340 Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt

Since monstrous despots seem self-evidently inhumane, many of us fail fathom why many millions of generally decent, ordinary folks followed the likes of Hitler and Stalin.  We too easily fancy that had we been there we would have responded quite differently—discerning their deviancies and resisting their allure.  So reading first-hand accounts of folks close to them enables us to better appreciate how easily they fell prey to these despots’ charms and manipulative powers.  Ernst Hanfstaengl, in Hitler:  The Memoir of a Nazi Insider Who Turned Against the Fuhrer (New York:  Arcade. Kindle Edition, c. 1957, 2011), gives us fascinating insights into this phenomenon.   The author’s mother was a blue-blooded New Englander, his father German.  The Hanfstaengls were prominent Bavarians with important political ties who owned a successful art-publishing house in Munich, dealing mainly in high-quality reproductions.  

Since his father wanted him to take over the New York branch of the business, it was decided that, after attending school in Germany, Ernst would go Harvard University to finish his academic work and get fully acquainted with his mother’s country.  In 1905 he did so and there “made friends with such outstanding future figures as T. S. Eliot, Walter Lippman, Hendrik von Loon, Hans von Kaltenborn, Robert Benchley, and John Reed” (p. 26).  He also made friends with Teddy Roosevelt’s eldest son, who told the President that Hanfstaengl had composed a song the Harvard football team adopted, featuring him playing his piece before the games.  (Ironically, this little tune was appropriated by the Nazis, who changed the words “Rah, rah, rah!” to Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil!).  Subsequently he was invited to the White House to entertain the household and would spend time with Teddy after he left Washington.  One time they “got to talking about art, literature, and politics, and the ex-President came out with the phrase which has stuck with me ever since:  ‘Hanfstaengl, your business is to pick out the best pictures, but remember that in politics the choice is that of the lesser evil’” (p. 28).  

Later, running the family business in New York and dining in the Harvard Club, he made friends with the young Franklin D. Roosevelt, giving him still more important connections.   When FDR won the 1932 election, he knew Hanfstaentl was close to Hitler, so he dispatched a private emissary, urging him to “do my best to prevent any rashness and hotheadedness.  ‘Think of your piano-playing and try and use the soft pedal if things get too loud,’ my visitor quoted.  ‘If things start getting awkward, please get in touch with our ambassador at once.  The message heartened me enormously, and in due course I was to do just that” (p. 188).  He also developed a deep respect for the United States and her industrial powers.  When World War I broke out an anti-German hysteria gripped America, and the government seized “the assets of the Hanfstaengl firm in the final months of the war.  They were worth half a million dollars and were sold at auction for about $8,000” (p. 30).  

Following the war Hanfstaengl stayed in New York for three years, running a small business he established.  But in 1921 he returned to Germany, finding a war-ravaged land with a demoralized populace.  Hoping to support politicians who would help the country recover, he attended a rally in Munich featuring a relatively unknown orator, Adolf Hitler.  Hanfstaengl was overwhelmed by “his gifts,” for “he had a command of voice, phrase and effect which has never been equalled, and on this evening he was at his best” (p. 34).  The crowd responded enthusiastically.  “It sounded like the demoniacal rattle of thousands of hailstones rebounding on the surface of a gigantic drum.  It had been a masterly performance.  I had really been impressed beyond measure by Hitler.  . . . .  With his incredible gifts as an orator he was clearly going to go far, and from what I had seen of his entourage there seemed no one likely to bring home to him the picture of the outside world he manifestly lacked, and in this I felt I might be able to help” (p. 37).

Greeting Hitler after the speech, Hanfstaengl offered his help, thus beginning a complex relationship that endured until 1936.  They saw each other frequently and Hitler often visited the Hanfstaengl home.  Hitler especially liked Hanfstaengl’s young son and seemed to have a special fondness for children.  But he most enjoyed Ernst’s ability to play the piano.  “Probably one of the main reasons why he kept me near him for so many years, even when we began to differ radically over policies, was this particular gift I apparently possessed of playing the music he liked in exactly the orchestral style he preferred.”   Hitler cared little for Bach or Mozart, but he had an insatiable craving for Wagner’s Meistersinger, Tristan and Isolde and Lohengrin.  “I must have played them hundreds of times and he never grew tired of them” (p. 50).  In those days, he confesses:  “I was an idealistic National-Socialist, I make no bones about it. It is a term which meant many things to different men, and I was no politician, but a piano player and art lover with ambitions to become a historian.  I had a better eye for effects than causes.  I had seen Germany degraded and destituted, and wanted to see the return of the comfortable and traditional values of my youth, combined with an honoured and respected position for what were then still called the working classes.  Behind a cloud of words and threats and exaggerations, I thought this was what Hitler wanted.  Above all, in his second surge of political activity, I was convinced again that nothing was going to prevent him from reaching the top.  If only the radicals like Strasser and Goebbels and the crackpots like Rosenberg and Hess could be off-set by people of more cosmopolitan views, in which I included myself, I believed the social revolution he preached would be orderly and beneficial. I was convinced, to use the old phrase, that there was every possibility of this poacher becoming a reliable gamekeeper” (p. 172).

In those early years there was much about Hitler to admire, though his close associates were less attractive.  They were petty-minded and constantly juggling to get power, willing at any time to slander or eliminate their rivals.  Many had immoral, “unsavoury habits” which Hitler disregarded.  His main ideological guide, Alfred Rosenberg, was “intrinsically illiterate, carried along by his ridiculous Nordic race resentments.”  Though Hitler considered him a great philosopher, to Hanfstaengl:  “‘It is tripe,’ I insisted, ‘and tripe remains tripe.’  I really did talk to him like this, any number of witnesses will confirm it. . . . .  Rosenberg is a dangerous and stupid man and the sooner you get rid of him the better.”  As events turned out I might just as well have been talking to a brick wall” (p. 122).  Detailing a decade of Nazi development and showing how Hitler evolved into an increasingly dictatorial leader, Hanfstaengl’s portraits of men such as Himmler, Goering, Goebels, Hess, et al. reveal his deepening concern for the trajectory of the movement.  When Hitler gained strength in the early 1930s, he needed someone capable of interacting with the world’s press corps, so he arranged a meeting and said:  “’Herr Hanfstaengl, I have come to ask you to take over the post of foreign press chief of the Party.  Great things are before us.  In a few months, or at the most in a couple of years, we must irresistibly sweep to power.  You have all the connexions and could render us a great service’” (p. 152).   Ever hopeful of injecting some balance and wisdom into the movement, Hanfstaengl thought that “this was my best opportunity of entering on the ground floor on equal terms with the wild men of the Party whose influence I had always feared, so in the end I agreed” (p. 152).

His hopes foundered, however, as Hitler took control of the country in 1933.  Hanfstaengl was effectively aside by the “wild men of the Party” and only occasionally saw Hitler himself.  Any cautionary notes he might sound, any restrained policy he might suggest—particularly if it dealt with the Jews—were quickly disregarded.  Hanfstaengl further detected a shift in Hitler’s rhetoric, as when he said:  “‘Now it is the heroic Weltansehauung which will illuminate the ideals of Germany’s future. …’   I pulled myself together with a start.  What was this?  Where had I read that before?  This was not Schopenhauer, who had been Hitler’s philosophical god in the old Dietrich Eckart days.  No, this was new.  It was Nietzsche” (p. 206).  A few months earlier Hitler had visited Nietzsche’s aged sister, who had given him her brother’s last walking stick.  It was as if something shifted within him, and he soon began spouting “Nietzchian catch phrases” such as “Wille zur Macht, Herrenvolk, Sklavenmoral—the fight for the heroic life, against formal dead-weight education, Christian philosophy and ethics based on compassion” (p. 208).

Sadly, Hanfstaengl confesses:  “Too many of us realized too late that the regeneration of the national life and economy was only part of the goal.  Hitler and a majority of his followers really believed their anticlerical, anti-Semitic, anti-Bolshevist, xenophobic catch-phrases and were prepared to keep the whole country in uproar in order to put them into practical effect” (p. 232).  Mid-way through 1934, after the killing of Ernst Roehm, it became clear to him that Hitler was a “pathological murderer” who must be opposed.  Hanfstaengl had naively helped bring “to power a bunch of dangerous gangsters” who would do incredible harm.  Two years later he slipped across the Swiss border and determined to live in exile so long as the Nazis controlled Germany.  He and his son managed to find refuge in England, but when the war broke out he was placed in various internment camps.  Later he was relocated to Canada.  While there he managed to get a message delivered to President Roosevelt, offering his assistance and was brought to a hide-out near Washington in order to provide intelligence.  But before long the British demanded he be returned to their custody, and after the war he was sent to yet another internment camp in Germany.  So for nearly a decade he suffered rather shabby treatment in various camps.  Finally freed, he wrote his book on Hitler, offering us a unique perspective on the man and his movement.

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One of the most distinguished scholars in the post-WWII era, Robert Nisbet, examined an important aspect of that war in Roosevelt and Stalin:  The Failed Courtship (Washington, D.C.:  Regnery Gateway, c. 1988).   It’s a deeply tragic story, showing how the arrogance of an American President harmed millions of innocent people by imagining he could charm and manipulate a devious dictator.  Ignoring the advice of well-informed advisors who actually knew a great deal about the Bolsheviks and their leader, condescending to Winston Churchill, who represented to him an antiquated imperialism, FDR thought he could win the war and reshape there post-war world through his personal finesse.  Much that he did, the experienced diplomat George Kennan said, grew out of groundless assumptions and a manifest “puerility unworthy of a statesman of FDR’s stature” (p. 6).  But as FDR told a former ambassador to the USSR, William Bullitt:  “‘I think if I give him everything I possibly can, and ask nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of peace and democracy’” (p. 6).  To bank on noblesse oblige from a mass-murderer shows the depth of the president’s naïveté!

Soon after the United States entered WWII Roosevelt wrote Churchill and assured him “‘that I think I can personally handle Stalin better than either your Foreign Office or my State Department’” (p. 15).  He’d never met Stalin, nor did he know much about Russia, but he had no doubts he could handle things!  Throughout the 1930s the New Deal liberals such as Harry Hopkins had perennially praised and supported the Bolsheviks, so Nisbet says:  “It is impossible to understand the wartime White House or even Roosevelt’s leadership in the war without reference to Harry Hopkins as friend, adviser, envoy, and trusted confidant to the President” (p. 20).  Hopkins, of course, was a social worker turned bureaucrat with decidedly socialistic propensities.  He had visited Moscow in July, 1941, and returned totally enthralled by Stalin, who had treated him royally, ao he continually prodded FDR to treat the USSR as a favored nation and to support its tyrant.  

Stalin hated Churchill, but he developed a superficial rapport with Roosevelt.  But he distrusted virtually everyone, even including eminent Bolsheviks who occupied prominent positions within the regime, and he easily learned how to manipulate the American.  Stalin desperately needed supplies only America could provide and wanted the Allies to open a second front in Europe to ease the Nazi’s military pressure on Russia.  So when FDR suggested face-to-face meetings he was happy to oblige.  They first met, along with Churchill in Teheran, Iran, in November 1943, where Stalin schemed to see FDR three times before the official sessions began, allowing the two of them to make decisions without Churchill’s participation.  In these sessions Roosevelt promised to allow the USSR to exercise control over Poland and the Baltic states when the war was over.  In return, FDR gained support for his vision of a post-war United Nations.  These private talks undermined both Churchill and the Anglo-American military leaders, and throughout the official sessions FDR unfailingly supported Stalin while poking fun at Churchill.  “‘If the tale is true,’ writes Keith Eubank, ‘Roosevelt had insulted Churchill who admired him, and demeaned himself before Stalin who trusted neither man.  In his craving for Stalin’s approval and friendship, Roosevelt imagined the joke had been on Churchill and that Stalin had laughed with him.  More probably Stalin had laughed at the President of the United States for belittling an ally to find favor with a tyrant’” (p. 49). 

In Nisbit’s judgement, “Teheran can be compared to Munich in 1938,” when Chamberlain appeased Hitler, and it marked the beginning of the Cold War.  “What would take place at the later Yalta summit meeting would be little more than a formalizing, a moralizing, to cover what had essentially been decided between Roosevelt and Stalin at Teheran” (p. 49).  Admiral King, one of the American chiefs at the meeting, “said at the end:  ‘Stalin knew just what he wanted when he came to Teheran and he got it’” (p. 50).  Unlike FDR, Churchill hated Communism and had gone to Teheran believing Germany would lose the war; so “‘The real problem is Russia.  I can’t get the American’s to see it’” (p. 50).  He left the conference depressed and pessimistic, realizing what would soon come to pass.  Churchill also thought the “total war” strategy of Stalin and Roosevelt, designed to utterly destroy Germany, would prove disastrous.  But FDR’s plan as promoted by America’s Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, gained authorization; it called for “the complete pastoralization of Germany,” confiscating all of her industrial equipment and permanently occupying the country.  “At Teheran, Roosevelt had agreed with Stalin that Germany must be dismembered and perhaps divided into half dozen or more small and separate states” (p. 55).  As one observer noted, it would replace “factory workers with shepherds and goat herders.”  Though this did not actually happen following the war, since Harry Truman was President, the Morgenthau proposal shows the degree to which FDR and Stalin wanted to radically re-frame the post-war world.  

Roosevelt and Stalin also opposed Churchill’s Mediterranean strategy, whereby the Allies would move quickly from Africa through Italy into Germany.  This would potentially defeat the Nazis and simultaneously deter the Soviets from occupying Eastern Europe—a strategy eminent generals such as Mark Clark strongly favored.  Following the war Clark wrote:  “A campaign that might have changed the whole history of relations between the Western world and the Soviet Union was permitted to fade away” because  the decision had been made at Teheran to open a second front instead (Calculated Risk, p. 368).  German officers, talking after the war, were mystified by this decision, but Stalin knew it would keep the Allies out of the Balkans, delivering them to the Red Army.  So he and FDR determined the Allies would invade France and move eastward.  “It is safe to say that had Churchill’s vision been allowed to prevail, the postwar history of eastern Europe and also central Europe, not to forget the Cold War against the West, would be somewhat different” (p. 61).  Opening a second front in France gave the Red Army time to march deep into Germany and seize Berlin.  Even then, given the rapidity with which Ike’s Anglo-American troops swept eastward, they might have reached Berlin earlier, for an American army reached the Elbe River, 60 miles from Berlin.  The Germans were furiously battling the Russians and left a path to Berlin relatively free for the Americans.  General Simpson recalled that he “had six or seven divisions” on the Elbe with   sufficient supplies to “have gone right on to Berlin within twenty-four to forty-eight hours easily’” (p. 87).  Still more:  “I have the feeling that maybe the Germans would have welcomed us’” (p. 87).  

However, General Eisenhower stopped him, giving the German capital to the Russians.  “Stalin’s joy must have been intense.  He knew very well the value of Berlin and the crucial importance of being first to reach the bunker that housed Hitler” and others.  “The Soviet capture of Berlin, courtesy of General Eisenhower, would be a crowning completion to a larger Soviet plan to assume hegemony in all of central Europe—Vienna and Prague included.  Stalin knew this; and he knew that Churchill had been working against its possibility from early in the war.”  Stalin also knew that Ike would have made his military decisions in accord with the East-West policies of FDR.  “Stalin might well have considered it another generous gift from the President, in accord with their private discussion at Yalta” (p. 84).  Churchill protested, knowing full well what would follow, but he could do little about it.    

Though the truly major decisions had already been made at Teheran, “Roosevelt’s courtship of Stalin proceeded apace at Yalta.  Of all the episodes of the Second World War, the Yalta summit in early February 1945 probably has the worst odor” (p. 69).  As ever, FDR scoffed at the “experts” who cautioned against trusting Stalin and charted his own course, granting “moral legitimation” to the Soviet occupation of territories conquered by the Red Army by issuing the Declaration on Liberated Europe.  Under its provisions, Timothy Garton Ash says, the peoples of “liberated” East Central Europe would be “‘compelled to abandon their hopes of Democracy, Sovereignty, Independence, Representative Government—to use Churchill’s own list’” (p. 71).  Churchill later termed the document “fraudulent” inasmuch as it served only one purpose:  to justify Soviet control over East Central Europe.  In private conversations FDR granted Stalin’s every request.  Anxious to involve the USSR against Japan, America’s President promised to give Stalin the southern half of Japan’s Sakhalin Island and the Kjurile Islands.  Amazingly:  “If Churchill is to be trusted, Roosevelt’s faith in Stalin even reached the point where he expressed intent to share the secret of the atom bomb with the Soviet leader” (p. 74).  

The iron fist of Stalin (the word means “hammer”) appeared wherever Soviet troops prevailed.  A month after the Yalta accords “mass arrests were taking place in Cracow, with whole trainloads of Polish intellectuals, priests, professors, and labor union leaders being taken to a huge prison-work camp” (p. 78).  Similar things happened in the Baltic states and Rumania.  Churchill wrote FDR a long letter informing him of such developments, stressing that:  “‘we are in the presence of a great failure and an utter breakdown of what was settled at Yalta,’” (p. 79), but Roosevelt would not join the British Prime Minister in opposing Stalin, for appeasing the Soviets shaped FDR’s policies.  He rejected not only Churchill’s advice but that of his own ambassador to Moscow, Averell Harriman, who wrote, just a month after Yalta:  “‘I feel the time has come to reorient our whole attitude, and our method of dealing with the Soviet government.  Unless we wish to accept the 20th century barbarian invasion, with repercussions extending further and furthers and in the East as well, we must find ways of arresting the Soviet domineering policy.’  In a separate message, Harriman wrote:  ‘We must come to clearly realize that the Soviet program is the establishment of totalitarianism, ending personal liberty and democracy ads we know it’” (p. 81).  

FDR died on April 12, 1945, just two months after Yalta.  Would he have reconsidered his relationship with and promises to Stalin had he lived longer?  Probably not, because one of his deepest desires was to accomplish what Woodrow Wilson failed to do—remaking the world.  FDR wanted, Sir John Wheeler-Bennett says, not only to “‘establish the United Nations but to superimpose upon it an American-Soviet alliance which should dominate world affairs rot rather detriment of Britain and France, and to this end he made copious concessions to Marshal Stalin’” (p. 95).  In quest of that goal he consigned millions to misery for four decades.  Courting a monster inevitably entails falling prey to his machinations. 

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339 CYNICAL THEORIES and a FALSE GOSPEL

Some current illustrations reveal a disturbing, highly aggressive ideology, rooted in cultural Marxism and deeply racist in nature.  When announcing his cabinet nominees, Joe Biden said little about their qualifications while routinely stressing their membership is certain groups—black, Hispanic, female, gay, etc.  In Oregon the state board of education has decreed that mathematics is patriarchal and white supremacist inasmuch as it invokes objectivity.  So math must now be taught to encourage various aspects of the “woke” dogma.  Chicago’s teachers successfully revised the city’s teacher qualifications to emphasize empathy for disadvantaged groups rather than academic proficiency.  A book entitled Engineering and Social Justice, declares:  “getting beyond views of truth as objective and absolute is the most fundamental change we need in engineering education.”  Tennis legend Martina Navratilova endured savage attacks for saying men claiming to be women ought not compete with  biological women.  It’s evident that “identity,” real or assumed, matters much to many of those controlling us.   And we’re facing what Douglas Murray, in The Madness of Crowds, describes as “antiracist racism.”

The complex roots and branches of this phenomenon is explored by Helen Pluckrose and James Lidsay in Cynical Theories:  how activist scholarship made everything about race, gender, and identity-and why this harms everybody (Durham, N.C.:  Pitchstone Publishing, Kindle Edition, c. 2020).  The word cynical means faultfinding, captious, or currish, and the theories examined are precisely that—filled with rancor, rage, malice and calumny.  The two authors (Pluckrose is British, Lindsay American) are deeply committed to the Enlightenment-incubated European and American liberalism that flourished for two centuries.  So they are deeply distressed by the Postmodernism promulgated by today’s Leftists who dismiss “objective truth as a fantasy dreamed up by naive and/or arrogantly bigoted Enlightenment thinkers.”  They inevitably espouse epistemological skepticism and ethical relativism and now fly the flag of “social justice,” which has “either become or given rise to one of the least tolerant and most authoritarian ideologies that the world has had to deal with since the widespread decline of communism and the collapses of white supremacy and colonialism” (p. 13).  To disabuse readers of any positive illusions regarding today’s “social justice warriors” this book was written.

In rejecting “metanarratives” such as Christianity or Marxism, Postmodernists have also rejected science, reason, and other pillars of post-Enlightenment Western Democracy while advancing what they call “Theory.”  Their forebears include, most notably, some French professors—Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-François Lyotard—whose intellectual heirs now occupy some of the most powerful positions in our world.  They “are obsessed with power, language, knowledge, and the relationships between them.”  Everything is reduced to a power-struggle between social groups, primarily race, sex, gender.  “To an outsider, this culture feels as though it originated on another planet, whose inhabitants have no knowledge of sexually reproducing species, and who interpret all our human sociological interactions in the most cynical way possible” (p. 16).  Literally everything—knowledge, history, religion, art, etc.—is culturally constructed.  Postmodernists see what they want to see, not what actually is.  They value what pleases them, not what is intrinsically valuable.  

Inasmuch as anything unites postmodernists it’s their rejection of the correspondence theory of truth.  Denying the possibility of objective truth and reason, they need not demonstrate or prove anything.  Neither data nor logic much matter.  Instead, they assert their “truths” and seek to impose them by manipulating the powers that be by any means possible. They also reject the metaphysical notion of selfhood (the autonomous individual), asserting that persons are mere members of certain groups.  They claim there are “other ways of knowing” far better than empirical science and deductive logic—mainly it is “lived experience,” meaning personal stories rather than facts.  Emotion, especially, shows how strongly-felt “truths” need no objective validation.  As is true of many ideologies, Postmodernists “have created a new religion, a tradition of faith that is actively hostile to reason, falsification, disconfirmation, and disagreement of any kind.  Indeed, the whole postmodernist project now seems, in retrospect, like an unwitting attempt to have deconstructed the old metanarratives of Western thought—science and reason along with religion and capitalist economic systems—to make room for a wholly new religion, a postmodern faith based on a dead God, which sees mysterious worldly forces in systems of power and privilege and which sanctifies victimhood.  This, increasingly, is the fundamentalist religion of the nominally secular left” (p. 212).

Merging with some Marxist currents in the 1990s, today’s “applied postmodernism”  now promotes the “Social Justice scholarship” so pervasive in our schools and universities.  Earlier Postmodernists  merely discerned the covert powers making our world.  Today’s devotees (following Marx’s injunction to change, rather than describe things) prescribe stringent solutions to societal inequities.  Consequently, we now have postcolonial, queer, and critical race Theories, along with gender studies, disability studies, and fat studies, all demanding political action.  Scholars have become activists.  No longer do university professors dispassionately weigh contending views, trying to disregard personal biases.  Instead, Social Justice Warriors turn lecterns into pulpits, writing incendiary manifestoes rather than nuanced analyses.  “Teaching is now supposed to be a political act, and only one type of politics is acceptable—identity politics, as defined by Social Justice and Theory” (p. 63).   Abandoning the canons of traditional scholarship in order to do “research studies,” their publications are distinguished not by rigor or quality but by their identification with and advocacy for a variety of ever-increasing number of oppressed groups. 

These teachers and their “studies” have powerfully influenced politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats, clergy, and business executives.  Most obviously is the pervasive fixation on race.  A black Harvard law professor, Derrick Bell, first set forth what is called “critical race Theory.”  He argued that whites only allow blacks to progress in ways that maintain their white privilege and power.  He denied “the possibility that any moral progress had been made since the Jim Crow era,” declaring, in his 1987 book And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice, that recent advances in civil are mere mirages papering over the fact that whites do everything possible to stay in control.  If you cannot find obvious discriminatory practices you look for camouflaged micro-aggressions, hate speech, cultural appropriations, etc.  

Rather quickly Bell’s critique infiltrated the worlds of education and media, wherein we’re “told that racism is embedded in culture and that we cannot escape it.  We hear that white people are inherently racist.  We are told that racism is ‘prejudice plus power,’ therefore, only white people can be racist.  We are informed that only people of color can talk about racism, that white people need to just listen, and that they don’t have the ‘racial stamina’ to engage it.  We hear that not seeing people in terms of their race (being color-blind) is, in fact, racist and an attempt to ignore the pervasive racism that dominates society and perpetuates white privilege” (p. 121).  

Consequently we behold the extraordinary success of Robin Di-Angelo’s White Fragility.  She (a white woman) says all whites profit from their white supremacy.  That’s “The Truth According to Social Justice,” and she insists no one dare question her.  To do so is a mark of “fragility”—the inability to accept what she assumes demonstrably self-evident.  Anyone daring to do so must be “cancelled.”  Instead, to prove we’re as righteous as she, we must embrace her “Truth” and join her in exploring it, “learning how to deconstruct whiteness and white privilege, which is billed as the necessary work of ‘antiracism.’  This is quite staggering.  DiAngelo, a white woman, contends that all white people are racist and that it is impossible not to be, because of the systems of powerful racist discourses we were born into.  She insists that we are complicit by default and are therefore responsible for addressing these systems” (p. 206).  Superficially good, caring whites deceive themselves, for they are irredeemably immersed in an intolerable racism. 

Most fashionable these days is what’s called “intersectionality,”  popularized by Kimberlé Crenshaw.  For example, if you’re black and female and homosexual you are the product of a privileged “intersection” of three oppressed groups!  You can triple your anger!  Everywhere you look you can find “power imbalances, bigotry, and biases” demanding redress.  Intersectionality “reduces everything to one single variable, one single topic of conversation, one single focus and interpretation:  prejudice, as understood under the power dynamics asserted by Theory” (p. 128).  Prejudices abound everywhere.  “Therefore, in Social Justice scholarship, we continually read that patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism, cisnormativity, heteronormativity, ableism, and fatphobia are literally structuring society and infecting everything.  They exist in a state of immanence—present always and everywhere, just beneath a nicer-seeming surface that can’t quite contain them” (p. 182).  Radical activists groups such as Black Lives Matter and Antifa, LGBT and feminist demonstrators, are demonstrable manifestations of this Social Justice ideology. 

Pluckrose and Lindsay have clearly read and honestly report what’s shaping these various strands weaving together in various kinds of intersectionalities.  What’s obvious in their presentation is the civilizational threat these theories pose, for inasmuch as they repudiate “the foundations upon which today’s advanced civilizations are built,” we must resist and defeat them.  Committed secularists, they believe the best antidote to Critical Theory is traditional Liberalism. 

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A “parasitic false gospel of social justice” within Evangelicalism is critiqued by Jon Harris in Social Justice Goes To Church: The New Left in Modern American Evangelicalism (Greenville, SC:  Ambassador Books, c. 2020; Kindle Edition).   Its seed was sown by a few “young evangelicals” half-a-century ago—most notably Jim Wallis, Tom Skinner, John Alexander, Ron Sider, and Wes Granberg-Michaelson.  In short, informative chapters, Harris sketches biographies of these men.  All were reared in conservative churches but embraced New Leftist thought while attending colleges and universities in the ‘60s, and they believed “it was necessary to rescue Christianity from enslavement to the corrupting influence of evil cultural forces the New Left had warned them about.  Yet, they recognized the ultimate answer to society’s maladies was not a secular revolutionary or Marxist philosophy, but a renewed understanding of Jesus and Christianity” (p. 19).  

Arguably the most prominent and influential of them is Jim Wallis, who published Agenda for Biblical People in 1976.  Reared in a fundamentalist Plymouth Brethren church in Detroit, Wallis attended Michigan State University and there joined the Students for a Democratic Society and helped organize campus protests.  Sufficiently radicalized, in attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and joined with other like-minded students discussing how to integrate faith and social action.  Particularly agitated by the Vietnam War, they distributed antiwar leaflets, organized sit-ins, and published a few issues of the “Post-American, their very own social and political magazine” (p. 24).  (I early subscribed to this publication and unfortunately perused and pondered Jim Wallis’s works for too many years!).  Soon thereafter Wallis and some close associates decided, in 1975, to re-locate to the nation’s Capital, where they renamed both their community and its publication “Sojourners.”  He envisioned a growing community of Christians who would begin to see things through “Marxist eyes” and act out their “‘zeal for social change’” (p. 26). 

Wes Granberg-Michaelson, after graduating from Hope College, attended Princeton Seminary.  Classes on liberation theology helped free him from much of his conservative rearing, and he went to Washington in 1968 to intern with Oregon’s progressive Republican Senator Mark Hatfield.  After receiving the first copy of Wallis’s Post-American, he showed it to Hatfield, who approved its contents.  “This opened the way for Sojourners to come to Washington, D.C., Granberg-Michaelson to join the community, and Jim Wallis to collaborate with Hatfield” (p. 30).  John Alexander, the son of a fundamentalist pastor, attended Trinity College in Chicago and began questioning most everything about his faith.  He was deeply disturbed by social inequities and developed his own understanding of a “version of Christianity based upon ‘love’ for ‘the God of the Bible’ who cared about social justice.”  Embracing aspects of Rudolph Bultmann and liberation theology, he came to believe that “‘it doesn’t matter much what you believe as long as you care about peace and justice.’  Later Alexander admitted, “I may have been a socialist when I was young.” (p. 35).  After briefly teaching at Wheaton College, he moved to Philadelphia and began publishing The Other Side—another publication to which I subscribed, back in the day! 

Ron Sider grew up an Anabaptist (the son of a Brethren in Christ pastor), so teachings regarding social activism were congenial to him.  Attending graduate school at Yale University, he joined other young radicals calling for significant changes in America.  Moving in 1968 to Philadelphia, he taught for a while at Messiah College’s Philadelphia campus and worked among the poverty-stricken blacks in North Philadelphia.  In 1972 he served as secretary for “Evangelicals for McGovern,” and in 1977 he published Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, which sold 250,000 copies and was listed by “Christianity Today as one of the top hundred books of the century.”  Later in life Sider said it “was a book he ‘had no business writing’ since ‘biblical studies, economics, politics, [and] social ethics’ were topics he ‘didn’t know hardly anything about’ when he wrote it” (p. 40).  Nevertheless, it proved amazingly (and unduly) influential. 

Evangelical feminists found their slot in the social justice agenda.  Letha Scanzoni, after attending Moody Bible Institute, rejected the patriarchy of conservative churches and joined with Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, a graduate of Bob Jones University, to promote a “biblical feminism,” which properly valued women.  Mollenkott teamed up with Nancy Hardesty (who had graduated from Wheaton) to promote an “egalitarian” (rather than “complementarian”) view of marriage and urged women to become pastors in All We’re Meant to Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation.  Their biblical hermeneutics and logic enabled others to call for normalizing homosexuality.  “The Metropolitan Community Church, formed in 1968 by a Moody Bible Institute graduate named Troy Perry, had a statement of faith similar to the National Association of Evangelicals, yet a mission toward ‘meaningful social action’ toward the ‘gay community itself’” (p. 58).  Following the 2015 Obergefell v Hodges Supreme Court decision, only Ron Sider affirmed traditional marriage, whereas other “pioneers of the evangelical left, like Jim Wallis, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott and Wes Granberg-Michaelson, supported same sex marriage” (p. 148). 

After portraying the leading leftist evangelicals, Harris turns to analyzing and evaluating their impact and influence.  Their ideas (given currency by Carl F.H. Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism) quickly flowed into church colleges and seminaries.  In the early ‘70s Fuller Theological Seminary, scarcely resembling Charles E. Fuller’s “old fashioned revival hour,” was championing “social concerns,” addressing racism, poverty, and injustices of various sorts.  Para-church organizations such as World Vision and Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship stressed the importance of compassionate ministries.  In 1970 the Urbana Conference, mainly renowned for promoting foreign missions, celebrated “Christ the Liberator,” and the keynote speaker, Tom Skinner, “denounced ‘Americanism,’ the ‘police,’ which he maintained were ‘nothing more than the occupational force in the black community,”’ and portrayed a “‘revolutionary’ Jesus who was arrested for coming ‘to change the system’” (p. 94). 

Decades later the aging evangelical leftists promotes the same agenda and have enlisted numbers of younger cohorts.  Jim Wallis supported Black Lives Matter and Ron Sider assailed Donald Trump.  New terms may be used—“equity” rather than “equality,” “woke” rather than “radical awakening,” etc.  “Still, the basic New Left concepts which motivated progressive evangelicals of the 1970s are making their way into the heart of the evangelical movement. The prophets for social concern are accomplishing their mission, though much later than they originally wanted to” (p. 152).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In Why Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice (Grand Rapids:  Credo House Publishers, c. 2020; Kindle ed.), Scott David Allen provides what Wayne Grudem says is “an eye-opening, insightful, and (to my mind) truthful warning about the deeply anti-Christian ideas behind much of the modern “social justice” movement, a movement that insists on dividing all of society into the oppressors (people of privilege who can do nothing good) and the oppressed (people who can do nothing evil).  By contrast, Scott Allen firmly grounds his argument in biblical ideas of justice.  He does not hesitate to name specific people and evangelical organizations that are in danger of being led astray by following contemporary calls for social justice instead of true biblical justice.  Highly recommended!”  

Allen begins by carefully defining terms, determined to help Christians understand their importance and guard against their abuse.  Unfortunately, an “ideological social justice” agenda (shaped by Critical Theories in the universities) has shaped large numbers of peoples’ worldviews.   “Now it is the reigning worldview throughout nearly every aspect of education, both K-12 and higher education. It dominates big business, the media, entertainment, high tech, and much of our government, including our systems of justice. In the words of essayist and cultural critic Andrew Sullivan, ‘we all live on campus now’” (#147).  And that’s especially true of many churches!  So we must recover the right meaning of words such as justice, for:  “Just societies are built upon the rule of law, the understanding that the law applies equally to everyone,” whereas “Unjust societies, by contrast, are governed by the rule of man, which acknowledges no transcendent law” (#587).  

Which is precisely why today’s rampant ideological social justice is so injurious, for it reduces truth to power.  Whoever can construct the most influential narrative can impose his will, whatever evils may ensue.  “The highly aggressive advocates of the Revolutionary Narrative employ tactics very similar to those used in the past by Marxist revolutionaries.  They treat their narrative as sacrosanct.  You cannot do or say anything that calls it into question, and woe to the one who tries.  And if you choose to not advocate for it—that too will be viewed as complicity in racism.  Anyone who dissents from the narrative can expect to be denounced as a racist and summarily bullied, shamed, intimidated, threatened, or fired.  Advocates of the Revolutionary Narrative have little interest in engaging in free, open debate.  They want submissive compliance.  The bending of the knee is a perfect symbolic expression for the Revolutionary Narrative as a whole” (#2195).  This revolutionary narrative, pushed by social justice warriors, wields great power in the academy, media, progressive politicians, Big Tech, major corporations, credentialing organizations and Mainstream Protestant denominations.  

Now “Evangelicalism appears to be fracturing in response to” it, with prominent clergy and institutions at least dipping into its tenets.  “Race, more than any other issue, is leading evangelicals into the arms of ideological social justice.”  During the past decade a corps of evangelicals have begun denouncing “whiteness” and “white privilege.”  They joined President Obama in decrying the shooting of Trayvon Martin and supported the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  (Within my own denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, a prominent pastor made available BLM signs, and a university promises to provide anti-racism training for all faculty and staff and will offer a class on the sociology of whiteness!)  Inasmuch as they are opposing racism these Evangelicals are absolutely right, Allen says.  But if they root their understanding of justice in the Bible they must uphold a truthful definition of it, rejecting the view “that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race—and then work hard for racial reconciliation” (# 2540).

CYNICAL THEORIES and a FALSE GOSPEL

Some current illustrations reveal a disturbing, highly aggressive ideology, rooted in cultural Marxism and deeply racist in nature.  When announcing his cabinet nominees, Joe Biden said little about their qualifications while routinely stressing their membership is certain groups—black, Hispanic, female, gay, etc.  In Oregon the state board of education has decreed that mathematics is patriarchal and white supremacist inasmuch as it invokes objectivity.  So math must now be taught to encourage various aspects of the “woke” dogma.  Chicago’s teachers successfully revised the city’s teacher qualifications to emphasize empathy for disadvantaged groups rather than academic proficiency.  A book entitled Engineering and Social Justice, declares:  “getting beyond views of truth as objective and absolute is the most fundamental change we need in engineering education.”  Tennis legend Martina Navratilova endured savage attacks for saying men claiming to be women ought not compete with  biological women.  It’s evident that “identity,” real or assumed, matters much to many of those controlling us.   And we’re facing what Douglas Murray, in The Madness of Crowds, describes as “antiracist racism.”

The complex roots and branches of this phenomenon is explored by Helen Pluckrose and James Lidsay in Cynical Theories:  how activist scholarship made everything about race, gender, and identity-and why this harms everybody (Durham, N.C.:  Pitchstone Publishing, Kindle Edition, c. 2020).  The word cynical means faultfinding, captious, or currish, and the theories examined are precisely that—filled with rancor, rage, malice and calumny.  The two authors (Pluckrose is British, Lindsay American) are deeply committed to the Enlightenment-incubated European and American liberalism that flourished for two centuries.  So they are deeply distressed by the Postmodernism promulgated by today’s Leftists who dismiss “objective truth as a fantasy dreamed up by naive and/or arrogantly bigoted Enlightenment thinkers.”  They inevitably espouse epistemological skepticism and ethical relativism and now fly the flag of “social justice,” which has “either become or given rise to one of the least tolerant and most authoritarian ideologies that the world has had to deal with since the widespread decline of communism and the collapses of white supremacy and colonialism” (p. 13).  To disabuse readers of any positive illusions regarding today’s “social justice warriors” this book was written.

In rejecting “metanarratives” such as Christianity or Marxism, Postmodernists have also rejected science, reason, and other pillars of post-Enlightenment Western Democracy while advancing what they call “Theory.”  Their forebears include, most notably, some French professors—Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-François Lyotard—whose intellectual heirs now occupy some of the most powerful positions in our world.  They “are obsessed with power, language, knowledge, and the relationships between them.”  Everything is reduced to a power-struggle between social groups, primarily race, sex, gender.  “To an outsider, this culture feels as though it originated on another planet, whose inhabitants have no knowledge of sexually reproducing species, and who interpret all our human sociological interactions in the most cynical way possible” (p. 16).  Literally everything—knowledge, history, religion, art, etc.—is culturally constructed.  Postmodernists see what they want to see, not what actually is.  They value what pleases them, not what is intrinsically valuable.  

Inasmuch as anything unites postmodernists it’s their rejection of the correspondence theory of truth.  Denying the possibility of objective truth and reason, they need not demonstrate or prove anything.  Neither data nor logic much matter.  Instead, they assert their “truths” and seek to impose them by manipulating the powers that be by any means possible. They also reject the metaphysical notion of selfhood (the autonomous individual), asserting that persons are mere members of certain groups.  They claim there are “other ways of knowing” far better than empirical science and deductive logic—mainly it is “lived experience,” meaning personal stories rather than facts.  Emotion, especially, shows how strongly-felt “truths” need no objective validation.  As is true of many ideologies, Postmodernists “have created a new religion, a tradition of faith that is actively hostile to reason, falsification, disconfirmation, and disagreement of any kind.  Indeed, the whole postmodernist project now seems, in retrospect, like an unwitting attempt to have deconstructed the old metanarratives of Western thought—science and reason along with religion and capitalist economic systems—to make room for a wholly new religion, a postmodern faith based on a dead God, which sees mysterious worldly forces in systems of power and privilege and which sanctifies victimhood.  This, increasingly, is the fundamentalist religion of the nominally secular left” (p. 212).

Merging with some Marxist currents in the 1990s, today’s “applied postmodernism”  now promotes the “Social Justice scholarship” so pervasive in our schools and universities.  Earlier Postmodernists  merely discerned the covert powers making our world.  Today’s devotees (following Marx’s injunction to change, rather than describe things) prescribe stringent solutions to societal inequities.  Consequently, we now have postcolonial, queer, and critical race Theories, along with gender studies, disability studies, and fat studies, all demanding political action.  Scholars have become activists.  No longer do university professors dispassionately weigh contending views, trying to disregard personal biases.  Instead, Social Justice Warriors turn lecterns into pulpits, writing incendiary manifestoes rather than nuanced analyses.  “Teaching is now supposed to be a political act, and only one type of politics is acceptable—identity politics, as defined by Social Justice and Theory” (p. 63).   Abandoning the canons of traditional scholarship in order to do “research studies,” their publications are distinguished not by rigor or quality but by their identification with and advocacy for a variety of ever-increasing number of oppressed groups. 

These teachers and their “studies” have powerfully influenced politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats, clergy, and business executives.  Most obviously is the pervasive fixation on race.  A black Harvard law professor, Derrick Bell, first set forth what is called “critical race Theory.”  He argued that whites only allow blacks to progress in ways that maintain their white privilege and power.  He denied “the possibility that any moral progress had been made since the Jim Crow era,” declaring, in his 1987 book And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice, that recent advances in civil are mere mirages papering over the fact that whites do everything possible to stay in control.  If you cannot find obvious discriminatory practices you look for camouflaged micro-aggressions, hate speech, cultural appropriations, etc.  

Rather quickly Bell’s critique infiltrated the worlds of education and media, wherein we’re “told that racism is embedded in culture and that we cannot escape it.  We hear that white people are inherently racist.  We are told that racism is ‘prejudice plus power,’ therefore, only white people can be racist.  We are informed that only people of color can talk about racism, that white people need to just listen, and that they don’t have the ‘racial stamina’ to engage it.  We hear that not seeing people in terms of their race (being color-blind) is, in fact, racist and an attempt to ignore the pervasive racism that dominates society and perpetuates white privilege” (p. 121).  

Consequently we behold the extraordinary success of Robin Di-Angelo’s White Fragility.  She (a white woman) says all whites profit from their white supremacy.  That’s “The Truth According to Social Justice,” and she insists no one dare question her.  To do so is a mark of “fragility”—the inability to accept what she assumes demonstrably self-evident.  Anyone daring to do so must be “cancelled.”  Instead, to prove we’re as righteous as she, we must embrace her “Truth” and join her in exploring it, “learning how to deconstruct whiteness and white privilege, which is billed as the necessary work of ‘antiracism.’  This is quite staggering.  DiAngelo, a white woman, contends that all white people are racist and that it is impossible not to be, because of the systems of powerful racist discourses we were born into.  She insists that we are complicit by default and are therefore responsible for addressing these systems” (p. 206).  Superficially good, caring whites deceive themselves, for they are irredeemably immersed in an intolerable racism. 

Most fashionable these days is what’s called “intersectionality,”  popularized by Kimberlé Crenshaw.  For example, if you’re black and female and homosexual you are the product of a privileged “intersection” of three oppressed groups!  You can triple your anger!  Everywhere you look you can find “power imbalances, bigotry, and biases” demanding redress.  Intersectionality “reduces everything to one single variable, one single topic of conversation, one single focus and interpretation:  prejudice, as understood under the power dynamics asserted by Theory” (p. 128).  Prejudices abound everywhere.  “Therefore, in Social Justice scholarship, we continually read that patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism, cisnormativity, heteronormativity, ableism, and fatphobia are literally structuring society and infecting everything.  They exist in a state of immanence—present always and everywhere, just beneath a nicer-seeming surface that can’t quite contain them” (p. 182).  Radical activists groups such as Black Lives Matter and Antifa, LGBT and feminist demonstrators, are demonstrable manifestations of this Social Justice ideology. 

Pluckrose and Lindsay have clearly read and honestly report what’s shaping these various strands weaving together in various kinds of intersectionalities.  What’s obvious in their presentation is the civilizational threat these theories pose, for inasmuch as they repudiate “the foundations upon which today’s advanced civilizations are built,” we must resist and defeat them.  Committed secularists, they believe the best antidote to Critical Theory is traditional Liberalism. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A “parasitic false gospel of social justice” within Evangelicalism is critiqued by Jon Harris in Social Justice Goes To Church: The New Left in Modern American Evangelicalism (Greenville, SC:  Ambassador Books, c. 2020; Kindle Edition).   Its seed was sown by a few “young evangelicals” half-a-century ago—most notably Jim Wallis, Tom Skinner, John Alexander, Ron Sider, and Wes Granberg-Michaelson.  In short, informative chapters, Harris sketches biographies of these men.  All were reared in conservative churches but embraced New Leftist thought while attending colleges and universities in the ‘60s, and they believed “it was necessary to rescue Christianity from enslavement to the corrupting influence of evil cultural forces the New Left had warned them about.  Yet, they recognized the ultimate answer to society’s maladies was not a secular revolutionary or Marxist philosophy, but a renewed understanding of Jesus and Christianity” (p. 19).  

Arguably the most prominent and influential of them is Jim Wallis, who published Agenda for Biblical People in 1976.  Reared in a fundamentalist Plymouth Brethren church in Detroit, Wallis attended Michigan State University and there joined the Students for a Democratic Society and helped organize campus protests.  Sufficiently radicalized, in attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and joined with other like-minded students discussing how to integrate faith and social action.  Particularly agitated by the Vietnam War, they distributed antiwar leaflets, organized sit-ins, and published a few issues of the “Post-American, their very own social and political magazine” (p. 24).  (I early subscribed to this publication and unfortunately perused and pondered Jim Wallis’s works for too many years!).  Soon thereafter Wallis and some close associates decided, in 1975, to re-locate to the nation’s Capital, where they renamed both their community and its publication “Sojourners.”  He envisioned a growing community of Christians who would begin to see things through “Marxist eyes” and act out their “‘zeal for social change’” (p. 26). 

Wes Granberg-Michaelson, after graduating from Hope College, attended Princeton Seminary.  Classes on liberation theology helped free him from much of his conservative rearing, and he went to Washington in 1968 to intern with Oregon’s progressive Republican Senator Mark Hatfield.  After receiving the first copy of Wallis’s Post-American, he showed it to Hatfield, who approved its contents.  “This opened the way for Sojourners to come to Washington, D.C., Granberg-Michaelson to join the community, and Jim Wallis to collaborate with Hatfield” (p. 30).  John Alexander, the son of a fundamentalist pastor, attended Trinity College in Chicago and began questioning most everything about his faith.  He was deeply disturbed by social inequities and developed his own understanding of a “version of Christianity based upon ‘love’ for ‘the God of the Bible’ who cared about social justice.”  Embracing aspects of Rudolph Bultmann and liberation theology, he came to believe that “‘it doesn’t matter much what you believe as long as you care about peace and justice.’  Later Alexander admitted, “I may have been a socialist when I was young.” (p. 35).  After briefly teaching at Wheaton College, he moved to Philadelphia and began publishing The Other Side—another publication to which I subscribed, back in the day! 

Ron Sider grew up an Anabaptist (the son of a Brethren in Christ pastor), so teachings regarding social activism were congenial to him.  Attending graduate school at Yale University, he joined other young radicals calling for significant changes in America.  Moving in 1968 to Philadelphia, he taught for a while at Messiah College’s Philadelphia campus and worked among the poverty-stricken blacks in North Philadelphia.  In 1972 he served as secretary for “Evangelicals for McGovern,” and in 1977 he published Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, which sold 250,000 copies and was listed by “Christianity Today as one of the top hundred books of the century.”  Later in life Sider said it “was a book he ‘had no business writing’ since ‘biblical studies, economics, politics, [and] social ethics’ were topics he ‘didn’t know hardly anything about’ when he wrote it” (p. 40).  Nevertheless, it proved amazingly (and unduly) influential. 

Evangelical feminists found their slot in the social justice agenda.  Letha Scanzoni, after attending Moody Bible Institute, rejected the patriarchy of conservative churches and joined with Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, a graduate of Bob Jones University, to promote a “biblical feminism,” which properly valued women.  Mollenkott teamed up with Nancy Hardesty (who had graduated from Wheaton) to promote an “egalitarian” (rather than “complementarian”) view of marriage and urged women to become pastors in All We’re Meant to Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation.  Their biblical hermeneutics and logic enabled others to call for normalizing homosexuality.  “The Metropolitan Community Church, formed in 1968 by a Moody Bible Institute graduate named Troy Perry, had a statement of faith similar to the National Association of Evangelicals, yet a mission toward ‘meaningful social action’ toward the ‘gay community itself’” (p. 58).  Following the 2015 Obergefell v Hodges Supreme Court decision, only Ron Sider affirmed traditional marriage, whereas other “pioneers of the evangelical left, like Jim Wallis, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott and Wes Granberg-Michaelson, supported same sex marriage” (p. 148). 

After portraying the leading leftist evangelicals, Harris turns to analyzing and evaluating their impact and influence.  Their ideas (given currency by Carl F.H. Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism) quickly flowed into church colleges and seminaries.  In the early ‘70s Fuller Theological Seminary, scarcely resembling Charles E. Fuller’s “old fashioned revival hour,” was championing “social concerns,” addressing racism, poverty, and injustices of various sorts.  Para-church organizations such as World Vision and Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship stressed the importance of compassionate ministries.  In 1970 the Urbana Conference, mainly renowned for promoting foreign missions, celebrated “Christ the Liberator,” and the keynote speaker, Tom Skinner, “denounced ‘Americanism,’ the ‘police,’ which he maintained were ‘nothing more than the occupational force in the black community,”’ and portrayed a “‘revolutionary’ Jesus who was arrested for coming ‘to change the system’” (p. 94). 

Decades later the aging evangelical leftists promotes the same agenda and have enlisted numbers of younger cohorts.  Jim Wallis supported Black Lives Matter and Ron Sider assailed Donald Trump.  New terms may be used—“equity” rather than “equality,” “woke” rather than “radical awakening,” etc.  “Still, the basic New Left concepts which motivated progressive evangelicals of the 1970s are making their way into the heart of the evangelical movement. The prophets for social concern are accomplishing their mission, though much later than they originally wanted to” (p. 152).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In Why Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice (Grand Rapids:  Credo House Publishers, c. 2020; Kindle ed.), Scott David Allen provides what Wayne Grudem says is “an eye-opening, insightful, and (to my mind) truthful warning about the deeply anti-Christian ideas behind much of the modern “social justice” movement, a movement that insists on dividing all of society into the oppressors (people of privilege who can do nothing good) and the oppressed (people who can do nothing evil).  By contrast, Scott Allen firmly grounds his argument in biblical ideas of justice.  He does not hesitate to name specific people and evangelical organizations that are in danger of being led astray by following contemporary calls for social justice instead of true biblical justice.  Highly recommended!”  

Allen begins by carefully defining terms, determined to help Christians understand their importance and guard against their abuse.  Unfortunately, an “ideological social justice” agenda (shaped by Critical Theories in the universities) has shaped large numbers of peoples’ worldviews.   “Now it is the reigning worldview throughout nearly every aspect of education, both K-12 and higher education. It dominates big business, the media, entertainment, high tech, and much of our government, including our systems of justice. In the words of essayist and cultural critic Andrew Sullivan, ‘we all live on campus now’” (#147).  And that’s especially true of many churches!  So we must recover the right meaning of words such as justice, for:  “Just societies are built upon the rule of law, the understanding that the law applies equally to everyone,” whereas “Unjust societies, by contrast, are governed by the rule of man, which acknowledges no transcendent law” (#587).  

Which is precisely why today’s rampant ideological social justice is so injurious, for it reduces truth to power.  Whoever can construct the most influential narrative can impose his will, whatever evils may ensue.  “The highly aggressive advocates of the Revolutionary Narrative employ tactics very similar to those used in the past by Marxist revolutionaries.  They treat their narrative as sacrosanct.  You cannot do or say anything that calls it into question, and woe to the one who tries.  And if you choose to not advocate for it—that too will be viewed as complicity in racism.  Anyone who dissents from the narrative can expect to be denounced as a racist and summarily bullied, shamed, intimidated, threatened, or fired.  Advocates of the Revolutionary Narrative have little interest in engaging in free, open debate.  They want submissive compliance.  The bending of the knee is a perfect symbolic expression for the Revolutionary Narrative as a whole” (#2195).  This revolutionary narrative, pushed by social justice warriors, wields great power in the academy, media, progressive politicians, Big Tech, major corporations, credentialing organizations and Mainstream Protestant denominations.  

Now “Evangelicalism appears to be fracturing in response to” it, with prominent clergy and institutions at least dipping into its tenets.  “Race, more than any other issue, is leading evangelicals into the arms of ideological social justice.”  During the past decade a corps of evangelicals have begun denouncing “whiteness” and “white privilege.”  They joined President Obama in decrying the shooting of Trayvon Martin and supported the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  (Within my own denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, a prominent pastor made available BLM signs, and a university promises to provide anti-racism training for all faculty and staff and will offer a class on the sociology of whiteness!)  Inasmuch as they are opposing racism these Evangelicals are absolutely right, Allen says.  But if they root their understanding of justice in the Bible they must uphold a truthful definition of it, rejecting the view “that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race—and then work hard for racial reconciliation” (# 2540).

338 “The Modern Self”

Writing a book blurb for Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self:  Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway. Kindle Edition, c. 2020), Francis Beckwith (one of the finest Christian philosophers, now teaching at Baylor University) says:  “This is an amazing piece of work.  Blending social commentary with an insightful history of ideas as well as keen philosophical and theological analyses, Carl Trueman has given us what is undoubtedly the most accessible and informed account of the modern self and how it has shaped and informed the cultural battles of the first quarter of the twenty-first century.  It is a fair-minded, carefully wrought diagnosis of what ails our present age.  This book is essential reading for all serious religious believers who rightly sense that the ground is shifting underneath their feet, that the missionaries for the modern self are not content with simply allowing believers to practice their faith in peace but see these believers and their institutions as targets for colonization and involuntary assimilation.  For this reason, every president of a faith-based college or university should read The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self more than once.”  

Then Rod Dreher, writing the book’s Forward, points us back to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “summary explanation for why all the horrors of Soviet communism came to pass:  ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’  This answer is also a valid explanation for the crises enveloping the West today, including the widespread falling away from faith, the disintegration of the family, a loss of communal purpose, erotomania, erasing the boundaries between male and female, and a general spirit of demonic destruction that denies the sacredness of human life.  Because men have forgotten God, they have also forgotten man; that’s why all this has happened.  We have to go deeper.  The ways in which men have forgotten God matter.  We have to understand how and why they have forgotten God if we are to diagnose this sickness and to produce a vaccination, even a cure” (p. 11).

To do so Carl Trueman serves as a societal soul doctor who begins his analysis with the remarkably revealing recent declaration—uttered by increasing numbers of people—that “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.”  That someone can declare, rather than confirm, his or her sexuality is certainly something radically new in human history!  Even more strangely:  a large segment of the population grants them that latitude!  So transgenderism has been normalized—as is evident in the decisions by both the American Psychological Association and the National Association of Social Workers.  Now Joe Biden has established transgenderism in one of his first presidential edicts, allowing males to compete with females as long as they claim to be one.  Concurrently, as 2021 begins, sexually clear words such as father or daughter or uncle or aunt may no longer used in the House of Representative.  So we must admit the culture has changed.  It has changed, in large part, because radical feminism succeeded in its insistence that “gender” (not biological organs) may be endlessly “constructed.”  Listen carefully to Simone de Beauvoir’s declaration in The Second Sex half-a-century ago:  “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.  No biological, psychic, or economic destiny defines the figure that the human female takes on in society; it is civilization as a whole that elaborates this intermediary product between the male and the eunuch that is called feminine.”  Carrying forward de Beauvoir’s agenda, Shulamith Firestone, in The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, said:  “the end goal of feminist revolution must be . . . not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself:  genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally.”  Thus Freud’s “polymorphous perversity” would be celebrated, artificial reproduction would be perfected, and the “tyranny of the biological family would be broken.” 

Consequently, Trueman says:   “At the heart of this book lies a basic conviction:  the so-called sexual revolution of the last sixty years, culminating in its latest triumph—the normalization of transgenderism—cannot be properly understood until it is set within the context of a much broader transformation in how society understands the nature of human selfhood.  The sexual revolution is as much a symptom as it is a cause of the culture that now surrounds us everywhere we look, from sitcoms to Congress.  In short, the sexual revolution is simply one manifestation of the larger revolution of the self that has taken place in the West.  And it is only as we come to understand that wider context that we can truly understand the dynamics of the sexual politics that now dominate our culture” (p. 20).

To guide us in understanding of our culture Trueman invokes three late 20th century thinkers:  Philip Rieff, Charles Taylor, and Alasdair MacIntyre.  Taylor’s main works—Sources of the Self and A Secular Age—show how “expressive individualism” has become dominant as the West moved from a mimetic to a poietic culture.  We seek not to understand and fit into the world as it is but to make it something in accord with our inner inclinations.  Philip Rieff’s sociological analyses—especially evident in The Triumph of the Therapeutic—enable us to see how our “psychological” man differs from the “political” and “religious” and “economic” man of earlier cultural epochs.  And Alasdair MacIntyre’s masterly depiction of our era’s ethical emotivism enables us to see how the elimination of classical realism had contributed to our malaise—if my feelings set my moral compass, what’s right for me may well be wrong for you and neither of us is actually right or wrong!  MacIntyre insists we must return to an Aristotelian-Thomistic realism, with its teleological perspective, or collapse into the Nietzschean nihilism flourishing everywhere.  “All three would argue that an overriding desire for inner personal happiness and a sense of psychological well-being lie at the heart of the modern age and make ethics at root a subjective discourse” (p. 88).

Trueman gives us a knowledgeable, eminently understandable overview of key philosophical developments during the past two centuries.  Obviously a scholar who has worked through the primary sources, he’s blessed with the gift of illustrating his points with pop music or political rhetoric as well as quoting Rousseau, Darwin, Marx or Freud, the real architects of our postmodern world.  Thus, for example, Rousseau’s views on a person’s freedom to construct his self “is at work in the modern transgender movement.  That it is the inner voice, freed from any and all external influences—even from chromosomes and the primary sexual characteristics of the physical body—that shapes identity for the transgender person is a position consistent with Rousseau’s idea that personal authenticity is rooted in the notion that nature, free from heteronomous cultural constraints, and selfhood, conceived of as inner psychological conviction, are the real guides to true identity” (p. 126).  It’s the romantic affirmation of “expressive individualism” celebrated by Romantic poets (Wordsworth, Blake, Shelley) in their disdain for conventional sexual standards.  

Eliminating traditional sexual standards is certainly central to the “modern self,”  making Sigmund Freud arguably the “key figure in the narrative of this book” (p. 203).  He shared Rousseau’s illusions regarding primitives (“noble savages”) who lived without restraints, following their feelings and finding happiness thereby.  That Freud was demonstrably wrong in much he said, or that few therapists today follow his prescriptions, is irrelevant when appraising the impact he had on 20th century culture, for he “provided a compelling rationale for putting sex and sexual expression at the center of human existence and all its related cultural and political components in a way that now grips the social imaginary of the Western world.”  He “has, in fact, provided the West with a compelling myth” whereby “we can understand the world around us,” and that  “myth is the idea that sex, in terms of sexual desire and sexual fulfillment, is the real key to human existence, to what it means to be human” (p. 204).  

Since the family—and most especially the patriarchal family—restricts sexual behaviors, it must be discredited and discarded.  Since Christianity declares chastity virtuous it must be sidelined if not abolished.  “Sex focused on procreation and family is the repressive weapon of bourgeois capitalist society.  And free love and untrammeled sexual experimentation are a central part of the revolutionary liberation of society” (p. 248).  So away with whatever diffuses or diminishes the joy of sex!  The message of sexual freedom must be trumpeted in the media and inculcated in the schools, beginning in elementary schools,  where homosexual behaviors are endorsed and “homophobia” damned.  In sum, Trueman says:  To follow Rousseau is to make identity psychological.  To follow Freud is to make psychology, and thus identity, sexual.  To mesh this combination with Marx is to make identity—and therefore sex—political.  And, at the risk of offering a truism, the politics that is produced thereby has a distinctive character precisely because the reality that it thinks it is addressing is at base a psychological one.  To transform society politically, then, one must transform society sexually and psychologically, a point that places psychological categories at the heart of revolutionary political discourse” (p. 250).   

To illustrate the power of this transformation Trueman points to a series of United States Supreme Court decisions.  “Perhaps the most obvious example of this shift is the 2015 majority ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which found a right to gay marriage in the Constitution.  This decision captures the spirit of our age in numerous ways, given that it reflects changing attitudes to sex and marriage” (p. 302).  The court was not really issuing a novel theory but in simply following through the logic of earlier decisions, giving “legal status to a subjective and plastic notion of what it means to be a human.  . . . .  The key passage reads as follows:   ‘At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.  Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.’  This is a concise articulation of the expressive individualism and psychological subjectivity regarding the self that we have traced in its development from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to the present day” (p. 304).

The judicial precepts evident in Supreme Court rulings jibe easily with the philosophical ethics of Princeton’s Peter Singer, considered by some to be the most influential ethicist in the world.  In his advocacy of a radical version of animal rights and a defender of infanticide as merely an advanced version of abortion, “Singer is a modern version of Friedrich Nietzsche’s madman, demanding that the polite liberals of his day face up to the dramatic implications of the death of the Christian way of imagining the world” (p. 316).  Singer asserts there is a rational distinction between a human being and a person—and only persons have rights.  Upon reaching a certain stage of maturity (i.e. having a consciousness of the past and present and capable of thinking) one transitions from a human being to a person.   Thus, he says, we should give “‘the life of a fetus no greater value than the life of a nonhuman animal at a similar level of rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity to feel, etc.’” (p. 321)   

To further illustrate this cultural shift Trueman turns to his own academic discipline:  history.  Sifting through the current curriculum offered by Harvard University’s Department of History, for example, one finds nothing available on the Reformation or Renaissance and only one course covering European history from 1450-1789.  What’s now studied at Harvard is politically-based, not tradition-prescribed (since it was shaped by dead, white, Western, heterosexual males).  “Porn, feminism, colonial violence, racism, and minority histories are all prominent, even as the Reformation and the Renaissance are not” (p 335).  As Philip Rieff constantly stressed, in My Life Among the Deathworks, there is a profound anti-culture in contemporary culture manifestly evident in its rejection of history.  As he said:  “‘Forgetfulness is now the curricular form of our higher education.’  That, he says, guarantees that this generation will be the first of the new barbarism, committed to the denigration, destruction, and erasure of the past—not only its artifacts but also its values and social practices” (p. 338).  

To further demonstrate the pervasiveness of the anti-culture, Trueman could have perused transformations in architecture, profanity-laced political rhetoric, or rap music.  To focus on any of these phenomena “from a Rieffian perspective, what this present age represents is an anti-culture, a repudiation of the various regulations and regulative practices that characterized Western society until recently—particularly, though not exclusively, in the realm of sexual ethics.  Behind this repudiation lies a deeper rejection, that of any and every sacred order on which they might be grounded, whether it be that provided by a formal religion, such as Christianity, or a commitment to some broader philosophical metaphysics, such as that found in Immanuel Kant.  The result is a world that has accepted the challenge of Nietzsche’s madman, to remake value and meaning in the wake of the death—indeed, the killing—of the Christian God, or, indeed, of any god.  The repudiation not only of history but of any authority that might pose a challenge to the present—even the authority of physically determined sex in favor of the fluid concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity—is something that marks all the areas on which I have touched in this last section” (p. 381).

Concluding his treatise, Truman considers the Christian’s quandary in the face of such cultural chaos.  There are no easy answers, and churches are frequently more participants in the dominant fads than witnesses opposing them.  But we must realize that the Christian Faith is distinctly doctrinal, and the current fascination with social justice or congenial worship or welcoming environments must be replaced by strong, biblical, doctrinal teaching.  Then too the churches must identify themselves as distinctive communities of faith, willing to depart from and frequently defy the sinful world.  Finally, Protestants especially “need to recover both natural law and a high view of the physical body,” something God-given and fixed by creation (p. 405).  All talk about choosing one’s gender must be challenged, all support of same-sex unions must be opposed.  “A recovery of a biblical understanding of embodiment is vital.  And closely allied with this is the fact that the church must maintain its commitment to biblical sexual morality, whatever the social cost might be” (p. 406).

Few current books better enable readers to grasp what’s taking place around us.  The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self merits serious study and response.

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An analyis similar to Truman’s is Anthony Esolen’s Sex and the Unreal City:  The Demolition of the Western Mind (San Francisco:  Ignatius Press, c. 2020).  He too sees the modern transgender movement as a sign of deep mental and moral confusion, signaling souls adrift on a sea of unreality.  Men are born men and women are born women, and “there are well over six thousand physical differences between males and females, and all the surgeries can do is to mimic some appearance of the opposite sex, such as make chin hair grow on females or swell the breasts of males with fat” (p. 47).  Pretending to change one’s “gender” flies in the face of all that’s Real!  Allowing boys claiming to be girls to compete in women’s athletics is the height of madness!  Pretending same-sex partners make a “marriage,” which necessarily means a man and woman capable of procreating children, is to deny a fundamental truth of creation.  

While writing the book Esolen became increasingly distressed at the apparently “bottomless crater” of such unreality.   Along with Solzhenitsyn he understands this as a result of forgetting God and denying man’s true nature, for:  “Man is made for faith:  he is homo credens.  If he does not believe in God, he will turn straightaway to some idol, a stock or stone, himself, the state, sex—something stupid, salacious, or malignant, like a cancer.  Man without faith becomes credulous” (p. 34).  Consequently:  “We dwell in Unreal City.  We all dwell there.  We have all been dulled and deadened by the unreal.  But if God is real, then to turn away from God is to leap into unreality, and that is pretty much the definition of evil” (p. 6).  This turning away began in the Garden of Eden, when Adam ad Eve fell by believing a lie, succumbing to the tempting words “you shall be as gods.”  Ever after, fallen men have been trapped:  “We want to believe that our words can alter reality: we want to believe that we can, by linguistic magic, negate the Word through whom all things were made, and the things themselves.  . . . .  Hence the battle in our day is theological, whether we wish to admit it or not.  If a man claims to be a woman, which he can never be, and demands to be addressed as such, he is not merely asking for right etiquette.  He is demanding that we enter his delusion, or his lie.  It is not true.  He is demanding that believers in God fall in worship of an idol.  Some idols are hideous, like Moloch, and some are beautiful, like Dionysus.  The Hebrew prophets did not care.  They did not condemn the idols for their style.  They condemned them for being false” (p. 29).  

Falsity distinguishes much modern discourse wherever it insists we construct reality in our minds rather than encounter it apart from them.  To call a dog a cat is a false statement, for there is a particularity to a species.  God made all things “according to their kind” and man cannot alter that hard factuality.  To argue otherwise leads to a philosophical nominalism as old as mankind, denying that words are rooted in actual things.  “Nomina sunt consequentia rerum, went the old medieval wisdom:  Names are consequent upon the things they name” (p. 39).   In naming creatures, Adam discerned their essence, the form indwelling them.  Just as there is a fixity to species, so too there is a fixity to history.  But in the Unreal City history proves as malleable as sexual identity.  The past is what we want or will it to be.  Forgetting the past follows forgetting God.  Rewriting history, as does the New York Times’ 1619 Project, allows practitioners to ratify their feelings or construct utopias.  But “the past is the unalterable record of man.  It shows us what human nature is” (p. 61).  Rightly understanding human nature enables one to discern the natural law, wherein good and evil are objective realities.  This law points to a Lawgiver.  Lacking Him, “the state comes to fill the void, and what is ‘right’ will be determined by those who shout the loudest, or who have the most money, or who fill the positions of greatest prominence and prestige.  Moral argument collapses, and people shout, ‘It’s right because I say so!’  It is the suasion of the gun” (p. 62).  “The greatest aberration of the mind,” said Louis Pasteur, is to believe a thing to be, because we desire it.”  Thus, said Confucious, the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper names.  So too, said Jesus, “Let your yes be yes, and your no, no.”  And that’s precisely what’s not done in the Unreal City of modernity.  

The great conservative scholar Richard Weaver, in Ideas Have Consequences, not only identified nominalism as the corrosive factor destroying our culture but suggested that as a result we are looking through a stereoptican, seeing three dimensional pictures rather than Reality.  With it you could pretend travel around the world, simply looking through a clever device.  Similarly, rather than looking for God we easily construct idols to admire and worship.  To Weaver:  “Mass media, the Great Stereopticon, is . . . a vast and astonishingly productive industry of idols, of flashes upon the screen, so easy to look upon, so mesmerizing in their effect, that by contrast the woodcut designs that decorated old books were as a drop in the comprehensive ocean of visual flagella that now whip and sting us and will not let us be.  Until our time, an idol was a phantasm, an untruth” (p. 75).  In the pervasive political rhetoric of today, propaganda indwells the media stereopticon, creating a fictitious world designed to incite passionate fanaticism.  Without roots in Reality we’re easily swayed by our fears to follow whatever propagandist seems alluring as he promotes his Unreal City.  

Repeatedly Esolen returns to the issue of abortion—a premeditated, murderous act that denies the personhood of a living human being.  That our cultural elties—many of them clergy—now celebrate rather than lament (much less oppose) it, reveals the depths of the devious discourse and fantasy metaphysics that afflict us.  It is only one, but a major one, of the indices showing how we have rebelled agains God and His creation.  

To return to God is our only hope, though that recovery will doubtlessly need be done by coming generations, finding their way out of the culture of death we’ve embraced

337 Pandemic Panic

Anyone saying “listen to the science” actually means “listen to the scientists I endorse,” for it’s scientists who speak and they often do so discordantly.  Thus we must discern which of them best explains what actually is—what’s the truth of things.  It’s up to us to check their data and evaluate their logic.  Doing so means we’ll frequently find courageous dissenters more persuasive than the proponents of a reigning consensus.  For nearly a year we’ve endured what’s arguably the worst pandemic since the Spanish flu, watching COVID-19 kill multiplied thousands of people and upend economies and polities around the world.  Getting accurate information, attending to responsible authorities, and coming to personal conclusions regarding it has been, to say the least, quite challenging.  But there is no good reason, when evaluating hydroxychloriquine as a therapeutic medication, to trust a bureaucrat such as Anthony Fauci rather than 6000 practicing physicians effectively using it to treat stricken patients.  Why not take seriously a distinguished Yale epidemiologist, Harvey Risch, with scores of scholarly publications, who thinks Fauci’s refusal to approve hydroxychloriquine caused many thousands of deaths?  Why not follow the 43,000 epidemiologists and health care professionals who signed “The Great Barrington Declaration,” proposing we deal aggressively with threatened population groups while allowing the rest of the country to return to normalcy?  Thus I’ll review several publications which all, to one degree or another, affirm the gravity of the pandemic while questioning the policies crafted by our public health and political leaders.  

Alex Berenson, an experienced investigative reporter who worked 10 years for the New York Times, was initially persuaded the country “might face an outbreak that would kill millions of Americans and potentially destabilize the nation” (p. 1).  So he stockpiled food and purchased N95 masks, preparing to survive the perilous times the experts predicted.   Then, as an investigative reporter curious concerning dubious data, he began checking the evidence and detailing his findings in a series of self-published booklets, beginning with Unreported Truths about COVID-19 and Lockdowns: Part 1: Introduction and Death Counts and Estimates (Kindle Edition, 2020).  (One benefit of publishing his findings in an ebook is this:  virtually every paragraph links the reader to the current, scholarly, in-depth, chart-studded, on-line publications he cites.)  Berenson quickly found that London’s Imperial College, in concert with the World Health Organization, had early “terrified politicians around the world and spurred what became a nearly universal lockdown.”  When carefully perused, however, the quality of their “research” shocked him and he began publishing his findings.  Initially the only outlet he had was his Twitter account, with only 10,000 followers.  But his posts attracted the attention of billionaire Elon Musk, who retweeted one of his them.  “Suddenly I found myself as one of the few people with any journalistic standing challenging the apocalyptic reporting that dominated media outlets like the [New York] Times.”  

The more scholarly studies he read the more skeptical he became—not regarding the virulent virus but the policies enacted to curtail it.  He quickly discovered the coronavirus “was more than 100 times as likely to kill people over 80 than under 50.  Yes, 100 times.  People under 30 were at very low risk.”  The median age of those dying is in the low 80s.   Still more, as is true of pneumonia, the elderly who were dying would have quite probably died within another year because of their other ailments.  So why, he wondered, enact shutdown policies harming whole populations rather than protect the most vulnerable?  Why shut down schools when children were almost never harmfully infected?  It was also clear, early on, that the virus was significantly less deadly than advertised—far less than the scare-mongering media proclaimed!  He saw how wildly exaggerated were the forecasts rendered by both medical “experts” and the politicians who quoted them.  They also changed their stories!  We were first told we needed to take extreme measures in order to “flatten the curve” and then informed even that was not sufficient—we needed to “stop the spread” of the disease!  The allegedly infallible officials had crafted simulations that dramatically failed in virtually every  way!  Nevertheless, shutdowns were mandated and masks prescribed.

Berenson followed up his initial publication with Unreported Truths about COVID-19 and Lockdowns: Part 2: Update and Examination of Lockdowns as a Strategy  (Blue Deep, Inc.. Kindle Edition, c. 2020).  As COVID-19 cases spiked in last summer, many governors decreed draconic lockdowns of all but “essential” activities.  “What went all-but-unnoticed in the push for lockdowns was the fact that major public health organizations had for decades rejected them as a potential solution to epidemics.”  Both the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization had earlier published lengthy guides dealing with influenza, citing ample “laboratory studies, clinical trials, and real-world evidence.”  They had counseled against lockdowns because they consistently proved ineffective!  Nothing in the past had effectively throttled, much less stopped, the spread of influenza epidemics.  So why would anyone think COVID-19 would be different?  Just because!  The “experts” just claimed it must be!  What happened, Berenson thinks, is this:  “Faced with a risk of hundreds of thousands or millions of deaths, the public health experts who for decades had counseled patience and caution flinched.  They found they could not live with acknowledging how little control they or any of us had over the spread of an easily transmissible respiratory virus.  They had to do something—even if they had been warning for decades that what they were about to do would not work and might have terrible secondary consequences.”  And this, I think, is the heart of the issue:  we’ve grown so accustomed to controlling our environment—and relying on the government to do things for us—that we cannot acknowledge some things are beyond our control!  

Just recently Breneson has issued Unreported Truths About Covid-19 and Lockdowns: Part 3: Masks  (Blue Deep, Inc., Kindle Edition).  He sincerely wishes masks worked!  They would, indeed, afford significant relief from the pandemic killing so many of us.  “But they don’t.  Not the ordinary cloth and surgical masks that nearly everybody wears, anyway.  Despite everything the media and public health experts has told you, they don’t work.  More accurately, we have no real evidence they do—and plenty of evidence they don’t.”  The World Health Organization had once stated it clearly:  the “WHO stands by recommendation to not wear masks if you are not sick or not caring for someone who is sick.”  Yet these same  health experts insist we wear them and Joe Biden proposes to require them of everyone.  Massive numbers of us have mutely complied!  Why did 85 per cent of those infected insist they either always or nearly always wore masks?  As virus still spreads we’re entitled to ask:  “How can that be, if masks work?”  

“The answer is,” Berenson says, “that the evidence that face coverings do any good turns out to be even more porous than masks themselves.”  To understand why we need to delve into the details regarding droplets, aerosols, and viruses.  A mask may well arrest the movement of a droplet (which may carry a virus) but is much to porous to stop an aerosol (which also may carry a virus).  Only what is called a respirator (the NP95s used in medical facilities) effectively stop aerosols and viruses they carry.  Most of the particles we breathe in and breathe out are tiny.  Inasmuch as “80–90% of droplets were smaller than 1 μm [micron], “masks have almost no chance of catching most of the particles we exhale.”  One of the scholarly studies Berenson cites “combined the results of the 10 trials into a single “meta-analysis”—a review that looks at each study and figures out what they say as a whole.  Their conclusion—published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a Centers for Disease Control journal—was straightforward:  ‘We did not find evidence that surgical-type face masks are effective in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza transmission, either when worn by infected persons (source control) or by persons in the general community to reduce their susceptibility.’”  

Just before Berenson published his booklet there appeared a “large randomized controlled trial that specifically examined whether masks protected their wearers from the coronavirus.”  It was published on Nov. 18 and covered almost 5,000 people in Denmark last spring.  The trial was carefully designed and executed, with half the participants told to wear high-quality surgical masks . . . .   The other half were not asked to wear masks.  Participants were followed for a month to see if they had been infected with Sars-Cov-2.”  The study’s conclusion?  “Mask wearing ‘did not reduce, at conventional levels of statistical significance, the incidence of Sars-Cov-2 infection.’”  So why are we shamed  (or bullied through treats of fines) into wearing masks?  Rather cynically Berenson suggests they help fuel the contagion of fear and sustain the illusion our rulers are doing something significant to save us.  “Masks are warnings none of us can escape.  This virus is different.  This virus is dangerous.  This virus is not the flu.  We had better hunker down until a vaccine is ready to save us all.  But the worst reason of all is that mask mandates appear to be an effort by governments to find out what restrictions on their civil liberties people will accept on the thinnest possible evidence.  They are the not-so-thin edge of the wedge.  Today, we must wear masks.  Tomorrow we’ll need negative Covid tests to travel between countries.  Or vaccines to go to work.”

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In The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe (Washington, D.C.:  Regnery Publishing, Kindle Edition, c. 2020), Jay Richards (a business professor at the Catholic University of America), Douglas Axe (a biology professor at Biola University), and William Briggs (an economist who’s published over a hundred scholarly papers), collaborate to evaluate the evidence and analyze the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.  They endeavor “to sift prudence from propaganda.  And they have, George Gilder says, “written the definitive account of the most egregious policy blunder in the history of American government.”  The authors  acknowledge the lethality of the pandemic but are astounded at the concurrent, worldwide, destructive panic of medical experts and national leaders.  

It all began, of course, when a deadly virus spread from China.  Then doomsday forecasts, largely propounded by the World Health Organization, the Imperial College London, and the Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation at the University of Washington.  The WHO relied on the Imperial College work which “predicted the new coronavirus would be about as deadly as the Spanish flu of 1918 (which killed between 18 and 58 million).  They predicted the coronavirus would claim 40 million lives worldwide, including 2.2 million in the U.S., if nothing were done to slow the spread.  Forty million deaths?  Terrifying!” (p. 78).  “We now know these models were so wrong they were like shots in the dark.  After a few months, even the press admitted as much.  But by then vast damage had been done” (p. xiv).  Then the models’ proponents, rather than confessing and correcting their errors, “began to massage the data” and  rationalize their declarations.  In this they were aided by a “gullible, self-righteous, and weaponized media that spread their projections far and wide.  The press carpet-bombed the world with stories about impending shortages of hospital beds, ventilators, and emergency room capacity.  They served up apocalyptic clickbait by the hour and the ton” (p. xv).  And social media websites promoted the fears by hyping the threats and censoring dissenting evidence concerning the pandemic’s true lethality. 

For context, the authors provide a historical record of pandemics—running from the ancient world to the present.  Placed in perspective, the current pandemic is rather routine—something we could have absorbed as part of life and addressed aggressively with every medical resource.  They also remind us of the sheer inevitability of death.  Every day 1,700 people die cardiovascular disease, 1,600 die of cancer, and nearly 700 die just from medical mistakes.  We’re accustomed to people dying—but dying of the new virus somehow became different!  That difference was the contagion of fear ignited by statistical projections!  Most of them predicted some 50 million deaths and such scary numbers naturally alarmed us all!  So we granted “emergency powers” to various authorities not because of “a catastrophe that had just happened, but rather a prediction about what might happen” (p. 17).  In New York, one of the very worst sites, experts predicted the city would need “140,000 hospital beds, only about 18,500 were in use.  Many thousands of field-hospital beds that had been brought in by ship or laid out in temporary shelters sat empty” (p. 111).  Predictions failed astronomically!  What really happened was “the first pandemic of panic.” (In our postmodern era, wherein we’re assured we “construct” rather than “discover” truth, such irrationality might be expected!). 

Some of the panic was spurred along by semantic equivocations.  For instance, it was decided to report anyone dying with the virus would be identified as dying from the virus!  The CDC reported that in only 7 percent of the victims was the virus the sole cause of death!  An Italian study of 355 COVID-19 victims showed that they “averaged 79.5 years of age and were in poor health.  More than a third had diabetes, and just under a third had ischemic heart disease.  A quarter had atrial fibrillation.  A fifth had active cancer, and over a sixth had either dementia or a history of stroke.  Of the 355 people, only three were in good health before catching the coronavirus” (p. 57).  Inflating numbers proved popular in the media, so the numbers of positive tests were called cases and easily conflated with significant infections.  

Richards, Axe, and Briggs carefully examine public health policies (i.e. lockdowns, distancing, masks) and show how problematic and potentially harmful they all are.  Countries or states that refused to lockdown fared as well as those who did so.  Copious charts and graphs fill the book, citing evidence and insisting we think logically.  Unfortunately, when we panic the “thinking parts of the brain stop functioning well” (p. 140).  We have no evidence the policies decreed by politicians actually helped curtail, much less vanquish, COVID-19.  Yet we have ample evidence how they harmed great numbers of people (students and middle aged adults who were hardly at risk of dying).  And the harms were enormous!  For example, though you’d never know it by watching the evening news, a United Nations agency says disruptions in the world’s food supply chains may have caused 300,000 deaths per day!  “In other words, more people around the world could die every two days from our response to the pandemic than those who died from the entire pandemic itself” (p. 139).  

The unintended consequences of the lockdowns will soon become clearer as we understand the follies of the small group of narrowly-focused “experts” who misled us.  We failed to consider a basic economic precept:  “Highlighting unintended consequences is perhaps the greatest gift economics has given to humanity.  ‘There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one,’ wrote French economist Frédéric Bastiat.  ‘The bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.’  He explains:  ‘Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil’” (p. 168). 

Though it’s little consolation for us now, we can learn from a small number of countries (Japan, Taiwan, Sweden) and states (South Dakota, Arkansas, Utah) which followed Bastiat’s prescription, thinking about the “great good to come” rather than the “small present evil.”  More epidemics are sure to follow, as the past decades show, so let us hope we will more wisely respond to the next one.  

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  John Schroeter’s COVID-19: A Devil’s Choice (John August Media, Kindle Edition, c. 2020) garnered high marks from distinguished scientists who applauded its commitment to dealing carefully with scientific data.  He believes Anthony Fauci and other public health “experts” unwisely, “under the pretext of public health and safety, advocated extreme social isolation measures, i.e., near-universal lockdown, to forestall the spread of infection until a vaccine can be found.  This strategy has had the two-fold effect of 1) precluding natural herd immunity, and 2) devastating the life-sustaining economy, and thus imperiling the health and wellbeing of vastly larger numbers of persons than a coronavirus could ever conceivably inflict” (p. 8).  Differing from Fauci, many distinguished epidemiologists “have publicly stated that had we opted for herd immunity at the outset, the pandemic would already be behind us.  Instead, we remain trapped in an open-ended nightmare scenario that not only promulgates fear and misery, but actively seeks to silence dissenting voices.  These responses not only have nothing to do with public health and safety, they actually exacerbate the crisis, deepening its effect in both the short- and long-term via widespread collateral damage.  Could there, then, be another agenda at work?  Come now, let us reason together” (p. 9).

The book contains sections of 100 “data-points”— short, succinct, factual arguments.  To think rightly we must first put things in perspective, and we know that people constantly die of health problems (hypertension, obesity, diabetes, respiratory weaknesses, heart problems) that are acerbated by by COVID-19 infections.  Smokers are especially susceptible, and folks breathing filthy air “are twice as likely to die” as those who aren’t.  Then too, unfortunately, many Americans “live unhealthy lifestyles.”  Consequently:  “Dying with COVID-19 (correlation) is not the same as dying from COVID-19 (causation).  And yet, health officials are making no such distinction” (p. 21).  Inasmuch as nearly half of the American people are deficient in Vitamin D, encouraging them to take ample amounts of it would have been a small, preventative step to helping the vulnerable to cope with the virus.  

We also need to acknowledge that epidemics never end until “herd immunity” is attained.  Any other measures are, frankly, illusions.  And you develop herd immunity by allowing the healthy to get infected, not by quarantining them!  So all the rhetoric about “flattening the curve” created an aura of managing the unmanageable.  It was little more than propaganda—much like that set forth by bureaucrats publishing “fire management policies” while the forests burn.  Flattening the curve, in fact, simply means delaying the dying.  Had we let the virus run its course “the pandemic would already be behind us, and the life-sustaining economy would be intact” (p. 17).  Indeed:  “Prior to the lockdown, according to antibody testing, herd immunity to COVID-19 was already well underway, and on its way to the necessary infection rate threshold in key populations.  Sadly, this process was interrupted by the ill-advised lockdown policies” (p. 19).  In fact, “more than two-thirds of newly reported COVID-19 cases are for those who have been sheltering in place!” (p. 29).  

Turning to the efficacy of masks, Schroeter cites “the declaration by the US National Academy of Sciences:  ‘Face masks are not designed or certified to protect the wearer from exposure to respiratory hazards.’  And yet, they are now being mandated for that very purpose.  Moreover, a number of studies have shown the inefficacy of the surgical mask to prevent transmission of viruses.”  This is because, as Dr. Rashid Buttar (who maintains a website on facemarks:  https://www.askdrbuttar.com/facemask/) explains, “the viral particles we’re trying to keep out of our bodies are so much smaller than the smallest pores of these masks.  ‘It’s like using a chain link fence to prevent a fly from entering your house,’ he says, ‘or a split-rail fence to keep mice out.  If our goal is to make people healthy, the first thing we should be doing is telling them to not wear a mask.”  Schroeter cites other scientific studies showing that masks (unlike respirators) simply don’t work to prevent respiratory influenza-like illnesses transmitted by droplets and aerosol particles.  “Dr. Lisa Brosseau, a nationally recognized expert on respiratory protection and infectious diseases and professor (retired), University of Illinois at Chicago, agrees. ‘I don’t necessarily discourage the public from wearing them if it makes them feel comfortable, but I hope they don’t think that they’re protecting themselves.’” (p. 57).   

So it goes!  We’ve panicked at the pandemic and are living in virtuality, not reality.  

336 Leaving the Plantation

For three decades, supporting the civil rights movement, I believed significant advances had been made in both black and white communities, leading to a more just and harmonious society.  My hopes were fueled by evangelicals such as John Perkins (recently feted as World Magazine’s “Daniel of the Year”) who tenaciously embraced Martin Luther King’s teachings on non-violence and loving one’s enemies.  To Perkins, the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness—though it seems harder and harder to find in the streets or in Congress these days!  And he still holds, unlike the advocates and devotees of Black Lives Matter, that:  “There is no black race—and there is no white race.  So the idea of ‘racial reconciliation’ is a false idea.  It’s a lie.  It implies that there is more than one race.”  There may be ethnic groups with diverse traditions and perspectives, but they all have the same blood, human blood!  Yet my hopes in the path proposed by Perkins suffered a setback during the the O.J. Simpson trial and acquittal, when I was shocked by both the verdict and the enthusiastic approval it garnered from the black populace.  Rooted in the black power movement of identity politics (earlier propounded by W.E.B. Dubois and various Marxist-leaning activists),  a different, markedly revolutionary vision seemed triumphant.  Whereas I’d thought blacks were committed to integration and pursuing the American dream, I then realized that many (if not most) of them  still think, as did Martin Luther King in 1963:  “The Negro is still not free.”

Uneasy with many aspects of this revolutionary movement, I began to wonder if the optimistic laws and policies enacted in the ‘60s—the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965—  had unexpectedly harmed a clearly disadvantaged community.    At about the same time we had a guest speaker in a Point Loma Nazarene University chapel named Star Parker.  She’d become something of a celebrity in southern California for both her personal story and political positions, radically challenging the civil rights establishment.  She had written an autobiographical book—Pimps, Whores, and Welfare Brats (c. 1997)—which I read and found illuminating.  Soon thereafter she published Uncle Sam’s Plantation:  How Big Government Enslaves America’s Poor and What We Can Do About It (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson Inc., c. 2003, rev. 2010) setting forth her public policy positions.   

Parker grew up troubled and rebellious, stealing and doing drugs and engaging in promiscuous sex  leading to four abortions.  Her irresponsible lifestyle was subsidized by the maze of welfare programs which abetted her destructive behaviors.  In those years she routinely blamed racism for her predicament—though in time she came to identify her laziness as the real culprit.  Then, in her mid-20s, she encountered a pastor who challenged her to think and act differently, to take charge of her life and live responsibly.  She found a job and later became a self-employed publisher and radio host.  In the process she began to think through and share her markedly conservative, Christian views, thereby eliciting an unexpected tirade of abuse, including death threats from leftists (both black and white) who found her a threat to the status quo.  That various social support systems (welfare, affirmative action, public schools, health care, etc.) were failing meant nothing to her foes so long as they preserved what she came to see as “Uncle Sam’s Plantation.”  She saw that the material “poverty” addressed by various and infinitely-expanding federal programs (77 and counting!) was actually a symptom of the real poverty, which is preeminently spiritual and cultural.  “Government programs cannot help the broken poor because their poverty is in their heart and spirit” (p. 33).  Big Government agencies, allegedly helping the poor, have in fact reduced them to a passive dependency akin to slavery.  “Uncle Sam has developed a sophisticated poverty plantation, operated by a federal government, overseen by bureaucrats, protected by media elite, and financed by the taxpayers.  The only difference between this plantation and the slave plantation is perception” (p. 77).  On the governmental plantation the family has collapsed, the educational system failed, personal freedom eroded, and personal responsibility often disappeared.  

Rather than pour more trillions of dollars into this failing system, Parker calls for blacks to take charge of their lives and—above all—find what she found:  a vibrant faith in the living Lord Jesus Christ.   She’s left the plantation and believes her decision is the only realistic solution to racial problems in this country.   Hers may be the straight and narrow road that is the only way to the good life.  

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Very much in the mold of Star Parker, Candace Owens has recently written Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation (New York:  Threshold Editions. Kindle Edition, c. 2020).   Owens has gained a sizable following for her U-Tube pod-casts, so she put her views in print in Blackout.  She insists the real problems in black America are moral rather than economic,  and the Democrat Party, by singularly focusing on material factors, effectively suppresses what’s most needed—a recovery of personal responsibility and discipline, especially regarding the family.  But, unfortunately:  “If you are a black person in America today, your identity is as much defined by your skin color as it was more than a hundred years ago and quite similarly, for all the wrong reasons.  To be a black American means to have your life narrative predetermined:  a routine of failure followed by alleged blamelessness due to perceived impotence.  It means constant subjection to the bigotry of lowered expectations, a culture of pacifying our shortcomings through predisposition” (p. 2).  

Consequently, Owens endeavors to “detail just why I believe the Democrat Party’s policies have led to the erosion of the black community by fostering a persistent victim mentality.  I will explain how a radicalized push for feminism is both emasculating and criminalizing men who are needed to lead strong families, and I will reveal the fallacy of socialism, in its inherent argument for the very same government that crippled black America in the first place.  Lastly, I will expose the inefficiency of the left-leaning public education system and tackle the media’s role in the collective brainwashing of our youth” (p. 11).  Her case is well-argued, filled with data as well as personal perspectives (emphasizing the positive role her hard-working, self-reliant grandparents played in her life), and worth reading simply to better understand a position that seems to be gaining some traction among younger blacks.  

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Vince Everett Ellison, following a career as a correctional officer, recently became involved in both politics and Christian ministry.  After supporting the Democrat party for most of his life he has recanted, persuaded that:  “Too many people become democrats because they want “FREE-STUFF”.  I’m a conservative because I demand “FREE-DOM” (p. 47).  Subsequently he wrote The Iron Triangle: Inside the Liberal Democrat Plan to Use Race to Divide Christians and America in their Quest for Power and How We Can Defeat Them (Outskirts Press, Inc.. Kindle Edition, c. 2020).  As is evident in the book’s subtitle, Ellison takes a jaundiced look at the Democrat Party which he thinks has internalized the perverse prejudices of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who sought to give blacks (via the Civil Rights, Voting Rights acts,  and Great Society programs) “a little something, just enough to quiet them down.”  Consistently thereafter blacks (by a 90 per cent margin) have supported Democrat politicians, and, as Nancy Pelosi cynically noted while lofting a glass of water:  “This glass of water would win with a D next to its name in those districts.”  Liberal Democrats have, Ellison charges, deliberately betrayed Black America so as to get and maintain control of the nation.  They accomplished this “by infiltrating and then compromising the three foundational institutions of the Black community:  the Black preacher, Black civic organizations, and the Black politicians.  I call this trifecta:  ‘the Iron Triangle’” (p. 7).  Consequently the black community now looks as if its ruled by totalitarian socialists, featuring “one-party rule, forced compliance, extreme poverty, government dependency, and dictator worship” (p. 7).  This was an amazing tradeoff:  “Blacks gained the right to eat and use the bathroom beside Southern Whites while White Liberals gained control of a nation and potentially the world” (p. 7).   And they’re supporting a political party which, according to its platform, supports “government funding of child murder, the legality of sexual perversions and pornography, the legalization of illegal drugs, and the promotion of atheism” (p. 138).

In accord with Star Parker and Candace Owens, Ellison thinks the main problem in the Black community is the failure of individuals to take personal responsibility for their lives.  In part this is because black preachers, organizations, and politicians forever claim it’s “someone else’s fault” and that blacks are inevitably victims of racism (whether overt or covert) and worse off than they were decades ago.  Rather than helping blacks learn to thrive in America, their leaders have done little more than teach them how to protest.  Ironically:  “If protest brought about desired change, Black people would be the most successful race in the country and Asians would be the least.  Instead the converse is true” (p. 24).  Members of the Iron Triangle profit mightily while ordinary Blacks suffer poverty, crime-ridden neighborhoods, failing schools, drug abuse, and fractured families.  For fifty years trillions of dollars, multiplied marches, riots and mayhem, had accomplished nothing! 

Ellison, a committed Christian, especially condemns the many black preachers who sell their souls for a bowl of porridge (i.e. money generously distributed by Democratic functionaries in pre-election periods).  Thereby, he thinks:  “The Democratic Party controls most Black preachers.  The Black preacher controls the Black church.  And the Black church is the spout that pours the Black community into the Democratic Party” (p. 87).  Before getting into politics, running for a congressional seat in South Carolina, he talked with his father, who had reared his family in the church and orchestrated a family singing group that produced several gospel albums.  His dad cautioned his aspiring adult son to trust bootleggers before preachers!  In fact:  “There is a common saying in the Black community:  most ‘Black preachers talk Black, live White, and think green.  I was going to find that it was more than a saying” (p. 95).  Many of them, like Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, embrace racist versions of liberation theology, pitting victimized blacks against oppressive whites—“a heresy that has polluted the ‘Black’ Church since that the early 1970s” (p. 115).  To Ellison:  “Preachers that lead their congregation into the wretched ideology of Marxism, with its hatred of GOD, victimization, and murderous past, and away from the love, forgiveness, and reconciliation of Jesus Christ have committed the highest form of treason” (p. 122).

Ellison’s text is repetitious, badly needing editing.  His tone is strident and at times off-putting, but   his accusations merit consideration.  He certainly illustrates a significant voice in the burgeoning conservative black community.  

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A refreshingly upbeat approach to living as a black man in America comes from Rick Rigsby in Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout:  How the Timeless Wisdom of One Man Can Impact an Entire Generation (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition, c. 2006).  He was for several years the Life Skills Coordinator for the Texas A&M football team when it was still coached by the legendary R.C. Slocum, and later worked under Dennis Franchione as A&M’s team chaplain.  Understandably he laces his presentation  with with fascinating athletic anecdotes.  He warmly remembers Coach Slocum saying, “dozens of times:  My value as a head football coach will not be based on how many football games I won or lost.  My value will be directly related to the quality of the lives of the men I coached.  Are my former players productive citizens, good employees, good husbands and fathers?  The quality of their lives is the standard by which I will be judged as a head coach” (p. 123).  Rigsby spoke at Point Loma Nazarene College while I was the school’s chaplain, and I well remember the joyous, uplifting message he brought.  (He may have come, in part, because one of his best friends was Paul Holderfield, Jr., senior pastor of Friendly Chapel Church of the Nazarene in North Little Rock, Arkansas).  

Reading his book I now understand why he was so upbeat and infectiously uplifting.  He had a dad who made a difference.  His father, Roger Rigsby was black and poorly educated, but he never blamed others for anything, so this book has little about “racial” injustice in it.  Unlike the privileged black students in today’s elite universities, he repudiated all versions of victimhood.  Consequently, his timeless wisdom is precisely what both black and white folks most need to learn.  His wisdom looks identical to that of Amy Wax, a courageous law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who endured enormous abuse from the “cancel culture” when she dared suggest affirmative action actually harms blacks (who need to succeed by cultivating healthy habits).  She set forth her views in Race, Wrongs, and Remedies, insisting blacks, like everyone else, need to recognize the problems generated by poor educational accomplishments and work habits, acerbated by drug abuse, criminality, and fatherless homes.  Government programs, however well-intended, nurture these pathologies.  Rather than choosing dependencies of various sorts blacks must take charge of their personal and communal lives.  Nothing else will succeed.  

Amy Wax’s tough love prescriptions gain affirmation in Rick Rigsby’s encomium to his father, for he wrote Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout “to re-acquaint readers with the wisdom—the common sense that was practiced simply and unwittingly by those who represent a generation gone by.   This was an era of individuals who worked hard without complaining.  They committed to doing whatever was necessary to help the company and support their families.  They took pride in doing a good job.  They worked without ceasing.  And they maintained high standards—they had high expectations for themselves and the others they were responsible for” (p. xxxiv).  Such a man was Roger Rigsby.  “This man never ever hid behind an excuse.  He never allowed his problems to determine his present or affect his future.  He realized that destiny was a choice and not a chance” (p. xxxii).  And his son wants to share his wisdom with his world.  “It’s the kind of wisdom that is rare in society today.  It’s the kind of wisdom that will cause you to be a better person, a greater leader, a more effective worker.  It’s the kind of wisdom that will cause you to make an impact . . . rather than just an impression” (p. xxxiv).   

Rick Rigsby consistently celebrates his father’s character.  “I have never met anyone like him. He simply lived character” (p. 121).  His “father believed to the core of his being that a man was not worth much if he could not be trusted to do the right thing at the right time in the right way.”  He lived uprightly, telling the truth, keeping his word, treating others well, loving your family, honoring the Lord.  Few younger folks, smothered in feel-good therapeutic babble, collecting meaningless “participation” trophies, endlessly looking at cell phone screens, encounter men like Roger Rigsby.  They rarely encounter members of a generation that prized doers rather than viewersDoers are, he constantly stressed, kind.  “My dad often said, ‘Son, it does not cost a dime to be kind’” (p. 34).  He taught his son to do good things, such as saying “thank you” or “yes, please” or “yes, sir,” and opening doors for others.  His dad urged him to encourage people you know and smile at folks you meet. 

Doers look for opportunities to help others.  “I can hear my dad’s voice ringing in my mind with a piercing familiarity, ‘Son, always put yourself in a position to help somebody else’” (p. 76).  It took his son “over four decades and three college degrees to understand” that his dad was saying:  “Son, you have a marvelous opportunity to build value in those around you by looking for ways to help humanity.  Remember, no job is beneath you, no task is too unimportant to be left incomplete.  Look for those you can help, and your life will be rich with exhilarating experiences, fond memories, and boundless energy from the satisfaction of assisting others.  . . . .  My son, there is no higher calling than to reach down and pull another up.  Helping is biblical, practical, and in great demand today.  Always make time to help another person!” (p. 82).  

Doers are, furthermore, disciplined—the “essence” of his father.  Doers find work and actually do it!  They show up on time—Roger Rigsby repeatedly stressed that it’s better to be an hour early than a minute late!  And in his 30 years of working as a cook for California Maritime Academy in Vallejo, California, he never once failed to be on time.   “Dad would leave home at 3:45 A.M., arriving at CMA one full hour ahead of his shift.  For years I thought the value of Dad’s behavior was the obvious.  But the real genius of my father’s discipline was what was produced as a result.  The quality of endurance was a hallmark in Dad’s life.  He never quit.  It was Dad’s lifestyle” (p. 58).  That explained “his incessant proclivity for excellence and his undeniable intolerance for mediocrity.  To this day, I hear his voice with a piercing familiarity: ‘Son, if you’re going to do a job, do it right!’  Nothing further needed to be mentioned.  Dad did not believe in slothful, lazy, mediocre, average, or adequate performance.  If you do something—he would say—you must take pride in it.  And how can a man take pride in something that is not his absolute very best?  There was no compromise here.  There was no shortcut here.  There was no gold medal for just getting by or special ribbon for finishing first.  At the very least, a good job was expected.  And if we did not do our best, we repeated the task until it met my father’s standard of excellence” (p. 85).  In this he was evoking the words of Martin Luther King, spoken a month before he was killed:  “‘All labor has value.  If you’re a street sweeper, sweep streets the way Michelangelo painted pictures.  Sweep streets the way Beethoven composed music.  Sweep streets the way Shakespeare wrote poetry.  Sweep streets in such a profound way that the Host of Heaven will say, ‘There goes a great street sweeper!’” (p. 86).

Such discipline enables one to remain standing amidst adversity and sorrow.  “This book,” Rigby says, “began as I stood at my wife’s casket.  Flanked by two young sons and a host of relatives and friends, our lives were over, our dreams dashed, our future bleak” (p. 135).  Before she died, he’d led what seemed to be a charmed life—teaching at a university, prospering, enjoying the good life.  But he was unprepared for the overwhelming sorrow that engulfed him as he watched his wife slip away.  “I never knew the pain of a broken heart could hurt so deeply.  I never knew loneliness so profound it could paralyze your life” (p. 149).   Fortunately for him, his father faithfully served as a  wise counsellor.  “He would say things like, ‘Son, now is the time to be a man.  Your wife needs a man, not a boy.  And I have not raised a boy.  I have raised a man.  And I am proud of you.  And with God’s help, you will make it through. And you begin right now by making a commitment—every day—to just stand’” (p. 148).  Just stand!  That’s a great prescription for right living.  “Son, just stand”—those words, spoken over his wife’s casket following her funeral, proved to be the lifeline for Rick Rigsby.  “Just stand.  The best lesson I have ever received.  The most profound lesson I have ever been taught.  The best job training course I have ever taken.  The best life coaching I have ever gained.  The best—absolute best—advice I have ever received.  My father’s life was speaking to me.  His life’s experiences were telling me a story.  It was a story that had two basic truths: 1) You can depend on God no matter what happens, and 2) If you can keep standing in the middle of hell, you will learn to walk again” (p. 121).

A year later Roger Rigsby died of cancer at the age of 77.  His son treasured the time he spent with his dad, for “even though he was leaving us slowly, the essence of my father was just as strong in that hospital bed as if he were standing on a podium.  “Dad, are you scared?” he asked.   “‘Heavens no, Son.  God has blessed me with two wonderful sons, a wonderful wife, and an amazing life.  And now I get to go home.  You boys carry on.  You carry on, Ricky.  Carry on.’  Even on his deathbed, he was teaching me to be a man.  Especially on his deathbed, he was teaching me to be a man.  Carry on.  Stay the course.  Hold your position.  Keep standing” (p. 157).  So Roger Rigsby, offers wisdom for us all! 

335 Fortitude & Rules for Living

A great 19th century Princeton theologian, A.A. Hodge, lamented:  “It is easier to find a score of men wise enough to discover the truth, than to find one intrepid enough, in the face of opposition, to stand up for it.”  That’s still true, for as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn noted:  “A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today.   .  .  .  .  Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society.”  Calling for a renewal of courage (one of the four cardinal virtues) Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw wrote Fortitude:  American Resilience in an Age of Outrage (New York:  Grand Central Publishing, Kindle Edition, c.  2020).  

Crenshaw begins by recounting a recent incident in the halls of Congress, featuring a group of protesters wearing “shirts that simply read ‘stay outraged,’ along with a matching assortment of signs and buttons that appeared to be professionally crafted from an established vendor, not purchased hastily from some ragtag print shop” (p. 2).  They were obviously embracing the posture of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who once tweeted:  “Never lose your sense of outrage,” relying on the fact that “the most effective political manipulation is achieved by raw emotion” (p. 2).   Rather than a thoughtful land of self-control and discussion, America has descended into an irrational culture of outrage which is “the latest threat to our American story” because of “the victimhood ideology that it elevates.  The threat is born of small beginnings, as big threats so often are.  It starts with toxic personal narratives wrapped in the cheap cloth of victimhood, always looking to an external culprit to blame for real or perceived injustices” (p. 221).  Instead,  Crenshaw insists we need something much better than unfettered emotions!  To him, a former Navy SEAL Lieutenant Commander who lost an eye on the battlefields of Afghanistan:  “Outrage is weakness.  It is the muting of rational thinking and the triumph of emotion.”  It’s not a virtue and “rarely is it productive, virtuous, or useful.  It is an emotion to overcome, not accept, and overcoming it requires mental strength. This book is about acquiring that necessary mental fortitude” (p. 4). 

Crenshaw’s “basic message is this:  If you’re losing your cool, you are losing.  If you are triggered, it is because you allowed someone else to dictate your emotional state.  If you are outraged, it is because you lack discipline and self-control.  These are personal defeats, not the fault of anyone else.  And each defeat shapes who you are as a person, and in the collective sense, who we are as a people.”  It is crucial that we Americans build “a society of iron-tough individuals who can think for themselves, take care of themselves, and recognize that a culture characterized by grit, discipline, and self-reliance is a culture that survives.  A culture characterized by self-pity, indulgence, outrage, and resentment is a culture that falls apart.  It really is that simple, and it is a truly existential choice.  We must make that choice.  And it must be a choice to be more disciplined, mentally tougher, and convinced of the fact that we control our own destiny.  The next chapter of our American story depends on it” (p. 10).

To provide perspective Crenshaw tells us that as a child he wanted to be a SEAL and ultimately fulfilled his aspirations on the battlefields of Afghanistan, where he was seriously injured by an exploding roadside bomb.  The doctors thought he would lose sight in both eyes, but he believed (and prayed) that one of them would, with appropriate surgery, heal.   “Though I am not one for overt expressions of faith, I will say this:  I genuinely believe God’s strength was working through me then.  He was allowing me to believe something impossible.  I prayed, and my family prayed, and we believed. We believed that military surgeons would pick through a pierced and shrapnel-ridden eye, remove the most minuscule shards and debris, and restore my sight. We did not have good reason to believe it. But we did” (p. 25).  Choosing to be positive, to hope for the best, was something his parents taught him.  He knew he could embrace either hope or despair, and he realized that, as Aristotle taught, that “habit defines us.  Before we pursue our higher purpose, before we have quality of character, we have habit.  My habit was to never quit.  My habit was to avoid self-pity and believe in a better future, albeit with a bit less vision.”   Importantly:  “Those habits were forged by lessons from a dying mother; her grit, her humor, her grace.  They were shaped in lessons from a loving father who gave us a decent life and refused to be beaten by the loss of the woman he had planned to spend his life with” (p. 34).

The lessons learned at home were reinforced by his BUD/S SEAL training (“the most effective screening process in the United States Armed Forces”) and subsequent service.  Taking note of his best officers he saw that they were not necessarily the strongest or best shooters.  Indeed:  “The qualities that made SEAL leaders great were rarely physical in nature” (p. 46).  The legendary SEAL toughness turns out to be more mental than physical!  Above all, they were calm, self-controlled, thoughtful.  They also insisted everyone be responsible for himself and his team.  “It was why Commander Jocko Willink, one of my mentors in the teams, wrote an entire book about the subject called Extreme Ownership.  The premise of the book is quite simple:  Everything is your fault.  Be accountable.  Take ownership.  Take responsibility. From this responsibility you will find freedom” (148).  Do every job—even small tasks like making your bed—as duty demands.  “The mantra ‘If you are going to do it, you might as well be the best at it’ is repeated constantly.  We live by it” (p. 150).  SEAL officers encourage their men to follow the SLLS prescription:  Stop; Look; Listen; Smell.  Before charging into battle make sure everything’s right.  Stay still before acting.  Silently study and think before moving.  “Don’t overreact, don’t let your emotions drive your action, think before you act.  In other words, stop and count to ten.  Like your mom and dad taught you.  This is stillness in the Stoic sense” (p. 80).   

Following Crenshaw’s rehabilitation from his battlefield injuries, he studied at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, earning a master’s degree in Public Administration.  While there he encountered youngsters who were amazingly gifted and ambitious.  But few of them had a deep sense of duty—as was evident in their disregard for doing small things well.  “I was amazed by how few people actually showed up on time to class, for instance.  I was amazed how many people typed away on their laptops—sending iMessages, not taking notes—while the professor tried to lecture.  It struck me because it was so normalized in college culture.  This lack of politeness and lack of basic manners was the norm, not the exception.”   He “couldn’t help but think, ‘You are going straight into the job market after this.  Who on earth will hire you if you can’t show up on time?’” (p. 176).  Such youngsters would easily become “vocal members of the outrage mob” haunting the halls of Congress—or staging protests in the streets—because they had lived remarkably easy lives.  “Few places on earth are as sheltered, and accommodating, and insulated from adversity as an American college campus” (p. 193), which almost necessarily produces angry protesters and self-pitying victims.  

What these students lacked was anything resembling the SEALs’ Stoic ethos.  Reading the ancient Stoics (Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca) provides SEALs such as Crenshaw a philosophical perspective that’s invaluable for a warrior—and for a congressmen countering the angry, “woke,” outrage culture shredding the nation’s fabric.   This gives Fortitude a depth one rarely encounters in politicians’ electioneering boilerplates!  Concluding his treatise with a thoughtful analysis of American history and contemporary culture, Crenshaw says:  “I told you before about the SEAL Ethos.  Perhaps we now need an American Ethos.  Perhaps it goes something like this:  I will not quit in the face of danger or pain or self-doubt;  I will not justify the easier path before me.  I decide that all my actions, not just some, matter.  Every small task is a contribution toward a higher purpose.  Every day is undertaken with a sense of duty to be better than I was yesterday, even in the smallest of ways.  I seek out hardship.  I do not run from pain but embrace it, because I derive strength from my suffering.  I confront the inevitable trials of life with a smile.  I plan to keep my head, to be still, when chaos overwhelms me.  I will tell the story of my failures and hardships as a victor, not a victim.  I will be grateful.  Millions who have gone before me have suffered too much, fought too hard, and been blessed with far too little, for me to squander this life.  So I won’t.  My purpose will be to uphold and protect the spirit of our great republic, knowing that the values we hold dear can be preserved only by a strong people.  I will do my part. I will live with Fortitude” (p. 244).  Would there were more of his kind in Congress!  Would there were millions of us who would join him!

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Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church Dallas, provides us valuable insights for living with integrity in Courageous:  10 Strategies for Thriving in a Hostile World (Grand Rapids:  Baker Publishing Group, c. 2020).  The book’s ten chapters are no doubt re-worked sermons, filled with biblical texts and illuminating examples, woven together to make a unified text.  Living in the increasingly anti-Christian “enemy-occupied territory” C.S. Lewis described, we need to cultivate important facets of courage.  

First:  “Don’t panic.”  Accept the fact that life is difficult, filled with trials and temptations, challenging in various ways.  When facing unexpected challenges, only a few of us take action—fight or flight; 80 percent freeze and fail to do anything.  But with God’s Grace we can, like Joshua, rise to the challenge and act wisely and well, for “The LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”  We can own the words the LORD spoke to Joshua:  “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed” (Joshua 1:9).  Next:  “Gain Situational Awareness.”  Courage is neither rash nor cowardly.  It requires thoughtful assessment of what’s actually happening and how one should  react, learning to see and call things as they truly are, not as they wish them to be” (p. 44).  Embrace the example of the sons of Issachar “who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (I Chron 12:32).  Third:  “Take Inventory.”  Be sure you are well-prepared, equipped with the “full armor of God” described by Paul in Ephesians.  Fourth:  “Develop a Victor, Not a Victim Mindset.”  In Christ, we’re called to overcome, not succumb, to the wiles of the devil!  Fifth, “Trust Your Training.”  Virtues get stronger,  Aristotle insisted,  as good habits are cultivated.  Live out the lessons you learned in Bible studies.  Sixth:  “Bend, Don’t Break.”  Seventh:  Beware of Celebrating the Summit.”  Even in apparent victories remember the war is never over.  Eighth:  ‘Learn from the Past.”  Learning from history and Scripture will fortify your soul and provide invaluable guidance.  Ninth:  “Help Others.”  Be a Barnabas.  Even if we must risk our lives (or fortunes or reputation) we must sacrificially seek to protect and care for others.  And, Tenth:  “Do the Next Right Thing.”  In accord with an ancient precept:  do all the good you can, where you can, while you can.  

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Several years ago a Canadian psychologist, Jordan B. Peterson, became something of an internet sensation for speaking out against some of the politically-correct corruptions of the academic world.  He seemed to especially attract young men who were looking for a model of wisdom and strength.  In part this is because he is not a typical academic but a man who has worked with and understands the hard-working people he grew up with in Fairview, Alberta—very much a frontier settlement 400 miles distant from the nearest city.  Peterson set forth his central ideas in 12 Rules for Life:  An Antidote to Chaos (Toronto:  Random House Canada, c. 2018).  Though hewing to an agnostic secular perspective, routinely invoking Darwinian biology to explain both animal and human behavior, he nevertheless finds a wealth of insight in various religious traditions.  So much he says is compatible with Christian philosophy.  This is especially evident when he repeatedly deals seriously with the reality of Original Sin and our need of discipline.

He begins by explaining why he sets down “rules.”  As is evident in Exodus, God gave Ten Commandments, not Suggestions!  So too Peterson insists there are in fact given rules to follow if we are to avoid both the internal and external chaos of contemporary life.  As humans we simply need a “shared cultural system” that prescribes a code wherein some behaviors are accepted as true and valuable, prescribing goals worth celebrating and pursuing.  We are furthermore called to live rightly—“to shoulder the burden of Being and to take the heroic path.  We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world.  We must each tell the truth and repair what is in disrepair and break down and recreate what is old and outdated” (p. 6).  So Peterson’s “12 Rules” prescribe ways to walk the straight and narrow way, avoiding soul-shrinking, soul-shredding chaos.  Therein one finds sufficient guidance to live the good life.  

“Rule 1:  STAND UP STRAIGHT WITH YOUR SHOULDERS BACK.”  He means this literally—attend to your posture!  Stand tall!  We’re  too often too easily defeated in life’s struggles, and when we cave in or lie down we slip into a dysfunctional state that easily begets depression and lethargy.  But if we do battle with the malevolent persons and powers we encounter we’ll become stronger.  Our nervous system will strengthen.  We’ll discover we’re braver than we feared.  We’ll discover we’re “not only a body” but “a spirit, so to speak— a psyche— as well.  Standing up physically also implies and invokes and demands standing up metaphysically.  Standing up means voluntarily accepting the burden of Being” (p. 41).  It means accepting the “terrible responsibility of life” as an adult, “accepting the end of the unconscious paradise of childhood,” and “willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality (it means acting to please God, in the ancient language)” (p. 42).

“Rule 2:  TREAT YOURSELF LIKE SOMEONE YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR HELPING.”  If you’re caring for a sick child you insist he follow the doctor’s prescriptions.  Ironically, adults are far less likely to follow the doctor’s orders for themselves!  If you’re a good parent you want your children to become independent, self-reliant persons, strong rather than safe.  But all too many adults fail to do so themselves!  If you’re a wise person you also recognize and respect the ancient, inescapable differences between men and women, clearly evident in men’s drive to establish order in their world—building houses and town, establishing hierarchies, serving as policemen and soldiers, risking their lives to defend what they hold precious.  So too:  “Order is God the Father, the eternal Judge, ledger-keeper and dispenser of rewards and punishments” (p. 54). 

“Rule 3:  MAKE FRIENDS WITH PEOPLE WHO WANT THE BEST FOR YOU.”  After telling personal stories, showing why it’s important to terminate toxic friendships, Peterson insists endless loyalty to another person is never wise.  “Friendship is a reciprocal arrangement.  You are not morally obliged to support someone who is making the world a worse place.  Quite the opposite.  You should choose people who want things to be better, not worse.  It’s a good thing, not a selfish thing, to choose people who are good for you.  It’s appropriate and praiseworthy to associate with people whose lives would be improved if they saw your life improved” (p. 105).

“Rule 4:  COMPARE YOURSELF TO WHO YOU WERE YESTERDAY, NOT TO WHO SOMEONE ELSE IS TODAY.”  No matter what you do there’s almost always someone better at it!  Rather than compare yourself with others seek to daily develop your own unique self in your own unique setting.  Ask yourself:  “‘What could I do, that I would do, to make Life a little better?’”  “Aim high.  Set your sights on the betterment of Being.  Align yourself, in your soul, with Truth and the Highest Good” (p. 136).  And that Highest Good, Peterson says, in found in the Bible and especially in the Sermon on the Mount! 

“Rule 5:  DO NOT LET YOUR CHILDREN DO ANYTHING THAT MAKES YOU DISLIKE THEM.”  Rather than pamper and develop “a little God-Emperor of the Universe,” seek to shape him into an admirable adult.  Unfortunately, Peterson thinks, today’s parents want to be loved, fear their kids, and aspire to be their friends.  They’re simply following the poor advice doled out by the “adolescent ethos of the 1960s, a decade whose excesses led to a general denigration of adulthood, an unthinking disbelief in the existence of competent power, and the inability to distinguish between the chaos of immaturity and responsible freedom” (p. 148).  But children need guidance, correction, discipline—and only parents can do this well.  “It is an act of responsibility to discipline a child” (p. 153).  Echoes of the much-maligned James Dobson!

“Rule 6:  SET YOUR HOUSE IN PERFECT ORDER BEFORE YOU CRITICIZE THE WORLD.”  Start small.  Do what’s possible for you right now where you are—going to work, caring for your children, treating others rightly, taking responsibility for things you can personally control.  Stop fretting about—and scheming to remedy—the ills of the world.  “Rule 7:  PURSUE WHAT IS MEANINGFUL (NOT WHAT IS EXPEDIENT).”  Most folks do what’s pleasurable, choosing to focus on transient goods rather than permanent things.  But momentary sacrifices to gain long-term goals is the only way to live wisely.  Deferred gratification is the key to happiness.  “Rule 8:  TELL THE TRUTH— OR, AT LEAST, DON’T LIE.”  Talk straight to yourself and to others.  Your well-being, and the welfare of your world, depend upon it.  Lying is particularly the province of the ideologues so prominent in politics and media, and “oversimplification and falsification is particularly typical of ideologues.  They adopt a single axiom:  government is bad, immigration is bad, capitalism is bad, patriarchy is bad.  Then they filter and screen their experiences and insist ever more narrowly that everything can be explained by that axiom.  They believe, narcissistically, underneath all that bad theory, that the world could be put right, if only they held the controls” p. 258).    Truth-telling, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn found, is the only way to rests them.  

“Rule 9:  ASSUME THAT THE PERSON YOU ARE LISTENING TO MIGHT KNOW SOMETHING YOU DON’T.”  Have the humility to acknowledge your limits and forego trying to shape the world in accord with your personal notions.  Fresh, radical, novel, “creative” ideas—especially your own—are likely to be wrong!  Furthermore, know that thinking involves seriously listening to yourself!  “People think they think, but it’s not true.  It’s mostly self-criticism that passes for thinking.  True thinking is rare— just like true listening.  Thinking is listening to yourself. It’s difficult.” (p. 293).   “Rule 10:  BE PRECISE IN YOUR SPEECH.”  Words have meanings, so use them respectfully, thoughtfully.  There’s good reason for grammar, so learn to follow its prescriptions.  “Rule 11:  DO NOT BOTHER CHILDREN WHEN THEY ARE SKATEBOARDING.”  Kids (especially boys) need to take risks, to skirt with danger—it’s the best way for them to attain competence and maturity.  Let boys be boys—and resist every effort of the radical feminists to cram them into their skewed ideology.  (Peterson’s willingness to challenge feminist pieties is one reason he has such a large iTube male audience).  “Rule 12:  PET A CAT WHEN YOU ENCOUNTER ONE ON THE STREET.”  Find joy in the sheer goodness of creation.  Avoid the nihilistic impetus to despise and destroy the goodness in things.  

Summing up his central insights, Peterson says his studies led him to some “fundamental moral conclusions.  Aim up.  Pay attention.  Fix what you can fix.  Don’t be arrogant in your knowledge.  Strive for humility, because totalitarian pride manifests itself in intolerance, oppression, torture and death.  Become aware of your own insufficiency— your cowardice, malevolence, resentment and hatred.  Consider the murderousness of your own spirit before you dare accuse others, and before you attempt to repair the fabric of the world.  Maybe it’s not the world that’s at fault.  Maybe it’s you.  You’ve failed to make the mark.  You’ve missed the target.  You’ve fallen short of the glory of God.  You’ve sinned.  And all of that is your contribution to the insufficiency and evil of the world.  And, above all, don’t lie.  Don’t lie about anything, ever.  Lying leads to Hell. It was the great and the small lies of the Nazi and Communist states that produced the deaths of millions of people” (p. 242).  Enough said!  So let’s shape up and live responsibly!  

334 SCOTUS Justices

Justices of the United States Supreme Court have wielded extraordinary power throughout the nation’s history.  Unlike presidents and prominent legislators, however, they frequently remain rather unknown to the general public.  But for anyone interested, there are some fine treatises giving us insight into the lives and personalities of the jurists.  Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female justice (appointed by President Ronald Reagan) set down her memories of life on the Arizona in Lazy B:  Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch the American Southwest (New York:  Random House, c. 2002; Kindle Edition).  She prefaced her work with a statement by Wallace Stegner:  “There is something about living in big empty space, where people are few and distant, under a great sky that is alternately serene and furious, exposed to sun from four in the morning till nine at night, and to a wind that never seems to rest—there is something about exposure to that big country that not only tells an individual how small he is, but steadily tells him who he is.”  And O’Connor obviously learned who she was by understanding the big country around her.  

This “big empty space” certainly helped shape O’Connor, giving her a strong, nature-based frontier ethic.  Growing up unchurched, she once asked her father why they didn’t  “ever go to church on Sunday?”   He responded:  “‘It’s too far to go to town.  Besides, most of the local preachers aren’t very good.’  “Do you believe in God?” [she asked]  ‘Yes, I do. I know some people question whether God exists and whether all those Bible stories are true.  I don’t know about the stories, but when you watch the world around us . . . and see the laws of nature work, you have to believe that some power beyond us has created the universe and has established the way nature works.  . . . . It is an amazing, complex, but orderly universe.  And we are only specks in it. There is surely something—a God if you will—who created all of this. And we don’t have to go to church to appreciate it.  It is all around us. This is our church.” (p. 143).  So to the extent she had a moral compass, it came from the Natural Law and her parents’ frontier ethos.  

The Lazy B Ranch was located west of Lordsburg, New Mexico, in the “sparse, open high desert country south of the Gila River on the border of Arizona and New Mexico.”  It was land described by Kit Carson as “so desolate, desert, and God-forsaken that a wolf could not make a living on it” (p. 14).  It’s “high desert country—dry, windswept, clear, often cloudless” (p. 6).  “Water was scarce and hard to find.  Every drop counted.  We built catchment basins and dirt tanks to catch and store it.  We pumped it from underground.  We measured it and used it sparingly.  Life depended on it” (p. 7).  Her father said:  “‘Keep the grass healthy, keep adequate water reserves, take care of the land, and it will take care of us’” (p. 33).  Their cattle needed to graze on public lands (the “open range”), so the Lazy B Ranch controlled some 160,000 acres and measured “roughly 250 square miles, an area about 16 miles across and 15 miles long” (p. 19).  It enabled the Days to graze some 2,000 cattle.

The Lazy B “was the largest and most successful ranch in the region” due to the hard work of her  parents, Harry and Ada Mae Day.  They took up residence there in 1927, and they “thought there was no better life anyone could live than on the Lazy B.”  They lived there 50 years and had two children, including the first-born Sandra, who developed an especially strong bond with her father.  “As the first child, I was always the darling of my daddy’s eye.  . . . .  I loved the ranch and adored my father.  I loved [Mother] MO, too, but the bond between a little girl and her father is often something special.  How lucky I felt to be able to share as much of his life as I did!” (p. 96).  She also developed “a love for the land and for the way of life on the ranch that has stayed with me.  Spending hours each day at the dinner table discussing ranching, politics, or economics is a treat that many young people don’t experience” (p. 29). Sandra’s mother brought cultural refinement and a commitment to education in the family.  She taught Sandra to read at the age of four and provided a variety of magazines and books for her to devour.  “MO was a tidy package of good looks, competence, and charm.  She could fit in at a gathering of Arizona ranch wives or at an elegant party in Washington, D.C.  She was the only female role model we had,” and she “made a hard life look easy.  In a harsh environment where weather, the cowboys, and the animals were all unpredictable, she was unfailingly loving and kind.  She created an appealing and delightful life for her family all her days.  While some of the cowboys taught us that only the toughest survive, MO taught us that kindness and love can also produce survivors, and in a happy atmosphere” (p. 49).  

In addition to her family, O’Connor fondly remembered valuable ranch “hands,” a few of whom spent much of their lives as employees of the Lazy B.  “The cowboys did whatever  job was required.  They met the unexpected as though they’d known about it all along.  They never complained, and they made the best of everything along the way” (p. 124).  She devotes many pages to describing life on the ranch—round-ups, horses, routine tasks so essential for its operation.  Less happy memories include the growing federal government’s role in controlling the ranch, especially as environmentalists successfully pursued their agendas.  After her parents’ deaths, her brother Alan ran the ranch for a few years before selling it.  He and Sandra “worry about the future of the federal and state lands in the greater Southwest. We agree on one thing:  the land is better protected from destruction by off-road vehicles and people out for target shooting when it is occupied by responsible ranchers.” 

When it was time for her to go to school Sandra want to Redford School for Girls in El Paso, Texas, where she lived with her grandmother while attending classes.  She acquired a fine education and made life-long friends.  In due time she attended another El Paso school, Austin High School.  When she was 16 she enrolled at Stanford University, graduating with distinction and later attending its law school.  Graduating in 1952 she married a fellow law school classmate and soon began her legal career in Phoenix.  Thirty years later President Reagan appointed her to the Supreme Court, something O’Connor found almost incredible.  “It did not seem possible that a ranch girl would grow up to serve on our nation’s highest court” (p. 199).   Concluding her account, O’Connor said:  “The power of the memories of life on the Lazy B is strong.   It surges through my mind and my heart often.  . . . . We know that our characters were shaped by our experiences there,” where the “value system we learned was simple and unsophisticated and the product of necessity.  What counted was competence and the ability to do whatever was required to maintain the ranch operation in good working order—the livestock, the equipment, the buildings, wells, fences, and vehicles.  Verbal skills were less important than the ability to know and understand how things work in the physical world.  Personal qualities of honesty, dependability, competence, and good humor were valued most. These qualities were evident in most of the people who lived and worked at the Lazy B through the years” (p. 315).

And these were the qualities that sustained O’Connor throughout her years, entitling her to our respect for her years of public service on the Supreme Court of the United States.  

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One of the finest autobiographies I’ve read is Clarence Thomas’s My Grandfather’s Son:  A Memoir (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, c. 2007).  Looking back over his life, he says:  “All you can do is put one foot in front of the other and ‘play the hand that you’re dealt,’ as my grandfather so often said.  That’s what I did:  I did my best and hoped for the best, too often fearing that I was getting the worst.  In fact, though, I got everything I needed.  Much of it came from two people, my grandfather and grandmother, who gave me what I needed to endure and, eventually, to prosper” (p. x).  His grandparents were hardly famous or important to the world-at-large, but they meant everything to young Clarence.  

Reared for a few years by his mother (he almost never saw his father), Thomas was locked into  her poverty-stricken, dysfunctional world before her parents agreed to take care of Clarence and his brother.  Consequently:  “In every way that counts, I am my grandfather’s son.  I even called him ‘Daddy,’” and he was “determined to mold me in his image.  . . . .  He was the one hero in my life.  What I am is what he made me” (p. 2).  “Daddy” had a third-grade education and could barely read, but he had a strong work-ethic and determined to discipline his grandsons.  “‘The damn vacation is over,’ Daddy had told us on the morning we moved into his house.”  He declared that “while our mother had allowed us to come and go as we pleased, there would be ‘manners and behavior’ and ‘rules and regulations’ from now on” (p. 12).  That meant a great deal of hard work, which included helping Daddy deliver fuel oil when Clarence got out of school!  And at the age of 10 he was informed he was expected “to pull my load on the farm” (p. 23). 

“The family farm and our unheated oil truck became my most important classrooms, the schools in which Daddy passed on the wisdom he had acquired in the course of a long life as an ill-educated, modestly successful black man in the Deep South.  Despite the hardships he had faced, there was no bitterness or self-pity in his heart” (p. 26).   “He never praised us, just as he never hugged us” (p. 26).  In return, however, they “lived a life of luxury” compared to their early years, for they had a comfortable home with modern appliances,  plenty of food, and the security of knowing they were cared for.  As a child, Thomas often resented his grandfather’s severity.  But later in life he “came to appreciate what I had not understood as a child:  I had been raised by the greatest man I have ever known” (p. 28).

His grandfather had earlier joined the Roman Catholic Church, admiring her orderly rituals and disciplined clergy.  He also wanted a quality education for his grandsons and enrolled them in the Catholic grammar and high schools in Savannah, Georgia, where the nuns were “far more demanding” than the public school teachers.  Importantly, the nuns “taught us that God made all men equal, that blacks were inherently equal to whites, and that segregation was morally wrong” (p. 15).  Serving as an altar boy for mass, young Thomas contemplated becoming a priest and entered a Catholic seminary, where he studied hard and excelled in his course work.  Importantly, he profited from the discipline it afforded.  In time he decided to drop out of the seminary and go to college—a decision that precipitated an unexpected confrontation with his grandfather, who ordered him to leave home and survive on his own!  He left home in 1968 and easily slipped into an angry state, railing against various injustices in the country.  A friend of his introduced him to Marxism and Students for a Democratic Society, so when he went off to study at Holy Cross University in Massachusetts he was “an angry black man.”  Indeed:  “Racism had become the answer to all my questions, the trump card that won every argument” (p. 52).  He joined anti-war protests, chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh,” and endorsed all the then-hip radical causes.  But one morning, after risking his academic career attending a protest, he “stopped in front of the chapel and prayed for the first time in nearly two years.  I promised Almighty God that if He would purge my heart of anger, I would never hate again” (p. 60).  Soon thereafter he “began to suspect that Daddy had been right all along:  the only hope I had of changing the world was to change myself first” (p. 60).  

Thenceforth he studied ever more diligently, gaining entrance to the honors program at Holy Cross and then to Yale Law School.  He was also rethinking his worldview, doubting the efficacy of  the “affirmative action” policies that were bringing unqualified blacks into universities where they were bound to fail.  He began to critique the burgeoning welfare system’s impact  on African Americans.  Following graduation from Yale, he joined the staff of John Danforth, then serving as Missouri’s attorney general.  Thomas and his wife settled into Jefferson City, Missouri, finding acceptance and happiness in both his work and their social life.  Continuing to rethink his views on race, he found a helpful guide in Thomas Sowell, an erudite black economist.  When Danforth was elected to the United States Senate, Thomas soon followed him to Washington, D.C., and in 1980 he registered as a Republican and voted for Ronald Reagan!  “It was a giant step for a black man, but I believed it to be a logical one.  I saw no good coming from an ever-larger government that meddled with incompetence if not mendacity, in the lives of its citizens” (p. 130).  Now moving in Republican circles, he was appointed assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education and later chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  He was turning more conservative, and as he took public stands at odds with the liberal agenda of journalists and civil rights leaders he suffered constant criticism and calumny.  “The only good things about these attacks was that they encouraged me to return to the faith that had sustained me in my youth” (p. 184).  He began praying and attending church, confessing that by “running away from God, I had thrown away the most important part of my grandparents’ legacy” (p. 184).  

When George W. Bush was elected President in 1988, he decided to nominate Thomas to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  Once confirmed by the Senate in 1989, he found the position much to his liking.  The next year, when Justice Marshall retired, President Bush nominated Thomas to replace him on the Supreme Court.  While making the obligatory visits to senators on Capitol Hill the barrage of slanderous attacks in the media rendered his “once-cheerful home . . . a joyless hermit’s cell” (p. 225).  Having earlier witnessed the devious and dishonest way senators Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden had treated Robert Bork, Thomas braced himself for the barrage of abuse to come.  But he never imagined that one of the women he had helped in his prior positions would become “my most traitorous adversary” (p. 230).  That woman, of course was Anita Hill.

Appearing before the Judiciary Committee, Thomas encountered an agenda crafted by its chairman, Joe Biden.  Privately, Biden had seemed cordial and supportive, but in public it became clear that his “smooth, sincere promises that he would treat me fairly were nothing but talk” (p. 236).  Capping his duplicity, Biden called Anita Hill to testify, and she made virulent allegations regarding his sexually-offensive behavior.  The media mob took her every word as gospel while disregarding Thomas’s explanations and defense.   Deeply wounded and frustrated by the process, Thomas finally erupted in a memorable verbal torrent:  “This is a circus.  It is a national disgrace.  And from my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I am concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that, unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you and you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree” (p. 271).  Members of the committee were clearly stunned.  Public opinion instantly shifted.  And Clarence Thomas would become a justice of the United States Supreme Court, joining Antonin Scalia in rendering consistently originalist opinions.  

Throughout those difficult days Thomas relied on his deepening Christian faith.  He was also given invaluable strength by his faithful wife and the enduring support (and times of prayer with) Senator Danforth.  And he finally found how wonderfully his Daddy had lived out the wisdom he desperate needed in those trying days.  My Grandfather’s Son is an illuminating autobiography, because it reveals how one’s spiritual life and gratitude for family make life ultimately good. 

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In Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court (Washington:  Regnery Publishing, Kindle Edition, c. 2019), Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severeno provide a detailed account of one of the more disgraceful episodes in American history.  President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018.  Justice Kennedy had recommended six of his former clerks, including Kavanaugh, whom he considered simply “brilliant.”  Kavanaugh had served on the D.C. Circuit Court for 12 years, written some 300 opinions, and was widely applauded for his judicial acumen.  (By contrast, Obama appointee Elena Kagan “had no judicial opinions to her name” but was easily confirmed by a Republican controlled Senate).  Kavanaugh didn’t quite fit the anti-establishment profile Trump wanted, but he seemed to be a safe, “moderate” choice who could easily survive the confirmation process.  Adding to his judicial accomplishments, he regularly attended a Catholic church and had a sterling reputation as a devoted husband and father.  Qualifications, however, meant nothing to powerful Democrats and their militant (pro-abortion) supporters.  As soon as it was known Trump had named his nominee, “a large crowd gathered outside the Supreme Court in a protest organized by the Center for American Progress (CAP), funded by George Soros and founded by John Podesta, a close aide to Barack Obama and the Clintons.  As they waited to find out who it was, they chanted “Hey, hey! Ho, ho!  The patriarchy has got to go!’” (#1131).   Partisans of the “resistance,”  Senate Democrats had used every possible parliamentary procedure to delay every Trump cabinet nomination, and they were even more determined to frustrate his judicial nominees.  

When the Judiciary Committee scheduled the Kavanaugh hearing, “Democrats considered staging a mass walkout or not showing up.  Fearing that such an action might backfire, however, they came up with a different plan:  disruption” (#1620).  The committee room was packed, while representatives of the “NAACP and NARAL wore shirts of various colors and lined the walkways, forming a rainbow of protesters” (#1625).  Highly disciplined and meticulously scripted, disrupters in the room “shrieked and were arrested, a pattern that would continue throughout the hearings” (#1637).   As protesters (flown in from all parts of the country and funded by Planned Parenthood) were arrested and removed, their seats were immediately filled by others, waiting their time to interrupt the procedures.  The Democrat Senators disrupted in their own way.  As soon as Chairman Charles Grassley opened the hearing, Senator Kamala Harris interrupted him, demanding more time to examine the 42,000 just-released documents dealing with Kavanaugh’s judicial records.  “It took nearly an hour and a half, with dozens of interruptions, for Grassley to get through his ten-minute opening statement” (#1651).  “A major source of the hearings’ drama was political ambition.  Ever since Joe Biden’s grandstanding during the [1987] Bork hearings, senators have been powerfully tempted to exploit a perch on the Senate Judiciary Committee for public attention” (#1871).  So  Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar tried to outdo each other in posturing for the public at Kavanaugh’s expense.  

Then Diane Feinstein, defying procedural rules, released copies of a letter alleging Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted a woman while they were in high school.  Kavanaugh couldn’t remember the woman, Christine Blasey Ford, since they’d attended different schools and moved in different social circles.  Importantly, those who’d known her insisted her “behavior in high school and college were dramatically at odds with her presentation in the media” (#2215).  On the other hand, eighty-seven women who had known Kavanaugh for many years held a press conference to make clear their support of him and validate his probity.  Senator John Cornyn of Texas put it plainly:  “‘The problem is, Dr. Ford can’t remember when it was, where it was, or how it came to be. There are some gaps there that need to be filled.’  Cornyn had simply stated the facts.  Those were enormous gaps in an accusation of sexual assault that was intended to keep one of the nation’s most distinguished judges off the Supreme Court.  But the media responded as if Cornyn were maliciously sowing doubt about an account that anyone of sound mind must regard as unimpeachable” (#2331).   With no concern for legal traditions, Senate Democrats and the media seized upon Ford’s words  as the capstone of their ferocious attacks on Kavanaugh.  “Normally, the burden of proof is on the accuser, but the media were not even paying lip service to that principle” (#2213).  

Hemingway and Severeno carefully document all the developments in this disgraceful episode, making it clear how maliciously Democrats and media sought to destroy a good man.  That Kavanaugh survived and hearings and was finally approved as a Supreme Court justice bears witness to his courage and the constant support of the president who nominated him. 

SCOTUS JUSTICES     

Justices of the United States Supreme Court have wielded extraordinary power throughout the nation’s history.  Unlike presidents and prominent legislators, however, they frequently remain rather unknown to the general public.  But for anyone interested, there are some fine treatises giving us insight into the lives and personalities of the jurists.  Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female justice (appointed by President Ronald Reagan) set down her memories of life on the Arizona in Lazy B:  Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch the American Southwest (New York:  Random House, c. 2002; Kindle Edition).  She prefaced her work with a statement by Wallace Stegner:  “There is something about living in big empty space, where people are few and distant, under a great sky that is alternately serene and furious, exposed to sun from four in the morning till nine at night, and to a wind that never seems to rest—there is something about exposure to that big country that not only tells an individual how small he is, but steadily tells him who he is.”  And O’Connor obviously learned who she was by understanding the big country around her.  

This “big empty space” certainly helped shape O’Connor, giving her a strong, nature-based frontier ethic.  Growing up unchurched, she once asked her father why they didn’t  “ever go to church on Sunday?”   He responded:  “‘It’s too far to go to town.  Besides, most of the local preachers aren’t very good.’  “Do you believe in God?” [she asked]  ‘Yes, I do. I know some people question whether God exists and whether all those Bible stories are true.  I don’t know about the stories, but when you watch the world around us . . . and see the laws of nature work, you have to believe that some power beyond us has created the universe and has established the way nature works.  . . . . It is an amazing, complex, but orderly universe.  And we are only specks in it. There is surely something—a God if you will—who created all of this. And we don’t have to go to church to appreciate it.  It is all around us. This is our church.” (p. 143).  So to the extent she had a moral compass, it came from the Natural Law and her parents’ frontier ethos.  

The Lazy B Ranch was located west of Lordsburg, New Mexico, in the “sparse, open high desert country south of the Gila River on the border of Arizona and New Mexico.”  It was land described by Kit Carson as “so desolate, desert, and God-forsaken that a wolf could not make a living on it” (p. 14).  It’s “high desert country—dry, windswept, clear, often cloudless” (p. 6).  “Water was scarce and hard to find.  Every drop counted.  We built catchment basins and dirt tanks to catch and store it.  We pumped it from underground.  We measured it and used it sparingly.  Life depended on it” (p. 7).  Her father said:  “‘Keep the grass healthy, keep adequate water reserves, take care of the land, and it will take care of us’” (p. 33).  Their cattle needed to graze on public lands (the “open range”), so the Lazy B Ranch controlled some 160,000 acres and measured “roughly 250 square miles, an area about 16 miles across and 15 miles long” (p. 19).  It enabled the Days to graze some 2,000 cattle.

The Lazy B “was the largest and most successful ranch in the region” due to the hard work of her  parents, Harry and Ada Mae Day.  They took up residence there in 1927, and they “thought there was no better life anyone could live than on the Lazy B.”  They lived there 50 years and had two children, including the first-born Sandra, who developed an especially strong bond with her father.  “As the first child, I was always the darling of my daddy’s eye.  . . . .  I loved the ranch and adored my father.  I loved [Mother] MO, too, but the bond between a little girl and her father is often something special.  How lucky I felt to be able to share as much of his life as I did!” (p. 96).  She also developed “a love for the land and for the way of life on the ranch that has stayed with me.  Spending hours each day at the dinner table discussing ranching, politics, or economics is a treat that many young people don’t experience” (p. 29). Sandra’s mother brought cultural refinement and a commitment to education in the family.  She taught Sandra to read at the age of four and provided a variety of magazines and books for her to devour.  “MO was a tidy package of good looks, competence, and charm.  She could fit in at a gathering of Arizona ranch wives or at an elegant party in Washington, D.C.  She was the only female role model we had,” and she “made a hard life look easy.  In a harsh environment where weather, the cowboys, and the animals were all unpredictable, she was unfailingly loving and kind.  She created an appealing and delightful life for her family all her days.  While some of the cowboys taught us that only the toughest survive, MO taught us that kindness and love can also produce survivors, and in a happy atmosphere” (p. 49).  

In addition to her family, O’Connor fondly remembered valuable ranch “hands,” a few of whom spent much of their lives as employees of the Lazy B.  “The cowboys did whatever  job was required.  They met the unexpected as though they’d known about it all along.  They never complained, and they made the best of everything along the way” (p. 124).  She devotes many pages to describing life on the ranch—round-ups, horses, routine tasks so essential for its operation.  Less happy memories include the growing federal government’s role in controlling the ranch, especially as environmentalists successfully pursued their agendas.  After her parents’ deaths, her brother Alan ran the ranch for a few years before selling it.  He and Sandra “worry about the future of the federal and state lands in the greater Southwest. We agree on one thing:  the land is better protected from destruction by off-road vehicles and people out for target shooting when it is occupied by responsible ranchers.” 

When it was time for her to go to school Sandra want to Redford School for Girls in El Paso, Texas, where she lived with her grandmother while attending classes.  She acquired a fine education and made life-long friends.  In due time she attended another El Paso school, Austin High School.  When she was 16 she enrolled at Stanford University, graduating with distinction and later attending its law school.  Graduating in 1952 she married a fellow law school classmate and soon began her legal career in Phoenix.  Thirty years later President Reagan appointed her to the Supreme Court, something O’Connor found almost incredible.  “It did not seem possible that a ranch girl would grow up to serve on our nation’s highest court” (p. 199).   Concluding her account, O’Connor said:  “The power of the memories of life on the Lazy B is strong.   It surges through my mind and my heart often.  . . . . We know that our characters were shaped by our experiences there,” where the “value system we learned was simple and unsophisticated and the product of necessity.  What counted was competence and the ability to do whatever was required to maintain the ranch operation in good working order—the livestock, the equipment, the buildings, wells, fences, and vehicles.  Verbal skills were less important than the ability to know and understand how things work in the physical world.  Personal qualities of honesty, dependability, competence, and good humor were valued most. These qualities were evident in most of the people who lived and worked at the Lazy B through the years” (p. 315).

And these were the qualities that sustained O’Connor throughout her years, entitling her to our respect for her years of public service on the Supreme Court of the United States.  

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One of the finest autobiographies I’ve read is Clarence Thomas’s My Grandfather’s Son:  A Memoir (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, c. 2007).  Looking back over his life, he says:  “All you can do is put one foot in front of the other and ‘play the hand that you’re dealt,’ as my grandfather so often said.  That’s what I did:  I did my best and hoped for the best, too often fearing that I was getting the worst.  In fact, though, I got everything I needed.  Much of it came from two people, my grandfather and grandmother, who gave me what I needed to endure and, eventually, to prosper” (p. x).  His grandparents were hardly famous or important to the world-at-large, but they meant everything to young Clarence.  

Reared for a few years by his mother (he almost never saw his father), Thomas was locked into  her poverty-stricken, dysfunctional world before her parents agreed to take care of Clarence and his brother.  Consequently:  “In every way that counts, I am my grandfather’s son.  I even called him ‘Daddy,’” and he was “determined to mold me in his image.  . . . .  He was the one hero in my life.  What I am is what he made me” (p. 2).  “Daddy” had a third-grade education and could barely read, but he had a strong work-ethic and determined to discipline his grandsons.  “‘The damn vacation is over,’ Daddy had told us on the morning we moved into his house.”  He declared that “while our mother had allowed us to come and go as we pleased, there would be ‘manners and behavior’ and ‘rules and regulations’ from now on” (p. 12).  That meant a great deal of hard work, which included helping Daddy deliver fuel oil when Clarence got out of school!  And at the age of 10 he was informed he was expected “to pull my load on the farm” (p. 23). 

“The family farm and our unheated oil truck became my most important classrooms, the schools in which Daddy passed on the wisdom he had acquired in the course of a long life as an ill-educated, modestly successful black man in the Deep South.  Despite the hardships he had faced, there was no bitterness or self-pity in his heart” (p. 26).   “He never praised us, just as he never hugged us” (p. 26).  In return, however, they “lived a life of luxury” compared to their early years, for they had a comfortable home with modern appliances,  plenty of food, and the security of knowing they were cared for.  As a child, Thomas often resented his grandfather’s severity.  But later in life he “came to appreciate what I had not understood as a child:  I had been raised by the greatest man I have ever known” (p. 28).

His grandfather had earlier joined the Roman Catholic Church, admiring her orderly rituals and disciplined clergy.  He also wanted a quality education for his grandsons and enrolled them in the Catholic grammar and high schools in Savannah, Georgia, where the nuns were “far more demanding” than the public school teachers.  Importantly, the nuns “taught us that God made all men equal, that blacks were inherently equal to whites, and that segregation was morally wrong” (p. 15).  Serving as an altar boy for mass, young Thomas contemplated becoming a priest and entered a Catholic seminary, where he studied hard and excelled in his course work.  Importantly, he profited from the discipline it afforded.  In time he decided to drop out of the seminary and go to college—a decision that precipitated an unexpected confrontation with his grandfather, who ordered him to leave home and survive on his own!  He left home in 1968 and easily slipped into an angry state, railing against various injustices in the country.  A friend of his introduced him to Marxism and Students for a Democratic Society, so when he went off to study at Holy Cross University in Massachusetts he was “an angry black man.”  Indeed:  “Racism had become the answer to all my questions, the trump card that won every argument” (p. 52).  He joined anti-war protests, chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh,” and endorsed all the then-hip radical causes.  But one morning, after risking his academic career attending a protest, he “stopped in front of the chapel and prayed for the first time in nearly two years.  I promised Almighty God that if He would purge my heart of anger, I would never hate again” (p. 60).  Soon thereafter he “began to suspect that Daddy had been right all along:  the only hope I had of changing the world was to change myself first” (p. 60).  

Thenceforth he studied ever more diligently, gaining entrance to the honors program at Holy Cross and then to Yale Law School.  He was also rethinking his worldview, doubting the efficacy of  the “affirmative action” policies that were bringing unqualified blacks into universities where they were bound to fail.  He began to critique the burgeoning welfare system’s impact  on African Americans.  Following graduation from Yale, he joined the staff of John Danforth, then serving as Missouri’s attorney general.  Thomas and his wife settled into Jefferson City, Missouri, finding acceptance and happiness in both his work and their social life.  Continuing to rethink his views on race, he found a helpful guide in Thomas Sowell, an erudite black economist.  When Danforth was elected to the United States Senate, Thomas soon followed him to Washington, D.C., and in 1980 he registered as a Republican and voted for Ronald Reagan!  “It was a giant step for a black man, but I believed it to be a logical one.  I saw no good coming from an ever-larger government that meddled with incompetence if not mendacity, in the lives of its citizens” (p. 130).  Now moving in Republican circles, he was appointed assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education and later chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  He was turning more conservative, and as he took public stands at odds with the liberal agenda of journalists and civil rights leaders he suffered constant criticism and calumny.  “The only good things about these attacks was that they encouraged me to return to the faith that had sustained me in my youth” (p. 184).  He began praying and attending church, confessing that by “running away from God, I had thrown away the most important part of my grandparents’ legacy” (p. 184).  

When George W. Bush was elected President in 1988, he decided to nominate Thomas to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  Once confirmed by the Senate in 1989, he found the position much to his liking.  The next year, when Justice Marshall retired, President Bush nominated Thomas to replace him on the Supreme Court.  While making the obligatory visits to senators on Capitol Hill the barrage of slanderous attacks in the media rendered his “once-cheerful home . . . a joyless hermit’s cell” (p. 225).  Having earlier witnessed the devious and dishonest way senators Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden had treated Robert Bork, Thomas braced himself for the barrage of abuse to come.  But he never imagined that one of the women he had helped in his prior positions would become “my most traitorous adversary” (p. 230).  That woman, of course was Anita Hill.

Appearing before the Judiciary Committee, Thomas encountered an agenda crafted by its chairman, Joe Biden.  Privately, Biden had seemed cordial and supportive, but in public it became clear that his “smooth, sincere promises that he would treat me fairly were nothing but talk” (p. 236).  Capping his duplicity, Biden called Anita Hill to testify, and she made virulent allegations regarding his sexually-offensive behavior.  The media mob took her every word as gospel while disregarding Thomas’s explanations and defense.   Deeply wounded and frustrated by the process, Thomas finally erupted in a memorable verbal torrent:  “This is a circus.  It is a national disgrace.  And from my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I am concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that, unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you and you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree” (p. 271).  Members of the committee were clearly stunned.  Public opinion instantly shifted.  And Clarence Thomas would become a justice of the United States Supreme Court, joining Antonin Scalia in rendering consistently originalist opinions.  

Throughout those difficult days Thomas relied on his deepening Christian faith.  He was also given invaluable strength by his faithful wife and the enduring support (and times of prayer with) Senator Danforth.  And he finally found how wonderfully his Daddy had lived out the wisdom he desperate needed in those trying days.  My Grandfather’s Son is an illuminating autobiography, because it reveals how one’s spiritual life and gratitude for family make life ultimately good. 

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In Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court (Washington:  Regnery Publishing, Kindle Edition, c. 2019), Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severeno provide a detailed account of one of the more disgraceful episodes in American history.  President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018.  Justice Kennedy had recommended six of his former clerks, including Kavanaugh, whom he considered simply “brilliant.”  Kavanaugh had served on the D.C. Circuit Court for 12 years, written some 300 opinions, and was widely applauded for his judicial acumen.  (By contrast, Obama appointee Elena Kagan “had no judicial opinions to her name” but was easily confirmed by a Republican controlled Senate).  Kavanaugh didn’t quite fit the anti-establishment profile Trump wanted, but he seemed to be a safe, “moderate” choice who could easily survive the confirmation process.  Adding to his judicial accomplishments, he regularly attended a Catholic church and had a sterling reputation as a devoted husband and father.  Qualifications, however, meant nothing to powerful Democrats and their militant (pro-abortion) supporters.  As soon as it was known Trump had named his nominee, “a large crowd gathered outside the Supreme Court in a protest organized by the Center for American Progress (CAP), funded by George Soros and founded by John Podesta, a close aide to Barack Obama and the Clintons.  As they waited to find out who it was, they chanted “Hey, hey! Ho, ho!  The patriarchy has got to go!’” (#1131).   Partisans of the “resistance,”  Senate Democrats had used every possible parliamentary procedure to delay every Trump cabinet nomination, and they were even more determined to frustrate his judicial nominees.  

When the Judiciary Committee scheduled the Kavanaugh hearing, “Democrats considered staging a mass walkout or not showing up.  Fearing that such an action might backfire, however, they came up with a different plan:  disruption” (#1620).  The committee room was packed, while representatives of the “NAACP and NARAL wore shirts of various colors and lined the walkways, forming a rainbow of protesters” (#1625).  Highly disciplined and meticulously scripted, disrupters in the room “shrieked and were arrested, a pattern that would continue throughout the hearings” (#1637).   As protesters (flown in from all parts of the country and funded by Planned Parenthood) were arrested and removed, their seats were immediately filled by others, waiting their time to interrupt the procedures.  The Democrat Senators disrupted in their own way.  As soon as Chairman Charles Grassley opened the hearing, Senator Kamala Harris interrupted him, demanding more time to examine the 42,000 just-released documents dealing with Kavanaugh’s judicial records.  “It took nearly an hour and a half, with dozens of interruptions, for Grassley to get through his ten-minute opening statement” (#1651).  “A major source of the hearings’ drama was political ambition.  Ever since Joe Biden’s grandstanding during the [1987] Bork hearings, senators have been powerfully tempted to exploit a perch on the Senate Judiciary Committee for public attention” (#1871).  So  Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar tried to outdo each other in posturing for the public at Kavanaugh’s expense.  

Then Diane Feinstein, defying procedural rules, released copies of a letter alleging Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted a woman while they were in high school.  Kavanaugh couldn’t remember the woman, Christine Blasey Ford, since they’d attended different schools and moved in different social circles.  Importantly, those who’d known her insisted her “behavior in high school and college were dramatically at odds with her presentation in the media” (#2215).  On the other hand, eighty-seven women who had known Kavanaugh for many years held a press conference to make clear their support of him and validate his probity.  Senator John Cornyn of Texas put it plainly:  “‘The problem is, Dr. Ford can’t remember when it was, where it was, or how it came to be. There are some gaps there that need to be filled.’  Cornyn had simply stated the facts.  Those were enormous gaps in an accusation of sexual assault that was intended to keep one of the nation’s most distinguished judges off the Supreme Court.  But the media responded as if Cornyn were maliciously sowing doubt about an account that anyone of sound mind must regard as unimpeachable” (#2331).   With no concern for legal traditions, Senate Democrats and the media seized upon Ford’s words  as the capstone of their ferocious attacks on Kavanaugh.  “Normally, the burden of proof is on the accuser, but the media were not even paying lip service to that principle” (#2213).  

Hemingway and Severeno carefully document all the developments in this disgraceful episode, making it clear how maliciously Democrats and media sought to destroy a good man.  That Kavanaugh survived and hearings and was finally approved as a Supreme Court justice bears witness to his courage and the constant support of the president who nominated him. 

333 “Socialism Sucks”

It’s increasingly evident that many Americans now embrace socialism.  A 2016 “Harvard survey found that a third of eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds supported it,” and another survey “reported that millennials supported socialism over any other economic system.”  They apparently favor what David Horowitz calls “morally-sanctioned theft” and are either unaware of or deliberately deny the appalling reality of socialism’s genocidal history.  Add to this the amazing left-turn of the current Democrat Party, now espousing a Sanders-style socialistic agenda!  So it behooves us who treasure freedom to better understand what awaits us should we follow the pattern discernible in the “unfree world” examined by two Texas economists.  Having established themselves as bona fide academicians by publishing scholarly articles and books, Robert Lawson (a professor at Southern Methodist University) and Benjamin Powell (a professor at Texas Tech University), decided to take a light-hearted (anecdote-studded) but deeply serious (data-laden) tour of socialist utopias to experience first-hand their reality.  This resulted in Lawson’s Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World (Washington:  Regency Publishing, Kindle edition, c. 2019).   Lawson and Powell launched their travels in Sweden, a allegedly “socialist country” which “is not a socialist country.”  Certainly there are generous welfare and entitlement programs, but that does not make a country socialist, since our economists insist the abolition of private property and a state-owned means of production are necessary components of a truly socialist regime.  In time they also visited China and concluded that it too is not economically socialistic (although it is, for sure, politically dictatorial).  In fact, “China’s economic development since 1978 is one of the greatest successes of its kind in human history” (#939).  It is, they concluded, a “fake socialism.”  

So they decided to visit three countries that remain starkly socialist:  Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea.  In Venezuela they encountered a “democratic socialism” which has almost overnight plunged from prosperity to poverty.  “At least until recently, it was the model that Western intellectuals admired and held up for emulation as a socialist paradise.  Now things are falling apart, but the apologists still insist the country’s problems have nothing to do with socialism” (#203).  Hugo Chávez “won the 1998 presidential election” promising to eliminate economic injustices and securing  much popular support.  Then (following the model of Stalin and Mao) he “confiscated more than ten million acres of private farmland” which led to a 60 percent collapse of food production and the skyrocketing of food prices.  Consequently:  “Venezuelans lost an average of twenty-four pounds in 2017.  Venezuela’s socialist policies are literally starving the country” (#338).  Of the 800,000 booming businesses in 1998, only 230,000 were afloat in 2016.  In fact, everywhere the authors looked in Venezuela they found suffering and sorrow—the dividends of little more than a decade of the “democratic Socialism” so praised by “useful idiots” such as Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, Michael Moore, and Bernie Sanders.  

From there Lawson and Powell went to Cuba to study a “subsistence socialism” that has persisted under the Castro brothers for 60 years.  Before the 1959 “revolution, Cuba had a thriving urban middle class, along with widespread rural poverty” (#455).  Fidel Castro promised to build a utopia featuring prosperity and equality.  Instead, he imposed poverty and dictatorial oppression.  Sitting in a Havana’s Hotel Tritón they saw its “decaying edifice” as “a crumbling tribute to Cuba’s central-planning problems.”  No longer subsidized by the Soviet Union, Cuban authorities eliminated funding for the hotel and it “was rotting, inside and out.  And nobody cared because nobody owned it.”  Almost immediately Lawson said:   “‘This place sucks.’  ‘Socialism sucks,’ said Bob as he drained his beer” (#475).  Thus they found a title for their book!  Researching by walking about the city, they became increasingly sad as they saw how poorly a state-run economy functions.  The food in restaurants was tasteless (ironically, “Cuban cuisine is excellent—just not when it’s served in Cuba”), the buildings were decaying, and the people (70 percent of whom work for the state and get twenty-five dollars a month) were pitifully poor.  

But Cubans are not as poor as North Koreans!  Our economists next flew to Seoul, South Korea, and found that the “Korean peninsula is a rare natural experiment where capitalism and socialism can be compared side by side.  The comparison is particularly informative because North and South Korea share a common history, language, culture, and, before they split, level of economic development.  . . . .  At the end of World War II, North Korea had about 80 percent of Korea’s industry, 90 percent of its electrical power, and 75 percent of its mines” (#761).  Following the war and the division of the peninsula, GDP per capita was basically the same.  Yet today South Korea is an economic powerhouse.  Seoul’s “economic output ranks it fourth in the world among metropolitan areas (behind Tokyo, New York, and Los Angeles)” (#780).  But thirty-five miles to the north there’s an entirely different country, North Korea.  Lawson and Powell were not allowed to cross the border, but they learned that the people earned little more than $1000 a year and in the 1990s “up to three million North Koreans died of starvation and related diseases” (#831).  Nothing better proves the fundamental goodness of free enterprise than the dramatic contrast between the two Koreas.

Concluding their journeys, our two freedom-loving economists visited “hungover socialisms” in Russia and Ukraine, witnessing the ravages resulting from Marx’s flawed theories.   Standing near a statue of him in Moscow, “Bob said, ‘I bet there’s never been a guy who has been so wrong about every major thing he wrote about and who still has as many followers as Marx’ (#1046).  Bob’s right.  Profits don’t represent exploitation, because the labor theory of value is wrong.  Instead, at least in a free market, profits represent created value.  Capitalism can’t be the cause of alienation because workers inevitably do better under capitalism than under socialism, and market prices provide a higher standard of living and more economic opportunity.  Finally, industries haven’t become more concentrated and wages haven’t been pushed down under capitalism.  Instead, capitalism has been the engine of prosperity, innovation, new industries, and rising wages, while socialist economies have stagnated or even regressed. ‘Yeah, there’s only one great Marx,’ I said. ‘Groucho.’  Groucho’s definition of politics is Marxism in a nutshell:  “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies”’” (#1053).  In Russia and Ukraine, those “wrong remedies” resulted in millions of deaths as Lenin and Stalin imposed their version of “scientific socialism,” including the savage liquidation of the Cossacks and Kulaks and others resisting the imposition of a communal paradise.  Lawson and Powell’s loathing for Lenin and Stalin oozes from every page.  So too they loath Walter Duranty, the New York Times reporter who lied on their behalf, garnering for himself a Pulitzer Prize, claiming that rumors of famine in Ukraine was “mostly bunk” and penning “columns with titles like ‘Soviet Is Winning Faith of Peasants,’ ‘Members Enriched in Soviet Commune,’ and ‘Abundance Found in North Caucasus’” (#1139). 

The bright exception to the general malaise in the former USSR is the tiny republic of Georgia (Stalin’s birthplace), where a “new capitalism” has virtually overnight (following the 2003 “Rose Revolution”) generated prosperity.  “I [Bob] love Georgia—the people, the food, the beer, the wine, and of course the economic reforms that have taken a Soviet backwater and given it new life” (#1244).  Reformers eliminated many superfluous government workers—reducing the Ministry of Agriculture from 4,374 to 600, Tbilisi City Hall employees from 2,500 to 800, the Ministry of Environmental Protection from 5,000 to 1,700.  In 2004 they sold government-owned factories, hospitals, and apartments—“everything was for sale except Georgia’s honor.”  In that year “Georgia ranked fifty-sixth on the economic freedom index.  In the 2017 edition of the index, Georgia ranked eighth in the entire world, ahead of the eleventh-ranked United States” (#1330).  The capital city, Tbilisi, “has better-paved streets than Dallas. The once dark city now gleams like Paris at night. Tourists come from all over Europe and the Middle East to enjoy Georgia’s famous food, wine, and other attractions, including . . . the redeveloped medieval section of town with its quaint shops and hip restaurants” (#1338). 

Returning to the United States, Lawson and Powell “infiltrated” a 2018 convention of American socialists.   “After traveling the unfree world and witnessing the economic stagnation, starvation, poverty, and political tyranny imposed by socialist regimes, Bob and I came to the Socialism Conference to answer our own question:  How can so many Americans, particularly millennials, view socialism so favorably?  We wanted to hear what these self-described young socialists had to say, and there were plenty of millennials to ask” (#1438).  But when asked they had only the haziest notion of what they supported!  If they actually knew that socialism calls for the abolition of private property and government controlling the means of production they talked little about it.  Instead, they relished the exhilaration of shouting slogans, such as “Free abortion on demand.  We can do it.  Yes, we can.”  Abortion rights and environmental activism seemed to be the real hot button issues at the conference, and this largely explains why so many young people were attending.  When speakers deigned to mention failing socialist states like, they inevitably said they weren’t “real” socialisms.  “When socialists, democratic and otherwise, held up Venezuela as a great socialist experiment in the 2000s, the message was, ‘See, we told you so; socialism works!’  But when the failure happened, the message changed to, ‘No, wait—that’s not real socialism!’” (#1532).   

But our two economists have seen “real socialism” in various parts of the world, and they believe no one who thinks honestly and reasons clearly could support a system which inevitably fails and causes horrendous human suffering.  

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One of the finest essayists currently writing English is Theodore Dalrymple (the pen name of Anthony Daniels), a psychiatrist who has traveled widely and worked in medical facilities and prisons in some of the most impoverished realms of Africa and England.  Ever empathetic with the poorest of the poor, he writes to illuminate various social ills and enlist the reader’s concern.  Consequently, in The Wilder Shores of Marx: Journeys in a Vanishing World (Monday Books, Kindle Edition, c. 2012; first published in 1991), he took a tour of formerly-communist lands devastated by a singularly pernicious ideology, Marxism.  “Individually unimportant as the countries might be in world history, collectively they tell us much about one of the central political currents of the twentieth century” (#179).  Visiting some of “the peripheral countries of the communist world, then in the process of dissolution,” he determined “to pre-empt the nostalgia for what was an anti-human system in the likely event that the transition to something more normal would be difficult and unsatisfactory.  Apart from the massacres, deaths and famines for which communism was responsible, the worst thing about the system was the official lying:  that is to say the lying in which everyone was forced to take part, by repetition, assent or failure to contradict” (#151).  So he seeks to to simply tell the truth—to tell it as it was.  

Early in his life Dalrymple had studied and interacted with several young socialists, and he saw that the “fons et origo” of the “appeal to intellectuals” is “snobbery.  Left to themselves, people invariably display bad taste (a crime for which Lukacs, the Hungarian Marxist luminary who was also a murderer, thought they should be punished).  Therefore, they must not be left to themselves” (#3233).  Elite intellectuals must guide the masses, ruling (whether in economics or culture) by decrees!  “It didn’t take me long to conclude that communism was dismal, and that the words of Marx and Lenin betrayed an infinite contempt for men as they were, for their aspirations, their joys and sorrows, their inconsistencies, their innermost feelings, their achievements and failings.  Below the surface of their compassion for the poor seethed the molten lava of their hatred, which they had not enough self-knowledge to recognize.  I make no claim, therefore, to have travelled in a neutral frame of mind.  But neutrality is not a precondition of truth, which itself is not necessarily the mean between two extremes.  One does not expect neutrality of someone investigating Nazism, and would be appalled if he affected it;  why, then, expect it of someone investigating a different, but longer-lasting, evil?” (#198).  

Marx once wrote:  “Communism begins where atheism begins,” so when Dalrymple visited Albania and encountered an aggressively atheistic state he declared:   “Where religion is compulsory, I am an atheist; but where religion is forbidden, I am a believer.”  All public worship ceased in Albania in 1967, when churches and mosques were closed.  The regime was following Marx’s malice, implemented by Lenin, who declared:  “‘. . . any religious idea, any idea of god at all, any flirtation even with a god, is the most unutterable foulness . . .   It is the most dangerous foulness, the most shameful ‘infection’” (#226).  To gain access to the country Dalrymple joined a group of English tourists (most of them devout socialists), who were assigned a hotel in the nation’s capital, Tirana.  Walking about the city streets, he noted that “not even the firmest of Enver Hoxha’s partisans would maintain that Tirana is an exciting or vibrant city, but it is safe” (#392).  Safe, but dead!  As dead as the innumerable number of museums, inevitably devoted to the dictator Hoxha and the nation’s grandeur, the tour guides insisted the group visit.  Thereafter, “the very idea of a museum induced in me a faint sensation of nausea – still I cannot enter one without being overcome momentarily by a feeling of profound gloom” (#437).  He left one of these museums, “this cathedral of untruth, with a strange knot in my stomach.  The idea that Hoxha should have gone to his grave triumphant filled me with rage.  I felt I should have screamed ‘Lies, lies, lies!’ and trampled on the red carpet leading to his statue, just to let everyone know that I, at any rate, did not acquiesce in this elevation of mendacity to the status of religion” (#556).  

Following his trip to Albania Dalrymple joined a British delegation attending the World Festival of Youth and Students in Pyongyang, North Korea, where “thousands of young people” assembled “to dance, sing and denounce the United States.  The festivals, which last two weeks, are the Olympics of propaganda” (#914).  Other than himself the delegation consisted of English socialists, most of whom identified with various victimized groups and effusively aired their grievances.  They’d locked into an identity “that obviated the need for consideration of others.  Persecution, real or imagined, was sufficient warrant for the rightness of their behaviour.  The trouble was, of course, that the majority of the delegates considered themselves persecuted, whether as women, members of splinter communist parties, vegetarians, homosexuals, Irish by descent, proletarians, immigrants, or any combination of these.  Hence almost everyone acted more-persecuted-than-thou” (#939).  Needless to say, Dalrymple found his companions difficult to stomach and often disgusting!  But in Korea they suddenly became a “people of consequence,” rightly esteemed for their “manifest talents” (#957).

The delegates were allowed to see nothing but what the regime prescribed.  Thus they could see modern highways without automobiles.  They were marched through museums celebrating the Great Leader.  But beneath the veneer of grandeur Dalrymple “rapidly became convinced – absolutely and unshakeably convinced – that one day stories would emerge from North Korea that would stun the world, of cruelties equal to or surpassing those of Kolyma and the White Sea Canal in Stalin’s time” (#1108).  He was in fact face-to-face with one of the most inhumane nations ever established.  In due time the delegates joined a great throng assembled in a stadium seating 150,000 to witness a parade of the representatives from the world’s nations.  In one section of the stadium 20,000 Korean children with colored cards created a variety of portraits and slogans.  The children, Dalrymple learned, had not attended school for six months in order to daily practicing these routines!  Rather than being impressed Dalrymple was angered:  “Here was a perfect demonstration of Man as a means and not an end; of people as tiny cogs in an all-embracing machine” (#1308).  

When at last Kim Il Sung (“the Great Leader”) appeared “a kind of controlled pandemonium broke out instantaneously all around the stadium” (#1355).  Since only 15,000 of the attendees were foreigners, the stadium was basically packed with Koreans following orders, and Dalrymple “recalled a passage from Vaclav Havel:  ‘Each person somehow succumbs to a profane trivialisation of his or her inherent humanity . . .   In everyone there is some willingness to merge with the anonymous crowd and to flow comfortably along with it down the river of pseudo-life.  This is much more than a simple conflict between two identities.  It is something far worse: it is a challenge to the very notion of identity itself’” (#1318).  At that moment Dalrymple determined to stay singularly seated, “even if I were to be threatened with torture or death itself.  I was so appalled by the sight and sound of 200,000 men and women worshipping a fellow mortal, totally abdicating their humanity, that I do not think I am exaggerating when I say I should rather have died than assent to this monstrous evil by standing (my mother was a refugee from Nazi Germany)” (#1361).  Clearly he had “glimpsed the terror that underscores the tombstone orderliness of North Korea” (#1503).  And he could hardly wait to escape the prison of Kim Il Sung’s Democratic Republic of North Korea.

Subsequently Dalrymple visited Romania, Vietnam, and Cuba.  Inevitably he found the same physical drabness and societal decay characteristic of socialist nations.  Once “magnificent” cities, such as Bucharest or Havana, “the pearl of centuries of exploitation, is an inhabited ruin; the inhabitants are like a wandering tribe that has found the deserted metropolis of a but dead civilisation and decided to make it home” (#3270).  Shortages of virtually everything weighed down the people.  Totalitarians inevitably impose shortages, for  the “perpetual queuing for the bare necessities of life is the best guarantee against subversion” (#3414).  People were depressed.  Whenever he could talk privately with persons who knew they would not be reported to the authorities, he found deep dissatisfaction with anything socialistic.  He asked a Vietnamese man whether he thought Ho Chi Minh had deceived the people—and received an emphatic “Yes!”  The incessant state propaganda, the omnipresent quotations promoting either the Great Leader or his agenda, he came to see, was not designed to persuade but to humiliate.  “From this point of view, propaganda should not approximate to the truth as closely as possible:  on the contrary, it should do as much violence to it as possible.  For by endlessly asserting what is patently untrue, by making such untruth ubiquitous and unavoidable, and finally by insisting that everyone publicly acquiesce in it, the regime displays its power and reduces individuals to nullities” (#2041).  So too history must be destroyed.  “To put an end to the past: to begin again, the dream of adolescent revolutionaries everywhere” (#3990).  George “Orwell grasped intuitively but with astonishing precision the importance to a totalitarian regime of control over the past” (#2047).  So whether reporting the news or writing history, truth is irrelevant, for it “does not depend on correspondence to reality; it depends merely on who propounds it, and when” (#2093).  

In the book’s “Afterword,” Dalrymple scoffs at the utopian fantasies of socialists everywhere.  In fact:  “It was never a utopia, of course. The extraordinary deadness of communist countries, detectable even at their airports, is simply the deadness of communist prose transferred to life itself.  The schemes of communist dictators to reform the whole of humanity, to eradicate all vestiges of the past, to build a new world with no connection to the old, are not the whims of despots made mad by the exercise of arbitrary power, but the natural outcome of too credulous a belief in a philosophy which is simple, arrogant, vituperative and wrong.  When men reach power who believe that freedom is the recognition of necessity, is it any surprise that tyranny ensues?” (#4077). 

332 “Stripping the Altars”–The Anglican Reformation

Growing up in the Church of the Nazarene I learned we were Wesleyans—a theological position demonstrably different from both Catholicism and Calvinism.  In time I also learned that John Wesley was, throughout his life, a priest in the Church of England, so Nazarenes derive their heritage not from Luther and Calvin but from the church brought into being by King Henry VIII in the 1530s.  In graduate school I studied ancient and medieval history, but my knowledge of the English Reformation was largely derived from textbooks—and they generally cast a positive light on the English Reformation and its established Protestant church.  However, my understanding of that era was significantly challenged and changed by reading Eamon Duffy’s deeply-informative reassessment of Reformation historiography:   The Stripping of the Altars:  Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (New Haven:  Yale University Press, c. 1992).  Born in Ireland and a “cradle Catholic,” Duffy is a professor of history at Cambridge University, and he describes (drawing almost exclusively from primary sources) and illustrates (providing extensive photographs) the rich and vibrant religious life in late Medieval England before the Reformation—or what is more accurately labeled the “Anglican Schism.”  The bulk of the book is devoted to describing the laity’s religious life in the late Medieval period, whereas the final third of the book is devoted to the changes wrought in the church by Henry VIII and his children.  It is, as Jack Scarisbrick said:  “A mighty and momentous book . . . which re-orders one’s thinking about much of England’s religious past.”  

“It is the contention of the first part of the book,” Duffy writes, “that late medieval Catholicism exerted an enormously strong, diverse, and vigorous hold over the imagination and the loyalty of the people up to the very moment of Reformation.  Traditional religion had about it no particular marks of exhaustion or decay, and indeed in the whole host of ways, from the multiplication of vernacular religious books to adaptations within the national and regional cult of the saints, was showing itself well able to meet new needs and new conditions” (p. 4).  Documenting the various realms of religious activity—liturgical practices, mass attendance, seasonal feasts, pilgrimages, educational materials, devotional materials and practices, corporal and spiritual acts of mercy, etc.—Duffy shows how surprisingly literate and spiritually satisfied were these Medieval English believers.  

Consider, for example, the many “prayers of late medieval English men and women” which survive “in huge numbers, jotted in the margins or flyleaves of books, collected into professionally commissioned or home-made prayer-rolls, devotional manuals, and commonplace books, all gathered into the primers or Books of Hours (Horae) [scriptural prayer books], which by the eve of the Reformation were being produced in multiple editions in thousands, in formats ranging from the sumptuous to the skimpy, and varying in price from pounds to a few pence” (p. 209).  Remarkably, most all of these primers were written in Latin, indicating how widely it was used and understood by large numbers of laymen.  Handwritten entries in these primers indicated “a minimal competence” in both English and Latin and show “a wide spectrum of lay people using and supplementing the Latin devotions of the primers with familiarity and freedom” (p. 225).  

This flourishing spirituality ended abruptly in the 1530s when the “violent disruption” of Henry’s Reformation (the “Henrician religious revolution” as Duffy terms it) quickly and effectively demolished “traditional religion” in England.  Though Henry VIII stoutly denounced Luther’s reformation in its first decade, retaining an allegiance to Catholic liturgy and (to a degree) Catholic doctrine, his determination to divorce his first wife (Catherine) and marry his mistress (Anne Boleyn) led him to create a new church, the “Church of England,” with himself as head.  From that position he appointed utterly amoral men, most notably Thomas Cromwell, to carry out his edicts, including the rapid dismantling of hundreds of monasteries that were a vital part of the Catholic world.  Monastic lands were thence given to powerful nobles, supporters of the king, who thenceforth staunchly supported the revolution and its dividends.  Churches, too, were despoiled, losing great quantities of gold and silver reliquaries, jewels and tapestries—anything of monetary value.  Revealingly, when a devout man entered the despoiled shrine of Our Lady of Worcester, he lamented:  “‘Lady, art thou stripped now?  I have seen the day that as clean men hath been stripped at a pair gallows as were they that stripped thee’” (p. 403).  Within a handful of years, Henry’s “stripping of the altars” eliminating 1000 years of English piety and worship.  

With Cromwell’s “Injunctions” in 1536 and 1538, the radical dimensions of the Henrician revolution became clear.  Popular devotional practices, including processions, pilgrimages, lighting candles before saints’ statues, praying for the dead, reciting the rosary, were outlawed.  Even the shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury was pillaged and his bones scattered.  Pilloried as “a maintainer of the enormities of the Bishop of Rome, and a rebel against the King,” he was declared a persona non grata and his name was “to be erased from all liturgical books and his Office, antiphons, and collects to be said no more” (p. 412).  But then, in 1539, a scant five years after his divorce, the king paused the process and promulgated the Act of Six Articles, which “marked a decisive turning-point for the progress of radical Protestantism” (p. 424) as he tried to reverse some of Cromwell’s endeavors.  Indeed, Cromwell himself would soon fall from favor and lose his head to the busy executioner.  Many traditional ceremonies and devotional practices were restored to favor, and the “unauthorized reading of the scriptures”—especially Tyndall’s New Testament— was forbidden since they threatened to undermine royal authority.  

In the 1540s Thomas Cranmer replaced Thomas Cromwell as Henry’s chief overseer of the reformation.  Skillfully trimming to the wind, Cranmer managed to stay in the king’s good graces while continuing to implement certain aspects of his own radical Protestant agenda.  Whereas Cromwell had employed violence in the extreme, Cranmer (a gifted scholar) relied on education and ecclesiastical pressure, setting forth new primers for devotions and prescribing revised liturgies for the Church of England.  When Henry VIII died in 1547 his nine-year-old son, Edward VI, succeeded him.  Edward would be clay in the hands of a “Council” (powerful nobles who had been enriched by the dissolution of church properties), which supported Cranmer as he moved quickly to advance the reformers’ iconoclastic agenda—destroying, for example, images in stained glass church windows as well as statues in the walls.  Even images and pictures in private homes were outlawed.  He composed and issued a Book of Homilies and demanded they be read every Sunday in every church.  In 1549 Cranmer issued a prayer-book which sought “to transform lay experience of the Mass, and in the process eliminated almost everything that had till then been central to lay Eucharistic piety” (p. 464).  In 1553 he issued his epochal Book of Common Prayer and make clear his intent “to break once and for all with the Catholic past, and to leave nothing in the official worship of the Church of England which could provide a toehold for traditional ways of thinking about the sacred” (p. 473).  

Young Edward died in 1553 and his half-sister Mary succeeded him.  As the daughter of Henry’s first wife, Catherine, she was quite like her mother—a kindly, devout Catholic.  And she sought to bring England back to the Catholic fold, a move which was widely welcomed throughout the countryside.  (Inasmuch as Duffy has written a treatise on her which I’ll review a bit later, I’ll not deal with the “Marian restoration” here.)  Following Mary’s death in 1558, her half-sister Elizabeth (Anne Boleyn’s daughter) succeeded her as Queen of the realm.  Since she was considered illegitimate by the Roman Catholic Church and thus ineligible to rule, Elizabeth naturally re-imposed an Henrician/Edwardian Protestantism upon England, issuing an Act of Uniformity in 1559 that abolished the Mass and required identical rites in all parishes.  She moved decisively to control all aspects of religious life.  

Throughout these tumultuous decades, Duffy says:  “The picture that emerges from them is unmistakably that of a slow and reluctant conformity imposed from above, with little or no evidence of popular enthusiasm for or commitment to the process of reform” (p 573).  Many rebellions and widespread resistance showed the people’s attachment to the traditional religion, but the ruthlessness with which Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth responded finally established the new church throughout England.  By the 1570s it was clear that the Church of England had become not only the established church but the accepted authority now shaping religious life.  “But for most of the first Elizabethan adult generation,” Duffy concludes,” Reformation was a stripping away of familiar and beloved observances, the destruction of a vast and resonant world of symbols which, despite the denials of the proponents of the new Gospel, they both understood and controlled.  The people of Tudor England were, by and large, no spartans, no saints, but by the same token they were no reformers.  They knew themselves to be mercenary, worldly, weak, and they looked to religion, the old or the new, to pardon these vices, not to reform them” (p. 591).  

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More than a decade after publishing The Stripping of the Altars, wherein he noted that there was no reliable study of Mary Tudor, Eamon Duffy sought to rectify the deficit by writing Fires of Faith:  Catholic England under Mary Tudor (New Haven:  Yale University Press, c. 2013).  Rather recently “a good deal of scholarly work” has led historians to move away from the “Bloody Mary” epithet and judge her more positively.  In 1553 the deeply Catholic queen inherited a church deeply wounded by the “reforming” endeavors of her father and half-brother.  Their regimes “had bulldozed away centuries of devotional elaboration, and had stripped bare the cathedrals and parish churches of England.  The most devastating impact had probably been in music, since the heavy emphasis of reformed protestantism on the intelligibility of the written or spoken word in worship left no place for Latin word-setting and elaborate polyphony.  . . . .  But, after music, it was architecture and its attendant arts—paintings, statuary, stained glass—that suffered most.  Virtually all the altars had been pulled down, their consecrated table-slabs or mensal often deliberately broken up, or profaned by use” in various construction projects (pp. 3-4).  Desperate for money, Edward’s government had “carried through the largest government confiscation of local property in English history” (p. 4).  

Queen Mary and Cardinal Reginald Pole moved to undo all this and make England Catholic again.  Taking issue with many historians, Duffy insists their endeavors were (briefly) effective examples of the Counter-Reformation, restoring the ancient Catholic faith in many contested places in Europe.  Cardinal Pole, especially, had a vision and commitment that, had Mary reigned longer, might well have accomplished their goals.  Having played a prominent role in the initial sessions of the Council of Trent, Cardinal Pole returned to his native land following Mary’s accession to the throne.  And he was, Duffy says, “in charge” of the movement to make England Catholic again.  Addressing Parliament in 1554, Pole made a “remarkable speech” that endeavored to “reconcile England to the Holy See” (p. 43).  He condemned the overturning of traditional religion and the parallel erosion of civic justice, lamenting:  “‘Neither was any man so sure of his goodes and possessions, but he stood continually in abject danger and hazard of his life too’, and ‘the best sorte, and the most innocente’ had the most to fear” (p. 44).  To Duffy, “Pole’s long-pondered analysis of the English reformation, indeed of the whole sweep of English religious history, provided a rationale for theological renewal that was stark, clear and uncompromising, and that endorsed the conservative instincts of the majority of the population, while shaking itself free of the intellectual and moral compromises of Henry’s church” (p. 46).  Following Pole’s intellectual guidance, the clergy under Mary largely returned to the ancient Catholic traditions.  

They were aided by a number of pro-Catholic literary works that clearly emphasized “the real presence of Christ in the eucharist and the doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass; the spiritual primacy of the pope; the antiquity, unity and holiness of the visible catholic church, embodied in European Christendom generally, and specifically in the restored church of England; the sold authority of the church to interpret scripture; the value of penance and good works for salvation; the freedom of the human will” (p. 62).  Conversely, they decried much of the Reformation, including:  “the novelty, contradictions and confusions of protestant teaching; the lust, licentiousness and avarice of its founding fathers, from Luther to Henry VIII; the arrogance and ignorance of rank-and-file protestant believers; the singularity and lack of charity in their withdrawal from the parish and its ceremonial round; and the wedge that protestantism drove between its followers and the rest of society” (p. 62).  

But the Marian counter-reformation entailed force as well as persuasion and led to the execution (mainly by burning) of 284 Protestants.  Given the prominence of this phenomenon in the public mind, Duffy devotes a significant, deeply-detailed section of his book to it.  These were the men and women celebrated in John Foxe’s famous and thoroughly polemical Actes and Monuments (popularly known as The Book of Martyrs) and are the main reason for labeling the queen “Bloody Mary.”  In fact, her father, step-brother, and half-sister executed dissidents and “heretics” in equal numbers, for religious persecution was widely practiced in that era and was endorsed by eminent Protestants such as Thomas Cranmer and esteemed Catholics, including Cardinal Pole.  In fairness to Pole, he energetically tried to “convert rather than punish heretics.”  But when necessary, he thought capital punishment acceptable.  One of the most prominent Protestants, the Duke of Northumberland, who’d helped Edward VI pursue his radical agenda, renounced on the scaffold his earlier views and “attributed the ruin of England and his own corruption to the heresy into which the country had been led” for the past 16 years “‘by seditious preachers and teachers of new doctrine.  He called on those present ‘to remember the ould learning’ and return to the faith and unity of the catholic church” (p. 88).  

Most of the “martyrs,” however, died courageously, staunchly defending their reformation views.  Bishops Ridley and Latimer were, in John Foxe’s view, the finest exemplars of their faith, with Latimer famously saying:  “‘Be of good comfort master Ridley, and play the man:  we shall this day light such a candle by Gods grace in England, as (I trust) shall never be put out’” (p. 155).  Ever the diligent researcher, Duffy concludes this speech was a “pure invention, added by Foxe in the 1570” edition of his book.  But it certainly entered the hagiography of Reformation lore and, to a degree at least, certifies the courage and commitment of the dying faithful.  Less resolute than Ridley and Latimer, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer first renounced his reformed beliefs but then recovered them shortly before his execution, holding his hand in the fire to signify his repudiation of his earlier recantation.  

Within five years the Marian counter-reformation, by mixing persuasion and force, had largely succeeded, Duffy says, and was widely embraced throughout the realm, for Duffy contends that “the spirit of the counter-reformation was in fact alive and well in Marian England” (p. 190).  Had Mary lived England may very well have returned to the Catholic fold.  Yet though England returned to the Reformation world, Duffy thinks the work of Queen Mary and Cardinal Pole laid out the agenda for a counter-reformation that famously succeeded in many European lands.  Their Catholic “reform programme, embodied in the published acts of Pole’s synod, would help shape one of Trent’s most momentous innovation—the seminary.  The revived populism that was Pole’s legacy was the inspiration for what can fairly be described as the heroic stand made by those most unexpected heroes, the bishops and dignitaries of the English church.  Marian catholicism inspired the generation of ardent activists who would provide Elizabethan catholicism with its core convictions, its best writers, its most characteristic institutions and its martyrs.  It set adrift in mainland Europe a diaspora of talented academics and administrators whose interest and convictions merged seamlessly into those wide movements for reform that we call the counter-reformation, and who would themselves contribute to its creative ferment.  The Latin term ‘Inventio’ is a very rich one:  it carries the meanings to devise or create, as well as to find or discover.  In  both senses, the Marian church ‘invented’ the counter-reformation” (p. 207).  

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Historians, whenever possible, endeavor to thoroughly research “primary sources” when probing the past.  Providing much valuable first-hand information on the English Reformation is Nicolas Sander’s The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism (Rockford, IL:  Tan Books and Publishers, c. 1988), first published in Latin in 1588.  The book’s English editor says it is “the earliest and most trustworthy account which we possess of the great changes in Church and State that were wrought in the reign of Henry VIII,” and it became the primary source for Roman Catholic historians writing about the period.  An English priest, born to a distinguished family, and educated at Oxford during King Edward VI’s reign, Sander emerged under Queen Mary as an expert in canon law and enjoyed the respect and support of the Catholics trying to reclaim England for the ancient faith.  When Elizabeth came to power he sought refuge on the Continent and spent most of his remaining days in exile, working to reestablish the Catholic faith in his native land.  

He began his treatise by noting that:  “The Britons are said to have been first converted to the faith of Christ by Joseph of Arimathia, then confirmed therein by Eleutherus, the Roman Pontiff” in the second century.  Thus for precisely 1000 years “none other than the Roman Catholic faith prevailed in England” before King Henry VIII established his own Church with himself as a Protestant Pope.  Marrying his deceased brother Arthur’s wife Catherine in 1509, Henry wed a saintly woman considerably older than himself who bore him several children, including Mary, but no boys.  Unlike his godly wife, Henry disdained chastity and was soon “was giving the reins to his evil desires, and living in sin, sometimes with two, sometimes three of the queen’s maids” (p. 8).  After two decades, when Catherine failed to provide him a male heir he determined to divorce her and marry Anne Boleyn.  

Many pages of the book are devoted to describing the assorted maneuvers Henry launched to get papal approval to divorce Catherine, and his associates realized that he was prepared to “renounce the faith together with his wife, rather than live without Anne Boleyn” (p. 50).  He offered bribes to distinguished professors in various universities to support his cause but found most of them upholding the validity of his first marriage—though in Germany Luther’s associate, Philip Melanchthon simply urged Henry to stay married to Catherine and “treat Anne Boleyn as a concubine” (p. 84).  Then Thomas Boleyn suggested the king to get the Pope to make his chaplain, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, for “he will do whatever may be asked or even desired, for any subject’” (p. 87).  When eminent counselors, including Bishop John Fisher and the Lord Chancellor Thomas More, refused to accept his break with the Catholic Church they would be imprisoned and executed.  The swordsman beheading More, Sander said, “struck off the head of justice, of truth,, and of goodness” (p. 126).  

Though far more polemical than Eamon Duffy’s historical works, Sander anticipated (by 400 years) his conclusions:  the Anglican Schism not only birthed a new Protestant denomination but in the process destroyed a vibrant religious society, leading to a land despoiled of its cultural legacy and charitable economic structures—described in elaborate, statistical detail by a celebrated modern historian, W.G. Hoskins, in The Age of Plunder:  The England of Henry VIII, 1500-1547.

331 Heather Mac Donald

During the past several decades no journalist, said George Will, “has produced a body of work matching that of Heather Mac Donald.”  With degrees in literature from Yale and Cambridge universities, plus a law degree from Stanford, she brings unique credentials and scholarly depth to her essays (generally dealing with poverty and education) published in New York’s City Journal.  She also has a rare quality in today’s journalists—courage!  She seeks to uncover and disclose truths in America the ruling elite find unpalatable.  Thus, when she published The War on Cops:  How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe (New York:  Encounter Books, c. 2016; Kindle), she became a regular target for leftist anger.  Reading her treatise in the light of riots and destruction in the summer of 2020, moreover, reveals how presciently she read the signs of the times, for she looked at crime in the streets as more than a simple criminal matter.  Murders and mayhem certainly do much harm and take thousands of lives, but “it is not, in itself, the greatest danger in today’s war on cops.  The greatest danger lies, rather, in the delegitimization of law and order itself” (#120).

For 20 years, following 1994, city mayors and police would generally follow New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani’s prescriptions and “crime would fall 50 percent nationwide, revitalizing cities across the country” (#81).   Cops actively engaged in “Broken  Windows” policing—stopping criminals engaged in misdemeanors before they moved on to felonies.  But by 2016 things had changed and crime was “shooting up in cities across the United States.  Homicides in the country’s 50 largest cities rose nearly 17 percent in 2015, the greatest surge in fatal violence in a quarter-century” (#57).  Under President Barack Obama—who campaigned promising “change” and “repeatedly charged that the criminal-justice system treats blacks differently from whites” (#93)—one of the most dramatic changes was in crime.  “Fueling the rise in crime in places like Baltimore and Milwaukee is a multi-pronged attack on law enforcement.  Since late summer 2014, a protest movement known as Black Lives Matter (a fraudulent, thuggish organization in Mac Donald’s judgment) has convulsed the nation.  Triggered by a series of highly publicized deaths of black males at the hands of the police, the Black Lives Matter movement holds that police officers are the greatest threat facing young black men today.  That belief has spawned riots, ‘die-ins,’ and the assassination of police officers.  The movement’s targets include Broken Windows policing and the practice of stopping and questioning suspicious individuals, both of which are said to harass blacks” (#89).

Sensitive to media-fueled criticism, inner-city police understandably did less policing.  Arrests plummeted.  And as darkness follows dusk “a bloodbath ensued, and its victims were virtually all black. When the cops back off, blacks pay the greatest price.  That truth would have come as no surprise to the legions of inner-city residents who fervently support the police and whose voices are almost never heard in the media” (#106).  The virulent anti-cop movement gained impetus from the August 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.  A white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot an 18-year-old black man—a “gentle giant” who supposedly had his hands raised saying “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and was shot in cold blood.  Soon thereafter, rioters burned and looted Ferguson businesses.  When a grand jury exonerated the policeman, more riots erupted, and “Black Lives Matter protests grew ever more virulent as a second myth took hold:  that the American criminal-justice system is rigged against blacks” (#137).

Promoting this myth—and while while looters were ravaging Ferguson—President Obama “betrayed the nation” by condemning the grand jury’s failure to indict Darren Wilson.  “Obama had one job and one job only in his address that day:  to defend the workings of the criminal-justice system and the rule of law.  Instead, he turned his talk into a primer on police racism and criminal-justice bias.  In so doing, he perverted his role as the leader of all Americans and as the country’s most visible symbol of the primacy of the law” (#154).  The president “left no doubt that he believed the narrative of the mainstream media and race activists about Ferguson.  That narrative held that the shooting of Brown was a symbol of nationwide police misbehavior and that the August riots were an ‘understandable’ reaction to widespread societal injustice” (#178).  He and his Attorney General Eric Holder toured the country reciting this incendiary litany.  This narrative has absolutely no factual basis, but that deterred neither the president nor the press.  

Soon after Obama spoke, the New York Times pontificated on the Ferguson riots:  “A more perfect example of what the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan called ‘defining deviancy down’ would be hard to find.” Revealingly:  “The Times could not bring itself to say one word of condemnation against the savages who self-indulgently destroyed the livelihoods of struggling entrepreneurs and their employees in Ferguson, Missouri” (#260).  Blaming the grand jury for failing to indict the policeman, the Times proceeded to assert “that ‘the killing of young black men by police is a common feature of African-American life and a source of dread for black parents from coast to coast.’  A ‘common feature’?” Mac Donald asks.  In fact:  “This is pure hysteria” promoted by “the media frenzy that follows every such police killing, rare as they are, compared with the silence that greets the daily homicides committed by blacks against other blacks” (#305).  In fact, only a handful of unarmed blacks are annually killed by police—about half the number of whites!  “Blacks made up 60.5 percent of all murder arrests in Missouri in 2012 and 58 percent of all robbery arrests, though they are less than 12 percent of the state’s population.  Such vast disparities are found in every city and state in the country” (#485).   Unfortunately for this nation’s well being, “America’s elites have talked feverishly about police racism in order to avoid talking about black crime” (#532).

In time the Justice Department issued an official report on the Ferguson killing, “eviscerating virtually every aspect of the pro-Brown, anti-Wilson narrative,” and demolishing “the incendiary story that had fueled the riots in Ferguson, Missouri— that a teenaged “gentle giant” was gunned down by a trigger-happy cop who feared black people— and made it clear why the department would not be bringing civil rights charges against Officer Darren Wilson” (#378).  The report also explained that Brown’s body was left one the site for four hours because the police wanted to carefully examine the evidence and were hindered by protesters chanting “Kill the police.”  (This became a theme song for Black Lives Matter, chanting while marching in protests:  “What do we want?  Dead cops.”)  But the report was largely ignored by our politicians and journalists, who were determined to push the anti-police narrative, a “lie” that flooded much of “the country and grew into a kind of mass hysteria.  That lie holds that the police pose a mortal threat to black Americans—indeed, that the police are the greatest threat facing black Americans today.  Several subsidiary untruths buttress that central myth:  that the criminal-justice system is biased against blacks; that there is no such thing as a black underclass; and that crime rates are comparable between blacks and whites, so that disproportionate police action in minority neighborhoods cannot be explained without reference to racism” (#628).

The riots in Ferguson were followed by riots in Baltimore and other cities.  The pattern was set.  And as a result, Mac Donald believes, our legal system has begun to “fray.”  Police officers—illustrating the “Ferguson effect”—are less willing to confront lawbreakers lest they be accused of “racial profiling.”  The twenty-year decline in crime has been reversed as violent crimes have surged.  “There are signs that the legal order itself is breaking down in urban areas.  ‘There’s a total lack of respect out there for the police,’ says a female sergeant in New York.  ‘The perps feel more empowered to carry guns because they know that we are running scared.’  The lawful use of police power is being met by hostility and violence, which is often ignored by the press” (#1033).  When then FBI Director Jim Comey admitted the evidence substantiated this, President Obama charged him with “shoddy, biased analysis.  ‘We do have to stick with the facts,’” Obama said, but:  ‘What we can’t do is cherry-pick data or use anecdotal evidence to drive policy or to feed political agendas.’  The idea that Obama knows more about crime patterns and policing than the FBI director is ludicrous; the one with a “political agenda” is Obama, who has spent the last two years disseminating the dangerous lie that the criminal-justice system is racially biased” (1092).

In the book’s final section, Mac Donald turns to analyzing some of the fundamental realities fomenting crime.  Unsurprisingly:  “A straight line can be drawn between family breakdown and youth violence.  In Chicago’s poor black neighborhoods, criminal activity among the young has reached epidemic proportions.  It’s a problem that no one, including the Chicago Police Department, seems able to solve.  About 80 percent of black children in Chicago are born to single mothers.  They grow up in a world where marriage is virtually unheard of and where no one expects a man to stick around and help raise a child” (#1896).  For four years Barack Obama worked as a “community organizer” in South Side Chicago, promoting Saul Alinsky’s agenda of “change” and creating “mass organizations to seize power and give it to the people.”  As president, Obama routinely mouthed “Alinskyite bromides about school spending, preschool programs, visiting nurses, global warming, sexism, racial division, and income inequality” (#2177).  Throughout his years as an organizer, Obama ignored “the disappearance of the black two-parent family,”  illustrating a “myopia” that “continues today, guaranteeing that the response to Chicago’s current youth violence will prove as useless as Obama’s activities were a generation ago” (#1911).  Various governmental initiatives have sought to deal with Chicago’s children, spending billions of dollars without demonstrable effect.  If these programs could have compensated “for the absence of fathers,” Mac Donald thinks, “the black violence problem would have ended years ago” (#2057).  Yet:  “The official silence about illegitimacy and its relation to youth violence remains as carefully preserved in today’s Chicago as it was during Obama’s organizing time there” (#2144).  

Though published four years ago, The War on Cops could easily have been published in 2020.  Urban details have changed—Minneapolis instead of Ferguson, LA instead of Baltimore—but the issues remain much the same.  

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For an explanation of the anti-cop rioting in American cities, an examination of American universities provides plenteous clues.  In The Diversity Delusion:  How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the Universities and Undermine Our Culture (New York:  St Martins Press, c. 2018).  Heather Mac Donald begins by noting that English majors in our universities no longer study Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton because they might offend “students of color.”  The dismantling of the traditional canon gained currency, in a dramatic fashion, when Jesse Jackson led Stanford Students chanting “Hey, he, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go.”  And it is largely gone!   Zealously seeking victim-status, students now demand “safe spaces”where they will suffer no racial or sexual micro-aggressions.  They reveal the changing face of higher education, wherein “human beings are defined by their skin color, sex, and sexual preference; that discrimination based on those characteristics has been the driving force in Western civilization; and that America remains a profoundly bigoted place, where heterosexual white males continue to deny opportunity to everyone else” (p. 2).  UCLA English majors no longer study classic writers, but are required to take courses in “Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability, and Sexuality Studies; Imperial, Transnational, and Postcolonial Studies; genre studies, interdisciplinary studies, and critical theory; or creative writing.  In other words, the UCLA faculty was now officially indifferent as to whether an English major had ever read a word of Chaucer, Milton, or Shakespeare, but was determined to expose students, according to the course catalog, to ‘alternative rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class’” (p. 211).  

A primary plank in this endeavor is “affirmative action,” eminently evident in California.  Though a 1996 initiative supposedly made it illegal, the state’s elites found clever ways to circumvent it under the umbrella of “diversity,” an ideology which routinely trumps the law.  Admitting blacks and Hispanics to the state’s elite universities, despite their poor qualifications, demonstrates how administrators reveal a bigotry of low expectations as pernicious as that of Southerners before the civil rights movement.  They “relied on wildly unequal double standards to achieve its smattering of ‘underrepresented minorities,’ especially at Berkeley and UCLA, the most competitive campuses.  The median SAT score of blacks and Hispanics in Berkeley’s liberal arts programs was 250 points lower (on a 1600-point scale) than that of whites and Asians.  This test-score gap was hard to miss in the classroom.  Renowned Berkeley philosophy professor John Searle, who judges affirmative action ‘a disaster,’ recounted that ‘they admitted people who could barely read’” (p. 38).  In 2002 UC Berkeley admitted 374 applicants “with SATs under 1000—almost all of them “students of color”—while rejecting 3,218 applicants with scores above 1400” (p. 45).  Such admitted students, as one would imagine, rarely survived the rigors of the university and routinely dropped out.  But the elites in the system cared not for graduation rates—only “diversity” in admissions counts! 

Equally harmful is the “micro-aggression farce” making university life fearful.  Casual comments in class discussions easily lead to accusations of racism or sexism or whatever “ism” you fancy.  Even demanding that students write grammatical English may elicit protests.  One Teaching Assistant said:  “‘Asking for better grammar is inflammatory in the school.  You have to give an A or you’re a racist’” (p. 66).  A UCLA law professor arranged a softball game for his students, who decided to get T-shirts with whimsical lettering.  Minority students, however, discerned a covert “white privilege” racial message and claimed to feel “triggered” by the shirts as well as traumatized by some “‘racist/classist/sexist comments made inside and outside of the classroom’” (p. 72).  Rather than defend the eminently defensible professor, administrators equivocated and appeased the protestors, making life miserable for a highly esteemed scholar.  And it is not only UCLA!  Mac Donald provides persuasive examples from a variety of places to show how micro-aggressions harm university education.  

Turning from race to gender, Mac Donald shows the great harm being done to universities by radical feminist ideology.  For example, contrary to the “rape-culture” atmosphere feminists lament, actual interviews revealed that when asked if they’d been raped “very few women” assented.  In one notorious incident at Columbia University, the “victim” took “six months to decide that she had been raped” (p. 145).  Few campus “rapes” are reported to the local police, “because the accuser and her counselors know that most cases wouldn’t have a chance in court” (p. 146).  What’s actually harming women, unfortunately, is the “hook-up” culture spawned by feminists themselves.  “While there are thankfully few actual rape victims on college campuses, there are thousands of girls feeling taken advantage of by partners who walk away from casual sex with no apparent sense of thwarted attachment” (p. 145).  Yet the “rape culture” has migrated from the university to the workplace, styling itself as the “Me Too” movement, egregiously evident in the Justice Brett Kavanaugh hearings.  

After looking at the devastation demonstrably evident on university campuses, Mac Donald concludes by recommending alternative forms of education, such as the phenomenally successful “Great Courses.”  She pleads for a return to traditional liberal arts studies and responsible campus behavior.  Given all the evidence she presents in her essays, however, the university (or at least the elite universities) is almost ruined beyond redemption.  

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Twenty years ago Heather Mac Donald collected a series of essays in The Burden of Bad Ideas:  How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society (Chicago:  Ivan R. Dee, c. 2000).  Therein she documented the harm done to the recipients of social engineering.   “These essays record,” Mac Donald said, “my travels through institutions that have been perverted by today’s elite intellectual orthodoxy, from an inner city high school that teaches graffiti-writing for academic credit . . . to the Smithsonian Institution, now in thrall to a crude academic multiculturalism; from New York’s Dantean foster care system to Ivy League law schools that produce ‘scholarship’ urging blacks to view shoplifting, and pilfering from an employer, as political expression” (p. xi).  

In “The Billions of Dollars That Made Things Worse” Mac Donald explored the impact of philanthropic foundations such as Carnegie and Ford which long ago abandoned their founders’ aspirations (e.g. Carnegie libraries) and now see themselves as agents of social change, funding radical “community activists” around the country, seeking to transform “a deeply flawed American society” (p. 4).  “When,” for example, “McGeorge Bundy, former White House national security advisor, became Ford’s president in 1966, the foundation’s activism switched into high gear.  Bundy reallocated Ford’s resources from education to minority rights” and “created a host of new advocacy groups, such as the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund” and “the Native American Rights Fund, that still wreak havoc on public policy today” (p. 9).  These foundations have routinely provided the funds to establish social justice centers on university campuses devoted to race, class, and gender.  They also have subsidized public interest litigation, enabling legions of lawyers to push for bilingual education, voter rights, racial quotas, sexual equality, prisoners’ rights, etc., all designed to  “establish in court rights that democratically elected legislatures have rejected” (p. 20).   No one should be surprised that the Ford Foundation recently gave $100 million to Black Lives Matter, giving it ample funds whereby to destabilize our republic.  

Paralleling the changes in powerful foundations have come similar changes in powerful media, preeminently evident in the New York Times.  Whereas the paper Adolph Ochs bought in 1896 was devoted to sound money, low taxes, and “‘no more government than is absolutely necessary to protect society, maintain individual and vested rights, and assure the free exercise of a sound conscience’” (p. 39), a century later it championed precisely the opposite positions.  Charting the ways poverty has been portrayed in the Times, Mac Donald shows how appeals for individual charity early in the 20th century shifted to demands for an ever-expanding welfare state.  With the passing decades, “elite opinion came to see the cause of poverty not in individual character and behavior but in vast, impersonal social and economic forces that supposedly determined individual fate” (p. 26).  No longer were individuals (including the poor) held accountable to moral standards, which were discarded in favor of a psychoanalytic model.  Distinctions between the “undeserving” and “deserving” poor disappeared from the Time’s pages.  Bad luck rather than bad character explained the plight of the city’s burgeoning welfare recipients. 

The varied titles of the essays indicate the scope of Mac Donald’s authorial lens, and she successfully pillories many of the conventional liberal ideas that so shape public policy not only in New York but throughout the country.  Refuting the “bad ideas” of the intelligentsia are the realities of a world wherein three things seem clear.  “First was the depth of the dysfunction that I often saw—the self-destruction wrought by drugs and alcohol and promiscuity, the damage inflicted on children by a world from which the traditional family had largely disappeared (though throughout the most troubled neighborhoods I found individuals of extraordinary moral strength fighting for order).  Second was the extent to which government programs shaped life in the ghetto, influencing the choices that individuals made and distorting the forms the social interaction took.  Finally, I was continually amazed by the trenchancy with which those I interviewed could judge their situations and the policies that had gone into making them.  If you want to know how well social policies are working, I learned, ask the poor—when their advocates weren’t around” (pp. vii-viii).