For Tyranny, Look to Germany, Not Russia

At the end of World War Two Germany had twice tried to conquer the world, or at least significant chunks of it. And twice, Germany failed. The project of militarily imposing German will on the entire planet was an absurd one, a fantasy based on late unification and a very late arrival to the era of European imperialism. Germany came to the imperial party just as the lights were going out and everyone was trudging home, then somehow imagined that it could achieve in a few short years what took the Spanish, the French and the British centuries to build.

There was always something deeply insecure in the German race to catch up and overtake its European rivals, a frantic psychological component which existed both before and after the full schizophrenic episode of Nazism. If we look at the two European nations from which the worst excesses of 20th century tyranny were formed, Germany and Russia, (Nazism and Communism), we see two nations with vast resources which had nonetheless long been peripheral in many ways to European greatness, overshadowed by the earlier successes of Spain and Portugal, and by the wider successes of France and Britain.

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Just as with individuals, embittered and insecure nations in a rush to assert their significance, are more dangerous than long established or long successful ones secure in their identity.

But what the failure of German militarism proved is just how impossible the old routes to power had become. The age of conquerors was dying. Even the enormously powerful new colossus of the United States, after World War Two, would find its record of successful war after that conflict rather sparse. Despite the 800 or more military bases, despite the perpetual war policies, despite the trillions of dollars of investment in military budgets, the US could be embarrassed by Communist rice farming peasants in Vietnam or by Iron Age religious savages in Afghanistan.

What hope, then, for militarism in Germany, which started World War Two with the most prepared, bloodied, experienced and dedicated troops in Europe, led by some of the most innovative and brilliant generals, and ended it in shattered ruins and utter humiliating defeat?

A Germany which had deeply resented military limits and imperial limits imposed at the end of World War One, enthusiastically embraced self-limitation after World War Two. Clearly, Germany was not going to try to impose itself militarily on its neighbours. It certainly wasn’t going to be suffused with a semi-mystical sense of Aryan destiny and German greatness. If anything, it entered into a long orgy of self-hatred, its new insecurities the exact opposite of the ones which had fuelled its military ambitions. Germans became Europe’s most enthusiastic self-deniers, deeply suspicious of nationalism, and determined to expunge their War Guilt by plunging into internationalism and every bureaucratic and modish replacement cause imaginable.

But again it was a curious mix driven by insecurities. Germany was home of a postwar industrial miracle soon making it an industrial powerhouse again. It reclaimed the German reputation for efficiency and hard work. But it also developed paternalistic working attitudes that made Germans almost as unsackable as French or Italian workers. It was content with its reduced Army and with ex Allied WWII opponents being camped on its soil. But it was soon once again bullying its neighbours and imposing its will, this time through its funding of and dominance within the EU, sometimes to the extent of sparking resentments harking back to its Nazi period-as we saw for instance with Greeks furious at German and EU interference during their economic troubles.

The German might now be a curious pedant insisting on a standard measurement for all bananas, or a Green fanatic in an unfashionable jumper, or a diligent pen pusher in some corporate or bureaucratic environment where no military uniform would ever intrude, but he was still a bit of a control freak. And of course if he was in Eastern Germany until the fall of that regime, he was still learning the lessons that come with actual tyranny.

The awkwardness of the synthesis and the curiousness of 20th century German experience and psychology was perhaps best manifested in the person of long term Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel was raised under East German Communism and retained a lifelong rather Communist fashion sense. She was dour, humourless, plain, a dumpy hausfrau without a scintilla of human warmth. She achieved a similar sternness to Margaret Thatcher, and a similar political dominance within her home nation, but with none of the sparkle and surprising femininity that those who interacted with Thatcher often reported. She was as blunt and unlovable as a brick, but Germans saw strength and solidity there.

Everything that worries a Brit or a Yank about bureaucracy, offers a warm blanket of comfort for Germans. If it comes with a form in triplicate, it must be sensible, respectable, and safe. Germans were likely to demand more rules regarding the acceptable length and shape of a banana, rather than regard the whole thing as absurd. Merkel was a skilled politician, but at heart happiest as a bureaucrat.

And few people have manifested the contradictions of modern anarcho-tyranny globalism so well as Merkel did, being always ready to suffocate Germans beneath ever greater legal restrictions whilst simultaneously inviting the wild savages of the world to descend on Germany in (literally) rapacious hordes.

The insecure instinct for dominance and tyranny militarism makes obvious and faces outwards, towards the conquest of foreign nations, did not leave Germany and German psychology at all. Not even Nazism’s gotterdammerung could expunge it. Instead it turned into the inwards meddling of restrictive bureaucracy and the on the surface of things peaceful and consensual march of transnational bodies into every public and private sphere. Germans were as bluntly unsympathetic to those resisting EU demands as they were towards those who once resisted panzer divisions, both at home and abroad.

All of this is by way of providing context for developments today and a truly chilling and important article by the popular Substacker Eugyppius.

I don’t often provide links or direct recommendations, but in this instance the article is so important I felt that I should. I urge everyone to read it because what Eugyppius describes in it is the template of modern tyranny, even moreso then the COVID measures we saw in 2020-22 and the lawfare we see in the US against Trump. It’s the European model of the Chinese Communist State, and it is truly terrifying and foul.

Eugyppius doesn’t have to uncover secret documents, expose hidden facts, or provide hitherto obscure information. He shows us in the direct words of current German officials where they stand, and where we stand. Almost everything he describes is official German policy and thought, expressed by current German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, of the respectable, mainstream SPD party.

And it’s pure tyranny.

Ostensibly the press conference that Eugyppius references was about ‘fighting far right extremism’. Actually it was about justifying the complete removal of all basic rights to free speech, free thought and free political association from the German people.

Faeser argues that ‘far right networks’ should be treated like terrorist organisations or Mafia style criminal conspiracies. But she and people like her are going to define what these ‘far right’ groups are. And they are, by the definitions she gives, anyone who wants to vote for parties she doesn’t approve (especially the AfD which is the second most popular party in Germany). Far right networks are anyone who attends a conference or a lecture or shares an internet clip she doesn’t like. Far right networks are millions of ordinary voters with views she doesn’t share. Far right networks are people who think the wrong thoughts. This is not my interpretation. She announces this in her own words.

The definition of far right is broad and flexible enough to simply designate anyone they want it to designate. Anyone who argues against the policies of the German State. Anyone who mocks the State or its policies. Anyone who opposes anything!

And how will these people be treated? Imprisonment. Seizure of assets and bank accounts. Removal from the public sphere. The definition of the allowable response is again broad and vague enough to include pretty much anything and reverse any and all existing civil liberties.

All based on crimes of wrongthink and all by the curious reversal of describing enforcing total control as protecting Democracy.

What Germany today openly declares, is the model the western world is embarked on as a whole. Once again, Germany wants tyranny. And this is a far more real threat than Vladimir Putin.

Ettore Bugatti and the Veyron

Today's selection -- from Iconic by Miles S. Nadal and Ken Gross. The fate of the iconic Bugatti brand:

“Bugatti was founded in 1909 in the town of Molsheim, in the Alsace region of France, along the Swiss and German borders. Specializing in building fast cars, Italian-born founder Ettore Bugatti built some of the most legendary racecars of the 1920s and 1930s. His finest creation, the 57SC Atlantic, was created in conjunction with his talented son, Jean. Only four were ever made, one of which belongs to iconic fashion designer Ralph Lauren. 

“Unfortunately, financial problems forced the Bugatti family out of the auto industry shortly after the end of World War II. But that wasn’t the end of the Bugatti story. After several failed attempts to revive the brand, it was purchased by the Volkswagen Group, who were looking for an elegant brand with serious competition history. VW chairman Ferdinand Piech immediately announced a bold plan to build a 1,000-bhp, 250-mph supercar. The seeds for the Veyron were sown. 

Bugatti Veyron Fbg par Hermès

“Named after Pierre Veyron, a top driver for the Bugatti factory team in the 1930s, the Veyron was an audacious mechanical marvel that easily lived up to its promotional hype. The technical specifications are remarkable, even today. Equipped with four turbochargers, its alloy mid-mounted eight-liter V16 produces 1,001 bhp and 992 foot-pounds of torque. The transmission is a seven-speed, dual-clutch DSG with launch control that can be operated manually or automatically. Zero to 60 mph is achieved in 2.5 seconds and top speed clocks in at 253 mph. 

“‘What Bugatti has done with the Veyron has altered the accepted parameters of car manufacture,’ said noted author Martin Roach. Bugatti planned to build three hundred examples—and they sold them all. This car was purchased from Bugatti Beverly Hills by American Idol star Simon Cowell, who drove it only 1,300 miles before trading it in, whereupon it became the first certified pre-owned Bugatti in a special new program.”

Iconic: Art, Design, Advertising, and the Automobile
author: Miles S. Nadal, Ken Gross  
title: Iconic: Art, Design, Advertising, and the Automobile  
publisher: Assouline  
page(s): 60

Delancy Place - Why Sharks Matter

Today's encore selection -- from Why Sharks Matter by David Shiffman. The ripple effects that come from the removal or diminished size of a predator's population:

"Sometimes the ecological effects resulting from changes in predator populations ripple through the food chain. This ripple effect is called a trophic cascade. The classic example of a trophic cascade comes from the Pacific Northwest. When orca whales began to consume more and more sea otters in the kelp forests of the North Pacific, it wasn't surprising that sea otter populations declined. But the plot thickened! One of sea otters' favorite foods is the sea urchin, which they consume by adorably crushing them with rocks on their bellies. The population declines of sea otters then resulted in sea urchin preda­tion release. The increasing sea urchin population ate more and more of their preferred food, seaweeds called kelp, resulting in kelp declines. All of this was caused by a change at the top of the food web. Even though area whales and otters don't eat kelp, changes in how orcas interact with otters significantly affected kelp. And that was bad for everything that lived in the kelp forest.

"The most famous example of a trophic cascade in a terrestrial ecosys­tem occurred in Yellowstone National Park as a result of wolf declines. Fewer wolves meant an increase in the wolf prey population, including giant herbivores like elk. More elk meant more grazing, and perhaps most impactfully, grazing in areas where elk were previously afraid to graze, such as riverbanks that restricted their ability to run away from a predator. This led to major disruptions in a unique Yellowstone ecosys­tem called an aspen forest. The Yellowstone case study also remains one of the best examples of predator restoration: when wolves were even­tually restored, they ate more elk, bringing the population back under control and pushing elk back to their normal feeding grounds. As a result, the aspen forest is growing back.

"What about sharks, which are sometimes called the 'wolves of the sea'? There are two commonly cited examples of shark-driven trophic cascades. Both are considered fairly controversial in the marine biology world, but I'll explain them here because you're likely to come across them in the conservation discourse. The first, documented in a 2007 paper led by Ram Myers, took place near North Carolina's Outer Banks, where seven species of apex predatory sharks have declined significantly since the 1970s. Sandbar sharks experienced the least decline: 87% since 1972. Declines exceeding 99% since 1972 have been documented among several other species. These declines were believed to result in predation release of small sharks and rays, including the cownose ray. The authors claim that this increase in cownose rays was partially re­sponsible for a collapse in populations of bay scallops, once a commer­cially important fish in the region, resulting in a shark ----> cownose ray -----> scallop trophic cascade.

"To me, the key message of this study was 'Sharks are important and bad things can happen when we overfish them, so let's not do that.' Others got a different (and unfortunate) message from this study: 'Oh my god, cownose ray populations are exploding. We need to kill them all to save our scallop fishery!' This led to the birth of the 'Save the Bay, Eat a Ray' movement. There were even fishing tournaments for cownose rays where anglers used explosive-tipped arrows to shoot at the surface-swimming rays, which is hardly sporting in my opinion. It is unlikely that ray populations could survive this kind of pressure for any extended time, given their very low reproductive rates. I'd argue that trying to solve a conservation crisis by causing another conservation crisis is perhaps not ideal.

"It turns out that the data showing this trophic cascade has major flaws in its underlying assumptions, and has been thoroughly rebutted. If you look closely at the data, it would suggest that cownose ray pop­ulations supposedly started to increase well after scallop populations began to collapse, almost as if something else caused the scallop pop­ulations to decline. (Dean Grubbs, who led the rebuttal, pointed out that this explanation only makes sense if you think that cownose rays can go back in time like the Terminator.) Also, cownose ray populations aren't increasing as much as these data seemed to show. What's instead happening is that existing cownose rays are migrating into new waters. Furthermore, shark populations haven't declined as much as these data seemed to show. The Grubbs rebuttal also notes that including more datasets complicates the supposedly clear pattern shown by the Myers paper. Finally, cownose rays don't really eat very many scallops. So al­though this is a well-known example of a trophic cascade that is often cited by environmentalists as a reason to protect sharks, it's a fundamentally flawed one.

"Another possible shark-driven trophic cascade might operate on coral reefs. Coral animals have a symbiotic relationship with tiny photosyn­thetic organisms called zooxanthellae. They live inside the corals and secrete sugars, which the corals eat. Without exposure to sunlight, zoo­xanthellae cannot photosynthesize, and the corals will starve. Happily, herbivorous fish like parrotfish help to graze fast-growing algae off of the corals, ensuring that sunlight can reach the zooxanthellae. Parrotfish are eaten by larger fish like grouper, which are eaten by (you guessed it) sharks. The decline of shark populations may cause predation release in grouper, which then eat more and more parrotfish. Fewer parrotfish means more algae growing on coral reefs, which means dying corals.

"This model seems to be essentially correct, but it's more complicated than that. It turns out that humans aren't just overfishing the sharks, but also the groupers, and in some cases even the parrotfish, Algae also grows on the coral for because of warmer waters or nutrient blooms, not simply because parrotfish populations are declining. Additionally, corals face other threats besides algae overgrowth. And while it's true that reef sharks often occupy a pretty similar seep on the food chain as groupers, some larger sharks eat small and medium sized groupers. So do sharks keep coral reefs healthy? They certainly play important roles in main­taining coral reef health under many circumstances, but as you can see, there are many variables to consider.

"A 2013 paper claimed to find true evidence of a trophic cascade on coral reefs. Specifically, the authors argued that Pacific coral reefs that had been heavily fished were home to fewer sharks and more medium­sized predators (called mesopredators) than protected reefs, which had more sharks and fewer mesopredators like groupers. On fished reefs with more mesopredators, the authors found fewer herbivorous fishes. Is this a case of a trophic cascade, with declines in sharks indirectly leading to declines in herbivores? Not so fast -- a 2016 paper claims that the pattern isn't quite so clear. This rebuttal argues that the difference in shark populations between fished and protected reefs isn't as significant as claimed in the 2013 paper. Furthermore, it argues that some of the fish species the 2013 paper authors counted as mesopredators shouldn't have been created as such because sharks don't eat those species. That re­buttal got a rebuttal, which got another rebuttal -- such is often the way of science. As of this writing, there hasn't been any conclusive evidence of trophic cascades driven by the loss of sharks on coral reefs -- in fact, an early 2021 paper found pretty strong evidence of the lack of trophic cascades on the Great Barrier Reef -- but the search is ongoing.

"Other possible shark trophic cascades include a reef shark -----> octo­pus -----> rock lobster food chain. Overfishing reef sharks in Australia seems to have led to an explosion in numbers of their octopus prey, which ace all the rock lobsters and damaged one fishery. Yet another possibly shark-driven trophic cascade involves seals. Fewer sharks means more seals, which eat a lot more fish. Trophic cascades are powerful forces in nature, but they're also really hard to detect because food webs are so large and complicated. I'd guess that even though some of the most popular examples of shark-driven trophic cascades may be flawed, it's very likely that some real cascades caused by sharks are out there.

"Some conservation activists have taken things too far, incorrectly asserting that, because of trophic cascades, the crash of shark populations could be directly responsible for the extinction of all life on Earth. According to this argument, which got its highest-profile mention in the documentary Sharkwater, phytoplankton, the base of the ocean food web, produce about half of all oxygen on Earth. If we lose sharks, the reasoning goes, this will destabilize the whole ocean, kill all the phy­toplankton, and result in the loss of half of all oxygen on the planet, killing everything -- including us. Let me note again here that this is not correct, but it's an example of using trophic cascade theory for conservation advocacy.

"Trophic cascades are, generally speaking, more likely to occur in simpler ecosystems with more straightforward food chains. If you have five species that serve similar ecological roles as top predators, losing one probably won't disrupt the whole system because the other four can still keep mid-level predator populations in check. If you have only one top predator, losing its ecological role is more likely to disrupt the whole system. The examples described above range from hotly debated to thor­oughly debunked, and I share them just to illustrate the general prin­ciple despite their particular imperfections. Despite their flaws, these high-profile examples are still useful to think about, if only because something like this is probably happening somewhere."

Why Sharks Matter A Deep Dive with the Worlds Most Misunderstood Predator
author: David Shiffman  
title: Why Sharks Matter: A Deep Dive with the World's Most Misunderstood Predator  
publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press  
date: 2022 Johns Hopkins University Press  
page(s): 51-55

Descent Into Madness: Dostoevsky and the End of the West

By Boyd D. Cathey
My Corner

February 12, 2024

Our society is coming to resemble a dystopian “peoples’ paradise” in its darkly disturbing features. Think back to iconic works of literature like Arthur Koestler’s Darkness At Noon and George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four. Are we not living in a society which is little more than a cross between the nightmare visions of Koestler and Orwell? Do we not live in a society where dissidents are branded as “domestic terrorists,” “insurrectionists,” or “racists,” and face imprisonment for heretofore unimaginable thought crimes, all in the name of “defending our democracy”? –where our children have become wards of the state and are indoctrinated daily by mountains of fetid radical ideology? –where television and the Internet are employed to fashion a particular jaundiced view of life?—where science is now used to tell us the world will end in, what, ten years, if we don’t take immediate action to curb “the climate crisis”?—where we are cajoled to accept a “great reset” and a “new world order” controlled by unseen elites?

Far too many citizens do not fathom what has occurred and is happening in our society. And those who do understand, whether here in the US or in Europe, are swatted down by the long arm of “Big Brother,” turned into “non-persons,” their reputations destroyed, awakened by armed-to-the-teeth FBI agents before dawn and imprisoned for months or years without trial or the benefit of counsel—“enemies of the regime.” Is this not reminiscent of what occurred in Eastern Europe immediately after the conclusion of World War II, when the Soviets progressively installed socialist dictatorships by successfully eliminating and suppressing any real opposition, all happening why the benevolent USA looked on?

But in some ways our situation is worse than that of those Soviet-occupied countries in the aftermath of the world war. For while the post-war Communists essentially maintained certain inherited standards of behavior, for instance, supporting large families and traditional marriage, our elites continue to push the boundaries of what was once thought normative and acceptable in every area of human endeavor, even under Communism. And the disruption or rejection of the laws of nature and those well-established and valid millennia-old norms of behavior and belief leads to gross and grotesque imbalances and vicious infections in society which distort and eventually destroy it—what I have called in an earlier essay, “the zombification of our culture.”

It’s as if significant portions of American (and European) culture have been possessed by frenetic Evil incarnate…in academia and education, in our media and communications, in politics, and in our entertainment and sports industries. We are now supposed to be like Pavlov’s dog, trained to bark when prompted, to sit when told, in short, to be obedient and receptive subjects of the latest ukase or dogmatic proclamation of government or revelation of its satraps and lapdogs at some formerly-prestigious university 0r from fashionable glitterati.

As I read through various recent news articles, chronicling some of the more bizarre actions and occurrences in our modern American society, example after example abundantly confirms this impression.

Let me cite just a handful of recent egregious instances from our educational sector—there are far more, too numerous to count:

In Oregon, the Department of Education recently sent out a “mathematics guide …to schools tell[ing] educators that asking students to show their work in math class is a form of white supremacy.” The guide offers a year-long framework for “deconstructing racism in mathematics.” It calls for “visibilizing [sic] the toxic characteristics of white supremacy culture with respect to math.”

In Houston, Rice University launched a course (January 2024), titled “Afrochemistry,” which reportedly will “apply chemical tools and analysis to understand black life in the U.S.” According to the University’s website, “Diverse historical and contemporary scientists, intellectuals and chemical discoveries will inform personal reflections and proposals for addressing inequities in chemistry and chemical education.”

In Brookfield, Connecticut, the public school administration placed tampon dispensers in boys’ restrooms, which were promptly vandalized by some boys who disagreed with school policy. The administration related that the “vandals” had been dealt with. But the worst aspect of this is that dispensers were put in place in compliance with a Connecticut law which “requires all schools from grades three to 12 to put menstrual dispensers in female restrooms and at least in one male restroom” in each high school.

One last example, and it would be truly comedic if not so serious in its implications about the state of higher education in America. Several years ago (2018) Professor Peter Boghossian, formerly at Portland State University in Oregon, and two colleagues, prepared a series of scholarly articles in the humanities, and several were accepted by so-called prestigious peer-reviewed journals. The submitted papers sounded all the chords of ideologically “progressive scholarship,” supposedly pushing boundaries in what the authors called “grievance studies,” such areas as “critical theory” and “gender identity.” But with one major characteristic: the articles were all complete spoofs, skillful fakery which managed to deceive those who claim to be “the best and the brightest.”

As Boghossian explained in a later summary of the project:

“While our papers are all outlandish or intentionally broken in significant ways, it is important to recognize that they blend in almost perfectly with others in the disciplines under our consideration. To demonstrate this, we needed to get papers accepted, especially by significant and influential journals. Merely blending in couldn’t generate the depth necessary for our study….”

And a number of the articles were eagerly accepted and were praised fulsomely by other academics. Indeed, it is fascinating to read what peer reviewers wrote.

One of the  papers is titled, “The conceptual penis as a social construct,” and it was published to great acclaim by the journal Cogent Social Sciences, in 2017. Here is the abstract:

“Anatomical penises may exist, but as pre-operative transgendered women also have anatomical penises, the penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a social construct isomorphic to performative toxic masculinity. Through detailed poststructuralist discursive criticism and the example of climate change, this paper will challenge the prevailing and damaging social trope that penises are best understood as the male sexual organ and reassign it a more fitting role as a type of masculine performance.”

These few examples can be replicated ad nauseum. Such poisonous nonsense characterizes what passes for learning and scholarship in our colleges and schools; it undergirds and informs our journalism and media; it drenches our entertainment with its infectious dross; it disintegrates and perverts our artistic and musical heritage. It is engaged in total war against the two millennia inheritance of our Christian civilization, which it seeks to destroy.

Have we not descended into sheer madness, collective insanity on a massive cultural and social scale? Indeed, are we not experiencing a foretaste of Hell itself, of the Nether Regions where proud souls possessed by sheer evil and brazen malfeasance are eventually rewarded by their own incredibly excruciatingly painful self-immolation?

Of course, it is not at all fashionable to believe in a literal Hell these days. Yet, the imagery of such a state envisioned by a number of our greatest authors over the centuries describes a reality which is becoming all too palpable in our day, at least for those who care to notice.

The common denominator which characterizes those visions, whether from the pen of Dante Alighieri, John Milton, or other writers, not to mention the strictures from the Bible, is this: without Hope in something greater than ourselves, something beyond the mere material, something indeed spiritual, we are lost. And all the puffed-up scholarly texts about “gender identity” and “critical studies”—all the foul and ugly detritus which passes for modern culture and entertainment—lead only to individuals T. S. Eliot calls “hollow men,” dead souls, with no past to guide them, no future to welcome them, isolated, alone, and empty.

As tiny individual specks in the Universe we are as atoms, at times self-important, but in the scheme of things, miniscule and falling back continually on our own very limited powers and abilities, with the great leveler, Death, our conclusion.

Has this not been the insight and wisdom of our Christian civilization, that without that spiritual understanding, life becomes a mere few short years of banging about until our time is up?

It is Hope, that belief in something beyond ourselves, eminently spiritual, which enables us to lead lives according to both the Natural Law and the Divine Positive Law, which properly and superbly fit, guide and measure our own human natures.

I am put in mind of a piece I wrote for Chronicles magazine a few years back (“The Devils in the Demonstrators,” Chronicles, November 2021. Pp36-37) which focuses on my direct experience with such persons who inhabit a counter-reality, peopled by dead souls whose hatred for our civilization is only matched by their uncontrollable, burning rage.

I offer it now.

The Devils in the Demonstrators

I was chairman of the Annual Confederate Flag Day at the North Carolina State Capitol in March of 2019 when our commemoration was besieged by several hundred screaming, raging demonstrators—Antifa-types and others. It took a mammoth police escort for us to exit the surrounded Capitol building.

I clearly recall the disfigured countenance, the flaming eyes, the foul imprecations of one of the protesters: he was young, white, and obviously not impoverished, probably the son of some well-to-do parents who had shelled out thousands of dollars for his education at one of North Carolina’s premiere universities. His contorted, angry grimace was that of a possessed soul, made mad by years of slow and patient educational indoctrination from our complacent society which tolerates and encourages everyday evil in nearly every endeavor we experience.

I remembered that day—that face—over two years later as I finished watching a made-for-television Russian series titled Demons. Based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1872 novel of the same name (also known as The Possessed), the plot is fairly complex and difficult to compress into a filmed series. Yet, enough of that complexity and meaning still comes forth while watching its English subtitles.

I read the novel many years ago. Even back then it was a difficult read, especially for someone unfamiliar with Russian history of the mid-19th century and Dostoevsky’s interest in the ideological visions of various revolutionary and nihilist movements then existent in Imperial Russia.

But the television series does an admirable job of encapsulating the novel’s main themes and storyline. And like much of Dostoevsky, the theological questions of good and evil, sin and redemption, and order and disorder are never far from the surface. For the great Russian author saw deeply into the hearts of his fellow men, particularly those vacuous and empty souls of the fanatical idealists who professed a secular vision of a future socialist and globalist utopia on earth, a paradise without the encumbrances and limits of tradition, tsarist authority, and God. But it was precisely such natural and real lineaments which both regulate our innate freedom of will (so that it may not become license), and also provide a safe and ample space for our existence.

In tracing the evolution of revolutionary thinking personified in his diverse characters, Dostoevsky captures and illustrates—as perhaps no other author before or since—the true nature of evil which inevitably ends not only in the destruction of the individual, but eventually also spurs the dissolution and decay of the social fabric of society.

That evil—and it is pure demonic evil as Dostoevsky reveals in Demons—is all consuming, a madness which he both historically and theologically identifies with rebellion against God and, in his particular view, in opposition to the traditional Russian Orthodox Church. But that meaning is applicable for all of traditional Christianity.

In another Dostoevsky novelThe Brothers Karamazov, his worldly and secular character Ivan makes a statement often expressed as: “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” By novel’s end he realizes that God does—must—exist, and therefore there must be—and are—rules and law, both divine and human, that must be observed for there to be any kind of human society. Indeed, without them there can be no genuine liberty, no justice, no true happiness.

In Demons the revolutionary cell in Dostoevsky’s imagined provincial town is composed of mostly young members of the upper classes, a couple of disaffected military officers and intellectuals, and the magnetic personality of Nikolai Stavrogin.  Stavrogin is highborn, refined, handsome, self-assured, and intelligent. And yet there is, as the narrator of the story informs us, something repellent, deeply cynical, and inherently foul about him. The other revolutionaries are fascinated by him, specifically Pyotr Verkhovensky, perhaps the most loathsome and manipulative character Dostoevsky ever created, a man capable of murder simply on caprice or whim, without any apparent sense or thought of regret. Truly he is a man possessed.

Verkhovensky, who claims to be taking orders from a central committee in St. Petersburg, is bedazzled by Stavrogin and wishes him to lead the revolutionary efforts; but Stavrogin hesitates. In the depths of Stavrogin’s consciousness, there is that awkward awareness of his own misshapen and fatally damaged soul. Finally, after some hesitation, he visits a spiritual guide, Father Tikhon, where he confesses that he has lost any sense of good and evil, and that all that remains is simply avarice. Stavrogin is a man who refuses God, but in his frustration he innately realizes that nothing else can satisfy that emptiness. Indeed, without God, without the fullness of faith, it is the Devil, Evil Incarnate, who fills the void. Without God, everything is permitted.

Ivan Shatov is perhaps the character with whom Dostoevsky most closely identified. He had once idolized Stavrogrin and looked up to him as a potential leader who would inspire Russia to Christian regeneration. Disillusioned, he has now come to regard him as an irresponsible man of idle luxury. Stavrogin, he declares, is driven by a passion for inflicting torment, not merely for the gratification he receives in hurting others, but to torment his own conscience and wallow in amoral carnality.

Verkhovensky detests and hates Shatov, and conceives a plan to assassinate him, for Shatov, he believes, stands in the way of the triumph of the revolution. And, in fact, one of the conspirators lures Shatov to a remote location where he is cruelly murdered, much to the insane delight of Verkhovensky.

But the conspiracy unravels, and the conspirators are arrested or, in the case of Verkhovensky, flee to St. Petersburg where he can again work his revolutionary mischief. And Stavrogin, understanding finally the futility of his life, and understanding more profoundly than any other of the revolutionaries the nature of the revolutionary contagion—a true “demonic possession”—does what for him is the only logical action: he hangs himself. Unable or unwilling to make repentance, and knowing darkly that he has been possessed by demons, but refusing the mercy of God, like a brightly burning supernova, he collapses upon himself, extinguished and damned.

Of all the great counterrevolutionary works—novels, autobiographies, narrations—Dostoevsky’s stands out for its very human, very real description of the sheer personal evil and demonic lunacy of the then-nascent Marxist revolution incubating in Russia. In more recent times, we have a George Orwell, an Arthur Koestler, and an Aleksander Solzhenitsyn who recount what they experienced or what they saw and observed. But it was Dostoevsky who with deep insight visualized it a century earlier, who plumbed the depths of the human psyche and the inherent and personal nature of what is essentially a “revolution against God and Man.”

For the rejection of God as He desires to be known and obeyed through his Word, His law, and through His church does not result in a secular utopia, a kind of secular parousia or Heaven-on-Earth. The revolutionary madness is, as Dostoevsky declares, a form of possession of men who have misshapen and empty souls which have then been occupied by demons, by evil.

Thus, as I watched Demons I remembered that day several years ago with its seemingly possessed protesters. I also recalled images flashed across the television screen more recently of our latter-day violent Verkhovenskys and Stavrogins, those deracinated students, wooley-brained woke academicians, effete Hollywood celebrities and media personalities, and political epigones who have turned the American republic into a charnel house where the bones of a once-great nation lie in trash heaps.

Over the past many decades, we have permitted our government to impose on us and much of the world what is termed liberal democracy and something we call “human rights.” But those precepts and vision are of a secular, globalist world where the Verkhovenskys dominate a complacent and obedient population, where our culture has been so infected and so poisoned that, as William Butler Yeats prophesied a century ago, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

It does not and will not end well. The “American Century,” without the kind of repentance that was offered to Nikolai Stavrogin, and which he would not accept, is over. And despite our insouciance and material gratification, there will be a price, a severe and heavy price to pay.

Observing the pre-World War I revolutionary fervor which would soon overtake the world, the Anglo-French critic and essayist Hilaire Belloc wrote these lines in This and That and the Other:

“The Barbarian is discoverable everywhere in this that he cannot make; that he can befog or destroy, but that he cannot sustain; and of every Barbarian in the decline or peril of every civilisation exactly that has been true. We sit by and watch the Barbarian, we tolerate him; in the long stretches of peace we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us: we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond: and on these faces there is no smile.”

Dostoevsky, through Father Tikhon, reminds us that there is a way out of the fetid and poisonous bog we are drowning in. In his day it was not taken by the revolutionaries who eventually would have their way in Russia and later in the world, with the charnel house counting eventually 100 million victims.

Like Verkovensky, that frenzied youthful demonstrator against Confederate symbols back in March 2019 was possessed, incapable—unlike Stavrogin—of recognizing his diabolical possession.

Good and evil stand in eternal conflict; one must triumph and one must be extinguished. Dostoevsky fully understood that, and so must we.

Reprinted with the author’s permission.

Another Bodyguard of Lies

In a 1922 essay about Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in his book Prejudices: Third Series H.L. Mencken asked, “Am I the first American to note the fundamental nonsensicality of the Gettysburg Address”?  One example of the nonsense of Lincoln’s rhetoric as explained by Mencken is as follows:

“Think of the argument in it.  Put it into the cold words of everyday.  The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination – that government of the people, by the people, for the people, should not perish from the earth.  It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue.  The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves” (emphasis added).

(“Nonsense on stilts,” by the way, was a phrase coined by nineteenth-century writer Jeremy Bentham to describe social contract theory.  Today we would probably say “nonsense on steroids”).

Now along comes historian Paul C. Graham, a little over a century later, who has expanded upon Mencken’s essay in a short book entitled Nonsense on Stilts: The Gettysburg Address & Lincoln’s Imaginary Nation.  It is easy to come to the conclusion after reading Graham’s book that it is hard to imagine a larger collection of falsehoods ever packed into a single political speech anywhere at any time than the Gettysburg Address.  In essence, the Address was a radically false rendition of the American founding designed to fool the public into believing that the founding fathers did after all create a highly centralized, monopolistic superstate with virtually unlimited powers.  That is why the totalitarian-minded “Pulitzer prize winner” (as Graham calls him) Gary Wills celebrated the Gettysburg Address as “a giant, if benign, swindle.”

Following Mencken’s example, Graham picks apart the Address by the old railroad industry trial lawyer/lobbyist, slick phrase by slick phrase.  First of all, no “new nation” was brought forth “four score and seven years ago” as Lincoln absurdly asserted.  The thirteen colonies seceded from the British empire and did not then create an empire of their own.  “The colonists were not inventing something new; they were protecting something old, namely, self-government and their inherited rights as Englishmen which was being threatened by the English parliament . . .”

“Declaration of Independence” is actually slang for the actual title of the document, “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen united States of America.”  As in all the founding documents, “united States” is in the plural, signifying that the thirteen free and independent states were united in their desire to secede from the British empire.  That is why, at the end of the Revolution, King George III signed a peace treaty with each individual state, not something called “the United States government.”

The first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, declared that each state “retained its sovereignty, freedom, and independence.”  They retained, not gained, their sovereignty as “free and independent states,” as they are called in the Declaration.  States rights, state sovereignty, the right of secession, and the states delegating a few powers to the central government as their agent were the ideas of the founders, not creating “a new nation.”  There was no pledge of allegiance to “one nation, indivisible”; that was an invention of late nineteenth-century socialist and Lincoln worshipper Francis Bellamy.

Graham describes the second Constitution as an attempted  and failed coup by the nationalists in American politics to destroy state sovereignty and consolidate all political power in the  national capitol.  At the constitutional convention Alexander Hamilton, for example, proposed a permanent president (aka a king) who would appoint all governors, with the central state having the right to veto any and all state legislation.  His plan for a centralized dictatorship of course failed, but the nationalists, including Lincoln, would never give up.

Lincoln’s claim that America is a “nation” dedicated to the “proposition” that all men are created equal is a non-sequitur for several reasons, including the fact that it was never established as a “nation” but as a collection of sovereign states (with sovereign rights to raise taxes and wage war, as all sovereign states do, according to the Declaration).  Besides, as Graham points out, a “proposition” is something that can be either true or false.  This means that these words of the slick railroad trial lawyer from Illinois were, well, a meaningless jumble.  Moreover, the founders would have been amused to learn that they created a “nation” predicated on a “proposition” that could be either true or false.  Such language does open the door, however, to endless revolutions in the name of whatever proposition the political class of the day decides to invent – war in Ukraine, war in the Middle East, war in Vietnam, war in Russia . . .  As for Lincoln’s rhetoric of “equality,” he was always very clear about that when it came to racial equality.  As Graham quotes him, “no sane man,” said Lincoln, “will attempt to deny that the African upon his own soil has all the natural rights that instrument [the Declaration] vouchsafes to all mankind.”  Describing black people as alien beings – “the African”– they can all be equal, but only in Africa, not in America, said the former “manager” of the Illinois Colonization Society that sought to use tax dollars to deport all free blacks out of the state.

Lincoln’s claim in the Address that secession would destroy the American union is also nonsense on stilts (or steroids).  The U.S. government thrived during the War to Prevent Southern Independence, as all governments do during wartime.  Had the South seceded peacefully the U.S. government would still have existed of course, but  probably would not have taken such an imperialistic path as it did.

Equally nonsensical is Lincoln’s claim that no state can secede unless given permission by all the other states.  New York, Virginia, and Rhode Island specifically reserved the right to “reassume” any powers delegated to the federal government in their ratification documents, and those same rights then applied to all other states, present and future.  The government in Washington never had the constitutional “right” to abolish self government by the citizens of the free, independent, and sovereign states.  It gave itself that “right” with bullets, bombs, and mass murder.

Lincoln said that one party to a contract cannot break the contract without the other party, but the Constitution was not a normal contract.  The states ratified it, as stated in Article 7, and therefore were the creators of the powers of the central government, to be used supposedly for their benefit, farcical as that idea seems today.  They were in no way equal parties to a contract, contrary to the words of the old contract-writing lawyer/lobbyist.

Lincoln’s biggest knee slapper in the Gettysburg Address is his statement that the union is older than the states.  Yeah, just as all marital unions are older than either spouse.

Graham succinctly explains the purpose of the small mountain of politically-inspired falsehoods that is the Gettysburg Address by recalling a conversation between Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun.  In response to a toast offered by Jackson “to the Union, it must be preserved,” Calhoun said “The Union, next to our Liberty the most dear; may we all remember it can only be preserved by respecting the rights of the States, and distributing equally the benefit and burden of the Union” (emphasis added).  “That’s the meaning of the whole bloody war,” writes Graham, “and everything surrounding it . . .”

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