July 31, 2013

John Gray on Machiavelli:

A world in which little or nothing of importance is left to the contingencies of politics is the implicit ideal of the age.

The trouble is that politics can’t be swept to one side in this way. The law these liberals venerate isn’t a free-standing institution towering majestically above the chaos of human conflict. Instead – and this is where the Florentine diplomat and historian Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) comes in – modern law is an artefact of state power. . . . Western governments blunder around the world gibbering about human rights; but there can be no rights without the rule of law and no rule of law in a fractured or failed state, which is the usual result of westernsponsored regime change. In many cases geopolitical calculations may lie behind the decision to intervene; yet it is a fantasy about the nature of rights that is the public rationale, and there is every sign that our leaders take the fantasy for real. The grisly fiasco that has been staged in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – a larger and more dangerous version of which seems to be unfolding in Syria – testifies to the hold on western leaders of the delusion that law can supplant politics. . . .

The true lesson of Machiavelli is that the alternative to politics is not law but unending war. When they topple tyrants for the sake of faddish visions of rights, western governments enmesh themselves in intractable conflicts they do not understand and cannot hope to control. Yet if Machiavelli could return from the grave, he would hardly be annoyed or frustrated by such folly. Ever aware of the incurable human habit of mistaking fancy for reality, he would simply respond with a Florentine smile.

This is a mediocre essay on a very interesting topic: what will happen when economics discovers evolution? I can’t wait to find out. I expect support for unrestricted, mass immigration to be one of the first casualties.

– Ridiculous explanations for the fall of Detroit continue. My favorite is still Yglesias’ suggestion that it’s because Detroit doesn’t have any good universities. Does anyone write better progressive propaganda than Yglesias? These explanations have led me to one important realization – I actually have some reasonably strong principles. For example, you couldn’t pay me enough money to write shit that stupid under my own name. I never really considered myself a principled guy.

– A new project from Nydwracu and company.

– Nick Land has a two-part series on the Arab world, which is worth your time.

– In local news, you be interested in the YouTube series (some of which is shot very close to my home) which starts here

Comparing the rich and the poor.

– Mangan passes on a story from Japan. I was there a few weeks ago. It was super hot and most buildings (especially offices) were barely air conditioned due to energy shortages. No one seemed to mind at all (other than to be very apologetic to foreigners). If that happened here, no one would go to work.

– The benefits of monarchy.

– Imagine what we’d learn in school if we got rid of the dumb kids.

– Here’s a non-gay discussion of racial profiling from Rod Dreher. Regardless of what you think of all this, it’s silly to pretend that the average person will sacrifice his own security so that you can feel better about yourself and your ever-so-correct opinions.


– The consequences of copyright laws.

Why Christianity won’t save the West.

Radish covers Henry Maine.


Review of “This Town” by Mark Leibovich

July 26, 2013

This book purports to explain how Washington really works. In a sense it does – though only by omission.

The book is a chronicle of the most noticeable people in DC – the most “important” politicians, lobbyists, reporters, consultants, etc. From this viewpoint, you get great insight into what these people are doing. Unfortunately, you therefore get absolutely no insight into anything else.

For example, 10% of the book is devoted to Tim Russert’s funeral. This sort of event is extremely important to these people. A few pages are devoted to David Axelrod shaving his mustache. Also an incredibly important event, apparently. (By the way, Axelrod may be the only guy ever who looks like more of a perv without a mustache).

On the other hand, this book takes place during a time of momentous developments that go completely unmentioned. (The book basically covers the time Obama has been in office). A grand total of zero words are devoted to financial reform, Obamacare, or any other policy initiatives. One sentence would suggest that Tom Coburn really cares about the debt and another would suggest that Obama supported gay marriage from the start. Otherwise, it’s all parties, jostling for TV time, and other vapid stuff. As Leibovich notes,

There was little slog to it, as there is in so much of political office: the policy debates, the town meetings, the committee hearings, the constituent visits. Screw that. Press is immediate gratification. It’s where most politicians truly live, the realm of how others see and judge them, the hour-to-hour score sheet of their massively external definition.

In other words, in six years of chronicling the important events of the most notable and important people in Washington, zero words of the book are devoted to any processes that even remotely resemble a legislative, executive or judicial process.

You can come to Washington, achieve complete success and never actually have to govern anything, other than perhaps a campaign. Even when he discusses campaign, it quickly becomes about how people will be portrayed by HBO.

Through this massive omission, which – also tellingly – the author doesn’t even notice, you learn more about Washington than you do from anything that’s actually written in the book.

Leibovich’s thesis is that “This Town” is run by what he calls “The Club.” The Club consists of 500 or so of the most influential people from a collection of reporters, public figures, politicians, appointees, consultants and lobbyists. The group includes “formers,” i.e. former politicians that make lots of money “advising.” These people don’t perform any obvious function beyond self-perpetuating:

But their membership in The Club becomes paramount and defining. They become part of a system that rewards, more than anything, self-perpetuation.

In this case the initial focus on Tim Russert is instructive. He’s basically treated like a god by those in The Club, but what did Russert actually do? I have no idea – is being on TV and asking innate questions all that impressive? And the funeral itself makes Leibovich’s point that:

No matter how disappointed people are in their capital, even the most tuned-in consumers have no idea what the modern cinematic version [Leibovich doesn’t suggest that there is any other version] of This Town really looks like . . . It misses that the city, far from being hopelessly divided, is in fact hopelessly interconnected. It misses the degree to which New Media has democratized the political conversation while accentuating Washington’s insular, myopic, and self-loving tendencies.


Political Washington is an inbred company town where party differences are easily subsumed by membership in The Club. Policy arguments can often devolve into the trivial slap fights of televised debate [Leibovich doesn’t suggest that they start anywhere else]: everyone playing a role, putting on a show, and then introducing a plot twist.

Leibovich does a very nice job demonstrating how insular and unchanging this class is. You can’t get rid of any of these people. Many haven’t held office in a decade and yet they hang around when Congress starts a new session.

Washington—like high school—used to be a transient culture. People would expect to graduate eventually or drop out. But almost no one leaves here anymore.

The book chronicles party after party and jostling for spots on TV, or whatever, but it’s probably at its best when Leibovich follows around some specific members of The Club, including: Bob Barnett, “the doorman to the revolving door”; Harry Reid; Tom Coburn, who initially seems the most outside of The Club, but apparently has a mushy-spot for his relationship to the President; Kurt Bardella; Richard Holbrooke; Tammy Haddad; Mike Allen; and Trent Lott.

An anecdote from his time with Lott is insightful:

[Lott’s] tone shifted when I mentioned that [Ted] Kennedy had kept a letter from Lott hanging in his Senate conference room. It was a thank-you note Lott had sent to Kennedy after Kennedy had purchased a painting for Lott on Cape Cod. “Really?” Lott said quietly. “Did Teddy really keep that hanging up? I had no idea.” There was a pause on the line, and it occurred to me that Lott was choking up.

There’s lots of stories like this. Club members are flattered that other members actually like them. It’s mutual flattery all the way down. There’s no other there there.

Once in The Club, you basically can’t get kicked out and it’s incredibly easy to monetize your status. For example, when General McChrystal “resigned” following a sexual scandal, some comments he made about the administration to an “embedded” reporter, he immediately started a political consultancy, got a book deal (courtesy of Barnett), ended up on the boards of a couple large corporations, taught a graduate seminar at Yale, and made $60,000 per speaking gig.

Leibovich has some interesting asides on the Obama administrations relationship with This Town. The administration fancies itself as more substantive than those in The Club. It wants to remain above it all.

On the other hand, everyone in The Club worships the administration (“comic levels” of sucking up, as Leibovich puts it) and Obama’s style seems to work really well for those in The Club (particularly the lobbyists the administration seems to disdain and then appoint to good jobs). It creates an odd and interesting dynamic that someone will eventually be able to explain. Leibovich at least identifies the potential story, even if he fails to follow-up very well.

Leibovich also criticizes the media’s role in The Club. Their membership in The Club creates constant conflicts of interest. Maintaining their status requires them to not actually conduct any . . . journalism. Any they can’t seem to get enough of glorifying themselves:

Perhaps more than anything, Watergate—and All the President’s Men—made journalists a celebrated class in This Town unlike in any other.

Near the end, Leibovich touches the third rail of examining The Club’s view of the electorate. In short, the view is characterized by disdain. As Leibovich puts it, the consensus is that “The basis of our democracy is Forrest Gump.”

Frankly, that seems about right to me. Perhaps it’s generous.

If you’re looking for an explanation of how the US is actually governed, you’ll get absolutely nothing out of this book. No one seems to have any beliefs or opinions of any kind, but they’d all be happy to develop which ever one you want if it’ll get them on the Meet the Press.

In that sense, the book begs a fascinating question: if the people that are supposedly running the country aren’t actually performing any of the functions of governing, who is?


July 25, 2013

Derb has fun with some terrible commentary.

– JayMan on American nations.

Academia and Zimmerman.

Diversity. That’s a fun site, but all the maps start to look a lot like that one after a while.

Chekov on being civilized.

– GBFM keeps taking shots at Christian churches.

Review of “Shift Omnibus Edition” by Hugh Howey

July 23, 2013

I couldn’t resist the sequel, especially since the final book is coming out next month.

Actually these books are a prequel to the first set of books. The first set of books were post-apocalyptic. The first two in this new set take place prior to the events of the first set of books.

It’s tough to maintain the magic when you reveal the events of the actual apocalyptic-scenario, but Howey pulls it off pretty well. The third book in the new set brings the story back up to date.

Essentially all the unanswered from the first set of books are answered in a way that isn’t lame (which is pretty remarkable).

It should be noted that in addition to being an interesting sci-fi scenario, the books are actually really good. They’re ultimately about what it takes to survive and the hard decisions that accompany survival. Howey is also very good at revealing just enough to keep you very interested throughout.

I can’t say anymore, since that’d ruin the reading experience.


July 23, 2013

– Ron Unz has another very good article up on race, crime and immigration. There’s really no reason not to read the whole thing. He covers race and crime:

Indeed, the race/crime correlation so substantially exceeds the poverty/crime relationship that much of the latter may simply be a statistical artifact due to most urban blacks being poor.

White and black voting patterns:

Empirically, the presence of blacks causes whites to vote the “law-and-order” Republican ticket, while the presence of Hispanics or Asians seems to have negligible political impact.


America’s ruling financial, media, and political elites are largely concentrated in three major urban centers—New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.—and all three have contained large black populations, including a violent underclass. . . .

Thus, replacing a city’s blacks with immigrants would tend to lower local crime rates by as much as 90%, and during the 1990s American elites may have become increasingly aware of this important fact, together with the obvious implications for their quality of urban life and housing values. . . .

In May 2011 Bloomberg was interviewed on Meet the Press, and explained that if he had full authority, he could easily fix the seemingly insoluble problems of a city like Detroit at no cost to the taxpayer. He proposed opening wide the floodgates to unlimited foreign immigration on the condition that all the additional immigrants moved to Detroit and lived there for a decade or so, thereby transforming the city. I suspect this provides an important insight into how he and his friends discuss certain racial issues in private.

And New York’s ability to ignore the rules that other cities must follow:

Put another way, if America’s other cities with large black populations had somehow managed to achieve the same surprisingly low crime rates as New York City then most of the high racial crime correlations that have been the central findings of this article would disappear. Conversely, if New York City were excluded from our current national statistics, many of the existing racial crime correlations would exceed 0.90. These are objective facts and well-intentioned analysts who sharply criticize New York City policing methods should recognize that they may face some unpalatable choices.

None of these ideas are new to readers of Steve Sailer, but Unz documents them very well.

As with so many of Unz’s other articles, he says some strangely naive stuff. For example,

The topic of my article was “Hispanic crime” and my research findings were original and potentially an important addition to the public policy debate. Yet the black crime figures in my charts and graphs were so striking that I realized they might easily overshadow my other results, becoming the focus of an explosive debate that would inevitably deflect attention away from my central conclusion. Therefore, I chose to excise the black results, perhaps improperly elevating political prudence over intellectual candor.

I further justified this decision by noting that black crime in America had been an important topic of public discussion for at least the last half-century. I reasoned that my findings must surely have been quietly known for decades to most social scientists in the relevant fields, and hence would add little to existing knowledge.

If you can understand how he could simultaneously consider his findings explosive and well-known for decades, perhaps your IQ is as high as Unz’s.

Anyway, RTWT.

– In totally unrelated news, how to protect your kid in “urban” schools.

– Has anyone else noticed that every time a politician is actually acting like a libertarian, Reason calls him a racist? Maybe they should stick to writing about how awesome Somalia is.

– Detroit is an old subject around these parts, even if it’s suddenly interesting to everyone else. It’s worth pausing to consider the extent to which the fall of Detroit is another small bit of revenge from the Soviets.

The amount of totally retarded commentary on Detroit from the left is staggering. For example, Yglesias – who lives like 40 miles from Baltimore, home of Johns Hopkins University – thinks Detroit’s problem was lack of universities.

– Speaking of progressives beclowning themselves, their commentary on this map has also been pretty funny.

– The leftward drift of evangelicals.


July 18, 2013

On Congress:

Congress is dominated by intellectual lightweights who are chiefly consumed by electioneering and largely irrelevant in a body where a handful of members and many more staff do the actual work of legislating. . . .

many members of Congress are politics-obsessed mediocrities who know little about the policy they’re purportedly crafting and voting on….

That strikes as perhaps a bit overly generous. Do some of the members do the actual work of legislating? I highly doubt it.

That’s more like it.

Spandrell, FTW.

– Heartiste suggests a back to Europe movement.

Zimbabwe news of the day.


July 18, 2013

Scharlach doesn’t think we should discuss the Zimmerman affair because it’s not edifying.

In a sense, he’s right. All of the discussion of the affair has been about the racial aspects of the story.

The real racial aspects of the story are wildly uninteresting. One black guy killed another black guy. If that was an interesting story, Chiraq or Detroit would be the most interesting place in the world. Instead, it’s racist to talk about either one. It’s hard to overstate how boring these facts really are.

(You have to admit it’s pretty funny that everyone who’s pissed off at Zimmerman for being a white guy this week was super concerned that the Supreme Court would take away his “right” to preferential college admissions based on the fact that he’s black a couple weeks ago. If diversity provides nothing else, it certainly provides a fair amount of humor).

Far from being an innocent young honor student, Martin was a criminal, probably the aggressor, and perhaps committing a hate crime himself.

(As an aside, is that the biggest I-told-you-so in the history of the internet there for Sailer? He perhaps had an unfair advantage since he somehow discovered an obscure book by an unknown author that explained much of what is currently happening 30 years ago and then again in another book that was published right as this case broke. Too bad the guy is so obscure – seems like his views might be worth soliciting).

In racial terms, this story is entirely dog bites man. (Here’s the opposite story, which I’m sure you’ve heard lots about).

Indeed, if instead of reading the reports of the incident in the papers, you had instead immediately jumped to the most racially stereotypical conclusions, you would have been much more correct. Yawn.

The media has demonstrated that they’re desperate to find evidence of white on black violence. The fact that this is the best they can do tells you all need to know about such violence – i.e. it doesn’t exist.

And this where Scharlach goes wrong. While the mainstream story is truly unedifying, the fact that the mainstream story exists and so completely contradicts reality is fascinating and illuminating on many levels.

If the mainstream media (even in the internet age!) can get people – lots of people – to commit acts of violence on the street based entirely on an obvious lie, what else can they do? What can’t they do?

The results would seem to suggest that “public opinion” is as clueless and easily moldable as ever. Perhaps more easily moldable than ever. As Fred Reed said:

But what persuaded me that humanity really did descend from monkeys, and would do well to ascend back to them, was the public´s near-perfect lack of grasp of anything involved in this national soap opera. From the vacant visages of over-coiffed network babes, from the empty minds and overhanging orbital ridges of anchor men, came a veritable Pacific of incomprehension. I was fascinated. Reasonable behavior is not very amusing. . . .

The coverage was so craftedly witless and dishonest that it was easy to suspect a conspiracy. Stupidity beyond a certain point can only be a work of intelligence.

We may be progressing beyond the point of that being true anymore, which is a scary thought indeed.

Religion and reaction

July 18, 2013

A few weeks ago, The Avenging Red Hand put up this post, in which he wonders when he can be part of the new reaction if he’s religious.

This is a question that should probably be answered by Nick B. Steves, who writes well on the interaction of the Orthosphere and the reactosphere (whether he explicitly means to or not). However, I’ll take a crack.

I’ve sort of already responded in a series of book reviews meant to highlight the fact that the US has gone through several periods of increased religious (Christian) conviction and that those periods have also been periods of increased progressivity. In addition, in another review, I noted Sam Francis’s skepticism about the real conservative-ness of the Religious Right.

More recently, we can thank “religious leaders” for the bit of success the “immigration reform” efforts have had. These leaders don’t yield to anyone in the Democratic Party in their eagerness to elect a new people (much as Sam Francis would have predicted).

It’s really only reasonable to conclude that mass-religious movements (like, perhaps, all mass movements) won’t be a source of right-ward shifts. In fact, they’ve been consistent sources of left-ward shifts for a many centuries.

However, this says nothing about a person’s religious beliefs. I strongly suspect that any large gathering of reactionaries will include a disproportionally large number of religious people (though I’ll be surprised if we get a lot of unitarians or lutherans, etc). I’d go so far as to say that I welcome this phenomenon and hope it continues. The reaction, however, is not – and, in my opinion, should not be – a religious movement (after all, that’s what progressivism is for).

Here’s the key bit from The Avenging Red Hand’s post:

When I say I am Orthodox, then, I dont mean that I see Orthodoxy as somehow useful to my agenda, as a way to strengthen the culture or maintain social order or build a community or something, and that as a result of that I’ve adopted the forms of Orthodoxy or joined myself to an Orthodox Church.

As long as that’s true, I don’t see any inherent conflict.

Update: GBFM also writes in this subject rather regularly.

Review of “The Problem of Democracy” by Alain de Benoist

July 17, 2013

In this brief but very dense book, de Benoist considers arguments for and against democracy and finds them inadequate in light of what he terms “organic democracy.” It may be better understood as “citizenist democracy.” Here’s his summary:

Democracy must be founded not on the alleged inalienable rights of rootless individuals, but on citizenship, which sanctions one’s belonging to a given folk – that is, a culture, history and destiny – and to the political structure within which it has developed. Liberty results from one’s identity as members of the same national and folk community. The abstract egalitarian principle “one man, one vote” must be replaced with the more realistic and concrete principle “one citizen, one vote.”

A democracy based not on the idea of rootless individuals or “humanity” but on the folk as a collective organism and privileged historical agent might be termed an organic democracy. It would represent the logical evolution of Greek democracy, and of a current of thought that places at the centre of social and political life notions such as those of mutual aid, the harmony of opposites, analogy, the dialectic between authority and consent, the equality of political rights, participation, and the mutual identification of governments with those governed.

I certainly think such a society would be a much more stable society than modern, multicultural democracies. However de Benoist fails to persuade me (or really provide any arguments) that democracy in such a society is preferable to any other form of government in such a society. Is the stability the result of democracy or just the result of an homogenous society with an involved citizenry that exhibits a strong sense of belonging?

My guess is that the latter is much more important that the former. Though he does provide some persuasive arguments that democracy can only function in a citizenist society – in making this argument, he’s in good company.

de Benoist notes that, “No political system exists that is preferable in itself in all historical epochs, circumstances and places. Likewise, no ‘absolute’ solution exists for human affairs, nor any ‘ultimate way’ of living for societies and peoples.”

Later, he notes, “The Mass is simply compromised of a transient plurality of isolated and rootless individuals. A people is instead a crucible by which citizens are given form.”

My guess is that a true people will thrive regardless of government. The type of government matters much more when you’re trying to govern a mass.

Indeed, the overall picture of democracy painted by de Benoist is rather scary. For example,

Claude Polin goes so far as to write, “Prior to the development of the idea of popular sovereignty, men had never even imagined . . . that any human power could truly be absolute.” Far from having replaced a powerful authority with a weaker one, modern democracies have, on the contrary, set up popular sovereignty as a (theoretically) unlimited power.

This force may be easier to contain in a citizenist society, but why unleash such a force?

Another example,

Elections serve to measure “public opinion” and polls to get a clearer picture of it. But how are opinions formed? The fact that elections may be free is meaningless if opinion-forming is not. . . . . it is possible to manipulate public opinion today in ways unknown to the classic propaganda of the past. Popular will is thus being increasingly fabricated by using methods to condition public opinion.

Again, this is still true in a citizenist society. Why turn government over to those who are experts at manufacturing consent?

I can’t resist one more example,

[Tocqueville]: What I find most repugnant in American is not the extreme liberty that prevails there but the virtual absence of any guarantee against tyranny. . . . I know no country in which there is less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion than in America. . . . In the majority, however, is vested a force that is moral as well as material, which shapes wills as much as actions and inhibits not only deeds but also the desires to do them. . . . The Inquisition was never able to prevent the circulation in Spain of books contrary to the religion of the majority. In the United States the majority has such sway that it can do better: it has banished even the thought of publishing such books.

So why vest any force in the majority?

In sum, the book provides great arguments for small and homogenous societies. It fails to justify why such societies should be governed by democracies. As de Benoist himself notes,

Not a single revolutionary constitution claimed to have been inspired by “democratic” principles. . . .

It was only in the United States, once people had started criticizing the notion of a “republic,” that the word democracy first became widespread. Its usage became current at the beginning of the Nineteenth century, especially with the advent of Jacksonian democracy and the establishment of the Democratic Party.

Far be it from me to support revolutionary ideals, but it seems like they were on to something.

Review of “What Hath God Wrought” by Daniel Walker Howe

July 16, 2013

Everything goes fast now-a-days; the winds, even begin to improve upon the speed which they have hitherto maintained; everything goes ahead but good manners and sound principles.

– Philip Hone

In the conclusion section, Howe says, “This book tells a story; it does not argue a thesis.” That couldn’t be more unture.

The book is Whig history if anything is.

Nevertheless, it’s an interesting time period and it was long enough ago that even a mainstream historian treats most of the events with a reasonable amount of dispassion. For example, you can say stuff like:

Ethnoreligious and negative reference group voting influenced politics more in the North than in the South, since the North had greater ethnic and religious diversity.

But I digress.

The book’s title comes from the first telegraph. The overarching theme of the book is the consequences that result from massive declines in transportation and communication times. These improvements happened at the same time as New England’s control over the political dimensions of the US really began to wane.

So, if you read between the lines, the book is really about how New England maintained control of the US after it could no longer due so through the established political process. To stretch the story a bit (and perhaps beyond the point I should), this time period can be thought of as the rise of the Cathedral.

As Howe puts it: “The history of the young American republic is above all a history of battles over public opinion.” Howe does an excellent job showing how New England came to dominate the process of controlling public opinion. More explicitly:

The political power of New England waned with the growth of the Middle Atlantic states and the trans-Appalachian West. Nevertheless, New England Unitarians could take consolation in their importance for the world of print; through it, they had found a means to exert a more subtle influence across the broad republic.

Or, when that didn’t exactly work, you could always just kill everyone that disagreed, “Eventually, the Whig vision prevailed, but only after Abraham Lincoln had vindicated it in the bloodiest of American Wars.”

A few parts of the story will be particularly interesting to us.

The first is the outbreak of the Second Great Awakening. What happens what the citizens of the United States get really religious? The answer appears to be that they get really progressive.

“Some of the most important debates of the period did not take place within the arena of politics. Much of this discussion occurred within the religious communities.”

If, as Samuel Johnson said, the first Whig was the devil and the second may have been Cromwell, the first in the US may just have been Lyman Beecher. That’s obviously stretching it, but he may reasonably be considered the godfather of the American Cathedral.

In a sense it’s literally true that he was the father of the thing, since his children include: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Ward Beecher, Charles Beecher, Edward Beecher, Isabella Beecher Hooker, Catharine Beecher, and Thomas K. Beecher.

Here’s Howe on the family:

Taken together, the members of the Beecher family demonstrate how the heirs of the Puritans coped, not simply with the disestablishment of religion, but also with the demise of the Federalist Party and New England’s shrinking political influence in a growing Union. They devised new means of influence public option outside politics: education, literature, magazines, religious revivals, and organized reform.

Moldbug couldn’t have said it better.

Beecher was concerned primarily with temperance, but it’s his means (much more than his preferred end) that would live on, as the foundation for future “movements.” Particularly those against slavery and in favor of woman’s suffrage.

Howe puts Beecher on the “conservative wing of evangelical reform” let’s move on to the liberal one with Charles Finney.


If Lyman Beecher’s followers represented the conservative wing of evangelical reform and Charles Finney’s its liberal one, those of Elias Hicks contributed the radical vanguard, what contemporaries called “ultraism.” All three of these evangelical groups could agree on many issues, such as temperance, prison reform, and public support for elementary schools. But the Hicksites displayed a willingness to pursue causes that other thought quixotic. Hicksite Quakers provided disproportionately large number of recruits to the immediate, uncompensated abolition of slavery. And when at last a movement endorsing equal rights for women surfaced, the little minority of Hicksite Quakers would make themselves conspicuous in its support.”

Let’s end the Second Great Awakening with one more quote:

Like many others of his generation Baird saw evangelical Protestantism as the legatee of Puritanism, the core of American culture, the source of American democratic institutions, the primary engine of economic and political progress, and ultimately the hope of the world. The American version of evangelical Protestantism represented, for him, what God hath wrought.

The Second Great Awakening also saw the first (for the US or anywhere else) experiments in utopianism and “socialism” (see, e.g. Robert Owen), to say nothing of Bible Communism and free love. And I suppose I should mention unitarianism.

Mormonism also began during this period. Howe doesn’t spend much time on it, and doesn’t have much interesting to say about it.

In some ways, the review could end there, but then we’d miss out on the fact that the US annexed Texas in the exact same way that the Southwestern US is now being annexed by Mexico. It’s too fun to let that pass without a brief commentary.

Even Howe can’t resist a bit of fun at the expense of the Mexicans (if not the modern Americans):

“The old Latin mistake had been repeated,” the historian Frederick Merk wryly observed: “admitting Gauls into the Empire.”

Indeed, “By 1836, there were at least thirty-five thousand Anglos in Texas, now outnumbering Hispanics ten to one.”

In a shocking turn of events, Texas relatively quickly became part of the US.

Howe doesn’t really like Polk, but he can’t but admit that – on his own terms – Polk was an incredibly successful President. After annexing Texas, Polk proceeded to . . . instigate . . . the Mexican-American War.

“’No power but Congress can declare war’, noted Daniel Webster, ‘but what is the value of this constitutional provision, if the President of his own authority may make such military movements as must bring on war.’” Such was the history of all subsequent American wars.

The story of how the war ended was quite interesting – and was something I wasn’t already aware of.

There are two more subjects which I must at least comment on given the time period covered by the book. The first is Andrew Jackson and the second is the Civil War.

The book encompasses the “age of Jackson” and many of the main characters (Van Buren and Polk, for example) seem to remain largely in his shadow.

Howe tells the story by contrasting Jackson and John Quincy Adams. That methodology worked very well. Jackson won virtually all the battles, yet somehow (see above) Adams wins the war.

As he left office, Jackson noted two dangers: nullification and abolition.

The Civil War looms large over this period. It’s tempting to shoehorn all the events of the era into ominous foretellings of upcoming War. Howe falls victim to this temptation constantly.

Sometimes it works. Other times it doesn’t, as for example, when South Carolina secedes over a very high tariff in 1832. Howe devotes pages to explaining how it’s really about slavery, but it’s never very convincing. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

There are certain inconvenient facts for Howe’s narrative that emerge as well. For example, “In Philadelphia and New York, the life expectancy of newborn babies average only twenty-four years during the 1830s and ‘40s, six years less than that of newborn southern slaves.” Or, “No strong sectional pattern emerged in the election of 1840.”

Despite these drawbacks, Howe does an excellent job of showing how the rise of extreme abolitionists creates so much of the increasing polarization.

Howe ends the book with a section on women’s suffrage. As the next era would be the era of increased electoral participation. Indeed, at times it just seems like abolition became a voting issue. As Howe notes, “If the suffrage were to be expanded, Democrats wanted to include immigrants but not black men; Whigs preferred the opposite.”

Ending on this topic allows Howe to connect it all back to abolition and radical Christianity as well:

And like most abolitionists, the Grimke sisters came to their antislavery convictions through the experience of religious conversion . . . Garrison welcomed them into his American Anti-Slavery Society, calling abolition and women’s rights two “moral reformations” bound together in “pure practical Christianity.”