Friday, May 19, 2017

In Which Yaron Brook Pontificates at Length and Displays His Ignorance of American History

Since 2000, Yaron Brook has been running the Ayn Rand Institute. In his capacity as executive director he is the public face of an organization purportedly dedicated to propagating the ideas of Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism. He spends a great deal of time giving lectures around the globe and on in his various "radio" shows.  Recently in Korea, Brook addressed the issue of Christianity and American national identity.


My bad, I should have warned you about Brook's bombastic and overwrought speaking "style." The video's title is misleading. "Judeo-Christian values" is a recent invention. The Founding Fathers of the USA, and Americans in the nineteenth century, would have referred to their Protestant values and beliefs.

"Western Civilization is Greek. It's not Christian." Where does one even begin when responding to such an ignoramus? Obviously, it is both. It should go without saying that Christianity has had Greek ideas embedded in it from almost its inception. Certainly, the early Church Doctors were educated in classical literature. From the time of the late Roman Empire, Christian doctrine has had Platonic philosophy built into its foundations. One can deplore the influence of religion on contemporary and past culture. But, to deny that influence is to reveal that one lives in a world of floating abstractions where historical truth is just an annoying distraction.

Brook's comments on the founding of the United States of America are equally devoid of knowledge as his more general statements on Western Civilization. Of course, the Founders looked to the leading political thinkers of their day for ideas. But, most of those thinkers - and the Founding Fathers - did so in a culture that was largely Protestant in nature. They firmly believed that the contradictions between religious faith and Greek reason had been reconciled. Whether they were correct in this belief is another matter.

The culture of the American colonies circa 1760 was a combination of Protestantism, Greco-Roman classical thought, their English heritage and the relatively new American culture taking shape. One of the shapers of the new distinctive American culture was the frontier experience. I stress experience because for rationalists like Brook, who live in their heads, experience is largely irrelevant in social development. In this case, the experience is best explained in the context of the Turner Thesis. Although overemphasized by Turner, the viewpoint that the existence of the "frontier line" had an enormous impact on American culture and politics is hardly controversial.

It should not surprise those familiar with Brook's shtick that he fails to mention the First Great Awakening. The Great Awakening (during the 1730s and 1740s) was a religious revival that had a huge influence on subsequent American culture, including the Revolution. One result is that it justified good Protestants to reject current Church dogma and authority. Needless to say, this way of thinking came in handy a few decades later. It was also the first social and cultural event/movement that involved all of the colonies. Therefore, it was a vital step on the way to American nationhood.

Even mainstream "liberal" academics acknowledge the impact of religion on American culture:

Beyond the mere recovery of the Puritans, several of these historians, with [Perry] Miller in the lead, advanced the argument that better understanding of the Puritans led to a better grasp of the essential American character as a whole. This interpretation was hardly unprecedented, since importance of religion for national (or group) identity had been a main theme in classic studies like Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America (1835-1840) and W.E.B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folks (1903). But, Perry Miller's postwar writings made these claims with a new force, especially in a 1949 biography of Jonathan Edwards and a widely read book of essays from 1956. (1)
 For two excellent works on the history of American cultural development and national identity, I recommend:

Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer. This book is essential reading on four British subcultures and how they provided the foundational culture of the United States.

Second, Samuel Huntington's Who We Are? The Challenges to American National Identity. Sadly, new immigrants like Brook represent one of the most important of those challenges. Brook doesn't understand his new country (he's a naturalized American citizen) and has no interest in or ability to learn from the gated cocoon in which he resides.

How clueless is Brook on American culture, politics and history? This clueless. I leave you with his take on the Second Amendment.

1. Mark A. Noll, "American Religious History, 1907-2007," in A Century of American Historiography, James M. Banner Jr. editor. Boston: St. Martin's, 2010. (pg. 93).

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Battle of the Bulge: The Film and The Books

I recently watched the Battle of the Bulge (1965), yet again. It is one of those star-studded historical epics that Hollywood use to make that actually honored America and its military. I am conflicted on this film because while an excellent and entertaining movie, it is poor history.

It contains many memorable scenes. Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda have several interesting conversations. Bronson's Major Wolenski, "I'm regular army. I don't get into beefs between colonels." Telly Salvalas as Sgt. Guffy steals every scene he appears in. One high point is James MacArthur as Lt. Weaver. Weaver's development into a real leader is one of the most interesting aspects of the movie, "I'm giving the orders."

Charles Bronson's best scene is his confrontation with Robert Shaw's Colonel Hessler as Germany's - fictitious - greatest panzer commander. Shaw's performance alone makes this film worth watching. Undoubtedly, the most famous scene in the film is the singing of the "Panzerlied" by Hessler's tank commanders.

In many respects, The Battle of the Bulge is one of my favorite war movies. It is excellent drama, but bad history. The open question is how much dramatic license filmmakers (and novelists) should take when depicting historical events. Which leads me to the "big four" books on the Battle of the Bulge, aka The Ardennes Offensive.

The most comprehensive is still the US Army's "Green Book" official history of the battle: The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge, by Hugh M. Cole. The Army's Center for Military History has made the book available online. It is mainly descriptive and doesn't have much analysis. It may be a little too long and dry for most non-specialists in military history.

The Bitter Woods by John S.D. Eisenhower is excellent and well-written. The author is Ike's son, a graduate of West Point, European Theater veteran and a first-rate historian in his own right. His book provides much interesting insight on the Allied high command during the battle.

A Time for Trumpets by Charles B. MacDonald delves into more recently available information on why the US Army was surprised by the German counteroffensive. It is a clear narrative of the campaign written by a veteran of the battle who became a professional historian after the war. MacDonald served as a company commander with the 2nd Infantry Division during the campaign and received the Silver Star and Purple Heart. His memoir Company Commander is one of the best to come out of the war. In it he vividly describes his experiences.

I have saved my favorite for last. Battle: The Story of the Bulge by John Toland is the oldest of these books having been originally published in 1959. Toland's work is base on extensive interviews with American, British, German and civilian participants. It is peppered with remarkable and unforgettable vignettes of the actual fighting. For example, after a week of fighting and retreating a sergeant encountered some reinforcements:

An hour later [Lt.] Rogers' tank destroyer reached the road. [Sgt.] Banister saw a bazookaman digging a foxhole. Dirty, unshaven, unperturbed, exhausted, he could have posed for Mauldin's "Willie." "Are you looking for a safe place?" he drawled. "Yeah," said Banister. "Well, buddy, just pull your vehicle behind me." He hitched up his droop pants. "I'm the 82nd Airborne. And this is as far as the bastards are going."
John Toland's theme is that the battle was won in its first two weeks. And, that it was not won by overwhelming airpower or firepower. The Germans were stopped by the American soldier who was often surrounded and out of contact with higher headquarters. As Toland noted, great issues were sometimes decided by a handful of determined men at some lonely crossroads that nobody has ever heard of. All subsequent works on the battle follow Toland's lead and observe that in the Ardennes the American soldier ultimately stopped everything the Germans threw at him and helped to seal Hitler's fate.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

France's Death March

France's new president governs under the auspices of the EU and not the French people. French voters have elected a worse traitor than Philippe Petain. Unlike Petain, Macron has no excuse for his betrayal to the French nation. The French voter blundered badly. They believed the media and their social and educated "betters." Frenchman had better realize that their elites are leading them to the slaughterhouse, or cattle-car.

                                          Macron Walks Out To EU Anthem, Not France's  

All "right" thinking people sneer at "nationalism" or patriotism as the root cause of war and other evils. Actually, patriotism from Valley Forge to Corregidor to the Marne provides the motivation for fighting evil. When creatures like Macron watch the "La Marseillaise" scene in Casablanca, they feel nothing. They are incapable of feeling patriotism because their souls are dead. The West is ruled by such creatures.

Monday, May 8, 2017

In Case the Left Hasn't Been Clear Enough on its America Hatred

The New Yorker has just published an article "We Could Have Been Canada" that states the American Revolution was both a mistake and not American anyways. There is little purpose for going over this political screed point by point. Anyone educated on the Revolution and its historiography will recognize its lies.

Loyalist Receiving His Due

Like an aging whore performing a strip tease, the New Yorker believes there is something new to be seen in its unwanted exposure. I remember an interview with Jimmy Carter of nearly twenty years ago. In the discussion, Carter lamented the American Revolution and that he had lost the opportunity of becoming Prime Minister of South Canada.

According to the New Yorker, it is news that the Revolution was also a colonial civil war. They're also shocked, that as with all civil wars, it was often brutal. Another discovery by the New Yorker is that the Revolution took place in the context of the eighteenth century Atlantic world. One weird thing about  this article is the Left's new found love affair with the British Empire. Why, we could have been India and experienced the delights of the Raj!

The quarrels that took place in New York and Philadelphia went on with equal ferocity, and much the same terms, in India and England, and though they got settled by force of arms and minds differently in every place, it was the same struggle everywhere. [Emphasis added]

To substantiate this drivel, the New Yorker relies on some academic whore's Yale dissertation turned into book that should remain unread.

The article spends a great deal of time attempting to answer Mel Gibson's interpretation of the Revolution from the film The Patriot (seriously). Except for Gordon Wood, the article manages to not mention a single real scholar on the American Revolution.

For decades a cabal of America hating academics have been attempting to revive the Marxist Beard Thesis of the 1920s. In general, they have failed because the evidence to the contrary is too overwhelming for even the parasites of government classrooms to ignore. Charles Beard argued, poorly, that the leaders of the American Revolution were motivated by their own short-term gain. The Neo-Beardians have argued, equally poorly, that the Founders were "communitarians" who opposed Whiggish individualism. Apparently, they have now degenerated to the "argument" that the Revolutionaries were mean to their enemies and are personally responsible for the Cotton Boom that led to the increased use of slave labor. "We could be Canada," they lament. Ironically, Canada won't have them.

I recommend: for a good general history, The Glorious Cause by Robert Middlekauff.

Background and colonial society: The Americans: The Colonial Experience by Daniel Boorstin.

The war's first year and why George Washington was the Revolution's indispensable man: 1776 by David McCullough.

On the philosophy that animated the Revolutionaries: The American Revolution and the Politics of Liberty, Robert H. Webking.

For the best fictional work on the Revolution: the six volume Sparrowhawk series by Edward Cline.

P.S. Someone should inform the dolts at the New Yorker that the British supported the Confederacy during the Civil War. It is extremely unlikely that the Brits would have sacrificed cheap cotton for their textile mills in favor of principle in 1833. If the British attempted to end slavery in the southern colonies at that time, they would have had a war they could not win. Then, there would have been an independent Southern slaveholding Confederacy. Historical counterfactuals are hard - and largely conjecture.  

Friday, May 5, 2017

Reinhold Niebuhr and His Progeny, the "Bobos"

This post's title refers to the book Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks. Bobos is a neologism coined by Brooks by combining bourgeois and bohemian. According to Brooks, bobos are America’s new elite who have replaced the old WASP elite. The rise of this new elite is traced to the expansion of higher education in the post-war era, which coincided with the reforms of James Bryant Conant. It was Conant and his colleagues who transformed Harvard (and by extension the Ivy League) into a meritocracy. The opening up of the nation’s top schools to everyone with sufficiently impressive SATs has created what Charles Murray called the cognitive elite. According to Brooks, this new cognitive elite has gained control of every important institution of American society. For example, he cites journalism. Gone are the days when reporters were “hard-drinking, blue-collar” high school grads (at best) who worked their way up from the bottom. Now it’s “Yale, Yale, Stanford, Emory, Yale, and Harvard” (39).
The core of Brooks’ argument is on the dualism of this new elite as alluded to with the term bobos. Bobos live in the corporate world of high powered success, while at home they bask in the post sixties counter-culture. In other words, Brooks presents an updated version of the world of limousine liberals. They are a much caricatured bunch, and Brooks adds some amusing whacks to this nearly dead equine. His chapter on the great Montana “soul rush” of post A River Runs Through It fame is genuinely funny. Brooks presents a picture of bobo heaven as ecotopia based on nostalgia and "authenticity." The dichotomy of the bobo world presented is of well educated people with one foot firmly planted in the realm of worldly success, power and status and with the other cemented in a world of magical crystals, sandals, and eco-tourism.
Brooks researched his book in the late 1990s and it was published in 2000. Consequently, it has a strong, smug “end of history” odor about it. He refers to himself as a bobo. It is hard to discern just how tongue-in-cheek he is being on that score. He incorrectly states that bobos have moved beyond partisan politics and have embraced a fusion of the best of both “conservativism” and “liberalism.” In pursuing this line, he states such nonsense as “They recoil from those who try to ‘impose’ their views or their lifestyle on others” (247). Anyone at all familiar with Brooks’ bobos is aware of their pathological need for control. Their lust for control is inflicted upon others from the local coop board to supporting Obama's edicts on imposing "carbon controls" in order to destroy what is left of our liberty.
Reinhold Niebuhr also believes in a dualistic universe. Sometimes one can judge a book by its cover. The cover of The Irony of American History is illustrative. The cover portrays Niebuhr gazing out at a dark, forbidding, malevolent world where human aspirations for happiness and success on earth are clearly doomed. There is one source of light in Niebuhr’s Byronic realm. Unfortunately, this light source also doubles as a symbol of torture and human sacrifice. Although trite, the cover illustration is an accurate depiction of Niebuhr’s universe. It’s a sort of highbrow version of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” video. 

His dualistic metaphysics informs his views on ethics and virtue. He writes, “For our sense of responsibility to a world community beyond our own borders is a virtue, even though it is partly derived from the prudent understanding of our own interests” (7). In other words, virtue and self-interest are polar opposites. This dichotomy reflects Niebuhr’s metaphysics. Since the source of his morality exists in some alleged transcendental reality, he denigrates the concerns of this world, such as self-preservation, as merely “prudent.” He also observes that “Happiness is desired by all men” (61). He continues by claiming that such worldly desires are doomed to failure. He states that this is partly the result of human nature. The impossibility of happiness is also the result of the conflict between the needs of the many and the needs of the few, or the one.
He is wrong on both counts. First, the Nazis, Communists, and today the Islamists (along with their numerous followers, enablers, and fellow travelers) were/are not motivated by a vision of human happiness and flourishing. As to the propriety of pursuing one’s happiness, no less of an authority than Immanuel Kant wrote, “the principle of one’s own happiness is the most objectionable of all” (Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals). Another moral teacher is quoted as saying, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you….” George W. Bush and Barack Obama, during both their administrations, faithfully followed this injunction. On foreign policy, both the Wilsonian “neo-cons” and the liberal “realists” agree on fundamentals. They just squabble on how best to sacrifice American interests and security in the name of “responsibility to the world community.”  
Second, the entire purpose of the Founding Fathers was to create a form of government that would ensure the protection of the individual’s right to pursue his self-interest. Niebuhr did not consider the American Republic as exceptional. He argues that America cannot be exceptional unless it was arbitrarily granted “grace” by an otherwise malicious ghost. Nonetheless, America can certainly be viewed as exceptional based on its historical and philosophical origins, and its efforts to life up to an ideology of individual rights based on Natural Law. In this context, one is reminded of Walter McDougall’s comments on how school children are to be indoctrinate on the "right" way to interpret the American Revolution: “The authors seem surprised by all that was commonplace, and take for granted all that was rare.”

Monday, May 1, 2017

Review: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. University of Chicago Press, 3rd ed.

            Thomas Kuhn’s thesis in The Structure ofScientific Revolutions (originally published in 1962) is that scientific progress is the result of what he calls paradigm changes. A paradigm is the conceptual framework in which scientists work. Kuhn argues that most scientists spend their professional careers working on what he calls “normal science.” The author characterizes normal science as “puzzle solving.” That is solving problems that are either raised by the accepted paradigm or were left over during its creation. From his overall tone, it is clear that Kuhn does not have a high regard for these puzzle solvers. Kuhn contends that real scientific progress (and the generation of significant new knowledge) occurs when there is a paradigm change, which are the revolutions referred to in the book’s title. The classic example of a scientific revolution is when Copernicus published his heliocentric theory of the solar system. This oft told story needs no repeating. However, Kuhn notes that Copernicus’s work was the result of anomalies in the previous Ptolemaic system. It is the growth of these discrepancies that cause paradigm shifts and usher in a more “successful” theory (68-69).

Thomas Kuhn Channels Immanuel Kant

            The salient point in Kuhn’s thesis is his contention that scientific knowledge is not the product of a cumulative development (2-3). There is a seeming contradiction in his view in that he states, “[n]ormal science … is a highly cumulative enterprise, eminently successful in its aim” (52). Why this is only a seeming contradiction is based on Kuhn’s view of what constitutes scientific truth and how it is arrived at. While paying lip service to the correspondence theory of truth, Kuhn argues his thesis from the perspective of the coherence theory of truth. His primary concern in his work is on how scientific ideas relate to each other and whether scientists are able to make all of their observations conform to the prevailing paradigm. As a devotee of the coherence theory, Kuhn’s focus is on the logical consistency of the ideas that comprise a paradigm. When the prevailing paradigm can no longer be maintained because of the increasing difficulty “to beat nature into line,” a new paradigm is required that can successfully accommodate the new experimental data (135). The paradigm revolution represents a quantum jump in scientific knowledge, in counter-distinction to a slow, cumulative process. In this regard, it is instructive that Kuhn omits one of the most famous quotes in the history of science. As Isaac Newton confessed, “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

            Another example of a paradigm shift that Kuhn provides is the work on electro magnetism by James Clerk Maxwell. In his discussion on the history of electricity the name Michael Faraday is conspicuously absent. The inclusion of Faraday, Hans Christian Oersted and Humphry Davy would have upset Kuhn’s narrative. An analysis of the development of Faraday’s ideas and experiments would certainly lend credence to the view of the cumulative nature of scientific knowledge. Faraday’s discoveries are the most important of the nineteenth century and it did not take long for inventors such as Morse, Edison and Tesla to make use of them. These omissions on Kuhn’s part make could also be the result of the “rationalist” approach to science with its characteristic distain for the “bottle washers” whose experiments have added to so much to human knowledge and well-being.  
          It is difficult to overestimate Kuhn's influence on what passes today as intellectuals. His baleful hoof-prints can be seen throughout the so-called "pro-science" marches of a few weeks ago. The belief in the primacy of "consensus" and scientific truth being determined the majority vote of experts on government largesse is Kuhn's legacy to the anti-science and anti-reason movements of today.  

Friday, April 28, 2017

Gavin McInnes Reads Ann Coulter's Speech at UC Berkeley

I am posting this video as a matter of general principles. McInnes is correct. America's "top" universities are now controlled by book burning fascists who hate everything about the USA, including its founding ideals.

Academia should be the first swamp drained on the road to a Great America.