Book Reviews, Charles, Economics, Left-Liberalism, Political Discussion & Analysis, Post-Liberalism, Social Behavior, Wars To Come
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Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All (Deirdre Nansen McCloskey)

This is a special review. It is special because it is the last of its kind. I no longer intend to spend my time, and your time, on books that I know to be completely wrong, merely to show they are completely wrong. I am keenly aware of what I call “the closing door,” embodied in the words of John 9:4—“the night cometh, when no man can work,” which Samuel Johnson had engraved on the inside cover of his pocket watch. This does not at all mean that I am stopping writing, only that I will no longer write in the vein of correcting errors of the political Left. For the hour is late, and the Right has better things to do.

Thus, I will no longer review, or read, leftist claptrap. That includes a substantial majority of modern popular works, essentially all books on history and politics that receive wide publicity, from the latest anti-Trump screed to anything on race, along with a great deal else. It also includes many, though not all, older leftist works that are leftist canon. Does it profit me to read any such book and demonstrate its innumerable falsehoods and logical errors? No, because I know the truth already, and I know the minds of all these writers and the vast majority of their readers are a closed circle, filled with lies and impervious to the truth. I will discover nothing new, and they benefit by me wasting my time, because opportunity cost.

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True, my writing about such books might profit others who are less informed or have spent less time evaluating leftist claptrap, and who are drowning daily in the disinformation spewed out by leftist media and culture. But I can add the same value for those people by sometimes discussing leftist propaganda when I am discussing legitimate works. All the leftist agitprop I am now going to ignore is worse than worthless. It is total lies, which, fascinatingly, is a relatively new departure for the Left. Over decades, the Left was rewarded for slanting and twisting the truth, never punished, and now that they have total control over the organs of communication, culture, and power, simply disregarding the truth in the service of power, serving instead lying propaganda, is the inevitable consequence. What you reward, you get more of. For the Left, since 1789, after all, the ends justify the means, and the purported goal of their utopian cult is now in sight, so any tool is justified. So I understand why they lie, and how and why the New York Times today became no different than the Pravda of 1988. But I see no reason I should legitimate their webs of lies.

It is all a question of priorities. My core priority is to establish the Foundationalist state, under which human flourishing may again occur. What is the chief obstacle to the Foundationalist state? The power of the Left, and the corruption of the West it has wrought, by rejecting the pursuit of excellence and accomplishment, and by corroding individual virtue. Working to demonstrate that the Left lies as it breathes merely grants power to their lies. As I have said, the only way out is through, and that means, most of all, offering a positive vision of what the future can look like, as opposed to the world visible around us wrought by the Left—and them implementing that vision.

More broadly, I no longer care what any organ of the Left, or any individual leftist, thinks or says about any topic. At all. I don’t need to understand them better; I already understand them completely, and what they have to say that is not lies, is evil that has led us to our current degenerate and decayed society, for which they bear primary responsibility. Nor is it important to understand better their motivations: greed, love of power, millenarian fervor, sheer stupidity, love of destruction, hatred driven by racist ethnonarcissism, animal rage generated by envy of beauty and accomplishment. No, there is no reason whatsoever to engage the Left, except in the act of utterly and permanently breaking their power and imposing a decent society. The time for debate with the Left is over; the time for the re-imposition of reality arrived long ago.

The Left, always and everywhere, has known the existential nature of the struggle, and the exterminatory character of their program, and in every case acted to the extent its power allowed. Today in America, they no longer pretend the Right is even permitted to debate; after all, error has no rights. They are now imposing their final end-state on us, a project they will soon complete if they are not stopped. Our only goal should be to smash the Left and impose the will of the Right, in a complete reformation of our society—if we can, a topic for another day. What form that imposition of will might take remains to be seen. It could be a democratic turn to a Viktor Orbán-type leader, though more aggressive, who combines economic populism and nationalism, and is not afraid to use existing tools to break the Left. It could be a fragmentation of the country, along Kurt Schlichter lines, where the Left is confined in their own new country to descend into Venezuela, or worse, and the Right can form a renewed society. It could be many other things, each prefigured by history. But the path leads inevitably to war, whether hot war or cold war. It already is war, though a war fought only by the Left. Time to fight back, effectively.

Oh, I will read plenty of books I disagree with, in whole or in part. But those will be books that illuminate the way forward. I will no doubt still find much to criticize in some books. I will continue to read and analyze books that I know are partially wrong, such as those written with a whole or partial Left bias that are not works of politics or history (e.g., science or economics), because in those something of value can often still be found. I may sometimes read books that I strongly suspect are completely wrong, say anything new from Jonah Goldberg, but that could still contain something of interest, especially books whose readership may include those on the Right working toward victory. I may read classic Left works, because they are classic, thus they may contain something of value, and moreover I know they inform my enemies, so knowing their contents is of use. Lenin, for example. (Not all old Left works are classic, of course. Take Edward Said’s Orientalism—I tried reading that, and it was worthless, lying trash, and laughably, obviously so.) But for the most part, I will read either books that are not political at all, but of interest to me for other reasons, or books that I see as useful in building Foundationalism.

More generally, I intend to spend as little time as possible discussing political matters with the Left. They can read my works, or not, and there may be exceptions to my general rule. But why discuss political matters with leftist commenters on my writing, or with my left-leaning relatives? Their worldview consists wholly of lies, destructive lies, lies that corrode all societal virtue and wholly block all societal accomplishment. They cannot be convinced otherwise; like any cult member, and cult is what the Left is, as shown by that their ideology does not permit any new fact to contradict their prebaked conclusions. Someone must rule; now it is them, and changing that is the challenge of the next decade, followed by the suppression of their evil works and the proper education of both our children and our brainwashed adults. Meanwhile, with leftists with whom we have a social relation, we can talk about other things—although since the Left insists on politicizing all of life, there is, sadly, often very little we can talk about.

But before I call it a day, let us discuss this book. In it, childlike naivete alternates with low malice, combining in an execrable stew. I read Why Liberalism Works because it claims to be an answer to Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, a key text of today’s post-liberal Right. To my disappointment, other than in its title and one unbelievably stupid sentence inside, this book completely ignores Deneen’s book, and also ignores all claims and arguments of today’s post-liberals. Instead, it substitutes, for engaging with ideas, heated repetition of bogus ideological claims. It’s crushingly boring and tiresomely predictable. But reading this book made me understand more fully why and how we are all force fed propaganda, of which this is merely an exemplar, on a daily basis, and led me to the decision outlined above. I’m happy for that, at least.

The author, Deirdre McCloskey, is what we can call a “choice extremist.” This is a type of libertarianism, but not confined to limiting the state. Rather, it is an endorsement of man as mayfly, impelled by no other desire than maximizing pleasure, and insistent that any limitation on such pleasure is evil incarnate. People like McCloskey, who claim to be centrists seeking human flourishing, offer the distilled essence of the worst of the Left, without the leavening concern for social fabric that some of the Left offers, or used to offer. A clean sweep will begin with these people, McCloskey and his neoliberal allies, many long falsely seen as conservatives. For me, this book was unpleasant to read, and this review a drag to write. Still, I read the whole book, every word, hacking through the ignorant writing and annoying tone of unjustified superiority combined with a jarring, oily pseudo-femininity. You’re welcome.

Totally aside from its other defects, McCloskey’s book is poorly structured, because rather than writing a new book, he cobbled together numerous existing short writings, added some filler, divided them into four rough groups, and presented the results as a tasty pottage to his masters at the American Enterprise Institute and other similar bastions of mendacious toadies to leftism and chaos. Constant repetition is therefore the hallmark of this book; it could have been a fifth of its length and said the same things. Again, you’re welcome. Rather than analyze the fifty essays in this book sequentially, I’m going to summarize the author’s key claims, which are merely repeated with slight variations and emphasis throughout the entire book. Let’s get on with it.

First, McCloskey draws the line of demarcation that snakes through the entire book. We have “true liberals.” And we have everyone else. True liberals are awesome. Everyone else is bad, and bad precisely to the extent he differs in any way from true liberals. By “true liberal,” McCloskey means someone who is a fan of the core tenet of Enlightenment political philosophy, of emancipation from all unchosen bonds, an atomized free actor in every facet of his existence. True liberals, you see, adhere to the Golden Rule, which is, properly viewed, merely Adam Smith’s principles of free trade applied to all activities of life. In fact, total emancipation is dictated by God—McCloskey claims that some fictional “Abrahamic egalitarianism” is common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and in case we are unclear, calls Smith, ad nauseum, “the Blessed Adam Smith,” who revealed the correct interpretation of the Gospel, which previously had escaped all of us.

The rest of the book is merely endless variations on ascribing superlatives to “true liberals” and attacking everyone not a “true liberal,” though flavor is added by changing the adjective occasionally from “true” to “humane,” “sisterly,” or “motherly.” To support this division as an intelligent way to view the world, McCloskey’s tool is not evidence or reason. Rather, his only tool is ignoring or totally mischaracterizing opposing arguments while using tendentious, emotion-laden terms. In the second paragraph of the Preface, for example, he contrasts true liberals, who have “splendid arts and sciences, . . . toleration, . . . inclusiveness, . . . cosmopolitanism” with “illiberal regimes,” from whose “violent hierarchies” true liberals have liberated us, though “brutal, scaremongering populists” such as Viktor Orbán are still fighting their inevitable defeat by the true liberal paladins. The rest of the book does not vary from this pattern.

Second, in order to praise true liberals as the source of all that is righteous, McCloskey offers a puerile and false chain of historical causation. It is hard to exaggerate how simplistic this book is. In a nutshell, which is all we are offered, in the late 1700s, true liberalism began, when demands for emancipation and atomized liberty, that is, the Enlightenment, began. This political philosophy created the “Great Enrichment,” “economic betterments for ordinary people,” by “giving voice” to people who were formerly voiceless and utterly passive. This has continued, so now we are rich and getting richer, which is all that matters.

Now, McCloskey does recognize the glaring problem in this set of claims, which is that only clowns believe that the Industrial Revolution had any connection to the Enlightenment. So he dodges by trying to separate the supposed Great Enrichment from the Industrial Revolution. He claims that the latter was a mere commonplace, frequent throughout history, of doubling income, but that the Enrichment was a new thing in history, created purely by true liberalism. In one of the most bizarre passages of a book that is filled with them, McCloskey claims that equally important industrial revolutions also occurred in Islamic Spain and Song China. Before 1800, you see, progress was regarded as dishonorable and sinful, something “economists and historians are starting to recognize”—led, of course, by the most insightful historian of the modern age, McCloskey himself. Our unexceptional industrial revolution continued, creating the Great Enrichment, because “liberalism inspirited the masses to devise betterments and to open new enterprises and to move to new jobs.”

These are radical historical claims, but no evidence at all is offered for them, or any other historical claim. McCloskey is a historian by trade, but almost zero history appears in this book. To be fair, that may be the nature of such a cobbled-together book; he mentions his trilogy of other books about “bourgeois values,” with a passing claim that those books support what he says here, so perhaps one has to read those too to get any actual arguments from history. I won’t read them, because life is too short.

But back in the real world, there is no mystery as to how the Industrial Revolution created the economics of the modern world, and there is no such thing as a separate Great Enrichment. The West, starting in England, combined the advances of the Scientific Revolution (created purely by Europeans) with the right cultural practices, such as hard work and the rule of law, added some other factors endlessly debated (coal? intelligence? sea power?) and thereby escaped from the Malthusian Trap, which had never occurred a single time anywhere else in the world. Once created by the West, this package feeds on itself, and can be exported to any culture willing and able to adopt the gifts of Western technology and culture. Some are; most aren’t either willing or able, and haven’t been for the past two hundred years. If they do, and to the extent they are willing to adopt these cultural and technological practices (which do not include frippery such as democracy), countries are lifted out of poverty, a process continuing, in fits, starts, and steps backward, today. The end. The rickety and ahistorical claims that McCloskey makes are simply objectively false, which he probably realizes, since beyond announcing conclusions, he makes no effort to support them. (No surprise, McCloskey ignores China’s and Singapore’s adoption of Western technology and methods to escape the Malthusian Trap, since those successes alone disprove every single claim he makes.)

Third, there are enemies of true liberalism, who want to cast the whole world into darkness and end the Great Enrichment by opposing choice extremism. These are, today, primarily the parties democratically elected in Hungary and Poland, though occasionally Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are thrown in too. As with all of his odious neoliberal caste, McCloskey hates and fears those in power in Hungary and Poland, because their success and popularity prove everything he says false, and he is afraid their powerful ideas will spread to dominate throughout Europe and the United States (a fear that is, fortunately, well on its way to being a reality). McCloskey does not deign to tell us why Hungary and Poland are bad, or how the policies enunciated by their governments will end the Great Enrichment. He just mouths the usual total lies that the press is attacked and the rule of law eroded, without any actual attempt to demonstrate those claims. In reality, of course, censorship and erosion of the rule of law is far more prevalent in the United States and Western Europe; but that’s censorship and erosion of the rule of law McCloskey likes. He’s very much a fan of flexible principles—for another example, despite his claim that we should all operate only on “sweet talk,” he openly celebrates in this book how he helped destroy the life of J. Michael Bailey, a Northwestern University professor who failed to adequately celebrate sexual degeneracy.

In addition to Viktor Orbán and some Poles, there are also domestic enemies. McCloskey hates American conservatives, that is, anyone on the Right not a corporatist, Koch-type Republican, with an ill-concealed burning passion. No surprise, he never once engages their arguments, even though he chants “let’s listen, really listen, to the arguments of our supposed enemies, and consider their logic and evidence.” The core of McCloskey’s “thinking” is a crude logical trap. We should have “a society held together by sweet talk among free adults rather than by coercion applied to slaves and children.” What if that sweet talk concludes that most people want to, let’s say, ban pornography? That’s coercion! So in other words, McCloskey wants talk, as long as that talk has no chance of ending in conclusions other than the ones he has already mandated as the only acceptable ones for society. That’s just dishonest. But that’s this book.

We reach the nadir of McCloskey’s hate and stupidity in the single sentence devoted to Deneen. I was excited to get there, figuring I would get an actual response to post-liberal arguments. What I got was this, in toto. Brace yourself. “Liberalism, intones Deneen, entails ‘the loosening of social bonds’ (bonds such as slavery in the British Empire), ‘a relentless logic of impersonal transactions’ (so unlike the transactions of pious Israelites selling lumber to Egyptians, say), and the proposition that ‘human beings are thus, by nature, non-relational creatures, separate and autonomous’ (as for example in the non-relational exploration of human relationships in the bourgeois and liberal English novel since 1700).” That’s it. That’s the entirety of McCloskey’s “argument.” The first parenthetical, about slavery, is apparently meant to be a refutation of Deneen in some way I cannot fathom. I have no idea what the second and third parentheticals, about Israelites, lumber, and English novels, are trying to say; they are not tied to anything else McCloskey says elsewhere. I am still scratching my head. But I can assure you that McCloskey thinks he has crushed Deneen, which says a lot more about him than anything else.

Fourth, for McCloskey, there are no enemies on the Left. Sure, some on the Left are mistaken, notably Thomas Piketty, on whom McCloskey spills a lot of gently-phrased words. But everyone on the Left is “earnest and amiable,” just a little wrong, like the “sweet slow socialist” George Soros or McCloskey’s unnamed “beloved and extremely intelligent Marxian friend.” The New York Times is wrong sometimes, but “sweet” and “benevolent.” Anyone on the Right, though, is “vicious,” a “thug,” or any of innumerable similar terms, and McCloskey certainly has no friends who are conservatives.

Fifth, true liberalism must struggle against bad policies, some of which are pushed by evil people and some by ignorant people. Any policy that has any element of “coercion” is bad. The worst policy of all is any restrictions whatsoever on immigration. We are told that “bad people” in the United States “wish to deport law-abiding and hardworking immigrants, in response to a scientifically bankrupt economic notion, which is anyway unethical, that immigrants take jobs away from natives, or a scientifically bankrupt sociological notion, also unethical, that their children will never become properly American.” If the “Hungarian farmer or West Virginia coal miner” complains that he can no longer feed his children, he has no legitimate complaint, rather, “what is being complained about is change, and as it happens desirable change.” We know it is desirable because it is happening because of the free market, for “Profits are a signal of general worthiness.” The end. Really. You can see why neoliberals love this stuff, but the normal reader wonders why no effort, none at all, is ever made to demonstrate the truth of these claims and why we are never, not once, given any suggestion that we should perform cost-benefit analysis on any social policy. McCloskey’s claims and demanded social policies are uniformly and without exception wonderful and costless, and this truth is self-proving. Any questioning proves you are “authoritarian” or “fascist,” not “humane” and McCloskey’s “dear friend.”

Sixth, total emancipation in all areas of life will lead to total human flourishing. We are guaranteed that it is an absolute certainty that so long as we are true liberals, unlimited wealth will be ours, which will make us happy (not for McCloskey any wondering about the relationship, beyond a certain point, of wealth to happiness). And not just happiness—the resulting “enrichment will cause . . . a cultural explosion, casting into the shade the achievements of fifth-century Athenian drama and T’ang poetry and Renaissance painting.” His evidence for this? That the 1960s, the dawn of emancipation in America, were culturally, especially in art, far superior to the Renaissance. Yes, that’s what he claims.

Woven throughout the endless repetitions of this six-point plan is much other dumbassery. We are lied to that the “classical definition of liberty/freedom is the condition of being liberated/free from physical interference by other human beings,” which is the exact opposite of the truth. Pericles would reject everything McCloskey says out of hand, then have him flogged for corrupting the virtue of the body politic. Economic fallacies abound, most of all the exaltation of GDP as a measure of human flourishing (combined with the only other measure of human flourishing, the absolute right, derived from nothing in particular, to not be “pushed or bossed around without voluntarily given consent or contract”). “Leisure . . . should be accounted as income.” If you can’t find a job because an illegal immigrant took it, you are still making money, peasant, so stop complaining! Third-rate thinkers like Tyler Cowen and Eric Hoffer are extolled as brilliant. If some things are better now, everything that exists now must be good. And, most of all, culture doesn’t matter for anything, and no human motivation other than the desire for maximized freedom exists.

I’m not going to waste any more time on the claims of this book, but I want to examine what this book means. That is, on its face, nearly everything in this book is shockingly dumb, and I don’t think McCloskey is dumb (though he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is). So why did he write it? Ah, there’s where it gets interesting, and indicative of our politics today. Every so often the real agenda’s slimy face peeks through. We see it in the occasional obeisances to a free-floating “dignity.” McCloskey’s project is to endorse a vision of humanity completely atomized, and he knows that to sell this he has to claim that all the worthwhile advances of the modern world are created by atomization. Okay, but why is McCloskey paid to purvey propaganda under the guise of being a purveyor of history and ideas, and then lionized across many forms of media? It’s because this is merely one small facet of the giant propaganda machine that spews its output across our society today.

We are everywhere surrounded by endless propaganda designed to push an agenda that simultaneously pushes the Left goal of emancipation combined with forced egalitarianism while lining the pockets of our neoliberal overlords. Every movie, computer game, or other form of media involving violence or the military features a complete inversion of reality, where female warriors exemplifying alpha male characteristics triumph over weak men with feminine characteristics. Every movie and TV show, for children or adults, celebrates homosexuals and sexual degenerates. Advertisements do the same. Wise Latinas instruct stupid white people. The propaganda machine is kept going by aggressive censorship across all media and social media, silencing the strongest voices of opposition and ensuring that those that remain self-censor to avoid deplatforming.

Still, at the end, this is a clarifying book. It made me realize what I started this review with—that debate is a waste of time, and the choice is utter defeat by the Left, or destroying the Left. Dispose yourselves accordingly.

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38 Comments

  1. Uncompliant says

    Thank you for writing these reviews. Thank you just as much for all of the “extra” ideas that you end up adding to the reviews. This, for example, is perfectly stated: “… why is McCloskey paid to purvey propaganda under the guise of being a purveyor of history and ideas, and then lionized across many forms of media? It’s because this is merely one small facet of the giant propaganda machine that spews its output across our society today.”

  2. True liberals, like true Scotsmen, are always in the right. If a so-called liberal is wrong, then you know that he’s not true.

  3. Behind Enemy Lines says

    Well thought, nicely written. I gave up on reading left propaganda over twenty years ago. As you said, “I don’t need to understand them better; I already understand them completely. . . .” Of late, I’m rapidly giving up on reading Our Guys’ response to left propaganda, too. There’s little new, nothing remains to be ‘understood’; what we need to learn now will be revealed by the future, one day at a time.

    So, we move on to the next phase.

    Thanks again for keeping a light burning.

  4. lhtness says

    Alas, my hopes for a review of “A Theory of Justice” are dashed!

    More seriously, your expression emancipation from all “unchosen bonds” has long struck me as an odd one. I assume this includes duty to God, family, and country. It obviously misses (in many cultures) the extremely important important bond with one’s spouse, which you’ve talked about before. In general, I’m not sure how this concept is different from the general moral concept of duty. (Much of our current political trouble seems closely associated with our ruling class’s rejection of any notion of duty towards those they rule over.)

  5. Jared says

    We are lied to that the “classical definition of liberty/freedom is the condition of being liberated/free from physical interference by other human beings,” which is the exact opposite of the truth. Pericles would reject everything McCloskey says out of hand, then have him flogged for corrupting the virtue of the body politic.

    I happened upon a nice, brief clip on this topic some time ago and shared it with some friends. It’s in French, so here’s an accompanying English translation:

    (What is the definition of liberty for a liberal?)

    The definition of liberty for a liberal represents an absolutely considerable revolution.

    Liberty in all traditional societies — that is in the Greeks, the Greek sense of liberty, or in the Christian sense of liberty elsewhere — it’s a liberty of accomplishment: I have an essence, and I ought accomplish what I am made for. “Liberal” liberty is a negative liberty, an unspecified liberty that consists in not being obliged to do anything, and not being prohibited from doing anything. Its limit is that, in not being prohibited from doing anything.

    The big difficulty of the liberal regime — and one can see it now, and it’s the reason why liberalism might be totalitarian and transform itself into a totalitarian regime — it’s the question of how to be good when truth does not exist and where liberty consists just in not being prevented from doing anything. How to reconcile the exercising of all liberties in a society?

    And really the only solution that is found — and that is being practiced by Macron in particular — is simply to fight against all the people who have a different definition. And consider, that has been the case during the protests against the Taubira law [n.b., a French law granting same-sex couples the right to marry and jointly adopt children], two different worlds fighting each other — one world of collective order, one world of individual order.

    [To the latter] only the particular is real, all the rest is imaginary. And it’s exactly the reason that Margaret Thatcher for example said that “society does not exist.” There are only individuals; it’s an effect of nominalism, which has been relayed by Protestantism and then mainly Anglo-Saxon pragmatism.

    (What is the difference between “liberty” and “liberties?”)

    There are several conceptions — there’s the liberal conception, there’s the Republican conception of liberty — that has destroyed liberties and all intermediary institutions.

    The Republic, to begin with, is not really liberal. It’s a curious, paradoxical mix of Jacobinism and individualism. The Republic knows only the individual and the nation, the latter in the Jacobin sense of the word. In reality, the Republic no longer exists; it is dead, everyone knows it; there remains only the individual. The Republic in spite of itself — where the idea of a civil society independent of the state was absolutely foreign — has made the bed of liberalism. There remains only the individual.

    • Charles says

      An excellent short summary, and particularly interesting for the French overlay. Americans, not surprisingly, tend to view these questions through a narrow lens–even if they advert to historical precedents, they tend to ignore modern instances of the conflicts generated, and views held.

  6. Steve says

    My mistake; I had checked the U of Illinois website, which described him as a woman, before my initial comment; after reading your reply, I checked Wiki, ‘the unimpeachable source of all knowledge’, which states that he lived as a man until age 53.

    • Charles says

      Yes, that seems like the precise way to characterize it–he now “lives as a woman,” rather than as a man, the immutable sex he actually is. (It wasn’t wholly germane to the review, so I ignored his personal mental illness in the review.)

  7. Ethan says

    Hello Charles. I’ve been a fan of your work for over a year. Since much of our media — including our educational outlets — are controlled by liberal elites, what resources would you recommend for gaining a “Foundationalist” education? What books give an antidote to the large-scale propaganda efforts of the Left? I’m an undergraduate attending a relatively leftist university and I’m concerned about the ideological bent of my education.

    Thank you.

    • Charles says

      Thank you. This is a great question. I’m afraid I don’t have a reading list (other than as covered by the blog itself), and my own reading and education has significant gaps, or what are often regarded on the Right as gaps. I don’t think one should force oneself to read on topics of no or little interest. For example, I am not that interested in economics, and although I read some books on economics, I tend to focus on political economy, on social aspects, since “straight” economics hurts my head. I think the one essential is history, but even there, some topics are of greater or lesser interest to any individual. The key is to read either somewhat older books (say, published before 1980), or books carefully curated to avoid excessive Left bias. Fortunately, Goodreads and Amazon reviews allow bias to be fairly easily determined. History matters because it is the essence of reality, which is what Foundationalism is based on. The propaganda of the Left is inherently anti-reality; thus, any reading that is reality-based is anti-Left. (The same is true of science, for example–it is not just history. But any modern science work that touches on any controversial topic, such as sex or group differences, can obviously not be trusted, so picking works carefully here is even more important.)

      There is no Foundationalist manifesto; there could not be, given that it is not an ideology. That said, I am writing a lengthy exposition of what Foundationalism is, which I will then expand on in a full-length work. Aspects and pieces of this have already appeared, but in scattered areas in the blog.

      Hope that helps!

  8. Great review, well stated.

    Nowadays I feel a welling joy when I think about how my side, the Right, is the side most in tune with reality, with nature, and thus the side that is destined to win. We are the side that values excellence: beauty, strength, truth, and all the other virtues of excellence. We are going to win. It’s going to be a struggle, but that appears to be part of the plan here in this world.

    And all I have to do, to do my part, is work each day to make myself more excellent. Stronger, more disciplined, more educated, wealthier, more connected, kinder, wiser, and living with more clarity. I will do that, my compatriots will do that. And meanwhile, our enemies degenerate further into mental sickness and dissipation.

    My current best understanding of the overall situation is that the degenerate, the sick, the unfit, can swell in numbers in a prosperous society until they overrun it and the society collapses. And then there is a great cleaning where the unfit either wake up and get their acts together or they disappear.

    Anyway, I find it of great comfort that life is essentially right-wing. Life rewards those who see reality clearly and live with excellence, and life ruthlessly culls out the degenerate and unfit. Even if it takes a century or a millennia, eventually excellence wins.

    • Charles says

      Yes, I too have been quite optimistic of late. Individual striving toward excellence–not leaving aside, as you do not, increasing individual wealth such that it may be deployed appropriately–is very important.

      It’s important to distinguish the degenerate from the simply sick or unfit. Bioleninism, the idea bandied about that what the Left offers is power and property to those who deserve to be on the bottom of a society, has elements of truth, but it ignores both that more important is the ability to offer a feeling of community and transcendence, which is why young white people are the Antifa rioters supposedly pushing for BLM, and that a well-run society offers a place for, and help to, the “sick and unfit.” True, as you say, a prosperous society can be used to set up a structure where those unfit for rule, or unfit for anything but manual labor, are instead given premium positions. That’s bad. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Excellence can win without culling–you just have to have a society that is not based around envy. The idea that all societies are based on envy is a modern error; we just need to erase that idea, and return to a society where each person is valued, and each person has a place–the place that he deserves, based on all relevant factors.

  9. Eugene says

    Charles,

    I won’t spend much time on the review of the book proper, as you seem to have reviewed a work of parody more than one of social science (or whatever it is that the text purports to be). I am certainly amused by the shopworn accusations of Orbán’s being illiberal – he might well be illiberal, but many jurisdictions in the Anglo-Saxon world – supposedly a lodestar of democracy and freedom – are still living in a state of emergency, some seven months into a virus that is mostly a danger for a very small part of the population. This is before we go into the rise of cancel culture in the US and other similar developments.

    I don’t always agree with Eric Zemmour, a prominent figure on France’s intellectual right, but he is right when he draws parallels between the rise of the so-called “bien-pensants” (the “progressives” who set the agenda today) and the expansion of multinational corporations. The two seem to complement each other. The premise of the work in question strongly suggests this.

    It was the first part of the essay that I really enjoyed. You’re right: sadly, debate is a waste of time. At a certain point, I realized that, well, there is no point. Despite my previous openness to alternative opinions, as long as they were well informed and well presented, I’ve even given up on some of the most venerable names in the media whose reportage I previously enjoyed. The problem with the contemporary left, aside from all the others, is aesthetic: it is nauseatingly predictable.

    We must also be conscious of the fact that the right is no longer the right that it once was (for example, where I live, the main conservative party renounced its erstwhile opposition to gay marriage years ago). As society has drifted leftwards, the right adjusted its platform out of fear that it would lose voters. In this way, the left also determined and shaped the position of the right, and redefined what it means to be conservative. Not to mention all the imbecility and mediocrity that, let’s admit it, you also find on the right.

    If I do sound a tad elegiac, it’s because I am not overly optimistic about what is to come. I console myself with the following lines from Ernst Jünger’s diary: “Real tradition should not be bequeathed to the sexually impotent who call themselves conservatives, but should be taken with you to the grave”.

    • Charles says

      All true. But as I say, I am feeling optimistic lately! Let’s not consign ourselves to the grave just yet.

  10. spotted eagle says

    Liberalism as over-specialization, corporate consolidation, and cultural nihilism is not good, but that’s not how I think of liberalism. Liberals accept that the public has a right to constrain individual rights on behalf of society. When it comes to the right to bear arms or free speech, they believe society SHOULD step in and crush it for the public good (even if it’s misguided sometimes). As far as vices like petty crime, drugs, alcohol, gambling, prostitution, etc., it might be okay for them because they grew up with families and community, but not everybody has that self-control, and unless society steps in to guide vulnerable people in the right direction (like a parent would do), they will spin out of control and drag society with them. Liberals are for “tough love” and zero tolerance once they see it’s effectiveness and understand the context.

    Libertarians want to limit the public good to only basic things like murder, but when they learn that the framework needs to expand to include victimless crimes, regulations, tariffs, infrastructure, etc., they are actually receptive because the evidence shows you can’t have one without the other. A functioning economy requires comprehensive laws, which depends on societal norms and community planning. As long as it is reasonable (and local), they’re okay with it, especially since we pay for the repercussions anyways in the form of lawsuits, insurance, prisons, hospitals, rehabs, police, etc. Better to invest in healthy communities ahead of time than deal with the mess afterwards.

    Conservatives know that a hands-off approach is not enough, especially now given our current state of affairs. We need strong families, strong communities, and a strong country in order to fight back corporate control. It shows when conservatives talk about values, tradition, and national pride.

    I might be optimistic, but all three political groups are allies toward creating a more democratic society in my opinion. Even the people who only want to argue will discuss topics as long as it doesn’t involve specific politicians or controversial current events.

  11. Mario says

    I certainly agree that conversation with the Left is impossible at present—occasionally, even in practical daily life. Their vocabulary is leaving common-sense behind. However, the problem with lacking even a conversational language, is that the Right lacks both mass support & an elite worthy of the name. Of course we have had some ‘populist’ victories; but outside of Eastern Europe, neither the victorious leaders, nor their supporters, have been particularly anti-egalitarian; & from your writings, we have all seen how necessary some skepticism of democracy & absolute equality will be to our post-liberal future. Perhaps this would not matter, if we had a strong & capable elite pointing in that direction, but we do not. For the responses to the virus from leaders & thinkers of the Right, appear, at least to me, to have shown the dependence of many purportedly of the Right on the ideological world of the Left. Certainly the response to the virus is open to debate; but what is apparent is that the uniformity of response shows that the ‘populist’ leaders—from Trump to Putin—think to a great extent, in terms derived from the global Left. Where was the concern for the religious life, or the traditional Western way of life? Intellectuals of the Right have differed only a little from their political leaders; when debate does make an appearance, it is about libertarianism, or skepticism toward the inflated claims made for the virus, cf. Lionel Shriver & Peter Hitchens, for example. However much I respect both those positions, it has been very disappointing to see ignored, concerns about how the new regulations exacerbate our society’s broken bonds, or its homogeneous way of life. So if we wish to have an elite whose thinking is by default of the Right, of the kind you have been calling for—patterns of thought that resist egalitarianism & panic—I can only see it emerging en masse from people with young, flexible, minds. But the Left has more control over education than ever before; hence we will need a language to evade those ideological controls, to speak to them of religion, of civilization.

    By the way, do you have a review of Michael Anton’s new book in the works? From what little I have read so far: he has moved away from his more abstract, Straussian tone, to something more ‘folksy’; & there is a curious idealization of 50’s California—more accessible of course, than the Founding or antiquity. I think that he is angling for a run at elected office, to transcend intellectualism, as you predicted last year.

    • Charles says

      Yes, the response to the Wuhan Plague from the “right” has been very disappointing. I don’t really understand it; the Occam’s Razor explanation is that the people everywhere have been corrupted by safetyism and feminization. I cannot get a clear picture of the response of the masses in non-Western cultures–say Brazil, or Africa, for comparison, which would be interesting.

      I vacillate between thinking that some great trial will be necessary to break the stranglehold of the Left, on education, but on minds most of all, and thinking that perhaps the problem will solve itself, as reality reasserts itself. Probably, though, that latter creates the former (the great trial), so they are the same thing, just phrased differently. When I say I am optimistic, which I am, I do not mean I am hopeful we can avoid paying the piper–just that doing so will lead to a better world.

      My Anton review was posted this morning! No idea if he wants to be elected, though. That’s an interesting thought.

  12. Eugene says

    Mario,

    I was also very surprised by the uniform response of politicians, both on the left and the right. While this might be understandable in Western countries, I was astonished that leaders such as, say, Putin reacted similarly. Perhaps the traditional political spectrum (right/left) has become obsolete. While I am very far from the left, I find it difficult to identify with the right, too – on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.

  13. Mario says

    To Eugene:

    It does seem that what appeared to be different in ‘the populists’ turned out to be only a vague conservatism, with exceptions, e.g. the wall or Brexit. Having no holistic thought, they seem to follow liberals on each crisis, & often retreat under pressure. This too, goes for many religious leaders, when they are not outright liberals. Of course, I too, would like for that conservatism to succeed, though I doubt many here are optimistic about that. The contemporary Right looks to have become the conservative who is happy to remain a decade behind the Left. I too find that hard to sympathize with. Perhaps what is wrong with the Right is the missing ‘vitality’, what you quote Jünger lamenting in your comment above. I am unsure if the Right could ever be described as vital, but in order to go beyond liberalism, it will need to be. There is an idea in the work of Michel Foucault that I have always found interesting—paraphrasing from memory: that practices of government are a kind of technology, social technology. Once acknowledged, it is then the case that just as for better or worse, the industrial revolution, consumer electronics, &c. are faits accomplis, so social technology like, income tax, the recent lockdowns or a free economy, is also, a fait accompli. From that deduction, a grim end in the utter domination of the ‘liberalism’ of the book under review, appears to await us. But the foregoing conclusion is blind to the possibility of social inventiveness from the Right, from a ‘vital’ Right; this, it seems to me, is a great cause for hope.

  14. Eugene says

    Mario,

    Thank you for your comment.

    There’s always reason for hope, of course. If it’s of any consolation, Jünger frequently referred to greater historical forces that drive events – “transcendental forces”, if you will, forces that transcend people and ideologies. If so, we are but hostages of these forces, so perhaps a bit of fatalism is in order. Seen that way, one might almost feel consoled.

  15. Kerry says

    He’s best known in economics for work on the rhetoric of economics, an attempt at a ‘linguistic turn’ for economics which has never received much more than lip service from the economics profession – as a field of research it seems fairly immune from post-modernism

  16. I agree about transcendental forces. I think we make a mistake when we focus too closely on our little slice of history here. There are 8 billion people on the planet, 320 million in the USA alone, and they are all in motion, making choices, taking actions based on their values and emotions and desires and basic drives. There is essentially nothing you or I can do to influence that decisively. It is going to play out the way it is going to play out.

    What gives me comfort is knowing that all I need to do is work at being more personally excellent, in every way I can see to do it, and I am then doing the very most I can to contribute to the “good guys” winning. I will also do my little part in the big schemes – I’ll vote, I’ll contribute to worthy thinkers and causes; in discussions with friends I’ll try to spread the good ideas as diplomatically and effectively as I can, with little expectation that it will matter much.

    We may very well descend into a left-wing hellhole situation in the West. The white population may be oppressed and shrink. Or they may come together and reconquer their territory. It may take a century or two. I think our frustrations are in part because we want to see it all turn out OK in our lives. I think you have to give up on that. It will be nice if it does, but there’s no knowing.

    But in the long run, quality and excellence will win. Real quality, real excellence, that’s in tune with the real world. That’s the side I’m on, and it feels fantastic.

    • Charles says

      These are good points, especially about the desire to see it in our lifetimes. As to “white,” I am working up thoughts on such matters . . . .

  17. Jared says

    We may very well descend into a left-wing hellhole situation in the West. The white population may be oppressed and shrink. Or they may come together and reconquer their territory. It may take a century or two. I think our frustrations are in part because we want to see it all turn out OK in our lives. I think you have to give up on that. It will be nice if it does, but there’s no knowing.

    But in the long run, quality and excellence will win. Real quality, real excellence, that’s in tune with the real world. That’s the side I’m on, and it feels fantastic.

    “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

  18. Prism says

    I dunno, Maximum Leader, surely a review of Preston’s ‘A People Betrayed’ would have been a more fitting finale to your dalliance with Leftist talking points.

  19. I think the industrial revolution and the enlightenment are linked and neither is good. As Schuon said, mechanization is perhaps the greatest evil of modernity.

    At any rate, the scientific revolution and the industrial revolution that followed it, like the Enlightenment, came about because Western man, beginning with the Renaissance turned his view outward instead of inward (the Kingdom of Heaven is within you).

    If medieval European man, or non-European civilizations, had no scientific or industrial revolutions this was not due to any inferiority in their worldview but precisely because their concerns lay elsewhere. As Plato made clear 2,500 years ago, it is only the immature who allow themselves to be preoccupied with the world of becoming… which means of course that modern science, with its implicit materialism, is mostly a product of immature minds.

    You have some good things to say Charles, but your admiration of much of post-medieval Western civilization is a glaring, perhaps fatal flaw in your worldview.

    The decline of Western civilization goes back to at least the 14th century, with the beginnings of Renaissance humanism (which itself was born out of a fatal admiration for the decadent Graeco-Romans), and the nation state. All the era’s following the middle ages are era’s of decline, each one falling lower than the one before it. We today are living at the end of the seven century long decline.

  20. I am replying to my previous post to clarify. Plato was not against engagement with the world but he was opposed to the idea that any worthwhile knowledge could be obtained from studying the world of becoming. Thus modern science, which is focused solely on the study of the material world gives us a type of knowledge, but an inferior knowledge, productive mostly of ills, as we can see all around us. There was nothing much good about the scientistic and industrial revolutions and these revolutions are absolutely not a sign that the society that the civilization that produced them was possessed of some type of superiority over other civilizations… quite the contrary.

    • Charles says

      The question of whether scientific advance is inherently corrosive of the good is, I admit, an open one. But striving for it is probably in man’s nature, though only possible to be brought to fruition in any meaningful way among certain cultures and peoples. Among those peoples and cultures, however, it’s probably inevitable, both because science supports war, and aggrandizement of those in power, and because a certain type of man will always seek improvements in man’s estate.

      In the West, the Scholastics and univocity are often blamed for making the nascent Scientific Revolution diverge in a way that turned God from the ground of being into a demiurge. (Brad Gregory talks about this a great deal.) This is compelling to me. In other words, I don’t think science is inherently corrosive of the good—it’s an open question because the answer is unprovable, but likely answers are possible. The Kingdom of Heaven is not within us, whatever the Traditionalists say, and a high degree of introspection such as characterizes philosophers is not relevant to the everyday lives of most people. There is a reason the Ancient Greeks had a mostly contemptuous view of philosophers, which we forget, since we exalt them. We just followed the wrong philosophers, both earlier, and most of all in the Enlightenment.

      As a counter-example, let’s take Indus Valley civilizations prior to the incursions of the West, beloved by men like Schuon. They suck. On every level, as far as I can tell. Admittedly, I’m not an expert on them, but I can’t think of anything good about Hindu civilization, for example, other than some admirable warriors. Yet they seem like what you’re recommending—societies that lacked any kind of scientific or industrial revolution. Is, then, what you’re recommending the West, and only the West, but without the scientific or industrial revolution, the world of around 1200? Or do you disagree that Hindu civilizations sucked, and maintain that pre-mechanized civilizations of all types are superior? (I suspect Schuon would, but I’m not sure what he’d say exactly.)

      It may be the immature who concern themselves with the world of becoming, but perhaps the immature in that sense should be in charge, as they are in charge in every society. Philosophers being in charge has a very bad track record. The “immature” are grounded in reality in a way that even philosophers who are reality-based are not. Philosophers should be advisors to the powerful; no more.

      Yes, it probably is true that the West has endured seven centuries of decline. I’d rather have, as I’ve said, the High Middle Ages with rockets. We take what we are given, and I don’t think that “liberalism,” in the sense of the dominance of Enlightenment philosophy, was inevitable. Maybe it was; it doesn’t matter. A West that rejects the Enlightenment, lock, stock, and barrel, might not be ideal, but it’d be a lot better than what we have now, even if it was heavily mechanized. (Not automated; that’s another problem, one Matthew B. Crawford covers often and well.) In other words, I deny that mechanization by itself is fatal to a virtuous and well-run society. Science produces ills and has to be constrained, both directly and by being within a virtuous society. But it is not inherently bad; on this earth, every society has difficulties and challenges, they just differ in type. We are not getting closer to transcendence, we are just muddling through to the actual Kingdom of Heaven, which is very much not within us, as I say, or achievable here.

  21. @Mike

    I tend to agree with you that the Industrial Revolution has been a mixed bag at best. It’s hard to argue that many of the comforts and abundance we have become accustomed to are not *pleasant* and therefore in some sense, good, but it’s not at all obvious to me that more is always better. it’s a fundamentally materialist conception of human happiness and satisfaction.

    On the other hand, I am not ready to say that it has been all bad either, or that medieval man would not have developed some of the same things that we currently have, even without the humanists coming into being.

  22. On another front, I was thinking about the idea of feudal society, or more to the point, a sort of idealized feudal society.

    One could imagine that feudalism is a sort of natural outgrowth of tribalism. Communities organize around leaders who are able to manage and protect and coordinate the people in their community toward a life of relative abundance and joy. Those leaders form coalitions with other leaders to provide for more wide-reaching projects that require coordination between multiple communities. The effect becomes a sort of natural hierarchy where each leader is responsible to those that they lead, to protect and provide for them. In service of this, those being led are called upon to contribute to the project of protection and provision for their communities.

    This puts me in mind of Plato’s conception of education as: ‘training from childhood in goodness, which makes a man eagerly desirous of becoming a perfect citizen, understanding how both to rule and to be ruled righteously. This is the special form of nurture to which, as I suppose, our argument should confine the term education; whereas an upbringing which aims only at money-making or physical strength, or even some mental accomplishment devoid of reason and justice, it would term vulgar and illiberal and utterly unworthy of the name education.’

    This all sounds good and right, but I wonder how to get there from here without enduring collapse in between? It was to a certain advantage that Rome fell and left behind large property owners and people who had worked for them and their family for centuries before. The pact of protection and provision that grew into the manor system was a natural outgrowth of pre-existing relationships.

    The modern world has no such pre-existing relationships. The family itself is often fragmented and devalued. I fear that any wholesale attempt to remake society will result in either chaos, because there is no raw material on which to organically build a hierarchy, or something as utopian and disastrous as the left is always trying to accomplish.

    One small step I had been considering is whether you could limit the vote to one per household, only available to married couples with children. You get one vote per member of your household, but they must be cast as a block. Unmarried adults, couples without children or single parents could choose a proxy to vote on their behalf. If divorce is taken into consideration, I would probably think there could be a time limit after a divorce where you are not allowed to vote until that time limit has passed. Likewise with married couples who had children out of wedlock.

    Such would encourage the exercise of political power by those who have experience, perspective, an interest in the future of the society and a proven ability to make good choices and resolve conflict at least to the extent of staying married to one person.

    From there, perhaps a more organic structure of society could develop, not imposed on it from without but encouraged from within. If I had my druthers, I’d also make the vote conditional upon active participation in some sort of Judeo-Christian religious group, but maybe this would be enough to start with.

    • Charles says

      This strikes me as an incisive analysis, though I have little to add. Elsewhere I have endorsed such schemes for limiting voting to those with a stake in society; certainly no society can survive without a very sharply limited franchise, something recognized for thousands of years but foolishly (or maliciously) forgotten. We’ll get back there, but only through the chaos. The chaos won’t come from attempts to remake society to be realism-based; the chaos is inevitable because our ruling class denies reality. The only question is how bad it will be.

      What will replace it will have the organic forms you describe, though new ones, of course. Latifundia are no longer relevant (and themselves were part of the Roman problem, even if they then later formed the core of new social units). I have some degree of confidence in human, or Western, resiliency, though. We’re not getting anarchy like the movies show. We can do it! Won’t be fun, though.

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