Ed Driscoll

Twilight of the Ruling Class

The great distinction of the United States of America, up to the last few decades, was the modesty of its public monuments. Such monuments as did exist were genuine: they were not erected for “prestige,” but were functional structures that had housed events of great historical importance. If you have seen the austere simplicity of Independence Hall, you have seen the difference between authentic grandeur and the pyramids of “public-spirited” prestige-seekers.

In America, human effort and material resources were not expropriated for public monuments and public projects, but were spent on the progress of the private, personal, individual well-being of individual citizens. America’s greatness lies in the fact that her actual monuments are not public.

The skyline of New York is a monument of a splendor that no pyramids or palaces will ever equal or approach. But America’s skyscrapers were not built by public funds nor for a public purpose: they were built by the energy, initiative and wealth of private individuals for personal profit. And, instead of impoverishing the people, these skyscrapers, as they rose higher and higher, kept raising the people’s standard of living—including the inhabitants of the slums, who lead a life of luxury compared to the life of an ancient Egyptian slave or of a modem Soviet Socialist worker.

Such is the difference—both in theory and practice—be—tween capitalism and socialism.

It is impossible to compute the human suffering, degradation, deprivation and horror that went to pay for a single, much-touted skyscraper of Moscow, or for the Soviet factories or mines or dams, or for any part of their loot-and-blood-supported “industrialization.” What we do know, however, is that forty-five years is a long time: it is the span of two generations; we do know that, in the name of a promised abundance, two generations of human beings have lived and died in subhuman poverty; and we do know that today’s advocates of socialism are not deterred by a fact of this kind.

Whatever motive they might assert, benevolence is one they have long since lost the right to claim.

— Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, 1964.

The most memorable article in the New Yorker issue devoted to 9/11, “Ten Years Later,” is Paul Goldberger’s review of the new World Trade Center.

Goldberg dislikes the new buildings going up around Ground Zero, particularly the Freedom Tower, which he calls “not much more than a big version of a typical New York developer’s skyscraper.” But he likes the 9/11 memorial itself, designed by Michael Arad where the twin towers stood. “Arad figured out how to express the idea that what were once the largest solids in Manhattan are now a void, and he made the shape of this void into something monumental,” Goldberger writes.

It’s a sincere and eloquent review. And yet the fact that Goldberger prefers the memorial to the new commercial and residential structures around it neatly summarizes the posture the New Yorker itself has adopted toward 9/11.

The magazine is not only mournful about the past, but morose about the present and gloomy about the future. The dark cover is more optimistic than the appropriately stark “black on black” cover after 9/11–but only just, depicting the Twin Towers descending into the waters around Manhattan. The featured articles by Adam Gopnik (“Decline, Fall, Rinse, Repeat: Is America Going Down?”) and George Packer (“Coming Apart: After 9/11 transfixed America, the country’s problems were left to rot”) leave little room for new hope.

The “Talk of the Town” section is extended to make room for the reflections of a dozen authors–many of whom are still hung up on “Bush, Cheney, Halliburton, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, bin Laden” (Colum McCann), or blame America for the attacks. Author Lorrie Moore even attacks J.K. Rowling for creating a “gruesomely cheering” generation of “‘Harry Potter’ readers” that celebrated the killing of Osama bin Laden this past May.

The fear and loathing that drip from the pages of the New Yorker are a striking reversal of the “hope and change” with which the New York literary elite greeted the election of President Barack Obama. They are also a dramatic contrast to the reality of life in New York today, which seems almost as lively today as it did before 9/11–perhaps not quite as self-confident, but every bit as spontaneous, bizarre, steamy, stinky, and beautiful.

More than insights about 9/11, what the “Ten Years Later” issue reveals is the despair of America’s liberal intelligentsia. That despair is primarily political. Zadie Smith admits: “… I was pleased when President Obama promised [in 2008] to commit more troops to Afghanistan, not because I thought it would end that war but because I hoped it would win him the election.” She cannot bring herself to comment on Obama’s present policy.

— Joel B. Pollak of Big Journalism today on  “The New Yorker’s Pessimistic 9/11 Retrospective.”

It’s interesting, to me, that neither Parker nor Krugman feel the need to pretend they supported the War in Afghanistan any longer. This used to be a standard trope of the left, to feign support of one war to prove one’s general credibility on the subject; they’ve now dropped that act, and no longer parse between Afghanistan and Iraq.

They don’t quite confess the truth, but they no longer bother with the lies they once told. And, by the way, Miss Parker — since you’re casting about for some purpose for columnists that may make them seem more important than they are, confessing that truth that none on the left dare mention would more useful.

For a certain dominant strain of liberalism — the liberalism of the bien pensant class — the most attractive element of the creed is the self-deception. The self-deception I write of the moral vanity of supposing, by mere embrace of a political creed, that all “hate” and lizard-brain desire for vengeance has been purged from their minds.

Hatred has lived in the heart of men for 40,000 years. It is a natural response to the evils of the world. To say it is “natural” does not suggest it is good (despite the bien pensant‘s unexamined assumption of Rouseau’s daffy conception of man as an untainted, virtuous angel absent the corrupting influence of society). But it is natural, in the sense of instinctual and innate.

To truly purge oneself of hatreds and a thirst for retribution would require the majority of a lifetime in philosophical self-denial and religious (or at least metaphysical) devotion and training. As a monk, whether a Western monk, giving his heart to god, or an Eastern monk, training himself to abnegate the self and its selfish passions in favor of a harmonic synthesis with the universe itself.

And yet, for the bien pensants, they seem to imagine they’ve accomplished this great feat simply by mouthing support of the Civil Rights Movement (“You know, if I were alive then, I’d’ve been a Freedom Rider”) and by thrownng scorn and venom — hate, in other words — at those who show the temerity to disagree with them.

With all due respect: I’m absolutely certain this purging of hatred from one’s heart is a much more difficult undertaking than the bien pensants imagine.

— Ace of Spades, “The Left’s Continuing Unhinging Over 9/11,” today.