LinkFest 2015-09-30

Wow, it has been a long time since I did a LinkFest, so here is one delayed 7 weeks.

48 Hours on the Dark Side of Vegas

This reminds me of the hidden desperation in Tim Power's Last Call.

Is the U.S. behind Fethullah Gulen?

Not as newsworthy as it used to be, but a very interesting take from a Turk living in the US.

Why Trump Supporters Think He'll Win

Still very newsworthy.

Could Trump Be the 'Man's Man' America Wants?

After the popularity of the above article, David Frum wrote another on the same subject. Part of the appeal of Trump is that he hasn't got even a hint of the Ned Flanders vibe that turns many people away from other Republican candidates.

Surprises of the Faraday Cage

It turns out a famous explanation of the phenomenon may not be correct. Which hasn't stopped the engineers who design them.

Internaut day: The world's first public website went online 25 years ago today

Also out of date. I fondly remember the early days of the internet. Everything was more innocent then. No, really.

No Matter Who Wins The Presidency, The ‘Deep State’ Will Run Things

I'm not sure I believe this, but I think the argument is interesting.

America's birth rate is now a national emergency

PEG says there is no good reason the US, an empty country that grows lots of food and exports oil, should have a birth rate below replacement. I am inclined to agree with him.

Terry v. Ohio. Happy 50th Anniverary, Detective McFadden!

I enjoyed learning the history of the 'frisk'. 

The Tesla Effect: How the cutting edge company became the most powerful engine in Bay Area manufacturing

People forget how much of the money any company pulls in as revenue goes to its suppliers, which go to its suppliers, and so on. 

What I learned as a hired consultant to autodidact physicists

In my opinion, the current trend of crank amateur physicists is entirely the fault of the direction that physics as a whole has taken. Lots of great progress has been made by applying mathematical theories in elegant ways, but the data that support those theories comes from a messy reality that is often obscured in the tales told about science [usually by science journalists and popularizers]. This is the story of a physicist who tried to bring a little reality to the amateurs.

Giving up alcohol opened my eyes to the infuriating truth about why women drink

The author seems like she lives in world that I've heard about, but never experienced. Getting sloshed sounds like an entirely human response to living that kind of life, but the bigger question is why would you want to? A good companion piece to the Jezebel article about binge drinking and how it contributes to women's dissatisfaction with their sex lives. There is a common thread here, and it isn't alcohol.


Psychologists have been trying to devoodoofy psychology for a long time.

What U. of Chicago Activists Are Complaining About

Trigger warnings are grossly overused, but this is a sympathetic look at the environment in an actual elite school. I still think Neal Stephenson got this all right thirty years ago.

In Defense of Prince Hans

I said the same thing the first time I watched Frozen.

Pondering Miracles, Medical and Religious

A breath of fresh air after all the nastiness from the atheist community before and during the canonization of Mother Theresa.


A brilliant series of Tweets from Ross Douthat on why Trumpism matters, no matter how much you hate Trump.

And of course, the essay that occasioned that Tweetstorm.

The Long View: The Next American Nation

As described, Michael Lind's book seems a little crazy, but it might just be crazy like a fox. As sober historiography, there is little to recommend the conceit that there have been three American Republics, in the French style, much less that the descriptions provided really described the periods all that well. For example, the idea that the animating feature of the Second Republic was the pan-white melting pot would probably have come as a surprise to the Know-Nothings and the Irish and Italian and German Catholics they detested.

Nonetheless, I think I can see what Lind is getting at. Eventually, something like the idea of generic white Americans did take hold, but it was a hotly contested idea for a long time. It probably only really won about the time that Lind set the transition to the next Republic, about the time that statistical ideas about race and ethnicity were enshrined in law by the Office of Management and Budget's Statistical Directive No. 15. This directive has seen subsequent modification, but in outline it is with us still.

Lind's description of the Overclass overlaps considerably with the Deep State, the sober, responsible people who make the trains run on time no matter who might get elected:

This group, which makes up perhaps a fifth of the population, is spread throughout the country in the better suburbs. They are the country's higher managers, academics, professionals and media people. They normally have expensive degrees which they may spend the first thirty years of their lives acquiring. These degrees have been made qualifications for their lucrative jobs and therefore serve to minimize competition.. The Overclass is not simply the rich; they certainly are not the idle rich. The owner of a successful business may make far more money than his lawyer, but the lawyer, particularly if he is a member of one of the big law firms, is much more likely to belong to the Overclass. The Overclass is overwhelmingly white and mainstream Protestant, with the addition of some suitably reformed Jews. Catholics and Evangelicals are rare among them. They are both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. They make the campaign donations on which politicians depend. They watch the news on Public Television. They do not smoke. They drink wine rather than beer. They co-habit early and marry late. They have maids. They jog.

I cannot cast too many stones, because this is very much my class, except that I am too religious and intentionally avoided graduate school and I have too many children. Yet, for all that, this is still my class. Most of my closest friends fit this description well. Our class is still very much in charge, and everything that you see here follows from that.

Nearly twenty years later, this essay/book review strikes me as a pretty good primer on American politics. The current presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump can been seen as the electoral contest between the Overclass, which overwhelmingly supports Clinton, and the people who got pushed aside by the decisions of the Overclass, represented by Trump.

John Reilly's enumeration of the cultural insistences that define American culture as such are a useful companion to Lind's class analysis. Our tendency to be Biblicist, anti-hierarchical, and nice goes across the class distinction Lind makes. Also the way in which America is a perennially millennial society, full of spiritual foment and messianic zeal. Americans who hate each other with a fiery passion usually share these things in common.

If you want to understand who we are, and get beyond the question of whether your side in this internecine contest is winning, you could do worse than to read this.

The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Republic
by Michael Lind
The Free Press, 1995
$25.00, 436 pp.
ISBN: 0-02-919103-3


America after the United States


"Multicultural America is a repellant and failed regime, from the point of view of members of the wage-earning American majority. That should not be surprising, because it was not designed with their interests in mind."

So says Michael Lind, once a senior editor at the magazine "The New Republic" and formerly of "Harpers" and "The National Interest." (His current activities defy enumeration.) Doubtless he is right, as he is also right about extending the blame beyond the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. (Mr. Lind is perhaps best known for his expose' in the "The New York Review of Books" of the Reverend Pat Robertson's universal conspiracy theory.) Certainly many Americans who think that the Republicans' "Contract with America" is a pollster's flim-flam also share the conservatives' suspicion that the major institutions of the United States have been taken over by malign extraterrestrials during the past thirty years. Similarly, people of many different persuasions believe that the political and cultural order that grew up after the 1960s will not last much longer. The differences of opinion arise about what kind of America should follow the one we have.

In this book, we get a theory of American history, a class analysis of the current state of American society, and an outline of what the "next America" should be like. All of these are wrong, though they all include arguments and observations that are well worth reading. The class analysis is the best thing of its kind to come along since "The Yuppie Handbook," and Lind's discussion of American patriotism is important. The problem is that his "next America" would be just as alien to its citizens as the regime we have now.

Mr. Lind obviously admires modern French history, with its colorful sequence of Empires, Directorates, numbered Republics and the occasional failed Commune. He therefore spruces up the drab constitutional continuity of American history with a First, Second and Third Republic, each inaugurated by the stress of war and each of them with its own political mythology. (Part of the idea seems to be that a "catastrophic" and discontinuous national history is more in keeping with recently fashionable ideas in paleontology; asteroids killing the dinosaurs and all that.) The First Republic was "Anglo-America," peopled largely by "No Popery" Protestants of British origin who pursued their Manifest Destiny to conquer the continent. It lasted from the Revolution until the Civil War, when it was succeeded by the Second Republic, Euro-America, the great age of heavy immigration and the ideal of the pan-white melting pot. Under the stress of the Cold War in general and Vietnam in particular, the Third Republic arose. Though initially not much different in ethnic composition from its predecessor, it was governed from the start by the ideology of multiculturalism, which held the United States is not a single nation, but a confederation of five permanently diverse nations. These were defined in 1977 by the Office of Management and Budget's Statistical Directive No. 15 (a document to which the author assigns quasi-constitutional status) as "black, white, Hispanic, Asian-Pacific Islander, and Native American." The Third Republic is essentially a scam in which the real rulers of the United States, the white Overclass, are able to avoid paying for needed reforms by playing off these artificial divisions against each other.

If you must construct a model of American history, I suppose you can't go far wrong by running the first dispensation from the Revolution to the Civil War, but little of the rest of this structure is very helpful. As Lind notes himself, the melting-pot ideal can be found even in Revolutionary times (Pennsylvania, after all, was even then heavily German, and New York was a former Dutch colony), while theories of Anglo-Saxon-Protestant supremacy are really creatures of the late nineteenth century, along with the rest of Darwinian racism. Multicult itself was prefigured in the "cultural pluralism" that was devised by socialists in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and carried to the United States in the early twentieth century. The reason why historians have tended to treat American history as a continuous whole is that American history is really pretty continuous. One may be forgiven for suspecting that Mr. Lind finds a discontinuous account of American history congenial because he himself is seeking to encourage a whopping discontinuity in the near future. But of that more later.

The Third Republic, we are told, is the dispensation of the Overclass. This group, which makes up perhaps a fifth of the population, is spread throughout the country in the better suburbs. They are the country's higher managers, academics, professionals and media people. They normally have expensive degrees which they may spend the first thirty years of their lives acquiring. These degrees have been made qualifications for their lucrative jobs and therefore serve to minimize competition.. The Overclass is not simply the rich; they certainly are not the idle rich. The owner of a successful business may make far more money than his lawyer, but the lawyer, particularly if he is a member of one of the big law firms, is much more likely to belong to the Overclass. The Overclass is overwhelmingly white and mainstream Protestant, with the addition of some suitably reformed Jews. Catholics and Evangelicals are rare among them. They are both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. They make the campaign donations on which politicians depend. They watch the news on Public Television. They do not smoke. They drink wine rather than beer. They co-habit early and marry late. They have maids. They jog.

More to the point, they also have peculiar economic interests, which they pursue to the detriment of the rest of the nation. They have little interest in paying taxes for the sort of elaborate social welfare structures taken for granted in Europe, so they console the more obstreperous groups among the lower classes by providing them racial preferences for places in prestigious educational institutions and in certain jobs. (Feminism, of course, lets them take much of this back on the sly, since Overclass women then get a big chunk of the preferences through gender quotas.) The preferences work mostly to the detriment of white salaried workers and their families. They also have the advantage of creating minority "Overclasses." These black and Hispanic Overclasses have little basis in the real economy. They depend on government employment and contract set-asides to maintain their status, and they transform what might become system-threatening discontent in their own racial castes into the quest for more preferences. Meanwhile, the Overclass more and more dispenses with public services for itself. They send their kids to private schools. They send important documents by private express services rather than through the mail. In the extreme case, they live in "gated communities" where they pay for their own police protection.

Lind is particularly exercised about the Overclass's nearly unanimous support of free trade. He notes that family income has been stagnant at best for the last twenty years, and that wages per worker have actually declined. Part of this he blames on the decline of unionization among the workforce, which he attributes almost entirely to government hostility. The rest he blames on foreign competition. The Overclass, in Lind's view, has deliberately and successfully driven down the wages of the average American since the late 1970s. This was achieved not only by permitting the import of foreign goods, but by actually importing foreign workers. The author spends a great deal of space trying to show that America historically has experienced heavy immigration only in spurts, all of which produced bad feeling, and which hindered the process of assimilating people already here. Multicultural America is gradually being transformed into a province of the Third World. The Overclass itself, however, dreams of becoming a post-American global elite.

Reading Lind's account, I could not help but reflect how petty the sins of the upper classes have become over time. If you were a patrician in the late Roman Republic, for instance, you could feed your slaves to your pet lampreys without so much as a by-your-leave to OSHA. In the Middle Ages, nobles had the right of the first night with peasant brides (droit de seigneur was not actually a recognized feudal prerogative, but the perhaps the nobility did not always correct the serfs on the matter). In contrast, all the Overclass rulers of the Third American Republic get for their many malefactions is cheap Salvadoran nannies. For this, they have to drive to work through urban war zones and be hated by all the other white people. You wonder why they would bother.

Lind rejoices in the fact that, with Marxism gone, it now okay again to do class analyses, a type of social commentary which long antedates Marx anyway. And in fact, there is nothing wrong with a class analysis, provided you recognize that a class is part of the landscape of history, it is never one of the protagonists. Lind does make the Overclass a protagonist, and a wily one at that. The author insists that he is not constructing a new conspiracy theory, so we must not imagine that there are secret meetings of the Overclass in which they plot to frustrate democracy and stifle prosperity. (At any rate, Lind never gets invited to these meetings.) Individual members of the Overclass are just well-meaning white people who own recreational vehicles and dogs named "Brandy."

If this is the case, then "the Overclass" is an entity so disarticulate as to be without explanatory power. The fallacy is the same as that which attended those "Children Against Nuclear Weapons" marches that the old pro-Soviet Left used to organize in the 1980s. If you talked to the children themselves, I suspect, you would have found that they actually did not have any opinions about megaton throw-weight or strategic targeting. If you tried to explain these things to them, they would probably have shown a reprehensible lack of interest. The children were not marching because they themselves were for or against anything. They were props for the march organizers, who had something they were trying to sell. In rather the same way, the author has created a defenseless, paper-mache' monster which he calls "the Overclass," and he uses it as a prop to help him sell a proposal to create a new political regime in America. Though he says so only in hints and winks, he seems to be contemplating nothing less than ending the United States and replacing it with a new constitutional structure.

By far the most valuable sections in the book are those dealing with American patriotism (which he prefers to call "nationalism," a term that many people prefer to restrict to ideologies of national supremacy). He emphasizes the difference between "the nation" and the political regime. The French, with their parade of constitutions over the past two centuries plus, and the Poles who had no state of their own from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries, illustrate the fact that a nation continues exist no matter the form under which it is governed. Nations change over time too, of course, but they exhibit certain continuities at every period of their histories. Thus, for instance, Japanese fighter plane design in the Second World War still incorporated the ancient martial bushido principle of all offense, no defense. Russian atheists embalmed Lenin and placed him in a shrine as if he were an incorrupt Orthodox saint. France, it seems, will always be run by Louis XIV's bureaucrats, no matter what titles their political superiors hold. Lind finds similar authenticating signs of the American nation from colonial times to the present.

The nation is not characterized exclusively by ethnicity, which actually changes over time in more countries than you might think. (Remember the old saying, "A Prussian is a Pole who forgot where his grandfather was born"?) The vital elements of nationalism are language and culture. The latter includes folkways, religion, historical memory, political reflexes. For instance, though there is great deal of variety about everything in the United States, still most Americans celebrate a German Christmas with a fir tree. Native-born Americans who try to identify with some "mother country" of their ancestors usually discover when they visit there that the mother country is inhabited by heathen foreigners.

It is just this reality of a widespread and inviting common America culture that multicult denies. This is perhaps nowhere better shown than in the refusal by progressive people to use the word "America" to refer to the United States. "North America" and "North American" are the preferred usages. If they had their way, their country, as distinguished from their government, would have no name. This kind of thinking has alienated most of the American people because its effects are surrealistic. Thanks to Statistical Directive 15, unoffending English-speaking children with Spanish surnames find themselves imprisoned in inferior bilingual education tracks from which escape is almost impossible. Mayors issue proclamations in honor of "Kwanzaa," a 100% synthetic end-of-the-year pseudo-African holiday devised by an American. Hasidic Jews find that their tightly-knit communities merit no special consideration in electoral redistricting, since such people are of Eastern European extraction and thus generically white.

The last example is particularly illuminating, because it illustrates the fact that multicult serves to paper over actual cultural differences. For instance, perhaps no publicly supported entity has as rigorous a race-and-gender personnel selection system as National Public Radio. However, when a Congressman was so rude as to ask, among other things, how many of their reporters were Evangelical Christians, they indignantly refused to provide an answer. In this they were probably right; employers should not keep track of such things. Still, any regular listener can tell you that the mix of opinions to be found among the reporters and editors of this notoriously liberal network is about as "diverse" as unsalted oatmeal. Cold oatmeal at that.

Lind is particularly anxious to explode the notion that American nationalism (or patriotism) is coincident with "Democratic Universalism." In every age, there have been enthusiasts for America (many of them foreigners) who have extoled the proposition that the United States is an "idea country." Its essence, they say, lies in its common political creed of democracy and liberty. Everything else about it, the land, the language, the ethnic makeup of the people, is secondary. (The extreme expression of this school of thought may have been a piece in the British magazine, The Economist, which asserted that America would be essentially the same country even if it came to be inhabited mostly by nationalized Martians.) This idea is particularly comforting to people who think that the United States should have unrestricted immigration. Lind, rightly, will have none of it.

America has a "deep grammar" in its culture which makes it what it is. (These basic assumptions are sometimes called "cultural insistences.") America would cease to exist if its population did not share this grammar, even if the constitutional framework of the United States persisted. America, for instance, is a "Biblicist" country. American reformers and revolutionaries of all descriptions always seek to restore the "pure, original text" of the Constitution, or the Bible, or the Common Law, which has been obscured by corrupt interpretation. It is anti-hierarchical, so that even respected people in places of legitimate authority have to claim to be simply expressing popular opinion. (No person can really have legitimate authority; only the original text can.) Thanks to the Quakers, America is "nice." Only a minority of Americans have ever "thee" and "thou"-ed each other after the fashion of the Society of Friends, but the people who did have influenced American manners enough to make them masterpieces of studied informality. Even executioners in America say "Have a nice day" to the condemned as they pull the blindfold down over the eyes. Well, almost.

These are all good and valid points that Lind makes. However, his analysis is flawed by his absolute refusal to acknowledge some features of the essential America that he does not like, largely because the government of the "next America" would have to incorporate them to achieve popular legitimacy. For instance, American is a millennialist society which thinks that it has special role to play in history. Americans think of themselves as both the "City on a Hill," an example to mankind, and as the Seventh Cavalry coming to the rescue. Lind tries to show that this sort of chauvinism is not peculiarly American. He cites writers of other countries who claimed at various times that their homelands were "redeemer nations." However, the fact is that the only real analogue to American national messianism in the present world is that of Russia. Lind may not like this aspect of America, but it's there, and it is one of the things that keep America together.

Then, of course, there is religion. America is the most religious of developed nations. What evidence there is suggests that, on the whole, the country tends to become more religious with the passage of time. (America in the eighteenth century and for most of the nineteenth was largely "unchurched.") Lind does not like this and cites a number of statistics to show that the influence of religion, or at least of Christianity, is on the wane. This is almost certainly a misapprehension on his part. Certain segments of Lind's Overclass have indeed become thoroughly secular. They have seen to it, largely by use of the courts, that those areas of public life which they must enter have also been secularized. This is a large part of the reason the American nation as a whole finds these people so alien. A society with a "naked public square," in which religious arguments are the only sort that may not be given for public policies, simply is not America.

Having successfully deflated democratic universalism as a rhetorical flourish that should not be taken altogether seriously, Lind goes on to make the graver error of assuming that there is such a thing as generic "democracy." Lind is in favor of a number of political reforms, one of the most dangerous of which is proportional representation. This, of course, is very much what President Clinton's nominee to the Justice Department civil rights division, Lani Guinier, wanted to implement, as a means of increasing the representation of the official minorities in Congress and the state legislatures. Lind, in contrast, argues forcefully for a wholly color-blind politics and legal system. He wants proportional representation as a way to break up the two-party political system. This is a mistake. Americans look on politics as a way of deciding questions, not of multiplying shades of opinion in legislatures. If you want to talk about deep cultural grammar, then American politics is more like American football than it is like Italian soccer. If you change the voting system to produce more ambiguous results, then you are likely to also produce more ambiguous legitimacy.

The author has no firm opinions about just what will spark the "next American revolution," though he notes that previous "revolutions" of this type occurred in the aftermath of wars. He opines that it will more likely take the form of a disorderly transition, like that after the Civil War and in the 1960s, rather than a storming of Washington, D.C. Basically, he wants a government that will carry Roosevelt's New Deal to its logical conclusion. Socialism he regards as conducive tyranny; what he wants is a "social market." The system will feature progressive taxes high enough to pay for extensive social services and to discourage concentrations of hereditary wealth. Immigration would be restricted to humanitarian admissions. Global free trade would be abandoned; he would allow a progressive lowering of tariff barriers only with developed countries. Any company, American or otherwise, that wanted to sell a product in America would generally have to make it here.

At no time does he actually say that he wants to end the United States. However, he does mention repeatedly that the American nation existed before the United States and will exist after it. He strives to evade the centrality of the Constitution of 1787 in American history and culture. He sees little rationale for the states of the union. His political reforms include making the Senate a nationally elected legislature, thus reducing the influence of the underpopulated states of the West and Midwest. He would nationalize most areas of law, from real estate law to the regulation of abortion. It is hard to see, in this system of "liberal nationalism," why we would need a federal system at all. Doubtless we could divide the country into "departments," like the colorful French.

And where would the Overclass be in this millennium? If you take Lind's definition of the Overclass, they would be put to rights. Driven out of their gated communities by high taxes, they will have to send their kinds to public school. When the puppies graduate, they will have to get into prestigious universities on their own ability, rather than through preferences for the children of alumni. For that matter, they might well be drafted first into a citizen army, as happens in sensible countries. Their parents will have to pay for the public transportation they themselves will have to take to their modest jobs, which will pay less because higher degrees will no longer be required for services that any medical technician or paralegal can do. They will be unable control elections, because all election campaigns will be publicly funded. Meanwhile, everyone else will have been made richer by buying goods produced domestically by union labor rather than by exploited foreigners. Since government policies will flatten out income levels, class distinctions will be greatly diminished. There will be no more Overclass, and social mobility will be maximized.

Of course, there are ways to define the Overclass other than that used by Lind. It seems to many Americans that the Overclass consists of people who, for instance, think their countrymen are superstitious bigots. One could also say that the Overclass think all social problems are fundamentally economic. The Overclass think that income redistribution will spin straw into gold. The Overclass think they know exactly to what good purposes other people's money can be put. The Overclass think that ethics can be permanently separated from religion. The Overclass think that their country is in relative decline to the rest of the world, and are heartened by the fact. The Overclass have seen the film "Blade Runner" so many times they mistake it for prophecy. The Overclass look on the prospect of other people's immiseration as an opportunity.

How would this Overclass do in Lind's next America? I think they would do just fine.  

This article originally appeared in the January 1997 issue of Culture Wars magazine. 

Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2003-10-03: Unusual Views

John Reilly mentions Gen. Wesley Clark in passing here. Clark has dropped out of the public eye, but it is probably worth remembering that Clark probably helped bring about one of the great, but unheralded successes of the United States in the Balkans in the 1990s, Operation Storm. Others were involved of course, but this is the sort of thing that probably is in institutional memory of the Deep State still, encouraging us to bait the Russian bear.

On the subject of the Balkans, I have an upcoming review on the development of the Predator drone. The first combat deployment of that drone was in the Balkans in the 1990s as well, so it behooves us to think about what we did back then, and how it influences us now.

Unusual Views


I am pleased to see that even people, like Instapundit, who are inclined to view Wesley Clark's policy ideas skeptically have nonetheless warmed to his recent expressions of doubt about Special Relativity. Too few presidential candidates have any views about physics at all, so this sort of thing should be encouraged. One can only contrast Clark's pure curiosity to Al Gore's views about global warming. Gore may or may not be sincere, but it's hard not to notice that his ecological notions seem tailored for the electorate. This is much harder to do with cosmology.

Now that I come to think of it, presidents and major presidential candidates have been pretty good about keeping their exotic enthusiasms to themselves. There was Henry Wallace and his interest in astrology, of course, but I would not class that with Clark's remarks. The closest parallel I can think of is Theodore Roosevelt's promotion of spelling reform, which he actually managed to turn into a public controversy. Even Theodore Roosevelt did not mention the matter during his campaigns, however, at least as far as I know.

* * *

Speaking of Wesley Clark, I have every intention of doing a review of his new book, Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire, as soon as it becomes available. A warning to people who also intend to read it, however. It should not be confused with Clark's other recent book, Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat, which was released in August 2002. Waging Modern War was in the high 600s on Amazon's sales ranking this morning. Winning Modern Wars was in the mid-200s, despite the fact the book has not yet been released.

One point I would like to clarify is the publication history. Both books are published by "Public Affairs," an entity with no Web presence. All I could find was a distributor. So, both books are apparently self-published. Self-publishing is a laudable institution, even for people who are not running for public office.

* * *

On the subject of unusual views, I recently bought my first copy of Weird New Jersey. This excellent semi-annual is best known for its paparazzi-like coverage of the Jersey Devil, and for printing with a straight face the sort of sex-and-death ghost stories beloved by teenagers. Weird New Jersey is not a tabloid: it's primary folklore research. If the lore sometimes seems a little tawdry, the explanation is that so are the folk.

Perhaps the most important feature of Weird New Jersey is the many articles they run on the abandoned commercial and military sites that litter New Jersey. New Jersey has been through two industrial revolutions and is working on a third. The obsolete facilities are often simply abandoned. They are also frequently located in out-of-the way places that quickly become reforested. The function and even the names of some of these structures pass out of local knowledge. Gruesome and improbable legends spring up.

I myself have a story that could have gone into Weird New Jersey. I recorded it in my journal for Saturday, September 8, 2001. Well, some of it:

My sister, my brother-in-law, and I went to visit the Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Sandy Hook is just outside lower New York Bay, so the area was pivotal to the coastal defense of New York City. The idea was that, when the Kaiser invaded the United States, German troops would land there and in Connecticut, in order to encircle the city. To forestall this event, the Army built gun emplacements looking out onto the Bay. During the Cold War, when the facility was known as Fort Hannock, the canons were replaced by Nike anti-aircraft missiles. Much of the facility is now a ruin, with the notable exception of some rows of rather fine officer-housing.

I did not appreciate just how large a ruin it was until we walked around it along the beach. The fort had been built into a low cliff, but "low" is relative. Great slaps of creeper-covered concrete loomed to our left as we tried to make our way along the ever-narrowing beach. The way was blocked by stone slabs that had fallen or been dislodged into the water, so we had to climb over them. When we reached firm ground, we passed locked doors as high as four-story buildings. Sometimes, there were small, rusted signs, which threatened the most dire consequences to anyone attempting to enter.

Then we came to the Village. It looked like a film producer had wanted to build a set for a suburban neighborhood but had needed to economize on scale. All the buildings were variations on two or three models. The houses were brightly painted and generally two stories tall, but I can't see how anyone could have stood up straight in them. They were no more than ten feet apart. Each was set in a postage-stamp-size lawn, with grass as neatly trimmed as a crew cut. There were low white-picket fences, and narrow, flawless sidewalks.

The Village was deserted. Toys were scattered on some of the lawns. A tricycle waited in the street. One or two garages were opened and tools were set up in the driveway for some weekend project. Doors were open, and music played. Nobody was there.

Then there was the gargoyle. It was four feet high and black. Its eyes were made of some reflective material. The gargoyle stood on one of the perfect little lawns, at the side of one of the impeccable little houses.

This walk got more and more disconcerting, not just because we did not meet anyone, but because we were lost. The streets seemed laid out so as to lead us away from the lot where we had left our car. Still, there was a way out, and we found it.

We also found a few hundred people at a picnic, in a park adjacent to what was no doubt their neighborhood. We surmised that the tidy houses were for Coast Guard personnel. We were too embarrassed to ask.

* * *

Speaking of requests, I see that The Perfection of the West is still selling a copy now and again: thank you very much. I wonder, though, whether anyone who read it might be interested in contributing a review to the Amazon page? This assumes you liked it, of course, or that you disliked it so much that you can make it sound hateful in an interesting way. 

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Twilight of Democracy

Unlike the secretive NSA, sometimes it seems that everyone who retires from the CIA gets a book deal along with their pension. This book review is now nineteen years old, but it seems pertinent to understanding how the Deep State works. The Deep State might seem like a re-tread of Eisenhower's Military-Industrial Complex, but it is both broader and subtler than that. It is more like Cecil Rhode's Round Table groups for the present day, a broad network of like-minded individuals who have responsibility and influence in their own right, largely because of their intelligence and accomplishments, who collaborate informally.

Mike Lofgren has a pretty good definition of the Deep State, and if you include certain think tanks, contractors, and NGOs the picture would be more complete.

The Deep State does not consist of the entire government. It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies: the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department. I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street. All these agencies are coordinated by the Executive Office of the President via the National Security Council. Certain key areas of the judiciary belong to the Deep State, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose actions are mysterious even to most members of Congress. Also included are a handful of vital federal trial courts, such as the Eastern District of Virginia and the Southern District of Manhattan, where sensitive proceedings in national security cases are conducted. The final government component (and possibly last in precedence among the formal branches of government established by the Constitution) is a kind of rump Congress consisting of the congressional leadership and some (but not all) of the members of the defense and intelligence committees. The rest of Congress, normally so fractious and partisan, is mostly only intermittently aware of the Deep State and when required usually submits to a few well-chosen words from the State’s emissaries.

If my life had taken a different turn, I could easily have come into contact with the Deep State at some point. One of my math professors suggested I look into working for the NSA, which I never did since the NSA has been a little too good at keeping a low profile; I simply had no idea of what they actually did, other than cryptography. If I had known, I might have pursued this idea at the time. I did interview for a job at Raytheon Missile Systems designing warheads that I ultimately did not take. I also have a number of friends and acquaintances from college or my subsequent working career who have ended up in national laboratories, or the State Department, or one of the big intelligence contractors, working on this or that.

All of this is clearly pretty peripheral to the Deep State as Lofgren describes it, but that is a good indicator of what the Deep State really is: not a shadowy cabal, but a big and influential part of American society that has sprung out of our victory in the Cold War and our continuing high defense spending from the Global War on Terror. There are probably few Americans who are more than a few degrees separated from this, because it is a major part of our economy. The college-educated STEM workforce is probably even more likely to be part of this, especially because you need to be a citizen of the United States to hold these jobs. Defense spending produces technical jobs that aren't easily available to immigrants.

Thus the Deep State has a sizable fraction of the population naturally on its side. However, it worth remembering that it was the Deep State that pushed for, and got, war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and is now pushing for some sort of showdown with Russia. Much of the motivation for this comes from a conviction that culture and ideology don't matter; everyone is basically the same once you strip away the ethnographic razzle dazzle. Everyone wants the same things and has the same motivations, thus liberal democracy is all but inevitable once you topple the dictator.

We have now conducted this social experiment all over the world. Since so much blood and treasure has been expended testing this theory, we ought to pay attention to the results.

The Twilight of Democracy
by Patrick E. Kennon
Doubleday, 1995
$24.00, 308 pages
ISBN 0-385-47539-X

The Screwtape Report

The author of this book is a recently retired CIA analyst who, after 25 years on the job, is finally able to say in public what he actually thinks. There are, of course, no secrets here. The book is part political theory, part overview of the post-Cold War world situation. As the title suggests, Mr. Kennon is gleefully determined to puncture some secular pieties. The effort is not without success. This analysis would have gladdened the black heart of Ambrose Bierce himself. Thus, we learn that bureaucracy is the key to civilization, that democracy is tolerable only when it is just for show, that no state attains developed status without passing through a period of authoritarian rule. Mr. Kennon's ideas are worth listening to, and some of them might even be true. Still, the book is most interesting, not so much for what it tell us about the world, but because it so perfectly illustrates the failure of imagination of the modern secular mind. This book is supposed to represent what we all really think, but which convention prevents us from saying. Maybe it is what many of us really think, but if so, we're wrong.

The intellectual apparatus the author brings to bear might be described as nuts-and-bolts sociology, which is to say that it is long on history and Max Weber, and short on underdevelopment economics and a theory of ideologies. Indeed, particular ideas don't seem to make much of a difference in Mr. Kennon's world. There are, of course, categories of ideas, such as nationalism and millenarianism and socialism, that play a large role from time to time. However, one example of these things is much like another from the same category. In any event, such things are simply occasions for the fundamental forces of history to manifest themselves. Like any respectable global thinker, Mr. Kennon's view of things tends to fall into sets of three. The two following trinities are pretty much all the theoretical apparatus you need in order to analyze what is happening in any given society and in the world as a whole.

The basic forces in any society are, in order of importance, the bureaucracy, the private sector, and politics. Bureaucracy, starting with the priestly administrators of Sumer and Egypt, is what brought mankind out of the cave. While the book is mostly concerned with "public sector," government bureaucracies, bureaucracies of much the same type also exist in business, and in practice often form a united front with their government colleagues. Bureaucracies embody the principle of impersonal, rational order. They are, ideally, directed toward the achievement of a goal, rather than the maintenance of their own power. Bureaus are a world of management, rather than leadership. Most important, a bureaucracy's very impersonality gives it a time horizon longer than the careers of the bureaucrats who work in it. Almost inevitably, bureaucracies come to think in terms of decades, and sometimes of centuries.

Bureaucracies, we are told to our amazement, do best in emergencies, when they are given a single goal. If you ask them to win a war or to wipe out yellow fever and give them unlimited resources, they will usually succeed. If you give them more than one goal, however, such as winning a war within budget constraints, or fighting an epidemic without annoying the minority groups it most closely affects, they become befuddled and often fail. They are not very good at setting priorities. In normal times, when any number of goals compete for the bureaucrats' attention, they have no sure way to choose between them. Then they start to act like, well, bureaucrats.

The private sector in this scheme of things is damned with faint praise. The term here is not limited to business, since it includes most features of civil society, from client-patron relationships to labor unions. However, the author is most concerned to show the limits of free market capitalism. A free market, he notes, will supply people with just about any product they want, from education to cocaine. The market is persistent, usually pacific, and ingenious beyond the dreams of the wisest bureaucratic mandarin. Although the free market is wonderful if you are satisfied with a street bazaar economy, it never by itself made any country great. It gives people what they want, even if what they want is toxic, and it persists in selling even when people should be saving for their old age. Some necessary elements of the economy, notably infrastructure and basic research, are beyond the time horizon of even the most farsighted entrepreneur. (Unless, like Cecil Rhodes, he is less interested in running a business than in founding an empire.) Only a bureaucracy of some kind can organize the construction of railroads or the development of passenger jets. Even when private parties do the actual work on this kind of project, they work at the behest of government bureaucracies and with the support of public subsidies. Countries like the United States disguise from themselves the amount of government planning they do by calling it licensing or franchising. If left to itself, in fact, the private sector will undermine the preconditions for its prosperity. The rule of law can disappear in a thicket of bribery, the currency can collapse from nonpayment of taxes, when the private sector is much stronger than the government.

The great anachronism in modern life, we are told, is politics. The only genuinely stupid parts of the book are those that try to found a theory of politics on the supposed antics of cavemen and their testosterone-crazed leaders. While there are forms of social contract theory that can still be defended, the social Darwinist version given here is singularly uninformed by either anthropology or the study of primate behavior. It is not even clear whether the author understands that the "caveman" is a myth. From this point of view, the template for all political leadership, kings and presidents and parliaments alike, is the charismatic leader of a war band. Such persons might occasionally do their people some good, by robbing other people, but they rarely have thoughts beyond the means to their own self-preservation. They are interested in leadership, not management. The good leader today leads best by deferring to his experts.

Legislatures also fall into the suspect class of leaders. Legislatures, after all, are composed of local leaders whose livelihood is dependant on currying favor with the rabble at the back of the cave. They may well gain some expertise while working in a legislature, and they might even have some when they are first elected. However, their very position as legislators makes them incapable of using this information objectively. Their purpose is not to find the right answer, but an answer everyone can live with. Wise legislators, even more than wise executives, just do what their staffs tell them.

Mr. Kennon's discussion of leadership is not without value. In a world in which academic degenerates try to reduce all social life to a contest for power, Kennon sensibly remarks that power is the ability to do something, to achieve a goal. What the academics are burbling about is the sterile accomplishment that Kennon calls "domination." There is also something to be said for the principle that truly great leaders, the exceptional few whom Kennon calls "saints," are those who voluntarily relinquish power to a permanent institution. Washington and Cardenas of Mexico make this short list. So does de Gaulle. Curiously, Lincoln does not. Rather, he is relegated to the much larger group of history's pragmatic troublemakers. I suppose you cannot have everything.

The place of any country in the world today can be largely described, according to Mr. Kennon, by an examination of how these three elements in society interact. Although he uses the terms "first world," "second world," and "third world," these terms do not quite correspond to what they mean in ordinary parlance.

The third world, which today includes Russia and its post-Soviet neighbors, is the natural state of civilized man. It shows great variety. Some regions and social sectors enjoy technological prowess and prosperity equal to that of any country in the world. Other regions and sectors, often just next door, suffer neolithic underdevelopment. Some third world countries are ruled by sociopathic tyrants. Others have real elections on a regular basis. It makes little difference: the government has been absorbed by the private sector. It is personal connections, and not impersonal bureaucratic routine, that count. The levers of state power in the presidential palace are not connected to anything. It is only in third world countries that "death squads" are to be found, since the real police are off working second jobs and so are not available to terrorize people. Even if the economy is nominally socialist, the great parastatal corporations are generally the fiefs of certain families or other affinity groups. Nepotism is more important to the functioning of the economy than is the market.

The third world is as stable as a swamp. Those parts that are absolutely poor are the most stable, since insurrection requires both resources and "relative deprivation," i.e., the frustration of some expectation people had reasonably entertained. In livelier regions, society is held together primarily by patron-client relationships. Apparently, as long as just about everyone has a godfather to complain to when life gets difficult, a revolution cannot occur. Third world countries can offer a great deal of personal freedom, and even intermittent prosperity. However, no one is actually running these places, so disputes between castes or religions or other groups that might be arbitrated by effective courts in the first world or a strong dictator in the second can become genuine civil wars. The process is hard to get started, since the resources for civil strife might not be available. Once it does start, however, it can smolder for years for lack of anyone to put it out.

Second world countries are third world countries that are ruled by bureaucratically administered force. Some may have tyrants, and some may hold real elections, but the government does not rule by consent. To a large minority or even a majority, the government is not legitimate. It would be overthrown if the police and the army relaxed. Second world countries come in two chief varieties these days: "newly industrialized countries," such as the "little dragons" of East Asia, and modernizing police states, like Iraq, and like Chile was until very recently. (The latter are "police states," not because the police run the government, but because the government depends on the police.) The Soviet Union fell into the second world category after Lenin died and remained there throughout its existence.

The key to second world status is that the bureaucracy, with the assistance of a patriotic section of the political class, dominates the private sector. The bureaucracy in question may be that of a party, as in Marxist states or as in Mexico, the army, as was historically the case in South America and is now in parts of the Islamic world, or simply a powerful civil service, as was the case in developing Japan and Germany and France.

Whatever the origin of the keepers of order, their behavior is remarkably similar. They believe in high savings rates to fund domestic investment, so they ensure that consumer goods are expensive and social services are thin. They strangle cults of personalty that might form around popular leaders, including themselves. Personal and political freedoms are variously restricted. They conduct mercantilist trade policies. They generally promote a nationalist ideology. The great predators of history are countries that, like Nazi Germany, either fell out of the first world and into the second, or that, like France after the Ancien Regime, had just climbed out of the third. Most second world states, however, are less interested in conquest than in autarchy, at least for a while. When they have achieved a sufficient level of economic development, they can hope for admission to the first world. Spain did this in the 1980s (Franco clearly counts as one of Kennon's "saints") and so did Japan in the 1960s.

Second world countries are not inherently stable. They are societies that are kept together only by a conscious act of will by an elite of experts. They can be destroyed if the bureaucracy's plans for savings and development are disrupted by the arbitrary projects of some charismatic dictator. They can also be destroyed if they relax their police measures too soon, before the legitimacy of the regime is generally accepted. Democracy has again and again thrown promising second world countries back into the third word. If you believe Kennon, this even happened to the United States in the first third of the nineteenth century. The original economic development policy of the United States, as set forth by Alexander Hamilton, was as dirigiste as anything conceived by the Japanese economic bureaucrats of the 1960s. It called for mercantilism, sound money issued by an independent central bank, and a program of great infrastructure projects, notably turnpikes and canals. Bit by bit, this clear program was compromised in the early years of the Republic. Finally, Andrew Jackson led the rabble out of the cave and into the White House. The country began to disarticulate politically. It was only after the Civil War that the Robber Baron industrialists and their political allies of the Reconstruction Era coerced the country back onto the path toward first world status.

The first world itself is the paradise in which all good second world countries seek to be reincarnated. It is, of course, economically developed, which means that its economy is not tied to the deplorably inelastic demand for natural commodities or the primary manufactured products, such as cement or (these days) steel. The bureaucracy reigns in industry and the government, with the cooperation of a private sector strong enough to innovate but not to undermine basic social order. The political sector knows its modest place. Like a good British monarch, it reigns but does not rule. There are, of course, emergencies when the anachronism of political leadership still has some utility. However, these instances become fewer and fewer as civilization advances and its problems become more complicated. Modern civilization is a matter for experts, whose decisions the good president or parliament simply rubberstamps.

Like the third world, the first world is stable. A first world country may suffer riot, high crime and corruption in high places, but its survival does not depend on the police. The regime is legitimate, even to people who want its whole personnel roster replaced. It can permit a very high level of personal freedom and an efficient legal system at the same time. Of course, it isn't indestructible. Kennon is much taken with Mancur Olson's thesis that developed countries tend to be dragged down by the growth of entitlements and special interest pleading over the course of time. What this is, of course, is the private sector reasserting itself. The result can be something like what happened to Argentina, which stood at the gates of first world status until the Peronist welfare state produced a secular decline. And then there's Hitler. A first world country can reenter the second, if it no longer is possible to rule by impersonal consensus. When that happens, it is necessary to rule by force, to establish a police state. The Germans, of course, got the worst of all possible worlds, a harsh second world police regime and a sociopathic third world leader to run it. The moral of this is that no country is naturally a member of one world or the other. Nations can and do circulate from one level to another.

As for the future, Kennon suggests that the planet will be ruled by a first world empire by about the middle of the next century. This is not to say that there will be a de jure universal state, but that the international bureaucracies which exist today will ultimately become more important than the national bureaucracies of the first world. Major corporations increasingly think and act internationally, and national bureaucrats, with their natural bureaucratic inclination to bow to expertise, increasingly mesh with multilateral diplomatic and financial organizations. Sovereign states will continue to exist, even in the first world, but they and their elected officialdoms will be reduced to "sources of legitimacy," rather than possessors of actual power. This inner core will be surrounded by a ring of second world countries trying to achieve a sufficient degree of internal cohesion to allow them to enter the core. On the periphery will be the ever-stable third world, rarely policed, sometimes aided, usually ignored.

The interesting thing about this model is how closely it resembles the "end of history" thesis put forward by Francis Fukuyama at the end of the 1980s. Fukuyama was not suggesting, as his ill-informed detractors suggested, that nothing interesting was ever going to happen again. What he was saying was that modern liberal democracy is the final product of political theory, just as Euclid's solid geometry was the final product of Greek mathematics. It answered the questions that had been asked. In rather the same way, Kennon's universal mandarinate is a sort of final state, one that admits of no further development. It is the peace of exhaustion.

Mr. Kennon's view of the world is not wildly misleading as a description of the current state of things. (Except perhaps with regard to Israel. I realize that Kennon did not invent the phrase, but I doubt that Israel really deserves to be called a "Herrenvolk Democracy.") His account of history might be politely described as unnuanced, but then he was not trying to write a theory of history. The problem is that Mr. Kennon has a crabbed sense of the possible. He dismisses ninety percent of why governments and cultures say they do things. Mr. Kennon, equipped with his solid 1950s liberal education, knows why these people really did what they did. Surely any reasonable person will have to agree?

The book has a blind spot regarding religion. (The author has read "The Golden Bough," unfortunately.) While Mr. Kennon has some interesting things to say millenarianism, he does not seem to fully appreciate that the concept has application outside exotic contexts like the Mahdi Rebellion in the 19th century Sudan. The fact that non-apocalyptic varieties of Christian eschatology are intimately linked with the idea of progress has escaped his notice entirely. More serious, he really seems to think that religious faith is something that is felt by the ignorant but can only be pretended to by the learned. He knows that religion isn't dying out, and he knows that it is often positively correlated with education, but he draws no inferences from these facts.

There is a single conceptual failing in the book that turns Mr. Kennon's portrait of the world into a caricature. The lesson has not sunk in that you cannot predict the future by extrapolation. The fashionable term for unpredictable novelty in physics is "emergent behavior," and history is full of it. This is why all long-range plans, after a certain point, lead to Hell. It is why Marxist command economies make their people poor. It is why export-mad neomercantilist states like Japan eventually discover that they have given their exports away. It is why the search for social and international "stability," the alpha and the omega of CIA policy, is a pernicious chimera. It ensures you will spend your time fighting yesterday's menace and overlook today's opportunity. A bureaucracy can protect you against some kinds of bad luck, but never yet has a bureaucracy made a particle of good luck.

Caricatures have their uses, of course, and "The Twilight of Democracy" is no exception. Certainly the book performs a useful service in today's climate by de-sentimentalizing democracy. Democracy is not historically inevitable, and it is not an excuse for bad government. Even if leadership is not as negligible a factor in history as Mr. Kennon says, it is good to be reminded that even a demon in power cannot do much harm if he does not have an honest bureaucracy working for him. In any event, the book's view of the world has the modest advantage that accrues to most forms of cynicism. Optimists are bound to be disappointed, but a cynic will go through life being pleasantly surprised.


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