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A high-school friend had a father who worked in a factory. He had a story…it seems there was this guy who got his left arm caught in one of the machines and horribly mangled. He was out for months, and when he came back, the other workers crowded around him, asking “How did it happen?”
“Like this,” he said, demonstrating with the other arm.
Maybe just a made-up story … but I’m reminded of it a lot, these days.
We have a century of evidence of what happens to a society when it falls into the traps of centralized economic planning, suppression of free speech, and the categorization of people–especially ethnic categorization. But an awful lot of people, including powerful and influential people, seem to want to go in these directions.
I can have some sympathy for people who became Communists and/or advocates of world government back in the 1920s. The theory of centralized economic planning is very seductive (see this, for the actual practice), and the slaughter of the First World War led people to grasp at any possible way of avoiding such horrors in the future.
I have a lot less sympathy for people who have refused to learn from a century of experience.
In Walter Miller’s great novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, a global nuclear war has devastated everything. Over a period of centuries, civilization has been gradually rebuilt…and, once again, nuclear war threatens. The abbot of a monastery speaks plaintively:
Brothers, let us not assume that there is going to be war…We all know what could happen, if there’s war. The genetic festering is still with us from the last time Man tried to eradicate himself. Back then, in the Saint Leibowitz’ time, maybe they didn’t know what would happen. Or perhaps they did know, but could not quite believe it until they tried it—like a child who knows what a loaded pistol is supposed to do but who never pulled a trigger before. They had not yet seen a billion corpses. They had not seen the still-born, the monstrous, the dehumanized, the blind. They had not yet seen the madness and the murder and the blotting out of reason. Then they did it, and then they saw it.
Now—now the princes, the presidents, the praesidiums, now they know—with dead certainty. They can know it by the children they beget and send to asylums for the deformed. They know it, and they’ve kept the peace. Not Christ’s peace, certainly, but peace, until lately—with only two warlike incidents in as many centuries. Now they have the bitter certainty. My sons, they cannot do it again. Only a race of madmen could do it again—
And we today, know, with what should be dead certainty, where Communist and Fascist approaches to the organization of society lead; more generally, where Statist political approaches lead. We have seen the victims of the Gulags and of the Nazi concentration camps. We have seen the horrors of ethnic division and hatreds in the Balkans. We have seen the impoverishment of generations brought about by ‘scientific’ economic planning in the Soviet Union, and the waste of human potential brought about by statist rigidity in countries throughout the world.
And in America today, we see the Democratic Party’s obsessive focus on categorizing people by race/ethnicity. We see the irresponsible rewriting of history in the service of this divisiveness. We see attacks on free speech, both via administrative processes–now common in universities and spreading rapidly to other types of organizations–and by physical intimidation, as with the Nazi-style threats against bookstores that might carry a critical book about Antifa. We have seen attempts to intimidate juries…and witnesses, as with the actions being taken against an out-of-state medical examiner who testified in the Chauvin case. We see people losing their jobs for fear of mob action–fear of the physical mob, as openly admitted by the Mayor of Atlanta in the case of a police officer, and fear of the online mob, as seen in many cases in business and other types of organizations. We see a Taliban-style wanton destruction of statues. We see the emergence of the Nazi-style idea that there is such a thing as ‘white mathematics.’ We see a drive for government takeover of child-raising from a very early age, with obvious and predictable consequences for political and philosophical indoctrination. We see overwhelming pressure for conformity and the politicization of all aspects of life.
And we see the party, the political movement, and the individual politicians behind all of these directly totalitarian policies–many with clearly Fascist and/or Marxist lineage…being winked at or even embraced by many of those who were so quick to accuse Trump–and his supporters–of being ‘Fascists.’
My brothers and sisters, they cannot do it again. Only a race of madmen could do it again—
(An earlier version of this post was published last November at Chicago Boyz. The odds that they (we) will actually do it again have increased quite substantially in that short interval)Published in