The following is adapted from a speech delivered by Mark Steyn on April 26, 2021, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Franklin, Tennessee.
‘I live about 20 minutes south of the Canadian border, which used to be called the longest undefended frontier in the world. People moved freely back and forth across it all day every day. But now it’s been closed for over a year. At one point my daughter asked me to drive her up there, because there was a 30-minute opportunity for people on one side to talk to their friends on the other. “Sad!” as President Trump would say. It was like Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin during the Cold War, except that both sides are now like East Berlin.
I don’t know how this happened, but it is just one indication that America, and the West in general, have become almost unrecognizable from what they were not that long ago.
Look at just three things we have lost.
One is equality before the law, something absolutely essential to a free society. In its place, we now have politicized law. If a policeman fatally shoots someone, whether his name is released to the public depends on whether the shooting is consistent with the preferred narrative of the ruling class. A policeman recently took down a young woman who was threatening the life of another young woman with a knife, and that policeman was immediately identified—indeed, his photo was posted and he was threatened by NBA superstar LeBron James on Twitter. On the other hand, we know nothing of the policeman who shot dead an unarmed woman in the U.S. Capitol on January 6. His name will apparently never be released to the public.
Second, border control. Functioning societies, at least since the Peace of Westphalia three centuries ago, have borders. America has no southern border and no plans to get one. The official position of our government seems to be that any of the seven billion persons on this planet has a right to come and stay in the U.S. for three years, until his or her assigned court date comes up. As the number of people with pending cases continues to grow, that three years will extend out to five or seven or 15 years. If we get all seven billion people to come here, the court system will break down entirely and maybe we can go back to having a functioning border.
And third, dare I bring up the fact that it is a real question whether we can go back to agreeing to have open and honest elections? And if we don’t have open and honest elections, control of our borders, and equality before the law, then we don’t have the conditions for politics or free government.
And here’s the thing. It is not at all clear to me that many of America’s conservative politicians understand the seriousness of all this. You can see it in the fact that they go around trying to scare people with the specter of a “radical socialist agenda.” For well over a year now, we have been living in a world in which it’s accepted as normal that the state has essentially unlimited power—and in which our freedom to decide for ourselves has been diminished almost to invisibility. Why do these conservative politicians think the words “radical socialist agenda” still scare anyone in a time when the state can tell us whether we can have Aunt Mabel over for Christmas? They are completely out of touch.
Over the same period as the pandemic lockdowns, we have seen an escalation of so-called wokeness. And if you look at one of the most startling manifestations of this, transgender fanaticism—which involves, after all, the abolition of biological sex and, I’m sorry to have to say it, the physical mutilation of children—one notices that America is farther down this road than any other country in the Western world. In other words, at this moment of crisis for Western Civilization, or for what we used to call Christendom, the leading country of the free world is pulling the wrong way.
Think of it. Your daughter has been training since she was a little girl to run in school sports. Now at 17, she’s in the state high school track championships, and you are forbidden even to notice that she’s competing against a woman who is 6’2” with thighs like tugboats, a great touch of five o’clock shadow on her face, and the most muscular bosom you’ve ever seen. You’re not supposed to notice the craziness of this, and the craziness is at its craziest right here in America.
We traditionally think of France as being a bit screwy, but today there are French intellectuals who regard themselves as hardcore leftists and yet who think America has gone bonkers on this transgender issue. President Macron himself has said that American wokeness is an existential threat to the French Republic, and he even found bureaucrats in France’s education bureaucracy who agreed. There is not a single bureaucrat in the Department of Education in Washington, D.C., who would agree, but there are apparently a few in Paris.
If you look further east in Europe to the lands that were once behind the Iron Curtain—to Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic, which still function as conventional nation-states calculating their best interests—you find tremendous fear of the threat of wokeness that is being exported, sometimes aggressively, from America. So it is here in the U.S. where we have to put the stake through these ideas.
But again, even most of our conservative leaders and institutions seem oblivious. School districts in America are talking about revising their curricula to cover transgender issues from grade school on. Now, I went to an English boys’ school, and we were expected to pick up sexuality on our own time. In those days people would have looked puzzled if you had said, “We’re going to have to cancel geography or Latin, because we need to put gay studies in there.” These days, instead of going off behind the bike shed during recess to learn about sex, kids need to sneak behind the bike shed to do a little bit of closeted geography or closeted Latin. It’s completely backwards. And yet what do we hear from most conservative politicians? That it would be nice to offer people a tax cut!
We are way beyond tax cuts. We’re broke. We’re just a smidgen away from $30 trillion in federal debt—something with no historical precedent. Talking about tax cuts today is like talking about VAT tax refunds on the Titanic. It’s not actually what’s necessary at the moment.
Another big issue that should take our minds off tax cuts is China. I can’t get over the way we in the U.S. have been ordered by our governors and the CDC to punish ourselves by living small, shrunken lives, while the people in China who loosed this pandemic on the world have paid no price for it.
Dr. Fauci has been a federal government bureaucrat since 1968. He’s the J. Edgar Hoover of public health. He talks about the COVID virus as if we’re at war. But he seems to think a country wins a war by taking it out on its own population rather than the enemy, which is what we’ve done.
Which do you think was the only major economy to grow in 2020? It’s not a hard question. America’s economy shrank 3.5 percent last year. The economies of Germany and Japan shrank almost five percent. France’s, Italy’s, and India’s economies all shrank over eight percent, and the economy of the United Kingdom was down ten percent. China’s economy, on the other hand, grew 2.3 percent in 2020, and first quarter growth for 2021 in China set a new world record—it was up over 18.3 percent. The COVID pandemic has been hugely profitable for China.
U.S. policy towards China since the 1990s represents perhaps the biggest strategic miscalculation by any great power in human history. Just as communism was wobbling and beginning to fall everywhere else, we helped Beijing come up with the first economically viable form of communism.
At first we were told it was only our manufacturing that we would ship to China. After all, we were told, it wasn’t economically viable for Americans to make widgets. Remember the talk in the ’90s? We were going to be the “knowledge economy.” All the clever people told us this. We weren’t going to have mills and factories, but we were going to be the knowledge economy. Well, in case you haven’t noticed, China’s got the entire knowledge economy for itself now. It makes our laptops and our smartphones and it’s out front with Huawei and 5G. It also makes the batteries that power our gizmos and the chips that run our cars. When COVID struck, we found out fast that the Chinese not only make our viruses, they also make the personal protective equipment that protects us against the viruses—and all of our medicines to boot! Those wily Chinese get you both coming and going.
China is now the number one global power. You can define this militarily, where it now has the largest surface fleet on the planet. You can define it economically. But the way I define it is to look at who gets its way in the world. New Zealand has just effectively pulled out of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing arrangement—an arrangement between the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the oldest such arrangement on the planet. New Zealand has pulled out with respect to China because it doesn’t want to offend China. I would think Canada might be the next to go. Or look at the World Health Organization. America pays for it, but Chairman Xi in Beijing calls the shots. China gets its way now, and the U.S. doesn’t.
We need politicians with a sense of urgency about these problems, but all they seem to have is urgency about things that aren’t urgent. Look at climate change. People say we need to take action over climate change or else rising sea levels are going to overwhelm the Maldives in the Indian Ocean in the 22nd century. That’s the century after this one, which is still quite young. These same people say about the immediate crisis on the southern border that it’s “a natural phenomenon beyond the control of politicians.” But changing the weather in order to lower the sea levels that will threaten the Maldives in the Indian Ocean in the next century is within the power of politicians? In general, our leaders are urgent about nothing that matters and not in the least bit urgent about things that matter very much.
The things our news media talks about incessantly, whether it’s transgender bathrooms or Confederate statues being toppled or the totally dishonest national conversation on race—nothing like this is heard in China as it goes along steadily strengthening its position as the world’s leading power. The Chinese don’t find themselves stuck in these sterile, drain-circling, dishonest public conversations about identity politics. These conversations are a waste of time. And one thing we should demand of our politicians is that they talk about things that aren’t a waste of time.
At the root of our problems is that we have seen the emergence of a true ruling class, like Grand Dukes in medieval Europe. Its members intermarry. They send their kids to the same schools. They circulate back and forth between government and the private sector. And over time it has become increasingly easy to identify members of this class.
John Kerry gave a commencement address a couple of years ago in which he told the students, “You are going to be the first generation to live in a borderless world.” And for the elite, the idea of a borderless world rings true. A typical member of the ruling class will get a job with a firm like Goldman Sachs, work for a couple of years in Hong Kong, then move on for a couple of years in Geneva, and then maybe come back to America. What are borders to such a person? Meanwhile, for the common American, COVID has literally ended, to a large degree, any freedom of movement. They live in the farthest thing from a borderless world. Oftentimes they’re trapped in a town that is dying because of the open-border, cheap-labor policies advocated by people like John Kerry.
Our political division in America today is a class division, and we need to expose it as such whenever we see it. The ruling class tries to keep racial and other forms of division stirred up in our politics so that we don’t notice the class protection racket they are running. Look at that guy from Twitter, Jack Dorsey, who wears a beard like he’s playing the hobo in a Charlie Chaplin silent film. I wouldn’t mind betting that when he’s called to testify in Congress, he has his valet hook on the beard and lower him into the clothes that make him look like he’s been sleeping in a dumpster. Then at night after the cameras are off he’s like Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey, spending an hour being dressed for dinner. Our elites have become incredibly good at theater.
Getting back to the southern border, it perfectly symbolizes the bifurcation of our society. We’re told there’s a health emergency. We’re told we can’t open our businesses or attend weddings or funerals. Yet at the same time, every day, thousands of people pour across the southern border, test positive for COVID, and are then driven to a nice hotel and put up there at taxpayers’ expense.
It’s also interesting to compare the southern border with the northern. Prior to the pandemic, when the border with Canada was open, my kids had their Kinder Eggs confiscated by the Department of Homeland Security when we would cross the border going south into Vermont. Kinder Eggs are chocolate eggs with a kid’s toy inside. They are sold in Canada, but they are banned in the U.S. because the Food and Drug Administration calls the toy a “non-nutritive embed”—and that’s good enough to send Homeland Security agents swinging into action! There is always a big crackdown before Easter on Kinder Eggs. So at the northern border there are lots of things, down to Kinder Eggs, that are illegal. But at the southern border you can come in with pretty much anything you want, including COVID. Why is that? It is because some groups serve the needs of the ruling class and others don’t. License is extended to the former and not the latter.
People ask me, “Why are you going on about Kinder Eggs? They’re not important. It’s more important that so-and-so is up two points in Iowa and three points in New Hampshire. That could be a real game changer.” To which I answer no, that’s not how it works. If they take the small freedoms away from you, whether it’s the freedom to eat Kinder Eggs or to enjoy a high pressure shower, you will lose all the larger freedoms, which is the world we’re in now.
I used to get occasional pushback when I’d talk about rights. “Rights are abstract things,” people would say—“they don’t have anything to do with our real lives.” Well, after the last year, we know they have everything to do with our real lives. When you’re told you can’t open your hair salon, when you’re told you can’t have family or friends over for dinner, when you’re told you must wear a mask in your own garden, there’s nothing abstract about it. This is where all the stupid Kinder Egg laws have been trending for years. And it’s why we need to push back.
I made a little joke earlier about studying transgenderism in grade school, but it’s not a laughing matter. Education is the biggest structural defect in our society. We have an almost entirely corrupt and abusive education establishment. And in one corner of Governor Whitmer’s Michigan, of all places, Hillsdale College stands against this. Hillsdale’s literature, I’ve noted through the years, talks a lot about the College’s 177 years of being rooted in the soil of Michigan. And this reminds me of the fact that if you do not have roots, you are not a functioning society. You can’t just be flotsam and jetsam, bobbing around on the currents of the age, wheresoever they tend. If you do that, you’re cut off from your roots.
This is what’s so frightening about the trends in education today. Cromwell told his portrait painter, “Paint me, warts and all.” That’s not what is happening in America, where the trend in education is to paint only America’s warts. So even the great Kate Smith, who sang “God Bless America” for years, is having her statue taken down because she made a racially insensitive record in 1931. Well you know who really had a racially insensitive record in 1931? The Democratic Party. But unlike Kate Smith’s statue, it’s still around.
President Macron of France is not my favorite chap—he’s a sinister globalist for one thing. But he made an admirable stand when he announced that not one French statue would be taken down and not a single French street name would be changed, because they are all part of French history. And “Bingo!” as Peter Navarro likes to say, the statue toppling and street-name changing in France went away. Why can’t American conservatives show that kind of strength? The Senate Minority Leader says he personally would not be bothered if the historical names of U.S. military bases are changed. The editor of National Review says that he wouldn’t be bothered about taking down Confederate statues. But of course it doesn’t stop there—now they’re going for all the statues. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, McKinley, and on and on. The point conservatives need to grasp is, unless you’re prepared to surrender everything, don’t surrender anything.
I’ll end by pointing out that the Left wins because it seizes language. Take the policy of letting people vote who are not U.S. citizens and shouldn’t be voting. The Left calls this policy “counting every vote.” Therefore someone who wants to make sure voters are citizens is opposed to “counting every vote.” If we don’t take back the language, we will lose the truth. Even on FOX News, I have noticed, news anchors now talk about “gender assigned at birth,” as if that’s something different from one’s biological sex. There may be 57 genders, but there are only two biological sexes.
Don’t surrender the language. Reclaim the language. It’s the first step to recovering our civilization.’https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/increasingly-unrecognizable-civilization/?utm_campaign=imprimis&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=130183578&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9ZZmDTnzZEOaOkaf0gv6AaC6QZHMKQabhwaLKjCPAyRQPW3Dmys46dp_fIpp6T7e3svlgAT5EdQi6kNgXeHWYz0nJk6A&utm_content=130183578&utm_source=hs_email
The following is adapted from a lecture delivered at Hillsdale College on March 30, 2021.
‘Critical race theory is fast becoming America’s new institutional orthodoxy. Yet most Americans have never heard of it—and of those who have, many don’t understand it. It’s time for this to change. We need to know what it is so we can know how to fight it.
In explaining critical race theory, it helps to begin with a brief history of Marxism. Originally, the Marxist Left built its political program on the theory of class conflict. Marx believed that the primary characteristic of industrial societies was the imbalance of power between capitalists and workers. The solution to that imbalance, according to Marx, was revolution: the workers would eventually gain consciousness of their plight, seize the means of production, overthrow the capitalist class, and usher in a new socialist society.
During the 20th century, a number of regimes underwent Marxist-style revolutions, and each ended in disaster. Socialist governments in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Cuba, and elsewhere racked up a body count of nearly 100 million of their own people. They are remembered for their gulags, show trials, executions, and mass starvations. In practice, Marx’s ideas unleashed man’s darkest brutalities.
By the mid-1960s, Marxist intellectuals in the West had begun to acknowledge these failures. They recoiled at revelations of Soviet atrocities and came to realize that workers’ revolutions would never occur in Western Europe or the United States, where there were large middle classes and rapidly improving standards of living. Americans in particular had never developed a sense of class consciousness or class division. Most Americans believed in the American dream—the idea that they could transcend their origins through education, hard work, and good citizenship.
But rather than abandon their Leftist political project, Marxist scholars in the West simply adapted their revolutionary theory to the social and racial unrest of the 1960s. Abandoning Marx’s economic dialectic of capitalists and workers, they substituted race for class and sought to create a revolutionary coalition of the dispossessed based on racial and ethnic categories.
Fortunately, the early proponents of this revolutionary coalition in the U.S. lost out in the 1960s to the civil rights movement, which sought instead the fulfillment of the American promise of freedom and equality under the law. Americans preferred the idea of improving their country to that of overthrowing it. The vision of Martin Luther King, Jr., President Johnson’s pursuit of the Great Society, and the restoration of law and order promised by President Nixon in his 1968 campaign defined the post-1960s American political consensus.
But the radical Left has proved resilient and enduring—which is where critical race theory comes in.
WHAT IT IS
Critical race theory is an academic discipline, formulated in the 1990s, built on the intellectual framework of identity-based Marxism. Relegated for many years to universities and obscure academic journals, over the past decade it has increasingly become the default ideology in our public institutions. It has been injected into government agencies, public school systems, teacher training programs, and corporate human resources departments in the form of diversity training programs, human resources modules, public policy frameworks, and school curricula.
There are a series of euphemisms deployed by its supporters to describe critical race theory, including “equity,” “social justice,” “diversity and inclusion,” and “culturally responsive teaching.” Critical race theorists, masters of language construction, realize that “neo-Marxism” would be a hard sell. Equity, on the other hand, sounds non-threatening and is easily confused with the American principle of equality. But the distinction is vast and important. Indeed, equality—the principle proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, defended in the Civil War, and codified into law with the 14th and 15th Amendments, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965—is explicitly rejected by critical race theorists. To them, equality represents “mere nondiscrimination” and provides “camouflage” for white supremacy, patriarchy, and oppression.
In contrast to equality, equity as defined and promoted by critical race theorists is little more than reformulated Marxism. In the name of equity, UCLA Law Professor and critical race theorist Cheryl Harris has proposed suspending private property rights, seizing land and wealth and redistributing them along racial lines. Critical race guru Ibram X. Kendi, who directs the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, has proposed the creation of a federal Department of Antiracism. This department would be independent of (i.e., unaccountable to) the elected branches of government, and would have the power to nullify, veto, or abolish any law at any level of government and curtail the speech of political leaders and others who are deemed insufficiently “antiracist.”
One practical result of the creation of such a department would be the overthrow of capitalism, since according to Kendi, “In order to truly be antiracist, you also have to truly be anti-capitalist.” In other words, identity is the means and Marxism is the end.
An equity-based form of government would mean the end not only of private property, but also of individual rights, equality under the law, federalism, and freedom of speech. These would be replaced by race-based redistribution of wealth, group-based rights, active discrimination, and omnipotent bureaucratic authority. Historically, the accusation of “anti-Americanism” has been overused. But in this case, it’s not a matter of interpretation—critical race theory prescribes a revolutionary program that would overturn the principles of the Declaration and destroy the remaining structure of the Constitution.
HOW IT WORKS
What does critical race theory look like in practice? Last year, I authored a series of reports focused on critical race theory in the federal government. The FBI was holding workshops on intersectionality theory. The Department of Homeland Security was telling white employees they were committing “microinequities” and had been “socialized into oppressor roles.” The Treasury Department held a training session telling staff members that “virtually all white people contribute to racism” and that they must convert “everyone in the federal government” to the ideology of “antiracism.” And the Sandia National Laboratories, which designs America’s nuclear arsenal, sent white male executives to a three-day reeducation camp, where they were told that “white male culture” was analogous to the “KKK,” “white supremacists,” and “mass killings.” The executives were then forced to renounce their “white male privilege” and write letters of apology to fictitious women and people of color.
This year, I produced another series of reports focused on critical race theory in education. In Cupertino, California, an elementary school forced first-graders to deconstruct their racial and sexual identities, and rank themselves according to their “power and privilege.” In Springfield, Missouri, a middle school forced teachers to locate themselves on an “oppression matrix,” based on the idea that straight, white, English-speaking, Christian males are members of the oppressor class and must atone for their privilege and “covert white supremacy.” In Philadelphia, an elementary school forced fifth-graders to celebrate “Black communism” and simulate a Black Power rally to free 1960s radical Angela Davis from prison, where she had once been held on charges of murder. And in Seattle, the school district told white teachers that they are guilty of “spirit murder” against black children and must “bankrupt [their] privilege in acknowledgement of [their] thieved inheritance.”
I’m just one investigative journalist, but I’ve developed a database of more than 1,000 of these stories. When I say that critical race theory is becoming the operating ideology of our public institutions, it is not an exaggeration—from the universities to bureaucracies to k-12 school systems, critical race theory has permeated the collective intelligence and decision-making process of American government, with no sign of slowing down.
This is a revolutionary change. When originally established, these government institutions were presented as neutral, technocratic, and oriented towards broadly-held perceptions of the public good. Today, under the increasing sway of critical race theory and related ideologies, they are being turned against the American people. This isn’t limited to the permanent bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., but is true as well of institutions in the states, even in red states, and it is spreading to county public health departments, small Midwestern school districts, and more. This ideology will not stop until it has devoured all of our institutions.
Thus far, attempts to halt the encroachment of critical race theory have been ineffective. There are a number of reasons for this.
First, too many Americans have developed an acute fear of speaking up about social and political issues, especially those involving race. According to a recent Gallup poll, 77 percent of conservatives are afraid to share their political beliefs publicly. Worried about getting mobbed on social media, fired from their jobs, or worse, they remain quiet, largely ceding the public debate to those pushing these anti-American ideologies. Consequently, the institutions themselves become monocultures: dogmatic, suspicious, and hostile to a diversity of opinion. Conservatives in both the federal government and public school systems have told me that their “equity and inclusion” departments serve as political offices, searching for and stamping out any dissent from the official orthodoxy.
Second, critical race theorists have constructed their argument like a mousetrap. Disagreement with their program becomes irrefutable evidence of a dissenter’s “white fragility,” “unconscious bias,” or “internalized white supremacy.” I’ve seen this projection of false consciousness on their opponents play out dozens of times in my reporting. Diversity trainers will make an outrageous claim—such as “all whites are intrinsically oppressors” or “white teachers are guilty of spirit murdering black children”—and then when confronted with disagreement, they adopt a patronizing tone and explain that participants who feel “defensiveness” or “anger” are reacting out of guilt and shame. Dissenters are instructed to remain silent, “lean into the discomfort,” and accept their “complicity in white supremacy.”
Third, Americans across the political spectrum have failed to separate the premise of critical race theory from its conclusion. Its premise—that American history includes slavery and other injustices, and that we should examine and learn from that history—is undeniable. But its revolutionary conclusion—that America was founded on and defined by racism and that our founding principles, our Constitution, and our way of life should be overthrown—does not rightly, much less necessarily, follow.
Fourth and finally, the writers and activists who have had the courage to speak out against critical race theory have tended to address it on the theoretical level, pointing out the theory’s logical contradictions and dishonest account of history. These criticisms are worthy and good, but they move the debate into the academic realm, which is friendly terrain for proponents of critical race theory. They fail to force defenders of this revolutionary ideology to defend the practical consequences of their ideas in the realm of politics.
No longer simply an academic matter, critical race theory has become a tool of political power. To borrow a phrase from the Marxist theoretician Antonio Gramsci, it is fast achieving “cultural hegemony” in America’s public institutions. More and more, it is driving the vast machinery of the state and society. If we want to succeed in opposing it, we must address it politically at every level.
Critical race theorists must be confronted with and forced to speak to the facts. Do they support public schools separating first-graders into groups of “oppressors” and “oppressed”? Do they support mandatory curricula teaching that “all white people play a part in perpetuating systemic racism”? Do they support public schools instructing white parents to become “white traitors” and advocate for “white abolition”? Do they want those who work in government to be required to undergo this kind of reeducation? How about managers and workers in corporate America? How about the men and women in our military? How about every one of us?
There are three parts to a successful strategy to defeat the forces of critical race theory: governmental action, grassroots mobilization, and an appeal to principle.
We already see examples of governmental action. Last year, one of my reports led President Trump to issue an executive order banning critical race theory-based training programs in the federal government. President Biden rescinded this order on his first day in office, but it provides a model for governors and municipal leaders to follow. This year, several state legislatures have introduced bills to achieve the same goal: preventing public institutions from conducting programs that stereotype, scapegoat, or demean people on the basis of race. And I have organized a coalition of attorneys to file lawsuits against schools and government agencies that impose critical race theory-based programs on grounds of the First Amendment (which protects citizens from compelled speech), the Fourteenth Amendment (which provides equal protection under the law), and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which prohibits public institutions from discriminating on the basis of race).
On the grassroots level, a multiracial and bipartisan coalition is emerging to do battle against critical race theory. Parents are mobilizing against racially divisive curricula in public schools and employees are increasingly speaking out against Orwellian reeducation in the workplace. When they see what is happening, Americans are naturally outraged that critical race theory promotes three ideas—race essentialism, collective guilt, and neo-segregation—which violate the basic principles of equality and justice. Anecdotally, many Chinese-Americans have told me that having survived the Cultural Revolution in their former country, they refuse to let the same thing happen here.
In terms of principles, we need to employ our own moral language rather than allow ourselves to be confined by the categories of critical race theory. For example, we often find ourselves debating “diversity.” Diversity as most of us understand it is generally good, all things being equal, but it is of secondary value. We should be talking about and aiming at excellence, a common standard that challenges people of all backgrounds to achieve their potential. On the scale of desirable ends, excellence beats diversity every time.
Similarly, in addition to pointing out the dishonesty of the historical narrative on which critical race theory is predicated, we must promote the true story of America—a story that is honest about injustices in American history, but that places them in the context of our nation’s high ideals and the progress we have made towards realizing them. Genuine American history is rich with stories of achievements and sacrifices that will move the hearts of Americans—in stark contrast to the grim and pessimistic narrative pressed by critical race theorists.
Above all, we must have courage—the fundamental virtue required in our time. Courage to stand and speak the truth. Courage to withstand epithets. Courage to face the mob. Courage to shrug off the scorn of the elites. When enough of us overcome the fear that currently prevents so many from speaking out, the hold of critical race theory will begin to slip. And courage begets courage. It’s easy to stop a lone dissenter; it’s much harder to stop 10, 20, 100, 1,000, 1,000,000, or more who stand up together for the principles of America.
Truth and justice are on our side. If we can muster the courage, we will win.’https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/critical-race-theory-fight/?utm_campaign=imprimis&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=121792381&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9MbG_CCSTOxYtkWZIAJ6rPkKi91EAgHQcSl9wvcQk7Duk9NL0XocHqKLjJPQq52cC63XkDVbJoesoZn8_BAitcX85Vog&utm_content=121790319&utm_source=hs_email
I wonder if the cultural sensitive checkers at Twitter will allow this article through? We’ll see. The following article is adapted from a speech delivered February 18, 2021, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Phoenix, Arizona.
‘The COVID pandemic has been a tragedy, no doubt. But it has exposed profound issues in America that threaten the principles of freedom and order that we Americans often take for granted.
First, I have been shocked at the unprecedented exertion of power by the government since last March—issuing unilateral decrees, ordering the closure of businesses, churches, and schools, restricting personal movement, mandating behavior, and suspending indefinitely basic freedoms. Second, I was and remain stunned—almost frightened—at the acquiescence of the American people to such destructive, arbitrary, and wholly unscientific rules, restrictions, and mandates.
The pandemic also brought to the forefront things we have known existed and have tolerated for years: media bias, the decline of academic freedom on campuses, the heavy hand of Big Tech, and—now more obviously than ever—the politicization of science. Ultimately, the freedom of Americans to seek and state what they believe to be the truth is at risk.
Let me say at the outset that I, like all of us, acknowledge that the consequences of the COVID pandemic and its management have been enormous. Over 500,000 American deaths have been attributed to the virus; more will follow. Even after almost a year, the pandemic still paralyzes our country. And despite all efforts, there has been an undeniable failure to stop cases from escalating and to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.
But there is also an unacknowledged reality: almost every state and major city in the U.S., with a handful of exceptions, have implemented severe restrictions for many months, including closures of businesses and in-person schools, mobility restrictions and curfews, quarantines, limits on group gatherings, and mask mandates dating back to at least last summer. And despite any myths to the contrary, social mobility tracking of Americans and data from Gallup, YouGov, the COVID-19 Consortium, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have all shown significant reductions of movement as well as a consistently high percentage of mask-wearing since the late summer, similar to the extent seen in Western Europe and approaching the extent seen in Asia.
With what results?
All legitimate policy scholars today should be reexamining the policies that have severely harmed America’s children and families, while failing to save the elderly. Numerous studies, including one from Stanford University’s infectious disease scientists and epidemiologists Benavid, Oh, Bhattacharya, and Ioannides have shown that the mitigating impact of the extraordinary measures used in almost every state was small at best—and usually harmful. President Biden himself openly admitted the lack of efficacy of these measures in his January 22 speech to the nation: “There is nothing we can do,” he said, “to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.”
Bizarrely, though, many want to blame those who opposed lockdowns and mandates for the failure of the very lockdowns and mandates that were widely implemented.
Besides their limited value in containing the virus, lockdown policies have been extraordinarily harmful. The harms to children of suspending in-person schooling are dramatic, including poor learning, school dropouts, social isolation, and suicidal ideation, most of which are far worse for lower income groups. A recent study confirms that up to 78 percent of cancers were never detected due to missed screening over a three-month period. If one extrapolates to the entire country, 750,000 to over a million new cancer cases over a nine-month period will have gone undetected. That health disaster adds to missed critical surgeries, delayed presentations of pediatric illnesses, heart attack and stroke patients too afraid to go to the hospital, and others—all well documented.
Beyond hospital care, the CDC reported four-fold increases in depression, three-fold increases in anxiety symptoms, and a doubling of suicidal ideation, particularly among young adults after the first few months of lockdowns, echoing American Medical Association reports of drug overdoses and suicides. Domestic and child abuse have been skyrocketing due to the isolation and loss of jobs. Given that many schools have been closed, hundreds of thousands of abuse cases have gone unreported, since schools are commonly where abuse is noticed. Finally, the unemployment shock from lockdowns, according to a recent National Bureau of Economic Research study, will generate a three percent increase in the mortality rate and a 0.5 percent drop in life expectancy over the next 15 years, disproportionately affecting African-Americans and women. That translates into what the study refers to as a “staggering” 890,000 additional U.S. deaths.
We know we have not yet seen the full extent of the damage from the lockdowns, because the effects will continue to be felt for decades. Perhaps that is why lockdowns were not recommended in previous pandemic response analyses, even for diseases with far higher death rates.
To determine the best path forward, shouldn’t policymakers objectively consider the impact both of the virus and of anti-virus policies to date? This points to the importance of health policy, my own particular field, which requires a broader scope than that of epidemiologists and basic scientists. In the case of COVID, it requires taking into account the fact that lockdowns and other significant restrictions on individuals have been extraordinarily harmful—even deadly—especially for the working class and the poor.
Optimistically, we should be seeing the light at the end of the long tunnel with the rollout of vaccines, now being administered at a rate of one million to 1.5 million per day. On the other hand, using logic that would appeal to Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter, in many states the vaccines were initially administered more frequently to healthier and younger people than to those at greatest risk from the virus. The argument was made that children should be among the first to be vaccinated, although children are at extremely low risk from the virus and are proven not to be significant spreaders to adults. Likewise, we heard the Kafka-esque idea promoted that teachers must be vaccinated before teaching in person, when schools are one of the lowest risk environments and the vast majority of teachers are not high risk.
Worse, we hear so-called experts on TV warning that social distancing, masks, and other restrictions will still be necessary after people are vaccinated! All indications are that those in power have no intention of allowing Americans to live normally—which for Americans means to live freely—again.
And sadly, just as in Galileo’s time, the root of our problem lies in “the experts” and vested academic interests. At many universities—which are supposed to be America’s centers for critical thinking—those with views contrary to those of “the experts” currently in power find themselves intimidated. Many have become afraid to speak up.
But the suppression of academic freedom is not the extent of the problem on America’s campuses.
To take Stanford, where I work, as an example, some professors have resorted to toxic smears in opinion pieces and organized rebukes aimed at those of us who criticized the failed health policies of the past year and who dared to serve our country under a president they despised—the latter apparently being the ultimate transgression.
Defamatory attacks with malicious intent based on straw-man arguments and out-of-context distortions are not acceptable in American society, let alone in our universities. There has been an attempt to intimidate and discredit me using falsifications and misrepresentations. This violates Stanford’s Code of Conduct, damages the Stanford name, and abuses the trust that parents and society place in educators.
It is understandable that most Stanford professors are not experts in the field of health policy and are ignorant of the data about the COVID pandemic. But that does not excuse the fact that some called recommendations that I made “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science.” That was a lie, and no matter how often lies are repeated by politically-driven accusers, and regardless of how often those lies are echoed in biased media, lies will never be true.
We all must pray to God that the infamous claim attributed to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels—“A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth”—never becomes operative in the United States of America.
All of the policies I recommended to President Trump were designed to reduce both the spread of the virus to the most vulnerable and the economic, health, and social harms of anti-COVID policies for those impacted the most—small businesses, the working class, and the poor. I was one of the first to push for increasing protections for those most at risk, particularly the elderly. At the same time, almost a year ago, I recognized that we must also consider the enormous harms to physical and mental health, as well as the deaths attributable to the draconian policies implemented to contain the infection. That is the goal of public health policy—to minimize all harms, not simply to stop a virus at all costs.
The claim in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) opinion piece by three Stanford professors that “nearly all public health experts were concerned that [Scott Atlas’s] recommendations could lead to tens of thousands (or more) of unnecessary deaths in the U.S. alone” is patently false and absurd on its face. As pointed out by Dr. Joel Zinberg in National Review, the Great Barrington Declaration—a proposal co-authored by medical scientists and epidemiologists from Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford—“is closer to the one condemned in the JAMA article than anything Atlas said.” Yet the Great Barrington Declaration has already been signed by over 50,000 medical and public health practitioners.
When critics display such ignorance about the scope of views held by experts, it exposes their bias and disqualifies their authority on these issues. Indeed, it is almost beyond parody that these same critics wrote that “professionalism demands honesty about what [experts] know and do not know.”
I have explained the fact that younger people have little risk from this infection, and I have explained the biological fact of herd immunity—just like Harvard epidemiologist Katherine Yih did. That is very different from proposing that people be deliberately exposed and infected—which I have never suggested, although I have been accused of doing so.
I have also been accused of “argu[ing] that many public health orders aimed at increasing social distancing could be forgone without ill effects.” To the contrary, I have repeatedly called for mitigation measures, including extra sanitization, social distancing, masks, group limits, testing, and other increased protections to limit the spread and damage from the coronavirus. I explicitly called for augmenting protection of those at risk—in dozens of on-the-record presentations, interviews, and written pieces.
My accusers have ignored my explicit, emphatic public denials about supporting the spread of the infection unchecked to achieve herd immunity—denials quoted widely in the media. Perhaps this is because my views are not the real object of their criticism. Perhaps it is because their true motive is to “cancel” anyone who accepted the call to serve America in the Trump administration.
For many months, I have been vilified after calling for opening in-person schools—in line with Harvard Professors Martin Kulldorf and Katherine Yih and Stanford Professor Jay Bhattacharya—but my policy recommendation has been corroborated repeatedly by the literature. The compelling case to open schools is now admitted even in publications like The Atlantic, which has noted: “Research from around the world has, since the beginning of the pandemic, indicated that people under 18, and especially younger kids, are less susceptible to infection, less likely to experience severe symptoms, and far less likely to be hospitalized or die.” The subhead of the article was even clearer: “We’ve known for months that young children are less susceptible to serious infection and less likely to transmit the coronavirus.”
When the JAMA accusers wrote that I “disputed the need for masks,” they misrepresented my words. My advice on mask usage has been consistent: “Wear a mask when you cannot socially distance.” At the time, this matched the published recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO). This past December, the WHO modified its recommendation: “In areas where the virus is circulating, masks should be worn when you’re in crowded settings, where you can’t be at least one meter [roughly three feet] from others, and in rooms with poor or unknown ventilation”—in other words, not at all times by everyone. This also matches the recommendation of the National Institutes of Health document Prevention and Prophylaxis of SARS-CoV-2 Infection: “When consistent distancing is not possible, face coverings may further reduce the spread of infectious droplets from individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection to others.”
Regarding universal masks, 38 states have implemented mask mandates, most of them since at least the summer, with almost all the rest having mandates in their major cities. Widespread, general population mask usage has shown little empirical utility in terms of preventing cases, even though citing or describing evidence against their utility has been censored. Denmark also performed a randomized controlled study that showed that widespread mask usage had only minimal impact.
This is the reality: those who insist that universal mask usage has absolutely proven effective at controlling the spread of the COVID virus and is universally recommended according to “the science” are deliberately ignoring the evidence to the contrary. It is they who are propagating false and misleading information.
Those who say it is unethical, even dangerous, to question broad population mask mandates must also explain why many top infectious disease scientists and public health organizations question the efficacy of general population masking. Tom Jefferson and Carl Heneghan of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, for instance, wrote that “despite two decades of pandemic preparedness, there is considerable uncertainty as to the value of wearing masks.” Oxford epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta says there is no need for masks unless one is elderly or high risk. Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya has said that “mask mandates are not supported by the scientific data. . . . There is no scientific evidence that mask mandates work to slow the spread of the disease.”
Throughout this pandemic, the WHO’s “Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19” has included the following statement: “At present, there is no direct evidence (from studies on COVID-19 and in healthy people in the community) on the effectiveness of universal masking of healthy people in the community to prevent infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.” The CDC, in a review of influenza pandemics in May 2020, “did not find evidence that surgical-type face masks are effective in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza transmission, either when worn by infected persons (source control) or by persons in the general community to reduce their susceptibility.” And until the WHO removed it on October 21, 2020—soon after Twitter censored a tweet of mine highlighting the quote—the WHO had published the fact that “the widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence and there are potential benefits and harms to consider.”
My advice on masks all along has been based on scientific data and matched the advice of many of the top scientists and public health organizations throughout the world.
At this point, one could make a reasonable case that those who continue to push societal restrictions without acknowledging their failures and the serious harms they caused are themselves putting forth dangerous misinformation. Despite that, I will not call for their official rebuke or punishment. I will not try to cancel them. I will not try to extinguish their opinions. And I will not lie to distort their words and defame them. To do so would repeat the shameful stifling of discourse that is critical to educating the public and arriving at the scientific truths we desperately need.
If this shameful behavior continues, university mottos like Harvard’s “Truth,” Stanford’s “The Winds of Freedom Blow,” and Yale’s “Light and Truth” will need major revision.
Big Tech has piled on with its own heavy hand to help eliminate discussion of conflicting evidence. Without permitting open debate and admission of errors, we might never be able to respond effectively to any future crisis. Indeed, open debate should be more than permitted—it should be encouraged.
As a health policy scholar for over 15 years and as a professor at elite universities for 30 years, I am shocked and dismayed that so many faculty members at these universities are now dangerously intolerant of opinions contrary to their favored narrative. Some even go further, distorting and misrepresenting words to delegitimize and even punish those of us willing to serve the country in the administration of a president they loathe. It is their own behavior, to quote the Stanford professors who have attacked me, that “violates the core values of [Stanford] faculty and the expectations under the Stanford Code of Conduct, which states that we all ‘are responsible for sustaining the high ethical standards of this institution.’” In addition to violating standards of ethical behavior among colleagues, this behavior falls short of simple human decency.
If academic leaders fail to renounce such unethical conduct, increasing numbers of academics will be unwilling to serve their country in contentious times. As educators, as parents, as fellow citizens, that would be the worst possible legacy to leave to our children.
I also fear that the idea of science as a search for truth—a search utilizing the empirical scientific method—has been seriously damaged. Even the world’s leading scientific journals—The Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine, Science, and Nature—have been contaminated by politics. What is more concerning, many in the public and in the scientific community have become fatigued by the arguments—and fatigue will allow fallacy to triumph over truth.
With social media acting as the arbiter of allowable discussion, and with continued censorship and cancellation of those with views challenging the “accepted narrative,” the United States is on the verge of losing its cherished freedoms. It is not at all clear whether our democratic republic will survive—but it is clear it will not survive unless more people begin to step up in defense of freedom of thought and speech.’https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/science-politics-covid-will-truth-prevail/?utm_campaign=imprimis&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=114208080&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8b21bXCTHXX_sitz0PMuLe9UZa-xdmIpT-My9tfEISmSG6Ok97wfw58KVv91JNgBjVt5QNzNL77omnMfWudL4duf5qOg&utm_content=114197923&utm_source=hs_email
‘William Happer Professor of Physics Emeritus, Princeton University This speech was given at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar on February 19, 2021, in Phoenix, Arizona.’ https://www.hillsdale.edu/
The following video is from Hillsdale College which receives no government funding and therefore is FREE to speak the truth!
The fact is that the Left does not want unity but they desire full control! This email was received this morning from Dr. Arnn, President of Hillsdale College. What he has to say is well worth your reading as the next four years will be unprecedented.
‘I was proud last year to accept President Trump’s appointment to chair the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission. Also appointed to the Commission was Victor Davis Hanson, the Wayne and Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History here at Hillsdale. Matthew Spalding, dean of our Van Andel Graduate School of Government in Washington, D.C., served as the Commission’s executive director.
The Commission issued its 1776 Report this past Monday. The report calls for a return to the unifying principles stated in the Declaration of Independence. It quotes the greatest Americans, black and white, men and women, in devotion to these principles. It acknowledges the many ways we have fallen short of them even as it celebrates, following Abraham Lincoln, the influence for good that they exercised to the benefit of all. It acknowledges the way we fall short of them today and argues that it is only by returning to them that our current evils can be corrected. It calls for a civics education that fosters reverence for these principles, beginning with an accurate and honest teaching of American history. It is not a partisan document.
The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and other publications have made positive note of the report. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and other mainstream media organizations condemned the report, almost entirely for things it does not say. On Wednesday, the 1776 Commission was abolished by one of President Biden’s first executive orders.’
Abolishing the 1776 Commission means something and that something is not good. Here’s the web site where the Report may be read and downloaded https://info.hillsdale.edu/1776-commission?utm_campaign=landofhope&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=107566815&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9WOoyLuTiQZKOSEl_9WG6t7TMRtHm5ZmRzOJxnsEg38BZ188btr8QoUIbgXA-5ZLiNYPHauQMM5jf0J-fA7pkJ_eo01Q&utm_content=107566815&utm_source=hs_email
Please share far and wide so that more people will know the truth of the real America.
If you are not acquainted with Hillsdale College https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/ you should be.
‘The following is adapted from a speech delivered at a Hillsdale College reception in Rogers, Arkansas, on November 17, 2020.
On September 17, Constitution Day, I chaired a panel organized by the White House. It was an extraordinary thing. The panel’s purpose was to identify what has gone wrong in the teaching of American history and to lay forth a plan for recovering the truth. It took place in the National Archives—we were sitting in front of the originals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—a very beautiful place. When we were done, President Trump came and gave a speech about the beauty of the American Founding and the importance of teaching American history to the preservation of freedom.
This remarkable event reminded me of an essay by a teacher of mine, Harry Jaffa, called “On the Necessity of a Scholarship of the Politics of Freedom.” Its point was that a certain kind of scholarship is needed to support the principles of a nation such as ours. America is the most deliberate nation in history—it was built for reasons that are stated in the legal documents that form its founding. The reasons are given in abstract and universal terms, and without good scholarship they can be turned astray. I was reminded of that essay because this event was the greatest exhibition in my experience of the combination of the scholarship and the politics of freedom.
The panel was part of an initiative of President Trump, mostly ignored by the media, to counter the New York Times’ 1619 Project. The 1619 Project promotes the teaching that slavery, not freedom, is the defining fact of American history. President Trump’s 1776 Commission aims to restore truth and honesty to the teaching of American history. It is an initiative we must work tirelessly to carry on, regardless of whether we have a president in the White House who is on our side in the fight.
We must carry on the fight because our country is at stake. Indeed, in a larger sense, civilization itself is at stake, because the forces arrayed against the scholarship and the politics of freedom today have more radical aims than just destroying America.
I taught a course this fall semester on totalitarian novels. We read four of them: George Orwell’s 1984, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength.
The totalitarian novel is a relatively new genre. In fact, the word “totalitarian” did not exist before the 20th century. The older word for the worst possible form of government is “tyranny”—a word Aristotle defined as the rule of one person, or of a small group of people, in their own interests and according to their will. Totalitarianism was unknown to Aristotle, because it is a form of government that only became possible after the emergence of modern science and technology.
The old word “science” comes from a Latin word meaning “to know.” The new word “technology” comes from a Greek word meaning “to make.” The transition from traditional to modern science means that we are not so much seeking to know when we study nature as seeking to make things—and ultimately, to remake nature itself. That spirit of remaking nature—including human nature—greatly emboldens both human beings and governments. Imbued with that spirit, and employing the tools of modern science, totalitarianism is a form of government that reaches farther than tyranny and attempts to control the totality of things.
In the beginning of his history of the Persian War, Herodotus recounts that in Persia it was considered illegal even to think about something that was illegal to do—in other words, the law sought to control people’s thoughts. Herodotus makes plain that the Persians were not able to do this. We today are able to get closer through the use of modern technology. In Orwell’s 1984, there are telescreens everywhere, as well as hidden cameras and microphones. Nearly everything you do is watched and heard. It even emerges that the watchers have become expert at reading people’s faces. The organization that oversees all this is called the Thought Police.
If it sounds far-fetched, look at China today: there are cameras everywhere watching the people, and everything they do on the Internet is monitored. Algorithms are run and experiments are underway to assign each individual a social score. If you don’t act or think in the politically correct way, things happen to you—you lose the ability to travel, for instance, or you lose your job. It’s a very comprehensive system. And by the way, you can also look at how big tech companies here in the U.S. are tracking people’s movements and activities to the extent that they are often able to know in advance what people will be doing. Even more alarming, these companies are increasingly able and willing to use the information they compile to manipulate people’s thoughts and decisions.
The protagonist of 1984 is a man named Winston Smith. He works for the state, and his job is to rewrite history. He sits at a table with a telescreen in front of him that watches everything he does. To one side is something called a memory hole—when Winston puts things in it, he assumes they are burned and lost forever. Tasks are delivered to him in cylinders through a pneumatic tube. The task might involve something big, like a change in what country the state is at war with: when the enemy changes, all references to the previous war with a different enemy need to be expunged. Or the task might be something small: if an individual falls out of favor with the state, photographs of him being honored need to be altered or erased altogether from the records. Winston’s job is to fix every book, periodical, newspaper, etc. that reveals or refers to what used to be the truth, in order that it conform to the new truth.
One man, of course, can’t do this alone. There’s a film based on 1984 starring John Hurt as Winston Smith. In the film they depict the room where he works, and there are people in cubicles like his as far as the eye can see. There would have to be millions of workers involved in constantly re-writing the past. One of the chief questions raised by the book is, what makes this worth the effort? Why does the regime do it?
Winston’s awareness of this endless, mighty effort to alter reality makes him cynical and disaffected. He comes to see that he knows nothing of the past, of real history: “Every record has been destroyed or falsified,” he says at one point, “every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. . . . Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.” Does any of this sound familiar?
In his disaffection, Winston commits two unlawful acts: he begins writing in a diary and he begins meeting a woman in secret, outside the sanction of the state. The family is important to the state, because the state needs babies. But the women are raised by the state in a way that they are not to enjoy relations with their husbands. And the children—as in China today, and as it was in the Soviet Union—are indoctrinated and taught to spy and inform on their parents. Parents love their children but live in terror of them all the time. Think of the control that comes from that—and the misery.
There are three stratums in the society of 1984. There is the Inner Party, whose members hold all the power. There is the Outer Party, to which Winston belongs, whose members work for—and are watched and controlled by—the Inner Party. And there are the proles, who live and do the blue collar work in a relatively unregulated area. Winston ventures out into that area from time to time. He finds a little shop there where he buys things. And it is in a room upstairs from this shop where he and Julia, the woman he falls in love with, set up a kind of household as if they are married. They create something like a private world in that room, although it is a world with limitations—they can’t even think about having children, for instance, because if they did, they would be discovered and killed.
In the end, it turns out that the shopkeeper, who had seemed to be a kindly old man, is in fact a member of the Thought Police. Winston and Julia’s room contained a hidden telescreen all along, so everything they have said and done has been observed. In fact, it emerges that the Thought Police have known that Winston has been having deviant thoughts for twelve years and have been watching him carefully. When the couple are arrested, they have made pledges that they will never betray each other. They know the authorities will be able to make them say whatever they want them to say—but in their hearts, they pledge, they will be true to their love. It is a promise that neither is finally able to keep.
After months of torture, Winston thinks that what awaits him is a bullet in the back of the head, the preferred method of execution of both the Nazis and the Soviet Communists. In Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, the protagonist walks down a basement hallway after confessing to crimes that he didn’t commit, and without any ceremony he is shot in the back of the head—eradicated as if he were vermin. Winston doesn’t get off so easy. He will instead undergo an education, or more accurately a re-education. His final stages of torture are depicted as a kind of totalitarian seminar. The seminar is conducted by a man named O’Brien, who is portrayed marvelously in the film by Richard Burton. As he alternately raises and lowers the level of Winston’s pain, O’Brien leads him to knowledge regarding the full meaning of the totalitarian regime.
As the first essential step of his education, Winston has to learn doublethink—a way of thinking that defies the law of contradiction. In Aristotle, the law of contradiction is the basis of all reasoning, the means of making sense of the world. It is the law that says that X and Y cannot be true at the same time if they’re mutually exclusive. For instance, if A is taller than B and B is taller than C, C cannot be taller than A. The law of contradiction means things like that.
In our time, the law of contradiction would mean that a governor, say, could not simultaneously hold that the COVID pandemic renders church services too dangerous to allow, and also that massive protest marches are fine. It would preclude a man from declaring himself a woman, or a woman declaring herself a man, as if one’s sex is simply a matter of what one wills it to be—and it would preclude others from viewing such claims as anything other than preposterous.
The law of contradiction also means that we can’t change the past. What we can know of the truth all resides in the past, because the present is fleeting and confusing and tomorrow has yet to come. The past, on the other hand, is complete. Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas go so far as to say that changing the past—making what has been not to have been—is denied even to God. Because if something both happened and didn’t happen, no human understanding is possible. And God created us with the capacity for understanding.
That’s the law of contradiction, which the art of doublethink denies and violates. Doublethink is manifest in the fact that the state ministry in which Winston is tortured is called the Ministry of Love. It is manifest in the three slogans displayed on the state’s Ministry of Truth: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” And as we have seen, the regime in 1984 exists precisely to repeal the past. If the past can be changed, anything can be changed—man can surpass even the power of God. But still, to what end?
Why do you think you are being tortured? O’Brien asks Winston. The Party is not trying to improve you, he says—the Party cares nothing about you. Winston is brought to see that he is where he is simply as the subject of the state’s power. Understanding having been rendered meaningless, the only competence that has meaning is power.
“Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution,” O’Brien says.
We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. . . . There will be no loyalty, except loyalty toward the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. . . . All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.
Nature is ultimately unchangeable, of course, and humans are not God. Totalitarianism will never win in the end—but it can win long enough to destroy a civilization. That is what is ultimately at stake in the fight we are in. We can see today the totalitarian impulse among powerful forces in our politics and culture. We can see it in the rise and imposition of doublethink, and we can see it in the increasing attempt to rewrite our history.
“An informed patriotism is what we want,” Ronald Reagan said toward the end of his Farewell Address as president in January 1989. “Are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world?”
Then he issued a warning.
Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn’t get these things from your family you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-sixties.
But now, we’re about to enter the [1990s], and some things have changed. Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. . . . We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs protection.
So, we’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important—why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, four years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who’d fought on Omaha Beach. . . . [S]he said, “we will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.” Well, let’s help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.
American schoolchildren today learn two things about Thomas Jefferson: that he wrote the Declaration of Independence and that he was a slaveholder. This is a stunted and dishonest teaching about Jefferson.
What do our schoolchildren not learn? They don’t learn what Jefferson wrote in Notes on the State of Virginia: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just,” he wrote in that book regarding the contest between the master and the slave. “The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.” If schoolchildren learned that, they would see that Jefferson was a complicated man, like most of us.
They don’t learn that when our nation first expanded, it was into the Northwest Territory, and that slavery was forbidden in that territory. They don’t learn that the land in that territory was ceded to the federal government from Virginia, or that it was on the motion of Thomas Jefferson that the condition of the gift was that slavery in that land be eternally forbidden. If schoolchildren learned that, they would come to see Jefferson as a human being who inherited things and did things himself that were terrible, but who regretted those things and fought against them. And they would learn, by the way, that on the scale of human achievement, Jefferson ranks very high. There’s just no question about that, if for no other reason than that he was a prime agent in founding the first republic dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
The astounding thing, after all, is not that some of our Founders were slaveholders. There was a lot of slavery back then, as there had been for all of recorded time. The astounding thing—the miracle, even, one might say—is that these slaveholders founded a republic based on principles designed to abnegate slavery.
To present young people with a full and honest account of our nation’s history is to invest them with the spirit of freedom. It is to teach them something more than why our country deserves their love, although that is a good in itself. It is to teach them that the people in the past, even the great ones, were human and had to struggle. And by teaching them that, we prepare them to struggle with the problems and evils in and around them. Teaching them instead that the past was simply wicked and that now they are able to see so perfectly the right, we do them a disservice and fit them to be slavish, incapable of developing sympathy for others or undergoing trials on their own.
Depriving the young of the spirit of freedom will deprive us all of our country. It could deprive us, finally, of our humanity itself. This cannot be allowed to continue. It must be stopped. ‘https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/orwells-1984-today/?utm_campaign=imprimis&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=103982981&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8-lcprsPyz866N6mzqGQea_WF7HOZL30e7tnLlMjKf0etusDbwt89b3sR9PRqKyWX3ctkGH9_8I3ZD30splqUNc70XVw&utm_content=103982981&utm_source=hs_email
The following is adapted from an online lecture delivered at Hillsdale College on November 6, 2020.
‘Every generation of Americans, from the beginning, has had to answer for itself the question: how should we live? Our answers, generation after generation, in war and in peace, in good times and bad times, in small things and in great things through the whole range of human affairs, are the essential threads of the larger American story. There is an infinite variety of these smaller American stories that shed light on the moral and political reality of American life—and we keep creating them. These fundamental experiences, known to all human beings but known to us in an American way, create the mystic chords of memory that bind us together as a people and are the necessary beginnings of any human wisdom we might hope to find.
These mystic chords stretch not only from battlefields and patriot graves, but from back roads, schoolyards, bar stools, city halls, blues joints, summer afternoons, old neighborhoods, ballparks, and deserted beaches—from wherever you find Americans being and becoming American. A story may be tragic, complicated, or hilarious, but if it is a true American story, it will be impossible to read or listen to it attentively without awakening the better angels of our nature.
Here’s one, about the beautiful friendship of two remarkable Americans.
Helen Keller was 14 years old when she first met the world-famous Mark Twain in 1894. They became fast friends. He helped arrange for her to go to college at Radcliffe where she graduated in 1904, the first deaf and blind person in the world to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She learned to read English, French, German, and Latin in braille and went on to become practically as world-famous as her dear friend, writing prolifically and lecturing across the country and around the world. Twain, with his usual understatement, called her “one of the two most remarkable people in the 19th century.” The other candidate was Napoleon.
Keller lived into the 1960s and shared some of her fond memories of Twain in an autobiographical book she published in 1929. In particular, she records recollections from her last visit to her friend in his “Stormfield” home in Redding, Connecticut, which she thought of as a “land of enchantment.” She preserves for us a vivid image not only of Mark Twain—Mr. Clemens, as she called him—but of her own vivacious mind. About Twain she writes,
There are writers who belong to the history of their nation’s literature. Mark Twain is one of them. When we think of great Americans we think of him. He incorporated the age he lived in. To me he symbolizes the pioneer qualities—the large, free, unconventional, humorous point of view of men who sail new seas and blaze new trails through the wilderness.
As they gathered around the hearth one night after dinner at Stormfield, she records,
Mr. Clemens stood with his back to the fire talking to us. There he stood—our Mark Twain, our American, our humorist, the embodiment of our country. He seemed to have absorbed all America into himself. The great Mississippi River seemed forever flowing, flowing through his speech.
When Twain took her to her room to say goodnight, he said “that I would find cigars and a thermos bottle with Scotch whiskey, or Bourbon if I preferred it, in the bathroom.”
One evening, Twain offered to read to her from his short story, “Eve’s Diary.” She was delighted, and he asked, “How shall we manage it?” She said, “Oh, you will read aloud, and my teacher will spell your words into my hand.” He murmured, “I had thought you would read my lips.” And so that is what she did. Upon request, and as promised, Twain put on his “Oxford robe,” the “gorgeous scarlet robe” he had worn when Oxford University “conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Letters.”
Here is Keller’s recollection of the evening:
Mr. Clemens sat in his great armchair, dressed in his white serge suit, the flaming scarlet robe draping his shoulders, and his white hair gleaming and glistening in the light of the lamp which shone down on his head. In one hand he held “Eve’s Diary” in a glorious red cover. In the other hand he held his pipe. . . . I sat down near him in a low chair, my elbow on the arm of his chair, so that my fingers could rest lightly on his lips.
“Everything went smoothly for a time,” she wrote. But Twain’s gesticulations soon began to confuse things, so “a new setting was arranged. Mrs. Macy came and sat beside me and spelled the words into my right hand, while I looked at Mr. Clemens with my left, touching his face and hands and the book, following his gestures and every changing expression.”
Keller reflected that,
To one hampered and circumscribed as I am it was a wonderful experience to have a friend like Mr. Clemens. I recall many talks with him about human affairs. He never made me feel that my opinions were worthless. . . . He knew that we do not think with eyes and ears, and that our capacity for thought is not measured by five senses. He kept me always in mind while he talked, and he treated me like a competent human being. That is why I loved him. . . . There was about him the air of one who had suffered greatly.
Whenever I touched his face his expression was sad, even when he was telling a funny story. He smiled, not with the mouth but with his mind—a gesture of the soul rather than of the face. His voice was truly wonderful. To my touch, it was deep, resonant. He had the power of modulating it so as to suggest the most delicate shades of meaning and he spoke so deliberately that I could get almost every word with my fingers on his lips. Ah, how sweet and poignant the memory of his soft slow speech playing over my listening fingers. His words seemed to take strange lovely shapes on my hands. His own hands were wonderfully mobile and changeable under the influence of emotion. It has been said that life has treated me harshly; and sometimes I have complained in my heart because many pleasures of human experience have been withheld from me, but when I recollect the treasure of friendship that has been bestowed upon me I withdraw all charges against life. If much has been denied me, much, very much has been given me. So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart I shall say that life is good.
When Helen Keller left the enchanted land of Stormfield on that visit, she wondered if she would ever see her friend again, and she didn’t. It was 1909, and Clemens would live just one more year. But, she writes for us, “In my fingertips was graven the image of his dear face with its halo of shining white hair, and in my memory his drawling, marvelous voice will always vibrate.”
Here’s another story about an American whose name the whole world knows.
Twenty-two-year-old Marion Morrison, known to his friends as Duke, was carrying a table on his head across the soundstage of a John Ford movie. He was working as a prop man at the Fox Studio in Los Angeles early in 1930. Director Raoul Walsh was looking for a leading man for an epic western film he was developing about a great wagon train journeying across vast deserts and mountains to California. Walsh didn’t want a known star to play the lead. He was looking for someone who would “be a true replica of the pioneer type.” He didn’t want the audience to see a part being acted; he wanted them to see the real thing—“someone to get out there and act natural . . . be himself.” Then he happened upon the young Duke Morrison lugging a table across a soundstage.
“He was in his early 20s,” Walsh recalled, “[and] laughing. . . . [T]he expression on his face was so warm and wholesome that I stopped and watched. I noticed the fine physique of the boy, his careless strength, the grace of his movement. . . . What I needed was a feeling of honesty, of sincerity, and [he] had it.” Within a few weeks, after a quick screen test, Duke would be signed up for the part of Breck Coleman, the fearless young scout in an ambitious film to be called The Big Trail; he would more than double his income, from $35 to $75 a week. He had to let his hair grow long and learn to throw a knife—and he would have a new name: John Wayne.
Already, as the young frontiersman in The Big Trail, the man the world would come to know as John Wayne is recognizable. He is more athletic and beautiful than we remember him from his later pictures, and he has a sweetness and shyness of youth that recedes over time, but he is “tough and in charge”; he has “a natural air of command.” The widescreen film is still visually stunning and interesting to watch, but it was an epic flop and left Wayne languishing in B-movie purgatory for almost a decade before John Ford decided to make him a star as the Ringo Kid in the great western Stagecoach.
Ford was inspired by something similar to what Raoul Walsh had seen in Duke Morrison. “It isn’t enough for an actor to look the part and say his lines well,” said Ford. “Something else has to come across to audiences—something which no director can instill or create—the quality of being a real man.” Ford added that Wayne “was the only person I could think of at the time who could personify great strength and determination without talking much. That sounds easy, perhaps. But it’s not. Either you have it or you don’t.” John Wayne had it. As James Baldwin wrote, “One does not go to see [Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart or John Wayne] act: one goes to watch them be.”
And Duke Morrison decided that John Wayne would be the kind of man he—and the audience—wanted to believe in. Whatever his flaws, and Wayne’s characters had many, he would present on screen a character that had something admirable in it. This character took on added dimensions in his greatest films like Red River and The Searchers. But its essence was discernable from the earliest days. He had courage and self-reliance, obstinacy and even ruthlessness; but also generosity of soul and spirit. As his biographer Scott Eyman put it, he had the kind of “spirit that makes firemen rush into a burning building . . . because it’s the right thing to do.” He had “humor, gusto, irascibility”; he was “bold, defiant, ambitious, heedless of consequences, occasionally mistaken, primarily alone—larger than life.” As one of Wayne’s colleagues said, “John Wayne was what every young boy wants to be like, and what every old man wishes he had been.”
Wayne was 32 when he made Stagecoach and 69 when he made his last film, The Shootist, in which he plays the dying gunfighter, John Bernard Books. His oft-quoted line from that film would have been right at home in The Big Trail: “I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.” For 25 years, from 1949 to 1974, he was among the top ten box office stars every year but one. And he was more than a star for his time. Well into the 21st century, 35 years after his death, he was still listed as one of America’s five favorite movie stars; he became “indivisibly associated with America itself.”
On his 72nd birthday, May 26, 1979, as Wayne lay dying of cancer in UCLA Medical Center, the United States Congress, in a unanimous bipartisan vote, approved an order signed by President Jimmy Carter for striking a Congressional Gold Medal in his honor. Wayne would be the 85th recipient of the Medal. The first recipient was George Washington. Winston Churchill was awarded the Medal just a few years before John Wayne. As President Carter said, Wayne’s “ruggedness, the tough independence, the sense of personal conviction and courage—on and off the screen—reflected the best of our national character.” Wayne’s friend, actress Maureen O’Hara, testifying before Congress, said: “To the people of the world, John Wayne is not just an actor, and a very ﬁne actor, John Wayne is the United States of America. He is what they believe it to be. He is what they hope it will be. And he is what they hope it will always be.”
And finally, here’s a story about an American whose name you may not know, but will want to.
“We Are All Americans”
Ely Parker was born in 1828 to Elizabeth and William Parker of the Tonawanda Seneca tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy in western New York. Parker became a leader in his tribe at a very young age. Trained as a civil engineer, he earned a reputation in that field. In 1857, when he was 29 years old, he moved to Galena, Illinois, as a civil engineer working for the Treasury Department, and there his life took a fateful turn.
He became friends with a fellow named Ulysses S. Grant. In these years, Grant was an ex-Army officer working as a clerk in his father’s store. Parker later liked to tell the story of coming to Grant’s aid in a barroom fight in Galena, the two of them back to back, fighting their way out against practically all the other patrons. At about five feet eight inches and 200 pounds, the robust Parker referred to himself as a “Savage Jack Falstaff.”
When the Civil War came on, Parker tried several times to join the Union Army as an engineer but was turned down because he was not a citizen. When he approached Secretary of State William Seward about a commission, he was told that the war was “an affair between white men,” that he should go home, and “we will settle our own troubles among ourselves without any Indian aid.”
Eventually, with Grant’s endorsement, Parker received a commission, with the rank of captain, as Assistant Adjutant General for Volunteers. By late 1863, he had been transferred to Grant’s staff as Military Secretary. He soon became familiarly known as “the Indian at headquarters” and was promoted to lieutenant colonel and later to brigadier general. He may have saved Grant’s life or at least prevented his capture one dark night during the Wilderness Campaign in 1864, when Grant and his staff, unbeknownst to themselves, were riding into enemy lines.
But Parker is rightly most remembered for something that happened in the parlor of a private residence in the village of Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
In the days preceding, Union armies had captured the city of Petersburg and the Confederate capital of Richmond. Grant and the Federal Army of the Potomac had put Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia in such a position that in the late afternoon of April 7, Grant, sitting on the verandah of his hotel headquarters in Farmville, said to a couple of his generals, “I have a great mind to summon Lee, to surrender.” He immediately wrote a letter respectfully inviting Lee to surrender and had it sent to him under a flag of truce. It took Lee a couple of days of desperate failed maneuvers to come around to the idea. But by the morning of April 9, Lee had concluded that “there is nothing left me to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”
They agreed to meet in the village of Appomattox Court House to discuss terms.
Grant had been riding hard for days on rough roads in rough weather. When he met Lee in the parlor of the brick house where they had arranged to meet, he had on dirty boots, “an old suit, without [his] sword, and without any distinguishing mark of rank, except the shoulder straps of a lieutenant general on a woolen blouse.” Lee was decked out from head to toe in all the military finery he had at his disposal.
After introductions, and not much small talk, Lee asked Grant on what terms he would receive the surrender of Lee’s army. Grant told him that all officers and men would be “paroled and disqualified from taking up arms again until properly exchanged, and all arms, ammunition, and supplies were to be delivered up as captured property.” Lee said those were the terms he expected, and he asked Grant to commit them to writing, which Grant did, on the spot, and showed them to Lee.
With minor revisions, Lee accepted, and Grant handed the document to his senior adjutant general, Theodore Bowers, to “put into ink.” This was a document that would effectively put an end to four years of devastating civil war. Bowers’ hands were so unsteady from nerves that he had to start over three or four times, going through several sheets of paper, in a failed effort to prepare a fair copy for the signatures of the generals.
So Grant asked Ely Parker to do it, which he did, without trouble. This gave occasion for Lee and Parker to be introduced. When Lee recognized that Parker was an American Indian, he said, “I am glad to see one real American here.”
Parker shook his hand and replied, “We are all Americans.”’https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/mystic-chords-memory-learning-american-story/?utm_campaign=imprimis&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=100840817&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8esIfFOK9_OXkez0V-9rCk-MKyPyU_OhUWS34ez1Yq1-SFdaN2DaLd1nYNfoJPHJFjIAd-cm65e_kTdKiOTW8lzoTiGA&utm_content=100840817&utm_source=hs_email
Hillsdale Dialogues is a weekly broadcast with nationally syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt and a professor from Hillsdale Colege. This broadcast is concerning the shutdown and Israel. It should be noted that Hillsdale College refuses every penny of state and federal funding—even indirectly in the form of student grants or loans. That is only one BIG difference between Hillsdale and other schools.