To Mr. Neff's original column,
"The coming tyranny: After finding the flue"


February 13, 2018

Reply to a reader about “The coming tyranny”

The question of hope


A reader asks ...

Is there no cause for optimism for the restoration of sanity? I see the election of Trump — though no paragon of liberty or virtue, surely — as an encouraging sign of intolerance towards the left's peculiar strain of lunacy. Young men who had formerly been content to be adult children are embracing a much older idea of manhood, competence, and responsibility through the works of Jordan Peterson and others like him. Increasing numbers of people are no longer cowed by being called "racist," "misogynist," "homophobic," and other scarlet-letter terms. The left's project of turning popular entertainment into a platform for social re-engineering is showing signs of failure where it matters most — the ledger book. The colleges are likewise hitting a financial crisis, and enrollment at some of the worst offenders is down.

I don't predict we'll have a great rebirth of freedom in the next generation, but I have some hope that we are close to, or have struck, peak social justice gangsterism.

Mike DiBaggio
January 30, 2018


MR. DIBAGGIO IS ESSENTIALLY ASKING whether what he observes is the beginning of a counter-movement in society, the reversal of more than 300 years of intellectual decline. I am inclined to think his examples are merely a bump in the road toward total irrationality.

There can be no doubt that the election of Donald Trump preserved us, at least for a short time, from the rampage that would surely have followed had Hillary Clinton been elected. Moreover, neither I nor anyone else can predict what the future may bring. Ayn Rand more than once remarked that because men have free will, they can begin behaving rationally any time they are willing to make the effort.

Comes now what must necessarily be a little on the dull side: I am about to list the founding dates of some organizations — in alphabetical order.

Antiwar.com – 1995
Atlas Society (formerly the Institute for Objectivist Studies) – 1990
Ayn Rand Institute – 1985
Cato Institute – 1974
Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) – 1946
Future of Freedom Foundation (FFF) – 1989
Independent Institute – 1996
Institute for Humane Studies – 1961
Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) – 1953
Ludwig von Mises Institute – 1982
Each of these organizations has in its own way promoted the ideals of liberty. I wish to emphasize in the strongest terms possible that I am not criticizing any of them. All of them have done and often still do excellent work, and those associated with them are to be commended for their efforts, their insights, and their dedication, to say nothing of the profit so many of us have derived from their existence.

The youngest of them is just over 20 years old; the oldest, past 70. Every one of them has published something of enduring value, and in most cases, more than one thing. Many of them have enjoyed sufficient donations that they are housed in comfortable quarters, and provide a living for those who work in them: their principals do not have to hold second jobs. In short, they all represent quite a bit of wealth derived from satisfying people free to judge their merit and free to support them. Many of them sponsor successful conferences and "universities," indicating that the wealth they represent is also of the less-material sort, and may be found in the intellects and even lives of those they have educated.

Though some of them have sometimes come under criticism in these pages, I — and the editor of this site — regard them affectionately as "cousins." We have our different goals and premises. We have differences as to the procedures and strategies we employ against the enemies of freedom and with the compromises we are willing to make with those enemies.

Of course, I cannot say that The Last Ditch is regarded with the same affection by them. Indeed, before the first printed issue of TLD was published in 1994 — even before the newsletter was named — I warned Strakon that if he embarked on this project, he should understand that the first criticism of his newsletter to see the light of day would probably appear in a libertarian publication. And so it did. But that is life.

And what I say of TLD, I can say of every one of the 10 that I have listed, and it is something I learned from Edmond Rostand's play Cyrano de Bergerac: A man does not fight merely to win.

And let us face it: none of us can say we are winning.

To be sure, there are signs that give one hope. But what are those signs? and how much hope? When we see a gardener taking a pair of garden shears to his azalea bushes, we do not gasp that he is destroying his azaleas. Rather we understand that sometimes brush needs to be trimmed back. It gets out of control. And for the health of the plant, its growth must sometimes be stanched. We advocates of the free market understand the "invisible hand" and its work in the economy. I sometimes wonder whether there is not an invisible hand at work in tyranny that reacts when tyrants overreach. If there is, we saw it at work during the so-called Republican Revolution in 1994. Then, too, it appeared that the Left's drive to worldwide immolation had been stalled. And so it was, or at least it was slowed for a short time. The revolution, such as it was, came to a grinding halt just a few months later on April 19, 1995, when the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was blown up in an act of revenge for the Waco murders two years before on the same date.

But even if Donald Trump is successful in pushing his programs through all the way until he is voted out of office or retired by the Twenty-second Amendment — supposing that such a success bodes well for liberty — it does not follow that the changes associated with his administration will survive or continue.

At some point, the liberals will be back in power. They may have lost ground, but be sure that they will have all the energy they need to push back (or forward?) and renew their drive to control every heartbeat in the world. What will stop them? No matter what is left of their agenda before they recover, be sure that it will be more than what they had when they recovered from their last setback. That is, their new starting point will always be closer to their goal than their last starting point was.

If we look at the founding dates of the older organizations I listed at the beginning, we can see that some of them have been educating for more than two generations. And yet, exactly what liberty is continues to be as foreign to most people as an ideogram on Linear A. This ignorance shows up in virtually any discussion with someone when the subject is discrimination, or religious liberty, or public/private "partnerships." Moreover, do we not all know of libertarians who seemed sound in their understanding who later defected because of some issue which somehow exercised them? In one case I know of, it was the abuse of animals. In another it was "market failure" with respect to, of all things, railroads.

When someone with the intellect and vast understanding of Milton Friedman can promote a "negative income tax" or "education vouchers" as though they are steps in the direction of liberty, you just have to despair. Yes, politics is "the art of the possible," and it may be that "education vouchers" are all that is possible at a given time, but let us not kid ourselves. They do not represent education freedom.

The advocates of Social Security reform who proposed that people be allowed to invest their own money in certain approved investments were not advancing the cause of liberty. They may have been advancing the cause of a more secure retirement, but not that of liberty. What they were advancing was corporatist crony capitalism. But those who can remember this scheme (it was popular just before the 9/11 attacks ... when the newspapers were full of nothing more interesting than the Chandra Levy murder) will remember that the arguments promoting it were festooned with the rhetoric of liberty. And not a few libertarians fell for it, and not a few were among those promoting it.

But let's leave that behind. Let's look at something a little more substantive: war. You might think that a school that prided itself on some fairly solid teaching about the Constitution, its intellectual underpinnings, and economic freedom would recognize that war is the enemy of liberty of all sorts. And that wars do not just happen; there are particular people who promote them, who formulate policies that cause them, and who prolong them and make a career of stirring them up. And that such people are not heroes. They are not champions of liberty.

But when Larry Arnn became president of Hillsdale College, an institution that many of us thought of as a model for what a school would be like in a free republic, one of the first things he did was to erect an idol in the middle of the campus to Winston Churchill. Arnn is a scholar, and knows the career of Churchill well, but somehow he thinks that an idol of that man belongs on the campus of the school whose policies he directs.

This is no mere eccentricity. I noticed that in the run-up to the Iraq War — which run-up lasted several months — the speakers whose talks were transcribed, edited, and sent out in issues of Imprimis (the free monthly letter from Hillsdale) were many of them neocons. If ever the assembly of students at that college needed to hear what the Founders and Framers thought of standing armies and of wars in foreign countries and of empires, it was then. But there was not one voice whose words were reprinted in Imprimis during that time to speak against war. Or even to issue such warnings as a prudent man might want to consider.

I do not think that that was an accident. Not that it was a conscious decision — maybe it was, maybe it wasn't — but rather that the insults a man commits against his own intellect will have consequences. There will be logical sequelæ. A man's premises will make themselves felt in areas where he does not have to make deliberate efforts. And a man who admires the likes of Winston Churchill to the point of erecting an idol of him is going to be a little more complacent about his country's going to war than one who would erect an idol of, say, Henry David Thoreau.

Was it just Larry Arnn? Of course not. I will not say this next word as one with inside knowledge, but I will be happy to hear the challenge of anyone. Is there a reader of these words who believes that during that period — the time when Hillsdale's voice was indirectly clamoring for war — I say, does anyone believe that the college's donations fell off? All those constitutionalists out there, all those who wanted their sons and daughters to get an education that was not thickened with liberalism's lies, did any of them write to object to the absence of even one voice raised against going to war?

Perhaps I am making too much of this. People's blood sometimes is up and it becomes hard to think straight. Whether the immediate cause is some insult, some financial opportunity, some photograph of Claudia Cardinale — whatever it may be, each of us has had the experience of losing his head for a short time. It is no good reminding me that it is precisely the losing of our heads that education is supposed to help us avoid. We are flesh and blood, nay, ashes and dust, to which we shall return. We are a race who will lose our heads. But we don't have to erect idols when we lose them, and later when we have recovered them we don't have to attempt to defend what we did while they were lost.

Let us look at something more permanent even than war. Let us look at marriage. I supposed it should have not have astonished me, but it did, the first time I heard a conservative object to something because it violated a homosexual's right to get married. The idea spread like wildfire, and, as the Dostoevsky character says, it was a fire in the minds of men. Libertarians and others were talking about something called "marriage equality," or "freedom to love."

They were so focused on the "rights" of homosexuals that they could not see anything else in society. They became blind to the meaning of marriage, and once the Supreme Court had pronounced on the subject, they took the issue as closed. They could not see that what was being demanded was that individual people should change their view of the nature of sex and marriage, and in certain circumstances be punished if they did not change them. They could not see that what was being demanded was that people should change the definition of the words they use, and in certain circumstances be punished if they did not change them.

And now, on game shows and sitcoms and — God help us! — westerns, we are treated to homosexual couples who cannot even correctly pronounce the name Mozart, and whose "love" and vocabulary toward each other is treated as normal. But that, I must emphasize, is not the problem that I wish to highlight. The problem is that so many people have forgotten that there are those who do not accept that "love" and that vocabulary as normal, and there is no reason on God's earth why they should. The very people who will tell you that everyone has a right to his own opinion and who will ask, "Who's to say what is normal?" or "Who's to say what is right?" will make it clear enough that whoever else may say it, those who disagree on this subject may not.

The matter is similar with respect to race. Just let a white woman try, in a hospital, to insist that she not have a black man or Indian as her doctor. Do you think she will be accommodated? Do you think she will be told that in that case she should go to another hospital? She will not. She will have the black or Indian doctor, and if she resists, someone will call for security. And you will not lose very much money if you bet that the person who calls for security will the next day tell someone else that a woman's body is her own.

As for definitions, consider the case of a pair of boys featured in a Los Angeles Times story (January 30, 2018). Its headline is, "Twins were born minutes apart, but only one is an American citizen," and it concerns the children of a homosexual couple, and the difficulties the couple faced in their efforts to have their sons declared U.S. citizens. Discuss this article with almost anyone, and the discussion will turn on fairness to homosexual couples and immigration policies. If you have such a discussion, I will be eager to learn how long it took before someone said, "Hey! Wait a minute. These boys aren't twins. They have different fathers!" They are not even brothers; they are half-brothers.

Once being expected to redefine "marriage," "husband," and "wife," we are now expected to redefine "twins." But does even the writer of this headline suppose that these boys would be candidates for observation in a twin study?

Redefine ... don't use words this way ... use this word ... we don't say that anymore ... those words are hurtful ... blah, blah, blah. And though you will find conservatives sympathetic with what I have just said, you will also find a great many of them acting as though the Supreme Court has the power to redefine reality. Those who mock the ultramontane claims of a pope will accept without a second thought the decision that a tax is not a tax and that something no one ever in the history of the world thought was a marriage, is — and for no better reason than that the Supreme Court says so.

Throughout society, ordinary people who appear to be sensible will be unable to tell you why you should not be required to use a feminine pronoun when speaking of a person with the biology of a man. Find me the conservative radio talk-show host who will refuse to accede to this comedy. And if you do find one, let us see in five years whether he has held his ground.

We can make fun of Freud for thinking that everything is sex. But surely we can see that everything begins with sex. If our political theory falls into absurdities concerning reproduction or babies or sex, then that theory belongs in the trash. It would be as though a political theory could not be applied when it rained, or when the moon was full. Surely the least we can expect of a political theory is that it be robust enough not to become shaky in the face of ordinary facts of nature. If we are unable to see things that are obvious, then we have no sight. Just as if we can see no objective aesthetic difference between Fragonard and Picasso, then we have no art.

In short, it is not just a matter of whether men are acting like men again. Or whether white people are tired of being pushed around. Or whether capital-gains taxes have been reduced. Or the Paris climate accord has been "dissed." As long as people have lost the ability to differentiate between truth and falsity, between right and wrong, their intellects are too impaired for us to have much hope in anything they may happen to do. Each generation finds itself a little less able to think clearly on certain matters.

You think it's just America? "I will feed my child whenever and wherever he needs to be fed.... When nature calls, you can't think about questions of taste." Thus Aliya Shagieva, the youngest daughter of the president of Kyrgyzstan, in response to critics of a photograph of her breast-feeding her baby in public. Sure, feeding a baby is natural ... blah, blah, blah ... sure, it has been done as long as humans have been around ... blah, blah, blah ... sexualization ... blah, blah ... different cultures ... more blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Anyone who wants to make Mrs. Shagieva's argument can get back to me when he is prepared to discuss the merits of public urination.

Mr. DiBaggio mentions Jordan Peterson, and Dr. Peterson is indeed a man of much sense. One can only marvel at his patience when dealing with the social justice warriors who demanded that he use one or another pronoun on the stupid grounds that it had appeared in Shakespeare. As though Dr. Peterson is not free to choose his own words, but must craft his vocabulary to others' dictates, lest he be accused of "disrespecting" people who have no respect for him or anyone else who disagrees with them. In this matter, he is risking going to jail (he has already stated that if he is fined, as called for by the proposed Canadian law, he will not pay), and I don't like criticizing a man who is willing to go to jail in defense of his beliefs, especially when I share those beliefs and especially when I know I probably would lack his courage.

But he — yes, even he — cannot bring himself to say whether or not he believes in God. He says he does not know what a person asking, "Do you believe in God" means by either "God" or "believe." Again with the definitions.

Dr. Peterson knows what people have meant by "God." He is not a fool. He knows what they have meant by "believe." It is only in a century in which people do not want to believe in God that they have muddled — and deliberately muddled — definitions so that they cannot or will not answer this question. But please do not expect me to believe that a man of his intelligence would read St. Thomas's five arguments for the existence of God, all the while scratching his head saying, "I wonder what he means by 'God.'"

There is a joke that goes:

But Jesus said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Simon the son of Jonas answered him saying, "Thou art the eschatological ground of our being, the kerygma in which our interpersonal relationships find meaning." And Jesus answered him and said, "Huh?"
Let the whole world believe the gibberish of a Paul Tillich, if they wish, but give me the vulgar atheism of a Christopher Hitchens any day.

No, I'm afraid the world really has gone mad, and I'm not sure what the cure may be. I fear that the best way for future generations to find their way to truth and goodness again is for there to be social and economic upheaval of such proportions that it wipes out all our institutions and every trace of their madness, so that our great-grandchildren will have to start from scratch. With any luck, they will manage better than our ancestors did.

We are not merely dealing with madmen who are in power. Men who hold power — mad or sane — will of course fight tooth and nail to hang on to it. That is to be expected, and a political victory here and there, now and then, may usher a time of great freedom and peace. I am not talking about the tyranny of men. I am talking about the tyranny of madness. I am talking about tyranny as such and madness as such.

What we are dealing with here is the force of logic. A man may hold contradictory views for an indefinite length of time, but he cannot escape what it will do to his intellect. We men are governed by the ideas we hold. We are fortunate that our span of years is so short that we seldom suffer the full disaster of some of the ideas we assent to. But each generation takes up where the previous one left off. Ideas consistent with reality and reflecting it flower over time, and explode with beauty and prosperity and concord and even happiness.

Mistaken ideas and worse, ideas that spit at reality, will wreak their havoc, though they take a couple of centuries to do their mischief. Biblical passages sometimes mean many different things, but this thing is surely one of those meant by the phrase "visiting the sins of the father on the children and on the grandchildren."

And because we live in groups and societies, the innocent suffer with the guilty. Bad ideas, like diseases, do not recognize innocence. A small example, again, for those of you who remember. In the early days of analog video tape recording, two configurations emerged, Betamax and VHS. Most customers who saw both agreed that Betamax was superior in the clarity of the on-screen picture. But bad choices made by Sony executives and the higher price associated with Betamax and its players resulted in the disappearance of the product. Those of us who preferred Betamax were as deprived of it as those who preferred VHS. If such is the case with a trivial matter like video cassette recording, what do you think is likely when we are discussing the most important principles that govern human behavior?

To apply the lesson to a financial matter: when inflation destroys a currency, those who advocated sensible policies are impoverished with those who advocated foolish ones. As well, those who merely lived their lives oblivious to arcane matters and trusted their betters. "All are punished."

There is easily a baker's dozen of such mistaken ideas that haunt us, infect us: egalitarianism, multiculturalism, diversity, and the unique injustice of discrimination, to name just a few. Even if men embrace what Mr. DiBaggio calls "a much older idea of manhood, competence, and responsibility" — even if an entire society embraces it — the poisons, the infections latent in those ideas alone will work for the destruction if not of them, then of their heirs.

Some of the political confusion surrounding us is the result of the assent to those ideas. When they were first introduced, they were harmless on the surface, but anyone who studies geology, botany, and marine biology will tell you that all of what is interesting, all of what you need to know, is below the surface. And so it is with ideas about what is good for society.

It is not that any good idea can be taken too far (a stupid meme). It is that that they are not good ideas. Like a malformed gene, they cannot produce the effect you may have hoped for.

Bad ideas make it impossible in the long run to stand, impossible to see, impossible to breathe. And as Sensei Silver in "The Karate Kid Part III" tells us, If a man can't stand, he can't fight; if a man can't see, he can't fight; and if a man can't breathe, he can't fight.

I'm not saying that our enemies have better ideas and they will defeat us. I'm saying that the spread of unreason, the indifference to truth, the terror of knowing right and wrong, the pitiable desire to have and not have at the same time, i.e., the ideas that most of us hold, are killing all of us.

The Law of Contradiction will not be mocked. It takes what you give it and it just keeps churning out the consequences that logically follow. Give it false premises and it will give you what you ask: extinction. In a society that largely honors it, it is generous and benevolent; in a society that holds it in contempt, it is ferocious and merciless.

So, is there any hope? Well ... what sign is there that people — in their temporary rage against liberalism — have rejected multiculturalism? Or diversity? Or egalitarianism? Or the notion that discrimination is evil? None? Then they are going down, and unless we can get away from them, they are taking Mr. DiBaggio, Strakon, you my readers, and me with them.

It is as if a glutton has stopped eating at The Cheesecake Factory, but at home eats seven or eight helpings of Lean Cuisine.

Well, as I said, agreeing with Ayn Rand, we have free will. That means that our intellects, to the extent that they have not been poisoned, crippled, or diseased, are capable of finding some shred of sanity on which to hold as if we were dangling from a cliff with only our torn fingernails to save us from an abyss of the inferno of wailing relativism.

And if we can do that, perhaps we can then build on what we have, little by little. With any luck, we shall be a part of a future reasonable life, even if only as "handfuls of dust and splinters of bone." Ω

February 13, 2018

Published in 2018 by WTM Enterprises.

To Mr. Neff's column.

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