Thanksgiving in America

And so it is Thanksgiving again in America. It is the one specifically American holiday, and a religious one as well, in which we gratefully acknowledge the bounteous land He gave us. But you know, that is exactly what He gave us, a strip of undeveloped land along the Atlantic Ocean. The rest is a story of the use of God-given gifts and talents and hard work.

The First Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving

But so much of what we do is so very inherently dangerous, and we have made it safe.

For instance, I could walk into the Denver Airport this afternoon, and have lunch tomorrow in London. I will have a safe and pleasant trip (of course, more money will make it more pleasant, although not safer). But truly this is a miracle. How did it happen?

It’s the long story of man’s climb from, child-like beasts–to men and women who hold dominion over all they see, and the costs involved. But a couple of anecdotes can serve.

Back in the mid-30s Boeing built a bomber according to what they thought the Army needed, not what the RFP called for. It was a risky move but time was short and Hitler and Tojo were plenty scary. In fact, Martin’s B-18 which fully met the RFP won the competition and was pretty much useless. But the Air Corps guys also found some money to continue testing, and even build a few more.

Then disaster struck. Boeing’s chief test pilot took off one lovely day and flew straight into a stall. Killing all aboard, Destroying 299 amid rumors that it was too much airplane for two, let alone any pilot. It also very nearly killed Boeing.

It was a simple enough answer. The engineers feared the aircraft would beat itself to death on windy hardstands. So they designed a gizmo to lock the elevators while on the ground. It was clearly marked with that streamer known to every pilot, ‘Remove Before Flight‘. But it hadn’t been. That’s why all of us, from that day until the weekend after next, who do things that can kill you quick, work from a checklist, one reading it, and the other doing it.

Boeing 299 was the prototype of the B-17 Flying Fortress that carried the American Air War in northern Europe against Nazi Germany from 1942 until 1945. Could we have won without it? Maybe. The men who flew her simply called her (and still do) ‘The Queen’.

But you know, and I know that the flight I talked about above will be safer than walking out my drive to get the mail. And that is no accident, it is the result of a lot of very hard, amazingly unflattering work by a lot of people over the last hundred years.

If you’re the average consumer when you walk into a really good hardware store you’ll end up mightily confused, why on earth does anyone need 16 different ¼ nuts? Well, the answer is that that they do sixteen somewhat different jobs, within limits they can substitute for each other, although usually, it won’t be as good.

But the thing here is, you cannot (legally, anyway) use any of those nuts on your private aircraft, let alone an airliner. They might be fine, most likely they are cheap knockoffs of the real thing. And so, in the 20s and 30s NACA (later NASA) and the Bureau of Standards, (later NIST), standardized all this stuff, especially hardware and plumbing. It’s not used only in aircraft either, it’s the basis of the specifications for race cars, and for agricultural machinery, and in automotive as well.

The catalogs, by the way, are like page after page of spreadsheet output. How do you tell them? One they’re expensive, and second, they all have part numbers that start with AN- (which stands for Army-Navy) and sometimes now NSN which is usually the same spec but stands for NATO Stock No.

As always, Rudyard Kipling spoke for us grungy doers and movers. He traces us back to Martha who didn’t have time to listen to the Lord, because her work was never done. He had a point.

The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.

It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

They say to mountains “Be ye removèd.” They say to the lesser floods “Be dry.”
Under their rods are the rocks reprovèd—they are not afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit—then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.

They finger Death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.

To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matters hidden—under the earthline their altars are—
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city’s drouth.

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not preach that His Pity allows them to drop their job when they damn-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand,
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s ways may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat;
Lo, it is black already with the blood some Son of Martha spilled for that!
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessèd—they know the Angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessèd, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the feet—they hear the Word—they see how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and—the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons!

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, we sons of Martha will be on the job, as usual, so you can be your usual selves.

 

AG Barr at The Federalist Society

Attorney General William Barr gave the Barbara K Olson Lecture at the Federalist Society’s 2019 National Lawyers Convention.

It is a superb dissertation on the background and theory of the American system of government. I have never heard better. I highly recommend watching and paying attention.

Sometimes we forget, we have had, and we do ha some extremely intelligent and accomplished people in our government.

Since the AG said it all, there is little point to me adding my 2¢ worth.

Enjoy.

An Important Conversation

Last Friday, in the Daily Signal, Bill Walton wrote (mostly a transcript) of a podcast he did with Star Parker and Winsome Sears (R, VA) and the first black woman representative from Virginia. It’s very good, although it is very long it is well worth your time. It’s wide-ranging about the problems in the Black community and why the Republican Party doesn’t get more votes from it. Well, that was the aim, but the problems they see, and they mostly agree and expand on each other, apply to the white and Hispanic communities too. In fact, they apply right across western civilization. Here’s some of it.

Parker: Well, I came to believe what I believe by reading a proverb a day. I was believing the lies of the left for a very long time. I believed all that we even hear today, that my problems were somebody else’s fault. That America was racist and I shouldn’t mainstream. That I was poor because others were wealthy.

In buying all of these lies, I got very lost in my decision-making. So very early in life, [I] was engaged in criminal activity and drug activity and sexual activity and abortion activity and welfare activity, and then God saved me. Some gentlemen introduced me to the Lord and I changed my life. I went to school, I got a degree, I started a business. After the ’92 Los Angeles riots destroyed my business, I began to focus on social policy, and that’s how I came to run my organization, Urban CURE, today.

But if you ask, “How did you shape those views beyond just the personal responsibility that comes from knowing the Scripture and figuring out how to live through a daily proverb?” I started a business. That’s when I understood how extensive government is in the affairs of someone who just wants to buy an apple and sell it for enough to buy another one, and another one and another one. And [I] started being encroached by all types of three letters, from the IRS to the you-name-it. The disability, the environmental protection, a long list of all of [these] alphabets too.

Walton: Well, yeah, George McGovern became a conservative after he started a bed and breakfast.

Parker: Yes, exactly, you start finding out that, “Wait a minute, what has happened to our great country?” I think that’s what shaped my economic views. But what has shaped my philosophy and what drives me and my organization is my born-again experience.

Winsome Sears: Amen.

Walton: Winsome?

Sears: Well, I am a Marine and I had had my last child, my husband and I, and we were living in California at the time. It was right around the time of the election and George Bush Sr., he was running, he was a candidate and I was still a Democrat. I’m black …

Walton: This would have been ’88?

Sears: Yes. I’m black, I’m supposed to be a Democrat. It rhymes, OK. The whole family’s full of Democrats, so what am I? I am what I am. [Mike] Dukakis, his commercial came on and he said, “I’m going to expand welfare. I’m going to make sure that this, that, the other, we’re going to give you money and we’re going to… ” I thought, “But if that happens, my folks, they’re just going to be living on what they get. There’s nothing to propel them.” Then he said, “For abortion, I’m going to make sure abortion is this and legal and expanded and do this and public monies and public…” I had just had my baby and I thought, “Well, I don’t believe that.”

Then right behind him came George Bush Sr. with his commercial, and he said, “If all you have is welfare, is what the government gives you, you will never have anything to pass onto your children.” Then he said, “As for abortion, I’m going to try and make it less and less and less.” Then I said, “Oh my God, I’m a Republican.”

The next thing was, “How am I going to tell my family?” Because it’s almost as if I was changing my religion. It was a shock to me and I think to many black people; they really are Republicans because we are the most conservative, really, group. It’s just a matter of me getting in there and people like Star and everybody else getting in and saying, “Let us be who we want to be. You don’t get to tell me how to run my politics and I don’t get to tell you either. Just let us be free.”

Go and read it, it’s the best thing I’ve read in at least a week. My reader says 39 minutes, it’s worth twice that amount of time. And yes, I almost completely agree with them across the board.

The American Cincinnatus

George Washington
mountvernon.org

Before we start, a question for our readers. Do you prefer when I write about current events, or when I rummage about in our national attic, as I have been doing this week? I won’t say I’ll necessarily abide by what you say, often I write about what interests me at the moment. That’s likely to continue, but perhaps the emphasis could be one or the other, or even a combination, as we’ve sometimes done, applying the lessons of history to things today. Hartley did indeed say, “History is a foreign country, they do things differently there”. But that doesn’t exclude us from learning lessons there either. Let me know what you think in comments.


At the end of last July in Law and Liberty,  Matthew J. Franck wrote a fascinating account of John Marshall’s admiration (and biography of) George Washington.

George Washington resigned his commission as the commander in chief of the Continental Army in a public appearance before the Confederation Congress (then sitting in Annapolis) on December 23, 1783, in his own words “commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God.” Eleven days later, from Richmond, Virginia, John Marshall, a former captain in the 7th Virginia Regiment now married, settled down, and practicing law, wrote to his old friend and fellow veteran James Monroe:

At length then the military career of the greatest Man on earth is closed. May happiness attend him wherever he goes. May he long enjoy those blessings he has secured to his Country. When I speak or think of that superior Man my full heart overflows with gratitude. May he ever experience from his Countrymen those attentions which such sentiments of themselves produce.

Marshall’s veneration of Washington was not unusual among the officers and men who had served under the commanding general. What may have been unusual was the extent to which Marshall’s admiration remained durably undimmed to the end of his own long life more than a half century later.

Nor was it confined to Americans, George III himself, asked John Adams, then Minister to the Court of St. James, what he would do. Adams told him that Washington would return to his farm. The King then said, “Then he will be the greatest man in the world.” This is also where the phrase “The American Cincinnatus”  comes from. In memory of the great Roman general who twice did the same thing, only to suffer persecution.

This last edition, first published posthumously in 1838, is the one brought back into print by Liberty Fund in 2000, edited by scholars Robert Faulkner and Paul Carrese. As Faulkner says in his foreword, “Marshall’s Life of Washington is political history as well as biography. . . . the only comprehensive account by a great statesman of the full founding of the United States.” This is history lived by the author, more Thucydides or Xenophon than Plutarch. And so Marshall, who could remember well the temper of the times, remarks of the beginnings of the Revolution:

Although the original and single object of the war on the part of the colonies was a redress of grievances, the progress of public opinion towards independence, though slow, was certain. . . . To profess allegiance and attachment to a monarch with whom they were at open war, was an absurdity too great to be of long continuance.

Which is something we Americans tend to forget. Back in 1776 very few really wanted Independency as Samuel Adams was wont to call it. They wanted their grievances addressed. They were, in fact, proud of being British. And yes, that is why it bears striking parallels to both Brexit and Trump’s election.

That’s probably enough from me. I would like you to read the linked article, and I’d like you to join me in shortly buying the book, as these things go these days, it’s not particularly expensive.

I’ll leave you with this thought though, as we watch both Washington and London engage im such vituperative arguments.

In one respect, Marshall’s Washington makes for very sobering reading today. We tend to think of George Washington as the Marble Man—all looked up to him, and he merited every encomium bestowed on him. There is much truth in this; he was, after all, the only man ever elected President effectively by acclamation—and twice! But Marshall does not omit another truth: that there were plenty of people eager to bring him down, even among his own countrymen. Rival generals and suspicious congressmen during the Revolution schemed to displace him at the head of the army. As President, Washington had a “honeymoon” that lasted less than two years; then the knives came out, first for men like Hamilton who were his advisers and his instruments, and by the end, for Washington himself.

American Nationalism, Continued

A  bit over a week ago I excerpted and commented on an article from Steven Hayward in Law and Liberty (it’s called The Minefield called Nationalism). I liked it then and I like it now. But it felt rather incomplete, not answering enough questions to properly answer the questions. Now yesterday comes Ted McAlister also writing in Law and Liberty, and I think he answers some of them.

Steve Hayward has usefully introduced two key problems with the word “nationalism,” one historical and the other conceptual. He is right, furthermore, to note in his Liberty Forum essay that without understanding these problems, we cannot properly assess any claims made about an “American nationalism.” Hayward is wrong, however, about the nature of American nationalism.

First, he notes that the experiences with nationalism in the first half of the 20th century has given a bad odor to the word and any idea that attaches to it. He calls it “the German question,” and rightfully so. […]

See both my article and Steve’s for more on this, it’s important and a major part of why nationalism has a rather bad odor these days.

A Protean Term

Second, Hayward explores the protean quality of “nationalism,” observing that even leftist opponents of the idea are capable of discovering examples of a healthy or favorable sort. But the point is that the word does not have a clear meaning outside of context, such that nationalism for China is radically different from Canadian nationalism, even if the two share enough to bear the same label. We cannot ask whether nationalism is healthy or destructive without understanding the nation (its character, as it were), its context, and the forms or manifestations it takes. […]

We are left wondering about American nationalism—the nationalism of a self-governing people. Hayward does not go here—his essay is about what constitutes the American character, with the implication that this character determines what shape nationalism takes in America. His argument is not focused on our tradition of self-rule. For me, this is its primary flaw. Instead of rooting American nationalism clearly in its tradition of self-rule, Hayward claims that it flows out of American exceptionalism. Hayward connects this exceptionalism with the Declaration of Independence generally and with natural rights particularly.

This is one place where Steve left me unsatisfied, he’s not exactly wrong but it’s incomplete, there a lot more than the Declaration of Independence to making American nationalism. Ted covers at least some of them.

But that is a far cry from saying that our nation was founded on the idea of equality. Some attachment to equality, defined variously, has been and will continue to be a deep part of our story and therefore a part of us. Abraham Lincoln’s brilliant use of the Declaration’s emphasis on equality served the nation well because it was part of our heritage that, highlighted and even abstracted from its original context, served to address a political and moral pathology in ways that no other part could.

Do Not Forget Experiences, Attachments, Affections

The problem with defining American character this way—as grounded on a set of universal ideas—is that it conflates the fact that these ideas are part of our history (and most Americans tend to believe them in some form or another) with much deeper sources of our national character. When talking about something as elusive as a national character we are prone to abstract claims that help us escape the messy, often ironic, but always complex, empirical and historical evidence. If we can call upon sacred texts and well-stated expressions of principles, we effortlessly gain the conceptual clarity that often hovers above the tangled webs of beliefs, hopes, dreams, actions, of a living people who operate in a living tradition and also in changing circumstances that require them to adapt, change, and redefine.

And here we rejoin Edmund Burke because that is about as close as one can come to what he defined conservatism as, as one can without quoting him, for instance:

But a good patriot, and a true politician, always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country. A disposition, to preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman. Everything else is vulgar in the conception, perilous in the execution.

See what I mean?

First, the Founding should be understood not as a moment in 1776 but as a settlement of peoples, primarily from England, who established a hybrid cultural and political form (actually several hybrids) that stressed, among other things: inherited liberties, common law, and the fact that community is prior to government (that communities create government to serve the prior reality of the community). This beginning place stresses our most important characteristic, that we are a people who want to rule ourselves and that we do so typically through communities and associations.

Second, Americans were from the start more in love with opportunities, with chance-taking, with new starts (and start-ups), with the lure of making their fortune or finding a new opportunity out West, than they were with equality. In this context, Americans were less interested in equal opportunity (which is philosophically nonsense) than with an abundance of opportunities, and, as Wilfred McClay traces so well in his Land of Hope, the ever-fresh spring for new hope that opportunities supply.

Third, that the attraction among immigrants was not primarily our “idea” as expressed by Thomas Jefferson or anyone else, but the same sense that opportunities abounded and that America offered everything from a new profession to a new identity. The confining status and roles of traditional societies dissolved and each person (even if he or she faced all manner of other persecutions upon arrival) could chart his or her own course, craft his or her own identity, and live free from the cultural, social, economic, and political restrictions of Italy or Poland, or whatever the country of origin.

And that is a pretty good summing up: Americans are a people who want to rule themselves, are chance-taking opportunists, who formed a society where you became what you wanted to be if you could sustain it.

He illustrates this with the story from The Man  Who Shot Liberty Valance, and the points he makes are very valid. But I would think so, its a very valid reference around the parts, Pilgrim. To the point that Jessica wrote about it here, and I wrote about it here, as well.

Some more questions about the subject answered I think. Read the linked articles for a fuller picture.

 

 

The Minefield Called Nationalism

I think most of you are familiar with Steven Hayward. He’s one of the principals at the PowerLine Blog that we refer to often I’d call it nearly essential, even though I don’t always agree with it, the reasoning is almost always impeccable. Here, he is writing for Law and Liberty and it is superb.

Like “America First,” another term that has elbowed its way back into our politics, the word “nationalism” has a lot of baggage that one might have hoped the airline of history would have lost in transit by now. The noted political theorist John Dunn called it “the starkest political shame of the twentieth century, the deepest, most intractable and yet most unanticipated blot on the political history of the world since 1900.” At the same time it is, said Dunn, “the very tissue of modern political sentiment, the most widespread, the most unthinking and the most immediate political disposition of all, at least among the literate populations of the modern world.”

Every government’s primary obligation is to protect the interests of its citizens first before anyone else’s, so “America First” ought to be unobjectionable in the abstract.

As Steven says, “America First” got a bad name from our isolationists in the days leading up to our involvement in the Second World War. While I can understand and sympathize with their thought, they were wrong, our conception of the world depended on the victory of the Anglophone powers.

The “German Question”

First, let us finish the historical picture. Is it possible for an entire continent to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder? Or, to put the matter more directly, is the twitchiness about nationalism partly a proxy for what might otherwise be recognized historically as “the German question”?

When, after 1989, it became possible to reunite the communism-sundered East Germany and West Germany, European nervousness about this was accompanied by the qualms of Germans themselves about their national identity. I observed many times in classrooms with European students that, when asked whether individual students regarded themselves as citizens of “Europe” or citizens of their native country, it was always the German students who were the most likely—sometimes the only—ones who tended to identify as “citizens of Europe” first.

It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Germany’s lingering war guilt acted, and still acts, as a drag on the mood of the entire Continent. Remember what Sir Humphrey Appleby, in the old British television series Yes, Minister, quipped: Germany went into the European Union “to cleanse themselves of genocide and reapply for admission to the human race.” (Or you might prefer the parallel joke, that the purpose of NATO was to keep the Americans in, the Soviets out, and the Germans down.)

An aside is that Sir Humphrey has become an astute guide to European and British politics in the last few years. Thus what we all thought was comedy becomes real life, or at least, black comedy.

There is some evidence that the trauma of the world wars and the Holocaust contribute to a higher degree of general risk-aversion among Europeans than Americans. Europe is where, after all, “genetically modified organisms” meet consumer trepidation that is off the chart as compared to the response in, say, the United States or Canada. Invoking “nationalism” among Europeans is as scary as trying to introduce GMOs in their supermarkets. (Would that Europeans had just as much skepticism of the risks of NGOs as they do of GMOs.) [Amen, Neo]

Europe’s culture of risk-aversion would be insufficient, though, to explain the Europeans’ anti-nationalist unease absent a much more powerful and insidious factor: what Sir Roger Scruton calls the Western Left’s “culture of repudiation”—or, in Pascal Bruckner’s useful label, “the tyranny of guilt.” There can be no sensible or benign nationalism when wide swaths of the intelligentsia of Europe—its universities, its media, and politicians like Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel—are embarrassed by or hostile to historic European civilization as a whole. (It should go without saying that same applies to the American intelligentsia.)

This is all very true, and it is why Europe is badly underperforming its potential, to the point that to many of us it looks suicidal. Britain is somewhat better, but only somewhat, to expect any initiative for much of anything from Europe has become a fool’s errand. The Brits did, on the other hand, manage to vote for Brexit, and appear to be staying the course, even against the opposition of their pusillanimous so-called elite.

“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.” The meaning here is unmistakable. While natural rights might be universal, securing them requires the nation-state—a “separate” nation-state, as the clause after that one says. And you can’t have distinctive nation-states without some kind of nationalist self-definition. The Declaration implicitly acknowledges that even universal rights will require, in practice, particular regimes that will be the product of history as much as reason. There is nothing to fear from a prudential understanding of this essential point.

And that is why Britain so badly needs the support of the United States at this time. A friend wrote years ago that we are the only ones still willing to go out into the world to address evil. Her words have become settled truth, but still, we too have our elites, who think their European counterparts are correct.

Read his article, I’ve not done it even close to justice here.

But Steven also reminds us that a few years ago one of the great nationalistic slogans was coined here:

We have nothing to fear but fear itself

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