What really happened.

Book review: Hillary Rodham Clinton, “What happened” ( Simon and Schuster, New York, E.22.99)

“For me, political campaigns have always been something to get through in order to govern which is the real prize.” Hillary Clinton.

It’s easy to make fun of Hillary Clinton, after her election campaign ended in farce, and she was too crushed- so it is said- even to address her shell-shocked supporters on the night in question. It is easier still to make fun of this pretentious volume. It is, for example, almost unbelievable, that in it she devotes  a chapter to gun control without apparently noticing that the right to bear arms is enshrined in the American Constitution.

But let us remember that Hillary was disorientated by her defeat, and had obviously not completely recovered her balance by the time she started to write. While then we should take some of what  she says with a pinch of salt there are lessons here, and some other good stuff which is worth glancing at.

First though, let’s look for the lesson. We all have our faults. Neither the sons of Adam nor the daughters of Eve are immune from human weaknesses. Hillary’s problem is pride. There is no trace of understatement in her rhetoric. There is no hint of modesty in her character. It is a virtue quite alien to her nature. She can be kind, but she wants you to know that she can be kind. She can be responsible, but she demands that you respect her for her responsibility. She is intelligent, very intelligent, but she insists ( very much one of her words ) that you reward her for her intelligence. And perhaps most troubling of all she knows that she has read runes of history, and she is sure that she ( and her supporters ) are in tune with it, and she demands that we respect her for the profundity of her insight. She storms against inequality, and yet is the very embodiment of entitlement.

What else but entitlement can possibly explain the way in which she and Bill ( who really should have stopped on this one!) bought the house next door in order to accommodate the secret service agents with which she would be surrounded when she became president!

Of course Hillary is justified in raising questions about Russian interference in the election, ( but see below ) she is justified too in defending herself about the matter of her email server, and she is on firm ground when she points out that her opponent was less qualified than she to be president. But the difficulty was though that Trump wanted to win, and she merely thought that she should get the job. He relished the campaign. She campaigned.  He loved the rallies. She addressed them. He was a rascal, and she made a point of sleeping every night at home, deeply confident that she would win. And this all showed, and she turned off millions of white working class voters who stormed the polling stations in record numbers across the “rust belt” to vote for “the Donald.” It wasn’t then so much a matter of what happened, but that he captured a mood which had been defined by Brexit.

The lesson then of this book is that in democratic politics good intentions, and competence are not enough. Something else is needed. There needs to be a lived recognition of one’s own fallibility. It is often called having a sense of humour, but however one defines it  Reagan had it, Bill had it, most crucially Trump had something like it, but somehow Hillary lacked it.

As a practicing Methodist Hillary must have known that pride as comes before a fall( No need to read Milton for that!) . Why then did she run? Was she really so ignorant of her own weakness? She is an intelligent woman and it would be surprising if she were really so unaware of her own foibles. A more probable explanation for her presidential ambition ( which some of her friends warned her against!)  is, as she explains, although she doesn’t put like this, that she was misled by the good and decent side  of her character into imagining that she would make a better candidate than was ever really likely to be the case. Ultimately then Hillary lost because she did not know herself.

Poor candidate though she was Hillary was excited by the details of government, and by the possibilities of exercising power, and she really believed that she could do a better job of being president than anyone else. To me, the most interesting example of this side of her character revealed by her book is the proposal for a negative income tax that she and Bill worked on but ultimately rejected as too expensive. The passage in question is worth quoting, as it gives a little of the flavour of this important side of her character.

“I was fascinated by this idea, as was my husband, and we spent weeks working with our policy team [ trust our Hillary to have a policy team! ] to see if it could be…include[d] in my campaign [ as a proposal]…Unfortunately, we couldn’t make the numbers work. To provide a meaningful dividend each year to every citizen, you’d have to raise enormous sums of money, and that would either mean a lot of new taxes or cannibalising other important programmes.” ( p.239)

Oh dear, oh dear, here we have Clintons at their best and their worst. The intention is right- to get resources into the hands of those who don’t have them. The notion of bypassing the bureaucrats and instead just giving people a cheque is sound too. But obviously such payments would be in place of other benefits rather than  in addition to them, as Hillary and Bill supposed!

So what are we to make of Hillary and her book? Hillary’s strong point are her intentions, which I don’t think can be faulted, and her seriousness, which is evident in everything that she writes. The problems though are deeper, she fails to see that despite, or perhaps because, of her experience in Washington, that the very multiplicity of solutions and programmes that she endorsed threatened to change the very nature of the American experience. For all his glaring faults, Trump persuaded enough Americans in the right places that more of the same, and particularly more immigration, meant less of America. That is what really happened. And this is something that Hillary shows no sign of ever being able to understand!

NOTE: It is interesting to find the left wing publication “The Nation”- easily accessed through the links on The Drudge Report- throwing cold water on the claims that the Russians played any significant part in the election. 

 

The root of the trouble?

“It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that virtually every major religious, moral, and political controversy of the last several decades- of the last several centuries in fact- in some way rests on a disagreement, even if implicit and unnoticed, over the “problem of universals” ( as it is known). That includes the dispute between the “New Atheists” and their critics, ignorant though the former ( though also the latter) are of the true roots of the dispute. When Richard Weaver [ 1910-1963 ] famously made the observation [ in a title of a book ] that “Ideas have Consequences,” [ University of Chicago Press, 1948 ] he was not making the banal point  that what we believe affects the way we act; he was referring to the radical social and moral implications that the abandonment of realism and the adoption of nominalism has had within modern Western civilization.”

Edward Feser, “The Last Superstition, a Refutation of the New Atheism” ( St. Augustine’s Press, South Bend, Indiana, 2008) p.4

BREXIT LINKS

We have just added a new category of links about Brexit. Both sides of the argument are, of course, represented. Readers from outside of Europe should also be aware that both the BBC and RTE also provide extensive coverage of this contentious issue.

Two Prophetic Anti- Socialist Satires

By Philip Vander Elst.

“I had spent an extremely interesting evening. I had dined with some very ‘advanced’ friends of mine at the ‘National Socialist Club’. We had had an excellent dinner: the pheasant, stuffed with truffles, was a poem…After dinner, and over the cigars (I must say they do know how to stock good cigars at the National Socialist Club), we had a very instructive discussion about the coming equality of man and the nationalisation of capital.” (Evergreens and other short stories, Alan Sutton, England, 1982, p.72).

Jerome K Jerome ( 1859-1927 )

With these opening words, the famous 19th century English writer and jerome-k-jerome-4humourist, Jerome K. Jerome , fired a satirical but penetrating broadside against socialism under the title, ‘The New Utopia’, one of a collection of essays and short stories first published in 1891.

Although he is best known and loved as the author of Three Men in a Boat (1889), Jerome deserves to be remembered for producing this anti-socialist literary gem, which combines great wit with acute political and psychological insight. It is, moreover, all the more interesting because it is not the work of a man who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and therefore anxious to preserve aristocratic privilege, but the product of one who grew up in poverty, and suffered the premature death of his parents during his early teens. (See the Wikipedia article on him. )Three men in a boat

Instead of being soured by early misfortune and filled with resentment towards the rich and successful, Jerome’s varied career as a railroad worker, actor, writer and journalist, gave him a love of individuality and freedom which innoculated him against the socialist virus infecting so many of his Victorian contemporaries. Accordingly, his good-natured satire, ‘The New Utopia’, exposes the totalitarian logic of socialism, and its soul-destroying egalitarianism, with remorseless zest. Yet the sharpness of his attack is softened, and arguably made more effective, by its light-hearted tone.

Right from the outset, Jerome reveals his grasp of the essential character and goals of socialism. “Equality of all mankind was their watchword – perfect equality in all things – equality in possessions, and equality in position and influence, and equality in duties, resulting in equality in happiness and contentment…Each man’s labour was the property, not of himself, but of the State which fed and clothed him…When all men were equal, the world would be Heaven – freed from the degrading despotism of God. We raised our glasses and drank to EQUALITY, sacred EQUALITY; and then ordered the waiter to bring us Green Chartreuse and more cigars.” (Op cit, pp. 73-74).

Then, for the reader, the fun really begins as Jerome, in his imagination, returns to his lodgings after that dinner at the National Socialist Club, and lies awake in bed thinking “how delightful life would be,” if the “State would take charge of us from the hour we were born until we died, and provide for all our wants from the cradle to the coffin…” (Ibid). Not surprisingly, he then falls into a dream in which he imagines himself waking up from sleep only to find that he is lying under a glass case in a museum, in a new and unfamiliar socialist England in the 29th century.

Having been told by a museum official that his landlady forgot to wake him 10 years before “the great social revolution of 1899,” Jerome is then given a guided tour of the new socialist London, in the course of which we discover all the dramatic changes that have taken place since he fell asleep.

The tour begins with Jerome asking his guide whether all the world’s problems have now been solved, since “A few friends of mine were arranging, just before I went to bed, to take it to pieces and fix it up again properly…Is everybody equal now, and sin and sorrow and all that sort of thing done away with?” (Op cit, p.76).

This is a significant question, since the slightly flippant language in which it is posed shows a thorough understanding of the utopian social engineering mentality which underlies the socialist project. The naïve and arrogant belief, so  widespread on the Left, that imperfect human nature can be reshaped by the enforced reorganisation of society by the State, is mercilessly lampooned in the ensuing dialogue between Jerome and his socialist guide.

Social engineering lampooned.

“Oh, yes,” replies the guide to his original question, “you’ll find everything all right now…We’ve just got this earth about perfect now, I should say” (Ibid), and we soon find out what he means by the word “perfect”: namely, total collectivisation and uniformity. Everyone now lives in the same government-owned barrack-like apartment blocs, wears the same identical clothing, and eats collectively cooked meals at prescribed times of the day – a chillingly prescient if light-hearted anticipation of social life in many 20th century communist societies. When, in addition, Jerome asks his guide why everyone they meet has black hair, the reply he gets appeals to our sense of humour, as it is meant to, but at the same time focuses our attention on the necessary conflict between absolute equality and freedom.

“What would become of our equality if one man or woman were allowed to swagger about in golden hair, while another had to put up with carrots?…By causing all men to be clean shaven, and all men and women to have black hair cut the same length, we obviate, to a certain extent, the errors of Nature.” (Op cit, p.77).

The same egalitarian principle, we discover, also applies to the issue of personal cleanliness, since it was found that it was impossible to maintain equality when people were allowed to wash themselves. “Some people washed three or four times a day, while others never touched soap and water from one year’s end to the other, and in consequence there got to be two distinct classes, the Clean and the Dirty. All the old class prejudices began to be revived. The clean despised the dirty, and the dirty hated the clean. So, to end dissension, the State decided to do the washing itself, and each citizen was now washed twice a day by government-appointed officials; and private washing was prohibited.” (Op cit, p.79).

It would be easy, at this point, to dismiss Jerome’s attack on socialist egalitarianism as a whimsical satire, especially after his guide reveals that in this new socialist England, good looking and intelligent people are subjected to mutilation and brain surgery to prevent them rising above the human average. But that would be a mistake. Jerome deliberately regales us with these absurdities to bring home the fact that the socialist project is necessarily coercive and totalitarian because it flies in the face of human nature and the human condition. What is more, the truthfulness of Jerome’s analysis has been abundantly confirmed by the experience of socialism in the 20th century. In Communist China, for example, during the dictatorship of Mao Tse-tungthe chairman (1949-1976), conformity of thought, behaviour and dress was rigorously enforced, and during the infamous Cultural Revolution (1966-1969), anyone who was considered to be of above average ability or education was denounced as an enemy of the people and subjected to savage humiliation and .persecution. (See: Clarence B. Carson, Basic Communism, American Textbook Committee, Alabama, 1990, chapter 17).

Jerome’s satirical tour of socialist London explores three other prominent themes with the same acuity and lightness of touch, the first being the obliteration of personality and the family in order to facilitate the absorption of the individual into the collective.

“Why does everyone have a number [on their collar]?” asks Jerome. “To distinguish him by,” answers the guide. “Don’t people have names, then?” “No,” the latter replies, “there was so much inequality in names. Some people were called Montmorency, and they looked down on the Smiths; and the Smythes did not like mixing with the Jones: so, to save further bother, it was decided to abolish names altogether, and to give everybody a number.” (Op cit, pp.78-79). When, a little later, Jerome asks his guide where the married people live, he is informed that marriage has been abolished. “You see,” explains the guide, “married life did not work at all well with our system. Domestic life, we found, was thoroughly anti-socialistic in its tendencies. Men thought more of their wives and families than they did of the State…The ties of love and blood bound men together fast in little groups instead of one great whole.” (Op cit, p.81).

Here, once more, Jerome perceives the logic of full-blooded socialism, and once again his prophetic satire has been vindicated by history. Names may not have been replaced by numbers in the revolutionary socialist societies of our times (except in concentration camps), or marriage abolished, but in every single one of them the family has been subordinated to the State, and individuals (especially the young) herded into compulsory mass movements and organisations. (See: John Marks, Fried Snowballs: Communism in Theory and Practice, Claridge Press, London, 1990, and Clarence B. Carson, op cit.).

The last few pages of ‘The New Utopia’ unfold the remaining themes of Jerome’s critique of socialism. Thus we learn that in the new socialist England, all old books, paintings and sculptures have been destroyed and all freedom of thought and expression forbidden, in obedience to the will of the egalitarian “MAJORITY.” As the guide emphatically states earlier on in the tour, “A minority has NO rights,” revealing Jerome’s awareness, shared by all the great 19th century classical liberals, that democracy can be as destructive of liberty as traditional autocracy, especially within a socialist culture which sees individuality and personal excellence as a threat to social unity and equality. That has certainly proved to be the case throughout the post-colonial period in Asia and Africa, where time and again majority rule elections have spawned dictatorships, ethnic-cleansing and genocide – the victims usually being the most productive members of society. (See, for instance, George B. N. Ayittey, Africa Betrayed, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1992, and Freedom House’s annual global surveys of human rights).

It is particularly interesting that Jerome’s satirical attack on socialism was not an isolated example of anti-socialist fiction in the 1890s. In 1893, only two years after the appearance of ‘The New Utopia,’ a far more comprehensive literary assault on socialism was mounted in Germany, with the publication of Eugen Richter’s Pictures of the Socialistic Future.

Eugene Richter  ( 1838-1906 )

A German lawyer, civil servant and politician, Eugen Richter  was a strong advocate of free trade and a market economy, and as leader of the German liberals in the Reichstag (Germany’s parliament), one of the greatest critics of both the Social Democratic Party (the German socialists) and the policies of the Imperial Chancellor, Otto von Bismark.Eugen_Richter From 1885 to 1904 he was also the chief editor of the liberal newspaper, Freisinnige Zeitung, and it was during this period that he wrote his great anti-socialist satire.

Pictures of the Socialistic Future develops similar themes to those found in ‘The New Utopia,’ but at much greater length and less fancifully. Whilst retaining its satirical tone, its vision of a socialist society is entirely realistic, especially in its prophetically accurate analysis of the impact and consequences of socialist institutions and policies.

Eugen Richter’s story begins on a note of celebration following a successful socialist revolution in Germany. “The red flag of international Socialism waves from the palace and from all the public buildings in Berlin,” exults the narrator, the proud father of a socialist family. “The old rotten regime, with its ascendancy of capital, and its system of plundering the working classes, has crumbled to pieces. And for the benefit of my children, and children’s children, I intend to set down in a humble way, some little account of this new reign of brotherhood and universal philanthropy.” (Pictures of the Socialistic Future, Dodo Press, England, 2011, p.1). This he then proceeds to do, but with growing disillusionment.

 

A Story of growing disillusionment

As might be expected, the narrative is initially upbeat, presenting us with enthusiatic descriptions of all the new changes introduced by the socialist revolution. We learn that all private property has been confiscated, all industry and services nationalised, and all personal and family life subordinated to the needs and control of the State. In addition, we are informed, all able-bodied citizens between the ages of 21 and 65 are compelled to register for work, with the government alone deciding where and how they are to be employed. But instead of ushering in a new era of social harmony and plenty, these socialist measures and decrees eventually produce the opposite outcome. And here Eugen Richter is particularly skillful, because his satire reveals the unfolding consequences of socialism as they affect the narrator and his family.

picturesofsocial00rich

Obviously not the edition referred to in the text above.

The collectivisation of childcare, education and housing, for example, is particularly painful in its effects. The removal of the narrator’s young daughter to a State orphanage, and of the narrator’s aged father to a government rest-home, has a devastating impact on all the family, whilst the new decrees enforcing State control of the labour force have a similarly demoralising effect. Not only are the narrator’s son and prospective daughter-in-law forced to postpone their marriage by having to live and work in different towns, but the confiscation of their savings blights their ambitions and plans for their future. And as if all this were not bad enough, the enforced collectivisation and redistribution of dwellings and furniture, and the establishment of “State cookshops” at which all citizens are obliged to eat their communally provided meals, is a source of further demoralisation.

The rest of Eugen Richter’s narrative describes the processes by which the last socialist straw breaks the German camel’s back. The collectivisation of the economy and of all cultural institutions, discourages effort, creativity and production, destroying living standards and provoking the emigration of all the most talented and enterprising members of society. At the same time, the centralisation of all power and decision-making in the hands of the State, and the need to discipline the increasingly restive and rebellious population, produces a vast increase in the size of the State bureaucracy and security apparatus, assisted by a growing army of paid informers. As Richter’s narrator explains, democratic elections have become a farce since “every single individual is a spy on his neighbour.” (Op cit, p.76). Eventually, of course, simmering discontent, exacerbated by the closing of the frontiers and the gunning-down of all those seeking escape from the socialist paradise, erupts into full-scale counter-revolution and civil war.Can anyone presented with this picture deny its prophetic anticipation of the course of socialist revolution in the 20th century?

Those who have read Roland Huntford’s book on Sweden,New totaliarians The New Totalitarians (Penguin Press, London, 1971), will also recognise the relevance of both satires to the evolution of the Welfare State in the increasingly ‘politically correct’ western democracies, especially in the field of education. Again, we cannot say: “We were not warned.”

 

Philip Vander Elst  is a freelance writer, lecturer, and C.S. Lewis scholar. His many publications include Power Against People: a Christian critique of the State (IEA, London, 2008).

This piece was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education ( often known as FEE ) of Irving on Hudson New York, in their excellent magazine The Freeman ( October 2012 ), who have kindly given us blanket permission to use their publications. We are most grateful to them for this. Their web site is, of course, among our American links.