UR, in case you’re new here, is not one of those “pundit” blogs. The purpose of UR is to try, humbly and no doubt incompetently, to see the history of 2009 through the eyes of the great reactionary historians of the Victorian era – like Carlyle, Froude, or Lecky.
Current events are part of this, but not a large part. Most of the real action in the 20th century is in the 20th century proper. This century is now dead. At some point, it will stop breathing.
But every now and then there is a spark of life, and UR is pleased to endorse the candidacy of Sonia Sotomayor for the United States Supreme Court. Here at UR, we believe Judge Sotomayor’s talent, temperament and training are all in the true spirit of USG, and reflect her impressive Ivy League credentials. Indeed she reminds me of many historic American figures, such as Samuel Adams, Benjamin Butler, or Thaddeus Stevens – a judgment with which I’m sure Carlyle, Froude, and Lecky would concur. I’m confident that her vibrant presence will add as much wisdom to the Court as empathy, as much feminine charm as colorful wit, as much analytical rigor as serious scholarship. I expect the Congress will display its characteristic prudence in confirming her without delay. Ketman is thirsty work, I’ll have you know.
In discerning how Carlyle, Froude or Lecky would evaluate the USG of 2009, we must adopt two methodological principles, one of which is easy and the other almost impossible. The easy principle is to keep our sources pure – we need to get our data as far upstream as possible, to prevent contamination with the omnipresent psychological-warfare, or “spin,” of 20th-century democracy. This is not hard, and a good habit even if you don’t give a crap about Carlyle etc.
The impossible problem is to be extremely brief. Our basic problem, as reactionary historians, is that Carlyle, Froude and Lecky do not give a crap about USG. Their opinion of USG is that it’s fscked, a typical American disaster, and completely impossible to un-fsck. It is quite obvious that the confirmation of Judge Sotomayor will render it neither any more fscked, nor any less.
Therefore, I can’t imagine Carlyle, Froude, or Lecky so much as mentioning Judge Sotomayor in any history of the early 21st-century. If so, it would be as an illustration rather than a pivotal contingency, and it would be a short illustration. A paragraph, maybe, at most.
And what would that paragraph say? Here at UR, we’d all like to know. I cannot get it down to a paragraph. But I think even Carlyle, Froude or Lecky would need to start with some context.
As it turns out, the selection of Judge Sotomayor actually provides a fine historical illustration of what USG is and how it does business. It is like UR 101. It is so easy to read, it reads itself.
The reactionary is always a Machiavellian. She devotes her attention to reality, not form. So, for instance, I call USG “USG” because that’s what the people who work there call it. I feel that if you’re interested in learning about USG, you’ll learn a lot more here and here than here. (Memo to the Washington Post Company: while it’s fine to begin a domain name with “who,” follow it with a dash, or a word that doesn’t start with “r.”)
To the reactionary, USG is an unlimited government – a true sovereign under the classical law of nations. Everything that happens in the United States (if not the entire world) is either caused by USG, or allowed to happen by USG. If there is some domain of human affairs in which USG does not intervene, this is too is USG’s choice. There is certainly no domain from which any force, other than USG’s own will, precludes it.
Therefore, USG deserves full credit for anything good that happens in the United States, and bears complete responsibility for anything bad. Who invented the Internet? Whoever it was, USG caused it to be done. Why did USG’s financial system collapse? USG mismanaged it.
It is a truism of reactionary political science that every government which is truly sovereign contains some individual or committee which holds the imperium maius – absolute power, subject to no contradiction. In USG, this committee is the Supreme Court.
While in the 20th century, the Court’s imperium is maius without a doubt – not even FDR could quite break it – it is also extremely weak. This is not a contradiction in terms. Custom limits the Court’s imperium to the slowest, most reactive process in slow, reactive USG: the law. Who has the final word in this process controls USG, but only in the end. The Court’s sceptre cannot be used for proactive, executive action.
Thus, while the Court holds imperium maius, just as Augustus did, it cannot actually use this power as Augustus used it – eg, it cannot declare a state of emergency and rule by decree. At least, any attempt at classical imperial government by the Court would violate the true and ancient customs of the Beltway. I still think it would probably work, but there is a significant chance of just breaking the instrument.
Moreover, the Court is weakened as an institution by its nomination process. While the political arm of USG can be broadly described as vestigial – most of the real power is in the civil service, the press and the universities, all of which are strongly shielded from “politics” – the White House retains some genuine responsibilities. One is nominating judges.
Given the pendulum of party politics, in which each side must sully its reputation in turn by serving as figurehead of the good ship USG, and the biological facts of life expectancy (note that Judge Sotomayor’s diabetes reduces her expected term by 15 years), this creates a Court on which the most important fact is not the identity of the members, but their partisan ratio – as in any legislative body. Any truly studly Court would choose its own replacements, like the Israeli Supreme Court.
It so happens that Judge Sotomayor is replacing Justice Souter, a typical late 20th-century Justice – an Outer Party nonentity who betrayed those that brought him to power, and became a consistent Inner Party vote. Thus, the replacement does not change the partisan ratio, and again is interesting only as an illustration.
(This pattern of systematic treason (there’s really no other word for it) is a legacy of the era in which Inner Party domination was so total that the Outer Party had no scholarly institutions at all. With new institutions such as the Federalist Society, it probably won’t happen again. The Outer Party has no shortage of sound, talented ideologues. This, in itself, is a problem for the Modern Structure – though not yet a major one.)
We are finished with our context. This, in UR’s best judgment, is the reality. You know the theatrical production above it. Now, our illustration. I will work entirely with direct sources.
First, let’s listen to Judge Sotomayor’s famous “policy” outtake: 30 seconds. Please watch it again now, if you haven’t seen it already. This is my transcription, which is as exact as I can make it. I feel the italics are Judge Sotomayor’s:
“all of the legal defense funds out there… um… they’re looking for people with court of appeals experience… because – it is – court of appeals is where policy is made. And I know – and I know – this is on tape and I should never say that, because we don’t make law. I know. [audience laughter] Okay. I know. I’m not promoting it – I’m not advocating it – you know. Okay. [more laughter] Um…
Now: this clip is from a real event. It was not forged, it was not altered, it happened. You can believe your own eyes and ears on this one. At a certain point, when the spin gets so intense that you feel like curling up in a little ball, you just have to go back and start with your own peripheral nervous system – because if the Reptoids can own that, they can own anything.
Starting from this point of unconditional truth, I want to examine two points about the clip. The first is the remarkable tone shift in Judge Sotomayor’s voice, right after “policy is made,” which is almost what linguists call code-switching. If we didn’t have the video, we could almost believe that two different speakers had been spliced together. The second, of course, is the laughter.
Perhaps you were linked to this post by accident, and you are not actually a reactionary. If so, please ask yourself before you continue: what is your explanation of these two phenomena? Think about it and save it up. You’ll be comparing it to mine.
First, the code-switching. Judge Sotomayor’s tone and diction as the clip begins is an acrolect which I recognize immediately: it is the standard teaching voice at any top-ranked university. I am confident that the average Ivy League law school is taught more or less entirely in this tone. Indeed, since Judge Sotomayor was never a law professor, and since she is speaking at Duke, it would be surprising if she were completely self-confident about her status on this occasion. This would lead us to expect an almost exaggerated correctness of diction.
It is always perfectly permissible for the professor to drop out of the arch academic tone and into a standard, informal American basilect, as Judge Sotomayor does here. Indeed it is intrinsically humorous – although it is also humorous, of course, to reverse the trope.
And Judge Sotomayor is in need of humor. Because in the second half of the clip, there is no way to mistake the context of the discourse. Judge Sotomayor is apologizing.
All comedy is drama. If you don’t have a dramatic shift, you are not funny. The audience laughs, so we can tell that Judge Sotomayor is, indeed, funny. Why is she apologizing? Has she made a boo-boo? If so, what? And why is the apology funny?
At this point, we shift abruptly from the top end of the judicial food chain to the bottom. Judge Sotomayor has indeed made a boo-boo. And what was her boo-boo? She forgot that the meeting was being taped. And then she makes a second boo-boo. She says exactly this – on tape. And the whole room cracks up.
Because, you know, at the other end of the law – the business end – it’s really quite common for people to know, as a matter of professional responsibility, whether or not they are on tape. When they think they aren’t but they are, fascinating things can be recorded.
And if this wasn’t a fascinating thing, I wouldn’t be wasting your time with it. But clearly, Judge Sotomayor has no actual fear of prosecution. We are not at that end of the law. We are at the other end – the majesty end. Whew. But then: why apologize? What’s funny?
Let’s go back to the first half of the clip. Play it again, if you have to. Again, there is an appropriate context for the discourse in which Judge Sotomayor is engaging: academia. Note that she is speaking at Duke. And were she not a public official speaking on the (taped) record, a fact she appears to have momentarily forgotten, no one at Duke would raise an eyebrow.
To understand the full context of Judge Sotomayor’s reasoning, we need to rewind the tape a century and look at America a century ago. Judge Sotomayor would no doubt be comfortable, if not perhaps on tape, in describing herself as a “progressive.” So indeed would Herbert Croly, founder of the New Republic and author of The Promise of American Life (1911). And while the word has taken a twist or two over the century, it basically refers to the same movement.
The original progressives (or Progressives) were original and iconoclastic thinkers, believe it or not. Just as we do here at UR, they found themselves grappling with difficult truths. One of these truths, which has revealed itself again and again ever since Plato, is this: democracy doesn’t work. Or, as Croly puts it:
Majority rule, under certain prescribed conditions, is a necessary constituent of any practicable democratic organization; but the actions or decisions of a majority need not have any binding moral and national authority. Majority rule is merely one means to an extremely difficult, remote, and complicated end; and it is a piece of machinery which is peculiarly liable to get out of order. Its arbitrary and dangerous tendencies can, as a matter of fact, be checked in many effectual and legitimate ways, of which the most effectual is the cherishing of a tradition, partly expressed in some body of fundamental law, that the true people are, as Bismarck declared, in some measure an invisible multitude of spirits — the nation of yesterday and to-morrow, organized for its national historical mission.
Here we see the seam between progressivism and reaction, under glass. Here at UR, we are perfectly happy to observe that majority rule is an arbitrary and dangerous piece of machinery, which is peculiarly liable to get out of order.
To me, what this says is that democracy is bad political engineering. To Herbert Croly, what this says is that democracy is a higher spiritual truth, distinct from the “politics” of mere majority rule – cue the invisible multitude of spirits and the national historical mission. With these mystical forces, it is not difficult at all to worship democracy and despise politics – a position held by hundreds of millions of intelligent people today.
But I digress. If we look at USG in the era of Herbert Croly, we see how justified his observations were, because what we see is a sort of democratic klepto-plutocracy. The real USG of 1909 is not too different from the progressive image of the Bush administration. To put it baldly, the levers of politics had been captured by an alliance of bosses and plutocrats. America had real industries then, and those industries had real captains. It also had political machines, as it has today. Croly writes:
The consequence has been, however, a separation of actual political power from official political responsibility. The public officers are still technically responsible for the good government of the states, even if, as individuals, they have not been granted the necessary authority effectively to perform their task. But their actual power is even smaller than their official authority. They are almost completely controlled by the machine which secures their election or appointment. The leader or leaders of that machine are the rulers of the community, even though they occupy no offices and cannot be held in any way publicly responsible.
Indeed. But in fact, by any reasonable historical standard, the quality of government that American klepto-plutocracy produced was not bad at all. Perhaps it can be compared to the klepto-plutocracy now operating in China, whose methods are also unseemly, and whose results are also quite good. But surely no such government can be in any sense optimal. China’s sure isn’t, and nor was the McKinley administration. Thus a Croly had every right to expect improvement.
And what offended the early progressives most of all, quite reasonably, was the corruption of the system. Recall UR’s definition of corruption: a thing is corrupt if it is not what it appears to be. No one can possibly argue that Gilded-Age USG was what it appeared to be. On the other hand, it is quite difficult to argue that the 20th century improved USG’s customer-service quality.
There is an unintentionally-wonderful mural near my home in San Francisco: the Market Street Railway Mural. If you doubt the above conclusion, have a look at the mural. My caption is that what we see in this mural, from right to left, is progressivism improving Market Street in the imaginary future, and devastating it in the actual past. Hopefully the reactionary can be excused for his lack of hope for the UN ecotopia, pleasant though this Embarcadero would indeed be.
Alas. When we analyze the progressive mind, we are dealing by definition in abnormal psychology: with the problem of the mind warped by power. Tolkien never told us what his great work was about, but his politics were no secret. No fellow reactionary can believe but that when he wrote of the Nine Rings that Sauron gave to mortal men, Tolkien was thinking of such as Keynes, from whom power hissed out like a snake. One has to wonder if the two ever met.
Croly was certainly an American equivalent. And another grim rider is Walter Lippmann, whose Public Opinion (1922) is perhaps the most frank discussion of how the new, twentieth-century, progressive USG operates. If you read both Croly and Lippmann, you have a pretty solid start on the founding mindset of progressivism.
When a Ringwraith hisses of invisible spirit armies and national historical missions, it is not wise to take him at his word – or ignore him. These writers are not to be believed in any way. Their texts are not authorities, but evidence. Any approach to them must be forensic – in a word, Machiavellian.
The Machiavellian gist of the early progressive agenda – is that, since USG is not being properly directed by the mechanisms defined in its actual, written Constitution (as reconstructed in the 1860s), it must be directed through an alternate channel. That is, though nominally directed by its political arms, which depend on majority rule and are therefore dysfunctional, it must be actually directed by professional experts, who are above politics. In case you hadn’t noticed, this has been pretty much the case since 1933.
Unfortunately, there is just one small problem with the Croly-Lippmann design. By working surreptitiously and dishonestly to direct the State, whose humble and disinterested servants they claim to be, the Platonic guardians these thinkers postulate must violate any professional codes of honor that they may have. It is impossible to be dishonest in one field of endeavor and honest in another.
In other words, the progressive movement is actually far more corrupt than its banal kleptocratic predecessor, because it corrupts the very fields of knowledge on which all successful governments must rely. In a society steeped in science, law, history, and economics, it seems remarkably attractive to shift the foundations of one’s sovereign away from robber barons and machine politicians, and toward scientists, lawyers, historians, and economists. (And journalists, of course. But the journalists of 1909 were already quite corrupt enough.)
However, from a long-term perspective, the decision is fatal. Robber barons and machine politicians will never be nice people, but both professions are competitive enough to prevent much decay. Consider the political conditions of the Italian Renaissance. It is impossible for power to corrupt a kleptocracy: a kleptocracy is already corrupt. This does not render the structure ideal, but it lends it a certain long-term stability which is of great value.
It is possible to corrupt science, law, history, and economics. It may be impossible to uncorrupt journalism. For a society ruled by bad journalism and condemned to bad science, bad law, bad history and bad economics, there is no exit but destruction. I think we still have some good science. Perhaps there is a little good history, and some decent law. For economics, there is just no hope. Fuzzy fields rot fast.
When you ask experts, who claim to be performing a technical service in which individuals are interchangeable, to wield power – for example, when you exempt their advice from any independent review, or even allow them to control their own funding streams – you are basically sliding the Ring on to the collective fingers of some of the most important professions in a modern human society.
For example, the scientist is the figure in modern society for whom it is easiest to cheat, because no one but a philosopher of science can determine whether his work is really science. Falsified science is easily detected; pseudoscience is not. And there are not a lot of philosophers, ever. And next to detecting pseudoeconomics, detecting pseudoscience is a piece of cake.
And if you can distort this input to the government, you have hacked the government. You, not the old boss machine, are in the driver’s seat. And the worst of it is – you haven’t even solved the frickin’ problem:
The leader or leaders of that machine are the rulers of the community, even though they occupy no offices and cannot be held in any way publicly responsible.
The progressives have transferred this invidious position – job description, Ringwraith – from ward heelers to the scholarly tradition of the West. In the process, they have irreparably corrupted the scholarly tradition of the West. And they have not gotten rid of the ward heelers. At least in 1909 there were no (supposed) scholars who were also ward heelers. I’d take ten Boss Crokers for one Rajendra Pachauri.
And suddenly, when we get to Croly on law, we see the intellectual pedigree of Judge Sotomayor:
The conservative believer in the existing American political system will doubtless reply that the lawyer, in so far as he opposes radical reform or reorganization, is merely remaining true to his function as the High Priest of American constitutional democracy. And no doubt it is begging the question at the present stage of this discussion, to assert that American lawyers as such are not so well qualified as they were to guide American political thought and action. But it can at least be maintained that, assuming some radical reorganization to be necessary, the existing prejudices, interests, and mental outlook of the American lawyer disqualify him for the task. The legal profession is risking its traditional position as the mouthpiece of the American political creed and faith upon the adequacy of the existing political system. If there is any thoroughgoing reorganization needed, it will be brought about in spite of the opposition of the legal profession. They occupy in relation to the modern economic and political problem a position similar to that of the Constitutional Unionists previous to the Civil War. Those estimable gentlemen believed devoutly that the Constitution, which created the problem of slavery and provoked the anti-slavery agitation, was adequate to its solution. In the same spirit learned lawyers now affirm that the existing problems can easily be solved, if only American public opinion remain faithful to the Constitution. But it may be that the Constitution, as well as the system of local political government built up around the Federal Constitution, is itself partly responsible for some of the existing abuses, evils, and problems; and if so, the American lawyer may be useful, as he was before the Civil War, in evading our difficulties; but he will not be very useful in settling them.
(Note the interesting charge that the Constitution “provoked the anti-slavery agitation.” That sure ain’t one ya hear these days! What can Croly possibly mean? Why is there a watermelon there?)
At the point when Croly wrote, American law was in the thrall of the belief that now would be described as legal formalism. Legal formalism is the belief that: there is such a thing as law; the law means what it says; some things are legal, and other things are illegal; etc. Generations of lawyers were indoctrinated with this medieval obscurantism. From Hammurabi until Herbert Croly, no one had ever begun to suspect that it might just be wrong.
Seriously. I am not making this up. There has been some recent interest in the term, or it would not be in La Wik – but there is no surviving legal-formalist tradition in America. In the generation after Croly, it was replaced by the tradition of legal realism. For example, the Uniform Commercial Code was principally drafted by the noted legal-realist Karl Llewellyn.
Legal realism succeeded so completely that its acolytes succeeded to actual responsibility, thus invoking Conquest’s law – everyone is reactionary on the subjects he understands. It therefore had to be succeeded in the ’60s and thereafter by critical legal studies and the even more aggro critical race theory, for which even the Wikipedia page is wreathed in pure Stalinist spittle. Do read these pages, if you can stomach looking that long into the eye of the Ring.
The content of all these philosophies is the same. Let me summarize, in Machiavellian terms.
The first essential ingredient is a pinch of tu quoque. This spice is to progressivism as cilantro is to Mexican food, so we cannot be surprised to find it here. To believe that you, as a lawyer, should dishonor everything your profession has held to be good and sweet and true for the previous four millennia, indeed dishonor the notion of truth itself, and install a Judas hole in the veil of Athena, your soul has to be pretty seriously bent. There are only two instruments that can do the bending: fear and hate.
Thus, those who break the rules will always first argue that their enemies, real or imagined, are breaking the very same rules: tu quoque. Thus, a judge might rule against the workers because there was a bad egg on his plate this morning. Or because he has stock in the company. Why, then, how can it be wrong for us to rule against the workers? Most judges are white men, and most white men are at least a little racist. Why, then… und so weiter.
In the Machiavellian furnace, this is the turd down to which all these bloviations boil. Here we see it in the words of Judge Sotomayor herself:
Yet, because I accept the proposition that, as Judge Resnik describes it, “to judge is an exercise of power” and because as, another former law school classmate, Professor Martha Minnow [sic] of Harvard Law School, states “there is no objective stance but only a series of perspectives – no neutrality, no escape from choice in judging,” I further accept that our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions. The aspiration to impartiality is just that–it’s an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others. Not all women or people of color, in all or some circumstances or indeed in any particular case or circumstance but enough people of color in enough cases, will make a difference in the process of judging.
If I may digress for a moment – note, also, that this typical diversicrat, this DMV supervisor, this jurist of renown, can barely write. She literally does not know how to use a comma properly. Read the whole speech linked above – not a transcript, but a prepared text that was published in a law journal. Mother Jones has noticed, too. Keep it up, guys! Speak truth to power!
Understandably, Ms. Sotomayor almost flunked out of Princeton her freshman year, because she couldn’t write. Oddly enough, she later managed to graduate summa cum laude. Perhaps this reflects a remarkable, but temporary, improvement in her writing skills. Maybe it was that she was good at math, not writing, and took a lot of physics classes to get her GPA up. Or perhaps it reflects the fact that she majored in Puerto Rican studies, ie, racism. Can we know? We cannot.
It might well be appropriate to classify Judge Sotomayor as a critical race theorist. On the other hand, it might not. I don’t know the details well enough. However, her suspicious interest in human biodiversity (HBD) is quite compelling:
Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum
Perhaps she’s been reading Steve Sailer. Or perhaps she’s more in the Leonard Jeffries line? I would certainly be fascinated to hear Judge Sotomayor explain her perhaps-idiosyncratic views on “inherent physiological differences.”
In any case, enough with the mockery – back to the mindset. Now, a mindset can exist only in the minds of those who have a mind. Eg, who know how to use a comma. There are plenty of mindless progressives, but there are also quite a few mindful ones.
So tu quoque might be sufficient for the mind of a mediocrity. And if Judge Sotomayor is anything but, I have seen no convincing evidence of it. This in itself is a historic corruption. When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up and be on the Supreme Court, and I sure as hell knew how to use a comma.
But we have not really gotten to the secret of the laughter. We have made progressivism seem mean and petty, a reflection which is not true to life. If tu quoque was all there was, there might still be laughter on the soundtrack to that speech, but it would be shriller, colder laughter.
Here is a quote from the blogger Revere at Effect Measure, who claims to be one or many senior officials in USG’s public-health apparatus. Obviously, these are some of the best people at USG. Obviously, many of them are children of the ’60s. Revere’s insights on influenza are certainly pertinent and sincere, but often he veers off into social and political topics which reveal his perfect orthodoxy in the great tradition of Herbert Croly. He writes:
There have been a lot of dismaying things about American politics since Reagan, but for us surely one of the most disheartening was the continual denigration of public servants. Politicians ran for office on platforms that put down anything done by the public sector even as their own corrupt hands yanking on the public money teat. It wasn’t enough to praise the wonders of private enterprise. It had to be done at the expense of tearing down the virtues of a common purpose. The result was to marginalize and impoverish public service, what should be the noblest of callings, not the most trivialized. Instead young people were fed the idea that hedge fund managers and Wall Streeters were the Best of the Best.
That was then. Now a nascent spirit of civic engagement has emerged from the 2008 campaign and found a responsive and sympathetic ear among the younger generation and even some of us oldsters. Talking about the value of civil engagement is one thing. Enabling it is another. So I’m glad to share an email I got today from Danny Modovan, Director of the Jobs for Change initiative at Change.org.
Of course we were delighted to endorse the vision and we did.
Etc, etc. Of course, we’ve all seen this kind of garbage, whose very unreadability betrays its pure cant. It is particularly interesting to see it mixed with what looks like perfectly sound science. But that is not unusual, either.
Nonetheless, behind the cant, here is true belief. It is as sincere as any Catholic’s loyalty to his church – an unconditional institutional attachment. We can be sure Revere is attached to the UN, for the same reasons. What would the Pope have to do, for Catholics to stop believing in the Catholic Church? He could come out on the high altar at Christmas mass in St. Peters and rape a goat, and the Church would get either a new Pope or a new sacrament.
The faith of Revere is the faith that, here at UR, we call Universalism. We can use the tools of reason, of course, to belittle and mock this faith – just as we can use them to belittle and mock Catholicism. But we cannot belittle or mock those who hold either, because all of us stumble through life in a maze of delusion – Catholics, Universalists, and mere reactionaries.
When you hear someone in 2009 use a phrase like virtues of a common purpose (meaning, the spiritual satisfaction of being a government employee), which could have come straight out of Herbert Croly or any of a hundred writers of a century ago, it is the equivalent of finding a preserved sequence in comparative DNA analysis. You know that here you have found something important, something that works, something that appeals to the human heart. Whatever it is, it is something to be respected.
My guess is that Judge Sotomayor’s audience for that speech consisted largely of people with minds, and my guess is that – if they share the general philosophy of progressivism – they would respond in the same way as Revere to “Jobs for Change” at change.org. These are people who are convinced, as Croly was, that they are building the New Jerusalem. No matter that Croly, too, was building the New Jerusalem! Progress takes time, and its enemies are powerful.
For any cause so great, no effective tactic can be rejected. Especially not when the opponent is so powerful, ruthless, and unprincipled. Thus the tu quoque – which tends to operate on the principle of cet animal est très méchant, quand on l’attaque il se défend. These two blur to create the mindset that could laugh, in that room, at that time, in that way. A laugh which is confident, warm, but somehow… predatory.
I actually can speak personally to this laugh. I personally have emitted it, though in a completely different context. The context was that of an old employer of mine, which had devised an extremely aggressive strategy for participation in standards forums. The basic gist of the strategy was, as always, to block progress on standards in which progress favored our competitors. Without, of course, admitting any such thing. In my specific memory, the CTO of the company was talking about how these tactics would be used to “screw Nokia,” or words to that effect.
And the laugh was the same, not just because screwing Nokia would shift money from Nokia’s pockets into ours, but also because our engineering tended to be better than Nokia’s. Thus, by retarding Nokia’s work and advancing ours, the result would be better standards. And thus, our manipulative and dishonest conduct was actually serving the industry as a whole.
So Judge Sotomayor’s audience that day went through the following mental process. They realized that Judge Sotomayor had committed a Kinsley gaffe – hardly surprising, considering her skill with the comma. Then they realized that, by mentioning her fear of the tape, she had committed a double Kinsley gaffe – not only had she described the reality of USG, not the fantasy that keeps the voters going back into the little booths, she had brought up the difference between the two.
And the audience laughed, because they realized that this was in some sense shameful – just as it was shameful of us to block Nokia’s standards initiatives, by raising bogus technical obstacles. Again: any divergence between appearance and reality is essentially corrupt. At the very least, it amounts to a deception.
There is thus a slightly diabolical tone to this laugh. It is almost the laugh of sinners called out by a preacher, except that your typical sinner does not conceive himself of sinning for a higher good. Indeed there is another, older, name for “legal realism” – antinomianism. This is often found in the presence of extreme Protestant sects, such as Universalism.
We know policy is made in appeals court, but we don’t say policy is made in appeals court. Don’t talk about Fight Club, Judge Sotomayor! Similarly, it would be a definite error to admit in an open meeting that the bogus technical obstacles are, in fact, bogus obstacles presented for the purpose of thwarting Nokia.
And the lie is never exactly a secret – per se. Progressivism is distributed and adaptive, not organized and conspiratorial. Obviously, everyone around the appeals court knows that the appeals court exists to make policy. And everyone in the working group knows who, exactly, is stalling.
Yet if the lie is admitted, at least admitted too often, real consequences may ensure. It’s not like Judge Sotomayor has blurted out the formula for the atomic bomb. Nonetheless, the camouflage machine can only crank out so many amps, so it’s definitely better if there are as few continuity errors as possible.
Thus we hear four things in the laughter: a bit of shame, a bit of the thrill of power, a bit of danger, and a bit of smug self-righteousness. Government does not always do evil in this state of mind, but this is the state of mind it must adopt in order to do evil.
And lastly, there is also the feeling of camaraderie in the transcendence of order. This truly is the holy brotherhood of the antinomian – excused, like demon monks, from any limit on the appetite. As Fidel Castro says, the honey of power is sweet. It is sweeter yet in the presence of righteousness. And those who share this taste are brothers forever, like tag-team acid-trippers. What sin can this comradeship not excuse? And what foe can defeat it?
But the terrible fact is that power, like life, ages. The USG of today is no longer what it was even in the ’70s. Look at this team of revolutionaries that Judge Sotomayor joined after law school:
“She just believed in the mission,” Luis Alvarez, a former chairman of its board, said of Ms. Sotomayor. “This was a highly refined group of individuals who came from the premier academic institutions. It was almost like Camelot. It was a wonderful growth period.”
Alas! Why the past tense? Is LatinoJustice-PRLDEF no longer so highly refined? Does it no longer stir the most delicate and elegant passion in the hearts of of its own staff? Does it no longer recruit from the premier academic institutions? After this wonderful growth period, what happened? Sadly, I can guess – Trotsky turned into Brezhnev. All things age.
Let us roll the clock back, briefly, and look at the level of dishonor briefly. Our first exhibit: a little ransom note sent by the young Ms. Sotomayor to Princeton, in 1974. Here is our highlight:
Yet statistical evidence is not the total concern or complaint of the Puerto Rican or Chicano students — what is terrifying to us are the implications. The facts imply and reflect the total absence of regard, concern and respect for an entire people and their culture. In effect, they reflect an attempt — a successful attempt so far — to relegate an important cultural sector of the population to oblivion.
In other words, Princeton University – in 1974 – is engaged in an active racist conspiracy against Puerto Ricans. Similarly, Hitler is alive and well and living on the dark side of the moon. This is either pure delusion, or pure shameless mendacity. Neither reflects well on the character of the young Ms. Sotomayor.
Almost every sentence in this letter, whose thinking is just as slovenly and sordid as its writing, yields priceless rewards to analysis. But here is perhaps the best:
Puerto Ricans constitute 12 per cent of the population in New Jersey. Immediately surrounding Princeton — New Brunswick, Trenton, and Newark — they constitute approximately 15 per cent of the population.
Now, why would this be relevant? Remember the complaint: not enough students and faculty members of “Chicano” (why doesn’t anyone say “Chicano” anymore?”) descent. But Princeton both hires and admits from a pool which is national, if not international. It is not a New Jersey university. It just happens to be in New Jersey.
Lurking under these innocent demographic statistics is a simple threat. There are a lot of Puerto Ricans near Princeton. Therefore, we can seduce them with our secret Boricuan wiles, of which you gringos know nothing, and bus them here to cause trouble. Granted, Newark is an hour away, but what’s an hour on a bus? If you think nothing like this has ever happened, you could not be more wrong – although most of it was confined to the late ’60s and early ’70s. But then again, that’s when this letter was written. And the jobs didn’t go away, either.
Could a future Supreme Court justice think in such a sordid, material way? Could this really be the substance of her concern as a young woman – give my kinsmen jobs, or we will (a) sue you and (b) bus in a mob to rough you up? Alas, it is not at all surprising. The Sonia Sotomayors of the world got their jobs, and have served out long and happy careers as diversity bureaucrats.
And it is quite possible to go lower. Consider this impeccably-sourced graf from La Wik:
On the recommendation of Yale professor and future judge José A. Cabranes, Sotomayor was hired out of law school as an Assistant District Attorney under New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau starting in 1979. She said at the time that did so with conflicted emotions: “There was a tremendous amount of pressure from my community, from the third-world community, at Yale. They could not understand why I was taking this job. I’m not sure I’ve ever resolved that problem.” […] She felt the lower-level crimes were largely products of socioeconomic environment and poverty, but had a different attitude about serious felonies: “No matter how liberal I am, I’m still outraged by crimes of violence. Regardless of whether I can sympathize with the causes that lead these individuals to do these crimes, the effects are outrageous.” Hispanic-on-Hispanic crime was of particular concern to her: “The saddest crimes for me were the ones that my own people committed against each other.”
Isn’t this amazing? How can this just not amaze you? “No matter how liberal I am, I’m still outraged by crimes of violence.” It’s like listening to a Holocaust denier talk about how saddened he is by the very real suffering of the Jews.
Shall we go there? Oh, yes. Why don’t we go there. Let’s consider all the “lower-level crimes” – such as “minor assault cases” – that occurred in New York in the ’70s and ’80s. No – let’s just include muggings at knifepoint, in cases where the assailant is a Puerto Rican and the victim is an elderly Holocaust survivor.
Can we picture this set? Is there any reason we can’t? How many members of the set do you think there are? 10? 100? Call it a hundred. And over each of these events, each of which actually really truly happened, the wise Latina spirit of Judge Sotomayor, empathetic to a T, is hovering. And each time it happens, she empathizes to the assailant: no matter how liberal I am, I’m still outraged by your crime. But at least you didn’t hold up a fellow Chicano.
Judge Sotomayor, like Warren Hastings, stands amazed at her own moderation. She actually believes that some crimes should be punished, even when they are carried out by her own people. Perhaps thanks to some residue of Catholic school, she cannot quite swallow the full Frantz Fanon line – or should I say, Franz Fanon?
This is what Sam Francis called anarcho-tyranny – sadistic, wilful domination not by the direct agents of the state, but private parties acting with the toleration and consent of the state. It is quite literally the same “boys will be boys” principle that old Wilhelmine judges applied to Nazi street violence under the Weimar Republic. And it has exactly the same effect: leveraging extralegal force to produce political power.
Oncce you see this, of course, it sticks in your head and stays there. What we are looking at here is simple: a mafia, united by an adolescent status fantasy. So when a respected journalist, at a respected publication, writes:
Judge Sonia Sotomayor is smart and sharp, and her formidable track record on the bench should put to rest any lingering doubts that she isn’t. (Speaking of which: Why was the left, or at least the center, criticizing one of its own?)
The reactionary’s only feeling is sadness. USG is enormous and very old, and many, many people believe deeply that it is either intrinsically righteous or, if not, susceptible to reform. They certainly are not aware that it consists of a set of individuals who, whatever their actual IQs and grammatical skills, are moral 13-year-olds who think real life is a game of Fight Club.
What saddens me especially is my confidence that Herbert Croly, Walter Lippmann, and even later Ringwraiths such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., would probably have no choice but to agree with me, Carlyle, Lecky and Froude. This narrative is sordid and pathetic, truly Third World. It is simply impossible to respect a USG that appoints, as a justice of its highest court, a woman who is confused by the concept of a comma, solely on account of her unusual pigmentation. There is certainly no chance that history will spare it – at least, not forever.
Fortunately, USG does not demand our respect. It asks only for our obedience, and here at UR we are always glad to provide it. That’s why I’m happy to provide a strong blog endorsement of Judge Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. Jurists like her are the face of USG’s future – and the future cannot arrive soon enough. Here at UR, we hope for nothing so much as change.