The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Month: December 2013

Rita Discovers The House of Intellect

is an abbreviated book review of historian Jacques Barzun’s seminal 1959
critique of American culture, The
House of Intellect
. However, I shall begin instead by citing one of my
favorite movie scenes, from Lewis Gilbert’s 1983 film, “Educating Rita,”
for it will help to amplify one of Barzun’s many concerns.
a “lower class,” ambitious hairdresser (presumably of playwright
Willy Russell’s Liverpool), feeling that she is suffocating in her station and
wants a “better song to sing,” enrolls in Britain’s Open University to
satisfy a hunger to broaden her mind and horizons. She is assigned a literature
professor, Frank Bryant, who has lost his zest for life and for his subject,
and is drinking himself down the drain. Rita is asked to answer in essay form
the question of how best to stage Henrik Ibsen’s play, Peer Gynt. She turns in a paper in which she says, simply, “Do
it on the radio.” (Watch the scene here, between minutes
5:55 and 8:44.)
mildly upbraids her for her unintentional “flip” brevity, which,
while it conveys the right answer, doesn’t begin to explain why and so wouldn’t
be good enough for her to pass an exam. Rita replies that she wanted to
“encapsulate” her answer in one line. But she repairs to a desk in
Bryant’s office to write out her explanation, which she initially didn’t think needed
elaboration or explication. Her rewrite reveals to Bryant that she has read up
on Ibsen and is deadly earnest about her ambition. She writes:
In attempting to resolve the
staging difficulties of a production of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, I would present it on the radio, because, as Ibsen
himself said, he wrote it as a play for voices, never intending it to go on in
a theater. If they had had the radio in his day, that is where he would have
done it.
explanation pleases Bryant. He smiles and nods to Rita in acknowledgement.
Barzun (1907-2012),
originally a French citizen, was a prolific historian and cultural critic who came
to the U.S. in 1919 to join his father who was on a diplomatic mission and
became a U.S. citizen in 1933. I discovered Barzun and his House of Intellect in an antiquarian bookshop in Palo Alto. What I
enjoyed most about Barzun in that book and in his later works was the breadth
of his knowledge and his way of approaching his subjects.
died in 2012 at the age of 104 years. He witnessed much of the 20th
century and a preview of the 21st, which must have dismayed him. The
London Telegraph
began its October 26th, 2012 obituary of him:
The sheer scope of his knowledge
was extraordinary. Barzun’s eye roamed over the full spectrum of Western music,
art, literature and philosophy. A champion of the liberal arts tradition in
higher education, he deplored what he called the “gangrene of specialism”.
Barzun’s intellectual ancestors
were Gibbon, Burkhardt and Macaulay. The work of history, he declared, should
include “the range and wildness of individuality, the pivotal force of trifles,
the manifestations of greatness, the failure of unquestioned talent”.
The traditional purpose of the
university — the teaching of the knowledge of the past — was, he insisted,
increasingly under threat; and in a speech in the United States in 1963 he
warned that “the best colleges today are being invaded, not to say
dispossessed, by the advance agents of the professions, by men who want to
seize upon the young recruit … and train him in a ‘tangible skill’.”
was in 1963. So, our present political and cultural conundrum didn’t begin with
Bill Ayers and the Weathermen, or with two-year-old Barack Obama, or even with
Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas. Its roots go back as far as Barzun was willing to
trace them, and he was a very good detective of ideas.
York Times’
obituary of Barzun, of October 26th, however, was
predictably catty, beginning with:
Jacques Barzun, the distinguished
historian, essayist, cultural gadfly and educator who helped establish the
modern discipline of cultural history and came to see the West as sliding
toward decadence, died Thursday night in San Antonio, where he lived. He was
doesn’t pay one’s respects to a person one ostensibly admires by calling him a
“gadfly.” The balance of the obituary contains numerous subtle
ribbings and cuts. Basically, what Barzun championed, the New York Times
opposed and even contributed to its demise in the way of endorsing a
“sweeping nihilism.”
By the 1960s, he wrote in “The
American University,” the university was being mistakenly expected to “provide
a home for the arts, satisfy divergent tastes in architecture and social mores,
cure cancer, recast the penal code and train equally for the professions and
for a life of cultural contentment.”
this is what the New York Times expects and has labored assiduously to bring
about. The Times obituary carried, in between its lines, a faint whiff of
relief that Barzun was gone.
did not always agree with his diagnosis or prognosis of American culture or the
state of civilization, but his was a method that was friendly to my own, one
which attempted, not always successfully in my view, to formulate a
comprehensive view of man and his civilization, to pinpoint the causes and
consequences of ideas and problems. For example, he was absolutely opposed to
pat, “Do it on the radio” answers to problems which today are not as
innocently voiced as Rita’s was. He admired intellect but also pointed out that
too often intellectuals baited each other at the cost of perpetuating America’s
notorious anti-intellectualism and pragmatism.  Watching “Dancing with the
Intellectuals” is less of a marginal American spectator sport than is
European soccer or cricket or “reality” TV.
The House of Intellect, Barzun’s
thesis is that “intellect” is often its own worst enemy. The
influence of American philosopher William James, the super-pragmatist and
“spiritualist,” whom Barzun studied at Columbia University, leaches
through on virtually every page like contaminated ground water, subjecting
Barzun to the same phenomenon. In making a distinction between intelligence and
intellect, he writes, in Chapter 1, “The Three Enemies of Intellect”:
…[I]t is for lack of Intellect
that we have such a hard time judging persons and ideas; it is absence of
Intellect that makes us so frightened of criticism and so inept at
conversation; it is disregard of Intellect that has brought our school system
to its present ridiculous paralysis….(p. 4)
have been of little help, contends Barzun.
…[T]he intellectuals’ chief cause
of anguish are one another’s works. (p. 2)
writes Barzun, can be adept at handling facts and observable phenomena, but too
often at the expense of intellect, which, he asserts, is left out in the cold.
If there is a dichotomy or even rivalry between intelligence and intellect, it
is largely the intellect’s fault. There is more of that species of vague
discussion in that chapter. Worse, yet, is Barzun’s collectivization of the
intellect, or of the mind.
Intellect is community property
and can be handed down….For intelligence wherever found is an individual and
private possession; it dies with the owner unless he embodies it in more or
less lasting form. Intellect is on the contrary a product of social effort and
of acquirement. A man cannot help being intelligent, but he can easily help
becoming intellectual. Intellect is an institution; it stands up as it were by
itself, apart from the possessors of intelligence, even though they alone could
rebuild it if it should be destroyed. (p. 5)
argues that another way that modern intellectuals become superfluous in their
efforts to avoid becoming superfluous in the public eye is that most of them
succumb to the temptation of substituting thought for cant or what are today
called “buzzwords.” “Buzzwords” are meant to allow
non-intellectuals to adopt and advance an entire philosophical system by
bypassing the digestive system of thought, of the chore or effort of chewing an
idea to see whether or not it’s consumable or has dire consequences if
swallowed whole without mastication, and allow them to pose as intellectuals
themselves, vehicles of profound and caring thought. Poverty, guns, health care, equality, and life style
are instances of such buzzwords. In print or uttered through a megaphone, such
words conjure up issues which have been debated and argued for centuries, but
allow their auditors to pretend they know all there is to know about them
without, as Frank Bryant informed Rita, ever having to pen a “considered
essay.” Instead, they pen illogical editorials or scrawl words on
cardboard signs staple-gunned to sticks to carry during noisy demonstrations.
says this in many more words, in whole books. He was the enemy of what he
called “specialism” or “professionalism,” in which men
became articulate experts in one field without needing or wanting to know
anything about any other field of thought or science, without discovering
linkages or animosities between the fields, about which they still feel they
have the right to voice opinions. Thus we can observe the spectacle of
scientists successfully exploring Mars with robots controlled from earth, but
who also voted for Barack Obama, twice. The intelligence abundantly apparent in
one field just does not or will not venture into another. Thus, concludes
Barzun, these men lack intellect.
of Obama, Daniel Greenfield is the closest thing we have today to Jacques
Barzun in the way of searching for and expressing a consistent, comprehensive
world view. In his Sultan Knish column, “The
Left is Too Smart to Fail
,” for example, he elaborates on Barzun’s
theme of how intellect has been banished from human communication and replaced
with a bag of linguistic Trail Mix. I find I disagree with him far less
frequently than I ever do with Barzun. In his latest column, like Barzun, he
makes a vital distinction between genuine intelligence and
“manufactured” or “fake” intelligence.
Intelligence to a modern liberal
isn’t depth, it’s appearance. It isn’t even an intellectual quality, but a
spiritual quality. Compassionate people who care about others are always
“smarter”, no matter how stupid they might be, because they care
about the world around them.

An insight into how we live matters more than useful knowledge. Skill is
irrelevant unless it’s a transformative progressive “changing the way we
live” application.

Obama and his audience mistake their orgy of mutual flattery for intelligence
and depth. Like a trendy restaurant whose patrons know that they have good
taste because they patronize it, his supporters know that they are smart
because they support a smart man and Obama knows he is smart because so many
smart people support him.

The thought never rises within this bubble of manufactured intelligence that
all of them might really be idiots who have convinced themselves that they are
geniuses because they read the right books (or pretend to read them), watch the
right movies and shows (or pretend to) and have the right values (or pretend to).
while he could be profound and right (or wrong), rarely concretizes his
observations in The House of Intellect,
leaving one with an unsatisfied wish to agree (or disagree), but without the
benefit of an example of what he means, which would have helped to send one in
one direction or another. Greenfield, however, concretizes as a matter of
course, which makes him, in terms of style, a much more effective intellectual
than Barzun.
is not to say that Barzun was never influential. He was, but in the obverse
meaning: his critiques and conclusions about American culture and its headlong plunge
into statism and the welfare state were universally rejected – noted, but
rejected – by the intellectual, cultural and political establishments. 
prize chapter in The House of Intellect
is the last one, “Objective Tests,” which was appended to Barzun’s
“Summing Up.” Having never attended college, I was astounded, at
first, by Barzun’s critique of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) administered
to high school students contemplating a college career (p. 163). For Barzun,
his complaint about the SA – at least, as it existed in 1959, when his book was
published; one can only imagine what crimes the SAT commits today – is that its
test questions were not “clear-cut” and did not encourage
“clear-cut” answers, as well.   
 What of the questions in the two booklets (Scholastic Aptitude Test and Science)? I am officially informed that
they were selected from actual tests, most of them being copied verbatim and
the rest with small editorial changes. Such a process of successive filtering
should have eliminated serious blemishes. That the surviving questions are not
always clear-cut is implied by the following passage on page 18 of Scholastic Aptitude Test:
“As you read through the
explanations of the verbal section, you may disagree with what we think to be
the correct answer to one or two questions. You may think we are quibbling in
making certain distinctions between answer choices. It is true that you will find
some close distinctions and just as true that in making close distinctions
reasonable people do disagree. Whether or not you disagree on a few questions
is not terribly important, however, for the value of the test as a whole is
that people who are likely to succeed in college agree in the main on most of
the correct answers. It is this that gives the [Scholastic Aptitude Test] its predictive power.
“For this very reason, when
you find it hard to make or recognize a distinction between answer choices, it
is better not to spend much time on that question. It is the whole [Scholastic Aptitude Test] rather than
any single question in it that make the test a good indicator of college
ability.” (p. 263)
If you disagree with “what we think to be the correct answer,” don’t
spend too much time on the question, that is, trying to figure out what we’re
getting at or even questioning the validity or the wording of the question
itself. Just pen in what you think – or what you think we think – it should be without straining your brains. This test
is, after all, a means of measuring how successfully you will absorb an
unspoken “go with the flow” rule while in college. Its purpose is not
to measure your intellect, scope of knowledge, or even your intelligence. Its
purpose is to determine how well you can adapt to consensus.
SAT, as Barzun describes it, aside from inculcating a warning to prospective
college-goers that conformity in thought is the campus and classroom rule, is
also biased against the truly independent thinker, the creator, the innovator
who thinks “outside the box.”  
SAT and similar aptitude tests, writes Barzun,
…call for choices but not for
reasons for choices. Difficulties that seem formidable to some people seem
non-existent to others. Defective test questions tend to turn multiple choice
tests into lotteries….(p. 266)
into a solemn, academic, second-guessing game show combination of “Wheel
of Fortune” and “Beat the Clock,” sans the slinky model, the orchestra, and audience noise.
Even if the tests were
constructed with impeccable draftsmanship and were free from all ambiguities
and errors, they would, in my opinion, still have serious defects as testing
instruments, especially when applied to creative persons and to some of those
people, who, despite impressive gifts, do not shine at parlor games. For
multiple choice tests, by their very nature, tend to favor the pickers of
choices over the doers, and the superficially brilliant over the creatively
profound. And the use of these tests has a baleful influence on teachers and
teaching. (p. 267)
on students, as well. One must wonder how, for about two generations now, so
many American students passed the SAT and went on to college, yet, upon
graduation, had to be taught remedial English and mathematics at their
employers’ expense.
was obvious to Rita wasn’t obvious to her tutor. He taught her that every
assertion needed evidence and proofs and a context that needed to be
communicated with clarity and economy. Brevity, in Rita’s case, was not
necessarily a virtue. Not even a question of how best to stage Peer Gynt existed in a vacuum.
Bryant was no Jacques Barzun, but Rita was fortunate to have him as a guide to help
her find her “better
song to sing
,” as well as find the courage to look for it. And America
was fortunate that Barzun decided to remain here. Unfortunately, too many Americans
now are tone deaf to the song he sang.
that won’t stop me. Merry Christmas, one and all.
*The House of Intellect, by Jacques
Barzun. 1959. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1961.

The Ten Commandments: Not Freedom-Friendly

weary of addressing ongoing issues, I decided, for my own amusement, to vent my
satirical spleen, at the risk of inviting charges of “hate speech” by
the likely suspects.
of the most infuriating things about conservatives who claim that the U.S. was
founded on Biblical morality and the Ten Commandments is that, like Muslims,
their minds are closed to any arguments to the contrary. They slam shut so hard
you can feel the draft.  So, let’s
examine the Ten Commandments and see if any one of them has anything to do with
our vanishing freedoms. I have used the Commandments as published by the ultra
religious conservative group, Politichicks, in Lydia Goodman’s December 18th
column, “How
Many Laws Does One Country Need? God Says Ten
.”  Their exact wording is not as I remember
them, my having been exposed to them in the Catholic Church in the 1950’s, but
that is a minor point. 
10 Commandments
–  And God spoke all these words,
saying: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out
of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.
problem. There are no other gods before him. Not even God. There’s no queue
outside my door.
So,  Moses parted the Red Sea and talked to a
burning bush, and suddenly hefted a pair of very heavy stone tablets on which were
chiseled the Ten Commandments and which he had to lug back down the mountain.
These are apocryphal fairy tales akin to Mohammad riding a winged horse to have
a personal huddle with Allah and having an angel whisper into his ear Allah’s
own fifty dozen commandments.  There really
isn’t any reason why any rational person should take this Commandment
literally. Especially if he doesn’t subscribe to the notion of the existence of
a supernatural entity that knows all and can do all, and knew what you would do
billions of years before you were even born, but still imbues you with the
“freedom” of choice. Which doctrine should believers believe in:
Predestination, or volition? I’ve never heard an argument that made any sense,
because, among their other faults, fast-talking preachers and priests all try
to reconcile man the hapless pawn of God, with man the being of volitional
theologians and believers will retort: God is above human understanding, beyond
reason, except in one’s heart, and in one’s faith. To know God, one must suspend one’s
mind, because an inquiring mind is an obstacle to belief. And that retort is
largely a legacy of Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant, who wrote reams and
reams of paragraphs in an attempt to save religion from the Enlightenment.
(Kant wasn’t the only one, just the best known.) Trying to defend religion from
reason, he invented a “pure” reason that would explain and justify
the unreasonableness of religion, or why it was so reason-proof and rebuffed
the evidence of our senses in his Critique
of Pure Reason
, by which we have an a
grasp of God that has nothing to do with mere, mundane reason. Here
it is from the horse’s mouth:
HUMAN reason has this peculiar
fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as
prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but
which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.
just in Kant’s 1781 preface.
It more or less encapsulates his theme and subject. He could be brief when he
wanted to. Read the balance at your own risk, but be sure to have a bottle of
Tylenol handy. His oft-interminable sentences are sure to give you a throbbing
 You shall not make for yourself any
carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is
in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not
bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God,
visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth
generations of those who hate me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who
love Me and keep My commandments.
off, this sounds too much like the Islamic prohibition on representations of
Mohammad. However, artists of the Judeo-Christian creeds have played fast and
loose with representations of God. Witness Michelangelo’s rendering of God.
It’s an old fellow with an untrimmed beard and garbed in a nightgown.
I’m guessing that God exempted himself from his own Commandments, because
jealousy is a venial sin, a minor misdemeanor, and forgivable. Very big of him.
“Do as I say, not as I do”? This Commandment is particularly
extortionate, because it reads like a Mafia curse. His iniquity will be visited on
the guilty, and on the guilty’s descendents. The notion fits right in with the
doctrine of Original Sin,
in which one is burdened with sin before one is even born. Adam originated the
sin, and we’re his heirs. Spiffing.
I was a young, ignorant kid, I thought that a sin manifested itself as a black
spot on one’s belly. I was continually looking for one, or what resembled an
ink stain, because I was constantly sinning. One never appeared. I have a mole
there, but it’s brown. It’s just a collection of chemicals.
was God “born” old, or did he “age”? Has anyone ever
attempted an image of God as a Young Man? But, how could he “age”
before he invented time? According to the Big Bang theory, it was just him and
that dimensionless ball of glop that he caused to explode. Was that the
beginning of eternity, or the end of infinity? Go figure. Picture a
consciousness, form and gender unknown – or was there a gender? – floating in a
void in immeasurable time, with only the ball of glop for company. It’s a
prospect and a premise that puts all the recent CGI-rich science fiction films
to shame.
whoever said God was male? The feminists have had problems with that
presumption. They have been busy subjecting the Bible to Critical Theory
analysis, trying either to find a semantic or linguistic loophole in Genesis which
claims that God made man in his own image and likeness, or to deconstruct it to
shreds in a revolt against patriarchic sexism and producing some very vitriolic
to return to Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, what has God got against art,
that is, against making likenesses of things on earth and in the sea? Some of
the greatest art was created in his glory. Surely he couldn’t object to that? (Off-hand
remarks here about Michelangelo, or “Big Mike,” are not meant to be
deprecatory of his greatness as an artist.)
– You shall not take the name of the
Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His
name in vain.
why not? It’s just about the only time an atheist or even a steadfast Christian
will remember God, by taking his name in vain, or in anger, or in frustration,
and curse like a sailor. Further, unlike God, I wouldn’t be offended if people began taking my name in vain. If anything, I’d be flattered. Please, take my
name in vain, as often as you wish.
– Remember the Sabbath day, to keep
it holy.
remember the Sabbath only because my bank and favorite restaurants are closed.
– Honor your father and your mother,
that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
can’t honor my parents. They always voted the straight Democratic ticket, and
for Obama, twice. Further, it’s a confusingly worded Commandment. What exactly
had God given me? Democratic parents, or the land and the long days? Will
honoring my parents add years to my life?
You shall not murder.
why not? Give me a reason. Is it because another person’s life isn’t another’s
to take – that is, the person owns his own life – or is it because it’s assumed
he’s God’s property, and taking his life would amount to really serious larceny
and put the kibosh on God’s own plans for the person?  God notoriously does not tolerate interference
with his divine plans. He can be very, very wrathful.
You shall not commit adultery.
why not? If your spouse has turned into a prune-faced anchorite utterly hostile
to divorce and about as romantically exciting as Norman Bates’ mummified mother
or Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera, where else is there to turn?
You shall not steal.
not steal what? The limelight? The scene? The ball? Someone else’s real
property? Commit plagiarism? Please, someone give me a reason other than God’s
officious, persnickety say-so. This and the other Commandments come out of
literally nowhere, from the void of faith and belief. Has the Federal government
heard of this Commandment?
You shall not bear false witness against
your neighbor.
guess this is God’s dictat against lying. But why limit it to neighbors? How
about unneighborly tax collectors, criminals, and feminists? I say bear as much
false witness against them as the traffic will carry. Has Barack Obama heard of
this Commandment? There are forms of this Commandment in the Koran, but maybe he just skipped over
them in Indonesia.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s
house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his
maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.

Envy doesn’t necessarily lead to covetousness, or even to theft or illegal
appropriation or pilferage or shoplifting. Some dyed-in-the-wool Christians
argue that this particular Commandment is the sole foundation of capitalism. No
wonder Karl Marx was dead set against it. He was wrong, too. The foundations of
capitalism – indeed, of freedom of speech and of thought and of property – can
hardly be the arbitrary assertion of a ghost or even of a genuine mortal.
course, Christians won’t give up trying to wed freedom and religion. A case in
point is a column, “Ayn Rand and Jesus: Do they teach opposing viewpoints
about economy?” on BeliefNet,
in which, incredibly, the writer asserts that there can be a moral
“overlap between an atheist and a Christian.”  
Among other things, there can be
overlap between an atheist and a Christ follower in discovering truth.
 Jesus would disagree with Ayn Rand that there is any morality outside of
God. He might tell her that she hasn’t traced her absolutes back far enough to
an objective reality.

I would like to have seen Jesus say that to Rand’s face and leave the room in
one piece. On the other hand, she was such a formidable and persuasive debater
that perhaps Jesus might have wound up an atheist.
she noted, was (and remains) a primitive form of philosophy. In her March 1964 Playboy interview,
she said:
Faith, as such, is extremely
detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason. But you must remember
that religion is an early form of philosophy, that the first attempts to
explain the universe, to give a coherent frame of reference to man’s life and a
code of moral values, were made by religion, before men graduated or developed
enough to have philosophy. And, as philosophies, some religions have very
valuable moral points. They may have a good influence or proper principles to
inculcate, but in a very contradictory context and, on a very—how should I say
it?—dangerous or malevolent base: on the ground of faith.

By way of illustration, religion can be compared with the stick men children
first learn to draw; a fully rational philosophy, absent any form of mysticism
and reliance on unsupportable assertions, should then lead them to create the
likes of Michelangelo’s “David.
But modern philosophy has so failed men in their search for a “coherent frame
of reference to man’s life and a code of moral values,” that they are
doubling back to the primitive form of it because it seems to make more sense
than, say, Existentialism or Nihilism or Marxism. One can’t really blame them. Look
at what Existentialism has produced in the way of a representation of man:
there’s Rodin’s
“Walking Man,” and Giacometti’s.
Not much of a choice. One can sympathize with them, but not ally oneself with
them, except on an ad hoc basis.  
in the existence of the supernatural, and even in the
“extra-rational,” has been a stumbling block all throughout man’s
history. And it has proven dangerous. Faith in a supernatural giver of laws has
become faith in a statist and totalitarian system that promises paradise on earth.
But it can only attempt to deliver that paradise by employing faith’s necessary
partner: force.
And, as Rand so well put it:
I have said that faith and force
are corollaries, and that mysticism will always lead to the rule of brutality.
The cause of it is contained in the very nature of mysticism. Reason is
the only objective means of communication and of understanding among
men; when men deal with one another by means of reason, reality is their objective
standard and frame of reference. But when men claim to possess supernatural
means of knowledge, no persuasion, communication or understanding are possible….And
more: no man or mystical elite can hold a whole society subjugated to their
arbitrary assertions, edicts and whims, without the use of force. Anyone who
resorts to the formula: “It’s so, because I say so,” will have to reach for a
gun, sooner or later.
there is no “overlapping” possible between reason and faith. Any attempt
at it will result in the triumph of faith, as exemplified in the porous,
virtually tongue-in-cheek rationalizations one can read on BeliefNet, which is
no defense of freedom at all. Faith can give one the illusory comfort of a
comprehensible universe – or, more often than not, lead to the horrors in
history and those taking place in our own time.

The Perils of “Hate” Speech and Crime Revisited

attorney and seasoned trial lawyer Perry Mason never lost a
case to a prosecutor who charged his clients with “hate speech” or
with a “hate crime.” Or at least no defendant of Mason’s was every indicted,
charged with, tried for, or found guilty of it. That is because the concepts of
“hate speech” and “hate crimes” would never have been
admitted by the presiding judge. Indeed, prosecutors would have found the
concepts alien, inadmissible, and incompatible with objective law, as well. At
least, that would have been the finding in lawyer Erle Stanley Gardner’s time,
and therefore in Perry Mason’s time.
Mason and his usual opponent at the bar, District Attorney Hamilton Burger, while
they might have dwelt on a defendant’s emotions – vengeance, jealousy, avarice,
anger, bitterness – in their argumentation, they knew that it was not a
defendant’s emotions that were on trial, but his actions. It is an action that
is a demonstrable thing, not a person’s reason for taking an action, except
through a person’s confession. And even then, it is not a person’s reason or
motive for committing (or not committing) a crime that is the focus of Mason
and Burger, but the action itself.
I wrote in one of my columns, The
Peril of “Hate Crimes
“A totalitarian anti-concept
of ‘justice’ has been gnawing away at objective law without correction or
opposition, and making rapid progress in a judicial system that has steadily
abandoned reason and the protection of individual rights: hate crime.”
crimes initially were violations of individual rights motivated by the perpetrators’
hatred of a victim’s race, gender, religion, or political affiliation. The
nature of the motive was acknowledged, but was not the subject of a trial.
Hatred is an emotion that can be traced to two fundamental evaluations: fear,
and malice. One can justifiably hate what one fears, if what one fears
jeopardizes a rational value or one’s life. Or, one can hate what one fears
because it threatens an irrational value, such as blind faith or one’s
purported racial or cultural superiority. Malice is simply a raw, unreasoning
hatred of a good for being the good.
the motivating, emotional elements of a demonstrable or provable violation of an
individual’s right (murder, rape, physical assault) are now frequently factored
into the severity of a defendant’s crime and in consequent punishment after his
conviction and trial.
short, the why of a crime is
increasingly treated as though it were a weapon, such as a gun, a knife, or a
club, or as a kind of co-conspirator or accomplice to a crime. In standard
criminal cases, however, it has never been the instrument of crime that was on
trial, but the defendant and his actions.
Until recently, no person or criminal, to my knowledge, has been indicted,
convicted, and tried because of his irrationality, only for his irrational
actions and his employment of force or fraud to pursue his ends.
was moved to revisit the subjects of “hate” speech and
“hate” crime by an article on Spiked, by Joanna Williams, “Teaching
Students to Fear Free Speech
,” in which she observes, when commenting
on the restrictive “free speech” codes at Britain’s Exeter University
and other British universities:
Exeter University, like many
others, uses the Equality Act to reinterpret freedom of speech as meaning the
freedom not to be offended. As Greg Lukianoff puts it in Unlearning Liberty:
Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate
: ‘By following a
“sensitivity for everyone” as opposed to a “free speech for everyone” model,
you create the risk that nobody will be allowed to say anything interesting at
even that knight of “social and economic justice,” Franklin D.
Roosevelt, included, among his vaunted political soufflé of the Four Freedoms (freedom
of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear), the
notion in that check-off list that anyone was entitled to freedom from offense,
disparagement, insult, insensitive remarks, distress, verbal abuse, disrespect,
and blasphemy, aside from freedom from legitimate scholarly criticism of his
economic programs or from satirical attention to the evident hypocrisy of
members of his administration. FDR was such an amoral pragmatist I’m sure that were
a Muslim or modern day diversity-obsessed leftie close at hand, he could have
persuaded FDR to include one or all of Islam’s favorite victimhood cards,
together with those of the lesbian/gay/transgender/cross-dressing brigade, as
well. And that would have been quite a feat of political agenda “diversity.”
are students who have been brow-beaten into not risking voicing criticism of or
venturing an opinion on just about anything lest they be upbraided or hauled
into a kangaroo court, and there are British sandwich shop owners who make
jokes on Facebook about deceased tyros and tin pot dictators. Walter Olson
reported on the Overlawyered
site on December 14th:
Authorities in Rugeley,
Staffordshire, England, detained sandwich shop owner Neil Phillips for eight
hours, searched his computer, fingerprinted him and swabbed him for DNA after a
local elected official complained that Phillips had engaged in online jokes and
comments on Facebook, including jokes about Nelson Mandela. [Birmingham
, The
] Afterward, Phillips complained that the constabulary had
“over-reacted massively”: “There was no hatred. What happened to freedom of
Charles Cooke explains
at NRO
Well, the Public Order Act of
1986 happened to freedom of speech – in particular, Section 5, which makes it a
crime in England for anyone ”with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or
distress” to
[use] threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly
behaviour, or (b) [display] any writing, sign or other visible representation
which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing that or another
person harassment, alarm or distress
In other words, Section 5 allows
anybody to have anybody else investigated for speaking. And they have. The
arrests have run the gamut: from Muslims criticizing atheists to atheists
criticizing Muslims….
that’s what happens in Britain to someone who says something interesting.
Except to Muslims, Welfare Statists, and Leftists of every stripe, who
regularly use threatening, abusive, and insulting words and behavior, and
indulge in disorderly behavior, and religiously display writing, signs and
other visible representations that are threatening, abusive and insulting,
causing upholders of freedom and Western civilization harassment, alarm and
distress. Upholders of freedom and Western civilization need not bother filing
a complaint, as a politician did against the hapless Neil Phillips.
what harm can words cause? First, let’s settle on a definition of word. In her groundbreaking work, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology*,
novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand wrote:
definition is a statement that identifies the nature of the units subsumed
under a concept.

is often said that definitions state the meaning of words. This is true, but it
is not exact. A word is merely a visual-auditory symbol used to represent a
concept; a word has no meaning other than that of the concept it symbolizes,
and the meaning of a concept consists of its units. It is not words, but
concepts that man defines—by specifying their referents.

purpose of a definition is to distinguish a concept from all other concepts and
thus to keep its units differentiated from all other existents.

the definition of a concept is formulated in terms of other concepts, it
enables man, not only to identify and retain a concept, but also to
establish the relationships, the hierarchy, the integration of all his
concepts and thus the integration of his knowledge. Definitions preserve, not
the chronological order in which a given man may have learned concepts, but the
logical order of their hierarchical interdependence.

certain significant exceptions, every concept can be defined and communicated
in terms of other concepts. The exceptions are concepts referring to
sensations, and metaphysical axioms. [p. 40]
on that, “hate” speech is a concept that, socially and politically,
enables a person or the state to treat one’s motive as a punishable crime, or a thought (or emotion) as socially and legally impermissible, and
also punishable.  “Hate” speech
treats words and emotions as literal physical entities capable of inflicting
physical, but chiefly emotional or mental harm on another. “Hate”
speech regards words as palpable forces that can effect change or trigger
unwanted emotions, as though they were hammers tapping on a person’s kneecap
and causing the lower leg to jerk upward.
words – which constitute speech – are merely audio-visual symbols of a thing
for which there is a concept, they have no existential, physical attributes or
character. Because they have no existential qualities, they cannot by
themselves harm or affect anyone or anything. Nor can images. This is why it is
humorous to watch someone coax or curse a recalcitrant engine that won’t start.
crimes, on the other hand, are directly linked to “hate” speech
because it is the motives or the contents of one’s mind in the context of a
provable crime that are targeted for disapprobation. The concept of a
“hate” crime refers to actions of a thought carried out in action,
and moves it from moral condemnation to a chargeable crime. George Orwell
anticipated the phenomenon when he devised the notion of thoughtcrime for his dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
a Perry Mason court, if a defendant is on trial for murder, it may be revealed
that he wanted the victim’s money or wife or prestige, or because the victim
was going to disclose his embezzlement or other kind of malfeasance (and may or
may not have intended to blackmail the defendant), and so took an immoral
action. But his wanting something is
not what he is on trial for. A Perry Mason court focused on actions taken in
pursuit of some gain, or committed in vengeance, and so on.
speech, coupled with “hate” crime, are the Gog and
of statism and corrupters of genuine justice. They are the twin
harbingers of totalitarianism. The U.S. is moving haltingly in that direction,
as witness the invocation of “hate” speech” in many judicial
decisions as reason and objective law are abandoned in favor of positive law.
Britain and Europe are galloping in that direction. 
Hendrickson noted in his Forbes Magazine article of May 30th, The Pandora’s Box of Progressivism: Positive
The classical liberal view of
individual rights being primary and justice consisting of government and law
being for the purpose of impartially upholding those rights no longer prevails.
It has been supplanted by the notion—advanced by progressives, socialists, and
adherents of various other illiberal ideologies—that government should act in a
positive way to make life better for people….Once Americans started to accept
the notion that government should lend a helping hand, the potential expansion
of government’s scope and power became unlimited.
most recent and notorious example of “positive law” is ObamaCare, which
is intended to lend Americans a “helping hand” with their health care
insurance. Other examples are anti-smoking laws, anti-trans-fats laws, anti-discrimination
laws, and EPA regulations. Positive law or “progressive” law is practiced
by a government which sees itself as an “activist” for social
legislation and which enacts laws to advance the “common good.” It is
an enemy of natural law.
speech and “hate” crime are intrusive legal examples of positive law,
imposed to guarantee an individual’s or a group’s “freedom from” something
that might hurt feelings or a tenuous self-respect.
would be no room for a Perry Mason in a judicial system that universally
adopted “hate” law. He would retire from his practice, knowing that
the “positive” law of “hate” speech and “hate”
crime could only have a negative
impact on justice. He might even suspect that justice was not an end or a goal
of the proponents of “hate” law, but something rather more insidious:
censorship, and the shackling of the human mind.
Chapter 5, “Definitions.” Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Harry Binswanger and
Leonard Peikoff, eds. (1966-1967). New York: Meridian/Penguin, 1990. 

The OIC “Organizes” for Censorship

I begin this column with a quotation from Soren Kern’s Gatestone
article of December 11th, “OIC
Blames Free Speech for ‘Islamophobia’ in West
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an influential bloc of 57
Muslim countries, has released the latest edition of its annual
“Islamophobia” report.
The “Sixth
OIC Observatory Report on Islamophobia: October 2012-September 2013

is a 94-page document purporting to “offer a comprehensive picture of
Islamophobia, as it exists mainly in contemporary Western societies.”
But the primary objective of the OIC—headquartered in Saudi Arabia
and funded by dozens of Muslim countries that systematically persecute
Christians and Jews—has long been to pressure Western countries into passing
laws that would ban “negative stereotyping of Islam.”
I’ve written in the past about the OIC’s continuing campaign to
insulate Islam from serious and satirical criticism here,
and here
in its call for international censorship. In this column I will discuss some
angles Kern does not emphasize or discuss in his column.
The OIC report is unique in that it is illustrated and features photographs of individuals the OIC has found guilty of
“Islamophobia,” images of “offensive” newspaper headlines
and photographs, and even of “defamatory” FaceBook pages and
“tweets” that identify the alleged criminals. These can be found
between pages 10 to 83, which constitute the bulk of the report and represent a
“catalogue of crimes.” 
Kern writes, in reference to the OIC
But the common thread that binds the entire document together is
the OIC’s repeated insistence that the main culprit responsible for “the
institutionalization of Islamophobia” in Western countries is freedom of
speech, which the OIC claims has “contributed enormously to snowball
Islamophobia and manipulate the mindset of ordinary Western people to develop a
‘phobia’ of Islam and Muslims.”
According to the OIC, freedom of expression is shielding “the
perpetrators of Islamophobia, who seek to propagate irrational fear and
intolerance of Islam, [who] have time and again aroused unwarranted tension,
suspicion and unrest in societies by slandering the Islamic faith through gross
distortions and misrepresentations and by encroaching on and denigrating the
religious sentiments of Muslims.”
“Freedom of expression” occurs six times in the
document, while “freedom of speech” occurs only once. Not that it
makes a difference which term the document employs. (Hillary Clinton would
agree.)  The term “hate speech”
occurs fifteen times, while “hate crime” was used thirty-five times,
most frequently in the “catalogue of crimes.” The OIC demanded that
Islam be “respected” seventeen times, and cited the importance of
“interfaith dialogue” twenty-one times, even though such
“dialogue” notoriously is set on Islamic terms and can go only one
way, with concessions made by Christians and Jews, and none made by Muslims.
The term “toleration” and its variants, such as
“intolerance,” occur fifty-seven times in the document. What this
means in practice is that Western societies must “tolerate” the
depredations of Islam and “accommodate” Muslims at the price of Western
civil liberties, while any resistance or criticism of Islam’s ideology and
practices, such as primitive Sharia law, can be designated as bigoted
Islamophobia, as Kern points out, is a “nebulous term” invented for
the purpose of defaming the knowledge and certainty that Islam is primarily a
political nemesis of totalitarian character and that Islam does not tolerate dissension from its tenets
or the existence of other creeds.
According Robert Spencer and David Horowitz’s 2011 publication, Islamophobia:
Thought Crime of the Totalitarian Future
 …A front group – the International Institute
for Islamic Thought – invented the term “Islamophobia.
Muhammad is a former member of the International Institute for Islamic Thought.
 He was present when the word
“Islamophobia” was created, but now characterizes the concept of Islamophobia
this way: “This loathsome term is nothing more than a thought-terminating cliché
conceived in the bowels of Muslim think tanks for the purpose of beating down
critics.” In short, in its very origins, “Islamophobia” was a term designed as
a weapon to advance a totalitarian
by stigmatizing critics and silencing them.
The term occurs in the 1991 Muslim Brotherhood document, “An Explanatory
Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America
which details the means and ends of introducing Islam in the U.S. with the
long-term end of colonizing it with immigrant Muslims and gradually and
stealthily transforming it into an Islamic state. Kern quotes from the OIC
Islam and Muslims have increasingly been portrayed as representing
violence and terror that seek to threaten and destroy the values of Western
civilization and that the Muslim way of life is incompatible with Western
values of human rights and fundamental freedoms. For Muslims, Islamophobia is a
deliberate scheme to distort the teachings and principles of peace and
moderation engrained in Islam. As part and result of this scheme, Muslims tend
to be collectively accused for any violence that erupts in society and are seen
as ipso facto potential suspects well ahead of any investigation. This negative
stereotype causes Muslims to be subjected to indignity, racial discrimination
and denial of basic human rights. (p. 11, OIC report)
Islam and Muslims are justifiably associated with violence and
terror and as a threat to Western civilization. That is, after all, an article
of faith expressed in the Muslim Brotherhood memorandum of 1991.
The Ikhwan [the Brothers] must
understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating
and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging”
its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is
eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.
And over all other ideologies, beliefs, and principles. There will
be no arguing the point. Kern goes on about how that “grand jihad” is
being carried out by calling for restrictions on speech that castigate or
criticize Islam, and quotes from the report:
The chapter further underscores that increased hate speech and
discrimination against Muslims is a major factor behind the rise of the
phenomenon of Islamophobia. In this context, acceptance of various forms of
intolerance, including hate speech and the propagation of negative stereotypes
against Islam and Muslims in some western countries contribute towards
proliferation of intolerant societies. This process is further supported by
three main manifestations, namely: the exploitation of freedom of expression
and perpetuation of an ideological context advocating an inescapable conflict
of civilizations; the right wing parties have politicized Islamophobia and
instrumentalized fear in the context of growing socio-economic instability as
well as the erosion of human rights in the name of national security and the
fight against terrorism. (p. 7, OIC report)
The report claims that the news media is largely responsible for
contributing to the alleged environment of fear and trepidation experienced by
…the negative role played by major media outlets who not only
propagate stereotypes and misperceptions about Islam, but also undermine and
usually keep shadowed any meaningful instance of individuals or groups speaking
out against intolerance, including advocacy of religious hatred and violence.
This biased approach of the media has helped drawing an emphatically demonized,
sometimes dehumanized, image of Muslims in the minds of a certain class of
people which is predisposed to xenophobic feelings due to the increasingly dire
economic situation, or the simply to the irrational fear of the other. (p. 15)
This is one of the most absurd claims of the report. The mainstream
news media has not authored or perpetuated a “negative” stereotype of
Islam and Muslims. Quite the contrary, it has instead largely white-washed
Islam as a matter of editorial and journalistic policy, and denied that Islam
has any causo-connection with Islamic terrorism, or has gone through evasive
mental contortions to the same effect. If the news media has any “biased
approach” to reporting news about Islam, it is in favor of Islam. One
would need to search long and hard to find any major news media organization
broadcasting any “negative” stereotypes or misperceptions about
Kern observes that:
The OIC concludes that “journalists and media organizations
have a responsibility to avoid promoting rhetoric of hate by acting as a
platform for its widespread dissemination.” (p. 30)
One supposes that the OIC’s model news platforms are Qatar-funded Al
and Russia’s government-funded RT (Russia Today).
Kern quotes two key paragraphs from the OIC report.
According to the OIC, freedom of speech is to blame for the
“perpetuation of Islamophobia,” which:
“…has become increasingly widespread, which, in turn, has
caused an increase in the actual number of hate crimes committed against
Muslims. These crimes range from the usual verbal abuse and discrimination,
particularly in the fields of education and employment, to other acts of
violence and vandalism, including physical assaults, attacks on Islamic centers
and the desecration of mosques and cemeteries.” (p. 11)
“In this context, acceptance of various forms of intolerance,
including hate speech and the propagation of negative stereotypes against Islam
and Muslims in some western countries contribute towards proliferation of
intolerant societies. This process is further supported by… the exploitation of
freedom of expression and perpetuation of an ideological context advocating an
inescapable conflict of civilizations.” (p. 7)
There is no mention in the report of the countless attacks on
Christian churches or Jewish synagogues by Muslims. No mention in it of the
countless physical attacks on Christians or Jews by Muslims. No mention of the
murders committed by Muslims of non-Muslims. No mention of the countless rapes
of non-Muslim women by Muslims in European countries. No mention of the nonstop,
formulaic verbal abuse, libels, slanders, demonizations, and denigrations of
Jews or Christians by Muslims in print or in person. No mention of the
standard, stereotyping caricatures of Jews as drooling vampires by Muslims, or
of the constant vilification of Jews as descendents of apes and pigs.
These are all “hate crimes” and instances of “hate
speech” that go unpunished and unrecognized. But Islam is by definition the very “intolerant
society” the OIC rails against with astonishingly arrogant verisimilitude,
and in which, in Koranic theory and in practice, Muslims would be the only ones
permitted “freedom of expression” in any way they chose with impunity.
Throughout the OIC report, Islam’s “victimhood card” is
as big as a highway billboard.
Kern also turns to the OIC’s campaign in the United Nations to get
its “tolerance” agenda approved and implemented.
Chapter 4 of the report, “OIC Initiatives and Activities to
Counter Islamophobia,” focused on the OIC’s ongoing efforts to promote the
so-called Istanbul Process, an aggressive effort by Muslim countries to make it
an international crime to criticize Islam. The explicit aim of the Istanbul
Process is to enshrine in international law a global ban on all critical
scrutiny of Islam and Islamic Sharia law.
In recent years, the OIC has been engaged in a determined
diplomatic offensive to persuade Western democracies to implement United
Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) Resolution
, which calls on all countries to combat “intolerance, negative
stereotyping and stigmatization of… religion and belief.” (Analysis of the
OIC’s war on free speech can be found here
and here.)
And to prove that the U.N. knows and cares nothing about
“human rights” (another “nebulous term”), look who was
recently elected to be on its Human
Rights Council
The General Assembly today elected 14 countries to serve on the
United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) for a period of three years beginning
on 1 January 2014.
Algeria, China, Cuba, France Maldives, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia,
Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Viet
Nam, Russia, and United Kingdom, were elected by secret ballot today at UN
Headquarters in New York.
When you grant formal recognition to governments and régimes that
are little more than secular or religious tyrannies, hereditary monarchies,
totalitarian behemoths, and tin pot dictatorships, this is the caliber of
absurdity and insanity one should expect. It’s called political
Finally, Kern turns to the OIC report’s chief ends:
Chapter 5 of the OIC report provides a set of conclusions and
recommendations, which call on Western governments, international organizations
and non-state actors to:
“Take all necessary measures within their power and
legal/jurisdictional systems to ensure a safe environment free from
Islamophobic harassment… by strictly enforcing applicable hate crime and
discrimination laws;
“Create, whenever necessary, specialized bodies and
initiatives in order to combat Islamophobia… based on internationally
recognized human rights principles and standards;
“Combat Islamophobic hate crimes, which can be fuelled by
Islamophobic hate speech in the media and on the Internet;
“Take all necessary measures to ensure that the media
refrains from serving as a platform for the dissemination of hate speech… by
associating extremism and terrorism to Islam and Muslims… and presents the true
positive nature of Islam.
“Implement provisions of UNHRC Resolution 16/18 through the
Istanbul Process mechanism as it offers a positive platform for debate,
exchange of best practices and maintaining of a common and unified
stance.” (pp. 37-38)
There’s little humor to be found in the OIC report. But, on one
hand, just before it “condemns in the strongest possible terms the
reprehensible release of the film ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ as a deliberate
incitement to hatred that has deeply offended more than 1.5 billion Muslims and
all the people of conscience in the world” (p. 90; actually, it was just a
trailer for the film, and I was offended more by its sophomoric amateurishness
than by its content), the report noted that a “Ministerial Brainstorming [was] held during the 39th
Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers, held in Djibouti in 2012…” On
page 9, however, it was called a barnstorming
Kern ends his article with:
The report concludes with the transcript of a speech by OIC
Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, in which he thanks American and
European political leaders for their help (here
and here)
in advancing his efforts to restrict free speech in the West.
“The Istanbul Process initiated with Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security
Policy Catherine Ashton to build further on the consensus building that went
into Resolution 16/18 must be carried forward. While the resolution forms a
triumph of multilateralism, Istanbul Process must also be seen as a poster
child of OIC-US-EU cooperation… I appreciate that this Process has come to be
recognized as the way forward by all stakeholders… We need to build on
it,” Ihsanoglu said. (pp. 92-93)
Hillary Clinton, presidential hopeful, in December 2011 hosted an
OIC “barn-or-brainstorming” session in Washington D.C. on how to curb
freedom of speech without curbing freedom of speech. CNS
The Obama administration says a meeting in Washington next week
seeks to make progress in combating religious intolerance, but critics say the
U.S. is pandering to an ideological agenda aimed at restricting speech critical
of Islam.
According to the State Department the aim is to find ways to
combat religious hate without compromising freedom of expression. Detractors
are skeptical that this can be done, and they suspect that free speech will end
up the loser.
Hillary Clinton thinks that censorship is just halal when it comes to accommodating
Islam and its 1.5 billion collect of brain-stultified manqués. She thinks that
a semantic barnstorming stunt can be pulled off without actually censoring any
and all criticism of Islam, serious or satirical.
However, remember what happened to the “Innocence of
Muslims” fellow who she and Barack Obama blamed for the Benghazi
during which four Americans were murdered…by Muslims. Even those
responsible for the attack denied any connection of it with the video. The
attack was in the works
long before the video
was broadcast on YouTube.
But, to Hillary, what difference does that make?
 Are you Ready
for Hillary
in 2016? Prepared to shut your mouth and shut down your mind in
the name of “tolerance”? She hopes Americans are ready to submit. She
wants the White House very much.
She’s “organized” her own brand of campaign taqiyya, but, the way things are going,
that might not make a difference, either.

Gun Controls: Are You “Reliable”?

The U.S. has reached that point in its history that its political
state can be credibly compared with that of Weimar Germany, especially in
regards to the issue of gun control. The Republic was governed, between 1919
and 1933, by a hodge-podge of political parties, every one of them statist,
that is, their iron-clad premise was that the rights and privileges of citizens
emanated from the government, and were not inherent. Lip service was paid to a
citizen’s liberty. The Weimar government tried to balance these
“traditional” rights with the powers the government asserted were
necessary to protect the state and “the people.”
Principals of the Weimar government tried to reach a compromise
with the most feared and violent of the “new” political parties,
first, with the Communists, then with the National Socialist German Workers’
Party (NSDAP, or the Nazis). The “moderate” and
“conservative” principals lost because the Nazis were more consistent
in their political philosophy and their ends, which meant total power over the
country, or totalitarianism. In fact, the “moderates” and
“conservatives” shared many key premises with their enemies, just as
the Republicans share them with the Democrats and Progressives today.
In the U.S., “traditional” rights that were recognized
as inherent rights possessed by the individual are being ignored, ruled
invalid, or superseded and usurped by “Homeland Security” concerns.
These genuine rights were expressed and recognized in the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution. Statist policies over the last century or so
conflicted with individual rights and will continue to be in conflict. The
Democrats and the Republicans are at comparable odds with the Communists and
Socialists of the Weimar and the conservative “traditionalists.”
It was the Weimar Reichstag that passed laws that forbade
“extremists” from purchasing, owning, or using a variety of firearms.
And it was on such legislation that the Nazis later based their own firearms restrictions – and outright bans – to forestall any resistance to the
Führer’s and the Party’s will.. The
Nazis relied more on the Weimar government’s gun control laws than they did on
their own laws. Doing so lent the actions of the Nazis an air of legitimacy.
One of the rights recognized by the Founders was the right to
“bear arms,” that is, to own guns for self-defense or for recreation
(such as hunting and sporting events). In terms of self-defense, that right
applies equally to protecting oneself against criminals as it does against a government
acting like a criminal, that is, initiating force to assault, rob or enslave
individuals – or a whole population.
In America today, the “new Jews” and “enemies of
the state” are the Tea Party and anyone else who “clings
to his guns, his principles, and his certainty that he isn’t beholden to a
state that continually assaults him with taxes, regulations and a socialist
agenda to make him a willing or unwilling ward of the state.
Stephen Halbrook, in Gun
Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State

describes in detail how Germans, and especially Jews, were increasingly left
defenseless, beginning with firearms registration and
“permit-to-carry” laws enacted during the Weimar era in the name of “law and
order” to disarm violent “extremist” groups (chiefly Communists,
Nazis, and Freicorps paramilitary outfits), and ending by 1945 with millions of
self-defense-stripped and disarmed Germans imprisoned for political opposition
to the Nazis, six million Jews slaughtered during the Holocaust, and countless
millions of other Europeans killed or imprisoned in Nazi occupied countries.
The Weimar Republic’s weapons laws following the Great War were
draconian and vague and could be implemented only in an arbitrary and chaotic
manner. To add to the confusion, the German states not only determined how
these laws were implemented but also continued to pass their own laws….
The Law on Firearms and Ammunition…of 1928, however, would focus
not on repression of armed violence, but on regulation of the predominately
peaceable citizenry.
But the Weimar leaders acted on the illusion that power would be
exercised for the common good. They did not anticipate losing power and a new
régime’s seizing power and using the Weimar laws to repress the citizenry at
large. The 1928 Firearms Law would be one of many such laws. (p. 15)
Significantly, the Firearms Law, passed on March 31st,
1928, was passed by the Reichstag on the next to the last day of its session.  Perhaps, like the Affordable Care Act
(ObamaCare), it was passed without many of the legislators even reading it.  It was also passed as an amendment to a budget
bill. As one German official reported:
“This is the first time in the history of the Reichstag that
such an important statute with far-reaching consequences for economy and
jurisprudence was adopted in the Reichstag without any debate, as an
afterthought as part of the budget of the Reich Department of the
Interior…” (pp. 19-20)
American politicians have nothing over German ones on how to sneak
in important, expropriatory legislation without having to seriously debate it, without
knowing what was in it, and without risking bringing it to the attention of the
public. In the Reichstag, no one contested the legitimacy of the bill.
As Halbrook unveils the progress towards Nazi totalitarianism, he
paints Weimar efforts to control the spread of firearms as a bewildering mosaic
of overbearing Reichstag hubris and the various firearm laws in the different
German cities and states. An ostensively “benign” intention was written
into the Firearms Law, one which many of its authors and proponents rued in
later years. Halbrook wrote, quoting from the Law:
“Firearm and ammunition acquisition licenses and firearm
carrying licenses may be issued only to persons whose reliability is unquestioned, and firearm carrying licenses may be
issued only with proof of a need.”
Licenses were automatically denied to “Gypsies or persons traveling like
Gypsies”; persons with convictions under various laws, including this law;
and “persons for whom police surveillance has been declared admissible, or
upon whom the loss of civil rights has been imposed.” (p. 17, Italics mine)
The terms reliability
and need would recur in future
debates and gun control legislation and haunt the Weimar lawmakers .The Nazis would
make effective use of the terms when identifying who owned firearms, because
the issuance of licenses naturally meant creating registration records.
Restrictions on firearms were aimed not so much at armed crime as
at political violence. But such policies had little effect and instead served
primarily to restrict law-abiding citizens. Those whose agenda was overthrow of
the state could have cared less about jumping through the hoops to obtain arms
according to the bureaucratic requirements imposed by the existing authorities.
(p. 21)
While establishing a legal code and the political power of the new
Weimar Republic in 1922, the Reichstag incorporated into the constitution a
provision that permitted the president to declare an emergency and take
emergency actions, such as banning an arm of 
the Communist Party, the RFB (the Nazis had not yet begun its climb to political
“legitimacy”), Article 48. The Reichstag also included the Law for
the Protection of the Republic. Halbrook writes, in describing the measures the
besieged government was taking to combat violent “extremist”
political groups:
In introducing that law, Prussian Interior Minister Carl
Severing…explained in March 1930: “The right of assembly has become the
wrong of assembly, and press freedom has become press license. We cannot permit
demagogues to inflame the masses any further.” Like the right to have
arms, the rights to free speech and assembly were curtailed. (p. 21)
Sound familiar? It should. Aside from the continuing call for gun
controls in the U.S. by those who claim that guns shoot people, not people –
that is, that possession of a firearm magically turns an individual into a
rampaging maniac activated by the gun in his hand – there are increasing
instances of politically correct applications of what constitutes inflammatory
“hate speech,” from criticizing Islam and Muslims to school children
playing cowboys and Indians and using sticks or simple hand gestures. In the
Weimar Republic, local police were granted the discretion of deciding who was
“reliable” and ruling on the “need” of a person to own or
carry a gun. If a case went to court, courts almost invariably sided with the
police’s decision.
Often, a court would split a decision. If a citizen had dutifully
registered a gun he procured as a soldier during the Great War, or any time
before the 1923 law went into effect six months after its passage, the
registration might be upheld as “legal,” but the person found guilty
by reason of his “unreliability” or because of the ex post facto restriction on the type of
the weapon he owned, and face fines and prison time.
As time went on, not only firearms came under scrutiny and more
and more restrictive controls, but non-firearms that could be used as weapons,
whether or not one participated as a Nazi or a Communist in the constant street
battles between political groups. Fairly utilitarian objects, often used by the
battling gangs that could be used for “hitting, thrusting, and
slashing,” such as bicycle chains, rubber truncheons, steel rods, and the
like, came to be frowned upon as well as were ceremonial swords and bayonets
from the Great War. As the anti-gun hysteria grew over the next decade, police
searches became regular events even in the most placid neighborhoods of German
cities. If the police found an old, rusted, inoperable handgun in one’s home,
the resident could be charged with a variety of anti-firearms violations.
Halbrook retraces the trail of how both the Weimar and the Nazis
disarmed a whole nation. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, one of the first
things they did was turn their attention to disarming Jews and other
“enemies of the state.” Of great assistance in this campaign were the
lists of registered owners of weapons and even of those individuals who had
surrendered “illegal” weapons to the police. Some Weimar officials
had expressed dismay over these records possibly falling “into the wrong
hands.” But, fall they did.
Halbrook makes the interesting note that these possibly millions
of records – including information on the whole German population – were
organized and disseminated by a wholly-owned subsidiary of IBM.
The burgeoning police state needed detailed information on every
person. For the previous fifty years, the state registry offices had maintained
files on every person’s status and religion, making Jews readily identifiable.
Beginning in June [1933, after Hitler’s ascension to power], a new census began
that would provide to authorities detailed information on every household. For
the census,
Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft (Dehomag), the subsidiary of the U.S.
firm International Business Machines (IBM), provided its new punch card and
card-sorting system, which allowed in enormous amount of data to be stored in
600 punch hole possibilities per card.
Besides name, address, sex, birth date, native language, family,
and employment, the cards included at column 22: hole 1 for Protestant, hole 2
for Catholic, and hole 3 for Jew. It is unclear whether firearm ownership was
included, but census records could easily have been correlated with police
records to identify Jews, political opponents, and others who had obtained
permits to acquire or carry firearms or who had registered firearms pursuant to
the 1931 decree. [Reich Chancellor Heinrich Brüning used Article 48 to declare
a state of emergency on December 10th.]
IBM punch card machines also helped the Nazis organize the rail
traffic of moving millions of Jews to concentration camps and gas chambers. IBM
has disputed its complicity in the Holocaust, claiming it had no knowledge of or
control over how Dehomag and the German Ministry of Transport used its
technology. [Developed, by the way, by Herman Hollerith, the son of a German immigrant;
his Tabulating Machine Company was merged into the Computer Tabulating
Recording Company, renamed in 1924 the International Business Machines
Corporation.] Two major lawsuits against IBM stemming from the Holocaust were
dismissed by courts.
Edwin Black wrote a controversial book that implicated the giant
corporation, IBM
and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s
Most Powerful Corporation
He was interviewed by CNET’s Paul Festa in 2001, shortly after Black’s book was
published. See his comments here
and judge for yourself.
Halbrook’s book is thoroughly documented with his principal
sources being Weimar and Nazi government archives, in addition to the diaries
of notables such as George Goebbels. He hypothesizes that when Herschel
Grynzpan, a Polish Jewish teenager, shot German third secretary Ernest vom Rath
in the German embassy in Paris on November 9th, 1938, the Nazis were
prepared to implement the penultimate steps in Hitler’s “Final
Solution,” very likely waiting for the right incident to lend credibility
to not only conducting a massive, nation-wide pogrom against German Jews, whose
German citizenship had already been revoked, but for “rolling out”
firearms restrictions that all but prohibited Jews from raising a butter knife
in self-defense.
The immediate result was the Nazi-orchestrated Reichskristallnacht (Night of the Broken
Glass) of November 8-10.  
Jews were attacked, their homes and businesses ransacked,
synagogues were burned, and 20,000 to 30,000 Jews were detained. A central focus
of this onslaught was that Jews were dangerous; their premises must be searched
for weapons, and any caught with arms must be thrown into concentration camps. (pp.
Lending credibility to the conspiracy theory is the fact that
November 9th also was the fifteenth anniversary of Hitler’s failed
Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, Tag der
, or “Day of the Movement.” (p.163, 168)  How suspiciously propinquitous! How dare a Jew
spoil such a solemn occasion! Jews are dangerous! They must be punished! Their
ill-gotten gains must be confiscated, and Jews removed from our presence! Jews
who resist “law and order” should be shot on the spot! We must
cleanse our homeland of these vermin!
National Socialism [Nazism] embodied a schizophrenic perversion of
law as a set of predictable rules that could be overridden by the führer,
acting through institutions such as the Gestapo. But formal laws remained
significant because in the usual course of events they were enforced by
ordinary police and adjudicated by the courts. They could be ignored in
extraordinary cases only if the Gestapo so decided. (p. 123)
Targeting Jews and other “enemies of the state” served
yet another purpose: To put all “law-abiding” Germans on notice that
this was what they could expect should they breathe a single word of criticism or
raise a single eyebrow against the Nazi Party and the way Hitler and his
cronies went about controlling the country. Halbrook introduces the means by
which the Nazis were able to get away with as much as they did from January
1933 to the bitter end in a Berlin bunker in 1945: Gleichschaltung, or, “forcing into line.” Halbrook
describes it workings and ends:
In sum, the Hitler dictatorship viewed private gun owners and gun
clubs with suspicion, and the Gestapo used different tactics to bring them
under total control or to disarm them altogether.  Armed Jews were demonized in propaganda
campaigns as dangerous to the state, and shooting clubs were essentially seized
by central Nazi authorities. Protest was not an option, and no recourse
existed. By the time the National Socialist police state had been in power for
half a decade, it was approaching near-complete control of firearms possession
and use by the populace….(p. 122)
Writing about the public response – or non-response – to the
“Night of the Broken Glass,” Halbrook notes:
Observing that the people at large took no part in and were
repulsed by the pogrom, anti-Hitler plotter Hans Gisevius later reflected that
they could also see what might happen to themselves if they spoke out or
resisted. In addition to the mortal blow to the German Jews, “the cowed
middle class stared at the Nazi monsters like a rabbit at a snake. A general
psychosis had been created [Gleichschaltung],
under which the populace was reduced to absolute submission; and this effect
was valuable to the Nazis. The class was doomed, but for the present it had its
uses and would be made to serve.” (pp. 172-173)
What are the parallels between the Weimar Republic and the U.S.
today? They are eerily similar and traipse about under a different name in a different
dance. The Washington Times on December 1st reported on Allen West’s
warning about the latest wrinkle in Obama’s gun control agenda:
Come 2014, all ammunition sold to civilian gun-owners in America
will have to be imported, a result of President Obama’s crackdown on sulfur
dioxide and lead emissions and accompanying harsh Environmental
Protection Agency
regulations, said
former Florida congressman,
Lt. Col. Allen West.
And for defenders of the Second Amendment, that means higher ammo
prices are likely on the way — a situation Mr. West writes on his blog,,
is akin to a federal power-grab on guns, albeit through the backdoor.

Just as the Weimar government and later the Nazis sought to restrict ammunition
ownership and sales to “unreliable” German citizens, our own
“Homeland” super-agency, which, like the German government, assumed
supreme authority over all civilian law enforcement entities, including state
authorities and the local police, is determined to disarm Americans by making
it more difficult and expensive to purchase and keep ammunition.
Instead of punch-cards and printouts of gun registrations and
census data that can be matched with local or state police records, we have
high-speed computers and the Internet.
Under the Obama plan to restrict gun ownership, you may or may not
be deemed “reliable” because your insistence on “clinging”
to your guns may be deemed a “mental health” issue. Those mandatory
background checks are too similar to the “reliability” and
“need” requirements of the Weimar and Nazi governments. The Obama agenda,
reported by the National Conference of State Legislatures, includes:
Requires background checks for all gun sales and strengthens the
background check system.  This would include removing barriers under the
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act so that states may more
freely share information about mental health issues involving potential gun
Provides states with monetary incentives—$20 million in fiscal
year FY 2013 and a proposed $50 million in FY 2014—to share information so that
records on criminal history and people prohibited from gun ownership due to
mental health reasons are more available.
Imagine the consequences if the British Crown had implemented a
plan to require background checks and mental health tests administered by
Crown-appointed doctors in the colonies. Doubtless every American colonial who
applied for the right to own a muzzle-loading musket and a pouch of power and
ball would have been denied and sent on his way, possibly to jail if the
doctors deemed their loyalty to the King suspect and “unreliable.” There
would have been no American Revolution.
That policy would have been complemented with the Crown’s own
“Fast & Furious” campaign to demonize gun ownership by secretly
selling guns to frontier Indians so they could better raid defenseless settlers
and “prove” that guns were “dangerous.”
The only purpose of gun controls in the U.S. is to prevent Americans
from defending themselves against common criminals – and to rely on a lethargic
government entity for protection – and uncommon ones in the guise of enforcers
of “public safety.”
So, dear reader, are you reliable?
Do you really need your guns? Or are
you going to let a bureaucrat or anonymous government functionary answer those
questions for you? If you do, then you have been “forced into line.”
Gun Control in the Third
Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State,”
by Stephen P. Halbrook. Oakland, CA: The Independent Institute,
2013. 247 pp.

Deconstructing Othello

Browsing through a second-hand book shop recently, I chanced upon
a New Penguin paperback edition of William Shakespeare’s Othello, edited by Kenneth
, a Shakespearean scholar. I have the Oxford Complete Works and have read the play a few times. What
intrigued me about the New Penguin edition, however, were a student’s notes
inked throughout it with often indecipherable and frequently puerile, labored
penmanship (meaning in mixed block letters and cursive, a sure sign that the
student “texts” more than he writes). But enough of it was legible
that I could take the measure of the student’s mind and what he was taught to
focus on in the play. The most significant comment was scrawled on the title
“othello & desdemonda oposits because not know his own
culture.” (sic)
“His own culture”? That remark moved me to investigate what
the student might have thought of the characters of Othello the Moor and
Desdemona. Scholars have not agreed on the ethnic character of Othello. Various
of other editions
of the play feature coal-black, Numidian faces in North
African dress, or brown Arabic or Egyptian faces, and even bearded white faces
in European dress. Othello, a professional soldier, whatever his race, has been
retained by the Venetians to fight the invading Turks. For centuries, Europeans
referred to anyone coming from any part of the Middle East and Northern Africa
as a “Moor,” regardless of the race. In stage and film productions of Othello,
the title character has been played with varying success by white and black
actors alike.
In most of the other covers of Othello,
Desdemona, Othello’s wife, is usually depicted as a fragile-looking blonde
woman, the daughter of a Venetian senator. When I was able to decipher the
student’s marginal comments, I concluded that he had been told by his
instructor in class to read and think of the play in terms of race determining
one’s culture, and not in terms of its principal theme, which is the
destructive forces of jealousy and the evil of Iago, who hates Othello and plots
to destroy the happy relationship between Othello and Desdemona. 
The deterministic premise, that culture is a kind of genetic
phenomenon that governs the contents of one’s mind and one’s values, is a
Marxist product of the Critical Theory School of examining or
“reading” literature, and has become a staple of political
correctness. Formerly, the “reading” was an effort to identify and
elucidate innate, ideological “class” distinctions. In this instance,
it is a matter of identifying and elucidating innate, ideological
“racial” differences, with race creating irreconcilable conflicts
between whites and blacks, with the bias in favor of “black” culture
as a “victim” of white cultural “imperialism.”
However, there is nothing “Islamic” or
“Muslim” about Othello. In fact, the villain, Iago, an officer in
Othello’s army, is not motivated by racial bigotry, either, but by a burning
hatred of the good for being the good. But students are taught to search for
and find such “subtexts” and “signifiers” in their Marxist
“critical readings.”
This kind of nonsense has been taught in public high school and
university literature courses for decades. Critical Theory studies have also
now shifted to examining the conflicts between Western and Islamic culture, and
have invaded middle schools, as well. Numerous are the stories of how children,
teens, and college students are being brainwashed in British, European and
American schools to “depreciate” Western culture as an arbitrary
imposition and as the “oppressor” of Islamic and other primitive
Interestingly, the student made no marginal comments on the second
half of Othello, when Iago’s
insidious plot begins to advance rapidly to its tragic ending. This is in Act
III, Scene 4, when Desdemona cannot find the handkerchief Othello gave her and
Othello begins to suspect that something is amiss. Just before that Act, the
student made a brief comment that while Desdemona was in her social milieu and
had lots of “contacts,” Othello was outside his “natural”
Moorish milieu and had no social contacts.
Thus, according to a Critical Theory analysis, a method obviously
imbibed uncritically by the hapless student, Othello was “victimized”
by “white” culture and can’t be held responsible for smothering
Desdemona to death in a state of angry jealousy, as Iago had plotted to happen
by appropriating the handkerchief and planting it on Desdemona’s alleged lover.
This is what Othello’s “natural” culture demanded of him, so his
action is beyond judgment.
It is likely the earliest and most notorious dramatic presentation
of an Islamic “honor killing” – that is, if Shakespeare even had any
knowledge of that aspect of Islamic “culture,” which is highly
Shakespeare would probably worry his goatee in confusion if he
ever read a feminist interpretation of Othello
(or of any of his other plays). Such as this
, penned by an anonymous “teacher,” to wit:
Iago’s desire for revenge on Othello is, in part, dictated by his
view of women as possessions. He believes that ‘it is thought abroad that
‘twixt my sheets/He’s done my office’ (I.3.381-2), suggesting that Othello has
slept with his wife Emilia. It could be argued, however, that Iago exhibits
little love for his wife, insulting her in public and ultimately killing her
himself. It is simply the thought that ‘the lusty Moor/hath leaped into my
seat’ (II.1.286-7) which drives him mad, the thought that Othello has used a
possession that belongs to him. Compounding this theory is the fact that Iago
refers to his wife metaphorically in these two instances: she is his ‘office’
and his ‘seat’; she is objectified and deprived of her humanity.
Or, consider these test questions from another feminist
How is Desdemona’s relationship with her father explored with in
the opening Act?

To what extent are the female characters stereotyped: Desdemona the idealised
wife, Emilia the nagging wife and Bianca the doting mistress?
Why does the text focus on such powerless stereotypes?
How is female sexuality explored in the play?
What sexual identities are offered to the female characters?
What sexual freedom is given to the male characters?
What social structures are presented to maintain patriarchal

What happens to women when they cross or are suspected of crossing societal
expectations of submission and faithfulness?
To what extent must Desdemona and Emelia both die in order for
patriarchal control to be restored?
So, Othello, when did you stop beating your wife? A sharp
courtroom prosecutor might have asked that leading question of him. But I don’t
think Shakespeare had the restoration of “patriarchal control” in
mind as he composed the plot of Othello.
When Critical Theory English and literature teachers ask their students to
plunge their mental shovels into Shakespeare in search of buried gender, class,
or racial treasure, all the students can wind up doing is waving their spades in
empty air over an abyss as deep as the Grand Canyon. That’s when they’ll make
something up or just parrot the teachers’ political agenda.
Shakespeare is not for “exploring” relationships or
sexuality or driving a Critical Theory bulldozer to demolish his “social
In my lifetime, I’ve seen Shakespeare done in a multitude of
interpretations and styles:
In early
or late 20th
century modern dress
, in 1930’s Art Deco complete with airplanes
and jeeps, and in expected Shakespearean and Elizabethan settings.  In a College of William & Mary production
of Othello (directed by a feminist),
which was set in South Africa, the principal military characters were garbed in
jungle camouflage and carried guns, while the whole cast spoke their lines into
cell phones, with Desdemona, Emelia, and Bianca appearing in miniskirts and
pantsuits. (I walked out after the first act, as did half the audience, so I
don’t know if Desdemona appeared in the final act in a Victoria’s Secret swim
suit, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she had.)
Who can forget West Side Story, loosely
based on Romeo and Juliet, which
pitted two street gangs against each other? An Australian production of MacBeth features warring street
gangs in Melbourne.
The problem with Shakespeare is that his plots and themes, while
oft times deterministic in and of themselves and needing no extraneous
political or modern interpretative overlays, were more or less original or were
timeless adaptations of plays that antedated Shakespeare. (Kenneth Muir, in his
Introduction to the student’s edition of Othello,
reveals that Shakespeare found the basic plot in an anthology of plays by
Giraldi Cinthio, from 1565, when Shakespeare was one year old.)
Actually, it’s not Shakespeare’s problem. The problem lies in our
culture’s esthetic and moral bankruptcy. Political correctness and Critical
Theory suffocate any attempt to either discuss Shakespeare in objective terms, especially
in academia, or they discourage writers from trying to best the Bard at his own
magnificent and prolific game.

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