In the past few years, a variety of liberal academics have adopted a Gorillas in the Mist sensibility when trying to understand conservatives. Like Dian Fossey, they creep, wearing a ghillie suit, through thick and steamy jungles alien to them, hoping to grasp what it is that makes these creatures tick. Sometimes they become fond of these primates, and in their own clumsy way, try to improve their lives by protecting them from threats they appear too dumb to see. Like Fossey, most of them are obsessives with tunnel vision, bound in chains by premises invisible to them. Katherine Cramer, author of The Politics of Resentment, fits right into this model, even if Wisconsin is a long way from Rwanda, and a lot colder. She offers us a book that is half morality play, half sociology study, and all clueless.
I’ve been complaining about the topic of this book for at least fifteen years. Actually, my basic complaint has been broader—that almost all CEOs are, when not actually idiots, indistinguishable in their abilities and performance from any moderately competent manager. If this is true (and it is), one necessary consequence is that high pay for CEOs is stupid. For example, when I entered business school, in 2000, I was dragooned into going to a talk by Jack Welch, then CEO of GE and regarded as a colossus. I discovered, to my chagrin, that he was a total moron. A little further research after going home quickly confirmed this impression, as contrarian as it was. And in my earlier life as a corporate lawyer I knew personally many other such, if less famous, lionized nonentities. Steven Clifford agrees, and the question he asks, and answers, is essentially “Why do big corporations pay so damn much to morons?”
Some years ago, I lived for a time in Oak Park, Illinois. Oak Park has for decades been filled with rich white liberals, who live just across the street from a City of Chicago neighborhood, Austin, that is filled with poor black people. Yet, for some reason the citizens of Oak Park simply can’t fathom, people from Austin almost never move to Oak Park. Who can say why? Well, Richard Rothstein can. His book, The Color of Law, shows all the ways in which the racist government of Oak Park, and innumerable other government functionaries across the nation, have aggressively worked for decades to keep black people in inferior, segregated housing. Rothstein’s service is to precisely set out why this happened, how it was done, and what exactly the effects today are.
[This post duplicates my review of Captain Blood, without the book-specific parts. I am cross-posting it because it fits in two categories, Reviews and Analysis.] American history is full of rebellion—the War of Independence and the Civil War, of course, but also unsuccessful smaller-scale rebellions—Shay’s Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, John Brown’s assault on Harper’s Ferry, and the leftist rebellions of the 1970s. We can conclude that rebellion is relatively commonplace and that it arises from different causes. What I want to talk about is when it is intellectually and morally justified. We will examine theory and practice, Aquinas and Rogue One. I am sure that writing this will probably get me on some list, or rather some additional lists, and prevent my being appointed to any government position—at least, in the current dispensation. But since I doubt if the current dispensation will last, this is probably not the hobbling it seems.
Captain Blood, to the extent it is mentioned today, is remembered as a 1935 movie that made the career of Errol Flynn. The story was originally this novel, published in 1922. It is the story of an Irish physician who, in the late Seventeenth Century, settles in the southwest of England, in Somerset, after wandering the world for a decade. He is caught up in the Monmouth Rebellion, in which a bastard son of Charles II rebelled against James II and lost the 1685 Battle of Sedgmoor, the last battle fought on English soil. Captain Blood (his name is Peter Blood; the title is not a nickname, as one might think of a pirate novel), treats a man wounded in the battle. He is therefore dealt with as a traitor, even though he took no part in the rebellion itself, but his death sentence is commuted to being sold into slavery in Barbados.
It is easy enough to know what the Right thinks, and why. Half a dozen recent books can easily be found explaining clearly libertarianism; or social conservatism; or “reform conservatism.” But no such thing exists for the Left. Yes, there are many books on what political ends the Left desires. I think those desires are mostly insane and fly in the face of reality. But it cannot be true that those on the Left view their desires, or what drives their desires, as either insane or senseless. And one must know one’s enemy. So why are those ends desired? I have always found that hard to say.
Administrative law—the delegation by the legislature of legislative and judicial power to the executive—is the backdrop of every American life, but very few people realize this. Fewer still realize that this backdrop is less like a fine wallcovering, an aesthetically pleasing but minor element, and more like a sticky web that, not seen until it’s too late, entraps prey prior to its being devoured. To remedy this lack of knowledge, Phillip Hamburger has written this outstanding book, which explains how we got here, where we are, and why that is bad.
Jason Brennan is The Man Who Was Born Yesterday. His book is incisive, insightful, interesting, funny, and well-informed. It delivers a sound and compelling case that democracy is fatally flawed. But everything he says in “Against Democracy” lacks depth, because he thinks that history began roughly twenty-four hours ago. So, while his analysis of democracy is good, his prescriptions are unbelievably shallow and poorly thought-out, making the book very like a delicious-looking piece of cake that is wholly stale upon the eating.
Mary Eberstadt’s It’s Dangerous To Believe offers very clear analysis and very wrong recommendations. Eberstadt eloquently describes how the elite and powerful in today’s America have subscribed to a new religion, the religion of sexual autonomy without limit, and are increasingly using their immense power to punish heretics, in the form of traditional believers. But, because she misapprehends the historical processes at work, she fails to adequately address how the targets of oppression can, or should, respond, and her actual suggestions are harmful fantasies.
While “Facing Violence” is an interesting book, it seems to me its practical usefulness is limited. It will probably help, to some extent, in “Preparing For the Unexpected.” But the reader shouldn’t get overconfident as a result. It’s like being an armchair general—there is nothing inherently wrong with analyzing things from the comfort of your chair, but it’s not the same thing as, and does not prepare you for, actually being a general. Same here. Moreover, the book is dated by its complete omission of the defensive use of firearms, in these days of widespread citizen carry.