Rod Dreher

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This Is How It Begins

Oh God:

President Vladimir Putin accused Turkey of being an accomplice of terrorism for shooting down a Russian warplane in Syria and warned of “very serious consequences” for their relations.

“We understand that everyone has their own interests but we won’t allow such crimes to take place,” Putin said at talks Tuesday with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Sochi. “We received a stab in the back from accomplices of terrorism.”

Russia’s warplane was one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the border with Turkey when it was “shot down over Syrian territory” by Turkish F-16 jets firing air-to-air missiles, Putin said. It’s “obvious” that the Russian “pilots and our aircraft in no way threatened the Republic of Turkey” as they carried out an operation against Islamic State, he said.

Putin spoke after Turkey said its military shot down a Russian warplane that violated its airspace near the border with northwestern Syria, roiling global markets and marking the first direct clash between foreign powers embroiled in the civil war. Russia’s Defense Ministry denied the plane had crossed the border. Russia began its bombing campaign in Syria Sept. 30 against Islamic State and other groups battling President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Turkey’s action is the first time in decades that a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member has downed a Russian military aircraft. Ambassadors of the 28 NATO member states are meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Brussels at Turkey’s request to discuss the incident, the military alliance said in a statement.

If we are not extremely careful, and extremely lucky, this is how World War III could begin. Open thread to discuss this.

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What’s Coming After Liberalism?

John Stuart Mill, Ur-liberal, and Dead White European Male (Everett Historical/Shutterstock)
John Stuart Mill, Ur-liberal, and Dead White European Male (Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

A letter from a college professor:

I think your post about the need to fight back is exactly right. I also think it might be hopeless. It pains me to say that, but people like me will not speak our minds if it comes at the cost of our livelihoods.

That comment at the beginning of the post — about all of this stuff making us turn inward, away from public discourse — is exactly how I feel. Most of my friends are secular, urban, liberal academics, and I lost them all after Obergefell. I didn’t even argue against the verdict. I simply suggested that perhaps we should be cautious in defining liberty and happiness and social good simply as what gives us personal gratification, and pointed out that Kennedy’s famous reasoning from Casey, which you cite often, is a recipe for social and moral bankruptcy. In what was virtually a friendship intervention, I was told that my views were prejudiced and hateful, and thus I was not worth listening to. Having already lost all of them, I don’t plan to risk my professional life by writing or saying anything in public about the current SJW craziness; virtually the only writing I do now is about fiction, which still provides some safety. And so, like that commenter, I turn inward: to my family, to my home, to nature, to books, to my parish. When civitas terrena is in its current state, where else to turn but civitas dei?

There are two other things I’ll point out about campus life today. One is that we’re all still realizing just how thoroughly the ideas of Michel Foucault were institutionalized in humanities departments. Foucault was fairly brilliant — the Panopticon section of Discipline & Punish reads like a virtual prediction of the technological surveillance state — but he was also the leading voice in the so-called “discursive turn”: the idea that discourse is everything, that we cannot ever find any truly real/essential/ideal form beneath our terms for things. We create the world as we speak it, and there is nothing under that. That world we speak-create is all about forms of power, as you note in your post. So the scholar’s main concern becomes finding a locus of power — which, in case it’s not clear, is always and everywhere synonymous with discrimination and oppression — and disrupting it. Thus Hamlet goes from being a high point of Western literature to being a cesspool of misogyny, patriarchy, etc., and thus democratic deliberation goes from being a Habermasian process of “collective rationality” to being a tool of the elites. Power is the overarching concern of all things, and (crucially) the job of the academic is no longer to transmit wisdom or teach knowledge but simply to teach the next generation how to point out yet another locus of power. (Remember that litany of complaints at Amherst, where every type of perceived oppression under the sun was noted? Perfect example.) And the work in the classroom is work enough, because the work in the classroom becomes the template for social change. You don’t need to march in the streets to demand justice. You can just point out the misogyny in Elsinore and then lean back in your chair, with the knowledge that society will follow.

The second thing is how people still believe this is purely a campus phenomenon. Remember the JP Morgan Chase incident? (“Are you: An ally of the LGBT community, but not personally identifying as LGBT.”) This is coming to the business world, and corporations are moving to align themselves with the forces of Progress. This hit a kind of apotheosis during the Indiana thing. When you have Apple and Walmart — companies responsible for employee suicides, shuttered town squares, millions of un- and underemployed people, the exploitation of the natural world — being praised by liberals for their devotion the cause, then you know we’ve crossed an important barrier. Anyone — no matter what crimes a person or group or company has committed or continues to commit — who declares loyalty with this vaguely defined movement is on the side of the good. Anyone who opposes is not just an enemy but an undesirable, with no place in polite society. A person like me, in other words, and a person like you.

This is why, when people my parents’ age scoff at the whole trans thing and dismiss it as just the cause du jour (remember Darfur? neither do any of the SJWs), I shake my head and tell them they have no idea what’s coming. The project of the Willed Self is a natural outgrowth of Enlightenment thinking. (I share your opinion that Submission is not a great book, but a very important one in terms of exposing the internal contradictions of the Enlightenment.) The whole intellectual movement of the last three centuries has at its core the principle of freeing the willed self from all constraints. The trans movement represents this idea’s apex: if we can free ourselves from basic biology and anatomy, then truly we have become gods. “I am that I am” is no longer confined to Exodus 3; it is the mantra of the willed self freed from all external barriers. There is nothing beyond the subjective, the personal, the therapeutic, because all that matters is how I define my own self, my own existence, and my own gratification. There can be no society or community within this worldview. Patrick Deneen was right in that “After Liberalism” lecture he gave: Enlightenment liberalism has been scary for we traditional conservatives, but what’s coming next — what’s coming now — is terrifying.

I wrote about Dante and Patrick Deneen’s lecture here.

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Ahmed the Clock Boy’s Payday

Gosh, nobody saw this coming:

Lawyers for the 14-year-old Muslim boy who was arrested after taking a homemade clock to his Dallas-area school say he was publicly mistreated and deserves $15 million. A law firm representing the boy, Ahmed Mohamed, sent letters Monday demanding $10 million from the City of Irving and $5 million from the Irving Independent School District. The letters also threaten lawsuits and seek apologies. Ahmed was arrested but not charged in September after an educator said the clock could be a bomb. He was also suspended from school. His family accepted a foundation’s offer to pay for Ahmed’s education in Qatar and moved to the Persian Gulf country.

I think he was mistreated, as I’ve said here before, and I believe some compensation for his humiliation is in order. But this is disgusting and greedy.

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Puny Ivy Leaguers, Principled Ivy Leaguers


I’m pleased to learn that this blog has multiple readers at Harvard Law School. One just forwarded me the following e-mail that the HLS Student Government sent out on behalf of the school’s “Affinity Group Coalition”:

We write to you today as a community of identity affinity group leaders at the law school, committed together to challenging discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic status, disability, religion, and nationality. As most of you know, on Thursday, November 19th, students woke up to the news that someone had placed tape over the faces of our Black professors’ portraits.

To those hurting, we are with you, we are here for you, and we want you to know that none of us will stand for racial hate crimes. This disgusting act targeted one group on this campus: the Black community. As a whole, we cannot fully comprehend your pain, one born by a history of slavery, segregation, and continued oppression and discrimination. Still, as a Coalition we stand against hatred and in the hopes that we can create a society that includes and welcomes us all.

To white allies, we recognize that this can be a time of questioning and confusion as to your roles and voices. There are many ways to be a good ally, but there is one thing that they all have in common: continue acknowledging your privilege. Ask how you can help, and listen to the answers you receive, even if they are just to be at a certain space to show support or to do nothing at all.

To those who do not think there is a problem, or who are not uncomfortable, please take this opportunity to ask yourself why not. Ask yourself why you are saying what you are saying, whether your goal is to help or to hurt other people, and whether how you are conducting yourself is what is best for the HLS community. We think there is a problem, a poison in this community. Indifference, under these circumstances, not only prevents progress but also compounds the pain. It is important to recognize that many of our peers can never avoid the topic of race.

Racist acts cut at the values we aspire to uphold, as does nonchalance in response. We believe in this community. We believe in its capacity for support. And we stand hopeful to see that capacity realized in the coming weeks. We stand with you.

With passion and affection,
The Affinity Group Coalition

In other words: Abase yourselves before us and do as we tell you to do, and don’t think your silence is going to protect you. 

The person who passed that letter on is scheduled to leave Harvard Law this academic year, and writes, “I’m immensely grateful that I’ll be [leaving] so I won’t have to continue to deal with this madness in the years to come.”

My correspondent sent along this contrasting — and inspiring — petition put up by Princeton students in opposition to the SJW effort to dictate terms to the university. It already has over 1,200 signatures, and reads as follows:

We, the undersigned members of the Princeton University community, appreciate the concerns but oppose the demands of the Black Justice League. We call for increased dialogue and the creation of a process that properly considers the input of all students and faculty, not merely those who are the loudest.

WHEREAS the Black Justice League has condemned Woodrow Wilson’s undeniable racism and demanded that the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs and Wilson College be renamed,

WHEREAS the Black Justice League has demanded that undergraduates be required to take “classes on the history of marginalized people,”

WHEREAS some members of the Black Justice League have reportedly demanded “affinity housing for people interested in black housing,”

WHEREAS some members of the Black Justice League criticized the university for “focusing on free speech;”

We, the undersigned members of the Princeton University community, affirm the following:

THAT the first of these three demands represents an alarming call for historical revisionism and seeks to eliminate vindication of a significant historical figure who, despite his flaws, made great contributions to this University,

THAT the second of these three demands represents a thinly veiled attempt to impose the Black Justice League’s unilateral narrative upon all undergraduates through the conduit of the core curriculum,

THAT the third of these three demands represents a morally abhorrent and blatantly illegal call for what is essentially racially segregated housing.

*Update: in response to the clarification that affinity housing would be for those interested in black culture (rather than a call for black-only housing as some protesters advocated for), we no longer consider this demand illegal, but all our other objections still stand.*

THAT free speech is fundamental to Princeton’s role as an institution of higher learning and excessive political correctness stifles academic discourse.

We, the undersigned members of the Princeton University community, request that the President, Trustees, and Faculty affirm the following:

THAT any steps to purge this campus of its Wilsonian legacy creates a dangerous precedent and slippery slope that will be cited by future students who seek to purge the past of those who fail to live up to modern standards of morality,

THAT a properly enacted “diversity requirement” should allow students to study a non-American culture or American minority of their choice—not merely those who have been deemed marginalized by the Black Justice League—and will be accompanied by a required course in Western or American civilization in order to better enable cross-cultural understanding,

THAT racially based housing creates segregation and is thus anathematic not only to the University’s purported goal of promoting a diverse student body but also to the core values of American society.

THAT this University maintains its commitment to free speech and open dialogue and condemns political correctness to the extent that it infringes upon those fundamental academic values.

Here’s a link to the petition page. Very, very well done! Good for you, principled Princetonians. Now, march in defense of your university.

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From Molenbeek To Merkelbeek

'Wait, uh, what's going on in my country?' (catwalker /
'Wait, uh, what's going on in my country?' (catwalker /

The Belgian capital celebrates diversity and multiculturalism for a third day:

BRUSSELS — On what normally would be a bustling Monday, empty streets and an eerie silence attested to the reality that this capital city, the heart of the European Union, had been paralyzed by a terrorist cell answering to the leaders of the Islamic State.

As universities, shopping malls, museums, food markets, the subway system and even a nursery school shut their doors, the city remained jittery after a number of false alarms involving hotels and even City Hall, which was closed on Monday.

The central square, known as the Grand Place or Grote Markt, was all but deserted, except for a few tourists ambling around a giant Christmas tree. Soldiers patrolled an area normally thronged with shoppers, and armored personnel carriers rolled over cobblestone streets usually choked with cars.

The level of anxiety was so high that the authorities felt compelled to remind people that they were free to leave their houses, even in Brussels, although they still were recommending that they “avoid unnecessary travel to busy places and comply with any potential security check.”

Isn’t that lovely? Via Steve Sailer, I discovered a Politico essay by photographer Teun Voeten, a Belgian who used to live in Molenbeek, the Brussels neighborhood that is jihadi central. Excerpts:

I called Molenbeek my home for nine years. In 2005, it was the city’s last affordable neighborhood — in large part because of its bad reputation. My apartment, just across the canal from the city center, is close to the home where two suspects in the Paris attacks were based, and around the corner from where the shooter from the foiled Thalys attack in August had been staying.

I was part of a new wave of young urban professionals, mostly white and college-educated — what the Belgians called bobo, (“bourgeois bohémiens”) — who settled in the area out of pragmatism. We had good intentions. Our contractor’s name was Hassan. He was Moroccan, and we thought that was very cool. We imagined that our kids would one day play happily with his on the street. We hoped for less garbage on the streets, less petty crime. We were confident our block would slowly improve, and that our lofts would increase in value. (We even dared to hope for a hip art gallery or a trendy bar.) We felt like pioneers of the Far West, like we were living in the trenches of the fight for a multicultural society.


Slowly, we woke up to reality. Hassan turned out to be a crook and disappeared with €95,000, the entire budget the tenants had pooled together for our building’s renovation. The neighborhood was hardly multicultural. Rather, with roughly 80 percent of the population of Moroccan origin, it was tragically conformist and homogenous. There may be a vibrant alternative culture in Casablanca and Marrakech, but certainly not in Molenbeek.

Over nine years, I witnessed the neighborhood become increasingly intolerant. Alcohol became unavailable in most shops and supermarkets; I heard stories of fanatics at the Comte des Flandres metro station who pressured women to wear the veil; Islamic bookshops proliferated, and it became impossible to buy a decent newspaper. With an unemployment rate of 30 percent, the streets were eerily empty until late in the morning. Nowhere was there a bar or café where white, black and brown people would mingle. Instead, I witnessed petty crime, aggression, and frustrated youths who spat at our girlfriends and called them “filthy whores.” If you made a remark, you were inevitably scolded and called a racist. There used to be Jewish shops on Chaussée de Gand, but these were terrorized by gangs of young kids and most closed their doors around 2008. Openly gay people were routinely intimidated, and also packed up their bags.

I finally left Molenbeek in 2014. It was not out of fear. The tipping point, I remember, was an encounter with a Salafist, who tried to convert me on my street. It boiled down to this: I could no longer stand to live in this despondent, destitute, fatalistic neighborhood.

Voeten, a war photographer and cultural anthropologist, goes on to explain why Belgium is such a rich place for jihadism to thrive. The biggest reason?:

The country’s political debate has been dominated by a complacent progressive elite who firmly believes society can be designed and planned. Observers who point to unpleasant truths such as the high incidence of crime among Moroccan youth and violent tendencies in radical Islam are accused of being propagandists of the extreme-right, and are subsequently ignored and ostracized.

The debate is paralyzed by a paternalistic discourse in which radical Muslim youths are seen, above all, as victims of social and economic exclusion. They in turn internalize this frame of reference, of course, because it arouses sympathy and frees them from taking responsibility for their actions.

Read the whole thing. It’s important.

This is why the overwhelming deluge of Islamic refugees into Europe right now is so dangerous. Europe is governed by elites like Angela Merkel that don’t have any capacity to deal with this kind of thing. There can be no doubt that Europe (and America) have a moral responsibility to help the refugees. But they cannot be allowed to settle en masse in Europe — or they will create many more Molenbeeks. Then what?

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Balkanized America

A reader comments on the thread about the SJWs trying to get their KU Professor fired for crimethink in class:

I find myself turning more and more inward — toward my home, family, church — and less and less on public discourse.

Of course. Me too. This is the America that the Social Justice Warriors and their allies in the Establishment (especially media and academia) have created: a Balkanized polity where nobody trusts anybody who is not like them.

You would have to be an absolute fool, or in a position not to care, to be a white person who voiced a non-left opinion about race, sex, gender, or homosexuality these days. Last month, I communicated with a nationally prominent liberal professor who teaches at a prestigious institution, who said that he is extremely careful what he dares to say in class and anywhere on campus, for fear that some student, somewhere, will consider it a microaggression, and file charges against him. Even groundless charges that are ultimately dismissed can consume a professor’s life, and severely damage his career. In a flash this fall, we have seen university after university taken over by fanatics who despise freedom of speech and thought — the core of a university education — and who have learned that the power elite within those communities are paper tigers who can be intimidated into giving them whatever they demand, or close to it.

It has not yet occurred to these weak and unprincipled leaders that the protesters possess the dead-end politics of Ta-Nehisi Coates: construing the problem in such a way as to deny the possibility of any kind of solution. As I pointed out in my blog post on the book, Coates holds that the only reasonable path for black people in America is to quit believing in Dr. King’s vision (“The changes have awarded me a rapture that comes only when you can no longer be lied to, when you have rejected the Dream”). Actually, I’m probably wrong about that: they almost certainly agree with Coates’s politics. Coates just won the National Book Award, a sure sign that his views have been embraced by the Establishment. What the events of this autumn are teaching the rest of us is that universities are ceasing to be places of open debate, and “safe spaces” for anybody who holds the “wrong” beliefs, especially if one is white, male, and/or heterosexual.

I want to draw your attention to this passage from the “open letter” the KU grad students wrote to demand the firing of their teacher:

The response that more dialogue is needed to resolve this problem is insufficient to redress our claim that the space of dialogue is coded through terror and hostility. The belief that democratic deliberation is neutral is wrong and dangerous. We appreciate the IOA’s commitment to “students’ ability to file complaints and have their voice heard without fear of retaliation.” What is needed now is action upon those complaints. Do not allow the guise of free speech to be invoked and crowd out our demand — legal precedent indicates that Dr. Quenette’s speech is not protected by the First Amendment.

Free speech, democratic deliberation — none of it matters, because it is a potential obstacle to the radicalized students getting what they demand. Understand what’s at stake here: nothing less than the destruction of university education.

When I went to college in the 1980s, I found it thrilling to have my beliefs challenged in class, and outside of class. I learned how to analyze and to argue. This is a core part of education! And yet, these left-wing militants want to destroy the ability of all students to have that kind of opportunity, by driving any faculty who disagree out of the university, or silencing them. The poison of cultural leftism is destroying universities. It’s bad enough that this happens at any university, but for it to happen at public universities, like Mizzou and KU — that’s even more disturbing, and telling.

What these students and their supporters on faculties and university administrations are doing is destroying the possibility of a public, of the common good. To them, there is no such thing as the common good; there is only power. And so far, they have met no resistance.  This movement and the mentality behind it is exacerbating the fractures that exist in America today, driving people apart and into private life as the only reliable “safe space” available to them. When a professor faces career ruin because of some mildly controversial things she said in class, it is reasonable to wonder if the public university is safe for free expression and free inquiry. If the faculty of KU had any sense, it would threaten a campus-wide strike in support of Prof. Quenette; their own academic freedom requires it. But they may end up doing what Quenette’s own department is doing: endorsing the radicals’ demands, either because they agree with them, or because they are too afraid of their own children to object.

And when the radicals come for them next year, there will be nobody left to speak out for them.

Here is a comment that someone left on the first KU thread on this blog:

I’m an alumnus of the graduate program in question. I’ve been in touch this past week with graduate students in the department and have tried to get some info from my professors, but the latter are maintaining a pretty strict radio silence (understandably). From what I can tell, no one expects Dr. Quenette to survive this. The campus radicals have been calling for the chancellor to resign (a black woman, by the way) because of some perceived failure to combat the usual litany of problems (real and otherwise).

I was in the department when Dr. Quenette was hired, and she is a wonderful and kind person. Her kids are adorable. She’s a good presence in the building. It’s incredible that she may be fired for using a racial slur in a discussion about racial slurs and racial incidents. I don’t know any of the students who wrote that shallow and vile letter, but if they cannot distinguish between hateful language and a discussion about hateful language, then I’m embarrassed to have been admitted to the same program as them.

The Coms program at KU is among the nation’s oldest and probably among the five most highly regarded in the country. And that is precisely why she will probably be fired. If she isn’t, it will decimate an already underfunded department (like many places, KU is shifting virtually every resource into engineering and medicine). What graduate students will come to the place that kept a “racist” professor? What prospective faculty members will want to join? What grant funding would come our way if this woman is not ejected from the “safe, inclusive environment”?

The most disgusting and deplorable part of this entire story is that the precious students demanded Dr. Quenette read aloud in class the letter calling for her own termination. Have these students never read about the Soviet show trials? The forced guillotine-platform confessions?

There is a new kind of intellectual tyranny spreading on campuses, and any of us who care about traditional conservatism need to care about it. The idea starts on campus but will spread through society. Things that we hold dear — tradition, faith, community — will be denounced as racist, bigoted, irrational, and so on, and will be deemed unworthy of expression and thus prohibited. When Rod says “they are coming for us,” he is not being hyperbolic. As an academic, I can vouch for this. They are not just coming; they are here. You can say, “Oh, I’m not a professor, this doesn’t affect me.” I promise you that if you are a believer, a traditionalist, or even just slightly skeptical of the Willed-Self project, then they are coming for you next. “Silence is Violence” is their mantra. If you do not declare fealty to them, they will destroy your career, your reputation, and, eventually, intellectual freedom.

We will see if conservatives and (more importantly) traditional liberals have the courage and foresight to fight back. The thing that most concerns me is that campus radicals are operating from premises that are already accepted within the liberal Establishment; they are just taking them one or two steps further.

Take the discipline situation at Los Angeles public schools, as reported by the L.A. Times. It’s a relatively small example, but a consequential one:

It’s another day of disruption on this campus in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has been nationally hailed by the White House and others for its leadership in promoting more progressive school-discipline policies. The nation’s second-largest school system was the first in California to ban suspensions for defiance and announced plans to roll out an alternative known as restorative justice, which seeks to resolve conflicts through talking circles and other methods to build trust.

The shift has brought dramatic changes: Suspensions districtwide plummeted to 0.55% last school year compared with 8% in 2007-08, and days lost to suspension also plunged, to 5,024 from 75,000 during that same period, according to the most recent data.

The district moved to ban suspensions amid national concern that they imperil academic achievement and disproportionately affect minorities, particularly African Americans.

But many teachers say their classrooms are reeling from unruly students who are escaping consequences for their actions.



“My teachers are at their breaking point,” Art Lopez, the school’s union representative, wrote to union official Colleen Schwab in a letter obtained by The Times. “Everyone working here is highly aware of how the lack of consequences has affected the site. Teachers with a high number of students with discipline issues are walking a fine line between extreme stress and a emotional meltdown.”

Lopez wrote that many teachers felt that administrators were pushing the burden of discipline onto instructors because they can no longer suspend unruly students and lack the staff to handle them outside the classroom. Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, which represents principals and others, declined to comment.

Michael Lam, an eighth-grade math teacher, said he has seen an increase in student belligerence under new discipline policies.

“Where is the justice for the students who want to learn?” he said, speaking at a recent forum held as part of the process to select the next superintendent of schools. “I’m afraid our standards are getting lower and lower.”

In Los Angeles, because a significant number of black students cannot control themselves in class, teachers are made to suffer, and so are all the students — black, white, Asian, whatever — who are there to get an education. Naturally, the liberal backers of this scheme tell the Times that there’s nothing wrong with it that more bureaucracy won’t fix. In the meantime, those parents that can afford to withdraw their kids from public schools in Los Angeles, either by putting them in private education or by moving to a different school district, will do so, because they can plainly see that the institution does not have the vision or the courage to defend itself against those who would tear it down.

So people withdraw into the private sphere for education, as they will withdraw ever more into the private sphere across the board. Again and again, MacIntyre saw it all coming. A society where people lack core shared convictions cannot hold together. In the last decade, the liberal Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam discovered an inconvenient truth: that diversity is not always our strength, but in some ways our weakness. From a Boston Globe essay about it:

It has become increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger.

But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam — famous for “Bowling Alone,” his 2000 book on declining civic engagement — has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.

“The extent of the effect is shocking,” says Scott Page, a University of Michigan political scientist.

The study comes at a time when the future of the American melting pot is the focus of intense political debate, from immigration to race-based admissions to schools, and it poses challenges to advocates on all sides of the issues. The study is already being cited by some conservatives as proof of the harm large-scale immigration causes to the nation’s social fabric. But with demographic trends already pushing the nation inexorably toward greater diversity, the real question may yet lie ahead: how to handle the unsettling social changes that Putnam’s research predicts.

“We can’t ignore the findings,” says Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. “The big question we have to ask ourselves is, what do we do about it; what are the next steps?”

Putnam says he tried to re-examine the data from all sides, because he didn’t want to accept the conclusion:

But even after statistically taking them all into account, the connection remained strong: Higher diversity meant lower social capital. In his findings, Putnam writes that those in more diverse communities tend to “distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.”

“People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ — that is, to pull in like a turtle,” Putnam writes.

In documenting that hunkering down, Putnam challenged the two dominant schools of thought on ethnic and racial diversity, the “contact” theory and the “conflict” theory. Under the contact theory, more time spent with those of other backgrounds leads to greater understanding and harmony between groups. Under the conflict theory, that proximity produces tension and discord.

Putnam’s findings reject both theories. In more diverse communities, he says, there were neither great bonds formed across group lines nor heightened ethnic tensions, but a general civic malaise. And in perhaps the most surprising result of all, levels of trust were not only lower between groups in more diverse settings, but even among members of the same group.

“Diversity, at least in the short run,” he writes, “seems to bring out the turtle in all of us.”

Sure it does, because diversity forces us to confront difference constantly, and that makes all of us anxious, no matter what our tribe is. The way to ameliorate that natural anxiety is to move within a social framework that allows people to express differences of opinion without opening themselves up to strong attack. That requires grace on both sides: people who express a particular opinion have to allow for the fact that they might be wrong, and must be willing and able to have their mind changed; people who hear that opinion expressed must be willing and able to allow the Other to express that opinion without being denounced as a heretic, and having to fear for his own safety or security.

In my life, and in my travels, I have greatly benefited from being around people who are not like me — people who have challenged my way of thinking and seeing and moving in the world, and changed my mind. In every single case, my mind has been changed by people different from me who gave me the benefit of the doubt, assuming that I had a good heart, and was willing to listen. And I opened up to them because I assumed that they too had good hearts, and were willing to listen to me, with respect. “Diverse” friends like that have been a blessing to me.

But when “diversity” is seen as a threat, everything changes. On campuses, we see that holding opinions that diverge from SJW dogma is considered by SJWs to be a threat that must be extinguished by force. SJWs have shown that liberal authorities have no courage to stand up to their bullying. I have every expectation that the spinelessness shown by university administrators finds its analogue in corporate America.

It’s not likely to get better anytime soon. Look at the results of a new Pew survey measuring attitudes towards free speech, as reported in the WaPo. Says the Post:

Pew asked various groups of people whether or not it was appropriate for the government to intervene to censor offensive comments about minority groups. In the United States, no two groups were more sympathetic to letting the government do so than millennials (defined here as those aged 18 to 34) and non-whites.

Now do you see where the SJWs at KU are coming from with their claim that “democratic deliberation” is a sham, and that “free speech” should not be allowed to stand in the way of satisfying their demands?

Will the unwinding be arrested? Will conservatives and traditional liberals find it within themselves to stand up to this tyranny of the cultural left? I hope so, but I’m pessimistic. I could be wrong, but my sense now is that the best conservatives and traditionalists can hope for is for our political leaders and judges to protect under law the private realm. That is why it is important to vote for politicians who believe in the private realm — and why the most sensible thing for traditional conservatives to do in most cases may be to vote libertarian. But this does nothing to bolster the public realm or the sense of the common good.

To be fair to the SJWs, if what they believe constitutes a just political and moral order is true, then there is no place for people like me in it. I do not share — and in fact reject — some principles they see as non-negotiable. Similarly, if what I believe is true, then they have no place at the table, because they do not share the basic beliefs necessary to form a cohesive society, as I see it. Note well that this is not a dispute over the interpretation of shared beliefs, but a confrontation between fundamentally irreconcilable beliefs. At the most basic level, we are not part of the same society, but rather are people who happen to dwell in the same polity. They have and are gaining power now in most of the key institutions of this society. I hope there is an equal and opposite reaction that restores order to these institutions. I am pessimistic about that, but hope to be proven wrong. The authority of those institutions (versus their power) is dissolving. As Philip Rieff said, when institutions cease to be able to transmit their core values to the next generation, they decline. By caving in to the SJWs, universities are failing to defend, much less transmit, their core values to young people. Ideas have consequences.

In any case, this is one reason why we need the Benedict Option: we traditional Christians have to be able to remember who we are in a time of mass forgetting, and to be able to band together to support each other through what’s to come. People like us will, I fear, be cast out of universities. Where will they go? What will they do? Who will help you when they come for you, or deny you the right to work?

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KU Grad Students Demand Prof Firing

Prof. Andrea "Worst Person In The World" Quennette and family
Prof. Andrea "Worst Person In The World" Quennette and family

I know you must be sick and tired by now of hearing about the ongoing Social Justice Warrior irruptions on college campuses, but it is important to keep track of them, at least the worst ones. Over the weekend, a professor (whose ID I confirmed) wrote to me to say:

Have you seen this? These little fascists are going to destroy this young woman’s academic career.

The “this” is “An Open Letter Calling for the Termination of Dr. Andrea Quenette For Racial Discrimination”. It is written collectively by the students in one of her Kansas University graduate-level classes. What prompted it? According to a story in the Lawrence (KS) Journal-World, it all started with a class discussion on November 12:

Inspired by the previous night’s forum, Quenette said, a student asked how they could talk about race issues in their own classes, and the conversation naturally shifted to how the university should address problems.

“I tried to preface everything I said with, ‘I don’t experience racial discrimination so it’s hard for me to understand the challenges that other people face, because I don’t often see those,’” said Quenette, who is white.

She said she pointed out that racist incidents on other campuses, including the University of Missouri in Columbia, have been very visible, and she used the n-word when comparing KU to them.

“I haven’t seen those things happen, I haven’t seen that word spray-painted on our campus, I haven’t seen students physically assaulted,” Quenette said.

Quenette said she could have apologized “in the moment” if anyone had responded but that no one did, and the discussion continued.

On the subject of low graduation rates for black students and whether institutionalized racism is to blame — students in class said it was — Quenette said students who don’t graduate do so for a number of reasons, and from what she’s seen at KU it’s often academic performance. Quenette said she’s on a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences committee studying retaining and supporting students, and that “all students” who come to KU with low academic preparedness are at risk.

Now the students in the class demand her firing. Five anonymous students have filed a formal discrimination complaint against her with the university, and she has requested and been put on leave while she is investigated. (What about all the students she teaches in her other classes? What’s going to happen to thtem, here at the end of the semester?) According to the grad students’ “open letter”:

Those remarks began with her admitted lack of knowledge of how to talk about racism with her students because she is white. “As a white woman I just never have seen the racism…It’s not like I see ‘Nigger’ spray painted on walls…” she said.

As you can imagine, this utterance caused shock and disbelief. Her comments that followed were even more disparaging as they articulated not only her lack of awareness of racial discrimination and violence on this campus and elsewhere but an active denial of institutional, structural, and individual racism. This denial perpetuates racism in and of itself. After Ph.D. student Ian Beier presented strong evidence about low retention and graduation rates among Black students as being related to racism and a lack of institutional support, Dr. Quenette responded with, “Those students are not leaving school because they are physically threatened everyday but because of academic performance.” This statement reinforces several negative ideas: that violence against students of color is only physical, that students of color are less academically inclined and able, and that structural and institutional cultures, policies, and support systems have no role in shaping academic outcomes. Dr. Quenette’s discourse was uncomfortable, unhelpful, and blatantly discriminatory.

Read the whole thing.  There’s a lot more to it. Their professor doesn’t agree with them, so these little fascists — the term is apt — are trying to get her fired and destroy her academic career. What on earth would have been wrong with engaging their professor in dialogue and helping to educate her if they thought she was deficient in this area? She wasn’t calling anyone a “nigger”; she said that she had not seen that racial slur written on the walls. Quenette’s sin was not previously holding a point of view her students saw as correct on these matters. Therefore, she is a racist.

These thuggish grad students are using the power that gutless college administrators around the country have been giving them, this time to get a professor fired for disagreeing with them. If the KU administration lets these McCarthyite vandals get away with it, nobody at that school is safe from the children. You will not be free in any classroom to offer an opinion or to use language that the SJWs don’t agree with — or they will call you a racist and demand your firing. You cannot even have a conversation about race with your students, unless you take the line they demand.

Andrea Quenette’s husband, anticipating significant legal expenses, has set up a GoFundMe account. Excerpts:

I have been advised that there might be more possible legal actions for which we should be prepared. In light of this information, I’m going to increase the goal. Everyone has been so supportive monetarily and in messages of advice. I started this thinking we might just need to run some documents by a lawyer now and again but I want to be abundantly prepared for any event. We are a small family who never wanted to be anything other than anonymous and now Andrea’s name is sprayed all over the internet and news. Please share this as much as you can. 15 years of school and work should not be undone in minutes.


On the morning of November 12, the day after the forum, she attempted to lead a class discussion on how to address issues of diversity in the classroom.  In alignment with the design of the course and the law, discussions in this class were designed to be open, frank and honest conversations representing academic freedom for both students and Andrea.  She tried her best to help the students realize that it will not always be easy to see racism, especially if they haven’t experienced it firsthand.  She also tried to propose practical solutions and give perspective as an experienced university professor.  In this discussion she used a racial slur as an example of ugly language, not directed at any student or individual and in the interest of adding to the discussion.  She also explained that as a white person, she was ill-equipped to fully discuss racism because she hasn’t experienced it first-hand.  She was honest and tried to be helpful.

What has transpired in the last week has been nothing short of traumatic.  The graduate students, offended by her contributions to this discussion have banded together using pressure both on and off campus to wrongfully terminate Andrea without due process.  Andrea was advised to go to the next class meeting and listen to the students concerns and apologize for the way the class went.  They didn’t allow her to apologize and one student yelled at her.  They have mounted a social media misinformation campaign that has made Andrea afraid to go to campus and even pull out of a professional conference.  She has barely eaten or slept in 7 days.  We have two young children who wonder why Mama is constantly crying.  This harassment has been inescapable.  The Twitter hashtag #FireAndreaQuenette is particularly disturbing.   An open letter has been published full of misinformation and half-truths along with a drastic misrepresentation of the actual class discussion.  This was also circulated among Andrea’s colleagues and peers.

Andrea will now need to fight for her job, both at the university level, and possibly in court.  We do not know how what our future holds.  We came to Kansas with the goal of raising our children and enjoying a town and a university we were proud to be a part of.  All of that is now in doubt because of what has happened

Good God. These students are ruining the Quenette family’s life. The cretins who signed that open letter are: Gabrielle A. Byrd, Jyleesa R. Hampton, Benton J. Bajorek, Ian Beier, Benjamin L. Compton, Matthew D. Kay, Abigail N. Kingsford, Adam R. Raimond, Amy L. Schumacher, Talya P. Slaw, and Joshua Smith.

Do not forget their names. Don’t you dare forget their names. Over the weekend, another professor whose identity I confirmed sent me an e-mail, saying in part:

As a fellow communication professor on the tenure track, what’s happening at KU chills me about the future of my profession. As an evangelical with “crunchy con” political leanings, I’ve always had to be mindful of what supervisors or colleagues might do should I make me views too strongly known (though thankfully not at my current institution, in which I feel very welcomed!). But my concern increasingly is not with the higher-ups, but with the possibility of unintentionally saying (or failing to display proper outrage at) something that the wrong student deems triggering, insensitive, discriminatory, or “unsafe.”

What is particularly disheartening is that the students in this scenario are not just run-of-the-mill undergrads looking for a cause of the week. They are grad students in one of the top programs in my discipline. Some of them are going to be newly-minted professors within the next six years or less. I agree with Jonathan Haidt that something has shifted in the last two or three years in terms of the grievance culture among today’s students, and we are only just beginning to see the consequences in places like Mizzou, Yale, and now, KU. Currently, much of the ire is being directed by students against their professors, but what happens when these students *become* the professors?

I love my field, and most of my students and colleagues in the field are wonderful people, even though most (certainly at the faculty level) would disagree with me profoundly on numerous fundamental issues. What I wonder is whether this spirit can last as the mindset we are seeing among today’s students begins slowly trickling into the faculty ranks. I hope my fears are misplaced…

Did you read the Vox essay by the pseudonymous Edward Schlosser earlier this year, in which he said, “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me.” Excerpts:

Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones.

Not, like, in a person-by-person sense, but students in general. The student-teacher dynamic has been reenvisioned along a line that’s simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher’s formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best.

The universities are taking authority away from professors and handing it over to student ideologues who neither deserve it nor know how to handle it. Is this how it’s going to be on campus for a while? Aggrieved SJW loudmouths abusing target teachers and getting away with it? If KU mistreats Dr. Quenette in any way, I hope the Kansas legislature will make its displeasure known at funding time.

If Dr. Quenette is ultimately vindicated in this matter, she will still carry a dark cloud over her head, one that may ultimately destroy her academic career. In which case I hope she lawyers up and files lawsuits against every one of those scummy grad student thugs. I’m going to make tags of all their names, so in the future, when they are college teachers, future students can google them and find out what they got up to, and know which teachers to avoid if you actually want to learn something.

UPDATE: The Communications Department is throwing its colleague Prof. Quenette to the wolves! They posted this to its web page, four days after the classroom incident that prompted the grad students’ complaint:

Statement in Support of a Safer and More Welcoming KU
November 16, 2015

Dear members of the KU community:

The Department of Communication Studies stands in solidarity with KU students, staff, and faculty who have called for immediate action on and around our campus to address the racism and discrimination inflicted on members of our community because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and/or other identities.  We are committed to working with these community members to create a safe and equitable educational environment for everyone.

While some might like to pretend that our nation is free of racism and discrimination, the evidence is clear that far too many people in our society continue to suffer both indignity and physical threat from their fellow citizens.  At times, these acts of racism and discrimination can be egregious.  From the shooting death of the unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, to the mass shooting of nine African Americans meeting at church in Charleston, South Carolina, we have all seen that not everyone believes black lives matter.  From the images of a professional football player punching his fiancée to the all too frequent sexual assaults on our nation’s college campuses, we have all seen that not everyone believes women deserve unquestioned respect.  And from gay couples denied their constitutional right to marry in Rowan County, Kentucky, to a transgender woman, Keisha Jenkins, beaten and shot to death in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, we have all seen that not everyone believes all sexual orientations and gender identities are equal.  In such a cultural climate, denials that racism and discrimination continue to permeate our society are deplorable.

Of course, not all forms of racism and discrimination are so outrageous.  As scholars committed to the study of human communication, we are well aware that everyday words, gestures, and social interactions can also do serious damage.  Commonly referred to as microaggressions, these seemingly innocuous moments of communication routinely insult and marginalize individuals and groups.  Whether it is a group of young men referring to behavior deemed uncool as “gay” or a teacher turning to the lone minority student in a class expecting her to respond to a question about racism, these words and behaviors have negative consequences for the way people perceive themselves and their place in our community.  While often unintentional, these microaggressions have no place at KU.

Unfortunately, as Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk and others have made abundantly clear, such behavior does happen here at KU and far too many of our students feel unwelcome.  Through their protests, use of social media, and engagement in forums, these brave students have reported microaggressions inside and outside the classroom, explicitly racist and sexist language on campus, and even sexual assault and physical intimidation.  Given such a reality, demands to better train everyone on campus to be more inclusive and to do more to hire diverse faculty and staff should be welcomed at KU, with one of its core values being to foster “a multicultural environment in which the dignity and rights of the individual are respected.”  Indeed, such demands are most certainly welcome in the Department of Communication Studies, where we continue to work on hiring for diversity, recruiting and retaining minority students, and training our faculty, staff and students to be more inclusive and respectful.

Therefore, we join our fellow students, staff, and faculty in calling on the University of Kansas’ administration and governance to act swiftly and deliberately in addressing the racism and discrimination on and around our campus.  As a department, we are listening intently to the concerns of those who have been marginalized and are working on doing everything we can to ensure that all the undergraduate and graduate students who attend any of our classes or departmental events find a safe and welcoming environment.  And we stand ready to assist others in helping to fight and eradicate racism and discrimination.  Through the power of intentional dialogue and open communication, we believe that we can all, even those just now coming to realize the severity of this problem and their own role in it, work together toward making the University of Kansas a model for the inclusivity and acceptance of all people.

UPDATE.2: You have got to read this comment from a reader:

I’m an alumnus of the graduate program in question. I’ve been in touch this past week with graduate students in the department and have tried to get some info from my professors, but the latter are maintaining a pretty strict radio silence (understandably). From what I can tell, no one expects Dr. Quenette to survive this. The campus radicals have been calling for the chancellor to resign (a black woman, by the way) because of some perceived failure to combat the usual litany of problems (real and otherwise).

I was in the department when Dr. Quenette was hired, and she is a wonderful and kind person. Her kids are adorable. She’s a good presence in the building. It’s incredible that she may be fired for using a racial slur in a discussion about racial slurs and racial incidents. I don’t know any of the students who wrote that shallow and vile letter, but if they cannot distinguish between hateful language and a discussion about hateful language, then I’m embarrassed to have been admitted to the same program as them.

The Coms program at KU is among the nation’s oldest and probably among the five most highly regarded in the country. And that is precisely why she will probably be fired. If she isn’t, it will decimate an already underfunded department (like many places, KU is shifting virtually every resource into engineering and medicine). What graduate students will come to the place that kept a “racist” professor? What prospective faculty members will want to join? What grant funding would come our way if this woman is not ejected from the “safe, inclusive environment”?

The most disgusting and deplorable part of this entire story is that the precious students demanded Dr. Quenette read aloud in class the letter calling for her own termination. Have these students never read about the Soviet show trials? The forced guillotine-platform confessions?

There is a new kind of intellectual tyranny spreading on campuses, and any of us who care about traditional conservatism need to care about it. The idea starts on campus but will spread through society. Things that we hold dear — tradition, faith, community — will be denounced as racist, bigoted, irrational, and so on, and will be deemed unworthy of expression and thus prohibited. When Rod says “they are coming for us,” he is not being hyperbolic. As an academic, I can vouch for this. They are not just coming; they are here. You can say, “Oh, I’m not a professor, this doesn’t affect me.” I promise you that if you are a believer, a traditionalist, or even just slightly skeptical of the Willed-Self project, then they are coming for you next. “Silence is Violence” is their mantra. If you do not declare fealty to them, they will destroy your career, your reputation, and, eventually, intellectual freedom.

UPDATE.3: Amy Schumacher is a grad student in that class, and one of the signers of that letter. From the comments on her Facebook page:

Dan Singleton: It’s unbelievable that someone so offended by another person speaking a word would so readily type the same word without immediately being engulfed with the realization of their own hypocrisy.

Amy Schumacher: For clarification, this was a collectively written letter and because it is not appropriate for me or any of my white colleagues to write the word (even in attempt to be absolutely specific about what occurred), we were not the ones who wrote that part.

Josh Hill: You don’t even feel you can write the word when it’s a quote, because you’re white? Would you be unable to transcribe a Carl Sandburg poem as well? This is why crazy right-wingers have a point when they talk about political correctness!

That’s right: the N-word is so toxic that white people in graduate school cannot even type it, even for the sake of condemning it. These people are mentally ill.

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World’s Greatest Gay Tory Atheist

I knew historian David Starkey from his great historical documentaries, but I had no idea he was an acerbic public commentator in Britain — until SJWs had him booted as an advocate for Cambridge University. I’m so pleased to have discovered him as a TV personality and commentator. He’s like our John McLaughlin, but twice as pugnacious and ten times as vinegary. What a magnificent b*stard he is! If we had college administrators with the tiniest speck of Starkey’s pluck, the SJW militants would be shut down tomorrow. More Starkey (listen at least to the first clip below):

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Louisiana Elects a Democratic Governor

La. Gov-elect John Bel Edwards (La. Legislature)

First, the big news from Louisiana tonight: the LSU Tigers had their heads handed to them by Ole Miss. It’s the Tigers’ third SEC loss, and their third loss in a row. The last time that happened, Bill Clinton was in the White House. The Tigers’ astonishing collapse has people talking about Coach Les Miles losing his job after this season. Gloom, despair, and agony on us!

In other news, Democrat John Bel Edwards soundly beat Republican David Vitter to win the governor’s race. Edwards is a Democratic state legislator; Vitter, a Republican, is a sitting U.S. Senator. Louisiana is a very Republican state. If you had said even a few months ago that this is how the governor’s race was going to turn out, nobody would have believed you.

Vitter had a commanding lead in fundraising, and was the heavy favorite going into the campaign season. He was assumed to have put down with his 2010 re-election any political problems with his character (the prostitution scandal). Yes, outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal is hugely unpopular in the state, but Vitter and Jindal have long been enemies, allegedly because of Jindal’s refusal to stand up for Vitter when news broke of his involvement with hookers. It didn’t seem that Jindal would be a drag on Vitter; on the other hand, President Obama’s deep unpopularity in the state was expected to hurt Edwards.

Things didn’t turn out that way.

La. Gov-elect John Bel Edwards (La. Legislature)

La. Gov-elect John Bel Edwards (La. Legislature)

The runoff turned into a referendum on Vitter’s character, which turned out to be a big issue after all. Had either of the two other Republicans in the October open primary — Jay Dardenne and Scott Angelle — made it into tonight’s runoff, Louisiana would likely have elected another Republican governor tonight. Vitter demolished Dardenne and Angelle with punishing, ugly ads in the first go-round; their combined vote was greater than Vitter’s, but the system rewards the top two vote-getters. Nevertheless, Vitter caused so much bitterness in his GOP rivals that Dardenne endorsed Edwards, and Angelle endorsed no one (read: refused to endorse Vitter). This was a clear sign that there would be a strong anti-Vitter vote among Republicans in the runoff.

Plus, my guess is that after eight years of Jindal, and with the state in such bad fiscal shape, people were open to change — even if that meant voting Democratic. It so happened that John Bel Edwards is probably the only Democrat who could have won a statewide race in Louisiana. He has a solid reputation; a friend of mine here in West Feliciana told me that our state representative, a Republican, called Edwards “the most honorable man in the legislature.”

But he also hit very hard, and arguably below the belt, shortly into the runoff period, with an attack ad so devastating that Vitter never recovered from it:

The surprising thing about this ad was that yep, Edwards went there — and didn’t sit around waiting for Vitter to release his own hounds first.

And there’s this (from the WaPo):

From the start of his run, Edwards knew any chance of victory hinged on distinguishing himself from the prevailing image of Democrats among voters. In meetings with small groups in rural parishes, he touted his opposition to abortion and strong support for gun ownership. He had fellow members of West Point class speak about his character and values.

“We knew he had the best story to tell of anyone in the race,” said Eric LaFleur, a Democratic state senator from Ville Platte and an early Edwards supporter. “The only question was, would anyone be able to hear it or would it get drowned out?”

Karen Carter Petersen, chairman of the state Democratic Party, called Edwards an “amazing candidate” who connected with voters through his personal integrity. “He’s lived his values,” Petersen said, adding that the party’s decision to coalesce around Edwards as a candidate in March helped clear the way for his strong run. “We’ve worked to rebuild and rebrand the party from the bottom up,” she said, “and focus on those policies where we can all agree.”

In many ways, Edwards is a throwback to a previous generation of Southern Democrats, many of whom served in the military and touted traditional values. Through the efforts of the Democratic Leadership Council, many of them — including Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Chuck Robb and Sam Nunn — went on to national success.

He’s the kind of Democrat many conservatives feel comfortable voting for. On my way to cast my vote this afternoon, I ran into a very, very conservative friend — a rural, older white man — and expected him to tell me that I needed to vote Vitter. Instead, he said he was going to vote Edwards. For him, it was all about Vitter’s character. He said something Trumpy about how all politicians are no damn good, but he couldn’t stand looking at that Vitter, who struck him as shifty and untrustworthy. It mattered a lot to this voter that Edwards had served with distinction in the military, and that Edwards was pro-gun. I bet my friend can’t remember the last Democrat he voted for. It was only a single conversation, but that kind of sentiment coming from that particular man told me that Edwards was going to win this thing.

Now, are there any broader lessons for national Democrats to learn from this surprise victory? I wish there were, but I’m doubtful on that front.

For one, the stars aligned just right for the Democratic candidate this year. You couldn’t have had a better one for a conservative Southern state than Edwards. And he was blessed to have as his opponent a deeply compromised Republican. True, Louisianians are accustomed to voting for politicians with moral baggage, but unlike the other Edwards (Edwin W., no relation to the incoming governor), Vitter is not a charismatic man. He easily run re-election in 2010 because his Democratic opponent wasn’t very attractive either. Edwards was a different kind of Democrat — and Jindal’s popularity hadn’t nosedived, leaving people ready for a change. An added factor helping Edwards: the state legislature is in Republican hands, which will restrain his freedom of action. This is another thing that made it safer for Republicans to vote for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Anyway, I hope that Edwards’ victory tonight gives national Democrats something to think about, but at this point, it looks more like a fluke than the start of a new trend. Remember, if either of the other two Republicans in the primary election had been on the ballot in tonight’s runoff, the GOP would probably still have held the governor’s office here. But who knows what’s coming from Edwards? A friend with lots of experience with Louisiana politics told me this week that Edwards is a pragmatist who knows how to get things done, and how to work with people, while Vitter is an arrogant man who makes enemies easily. “What they say about him being ‘Jindal on steroids’ is true,” said my friend. If Edwards can get the legislature behind him and pull the state out of its dismal fiscal situation, he could have a real future beyond Louisiana.

By the way, Vitter announced tonight that he was not going to run for re-election after his Senate term expires next year. I don’t think there’s another Democrat at the state level who could make a credible run at that office. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who has been leading a campaign to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from Lee Circle in his city as part of a de-Confederatization campaign, would get pummeled statewide. Chances are next year’s Senate race will follow the pattern of the governor’s race: a lone Democrat will make it to the runoff, followed by the top Republican vote-getter (my guess is it will be either Dardenne or Angelle), who will then go on to beat the Democrat handily.

Then again, until a few weeks ago, nobody in their right mind thought we’d have another Governor Edwards of Louisiana. Or that the LSU Tigers would fall to pieces so dramatically.

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Nativism & the Benedict Option

The face of contemporary America, and the condensed symbol of our progress -- or regress, depending on how you see it
The face of contemporary America, and the condensed symbol of our progress -- or regress, depending on how you see it

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll reveals a powerful feeling running deep in the culture of America at the moment, one it pejoratively describes as “nativism.” More on this judgment later, but first, the details:

Simply put, Trump’s candidacy taps into a deep, visceral fear among many that America’s best days are behind it. That the land of freedom, baseball and apple pie is no longer recognizable ; and that ‘the other’—sometimes the immigrant, sometimes the Non-American , and almost always the nonwhite—is to blame for these circumstances. This pure unabashed nativism is Trump’s brand of populism and is fit for purpose in 2015. It both gives him electoral strength and popular appeal.

To understand this, we conducted a recent poll on nativist sentiments and the 2016 election. The results are striking.

  • Strong nativist tendencies in America . More than half (58%) of Americans don’t identify with what America has become. Almost as many (53%) feel like a “stranger in their own country”. This sense of loss is particularly pronounced when we look at party identification: while 45% of Democrats don’t identify with what America has become, a whopping 72% of Republicans don’t. Trump’s populism speaks to this real and emotional sense of economic and cultural displacement.

  • A significant plurality of the electorate holds nativist attitudes. To get at this, we combine three attitudinal statements in a summated index[i]: “I don’t identify with what America has become,” “I feel like a stranger in my own country,” and “America is [NOT] a place I can feel comfortable as myself”. What do we find? Specifically, 18% agree with all three of these statements and 28% agree with two out of the three. Taken together, 46% of the American public holds some degree of nativist sentiment—not a majority but a significant plurality (see below).

  • Nativism is (much) stronger in the Republican Party. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Trump has found a willing audience among Republicans. Indeed, fully 64% of Republicans are moderately or strongly nativist, including over a quarter (26%) who agree with all three of the nativist statements (compared to only 31% moderately or strongly nativist among Democrats). Such trends clearly show Trump’s appeal among the Republican base.


So what are the implications? What does this all mean?

In our opinion, Trump’s rise in the polls can only be understood in context of the profound economic and cultural change in America. And his strength, like that of the tea party, is emblematic of deeper felt concerns within the Republican party. On the one hand, many people are scared about their economic future and that of their children as the rate of economic displacement increases with the globalization of cheap labor and technological innovation. The America Dream for many is a distant, foreign concept (See here or here). On the other hand, many people no longer recognize the America of their grandparents—an increasingly nonwhite and correspondingly more liberal country (see here or here). This is scary for many Americans. These concomitant trends are driving an increased sense of economic and cultural displacement among a large chunk of voters—making them prime hunting ground for populists of Trump’s ilk (like Carson).

Read the whole thing — it’s important.

Now, before I discuss the details, I want to register an objection to the use of the word “nativism” here. It is always a negative word in American political use. The word is defined as:

1. the policy of protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants.
2. a return to or emphasis on traditional or local customs, in opposition to outside influences.

What I object to is not the fact that the word denotes a real cultural and political phenomenon, but rather the presumption that it is always a negative thing. The way we use the word in common political discourse assumes the goodness of liberal, cosmopolitan ideal of progress. Whatever is foreign to our established ways is good; whatever defends tradition is bad. The point I wish to make here is not that tradition and the status quo is always good — it is not always good — but that so-called “nativism” is invariably seen by cultural liberals (whose number includes many pro-business Republicans) as a negative phenomenon.

Well, as a Christian with fairly cosmopolitan tastes who strongly opposes Trump and what he stands for, I deeply do not believe that what goes by the label “nativism” is always a bad thing (versus being sometimes or often a bad thing; it all depends on the context). And I would invite cultural liberals (again, including many Republicans) to consider how construing the beliefs of those cultural conservatives (whose number includes huge numbers of Democrats, according to the poll) as “nativist” prevents them — liberals, I mean — from considering the possible validity of their position.

Can anybody really doubt that America has changed greatly and with astonishing rapidity over the last decade or two? It’s not just cultural, but economic. The globalist ideology of our elites, both Republican and Democratic, has made huge numbers of Americans more vulnerable economically. The America that gave people a sense that education, hard work, and perseverance would in most cases open a pathway to middle-class stability is going away; this is not an illusion. I have three kids who will enter the workforce over the next 15 years, and I have little confidence that there will be a secure path for them to building stable careers and families.

On the immigration front, I don’t feel this anxiety, because I don’t live in a part of the country that has been overwhelmed by immigrants. But this is not the experience of tens of millions of American natives, and it is arrogant to tell them that their concern, and even their anger, over what they are losing and have lost is nothing but bigotry. What bothers me about the immigration situation is a sense that the US cannot control its borders, and more, that elites in both parties and their money men (in the GOP, the business lobby) don’t think this is an important issue.

From the religious and cultural conservative viewpoint, the displacement and alienation is radical. You’d have to be a fool not to see it and take it seriously, even if you approve of the changes. We all know how swift and overwhelming the changes on LGBT issues has been. A friend of mine who is a strong secular liberal, and who welcomes these changes, told me that she has never lived through any change so total and swift — not even the Civil Rights movement, in which her family was active. It’s obviously true, and again, you would have to be a fool to imagine that millions of Americans would find themselves wondering what happened to their country.

The President of the United States recently came out in support of legislation that would effectively put Christian churches that hold to a belief about homosexuality that was commonly held the day before yesterday as on a moral level with racists. The US Supreme Court found in the Constitution a right to same-sex marriage. The federal government is going after public schools that do not allow teenage boys who think they are girls to use the girls’ locker room without restriction. Increasingly, there is no tolerance, only bitter condemnation, in the public square for anyone who refuses to accept the complete LGBT line — which is always shifting, and always to the left.

Caitlyn Jenner is a condensed symbol for what America has become: an all-American Olympic champion who, late in his life, decided that he is really a woman, and is celebrated by our news and entertainment media as a reborn American hero for our time. What do I mean by “condensed symbol”? Please read this past post by the commenter Raskolnik, who explains the term and how it applies here. Excerpt:

So: the thing to understand here is that the vast majority of Christians are not “freaked out about homosexuality above and beyond” every other sin, sexual or otherwise. I understand that from your perspective it may appear to be so, but please understand that this is simply a false impression driven by the media and various political interests. Most of the Christians I know, for example (myself included), are far more concerned about the extreme prevalence of pornography than they are about homosexuality. However, pornographers and pornography consumers are not a politically powerful lobby, and as yet there is no one who identifies as “pornosexual,” thus there is no narrative of the oppression of the poor pornosexuals to tap into Selma envy.

Back in the 60’s, the sociologist Mary Douglas came up with the idea of a “condensed symbol.” The idea is that certain practices or ideas can become a kind of shorthand for a whole worldview. She used the example of fasting on Fridays, which the Bog Irish (generally lowerclass Irish Catholics living in England) persisted in doing, despite the fact that their better-educated, generally-upperclass clergy kept telling them to give to the poor or do something else that better fit with secular humanist mores instead. Her point was that the Bog Irish kept fasting, not due to obdurate traditionalism, or some misplaced faith in the “magical” effectiveness of the practice, but because it functioned as a “condensed symbol”: fasting on Fridays was a shorthand way of signifying connection to the past, to one’s identity as Irish, as well as to a less secularized (or completely non-secular) vision of what religious practice was all about. It acquired an outsized importance because it connected systems of meaning.

I bring up the notion of “condensed symbol” because I think that’s the best way to understand what’s going in (what you perceive to be) the “freakout” about homosexuality. The freakout isn’t about homosexuality per se, it’s about the secular world shoving its idea of sexual morality down the throats of orthodox Christians. If you haven’t read Rod’s piece Sex After Christianity, you really should, and if you haven’t, I think you should be able to connect the dots between the Christian cosmology of sex and the Christian opposition to same-sex marriage as a “condensed symbol” of Christian resistance to secularism writ large.

Because the fact of the matter is that, for a variety of reasons, some easily understandable from a non-religious perspective, some of them perhaps less so, participating in a same-sex marriage has become the 21st century equivalent of making offerings to Sol Invictus. A Roman might just have easily asked, “What’s the big problem? Why not just make the offerings? Don’t they want to be a part of Roman society?” A more intelligent Roman might even have asked, “They don’t even believe in the divinity of the Emperor anyway. Why can’t they just burn the incense, which they literally believe has no effect on anything whatsoever?” Hopefully you can see the connection here; Christian opposition to the Roman cult of Sol Invictus, like Christian opposition to same-sex marriage, is about a whole lot more than burning some incense or baking a cake.

This is true, and important. Note well that LGBT folks are also and at the same time a condensed symbol of cultural progressivism. In that “Sex After Christianity” essay, I cited a 1993 cover story in the left-wing magazine The Nation to this effect. The Nation’s essayist wrote.


All the crosscurrents of present-day liberation struggles are subsumed in the gay struggle. The gay moment is in some ways similar to the moment that other communities have experienced in the nation’s past, but it is also something more, because sexual identity is in crisis throughout the population, and gay people—at once the most conspicuous subjects and objects of the crisis—have been forced to invent a complete cosmology to grasp it. No one says the changes will come easily. But it’s just possible that a small and despised sexual minority will change America forever.

That was a prophetic essay. As we now know, its author was correct. The point to take from this clip is that the change was real, and that LGBTs are, on both sides, a “condensed symbol” of that cultural revolution. If cultural and moral conservatives “don’t identify with what America has become” and feel like “strangers in their own country,” it’s not because they are imagining things; it’s because they are simply paying attention to what has happened, and is happening before their eyes.  

A traditionalist Catholic blog draws on anthropologist Mary Douglas’s book Natural Symbols, which I’m reading now, to offer a helpful way of framing this situation:

Douglas believes that a society’s structure is reflected in its understandings of the cosmos and the human body.  The cosmos and the body are always symbols of society.  She credits Durkheim with this idea, but she seems to have the opposite preferences as Durkheim.  Douglas classifies societies according to two variables:  “group” and “grid”.  “Group” means the strength of group bonds, how much loyalty and sacrifice they command.  “Grid” means the importance of role differences, things like gender roles, age roles, and status.  This point, that social strength is two-dimensional, has certainly helped to clarify my thinking on these matters.  A people can have strong group and weak grid, and vice versa.  Based on these variables, there are four possibilities:

1)      Weak group, weak grid—the state of pygmies, university students, and the urban proletariat.  Since bonds are weak, people feel that their lives are controlled by impersonal (natural or bureaucratic) forces.  The world seems an amoral arena controlled by chance, and there is little interest in ritual or religion.  The case of such a people being embedded in a more structured society is considered below.

2)      Strong group, weak grid.  Here “us” vs. “them” is the category that eclipses all others.  Such peoples tend to have dualistic cosmologies (i.e. to see the cosmos as a battleground between a good and an evil power), and fear of contamination is the most potent bodily symbol.  People are particularly interested in rituals that ward off the influence of witches.

3)      Weak group, strong grid—the world of individualist capitalism.  Here status (often represented by wealth) is king.  The universe is seen as generally amoral, but it rewards hard work and cleverness.  Ritual magic is used primarily to get ahead.  The losers in this system tend to sink into a weak group, weak grid existence.

4)      Strong group, strong grid—the world of Catholic Europe.  Since people’s lives are controlled primarily by personal forces (i.e. authorities), the world is seen to be infused with morality—a good God or gods reward good, while demons and witches (if they exist) punish evil.  The body (representing society) is regarded positively as a mediator of spiritual values, so religion is strongly sacramental or “magical”.  Dogmas like the Incarnation and Transubstantiation also affirm the body’s role as mediator of God, and therefore symbolize society’s benevolent mediating role.


A particularly interesting case is what happens to the mass of losers in a weak group, strong grid society who fall into an undifferentiated (weak grid) existence.  These tend to be subject to millenarian fantasies.  The body (larger society) is contrasted with the spirit (the un-integrated minority), with the former despised and the latter extolled.  Douglas suggests that the best thing to do for these unfortunate souls would be to organize them so that they can have the spiritual benefits of a strong grid and so they can take effective collective action.  Instead, she points out that their leaders prefer to engage in mass marches and protests, to despise forms and hierarchies, and to harbor ridiculous fantasies of creating a utopia just by overthrowing the existing order.  What is going on here is that the alienated members of society are trapped in the bodily symbols of their alienation.  Rather than reintegrating “body” and “spirit”, they imagine that the latter can overthrow the former.

I contend that we are rapidly moving from a “weak group, strong grid” society to a “weak group, weak grid” one — and that the forces of liberalism (capitalism, individualism, sexual autonomy, etc.) are accelerating the disintegration of both group and grid. Liberalism cannot defend itself and its institutions against strong attack either from the outside — radical Islam — or from the inside, in the form of the racial essentialists’ assault on universities, the breakdown of the family, the ongoing collapse of religion, and so on. This is not a state of matters that can last forever. Something’s got to give.

I think Trumpism is more or less the response of those who live in a “weak group, strong grid” society, and I think it is a mistake (to say nothing of the fact that the “strong grid” is, in my view, in the process of breaking down). I do not worry about Donald Trump taking power. I worry about the intelligent and capable demagogue who speaks to the fears and concerns — both legitimate and illegitimate — of those who now look to Trump. That man is on the horizon, though he is not inevitable. Increasingly, however, the forces of liberalism — by which I mean not “the Democratic Party and its fellow travelers,” but the American establishment — are ineffective at stopping him. Most of them see the cultivation of habits and policies that undermine the possibility of a liberal society as victories for freedom and justice, and unsurprisingly, few if any of them have any plausible solution to offer. I consider the Christian religious leadership to be among those who are failing. They do not grasp the radicalism of the present moment, and so are content to occupy themselves with fighting the wars they know how to fight, whether on the religious left or the religious right, and not the war that is actually in front of us.

So: so-called nativists are not wrong to feel like aliens in their own country. Where they may be wrong is in their solution to the problem. Trump and what he stands for is a dangerous dead end. Thing is, Hillary Clinton only makes matters worse, and whoever the GOP nominee is will, at best, slow the trajectory. We are caught up by forces much, much deeper than the ability of any politician to control or direct.

Where is the Benedict Option in all this? From a Douglasian point of view, the Benedict Option is an attempt to instantiate a “strong group, strong grid” way of life among small-o orthodox Christians, in a time of widespread cultural dissolution. The first and primary goal is to give Christians what they (we) need to worship and serve God faithfully in emerging circumstances, according to the great tradition. The second goal is to provide sources of resistance and re-spiritualization, both for the sake of reintegrating body and spirit (in Douglas’s sense), and to provide a cohesive group capable of taking collective action to defend itself and its members.

The leadership we need will not likely come from establishment leaders, religious, political, or otherwise. We are going to have to do this ourselves, aligned with whichever men and women of good faith and humanity emerge from among us, and within those decaying and enfeebled institutions. If we really are living in Weimar America, then the Benedict Option is a plan to help Christians keep our heads and our hearts amid contending extremisms and the trials that may yet come as our civilization endures this transition from Christianity to whatever is coming next.

UPDATE: I would like to add, for the sake of clarification, that I conceive the Benedict Option as, in part, an antidote to a politics of scapegoating and violence. If it succumbs to that, then it will have failed to be truly Christian, and will deserve to fail entirely.

UPDATE.2: A (female) reader e-mails:

Although I’m not a Republican, I agree with all 3 of the statements in the survey. And to make matters worse, I’m a Roman Catholic. Not only did They take my country, They took my church. And nobody I know seems to care or even have noticed. It’s like a train is barreling down the tracks, brilliant white light, horn blasting. The engineers are an Islamist, a feminist, and an oligarch. I leave the track and everyone I know continues to sit on it, concentrating on football (I’m in Ohio) and the Kardashians and credit reports and TV shows and what’s on sale where, and it’s not possible to yell “Look! A train!” because they have blindfolded themselves and stuffed their ears with cotton, and even if I could get their attention it would do no good because they have all firmly tied themselves to the track, and as the train bears down they all wave little flags that say “America!” and “Transgender!” and “At least I know I’m free!”

It’s horrible. And I can talk to no one about it except some guy on a blog.

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