These last few months, we have had too much “information” and almost no bloody news. This trend started some decades ago. We are overrun with opinions, partisan puffery, crude entertainment, and commercial messages -- all disguised as news. That interesting historian Morris Berman complained in 2000 that “there is not a square inch of American (or Americanized) life that is not bombarded by commercial messages.” He was entirely too optimistic. Under the reign of the cyber maniacs, there is not a thousandth of a square millimeter of American life without such messages, and we can now meet with fourteen or so distracting, vulgar, jiggly, and (sometimes) noisy adds infesting and re-infesting a little thousand-word essay as fast as you can click them out. This is said to be progress and the only possible “business model,” once the lovely electrons are involved.
Right now, it would be nice to have some actual news-news. But with so much dreck passing for news, what do we actually know, for example, about this crony virus of many names? So far, we seem to know that it is rather nasty. It can be fatal. We also know that sundry governments – the good, the bad, and the ugly – are working on the problem full time. Top scientists and medical operators are on the case, advising and counseling these Hobbesian states on what should be done.
And what follows from that? There’s the rub. There is a virus. People have died. Everything else is in dispute: numbers, rates, probabilities, you name it. Different experts produce widely differing mathematical models. One begins to lose faith (if one had any) in Big Science, close ally of Big Government and Big Business. By some accounts, deaths to date are far fewer than projected by certain widely touted models, which justified draconian measures in some nations.
It would seem then that worst-case thinking -- the same mentality that gave us nuclear “weapons” -- has spread from neo-conservative and militarist cadres (where it is normal) into medicine and beyond. Meanwhile, governments have issued orders to most of us: sit still, stay home, don’t fidget, don’t talk to strangers, etc. This side of the water, a creeping lockdown stole upon us. My last trip to a grocery store was two months ago. One begins to miss getting out.
On the other hand, some of the advice we’ve been getting seems reasonable enough and most people are willing enough to comply. At my age it might be wise to stay out of crowds, etc. There is nothing wrong with prudence, which is just Latin for “foresight.”
Naturally, that isn’t enough for the minding classes, and here their style of work becomes our problem.
Fearmongering and Doomsaying
It’s the end of the world as we knew it, apparently, and the fright mob feel just fine. Worse, they expect, on the strength of their unexampled merit, to take control of the details of everyone else’s life for the foreseeable future. Things may never be the same again, but they are happy to serve. (As some poet said, they also serve who only bark and threaten.)
As for the measures needed (it is said) for our salvation, there is more than an echo in them of a stern medical totalitarianism. That kind of thinking was in the air from the early 20th century onward, in the nicest of countries, and never fully went away. Loosely associated with progressivism, social democracy, and other projects of national hygiene and collective uplift, including eugenics, fascism, and communism, the medical totalitarians (along with their psychological wing) learned to sound more caring and “democratic” after World War Two, at least in in the NATO-sphere. But tidy-mindedness is all, whatever Goethe may have said.
Now, alas, their descendants have rediscovered some old totalitarian habits.
As noted, worst-case thinkers play a central role. Assuming worst possible outcomes, they spread panic, demand extensive overpreparation and total conformity, and quickly take on the spirit of Puritans, Jacobins, and the like. This pattern pretty much answers to Old Right journalist Garet Garrett’s “complex of vaunting and fear” -- a national manic-depressive syndrome arising from Americans’ embrace of global imperialism.
Our war parties having long since erased distinctions between war and peace, we now find those who (starting from the other end) are also erasing those distinctions so as to subject all domestic matters to the war technique. Even relatively peaceful types are prepared to wage the moral equivalent of war on our home society, if good results seem likely.
The Immoral Equivalent of War
In 1947 legal historian Charles H. McIlwain wrote: “Arbitrary government, possible under the Tudors as an ordinary power, became impossible under the Stuarts except as an extraordinary power warranted only by the doctrine of emergencies.” Having long worried about security panics and emergencies sponsored by our war parties, we see now how magical emergency powers of any kind can push us over a tipping point into irreversible statism.
A 2012 essay on presidential supremacy during medical emergencies perfectly illustrates the convergence. It seems hardly accidental that the writer, Joshua L. Friedman, relies heavily on unitary-executive legal ideologues John C. Yoo and Robert J. Delahunty. There is a perfect doctrinal fit. And if anyone should doubt the two authorities’ acquaintance with matters medical, let us recall their careful attention to pain, “organ failure,” etc., in memos advising George Bush II on how best to torture captives while evading both international and American law.
Emergencies so Emergent That They May Never Really End
Naturally, our selfless saviors and rulers need advice. But to whom do they listen? Well, in this great land of freedom there are a great many Confidence Men, as Herman Melville told us. Do you want to be a millionaire? Do you need a two-headed dog? Do you (an atheist) crave immortality? Do you want to buy a “starvation blockade”? How about a Celestial Railway? P.T. Barnum, Jay Gould, the Maxim Brothers, and many others of that ilk have solutions for you. Our leaders listen to some of them.
Especially important are a special subset of the Confidence Men, whom we may call “securitarians” -- borrowing a term from French political thinker Bertrand de Jouvenel. De Jouvenel wrote in 1948 that “there never was a time in any society whatsoever when some individuals did not feel themselves to be insufficiently protected….” Without always meaning to do so, seekers after excessive security often build “their descendants’ prison” --or, more exactly, some leaders of the insecure do this.
As for who the leaders mentioned above may be, French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain noted in 1950 that ordinary people’s suffering serves to “settle the accounts of the unaccountable supreme persons or agencies, State, ministries, committees, boards, staffs, rulers, lawgivers, experts, advisers – not to speak of the intelligentsia, writers, theorists, scientific utopians, connoisseurs, professors and newspapermen.”
Finally, on the theme of emergency, West German philosopher Karl Jaspers wrote in 1967 that “freedom itself is destroyed by false freedom, by a proposed legal abolition of legality. There is no absolute security in human affairs. (…) To want absolute security is to want unfreedom and political death. (…) In fact, laws that provide for declaring an internal emergency … protect an oligarchy of our parties, the powers of its government, and the powerful interests linked with it….” 
These are dire warnings indeed about the perils of abdicating in favor of those claiming vast powers to deal with emergencies partly (or entirely) of their own making.
Weird and Uncanny Politics
For decades now, one of our two venal political parties (along with its allied intellectuals) has assured us that federalism and states’ rights are little more than wickedly “racist” obstacles to progress. The states are backward and corrupt, except when bossed around by the Federal Instance with carrot, stick, or invasion. Most respectable intellectuals strongly agree. The other party (hereafter referred to as the Other Party) pretends to believe otherwise, but has been much too busy with decades of military-industrial adventurism to do anything for federalism.
Yet, in the present moment, every Blue State governor or junior assistant vice-mayor has become a great Napoleon on horseback, issuing decrees and proclamations with suitably draconian penalties for every instance of noncompliance – weeks, months, or years in prison, and fines of hundreds or thousands of paper dollars. This is par for the boneheaded American legal mind. Practice may be a bit milder in fact, but our rulers do thrive on making every misdemeanor into a felony. (Soon library fines will be the only misdemeanors left.) Having joined in the game rather late, the Other Party’s governors are blamed for their failure to snuff out our vestigial freedoms at their first opportunity.
But as my historical mentor William F. Marina said of President William McKinley, “the man on horseback couldn’t keep his ear to the ground.” (This is a practical matter, involving respective distances of ground, horse, and ear.) Clearly, our phony localist Horse-Persons of the Apocalypse can’t canvass public opinion, nor do they care to. After all, as our leaders by both right and merit, they know what’s best. Some of them have known it since the very founding of New England.
California, under Gov. Gavin Newsom, was one of the first out of the starting gate (March 4th). Then Gov. Quasi Cuomo of New York leapt into the saddle, as did Governors Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Ralph Northam of Virginia, followed in time by many other such worthies.
Even Interstate Compacts are in fashion with these postmodern Democrats for states’ rights! This has all been very hard to follow. Of course, the catch is that this renewed enthusiasm for local government is deeply totalitarian in spirit and its obvious slogan is “Think despotically, act locally.” (Will someone please pass the new formula on to NPR?)
On What Legal Basis?
Asked by Tucker Carlson, where he got the power (for example) to arrest “15 men at the funeral of a Jewish rabbi,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy answered, “That’s above my pay grade, Tucker.” He added: “I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this.”
Well, of course not. Who would?
And who would recall that we have fifty bloody states and each one of them has its own bloody constitution and each bloody state constitution has its own bloody Bill of Rights? Who would have noticed further that, sometimes at least, a right or freedom may be better protected in a state bill of rights, owing to clearer wording?
Who would notice indeed? “Damned few -- an they’re aw deid” (to borrow on a Scots toast).
Yes, for a New Jersey Governor to think of any Bill of Rights, was probably more than his job’s worth (and well above his pay grade), which makes him a “jobs worth,” as the Brits say.
Lockdown’s “Legal” Basis, If Such There Be
So, what, indeed, are the legal foundations of worst-case emergency policymaking, foreign or domestic? Superficially, there is quite a mountain of apparent law: dubious claims of inherent Presidential power; massive Congressional “delegations” to the executive of powers that Congress doesn’t self-evidently have; various decrees and tea-leaf readings by Presidents Jackson, Lincoln, Roosevelt I, Wilson, Roosevelt II, and everyone since; proliferation of metaphorical wars -- economic, medical, and other; decades of secret-secret Cold War emergency planning; made-to-order doctrines and presidential findings. (Similar things have happened at the state level, but at least as possessors of original police powers, the states have some excuse.)
Because so many have stacked so many molehills so high for so many decades, there is a mountain of emergency “law.” Inside or outside, alongside or above the constitutions and freedoms we allegedly enjoy, lurks the iron law – or anti-law – of emergency. Its friends say it is our duty to leave the discovery of emergencies to the very people whose power will be enhanced enormously if they can find one. What could go wrong?
But even with so much apparent “law” on hand, it is hard to tell which current emergency practices (if any) have any solid legal foundation. Are they consistent (for example) with state constitutions, state bills of rights, or with what’s left of the common law? Of course, there is little reason to raise the question in terms of the U.S. constitution, which has suffered so much deformation at the hands of Congress, Presidents, and our federal/Federalist courts, that it could easily be made to sanction Hitler’s police methods, Stalin’s farm policy, or Chairman Mao’s theses on intellectual freedom.
With or without foundations, decades of creative institutional tinkering have left us with the mighty elective federal despot and his current tinpot competitors in the states: a unitary president, would-be unitary governors, and great armies of policemen, every one of the latter tending to act as a micro-unitary executive in his own little patch. Each unitary executive, macro or micro, claims arbitrary magical powers suited to his station, even if such “law” amounts to pure executive decision-making replicated at every level. Under such direction, American police forces – federal, state, and local – may soon realize their long-anticipated role as public vigilantes.
Globalization of Sam Francis’s Anarcho-tyranny 
Still, under a supposed “social bargain” with the Hobbesian, bourgeois liberal, republican states found in Europe, North America, and elsewhere, we were supposed to have a degree of political and other freedoms. In theory, the peaceful bourgeois, peasant, or worker could expect some broad freedom in his-or-her little private realm. But modernity thought better, and it turns out now, after over a century of sustained meddling, that even at home we have no privacy the state must respect. Of course, if we had that, we might well do whatever it is that we might do, and that would never do.
At present, we are witnessing the return of many old themes: necessity, danger, Machiavellian moments, Roman dictators, and the lot – as stage-managed by Alexander Hamilton, Woodrow Wilson, sundry Cold War liberals and conservatives, and finally their neo-conservative and “liberal/progressive” heirs, public and private. Wars and rumors of wars abound. More war (and other) powers are needed to strengthen the single executive’s much-heralded decision, speed, and secrecy. Here, with “the very life” of the state, nation, and people “at stake” (a rather rare occurrence, to be sure), exceptional “law” suspends the normal law.
Anyone who doubts these claims suffers from mere “libertarian panic,” on which legal gadfly Cass Sunstein first started lecturing us ca. 2005. Many others are telling us that now. By contrast, authoritarian panics are just the thing and the very best people indulge in them. With liberty duly hobbled and security upheld, the Nine Delphic Oracles in Washington City will adjust the delicate legal balances down to the nearest foot-pound, and life will go on much as as it does in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.
Toward the end of his life, historian Ralph Raico (1936-2016) took to asking whether there is anything the American people will not suffer from their rulers? With mass surveillance a fact (thanks again, Cyber Maniacs), and more of it on the way, the answer seems clear. (It is too soon to tell whether the corporal’s guard of critics of the crony-virus panic, including Peter Hitchens, David Stockman, and various writers at Intellectual Takeout, Reckonin’, and other sanely conservative websites, has had an impact.)
Waiting for the Inexorable Inevitabilities
Way back in 1965 or so, the Statler Brothers had a hit song about a self-isolating social distancer. But we can’t go that poor fellow’s route. Smoking cigarettes will be out – they are both evil and “nonessential,” you know – and watching Captain Kangaroo is doubtless, in retrospect, very racist and imperialist. Perhaps we may count the flowers on the wall. Health officers will be around shortly to advise us on this matter and many others (and no answering back).
If we’re lucky, this thing -- crony virus, Chinese virus, covey-whatsit -- will end fairly soon, and we can dig ourselves out of the wreckage. That’s pretty good by itself. But how many wonderful, iron-clad “precedents” will have been set in the meantime? Given the newfound alliance of the tidy-minded with the bloody-minded, quite a few I’d guess -- all of them bad and liberticide.
But how many of these precedents will stand? We must hope that that will be another matter. One or two writers hope that the prominence of the states in the present “crisis,” and the people’s chance to compare different approaches taken, may spark interest in actual federalism and limited government, despite the largely unprincipled character of this “states-rights” turn on the part of the Bonapartist governors.
It would be nice to have some kind of silver lining. Otherwise, we shall suffer a new wave of post-9/11-style fables about how everything has changed and only a renewed, unified national “will” (apparently the will to take orders blindly) can save us. Interested parties will dust off old projects, previously rejected, as keys to our salvation: national service for the young, ever more cyber-surveillance, internal immunity passports, and God knows what all. Lawyer Dershowitz has restated his interest in needles, but on a new front; and lawyer Sunstein will find unlimited scope for more federal (or state) nudging. Neo-conservatives will doubtless claim that attacking Iran (or someone) is the first order of business. And so forth.
If so, we are going to need a certain amount of political won’t dispersed across this vast former federation.
 Morris Berman, The Twilight of American Culture (2000), 114.
 See recent columns by Peter Hitchens, among others.
 Garet Garrett, “Rise of Empire” in The People's Pottage (1965 ), 123-125.
Randolph Bourne, “The War and the Intellectuals,” in History of a Literary Radical (1956), 205-222; William E. Leuchtenburg, “The New Deal and the Analogue of War,” in John Braeman, R. Bremner, and E. Walters, eds., Change and Continuity in 20th-Century America (1964), 81-143.
 Charles H. McIlwain, Constitutionalism Ancient and Modern (1947), 150 n (emphasis supplied).
 As Franz Neumann put it, “magic powers are invoked every time the sovereign tries to assert independence of religious and social forces.” Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism (1966 ), 94-95.
 Joshua L. Friedman, “Emergency Powers of the President: The President’s Authority When All Hell Breaks Loose,” Journal of Law and Health, 25 (2012), 265-306.  An option promised me by a robotic ad, ca. 2003, when I was researching the British blockade of Western Europe during World War One.
 Bertrand de Jouvenel, On Power: Its Nature and the History of Its Growth (1962 ), 340.
 Jacques Maritain, “The Concept of Sovereignty,” American Political Science Review, 44 (June 1950), 356–357.
 Karl Jaspers, The Future of Germany (1967), 18-19, 22, 44 (emphasis supplied).
 Chapter title in William F. Marina, “Opponents of Empire: An Interpretation of American Anti-imperialism, 1898–1921” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Denver, 1968).
 In the 19th century we can find claims in favor of emergency powers for hanging horse thieves or suppressing labor unrest. Much of this was local. Since it was admittedly extra-legal (even if widely tolerated), it hardly supplies much support for claims about law.
 On the face of it, state constitutions do not leave much room for grandiose “unitary” theorizing.
 This tendency was present in American standing police forces from the beginning, ca. 1835, and has always been fairly popular. See Richard Maxwell Brown, Strain of Violence (1975), Ch. 6.
 Sam Francis, “Anarcho-Tyranny, U.S.A.,” Chronicles, July 1994, 14-19.
 See Michael Mendle, Henry Parker and the English Revolution (1995) for a pioneer of this art form.
 Such close reading of poultry entrails is only for the experts.
Some years ago, Dr. Clyde Wilson complained that the American political class loves to crusade against big abstractions. Rather than do anything useful about the particulars of criminals and crimes, for example, they announce a War on Crime. This works for them because such a “war” has no obvious end. Even if we never know when it is over, or whether it has accomplished anything worthwhile, the bureaucracies and budgets arising from the project will never be abolished or even curtailed. Perfect.
Even better, once the legislative maggot begins to bite (to use John Randolph’s phrase), an endless creation of new “law” ensues, even though we already had more than enough of that before each new crusade got under way. Many of the people who whine about a litigious society in their spare time, are themselves gainfully employed in creating the material causes of ever greater litigation. But no matter.
On this cunning plan, combined with what one late 19th-century British writer called Over-Legislation, we have had a War on Poverty, a War on Crime, a War on Terror, and have currently a War on Clarity and a War on Civility. Add in a constantly growing body of administrative “law,” and we are surely done for. It seems time enough to ring the curtain down.
Language and its abuse are central to our plight. Richard Weaver warned us about this. As Orwell told us, the 20th century was rather unkind to our mother tongue, with politicians and ideologists leading the wreckers. Similarly, the late John Lukacs noted the bureaucratization and Germanization (as he put it) of American English. British English is little better, having lost all track of the subjunctive mood, of which a tiny bit survives on this side of the water. In recent decades, we have seen many sturdy plain-English words (whether native or Norman) hijacked and ruined for political reasons. Rhetoric, as Weaver feared, has yielded to partisan sophistry. These days any ranting halfwit can be a Professor of This or That, if the selfsame is sufficiently adept at using the latest New Speak according to its internal rules and illogic.
The new wave of New Speak features barbaric neologisms made up of Latin and Greek materials randomly thrown together by pretentious academics who have likely never spent much time actually studying Latin or Greek. In the 1990s, David Theo Goldberg and Sande Cohen stood out from the crowd, but now the crowd has grown astronomically. Another early pioneer was the anthropologist Marvin Harris, whom a fellow Marxist condemned for “paranoid materialism” (and rightly so). Harris’s contributions were “emics” and “etics,” which he derived by ripping suffixes off Greek abstract nouns to be used as social-scientific jargon. Since phonetics studies the acoustic properties of speech sounds, while phonemics studies patterned relations between two or more sounds, it followed that “etics” remained on a superficial bourgeois level of anthropology, but “emics” was a superior dialectical and Marxist approach. (How much help Harris’s innovation was, I cannot say.)
The dreaded non-concept “meme” is another case of extractive jargon-formation. Here, the word’s father, Brother Dawkins, shortened the classical Greek word mímēma (“copy”) to get a near-rhyme with “gene,” his famous hobbyhorse. He thus invented a well-rested atheist’s substitute for “ideas, thoughts, notions, slogans,” and a host of similar words. (Roget’s gives at least forty of them.) Since we had all those words, we hardly needed “meme,” and our thinking was doubtless clearer before Brother Dawkins coined it for us. It does, however, please the class of people who insist on saying “brain” when they apparently wish to discuss “mind.” Whether the memes are as “selfish” as the genes are said to be, remains open, but at least no one has yet written a country song involving “tight-fittin’ memes.”
The juggernaut of jargon advances relentlessly. Consider “neonate” for child and “gestator” for parent. There are many other examples, including the whole vocabulary of Intersectionality, best studied with painkillers at hand. One key is that the New Newspeak materializes spirit and etherealizes matter, something Americans have been pretty good at ever since the Puritans stamped their Ramist boots on our faces.
An Aside on Latin
A few years ago, someone commenting on Rod Dreher’s American Conservative blog introduced the term feti in the course of an argument over the status of the unborn. I suppose he wrongly imagined this to be the plural of fetus. There is a Latin adjective fetus, feta, fetum, meaning pregnant, and thus feti is possible, but would mean either “of a pregnant male person or material object” (masculine/neuter genitive singular) or “pregnant male persons” (nominative plural). The correct plural is fetūs, since fetus is a fourth declension noun. In English, we might just get away with “fetuses.” A nation that forgets the Latin fourth declension is indeed in decline, but it is much worse if we forget English as well.
War by Definition
Strife centering on control of speech is hardly new. In 1878, Bernard Janin Sage, a Southern partisan, showed how far the process had gone with Webster’s dictionary. Janin thought that Noah Webster, although a Federalist, had not been a real enemy of the several American states. It was different with Mr. Webster’s successors. Contrasting Webster’s Dictionary of 1844 with that of 1864, Sage caught Webster’s heirs fiddling the definitions of key political terms in aid of Mr. Lincoln’s military invasion of the South. The words artfully redefined, whether by omission or addition, included state, compact, constitution, delegate, delegation, union, federal, federalize, confederation, congress, and the Latin phrase, “e pluribus unum.” (Sage gave the old and new definitions in parallel columns.) Even without Straussian philosophical foundations and postmodern trickery, the 1864 edition put definitional stilts under the Yankees’ One-People theory of the Union, the ideological basis of Mr. Lincoln’s projects.
Word, Concept, Universal
Nominalists said that universals were mere “names” chosen arbitrarily and Locke piled new error on this foundation. Positivist linguists agreed that names and words were entirely man-made (with no relation, ever, between sound and sense -- or, one assumes, to any reality). Thus, there is an animal, but the poor fellow is variously dog, Hund, chien, perro, canis, etc. – all of which are “arbitrary.” But, alas, nominalists couldn't really get rid of the underlying concept or the actual animals. (On such points, certain medieval students of language, cited by Roman Jakobson, were smarter than the positivists.)
The universal “dog,” as the concept to which this word points, exists not separately from the dogs, but in them; but equally in all of them. It exists “in” our minds but also in the world-given, separate dogs, because our minds are such that we can grasp certain realities. And the concept points to a reality, in this case the real, individuated dogs. It may follow that DNA is a material-efficient substratum of the formal and final causes of the species “dog.” (This is a bit more complicated than Aristotle thought but basically compatible with his hierarchy of causes and accidents.)
These days, the heirs of Occam, having done all the damage they can do and having made all the progress we'd ever want them to make along the lines of scientific method, have rabid descendants who want to create new (and very arbitrary) pseudo-universals by robbing us of natural language and making the meaning of words depend on decrees by Hobbes’ Sovereign.
According to the post-Marxist anti-culturalists, then, everything is merely “language”; we are trapped in it, and it's all about power relations. Here the mind-body problem is resolved in favor of an unreal notion of mind.
Between the two dystopian utopias offered in the 19th century, we are living less in the one advanced by Marx and critiqued by Orwell, and more in the one advanced by Comte and critiqued by Huxley. Brave New World indeed. Yet the world seems real enough; we are in it, and it is in us and, further, we are equipped to have useful, direct knowledge of a good many things. Judged by results, the mind-body problem is just a mad philosopher's game.
Nouns of Mass Destruction
Sometimes the language favored by post-Marxist anti-culturalists seems so awkward, so clunky, so stupid even, that one has to suspect there is some serious calculation behind it. Aside from stereotyped Stalinists, who would deliberately talk like that? There is some sort of sophist’s Law of Maximally Unreal Abstraction at work here. On purpose.
Consider the now oft-encountered term “neo-confederacy.” Is it a thing, a place, a state of mind? Is it even a noun? After years of wondering what cause this oafish word served, it came to me that it is a mass noun. Now, mass nouns refer to existents that can’t be counted (or not very well), like sand, fish, air, salt, uranium, etc. Whatever one of them points to, “there’s a lot of it about” -- as the Brits used to say (probably meaning sex). A politically contrived mass noun can thus serve any ole cause its minders wish it to serve.
So, too, with “neo-confederacy,” a lot of which is said to be about: “A tidal wave of neo-confederacy swept across New Jersey last night. The Coast Guard and the Center for Disease Control are on the scene…” “Spokesmen for the Impoverished Law Center say this outbreak can only be compared to the post-World War One flu epidemic…” “Drones are circling overhead looking for neo-confederacy…”
As a mass noun, “neo-confederacy” is specifically meaningless but everywhere toxic. It is on a par with floods, famines, pellagra, pneumonia, boll weevils, and the like, ever menacing, ever lurking – and all the rest of it. As Maximally Unreal Abstraction goes, this is pretty clever -- and stupid -- at the same time. As a contribution to serious American dialogue it reaches rather early limits. It is like those invitations to a “national conversation” on race, by which a one-sided Maoist harangue is meant.
The most massively current mass-noun of mass destruction is of course “whiteness.” This abstraction is so stretched beyond limits that no thought need accompany it. The larger studies fad set in, in earnest, ca. 1970, with somewhat inconclusive results. First there were Black Studies and Women’s Studies, and then the dam broke and everybody and his dog had studies. Even the dogs had them.
I don’t mind too much. Sure, let’s study everything. Coherence may not result, but American education hasn’t been about much more than money and agitprop for a long while.
So now, at long last, we have White Studies, sort of, but those are actually Whiteness Studies – built on a noun of mass misdirection. Someone has recently noted that while all the other studies (or Others’ Studies) exist to champion and lionize those studied, only White Studies require constant ranting against their subject matter. The practitioners will reply that demonizing the demons is no sin. They would say that.
Verbal Missile Throw-Weights
Back during the High Cold War, National Review sometimes featured the musings of Cold War Thomists who could reconcile nuclear “weapons” with an Americanized parody of Just War Theory. These writers, and the other NR militarists, would write lovingly about the comparative “throw weights” of U.S. and Soviet ICBM’s, while the theology melted away like a late snow in spring.
Verbal throw weights may be a new thing, like the rise over the last two or three years of the five-syllable nuclear dart. It used to be enough for progressives to denounce any unwelcome ideas and their spokesmen as “racist.” But with only two syllables, and pressed hard toward utter meaningless, the word was in danger of losing its heft. Just in time, two substitutes came to the fore, “white supremacist” and “white nationalist.” Easily used with the same sloppiness, inaccuracy, and minimal honesty as their forerunner, they have refreshed the non-debate. More syllables, more weight.
A wonderful national monologue awaits.
Consuming Nomads in a Perfected Police State
Now, I am not suggesting here that language as such is inherently oppressive or that communication is impossible. We may leave such claims to the gathering anti-culturalist hordes. We can use language honestly and we can use it dishonestly. Enough of the latter, however, and even well-meaning people will lose the ability to think clearly. We have two political parties that perfectly illustrate the point.
Without the recovery of language, our fate stands before us, or so it seems. (See heading above.)
 Never foetus, pl. foetūs (The Shorter Oxford Dictionary is probably wrong: the digraph oe found there seems to be either an 18th-century pseudo-archaism, or a Late Latin spelling after oe and ē had coalesced in ē).
 Bernard Janin Sage, The Republic of Republics (1878, reprint: Dahlonega, GA: Crown Rights Books, 2001), 265-268 (Webster), 269-274 (successors).
Donald Trump is a New York City real-estate mogul and former TV host. If he has any political ideas at all, they are his own unique “broker-state” jumble of Jacksonian and Whig tendencies. Anyone who expects more is likely to be disappointed. Trump is what he is and he’s in the White House now, which would make a great Jimmy Rodgers song. The Voters’ Gamble
Clearly, there was some real discontent in the land, combined with some people’s (understandable) unwillingness to like Mrs. Clinton or her technocratic progressive views. Fed up with standard-issue GOP phonies and the Democratic alternative, voters took up the politique du pire. This is the notion that if things get significantly worse, they can only get better thereafter. It is close-kin to various kinds of collapse theory. Neither claim reeks of ironclad certainty.
Alas, what the voters were likely to get was uncreative destruction, as opposed to the “creative destruction” that economists always promise us. (We need not believe in this cliché until we see a speck or two of the alleged “creativity.”) Even so, voters decided to risk living through a horror-film version of Sam Francis’s Middle American Revolution rather than suffer a second Clinton Era.
Within the Republican Party, the electoral circus of 2016 featured a united front of neo-conservative warmongers against the alien intruder, Donald Trump. In a contest of the feckless against the reckless, Trump’s intuitive grasp of neglected issues and his superior cunning won out. Some disaffected conservative regulars, the Never Trumpers, supported Hilary Clinton or sat on their hands. Party hacks and much of the GOP mass base stayed with Trump; seriously ideological neo-conservatives looked for new friends.
As stunned as the famous dead parrot, overwrought Democrats -- including their standard-bearer -- remained overconfident and heaped insult and contumely on their presidential opponent and his “deplorable” mass base. They had long since thrown away those voters and had mostly forgotten them. Earlier, another Democrat in a high place had referred to such Americans as “bitter clingers,” referring presumably to their “nostalgic” attachment to a past that, as we all know, never was. (This posture is not new. In 1947, sociologist Louis Wirth chided novelist Louis Bromfield for his attachment to “a rural way of life, which, incidentally, has never existed in modern times and which, if it had, would certainly be irrecoverable.” -- “Review of Elmer T. Peterson, ed., Cities Are Abnormal,” University of Chicago Law Review, 14, April 1947, p. 532, emphasis supplied.)
Such abuse from On High did not help things so much as inflame them. In addition, one could have cut with a knife the sheer partisanship of both the old Establishment media and the new cyber-maniacal corporate media. Such an openly biased media campaign (as opposed to mere reporting) had not been seen since 1964, when Barry Goldwater went down in flames. In 2016, the great geniuses of American journalism did not get their desired outcome.
Trump in Office and Things Revealed
In the visual arts, the technique of trompe l’oeil provides three-dimensional representation -- and so too in politics, where the mere fact of Trump le président has unmasked hitherto dimly seen phenomena. First came a stampede of soul-less Republican hacks queuing up for jobs in the new administration. (One suspects that some of these worthies had been Trump-denouncers before getting in line.) Then as Trump’s team came into view, the presence of so many certified warmongers and secret-secret intelligence types suggested that Trump’s peaceful foreign policy might be an illusion. Third, the arrival of the usual bankers and other high time-preference merchant adventurers suggested that Trump’s nationalist economic policy, on which some had placed their hopes, might be another illusion. With this lot on board, the occasional tariff imposed in a punitive spirit hardly reflects any well-wrought neo-protectionist planning, but only adds an element of instability to the standing array of American economic sanctions which mainly exist as useful tools for ruling the world. At best, we shall get Hamiltonian-Whig business-as-usual undertaken in a somewhat Gilded Age style.
The Hydra-Headed War Party
Perhaps the most important result, so far, of the Trump litmus test, is the discovery that the American War Party, organized and in business since at least the 1930s, has become multiple, polycentric, and almost universal. Some fault lines showed up in the early days of the Trump administration. There were some who wanted peace with Korea, while harboring plans for a general war on Islam. There was a war-with-China crowd and a war-with-Iran crowd -- not to mention a war on any nation that bruises the American imperial ego, however slightly. The boundaries of these factions are unclear and, indeed, some of them may overlap in complicated ways. So much for the Stupid Party.
Meanwhile, the Evil Party got back into the game. Back in the day, in the wake of the Indo-China War, Democratic liberals made a great show of wanting a less interventionist foreign policy and less erosion of basic American civil liberties. Some of them really meant it. (The differences between Senator William Fulbright and Bill Clinton are real and do not much run in the latter’s favor.) But that was then, and this is now, and today’s Democratic party and its oddly named “progressives” can’t get enough war, and in defiance of all reason and logic, court war with Russia (verbally at least). For partisan reasons they are reliving the Truman Era and re-founding McCarthyism, to be directed (this time) against everyone to the Right of themselves. Their record of late on universal surveillance does not rise to the level of the contemptible.
We should have seen this coming and to some extent we did. The usual suspects regrouped after 1975 and helped Americans unlearn lessons only partly learned in Vietnam. The long march through the Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama administrations should have led us to suspect something. But the long gestation of the single-yet-manifold war party, with its various shortlists of wars to be in, has dulled our senses. Trump, for all his faults (and they are legion), has clarified things just by being there. Democrats have thrown off any vestigial pretense of wanting peace, while Republicans remain just as bad as they were, which was very bad indeed. Firmly ideological (and anti-Trump) neo-conservatives have drawn closer to the neo-liberals in the Democratic Party, which makes perfect sense because they were never that far apart anyway. They all share the fear that the wild card Trump might spoil things for them. (Whether Trump or anyone in his administration actually cares about peace seems a purely speculative question at present.)
Americans are effectively stuck with a two-party system in which both parties are war parties. The fact that many competing wars are on offer makes for some confusion, but doesn’t alter the big picture. Those great historians Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard read some of the tea leaves in 1939, sorting through ideologies and interest groups to find the American war party. There were unilateral imperialists, who favored the Open Door for U.S. exports. There were collective-security “internationalists,” who favored cooperating with nice imperial powers in the violent maintenance of “peace.” There were “free traders” whose outlook was substantially imperial. There were the Navy Lobby and steel manufacturers (making up an interest group ancestral to the military-industrial complex), who could side with either imperialist faction. Even the U.S. Communist Party counted as part of the war party in 1939, because of Japanese imperialism in China.
They concluded: “The only imperialist hope worthy of ‘great politics’ for the United States lay in the overthrow of the British empire and the substitution of an American empire for it, and no such prospect seemed enclosed in the contours of fate.” (America in Midpassage, I, 1939, p. 447, italics added.) But the Beards were too optimistic. We have that empire and we have the imperial presidency that goes with it. These may be bigger issues than Donald Trump.
End of the World and Democratic Lefty Resistance
So, Donald Trump charged in, like the “bull who brings his own China shop with him” (borrowing Churchill’s description of John Foster Dulles). He disrupted the game, overturned the tables, scattering cards, cash, and chips all over the exceptional American casino, and brought his own favored money-changers into the temple. Certainly, this was a day’s work and one for which he will not be forgiven.
Among the least forgiving are the Clintonite revanchist cadres, who know they were owed the White House and its mighty unitary powers and who, having lost it, can’t help believing that only a global Russian “fascist” conspiracy warranting a new Cold War (at least) can explain the disaster. Thus, we have had a Special Prosecutor and a witch hunt. In the end, a few witches will suffer durance vile most federal, despite the lack of any Russian connection.
But the Forward March of History cannot be denied without horrific consequences. In normal times, an event like the ill-starred march in Charlottesville would have yielded a normal internet frenzy. Dozens of lefty websites would have inaugurated a Hate the South Week, which might have turned into Hate the South Month. But on this occasion, great effort went into to focusing the fury almost entirely on Trump and his “fascist” mass base. The opportunity was too good to squander on the South. (They can kick the South any old day.)
The present moment thus involves a kind of endless harangue and Puritan jeremiad against Trump and his voters, coming from major new media, the remnant old media, NPR, and so on. It’s a case of staying up all night damning Trump and all those who won’t stay up all night damning him (to paraphrase something said about John Jay and his famous treaty of 1794). We are treated to a constant din about a “fascist” menace, which is omnipresent everywhere. Styling themselves the Resistance, these messengers cast a net so wide net so that any poor fool who doesn’t hail the latest pronouncements of post-Marxist anti-culturalists is automatically designated a “fascist.”
This is not a program likely to lead to peaceful compromise or reconciliation in this Great Nation of Futurity. And yet this state of affairs does not exactly remind one of Weimar Germany. The tone is much more like that of America in the 1850s, and that is certainly bad enough, what with the rise of the down-meltable wokeniks.
Conservatives in Freefall
Meanwhile, the Trump Interregnum is causing movement conservatives no end of bother. They are having many second and third thoughts. There seem to be roughly three responses. One small group suggest that Trump has created an opening for real debate by raising (however cynically) some serious economic and foreign policy issues. Not exactly believers, they pray that Trump’s disruption of normal beltway life will yield long-run benefits. Others, ranging from unfavorable to Trump to adamantly opposed, are raising a great howl-storm and trying to work out “what went wrong” with standard Cold War and post-Cold War conservatism. The hard cases are preparing to cross over to the neo-liberals, a daunting journey of several feet.
The short answer, if anyone dare look into the abyss, is that official conservatism as preached by the early, middle, and late National Review, by any surviving “fossils of fusionism” (to use Sam Francis’s phrase), and by neo-conservatives, just hasn’t been very good. There are many reasons for that, but the most central and important one is that these characters cannot give up their damned-old warmongering. “War any day” is their motto and they can do no other. This is what makes the presence of John Bolton in the Trump White House a very bad omen.
The Great Nation of Futility
With GOP and Democratic war-heads crashing into one another in midair -- despite their underlying agreement on imperial essentials -- we are in a bad way. What Trump himself will actually do, day to day, is anyone’s guess. We can get by, perhaps, by taking the whole thing as cheap entertainment, even if having an empire is in truth rather expensive, no matter who is in power. (2019 “defense” budget figures: $686.1 billion, 69 billion of which are for ongoing wars. Cheap.)
As Americans suffer through our sixth-or-so Great Awakening, we might do well to cultivate our own little gardens. (Historian William G. McLoughlin thought that our fourth Great Awakening took place in the years after 1945. If we count the “Sixties” as a fifth one, we are now up to six.) Someday, Trump will be gone, and some similar (or worse) person will take his place. Character may matter, but it is best to remember that the Mighty Office attracts certain types, and until we curb the bloated American Presidency in its unitary Oneness, we can’t expect miracles. In any case, the anti-Trump cause doesn’t need my help; there are plenty of people on the case, many of them quite unhinged. The Division of Labor, which economists mistake for some kind of moral imperative, suggests leaving the thing to the present specialists.
There is one item more. Trump’s chief service, if such it is, has been to goad the Left into showing who they really are. It hasn’t been pretty, but it allows me to break my internet addiction. I can, with good conscience, quit reading all the overwrought left-wing blogs, including the Guardian, which used to be an actual newspaper. It saves me time and lowers my blood pressure. Anyway, I only ever read those blogs because there was reason, once, to think that some of them cared about peace. If they can’t be bothered, I’d rather read a good book, one that takes me to some deplorable Land of Never Was. Nostalgia or not, it is bound to be better than contemporary America, where Melville’s Confidence Men reign supreme, having “followed too much the devices and desires of [their] own hearts.”