It’s Official


     

The enemy — he is ourselves. That is why it is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of western civilization. It is already a wreck from within. That is why we can hope to do little more now than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the faggots, and bury it secretly in some flowerpot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin again to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and need some evidence of what it was, and the fortifying knowledge that there were those who, at the great nightfall, took loving thought to preserve the tokens of hope and truth.

— Whittaker Chambers
Letter to W.F. Buckley, August 5, 1954

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69 Responses to “It’s Official”


  1. 1 1 Harold

    I was not familiar with Whittaker and the Alger Hiss case. (An interesting name, Alger Hiss.)

    Not sure if SL is drawing any parallel between Trump and Whittaker, or just finds the quotation apt.

    What fingernail from what saint should we first stash in our metaphorical flower pot?

  2. 2 2 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    Fine words. But I still have some hope that they are as excessively apocalyptic today as they were in the day they were first issued. It was only 35 years after they were penned that the great, seemingly irresistible, world-consuming evil that inspired them ended up on the dust heap of history.

  3. 3 3 Advo

    I’d actually feel a bit nostalgic for the Cold War, if not for the threat of nuclear annihilation. Everything seemed a lot simpler then.

  4. 4 4 nobody.really

    The deadliest enemies of nations are not their foreign foes; they always dwell within their borders. And from these internal enemies civilization is always in need of being saved. The nation blest above all nations is she in whom the civic genius of the people does the saving day by day, by acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks.
    * * *
    Democracy is still upon its trial. The civic genius of our people is its only bulwark.

    William James, Oration upon the Unveiling of the [Robert Gould] Shaw Monument (May 31, 1897)

    We have met the enemy, and he is us.

    Walt Kelly, Pogo

    Don’t let it be forgot
    That once there was a spot
    For one brief shining moment that was known
    as Camelot.

    Alan Jay Lerner, Camelot

    If you have a spare eight minutes before the barbarians arrive at the gates, you could do worse than to review the decline and fall of Western Civilization. At least it’s well choreographed.

  5. 5 5 Advo

    The weird thing about the RNC convention is that this was the first time many/most Republicans actually heard an Obama speech.

  6. 6 6 Bennett Haselton

    Is this Melania Trump’s speech from last night?

  7. 7 7 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    @advo:

    I’d actually feel a bit nostalgic for the Cold War, if not for the threat of nuclear annihilation. Everything seemed a lot simpler then.

    That is a commonly expressed sentiment these days, reflecting the view that the West was united by a desire, universally shared by all factions anywhere near to power, to prevail in the Cold War and that all disputes, such as they were, were merely about tactics.

    Having lived through the tail end of the Cold War, let me assure you that this was not the case. For example, Reagan’s Evil Empire speech was universally denounced by all-right thinking people. Throughout the West large and powerful factions were not invested in the Cold War and entirely content with a draw or even a slow loss. The struggle between these factions and the others was a central theme of the later part of the Cold War.

    Take the final, decisive battle of the Cold War, fought politically mostly in Europe, the Central Front of that war: the Euro-Missile crisis, now largely forgotten, particularly among Americans.

    In the 1970s, the Warsaw Pact had installed a wide variety of intermediate range nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe. According to military strategists, these missiles which differed in important characteristics from ICBMs the US and the Soviet Union had deployed in the 50s and 60s, threatened to shift the balance of power in Europe. In response, NATO in ’78, at the behest of the German Social Democratic Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, adopted a double-resolution: NATO would either within a fixed time-frame negotiate the removal of the Warsaw pact intermediate-range missiles or deploy its own intermediate-range missiles to Western Europe.

    While this was a consensus position in the late ’70s, by the time it became clear that Warsaw Pact withdrawal was not going to happen and arrangements for NATO deployments began in the early ’80s, that consensus had shattered. Under the influence of growing Green and Peace movements, virtually all left-of-center governing (or principal opposition) parties in Western Europe had decided not to honor the double-resolution.

    When Schmidt, who led the SPD which had governed for more than 15 years, tried to get deployment through the Bundestag, he was one of only a handful of his party’s members who voted for it. As a consequence, his government fell and new elections were called.

    In the following campaign, the anti-Cold-War parties rallied on this plank. They held the largest demonstrations on German soil since the Nazis. The Soviet Union pulled out all the stops on its orchestra of economic, diplomatic, intelligence, and propaganda assets in the West to support these efforts.

    Understandably so, for if the East had succeeded in blocking a central NATO blank after it had been unanimously agreed only a few years before, it would have exposed NATO as a paper tiger, a debating club and not a genuine military alliance. Such a diplomatic coup, regardless of the actual military consequences of NATO non-deployment, would have opened a path to Finlandization of much of Western Europe and a de facto Cold War victory by the Soviet Pact.

    In the end, despite the maximum effort of the anti-NATO forces, the pro-NATO political parties were able to edge them out in the vote and establish a German government committed to NATO. But this victory was neither by a large margin, nor foreordained. (During the same period, similar electoral struggles and changes of government took place in many Western European nations; and, again, while the pro-NATO forces generally prevailed, this had not been a sure thing elsewhere either).

    We know what happened in the following years. The Soviets finally convinced that they could not break NATO, became more conciliatory and eventually agreed to withdraw their intermediate-range missiles. Without hope of a military-political victory, the Warsaw pact’s internal problems could no longer be staved off. In ’89, the Berlin Wall fell. In ’91, the Warsaw Pact dissolved. Later that year, the Soviet Union dissolved.

    Yeah, so in what was my lifetime’s greatest, positive historical development, we won the Cold War. But don’t believe those that claim that this was inevitable or that everybody in the West fought on the same side.

  8. 8 8 Manfred

    Oh my gosh, SubSpecie – you are making me cry of nostalgia of my youth with your (I have to say, brilliant) summary of the history of the “NATO-Doppelbeschluss”. Your very last statement is absolutely true, “But don’t believe those that claim that this [i.e., winning the Cold War] was inevitable or that everybody in the West fought on the same side.” I remember that demonstration in Germany you mention – I was not there, but I do remember the pictures in the press and magazines.

  9. 9 9 Robert Rounthwaite

    I really don’t understand why more people aren’t pushing Johnson/Weld as a better option than either Clinton or Trump. Surely that would seem obvious to anyone who’s not a solid supporter of one of those two, if they only heard more people talking about them.

  10. 10 10 Will A

    ” That is why it is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of western civilization. It is already a wreck from within.”

    Being that this was written in 1954 and western civilization is giving us things like longer life spans, personal computers, cheaper food, and Pokemon Go, I’m assuming the point of this post is that Whittaker Chambers didn’t have a clue about western civilization.

    Did he ever take back this statement once he was proven wrong?

  11. 11 11 Will A

    He even said this after western civilization had survived Hitler and Stalin.

  12. 12 12 Advo

    @SSA:
    Thanks for the history lesson.
    And that isn’t meant as sarcasm – I was born in 1975 in Germany and thus only caught the tail end of the Cold War. What I have learned I have learned largely from books.
    I very consciously said “seemed a lot simpler”, because in many ways it wasn’t simpler, a lot of complexities were just got forgotten. Or actually not perceived in the first place.
    I do however think that the end of communism as a viable ideology was predestined for some time around when it actually occurred. The reason for that is relatively simple – a full command economy sucks. The Soviet economy in 1989 looked very much like the Soviet economy in 1959. The Soviet economy produced spectacular growth rates while it was electrifying and industrializing. But once it had industrialized, it stagnated. Changing anything within an established command economy is incredibly difficult. And the Chinese command economy never got past the clusterf*** stage at all anyway.
    The communists were not able to provide the prosperity they promised and thus lost legitimacy – both in the eyes of the citizens as well as in their own eyes. The East Bloc was always destined to fall the minute the citizens of the Warsaw Pact countries figured out that the Soviets were no longer willing to run tanks over unarmed demonstrators.
    That, in the end, is what doomed communism. A lack of resolve on the part of the Soviet leadership to commit mass murder to defend an economic system that just wasn’t working as predicted.
    The transition from a planned to a market economy would have happened sooner or later regardless of what foreign policy maneuvers or successes occurred in the latter decades of the 20th century. China began its transition under Deng Xiaoping in the late 70s. Even had the USSR not fallen as it did, it would have followed down the path to a market economy eventually.
    I think that in the end the Nato-Doppelbeschluss was as irrelevant as the Vietnam War. That, too was considered at the time a vital stand against the spread of communism. The domino theory held that if Vietnam fell to communism, it would spread over the whole of Asia.
    But what happened after the US lost the war? Communism didn’t spread in Asia. Vietnam was involved in two wars after 1975: one against Red China and the other against the Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge.
    This also highlights one of the biggest misunderstood complexities of the Cold War.
    The fundamental failure of the cold warriors in the West was that they saw the communist countries as COMMUNIST Russia, COMMUNIST China and COMMUNIST Vietnam. In reality, they were dealing with communist RUSSIA, communist CHINA and communist VIETNAM.
    The US could have easily made deals with China against Russia or Vietnam against China.
    Unfortunately, the Asia experts had been purged from the US State Department during the McCarthy era for advocating just such deals.

  13. 13 13 Khodge

    Sub Specie, Great review!

    One of the best political statements ever was made on the eve of the Cold War by Eisenhower warning against the military-industrial complex. How many bad decisions could have been avoided if the Generals had not given the politicians so many shiny toys?

  14. 14 14 Advo

    If the Solidanosc hadn’t forced it, the crisis for the USSR would have hit a few years later.
    For example in 1998, when the oil price reached its nadir.
    The USSR was relying on commodity exports – mostly oil – for its hard currency needs.
    It was on a trajectory to bankrupcy, and by 1990 there was nothing that could have been done to avert that.
    I guess you could say that the downfall of the USSR was a case of historical determinism.
    The regime might have survived had it been psychopathic enough, but the evil empire it ruled would have persisted only in a much diminished form (see: North Korea).

  15. 15 15 Advo

    But of course everything I said here is hindsight.
    At the time, I’d have doubtless been for German rearmament, and for stationing as many nuclear missiles in Germany as possible.
    In retrospect, it seems mostly like a large waste of money, and perhaps increased tensions and the risk of nuclear war unnecessarily.
    With what we know now, a slightly more accomodating stance towards the (doomed) USSR might have been a better (safer and cheaper) approach.
    The Vietnam War was certainly a spectacular mistake and completely pointless (in hindsight).

  16. 16 16 Advo

    And on the issue of the Trump RNC, and also Cruz:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    The center cannot hold…

  17. 17 17 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    @Manfred:8

    You and me both. While I am not German, I spent the relevant period as a student at a Gymnasium near Munich and my first political experience was spending hours after class arguing this very issue with my (otherwise, usually quite good) teachers who tried to recruit students for these anti-NATO marches. I wish I could claim that my position was motivated prescient sagacity but a more likely explanation is a general characterological indisposition to believe anything teachers said until the matter has been argued to death.

    @Will A:10

    Chambers died in ’61, so he had no chance to experience most of the wonders you describe or recant his prediction. That it was faulty should be encouraging to us in sad times, but it was also plausible in ’54 to imagine that the entire world was doomed to fall under total and permanent Communist enslavement.

    @Will A:11

    It is true that the West had survived the Nazis and that it was not a particularly close run thing. The difference was that after the outbreak of WWII there really was virtually no elite sympathy or inclination to compromise with the Nazis, ensuring that ultimately the superior materiel of the West (mostly the US) would prevail. Elite posture towards Communism during the Cold War was quite different.

    @Advo:12

    I was born in 1975 in Germany and thus only caught the tail end of the Cold War.

    In ’75, I (or, more accurately, my parents) had just moved to Germany. Amusing coincidence.

    I very consciously said “seemed a lot simpler”, because in many ways it wasn’t simpler, a lot of complexities were just got forgotten. Or actually not perceived in the first place.

    Fair enough. Please discount any implication that you—rather than others—were guilty of that particular piece of rosy-glass retrospective.

    I do however think that the end of communism as a viable ideology was predestined for some time around when it actually occurred. … A lack of resolve on the part of the Soviet leadership to commit mass murder to defend an economic system that just wasn’t working as predicted.

    I agree with your view that ultimately Communism necessarily and inevitably was unable to compete with more market-based systems once it approached the knowledge frontier and that this was the ultimate root of its downfall.

    But that does not mean that this downfall was inevitable. People (Russians, perhaps, in particular) are willing to tolerate comparative material deprivation for a very long time as long as they are convinced that their sacrifices further a glorious and—most importantly—victorious struggle.

    Warsaw pact citizens had been poorer than Westerners for decades. But as long the Soviet leadership could point to continuous progress towards the goal of world revolution and the prosperity which would ensue once it was no longer necessary to expend such a gigantic part of GDP on the military, the populous was willing to bear it. And if they had actually succeeded and eliminated any standard for comparison (as well as the source of leaked counter-regime information), Communism might very well have been stable indefinitely. It was only once all hope for a military/diplomatic victory was dashed in the ’80s, that the underlying failures of the system were able to bring it down.

    The US could have easily made deals with China against Russia or Vietnam against China.

    Well, at least the former definitely did happen. And at least Western rightist openly cheered the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge had murdered between a sixth and a third of their own population in a few years. WFB famously said so and continued that, given that there were no Jews in Cambodia, he would have favored an invasion by the Nazis.

    @Khodge:13

    Thank you!

  18. 18 18 Ken B

    @Sub 7
    Thank you for this. And unlike Manfred I was there for some of it and remember how many on the Left wanted the West to lose the Cold War.

  19. 19 19 Advo

    my first political experience was spending hours after class arguing this very issue with my (otherwise, usually quite good) teachers who tried to recruit students for these anti-NATO marches.

    My most significant political memories from my time at Gymnasium involve my geography teacher explaining the socialist calculation problem to us. He didn’t actually mention Mises or Hayek, I learned about those only many years later. This is where my interest in economics began.

    And if they had actually succeeded and eliminated any standard for comparison (as well as the source of leaked counter-regime information), Communism might very well have been stable indefinitely.

    I don’t see a scenario where communism might have succeeded in eliminating any standard for comparison short of a one-sided nuclear war.

    The vast majority of the peace marchers in Germany which were against the Pershing II weren’t about to hand over the country to the communists. They just didn’t want to poke the bear with a stick.

    And you know what’s funny? In the end, I guess the peace marchers were kind of right. If we hadn’t stationed those Pershing missiles, it wouldn’t have changed a damned thing. The Vietnam War was also stupid.

    The Cold War was (in retrospect) just about waiting out the inevitable collapse of communism and not trigger a nuclear holocaust in the meantime.

    Which goes to show that even if you are naive and delusional you can still be right sometimes. Sort of like a stopped clock, I suppose.

    Don’t get me wrong – the creation of the Bundeswehr may have been vital, but most of the stuff after that, the Nato-Doppelbeschluss, the Pershing II and so on was optional and didn’t impact the eventual outcome.

    I despised the peace marchers. I am, and have always been, a German conservative. The German left drives me crazy. Unfortunately, the German left now encompasses the entire political establishment in Germany.

    the populous was willing to bear it.

    I think you’re seriously underestimating the level of discontent within the USSR and the disillusionment among the leadership with their economic failures.

    The standard of living within the Warsaw Pact and the USSR would have dropped massively during the 90s. Maybe they could have held on if they had crushed any discontent militarily, but that was completely independent of what the West was doing, really.
    Diplomatic relations, even a neutral Germany wouldn’t have made one fig of a difference.

    The USSR was either going to go insolvent and collapse economically and break apart in the late 1990s or turn into a nightmare like North Korea. Or they could have tried WWIII, of course. But there is no conceivable scenario how communism might have survived the 90s as a viable ideology unless maybe with large-scale economic help from the West.

    The economic trajectory was just too bad. Just remember, in 1990 in East Germany, the richest among the communist nations, they had a 15 year waiting period for a horrible plastic car with a two-stroke engine. And that would have been much worse ten years later.

    The Chinese leadership was already set on dumping the command economy because it didn’t work. I suppose they were more practical about Marxism/Leninism because it was a foreign invention anyway. Once they figured out that it really didn’t work, they dumped it.

    That decision appears to have been made some time in the 80s.

  20. 20 20 Manfred

    Just to continue Sub-Specie’s trip down memory lane, Germany held general elections in 1980. These were probably the hottest and most contested elections in German post-war history (save some elections in the 1950s). The election in 1980 pitted the Chancellor at the time, Helmut Schmidt (recently deceased) against Franz-Josef Strauss, der bayerische Landesvater, the Bavarian patriarch, who at the time was the Bavarian Prime Minister and head of the CSU (Christian Social Union). I do not think the young people in Germany today remember Franz-Joseph Strauss. He had an incredible and forceful personality. He was controversial, no doubt, but, *boy*, was he loved in Bavaria.
    Strauss went on to lose the 1980 general election, but not by too much (many commentators thought he would lose by a huge margin, but he didn’t), and Schmidt lived another day as Bundeskanzler.
    But, as history went, two years later, in 1982, Helmut Kohl (the head of the Christian Democratic Union) initiated a vote of no-confidence against Schmidt in the German Bundestag. Schmidt lost that vote, and resigned as Chancellor. Thus, new elections were called, which Helmut Kohl went on to win.
    Thus finished the “sozial-liberale Koalition” era (the era Schmidt-Genscher) and started the era Kohl-Genscher. Kohl went on to be the longest serving Chancellor of post-war Germany, besting Konrad Adenauer, I think by a 3 years (but I’m not sure).
    BTW – Franz Joseph Strauss died in 1988 of a sudden heart attack. No Bavarian Prime Minister since could fill the shoes of Strauss. A few tried, but nobody could. The airport in Munich is named after him.

  21. 21 21 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    I am sure our gracious host is as surprised as anybody that this comment thread has been taken over by childhood reminiscences of political debates enjoyed by 1980s gymnasiasts. Almost as strange as a recent comment thread elsewhere about a post regarding Brexit which of course was dominated by a lively discussion on the best way to teach Noether’s Theorem.

    That said, I have not much more to add except express my envy for @advo’s Geography teacher and to note that while I of course remember Strauss–the locations of his 1980 election billboards in my neighborhood are still vivid in my mind–I never quite understood him or his party. His style was bombastic and populist and he betrayed little knowledge or interest of economics or any intellectual matter. His party has ruled Bavaria continuously without serious opposition for most of a century and is hardly untainted by corruption.

    Given all of that, you’d expect Bavaria to be a basket case. In fact, however, Bavaria had 1990 changed from a poor, rural backwater (the German Mississippi, if you will), to Germany’s richest state with consistently lowest unemployment, the most selective universities, center of publishing, the German movie industry, etc. It is almost Lee Kuan Yew-esque. But Lee Kuan Yew was a brilliant man and I cannot think of any CSU leader I’d give that accolade.

  22. 22 22 Will A

    @ Sub #17

    “That it was faulty should be encouraging to us in sad times, but it was also plausible in ’54 to imagine that the entire world was doomed to fall under total and permanent Communist enslavement.”

    I believe that what should be encouraging to us is that people get overly dramatic and use hyperbole when a result happens the writer dislikes.

    What discourages me is that these overly dramatic writings are displayed as how discourse should happen.

    (for this reason, your writing doesn’t discourage me)

    In your opinion, could a rational argument have be made in 1954 that western civilization was a wreck from within? (It is always possible and easy and lazy to make emotional arguments)

    If so what would have been the rational argument?

    Interesting showing Trump with Chambers. Trump (like Chambers at one time) doesn’t necessarily see a need to curb Russian(Soviet) expansion.
    http://www.cnbc.com/2016/07/21/trump-would-not-leap-to-defend-baltic-states-from-russian-attack-nyt.html

    If Trump is elected then for sure an argument could be made that it will be the end of western civilization. We will exit NATO and support Russia in its initial claim to regain eastern Europe. Both we and Russia will turn our vast military resources against Europe and crush them as easily as you would could crush a croissant.

    The U.S. and Russia will then begin to promote despotism around the world and be unstoppable.

  23. 23 23 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    The U.S. and Russia will then begin to promote despotism around the world and be unstoppable.

    Is that your Dystopia or Trump’s Utopia?

  24. 24 24 Advo

    In your opinion, could a rational argument have be made in 1954 that western civilization was a wreck from within?

    I suppose you can always make that case somehow, no?
    As for the time just past WWII, I’d say you could make a reasonable case based on Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.
    In 1954 it wasn’t exactly clear that some form of totalitarian collectivism wouldn’t end up replacing liberal capitalism in the western world.
    The value system had shifted greatly from liberalism to collectivism of the past 50 years.

    “Road to Serfdom” is by the way a book everyone should read. It truly broadens the mind.

  25. 25 25 Roger

    Yes, Trump stands up for Western Civilization, and against the enemies within. As he said, his credo is Americanism, not globalism. Obama and Clinton are using globalism to wreck Western Civilization with their endless foreign war, unlimited immigration, and anti-sovereignty trade deals.

  26. 26 26 nobody.really

    In your opinion, could a rational argument have be made in 1954 that western civilization was a wreck from within?

    I suppose you can always make that case somehow, no?

    As for the time just past WWII, I’d say you could make a reasonable case based on Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.

    In 1954 it wasn’t exactly clear that some form of totalitarian collectivism wouldn’t end up replacing liberal capitalism in the western world.

    The value system had shifted greatly from liberalism to collectivism of the past 50 years.

    “Road to Serfdom” is by the way a book everyone should read. It truly broadens the mind.

    Indeed it does. For example, it leads to a broadened understanding of the merits of economic regulation (albeit smart economic regulation):

    It is important not to confuse opposition against [collectivist] planning with a dogmatic laissez faire attitude. The liberal argument is in favor of making the best possible use of the forces of competition as a means of coordinating human efforts, not an argument for leaving things just as they are. [Liberalism does] not deny that, where it is impossible to create the conditions necessary to make competition effective, we must resort to other methods of guiding economic activity….

    The successful use of competition as the principle of social organization precludes certain types of coercive interference with economic life, but admits of others which sometime may very considerately assist its work and even requires certain kinds of government action….

    Although all such controls of the methods of production impose extra costs (i.e., make it necessary to use more resources to produce a given output), they may be well worth while. To prohibit the use of certain poisonous substance or to require special precautions in their use, to limit working hours or to require certain sanitary arrangements, is fully compatible with the preservation of competition. The only question here is whether in the particular instance the advantages gained are greater than the social costs which they impose. Nor is the preservation of competition incompatible with an extensive system of social services — so long as the organization of these services is not designed in such a way as to make competition ineffective over wide fields….

    The functioning of a competition not only requires adequate organization of certain institutions like money, markets, and channels of information – some of which can never be adequately provided by private enterprise – but it depends, above all, on the existence of an appropriate legal system, a legal system designed both to preserve competition and to make it operate as beneficially as possible.

    There are, finally, undoubtedly fields where no legal arrangements can create the main conditions on which the usefulness of the system of competition and private property depends: namely, that the owner benefits from all the useful services rendered by his property and suffers for all the damages caused to others by its use. Where, for example, it is impracticable to make the enjoyment of certain services dependent on the payment of a price, completion will not produce the services; and the price system becomes similarly ineffective when the damage caused to others by certain uses of property cannot be effectively charge to the owner of the property. In all these instances there is a divergence between the items which enter into private calculations and those which affect social welfare; and whenever this divergence becomes important, some method other than competition may have to be found to supply the services in question. Neither the provision of signposts on the roads nor, in most circumstances, that of the roads themselves, can be paid for by every individual user. Nor can certain harmful effects of deforestation, of some methods of farming, or of the smoke and noise of factories be confined to the owner of the property in question or to those who are willing to submit to the damage for an agreed compensation. In such instances we must find some substitute for the regulation by the price mechanism….

    To create conditions in which competition will be as effective as possible, to supplement it where it cannot be made effective, to provide the services which, in the words of Adam Smith, “though they may be in the highest degree advantageous to a great society, are, however, of such a nature, that the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals” – these tasks provide, indeed, a wide and unquestioned field for state activity. In no system that could be rationally defended would the state just do nothing. Even the most essential prerequisite of its proper functioning, the prevention of fraud and deception (including exploitation of ignorance), provides a great and by no means yet fully accomplished object of legislative activity….

    [Worse than central planning is] a sort of syndicalist or “corporative” organization of industry, in which competition is more or less suppressed but planning is left in the hands of the independent monopolies of the separate industries….

    Although competition can bear some admixture of regulation, is cannot be combined with planning to any extent we like without ceasing to operate as an effective guide to production. Nor is “planning” a medicine which, when taken in small doses, can produce the effects for which one might hope from its thoroughgoing application. Both competition and central direct become poor and inefficient tools if they are incomplete; they are alternative principles used to solve the same problem, and a mixture of the two means that neither will really work and that the result will be worse than if either system had been consistently relied upon. Or, to express it differently, planning and competition can be combined only by planning for competition but not by planning against competition.

    Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, Chap. 3, “Individualism and Collectivism.”

  27. 27 27 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    @Roger: I only know you from these pages and occasional perusal of your links, but from what I can tell you seem to be an intelligent and educated man.

    So when I ask the following question, please accept that I do not do so out of malice, an intent to insult, or as a rhetorical stratagem, but out a sincere desire to know. An honest answer would help me understand the world a little better.

    When you observe Trump, his speeches, demeanor, actions (both in the current campaign and over the past decades), do you really not see what to the rest of us seems so brazenly obvious, that Donald J. Trump is an ill-educated, ill-mannered, brazen charlatan who gives a real-world performance that in a B movie villain would be criticized as “too broad to be credible” and “lacking nuance or the human element.”

    Or do you also see this and decide to support him for other, overriding considerations?

  28. 28 28 Ken B

    @sub 27
    To anticipate Roger I ask you click my name and read my post on Trump’s rhetoric.

  29. 29 29 Ken B

    Oops, typo. Corrected.

    Also kenblogic.blogspot.com

  30. 30 30 Roger

    @Sub: Ill-educated? No. He is better educated than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

    Ill-mannered? He does respond to those who attack him, in contrast to G.W. Bush and some other Republicans. In my view, good manners does not require being a wimp.

    Brazen charlatan? Trump is one of the most authentic candidates we have seen in years. He has lived in the public eye, and he is what he appears to be, much more so than Cruz or either Clinton.

    What I do see is a mainstream media that hates him, and whose attacks on him consist almost entirely of name-calling. Yes, Trump is on a much higher intellectual level than his critics.

    Trump has a coherent and genuine set of policy positions, and he won the nomination because those positions are popular and no one else was taking them.

    @KenB: I visited your blog, but I could not figure out why you do not like Trump, except that you do not know anyone who supports him.

  31. 31 31 Ken B

    @Roger
    I have a few concerns with Trump.
    1. Emotional maturity. I think this has been lacking at times. Look at the Rubio hands thing. The excessive bragodoccio.
    2. Protectionism. I am a free trader.
    3. Semi-Isolationism. I am a believer in Pax Americana. I am not sure about Trump. I was asked if he’d defend Romania from Putin. If it was an attack that cost Trump or America face he would, but would he bargain Romania away in some trade? I don’t know. It concerns me that I don’t know. The recent NATO comments were not reassuring.
    4. ISIS. This is the issue of the moment. Can Trump build a coalition to destroy ISIS? I am not convinced. But I am not convinced by anyone yet. If he wants my support this is the issue he can win it on.
    5. Iraq and judgment. Bush did not lie us into Iraq, and similarly Erdogan is not standing up for freedom. These are egregiously foolish misjudgments.

    In general I agree with much of what you say in 30. Not that Trump is brilliant but that people refuse to even consider that he might be right. A good example was birthright citizenship. Trump is quite correct that it’s an arguable area with strong arguments on either side. But this portrayed as just loonie. I see a LOT of class prejudice at work.

    If you scroll down on my blog I explain why I like Trumpism.

  32. 32 32 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    @Roger Thank you for your answer. You really don’t see it. That perceptions of the same, straightforward matter between two otherwise-sane people could be that divergent is rather mind-stretching.

    Ordinarily, I’d respond to statements about Trump like your by imagining that they could only have been born of ignorance and offering a catalog of evidence to the contrary. However, in your case I suspect that you have heard it all and have explanations for them that I’d doubtlessly find as outlandish as you must my view of Trump.

  33. 33 33 Ken B

    To follow up on 29 and 30, I ask Sub what evidence he has Trump is ill-educated? I want to hone in on this particular claim because it looks to me like an example of a prejudice. I have heard Trump mocked for his vocabulary. This is an obtuse criticism I think, but also one redolent of class prejudice, since it is really aimed at his supporters, and their limited vocabulary.

  34. 34 34 Roger

    @KenB: Your concerns are mostly about foreign policy. In my view, Hillary has been wrong is nearly everything she has done, and it is hard for me to imagine that Trump could be any worse.

    Yes, I have read dozens of attacks on Trump. Here is the latest from the NY Times:

    Under his presidency, the American dream would be primarily reserved for Americans.
    “The American people will come first once again,” he said.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/23/us/politics/donald-trump-immigration.html

    Given the choice of 2 candidates, one who puts the American ppl first, and one who puts them last, I am voting for the one who puts them first. It is as simple as that.

  35. 35 35 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    @Ken B:

    With respect to my claim that Trump is ill-educated, I adduce the following evidence.

    Trump’s record of formal education is rather unimpressive. Due to a series of disciplinary problems, Trump’s father ultimately sent him to a undistinguished secondary school where Trump won no academic distinction.

    Subsequently he earned an undergraduate degree in business administration. The average intellectual caliber undergraduates majoring in business tends to be at the bottom of the stack, alongside those majoring in education or general studies. (The demographics of M.B.A. students are substantially different.)

    While Trump claims to have received his undergraduate degree with high honors, the list of all honors graduates from his program, college, and year is public record and Trump’s name is not to be found on it. So Trump’s claim seems to be another lie, this one distinguished not so much by its gravity as its pathetic nature in the mouth of a 70-year old.

    The obvious response is that formal education is not the only sort and that a person’s education should be judged on what they have actually learned rather than at what institutions they spent a few years, decades ago. True autodidacts certainly exist, though they are becoming ever rarer and always were among those born to great wealth, like Trump.

    But how to judge whether Trump is that rare billionaire late-bloomer autodidact, short of giving him a formal test? (Something he surely would not submit to, despite his claims to have a very good brain. Incidentally, I have had the privilege of associating at length with many people with accomplishments that would support claims of having genius or near-genius levels of intelligence, yet not one of them ever would have dreamt of letting words like these pass his lips. But maybe that is just because I hang out in elitist circles who just don’t get the mores of underprivileged billionaire geniuses.)

    The only indicator we have is Trump’s unscripted performance at debates and other campaign events. And in those he displayed on many occasions a degree of continuing ignorance shocking in anybody who seriously seeks the Presidency (and much worse than the Gov. Perry’s lapse in ’12 about exactly which governmental departments his platform called for elimination and that was deemed fatal to his presidential campaign that year). And by ignorance, I do not mean principled disagreement with the bien-pensant class, but just basic lack of uncontested knowledge.

    We discussed examples of this—Trump’s Article XII, Trump’s nuclear triad—in the previous comment thread just weeks ago. This supposed deep-believing church-man’s mangling of the pronunciation of biblical citations in the manner of someone who had never heard one spoken amused this atheist. A few minutes of googling will multiply these examples. No genuinely educated person would make these many error and no other person seeking the Presidency has.

    In light of all this, I stand by my claim that Trump is extremely ill-educated by the standards of anybody seeking the presidency (or, for that matter, of these comment pages). In a man his age such ignorance can reflect only genuine inability to learn or profound indifference to learning.

    PS: This post is already over-long, so I won’t comment extensively on your blog post on Trump’s rhetoric you pointed to. All I can say that if Trump is as you describe him, he is the sort of person I’ve spent much of my life guided by a strategy to come into a position of never having to deal with his type.

  36. 36 36 Roger

    Sub: “The only indicator we have is Trump’s unscripted performance at debates and other campaign events.”

    By comparison, Hillary Clinton never has a press conference, and always speaks from a teleprompter.

    Your gripes about Trump are absurdly trivial. Did you hear Obama say he campaigned in 57 states?

  37. 37 37 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    @Roger:

    Are they trivial? Could somebody be a good President having just exactly those errors, while being perfectly competent at everything else?

    Sure. But errors correlate. If you exhibit so many obvious, high-profile ones in such a short period of time, it is exceedingly likely you’ll commit many, many more, observed and unobserved, over time.

    It is as if you saw a man sitting in a fancy restaurant, indolently scratching his scalp with the dinner fork. Would you want this man to be President? After all it is just table manners and there are so many other more important things at which he could be the most brilliant person who ever lived. Perhaps so, but the likelihood of that–or even of minimal competence at basic tasks of living–for such a man is exceedingly low.

    As for the 57 states, did we not just discuss that in the previous thread and agree that no reasonable observer of those comments could believe that Obama actually forgot the number of states.

  38. 38 38 Roger

    @Sub: You can vote based on your emotional response to what you perceive as Trump’s low-class manners, if you wish.

    If we were still in the Cold War, and one candidate was an anti-communist while the other was a pro-communist or communist sympathizer, would you vote for the one with the better manners?

  39. 39 39 Steve Landsburg

    Roger: I think your analogy breaks down because you’ve posited two candidates (a pro-communist and an anti-communist) with very different policies.

    By contrast, Trump and Clinton are very close in terms of policy — they both want more protectionism, higher minimum wages, more national economic planning (in the specific form of policies designed to favor manufacturing over other industries), not much change in the structure of entitlements, etc etc etc. The more similar their policies (and in this case they are very similar), the more weight goes on personality, temperament, etc.

  40. 40 40 Ken B

    @39 Steve
    Roger thinks Trump puts American citizens first, and Hillary puts an internationist agenda first.

    Not that Roger needs my help here, as he is doing well on his own. In fending off the suggestion that his attitude towards Trump is driven by a distaste for lower class manners SSA has proclaimed he goes to great lengths to avoid people with lower class manners!

    But if you are correct in 39 then my points are more not less cogent. If it’s about “personality, temperament, etc” then surely a careful look at how we judge these and how our upbringing and milieu influence our perceptions is called for?

  41. 41 41 Ken B

    @37 SSA in re fork man.
    Gore Vidal said an unspeakably brilliant thing. “Presidents are the men we hire to do the commercials.” Now this is wrong in the sense he meant it (that a cabal controls everything and the actual president does not matter), but it is a perfect summary of how most people decide to vote. I think it the best comment on American politics I have ever heard.
    In Canada we had a wonderful commercial, Pierre Eliot Trudeau. We also had martial law, resurgent separatism, out of control government growth, and a poor economy.

  42. 42 42 Roger

    America’s existential threats are immigration and Islamic terrorism, now that the Cold War is over. Hillary Clinton has a history of foreign and domestic policies that have made both of these problems much worse. Trump recognizes these as problems, and has directly opposite positions.

    Voting for Clinton is like voting for a Communist during the Cold War.

    There are numerous other policy differences, such as Trump appointing judges like Scalia and Clinton appointing judges like Ginsburg.

    If you would rather vote based on personality, go ahead. I find Trump’s personality vastly preferable to Clinton’s. I listened to her speech this morning, and it was painful. Trump has a likeable personality.

  43. 43 43 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    @Roger: I think I understand the source of your misunderstanding, i.e., that I am arguing about who to vote for. Nothing could be further from me than telling anybody else how to vote for a variety of reasons, including that–unless you experience some intrinsic gratification from voting, in which case I would not dare to comment on your tastes–voting is irrational in almost all circumstances.

    That said, I am perfectly willing to understand people who will ultimately vote for Trump, as the less certain evil, or for Hillary, as the more certainly limited evil, or for that matter, a literal Orangutan in a Suit, because at least he is not a communist.

    What I find utterly baffling and incomprehensible is otherwise apparently intelligent, sane, and decent human beings who will openly deny that Trump is an ill-educated, ill-mannered, brazen charlatan–a fact which seems to me as undeniable as the cerulean tone of the sunny sky.

  44. 44 44 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    @Ken B:

    Until this discussion I had naively thought that certain modes of conduct are universally regarded as necessary for anybody to be considered a serious and respectable person. To be honest; never to speak a knowing untruth; to go to great lengths to live up to one’s word; to seek knowledge and not to speak of what one does not know; to freely confess error in word or deed when one learns one’s guilt; always to be humble (and the more so, the greater one is); never to speak of one’s own wealth or accomplishments unless expressly called on to do so; to treat all men and women with dignity becoming; to speak gently in calm and measured tones; never speak ill of another man except to his face; etc.

    The list in nearly endless, but I thought nearly universal among those who have given the matter any thought, regardless of social class or political faction.

    But you tell me that in the lower classes these virtues are unknown and that they regard anybody who exhibited them as contemptible. I hope that is not true. But if it is, I should consider the lower classes rather dislikeable and seek to avoid them.

  45. 45 45 Roger

    @Sub: I do deny those things. Trump is well-educated. More than other candidates, Trump is what he appears to be, and thus not a charlatan.

    I will admit that he is sometimes brazen. He sometimes speaks bluntly, and responds with attacks against those who attack him, but I do not regard that as ill-mannered. This is a competitive election, and he is doing what he needs to do to win.

    Ask yourself — if he had politely ignored his attackers, would he have gotten where he is today? No. He has too many enemies in the news media.

  46. 46 46 Harold

    I saw Trump talking about the court case relating to his University. He selected a couple of bits of evidence, ignored all the rest and claimed that this proved he was right, that any right thinking person must agree with him, and therefore the Judge must be acting the way he was due to reasons not related to the case.

    A brief look at the case revealed that it was far from clear cut that Trump was right, there was a great deal of evidence suggesting he was wrong, and therefore Trump was wrong.

    At least two possibilities spring to my mind.
    1) Trump is aware that his argument is fatally flawed, but believes that by saying it he will get his way anyway.
    2) Trump has convinced himself that he is right.
    3) Trump is not capable of weighing evidence.

    All options leave a bad taste. I believe that he has convinced himself of his correctness, demonstrating an extreme form of confirmation bias. We see this in politicians, not least the WMD affair. That did not end well. (Blair in particular I believe had convinced himself and that he was therefore justified. He still believes this.)

    I do not believe Trump is fit to be president.

  47. 47 47 Harold

    “Trump is what he appears to be, and thus not a charlatan.”

    Rather like “who shaves the barber”, if Trump appears to be a charlatan (which he does to me), then is he or is he not a charlatan?

  48. 48 48 Henri Hein

    On the topic of putting American people first, the way Trump treated Vera Coking tells me that it will always be Trump first, and that being American will not help protect you against his avarice.

  49. 49 49 Roger

    @Harold: So Trump is in a court case, and he presented the issues in a way that was favorable to his side.

    That makes him just like everyone else who talks about a lawsuit.

    Do you really think this makes him unfit for office? What did you expect?

  50. 50 50 Henri Hein

    @Roger,

    We expect him to make coherent arguments, show a modicum of decency and respect the process.

  51. 51 51 Harold

    Roger. I have not heard anyone else say with apparently total conviction that the case is so obvious that the judge must be acting out of malice or bias. Trump does not talk like anyone else involved in a lawsuit.

  52. 52 52 Ken B

    @Harold51
    That’s irrelevant. Have you ever seen someone else in *their own* case say something like that? I have.

  53. 53 53 Harold

    Ken B. Of those people you have seen behaving like that, how many did you think were presidential material?

    He is either lying or deluded. If the former, he is very convincing, and prepared to knowingly slander others to forward his selfish objectives.

  54. 54 54 Harold

    The third option he is stupid or uneducated.

  55. 55 55 Ken B

    Harold 53
    So we agree your point was weak and have moved on to the next one?

    Advocate in a one sided way? Have you read any of the Federalist papers? They can be one sided and full of overt advocacy. Did the DOI portray the British case impartially? When Obama mocked Romney over Russia, well you get the point. This all looks like cherry picking and special pleading.

  56. 56 56 Harold

    KenB No. My point stands. I discuss appalling behavior by Trump. Roger claims everyone in lawsuits behaves the same. It is trivially obvious that not everybody behaves the same, but I allow Roger some hyperbole and interpret his post as meaning it is not at all unusual. However, it seems unusual to me. You then say that you have heard some people say similar things, which is a far cry from “everyone involved in a lawsuit”, or even the majority.

    I cannot remember hearing anyone worthy of respect say what Trump said. Maybe I have missed it, so a more specific example would be welcome. The Obama /Romney thing and the Federalist papers do not seem at all similar.

    It is usual to be partial in your own case. I would not particularly object to Trump claiming his case was stronger than the opposition’s. It is not usual to be so blind to the opposite arguments that you do not even acknowledge they exist. Yet Trump seems totally convinced. I believe this demonstrates a worrying accomplishment and ease with lying, or a flimsy grip on reality, neither good qualities in President.

    However, in a sense you are right in that on its own this would not be sufficient to damn him. It is one example among many other similar displays, each one another brick in the wall, so to speak. Trump has built a pretty high wall to my mind.

  57. 57 57 Ken B

    Jeez Harold.
    Here is your claim
    I have not heard anyone else say with apparently total conviction that the case is so obvious that the judge must be acting out of malice or bias. Trump does not talk like anyone else involved in a lawsuit.

    No-one else in a lawsuit talks like that? Pull the other one.

    3 seconds googling produced pages. Here’s one from the Guardian

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/oct/18/judge-bias-corrupts-court-cases

    Here’s a more extreme example
    https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-e278-Judges-accused-of-political-bias-over-Odeh-prosecution#.V5jhxfkrJmM

    And did you wipe the civil rights era from your memory completely? People complain about judicial bias all the time.

  58. 58 58 Harold

    I think you make my case for me.
    “Ms Odeh was accused of failing to tell officials of her conviction for a fatal bombing in Jerusalem in 1969.

    She had been a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and was found guilty of bombing a supermarket, killing two people, as well as for trying to bomb the British consulate.”

    I do not think she is presidential material.

    Levity side, there is the possibility of judicial bias, but there should be some evidence. Trump’s evidence is laughable for such a serious accusation.

    My original post was “I saw Trump talking about the court case relating to his University. He selected a couple of bits of evidence, ignored all the rest and claimed that this proved he was right, that any right thinking person must agree with him, and therefore the Judge must be acting the way he was due to reasons not related to the case.

    A brief look at the case revealed that it was far from clear cut that Trump was right, there was a great deal of evidence suggesting he was wrong, and therefore Trump was wrong.”

    I make no claim about whether anyone else behaves in that way. that was introduced by Roger, and is a red herring.

  59. 59 59 Ken B

    Harold: “I do not think she is presidential material.”

    Not what we are debating.

    Harold: “Trump does not talk like anyone else involved in a lawsuit.”

    What we are debating.

    You can shift to any legitimate complaint against Trump you want, but the one above is refuted.

  60. 60 60 Roger

    In my experience, politicians say why they are right and the other side is wrong.

    Those in lawsuits also say why they are right and the other side is wrong. Even if they have obvious weaknesses in their cases, they will say that the court is not treating them and their positions as well as they deserves.

    Do you really expect Trump, or anyone else in his position to say, “Yes, some students paid a lot of money and did not get full value for what they paid.”?

    Of course not. He is not impartial. He gives his side of the story. If you want the other side, there are plenty of sources for Trump-hater opinions and facts.

  61. 61 61 Harold

    Ken B: “Harold: “I do not think she is presidential material.”

    Not what we are debating.”

    It is what I am debating – the worthiness to be president. If you want to get hooked on diversions, side issues, red herrings and semantics that is up to you.

    On the minor point you raise, when I said “anyone else” I was using it in a loose way to mean “everyone else”. That is, he is not acting in a away anyone involved in a law suit would act. Maybe not very precise language. In the same way that if everyone were afraid of lions, then anyone confronted by a lion would be scared. So if your point is that Trump is not unique in his manner of behavior I concede that point. It just doesn’t change the original point I made. I do not dispute that some people act the same way, but those people should not be president either.

    The behavior I describe was not partiality, but total inability to asses evidence, or a total ability to lie about it.

  62. 62 62 Harold

    Roger: “Do you really expect Trump, or anyone else in his position to say, “Yes, some students paid a lot of money and did not get full value for what they paid.”?”

    Of course not. I do not expect him to say that the only possibility is that the judge is biased. That is a very serious allegation. That is not to say that there are no biased judges – we are all biased to some extent. It is that there is no evidence at all to back up his allegation in this instance. I do not expect presidential candidates to make such serious allegations without some evidence to back it up.

  63. 63 63 Advo

    I believe the following:

    1. It is obvious that the shooting of Brown was justified
    2. It is a stretch to assume from his actions that he was acting with the intention to kill the cop

    Only a very small fraction of physical attacks are actually carried out with the intent to kill.
    That there was a struggle for the gun doesn’t change that fact.

  64. 64 64 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    @Advo: Just so.

    My evolution of p(some police misconduct–negligence, reckless, or intentional–resulted in Brown’s shooting) evolved as follows:

    On initial reports–”hands up, don’t shoot!”, “gentle giant”–p>0.5.

    On revelation that Brown had just committed a robbery, p<0.5. The argument of course not being "robbers deserve to be executed in the streets by police" but persons who encounter police immediately after committing robbery are far more likely (for reasons both characterological and situational) to engage in conduct that justifies or even requires police shooting than a random member of the public.

    On reading the DOJ report, p<0.1. Still not absolutely certain the officer didn't misbehave, but sufficiently so to acquit him by any relevant legal standard.

  65. 65 65 Harold

    #63 #64
    Just so also. There is not evidence to conclude Wilson was reckess / negligent / murderer, certainly not for a prosecution.
    Equally, there is not evidence that brown was attempting to kill or harm Wilson. The latter has not been investigated.

  66. 66 66 Roger

    @Harold: Trump did not make up any allegations. He has a complaint that the judge ruled against him on several motions, and claims that the judge was unfair. I do not know enuf about the case to have an opinion, but there is nothing unusual about a litigant disagreeing with some rulings, and arguing that the judge was unfair. I have been in court enuf to see judges being unfair many times, and often unfair enuf to think that bias is quite likely.

  67. 67 67 Harold

    If a litigant suggests that the only way they can be ruled against is bias by the judge, I would expect some evidence. The evidence Trump offered was laughable. It is offering laughable evidence in support of such strong claims that is the problem for me. I don’t care how many other people do it, I would not vote for them either.

  68. 68 68 Ken B

    @Advo 63
    I agree. Do you agree it’s reasonable to infer that Brown intended to *harm* the cop in some way? People may not intend to kill or maim when they charge but surely they might intend a little damage? I mean, if Harold takes a swing at me I don’t infer he meant to kill me, but surely I can infer he meant me to not enjoy the contact with his fist?

  69. 69 69 Advo

    I agree. Do you agree it’s reasonable to infer that Brown intended to *harm* the cop in some way?

    Well it appears he banged the door into the cops face, so he actually did harm him.
    He also appears to have wanted to take his gun away from him (for whatever purpose) or subdue the cop in some fashion.
    That’s why the shooting was obviously justified.

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