Permanent National Interests

George Washington's Farewell Address is increasingly relevant today. One of its three lessons was that faction must not come to dominate American political life lest the "alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension" should destroy the institutions of liberty. This would, he argued, incline people to prefer the dominion of one powerful enough never to lose power again, so that the hated other could be suppressed forever; this is the very issue at play in yesterday's discussion of the suppression of protected political speech for factional reasons.

Truly, there are many matters here worthy of discussion. Just one: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens."

Another: "As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible... avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear."

Most famously, though, Washington warned against entangling alliances and permanent animosities or friendships with foreign nations. Rather, he advocated a commercial approach to foreign affairs, guided by commerce, seeking peace when possible wherever in the world American merchants could do business. "Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing[.]"

Within a few years, we had a Navy in practice as well as in name, and were at war with the Barbary Pirates.

Partly this was due to the change of administrations, and indeed of factions: Washington was roughly aligned with the Federalists, and the war was led by Jefferson (founder of what was then called the Republican faction, but which later became the Democratic Party). Yet partly it was a fulfillment of Washington's vision: a permanent American interest, just because it aimed to be a nation of international commerce, was the freedom of shipping. This was especially true for American ships, but also for any ships of any nation that were involved in trade with the United States.

The United States had tried Washington's approach, and had treaties with all four of the Barbary States. Indeed Jefferson had himself helped negotiate those treaties, and later -- as Secretary of State -- had reported to Congress on their violation. It was not Jefferson, but the pasha, who declared the war and initiated hostilities. Yet Jefferson had long ago realized that it would be necessary to use force to secure the freedom of the seas. 

This is an interest of a nation like America that is so permanent that I cannot see how it can ever be surrendered except with nationality itself; even then, whatever succeeds the nation will retain the interest and will have to find ways to pursue it. Thus the Constitution establishes a permanent Navy, even as it warns against a standing Army. One way or another, commerce must flow if a nation founded on peaceful commerce is to flourish, or even to survive. Washington's gentle vision may be coupled to an isolationist bent in terms of involvement in foreign wars, but the capacity to defend our shipping and secure the sea lanes is something we cannot lay down.

In Honor of the Late Hurricane

What Political Speech is Protected?

Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH) says that he is being told by FBI insiders that there is a purge against whistleblowers criticizing the FBI's pursuit of politicized "law enforcement." 
The FBI is allegedly engaging in a "purge" of employees with conservative viewpoints and retaliating against whistleblowers who have made protected disclosures to Congress by revoking security clearances, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Jim Jordan told Fox News Digital.
Generally one might doubt a partisan's word in a partisan debate, but on this occasion there is good reason to believe him: Attorney General Merrick Garland explicitly said that he would go after anyone in DOJ who spoke to Congress about their concerns. He claims it is illegal to talk to your Congressman about your concerns.
Mr. Garland wrote that all communication with Congress must be conducted through the department’s office of legislative affairs.

The policy is “to protect our criminal and civil law enforcement decisions, and our legal judgment from partisans or other inappropriate influences, whether real or perceived or indirect,” he said in the memo, sent late Tuesday.

He stressed that the new policies “are not intended to conflict with or limit whistleblower protections” and that “Congress may carry out its legislative oversight functions.”

Kurt Siuzdak, a former FBI agent and a lawyer who represents bureau whistleblowers, said the memo is targeting employees who want to speak out against misconduct.

“There’s no whistleblower status, per se. If you make a protected disclosure of criminal wrongdoing or serious misconduct, and then they retaliate, you go to the office of attorney recruitment and management and they basically will remove any personnel actions after two to five years, and people know it’s two to five years. And they know the office of general counsel is going to fight and cause [sic] them lots of money,” he said.

“‘So if it’s not a whistleblower, then we’re coming after you’ is what they would say,’” he said. “‘If we determine you’re not a whistleblower, then we’re going to retaliate. … Because if you’re going to report misconduct to the Congress, and that doesn’t rise to the level of misconduct, then we’re going to take action.’’’
The First Amendment clearly intends to protect political speech above all forms of speech; and the right to appeal to Congress, which is the branch the Founders addressed in Article I of the Constitution before they gave a thought to the executive or judicial, is surely the most important subset of this kind of political speech. The representative branch is the first branch, and the right to petition it for redress of grievances is part of the first freedom.

It seems to me Congress ought to impeach any executive branch official who bars employees from talking with their elected legislator about concerns of executive branch misconduct. That ought to be a bipartisan, nonpartisan front that Congress cared about as a defense of its own prerogatives as a co-equal Constitutional branch (or even, one could readily argue from the Founding commentary and very organization of the Constitution, the primus inter pares of the three Constitutional branches).

Unfortunately, partisanship is now stronger than the interests of the different branches in protecting their part of the division of powers. This indicates a serious disease in the bone structure of the republic; that the courts increasingly appear to be dividing on the partisan lines of judges' personal politics is another symptom.

Sunset on the far Wall

The rain was still in Savannah at sunset, but the farthest cloud wall was visible in the south. Rain originally was predicted to start tonight, but now it sounds like the afternoon or evening of Friday. We should be perfectly ready. 

Bank Robbery by the FBI

Legal Insurrection cites the LA Times: In asking for a warrant to search private safe deposit boxes, FBI did not disclose its intention to steal everything it found worth more than $5,000.

The language in the two versions differs, as one would expect, but it is pretty strong even in the LAT version which can be expected to have no right-wing sympathies (but, probably, connections to aggrieved rich LA people who lost property in the raid). I'll quote from that one.

FBI misled judge who signed warrant for Beverly Hills seizure of $86 million in cash

The privacy invasion was vast when FBI agents drilled and pried their way into 1,400 safe-deposit boxes at the U.S. Private Vaults store in Beverly Hills.

They rummaged through personal belongings of a jazz saxophone player, an interior designer, a retired doctor, a flooring contractor, two Century City lawyers and hundreds of others....

Eighteen months later, newly unsealed court documents show that the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles got their warrant for that raid by misleading the judge who approved it.

They omitted from their warrant request a central part of the FBI’s plan: Permanent confiscation of everything inside every box containing at least $5,000 in cash or goods, a senior FBI agent recently testified.

The FBI’s justification for the dragnet forfeiture was its presumption that hundreds of unknown box holders were all storing assets somehow tied to unknown crimes, court records show.

Now, I'm not a lawyer, but that looks like a prima facie, plain language violation of the 4th Amendment

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

No warrants shall issue except on probable cause of a crime, not a presumption that unknown crimes may have occurred; and property to be seized is to be particularly described, not just generally entailed by a broad warrant. 

That police are not supposed to keep from the judge that the purpose of the raid is to collect vast wealth and then keep it didn't make it into the text, probably because the Founders thought you'd need a letter of marque and reprisal for that kind of wholesale privateering and seizure. That was already covered in Article I, Sec. 8:

"To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water[.]"

This should have required issuance of such a letter by Congress, following a declaration of war on the people (citizens of Los Angeles, I suppose) who were to be subject to such piratical predations by armed agents of the state. 

Massive Hells Angel Funeral Addressed by... Tucker Carlson

D29 wrote to ask if I'd known about this. I knew about Sonny Barger's death, which was memorialized here, and about the massive funeral being planned for it. I did not know, and would not have imagined, that Tucker Carlson would be invited (or even allowed) to speak there. Maybe they didn't know who he was. 

I'm amused that he thought he needed to explain to bikers that Maine was "at the other end of the country," as if they didn't know the physical layout of America better than anyone except perhaps truckers. 

UPDATE: There is surprisingly minimal coverage of this event, because the press generally wasn't welcome. Video of the event was controlled by the biker community, available online on a pay-per-view basis; I haven't seen any pirated clips floating around, which is indicative of how self-supporting the community is. Nobody seems to be giving interviews.

Here's a local TV station who found a vendor from inside the event who was willing to talk to them; and the police, who of course spent "millions of dollars" on whatever it was they did to 'secure' a perfectly peaceful memorial gathering.


One Would Need A Heart of Stone

It’s not nice to laugh at the sincere and earnest youth, but sometimes it can’t be helped

The General’s Hot Sauce

Even by the standard of veteran-owned companies with a veteran-owned theme, the packaging here is super kitschy. Nevertheless I am going to recommend it because the product is high-quality.  

My sister sent me these, which is lucky because I probably would not have bought them for myself. However, I'm really impressed. The pepper sauce is 86% ripe peppers, the rest being small amounts of garlic, vinegar, and salt. Even though this is their hottest version, it is not super hot because they are using natural peppers -- from left to right, cayenne, a mixture of cayenne and habanero, and pure habanero. 

Many commercial sauces use only around twenty percent pepper matter, and make up the heat with refined capsaicin oil so the sauce is thinner and hotter but not as thick and delicious. Others use engineered peppers like Carolina Reapers that are not as flavorful as the natural peppers. This one is more expensive than a bottle of big-brand sauce from the store, but it's pretty great.

Perfecting Nature through Reason

This came up at D29's place a couple of weeks ago, and I was reminded this morning when briefly noticing an article about Democrats making fun of Republicans for being gay. Both of the issues that raised this matter are small by comparison to the matter itself, which is a titanic thread of philosophical history that is in grave danger of being washed away by opposition to some of its conclusions. 

In a country as divided as our own has become, even to describe the position as 'the right's position' is to immediately set much of the world against it before they've heard it, so they will spend their time looking for things to object to about it rather than first understanding it. But it is also being described as 'the left's position' -- the concern about mRNA being raised at D29's place is that it aims to perfect nature rather than accepting the consequences of living in a fallen world, and that this is a sort of Gnosticism. Both sides end up primed to reject a really important idea without thinking it through.

The idea is at least as old as Aristotle and Plato, was argued for by St. Thomas Aquinas, and in the Enlightenment by Immanuel Kant. It could still be wrong, but the best minds of human history have found it persuasive. In its basic form I can see nothing wrong with it. You may object to some of the outlying conclusions without rejecting the foundational idea; it is more likely, I think, that someone went wrong along the way to one of those outlying conclusions than that the heart of the idea is wrong. 

So, the idea is that human beings have a nature; that nature includes access to reason, as well as parts that are not rational; and that the correct approach is to apply the rational part to trying to understand the irrational parts and correct them where they aren't quite right. 

You can state this idea in ancient terms, Medieval terms, Enlightenment terms, and contemporary terms. There are important differences in how you frame it: for example, Aristotle would say that the parts of our nature each aim at some good, for example eyes aim at sight and the goods that come of seeing. A contemporary would want to say that nature doesn't properly "aim" at anything; yet even here, there is some good that explains why the random mutation that supposedly gives rise to sighted beings is a quality that persists and becomes a normal part of that kind of beings' nature via natural selection. The contemporary position is differently stated, but it is mostly so in terms of applying a technical layer of clarification to eliminate anthropomorphism. 

It's not really harmful to understanding the point to say it just like Aristotle did, so long as you have the mental capacity to apply the various filters as necessary. Indeed, the best thing of all is to be able to phrase it in all four of these ways, appreciate why they are preserving the same idea, and entertain that each of them makes sense of the facts in ways that are compatible even though they differ on metaphysical conceptions of reality. It's just as likely as not that the contemporary way will be rephrased in the future, but I think this core idea will survive.

Crucial to this core idea is that the rational part of our nature can identify and correct the irrational parts. Our eyes are not, themselves, rational. It is reason that helps us grasp what the good is at which they 'aim' (or at which they were accidentally aimed by mutation and yet which has survived because the good they ended up 'aiming' at was a real good). Once we do that, we can use reason, and therefore technology, to improve the acquisition of the good.

Eyes as we all know see well or badly, some of them better than others; and typically they worsen as we get older. We are able to correct for many of these things with technology, restoring or improving the sight of our eyes to a high degree. This is a positive good. You can say that the Medieval way: because it is a natural good, recognized by natural reason and brought into alignment with the purpose of nature. You can say it the contemporary way: because sight is useful and why should anyone suffer who could be made to see better? 

This gives us then a standard by which to judge the whole process of applying technology to people. This is where people come apart currently, especially on sexuality: the older view holds that you can recognize the good of the natural process by reason, and with sex there are multiple goods (Aquinas names three). Some people think that reproduction is the obvious choice, and object to technological meddling that interferes with or outright destroys the natural capacity to reproduce -- especially in the young, who may not be fully in possession of their reason yet and might not therefore be clear on what their own good really entails. 

Other people think that reproduction is not, at least not currently, a good: the climate scare especially has many people thinking that virtue lies in not reproducing, but pursuing the pleasures that are another good of sex as if those were the primary good, and then passing peacefully into extinction with their whole family line. Even if it is not climate that motivates, a young person might decide they prefer pleasure to the long labors of parenthood; and not just in matters of sex. 'I want my life to be about me, not someone else,' means taking the pleasures and personal accomplishments of life as the primary good, and applying your reason to the question of how to obtain those

In the long term the right will end up winning that debate because they will disproportionately survive into future generations. This process has been underway in Israel, for example, for generations now. It was founded by secular Jews, many of them socialists or Communists; it has trended ever rightward as they died off and were not replaced at the same rates as the Orthodox. Ironically this process proves which good is the 'real' good aimed at by nature on natural selection grounds especially; it is those who prefer the contemporary account who ought to be most inclined to recognize that the matter is settled on their own terms. 

In any case, one should not walk away from the idea of reasoning from nature, in order to improve our lives through rational activity and thus technology. It is reasonable to be skeptical of new technology; it is reasonable to take time with it, to see how its long term effects play out before making a final decision about whether it is really rational to incorporate it into your life. It is not merely Gnosticism to do so, however; and it is not irrational to prefer the version of this account on which reproduction and future life are primary goods to guard.  

New Appalachian Country Music

Outlaw rag Whiskyriff  has a collection of some of the younger artists working today. I don't like all of it, I do like some of it, and I'll let you decide for yourselves if any of it appeals to you. 

Heck of a Speech, Ma'am

Now you're talking. Her name is Giorgia Meloni.

I expect her references to 'speculators' will be said to be anti-Semitic, especially since she is openly Catholic and Christian. That was likely enough a hundred years ago when Europeans spoke of speculators, bankers, or even capitalists; these days it's not a code word for a race or a religious group, because there are speculators from all over the world. The objection to them undoing sources of human dignity as a way of making us rootless and helpless before wealth and power is reasonable. 

She mentions how she is no longer allowed to be a mother, just 'Parent 1' or 'Parent 2.' I actually just filled out a Federal form today that insisted on using that exact formula for me and my wife. 

UPDATE: A report from the opposition on their interpretation of your interpretation of this person many of you, like me, hadn't heard of before yesterday.

In the way of such things, I gather that 'most far-right leader since Mussolini' must have gone out in a distribution list as the approved way to describe her: the line appears here also, as well as 'first fascist PM since Mussolini.' So must have 'anti-LGBTQ' rather than 'pro-traditional family.' I didn't hear in the clip anything about gay rights, either for or against them; I did hear her talk emphatically about being a mother and not just a number.

Of perhaps greater interest, she's a big Tolkien fan. That piece of writing is around twenty-five years old, when she was quite young, so don't judge it too harshly. If she found her way from a youthful embrace of Tolkien and his fantasy to full-fledged Catholicism, she followed a well-worn path that was exactly what he'd hoped people would find in his work.

Halfway There

 An essay called 'On the Idea of Equality' makes some important points. Equality is badly understood.

When I say, “One should not confuse equality with sameness,” my interlocutor frequently responds that such a banal truism is unworthy of articulation. I wish this were true, and that this moral principle were self-evident. But it is not.

Just a few days ago, the Atlantic published an essay skeptical of sex segregation in sports which concluded with the assertion that, “…as long as laws and general practice of youth sports remain rooted in the idea that one sex is inherently inferior, young athletes will continue to learn and internalize that harmful lesson.” The unstated premise of this argument is that empirical claims about differences between men and women are also moral claims about the relative value (inferior vs superior) of men and women.

Equality is said in many ways, and as he points out two people may be equally valuable as moral beings without being equally good at basketball. That points up the fact that equality of moral value requires someone who has the right standing to value someone: in the Declaration's formula, the Creator stands in that relationship. God values everyone equally, and bestows dignity and rights in one motion and in the same way for everyone. That kind of equality is true equality.

In the absence of God, the majestic State or the Law has to do this work. But the law does not, empirically, value everyone equally. The Law exists to discriminate between the honest man and the thief, the murderer and the victim. Justice such as laws and states are even capable of are not forms of equality, but forms of balancing: taking life or freedom or property from one, and bestowing it on another. Even when this is done as justly as possible, it is an act of discrimination and differently-valuing. It can of course be done quite unjustly.

The author is not concerned about that.

At one time, many believed that humans were equal because they were equal “in the eyes of God.” Then Darwin and secularism arrived, and today many people no longer believe in a literal human creator. But that does not vitiate the force of the moral claim that humans are equal. In fact, most of us would be appalled by the assertion that, “Since we know that humans are just evolved creatures, they do not deserve equal moral consideration.” Our endorsement of metaphysical equality is not tethered to belief in a benign creator. This is why we can continue to celebrate the eloquent defense of human equality expressed in the US Declaration of Independence while embracing evolution.

It's a bigger problem than he admits. Evolution is what has given rise to all these inequalities, especially the heritable ones he mentions as central. If people who are mathematically and empirically un-alike are to be truly equals, the equality has to be a bestowal. There aren't many metaphysical candidates who stand in the right relationship to us all to be positioned to make such a bestowal, to have both the power and the right.