E Pluribus Unum

THE POLITICAL DIFFERENCES between the right and the left in the United States have grown so deep and so divisive, that it begins to seem that the country has been de facto fractured into two countries. Each lives interspersed amongst the other, but they are unable finally to come to any kind of compromise or common understanding, on account of the severity of the ideological and ethical chasms between them. Indeed, we have reached such an extremity that it begins to appear that the only real solution to our exigencies is national fragmentation, dividing the country into two or more countries, and leaving each to govern itself as it thinks best.
      But of course, this solution is no solution at all: quite beyond the fact that no country which voluntarily concedes its unity, can ever maintain its sovereignty, there are insuperable historical precedents against secession in the United States, which can never be ignored nor forgot. Our nation has sealed its union with the cement of its people’s blood: no bond can be firmer than that.
      Rather than despairing over this fact—which despair will only lead us the closer to civil dysfunction and increasingly violent dissent—it seems to me that our one real hope in the United States is a rebirth of the full idea of federalism as it was once understood. Many, though certainly not all, of the most controversial domestic questions of the day, as healthcare, abortion, the laws pertaining to issues around homosexuality and transgenderism, the curricula and funding of education, laws regarding drug use, even certain aspects of the environmental question and gun laws, could easily be left to the discretion of individual states, or to more local authorities yet. This would necessarily diminish the hostilities and the conflicts on the national scale.
      It will be objected, on both sides, that this is equivalent to permitting half the country to pursue reckless or immoral policies. I can hear the voices of indignation already, piping up from the progressives and the liberals and the conservatives and the neo-conservatives alike. “But—my opponents, on such and such an issue, are simply wrong!” —Well? And are you, too, not wrong now and then? Leave them to their errors. If you are right that they are wrong, and if their mistakes are truly as dangerous as you believe, then they will pay the price for them in the end. Perhaps they will even learn something from it, which I guarantee they will not learn by being forced to abide the consequences of your ideas.
      “But I can improve their lot, and my own!” —Do you really conceive of it as your prerogative to see to the affairs of your neighbors? Why do you not content yourself with your own? Are you so much the master of your house that you are willing to govern another man’s, as well?
      “But does this not mean that we just sit by, as injustices are perpetrated right across the border?” —If the laws of that state be conceived of as injustices by those living beneath them, then let those individuals change them, or else let them move to a place more aligned to their beliefs. No one shall force them to stay, and, if they are at odds with the general tendencies of their neighbors, it may be a relief to see them go.
      “And if they are too poor to move?” —Then form a charity for them, man! But do not suppose it the right nor the safe practice, to muster the forces of the distant federal government upon those who disagree with you, simply to look after your own conscience. Or, if you are so willing to mete out judgement, then at least have the decency to take it philosophically, when that same power falls to the hands of persons you consider your ideological adversaries, and they bring it to bear against you. If you would have Obama stamp your will on the entire country, then be pleased to let Trump do the same thing for another’s; and if it is instead to Trump you look to fulfill your whim, then prithee be silent when he is subseded by his radical contrary, who will make Obama seem but a pallid moderate. Take up that sword but advisedly, which might be adopted by your enemies the moment you set it down.
      It seems to me, however, that this teeter-totter politics has gotten us nowhere, and certainly no where good. It is really time to try something new. I propose, for the good of our Union, that those issues be thrown back onto the state legislatures which can be, and that we let them hash these matters out as their constituencies would have them. We have grown so accustomed to looking to Washington to resolve our problems (detestable reliance), that we will no doubt find something frictive in this suggestion. To think that not a hundred miles away from us people are living in very different political conditions than we are! But I say—no one compels you to go to California, or Texas, or Colorado, or Alaska: and if you are so certain that you are in the right and that the policies contrary your own are disastrous, then let experience be the proof of it. Let California or Texas or Colorado or Alaska put their ideals to the test. If they prove as detrimental as you believe, then in not so very long the truth of it will out, and you will have the incomparable satisfaction of seeing yourself vindicated by no lesser authority than reality itself.
      My proposal has much against it, not least of all the expectations and habits of our people and our politicians. Fine place to begin, however, is in celebrating whenever a president shows the will to concede a little of the power which has been slowly accumulating around his office like cholesterol. And if there is any magnanimity left in our people, then let them reveal it here, by celebrating even such concessions of presidential power as are made by their own side. I cite as exemplary of this, the recent actions of the Trump administration against Obama’s initiative regarding transgender students in public schools. The root question here, is not what one thinks about transgender students and bathrooms; it is what one thinks about federal power.
      My proposal also has the pleasant consequence of limiting the ever proliferating number of issues which now overflood our presidential races and make it impossible for the average citizen to discriminate sensibly and advisedly between the candidates on the ballot. The issues redressable by the federal executive would be nicely reduced, and voters would find themselves facing a manageable handful of really essential questions each campaign season: most prominently federal spending, immigration, and international policy.
      Above all: if we are Americans first, and not merely democrats or republicans, then it seems to me that the only road toward preserving our unity, is in permitting our diversity. The creed and motto of our country will defend this conclusion more succinctly than I can do.

• • •

Freedom’s Core, Part III

WE HAVE SPOKEN to one half of our mystery—namely, why the word “liberty” was once used almost to the exclusion of “freedom,” only a few short centuries ago. But we have not resolved the complementary half of this riddle: namely, why it should have fallen from favor with us, and came gradually to be replaced by another, etymologically very diverse, word.
      I would offer my theory on this; but be it know that this theory is grounded in a certain hermeneutical principle which I do not expect will find much favor in our present intellectual atmosphere. I christen this the etymological principle, and hold to it quite regardless of whither my contemporaries might tend. I have in another essay summed this principle up thus: the etymology of a word is its destiny.
      To introduce this principle, I begin with a question—wherein lies the meaning of a word? When a doubt as to the definition of a word is raised, we are wont, in a kind of reflexive habit, to refer at once to our dictionaries. For daily purposes, no one can fault that strategy. Yet when it becomes our instinctual reaction in the face of weightier and as it were more philosophical queries, this habit is decidedly less wholesome. I will not be alone in having found this method employed with any number of concepts, and with such regularity that it has acquired a kind of formulaic normalcy. “What is concept X?” goes the line. “Well, the dictionary definition is—” Indeed, the wakeful reader will note that I myself have not neglected this practice, in this very essay.
      Now, the dictionary definition exposes modern usage, and this can be most ripe for a subsequent deepening of the analysis; for, as Strauss teaches, nothing indicates the depths like the surface. But the same practice becomes a vice when the dictionary definition becomes, not the commencement of an inquiry, but its very close. Modern usage gives nothing but the most cosmetic presentation of the conclusions of modern thought, with no reference to the more problematic aspects of the same. The modern usage of a word is the symptomatic usage of the word, the way a word is superficially understood, the way a word is produced through the intersecting influences of countless subterranean, and therefore invisible, principles and axioms.
      We are all of us accustomed to thinking of language as malleable with time, and its concepts as being fluid rather than once and for all definite. Our idea of “love,” for instance, is not identical to the idea of “love” three-hundred years ago, to say nothing of the idea of love three-thousand years ago. Then it is already evident that the dictionary definition will tell us what the present idea of “love” is, while presupposing and thus interring the elder ideas of love, from which the present idea has grown; and it therefore buries also the relation between the two ideas. The mere dictionary definition of a word, to put the matter most concisely, conceals the genealogy of the word. That means it conceals far more than it reveals.
      Very well—but a step now the further. All influences on a word, be they consciously imposed or organically emergent, be they extensions of the term, restrictions of it, or alterations of it, are ever necessarily responses to the original meaning of the word. No philosophical builder, no matter how revolutionary or innovative, can graft upon the rootstock of a given word a branch fundamentally alien to it; such a graft would quick be rejected by the host. No evolutionary “mutation” will break the growth from the stock. No amount of Orwellian authoritarianism can make liberty mean slavery, at least not without the intervention of many yoked or heeled generations, and the total suppression of human memory for long centuries. The subtlest and most excellent “lexical manipulators” of the ages have ever selected their host grafts with care, and have injected their meanings as near to the origin as possible.
      It will be seen what follows from this: in all words, no matter how distantly they appear to stand from their origins, no matter how diverse their acceptations have become from their original spirit and substance, the original meaning yet in some more or less ghost-like manner dwells and has its life; it lies as the concealed principle guiding all the subsequent history, all the successive destiny of the word. It can therefore be resurrected; it is ever and always latent within the word. Our concepts may change, but never so radically as to supplant themselves. Or at the very least, we may not discount the possibility of a perpetual influence of a word’s first origins, save as we perform clear genealogical investigation of the word in question to demonstrate that a radical break has somewhere or other been effected.
      This I call the etymological principle. It seems to me in itself sufficient justification for rooting about in a word’s long history, as was once commonplace in the study of philology, a study nowadays generally neglected. It also provides, I think, real vindication of the oft-maligned neologism, and suggests, for the same reason, a unique virtue in our English tongue.
    Now, I would like to evoke this principle in our present investigation to comprehend with greater clarity why we have adopted the word “freedom” in the place of the word “liberty.” I may set my thesis thus, in its simplest terms: the etymological roots of freedom are more accepting of our modern understanding than were those of the concept of liberty, so that the Enlightenment use of the word liberty, which was nothing but an inheritance from a declining Roman and Roman-Catholic tradition, was destined to be gradually replaced with a word issuing from an extraneous font, which seemed to accord more precisely with distinctly modern vision.

• • •

The Debate over Deism

THERE IS A weary dispute over the Founding Fathers which rashes out every now and then. It arises inevitably like this: some Protestant minister or Republican politician or other will attempt to claim that the Founders were all Christians, that the United States is essentially a Christian nation from its origins, that any distancing of the United States, either in society or in government, from Christian principles therefore amounts to a betrayal of the original American spirit; and he will cite original quotations from the Founders to support his point. Then some new atheist or old libertarian will retort that the Founders, far from being Christians, were in fact deists, which—this enterprising soul will insist—means proto- or even crypto-atheists, who regarded Christian morality as pernicious and who wished to establish a nation which one day could flourish as the first unambiguously secular nation of all the world; and he will cite contradictions in the Founders’ own speeches and writings to support his point.
      In the first place, it is worth reminding that the Founding Fathers, or at least the greatest of them, were men of high intelligence, profound and constant study, and extensive witness of socially turbulent times. They were men who had gleaned their opinions from decades and decades of personal experience and inveterate independent contemplation. That is to say, they were men who had each arrived at radically different conclusions about the world and good governance, and who universally agreed on just about no single point whatsoever, if not that the United States should be an independent nation. It is indisputable that there were Christians amongst them; just as it is improbable that none of them doubted certain revered and hoary old dogmas. This constant bickering over their general beliefs, this incessant attempt to claim them as a group for one’s own camp, is not only doomed to constant frustration: it is also in bad taste.
      Nonetheless, lay this aside. I would like to provide a third alternative.
    As stated, the new atheists and their allies like to claim that the deism of the Founders was simply the final form assumed by a dying faith, and that intelligent men of their day were drawn to it either because they themselves tended toward atheism and had not the courage to take the final step, or, more likely, because they lived in times which would have persecuted them for impiety, and consequently had to don the last rags of the religion that they themselves had unraveled. By this understanding, these deists would have preferred to express their disbelief openly, and they would have had no qualms about seeing it spread throughout all ranks of their society; but because their contemporaries were on the whole a pack of deluded and militant Puritans, they were forced to dissimulate.
      Such a position is correct at least this far: there are intriguing contradictions in the lives and in the speeches of the Founders which are in want of interpretation. To furnish such, our new atheists make one of their frequent assays toward profundity. But alas, they are not fashioned for the deep places: they simply thrash about too much, so that, despite their best attempts, they remain but ever shallow, once again shallow.
      Then the little deeper layer: Deism is precisely the public philosophy that a wise man of the Founders’ day would adopt, who wished at once to secure the blessings of religious faith for society, and simultaneously to dampen that destabilizing zeal and fierce intolerance which Christianity has periodically incited. Deism would be precisely that ideology which a man would promulgate to his society, who perceived that virtue with insufficient belief in God is sure in any society to degenerate, while virtue with excessive belief in God it is equally certain to mutate into hard and violent factionalism. Deism in the epoch of the Founders was nothing but responsible statecraft.
      And thus this question as to whether the Founders, in their public capacity, were more atheists or more Christians, to my mind altogether betrays the point: the Founders first and foremost were Deists.

• • •

Freedom’s Core, Part II

THE WORD LIBERTY comes down to us from Ancient Rome, to which it owes also the better part of its substance: it comes down to us from the libertas which the Romans held so dear.
      The libertas of the Romans was, like our present day concept of freedom, a political designation; it indicated the state of being free from the arbitrary rule of tyrants, creditors, or any other lord. One could not be liber and at the same time be subjected to the will of another man. Hence the importance of the law in Roman society; for to enjoy libertas meant to subject oneself freely to no rule but that of the law.
      There is a certain kinship between this idea, and our contemporary ideal of “equality before the law.” But unlike our notion of freedom, the concept of libertas did not attach itself to all subjects of Rome; indeed, it did not attach itself even to all Romans. Libertas as a concept accompanied the idea of citizenship, civitas and was indivisible from it; only the full citizen enjoyed libertas; only full citizens could count themselves “equal before the law,” and only compared to one another. For citizenship was restrictive in all phases of Roman history. Quite beyond the fact that Rome in any epoch you please had a going institution of slavery, full citizenship attended only to a specific class of Romans: namely, free males of appropriate birth, or else those who were selected out by these to receive the dignity of an honorific citizenship. Nor was citizenship irrevocable; although the event of it was rare, any Roman could have his citizenship stripped from him, and with it his libertas; any Roman could become a slave.
      The question is why this should have been so: or why the Romans should have drawn such lines around the body of civitas, which then reflected also in the sphere of libertas.
      Libertas was given to some and not to others on the simple basis of merit. This is made clear from the fact that, although citizenship was conferred on any man born a Roman (which birth itself was held to bear in implicit merit), yet in all other cases citizenship was granted through due deliberation on the part of the Roman state, as when a certain foreigner performed exceptional acts which redounded to the glory of Rome. The Roman form of government could be considered a very broad aristocracy, with all full citizens as the collective rulers. This is not identical to democracy, for the simple reason that it depends on a conception of citizenship which considers high caliber to be its prerequisite.
      Now, the fact that libertas was implicated with merit helps us to explain the limits set on citizenship. The Roman ideal of merit was virtus, from which we of course derive our word and our very notion of virtue. But virtus in the Roman sense is yet foreign to us. Etymologically, it derives from the Roman word for man, man as masculine (vir) and therefore as distinct from human (humanus). Virtus was in particular that set of excellences which pertained to what the Romans considered to be the paramount expression of human nature, namely, masculine nature: virtus thus includes such characteristics as courage, integrity, manliness, fortitude, prudence, and justice. If one must furnish a single English word to render it, it is perhaps best translated, not indeed by our word “virtue,” but by our word “valor.”
      The laws, far from establishing what we would call the “freedom” of all Romans, were fashioned with an eye to promoting and elevating the qualities of virtus. The political dimension of liberty in Rome was determined by this sense of virtue, rather than being determining of it, as it is in our day: the law, far from being indifferent to inherent worth, existed to foster it. But this entails what is to us an altogether most curious aspect of the Roman idea of libertas: libertas was not at all the freedom to do as one lists; libertas was rather inherently tied up with comportment and attitudes which were rigidly determining of human behavior, and which resisted all licentiousness. Our modern idea of freedom, as we have said, implies the ability to do as one pleases, limited only by the law; the Roman idea of libertas was far from being so libertine as that. A man, for instance, who neglected work or military duty; who used his money thriftlessly; who outraged the public decorum, or usurped common standards of dignity; who contemned politics and withdrew from public life—such a man could not be thought to possess virtus, and therefore neither libertas. This leads us to the apparent paradox that the ancient ideal of liberty was in fact in its way coercive, restrictive, and precisely “illiberal.”
      Certain attempts on the part of modern theorists to melt this knot are touchingly clumsy, as when Benjamin Constant, in his comparison of the ancient idea of liberty with the modern, claims that “among the ancients the individual, almost always sovereign in public affairs, was a slave in all his private relations.” This ignores two essential facets of ancient liberty: it was accorded to some individuals, and not to others, who were slaves simply, both in public affairs and in private relations; and it totally denies the fact that libertas is inseparable from the very “slavery in private relations” to which Constant alludes.
      What such analyses fail to comprehend is the necessary and stringent link between liberty, understood as the political privileges attending the moral culmination of human nature, and restraint. To decipher this connection, consider the ballerina. She displays the most remarkable liberty of movement, the most beautiful and exhilarating freedom from gravity and all human clumsiness; but she did not gain this liberty, nor does she exercise it, through an embrace of anarchy nor through a complacent satisfaction with the mere lack of physical weights or chains. We all of us possess that freedom, and it reveals itself as a terribly cheap and tawdry sort of freedom when compared to that which the ballerina enjoys. She gained her liberty by imposing on herself a rigid and extraordinarily restrictive regime, which mandates in great detail the elements of her diet and sleep, and imposes on her the necessity of study and practice, and regulates all her life, within and without, in a startling manifold of particulars. She gained this liberty, that is to say, by yoking herself beneath a harsh and most tyrannical law. Watch her as she flies almost birdlike across the stage, and leaps and capers as the gazelle: even now, in this moment, she is beholden to that law; even now, in this moment of most perfect liberty, she is most “subjected.”
      Now, freedom in our modern sense might be a kind of bland precondition for such preparation and such self-mastery as she has attained; certainly, she could never have even so much as begun were she bound in some dungeon cell. But in and of itself freedom is perfectly indifferent to such graces, and too keen an adoration of it can even be detrimental to the victory of a greater liberty, which can only be attained by an almost habitual servitude before one’s own inner law. In private life, freedom in the contemporary sense is perhaps not hostile to liberty in the older; but there can be no doubt that it is prejudicial to it.
      Given this classic idea of human liberty, a concept steeped in ideas of merit and virtue, one must of course wonder to what we owe our modern conception. Surely, it did not spring of the void. Did it arise, perchance, from some peculiarly Anglo-Saxon turn of mind? That would explain our lexical shift; but it will not as easily explain a certain aspect of that shift: namely, that our modern idea of freedom began as a modern idea of liberty. That is to say—the founders of modern liberalism, as even the name of their philosophy implies, did not speak of freedom but almost exclusively of liberty.
      This makes then for a twin mystery: in the first place, why did the founders of modern liberalism prefer the word “liberty”? And second, why did later developments in modernity substitute for it the word “freedom”?
      The idea of law that entered into the practice of modern politics through the American Revolution and the Constitution which was its issue, was taken from the classic model—or rather say, the classic model as it was interpreted through the modern lens. The father of the English liberal tradition was none other than Thomas Hobbes, who defined liberty thusly:

• • •

Lady Liberty’s Torch

IT WOULD BE INTERESTING to perform an analysis of the various writings challenging Trump’s executive orders on immigration, to see what percentage of them make reference to the Statue of Liberty, or quote the most celebrated strophe of the poem which stands at the Lady’s feet. I suspect a high proportion. The symbolic importance of the Statue of Liberty cannot be overestimated, and as a rhetorical device she is golden, quite despite her verdigris.
      The history of the statue itself is well enough known that I see no need to sketch it here. Less known perhaps is the fact that the original symbolism behind the statue had nothing whatever to do with immigration. None of the rhetoric expended in celebration of the Statue’s opening mentioned immigrants: the Statue and its patrons were advocating the benefits of republicanism abroad, in nations that had not yet adopted it. The date inscribed on the Lady’s book, is naught but the date of the Declaration of Independence, when the United States proclaimed its own liberty from foreign rule. La Liberté éclairant le monde was she called by her very builder—Liberty enlightens the world.
      Far from “Mother of Exiles”! Far from “world-wide welcome”! The famed poem by Emma Lazarus that everyone now associates with the Statue, was penned originally to raise money for the pedestal upon which she stands, but was thereafter promptly forgotten by one and all, and was consigned to a verging oblivion. And had it not been for a mere accident—namely, a zealous art collector’s discovery of Lazarus’ poem in a used bookstore some decades on—the poem might have vanished to the graveyard of second-rate verse.
      There is a sense that the Statue’s present meaning was stamped onto it by nothing other than the poem. It is hard to resist this conclusion. Yet it is remarkable: the poem was affixed to the Statue years after its construction, on a date that no one remembers, without any fanfare whatsoever, and largely thanks to the efforts of a single woman alone, who was not even the poetess. And now that same poem, for its rhetorical accessibility and its popular sentimentality, has come in its way to outshine the very torch the Lady holds.
      Yet it is unbecoming to be blinded by mere rhetoric. One also wants the substance of the thing. Let us consider the best-famed verses of the poem, the ones which make their appearance beneath the Statue of Liberty:

• • •

Freedom’s Core, Part I

LANGUAGE DOES NOT LIMIT itself to expressing our explicit meanings; it has never been so tame and civil, so polite to our will and our best intentions. Nay, but we haul our very souls up out of our mouths each time we speak, and stand there naked before our interlocutor quite despite ourselves.
      This was Socrates’ great insight, the very fundamental premise of his entire method, and the principle reason he went about like a hound, sniffing after the logos; not by meditation on the empyrean, nor by rooting about in the earth did he hope to acquire wisdom, but rather through the pursuance of these rabbitlike, foxlike human presuppositions that bind us as slaves, as these were indicated by the words his peers perched upon their very lips. That basically linguistic adventure is the bedrock of a great part of our Western traditions, a deep and firm stone upon which we to this day stand.
      I do not think we give sufficient attention to our language. We are far too wont to pass off alterations in usage as being merely changes of custom—as if this “merely” were at all warranted!—and so we give but superficial regard to questions of style, word choice, and syntax, though these govern us in ways we do not begin to fathom. The reasons for this carelessness on our part would be the stuff of another essay. I mention here, however, a specific and to my mind very grave consequence of these oversights: namely, the taking for granted of subtle changes in vocabulary, or what I might term lexical shifts, or the gradual disuse of certain terms, the gradual widening of a term to include cases it never originally would have included or its gradual restriction to exclude cases it has never excluded, and the gradual substitution of a given term for its near synonym. I might list a few such cases for the reader’s independent reflections: the disappearance of the word nobility and its cognates; the expansion of the word hero to include just about every Sam and Sue; the use of the phrase “to have sex” where an elder generation would speak of “making love”; or the common, not to say vulgar, way that the word “create” is employed to indicate everything from God’s bringing of the cosmos out of nothingness, to the paper-and-glue tinkerings of our kindergartners.
      Now, it is our general habit to accept these lexical shifts with pleasant complacency, as resulting from more or less empty semantic preferences. Yet I believe anyone who gives more than cursory attention to the examples I have mentioned will find that they reflect a considerably deeper and more decisive transformation in our very sense of the world, and particularly our sense of the human world—a transformation beneath whose laws we labor, and by whose rules we dance. I lay it forth, as a premise to be challenged and investigated, that precisely those changes which appear the least essential in our common daily use or disuse of abstract concepts, are often those which reflect the profoundest alterations of our worldview and, if I may call it thus, our worldspirit.
      A case in support of my claim is that which makes the subject of his essay: namely, the historical movement in our speeches, writings, conversations, toward the word “freedom,” and away from the word “liberty.”

• • •

What Conservatives Owe Originalism

WHILST REVIEWING the current debate over the fitness of Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the late Antonin Scalia, I am reminded of what has always struck me as an intriguing paradox. Scalia made a name for himself by defending the originalist interpretation of the Constitution—that is, the interpretation which strives, insofar as it be humanly and judiciously possible, to hold rigorously to the original meaning of the Constitution. Taken at face value, this appears to be, not only a moderate position, but the most moderate position available to any American. Assuming that the Constitution is the base line of all American politics, Scalia’s judicial philosophy should represent the ideally centrist position. And yet, Antonin Scalia is widely regarded as one of the most “right-wing” justices ever to sit the bench. How is this possible?
      There are, it seems to me, only two admissible explanations: either Justice Scalia was a rank opportunist who justified an esoteric right-wing agenda through the use of a sophisticated casuistry; or else there is a notable discrepancy between the Constitution as it was originally writ, and the political climate of today. Either Justice Scalia artificed a complicated hermeneutics capable of fabricating the partisan answers he secretly craved, and then passed the better part of his life endorsing this spurious system through many books and countless speeches and lectures; or else there has been a striking transposition in our American politics toward the progressive left.
      The first possibility is almost taken for granted by the left, and is sometimes persuasively argued for. But note well: it is always defended on the circumstantial evidence of the fact itself: because Antonin Scalia returned answers to judicial questions which were almost exclusively “conservative,” therefore his interpretive method was biased. This critique presupposes, however, that progressive legislation is as constitutional as conservative legislation. The progressive left quite understandably discounts the possibility that Scalia was an objective interpreter of the Constitution: for that would mean that the progressive agenda is itself of inherently dubious constitutionality.
      For many reasons, some obvious and others less so, the conservatives cannot afford to discount this possibility.
      If we are to lay aside the charge that Scalia was a charlatan—and indeed, I have always found it difficult to believe that any of the Supreme Court Justices work in bad faith—then we must explain Scalia’s supposed prejudices with reference to a historical shift in the center of American politics. This is not prima facie absurd. Indeed, it comes to the attention now and then of the more historically minded conservatives of our day that their country has, despite the dearest attempts of conservatives to hold it fast, been long drifting, and drifting consistently and most suspiciously portward. This same proclivity is recognized by others who have simply been alive long enough to note it; they find that, while their political positions have not altered in the least in the past forty years, they were once taken to be moderates, where today they are considered regressives or even extremists. This has led some critics from the new American far right to wonder if American conservatism was not a ship built to sink.
      Yet there is an easy explanation for the fact in question, and one that does not rely on some inherent flaw in the conservative mindset, and it is this: while the progressive has only to contend with the conservative, the conservative has to contend also with time itself. Permit me to explain.
      Conservatism by its very definition would hold, as much as possible, to the status quo; its standard political attitude is one of resisting change, which it regards as being, if not outright pernicious, then commonly deleterious to the principles of political and social welfare upon which our nation was founded. While progressivism points zealously to the future, to tomorrow, to the improvements and benefits which it would achieve by changing the present state of society, conservatism responds by gazing steadfastly toward the past, and in particular to the founding state of our country. This founding state forms the conservative polestar and the guiding pattern of all conservative political choices, and it is only with great difficulty and in times of great duress that the conservative will part from it.
      The “founding state” of any commonwealth is always historical, and generally is based on the conditions of society after a certain historical moment, which serves as a kind of calendrical marker, or “year zero.” Such a date in any nation of long and heterogeneous history is determined with a degree of arbitrariness. The United States is relatively unique amongst the nations of the world for being able to determine this “year zero” with uncommon, and uncommonly uncontroversial, precision: our “year zero” is nothing other than the year our Constitution was ratified. Conservatism makes constant reference, then, to that historical moment; and because its “year zero” is accepted as such by all parties, conservatism in the United States has an inherent advantage over the conservatism of just about any other country in the world, which helps explain the fact that in the United States conservatism has until recently been the natural position of the American right. Conservatives recognize, of course, that there have been fundamental changes in the political fabric of the nation since “year zero,” but the most important changes, they hold, are represented exclusively in the Amendments to the Constitution; which is to say, they are always and ever bound to “year zero.”
      Now, here is the trouble, and the true explanation for what is sometimes interpreted as the “failure” of conservatism: the conservatives constantly seek to maintain the status quo, but because human societies are ever in flux, they constantly find that status quo shifting beneath their feet. What is regarded as normal today, was certainly not normal one-hundred years ago. But none of today’s conservative was alive and aware one-hundred years ago, and so it is difficult for any conservative of today to perceive the degree to which the status quo which he would preserve has really changed. Moreover, because the only viable alternative to conservatism in the United States has hitherto been progressivism, the status quo shifts always to the left. What a conservative of today wishes to conserve, is thus already considerably more progressive than what a conservative of fifty years ago wished to preserve.
      This forms a challenge to conservatism. Conservatives have need, in a way that liberals simply do not, of thinkers who are able to gaze back through the years, to dip as deep into the well of the American past as they may: they require, that is, thinkers who are able to remind, through deep historical contemplations and a mastery of both the original conditions of our country, and all subsequent foundational legal developments, just what conservatism originally meant, and what the true status of conservatism is in our day, considering all the non-negotiable changes in law which have been effected, and all the legal precedents which have been lain down, in the meantime. This requires a formidable knowledge of the legal traditions of our country, and such knowledge is uncommon at best.
      The acquisition of such knowledge cannot be, or cannot be primarily, the work of conservative intellectuals; for those intellectuals must busy themselves with the present state of affairs; they must dedicate the greater part of their time to gleaning familiarity with current events not only in America but around the globe, and keeping abreast of the newest political theories and works of both the right and the left. The progressives have a far easier time of it: for the progressive intellectual, this most exacting preparation in present-day affairs is identical with progressive intellectualism as such. Historical studies for the progressive intellectual are but supplementary to his task. But the conservative intellectual needs something else besides: namely, he requires grounding in the original meaning and form of Conservatism.
      To demand of any single individual competency in both the current state of affairs and the historical development of American jurisprudence, is to demand an erudition of truly heroic breadth; it is to demand something that is, if not impossible, then surely exceedingly rare, to the point that it would be foolhardy to expect its appearance in any given generation. The conservative is thus in need not only of one kind of intellectual, as is the progressive, but of two: one kind to dedicate himself to the present, and the other to dedicate himself to the past.
      There is only a single office in all of our society which is capable of nourishing and promoting the latter kind of figure, and that is the office of the judiciary. The second kind of intellectual so badly needed by conservatism can be found only amongst those justices who devote their lives to a comprehensive understanding of the legal underpinnings of our country, and who possess the exceptional traits of memory, impartiality, and intelligence necessary to acquire it—those justices, that is to say, who work at the top echelons of the courts. And even more specifically: these justices must possess that clear-minded, clear-eyed commitment to the original meaning of our founding documents, which permits them to look upon American legal history without sophistry, and without being led astray by the prejudicing and obscuring lens of any political agenda.
      A man like Antonin Scalia is not merely an incidental boon to the Conservative project, as, say, Justice Ginsberg is to the progressive; on the contrary, he is a compass rose for the entire Conservative movement, to remind conservatives everywhere precisely in what direction their work should be tending, and to grant them the capability of pressing in that direction assiduously and shamelessly, though and precisely because they be dubbed retrograde and regressive for it. I claim that Conservatism owes a debt of gratitude to justices like Antonin Scalia or Neil Gorsuch, a debt which can only be repaid by the attentive study of the work of these men, and by deference to their opinions in all cases in which there is not excellent reason to demur.
      Indeed, I will go farther: it is imperative that conservatives ponder carefully the positions of these justices, particularly when these positions contradict the prevailing conservative attitude: for if American conservatism is not to surrender the field altogether to what I call the emerging American progressive right, then it needs must differentiate itself from this new right with all the clarity at its disposal. Conservatism can only do this by grounding itself firmly upon the deepest historical bedrock available to it—the bedrock of the Constitution, which the new American right at essence mistrusts and often even scorns.

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Neil Gorsuch and the Spirit of the Judiciary

NIGH UPON US are the confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s nomination for the vacated seat in the Supreme Court. The man set to stand them, the Honorable Neil M. Gorsuch, has been greeted in a most skittish manner by liberals throughout the nation. On the one hand, there is an immediate temptation on their part—which is not only perfectly understandable, but should have been anticipated by the right—to return the favor that the Republicans extended to Obama, by opposing any given Trump nomination a priori, simply in the spirit of partisan vendetta. I am not interested in disputing the wisdom of such an attitude: after all, if it wins the day, it will not be to wisdom it owes its victory.
      I will neither consider the occasional objections which crop up here and there against Trump’s nomination—namely, that he is a little too conventional, and that it is really high time we got someone on the Supreme Court who did not come of the Ivy League. It seems a question of passing significance to me, where our Supreme Court Justices tend to take their education, confronted with the enormity of the duties they are to assume in our society.
      I would rather consider the more ideological objections which have been leveled against Gorsuch, for I find these intimately telling. I believe they stem in all cases from the general intuition that Gorsuch is a very conservative judge, which notion is inferred principally from two common observations:

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On Genocide, Part III

WE HAVE SO FAR given mind to the historical, cultural, aye, the biological antecedents for the present-day consensus regarding the peculiar evil of genocide. This consensus has been revealed, in its first origin, not to be the issue of reason, but rather of a kind of deep unreason, produced by the encounter of our historical vicissitudes with certain debilities of our contemporary politics. Yet the products of the unreason of the flesh have also their theoretical life, a life which is neither determined by, nor altogether divorced from, the physiological fundaments of the soul: a life which interpenetrates that same flesh, binds it with a different fiber, and, over the long course of time, may itself shape and alter it. We must then consider the theoretical meaning of the law against genocide, and its philosophical antecedents; we must give account for it, and through it, for ourselves. Else it and its antecedents are no binding law on us.
      To begin, we return to our original question, phrased now to set us upon our latest course: what is the rational justification for discriminating between the crime of genocide on the one hand, and the crime of mass murder on the other?
      Now, it is sometimes claimed that genocide is the worst crime in absolute for the way in which it attempts to smudge out the very existence of a human being, or cuts to the existential root of humanity itself. Other political crimes against human beings are generally actuated for political reasons; they are responses to this or that politically relevant action or belief of a human being, whether it be real or imaginary; but genocide alone, as an attack on the human being merely because he belongs to this or that ethnic group, reveals itself as a negation of the existence of the human being as such. It is therefore the epitome of the crime against humanity, and deserves special castigation and special punishment.
      Such a distinction between a politically motivated crime and an existentially motivated crime, however, disintegrates upon nearest review. The ethnicities that are targeted in genocides are targeted for a predictable canon of reasons: the ethnicity in question, it is claimed, endangers society by corrupting blood and custom, and by insinuating itself into politics and economics, wherein it presses for the good of its own, as opposed to the good of the whole; or it causes an increase in immorality, a decrease in the quality of life, by introducing execrable and destabilizing notions into the social order; or it foments rebellions and disaffection in a part of the populace and therefore threatens the general equilibrium. Now, all of these motivations are political in nature; an ethnicity which was not perceived to so vex the commonweal would never be targeted for special abuse. To say that a genocidal ruler is attempting to strike out the existence of such an ethnicity independently of all political considerations is basically vacuous.
      To say on the other hand that such a ruler is motivated more by the existential question than by the political one is not much more substantial from the point of view of law, for it can be claimed equally of any kind of mass killing. Mass killing as such is actuated against a group of human beings, be these members of an ethnicity, members of a social class, members of a particular party, members of a particular town or region. Stalin waged an explicit war against members of the kulaks, or property-owning peasants, and countless individuals lost their lives simply for their putative inclusion in this rather vaguely defined category. What makes this any different from Hitler’s purging of the Jews? Was Stalin attacking the humanity of these kulaks, or their socio-economic status? Is it possible to distinguish? It might be rebutted that Hitler’s position was the more detestable because he made no distinction between adults on the one hand and their children on the other; he was set on eradicating entire bloodlines. But did not Stalin do the same? It was probably just as dangerous in Soviet Russia to be the son of an aristocrat or a priest, as it was in Germany to be the son of a Jew. Or, to take an example nearer our European home, what of the French aristocrats during the Reign of Terror? Is one to say that Lavoisier was murdered for being a political threat to the state, or simply because he was an aristocrat—that is, because his “being” was “aristocratic”? All despotic murders are “political” murders, and all are “existential” murders; therein the very horror of tyranny.
      One might counter that genocide is peculiar amongst the crimes against humanity, for being actuated most purely by hate. But what does this finally mean? Are not many if not all the actions of a true despot actuated by hate? Was not Stalin motivated by an abysmal and inhumanly cold hatred for everyone? Indeed, if Stalin ever loved any human being, it was Hitler. Or was not the peasant Mao rife with plebeian loathing for everyone who had been born better or better-tended than him? So far as hatred goes, if wars themselves do not begin in hate, do they not commonly end in it? Does that make their endings more atrocious than their beginnings? And how if a dictator kills out of the love for what he believes he is defending and preserving? Would this in any way exonerate him? Or the man who kills his wife’s lover—is that not a crime of hate? Would it be less a crime, if he killed his rival out of bloodlust or boredom, or merely from the principle of the thing? And in any case—since, to say it again, genocide is a juridical principle—how precisely does one adjudicate with all necessary legal precision, the difference between a mass crime motivated by abstract political reasons, and a genocide motivated by hate?
      “Yes, but hate is like a flame upon the kindling; political crimes born in hate quickly spread to more and more actors, claiming more and more victims. On the international scale, hate crimes are abhorrent for this power of theirs to explode and to escalate, as what began as a small or isolated incident grows quickly to impossible proportions, sometimes consuming entire peoples, entire nations.” Surely! But is this exclusive to hate crimes? Lust does the same thing, lust for the flesh and lust for the blood; as does greed for material goods and for the possessions of others. Religious fervor against non-believers or against men of other faiths has historically made a similar pattern; indeed, even that religious fervor which would simply augment the glory of one’s own faith can bring men to perform deeds they would never otherwise have dreamed. But do we wish to establish an international tribunal to judge of crimes of lust, greed, or zeal?
      These arguments fail to persuade. Then let us return. The law against genocide is surely related to the pluralistic love of diversity, and the consequent praising of the virtue of tolerance, which characterizes the liberal states of the West. Now, the love of diversity posits a value in all human ways and all human customs. In terms of the law against genocide, we may phrase the issue thus: the law against genocide recognizes that the murder of a group of random individuals on the one hand, and the murder of a group of a given ethnicity as ethnicity on the other, differ in a fundamental respect: an ethnicity as ethnicity possesses a special value over and above a given undifferentiated mass of individuals, which value resides in what we may call its ethos, or its customs and its language, its traditional and habitual ways. The law against genocide, and the special and specially harsh punishments which attend it, exist in honor and in defense of the value inherent to all ethoi. A dictator like Mao who kills indiscriminately destroys human life, and that is terrible; a dictator like Hitler who kills people of a given ethnicity destroys human life and also something else, also the ethos of a people—and that is worse.
      This seems a tenable defense, and it is supported by the justification provided by the very inventor of the term “genocide,” Raphael Lemkin, when he states in his “Genocide as a Crime under International Law” that “[the term] mass murder does not convey the specific losses to civilization in the form of the cultural contributions which can be made only by groups of people united through national, racial or cultural characteristics.” For this reason, he saw fit to invent a new term which did recognize these specific losses.
      This defense has the added virtue of explaining a fact which our previous arguments could not: namely, why the contemporary world is loath to include attempts at elimination of economic or political classes as genocide. It explains as well why the attempt, say, to eliminate all the Christians of the world would somehow strike us as less genocidal than the attempt to eliminate all those who believe in the gods of the Bushmen. These groups of human beings are formed by incidental characteristics which can be adopted by any other human beings. Anyone can be rich; anyone can be a kulak, or a capitalist, or a Christian. If all the rich people of all the world were suddenly in this moment to disappear, that class of human beings could be easily recomposed with time. But if a true ethnicity disappears, nothing can bring it back again. An ethnicity is the product of a confluence of qualities and characteristics which, once lost, cannot be regained: namely, customs inculcated in human beings from birth by an entire social structure, race, living language, all linked to a given tradition and a given heritage, a given ancestry. Ethnicities are passed on in the blood. One can, in exceptional cases, become an honorable member of a given ethnicity to which one has not been born; but one will never pertain to it in the same way as a person born and raised in its care. In this concept of genocide, our modern world addresses, as profoundly as its superficiality will permit it to, the deep question of human custom and human race.
      But despite even this advantage to the explanation in question, we will perceive at once that even it is not without its defects. The first that confronts us is this: the communist dictators, while not being guilty of genocide per se (though Stalin, it should be noted, did target certain particularly “counter-revolutionary” ethnicities, as the Ukranians, the Poles, and even the Jews), nonetheless must be understood as deracinating, if nothing else, then surely their own peoples, their own ethoi. They must then be considered every bit as guilty of genocide as Hitler, if the particular significance of genocide is really to be regarded as the deliberate destruction of a people with a will to eliminate its ethos, its quality as a people.
      Yet it may be responded that Stalin and Mao represented precisely the historical expression of their peoples’ ethoi, so that it cannot rightly be said that they committed genocidal crimes against their own people. On the contrary—abhorrent as their deeds may appear to us today, yet still in the moment they were but manifestations of a greater popular will, the will of a given ethnicity to work upon itself. Their decisions were “sovereign” and did not threaten the “sovereignty” of any other group; therefore their actions are less detestable than Hitler’s, for he targeted groups which included non-German members.
      Now, I hope that this response will be regarded by most if not all of my readers as morally repugnant. But supposing we do so find it; how can we defend this feeling? For it is not easy to discriminate here between what is a genuine act of a people, and what is a false act of a people; it is not easy to distinguish between what really does emerge from the soil of a people’s ethos, and what is foisted on it by uncharacteristic growths within it. And even if we allow this rather cruel defense of the Asiatic dictators, this brings brightly to our attention a new and even more fundamental problem. If it is true that all ethoi are to be respected, despite their differences with our own liberal ethos, then why must we not respect those cultures which hold themselves to be superior to all others, such that they feel themselves justified in enslaving and massacring other ethnicities?
      Put otherwise, ken the matter thus. We are intent on permitting every of what we call human “cultures” or “sub-cultures” to do as they best see fit and to live as they think it good to live, and we go very far indeed in defending their “cultural” rights, if not in deed then most certainly in word. Yet we evidently believe, and unanimously, by all evidence, that no “culture” or ethos on Earth can legitimately hold to the proposition, for instance, that it is superior to all others; or that another ethnicity is inferior and so fit for enslavement or subjection; or that there should be no miscegenation between the races, on pain of the penalty of the law; or that religion or the favor of one’s god is carried with blood and must be preserved with blood; or that a given parcel of land belongs to a given ethnicity and should not be used or owned by any other; etc.
      I am not interested in disputing the contention that these are noxious convictions for any peoples to hold. I am questioning rather the compatibility of this belief with the theory that all human ways are essentially valuable. For are these not human ways, even as, say, the preparing of a trousseau for the daughters of a family, or the initiation of its sons into manhood through a vision quest, or the belief that the world was created by Raven? It is not enough to claim that what I have presented here are not customs so much as beliefs; for there is a clear and radical connection between the one and the other. Some peoples are warlike; some hold slaves; some refuse to permit intermarriage between members of their clan and the members of other clans; some are cannibalistic. Yet all of these practices, if they are not genocidal, certainly tend to encourage those habits and outlooks which finally render genocide possible. Very often, the only difference between the practices to issue from these customs, and the more infamous genocides of history, is one of scale: in principle, the ways of such peoples are not so different from the theories and the laws that brought the twentieth century to such precipitate bloodletting. Given our instinct to assert the total equality of all ethnicities and all ethoi, how can we consistently condemn those peoples who are warlike, conquering, enslaving? Is there not something arbitrary in our position—and how might we give account for it?
      It might be tempting to claim that the aggressive tendencies of a people cannot be considered cultural elements of the same, but that is patently false: for what would the Vikings or the Mongols have been, without their warrior ethic? They would have remained peoples, to be sure, but—the same peoples? What of the ancient Romans? What would they have been, had they not been conquerors and empire-builders, had they restricted themselves to the Seven Hills and satisfied their ambitions within the limits of Rome alone? (Not to speak of the fact that even to get so far as that they had to overthrow and displace who knows how many Etruscans!) Romulus murdered Remus: that is the originating myth of an entire people. How do you expect to strip such a people of its will to violence, without stripping it also of some basic aspect of its ethos?
      Yes—one will hasten to respond—but these are old stories, atavistic stories, from well before the European Enlightenment—that is, before we knew any better. Those were ignorant and dark times, in which the most improbable superstitions and the most naked and animalistic powerhunger ruled the day. Here and now, in our enlightened latter days, one knows better; here and now, one knows to value all human life, no matter to what tribe it belongs, or what shapes and colors it inhabits, or what ways and beliefs it tends. One knows, in short, that if you strip this human being of his costumes and his customs, and flay him of his skin, the results will appear quite equal here, there, or anywhere.
      I believe we really must respond in this vein, to keep any semblance of order amongst our jostling notions. But we must note well just what it is we are claiming: the warlike ethoi of the past were ignorant, they lived in darkness; but the peoples of today which hold to their own superiority and use this to justify violence, are wrongheaded, delirious, mistaken, deluded. Our Western liberal view, meanwhile, is the product of knowledge, of light; it is here and now the true and the good view. Western liberalism, far from being one amongst a variety of perfectly equal visions of the world, is here and now the right vision, and the Western liberal society that it generates is here and now the best society.
      This conclusion will be resisted, I know, by those progressives who are in particular the latest flowering of the liberal society. They will rebel with all their hearts against any such chauvinism as that implied in what I have just stated; they will object that this is the very position which leads us to act as conquerors and invaders, and not even particularly responsible or competent ones, by tinkering with sovereign nations which we ought by rights leave well enough alone, and attempting to inflict our views on all the world through “state-building” in places which have no relation whatever to us. The position that ours is the good society, they will claim, leads of a course to the positions and the policies of the neo-conservatives, and hence to new wars, a new colonialism, and—who knows?—new genocides.
      In the first place, I would beg these progressives—for I dearly do not see how such a thing is to be accomplished—to tell me how they expect to address the contradictions I have outlined above, without reference to Occidental superiority. It does not suffice to bury these contradictions under heaps of pretty bromides; in these troubled times, they will come out one way or another. Either the liberal position is superior to the ethnocentric conquistador’s, or it is morally indistinguishable from it; if the latter, then the law against genocide is but our peculiar custom, and is no more defensible than an international law prohibiting barefootedness out of doors, animal sacrifice, or the Jewish Sabbath. And it is no good avoiding the necessity of acknowledging the superiority of liberal society by referring to unalienable rights: for precisely if there are such rights, then the society which builds itself most coherently upon the respect of those rights, is the best society.
      Now, if we cast our glance a moment to the international scene, we are made aware of yet a further ramification of this inconsistency in our position. As tolerant and diversity-minded liberals, we are much enamored of the multicultural aspect of the globe, the wonderful and most colorful variety of its peoples, nations, and ethoi. We should most like to preserve this diversity, and our insistence upon the genocide laws is a very great testament to this desire. We feel that the world is richer with its Eskimos and its Maasai, its aborigines and its Aymaras. But if we cannot avoid acknowledging the superiority of our own society, it would seem to follow that all other societies must be ranked according to our standards: that is to say, they must be ranked by the degree to which they meet liberal ideals. The consequence of this in turn is that we must condemn all societies precisely by the degree to which they differ from our own societies, which difference was precisely what we sought most to preserve.
      We see this paradox in any number of particular cases in which our liberal mores come most clearly into conflict with the ways of other peoples, as when we look upon laws mandating burkas in the Middle East, or laws and customs perpetuating the caste system in the Far East, or tribal practices involving genital mutilations in Africa. To the degree to which such practices infringe on human rights, we cannot bring ourselves to abide them; yet we cannot condemn them or seek their eradication without sinning against our ideal of diversity. Silence about them is now and then denounced as Occidental heartlessness and self-infatuation at the expense of the sufferings abroad; yet to attempt to eliminate them is to impinge dangerously on that territory called “colonialist” or “imperialist,” a territory which is peopled, we are led to understand, only by heartless and self-infatuated occidentals. What then?
      In the first place, it would be well to dispel a certain myth which has crept up amongst us in recent years. The belief in the fundamental or present superiority of our ways does not perforce lead to militarism, to colonialism, to the invasion of other lands and the infringement on or the reformation of the customs of other peoples. It does so only insofar as it coincides with warlike tendencies existent amongst the broad generality of our people. But these are decidedly lacking in our contemporary West.
      The wars of the past two decades will be brought against me as proof that what I have just said is absurd, but those wars could only be publicly justified on the basis of preserving national defense, or bringing democracy to oppressed peoples who desperately craved it. Lacking these two pillars of support, our public will to international militarism quite decays, as we have seen with great clarity even in the recent case of Syria.
      One could well imagine—and there have been, and are today, historical examples—a nation dedicated unabashedly to the protection and preservation of its own laws and customs, which yet looks upon all the world from an aloof height, and refuses to become so much as tangentially embroiled in its affairs. Perhaps it even holds a dash of contempt for its neighbors as it goes about its own business with its great cool reserve, and perhaps it even does what it can to maintain all clarity of differences between it and those with whom it comes into contact. Thus this contempt, rather than convincing it to invade or enslave the peoples surrounding it, is yet another among the motives persuading it to retract into itself and live according to its own unsullied lights, high upon its hill.
      Or perhaps it even revels in the exoticism of what is different from it, and holds strongly to the principle that these differences should be, whenever possible, preserved to the world, if for no other reason than the aesthetic; perhaps it puts its hands on the wheel of history every so often, simply to see to it that the beautiful variety and marvelous painterly heterogeneity of the world be perpetuated; but this reasoning and this intervention, too, is nothing but the view from the hill.
      How can we explain such a nation to ourselves? In principle, and quite simply, this nation has never confused morality with universalism; it has never arrived at that most curious supposition, that all human beings everywhere are in principle identical to one another; it still possesses pride in what is its own, and it knows the folly and indeed the disgrace in attempting to make its ways, into the ways of all the world. Precisely because its ways are the best, they cannot be of everyone, and only a fool or a dreamer would attempt to impose the high destiny of such a nation, on peoples who are not prepared for it.
      The problem with such a position, of course, is that only nations in unique geographical or sociological positions can adopt such an attitude without having constantly to fear their neighbors’ interference. A nation surrounded by hostility and greedy enmity cannot permit itself the luxury of such disdainful isolationism. It must either take up arms against the aggressivity of its foes, or it must find a way of neutralizing that aggressivity in itself.
      Here we find the highest function, not just of the laws against genocide, but also of the spirit that inculcates them. These laws ought perform a twin function; they ought in the first place embody in internationally clarion form the stance of all the Occidental liberal nations, vis-à-vis a legitimate international system of ethics; and they ought in the second place form a binding precedent on these same nations, and all those near them, which can if necessary be brought to bear against abusers. The goal, unspoken as it has been, of our international stance against genocide, has not been to “make the world safe for democracy,” but rather to make the Occident safe for a higher liberalism.

• • •

The Battle for Bowling Green

COUNSELOR to the President Kellyanne Conway has lately stepped on another spine, and finds herself once again enjoying her rapport with her favorite segment of contemporary American society—the press.
      Here the spine: Mrs. Conway, seeking to defend Donald Trump’s immigration policies, made recent reference to a certain “Bowling Green Massacre,” by which she wished to illustrate the dangers of our airy immigration policies. Trouble was (as the press lost no time in bringing to public attention) the massacre in question never happened.
      Now, anyone reading any of the reports of Mrs. Conway’s slip of the tongue is liable to take the easy message: Mrs. Conway and her “alternate facts” have struck again; the Trump administration has once more revealed its unbending loyalty to the truth and its impeccable devotion to data. And the executive orders which had attempted to curtail certain portions of our immigration policy, are based on nothing better than the figments of diseased minds.
      But prithee stay a moment: a little deeper now. For this “Bowling Green Massacre” was not cut of air; and the deceptions of Mrs. Conway—let us not bite our tongues on the matter, for deceive, she did—were more in the misrepresentation than in the fabrication.
      For though there was no massacre at Bowling Green, Bowling Green was, by the say of the Department of Justice, the site of the arrest of two Iraqi nationals, who had been permitted to enter the United States under the guise of refugees (after being subjected to what we are continually assured is an extremely rigid vetting process), where they at once set to work undermining the country that was supposed to be succoring them. The two men were subsequently convicted (one to life in prison, and the other to forty years), having been found guilty of nothing less than “conspiring to kill U.S. nationals abroad; conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives) against U.S. nationals abroad; distributing information on the manufacture and use of IEDs; attempting to provide material support to terrorists and to AQI and conspiring to transfer, possess and export Stinger missiles.”
      Ah, is that all! No bloodshed, no “terrorism”! Why, they were only amassing weapons and money to arm and fund our enemies abroad! Venal crimes, those, and surely nothing to lose sleep over. Pah! Some massacre!
      In its critique of Mrs. Conway, the Washington Post reminds us that Trump’s immigration policies are targeted against domestic terrorism; and since our Iraqi friends had no evident designs on Bowling Green or on any Americans within the country, we are evidently to agree that this whole fiasco has nothing to do with the executive orders on immigration. Now, credit where credit is due: the Post is surely right: these men were far too busy playing the parasites of the nation that hosted them and plotting to kill American soldiers abroad with the weapons and the money they had stolen from the United States, to ever think of carrying out a massacre at Bowling Green.
      Lay aside the question of whether we are really to assume that men who are capable of the one thing, are not capable of the other. But I wonder if this argument does not demonstrate just how absolutely ludicrous our situation has become. We are evidently expected to countenance the presence of these people, since the worst they have done so far is fund the death of our compatriots abroad. And this is really an argument?
      The irresponsibility of Mrs. Conway lies in this, that she has shifted attention away from the real question here—just who the devil we are letting cross our borders, and just what they have been getting up to—by once more directing the fickle public eye toward the circus-tent of the Trump Administration. By inventing immigrant-led terrorist attacks that never took place, rather than drawing our attention to ones that have, she does no favors to the policy she would defend. Thanks to her antics, the press has been able to concentrate wholly on the question of whether the Counselor to the President has the responsibility to speak accurately and to the point.
      Of course she does. But I will ask my readers—what is the greater sin? Exaggerating with one’s speech? Or reprimanding such abuses of language, to the point of distracting away from vital questions of national security?

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