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The Wages of Appeasement

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Things You Are Not Allowed to Say

by Christopher Chantrill
December 05, 2007 at 12:25 pm


THE GOOD thing about living in the modern era is that we have freedom of speech and dissent is celebrated as the highest form of patriotism.

So when a Nobel laureate like James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA, opines that maybe the reason that Africa is such a mess is because of intelligence you can imagine the reaction. Said Watson, as reported by the London Times:

The 79-year-old geneticist said he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really."

Anybody reading that—even a rock-ribbed conservative—will experience a cringe of embarrassment. The more sensitive types, those fully accredited as “non-racists,” will likely feel more. They will feel the need to anathematize Dr. Watson, strip him of his public appointments, and deny him access to the public square.

All this embarrassment and anger is odd because the west proudly advertises itself as a culture of reason, where ideas rule, completely different from benighted Islam where a teacher can get a jail sentence for allowing the children in her charge to give a teddy-bear the name “Mohammed” (the just and merciful).

And yet dear old James Watson has been stripped of all his public appointments and sent off to ponder the error of his ways. So what’s going on?

Back in the eighteenth century during the Enlightenment French philosophes prophesied a new age of reason. But there was a problem. Everyone except themselves was prejudiced and superstitious.

That wasn’t surprising. People went to church and listened to the priest. And the few French who were lucky enough to get an education went to schools run by the Jesuits.

The Marquis de Condorcet knew what to do. He submitted a plan to the French Legislative Assembly in 1792 that called for universal state education to educate the people out of their prejudice and superstition. The system should, of course, be free of political control. Condorcet envisioned the teachers from these schools lecturing to the people on Sundays, expounding on the principles and rules of ethics and explaining the nation’s laws.

Unfortunately there has never been a political activist who wasn’t eager to bend the government’s school system into preaching their passionately-held beliefs. Andrew J. Coulson makes the definitive point in Market Education.

Since its inception, U.S. public schooling has been a battle zone, as left-wing and right-wing activists have sought to wrest control of the system and bend it to their will.

In the nineteenth century the public schools were used to push the Protestant Bible on the Irish Catholics. In the twentieth century they were used to push liberal political correctness on Protestant fundamentalists.

These activists understand that reason has nothing to do with it. They want to enforce their shaming code upon the benighted masses and they are not afraid to use government power to do it.

We really shouldn’t be surprised about this. John Derbyshire over at National Review reminds us that we humans are much more group-oriented than rational. We know there are certain things we are not allowed to say or to think.

In his view it probably takes an antisocial loner like James Watson to do good science and ask antisocial questions about intelligence.

Jim Watson, though world-famous for what he did, fits the pattern. Talk to anyone who knows him and expressions like “difficult,” “prickly,” and “loose cannon” soon turn up.)

When it comes to Nobel-quality science, go-along conformists need not apply. Of course, the Nobel Peace Prize is another matter.

Conservatives, as you would expect, own the reasonable approach to all this. We believe that people should be careful about sweeping claims of reason. Every society needs its prejudices, its shaming code, and its taboos.

When liberals demand absolute free speech and freedom from shame they end up smuggling prejudice and taboo in the back door.

But conservatives are all in favor of reason when applied in a practical, gradualist way to the advance of science, the development of law, and the reform of government.

That is why we believe, as a practical matter, that after 150 years of government education it would be a good idea to discuss some serious education reform. If nothing else, it might reduce the conflict over our schools. But our liberal friends say that people who want to relax government control of education “don’t care about kids.”

And we believe that after 70 years of Social Security in which life expectancy at birth has climbed about 10 years it is time to discuss reform. But our liberal friends say that people who want to privatize Social Security want to throw granny into the street.

It’s good to know that our lefty friends insist that dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

Otherwise people could easily get the impression that liberals believe that free speech is only for people who think the right thoughts.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.

Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050

Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust

What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican

Liberal Coercion

[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State

Moral Imperatives of Modern Culture

These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self

US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

Society and State

For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008

Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006

Never Trust Experts

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.
Lord Salisbury, “Letter to Lord Lytton”

Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph

Class War

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, “The Scientist as Rebel”

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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