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Weimar Minneapolis: The Day After

The deeper meaning of the cultural crisis erupting this week in Minnesota
Minnesota community members mourned, protested and looted in reaction to George Floyd dying in police custody

I encourage everyone to take a look at Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist James Lileks’s melancholic yet powerful blog take on what some of his fellow citizens have done to the city they share. He took a drive through the riot areas, and took pictures. He posts images of gang graffiti. The Bloods have been here (this is their territory in the city). Also a Mexican gang that is heavily involved in human trafficking — they tagged a wall.

Lileks says as he was writing this entry in his blog, the abandoned Third Precinct was burning, and the city was warning people to clear away, because there was concern that the gas lines had been cut, and there could be a huge explosion. But a woman on Twitter asked on the Antifa twitter feed, “Where can I donate for matches?”

Lileks, being a decent man, hid her ID on her tweet, and hides it here:

Lileks grabbed an image of graffiti from Minneapolis, from the Antifa livestream. It’s a quote from Marx:

This is who Antifa is. They have been telling us this for a long time. None of the nice establishment liberals want to listen. You see that kind of thing scrawled on the wall of a building in the city that’s in the process of being burned down by Antifa, and you might think differently about Trump’s obnoxious boast about shooting rioters. I wish he had been more statesmanlike, and laid down a hard line without being so provocative, but it’s hard to look at, and listen to, Antifa without believing that Trump is more right than wrong. These are the forces of domestic terror. They have shown who they are. And so have the nice white liberals like the California woman. She thinks she’s going to be safe when they come for her. Liberals have historically made that mistake a lot when dealing with revolutionaries.


It’s always odd how the people who preach destruction are assumed to have skills in constructing the replacement, as if the fervent desire to tear things down is just one element of an endlessly kaleidoscopic intellect that apprehends what is to be done, and precisely how to do it.

But the bread runs out. What then? Ah, look over there: another remnant of the old, cursed order. Burn it, and we will be free. Not from want, not from the rule of others, but at least free from the old ways and the whispering voice of one’s conscience. There is a new, louder voice in your ear now, and it approves of all that you do.

Until, of course, it doesn’t.

Read his entire post. 

As you know, I’ve spent the last year reading about the origins of totalitarianism in Russia (and, to some extent, in Germany), in an effort to understand our own times for my next book, Live Not By Lies. In fact, I was awake until six a.m. this morning, pulling an all-nighter to finish the final copy edit before the advance reader copies go out next week. It took me all night to finish because I kept toggling back to Twitter to follow the news from Minneapolis.

There was some resonance between the text I was editing, and the events playing out on social media. Watching people like that California woman Lileks cites urge on the rioters, and make excuses for them, brought to mind this Hannah Arendt quote from her great book The Origins of Totalitarianism; I cite this line in my own book. Arendt is talking about pre-totalitarian culture:

The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in the past forced their way into it.

Yes, that’s many of us, and that’s our media, too: either actively cheering for the destruction, or making excuses for it. Never mind that a mob has burned down a police station in an advanced liberal democracy. Never mind that the authorities stood by and allowed the mob to loot and burn businesses — people’s livelihoods, and the sources of food and daily necessities for many in that neighborhood. Destroy it all! Justice! Here is the beginning of a thread in which New York Times writer and recent Pulitzer Prize-winner (for The 1619 Project) Nikole Hannah-Jones characterizes the rioting as an “uprising,” and suggests (in her final tweet of the thread) that violence isn’t going to help here, but nothing else works either:

That’s just not true. Here’s a link to a fascinating series of tweets by a scholar who just published a paper studying the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Violence did make a difference, the scholar says — but not in the same way. He found that when the state brought down violence on peaceful protesters, it moved the public towards sympathy with the protesters’ goals. But when civil rights protesters rioted, it had the opposite effect.

You’ll see this in Minneapolis. Before these riots, you had even right-wing people denouncing the cops. Check this out from Thursday:

I don’t know… I still don’t know what precipitated it. I don’t know why they had George Floyd on the ground. I don’t know, but I don’t care what it was, unless he fired a shot at them, and even then, there is no… What policy? What policy is there anywhere that mandates that kind of treatment of a suspect or prisoner who is totally under control?

(interruption) Okay. All right. So he passed a counterfeit bill in a store.


That doesn’t come close to justifying what happened to him, with people watching that cop for five minutes kill the guy! There’s no other way to describe what happened. I understand people are out there calling it murder. It makes me so mad, I can’t see straight. So, I ask, how does something like that happen? There has to be some police manual or handbook.

Look, you people in law enforcement know I’m at the top of the list of people who support you and understand how hard your jobs are and the rigors and the arduous circumstances you have to go through every day. I still, given all of that, do not… I cannot find a way to explain that. I can’t find a way to justify it. I don’t care what the guy did. If it’s all about a counterfeit bill, it’s even…

Know who said that? Rush Limbaugh!

Limbaugh was not on the air today — he’s got advanced lung cancer, which might explain it — but it’s not hard to anticipate what is likely to come from him on Monday, when he’s broadcasting again. What the Minneapolis police did to George Floyd shocks the conscience of all decent people. It might be legal — a professor I was talking to today says that we’re headed for a re-run of the Freddie Gray trial in Baltimore, when the cops walked because they were using an approved method of restraint in arresting a subject — but it is incompatible with the rule of law, if you appreciate the difference. That is to say, if people are going to respect the law, then the law cannot permit things like this to happen, especially not at the hands of law enforcement.

Revising the Live Not By Lies manuscript last night, this passage jumped out at me in light of what’s been happening in Minneapolis:

At dinner in a Russian Orthodox family’s apartment in the Moscow suburbs, I was shaken by our table talk of Soviet oppression through which the father and mother of the household had lived. “I don’t understand how anybody could have believed what the Bolsheviks promised,” I said glibly.

“You don’t understand it?” said the father at the head of the table. “Let me explain it to you.” He then launched into a three hundred-year historical review that ended with the 1917 Revolution. It was a pitiless tale of rich and powerful elites, including church bureaucrats, treating peasants little better than animals.

“The Bolsheviks were evil,” the father said. “But you can see where they came from.”

The Russian man was right. I was chastened. The cruelty, the injustice, the implacability, and at times the sheer stupidity of the imperial Russian government and social order in no way justifies all that followed—but it does explain why the revolutionary Russian generation was so eager to place its hope in communism.

When I returned home from that Russia trip last fall, I dug deeper into the history of late imperial Russia. It really was incredible, how blind the ruling class was to all the deep problems in the country. If they didn’t care for the masses’ welfare, okay, but at least they should have had a sense of self-preservation. They didn’t. They thought the social order with themselves at the top — I’m not simply talking here about the royal family and the aristocracy — would last forever. They refused to see the sources of legitimate outrage.

And yet! The intellectuals and the cultural elites who knew that the days of the ancien régime were numbered were also blind and foolish, in the way that James Lileks up above accuses those who today want to burn down the present order. At a 1905 banquet at the Hotel Metropol in Moscow, the cultural impresario Sergei Diaghilev delivered this toast to the gathered intelligentsia:

We are witnesses of the greatest moment of summing-up in history, in the name of a new and unknown culture, which will be created by us, and which will also sweep us away. That is why, without fear or misgiving, I raise my glass to the ruined walls of the beautiful palaces, as well as to the new commandments of a new aesthetic. The only wish that I, an incorrigible sensualist, can express, is that the forthcoming struggle should not damage the amenities of life, and that the death should be as beautiful and as illuminating as the resurrection.

Twelve years later, when the Revolution came to Russia, sweeping away all that stood, Diaghilev was in Europe. He never returned home. He knew better. Solzhenitsyn, in The Gulag Archipelago (this quote below is also in my book), captures with these searing lines how blind the liberal critics of the exhausted old order were to what would replace it:

If the intellectuals in the plays of Chekhov who spent all their time guessing what would happen in twenty, thirty, or forty years had been told that in forty years interrogation by torture would be practiced in Russia; that prisoners would have their skulls squeezed within iron rings, that a human being would be lowered into an acid bath; that they would be trussed up naked to be bitten by ants and bedbugs; that a ramrod heated over a primus stove would be thrust up their anal canal (the “secret brand”); that a man’s genitals would be slowly crushed beneath the toe of a jackboot; and that, in the luckiest possible circumstances, prisoners would be tortured by being kept from sleeping for a week, by thirst, and by being beaten to a bloody pulp, not one of Chekhov’s plays would have gotten to its end because all the heroes would have gone off to insane asylums.

When our turn comes, we will make no excuses for the terror. That is the handwriting on the wall in Minneapolis. That is what idiot liberals like California Woman, the Good People Who Believe In Proper Things, are making way for. It’s what this rich white left-wing dirtbag is calling for:

Go on Twitter, or go read the media, and see how many right-thinking liberals and progressives are cheering on the rioting, and calling people who criticize it racist. As if believing George Floyd was treated unjustly requires one to cheer on thugs who destroy a city. As Michael Brendan Dougherty writes today:

If you’re so morally insensate or well-educated that you can’t make a moral judgment without referencing a study or chart, look at the long-term studies done on rioting. Riots harm their communities. They don’t reform them. They often initiate a general spike in violent crime. Baltimore saw this spike in the past half-decade. Riots dissuade individuals, families, and businesses from staying in or joining a community. Who wants to raise their kids in the neighborhood where the police station had to be evacuated before it was set ablaze?

You sentimental folks who say that the police were right to let everything burn, because property is less important than human life — this was the rationale the Democratic boy wonder mayor of Minneapolis used for ordering the evacuation of the now-destroyed Third Precinct building last night — are not thinking about how destroying property destroys the means by which the surrounding community lives. That cop Chauvin killed George Floyd, but the rioters have probably condemned his community to a slow death.

Though I understand emotionally why he said it, Trump should not have threatened to have forces under his command shoot looters. I’m a supporter of the castle doctrine (which not all states have), authorizing the use of deadly force if someone breaks into your property and threatens your life. But that applies to a homeowner. It’s not the standard for police or National Guard troops. Using deadly force to quell a riot is against the military’s rules of engagement, for one thing, and for another, it might violate the Constitution.Still, when you’re watching rioters run rampant over a city, sacking and burning businesses, and even the police station, while state and local authorities do nothing — well, you can see why he would pop off. As usual with Trump, he has no mature instinct to keep him from saying what he was thinking.

As disturbing as the president’s tweet was, it’s more disturbing, at least to me, that the Mayor of Minneapolis chose to let a mob seize and burn a police headquarters last night. This is far, far beyond a broken-windows moment. This tells you that a major American city is governed by a man and an administration that will not defend its institutions from sacking by barbarians. We can be pretty confident that the middle classes in Minneapolis will understand exactly what this means.

So yes, there are particular people to blame in this particular situation. But don’t lose sight of the big picture. We are a decadent society, one that — on both the political and cultural Left and Right — has failed to transmit the moral and religious values and practices, including economic practices, that would provide for and strengthen the common good. We are losing the capacity for self-government, and making way for an authoritarian social order, and maybe even a soft-totalitarian one. James Poulos calls it the Pink Police State — and Pascal-Emanuel Gobry said back in 2016 that it explains both Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The broader crisis is about an exhausted liberal democratic order that has been living off its accumulated moral and social capital for a long time, without replenishing it. Read Arendt — it’s all there, the diagnosis of decadence, and the warning of its consequences. Trump is not going to stop it; he may delay some of it, but don’t fool yourself: Trump is a manifestation of it, as sure as these liberals are. You don’t want to be like the nitwit intellectuals of late imperial Russia, or of Weimar Germany, having a grand time tearing down the old world, certain that whatever follows will be better. But you also don’t want to be like the Tsar and the Russian ruling class, serenely confident that everything will carry on as always, that you have no reason to pay attention to the grievances of the masses, and comforting yourself with the belief that an application of armed force will be sufficient to quell any objection to your rule.

Dark times. Something bad is coming. My book is a little guide for traditional Christians in how to prepare themselves for it. How disheartening and strange it was to toggle between my manuscript and my Twitter feed, and feel the immediacy of what these Christian dissidents from the Soviet era have to say to us.

UPDATE: Heard from my professor friend, who said I misinterpreted him. He says that this Minneapolis situation is going to be a rerun of Freddie Gray because the DA is getting ahead of his skis in charging beyond what they are likely to win a conviction for. He went on:

This is what people don’t understand: the police officers can be negligent or overly forceful in a way which creates civil liability or results in his firing WITHOUT committing a crime under our legal system as it currently exists. Our legal system is extremely deferential to police judgement on use of force within the boundaries of their duties.

UPDATE.2: Reader Engpe11, in Minneapolis:

After another night of my city burn and watching the boy mayor and the well-speaking but incompetent Governor admitting that they underestimated the threat these past 4 days (which your commentators may recognize from my previous posts), it is clear that they still are underestimating the nature of the threat and its gravity. It is time to call in the army.

I just watched a live conference in which the Governor admitted that thousands of people are being shipped in to protest. Yet the only real question from the media about the identities of these protestors is that there were some unconfirmed reports that there were groups of white supremacists that were taking advantage of this chaos. Even the extremely liberal head of the Department of Public Safety couldn’t admit that this was true. We know who they really are. And they are not white supremacists. The situation is not grave enough for them to admit who is really behind this.

There were self-identified “rednecks” who were out defending local businesses with their weapons. These men said that they sympathized with the anger of those protesting against police brutality, while opposing the violence against people. They found themselves defending a shopping mall with their weapons, fighting against looters and rioters, while supporting the anger, expressed peacefully, of those demonstrating within their first amendment rights.

The governor and the mayor admitted that they do not have the resources to deal with this crisis. They spent an hour reinforcing this point, including passionate pleas to the people to stop this destructive behavior. Yet, they are resisting the call to bring in the army. This is the largest mobilization of law enforcement in the state’s history (local police, state patrol, and National Guard) and the Governor admitted that it was likely not enough. A citizen-journalist, who was live streaming the destruction, caught on tape a women clearly directing protestors toward the 5th police precinct intent on violence, saying that “This is why we are here,” while encouraging people to go back to the area where the violence was occurring. (h/t Alpha News MN)

There were some protestors in the process of breaking into an apartment building on live TV, about ready to set it on fire. Fortunately, the rest of the crowd turned on them to prevent them from setting people’s homes ablaze. At least a Lord of the Flies scenario only goes so far.

Most of these businesses were owned by people who live in the community. Many of them were owned by minorities. There is video of a black man who poured his life savings into opening a bar and grill that was robbed and vandalized. He was weeping with grief while thugs reentered his building to try to steal his safe. Others have tried to protect their businesses by posting on their buildings that they are owned by minorities. I also know many of these neighborhoods and have personally designed some of these buildings. The state and country are united in the outrage of the original crime by the police officer. MPLS has many police issues. What complicates this situation is that, even though the voters choose these types of worthless leaders, the government unions, including the police unions, fund the campaigns of these politicians and thus prevent the reform that is needed. Corruption breeds devastation.

In a previous comment, I said that this is what happens when you elect Democrat leadership. I stand by that statement. We have not seen the last of this. Even the Governor recognizes that we are nowhere close to the end, with more people being bussed in to foment the chaos.

Minnesota is at a crossroads. It can wake up from the attempt to create a liberal utopia, or it can double down and descend into flames. Our state is mostly known for cold winters, passive aggressive people, the movie “Fargo”, and the highest per capita ratio of failed Presidential candidates. It has always been a weird place politically, including the election of Jesse Ventura to the governorship and the only state to vote for Walter Mondale. Yet, for those of us who live here, we see it as a beautiful place with vast natural resources and a high general level of education and many parts which could be a model for the country. It is being disfigured by the current chaos. All Minnesotans are having a “Come to Jesus” moment. We will see whether the underestimated strength of the state triumphs or whether underbelly of madness comes to define us.

May God protect the state and the country from the anarchy to come. I pray that Minnesota and the country wakes up. The Governor needs to accept the aid from the President before even more businesses and communities go up in flames.



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