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Ed Driscoll

The Regulated States of America

June 20th, 2013 - 3:27 pm

In the Wall Street Journal, Niall Ferguson takes on the complexity creeps:

In “Democracy in America,” published in 1833, Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the way Americans preferred voluntary association to government regulation. “The inhabitant of the United States,” he wrote, “has only a defiant and restive regard for social authority and he appeals to it . . . only when he cannot do without it.”

Unlike Frenchmen, he continued, who instinctively looked to the state to provide economic and social order, Americans relied on their own efforts. “In the United States, they associate for the goals of public security, of commerce and industry, of morality and religion. There is nothing the human will despairs of attaining by the free action of the collective power of individuals.”

What especially amazed Tocqueville was the sheer range of nongovernmental organizations Americans formed: “Not only do they have commercial and industrial associations . . . but they also have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small; Americans use associations to give fetes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools.”

Tocqueville would not recognize America today. Indeed, so completely has associational life collapsed, and so enormously has the state grown, that he would be forced to conclude that, at some point between 1833 and 2013, France must have conquered the United States.

I would say Weimar-era Germany, but point taken. As Alan Bloom wrote a quarter century ago, in The Closing of the American Mind:

A few years ago I chatted with a taxi driver in Atlanta who told me he had just gotten out of prison, where he served time for peddling dope. Happily he had undergone “therapy.” I asked him what kind. He responded, “All kinds— depth-psychology, transactional analysis, but what I liked best was Gestalt.” Some of the German ideas did not even require English words to become the language of the people. What an extraordinary thing it is that high-class talk from what was the peak of Western intellectual life, in Germany, has become as natural as chewing gum on American streets. It indeed had its effect on this taxi driver. He said that he had found his identity and learned to like himself. A generation earlier he would have found God and learned to despise himself as a sinner. The problem lay with his sense of self, not with any original sin or devils in him. We have here the peculiarly American way digesting Continental despair. It is nihilism with a happy ending.

This popularization of German philosophy in the United States is of peculiar interest to me because I have watched it occur during my own intellectual lifetime, and I feel a little like someone who knew Napoleon when he was six. I have seen value relativism and its concomitants grow greater in the land than anyone imagined. Who in 1920 would have believed that Max Weber’s technical sociological terminology would someday be the everyday language of the United States, the land of the Philistines, itself in the meantime become the most powerful nation in the world? The self-understanding of hippies, yippies, yuppies, panthers, prelates and presidents has unconsciously been formed by German thought of a half-century earlier; Herbert Marcuse’s accent has been turned into a Middle Western twang; the echt Deutsch label has been replaced by a Made in America label; and the new American life-style has become a Disneyland version of the Weimar Republic for the whole family.

Of course, as Mark Steyn noted at the start of the month in his “Happy Warrior” column at National Review, Ferguson didn’t exactly fight back himself when attacked by 21st century leftwing overreach:

The other day, Niall Ferguson, a celebrity historian at Harvard, was at an “investors’ conference,” the kind of speaking gig he plays a lot of: You get a ton of money to go see a small number of extremely rich people and tell them something provocative — but not too provocative. So, at this conference of money guys in Carlsbad, somebody brings up the best-known quote from the most influential economist of our age — John Maynard Keynes’s line that “in the long run we are all dead” — and Ferguson responds to the effect that, well, Keynes was a childless homosexual, so he would say that, wouldn’t he? It’s not an original thought: In fact, the only reason I didn’t include it in the passage on Keynes in my book was that I felt it had been done a bazillion times before. But it evidently was so shocking to the California crowd, many of whom undoubtedly have friends who are gay hedge-funders or are thinking of becoming one, that everybody had the vapors about it, and poor old Ferguson found himself instantly transformed from one of Time‘s “100 most influential people in the world” into the Todd Akin of Harvard. “This takes gay-bashing to new heights,” shrieked Tom Kostigen of Financial Advisor, who really needs to get out of the house more.

In the long run, Keynes is dead. So Obama was unable to place a Sandra Fluke/Jason Collins supportive phone call to him. But “the Queen of King’s,” as he was known at Cambridge, would have been amused by his newfound status as America’s most bashed gay. In 1917, in Washington for Anglo-American debt talks, Keynes wrote home to his lover Duncan Grant about what a ghastly place it was: “The only really sympathetic and original thing in America is the niggers, who are charming.”

If I understand the Gay Enforcers’ position correctly, Keynes’s homosexuality is no reflection on his economic theories, but Ferguson’s homophobia most certainly is a reflection on his economic theories, which can now be safely dismissed by all respectable persons. Recognizing the threat to his highly lucrative brand, Professor Ferguson immediately issued an “unqualified apology.” He is married to one of the bravest women on the planet, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has stood firm for a decade against loons who want to kill her as they did her friend Theo van Gogh. Up against a bunch of hysterical ninnies threatening only his speaking fees, Ferguson caved.

More after the page break on the Regulated States of America and how they’re tearing the country apart.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
I don't care if people share my core principles, but whether they observe their own, especially if they're highly politicized, since they tend to use their moral high ground as a platform to attack large swaths of people by their identity, often an identity made up and smeared onto people.

There's nothing like the brutal stupidity of a man belonging to the Assoc. of Black Journalists or blacks only literary awards groups who calls for diversity in other arenas.

There's nothing like ultra-feminists writing about equal pay while never having a day in their life worrying about being drafted and who likewise never call for diversity in Vet's Hospitals where 98% of the wounded are men. No, they don't want THAT kind of diversity.

There's nothing like liberal fops expressing horror at segregated proms in Georgia on Twitter and then setting up segregated non-white rooms and dinners at the WisCon science fiction convention in Madison.

There's nothing like the anti-racist Carl Brandon Society putting together "one drop" anthologies by non-white writers - racial literature, or webzines openly soliciting and crowing about literature by race.

There's nothing like post-colonialist studies that mysteriously only have Western colonialism as ever having existed. Can you believe Fareed Zakaria talking about the tiny handful of years of European colonialism in Syria without reference to the centuries of Arabized and Ottoman Islamic colonialism that preceded it?

This is where I draw lines.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (12)
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Yeah, German Idealism--mark that nihilism--originated with Immanuel Kant, long before French rationalism, Tocqueville, Weber or Marcuse. If you wish an understanding of the genuine cause of America's demise: _The DIM Hypothesis: Why The Lights Of The West Are Going Out_, 2013, by Dr. Leonard Peikoff.

However, before you read that, you may wish to visit, with the same author, the Weimar Republic in: _The Ominous Parallels: The End to Freedom in America_, 1982

After reading the second, but before you read the first, you may wish to acquaint yourself with the philosophy Dr. Peikoff uses to guide his analysis: _Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand_.

Of course, you won't, because as we all know Ayn Rand advocated eating babies for breakfast, penned vituperative screeds under the guise of novels (learning this from Whittaker Chambers, William F. Buckley & the folks at National Review) and authored oversimplified philosophical tracts that reduced complex issues to black and white choices.

Besides, what's philosophy got to do with living in the "real" world anyway.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ah ,yes. The liberals in the blue states are running out of other peoples money.
Liberals,the well is running dry.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It is under government regimes like the one currently wielding power over the United States, that the citizens one morning awoke to tanks and troops in the streets, and wondered who the perpetrators were that these actions were aimed at;
THEM!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Happened already in Boston. They were "looking for a terrorist."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Be careful what you say about the State. The National Stasi Agency is listening and listening all the time.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Regulating a nation to death is all about total control. And we already know that Obama Inc is ALL about said processes. Not only that, but if one peers through their looking glass, one sees more commonalities with socialist, Marxist, communist regimes than anything representing a free republic - http://adinakutnicki.com/2012/10/05/if-it-looks-like-a-socialistmarxistcommunist-plan-it-is-peekingpeeling-back-into-obamas-looking-glass-his-surrogates-too-their-bomblets-waiting-to-explode-commentary-by-adina-kutnicki/
Cause and effect.

Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don't care if people share my core principles, but whether they observe their own, especially if they're highly politicized, since they tend to use their moral high ground as a platform to attack large swaths of people by their identity, often an identity made up and smeared onto people.

There's nothing like the brutal stupidity of a man belonging to the Assoc. of Black Journalists or blacks only literary awards groups who calls for diversity in other arenas.

There's nothing like ultra-feminists writing about equal pay while never having a day in their life worrying about being drafted and who likewise never call for diversity in Vet's Hospitals where 98% of the wounded are men. No, they don't want THAT kind of diversity.

There's nothing like liberal fops expressing horror at segregated proms in Georgia on Twitter and then setting up segregated non-white rooms and dinners at the WisCon science fiction convention in Madison.

There's nothing like the anti-racist Carl Brandon Society putting together "one drop" anthologies by non-white writers - racial literature, or webzines openly soliciting and crowing about literature by race.

There's nothing like post-colonialist studies that mysteriously only have Western colonialism as ever having existed. Can you believe Fareed Zakaria talking about the tiny handful of years of European colonialism in Syria without reference to the centuries of Arabized and Ottoman Islamic colonialism that preceded it?

This is where I draw lines.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
IIRC, I read an essay by Dreher on why he converted from one religion (RC) to another (Orthodox) over priestly sexuality with which he didn't agree, so perhaps politicizing life isn't as alien as his guest column asserted.

For the record, I agree with Scalia, with her morality: I'd never stop associating with someone who sold drugs to children, was a homosexual or zoophile, gulag guard, or any other thing her religion might condemn.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I had an inkling we were just about done for after the presidential debate about 20+ years ago - I think it was Bush elder vs. Dukakis but it might have been Bush vs. Clinton - when one of the audience questioners, an older man, stood up and said the government is like a parent so what're you gonna do for me when you get into office, or something to that effect. And he WASN'T booed out of the hall. Yep, that should've been the tip off.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ah, yes. The “ponytailed guy” at the Bush-Clinton debate. Not really an older guy but probably early middle-age who said “you are the parent and we are the children” directed at both candidates. Clinton jumped on that analogy with glee and Bush mumbled something non-memorable.

Agreed. The lack of audience negative audience reaction and Bush’s non-principled exposure as he went along with it was noteworthy and depressing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I recall "pony-tail" was an educator.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I recall "pony-tail" was an "educator".

Fixed that for you.

Like your word choice, though -- definitely not to be confused with "teacher". Take it from a parent of small (home-schooled) children: he was just practicing what he preaches.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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