America Is Not Immune To EU Calamity

Though relatively few people on Main Street are consumed with anxiety over the unfolding events on Cyprus, a tiny Mediterranean island with a population of barely one million, the chaos there is a grim harbinger of a burgeoning worldwide financial crisis that will ultimately reach U.S. shores. The outlandish nature of Cypriot governmental action is merely a precursor to similar outrages that will inevitably take place here if the congressional spending spree of the past four years is not strenuously curtailed. So far however, Democrats are insisting that no problem exists, and Republicans lack the necessary will to effectively restrain them.

Nevertheless, disturbing rumors of an economic cataclysm in Cyprus warrant legitimate concern, even on this side of the Atlantic. For some time, its government has toyed with the idea of confiscating a percentage of all savings accounts in the country in order to pay its bills and remain solvent. The initial alarm over this possibility had seemingly subsided when the unthinkable happened. On March 25, government officials suddenly seized as much as thirty percent from accounts totaling 100,000 Euros or more.

Although in the wake of this upheaval, life has apparently resumed its normal course throughout the rest of the world, its reverberations are yet to be felt in their entirety. Try to comprehend what has really transpired on Cyprus. Those in power behaved in a manner that is barely distinguishable from a thief who forcibly enters a private residence to clean out the cashbox. Private property was injudiciously appropriated in an exercise of raw governmental power. In essence, the government of Cyprus unilaterally declared the ultimate possession of all property to itself, while the people under its jurisdiction are no longer to be citizens, but subjects.

Throughout this tumultuous affair, little of anything has been done to address the real underlying problem which is the unsustainability of government debt. The Cypriot government, like the rest of the European Union, has been digging itself into a financial hole by spending beyond its means. Of course this worked no better than it ever has throughout history and now the tiny nation faces impending bankruptcy. Sufficiently curtailing expenditures is not considered a feasible option, and in order to secure a “bailout” from the European Union, such drastic action was deemed necessary. The cash was needed, so those in power simply reached for the most available stash of wealth. No considerations of integrity or justice were allowed to interfere with this action. And that should be an end of it.

However, it is only the beginning. Similar measures are being considered in Spain and Italy. Jeroen Dijsselbloem of Holland, the Eurozone Chairman, flippantly advises that such actions could eventually take place across all of Europe. But he and his kind seem completely unable to recognize two crucial facts. First, if a wave of bank account confiscations becomes a credible threat, those with the ability to do so will simply close their accounts. Better to have the nest egg in hand even if it accrues no interest, than to leave it within the grasp of insatiable collectivists. Secondly, the confiscations in Cyprus, drastic though they were, can at best only delay the inevitability of financial collapse unless a complete national change of course is immediately undertaken.

The disastrous events on Cyprus are only a harbinger of an inescapable end game for every government that is allowed to grow so disproportionately. In the beginning, a small number of people are “beneficiaries” of funds collected from a comparatively large taxpayer base. However, if the pattern is not quickly reversed the concept becomes widely accepted by the population. Every attempted socialist panacea will predictably be overwhelmed by expanding numbers of expectant recipients. Hence, from the moment the Cypriot government made the decision to ignore history and pile on unsustainable debt, the radical measures now being undertaken against the accumulated wealth of its people became inevitable.

Americans should be among those most closely watching the unfolding events on Cyprus, as well as the general reaction of the rest of the European Union. For although in the past many of the cultural and social ideologies across the Atlantic differed starkly from those in the American Heartland, the general drift of this country in the same direction portends an exponential increase in our own financial woes. The manner in which annual deficits and the accumulated debt of the United States have ballooned in the past five years alone is great cause for alarm. Borrowed money must eventually be repaid. And just as the liberal governments of the European Union are quickly running out of accounting shell games by which to continue spending beyond their means, America’s economy cannot withstand its multi-trillion dollar annual outlays indefinitely. A grim day of reckoning will dawn, just as surely as it has for the people of Cyprus.

Unfortunately, at a time when competent, principled, and courageous leadership is desperately needed, America finds itself under the authority of Barack Obama, abetted by his Democrat cohorts and enabled by Republican timidity on Capitol Hill. Yet Obama has offhandedly dismissed the looming threat of financial insolvency that will result from the enormous and continuously growing debt. In a March 13 interview with George Stephanopoulos, he flatly declared “We don’t have an immediate crisis in terms of debt” and added “for the next ten years [the debt] is going to be in a sustainable place.”

Since the summer of 2009, America has been incessantly told by liberal politicians and liberal news commentators (as if any delineation exists between the two) that the sunken economy is rebounding. And the rosy stories continue. Nevertheless, the actual condition of the America’s finances remains abysmal, as the nation lingers in the longest economic downturn since the end of World War Two. Amazingly, no effort whatsoever has been made to curtail government expansion, a situation that will worsen considerably during the next few years when the majority of Obamacare’s unfathomable expenses hit. The dire straits in which our nation finds itself are not going to abate on their own. But still no realistic efforts are even being proposed to contend with this looming disaster.

As American productivity continues to falter, revenues to the federal treasury will slow even below their current levels, causing the total debt to spike. It is altogether likely that the “ruling class,” desperate to maintain the status quo, will increasingly look to various sources of amassed money outside of its typical realm. Government seizure of private retirement accounts and even personal savings is not beyond consideration. Our nation no longer possesses the inherent moral resolve to oppose such despicable actions. Consequently, the single biggest firewall that might have protected the people from this nightmarish scenario no longer exists. The unthinkable can happen, even here in America.

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Duly Noted – The Strategy of Lies

Your correspondent has arrived to inconvenient conclusions.

  1. Often, the mainstream media lies. Most troubling is that it does so even when it is unaware that it does so. Ascribe this to the input of trusted “experts” that grind the axe that will decapitate the misled public.
  2. Even non-conforming individuals are influenced by “official” versions even if they realize that the non-PC treatment of censured topics reveals reality. The decision of what is debated is often predetermined by the Left.
  3. This condition reflects a fault of the media and its consumers. They might think that they are “independent” even while they are victims of manipulations that exploit the weakness of an imposed worldview.

Under these conditions, selecting the subject for the column involves painful choices. Outstanding among these is that there is much to say while only a fraction of the story can be told. The other is that there are easy and difficult subjects. The easy ones are those that are close to the personal experience of the geographically limited reader.

In the real world, the pressing topics are likely to be global in their origins and they will be softly transmitted by mandated inattention. Meanwhile, their local impact is, while significant, not immediate and initially indirect. The image is of a dark silhouette sneaking in the shadow with a dagger. The details are undefined. The planned action becomes newsworthy only once the knife is sunk into the back of the unaware.

In this case, the “difficult topic” is one that has been covered here last June. That makes this into a follow up story of one that received a new twist. A curve built into the ball’s flight aims the matter toward your backyard.

The reader might reckon that, due to the locale that produced the case, he is not affected. If, nevertheless, he continues to read, he must be reminded of the curve of the object’s flight. The boomerang might not seem to be directed at you. However, upon impact it causes more damage than the hit of some directly aimed missiles.

A weakness of the internationally spreading conservative movement comes to mind. Conservative progressives fight centralization, such as in more Federal Government in the USA or more “Europe”. By reacting, they can become insular in their views.

The inward looking perspective is understandable. A sinew of conservatism is local resistance to a threat from outside that claims to be “internationalist”. The menace to local self-determination is, however, identical and its originators are interchangeable. Consequently, the general challenge is overlooked because of its venue.  Thereby its chances benefit from the unpreparedness of the victim. Additionally, the centralizers are wise enough to launch their initial attacks in peripheral areas. These can be ignored and distorted by the media. This preface may be an apology to the reader who is asked to follow the writer to a locale he knows little about.  Currently Hungary is being used to create a precedent to score ultimately against others.

To make the case, background factors are needed. The change from Soviet-socialism to “democracy” has been early and smooth in Hungary. That reflects “gulyás communism’s” seemingly benign nature. This enabled “the son’s of the Party” to stay in power and to become rich by privatizing what their elders had managed for the Party. In the process, the communist era’s laws were left standing. Then, in 2010, an election produced a 2/3 conservative majority – its doctrinal home would be in the center of the US’ Republicans. This majority got power because the voter realized that the socialists had maneuvered the country close to bankruptcy. The mandate was to change the system that financed itself from foreign credits that paid for daily consumption. (The association with “Greece/Cyprus” is warranted.)

Under Mr. Orbán, the “Young Democrat” Prime Minister, a general renewal followed. The reception by the EU and the socialists abroad has been negative. This expressed resentment that their ilk lost power. Furthermore, the earlier “liberal opposition” of the Party-state is feeding the Left’s ire. These intellectuals served as the western press’ experts and stood for socialism without tanks. It needs to be added that this “tolerated opposition” lost influence as the old system receded into history.

Here the resulting relentless attacks, and EU’s pressure to heave back into power those that have lost it at the ballot box, must be skipped. This writing is limited to a single missile fired to lame Budapest.

The Orbán government undertook a revision of the 1949 communist-era constitution. Even before it had access to the text, the EU became hostile. One item to irk the leftists in Brussels was a prohibition of the display of “totalitarian symbols”. That meant the national socialist swastika and the arrow cross, as well as the red star and the hammer and sickle. Hungary’s proscription violated a leftist taboo. Its core is resistance to anything that equates National Socialism (renamed “Fascism” although that “ism” differs from NS) and Socialism.

It did not take long and a comrade displayed his CP symbols publicly. In turn, he was fined. He appealed from Hungary to “Europe”.  There the exhibitionist Red was found to be innocent because the hammer and sickle is “esteemed” in Western Europe – where they did not live under real socialist tyranny. Reluctantly, Hungary repealed its law against totalitarian symbols.

Here you might conclude that this is a story that proves a malady. If so, you are right. However, the tale does not end with the absurdity that alleges that the GULAG does not count. Actually, the best part follows.

That “best part” is the nifty reaction of the left-leaning press to the lifting of the prohibition. Remember, the ban of totalitarian symbols including communist ones, was condemned as belated “cold-warriorism”. It was also depicted as the hysterical extremism of authoritarians that had the temerity to win a mandate to clean up a stinking stable. When Budapest caved in to Brussels’ pressure, the complaints did not cease. The ultimate goal of the attacks is to overthrow from abroad a non-PC government for which the internal votes lack. Therefore, the denunciation took a truly genial angle.

“Die Presse” is a good, centrist rated Austrian paper. It has produced a revealing headline to report the repeal. It testifies to not only creative fact making but also to the leftist virus at work in many journalists.  “Hungary: The Constitutional Court Lifts the Swastika Ban”. (Ungarn: Verfassungsgericht hebt Hakenkreuz-Verbot auf.)

In this case, the presented half of the truth amounts to a full lie. To the careful reader the disinformation is obvious. The striking of a law forbidding totalitarian symbols in general because it “limits the free expression of opinion” and for the real reason of pressure from “Brussels”, is hardly covered by the phrasing. However, talking about “the swastika and the red star” would be a red cloth to the EU bulls. Putting it that way would equate, as did the objectionable law, red and brown terror. And that is an ideological no-no. Avoiding that association is even worth a massive lie to serve a good cause. An added benefit is that the phrasing upholds the claim that a non-socialist government in Hungary is evidence of “right-wing extremism” in action.

At the beginning of this essay, you were told, “they lie”. Here you have just been presented with a small example of how it is done.

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Even Hoaxers Admit It Isn’t Getting Any Warmer

There’s no better time than April Fools Day to check in on the progress of the global warming crisis:

Debate about the reality of a two-decade pause in global warming and what it means has made its way from the sceptical fringe to the mainstream.

Even global warming profiteers have had to admit that their predictions are not coming true. True to form, they blame the embarrassing lack of rising temperatures on the source of all other problems — the emissions produced by human activity.

James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says the lower than expected temperature rise between 2000 and the present could be explained by increased emissions from burning coal.

That is, increased emissions cool the planet, countering the warming caused by increased emissions.

Others come close to admitting that the jig is up for the Great Global Warming Swindle.

“The global temperature standstill shows that climate models are diverging from observations,” says David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

“If we have not passed it already, we are on the threshold of global observations becoming incompatible with the consensus theory of climate change,” he says.

Whitehouse argues that whatever has happened to make temperatures remain constant requires an explanation because the pause in temperature rise has occurred despite a sharp increase in global carbon emissions.

It is becoming impossible to pretend that we haven’t been lied to. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change responds by screeching still more hysterical lies:

The upcoming IPCC report is expected to lift the maximum possible temperature increase [over the century] to 6C.

If temperatures still won’t go up, they may raise that to 12°C so that we’ll really be scared.

Getting less believable every day.

On tips from Just TheTip, Bob Roberts, DaddyOD, and Artfldgr.

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Socialized Medicine: Money for Fake Boobs as Patients Starve

Why are capitalist countries wealthy and socialist countries poor Because the free market allocates resources more wisely than bureaucrats. This is how healthcare resources are allocated under Britain’s regime of socialized medicine:

Britain’s National Health Service, the NHS, recently spent £4,800 — about $7,200 — on enormous breast implants for an aspiring model while nearly 1,200 patients starved to death in hospitals over the past four years. Critics say the deaths were caused by neglect due to understaffing.

The NHS provided Josie Cunningham with 36DD implants in January after she told her doctor that being flat-chested was causing emotional distress.

It gets worse:

In addition to the breast implants, the NHS has also spent £25,000 — about $37,000 — on a sex-change operation for a 19-year-old male diagnosed with “gender identity disorder.”

Welcome to our collectivist future, in which sniveling about “emotional distress” or belonging to a privileged group beloved by liberals will get you medical service, but your own efforts to take financial responsibility for your potential needs will not.

$3,600 apiece, courtesy of taxpayers.

On a tip from Wiggins.

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An Offer Cypriots Can’t Refuse

In what has become a depressingly familiar EU template, yet another “eleventh hour” deal was reached between the European Central Bank (ECB) the European Commission (EC) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — known as the “troika” — and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to avoid national bankruptcy. “It’s been yet another hard day’s night,” European Union Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn told reporters in Brussels, where the deal was put together. “There were no optimal solutions available, only hard choices.”

Hard choices indeed. In return for a $13 billion ($10 billion Euro) bailout, the tiny Mediterranean nation has agreed to wind down Laiki Bank, Cyprus’s second largest, wiping out thousands of jobs in the process. Depositors holding more than $130,000 will take potentially huge losses, the percentage of which has yet to be determined. But because the bank is expected to yield approximately $5.4 billion to satisfy the latest agreement, it is estimated that those losses will be as much as 40 percent, more than four times the 9.9 percent that was part of the deal rejected by the Cypriot parliament in a unanimous 36-0 vote last week.

No parliamentary vote will be required this time around. In the previous deal, the bailout money confiscated from bank accounts was going to be raised by imposing a nationwide tax on bank accounts that were both insured and uninsured. Imposing a tax required a vote by the Cypriot parliament. Because this new grab only targets uninsured accounts at Laiki Bank and the Bank of Cyprus, nine laws passed last Friday by parliament allowing bank “restructures” to go forward means no further vote is required.

Depositors with less than $130,000 in holdings will remain ”fully guaranteed.” In a deal reminiscent of the TARP bailout, Laiki Bank will be immediately dissolved into a “bad bank” containing uninsured deposits and toxic assets, while the remaining insured deposits with be transferred to the “good” Bank of Cyprus, the nation’s largest lending institution.

EU-philes and other assorted leftists offered their typical rationale for this latest effort. The New York Times framed the deal as one that would “prune the size of Cyprus’s oversize banking sector, bloated by billions of dollars from Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.” IMF leader Christine Lagarde called it a ”a comprehensive and credible plan” to restore faith in the nation’s banking system. French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici deemed the deal necessary because Cyprus is “a casino economy that was on the brink of bankruptcy.” Cypriot Finance Minister Michalis Sarris claimed that “we really have avoided a disastrous exit from the eurozone.” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Shaeuble contended the agreement was “capable of stabilizing the situation in Cyprus.”

The realists were far less sanguine. ”This decision is painful for the Cypriot people. This decision was a defeat of solidarity, of social cohesion, which are fundamental freedoms, fundamental principles of the European Union,” Parliament President Yiannakis Omirou told AP. ”So as soon as possible we have to prepare our economy to go out from the mechanism and the troika,” he added. Nicholas Papadopolous, chairman of the Cypriot parliament’s finance committee, was far more direct. ”We are heading for a deep recession, high unemployment. [The troika] wanted to send a message that the Cypriot economy ought to be destroyed, and they’ve succeeded in a large part-they’ve destroyed our banking sector,” he told the BBC. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev spelled out the meaning of the deal in no uncertain terms. ”The stealing of what has already been stolen continues,” he said.

Perhaps the most amazing-and utterly naive-aspect of this deal is the idea that what has happened in Cyprus will stay in Cyprus. UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage called on British expats in Spain to pull their money out of Spanish banks, contending the EU leaders had “crossed a line” in Cyprus. “There is going to be a big flight of money and that flight of money won’t just be from Cyprus, it will be from the other eurozone countries, too,” he warned. “There are 750,000 British people who own properties, or who live, many of them in retirement, down in Spain. Now that we see the EU are prepared to resort to anything to keep alive their failing euro project, our advice to expats living down in the Mediterranean must be, ‘Get your money out of there while you’ve still got a chance.’”

Christopher Pissarides, a Nobel prize-winning economist advising President Nicos Anastasiades, contended that the troika is treating Cyprus “far worse” than other EU basket cases that needed bailouts, and predicts that ”the way we deal with this situation has implications for the rest of Europe.” “We have a German finance minister who comes and tells us Cypriots that ‘We don’t like your economic model, bankrupt your banks and you can sort it out on the way’…The difference with Cyprus is that it is small. Is Luxembourg going to be next in line Is Malta going to be next in line Small members of the Eurozone beware,” he cautioned.

In the same Friday session during which bank restructuring laws were passed, the Cypriot parliament also imposed capital controls to prevent a likely stampede of money out of the country. Yet the EC, claiming they were acting on behalf of “Cypriot authorities” said that such controls, which violate EU laws regarding the free flow of capital, can only be imposed for a short time. ”This is a restriction on movement that may only last a few days,” said Michel Barnier, the Commissioner responsible for the EU’s single market.

Cypriot banks are supposed to open today, after imposing cash withdrawal limits at bank machines over last weekend when Cypriots began withdrawing their money in droves. At first, they could withdraw 400 Euros, then 260, and then only 100 Euros, after the central bank in Cyprus stepped into prevent a run. Cash was king over the weekend as well, as several retailers refused to take credit cards or checks. “It’s been cash-only here for three days,” said Ali Wissom, a restaurant manager in Nicosia. “The banks have closed, we don’t really know if they will reopen, and all of our suppliers are demanding cash-even the beer company.”

It will undoubtedly get worse. Russians, who maintain accounts totaling $31 billion of the total $88 billion held in Cypriot banks, will surely find other places to put their money, after having been caught flat-footed by this deal. Dozens of them descended on the country last week to vent their anger at Cypriot officials. Fedor Mikhin, who owns an international shipping business, illuminated the implications. “The locals should understand: as soon as the money leaves, the people who go to restaurants, buy cars and buy property leave too,” he said. “The Cypriots’ means of living will disappear. They are saying we laundered all the money, but they lived on that money for ten years and forgot about it,” he added.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso insists the future is less certain.”I am confident that the program will work, but let’s be honest. At this moment, we cannot say exactly what the impact is going to be,” he told reporters. ”It will depend on the level of implementation and the commitment of Cyprus itself.”

The “impact” may be more than monetary. A public poll conducted by Cyprus’s Sigma television reveals that more than 66 percent of those surveyed would be willing to drop the euro and move closer to Russia. Much of the island’s anger has been directed towards the EU in general, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in particular, whose nation Cypriots consider the chief architect behind the deal. “There is a clear danger of this area becoming a platform for confrontation between East and West,” said Harry Tzimitras, director of a research center in Nicosia.

It already has, and the more than 50,000 Russian-speaking people who have come to Cyprus from the former Soviet Union deeply resent the underlying rationale behind this confiscation of funds. “We are not criminals, arms dealers or bootleggers,” said Sergey Ivanov, a Russian who runs a wine business. “There is a generation of Russian businessmen like me who have lost faith in the Russian government, in Russian banks and in Russian laws. That is why we are in Cyprus.” A Nicosia-based lawyer was equally contemptuous. “I don’t understand why it is money laundering when it’s in Cyprus, when in London it’s a perfectly respectable company.”

There is no question that Cyprus has benefited greatly from its 30-year reputation as a tax haven. Foreign companies pay a flat tax rate of just 10 percent, making it extremely attractive to operate there. That reality may explain what this deal is really all about: to send a message that the socialist beast devouring Europe will brook no challenges to its high-tax, supra-nationalist authority despite the reality that it was the supra-nationlists and their lust for a “new world order” under the EU that set the entire “poor southern Europe versus rich northern Europe” dynamic in motion. It is a dynamic that has a financially secure Germany berating its spendthrift southern neighbors for being fiscally irresponsible, even as its heavily export-dependent economy requires such nations to buy German goods.

Ever since the European fiscal crisis began, the bureaucrats in Brussels have successfully convinced the majority of people living in places like Greece, Spain and Italy that national bankruptcy and a return to a national currency would be far more catastrophic than the ongoing austerity measures currently being imposed.

Yet one has to wonder how long that argument will continue to resonate. In Greece, for example, the unemployment rate reached a record-setting 27 percent in November. Almost unbelievably, that rate soars to 61.7 percent for those in the 15-24 age group. They are in their sixth straight year of a “recession,” that is really an outright depression, and their economy shrank another 6.45 percent in 2012. Furthermore, 35 percent of the entire population will be officially living in poverty by the end of 2013, an increase of five percent in just two years, all with no end in sight.

Can national bankruptcy and a return to the drachma, which would then be devalued to attract foreign investment, be any worse

Coming to that conclusion is precisely what the Brussels bureaucrats and the international finance establishment are desperately trying to suppress. Yet in their unrelenting arrogance, they have overplayed their hand. The ultimate fundamental that encourages people to put their money in financial institutions is trust. That trust has now been obliterated. “We now have a new type of rule and everyone within the euro zone has to sit down and see what that implies for their own finances,” warned Christopher Pissarides.

David Folkerts-Landau, chief economist of Deutsche Bank, was far more honest. “If a single country leaves the euro zone, it sets a precedent,” he said last week. “No one will ever again believe that a country will not leave the euro zone.” Whether it stays or goes, Cyprus is facing a nightmarish scenario. What the people of that nation have to figure out is which scenario puts them in a better position for the future.

Cypriots might take their cue from Iceland President Olafur Ragnar Grimson. When that nation faced a banking crisis in 2008, they took a capitalist approach to the problem: they let the banks go under. Five years later, the economy is growing at a three percent clip, and their unemployment rate, which rose to 8.6 percent in January 2011, was down to 5.5 percent in January 2013. At the World Economic Forum in Davos that same month, Grimson posed a fundamental question. ”Why do we consider banks to be like holy churches” he wondered. Perhaps Cypriots-along with a lot of other people-might ask themselves the same question.

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A Bad Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Radical Tree

A month before the election that would make Obama the first Democratic Socialists of America member in the White House, another prominent DSA’er wrote a cheerful article about the 160th anniversary of The Communist Manifesto.

Barbara Ehrenreich, the daughter of a Gillette executive, had gone mainstream by writing about poverty in America, but her politics never strayed far from her own roots in a more prosaic Marxism. It wasn’t poverty that Ehrenreich objected to. It was capitalism.

After September 11, Ehrenreich complained that applying the word “evil” to Islamic terrorists made her “nervous.” “The real challenge,” she said, “is to look at terrible acts and try to work our way towards an understanding of how a human being might undertake them.”

But there is one country that the morally ambiguous Barbara Ehrenreich has no difficulty branding as “evil” or refusing to understand. On the list of endorsers for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel, Barbara Ehrenreich’s name appears next to that of her son, Ben.

As the son of John and Barbara Ehrenreich, leftist politics of the worst kind were in Ben Ehrenreich’s DNA, and both mother and son found their calling as pseudo-journalists who exploited other people’s suffering while managing to make the story all about them.

Ben was graced with the typical directionless biography that qualified him to do little except express self-righteous anger on a semi-professional basis. He studied religion at Brown and wrote for alternative newspapers. He packed a backpack and went to dangerous parts of the world and wrote self-centered diatribes about the military-industrial complex.

In Haiti, Ben Ehrenreich declared that Obama’s post-earthquake relief effort was “savage and bestial in its lack of concern for human life.” His Post-Katrina article began by suggesting that New Orleans had been deliberately flooded. In Arizona, he compared policing the Mexican border to the war in Vietnam. One can only imagine what the copy would have read like if he had ever made it to Disneyland.

If Ben’s mother had learned to deliberately tamp down her invective in order to be taken seriously, her son went in the other direction, amping up the volume to hysterical levels until every place he set foot in was the worst place on earth.

After plumbing the depth of such atrocities as the relief effort in Haiti, Arizona border patrols and the plot to flood New Orleans, Ben Ehrenreich eventually found his Disneyland in Israel.

If there was any place where Ben Ehrenreich could fully unleash his histrionic borrowed socio-realist prose filled with dusty landscapes full of hardworking brown peasants threatened by the murderous forces of white capitalist imperialism, it was in the Jewish State. And unlike Haiti or New Orleans, no one would even notice he was writing complete barking lunacy.

Barbara Ehrenreich had found her niche by pretending to care about working people. Her son found his niche by learning to hate Jews. While there’s only so much gain in accusing America of genocide in New Orleans or Haiti; there is a bottomless market for accusations of genocide against Israel.

In a Harper’s article, the same place that helped his mother rocket to fame with her “Nickel and Dimed” stunt, Ben Ehrenreich informed readers that the Jews stole the water from the Muslims. In medieval times, Jews were accused of poisoning the wells. Now they were being accused of emptying them. By the time the screed concluded, the water-stealing Jews stood accused of starting the Six Day War for water and of hydrological ethnic cleansing.

But Ben Ehrenreich couldn’t be satisfied with chanting “No Blood for Water.” In an LA Times op-ed he declared that Zionism was the only reason that Jews and Arabs couldn’t get along, introduced a reference to Israel as “the Hitlerian concept” and informed readers that his Marxist grandparents (on his father’s side) saw Zionism as a distraction from class warfare.

“It has been all but impossible to cry out against the Israeli state without being smeared as an anti-Semite,” Ben Ehrenreich complained in the same whiny tone of every bigot outraged at the unfairness of the social disapproval for bigotry. And then he went on to denounce Israel as worse than South Africa, equate Hamas with Israel and to propose the destruction of Israel as the only solution to terrorism.

Having done all that, the man who exposed the plot to flood New Orleans with water and the Jewish conspiracy to steal all the water, was stuck on the horns of a dilemma. Once you’ve called for the destruction of Israel, where do you go next The answer is Disneyland. For professional provocateurs like Ehrenreich, whose M.O. is to always escalate the violent rhetoric, Disneyland is spelled “Intifada.”

“If There Is a Third Intifada, We Want to be the Ones Who Started It,” Ehrenreich’s New York Times Magazine cover story headline screams. The “we” was meant to refer to the rogue’s gallery of anti-Israel portraits decorating the cover, but of course it really referred to Ben Ehrenreich who had finally found his Disneyland in a village filled with terrorists. The sort of men who were willing to do what he could only write about.

Ehrenreich’s prose lavishes a great deal of love on the ground, the hills and a swing set. But in his prose, murdered Jews are stripped of all context and identity. They are objects, vague and formless. When a Jew is murdered, he is described only as a “settler” without gender or name.

A cousin of the man whom Ben Ehrenreich’s article is designed to glorify participates in the murder of children in a family restaurant and Ehrenreich dryly describes the atrocity in the passive voice. “Fifteen people were killed, eight of them minors.” One of those passively murdered minors was Hemda, a 2-year-old girl. But that 2-year-old girl is very minor to Ben Ehrenreich.

The fictional novelist-slash-fictional journalist who strives so hard to bring color and life to an argument over a spring has no color or life to spare for entire families wiped out by having nails and bolts from a bomb driven through their bodies while eating lunch. They are non-persons. Water thieves who start all the wars and distract from all the Marxist class struggles.

Like so many of the protest tourists trooping through West Bank towns in $150 keffiyehs hoping to throw some stones over the weekend, sniff some tear gas and then brag about it to everyone back home in Berkeley or Olympia; Ben Ehrenreich is bored.

Wars are his Disneyland. Like his mother, he lives by exploiting misery, feeding off other people’s suffering and passing off the results as political outrage. The New York Times insists on calling Ben Ehrenreich a freelance journalist, but he’s just another privileged political activist looking for a fight. Israel happens to be the place where he can find it.

Ben Ehrenreich searched for his Disneyland in Afghanistan, Mexico, Haiti, Los Angeles and New Orleans. But those places are dangerous and the only real danger in Israel comes from the terrorists whose side he is on.

Like so many privileged children of privileged parents, Ben Ehrenreich is still looking for somewhere to play Peter Pan in a keffiyeh and for someone else to start a war that he won’t get hurt in. If there is to be a Third Intifada, he wants to be the one who started it and wrote about it. And then in the footnotes he will mention, in the passive voice, that some settler minors were killed in the fighting.

If Ehrenreich’s Third Intifada has begun, its first victim may have been Adele Biton, a 3-year-old girl, critically injured after a rock throwing attack.

Just another minor little body. Another victim of the war a bored leftist is so eager to start.

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The RNC Diagnosis: Part 1 – Messaging

The Republican National Committee’s Growth and Opportunity Project post-mortem of the 2012 election cycle covers a lot of ground in its effort to diagnose the Party’s losses. This first installment of my response covers the report broadly and particularly its prescriptions for messaging.

The RNC report categorized its recommendations in seven areas:

  1. Messaging
  2. Demographic Partners
  3. Campaign Mechanics
  4. Friends and Allies (Third Party Groups)
  5. Fundraising
  6. Campaign Finance
  7. Primary Process

I have chosen to break my response into three parts:

The committee spoke to more than 2,600 people, conducted a poll among 2,000 Republican Hispanic voters, surveyed political hacks and pollsters, and conducted an online survey of 36,000 people interested enough to take the survey. The regurgitation of contact numbers sounds eerily like the Illinois GOP touting how many people it has contacted while losing election after election.

Regardless of the number of inputs, the quality of the advice the committee chose to accept is what matters. Did anyone persuade the committee of anything What comes through most in the document are points on which the committee could use the voices of others to buttress its own positions.

Messaging

There are some positive items in the report. Following the example of Senator Ted Cruz, for instance, the report suggests Republicans present their ideas through the lens of the people at the bottom. But other suggestions in the report don’t make much sense at all, or don’t address the messaging problems the party has been having.

Here, then, is my summary. Republicans, if they want to win, will:

  • Present a clear contrast to the Democrats. The RNC report seems to suggest mimicking their opponents, or softening language to mask any differences.
  • Avoid making overtly antagonistic comments that will arouse the other side’s base. This may be impossible, as the other side seeks out such „bulletin board” material. All candidates should test messages internally and practice the language and phrasing needed to avoid verbal land mines.
  • Use the language of the target audience without hiding and especially without changing principles.
  • Adopt the perspective of the bottom rung of the ladder or someone who sees themselves as part of an oppressed group, and explain how a world view that includes individual freedom, opportunity, and placing limits on government helps them.
  • Avoid criticizing other Republicans who make errors. If you can’t support someone, be silent. If asked, change the subject. If pressed, insist that questions be about your campaign, not someone else’s. If pressed further, attack the other side, not your own.

Voters, especially the undecided, are filled with cognitive dissonance. For instance, they believe in the image of America as the land of opportunity, but they also believe in a safety net for those who can’t take care of themselves.

The successful Republican candidate appeals to the central place of the individual, faith, and family, the dreams of people for success, and America’s unique place in world history. The successful Democrat appeals to group labels, the fear of failure, and exaggerated societal imperfections.  The idea is to get the voters thinking in your terms, not those of the other party.

Undecided voters are attracted to confidence above all else. You need look no further than the current occupant of the Oval Office for a great example of someone who espouses the silliest policies imaginable, but who does so with such confidence that people accept his statements without challenge. Polls show consistently that people don’t like his ideas, but do like him. It’s because of the confidence with which he presents his awful positions.

The trap Republicans have fallen into most often in the last several election cycles is attacking their own, believing their party would benefit by distancing itself from gaffe-prone, scandal-marred, or otherwise imperfect candidates. Those friendly-fire attacks have only made matters worse, focusing attention where Republicans didn’t want it.

The following bit of class warfare from the report is shocking in its off-hand delivery. While I dislike corporate welfare as much as the next tea partier, I’d like to know what the committee means by „corporate malfeasance,” — and who, exactly, is not blowing the whistle on it That isn’t the troubling part, however:

We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare. We should speak out when a company liquidates itself and its executives receive bonuses but rank-and-file workers are left unemployed. We should speak out when CEOs receive tens of millions of dollars in retirement packages but middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise in years.  (p. 6)

I would not want to belong to a party that as a matter of policy nit-picked private sector compensation on grounds of fairness. These are decisions to be left to the free market. Rather than adopting such Marxist rhetoric, Republicans should stay true to our founders’ vision of economic freedom for all. People who acquire wealth honestly should be praised and imititated, not treated as thieves.

Today’s Democratic Party has devolved into a party of Marx. America doesn’t need another one.

Republicans should stop saying that the 47% of people who don’t pay federal income tax are never going to vote for them. There are several things wrong with saying so.

First, it isn’t true. Many of the people in my rural area, for instance, are solidly Republican retirees who don’t pay income tax. Veterans just released from service and retraining, small business owners struggling to make money, and conservative and libertarian students, many of which vote Republican, but also typically don’t pay income tax.  A lot of people know that while they are not able to work in the private economy, a strong one is essential for national survival.

Not paying income tax and living off of government programs are not the same thing.  Even those who do depend on government programs do not all want to depend on them. In fact, most do not.  Using government programs doesn’t mean you won’t vote to limit government.

Speaking in terms of „makers and takers” inadvertently validates the Marxist narrative of class struggle.

Never attack the voters.  Attack special interests, bad ideas, your opponent, and even the opposing party, but do not attack the voters themselves.

FreedomWorks’ Jeff Scully says the way forward for Republicans is not cynically reaching out to groups to achieve diversity for its own sake:

If the RNC wants to reach out to women, minorities, and the youth, they need to make it less about being a Republican or part of the RNC, and more about ideas.

It is not necessary, and in fact would be unhelpful, for the RNC to dictate to state parties or individual candidates which planks of the party platform they will stress.

Frightened by media furor over mistakes made by individual candidates, the RNC is about to embark on a fool’s errand: effectively changing its platform to avoid the topics on which those mistakes were made. Not only is avoiding media furor not possible, but avoiding those topics leaves the field open to Republican opponents — both Democrats, and whatever other parties arise who are not afraid to stand on their own principles.

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Salvation Through Extinction

As one of the largest American cities ever to declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy, San Bernardino found itself driven to insolvency by three things. Revenues from sales and property taxes were too low; the city’s charter required that public-safety workers’ salaries be equivalent to those in wealthy coastal suburbs; and public-safety workers’ contracts were letting them retire early with high pensions, to which they didn’t have to contribute. Before it looked to Chapter 9 last year, the nation’s second-poorest major city (after Detroit) had a $46 million budget deficit.

If San Bernardino thinks that bankruptcy will solve its problems, however, it needs to think again. High crime makes cutting spending difficult: three-quarters of the city’s budget is devoted to public safety. In fact, to help make payroll, San Bernardino is deferring payments to the state-operated pension system CalPERS. (A federal bankruptcy judge in December prevented CalPERS from suing the city for payment, saying that it would be a “death knell” for any fiscal recovery.) Bankruptcy can’t compensate for a poor tax base or alter the city charter’s structural defects. To take a recent example, the charter’s pay-equity mandate has required an additional $1 million in salary increases for policemen and firefighters, which the city council ratified on Monday. San Bernardino will now have to cut $1 million elsewhere in its paper-thin budget. Bankruptcy also carries significant risks: the process leaves the city at the mercy of judges, who might force it to sell off assets at below-market rates to meet pressing revenue demands.

In some circumstances, an alternative mechanism in California law might be more appropriate: disincorporation, which can put a flailing, mismanaged municipality out of its misery. Its appeal is precisely that it would address the crucial factors causing San Bernardino’s fiscal mess. It could eliminate outlandish contracts for public employees (often bestowed by politicians elected with donations from public-employee unions). It could reduce pensions for current public-sector retirees, which so far are untouchable. It would make the city charter null and void. Above all, disincorporation would alleviate the problem caused by the flight of financial and human capital from San Bernardino to neighboring towns in San Bernardino County, such as Highland and Redlands. Disincorporation would mean that San Bernardino would cease to exist as a city and would foist its manifold liabilities—and assets—onto its namesake county.

But disincorporating a city of San Bernardino’s size is wholly unprecedented, and any benefits of doing so would depend on a court’s interpretation of California’s cumbersome Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000. The law requires each county to create a local agency formation commission, or LAFCO, to oversee all reorganizations, including disincorporation. Only the small city of Cabazon, population 613, has gone through this process. San Bernardino has more than 200,000 residents.

Disincorporation has its disadvantages, too. The county would be required to make the defunct city’s creditors and bondholders whole. At worst, the county would tax residents of the territory formerly known as San Bernardino at slightly higher rates for a limited time, so that its debts could eventually be paid off. But California’s constitution bars LAFCOs from raising revenues without a popular referendum (though the agency can make some additional taxes—not property taxes—a prerequisite of disincorporation). So it’s likely that the county would assume some of the city’s debts. Because the county’s median income is $15,000 higher than the city’s, the county could absorb the costs much more easily than the city could, whether or not that’s a fair outcome.

Disincorporation involves three steps. First, the city must submit an application with signatures from a quarter of its residents. Second, the LAFCO, which has wide latitude to attach terms and conditions, must approve or deny the application. Sure to be controversial is section 56886 of the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg law, which allows the LAFCO to modify or terminate existing employment contracts, including pensions. If the application is approved, the third step arrives: a ballot resolution requiring ratification by a majority of the city’s voters.

By disincorporating, San Bernardino would dissolve a government that ignored the warnings of fiscal crisis and that has been bought off by public-employee unions. Perhaps the county would prove a poor administrator, but it would have to fail impressively to perform worse than the city has already.

Jeremy Rozansky is an assistant editor at National Affairs.

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Birth of the Nation

The motor of human history turns on the question of political form. In the ancient world, two such forms prevailed: the city-state and the empire. Indeed, the history of the ancient world is essentially the history of the interplay of these two forms, whether through war (as in the Greek cities’ war against the Persian Empire) or through a city’s becoming an empire. Athens was an imperialistic city, but it didn’t succeed in becoming—or at least in maintaining—an empire. It was Alexander, who came from the periphery of the Greek world, who established the Greek empire. From then on, an imperial Greek space existed that was soon occupied by a newcomer: Rome, which made the almost unbelievable effort of transforming itself from a little city into a world empire (see “City, Empire, Church, Nation,” Summer 2012).

These are elementary historical facts, and yet, on close inspection, they reveal a remarkable intelligibility. The city is the smallest human association capable of self-government, while the empire is the most extensive possible grouping under a single sovereign. Thus we have two conceptions of humanity, two ways of crystallizing the fact of being human. Not only might we say that the ancient order was based on these two great political forms and their interrelations; we might add that this ancient order was the “natural” order of human things, as both forms developed spontaneously, without any previous idea or conception—unlike the modern state.

The persistence of empire in European history after the fall of Rome is striking: the Holy Roman Empire, the French Empire, the German Empire, and now the European Union, which some call an empire. Yet empires didn’t determine the form of Europe. Nor was European life organized mainly in city-states, though the city saw some remarkable developments in such places as Italy, Flanders, and the Rhineland. Why did Europe gradually abandon the two natural forms of human association And why did a third form, for which there was no equivalent in the ancient world, finally prevail

To understand the modern nation’s displacement of the ancient city and empire, one should start with Cicero, who was the first to confront the problem of the city’s viability and of its passage into another political form. Trained in Greek philosophy, Cicero had learned and accepted the classical interpretation of the republican government under which he lived: the notion that the best regime was a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. But that framework no longer made sense in the context of a Rome that was stretching beyond the limits of the city. Cicero was thus caught between old notions—in fact, notions that he had undertaken to explain to his compatriots—and the rise of something new. For something unprecedented was happening in Rome: for the first time, a city, the most compact and dense political form, was expanding in an effort to encompass the whole world. Herein lay a challenge for thought and for political action.

As for action, Cicero, of course, lost his life in that effort. But what especially interests us is the way he tried to adapt old categories to a new world. A careful reading of Cicero’s political works shows that they subject Greek philosophy to a profound transformation and contain certain doctrines or themes that we associate with modern political philosophy. One example of these innovations is that Cicero defines the magistrate as the “bearer of the public person.” But this notion of the public person—as abstracted at once from the particular judgment of the magistrate and from any immediate choice on the part of the citizen body—was unknown to the Greek city. Another example: his statement that the protection of property is the function of the political order—again, a foreign concept to the Greeks. A third: Cicero emphasizes the particularity of each person, distinguishing between the nature common to human beings and the nature proper to an individual person; he invites the individual not only to follow nature, as Greek philosophy would have it, but to follow his own nature.

These elements imply a profound reconsideration of Greek political philosophy, one that attempts to account for a new situation by using new terms. An emphasis on one’s particular nature obviously gives that nature increased authority in the public space. The definition of political order in terms of the protection of property brings private affairs to a new position of prominence—again, at the expense of the public space. Finally, the political realm loses the real, substantial character that it had when the city was visible as a whole that could be seen all at once; now that the city is so extensive, it is the magistrate who shines forth in the public light.

All these innovations suggest that Cicero took note of and encouraged, to some degree, the decomposition and recomposition of the civic political order and that he was sketching the main features of a new order, even if its elements weren’t sufficient on their own to constitute that order. That is, they didn’t succeed in preserving civic life—what Machiavelli later called the vivere civile or vivere politico—in a political form that was no longer the city. The indeterminacy of Cicero’s thought is particularly evident inThe Republic, which moves in two opposite directions: on the one hand, it emphasizes the collective wisdom of the Romans throughout the course of their history, thus playing down the importance of individual legislators; on the other hand, it seeks a royal figure, aprinceps capable of restoring the civic order that the mixed regime, though inherently preferable, has proved incapable of preserving.

Over the course of the next 15 centuries, Cicero remained the person who had most intelligently gathered together the usable elements of the ancient political tradition. He was a major reference for Saint Augustine, as for Thomas Aquinas. His authority, during the centuries that we call Christian, was roughly equal to that of the church fathers. He was truly the source of political thought. And those centuries, which preceded the formation of the modern order and the construction of the modern state, were characterized by the absence or indeterminacy of the political order. Neither empire nor city was able to meet the requirements of the time. We can call this long period of indeterminacy the “Ciceronian moment.”

It’s hard to know what to make of the period. We may know a lot about it, but we aren’t able to discern a coherent human order in it. We have a coherent picture of the ancient order—the Greek and then the Roman order—insofar as we find there a coherent civic life. We have a still more complete comprehension of the modern order, in that the modern state is constructed on a plan that can be called philosophical. There are thus two long periods of intelligibility. If we read histories of political philosophy, we find in them the great body of ancient thought and the great body of modern thought—and a long period between the two, concerning which we don’t know what to say. Thanks to the division of labor in universities, you can easily locate fine scholarly volumes devoted to medieval political thought. But if you look into the subject, you’ll realize that medieval authors’ thinking is essentially divided between those who carry on the ancient tradition and those who announce or prepare the work of the moderns. True, the Middle Ages have been “rehabilitated” in the academy. But our recognition of the period’s accomplishments shouldn’t distract us from what is decisive from a political perspective: the human world during those centuries doesn’t lend itself to our comprehension because it had no experience of an adequately coherent human order.

Indeed, to understand the Middle Ages, one must pay attention to the absence or indeterminacy of the political order. Throughout those centuries, Europe was in search of such an order. The disorder of European politics and the effort to find a way out of it—the desire and the need for a reasonable and coherent political order—was the cause of European development. The root historical cause was the desire of human beings to be well governed, or at least not too badly governed. What drove history was man’s political nature.

It thus becomes clear that modernity was defined by a movement toward a reordering. Medieval authors were unable to find this principle of order, despite the “holism” said to have prevailed in that age. Rather, they were caught up for ten centuries in a plethora of approximate and not necessarily compatible references, including small or large doses of Aristotle, a lot of Cicero, a bit of the church fathers, a few references from the Bible, and some Latin historians—and all this was supposed to provide the basis of a coherent doctrine. But no such doctrine would be elaborated until the seventeenth century, when, after the sixteenth-century rupture associated with Machiavelli and with Luther, it finally became possible to make a fresh start.

The universal human need for order or good government operated in Europe in a framework defined by two conditions. The first, as we’ve seen, was the experience of the Ciceronian moment—the difficulty or impossibility of recovering the lost civic life of the ancients. The second was the Christian proposition of a human community at once broader and narrower than any political community, a proposition that couldn’t help but question the legitimacy of the two great ancient political forms of city and empire.

It was Machiavelli who responded most audaciously to the situation. But what exactly was his project What political form, old or new, did he draw upon—the city, the empire, perhaps a new nation along the lines of the strong French monarchy beginning to emerge The answer isn’t clear. What is certain, though, is that he conceived of action as still possible, a striking alternative to the inertia of the Ciceronian moment. Consider simply his idea of the virtuous prince—the prince endowed with a virtue that consists of the capacity to oppose and to master fortune. Or consider Machiavelli’s tone, constantly suggesting that we must not let anything discourage us; or his statement that fortune favors the audacious.

But Machiavelli didn’t clearly outline the new order that action was supposed to produce. He did define a certain number of conditions of that action, famously dismissing all moral or religious precepts, all prudential maxims, and all forms of respect transmitted with our mothers’ milk that might forbid, fetter, or discourage action. He replaced the maxims of morality with his own maxims, which were so intentionally shocking as to wake men up to their passivity and to the inertia induced by the action-shackling idea of the good. His ideas didn’t form recognizable political institutions; they were to institutional construction what the preparation of artillery is to battle. In this way, Machiavelli provided the conditions of the possibility of a new order. The new order required that Europeans believe in the possibility of creative and founding action—that they believe that it was time to forget the old Greek, Roman, and Christian foundations in favor of new ones.

If Machiavelli were a theologian, one might say that he reduced all the theological virtues to one: hope. If he were a moral philosopher, one might likewise say that he reduced all the cardinal virtues to one: courage. Of course, he was neither. What he preached was a new political action—a radical, unprecedented, transformative, founding action—and he preached it in the absence of any available, or even prospective, political order. The order remained indeterminate; but with Machiavelli, we hear—for the first time in Europe—the call to revolution.

The role of the Protestant Reformation in the emergence of the new order becomes clear as we consider that it presented itself directly and explicitly as a political movement. The heart of the Reformation was undeniably its attack on the mediating character of the Catholic Church. The Church saw itself as the necessary vehicle for salvation and as the mediator between man and God. Luther directly and violently attacked that claim, and the ensuing destruction of ecclesiastical mediation brought about profound political disruptions.

For one thing, the rupture of ecclesiastical mediation gave power, including spiritual power, to the temporal prince, since it stripped spiritual princes—the Church and its prelates—of their legitimacy. The repository of religious authority was henceforth the community of citizens (if one can speak of citizens at this point) or the community of believers; and since those communities were governed by temporal princes, it was these princes who inherited the mediating power.

A second political consequence of the Reformation: if the spiritual community, the Christian community, wasn’t the universal Catholic Church, it followed that it was the community as defined politically and temporally. Now, the community as defined politically and temporally was the national community. So the Lutheran Reformation was, to a large extent, a national revolution—a German revolution, for which Germans long afterward felt nostalgia.

The breakdown of Catholic mediation, in other words, contributed to the reinforcement of two elements that proved decisive in the constitution of modern Europe: the sovereignty of temporal princes and the authority of the national principle. We will never know what Machiavelli would have thought of the Reformation’s political consequences. But it certainly contributed to the destruction of an inertia that he deplored: the political impunity of spiritual princes. The end of Catholic mediation was a necessary precondition for an active rapprochement between temporal princes and Christian peoples.

The Catholic Church, too, had been a brake on human action; it tended to dissuade the faithful from undertaking action in this world. But now, with the Church set aside, the elements of the social world accelerated. Secular institutions, such as work and marriage, were freed from competition with spiritual institutions—namely, the monastic orders and consecrated celibacy. To understand the effects of the Reformation on human action, there is no need to resort to Max Weber’s ingenious but obscure theses on the economic effects of the doctrine of predestination. Insofar as religion was a factor, what was essential for the acceleration of movement was the destruction of the Church’s braking mediation.

Simplicity is desirable in historical explanation. Just as my interpretation of what I have called the Ciceronian moment presupposes nothing more than the simple proposition that people prefer being governed well to being governed badly, so my interpretation of the Reformation rests on the simple proposition that the relation between humanity and divinity—whether divinity exists or not—carries with it the question of mediation. The relation between humanity and divinity unfolds in two opposite directions: on the one hand, we seek a correct idea, a worthy and adequate idea, of divinity, and so we hold the divine as far apart from humanity as possible; we thus speak of divine transcendence. On the other hand, we necessarily wish to enter into a relationship with this transcendent God; that is, we seek mediation.

And when we study the past, we must always link historical causality with nonhistorical causality—that is, with something that belongs not to the condition of the Greeks or Romans or Christians or moderns, but to the human condition. Just as the human condition includes the problem of governing, it includes a connection to the divine and thus to the problem of mediating divinity. These simple issues, inherent in the human condition, should frame our efforts to comprehend any age, including our own.

The Ciceronian moment ended with the period, prepared by Machiavelli and facilitated by the Protestant Reformation, when the form of the nation crystallized victoriously and came to be considered the natural framework of civilized human life. There is no doubt that Europeans of all nationalities, at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, felt that they inhabited the most perfectly developed political form.

In Europe, at least, that idea has since grown foreign. During the twentieth century, the nation-state was discredited and is now increasingly regarded as a type of human association that belongs to a past age. Europeans have therefore undertaken to build a new political form—or rather, let’s say that they have assumed the perspective in which they envisage a new political form called “Europe.” Europeans still belong to the old nation, and yet they see themselves as one day belonging to a Europe—indeed, a Europe that already constitutes a part of their experience, though in an extremely limited and artificial way. Like Cicero, they find themselves at a point of transition from one type of human association to another—and they will not be governed well until they face the question that is once again thrust upon them: the question of political form.

City Journal thanks the Hertog/Simon Fund for Policy Analysis for its generous support for this article.

Pierre Manent is a French political scientist. His essay was translated by Alexis Cornel.

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Same Sex Marriage and Gilligan’s Island Game Theory

That said, I’m not going to join the chorus opposing same sex marriage. First, I’m against restrictions on adults entering into voluntary contracts. Second, I see no reason why broadening the definition of marriage to same-sex couples devalues or diminishes mine. Finally, there’s the purely utilitarian Gilligan’s Island effect: if Skipper and Professor decide to wed in a tasteful lagoon-side ceremony, I’ve got Ginger and Mary Ann to myself at the wedding luau. And if it’s Mary Ann and Ginger hooking up, well… I’ll be in my bunk.

If there’s anything that gives me pause about SSM, it’s the thuggish tactics of some of its most vocal proponents. It’s hard to take a „human rights activist” seriously while he’s beating someone over the head with a „NOH8” placard for holding the same position Barack Obama held until 5 minutes ago.

So yeah, in a secular society maybe it’s time for opponents to recognize a rational basis for legal SSM. But it’s also time for supporters to recognize they are espousing a position that every society in the first 99.99% of human history would have considered nuts.

The problem, I think, is that marriage uniquely represents a religious sacrament that doubles as an official secular legal status. We don’t have laws, for example, that recognize someone’s baptism or confirmation. Because of that duality of marriage, attempts to expand its definition naturally are seen as an attack on religion, while attempt to restrict its definition are seen as the imposition of religion on society. Everybody gets mad and yells.

The solution Maybe it’s time for government to get out of the whole marriage business altogether. Or at least to treat it as a standard civil contract between adults conferring certain privileges (wills, powers of attorney, co-ownership) and obligations (say hello to alimony and the marriage tax penalty, Bert and Ernie). Don’t want to call it „marriage” Fine, call it a civil union, domestic partnership, blancmange, whatever, leave it open to any pair of consenting adults. Leave the holy sacrament business to churches, and if First Lutheran or Immaculate Conception or Temple Beth-El don’t want to bestow the title of „married” on a same sex couple, that ought to be their own business. You get married at a church, you get blancmanged at the county courthouse.

Maybe then we can get back to talking about our $16 trillion debt.

Gotta go, the wife is yelling.

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