morality as in empirical observation, though, we quickly encounter our epistemic limitations again: we know from direct personal experience that pleasure is (on balance, over the long term) preferable to pain, but we cannot know in detail what things will make other individuals happy or unhappy — they have over six billion different sets of diverse (and changing) preferences, and that’s without counting the non-humans.  Being a good utilitarian, then, must lead to being an individualist of some sort, since individuals tend (however stupidly, inconsistently, and imperfectly) to know their own preferences and sources of happiness better than they know their neighbors’ (and vice versa) — and a libertarian framework of strict individual property rights, rather than collectivism and big government, fosters individuals’ ability to act on their preferences rather than having them overridden by the collective.  That’s all for now.  [499 words]

(However, if you’d like to hear about one way the human race channels its pent-up, instinctive desire to use force — in this case without inflicting it on anyone who isn’t a willing participant — come hear about Ultimate Fighting from Michael Malice when he speaks at Lolita Bar [and I host], this coming Wednesday, January 2 at 8pm.)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Current Mess, the Timeless Political Basics

In yesterday’s entry, I described the origins of my concern that conservatives are out of touch with popular culture. As it happens, today I read that John McCain is something of a counterexample and is courting the timely anti-zombie vote. In a similar fashion, back during his previous presidential bid in 2000, he likened himself to Luke Skywalker trying to escape the Death Star of Washington bureaucracy and corruption (or as Gersh Kuntzman put it, McCain saw himself fighting the Iron Triangle of politicians, lobbyists, and Imperial Battle Droids).

So if all I cared about were pop-culture savvy, McCain would be rising in my estimation (he is at least making a strong pitch for the nerd vote), though dreaded Huckabee’s use of supporters such as Chuck Norris would still make him a strong contender — and Ron Paul would remain my first choice, simply for shaking hands with Johnny Rotten, even though Paul in all likelihood had no idea who the Sex Pistols were before that.

In truth, though, trivial pop concerns aside, I think I’d take Giuliani or Romney over McCain (and a Paul or Thompson last-minute rally would be even better, but we’ll probably know by next week whether there’s much hope of that) and any of the aforementioned pols over Huckabee. Contrary to the impression created by his preacher credentials, I think Huckabee is an unprincipled opportunist, willing to say he’s a radical when that sells, say he’s a moderate when that sells, and give crowd-pleasing speeches affirming the fact that he likes morality (who doesn’t?) and cake (though not as much as he used to!) without going into too much policy detail. And when he does go into policy detail, he sounds dangerously populist — socially conservative and fiscally “progressive,” more or less the opposite of what I want in a government. That’s the formula that could actually render the right a bigger threat than the left if taken to its logical conclusion, though I trust it won’t be (that populist combo pleases “crunchy con” Rod Dreher, though — yet he, too, likes Ron Paul, a paradox that surprises me in much the same way that my first-choice-Paul/second-choice-Giuliani position surprises some of my acquaintances who see those two as opposites).

But to get back to McCain for a moment: If he suddenly emerges as the winner in all this, he too will likely continue to display opportunistic authoritarian tendencies (stifling campaign speech in the name of “reform,” pushing popular but unscientific approaches to global warming, trying to ban Ultimate Fighting), but at least he has some stubbornly-held principles, budget-cutting among them, and that one’s my favorite, so I could even live with a President McCain, I expect.

But what do I really want in politics? I am deeply indebted to Prof. Alan Charles Kors, from whom I will borrow the framing device of a very short history of the universe in order to answer that question in under 500 words — tomorrow. Stay tuned…

Friday, December 28, 2007

Retro-Journal: Conservatism for Non-Punks in Late 1992


Bush appeared to be something of a lame duck and Clinton would soon be in the White House — fifteen years ago, I mean (whether that historical pattern will roughly repeat itself may become apparent when the presidential primaries start in less than a week).

In late 1992, while most people were focused on the state of the economy, one of the things that convinced me George H.W. Bush would probably lose to Bill Clinton in the election was Bush’s stubbornly tin ear for popular culture — not that my own vote would be determined by such superficial things (I did a write-in vote for libertarian columnist Dave Barry, who was running his first joke campaign that year, so obviously my vote is not something I thoughtlessly waste). Bush condemned The Simpsons for failing to convey the same “family values” as The Waltons (while his vice president, rightly or wrongly, condemned Murphy Brown for glamorizing single motherhood), and he mocked Bill Clinton for conferring with singer Bono from U2 (or, as Bush accidentally put it, with mangled speech the likes of which we thought we’d never again hear in a president, “the rock grop U2″).

At one point, Bush sarcastically suggested that Clinton start taking advice from “Boy George,” and to this day I’m uncertain whether that simply meant the singer from Culture Club or, in a rare moment of cleverness, was a double entendre meant to imply George Bush himself — which might almost have been cool, though not cool enough to sway the election. When in doubt, it’s wisest to assume Bush is not being cool, though.

While Clinton was playing the saxophone on Arsenio Hall’s show, chatting hiply with kids on MTV, and causing even one libertarian female of my acquaintance to have a sex dream about him, Bush was apparently campaigning to govern some country that hates The Simpsons (the longest-running show currently on primetime television, in its nineteenth season) and hates U2 (one of the most popular rock groups of all time — and justifiably so, especially if we judge them by the really early stuff, to which all else still seems like a protracted footnote). I don’t know what country Bush had in mind (perhaps Iraq or Panama), but it wasn’t the U.S., as voters reminded him in November of that year. In that election as in every presidential election since, I would find myself thinking, “There is a case to be made for the Republican candidate’s election being better for the country, I suppose — but he certainly deserves to lose.”

Somewhat embarrassingly, since I have yet to write a book, it was at that point, fifteen years ago, that I first began toying with the idea of writing a book something like the still-gestating Conservatism for Punks, hoping (perhaps in vain) to teach conservatives the basics of symbolic communication and to teach non-conservatives what the right’s handful of valid points are, since those points are so often obscured by conservatives making fools of themselves. (As early as 1994, two years later, I appear to have files with names like “From Punk to Cyberpunk” that emphasize the capacity of markets to foster freedom — and creativity even of the “freaky, liberal” kind.)

In another depressing pop culture development, Superman died that fall, albeit temporarily. Luckily, Bush did not attempt to woo Americans by denouncing Superman or desecrating the fallen hero’s corpse.


Around that time, I worked for a two-week trial period for a man reputed to be an insightful marketing guru — and today, one of the world’s most popular bloggers — Seth Godin. He ran a little publishing and book-packaging operation out of his house in White Plains and decided to see if I might make a good addition to his small editorial team. Unfortunately, he decided that my major assignment during the brief trial period would be to write a book chapter explaining to CEOs how best to invest in the stock market. I explained to Godin (who, again, is supposed to be a major guru when it comes to business decisions) that I knew absolutely nothing about the stock market — and I meant that quite literally. I turned twenty-three that year, had no stocks whatsoever (and have never inherited a dime), and did not even know what the big Dow Jones number measured or stood for (I think it was hovering around 3,000 back then, to me a mysterious epiphenomenon not really essential for understanding supply, demand, and property rights). Pressed by Godin — and fearing a return to unemployment, given all the (technically erroneous) talk of recession that year — I cobbled together an explanation of stocks inspired partly by a Father Guido Sarducci comedy routine (the one about “the five-minute university”) in which he summed up finance as “buy low, sell high.” Keep in mind there was no World Wide Web (as we know it) with which to do research back then.

In a few days, Godin looked over the resulting chapter and declared it “a brilliant forgery” (almost exactly the same phrase that Roger Waters used around that time to describe the Pink Floyd albums done after his departure from the band), saying it sounded as if someone with almost no knowledge of the stock market had written a guide to Wall Street. Bingo, Seth, bingo. He transferred me to writing comedic film trivia questions for the next two days — a much wiser use of the Todd Seavey resource — but soon explained that he had already decided not to hire me based on my writing of the stock chapter.

To this day, Godin is revered by some for dispensing book-length advice such as: Your business should be like a “purple cow” — not just good, but extraordinary. (Some business people, by contrast, stroke quartz crystals for good luck or walk on hot coals.)

I would take my revenge on Godin, in a purely symbolic sense, ten years later when I wrote Justice League Adventures #5 — but I’ll get to that part of the story in a Retro-Journal entry nineteen weeks from now.


From 1992-1993, though, I ended up at another tiny publishing operation, working for theatre- and film-book publisher Glenn Young (himself a Perot supporter with some admitted authoritarian tendencies who gave up on Perot after the strange vice presidential candidate debate in which Perot’s running mate admitted turning his hearing aid off whenever the other candidate was speaking and at one point, based on his time in a prisoner of war camp, claimed to be the only candidate with experience “running a civilization”). I had been a theatre guy in high school and in my first year at Brown, so a theatre-oriented publisher felt “niche” in a familiar way, not so different from how I might have felt working at a comic book store. I am a multi-track geek.

I got the job by going to a career fair I’d heard about, organized by the people behind the Radcliffe Publishing Course. As it turns out, you’re not supposed to go to the career fair unless you’ve actually been through the Radcliffe Publishing Course, though, and the very Margaret Dumond-like woman in charge of the course grabbed me by the elbow as soon as she saw me at the event and escorted me swiftly to the elevators as if ejecting Harpo from a fancy dinner party, loudly telling one of her assistants, “This gentleman seems to be confused about whether he took the course!” She later explained to real graduates of the Radcliffe course that she can’t let every “sob story” in the city wander into such events.

A respecter of property rights, I’m happy to exit when I’m not wanted — youa stick arounda, dassa no good — and luckily I’d already given my resume to the woman running Young’s table at the job fair, leading a short while later to me being hired. Honest fellow that I was (and am), I told Young in the job interview that I should make it clear that I had not taken the Radcliffe Publishing Course despite him acquiring my resume through their career fair. Young smiled and said, “I like that — it shows initiative.”


Despite my libertarian ranting (of which my father once jokingly said, “Todd, we haven’t really understood anything you’ve said since about sixth grade”), my parents had (mercifully) never shown the slightest interest in politics before 1992, and they tracked middle-class American trends by suddenly liking Perot in the middle of that year, then concluding he was nuts after his abrupt departure from and return to the race (which Perot claimed was induced by Republican threats to expose his daughter as a lesbian with blackmail photos, for those who’ve forgotten — and, of course, it does sometimes seem as though every non-left politician has at least one close lesbian relative, so the story is somewhat plausible). I recall Comedy Central commissioning a (real) opinion survey that year from which they concluded that about 60% of people who claimed to have seen UFOs were supporting Perot, if that tells us anything. My parents would later become occasional Limbaugh viewers before simply growing disgusted with the whole political class across the spectrum. Their instincts aren’t so bad, in short, so I refrain from hectoring them.

David Letterman, who one year said on-air that he planned to vote Libertarian (it may have been for Ron Paul in 1988, as I dimly recall), said in 1992 he was considering voting for Perot, reasoning along with much of America (at that seemingly low-stakes juncture in history) that the country would pretty much keep chugging along regardless of who governed it and that it might be worth it to “roll the dice on this guy.”

That’s not so different from the analysis of (Ron Paul associates) Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard, who I was lucky enough to meet around that time, not long before the death of Rothbard, one of the most important libertarian economists and activists (and founder of “anarcho-capitalism,” the philosophy I cautiously endorse). Rockwell and Rothbard explained at one of their annual summer seminars that they had tried to forge an alliance between paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan (unlibertarian about many things but inclined to shrink government and radically decentralize it) and paleolibertarians like themselves (culturally conservative but strictly libertarian on virtually all legal and policy questions, quite a contrast with the party-animal stereotype of libertarians pushed by Dinesh D’Souza — as a negative thing — and by Nick Gillespie — as a positive thing). The paleo/paleo alliance is not entirely dead, but Buchanan proved ineducable on economics (hopelessly protectionist), so Rockwell and Rothbard hoped Perot, despite his own protectionist tendencies, might at least be a sort of “bomb” lobbed into the two-party system. Were it not for Perot’s summertime flake-out, I think they would have gotten their wish. Here’s hoping (for at least a few more weeks) that Ron Paul has a more beneficial impact.

Despite Rothbard turning so culturally conservative that he became anti-immigration in the end and even denounced the Marx Brothers for setting a bad example of rude anarchic behavior (such as crashing Margaret Dumond’s parties), I find myself thinking more and more (especially after reading Brian Doherty’s history of the libertarian movement, Radicals for Capitalism) that Rothbard was the first figure in the history of the movement whose mind feels contemporary with and in some ways similar to my own — a New York City-dwelling prankster, he realized how hopeless and ridiculous the marginal position of the libertarian movement appeared and nonetheless enjoyed triangulating his way toward freedom via different strategies and strange allegiances. And he was funny. When asked if he was a conspiracy theorist, for instance, he replied in his honking, Bert-from-Sesame Street-like voice, “Well, I’m not a conspiracy theorist — but sometimes conspiracies happen.”


Also attending that seminar was Chris Whitten, then still an NYU undergrad but soon to become both my friend and an important intellectual influence, since the tiny bimonthly gatherings of libertarians he hosted in the early 90s — the Classical Liberal Organization (CLO) — remain perhaps the most stimulating series of conversations (per capita) I have ever had, deliberately broaching the topics that are trickiest to resolve from a libertarian perspective, such as the rights of children. It was a room full of people who (in a rare combo) were both brilliant enough to defend complex philosophical positions and flexible and intellectually honest enough to revise their positions on a dime and admit the soft points in their own arguments. In short, it was politics conducted with the standards of a really good philosophy class, seldom the case in the partisan, electoral real world. Whitten would go on to found the first major libertarian website, Free-Market.Net (since absorbed into the small but cosmopolitan libertarian group called the International Society for Individual Liberty — while Whitten has gone on, ironically, to do things that actually turn a profit).

I’d initially met Whitten during a visit to DC that year, during which I talked to him and several of his fellow libertarian summer interns, including my college pals Christine Caldwell and Michelle Boardman, whose love lives — along with that of my traveling companion, Laura Braunstein — I heard about for a few depressing days, me being lonely at the time and our friend Chris Nugent having very wisely opted to skip the trip in favor of visiting his soon-to-be-girlfriend at Harvard. (It is perhaps telling that I still regret a bit that I never did get a chance, as was at one point planned, to leave that Rockwell-Rothbard seminar for a night to accompany a Danish-Belgian-American Stanford student to a rave she wanted to attend. Who knows what became of her, or of that Southern blonde woman at the seminar who thought having gay sex would enlarge the Pope’s worldview.)

I later learned that Whitten ended his summer internship by telling his fellow libertarians that the desire to work in and influence Washington, DC was itself unlibertarian and arguably unethical and that he would never return to the place in an ongoing professional capacity. And he never did. Now he’s a millionaire.


Unfortunately, as the paleolibertarians would agree, Perot proved to be not so much a precursor to breaking up the governmental conspiracy against liberty as much as a precursor to the (left-leaning) anti-globalization movement of the late 90s and the (right-leaning) anti-immigration movement of the late 00s — as I warned he would be in a column in New York Press a few years after his first presidential run.

Before all that, though, around the time of Clinton’s election, the overdue optimism resulting from the Cold War’s end was finally pervading the economy and culture, and I too was content to ride the wave, paying more attention to pop than to politics for a little while. The next year, though, would bring Hillary Clinton’s attempt to nationalize healthcare, about one seventh of the American economy — and the year after would see me getting desperate enough for a dash of libertarianism in popular discourse that I rooted for a Libertarian Party candidate for New York governor who was undeniably far more prankster than libertarian: Howard Stern.

(And I hope tomorrow to post an item reviewing some of the basics of what I wish would happen in politics, for anyone who’s confused or who perhaps is a first-time reader sent here by NRO or SadlyNo this week — trust me, I know it all seems strange.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Goldstein! Goldstein!! I Mean...Goldberg! Goldberg!!


That human beings can be hateful and destructive enough to do something like assassinate Benazir Bhutto and fifteen of her supporters is no surprise to me.

Islamists Like You

Lack of imagination, an obvious side effect of the undersupply of intelligence, is perhaps humanity’s biggest problem. And one of the most damaging effects of lack of imagination is the inability to believe that other people are like you and that you may be every bit as bad as they are and share many of the same evil impulses (those impulses themselves mostly derived from morally-neutral but animalistic instincts for survival and self-defense).

Liberals and leftists in the U.S., for instance, no doubt imagine themselves to be compassionate, warm-hearted people incapable of the kind of violence committed by rabid Islamists. And leftists rarely do commit such violence here, but — since I’m more dialectical than methodologically-individualist in my thinking about such things — I’d say it’s obvious that the calm here arises only because our peaceful, largely commerce-driven cultural norms train us from a young age to expect that conversation will be more rewarding than physical violence. If you grew up in a war zone, that expectation might not exist and certainly wouldn’t seem “natural.”

We are most certainly not spared violence here because individual leftists themselves (to continue with them as the example) are any more loving and gentle than the Islamists — who themselves think they are doing the right thing, of course, as does anyone willing to make personal sacrifices for a political cause. People always think they’re making the world a better place, even when doing so very conveniently allows them to vent their nastiest and most hateful impulses.

And when the mob, tribe, or cabal you’re with hates what you hate, there’s little apparent need to step back and ask yourself whether you’re all a bunch of jerks — though the rare, sufficiently imaginative individual will do just that.

Orwell’s Lesson of the Day

Orwell, perhaps the twentieth century’s most successful teacher of beneficial political lessons (beware Big Brother, doublethink, crusades against thoughtcrime, people who deny 2 + 2 = 4, etc.), tried to show his fellow leftists how ugly their proclivity for collective hate is by depicting citizens in Nineteen Eighty-four who gather each day for the “Two-Minute Hate” session in which an exaggerated, villainous version of an apostate, Trotsky-like figure named Goldstein is shown to them on large video screens — and they dutifully boo, hiss, and wail in rage, letting out the anger they are forbidden to show in all other social interactions (not so unlike some Islamic countries where criticism of Israel is about the only fully free form of political speech).

The capacity for hate is universal and easily channeled for political ends — across the political spectrum, though I suspect leftists tend (despite plenty of exceptions and counter-examples) to lack some of the dampers (behavior-shaping norms, not magically-better hearts) that conservatives and libertarians tend to possess for keeping their own capacity for mindless rage at bay. Libertarians are ever-mindful that no one is obliged to associate with or listen to anyone else, after all, and (most) conservatives see the maintenance of old-fashioned rules of etiquette and civility as one of their chief duties, even (for many) their primary goal, whether or not they always go about it the right way (thus their preference for, say, Winnie the Pooh over Freddy Krueger, much as people with darker sensibilities snicker).

No such restraints seem to exist for the for the leftist qua leftist (though, as human beings, most still observe the usual etiquette rules prevailing in society, of course). For many leftists, there are no etiquette or civility rules higher than current political imperatives — only preferred groups to protect (if you’re “lucky” enough to be a disabled gay black woman, leftists will probably not be rude to you) and exploitative villains to be destroyed by any means necessary (or at least by any means not resulting in expulsion from college, serious jail time, or revoking of invitations to future Manhattan cocktail parties).

SadlyNo vs. Jonah Goldberg

I can’t much complain about the inanity and venom unleashed against me on the leftist site SadlyNo this week, even with some of the hundreds of vicious comments spilling over onto this blog, since I seem to be but a footnote to their long-smoldering hatred of Jonah Goldberg (of which I was unaware, not having heard of SadlyNo before and, with luck, never hearing of it again). Goldberg, by contrast — having just written a book that dares remind the world of the deep historic interconnectedness of the left and fascism — is in for a pretty hefty dose of irrational hatin’ when his book hits shelves on January 8, if this week’s feeding frenzy is any indicator.

Indeed, we can calculate that if a minor figure like me (averaging about 20,000 Google hits in recent months if you use the quotation marks, having written about 2 pages on the left-fascism connection) inspired such a hateful frenzy among the “comedy”-making leftists — over 300 mostly-hateful comments when I checked that one site the final time — then Jonah Goldberg (about 500,000 Google hits using the quotation marks as of this writing, having written about 400 pages on the left-fascism connection) is due for a firestorm of at least the following dimensions, using basic hate-algebra:

Hatin’ [where Hatin' = at least 300 nasty comments] x (500,000/20,000 Google hits) x (400/2 pages on fascism) = 5,000 times as much Hatin’ as I received…

…which portends at least 1,500,000 nasty leftist comments, and that’s before factoring in all the multiplier effects of added media coverage. So I’d say Goldberg’s book is going to have an impact, which will of course make the nasty folk even angrier and less rational, largely to Goldberg’s benefit.

(At this point, since even the “comedy”-making leftists don’t seem too discerning about humor, one of them is probably planning to dash off a letter claiming that on top of all his other crimes, Seavey believes there is a “science of hate” that can be calculated mathematically. A lot of them seem to be that stupid.)

The insulting leftist commenters seem to be that breed of in-over-their-heads, nervously-”brave”-in-a-group bullies who can’t win on substance and so wait anxiously for their opponent to, say, drop a pencil or something, so that they can crow, “Holy shit! This guy disagrees with us and HE CAN’T EVEN HOLD A PENCIL! The hell with a book on fascism, Toddiola-boy, get yourself a fuckin’ book on gravity, dood!! UNBELIEVABLE! And they wonder why we vote for Kucinich!!”

SadlyNo vs. Todd Seavey — and the Inadvertent Admission of Liberal Fascism

I’m sure it all seems like productive, funny activity on the commenters’ end, but — to use that imagination thing I mentioned earlier — how would the results of the week’s comment-fest have been substantially different if, say, I had posted an entry asking leftists to weigh in with evidence that they’re a bunch of spiteful assholes who find it inherently amusing to gang up on people, and they had responded with frank confessionals affirming that hypothesis?

Keeping in mind that what I did to get them started was write a book review, note that they’ve so far, among other things, (a) bandied about outdated financial information about me, (b) called me clinically insane, (c) used various obscenities, and (d) suggested that I’m gay or some sort of ill-defined sexual deviant (which seems to be a favorite and almost inevitable tactic of online leftist commenters, which you’d think would raise questions about their qualifications to be the great defenders of diversity and tolerance and all that). As sociologists have observed time and again, a mob, not the most imaginative of beasts, tends to do exactly the same things wherever it manifests and regardless of its cause — such as go for the genitals. Clever move, mob. Keep up the innovative work.

One commenter, barking loudly up the wrong tree, even sounded very, very proud to know what form to file to urge the IRS to come after me for (imagined) filing irregularities (and a very short, boring, and pointless day’s work that would be for everyone involved, simple as my finances are). About that I have to make an observation: again and again, the commenters and bloggers themselves (who, again, are largely unable to imagine their foe’s sense of humor being superior to their own) accused me of overlooking some “irony” in my comments that they’d seized upon as all-important, yet none of them (as of my final glance at the comments) could be bothered to point out one very large irony to the other commenters, perhaps by saying something like this:

Hey, fellow leftists, this whole feeding frenzy began because Seavey wrote a very brief review saying kind things about a book by someone else that suggests parallels between leftism and fascism, which we considered ridiculous and heretical — yet now we sit idly by while one of own threatens, with obvious and pugnacious pride, to unleash an actual government agency upon this upstart, with all its powers of fining and arresting.

I suggested the left might think like a mob of fascists. Gosh, whatever could I have been thinking?

A Broader Problem with the Culture

Are you proud of yourselves, left, when you wait a bit, cool off (if you ever do), and look at the comment threads ye hath wrought? (I see one commenter has just added a note on my own blog’s prior entry declaring me a eunuch — more progressivism in action! Get those genitals, mob, git ’em, git ’em, git ’em!) If you are proud of this sort of thing, can you nonetheless begin to understand why most of America thinks you’re volatile and nuts and does not share your social-democratic dream of having our whole lives shaped by political committees made up of people like yourselves (instead of the more informal, voluntary networks of friends, family, and commerce that shape life without recourse to political combat — but more on those foundational issues Saturday or so, if I get the chance)?

But by all means, keep hatin’, left. It doesn’t really bother me, and it just makes it all the more apparent to the undecided that what motivates you is no nobler — though channeled less destructively — than what motivates those Bhutto-hating Islamists or, say, the Klan. It’s all hatred — and each of the aforementioned groups imagines its own hate to be the holy and justified kind. Our culture rightly values compromise and negotiation (even in a world where some issues have clear-cut answers), but more and more it seems that self-perpetuating hate is all the left has to offer, and that will always prove self-marginalizing in the end. Even the Nazis didn’t last, and neither will the Islamists in the long run, strong though hate burns in the short term — and right and self-affirming though it feels to the hater at the time (I’m sure a Viking who’d just finished raping and pillaging would be as startled as any of us to be told later “You’re a bad person because of what you did” — he was channeling his rage in a socially-approved fashion, after all).

I suppose this atmosphere is in part the downside of the past several years of (often brilliant) snarkiness in the general culture — comedies like Family Guy and sites like Gawker (SadlyNo’s apparent inspiration), both of which I like, don’t get me wrong. But the price we pay for that brand of humor is creating a generation who think that snideness is enough, proof in itself that you must be smarter and morally superior to your target. You’re wrong about that, of course, and you might want to think carefully about how powerless you’d be to gently and rationally persuade your fellow mob members in the (unlikely?) event it were ever you with whom they disagreed, perhaps even you who had an important but unpopular point to get across (unlikely as that may also be). There isn’t much hope for dialogue once the mob starts whacking the day’s chosen piñata-of-injustice.

In closing, good luck to Jonah Goldberg with his book — he’ll need it, obviously. He’s up against a formidable wall of stupidity, a wall insulated by arrogance and self-righteousness, nestled in mutually-reinforcing catechisms of venomous anger — all spat out with the desperate, joyless, my-turn-next laughs of petty sadists. Enjoy the snakepit you’ve made for yourselves, leftists. It will have to be your substitute for civilization.

(An afterthought: judging by the level of discourse this week, some of the leftists will probably also respond to this post by saying “Oh my God, he thinks a Bhutto figure! What a crybaby!” but I trust those smart enough to understand that that’s not at all what I’m saying will benefit from this post in ways that some can’t.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: Michael Malice, Ultimate Fighting champ Matt Hughes' co-author, on "What I Learned in Hillsboro"


Start the new year off in a mental headlock on Wednesday, Jan. 2 (at 8pm) by hearing Michael Malice describe his co-writing of the book Made in America: The Most Dominant Champion in UFC History by Matt Hughes with Michael Malice.  Bring your copy of this Hughes autobiography (in some stores now and officially on sale Jan. 1, the day before the Lolita Bar event) to receive one of the signed bookplates Malice will have available.

This week, hundreds of millions celebrated the birth of “the Prince of Peace,” while dozens vented their half-witted hatred against me on a leftist “comedy” site and in Responses to my obsolete Personal Ad and to my review of Jonah Goldberg’s new book (in which Fight Club was mentioned, as it happens).  Why do they hate us?  Essentially because I noted that Mussolini was a socialist rather than a conservative — which, coincidentally, was one of the main points of a prior talk by Malice (who has also regaled Lolita Bar audiences with stories of his “urban exploration” experiences and of having his life story turned into a comic book by Harvey Pekar).

In next week’s talk, though — probably his most manly yet — Malice discusses something far more brutal than Jesus or Harvey Pekar and even more brutal than leftists such as Mussolini: namely, Ultimate Fighting, the increasingly popular sport in which all combat styles, from sumo to kickboxing, are allowed and have now, after several years, largely been winnowed down to vicious-looking “grappling.”  Malice will also describe the ongoing cultural smackdown between his native New York City and the Midwest, since writing with Hughes meant spending a lot of time in Hughes’ very different hometown, tiny Hillsboro, Illinois.

Jesus is not absent from that story, in all seriousness: Hughes became Born Again in the midst of his ongoing fighting career, odd as it might seem for the sardonic and sarcastic Malice to be the man helping to chronicle such a transformation.

Again, you can hear about it all on Jan. 2 (8pm) at Lolita Bar, basement level, 266 Broome St. near Allen St. on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, one block south and three west of the Delancey Street subway stop (free admission, cash bar, and me, Todd Seavey, introducing Malice).

P.S. For those of you more accustomed to our usual monthly Debates at Lolita Bar instead of this one-man exegesis, think of this as an opportunity to get a handle on what the Midwest is all about before the next day sees the presidential primaries begin in that region (though, for all the New Yorkers reading this: remember that Iowa is not the same as Illinois, despite the corn and general flatness).  And consider the irony that the latest Republican to bubble briefly to the top of the GOP primary stew is none other than John McCain — who has long sought to ban Ultimate Fighting!

P.P.S. As it happens, the world’s real political and religious savior, Bono, was once asked what he thought of some of Bob Geldof’s more angry political statements, and he replied that he (Bono) always tried to temper his own statements in political arguments by remembering the two founding rules of Ultimate Fighting, no biting and no eye-gouging, while Geldof doesn’t always abide by those rules.  Bono, plainly, understands the importance of Ultimate Fighting in the grand scheme of things.  Join us Jan. 2 at Lolita Bar so you understand as well.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Book Selection of the Month: "Liberal Fascism" by Jonah Golderg (plus war and globalism)

liberal-fascism.JPG Book Selection of the Month: Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning by Jonah Goldberg

Happy Kwanzaa — or should I say fascist Kwanzaa? At least, you may come away from this book worrying that all ethnic-solidarity political movements (like the one that concocted Kwanzaa in fairly recent times) smack of the fascist desire to overcome the complexity and confusion of modernity through “solidarity,” whether individualism is to be suppressed in the name of the race, the state, or a revolutionary class.

While readers might disagree about how much of our politically-correct era smacks of fascism, they will not be able to dismiss the much clearer and more explicit ties between the Progressives of a century ago and fascism. As Goldberg documents — in detail that will likely prove excruciatingly embarrassing for many who (like Hillary Clinton) style themselves Progressives today — Woodrow Wilson, Mussolini, and later FDR and Hitler constituted a veritable (and vocal) mutual admiration society (as did fascists and their close kin the Communists until their Non-Aggression Pact fell apart). However, once fascism became associated with the Holocaust, the left scrambled to paint fascism as a right-wing phenomenon and deny that the left itself had ever been entwined with fascism.

Yet it was under Woodrow Wilson — a racist and imperialist precisely because he was a Progressive who wanted to remake and reform the world, eliminating poverty, alcoholism, and low-IQ humans — that war fever and “patriotic” censorship were at their peak in the twentieth-century U.S. Under Wilson, not only were antiwar publications shut down but you could be arrested for discussing the president’s errors in your own home, or for insulting designated “patriotic” organizations, such as the Red Cross.

As Goldberg puts it (with only the subtlest hint of the frat-guy humor we thought we knew him for on, here subordinated to serious scholarship that will surprise his friends and foes alike), the Progressives, such as William James, were always searching for “the moral equivalent of war,” to eliminate individualism in the purifying fire of collective purpose — and sometimes that “moral equivalent of war” turned out, in fact, to be war.

Like Mussolini, who said Wilson was plainly instituting the American version of fascism, American leaders in the early to mid-twentieth century felt that a powerful central state was the logical analogue of faster, more efficient, more modern methods in other areas of life: mass-market radio, automated assembly lines, modernist architecture, eugenics (eugenics being more a left-Progressive push than a right-wing one and often explicitly opposed to traditional, bourgeois, “unplanned” marriage and romantic norms). If you want to “get things done,” to act without the bourgeois restraints of property rights, individual freedom, and tradition, you need the strong hand of the state to refashion society, with the ultimate shape of the good society presumably being obvious to all, save perhaps those low-IQ types who would be eliminated through eugenics. Everything would work out just fine.

Or at least intellectuals from New Republic to H.G. Wells — and even Cole Porter — thought we’d be shown how to make things fine, by great leaders like Mussolini (and other socialists, since Mussolini always thought of himself as one and arose from socialism). I always thought H.G. Wells’s stories smacked of his arrogant Fabian Society-style socialism, but even when he depicted things like a human race that suddenly gains super-intelligence and thus (naturally) decides to hold massive book burnings to destroy now-obsolete works of bourgeois art, I never thought Wells was consciously fascist — just naively socialist. Thanks to Goldberg, I now know that Wells and others took inspiration interchangeably from both socialism and fascism — and why not? Both (closely related) movements were efforts to end the fragmentation caused by capitalism, individual freedom, and industrial modernity, drawing everyone together into a single, tribe-like collective. If socialism and fascism seem like “opposites” now, it’s only because we’ve allowed the left to claim for decades that they are.

But if we drop the partisan allegiances and look with fresh eyes at, say, FDR interning tens of thousands based on their race or denouncing as “traitors” any businesses that failed to display his Blue Eagle symbol and follow his industrial-planning orders, how vast are the differences between Italian, Russian, German, and American collectivism, really, at their philosophical bases (different by far though their body counts may have been — America and Italy being relatively benign and Germany and Russia each killing tens of millions)?

We Have Ways of Making You Talk About Fight Club

Throughout the kindred socialist, progressive, and fascist movements was the hunger for “direct action,” the (naive but familiar and almost endearing) revolutionary sense that what needs doing is so obvious that a fired-up mob can easily cast aside society’s bourgeois nonsense and, with one mighty push, make things right.

Goldberg sees a similar aesthetic impulse at work in several of today’s pop culture works, including Fight Club, which I concede I had a hard time “placing” politically before reading Goldberg’s description of it as fascist: it’s plainly Nietzschean, with its machismo and purification rituals and contempt for consumer society and desire to tear down the existing world — yet it’s not quite anarchic or leftist, with its battling male prankster-terrorists quickly forming a cultish and paramilitary force that reveres its leader. Fight Club, despite its partial pull-back from the abyss at the end, is arguably fascist — which makes all the more disturbing the surprisingly young, male, enthusiastic, and large crowd that turned out for the Chuck Palahniuk talk I once went to see, hosted by my decidedly non-fascist friend Read Schuchardt, a mild-mannered media studies professor. I had expected the Barnes & Noble that day to be filled with a typical crowd of ironists and film nerds, but Fight Club may appeal most to the same demo that forms the eager youth cadres in all totalitarian movements.

Similarly, the macho-achievement vibe of something like The Matrix, when yoked to a revolutionary impulse, may have implications that are as much fascist as socialist. Given my own current project, planning a book on Conservatism for Punks — itself intended to harness the anarchic, creative impulse for productive political ends — I should keep in mind that all such strategies are playing with revolutionary fire, and not all revolutions lead to Sweden, despite what some socialists might tell you.

Goldberg also reminds readers of the immense popularity of eugenics, across the political spectrum and among all the high-minded idealists of the interwar period (witness George Bernard Shaw’s unbridled enthusiasm for combining socialist economic planning with eugenic reproductive planning — and come back in February for my analysis of another brilliant yet eugenics-influenced writer of the 1920s, H.P. Lovecraft, as that month’s Book Selection). That is troubling enough to make me rethink my casual use of the word as a neutral or even positive thing when promoting biotech, which is quite a different, less centralized, less authoritarian phenomenon — voluntary, piecemeal enhancement for unforeseen but diverse ends vs. enforced purity and a single, all-natural “ideal.”

So Does All This Make Hillary a Nazi?

There is interesting volatility in both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidate polls as I type this, but as early as next week (with the Iowa caucus), it is possible that Hillary Clinton will cement her status as the Democratic nominee — and perhaps go on to be president. She is alluded to in the subtitle of Goldberg’s book and has, quite rightly, taken pains recently to explain that she is a “progressive” rather than a “liberal.” I fear that for once an American politician is using those terms in the way they were traditionally meant to be used. A century ago, when “liberalism” still meant what we today label “libertarianism” — minimal government, free markets, strict property rights adherence, and individual freedom (to flourish or flounder) — liberalism was a despised punching bag for all the early-twentieth-century political movements, progressivism, socialism, and fascism, each seeking to invest the state with the power not only to solve all our minute problems but to force us to band together with the zeal and cohesion of a tribe or tight-knit religious community.

Hillary’s not going to put anyone in internment camps (barring some strange new wrinkle in the war on terror), but as Goldberg explains, she comes from that same religious-left progressive tradition that saw itself as doing the Lord’s work whether it was expanding and ostensibly rationalizing the government bureaucracy or banning alcohol. Hillary has a mission, and it requires that we all think of ourselves as one “village,” committed not to selfish, individual ends but to letting government tax us more, regulate us more, and run our healthcare.

And she’s not unique this regard, of course. Goldberg also condemns “compassionate conservatism” and warns that “We are all fascists now,” as the subtitle of his penultimate chapter puts it. That is, after a century of collectivist zeal across the political spectrum (except among libertarians like Ron Paul, for whom I’ll vote in the Republican primary), almost all of us expect government to address every problem, speak to every heart, unite all citizens, forge a better world. We have largely forgotten that there was ever a time when government was a little-noticed last resort with few duties and few powers. As De Tocqueville and others warned over the past two centuries, it may be that mass democracy has inevitably led to demagoguery and a mild form of totalitarianism — government in every nook and cranny, but eager to “help.”

I’ll take another look at Hillary’s first entrance into the White House in this coming Friday’s Retro-Journal entry, and I hope the entry you are reading now will generate some Responses below about the broader question of how we go back to the days when politicians didn’t increase their popularity by sounding like they wanted to use the state to solve all our problems (Goldberg himself says he may weigh in here, which would be great). I’m not worried that America is about to develop Nazi death camps, but Goldberg’s book — which is too sweeping in its warnings to be dismissed as a mere anti-Democrat book a la Ann Coulter — does leave me worried that we have long since come to accept a watered-down form of totalitarianism as the normal mode of politics (is there any area of life not covered by regulations and taxes, any area in which politicians do not get cheers by promising to do still more?).

Socialists have long comforted skeptics with the assurance that if socialism comes to the U.S., it will be stamped “Made in America,” and Ron Paul recently lamented, in response to Huckabee’s rise in the Republican polls, that when fascism comes to America, it will of course do so bearing the beloved symbols of the cross and the flag. Have we stopped minding totalitarianism, as long as it contains a dash of patriotism and a promise to help the poor? Goldberg’s book, I hope, will spark a serious dialogue about that question rather than another round of distracting right-left name-calling during which the state will happily continue to grow.

Some Other Big-Picture Books from Editor Adam Bellow

The same editor who shepherded Goldberg’s book, Adam Bellow, has a few other books, out now or about to appear, that address other admirably large political questions, each worth reading:

Day of Empire by Amy Chua (a law prof at Yale with a thorough knowledge of history) looks at no less epic a topic than the handful of empires, starting with the Persians and arguably ending with us, that have dominated not just one region but the entire known world (in their day) — the hegemons, if you will. Encouragingly, she finds that such empires were characterized not by their unparalleled brutality but by a tendency to be very open to outside influences and eager to mix and match elements from diverse subordinate cultures, at least during their ascents — but to turn inward and become xenophobic and repressive during their declines. They also offered a package of imperial citizenship that subject peoples wanted. Should America strive for that brand of imperialism, accept a multipolar world, or withdraw to become a mere nation-state again?

I can’t be sure, but I will say that Chua’s description of the empire that preceded England and the U.S. as hegemon — Holland — offers an exciting example of an empire more of trade than of military might, leading me to hope that the whole “empire” analogy will simply become irrelevant as military powers melt away into overlapping, peaceful commercial “empires,” with ill-defined borders and little cause for armed conflict.

On a more practical level, I learned from Chua that Holland’s financial success circa the seventeenth century was built in large part on the popularity of civet cats, raccoon-like animals whose anal glands can be squeezed to yield a very popular perfume scent — animals that to this day are valued for their ability to confer an extra aromatic quality to coffee beans that pass through their digestive systems. So, since the 1688 Glorious Revolution in England transferred much of Holland’s monarchical and mercantile might to England, and since we in the U.S. are in turn the heirs of England’s common law and political traditions, there is a very real sense in which American liberty was founded on ass-coffee. (Civets were also the likely source of SARS, so they have their good points and bad points.)

The Al Qaeda Reader, a collection of essays and pronouncements by bin Laden and his associates, is a useful resource, especially for anyone still laboring under the illusion that al Qaeda is really just a group of “freedom fighters” who want to be left alone by the American imperialists. As they make painstakingly clear, they want to keep killing until they destroy all manifestations of democracy, individualism, religious pluralism, female literacy, homosexuality, and Judaism, taking as their literal marching orders the Koran’s instructions that the only non-Muslims to be spared are those willing to pay a special tax to their new Muslim overlords and submit to the ruling Muslim theocracy. Al Qaeda happily equates the duty to engage in jihad against non-Muslims with terrorism and sees Mohammed as a positive model of religious violence.

Interestingly, some of these writings are addressed solely to fellow Muslims and attempt to rationalize the aspects of al Qaeda’s philosophy that (thank goodness) seem counterintuitive to most normal, sane Muslims. Particularly intriguing, I thought, was the fact that while homicide in the name of religion is relatively easily reconciled with Islam, suicide is not — which means that conservatives and pro-Israeli commenters who were so keen to relabel suicide bombings “homicide bombings” a few years ago were unquestionably barking up the wrong tree. Calling al Qaeda or the Palestinians murderers is not going to make them feel guilty — but calling them suicidal just might.

As with so many other manifestoes in this world, especially ones by faith-based organizations, the writings of al Qaeda have an almost heartbreaking naivete about them at times: bin Laden never questions his most basic premises — such as the existence of God — but merely rails against the world, wondering why it chooses so brazenly to ignore the obvious truth. He can only ascribe it, exasperatedly, to some form of perversion or stupidity on our part.

Embrace the Suck: A Pocket Guide to Milspeak by Col. Austin Bay is just one of many small, useful, inexpensive items from Bellow’s New Pamphleteers project, and reading through it gives you a bit of a feel for the sheer pragmatism of military work, the grunt-level issues like dust, poor visibility, bad food, or obtuse bureaucrats that become part of daily, grudgingly accepted discourse. And “going Green Lantern,” I’m pleased to report, means using night vision.

World War IV by Norman Podhoretz, who coined that phrase to describe the ongoing conflict with Islamic terror and tyranny (World War III correctly, in my opinion, being reserved for the unfulfilled worst-case-scenario in the Cold War), is about as good a case for the neocon position on military matters as one could ask for — and it stops to dispel many little anti-Bush, antiwar myths along the way — but I am still left with the nagging feeling, as many (especially post-Boomer) readers might be, that this is an older generation’s World War II-forged model of conflict overlain on a much messier, more protracted, more cultural problem. Podhoretz’s dedication mentions the hope that his grandchildren will see the day of our “victory” in World War IV, but such sentiments just make me all the more painfully aware that there is no Global Terrorist Headquarters to be decisively blown up in this conflict, no Hitler-in-his-bunker moment that will end things with any clarity. The enemy is indeed evil and irrational and must be fought, but at the same time I think we’re going to have to wait for the gradual erosion of totalitarian thinking into commercial thinking in the Middle East, perhaps over generations, before we’re safe — if we last that long.

Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again by David Frum is another inadvertently heartbreaking book, about how Republicans can win America back after numerous terrible missteps (of course, while Frum is very smart and writes well, if you take his advice on how to rebuild the GOP, you’re taking advice from the same guy who declared Bush The Right Man in 2003, ten years after he pronounced the conservative movement electorally dead in his 1993 book Dead Right — one year before the GOP took over Congress).

Frum counsels his fellow conservatives not to engage in nostalgia for fights rooted in the 60s, the days of Reagan, or past fights over the size of government, since America has plainly moved on and wants its current, more mundane, everyday problems solved: healthcare, education, job anxiety, etc. We should also, though, push the idea that Republicans defend America as a nation, its pivotal role abroad, and its integrity in the face of runaway illegal immigration, always reminding people that Democrats are less patriotic and nationalist — even though Frum’s own stats underscore the fact that half the population doesn’t much care about nationalism or militarism anymore. (This is not to say that he doesn’t encourage mostly market-friendly, specific programmatic reforms, but the big picture still ends up being a patriotic message.)

Frum is a lot more convincing when he cites polls suggesting that rising Generation Y is the least-Republican generation in the history of polling, I’m afraid. Yet I’m not convinced that his effort to craft a Republican program that addresses people’s concerns as stated in polls is really the answer anyway. Wasn’t it chasing after focus groups that got us to the mushy, unprincipled place we are now? Might not a dash of popularity-be-damned radicalism attract attention and respect in the long run? (I’m reminded again of the speech by pollster Frank Luntz I heard in which he said libertarians could become popular as long as they stopped using scary words like “privatize” and “capitalism” — though I’m not sure you can win anything more than a Pyrrhic victory if you have to disguise your message that much.) There’s something odd, I must also note, about a Canadian writer seeing U.S. nationalism as a practical, broadly appealing solution to everyday problems like schooling and healthcare — but Frum’s way may end up being the next Republican blueprint anyway, so it’s well worth familiarizing oneself with it.

And Finally, a Solution

•If all this talk about fascism, war, and nationalism is getting you down, though, economist Donald Boudreaux may have the solution, with his new book, Globalization, which describes the ongoing emergence of exactly the sort of peace-making, life-enhancing commercial world order that seemed to be peeking out between the lines of Chua’s book, described above. Bourdreaux’s book is $55, so globalization is not without its costs, but at least you’ll have ample ammunition, stats and all, against the next person — whether Nazi, hippie, or Canadian — who tells you that the decline of the nation-state and spread of global capitalism is a bad thing. It’s the best thing, and the sooner government (left, right, or Islamic) gets out of the way of it all, the better.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Retro-Journal: Economic Anxiety in Early 1992

A rise in economic-protectionist sentiment seemed a non sequitur to me in 1992, the year the USSR formally ceased to exist (three years after the Eastern Bloc’s escape from its orbit) — even though I was unemployed in the first half of that year and half-wondered if this was how crazy homeless people got their start, with crazy homeless people — and crime — being in much greater evidence in New York City in that final pre-Giuliani year than they are now. I wasn’t homeless, but (with Chris moved across town to the West 20s and Christine gone to Oregon) my new roommate was almost enough to make one wish one were homeless. A fat, depressive lesbian, Fern Klein would do things like blast Madonna at 3am and engage in drunken, whining phonecalls in which she made pronouncements such as “I’m hurting, Terry!” I noticed she once scrawled a query to herself (on a foot-pain-treatment flyer) that said, “Will Medicaid pay to have tattoo removed with laser?” Sure, I was unemployed, but life was still classy, obviously.
The day before she moved out of the apartment, a merciful three months or so later, I glimpsed her hobbling around on crutches I had never once seen her use before, talking to a lawyer in our living room about whether she had a case against a restaurant or some other hapless establishment in which she’d stumbled. She was replaced by my final roommate in that first Manhattan apartment, a nice, intelligent public school teacher with the memorable name Addison Love. At least he didn’t stiff me for the last $100 of his rent when I moved out of the apartment in fall of 1992, as Klein had when she departed months earlier.
Despite such petty, youthful economic concerns, I fully expected the collapse of Communism to yield a big, free-market-fueled boom in international trade that would soon enough raise all ships, including my own, so the culture’s turn toward despair, worker anxiety, and economic isolationism seemed crazy and philosophically unjustified. Yet all the presidential candidates were embracing it, from the much-respected and economically-pessimistic Democrat Paul Tsongas to populists Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan.
George H.W. Bush was lame and had famously broken his no-new-taxes pledge, so I was ambivalent about his potential re-election anyway and not too wary of the pro-tax yet pro-business “New Covenant” program that candidate Bill Clinton was pushing — though I was acutely aware from the get-go of his tendency toward doubletalking and appealing to all sides.
While I was focused — like a laser, if you will — on economic issues (as most people were in the 90s, compared to the periods before and after), the magazine most closely associated with Buchanan’s campaign, Chronicles, was very much concerned with cultural questions, and their cultural prescriptions were about as pessimistic as their economic ones: best to keep the culture isolated from foreign influences, lest it erode and lose its natural, customary cohesion. To these “paleoconservatives,” as they’d begun calling themselves, the dichotomy at work in our culture was not so much that between right and left or between individuals in the market and an overlarge government but that between a global, cosmopolitan, traditionless, and seemingly bloodless overclass — whether in big business or big government — and the local, rural people (whether in the U.S. or elsewhere) who wanted to stick to their own old-fashioned ways without experts from the big, centralized cities telling them what to do (whether through government edicts or pressure from bigtime capitalist media).
I would eventually write two articles for Chronicles, one about the Forbes Foundation’s bizarre and culturally self-destructive grant the previous year to Brown’s Marxist/deconstrucitionist Modern Culture and Media department and the other about MTV’s odd mix of global capitalism and leftist sentiments, the latter piece wrapped around an interview (the first one ever, as far as I know) with then-VJ Kennedy, who struck me as a breath of fresh air (a hip, alternative-rock-loving conservative, back when there seemed to be none!) and who was very polite months later when I was one of the few people who made his way past an immense throng at a record store to talk to her during an autograph-signing appearance, while what seemed like a billion other people had come that day solely to see the new pop-punk band Green Day, to whom I had nothing to say. Kennedy was hesitant about claiming any thorough knowledge of politics back then, aside from confessing her crush on Dan Quayle and telling me about her Republican elephant tattoo, but she’d later go on to become a full-fledged libertarian and tour college campuses talking about the topic.
As I would eventually learn while listening to a DJ on Washington, DC’s main alternative rock station, she also writes poetry, including one poem read over the air that day by the DJ, which has stayed with me ever since:
Fishy, fishy
In the sewer,
How many doggies
Did manure?
I still think people who called her one of the more annoying VJs are out of their minds.
In any case, I didn’t then and don’t now embrace too much paleoconservative thinking, but paleoconservatism does strike me as a necessary counterpoint to the tendency of other political factions — right, left, liberal, and libertarian alike — to think that whatever solutions they’ve worked out should be adopted around the planet simultaneously and for all time, without too much quibbling about the local customs ploughed over in the process. It would have been interesting to have had these explicitly traditionalist arguments in my arsenal back when I was at Brown, where all factions tended to take it for granted that while we may not agree on which intellectuals’ arguments should carry the day, the winners would be entitled to reshape the world. It’s sometimes difficult to make a rationalistic argument against the rationalistic-sounding deconstructionists, but what could they plausibly say to the charge of arrogantly casting aside centuries of potentially-useful, organic, nuanced tradition in favor of their new-fangled Marxist or feminist programs, when it was so plain that that was what they were doing?
I alluded to such concerns in one of my columns for Reason magazine, for which I began writing regularly that year, when I recounted going back to visit Brown and seeing Camille Paglia speak there, she being another shining example of how every time I find what seems to me to be a valuable new perspective on the culture, it tends to be yet one more thing the left despises (is it my fault so few valuable new ideas come from the left?). Indeed, more-mainstream feminists in the audience hissed at Paglia, who delightfully shouted back at them, like a professional wrestler, flanked by bodyguards, calling them “you brainwashed toadies!” and rendering them silent at one point with the damning (and to many, no doubt, completely baffling) charge that their real problem was never having “come to terms with Durkheim” — Durkheim being the founder of sociology, who in a manner not so completely unlike the traditionalists at Chronicles, argued that every oft-replicated social pattern tends to serve some practical purpose, even if it is not readily apparent — which is not to say that it is necessarily good, but that it is rarely wholly arbitrary or easily replaced.
Paglia argued that art’s tropes are not arbitrary but rooted in human nature — and in the symbolic efficiency that comes from familiarity and long use — and she therefore had little patience for the remake-it-from-scratch-exactly-to-our-liking attitude of Brown’s spoiled brats. A year after I’d graduated, the idea that “political correctness” was stifling intellectual activity and traditional beliefs alike was finally becoming popular, with the phenomenon being criticized by everyone from Paglia to George H.W. Bush, one of his last positive contributions before being voted out.
An aside about Brown’s perpetual struggle to remain politically correct: I couldn’t help noticing that every time I went back to visit Brown after graduating, the name of the gay organization on campus, as reflected in their posters, seemed to get longer, going from LGA (for Lesbian Gay Alliance) to LGBA (for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Alliance) to LGBTA (for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance) and who knows what next, as various other factions — the questioning, the intersex, the straight-but-supportive, the asexual, etc. — each demand their moment of affirmation, as if that will bring happiness. I will say this for the word “gay”: it may not be as nuanced as the ever-growing name of the Alliance, but at least it’s only one damn syllable, and in a busy world, there is something to be said for that.
When I look back, it’s hard to make the case that I’ve undergone much philosophical development that wasn’t already encapsulated in the years 1989-1992, that three-year period that saw me go from arch-rationalist moderate conservative with a nagging interest in Strauss and Nietzsche…to more culture-neutral anarcho-capitalist libertarian…to grudging respecter of local traditions and of cautious, decentralized approaches (with an accompanying willingness to tolerate to some degree perspectives from across the political spectrum, each potentially possessing a piece of a larger, dimly-understood puzzle). Since I remained a utilitarian at base throughout those changes, some might say even those upheavals were no big deal, but certainly everything since seems like mere fine-tuning. Maybe I am boring.
But I don’t think I can fairly be called dogmatic, and to this day I simply haven’t encountered any compelling arguments for abandoning these sorts of ideas altogether nor seen alternate approaches deliver the goods they promise (unless you think government has somehow proven itself superior to markets since then, through its bang-up performance in New Orleans and Baghdad, or you are delighted with the efficacy of government’s standardized accounting procedures in preventing corporate fraud, or are willing to ignore the long waiting lines for healthcare in Canada and England, as most reporters in the U.S. do). In the second half of 1992, I would accept Clinton’s election gracefully and open-mindedly, if I do say so myself, waiting to see what would transpire.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Zombies, Capitalists, and Others in Film

I ended my previous entry by likening government growth to monsters from the H.P. Lovecraft story “The Call of Cthulhu,” but luckily in recent days I’ve also seen a documentary from the libertarian (and Catholic rather than Cthulhu-worshipping, not that I care to take sides in that fight) Acton Institute called The Call of the Entrepreneur that gives one hope for the future — depicting a handful of businesspeople and explaining what they do and why it benefits society rather than rapaciously feeding off society, as the conventional wisdom would have it. The documentary is scheduled to be on PBS in March and is the sort of thing that might actually change the way some people think about the world.

On a less philosophical — but still somewhat moving — note, I think I Am Legend, which made even more money than Ron Paul this past weekend, might be the best zombie film of all time, though I admit I never saw Zack “300″ Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, and if Snyder’s zombies were half as impressive as his Spartans and Persians, it was probably pretty good. J.R. Taylor inspired me to see I Am Legend by heaping praise on the previous film version of that story, The Omega Man (clearly the inspiration for the Police song by that title) starring Charlton Heston, which in turn was preceded by The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price, also based on the same novella. Now I really ought to watch the first two versions and compare — I think the zombies-as-decadent-counterculture subtext was more blatant in the Heston version, while the Price version has more lurid she-zombies.

I see no reason that we should feel sorry for Hollywood when it has a bad year financially, any more than we feel sorry for any other business (maybe people will lose interest in full-length movies altogether one day and do more reading, and that’d be no tragedy). But if a few well-done, thoughtful blockbusters like I Am Legend can be a big help to Hollywood, I predict 2008 (unlike 2007) will be a great year for them (I am rarely wrong about which films will be big hits, mainly because I reserve my most optimistic predictions for well-done nerd epics — including 300, which I found myself assuring a group of Warner Brothers marketing people would do well, a few months before it came out, while they were having doubts; when in doubt, ask a nerd — or better yet, pay the nerd some large retainer to make these predictions — then again, I admit I didn’t expect to be one of only a minuscule handful of people who saw Grindhouse, but that was an odd case).


So I say: Next month’s anticipated 1/18/08 premiere of the reportedly Lovecraft-influenced Cloverfield by Lost/Alias creator J.J. Abrams may do well, but the real action starts in May, when each successive Friday will bring another box office smash so huge that Tinseltown will be buried in tottering mountains of cash and no one will be able to summon any pity for movie studios:

Iron Man with Robert Downey Jr. perfectly cast as alcoholic arms merchant playboy turned armored hero Tony Stark
Speed Racer with the Wachowski Siblings of Matrix and V for Vendetta fame taking their computer-generated car chases to the next level
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, in which we find out (both on screen and in real life) whether children can cope with finding out that all the talking beavers and fauns they loved in the first movie have been dead for over a thousand years
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in which an aging Indy, circa 1960, has to rescue ancient-astronaut artifacts from Soviet agents who’ve infiltrated Area 51, or so I hear (extra fun for me, since an ancient alien crystal skull was the initial catalyst for all the magical, extraterrestrial, and superheroic events in the comic book and sci-fi plots I devised as a child, which perhaps I should post someday, complete with a map of the planet Doxilus, which is of course the lush planet of giant shrubs where humanity hides its secret fleet of vaguely Lego-shaped spaceships — unless Mom demands that the fleet be put away — in the distant, futuristic year of [I kid you not] 2006 A.D., though construction of the fleet began covertly during the Carter administration, with the help of some guys who came out of a UFO).

And the rest of the year will bring Heath Ledger’s Joker, Hulk, Hellboy, Holmes, Harry #6, heroic Starfleet officers, more Bond, and others plus more piles of cash, cash, cash — in no small part because, the odds are, nearly all of these movies will also be good (Wolverine, alas, has been delayed until 2009, when Watchmen by the aforementioned Zack Snyder is also due). There will barely be enough time for nerds to recover from their excitement over one film before heading to theatres to see the next, and the rest of you will simply have to ride along with the runaway cultural nerd-train, not that I mean to gloat.

(J.J. Abrams, responsible for both Cloverfield and Star Trek in 2008, has complained that the writers strike is already compromising his Trek-reboot movie a bit, since directors, no matter how talented, are not allowed to rewrite lines of dialogue on the set during the strike — a dream come true for scriptwriters who want to see their work come to fruition unchanged but maybe not so great for those of us who now have to see Trek reborn with an unaltered script by one of the same goofballs responsible for the fun but juvenile Transformers movie.)


In less auspicious and more TV-oriented nerd news, reports say David Hasselhoff will likely guest star in a new Knight Rider series, and that the new Fox Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles series will soon be joined by a fourth Terminator film with Christian Bale as the adult John Connor, destroying the evil computer program SkyNet in a post-apocalyptic war against cyborgs that we’ve been wanting to see for three decades — but apparently, he will not destroy SkyNet quickly enough to prevent what by this point seem to be dozens of unstoppable cyborg assassins from going into the past and failing over and over again to kill one teenage boy, which seems very implausible, even with a good Terminator played by Summer Glau from Firefly/Serenity defending him. Screw all the time travel, man, I just want to see the post-apocalyptic cyborg war.

Two downright worrying bits of movie news — because a post like this wouldn’t be complete without at least a couple complaints that my childhood memories are being desecrated:

•I was excited to hear about a big budget G-Force/Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets movie (based on the Japanese superhero/sci-fi cartoon) being in the works. After all, that show’s androgynous villain, Zoltar, gave us one of the most poetic lines in cartoon history, which I’m half-tempted to make this blog’s new slogan: “I am a lone oasis in a desert of fools!” But new reports describe this film’s version of G-Force as computer-animated talking animals, one of them with the voice of Nicolas Cage. Cage’s involvement is often a bad sign — from the collapsed 90s plan for a Superman movie scripted by Kevin Smith to the mediocre Ghost Rider (aside from that one dual-riders scene near the end) — but he loves superhero projects, bless him, so he’s not going to go away. Computer-animated talking animals, meanwhile, have their place but do not seem likely to wield jugular-slicing sonic boomerangs with quite the same deadly efficiency fans have come to expect from G-Force’s desperate spacewar.

•A Tom Swift movie is in the works (by the producers of Jimmy Neutron, which makes sense) — Tom Swift being the pro-science, pro-capitalism boy inventor from a series of old novels that were among my first and most important influences — but one of the producers said the movie will stress “green technology,” which strikes me as un-Swiftian. Then again, if the producer’s smart and un-p.c. enough to recognize the environmental advantages of nuclear power, perhaps they’ll adapt the book Tom Swift and His Atomic Earth Blaster. I’m not holding my breath, though.

On a more hope-inspiring note: Tim Burton (who was at one point slated to direct that ill-fated 90s Superman mentioned above) is now working on a big Alice movie, and Wonderland seems like the perfect place for the man behind movies like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — which our Jan. 2 Lolita Bar speaker Michael Malice once declared his favorite movie, though I never summoned the will to see it, since I just didn’t think it’d be the same without the songs from the classic Gene Wilder version, like that awesome number by Veruca Salt (the character, not the band) [UPDATE 12/28/07: Though Francis Heaney tells me, even though he didn't like the Burton version of Factory overall, that its Danny Elfman-arranged version of the Veruca song was quite good].

The best musical sequence in film history, though, is probably still the ten minutes or so from the time Brad and Janet enter the mansion until the moment Frankenfurter ascends in the elevator in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, during which time we hear “Sweet Transvestite” and, of course, “The Time Warp.” (And for good measure, here’s the video for Tim Curry’s song “Paradise Garage,” proving that there’s a very thin line between glam rock and disco, despite the overall Rocky Horror vibe being in some small ways proto-punk.) I have never held to the popular theory that Rocky Horror is a bad film redeemed by the tradition of audience participation — it’s an awesome movie, and the audience is expendable.

Speaking of time warps, I haven’t really mentioned anything wholly new in this movie overview, have I? Doesn’t matter — familiar or not, Iron Man and Capt. Kirk are on their way. Let Obadiah Stane and the Romulans, respectively, beware!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Review of the Candidates, from Paul to Clinton


Last night saw Avery Knapp hosting a Ron Paul presidential campaign party at the New York campaign’s HQ, 515 W. 29th St., perhaps-fittingly in a building that used to be a sex club and turned out to be located on the most decadent block in New York City, 29th west of 10th Avenue. And I don’t say decadent because the rest of it is full of porn or sex clubs (for that you need 42nd St. pre-Giuliani) but because it’s a strip of youth-filled bars so boisterous that at night it’s closely watched by cops standing behind traffic barriers, as drunken young people stumble home from what an angry Curtis Sliwa once referred to, rather quaintly, as “gin mills.” I remembering looking at that block one night, coincidentally, and thinking that it looked like the opposite of a libertarian society: irresponsible individuals plus an authoritarian police presence. But I hope the Ron Paul signs around that one door will now help make the neighborhood a bit more respectable.

The diversity of the Ron Paul movement is an encouraging sign, by the way, and a more moderate but equally diverse version of the movement might be the route to victory someday, making libertarianism the hybrid “middle” of American politics instead of a fringe — which is why I was a bit enthusiastic about Jesse Ventura when he first arose as a political figure, somewhat libertarian in spirit but too ordinary a mind to get frighteningly ideological, which may be the slightly-mushy formula America ultimately needs: a more-culturally-flexible version of conservatism, or “conservatism for punks,” if you will, rather than a precise economic creed that few will ever learn or love.

But in the meantime: Last night’s party was organized to celebrate today’s “Ron Paul Tea Party,” the latest Paul fundraising stunt, in which supporters hope to break the one-day fundraising record for a presidential candidate that they set back on November 5, the earlier one-day stunt helping to give Paul his boost in the polls from a meager 1% or so to his current non-dominant but respectable 8% or so. Pour the resulting money — including some of yours, if you care to donate — into an ad blitz in Iowa and New Hampshire, produce a surprise outcome in the early-January primaries there, and perhaps Paul will become more than a footnote. (Iowa likes Christian pro-life politicians, after all, and New Hampshire likes humble, libertarian candidates who want to keep taxes low and keep the state out of your life, so they all ought to vote for Paul.)

If no surprise occurs by that point, of course, it’s time for me to survey (with no small amount of horror) the rest of the candidate field and, while not necessarily picking one to enthuse about (one really shouldn’t enthuse about them), at least mull the better and worse plausible outcomes, if only to give myself something to feel anxiety about. Here are some thoughts, then, about all the still-viable candidates who aren’t Ron Paul, of which I count five now:


I’m pleased to see National Review’s Rich Lowry continue the NR crowd’s criticism of Huckabee, and it will be interesting if Huckabee actually becomes president with so little enthusiasm — perhaps an unprecedented lack of enthusiasm — from America’s flagship conservative magazine. (The Weekly Standard supported McCain at one point in 2000, rightly seeing him as the most TR-like, progressive/bold-projects-oriented Republican presidential candidate, but they’ve been pro-Bush ever since 9/11 caused Bush to have “national greatness” foisted upon him.)

Maybe Arkansas is the problem. I’m not the only one who finds himself most dreading the twin possibilities of Dem Hillary and GOP Huckabee becoming president, both of them plagued by financial ethics-violation charges over the years and both of them alarmingly and self-servingly flexible about their purported principles — even while being wrong about many of the things they stick to resolutely. It’s funny how the “New York” race of Hillary vs. Rudy could so easily become an “Arkansas” race of Hillary vs. Huckabee, and you have to think that would change the way Hillary talked about her past. To some extent, the record of how America fared under Bill Clinton vs. the somewhat Giuliani-like Bush would become a less useful point of comparison than how Arkansas fared under Bill Clinton vs. Huckabee as governor — yet who cares about those details? (My apologies to Arkansas state rep. Dan Greenberg.)

Since despair and inaction are rarely the right responses to circumstances (a utilitarian is obliged to keep seeking a way to make an unhappy situation yield long-term increases in happiness), I must add that if Huckabee is our next president, the entire focus of the center-right-libertarian coalition should be on holding him to his half-baked tax reform plan and — this is crucial — making sure that the part about abolishing the IRS, the existing tax code, and withholding happens before the imposition of a national sales tax (a.k.a. “FairTax,” though even to me it seems a tad regressive, more so than a flat tax, which always exempted people at the bottom in Steve Forbes’ formulation anyway — not that that stopped an ostensibly objective CBS News report from calling his plan “wacky,” despite the flat tax taking little flack when Democrat Jerry Brown was pushing it four years earlier).

If Huckabee actually scrapped the tax code, he could end up being the best friend freedom has had in the Oval Office since Coolidge (and would get a lot of cheers from Ron Paul supporters). But Huckabee doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt, no advance cheerleading — he actually has to accomplish this massive thing before I view him as anything more than our latest national problem.

At this juncture, focusing on SocSec or Medicare reform — or any other budget cuts — would make more immediate fiscal sense, but the IRS has to go at some point, so now’s the time, President Huckabee, unless of course you’re just a faddish demagogue or a lying con artist.


My anarchist political-junkie friend Michael Malice (who’ll speak to us at Lolita Bar on Jan. 2 about Ultimate Fighting, which McCain, incidentally, crusaded to outlaw) may have been right, according to some recent polls, when he predicted that Huckabee’s rise (as a religious-right candidate) would hurt Romney most. Huckabee, after all, is rising mostly as an alternative to pro-choice Giuliani, and GOP voters don’t really need more than one not-Giuliani candidate. I’m starting to wish they didn’t even have one not-Giuliani candidate, though, since I think he’d bring about a welcome secularist shift within the GOP (even Lowry from religion-friendly NR framed his criticism of Huckabee partly as a criticism of conservatives who focus solely on religion). And I think that absent a religious-right candidate, GOP voters actually would suck it up and vote for the tough-on-crime, tough-on-liberal-foes, terrorist-hating Giuliani, which would be good practice for them for facing what I hope will prove an increasingly secular future.


If Romney, endorsed as a sort of strategic compromise between religiosity and sanity by NR, becomes president, I am not at all worried that he would prove overly religious, though. If part of your own base is troubled by the fact that you’re a Mormon, you could keep throwing them bones (of Christ), but surely it’d be far safer to just avoid ever doing anything that reminded them you’re a Mormon. Stick to secular topics. And on those topics, Romney would be fairly sane. Not that I think Mormonism is substantially nuttier than other branches of Christianity — and it is a branch of Christianity, unless your definition of “Christian” is so narrow that even people who think Jesus is God and rose from the dead to offer us eternal life don’t count as Christians, which I have to say seems a tad narrow-minded to those of us who are completely outside Christianity — sort of like insisting that a woman who says Allah is the One God and Mohammed the most important prophet is not a Muslim if she doesn’t wear a veil. So, the Mormons think an angel talked to a nineteenth-century American and that we each get our own private universe after we die if we’ve been good, big deal — like Catholicism isn’t weird?


Despite the delight that some Democrats take in seeing Obama’s rise in the polls, I still think the odds are that Hillary Clinton will be our next president — and it’s interesting that many Republicans I know think so, too, while many of the Democrats I know, more prone to see the bulk of the American population as sexists and racists, don’t think either Obama or Clinton could prevail in the general election. Yet these Dems are rooting for them anyway, which I suppose is admirable. (I wonder who NR would have endorsed had they not explicitly deployed a formula for picking the “most-conservative viable” candidate [that is, electable at both the primary and general phase] and instead just followed their non-strategic, principled preferences — perhaps Giuliani, though I argued on it really ought to be Paul unless only hawkishness matters to GOP voters now — Paul fitting in more perfectly with NR’s stated domestic-policy principles than any other candidate.)

I do not want to dismiss the legacy of racism and sexism in the world, and (as I’ve been told several times in the past few months) I probably don’t say often enough that (at least some forms of) racism and sexism are precisely the sort of cultural problems that (unless one is excessively value-neutral and relativist in one’s endorsement of market outcomes) free individuals ought to work to combat, in ways that clearly render state solutions unnecessary (in the same way that properly-functioning charity and social networks eliminate the need for a welfare state). Having said that, though, can we all agree in advance that if perchance America actually elects a black president and female vice president (or vice versa), we are allowed to beat ourselves up about our history of racism and sexism at least a little less? I know it’s easy for me, born in 1969, to act like Jim Crow laws and the absence of women from the workplace are ancient historical phenomena — and that in doing so, I’m being as myopic as a teen who thinks the Cold War is ancient history because he was lucky enough to be born after 1989 — but times really do change, sometimes with surprising speed (picture New York City in 1907).

As for Obama’s policy ideas, mostly small-step advances in liberalism, they strike me as suggesting that Obama is in some ways more like Bill Clinton than Hillary is. Bill and Obama like a grab-bag of crowd-pleasing programs, while Hillary, I fear, has a vision.


I’ll say this for the Clintons — and we would presumably be “re-electing” them, not merely electing her, make no mistake — for all my griping about them and my rage at her effort to nationalize a seventh of the economy with her old healthcare plan, they (or at least Bill) always had the goal of making America fit comfortably into an emerging global, commercial order (even lefty Labor Secretary Robert Reich’s emphasis on worker retraining was born of the belief that readiness for global markets is the only way forward), as befits Democratic Leadership Council-affiliated quasi-moderates.

And libertarians, too, want a global, commercial order in which trade matters more than war, cultural isolation, and religious conflict. So in some broad sense the Clintonites and free-marketeers are on the same page (witness the rare former Clinton intern turned libertarian who was one of our debaters at Lolita Bar two weeks ago). I doubt historians a thousand years from now will even be able to tell Clintonites and libertarians apart — any more than most Americans today understand why the status of the central bank was the most divisive issue other than slavery in the pre-Civil War U.S.

My friend Richard Ryan — finance-sector-savvy yet solidly on the left and arrested in various political protests over the years — has long said that he feels like Western civilization is sloppily beginning to approximate what he regards as the political ideal, vibrant capitalism with a welfare state sitting unobtrusively atop it, but that no one besides him (and perhaps a lot of Europeans) is really articulating a philosophy that celebrates that two-tiered mixed-economy outcome.

There are different ways of reconciling oneself mentally to servitude, and I suppose if a libertarian like Jacob Levy can comfortably see himself as part of the liberal tradition (broadly defined) and Nick Gillespie is content to view libertarianism as a sort of “marinade” to be added to the concoctions of the left and right rather than a philosophy capable of becoming dominant itself at this point in history, perhaps I can avoid despair if Hillary Clinton is our next president by reminding myself that at least we still live in a very commerce-driven, investor-pleasing world, which is good.

Then again…I have long thought the cold-blooded Hillary is more ideological than her jovial, approval-seeking husband, and as I’ve learned from Jonah Goldberg’s impending book Liberal Fascism (which I’ll review on this site next week as my Book Selection of the Month), she is no mere emotionless, unphilosophical bean-counter but rather a woman schooled since an early age in a religious-left outlook that requires approaching earthly reforms with zeal and forging a sense of community centered on government (what Bill called “The New Covenant” back in 1992, as I’ll recount in this coming Friday’s Retro-Journal entry), a politicized, nation-sized version of community that nonetheless rivals the closeness of a religious sect or, if you will, a village.

That’s a problem, and it may well mean that regardless of whether we get the right-wing Arkansan or the left-wing Arkansan in the White House, we are about to see a huge upsurge in gooey-religious rhetoric being used to cover the welfare state and government in general with the public’s adoration. If so, in the U.S. as in the Middle East, we’ll have achieved the unholy union of love of God and love of government, in some sense a worst-case scenario from my atheist-anarchist (albeit bourgeois and moderate) perspective.

Real Christians know coercion deforms character, though, and libertarians (like Ron Paul) know that the state is systematic coercion, not a village or family, so if — as I expect — Hillary (after getting the nomination) reveals a surprising willingness to talk about Jesus just as much as Huckabee does, be worried about where we’re headed.

And with that, I’m off to a Hanukkah party that’ll probably feature as guests some New York Times contributors who don’t yet realize they face the prospect of choosing between rival socialist Jesus freaks come 2008. (Unless Paul gets a lot of donations, of course.) I’ll finish reading “The Call of Cthulhu” on the way there on the subway, worrying about what horrible future slouches our way.