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Works and Days

The Collapse of a Rotten Edifice

June 6th, 2011 - 3:08 pm

I wrote a cover story for the current issue of National Review on Strauss-Kahn, a sort of trifecta hypocrite: the socialist in a $3,000 room and $20,000 suit; the Frenchman on the barricades of race, class, gender progressiveness at best sexually using the immigrant, black, single-mom maid from Africa, at worse sexually abusing her; the IMF grandee dispersing someone else’s money to bankrupt socialist states from his itinerant perches at the world’s Sofitels.

Anthony Weiner was known as a sort of Kleon-like demagogue, who shouted down or ridiculed his opponents — haughty, self-righteous, full of hyperbole about the evils of conservatives, currently hot on the trail of Justice Thomas, in efforts to bring down a Supreme Court justice. Again, it is not the sexual weirdness, but the hypocrisy that does them in: the liberal-minded feminist on the sly sending dirty pictures to young women, while ridiculing those who claimed that the evidence suggested that he was sending dirty pictures to young women. Nemesis might have let Weiner be had he not insulted his accusers and claimed his own perversions were his own perversions, but once he took the attack-dog route and lied, she swooped in.

I omit the Obamas, but note only that Michelle Obama and her entourage, in very un-Harry Truman fashion, have a fondness for recession-era Vail, Costa del Sol, and Martha’s Vineyard amid the presidential lectures about spread the wealth, “at some point you have made enough money,” and the new financial Mason-Dixon line of the noble below $250,000 in salary, the demonized above.

Of course, we witness all these jarring disconnects amid a larger landscape of the collapse of southern European socialism, the tottering of the entire U.S. financial system as the Obamites trumped the Republican deficits and have piled up another $5 trillion in debt, the discrediting of the global warming fundamentalist religion, and the unsustainability of the redistributive welfare state.

What are we left with? The daily struggle to remember sumus homines, non dei — “we are just humans, not gods.” Whether Strauss-Kahn or Weiner or Gore, the common denominator is arrogance and a sense of exemption from the rules and protocols.

In a word, human nature as we understand it from the earliest observances of the Greeks. Be careful about lecturing others on their moral frailties. If one consumes well beyond what one needs, ensure that one pays one’s own tab and does not indulge on someone else’s money. Beware of Nemesis, an omnipotent, all-seeing deity that marks in her scrolls every pontification, every sermon we make and then collates such professions with our deeds — so eager to note the discrepancy. She is an unforgiving goddess, and perhaps a cruel one as well. I used to give her a prayer for exemption at her temple at Rhamnous.

In the end, we are left with the nobility of hard, physical work, the elemental reality of producing food, fuel, and durable goods, the distrust of fad and cant, the acceptance that we are fallible and age and will not get out alive. In comparison, the media hype, the D.C. apparchet, the eco cons and the high-life socialism are as nothing. “Know Thyself” and “Nothing Too Much” were written on the architraves of the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and for good reason, to remind us where we came from and who we were, and to shun excess — material, emotional, sexual. My grandfather’s (a man who at one time in 1936 housed 27 relatives in my present house) advice of 1970 to a smart-aleck, silly teenager still resonates to me: “Never sell this small piece of land, you may need it some day as a refuge from what you don’t wish to become.”

And then he got serious that July afternoon as we were walking toward the vineyards, and said, “Okay, boys, you run the water down the north 100 rows, and I’ll do the south 100.”

And so out we went…

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