Contra: As Clown World Turns

Post-Trumpism, welcome to the cathedral, woke neoliberalism, and a reading list.

First, the shilling.

On Tuesday, January 26, paying subscribers will receive the first episode of Discourses, my new “show.” The first talk will be a discussion on conservatism and post-conservatism with Paul Gottfried. If you don’t know him, here is his bio:

Paul Gottfried is editor in chief of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is also the Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years, a Guggenheim recipient, and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.


Views

For my first subscriber-only column, I wrote about the Capitol Building riot, the end of Trump’s presidency, and the way forward.

Fifty-five percent of Trump voters said they would prefer a more competent leader who adopts “Trump’s views on controlling immigration, nationalism and being willing to challenge the mainstream media, political correctness and elites.” In 2017, New York Times columnist David Brooks noted that “Trump may not be the culmination, but merely a way station toward an even purer populism.” Who comes next will “add an anti-corporate, anti-tech layer,” taking a hammer to companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. In The Atlantic, Zeynep Tufekci recently wrote that liberals should count their blessings because “Trump is not good at his job.” But make no mistake, she warns: “The attempt to harness Trumpism—without Trump, but with calculated, refined, and smarter political talent—is coming. And it won’t be easy to make the next Trumpist a one-term president. He will not be so clumsy or vulnerable. He will get into office less by luck than by skill.” Christopher Vials echoed the sentiment in Jacobin magazine: “Trumpism is not going anywhere, at least not anytime soon.”

What is happening now is to ensure that leader and those voters and the ideas underpinning Trumpism do not dare rear their heads again.

If it is willing to learn and endure and mature, the phenomenon that began with Trump will emerge as a more formidable animal in the years to come, one with a vision capable of conquering the future. “And the little screaming fact that sounds throughout all history,” as John Steinbeck wrote: “repression only seeks to strengthen and knit the repressed.”

Read the rest here.

Reclaim Democracy From Technocracy

Josh Hammer writes in the American Compass about the big tech problem:

Modern Big Tech oligopolists unaccountably police our modern town square and collectively present the most menacing concentration of corporate power since Gilded Age-era railroad tycoons, but our legal regime pertaining to Big Tech, featuring such immunizing giveaways as Section 230, resembles a Wild West of deregulatory excess. We have now gone far beyond a 1990s-style nourishing of a then-transformative and innovative industry, continuing to mollycoddle woke Silicon Valley C-suites as they plot—in increasingly brazen fashion—how best to suppress conservative wrong-think and, ultimately, drive it from the digital domain in its entirety. Suffice it to say we are a very long way removed from a “true diversity of political discourse” in the digital medium, Congress’ prescribed condition upon which Section 230 immunity was expressly premised.

The Moral Austerity Trap

Geoff Shullenberger on how reducing politics to the moral simplicity of "saving lives" leads us to elite oppression.

The resonance of slogans concerning “lives” today reveals the degree to which biopolitical assumptions have become intuitive. The lives that the associated causes defend are posited first and foremost as “bare life;” their primary aim is the sheer prevention of death. Furthermore, the way they envision the lives in need of protection accords with the techniques of biopolitical population management. After all, while the trigger for these causes tends to be media narratives that feature individual protagonists, what sustains them over time is the incorporation of these anecdotes into statistical models. Newspapers alternate op-eds about COVID-19 victims with graphs and charts. Videos of police killings accumulate millions of views, but statistics about racial disparities assign these videos their political meaning.

Read the rest in The Bellows.

Biden's Centrist Words, Liberal Actions

Here is a good piece in Axios on how Biden, predictably, isn’t governing like a centrist, but as a woke neoliberal:

Never before has a president done more by executive fiat in such a short period of time than Biden. And those specific actions, coupled with a push for a more progressive slate of regulators and advisers, look more like the Biden of the Democratic primary than the unity-and-restraint Biden of the general election.

Joe Biden’s Presidential Term Will Be One Long PC Struggle Session

Heather Mac Donald in the New York Post:

It’s an odd way to seek national unity: call a significant portion of the American public white supremacists, racists and nativists. Welcome to the Joe Biden presidency.

The new president’s inaugural speech is predictably being hailed for its “unifying” message. And just as predictably, his invocations of the divisive bromides of the identitarian left are being swept under the rug.

According to Biden, we are a “great nation” and a “good people.” But we also oppress minorities with an ever-rising fervor. “Growing inequity” is among the greatest challenges facing the country, according to Biden, along with the “sting of systemic racism” and encroaching “white supremacy.” Only now are we confronting “a cry for racial justice, some 400 years in the making.”

The Mock Inauguration

For American Greatness, Paul Gottfried reflects on the Left, Right, and strategy, beginning with clearing the table.

What we are observing is not a recent development but part of a revolutionary process that began decades ago. The Left moves incrementally, while the Right usually reacts to the most recent crisis. The Left also puts itself in a position to determine the meaning of emotive terms like “equality” and “fairness.” Leftist activists took over mass education and the culture industry without breaking a sweat. Our side allowed this power grab to go mostly unnoticed, except for a few discordant voices who failed to prevail.

In the battle for political and cultural control, the other side planned well, while ours, with isolated exceptions, was conflict-averse or easily distracted, until it was too late.

Another (more controversial) argument I would make is that the conservatives who oppose the victory of the radicals have been in denial about the other side’s long road to victory.

The Dystopian Imagination

Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal: “Why did the twentieth century produce so many works of fiction depicting not an ideal future but a future as terrible as could be imagined?”

The dystopians look to the future not with the optimism of those who believe that man's increasing mastery of nature will bring greater happiness but with the pessimism of those who believe that the more man controls nature, the less he controls himself. The benefits of technological advance will be as nothing, they say, by comparison with the evil ends to which man will put it.

A Brief Explanation of the Cathedral

Curtis Yarvin provides an introduction and overview of “the cathedral,” a term you may have seen bandied about by schizoid anons and intrepid normies. Get past the initial esotericism, and the concept of the cathedral is helpful for seeing things clearly.

The mystery of the cathedral is that all the modern world’s legitimate and prestigious intellectual institutions, even though they have no central organizational connection, behave in many ways as if they were a single organizational structure.

Most notably, this pseudo-structure is synoptic: it has one clear doctrine or perspective. It always agrees with itself. Still more puzzlingly, its doctrine is not static; it evolves; this doctrine has a predictable direction of evolution, and the whole structure moves together.

Last Act or Intermission? Trump and the Future

Fred Bauer has a roundup of reflections on Trump's legacy. There are a lot of useful takes, links, and quotes here.

Ever since he descended the golden escalator, the political career of Donald Trump has in some way been intertwined with the question of political reform. Some argued that the rise of Trump was a clear sign of the need for political reform; others argued that he himself could be a vehicle for this reform (while others claimed that he was an obstacle to this reform).

So I thought that this issue of “Rounding Up” would collect a variety of pieces about Trump’s legacy—particularly about his connection to political reform as well as the possibility of some “realignment” agenda separate from Trump the man. Keep reading for some other (non-Trump) material at the end.

A Book to Hoard Before It Gets Cancelled

John Greenville advises you to buy this book before it’s burned:

If these monsters ever discover libraries, books will be next. Let me suggest you hoard copies of William McNeill’s The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (1963) before they shred them. In these savages’ simple minds, McNeill’s ethnocentric title alone will justify the book’s eradication. Even Chronicles’ readers may find McNeill’s conclusions insensitive at times, as when he wrote, “The loss to human culture involved in the Spanish extirpation of Amerindian civilizations does not therefore seem very great.”

McNeill’s tour de force covers Middle Eastern predominance up to 500 B.C., then focuses on Eurasia from then to A.D. 1500, all as prelude to what he calls the “Western dominance” that followed. Despite its political incorrectness, Rise presents more than two millennia of non-Western history as the foundation of the West’s rise.

McNeill writes history the correct way, in which truth is allowed to offend insecure tribes, entrenched interests, and implacable ideologues.

I, for one, am thankful for the Spanish conquests.

Immigration

Politico: “In preparation for President-elect Joe Biden to drop a sweeping immigration reform bill as soon as he enters office, congressional Democrats and advocates are drafting legislation, taking the temperature of Republicans — and gearing up for what they hope will be the defining chapter in a decades-long battle to pass a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants.”

Roll Call: New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the lead sponsor of President Joe Biden’s immigration overhaul bill, says he’s willing to negotiate with Republicans to reach the threshold necessary to pass the measure in the Senate.

CNN: Sen. Josh Hawley blocked quick consideration of President-elect Joe Biden's Homeland Security nominee, Alejandro Mayorkas.

Rasmussen: Sixty percent (60%) of Likely U.S. Voters in a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey say the government should stop the caravan at the border. That’s double the 30% of voters who believe the migrants should be allowed to enter the United States temporarily until each of their cases can be individually reviewed.

COVID-19

The Hill: “Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), a top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, blasted the $1.9 trillion relief package unveiled by President-elect Joe Biden” as “a colossal waste and economically harmful.” The GOP appears to have learned a lot from Georgia.

MarketWatch: A smiling Fauci calls reporting to Biden “liberating” after “uncomfortable” year with Trump. It’s worth noting that on his last day in office, Trump issued a commendation to Fauci.

An “Insurrection” in America and Beyond

Politico: “Democrats stepping into the Senate majority this month are weighing stiff penalties for Republican Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz over their objections to the 2020 presidential election results.”

Fox News: “AOC says Zuckerberg, Facebook bear 'partial responsibility' for Capitol riots.”

The Hill: “Democrats are seizing on the fallout from donors distancing themselves from Republicans, with lawmakers and advocacy groups saying it's a rare opportunity to change fundraising rules and the influence corporations have on campaigns.”

NPR:

Germany's Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, is constantly on the lookout for potential threats to Germany's democratic constitutional system, and it has wide-ranging powers when it finds them.

The agency has wrapped up a two-year investigation into Germany's largest right-wing opposition party, the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, and is expected to announce soon that it will place the entire party under surveillance for posing a threat to Germany's political system and violating the constitution. The unprecedented move would mean that all AfD lawmakers, including several dozen in Germany's parliament, would be put under state surveillance.

Big Tech/Woke Capital

Reuters: Google warns it would block its search engine in Australia if the government proceeds with a new code that would force it and Facebook to pay media companies for the right to use their content.

The Hill:

A Florida bank announced Thursday that it has closed down former President Trump’s account, joining a growing list of entities that have cut ties with the former president following the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

In his financial disclosures, Trump had stated he had two money-market accounts with Banks United, The Washington Post reports. The accounts held somewhere between $5.1 million and $25.2 million.

Not Law & Order

The Police Tribune:

Syracuse, NY – Many law enforcement advocates were unhappy that former President Donald Trump commuted the sentence of convicted cop killer Jaime Davidson just a few hours before he left office.

Davidson, now 52, was convicted of having run a drug ring and directed the robbery that led to the murder of 31-year-old Syracuse Police Officer Wallie Howard in 1990, The Post-Standard reported.

Officer Howard was working undercover for the Central New York Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Task Force when he was killed.

ICYMI

My column from last Sunday in American Greatness:

“The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced,” wrote Carl Schmitt, “is that between friend and enemy.”

It seems self-evident enough that one ought to reward friends and punish enemies. Nevertheless, Schmitt’s dictum remains relevant because it is so often ignored. 

Donald Trump is famous for demanding loyalty. To the Left, that trait is proof positive of his autocratic tendencies. On the Right, it is a badge of honor, indicative of an old-fashioned moral code. Both miss the mark.

Trump demands loyalty but gives little or none. And when he does, it’s often to the wrong people—or at least, the wrong people in the context of his role as the leader of a nationalist-populist movement. 

To illustrate this point, I mentioned the then-impending pardon for Salomon Melgen:

There are reports of a pardon in the works for Dr. Salomon Melgen. Melgen defrauded Medicare to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in Florida. “The scale of Melgen’s fraud was such that for a time he was actually the largest recipient of Medicare reimbursements in the whole country,” notes Peter Flaherty, chairman of the anti-corruption watchdog National Legal and Policy Center.

Melgen managed to fly beneath the radar for as long as he did thanks to powerful friends like U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). As Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Koski put it, “Robert Menendez was Salomon Melgen’s personal United States senator.” And Melgen reciprocated by showering Menendez with luxurious gifts and access to young women. The mere fact that someone as loathsome as Melgen is even considered for a pardon tells us Trump’s administration set its eyes on very different appetites and goals than its base. 

I knew this pardon was coming and wrote about it in December. Alas, the wheel turned.

Reading List

People often ask me, “What books do you recommend?” and “Why are you like this?” So to answer at least one of those questions, here is an incomplete reading list. I chose authors and thinkers and essays that I think most conservatives haven’t read but should read and would benefit from considering with an open mind. I’ll probably expand this at some point.

James Burnham

The Managerial Revolution

The Machiavellians

Suicide of the West

Sam Francis

Thinkers of our Time: James Burnham

Beautiful Losers

Revolution from the Middle

Leviathan and Its Enemies

Paul Gottfried

The Conservative Movement

After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State

Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Toward a Secular Theocracy

Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America

The Vanishing Tradition: Perspectives on American Conservatism

Machiavelli

Florentine Histories

Life of Castruccio Castracani

The Prince

The Art of War

Discourses on Livy

Various and Sundry

Oakeshott: Rationalism in Politics and other essays

Marx: Selected Writings

Sorel: Reflections on Violence

Adorno and Horkheimer: The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception

Mosca: The Ruling Class

Gramsci: Selections from the Prison Notebooks

Michels: Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchial Tendencies of Modern Democracy

Belloc: The Servile State

Duchesne: The Uniqueness of Western Civilization

Cortes: Readings in Political Theory

Schmitt: Political Theology

Schmitt: The Concept of the Political


If you are not already subscribed, enter your email below to receive Contra in your inbox. Thanks for reading.