Saturday, May 10, 2003

The Means of Propaganda

Thoughtful conservatives are self-consciously duplicitous. From their perspective lying is not only permissible, it’s obligatory; and theoreticians such as Leo Strauss, Carl Schmitt, and Alan Bloom have developed an elaborate justification for this position. These ideas have long been in public circulation and yet remain politically invisible. Journalists can’t read anything not printed in block letters in Crayola, and the people at large don’t read much of anything. Resorting to serious arguments is like spelling out the words in front of the children. In any event, overt censorship would be counterproductive since the Guardians themselves need reliable sources of information and analysis. Besides, without the carping liberals, they might get confused and forget that they’re lying. That’s a perpetual danger.

Because they also need the facts, rightists are not necessarily hostile to the Freedom of Information. But the ceaselessly strive to achieve something far more important from a political point of view, a monopoly on the means of Propaganda. They have largely accomplished this goal.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Prophesy Fulfilled

Bush’s 2000 Florida victory was foretold in scripture, ominously enough in Ecclesiastes 9/11, where we read that the under the sun the race is not to the swift.
Method for the Easy Understanding of History

The popular understanding of history is sometimes ridiculed for of its crudity. Every event is likened either to Munich or Vietnam because the Americans, those blithering idiots, haven’t heard of any other historical events, even, apparently, their own Revolution and Civil War. The premise of this highhanded attitude may be factually correct, but its implication is wrong. It wouldn’t really help, except to provide a little stylistic variety, if we could broaden the range of historical example in public discourse. George Bush is a lot more like the preening, bigoted Louis XIV than the eloquent, complicated Winston Churchill, for example, but he’s not that much like Louis XIV either. And the situation of our maturing Empire is just like the instance of Rome under Trajan except that it differs in every conceivable way. The salient fact is that history provides political debate many ideas but no evidence at all. The ignorance that matters is not a failure to remember dates and names but the habit of treating the past as if it were the present.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

The Secret of Life

A physics prof of my acquaintance told me that students complain to him that Maxwell’s equations are unreasonably complicated and ought to be simplified. I can sympathize with the students: the nature of things menaces my self-esteem, too. On the other hand, is curiosity sincere if it demands not merely an answer but a certain kind of answer? Is it even really curiosity? In certain coffee bars you can still find people debating the secret of life when they could perfectly well pick up a copy of Alberts, Johnson, Lewis, Raff, and Walter’s Molecular Biology of the Cell (4th edition) and learn rather a lot about the secret or secrets of life, though it has to be admitted that the book does read a lot like a 1463 page refrigerator repair manual. C’est la Vie.