Five Things You Need to Read Today
1. Good Order and Discipline
It still surprises me a little that there are Objectivists who are big defenders of Donald Trump. He seems so opposite in manner and style to anything in Ayn Rand’s fiction, or non-fiction for that matter—so blustering and anti-intellectual—that I can’t understand the attraction.
Who is John Galt? Definitely not him.
The best I can understand this phenomenon is that there are a lot of people who are so used to seeing the left as the enemy that they habitually regard any criticism of the right as overblown and exaggerated, so could we please just stop it already. I occasionally get a comment to that effect from one of my subscribers. There’s an old slogan on the other side of the political divide: “No enemies to the left,” which expresses a refusal to disavow any fellow traveler on the road to socialism, not matter how disreputable. This is now mirrored by the implicit motto, “No enemies to the right.”
Here’s the thing, though. I don’t criticize Donald Trump because I want to or because I like it. I do it because I have to, because he keeps doing things that deserve to be criticized. I don’t like to antagonize my subscribers, either, especially at a time when a fair number of you are up for renewal. But the way I see it, my job isn’t to make you feel good, it’s to tell you the truth.
The truth is that the right can also be the enemy of freedom and the rule of law. At least, this is true of certain factions of the right, and those factions have been emboldened and empowered by Trump’s election. That’s what most of today’s newsletter is about. Take a good look, because it’s a sobering reminder that as bad as the Democrats can be, the nationalist wing of the right is no better—and we had better wake up to this fact sooner rather than later.
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We can see this in the biggest scandal of Donald Trump’s presidency. No, it’s not his attempted shakedown of Ukraine. It’s his mania for pardoning war criminals. Most recently, he did it for Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL accused by his fellow SEALs of the random and indiscriminate killing of civilians. Gallagher was acquitted of the main charge against him when the prosecution’s chief witness suddenly (and rather suspiciously) changed his story on the witness stand. President Trump then intervened, not only to pardon Gallagher for the lesser charge he was convicted on, but to quash a Navy disciplinary review, and then to announce that he plans to bring Gallagher along as part of his presidential campaign.
Trump bills this as a show of his support for the troops, but as a New York Times article makes clear, it is actually a gesture of contempt toward the troops who took big risks to report crimes by their fellow soldiers—and toward the entire military chain of command tasked with enforcing the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
While he boasts of supporting the military, he has come to distrust the generals and admirals who run it. Rather than accept information from his own government, he responds to television reports that grab his interest.
“He’s interfering with the chain of command, which is trying to police its own ranks,” said Peter D. Feaver, a specialist on civilian-military relations at Duke University and former aide to President George W. Bush. “They’re trying to clean up their act and in the middle of it the president parachutes in—and not from information from his own commanders but from news talking heads who are clearly gaming the system.”
Chris Shumake, a former sniper who served in Chief Gallagher’s platoon, said in an interview that he was troubled by the impact the president’s intervention could have on the SEALs.
“It’s blown up bigger than any of us could have ever expected, and turned into a national clown show that put a bad light on the teams,” said Mr. Shumake, speaking publicly for the first time. “He’s trying to show he has the troops’ backs, but he’s saying he doesn’t trust any of the troops or their leaders to make the right decisions.”…
Chief Gallagher was reported by six fellow SEALs and arrested in September 2017, charged with nearly a dozen counts including murder and locked in the brig in San Diego to await his trial. He denied the charges and called those reporting him liars who could not meet his high standards, referring to them repeatedly in public as “the mean girls” and saying they sought to get rid of him.
David Shaw, a former SEAL who deployed with the platoon, said he saw no evidence of that. “All six were some of the best performers in the platoon,” he said, speaking publicly for the first time. “These guys were hand-selected by the chief based on their skills and abilities, and they are guys of the highest character.”
I don’t often agree with the New York Times, but I think their summary of the case is correct. It pits “a Pentagon hierarchy wedded to longstanding rules of combat and discipline against a commander in chief with no experience in uniform but a finely honed sense of grievance against authority.”
You could say that perhaps President Trump pardoned Gallagher and the others because, after careful consideration of the facts of their cases, he decided the punishments were unjust. But there is no evidence of such a review, and there is also a history on this issue in which Trump has repeatedly come out in favor of war crimes as a matter of policy.
Donald Trump is a war-crimes enthusiast.
This is not an exaggeration, a mischaracterization, or a misrepresentation. As a candidate, the president regaled his audiences with vivid tales of brutality, some apocryphal, and vowed to imitate them.
On the campaign trail, Trump frequently invoked a false story about General John Pershing crushing a Muslim insurgency in the Philippines with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, declaring, “There was no more radical Islamic terror for 35 years!” He vowed to impose torture techniques “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Trump declared that he would “take out the families” of terrorist suspects, assuring skeptics that the military would not refuse his commands, even though service members have a duty to refuse orders that are manifestly illegal. “If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”
Remember the history on this. The idea that “service members have a duty to refuse orders that are manifestly illegal” doesn’t come from wimpy civilians who “sit there in air-conditioned offices and complain,” as Trump has described it. That principle came out of the Nuremberg Trials, as a rejection of the defense offered by Hitler’s henchmen that they were “only following orders.” So Trump isn’t trying to overturn Political Correctness. He’s trying to overturn the judgment at Nuremberg.
The important thing to understand on this issue is that the laws of war do not exist to protect the enemy. They don’t even exist to protect civilians, though that is part of their purpose. At root, they exist to protect us, by ensuring that we have a military trained to be subordinate to basic moral and legal principles—to what Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer, who was fired over this incident, calls “good order and discipline.”
By contrast, what Trump is doing threatens to politicize the military. Consider Gallagher’s expression of gratitude to his political sponsor: “I want to let him know the rest of the SEAL community is not about this right now. They all respect the president.” This appears to be a promise of an elite military unit’s personal loyalty to the president. Which doesn’t exactly seem healthy, does it?
Trust me, if this were happening with a Democrat in the Oval Office, we would all be running around with our hair on fire screaming about imminent dictatorship.
So why aren’t we?
2. Authoritarian State Television
Here’s one of the things I’m talking about when I say that the rules are here to protect us. The idea that war crimes are what it means to be “tough” is an idea appropriate to an authoritarian system. So it should be no surprise that another hallmark of the Trump era is growing sympathy for authoritarian governments overseas.
So we find the neocon hawk Lindsey Graham blocking, at President Trump’s request, a congressional resolution condemning the Armenian genocide, so as not to offend the authoritarian ruler of Turkey.
Or we find Louisiana Senator John Kennedy entertaining the conspiracy theory that Ukraine and not Russia really hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
During an interview on “FOX News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace noted that President Donald Trump and his supporters have wrongly said that Ukraine could be behind the 2016 election interference. “Was it Russia or Ukraine?” Wallace asked Kennedy after noting that Fiona Hill had rebuked GOP lawmakers for suggesting Ukraine was behind the attack.
“I don’t know,” Kennedy replied. “Nor do you, nor do any of us, nor do any of us.”
“The entire intelligence community says it was Russia!” Wallace interrupted.
“Right,” Kennedy agreed. “But it could also be Ukraine. I’m not saying that I know one way or the other.”
Note that this news report says that “Trump and his supporters have wrongly said that Ukraine could be behind the 2016 election interference.” Despite the very real problem of press bias, they don’t do that—have the reporter take an explicit stance on the question at issue—for just anything. But you’ll see this in all the reports on this issue. The press is trying very hard not to report this as a controversy because it isn’t. All the facts are on one side—Russia did it—and the other side is pure speculation and innuendo, backed in Senator Kennedy’s case by a general skepticism about whether the truth is knowable at all.
Senator Kennedy was initially called on this by Fox’s Chris Wallace. But he’s the only person left there who seems inclined to do so. That brings us to Tucker Carlson, whose Fox News Channel show has been boosted by his consistent support for President Trump. It is now the second-most-watched show on the network and also the second-most-watched show on cable news. This translates to about 3 million viewers every night, which is a lot of people, but only 1% of the population. Carlson is not speaking to all that large a percentage of the voting public—but he is speaking to a large percentage of people on the right who are highly engaged in politics.
Moreover, Carlson has been something of an ideological bellwether. As he has become an ardent supporter of Trump, he has moved from being a fairly standard-issue, mainstream Reagan Republican to become an illiberal nationalist conservative with a vocally anti-capitalist agenda. (See his support for Elizabeth Warren’s authoritarian economic agenda.)
Now we find him shilling for authoritarian dictatorships. Here is what he had to say recently on his show about Russia’s ongoing attack on Ukraine:
Why do I care what is going on in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia? And I’m serious. Why do I care? Why shouldn’t I root for Russia? Which I am.
Carlson insisted at the end of the show that he was joking, which is wonderfully ironic because it was a Jon Stewart rant aimed at Tucker Carlson on “Crossfire,” all the way back in 2004, that basically invented this argument, known as the Clown Nose On/Clown Nose Off defense. But then, like Senator Kennedy, Carlson later unrecanted.
I should say for the record that I’m totally opposed to these sanctions [on Russia], and I don’t think we should be at war with Russia, and I think we should take the side of Russia if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine.
Carlson has defended himself by saying, “I rooted against Russia when it mattered,” by which he means: back when Russia had a Communist government. But now that Russia is ruled by fascists, apparently it’s OK to root for them. That tells you a lot about Carlson’s new nationalist ideology.
This comes on the heels of Carlson repeating Russian propaganda (by way of Wikileaks, which we all know by now is a Russian front) to throw doubt on a chemical weapons attack committed by the Assad regime in Syria. Follow that link to get the real story and see how selectively Carlson is citing his facts.
I’ve been grumbling for a while that Fox News Channel has turned into exactly what it was formed to fight. The old “mainstream media” was biased and often seemed more interested in shilling for Democrats in power than in telling the truth, so Fox News was started to provide a “fair and balanced” alternative. Now, however, it seems intent on trying to outdo the worst partisan excesses of the mainstream media. Coverage of President Trump by Fox hosts like Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro and their guests is so transparently sycophantic that is seems like something from authoritarian state television—a role for which these hosts are clearly auditioning.
What Tucker Carlson’s recent rantings have me wondering is exactly which authoritarian state they are serving.
3. The Mandate of Heaven
Yeah, I’m not done yet. Look, this is all pretty brutal, but we’ve got to face up to it.
Speaking of sycophancy on Fox News Channel, check out this video of Secretary of Energy Rick Perry proclaiming that Donald Trump has been chosen by God.
God uses imperfect people through history. King David wasn’t perfect. Saul wasn’t perfect. Solomon wasn’t perfect. And I actually gave the president a one-pager on those Old Testament kings about a month ago. And I shared it with him and I said, “Mr. President, I know there are people who say that you say you were the chosen one,” and said, “You were.” I said, “If you are a believing Christian, you understand God’s plan for the people who rule and judge over us on this planet in our government.”
Perry is one of the candidates I used to think was a much better option than Trump. He has turned out to be just another opportunistic politician. I am not entirely caught by surprise.
David French, who has left National Review to join Jonah Goldberg at The Dispatch, has a new Sunday newsletter that’s specifically about the connection between religion and politics. In response to Perry and to a similar statement by Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, French provides some of the Biblical nuance they left out.
Let’s take, for example, two of the three biblical kings Perry mentioned—Saul and David. Too many Christians who compare Trump to David seem to have forgotten the king who came before—and how his story has perhaps better parallels to our current age.
For those who’ve forgotten, King Saul’s rise and fall is an example of God granting his people what they want—and then making them endure many of the consequences of their own foolishness. The story is told in the first book of Samuel….
Boiled down to its essence, after a period of chaos and turmoil (which included the ultimate insult of the Philistines seizing the Ark of the Covenant), the Israelites approach the prophet Samuel and demand a king. God directs Samuel to grant their request: “Obey the voice of the people in relation to all that they say to you. For it is not you they have rejected, but Me they have rejected from reigning over them.”
Samuel warns the Israelites of the oppressions to come, but he follows God’s command and anoints Saul as the first king of Israel. Saul won initial victories, but he also defied God’s commands, God rejected him as king, and then Samuel anointed Saul’s successor—not one of Saul’s sons, but rather the most famous king in the Old Testament, David. Throughout Old Testament history, the pattern is clear—the status of serving as God’s ordained king of Israel (even in the line of David himself) does not relieve that king of the obligation of following God’s commands or the people from suffering the consequences of the king’s failures.
In other words, if Perry told the stories properly to Trump, it should have been one of the more sobering conversations of his life, complete with the knowledge that God may well raise up and empower an opponent if he fails to govern righteously. Scottish theologian John Knox stated the scriptural reality well: “True it is, God has commanded kings to be obeyed; but likewise true it is, that in things which they commit against His glory, He has commanded no obedience, but rather, He has approved, yea, and greatly rewarded, such as have opposed themselves to their ungodly commandments and blind rage.”
French is writing as a Christian, and he has an obvious commitment to interpreting this in a way that makes scripture seem wise and reasonable. I have no such commitment, so let me state the obvious: all of this is completely crazy.
Of course God doesn’t choose the world’s political leaders, not any of them. None of them have what the Chinese used to call “the mandate of heaven.” Some leaders have imposed themselves by force on unwilling subjects. Our own leaders were selected by the people, who sometimes choose wisely and often choose unwisely. Everyone knows this and constantly complains about it. To say that these leaders are chosen by some supernatural authority is either a Panglossian assurance that all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds—or it functions as an all-purpose excuse to (literally) sanctify whatever rotten things the guy currently in office has decided to do. This is clearly the way it is being used now.
But wait, it gets worse. Do you remember about fifteen years ago, when a bunch of Objectivists got spun up over the notion that George W. Bush was pushing us toward theocracy? Now that was an overblown and exaggerated criticism of a Republican president. While there was some basis for being concerned about Bush’s sympathies for the religious right—particularly in the Terry Schiavo case, where it seems I also had to fight with some of my subscribers—Bush was never associated with anybody as completely insane as Paula White.
Who is Paula White? She is a televangelist preacher who is now working in the White House as Donald Trump’s personal spiritual advisor. And why do I say she’s crazy? Go check out this montage of her greatest hits. No please, I beg of you, go watch it. I’ll wait here until you get back.
Yeah, so this is now the leader of the White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative. Oh, and she recently led other Evangelical supporters of the president in a lovely prayer that went in part like this.
Lord, we ask you to deliver our president from any snare, any setup of the enemy, according to Ephesians 6:12. Any persons [or] entities that are aligned against the president will be exposed and dealt with and overturned by the superior blood of Jesus. Whether it’s the spirit of Leviathan, a spirit of Jezebel, Abaddon, whether it’s the spirit of Belial, we come against the strongmen, especially Jezebel, that which would operate in sorcery and witchcraft, that which would operate in hidden things, veiled things, that which would operate in deception. We come against it according to your word…. Stretch out your arm and deliver President Trump and rid him of any bondage the enemy would try to bring against him.
As with Franklin Graham, White is telling Trump that his opponents are literally demons.
No, I don’t think Trump is an advocate of theocracy. He is, quite obviously, a heathen. But these people are clearly hoping he will be an instrument of theocracy, if only indirectly. Trump is a promoter of nationalism, and as the Sohrab Ahmari case showed, advocates of government power for religion hope, with good reason, that nationalism will naturally take on a religious dimension.
The more immediate worry is that Trump has purged all of his advisors who are not yes-men, replacing them with the Rick Perry and Paula White types. They are filling his ears with the notion that anything he chooses to do is automatically good and any opposition to him is evil and illegitimate. If there were ever a president who did not need to hear that message, it is Donald Trump.
This is why I tend to think Trump will only get worse and more reckless the longer he is in office.
4. The Call Is Coming from Inside the House
But wait, it gets worse.
The legacy of the Trump era won’t just be his own actions. It will be the changes that he encourages in the Republican Party and in the conservative movement.
His main legacy, in my view, is the loosening of moral standards and restraints. That’s what the rallying cry, “But he fights,” always meant. Trump was chosen to be the guy who would fight dirty and would no longer care about rules of morality and decorum. The problem is that when you drop moral standards, you don’t just drop them when it comes to manners and Political Correctness. You end up dropping them when it comes to war crimes and making excuses for dictators.
You also drop them when it comes to racism. For about fifty years—since the failed presidential campaign of George Wallace in 1968—there has been no major faction in American politics that is overtly racist. Now that is in doubt.
Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s start slowly on this.
Katie McHugh, a former Breitbart editor who was seduced by alt-right racism but later repented, has released a trove of e-mails from her time there, which includes hundreds from Stephen Miller, then-advisor to Donald Trump who now runs the administration’s immigration policy. The e-mails show a man in the grip of virulent xenophobia who was continually pushing her to promote scare stories about immigrants. See the analysis from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The SPLC is not the most credible source because they have a history of giving in to the temptation to designate political opponents (e.g., Christian groups that oppose gay marriage) as “hate groups.” But the part of this story that I find legitimately appalling is Miller’s repeated citations of VDARE, an actual white nationalist website. The name is a reference to Virginia Dare, the first person of English descent born in what is now the United States. It represents the idea that America ought to be the exclusive domain of the white race, to the exclusion of non-European immigrants (and, of course, our continent’s original inhabitants).
I happen to know about VDARE because at about the time I first publicly criticized the racist “alt-right,” one of VDARE’s authors—who fancies himself an expert on the nefarious “Jewish influence”—wrote to me to inquire whether I was a Jew, because I guess that would explain everything. (The only response that seemed appropriate was extremely profane, so I never bothered.)
At any rate, Stephen Miller was apparently a regular reader of VDARE and frequently recommended their articles, as well as those from an even more openly white nationalist website, American Renaissance.
McHugh told Hatewatch that Miller called her on a workday afternoon to discuss a story on “AmRen,” shorthand for American Renaissance among the site’s readers.
“It was after lunchtime. I was sitting at my desk with my MacBook, and as Miller was speaking, I was looking away…to better concentrate on what he was saying,” McHugh recalled to Hatewatch. “Miller asked me if I had seen the recent ‘AmRen’ article about crime statistics and race. I responded in the affirmative because I had read it. Many of us [on the far right] had read it. I remember being struck by the way he called it ‘AmRen,’ the nickname.”…
The American Renaissance article by white nationalist Jared Taylor celebrates the Department of Justice reporting Hispanics in a separate category on crime statistics “rather than lumping them in with whites.”
Miller also directed McHugh’s attention to The Camp of the Saints, a notoriously racist novel that rather improbably portrays Indians as scary, filthy, oversexed hordes who invade France, to be fiercely resisted in the name of white civilization and old-time Catholic religion. (In reality, far from being a subhuman rabble, Indians have proven to be the wealthiest and most highly educated immigrant group in the West.) This has not prevented The Camp of the Saints from being praised and referenced by conservatives who are prone to a catastrophist view of immigration. (This includes, as I just discovered, an article published in The Federalist while I was still writing there.)
I have been speculating for a while that there must be some pipeline by which President Trump is being fed memes and talking points from white nationalists, such as the idea that there were “very fine people” at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville two years ago. Now I think we know who that pipeline is. Stephen Miller is one of the few people to remain in Trump’s inner circle from the relatively early days of his campaign to the present.
But this is bigger than Miller, because the racist “alt-right” is mounting a new offensive in its bid to take over conservatism. It’s called the “Groyper War.”
“Groyper” is a reference to another one of those cartoon frog memes that disaffected young men spread around the Internet to express the fact that they can’t get a date. It’s a stupid and ugly name for a stupid and ugly movement, so who am I to object?
Jane Coaston has a good overview.
This group, which calls itself the “groyper army”—”groyper” being a reference to a meme of Pepe the Frog, itself a meme overtaken by the alt-right—purports to be supporting ‘traditional values’ within conservatism, like immigration restrictionism. And it argues that relatively mainstream conservative student groups like Turning Point USA need to be confronted because they are shutting down “socially conservative Christians and supporters of President Trump’s agenda” and promoting “degeneracy” by having gay speakers.
This “groyper army” targets what it has termed “Conservative Inc,” a collective epitomized by conservative speakers like pundit Ben Shapiro, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, conservative writer Jonah Goldberg, and even [Donald] Trump Jr., as well as conservative student organizations including Turning Point USA and Young Americans for Freedom.
Beyond the sort of heckling Trump faced, the network’s tactics usually focus on asking speakers specific and very leading questions about Israel, immigration, and LGBTQ issues within conservatism, hoping to elicit answers that reveal the speaker’s “fake conservatism.” “Real conservatism” being defined essentially as an emphasis on ethnic and racial characteristics as determinants for immigration coupled with an isolationist foreign policy and a “traditional” stance on LGBTQ issues. These tactics have gotten support from some mainstream right-leaning pundits who advocate for extreme restrictions on immigration, like Michelle Malkin.
In reality, the “groyper army” is simply the alt-right of 2016 and 2017, warmed over, reenergized and using new terminology aimed at disassociating itself from the “optics” problem caused by the tremendous failure of 2017’s Unite the Right Rally, which ended in the murder of a young woman.
The leader of the Groypers is a very young guy with a weirdly fixed grin and a manic style of speaking named Nick Fuentes. If you have any doubt about where he stands, check out this collection of video clips in which Fuentes endorses segregation and Holocaust denial, among other awful ideas.
Trump-supporting organizations like TPUSA might seem to be a target of the Groypers, but notice that this is partly an attack from within. As Coaston notes, the “Groyper War” began when TPUSA tried to purge white nationalists from its ranks, only to find itself facing a full-on rebellion. “A source told me that it was the organization’s decision to cut ties with St. Clair that led to Fuentes’s fight with the organization, and to a host of resignations from chapters from members more aligned with Fuentes’s world view. In fact, a source told me that Turning Point USA decided to dissolve one chapter of the organization, at Kansas State University.”
As in the old horror movie, the call is coming from inside the house.
As an indication of that, you might have noticed that the one well-known name giving support to the Groypers is Michelle Malkin.
If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a very long time, you will recognized that name. I used to link to Malkin occasionally in the years after 9/11, back when she was a fellow hawk in the war on Islamic terrorism. But I’ve discovered since then that a segment of those people were hawks less out of loyalty to Enlightenment values than out of simple xenophobia.
Malkin came out in defense of Fuentes and his Groypers.
Malkin has praised Fuentes and his fans, calling on establishment conservatives to engage with them. In a speech last week, Malkin called Fuentes “one of the New Right leaders.” In another, she praised Fuentes fans and called their conservative critics “cringe.” She has also frequently echoed their talking points calling for further restricting legal immigration, claiming that continued immigration will doom the Republican Party.
Specifically, Malkin hailed Fuentes and his supporters as “patriotic young nationalists/groypers” and trumpeted her refusal to disavow a who’s who of white nationalists, including VDARE and Faith Goldy along with Fuentes.
Malkin has been a central figure on the conservative Internet for years and has frequently appeared on Fox News Channel. She is hardly a marginal figure. And she in turn has her own defenders, including at American Greatness, a magazine formed specifically to give intellectual backing to Donald Trump—and a place where venerable conservative names like Victor Davis Hanson and Roger Kimball still publish, despite its weakness for white power poetry. Like I said, the call is coming from inside the house.
Aside from ideological affinity—Malkin has been fanatically anti-immigration for a long time, despite being the daughter of Filipino immigrants and therefore a beneficiary of birthright citizenship. But there has always been a heavy element of opportunism in her career, a willingness to figure out what her conservative audience wants to hear and to echo it back to them. That is the most ominous part of the story: Malkin is making a bet that the racists are the future of conservatism. That’s the argument offered by Tiana Lowe in the Washington Examiner.
Michelle Malkin isn’t melting down. Rather, her recent embrace of the dregs of humanity—bitter little boys screaming Holocaust denials in front of a green screen in their mother’s basement—is a calculated choice in her mission to navigate what comes after President Trump’s tenure comes to an end….
[S]he apparently believes that a white supremacist constituency secretly comprises a significant portion of the American Right. And yes, given the recent spate of right-wingers colluding with racists or embracing their ideology outright, her bet ought to scare the rest of us into cleaning house and purging conservatism.
Good luck with that. But at The Bulwark, Jim Swift expresses conservatives’ worst fear.
This is what [Young Americans for Freedom] said as it broke ties with Malkin: “There is no room in mainstream conservatism or at YAF for holocaust deniers, white nationalists, street brawlers, or racists.” That’s a good ethos and YAF deserves a lot of credit for taking a stand. The only problem is that it isn’t true.
Does Donald Trump deserve all the blame for this? Of course not. But it can’t exactly be dismissed as coincidence that this all happened after he launched his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists. A few weeks ago, I linked to Jim Geraghty’s empathetic and hauntingly accurate description of the process by which mainstream conservatives were seduced by Trumpism. Here is the passage that jumps out at me in the context of the Groyper War and Michelle Malkin’s defection to the alt-right.
A wave of hateful bigots just coincidentally happened to emerge from under rocks during the past three years, as if they perceived some sort of national green light, some sort of giant signal that it was okay to express these views and behave this way. God only knows what could have given them that idea.
Like I’ve been saying all along, you can choose to dismiss all of this—coming from me and Jim Geraghty and David French and the Washington Examiner and Young Americans for Freedom, and just about every other source you used to trust—as a hysteria spread by “the left.” You can tell yourself this is all just a coincidence.
Or you can recognize that the call is coming from inside the house, start examining how nationalist collectivism gained such a foothold, and recognize that we’re in a two-front war with enemies of freedom and individualism on both the left and the right.
5. Capitalism Is Ancient
There’s a lot of bad news in today’s edition, so I wanted to end on something more positive: an intriguing article, by way of the Human Progress website, about the ancient roots of capitalism, not just in the West but in India and China.
[I]t is not only the institutions of the market that evolved in the East, the same goes for the intellectual support of markets. Adam Smith is often considered to be the father of economics and the first intellectual supporter of free-market ideals. This belief stems from the assumption that Smith was the first to explain how markets develop through the division of labour and specialization.
However, Xenophon’s writing on the same subject predates Smith by more than 2,000 years. What was Xenophon writing about? He was explaining the market practices of ancient Persia, whose economy evidently functioned on the basis of market mechanisms. In fact, previously unpublished lecture notes from Smith show that he simply seems to have plagiarized Xenophon.
Even more interesting is another piece of writing from this ancient historian. Xenophon wrote about how Cyrus the Great—the most influential ruler of his time—was taught as a prince about how to judge market transactions. The moral of the story is that a wise ruler should not regulate the marketplace based on what the ruler believes to be an efficient exchange. Rather, he should only concern himself with whether the transaction had been conducted in proper accordance with property rights and voluntary transaction….
In the 7th century BC, the Guanzi, an important and political and philosophical text from ancient China, described how profit-seeking merchants study demand and supply on the marketplace, and lay the foundation for an efficient economy through their activities: “Marvelous and fantastic things arrive in timely fashion; rare and unusual goods readily gather. Day and night thus engaged, merchants tutor their sons and brothers, speaking the language of profit, teaching them the virtue of timeliness and training them how to recognize the value of goods.”…
Rational self-interest, an idea commonly attributed to 20th century thinker Ayn Rand, isn’t new either.
Chinese historian Ssu-ma Ch’ien explained around 100 BC how individuals who act in their own self-interest are the driving force for wealth creation: “Therefore, farmers provide food, forest guards supply mountain resources, and merchants distribute these goods. The government did not order the collection of the goods. It was done because each person did what he could best and wanted to get what he needed. When the prices are high, that is a sign they will soon become low. Everybody diligently attends to his task and enjoys doing it just as water flows to a lower place. He keeps working days and nights, comes even if he is not called, and supplies goods even if they are not demanded. This stands to reason and is the way it should be.”…
These are just a few examples to illustrate an important point: market economy, its institutions, and its intellectual support have played a much longer role in human history than today’s narrative acknowledges. Promoters of free market ideals should strive to learn more about the story of capitalism, in order to broaden their horizons, increase their global appeal, and find stronger support for their cause.
After all, it is not only in modern times that free markets have fostered progress while statism has led to stagnation; this seems to be universal pattern over the world throughout history.
This is a little overstated in two respects. First, capitalism is not generally regarded (at least among people who pay attention to such things) as the invention of Adam Smith but is usually described as coming out of the explosion of trade and the rise of an urban merchant class in the late Middle Ages. Nor was Ayn Rand the first person to defend self-interest. Second, full capitalism requires more than just markets and financial instruments; it requires stable property rights and the rule of law, which ultimately means that it requires a philosophy of individual rights. And that, in turn, in where Ayn Rand’s defense of self-interest comes in.
But it is absolutely correct that the roots of capitalism are as old as civilization itself. The basic characteristics of capitalism should actually be viewed as the default mode of human life. It is how human creativity, progress, and wealth-creation have always occurred, whenever and wherever they have occurred.
This also means that capitalism, or at least proto-capitalism, is universal in human history and can be found in some form just about everywhere. That’s also why we should have confidence that something so ancient and fundamental to human life cannot ever be eradicated.