Friday, March 29, 2013

"Democracy" vs. "Republic"

Decades before Plato wrote The Republic and his Socratic dialogues, (in fact, when he was a babbling infant), Herodotus, the father of history, recorded the first known political debate. It was between three Persian princes about what was the best form of government: democracy, oligarchy, or monarchy.

Otanes, the wealthiest prince, argued for "democracy." The monarchy should be abolished, and replaced with the people, for "the state and the people are synonymous."

"Democracy," countered one prince, Megabyzus, was dangerous. "The masses are a feckless lot – nowhere will you find more ignorance or irresponsibility or violence." After all, he emphasized, what was the difference between "the murderous caprice of a king" and "the equally wanton brutality of the rabble"? He was all for oligarchy, the rule of "the best."

Darius, the third debater, argued hotly for monarchy, for only a strong man could keep the empire intact, quash rebellious factions, and foil internal plots against it.1  

They submitted their positions to other princes, who voted for monarchy. Darius won, and became sovereign, but only after some kingly legerdemain and horseplay. It was Darius who led the first Persian invasion of Greece. He forgave Megabyzus's desultory words about kings, and made him a general of his invading forces. His plans for conquering all of Greece were ruined at Marathon in 490 B.C. He died shortly after that disaster, leaving his son Xerxes to try again.

That history lesson leads us to the absolutely crucial issue of the fundamental distinctions that must be made between democracies and republics, that is, between "mobocracies" and constitutional republics that preserve and protect individual rights. Armed with hindsight not available to Herodotus or the Persian princes, the Founders of the American republic debated the differences between a democracy and a republic.

Dictionary definitions of the two political systems are of little help. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary defines democracy as:

1. Government by the people; that form of government in which the sovereign power lies in the people as a whole, and is exercised directly by them (as in the small republics of antiquity) or by officers elected by them. In modern use often more vaguely denoting a social state in which all have equal rights, without hereditary or arbitrary differences in rank or privilege.

The O.E.D.'s definition of republic more or less seconds its definition of a democracy.

1.  The state, the commonweal (obsolete).  2. A state in which the supreme power rests in the people and their elected representatives or officers, as opposed to one governed by a king or similar ruler; a commonwealth.

The 1969 edition of Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary offers a definition of democracy that isn't much of an improvement:

1 a: government by the people; esp: rule of the majority.  b: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.

As for the Webster's definition of republic, it simply abets the vagueness of its definition of democracy.

1. a (1): a government having a chief executive who is not a monarch and who in modern times is usually a president. (2) a nation or other political unit having such a form of government b (1) a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law. (2) a nation or other political unit having such a form of government.

Other dictionary definitions of these terms to be found, for example, in Funk and Wagnalls and American Heritage, simply replicate the imprecision, especially in the context of the meaning of "supreme power" that allegedly "resides in the people." So, no fundamental distinction has ever been made by any dictionary between a democracy and the republic as it was established by the Founders. And the meaning of "supreme power" and it "residing in the people" is the nub of this column.

The Britannica Concise Encyclopedia repeats the same vagueness, but adds this qualification to its entry on democracy:

The concept of representative democracy arose less from ancient Greek practice than from ideas and institutions that developed in medieval Europe, during the Enlightenment, and in the American and French Revolutions. Today democracy has come to imply universal suffrage, competition for office, freedom of speech and the press, and the rule of law.2

"Freedom of speech" and "rule of law" are elements of a more exact definition. But Britannica's entry on republic again repeats the fogginess of its entry on democracy, however, and adds this qualification:

Republics may also be distinguished from direct democracies [i.e., systems in which "the people" directly participate, sans representatives], but representative democracies are by and large republics.

The Columbia Encyclopedia's entries on democracy and republic are much longer than Britannica's, and make an attempt to specify their meanings. Aside from a précis on the concept of democracy and its evolution from the ancient Greek practice, it offers this evaluation:

In this larger sense democracy is essentially a philosophy which insists on the right and, in the long run, the capacity of a people, acting either directly or through representatives, to control their institutions for their own best ends. Such a philosophy of necessity exalts the individual and would free him as far as possible from restraints not self-imposed.

Because Columbia does not define what the restraints on the individual should be, the gratuitous qualification which follows that opinion is eminently "democratic":

It recognizes, however, that complete individual freedom, which in the political sphere would be anarchism, is practically impossible, but insists that restraints be imposed only by a majority and that they be erected on the principle of equal opportunity for all.3

Those "restraints" could take the form of censorship or property theft through eminent domain. But majorities do not impose restraints; courts do, and legislators, with or without the leave of a majority. Columbia's entry on republic is even less illuminating than its entry on democracy, except for this observation:

The United States is an example of a federal republic, in which the powers of the central government are limited and component parts [i.e., the states] exercise a considerable measure of home rule.

In the time of the Founders, while most of "the people" were certainly better read in their rights and in the politics of the age than are most Americans today, the Founders, acting as intellectuals or political philosophers, devised and honed the Constitution not on what "the people" thought, but on their own knowledge and first-hand observations of what "rights" should be and mean. In the context of current American politics, the "state and the people" are not synonymous, but mutually antipathetic, if not mutually estranged.  If this were not so, it could not account for all the publications and weblogs that exist now that are critical of the government and politicians.

But Americans are ignorant of the true meaning of the terms democracy and republic. The Founders were not. Let's hear from them.

Thomas Jefferson freely used the terms democracy and republic interchangeably. This frustrates any reading of him. For example, in his letter to Phillip Mazzei of April 24th, 1796, he writes:

….The aspect of our politics has wonderfully changed since you left us. In place of that noble love of liberty and republican government which carried us triumphantly through the war, an Anglican monarchical aristocratical party has sprung up, whose avowed object is to draw over us the substance, as they have already done the forms, of the British government. The main body of our citizens, however, remain true to their republican principles….4

Jefferson, elsewhere and all through his writings, when he used the term democracy or democratic, meant a republican government whose constitution limited its power and guaranteed the freedom and liberties of "the people." Like many of his generation, he used the term democracy loosely, and it may be that such carelessness has allowed his successors in politics to adopt it without thought or reservation. "We are all republicans – we are federalists," he said in his first inaugural address in 1801. He did not say, "We are all democrats – we are the mob." 5

James Madison, who was the subject of the last column, "Madison vs. Obama," in No. 14 of The Federalist, penned in November 1787, delved into the distinctions between a republican form of government and a democratic one:

The error which limits republican government to a narrow district has been unfolded and refuted in preceding papers. I remark here only, that it seems to owe its rise and prevalence chiefly to the confounding of a republic with a democracy….A democracy…must be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.

To this accidental source of the error may be added the artifice of celebrated authors, whose writings have had a great share in forming the modern standard of political opinions. Being subjects either of an absolute or limited monarchy, they have endeavored to heighten the advantages or palliate the evils of these forms; by placing in comparison with them the vices and defects of the republican, and by citing as specimens of the latter, the turbulent democracies of ancient Greece and modern Italy. Under the confusion of names, it has been an easy task to transfer to a republic observations applicable to a democracy only, and among others, the observation that it can never be established but among a small number of people, living within a small compass of territory.6

In distinguishing between the systems, Madison was clearer in his treatment of republics and democracies.

John Adams, writes C. Bradley Thompson in John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty, was a stickler for precise language, especially when discussing or writing about politics.

In his own mind, one of the primary reasons for the retarded growth of the political sciences in modern thought and practice had been the failure of philosophers and statesmen to develop a uniform lexicon and syntax for the science of legislation….[I]n the political sciences, Adams lamented, "there is a confusion of languages, as if two men were but lately come from Babel."7

Quoting Adams, Bradley notes that

The term republic was being used to describe things "in their nature as different and contradictory as light and darkness, truth and falsehood, virtue and vice, happiness and misery"; the word king, "like magic, excites the adoration of some, and execration of others"; the words virtue and patriotism were "enumerated among those of various and uncertain signification"; and the word aristocracy has "been employed to signify any thing, every thing, and nothing."….It was imperative, then, that his student lawgivers develop and employ a political language that was "governed more by reason, and less by sounds."8 

Further on, Bradley underscores Adams' dissatisfaction with the sloppy usage of the term republic.

The most abused of all words in the political sciences, for instance, was republic. In fact, Adams thought that it was not only the most "unintelligible word in the English language" but also the most abused word "in all languages."….[I]ts advocates defined republic as signifying "nothing but public affairs," which meant that any and every form of government, including despotism and a simple monarchy, was a republic. When used in this way, the term had been "applied to every government under heaven; that of turkey and that of Spain, as well as that of Athens and Rome, of Geneva and San Marino."9 

What is troubling, or at least is too often misunderstood with disastrous consequences, at least today, is the gratuitous usage of the term the people and the ubiquitous notion that "the people" have some species of authority or power over what they consider to be rights, whether they are divided into majorities or minorities.

"The people" do not possess a collective brain or consciousness. "The people" are not some creature with 600 million eyes that perceive reality as a single consciousness, and then an interlocking, computer-like system of 300 million brains that can process data and reach a conclusion and spit out the answer. The Founders knew this. They used the phrase "the people" in the most benevolent sense, as an abstract group of men with whom they shared an important value, freedom, and liberty. There might be a commonality of agreement on what things are or are not – see Jefferson's Declaration of Independence or his seminal work, A Summary View of the Rights of British North America (1774), which helped to articulate and consolidate the knowledge that an injustice was being committed by the British Crown, and which was an overture to the Declaration.

Consciousness, however, does not change or rearrange reality, it cannot alter facts.  Neither a majority nor a minority of one can establish a truth; collectively, or singly, the truth can only be recognized by and as individuals. Only individuals can distort, twist, ignore, or dismiss a truth, not singly nor as a bloc of 300 million.

"The people," Otanes's assertion to the contrary notwithstanding, are not "synonymous with the state," not even in the best of times when the relationship between citizens and their government is harmonious and conflict-free. And we are not today living in the best of times.

1 The Way of Herodotus: Travels With the Man Who Invented History, by Justin Marozzi. Philadelphia: De Capo Press, 2008. pp. 211-213.

2 2002 edition.

3 Second edition, 1950.

4 The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Random House/Modern Library, 1944. Eds. Adrienne Koch and William Peden.  p. 537.

5 Op cit., p. 322.

6James Madison: Writings. New York: The Library of America, 1999. Ed. Jack N. Rakove.  pp. 168-169.

7 C. Bradley Thompson, John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1998. p. 186.

8 Op cit., pp. 186-187.

9 Op cit. p. 187.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Madison vs. Obama

Reacquainting myself with The Federalist Papers (or The Federalist) and James Madison's contributions to them, I came upon a speech of his that struck me with its ominous prescience. Keep in mind that political discourse in Madison's time was of a caliber that makes today's political dialogue seem like infantile prattling. Madison, who represented Virginia during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, whose purpose was to draw up a stronger political document to replace the Articles of Confederation, was later the author of the Bill of Rights and the country's fourth president.

Originally opposed to a "bill of rights," which he viewed as redundant and possibly dangerous, Madison changed his mind while the states were embroiled in the ratification process and campaigned to secure a Bill of Rights that would be inserted in the Constitution as an additional check on federal powers and a guarantor of individual liberties. We owe him.

On June 20th 1787, in the sweltering summer heat of Philadelphia, he spoke before the Convention and made these observations (spellings, punctuation, and abbreviations corrected for clarity):

Mr. Madison thought it indispensable that some provision should be made for defending the Community against the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate [later to be called "President"]. The limitation of the period of his service was not sufficient security. He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers. The case of the Executive Magistracy was very distinguishable from that of the Legislature or of any other public body holding offices of limited duration. It could not be presumed that all or even a majority of the members of an Assembly would either lose their capacity for discharging, or be bribed to betray their trust.

Besides the restraints of their personal integrity and honor, the difficulty of acting in concert for purposes of corruption was a security to the public. And if one or a few members only should be seduced, the soundness of the remaining member would maintain the integrity and fidelity of the body. In the case of the Executive Magistracy which was to be administered by a single man, loss of capacity or corruption was more within the compass of probable events, and either of them might be fatal to the Republic.*

When I came upon the terms peculation, oppression, corruption, and betray, I could not help but be reminded that these terms best describe the administration of Barack Obama. Of course, Obama is not alone. Presidents have been guilty of committing one or another impeachable offense, and even all of them and more in one sitting, since at least Lincoln (who employed the income tax and the draft to prosecute the Civil War). Contending for the rank of worst administration in terms of theft, malfeasance, and corruption are Warren G. Harding's and Bill Clinton's.

Obama is in a class of his own. He is the culmination and climax of a succession of acts of perfidy and betrayal that stretch back over a century and a half. It is hard to imagine how his record could be bested by a successor in the White House. He is acting to surpass the record of his first term. While he has declared war on the country in conformance with a Marxist ideology, and has acted to cripple and bankrupt the country's economy, stack the judiciary with ideological bedfellows, enfeeble and literally emasculate the military, and erase America's exceptionalism, his first term was riddled with corruption, scandal, and hubristic arrogance. Need any reader be reminded of TARP, or the bailout of General Motors, of Solyndra, the Affordable Care Act, and other highlights of Obama's first term? Not to mention his de facto alliance with this country's enemies, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, and his ostensive foreign policy failures, especially in the Mideast?

I say "ostensive," because, in the final analysis, they were meant to fail. That is, the "Arab Spring" was intended to be taken over by this country's enemies. His foreign policies "failures" and "miscalculations" are part and parcel of his malice and the contempt in which he holds this country.

An American president now has vastly more executive power than did George III in Madison's time, and more influence on Congress than had the British monarch on Parliament. Madison and others of his generation struggled to erect a legal, constitutional wall between the executive and legislative branches, specifying that neither branch should have any power or influence over the other. On July 17th, Madison spoke on the separation of powers:

If it be essential to the preservation of liberty that the Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary powers be separate, it is essential to maintenance of the separation, that they should be independent of each other. The Executive could not be independent of the Legislature, if dependent on the pleasure of that branch for reappointment [the idea was proposed during the Convention to grant Congress the power to appoint the President]. Why is it determined that the Judges should not hold their places by such a tenure? Because they might be tempted to cultivate the Legislature by undue complaisance, and thus render the Legislature the virtual expositor, as well the maker of laws…and then tyrannical laws may be made that they may be executed in a tyrannical manner….**

On July 19th he remarked on the election of the President:

If it be a fundamental principle of free Government, that the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary powers should be separately exercised, it is equally so that they be independently exercised. There is the same and perhaps greater reason why the Executive should be independent of the Legislature, than why the Judiciary should: A coalition of the two former powers would be more immediately and certainly dangerous to public liberty.

It is essential then that the appointment of the Executive should either be drawn from some source, or held by some tenure, that will give him a free agency with regard to the Legislature. This could not be if he was to be appointable from time to time by the Legislature….Certain it was that the appointment would be attended with intrigues and contentions that ought not to be unnecessarily admitted….The people at large was in [Madison's] opinion the fittest in itself.

The substitution of electors [i.e., the Electoral College] obviated this difficulty [in a popular election of the President] and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections.***

Madison and other Founders viewed the Senate as a bulwark against populist movements originating in the House of Representatives, movements that would undermine liberty and deprive minorities of their rights and freedom. He was adamantly opposed to populating the Senate with as many seats as there would be in the House.

The use of the Senate is to consist in its proceeding with more coolness, with more system, and with more wisdom, than the popular branch. Enlarge their number and you communicate to them the vices which they are meant to correct.****

Obama's cabinet and government appointments without exception came and continue to come from the radical left. He has alienated our allies, and befriended our enemies. He has overseen with demonstrable negligence and encouragement the infiltration by this country's Islamic enemies of all the branches of government charged with the defense of the country. He has endorsed policies that prohibit those branches from even identifying by name this country's committed enemies.

Coolness? Wisdom? Has anyone noticed these virtues in operation in the Senate over the last four years? The Senate has behaved like a handmaiden of the House in virtually every piece of statist, liberty-obviating legislation sent from the House, legislation contrived and passed at the behest of the Executive branch.

At this point in our history, all three branches are in philosophical collusion – that philosophy being collectivist in essence and ultimately totalitarian in end – something neither Madison nor Patrick Henry nor even Alexander Hamilton could have imagined could befall this country.

At this point in our history, it is James Madison versus Barack Obama. And it is incumbent upon those who value their freedom to rediscover Madison. We owe him.

*James Madison: Writings. New York: The Library of America, 1999. Ed. Jack N. Rakove.  p. 128.
**Madison, op cit., p. 126.
***Madison, op cit., p. 127-128.
****Madison, op cit., p. 98.

Monday, March 25, 2013

We the People? Or, We the Slaves?

The Preamble of the Constitution reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

"We, the People" – What does that mean? Who are "the people"? Should "the people" be trusted? Should we include as "the People" those among us who advocate and actually prefer and enjoy their servitude, those who are hostile to and fear the "Blessings of Liberty"? What is their conception of "domestic Tranquility"?  Of "Justice"? What is ours?

"What is a slave?" asks Daniel Greenfield in his Sultan Knish column of March 24th, "From Freedom to Slavery."  

A slave is complicit in his own oppression. His slavery has become his natural state and he looks to his master, not to free him, but to command him.

How many Europeans are complicit in their own slavery? A mental slavery that automatically defers to the authority of the state of their individual nations, and then to the authority of the behemoth of the European Union? How many Americans today are complicit in their own slavery? Americans who were not seeking a master and an icon of authority, an authority who fraudulently boasted of possessing the magical means to correct all their problems and satisfy their every want, would never have ever voted for Barack Obama, not the first time, and certainly not a second time, after having available to them ample evidence of the enslaving and destructive consequences of his policies and his multifaceted intention to diminish their freedom.

Like their European counterparts, American slaves may grouse about their masters about promises made and broken, but still obey their masters' commands. They continue to hope for change. And if the "change" is for the worse, they will still obey and follow, and blame the free for the failure.

Men who reject the evidence of their senses are voluntary slaves. Being voluntary slaves, they can only envy those who are free, free in the literal sense, and free of the slave mentality, and vigorously and viciously clamor for the enslavement of the free, as well. Superficially, they believe that only when all men are slaves, the paradises of milk and honey will magically come about. They blame the free of obstructing the creation of that paradise. Fit the free with fetters, they say, and all will be well, and the paradise will work smoothly and effortlessly. All will be equal, and none shall move forward unless it is with all.

The slave's notion of a "more perfect Union" is compulsory servitude for all. His notion of "Justice" is an enforced egalitarianism in which no one is "above" anyone else in wealth, income, abilities, or even physical appearance. His notion of "Domestic Tranquility" is not a civil society, but a mutually shared stasis and immobility, with no ripples of dissension permitted that would disturb the calm. And, to a slave, liberty has no blessings.

This is the alchemist's dream that all willing slaves share, to turn gold into lead.

The advocates and tolerant of universal slavery – the enslaved and their spokesmen in government and academia and the non-profit foundations and the unions – are moved by a malignity that is proof against reason. They hate and fear freedom, for others' freedom robs them of power, the power to remake men at the point of a gun, at the levy of a tax, of the imposition of a regulation, of a proclamation of prohibition. And they hate freedom because they know they are guilty of submitting to slave masters when they could have said "No."

A slave's mind is insulated against emancipation, against reason, against reality. He does not wish to be manumitted, not from his delusions, or his fantasies, or from his actual servitude. A slave's mind is comfortable in its bondage. In such a state it is relieved of the responsibility of thought, of effort, of the requirements of self-preservation. A voluntary slave wishes to be preserved, to exist without reason or purpose.

Herodotus relates that when a storm destroyed the bridge over the Hellespont over which the Persian tyrant Xerxes planned to invade Greece, as punishment, Xerxes ordered the Hellespont to be whipped three hundred times, that fetters be cast into its waters, and that it be branded with hot irons. When a "democracy" of slaves fails to achieve its ends by force, the slave's demagogic leader will scream that his slaves should blame the rich and the able and anyone else suspected of not "giving back" to society, and that they should be lashed and put in fetters.

Barack Obama is more Persian in that respect than he is Islamic or Communist. But the consequences are the same, regardless of his ideological calibration.

The willing slave knows that slavery is not a badge of self-respect and dignity. In the self-induced lethargy of his mind, he wishes to vanquish the free, so that should he and all his brothers who savor slavery, they the enslaved, perish from their own slavery, the free will perish, as well. Such minds, in their slang parlance, don’t want to "go there." And that is their secret, unexpressed desire, a motive they dare not reveal to their victims, nor even discuss among themselves. To paraphrase the motto of the Three Musketeers: All for one, or none at all. Should we slaves perish from our own folly, the free shall not inherit the earth.

They know, in the darkest corners of their minds, that should men reach the edge of the cliff they suspect lies ahead in the fog of their consciousnesses, the fettered free and slave alike will plummet en masse over it. There will be pushing, and shoving, and the gnashing of teeth, and anyone who pushes back, will be stomped to death.

"We the People" should not include men who wish to be slaves. The Preamble to our Constitution was not written for them.

It was written for us.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Our Imploding World

We can envy the men who lived in the 19th century, and even those who thrived in the first half of the 20th. The future lay before them, promising unimaginable wonders in science, technology, medicine, and industry, in man's mastery of the world. There were, of course, wars and political scandals, and a few economic twists and bends that inconvenienced everyone. But, overall, despite the occasional impediments and transitory anxieties, the future lay unobstructed before men and that was a mood taken for granted.

In 1876, several months before Custer and his 7th Cavalry rode to their end at Little Big Horn, Alexander Graham Bell was granted Patent No. 174,465 for his working telephone. By 1883, Britain's Gilbert and Sullivan were "corresponding" by telephone over what to do about the kinks in The Mikado.

The infant strides of telephony led ultimately to the Internet. Western civilization in this period had the hallmarks of a confident extrovert, a "reaching out" phenomenon that led to the moon-landings and the robotic exploration of Mars and other planets, not to mention unparalleled advances in medicine, agriculture, and leisure time.

In the beginning of the latter half of the 20th century, the sobering residue of the Depression and World War II was tenuously offset by the prosperity-induced complacency of the 1950's. In books, newscasts, and movies, nay-sayers and doomsters virtually cornered the market in heralding man's malaise and predicting his ultimate demise. The optimism began to change into a cloying trepidation, an indistinct but very tangible uneasiness, marked by a loss of faith in what the future would bring and a tendency to wallow in guilt-ridden introversion. While science and technology seemed to bound forward at breathtaking speeds, unaffected by the change in mood, something was left behind to wither and gesture limply at the future.

The world seemed to be out of focus, and to grow fuzzier by the year, inebriated on some kind of alcohol that allowed people to see pink elephants and candy-striped zebras and shimmering Cities on the Hill surrounded by palm and date trees. But the pink elephants were wreaking havoc in china shops, the candy-striped zebras turned out to be anti-American academicians and intellectuals and vociferous but venal politicians, and the shimmering Cities on the Hill were being characterized as dehumanizing dystopias. Too many Americans developed a kind of cultural claustrophobia for which there was no apparent cure.

As the century progressed from the 20th to the 21st, the world seemed to be imploding, bursting in on itself, with institutions, political and moral norms and even science collapsing in on what seemed to be a vacuum.

This was nowhere better dramatized than in the opening pages of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, when Eddie Willers is shocked to learn that the seemingly imperishable oak tree he had once revered was indeed perishable.

…He felt safe in the oak tree's presence; it was a thing that nothing could change or threaten; it was his greatest symbol of strength.

One night, lightning struck the oak tree. Eddie saw it the next morning. It lay broken in half, and he looked into its trunk as into the mouth of a black tunnel. The trunk was only an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; there was nothing inside – just a thin gray dust that was being dispersed by the whim of the faintest wind. The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it.*

Our Western civilization, like the heart of Eddie Willers' oak tree, has been rotted out for decades. We are just learning the extent and scale of that rot. We no longer feel comfortable in our own country, and civilization seems to be the object of numerous lightning strikes: the growth of collectivism and its various applications of statism; a tolerance for various kinds of mysticism, from a vengeful environmentalism to a belligerent Islam; the denigration of individualism and the enthronement of the mob, the group, and the tribe; group warfare for the spoils of statism, for the wealth looted from bewildered and defenseless producers.

What is the nature of the rot? Basically, it is the disparagement and abandonment of reason and the substitution of its numerous antipodes: multiculturalism, "diversity," egalitarianism, militant subjectivism, organized envy, moral and economic relativism, irrationalism as a protected choice; systems of whim-worshipping non-absolutism. And an ingrained, inculcated anathema for reason, reality, individual rights, and capitalism, an anathema taught in our schools and flaunted in our culture from our theaters to Capitol Hill. 

The worst mistake to make is to ascribe the incremental collapse of civilization to some all-powerful, ineluctable, omnipotent conspiratorial force of evil. Evil is not "satanic." It is essentially a parasite. It feeds on weakness. Evil possesses the cunning of a moocher. Like jackals, vultures, and hyenas, it trails the greater predator, and moves in on the prey after it has been waylaid. It has no plan but to consume the scraps left by a greater predator.

The greater predator is anti-reason. Islam, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, the Muslim Brotherhood – all the usual and numerous suspects we take for granted today, all the villains we rail against but whose origins we remain ignorant of but remain astounded by their callous indifference to reason – are merely the parasitical consumers of the living and the dead.

When men begin to grasp that the evil that has been enveloping them in stages for decades, and which promises to suffocate them, is not the product of some mystical power that cannot be opposed – when they grasp that their lives depend not on faith or random happenstance or on "good intentions" – but on a fealty to reason and the sanctity of their lives as volitional beings imbued with the capacity for reason, then they will be able to combat the evil. Then, and only then, will they recognize that evil can triumph only by default. It is otherwise powerless to enslave or destroy.

I include here some issues on which I have recently commented in response to various articles that have appeared, or which came to my attention and address the evil but which struggle to grasp the nature of the evil.

For example, the principal of a Massachusetts school decided that to honor its honor students would infringe upon or harm the "self-esteem" of students who had not made the honors roll. So he cancelled the school's honors night. This is scoreless kids' soccer games gone mad, and is an instance of how corrupting the notion of egalitarianism can be.

A Massachusetts principal has been criticized for canceling his school's Honors Night, saying it could be 'devastating' to the students who worked hard, but fell short of the grades.

MyFoxBoston.com reports that David Fabrizio, principal of Ipswich Middle School, notified parents last week of his plan to eliminate the event.

"The Honors Night, which can be a great sense of pride for the recipients' families, can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade-point average," Fabrizio penned in his first letter to parents, the station reported.

Fabrizio also said he decided to make the change because academic success can be influenced by the amount of support a student receives at home and not all students receive the same level of emotional and academic support at home.

The second instance concerns the common moral premises shared by statist Democrats, in particular President Barack Obama, and the morally rudderless Republican Party.

Speaking to Newsmax TV at CPAC 2013 on Thursday, [Rick] Santorum believes the nation’s leaders currently lack the ability to persuade Americans to aim for greatness.

“We have material wealth because of technology, yet people feel like they’re suffering now,” Santorum said. “I make the argument that’s because leaders and culture are leading people to think there’s nothing to suffer for and that there’s no great aim. We have to inspire people so they’re willing to make the sacrifices.”

However, Santorum is quick to point out that advancing a platform that allows individuals to succeed on their own should not mean abandoning those in need….

“If we just say we need less government and it’s everyone for himself, we won’t win elections,” Santorum said. “We have to do what our founders did, which is not just to take care of ourselves, but take care of our fellow Americans.”

Excuse me, but isn't this what Obama has been trying to drill into our heads, too? Sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice? To "those in need"? But this has been the leitmotif of the Republican Party, ever since, say, the presidential race of 1912, which the Republicans handed the election to the statist Democrats and Woodrow Wilson because they said, "Me, too!" And I shudder to imagine how Santorum perceives the Founders, who in his mind must have been a pack of blithering, self-sacrificing altruists.

And what did the Founders strive to create between 1775 and 1787? A "democracy" or a constitutional republic? To hear it on the lips and in the words of virtually every columnist, politician and teacher today, it was a "democracy." For example, one of the most prolific and perceptive conservative columnists today is Daniel Greenfield, who also regularly falls into the trap of advocating "democracy." Arguing eloquently and effectively in his March 16th column, "Democracy Is Not The Answer," that a policy of "exporting" democracy to countries that have little or no history or notion of limited government and individual rights, and in fact are prima facie culturally hostile to such ideas, a policy that has backfired on America more than once, he concludes:

The belief that we are meant to export democracy is a Cold War relic and the assumption that exporting democracy also exports our values is clearly wrong. It isn't democracy that makes free people; it's individual responsibility. Democracy with individual responsibility makes for a free nation. Democracy without individual responsibility is only another name for tyranny.

Democracy was never the answer, anywhere, because anywhere it has been tried, it has lead to tyranny. The etymological root meaning of the term is "mob rule," as suggested by the Oxford English Dictionary ("popular government – people having rule, sway, or authority"). "Democracy" implies that no checks are made on the power or authority of the people or their elected officers or representatives. "Democracy" relieves both individuals and their elected representatives of individual responsibility and political responsibility. Our Founders, conscientious and well-read students of ancient and modern political history, understood the dangers inherent in democracy and labored to create a constitutional republic, that is, one which enumerated the powers of government and protected individual rights from populist or mob nullification. That is what our Bill of Rights – now under attack by the left and the Obama administration and defended haphazardly and ineffectually by conservatives – was all about. "Democracy" and "republic" are not synonyms, although the latter term has been largely appropriated by dictatorships (the various "people's republics").

Greenfield, in the same column, stresses that a nation's citizens must be amenable to totalitarian rule before a totalitarian can take over. He points out that most prominently the Russians and Germans in the last century "democratically" elected themselves dictators, and so have the Argentines, Indians, Venezuelans, Chinese, and other populations (with much help from blatant thuggery). The ancient Greeks and Romans consistently elected themselves tyrants (democracy in action). Most recently, Muslims elected themselves the Brotherhood, an organization which basically wishes to make its election to power the last in Egypt. Muslims who voted against the Brotherhood ironically wanted also to continue subscribing to Islam, but a more "benign" kind that wouldn't enforce Sharia to the extent that the Brotherhood proposed. Well, the Egyptians have learned the hard way that you can't have your Islam and eat it, too.

But what kind of a person would vote for his own subjugation? Here is a hint, provided by Abigail Esman in her article, "Staggering Number of Women Converting to Islam" of March 12th.

The first thing the Dutch girl did once she’d converted to Islam was change her name – to Soumaya, she says, because “she was the first martyr. She was prepared to die for Allah.”

Soumaya, née Aphrodite, is one of a wave of tens of thousands of Westerners who convert to Islam every year, more than 75 percent of whom, astonishingly, are women. Equally surprising is the fact that most of these women gravitate to conservative Islamic groups – the more misogynistic and oppressive ones – insisting all the while that they feel “liberated” and “free.”

….That this fact is not explained to these women and young girls is what has many feminists concerned, not only about Muslim women in general, but particularly, about converts, who are, as it were, handed Islam in small, attractive bites, sweetened artificially and served up on flowered plates.

Most of these young women display little self-confidence or ability to define their own values and behavior – qualities that make them easily influenced by others, and susceptible especially to those who offer up a lifestyle option that relinquishes them from responsibility for their actions, that gives them a code of behavior and the ease of attributing what they do or wear or eat to God and not to self. [Italics mine.]

Esman's description of women who voluntarily erase their own identities as individuals and trade them for being selfless ciphers of Islam can easily be applied to anyone who trades the responsibility for his own life and actions for being a ward and dependent of the state, indistinguishable from all other wards and dependents. These are the same individuals who display little self-confidence or the ability to define their own values and behavior; Islam, or Obama, for example, can relieve them of any kind of moral compass but the one that points to what others say and do, especially if that "other" is a man who hands them a Utopia in "small, attractive bites, sweetened artificially and served up on flowered plates," as Obama has served up his socialist agenda to countless men whose only ambition is to be lead and rewarded for following.

Men who are willing to surrender their own selves and independence in the name of any collectivist "other-ism" necessarily will call for the sacrifice of others if that would mean "spreading the wealth" around, "a little" or "a lot."

What neither the converts to Islam nor the converts to Obamaism grasp is that both systems are nihilist in means and ends. While they may derive some sadistic satisfaction from seeing their moral betters impoverished or extinguished, they will learn sooner or later that their own numberless masses can also be deemed expendable by their leader and the state.

The ongoing implosion we are witnessing today and will witness for some time to come can be checked only if men rediscover the role and necessity of reason that underlies our country and Western civilization and perpetuates them if they choose to. The only alternative is to perish from the falling debris, whether that consists of the First and Second Amendments or the smashed dreams and shattered hopes and the plundered wealth of the victims.  

*Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. 1957. New York: Dutton/Penguin 35th Anniversary Edition, 1992. p. 5

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Wonderful Wizard of OZeroland

Hollywood is so bankrupt of ideas that it seems all it can do is:
  •   "Remake" films from the past, altering and adapting them for dumbed-down audiences or what filmmakers assume are dumbed-down audiences, and make them politically correct (e.g., The Four Feathers, Clueless, the latter based on Jane Austen's Emma, Cape Fear);
  •  Produce "prequels" and "sequels" to proven blockbusters (e.g., Star Wars, The Matrix, Alien);
  •   Appropriate characters from past films for "new" stories (e.g., any Bond film made after Sean Connery's last one, including Connery's last one, Never Say Never Again);
  •  Adapt literary classics or would-be classics or imaginary classics for children, morons, yuppies, and pubescent adults who get tingles up their legs from CGI effects (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Matrix, The Terminator, etc.), ensuring they are also politically correct.
  • Make environmental disaster films, or nuclear threat films, or anti-business films.
  • Make historical films that are politically correct, regardless of the era, mythology, legend or historical accuracy, (e.g., Shakespeare in Love, The Tudors).
What caused me to write this was the release of the newest Oz film (the last one, called The Wiz, was patronizingly adapted for "black" audiences), Oz the Great and Powerful. I won’t bother reviewing the sorry "prequel"; Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post skewers it to my satisfaction. L. Frank Baum is partly avenged.

Most films coming out today are said to be "based" or "loosely based" on something else. When a studio boasts that a film is "based" or "loosely based" on an original source, film or book, it means that a claque of rewriters and highly paid hacks have treated the material as their own creation and tweaked it beyond recognition.

For example, The Big Clock (1948), a fairly well-done suspense thriller,  stars Ray Milland as a crime magazine editor who fools around with his boss's mistress (Rita Johnson) and subsequently is enmeshed in a cover-up of her murder by his boss (Charles Laughton). It is based on Kenneth Fearing's confusing, multi-first-person novel (1946) of the same name. The film is superior to the novel because its scriptwriters essentialized the plot elements in the novel and still told the same story. Otherwise, the novel would have been impossible, and, indeed, impractical, to project on the screen as a straight narrative.

The film was "remade" as a piece of Cold War intrigue in No Way Out in 1987, in which Soviet agents activate a sleeper agent in the person of Kevin Costner as a Naval officer who fools around with the Secretary of Defense's mistress (Sean Young) and subsequently becomes enmeshed in the mistress's murder by the Secretary (Gene Hackman). Apparently all this was planned by the infallible and omniscient Soviets (the Soviet Union would collapse two years later). The film made no sense, nor did it make sense for Harper Collins to republish Fearing's novel with a picture of Kevin Costner and Sean Young canoodling on the front cover, when inside is Fearing's novel with no references in it to Soviet sleeper moles or Naval officers, untouched by editor or screenwriter. A reader expecting torrid sex scenes between Costner and Young would be sorely disappointed, if not confused.

I perused the novel in a bookstore the same year it was republished as part of the remake's promotion, and mentally noted that Kenneth Fearing, his name featured prominently at the bottom of the front cover, died when Hackman was an unpromising actor at the Pasadena Playhouse, and while Costner and Young presumably were in kindergarten having their diapers changed and their hands messy with finger paint. It was like having ordered a Gevalia coffee maker and opened the box to find an hourglass made in China. Deceptive packaging supreme.

But this column is not about citing Hollywood for lascivious solicitation on a public street. It is about the new Emerald City, Washington D.C., the metropolis of OZeroland. I herewith present a précis of my own "remake" of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

In this version of Oz, Dorothy is anyone who believes that Emerald City is a magical place where every wish can be granted, every desire fulfilled, and where faucets run with milk and honey. Toto in a basket is an optional feature. I've left out the dog because any movie that features a cute dog is angling for the sympathy vote.

Dorothy arrives in a town in OZeroand with the odd name of Detroit because her house was swept up in the tornado of the subprime mortgage collapse, and deposited unceremoniously on the Wicked Witch of the Gay/Lesbian Fiscal Magicians Alliance, Barmy Cranks. Grateful Munchkins remove his ruby slippers and present them to Dorothy. The sparkling slippers have no magical powers; they are just nice-looking fashion accessories.

Dorothy is not sure she wants to remain in OZeroland, and asks the Munchkins how she can get home. She is told by the Munchkin spokesman, Karney the Geek, that she will need to ask the Wizard in the capitol, Emerald City. "Just follow the Paper Money Trail...I mean Paper Money Road," says Carney the Geek as he adjusts his ill-fitting glasses on his nose, "and you can't miss it."

Dorothy, in this version, does not encounter The Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man on her way to Emerald City. The Tin Man and the Scarecrow are already there and part of the political establishment. The Cowardly Lion is a rogue predator forbidden to enter the great metropolis. He will be introduced later.

The Wizard, of course, is Barack Obama, an ordinary man smitten with visions of sugar plums and cheeseburgers and fairies who flit about making dreams come true with flicks of their magic wands. The Wizard hides behind a giant fold-out changing screen where he uses an amplifier to sound like James Earl Jones, and changes between his swim trunks, golfing shorts, and suits. He also sneaks in a Marlboro behind the screen because nobody is allowed to look. The screen bears in flashing neon lights the Wizard's famous "Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back" emblem, a disc showing serrated rows of red poppies and a rising run.

The Wizard is an elective office. He has been voted Wizard repeatedly by his electorate of Munchkins, the chief residents of Emerald City. The Munchkins vote for him early and often every Election Day, because otherwise they will be rounded up by the Winkies to be carried off by the flying monkeys and dropped into the Tidewater and washed out to sea. The Munchkins know where their bread is buttered – what little bread and butter are covered by their ration cards – so they vote for the Wizard and hold mass Wizard Appreciation Days to show their undying loyalty. Many Munchkins have actually died of that loyalty, but there is a "gentlemunchkin's agreement" to never discuss such things. It's not good for morale.

The Scarecrow alternates between being head of the Felonious Reserve Bank system and Secretary of the Treasures Department, and wishes he had a brain, at least one that isn't made of sawdust. The Tin Man, with whom he shares a sumptuous office, starts up Ma and Pa shops that receive felonious subsidies, or wishes they received felonious subsidies, or could benefit from laws that would protect them from competition so they couldn't be accused of having accepted felonious subsidies after having failed anyway. The Tin Man regards himself as an entrepreneurial farmer, although an unlucky one, because all the "seed" money vanishes into the earth, coaxed there by nefarious Jinns and poltergeists, strange creatures over which even the Wizard has no power.

The Cowardly Lion wishes for nothing, because it isn't tame, is an unrepentant meat-eater, and stalks Dorothy on the Paper Money Road on the way to Emerald City, waiting for the right moment to pounce. The Cowardly Lion has been asked by auto unions, the SEIU, the NEA, and the Honorable Society of Sloths to be their king because he can terrify Tea Partiers, gun-owners, wrong-headed patriots, and other recidivist enemies and creatures who roam the Forest of Poppies and despoil it. He will get around to that once he's had Dorothy for lunch.

All the witches in Emerald City are wicked. The most important one, Mighty Joyoung, is the consort of the Wizard. She urges Munchkins to plant and subsist on organic gardens, although it is rumored among the Munchkins that she gorges herself during secret banquets paid for by the Munchkins, who receive in exchange, to keep them quiet, rations and food credits and extra bonus teaspoons of sugar and spice when the Wicked Consort is in a good mood. Emerald City's nutrition policy is, "To each according to his appetite, to each according to his stomach size."

The Wizard Consort often puts on competitions of strength for the amusement of the Munchkins. Once she hefted a three-hundred pound pumpkin and tossed it fifty feet. It landed with an indecorous plump on the person of Manuel Ramses, mayor of Emerald City. Ramses, an ambitious and respected Munchkin, felt offended and left Emerald City to become mayor of Rotgut Town, a metropolis in OZeroland terrorized by the Wicked Witch of Weathermen and the Warlock Ayers. The Munchkins were not so much impressed as made afraid by the Wizard Consort's display of physical prowess.

There was once a good witch, Glinda, but she was trapped by the Wizard and sold into sex slavery to the King of the Musselmen Empire to the East, with whom OZeroland maintains an uneasy truce. She shares an ornate hall with a bevy of renewable virgins, and little word of her fate reaches the Munchkins, who miss her.

Other witches are at the beck and call of the Wizard. One wicked witch, the Wicked Witch Who Would Be Wizard, dislikes the Wizard and is always plotting to take over Emerald City. Her machinations occupy the pens and quills of the Royal Scriveners of Emerald City's official newspaper, the Emerald City Blather. The Royal Scriveners, whose managing editor is Munchkin George Stepinfetchit, ceaselessly speculate on this Witch's plans and intentions without ever reaching a conclusion.

There is the Wicked Witch, Sybil Alias, who oversees Health and Munchkin Services, and disallows all Munchkin ailments but death. She is constantly ringing a golden bell when a Munchkin dies, and to let the Munchkins know that another zinc penny has been saved for the greater good. Sybil Alias employs a panel of cheerleading Munchkins who jump up and down in Emerald City's Silinsky Square at the sound of the bell, yelling, "Cost Savings! Cost Savings!," performing extraordinary back-flips and thrilling pyramids.

Another is the Gatekeeper Witch, Jalerie Varlet, known for her nasty temper and sharp tongue.  It is rumored that she, too, possesses enormous strength, and arm-wrestles the Wizard over what new policies and decrees he should make. Mantha  Sunshine, the Be Happy While You Labor Witch, is the least popular among Munchkins, because even though she is responsible for the morale of her minions, she forces them to work under terrible conditions and at odd hours, even after the sun has gone down and the cows have come home. All the Munchkins smile when she conducts snap inspections because they know what will happen to them if they don’t.

The last most important Witch is Prancy the Ageless, known as the Wicked Witch of the Magic Gavel. She constantly patrols the streets of Emerald City, striking unsuspecting Munchkins on their heads to see what's in them. She is always smiling because her bright, shiny face has been stretched backwards by her masseuse and pedicurist. In her sanctum is a color photograph of her idol, the Cheshire Cat, a creature from another fairy tale.

The Wizard also commands many Warlocks. A Warlock is a man who wears pants, a heavy Rolex watch, and usually barbered facial hair made stylishly smooth with snake oil, although often Munchkins cannot decide whether the Presence is of the male persuasion or a witch. The Tin Man and the Scarecrow hope to become full-fledged Warlocks and be bestowed with their own magical powers so that the actions they take actually work. There are almost as many Warlocks as there are Munchkins, but, for all the Wizard's miraculous powers, nothing ever seems to come out right. Warlocks are always forming committees to study why very little works, and this necessary step is a constant distraction from their administrative duties.

The Munchkins would revolt against the Wizard and his unpopular reign, but refrain from even whispered dissension because they know that at the first sign of dissatisfaction, the Wizard would unleash on them his army of carnivorous flying monkeys and other indescribable monsters. Most feared of the Wizard's forces are the be-goggled battalions of Winkies, formidable in their oyster shell armor plate uniforms and ruthless when ordered to restore order with their deadly black Munchkin swatters, even when there is no disorder.

The Winkies are commanded by the grossly overweight twins, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, foreigners on permanent loan from another fairy tale, who speak in echoes and often finish each other's sentences in astounding feats of circular logic. At the suggestion of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Wizard ordered that Munchkins may not own swatters, because they claim that Munchkins are safer without them. The Munchkins protested, asking how they were to take care of flies and cockroaches. They were told that the Winkies will take care of them, but they never arrive in time.

It is an exploded urban legend in Emerald City that in the dead of night, Tweedledum and Tweedledee steal away Munchkin children to roast over fires and consume them with unseemly chortles and burps, washing down their meals with illegal poppy seed wine. The Warlock of Discredited Urban Legends, Snopes the Snoot, works tirelessly to keep Munchkin minds on the straight and very, very narrow.  It was he who, after a great effort, finally convinced the Munchkins that the Winkies did not kidnap a renegade Munchkin in the dead of night because he made an illegal, slanderous movie called "The Innocence of the Wiz." He proved that no such movie was ever made, thus breaking the rule, to the Munchkins' universal approbation, that one cannot prove a negative, and that the dastardly Munchkin was hauled in for littering and eight unpaid parking tickets.

The Witches, Warlocks and Wizards do not reside in Emerald City, but in fabulous little towns on the outskirts of the metropolis. These are strange, un-Oz-like named towns called Fairfax, Alexandria, Arundel, Arlington, and Bethesda. The Emerald City Blather reported that these and other small hamlets are rich beyond the average Munchkin's dreams, in fact, richer than any other town or city in OZeroland, because all the dedicated, selfless, magic-making Witches, Warlocks and Wizards and their staffs and servants, not to mention their friends and advisors, the tenacious Lobbyguiles, ride their swift zephyrs to Emerald City to govern and watch over the populace of Munchkins. Most of the taxes and fees and imposts collected from Munchkins in Emerald City are magically transferred to these legendary towns, allowing their residents to live in unimaginably ostentatious opulence.

Dorothy, still trekking down the Paper Money Road, knows nothing of this. Her sight is fixed on the gleaming, shimmering green towers of Emerald City, which somehow never grows closer no matter how quickly she walks. Should she ever reach Emerald City, she will be in for a jaw-dropping surprise. Her ruby slippers will be confiscated because she never made them. She will learn that the Munchkins there subsist on a diet of rice and old shoes, and that the standard clothing of Munchkins consists of sandwich boards or wooden barrels to preserve their modesty.

Dorothy will quickly discover that she will have a wardrobe problem, aside from the problem of gaining an audience with the fickle Wizard, who is often busy with affairs of state and bribing his caddy to "adjust" his score card. He cheats at golf, not for himself, but for the greater good of OZeroland, so that Munchkins can be proud of a Leader who is excellent in all things. 

The End.

There's my "remake" of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I think it's doable as a feature film. Don’t you? Perhaps one or two editing passes might be required. Casting should be a piece of cake. Financing, ditto, for a studio could always dip into that $450,000 tax break granted to Hollywood. Salaries and residuals might be a problem, but we could always turn to George Soros to cover cost overruns.