Month: July 2015

Conservatives should embrace sanctuary cities, not demonize them

From my article in Taki’s Mag today:

Understandably, the concept of cities ignoring the rules has incensed law-and-order conservatives. But they should take a step back and think through the issue. From a limited-government standpoint, doesn’t more local autonomy make sense? Aren’t decisions made at the local level better than those at the state or federal level? By slamming sanctuary cities, conservatives are wasting a great opportunity. Wouldn’t the country be better off if San Francisco became its own communist republic and left the rest of us be? Let them have their sanctuary, and the accompanying lawlessness it engenders. It’s their problem to deal with, not America’s (or, by extension, my wallet’s).

Conservatives could even start championing their own sanctuary cities. El Rushbo has it right: If liberals are going to have cities where they flout the law, conservatives should have them too. Think of them like conclaves of what Rod Dreher calls the “Benedict Option.” If liberals can have communities that welcome illegal immigration, open drug use, and sodomy, why can’t conservatives have communities that uphold traditional marriage, ban destructive substance abuse, and maintain a faith-based culture? If ISIS can do it, so can we.

Read the rest here.

(Image source)

Jim Webb and #BlackLivesMatter

At first sight, Jim Webb doesn’t sound like the kind of candidate that could capture the Democratic nomination. He talks a lot about bringing disenfranchised poor whites from Appalachia into the Democratic Coalition, but for now the Democratic Party relies on a coalition of urban progressive whites and ethnic minorities. He was and still is in my opinion the biggest challenger of the status quo of American Politics, he is better than both Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders on foreign policy, but it should be said that he is a realist, not a non-interventionist, which could explain why he could sound a little hawkish with respect to Iran.

Webb was among the first to talk about criminal justice reform when he was in the Senate. There are reasons for that, most Democrats since McGovern until recently had been afraid to talk about the subject, since they were afraid to be portrayed as soft on crime, but someone like Webb who had an accomplished military record could take on these issues without being portraying as a hippie. But even with his background some advisors were afraid of Jim Webb pointing to issues like criminal justice reform in his campaign for the Senate back in 2006, now with the irruption of #BlackLivesMatter, things could be different

The problem of Jim Webb in today’s Democratic Party is not necessarily that the party has gone so far to the left. Obama opposed single-payer healthcare and supported trade deals like the TPP. The problem is that the left had become tribalist, the confrontation between Latinos and Afro-Americans over the California Democratic Senate nominee show us that very well. Jim Webb has strong record of talking about justice for minority communities, however I think he would be dismissed by #BlackLivesMatter for his cultural conservativism. This is a mistake. Both Jim Webb and conservatives like Rand Paul have been good on the issue of criminal justice reform, but liberals don’t like to give them credit.

People think that ethnic minority politicians should be the ones talking about these issues but the fact is that a lot of them have already endorsed the corporatist and militarist Hillary Clinton. I think that if Webb focused on those issues, minority Democrats and progressive whites could support him. I would never have imagine that a Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration could be better on those issues than a socialist like Bernie Sanders, but the fact is that political courage has characterized the political career of the former Senator. A soldier in his fight for justice started a crusade that for some had been seen as quixotic, now the entire country is talking about it.

Don’t forget Nietzsche’s right-wing readers

nietzscheans

Left to right: Friedrich Nietzsche, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Learned Hand, Richard Posner.

One useful ideological function the Internet has performed has been to explode the idea that the American right is intellectually monolithic. Libertarians, paleoconservatives, traditionalist Catholics, foreign-policy realists, neoreactionaries, secessionists, and more have carved out online niches, either reinvigorating existing intellectual traditions or synthesizing new ones. As an editor and blogger, The Mitrailleuse’s own J. Arthur Bloom has done a great service in publicizing these often obscure corners of online political discourse; see his alt-right reading list here. I don’t consider myself a conservative, but my understanding of conservatism has been greatly enriched by many of these writers.

But an important American intellectual strand of the right seems to me to have been left out of this online profusion of non-mainstream views. Since I know of no better name for it, and because of the admiration for the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche common to its members, I’ll refer to this tradition as right-wing Nietzscheanism. It includes figures like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Learned Hand, and Richard Posner. (H.L. Mencken might also be a member, but he’s a somewhat more complicated case.) I’ll sum up the main right-wing Nietzschean theses to show what unifies these figures as an American tradition, then say why I think they are still worth considering.

Right-wing Nietzschean theses:

1. There are no eternal standards of justice, rationality, or truth. In an early and unpublished fragment, Nietzsche famously called truth an “army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms” rather than anything fixed or absolute; he would later claim, in the Will to Power notebooks, that there are no facts, only interpretations. And in the Genealogy of Morals, he articulated the radical idea that moral values are historically situated and fluid. Holmes, referred to by Posner as the “American Nietzsche,” thought of truth as just whatever “I cannot help believing.” Like Hand, Posner is a skeptic who has bluntly argued “there is no truth ‘out there.’” Right-wing Nietzscheans believe value and truth are projected by us highly-evolved animals onto a bleak, valueless, materialistic universe. There is no God or even any eternal standards to guide us. We are alone in the universe, accountable only to ourselves. As Holmes wrote, it cannot be the case that “the ultimates of a little creature on this little earth are the last word of the unimaginable whole.”

2. Democracy is the only measure against which we can judge our values. Holmes admitted he came “devilish near to believing that might makes right,” but what keeps right-wing Nietzscheans from going all the way down that path is their shared belief in democracy. Since we live in a democratic society, brute force alone cannot determine truth. Instead, we should judge truth in what Holmes called the marketplace of ideas: “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” This faith that the best idea will win out in a fair competition separates these thinkers from the anti-market left. Leftist Nietzscheans like Michel Foucault are skeptical of the possibility that the best ideas ever fairly win out; such competitions are inexorably distorted by power and can thus never be neutral or fair, Foucault argued. Like Nietzsche himself, Foucault is dubious about democracy. But right-wing Nietzscheanism is an American ideology and consequently, like its cousin American pragmatism, deeply appreciative of what Posner has referred to as the “hurly-burly” of “robust and freewheeling inquiry with no intellectual quarter asked or given.” Right-wing Nietzscheans reject Nietzsche’s Übermensch elitism in favor of the democratic process.

3. Institutions and policies instantiate human desires and needs, and should be evaluated on the basis of their consequences. What should guide the democratic institutions we place our faith in if there are no absolute standards we can use? For right-wing Nietzscheans, all we have to judge our democracy is the real-world consequences of our institutions and policies. As Posner puts it, we should be:

…looking at problems concretely, experimentally, without illusions, with full awareness of the limitations of human reason, with a sense of the “localness” of human knowledge, the difficulty of translations between cultures, the unattainability of “truth,” the consequent importance of keeping diverse paths of inquiry open, the dependence of inquiry on culture and social institutions, and above all the insistence that social thought and action be evaluated as instruments to valued human goals rather than as ends in themselves.

Without the help of any external standards, our institutions can serve only our ends, and should be judged on the modest scale of their ability to tackle concrete problems producing optimum results for human purposes, needs, and desires. Unlike elements of both left and right, right-wing Nietzscheans don’t want institutions to serve abstract ideals like Principles of Justice, the Will of God, or Inalienable Human Rights. Human institutions are just there to get things done that humans want. All we can use to evaluate whether our institutions are working is to ask, as Holmes said, whether “such and such a condition or result is desirable and that such and such means are appropriate to bring it about”; the best we can say about the policies and institutions constituting our democracy is, in Posner’s words, that they are “the product of shifting human desires rather than the reflection of a reality external to those desires.”

4. Humans are just monkeys with large brains – nothing more, nothing less. Many conservatives see human beings as made in the image of God and therefore possessing inherent dignity, while others see humans as bearers of innate human rights. Right-wing Nietzscheans regard such ideas as illusions. “All my life I have sneered at the natural rights of man,” Holmes scoffed in 1916. “People are monkeys with large brains,” Posner quipped in 2009. While perhaps initially frightening, for right-wing Nietzscheans this fact about ourselves is liberating. “It is enough for us that the universe has produced us and has within it…all that we believe and love,” as Holmes wrote in one of his most existentialist passages. Their insouciance about innate rights or dignity separates these thinkers from many left-wing materialists. Rights are conferred by institutions, not by human nature, and so we should create the best institutions we can to make sure rights are spread as widely as possible, a process that can be messy and even violent. “No doubt,” Holmes argued, “behind these legal rights is the fighting will of the subject to maintain them…A dog will fight for his bone.” And in this complicated process of improving our democracy, we must be allowed to make the mistakes we will inevitably make: “we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death,” as Holmes famously put it in his dissent in Abrams v. United States. For example, neither Holmes nor Posner puts much faith in the regulation of the market, as the left does; they regard regulation as inefficient and ineffective. But if it is the will of the people to do so, in the interest of improving our finite human lives, a society should be allowed to engage in such no doubt fruitless efforts.

*****

Some might wonder what separates what I call right-wing Nietzscheanism from American pragmatism. Posner calls himself a pragmatist; Holmes was a member of the Metaphysical Club along with classical pragmatists Charles Sanders Peirce and William James, as discussed by the scholar Louis Menand; and Hand was James’s student at Harvard. But I distinguish pragmatists from right-wing Nietzscheans because the pragmatists were typically much more optimistic about the possibility of achieving genuine progress via social and political institutions. Right-wing Nietzscheans, following the German sage, take a darker view of progress and human nature, and so tend to be suspicious of left-wing social engineering. But if you like, right-wing Nietzscheanism can be seen as a subgenre of pragmatism.

These considerations might begin to answer my puzzlement about why this tradition has not been rediscovered with as much gusto and vigor as other conservative schools of thought in recent years. The profound, intellectualized cynicism of right-wing Nietzscheanism can be quite alienating; it is obvious why it has not formed the basis of a lasting political movement. This pessimism led to Holmes’s endorsement of eugenics, as evidenced in the infamous and repugnant 1927 Supreme Court opinion he wrote in Buck v. Bell, and to the perhaps misguided interpretation that Nietzsche himself held views similar to a vulgar Social Darwinism. These facts understandably make contemporaries wary.

Hand called himself “a conservative among liberals, and a liberal among conservatives”; such fence-sitting never makes one popular. Many conservatives distrust right-wing Nietzscheans because of the latitude they have afforded to political liberalism in the humanistic spirit of experimentation and democracy. The echoes of Holmes and Hand can be heard in Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinions that have held up Obamacare: as he wrote in 2012, “It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.” The infamous neoreactionary writer Mencius Moldbug quipped that “Cthulhu may swim slowly. But he only swims left. Isn’t that interesting?” Right-wing Nietzscheanism offers one way to understand why “progress” marches on, without having to agree fundamentally with every aspect of that progress. Holmes, Hand, and Posner show why we should allow our fellow citizens to experiment with our shared democracy, even when we ourselves think such experiments useless.

These ideas still have currency. In an age of skepticism about value and about what government is good for, right-wing Nietzscheanism is worth taking seriously for its radical commitment to democracy without metaphysical or moral foundations.

Bernie Sanders versus the progressive left

Bernie Sanders Rally: Photo by Melissa Fossum

When Bernie Sanders made his entry into the Democratic field, few people would had imagine that he could become a real challenger to Hillary Clinton, but now he is the champion for the liberal wing of the party. Bernie Sanders, the 73 years old self-described socialist elected as an independent to the House and Senate representing Vermont, wasn’t as popular as liberal firebrand Elizabeth Warren but he had a good record of siding with the unions and bashing income inequality. So one would assume that the progressive left would be on board with him, but there are exceptions, both in and out of the party.

From the independent left their major distrust for Sanders is his foreign policy, which is relatively hawkish. The Green Party had mixed feelings about Sanders, but there were some that last year were trying to convince Bernie to run as a Green. Now the feeling is of distrust toward Sanders, most greens and independent progressives fear that an endorsement of Hillary Clinton from Bernie would siphon progressive votes into a militarist and corporatist candidate. Green Party members and allies said that Bernie Sanders isn’t Eugene Debs and they are right, but some on the Trotskyist left think otherwise. Some on the independent left might prefer the Green Party nominee Jill Stein over Sanders but still say some good things about him, while others basically called him a neocon of the left.

If people on the independent left, the Green Party or some Trotskyist outlet distrust Bernie is because he isn’t one them. But why the progressive left in the Democratic Party be against the most progressive candidate of this election cycle. The answer is #BlackLivesMatter and the recent Netroots conference prove that. Bernie Sanders is considered by black and brown liberal activists to be soft on the issue of racial inequality — that’s why they interrupted his speech. His answer that he was active in the Civil Rights movement and that he marched with MLK didn’t calm the angry crowd, neither the fact that his other answer for solving racial tensions was to speak about economics. The hashtag #BernieSoBlack mocked a campaign supposedly out of touch with racial justice topics. The criticism of Sanders has even been made about his white supporters.

I’m a socialist and for me the fight against racism is vital part of politics, but I feel deeply troubled by the attitude of the protesters. Matt Bruenig had alredy made the case that Bernie Sanders had already spoke on issues like racial justice so why are the activists so against the old socialist, but mute about Hillary Clinton, who supported the racist tough on crime legislation of his husband. I’m not by any standard a fan of Bernie, my libertarian socialist tendencies made doubt about his bureaucratic social democrat ideals, but I think than if they want to talk about racism why not to question the role of Hillary Clinton in the Libyan War which prompted a humanitarian crisis that affects mostly poor black Africans?

I was surprised to known that even the two time presidential candidate of the Socialist Party and longtime antiwar activist David McReynolds was disgusted with protesters over the Netroots event. It would be wise bring back to discussion of police unions, which Bernie Sanders and most progressives are usually in favor of. And the fact that he represents a mostly white state doesn’t excuse him from the responsibility of talking about these issues. But even with that said, Sanders is not a Nazi or any kind of racist, and if Sanders hasn’t been the best friend to black communities, is Hillary Clinton any better? She may have a more diverse campaign team, but is a staunch supporter of the racist War on Drugs.

I wonder who the black and brown liberal protesters are going to vote for, the man who had been active in the civil rights movement his entire life, or for the wife of a governor that honored the Confederate Flag. I wrote that liberal identity politics were responsible for the death of the New Left ideals of decentralism and anti-imperialism. Liberal identity politics today is a powerful ally to the neoliberal status quo, because it is very difficult to find a perfect progressive. Liberals are in large part responsible for building the racist Prison Industrial Complex, and with self-defeating strategies like those favored by some activists their cause will be lost. Stop wasting the time attacking a man relatively good on the issue of race and confront the fact that a racist Empire should be the subject in question.

Recently in an interview, Ron Paul said that Muhammed Ali inspired him, and that he would have liked to be as brave as him for resisting the draft. Ron Paul is right, Ali was a brave man but it wasn’t only his refusal of being part of the Army — he talked about an Empire abroad and at home whose victims are mostly people of color.

An open letter to Silicon Valley

Dear Silicon Valley,

Get out.

No seriously. Leave the country, or stop furtively trying to tinker with it through the Democratic Party.

As a conservative, I’ve had it up to *here* with your quest to redefine humanity through technology and idealistic visions. Haven’t any of you watched Terminator? You’re creating Skynet, and don’t seem to have any qualms about it. The time has come for you to vacate America and leave us sensible people to our traditional ways.

Now, I realize my demands might sound mad, hysterical even. But this is no joke. Silicon Valley is poisoning the country. It’s time for you to break off and form your own techno free-for-all land of fake girlfriends and endless pornography. I implore you to expedite the process before you further corrupt America’s impressionable minds.

(more…)

The hipsters and the Iran deal

agirlwalkshomealoneatnight

The Iran Deal was signed last week. It is supposed to be one of the signature accomplishments of the Obama administration, and I think as a non-interventionist the deal is positive for making the option of war less viable. It caused some predictable reactions, Ron Paul is for it and the neocons against it; but it has also generated some less predictable reactions like the opposition of Rand Paul, which could end any even remote possibility of winning the GOP nomination, and Jim Webb expressing his doubts, which could complicate his search for Democratic nomination. The most likely is that Senate Republicans wouldn’t be able to get enough votes to block the deal even if some Pro-Israel Democrats vote with them, although I think it would be more difficult than expected get the deal. But I think Obama has a secret weapon: the hipsters.

Iran is a country with a particular interesting film history, an emerging fashion industry and an exciting rock scene. For years the press and pundits were confused when trying to describe the hipsters as a particular political group. They had cataloged hipsters as progressives, conservatives, libertarians and everything in between. I don’t know how much the average hipster thinks of foreign policy, but I’m sure he should know more about Iran than the other Middle Eastern countries because of its celebrated culture.

But if that’s not enough last year two films by Iranian-American filmmakers hit the film festival circuit with success. A Girl Walks Alone at Night was black and white film of Iranian vampires in the desert of California; a story full of indie music, skates and love. Appropriate Behavior is a self-portrait comedy based on the life of actress and director Desiree Akhavan, the film was aptly described as a movie that Woody Allen would do if he was a bisexual Iranian girl. Both films were very different portraits of Iranian-Americans but both portrayed Iranian-Americans more as Americans than exotic foreigners, just like that it also seems that young Iranians love America.

It is true that the government of Iran is repressive, but the sanctions are worse for the civilian population than for the well-connected rulers. The Iranian youth had a lot in common with the American youth, and if it matters with the global hipster youth, if they want a revolution it is one in which they can dance, like Emma Goldman used to say. A hipster perspective on Iran sees that Muslim country as having more similarities to the West than even American allies like Saudi Arabia. How you can hate a country with such great art? If not impossible, one had only to learn to love peace. If culture can be vital to diplomacy one has to wonder why a deal like that was never reached before. Maybe this is a good start of the fall of the neocons and the rise of hipster approved realism.