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Totalitarians & CNN

October 19, 2020

Our cable media barons batter President Donald Trump with criticism of ignoring “science” and failure to use the full powers of the national government to constrain the Coronavirus Pandemic.

CNN tends to be Trump’s worst critic and CNN’s chief executive, Jeff Zucker is motivated by insights that can only be described as “totalitarian.”

What are the intellectual origins of the zeal?

Certainly, President Trump’s personal attacks on CNN play a role, but Zucker is a modern “intellectual” conditioned by the very idea of “the modern” which rejects past concepts of political order.

Enlightenment intellectuals and, especially, Rousseau, shape the “contrarian” impulse in modern intellectuals and our ill-educated class of “journalists.”

Take Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for example.

In the political philosophy that shaped the Christian West after the fall of the Roman Empire, a political constitution was understood to be better or worse to the degree that its laws manifested reason. That insight was traced as far back as Plato and Aristotle by Thomas Aquinas and the framers of the American Constitution had read deeply in the works of Cicero that shaped their understanding of natural law (lex naturalis).

The dominant intellectual, of the French Enlightenment, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, saw “will” as the factor that legitimizes public order. Whereas for students of Aristotle what is good is a matter of rational public debate by men who have reason (nous), Rousseau’s concept of the General Will thrusts public debate along the lines of a search for the generality of will.

Because “will” lacks specificity, understanding “General Will” preclude the philosophic search for the good. The more removed from the specific, the historical, the concrete, the more general or abstract it becomes, the less claim to rightness does any moral or political judgment have. And yet, for Rousseau, it is the moral legitimacy of a community which actualizes the General Will and gives it importance or justice for Rousseau.

Clearly we are dealing in Rousseau with a new type of political theory, not a mere adjustment of Classical concepts to the problems of the modern era. And that is what Rousseau sets forth his Social Contract: a totally new, modern, view of political order.

Encapsulated in the Enlightenment are indications of a revolutionary political potential, what can be called the experience of “revolt,” of a new view of human nature that sees man as a maker of his own moral nature by collective action, and a new emphasis on procedures and participation in government as the means by which to resolve substantive problems of political order.

In Rousseau’s concept of General Will we see a displacement of an ontologically oriented view of order which judges public policy on the basis of whether or not it serves a knowable common good or interest. Public policy analysis in the tradition from Aristotle to St. Thomas, which is nothing more than an ethical analysis of public action, assumes the need for governors who seek the good in community life. Political community is something natural. It exists not by the will of human beings but because human beings experience it as existing in tension or openness to a good beyond itself.

Rousseau, however, argues that a community is defined only by its own self‑willing. The limits upon political community are immanent in the community. Like Augustine’s concept of the city of man, guided only by immanent, this‑worldly ends, Rousseau’s civil society is a wholly self‑contained polity guided by immanent ends which are discoverable in the General Will, not in the structure of being, of nature, and community.

We have then a dynamic, aggressive, constantly self‑aggrandizing sense of political community, the proto‑type of CNN’s vision of a “Great Society,” but very little that would yield a view of a “Good Society” or the “best” political community.

You can read about the Enlightenment in my Development of Political Theory which is being revised for publication in 2021 or 2022.

Ralph Z. Hallow, RIP

October 18, 2020

The death of Ralph Hallow, chief political correspondent at the Washington Times, saddens me and fills my mind with memories going back to 1961.

Ralph Hallow was a graduate student in the Department of History at the University of Pittsburgh and I was a sophomore just returning from a summer internship at Human Events.

I knew Ralph from Pitt and also knew Ralph and several other Lebanese and Armenian families from the tiny “Middle Eastern” community in Pittsburgh.

At Pitt, Ralph Hallow joined a group of members of the Communist Party and I saw him picketing a speech by the founder of the John Birch Society in a group led by the Communist Party’s leading student member.

When twenty years later as Ronald Reagan proved that I was “on the side of history” and Ralph was not, Ralph knew I remembered his radical past and that truth was the bond between us.

Ralph was a “journalist” which meant anything you said to him could appear in print, so I was not surprised when I patted him on the back at a meeting of the Council for National Policy and felt a recording device that enabled him to record conversations. “Ralph,” I said, “are you wearing a wire?”

On one other occasion, Faith Ryan Whittlesey invited me to dinner with Ralph and his wife, Mildred. I was not certain why or how this dinner invitation came about—though the three of us were from Pennsylvania–but Mildred’s ears perked up when I mentioned aspects of our times in Pittsburgh in the 1960s.

Ralph’s conversion from Communist to political conservative was real and I’m certain he delighted in finding a place in American intellectual life where real friendships make life worth living.

Rejection is Not Approval

October 17, 2020

Rejection of President Donald Trump’s candidacy for reelection does not signify approval of Joe Biden’s programs and policies. Yes, this is the most important Presidential election in many years. And, yes, if the Democrat nominee is elected he will introduce many policies we identify with utopian socialist movements from the Bolsheviks to Salvador Allende.

But the American people on November 3, 2020 are rejecting Donald Trump in favor of Joe Biden, but they are not approving Biden’s policies.

A principle of American politics is that the American people are endowed with a reservoir of common sense. Though that reservoir has experienced significant drainage since the 1960s, our people are not ideologues. Eventually, they will respond to good leadership when it appears to challenge bad policies.

I expect that will happen early in 2021 and that we should be alert for when those voices are raised. They heard Donald Trump’s voice in 2016 and will be listening for different voices in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Covid-19 & Higher Ed

October 16, 2020

As reported in InsideHighgerEd.com on October 15, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, issued a report from about 54 percent of postsecondary institutions, or data for 9.2 million students.

Here are the highlights:

“As of Sept. 24, undergraduate enrollment is now 4 percent lower than it was last fall — a 1.5-percentage-point decrease from earlier this semester.”

“Just over 16 percent fewer freshmen have enrolled this fall compared to last year.”

“Community college enrollment has dropped 9.4 percent.”

“Community colleges are also seeing a nearly 23 percent enrollment drop for first-time students.”

Covid-19 has disrupted higher education to a degree unimagined, except by critics of higher education who believe that the financial model supporting higher education is not supportable.

I wrote a book about that in 2017.

Only talk of free university education by Bernie Sanders, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and other Democrat Party “leaders,” gives hope that predictions of enrollment decline are off the mark.

Even if dying from a Covid-19 infection is low, if you are of college age, reorganizing student living is expensive, and complete renovations will require federal assistance.

At the University of Notre Dame where six members of my family studied, in-class instruction was begun in August. Yesterday, with 37 days remaining in the semester, the University reported that due to increases in Covid-19 infections, the university is returning to a “10-person limit for any student gatherings.”  

With an endowment of $13 billion, the University of Notre Dame will survive until an effective and available vaccine is introduced. I gave an interview recently in which I predicted that in two years, 1,000 colleges will be forced to close.