Friday, July 21, 2017

Polemic or Scholarship: A Historian's Choice

Before I begin, let me confess to having attended several conferences hosted by the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS), a group funded by the Koch brothers. I had a great time listening to lectures, I met scholars such as Michael Munger, Steve Horwitz, and Phil Magness, drank beer and had late night philosophical discussions with other graduate students from around the world. I strongly deny ever being present for any sessions outlining a plot to overthrow American democracy. In all seriousness, there was shockingly little discussion of practical policy or political strategy at all. Most of us were there because we had some kind of affection for libertarian philosophy and we engaged in a lot of talk (including disagreement) about theory. So much for there being some kind of plan, Koch hatched or otherwise.  

A basic feature scholarship is a need for a clear line to be drawn between the gathering of information and what implications might be drawn from it. This is most obvious in the realm of public policy. For example, if you were an analyst working for the Bush administration in the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq on the question of whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, you could not be in any way connected to making the argument that the United States should invade. The moment it is established that you believed in the invasion, any evidence you produced in favor of there being weapons of mass destruction must be discounted. It should be assumed that you came into your research with the agenda of making a case for invasion and therefore, perhaps even unconsciously, you fell into the trap of confirmation bias. Instead of seriously considering the possibility that there might not be weapons of mass destruction, you assumed that there were, interpreted everything in that light and came to believe that the evidence for such weapons was overwhelming. Much can be made of the fact that the Bush administration did not take such intellectual precautions and was surprised when it turned out that the weapons did not exist.           

As historians, we may have our ideological preferences but our credibility as historians requires that we submit ourselves to a historical methodology designed to keep our biases in check. It is not that upon becoming historians we stop being biased, but the method is designed to produce something close to an unbiased result from the mass work of biased people. This is much the same way as Adam Smith's hidden hand produces social good from the mass labor of selfish individuals. As with other forms of scholarship, we need to distance the gathering of facts from their implications. First, we need to recognize that we are not going to achieve any great knockout blow for our cause. Second, if we do find a text that supports our cause, we must bend over backward to read it in a fashion favorable to the other side, forsaking any advantage for our own cause. Ultimately, ideological polemic and history are distinct fields and you can only engage in one of them at a time.  

This brings us to the recent uproar over Prof. Nancy MacLean. Over the past few weeks, a guilty pleasure of mine has been following the controversy over MacLean's book, Democracy in Chains. I have not read the book (I am waiting for it to go on sale on Audible) so I will refrain from making any judgments on the book itself and restrict myself to the discussion surrounding it. What strikes me as interesting is that MacLean is plainly trying to be both a polemicist and a historian. She is a self-conscious progressive, who rejects libertarianism intellectually on its merits and, at the same time, claims to have unearthed documents that are damaging to the credibility of a particular libertarian, the late economist James M. Buchanan. It is important here to recognize that I am not attacking either MacLean's progressivism nor her evidence against Buchanan. On the contrary, for the purposes of this post, I am willing to assume that both are correct. She may be right in terms of facts but her willingness to be both polemicist and historian destroys her credibility to be the latter. 

Let us give MacLean the benefit of the doubt. Let us imagine that she snuck into the late Prof. Buchanan's office and discovered the secret protocols of the Elders of Wichita along with Buchanan's KKK membership card. While we are at it, let us throw in a letter stating: 

Dear James Kilpatrick,

John C. Calhoun is my intellectual lodestar. The southern agrarian poets are the greatest. I find myself really inspired by Donald Davidson. I never realized that Hobbes' Leviathan could be the federal government. Brown vs. Board of Education is the worst. I hate n******. I want to keep them from voting so we can overthrow democracy and put Donald Trump (our own August Pinochet) into power. MAGA

Heil Hitler, 

James M. Buchanan

P. S. Did you get the suitcase full of cash from the Koch brothers?

Assuming all of this were true, MacLean, as a historian, would have two options. The first would be to publish this information in the most charitable way possible. Perhaps Buchanan had a strange sense of humor or was an informant for the FBI. It would make sense to walk across campus to present the evidence to Michael Munger or any of the other prominent public choice theorists at Duke to get their interpretation. Under no circumstance should she imply that this evidence challenges libertarians. If other people wish to try to use this information in a polemical fashion, that is their issue. This way, despite her progressive beliefs, her scholarship would be beyond reproach. 

There could be a second option if MacLean was a supporter of public choice theory. As an admirer of Buchanan's work, she could acknowledge that she discovered a dark side to him, mainly that he was a racist, who plotted to overthrow democracy. On a serious note, as a libertarian, I readily acknowledge the existence of a dark side to libertarianism. This ranges from the personal issues of Ayn Rand to the white nationalist outreach of the paleo-libertarians. While I do not think that Murray Rothbard and Ron Paul were racists, they were certainly willing to associate with actual racists as part of a strategy of allying themselves to anyone openly hostile to the federal government. This is a problem that libertarians need to face, particularly as it led to a failure on the part of many libertarians to actively oppose Trump. Very well, Buchanan might have been of a similar stripe or worse. I am not about to reject such a position a priori.   

Understand that I can say these things about libertarianism precisely because, as part of the libertarian family, I am not trying to score ideological points. I am criticizing myself as much as anyone. These same words coming from an outsider are going to come across very differently and perhaps should not be said. This is not different from how there may be very real problems in the black community but I, as a white person, should not be the person to talk about them no matter how right I might be. No matter how good my intentions, my words are going to sound wrong and prove counter-productive. Let me address the problems of my community (libertarian, Jewish or otherwise) and leave it to others to address the problems in theirs.

If MacLean wants to engage in polemics against libertarians in her free time, in addition to her scholarship, that is fine. One can do legitimate research and have an ideology at the same time as long as they are no obvious connections. A reader should be able to buy into your scholarship completely without there being any expectation that your work will affect what they do inside a voting booth. With MacLean, not only are there obvious ideological implications, she eagerly connects her book to the ideological clashes of today all while using her status as a historian to bolster the legitimacy of her own progressive views. For example, in defending herself, she doubles down on the idea that she is the victim of a Koch attack. If she was serious about defending the integrity of her scholarship, she should have avoided any mention of ideology. She could have just explained how her critics were factually incorrect and left it at that. Let other people try to fathom the larger implications of her work; she is just a humble scholar wanting to be left alone to do research with no expectation that it should be of interest to a wider world.   

There is a place for research into the history of libertarianism, even when it turns up problematic material, and there is a place for polemics against libertarianism. I welcome both but they need to be kept in distinct spheres and carried out by different people. The moment that line is crossed, the research is tainted and must be dismissed. It is quite possible that MacLean is correct and she has real dirt on Buchanan. If that is the case, let another scholar not contaminated by progressive activism go back through her sources and write another book confirming her thesis. In the meantime, I have no choice but to reject her as an illegitimate historian who fails to follow the historical method.  

Monday, July 17, 2017

How to Teach the Story of Balak and Bilam to Kalman


In addition to anything involving kitty, my three-year old son, Kalman, has become fascinated with the story of Balak and Bilam and regularly asks either my wife or me to tell it. This story presents a number of challenges to someone of my particular political theology. That being said, challenges also offer opportunities to make it clear to Kalman that his Abba is a libertarian monotheist. Government is a form of idolatry that believes it is a moral/legal authority that can demand absolute loyalty and obedience. A monotheist knows that Hashem is the only true power and the only one you should listen to no matter how hard the government tries to trick or threaten you to believe otherwise. (Mommy gets hung up on fewer political theological issues and is, therefore, a more interesting story teller.)

Balak was the king of Moab. As their government, he was an evil mass murderer and also very foolish. He wanted to destroy Bnai Yisroel but, because he did not believe in Hashem, he was very superstitious and believed in magic. He believed that a sorcerer named Bilam actually had the power to "curse" people and cause bad things to happen to them just with words. So Balak sent messengers to Bilam with money, hoping that he would curse Bnai Yisroel for him.

Bilam was a wicked man who liked to convince people not to trust in Hashem so he could trick them into paying him money to do his fake magic. Hashem told Bilam not to go but, when Bilam insisted on going, Hashem gave him permission but warned him that he would only be allowed to do as Hashem commanded. Bilam was so excited to do an avairah that he got up first thing in the morning to saddle his donkey. Bilam's mind was so caught up in the money he was going to swindle out of Balak that he did not see a messenger of Hashem standing on the road with a sword. (As an alternative to the word angel, messenger is a legitimate translation of malach and, for now, I see no reason to confuse my child with talk of supernatural beings that are not God. Unfortunately, my wife disagrees and now Kalman is quite taken with the "A word.") The donkey tried to get off the road but Bilam got angry and began to hit the donkey. To demonstrate to Bilam what a fool he was to pursue gold and silver instead of listening to Hashem, Hashem did a miracle and caused the donkey to speak and ask Bilam why he was hitting him. Bilam refused to learn his lesson and continued with his scheme.

When Bilam arrived in Moab, he got on top of a mountain and tried to curse Bnai Yisroel. If Bilam had been able to say a curse, even though curses are useless people might think that curses have power. They would simply fall for the post hoc fallacy and assume that anything bad that happens afterward was due to the power of Bilam's curse. So Hashem only allowed Bilam to bless Bnai Yisroel. So now everyone could see that Bilam was a lying crook with no magic powers. Without Hashem, Bilam could not even say a curse, let alone cause it to come true.

King Balak was so angry that he wasted his money. Scared that Balak would kill him (as killing people is what governments do), Bilam told Balak a secret how to harm Bnai Yisroel. If they could convince the Bnai Yisroel to stop listening to Hashem, then they could be harmed. So Balak sent beautiful women carrying idols of puppy and making peepee on them. There was an Israelite government politician named Zimri. He took a poll and realized that women peeing on puppies were now more popular than serving Hashem so he decided to jump on the bandwagon. Pinchus saved Bnai Yisroel from puppy, pee and politicians. Rather than listen to any government law, Pinchus listened to Hashem and grabbed a spear and killed Zimri along with the woman who was helping him pee on puppy.

We learn from this story that you should only believe in Hashem and not in government nor in magic. Following Hashem means being kind to all creatures including animals, but it is ok to kill people who are trying to hurt you or otherwise in government.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Sunshine: A Miami Boys Choir Vampire Musical (Part II)

(Part I)

The counter to the Jews' naive hopes for the future is revealed in the song "Klal Yisroel Together," which takes the perspective of a new Jewish vampire. 

Quiet shul a foreign land
sits and davans an older man

What kind of shul is quiet with no talking? This must be a shul in which vampires gather to listen to their gadol hador. The vampires take the words of their sages very seriously and kill anyone who defiles the sanctity of their synagogue. In this context, davaning does not mean praying, but preying. An "older man" is a vampire, who is older than mortal men.

You're amazed at his life of simplicity

A vampire's life of drinking blood is very simple (besides for the fancy clothes and seducing women). This makes a vampire much holier than those "fake tzadikim," who need extravagant luxuries like bread and salt.

How his words reach you with sensitivity
And your eyes recognize as never before
That the dream that he preys for is yours

The newborn vampire is struck by the telepathic communications he is receiving from the vampire collective. He suddenly realizes that he too dreams of preying upon humans and drinking them dry.

Miles apart 
Close at heart
Feel the bound as one from the start
All the mountains and oceans are in our way
We are joined from the time of that wondrous day
When at Sinai we learned the path we would take
That the chains of our past will never break

Through the power of the hive mind, vampires can feel as bound and close at heart even from miles away. Mountains and oceans do not matter because vampires are joined by the day they were converted. Furthermore, antinomian Jews look to the gathering of Sinai when they worshiped the Golden Calf. It takes a very special kind of Torah scholar to hear "I am the Lord your God" and conclude that one should bow down to an idol. (If you donate gold to our charity, tzadikim will melt it into a calf and worship it for three weeks straight over the course of the auspicious time between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av. This proves that, in fact, we do believe in one God, money.) By rendering themselves immortal, these Jews are guaranteed protection against the threat of modernity as they will have no need to try passing on their values to the next generation.  

Together we dance together we sing
Throughout the world how our achdus does ring
Klal Yisroel together today
Even though we seem so far away
Together we cry we hope and we prey
Let's bring each other closer each day
Klal Yisrael sharing the dream
Sheves achim gam yachad

Because of their hivemind, the vampires are the masters of achdus (unity). Unity is an intrinsically vampire doctrine as what it really means is that I will bite you and you will now do things my way. This is how Jews can be brought closer each day until all Jews can become brothers of one blood, together as one mind. 

All assembled dressed in white
With awe and fear this Kol Nidre night

Kol Nidre is a highly antinomian concept in which a person is released from their vows. The antinomian is freed from his promise to refrain from biting pigs and save them from the forces of the klipot. The vampire is freed from his promise to not bite people and save them from the Angel of Death.    

There is a feeling here 
When Neilah is near
That we'll all be inscribed with another year

A vampire can very confident at the end of every Yom Kippur that he will still be alive the following year. 

And when Simchas Torah brings that joyful harmony
We are ever bound in stronger unity

If regular Jews got the idea that the point of Simchas Torah was to get drunk, you can hardly blame vampire Jews for turning Simchas Torah into a joyful feeding frenzy that brings new converts in harmony with the hive mind. 

It will now be revealed that the rebbe, who taught the class the "Torah Today" song is actually the "older man," one of the head vampires. He has been priming his students to accept vampirism, the true message of his song.

(To be continued ...)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Sunshine: A Miami Boys Choir Vampire Musical (Part I)

For the past forty years, Yerachmiel Begun has led the Miami Boys Choir, one of the most successful musical groups in the Orthodox world. It will come as a shock that all of this has been cover for Begun's lifelong dream to write a vampire musical. Many of his beloved songs have really been describing scenes for this musical. The key for reading these songs has been to recognize that references to the night are really about vampires and daylight has been the rejection of vampirism in favor of a non-antinomian Torah lifestyle.   

The musical opens with the singing of "V'he Shamadah" in the background as the narrator explains that the great enemy of the Jewish people has always been the vampires, who, as immortal beings, have been able to survive from generation to generation to try to destroy us. This war goes back to vampire Laban, the Aramean who "destroyed" our father Jacob by turning him into a creature of the night. This, though, was part of the divine plan to allow Jacob to survive the bite of vampire Esau. Jacob's neck became sparkly rock hard (like a Twilight vampire) and cracked Esau's fangs. The righteous Jacob was unique in history in being able to become a vampire and not lose his soul. (He did not even need a gypsy curse to put it back.) This is indicated by Rashi's comment that Jacob lived the life of a vampire like Laban, but still kept the commandments. Jacob survived as a vampire, which explains the rabbinic statement that "Jacob never died." Who else, besides for a vampire, does not die even after they are buried?   

Down through the centuries, Jacob has guided his children in fighting vampires. The vampires, seeking revenge against Jacob, have waged a never-ending campaign to destroy the Jewish people by inventing anti-Semitism. It was a vampire intelligence that came up with the idea that Jews need blood for their matzah. The vampires' efforts culminated in the Holocaust. (As we know from the novels of Dan Simmons and Guillermo del Toro, the vampires were allied with the Nazis.) 

With the defeat of the Nazis and the near destruction of the vampires, the Jewish people appeared safe. The following decades saw enormous growth within the religious community. Unfortunately, a new phase of the vampire campaign was about to arise as the vampires realized that contrary to their original experience with Jacob, Jews made particularly effective vampires. For one thing, Jews are immune to crosses. (See the example of vampire Fagan in the novel Artful.) 

These sentiments are expressed in the song "Torah Today." A rebbe leads his class in this song of Jewish success, but, in an ironic foreshadowing of the horrors to be revealed, their statements hint at the true connection between Judaism, antinomianism, and vampirism. The fact that the children do not appreciate the true meaning of what they are saying demonstrates how spiritually unprepared they are for the vampire onslaught.      

Distant memories of a time not long ago
Vibrant shadows of an era we would want to know
In our minds an image glowing true tzadikim in every town
And the sounds of learning were ever growing 
All has vanished never to be found
Somehow slowly the sun is rising once again
Building boldly can we recapture what was then

The Jews in this period of vampire free sun rejoice even as they mourn the loss of pre-war Europe. What they fail to understand was that, even then, there existed the spiritual rot of antinomianism indicated by the term "true tzadikim." Whenever you see a seemingly superfluous adjective in front of some virtuous position, you know that you are dealing not with the virtue but with its antinomian rejection. For example, why would anyone use the term "social justice?" Is there a kind of justice that is not social? The reality is that justice, with its claims of property and individual rights, often does not satisfy certain people as it does not allow them to redistribute property as they see fit and force people to comply with their utopian blueprints. The solution is to reject justice in the name of a higher ideal of doing whatever you happen to feel is right at the moment. Advocates of social justice believe that the only way to truly be just is to commit injustice and reject individual liberty. From their perspective, they are the ones who are truly just and defenders of justice are really the ones who are unjust.   

Similarly, how can you talk about a "true tzadik?" Is there a "fake tzadik?" As with social justice, a conventional tzadik is held back by keeping to the letter of Jewish law. A "true tzadik" understands that Torah itself holds up the world and negates the actual practice of halakha. So the only "true" way to learn Torah is to do so while eating a ham sandwich. Such learning makes a particular sound that grows as the tzadik takes pleasure in contemplating this righteous paradox. Any Torah scholar who balks at such a "holy" deed is simply a "fake tzadik."  

These secretly antinomian Torah scholars so beloved by the Jewish people, realizing what lay behind the Nazis, embraced the vampire ideology as the true fulfillment of everything they ever wanted to get out of Judaism, power, and immortality (in this world no less). This explains why their bodies vanished and were never found. These rabbis, having come to their vampire maturity, are now set to bring about their version of the messianic End of Days by turning the Jewish people into a vampire army and destroy the world. This is indicated by the lines:        

We've set our hearts to form a plan  
Unrelenting so much to regain
Can see the future from where we stand
Let's move closer we can build the flame

Who but a vampire can be unrelenting in plotting for the future? 

In describing the transition from rabbi to vampire we are told:

Their life is learning they strive with great intensity
Others advancing each day a daf devotedly 
On that night they gathered to show what matters
The Torah world stood as one with pride
In silent reflection with one direction
We could feel that time was on our side 

These antinomian rabbis in life only cared about Torah and not about morality. In fact, rejecting morality served to demonstrate their superior commitment to Torah. So, on a certain night, they gathered together to reject morality in the clearest way possible and became vampires. This allowed them to stand together with a unified hive mind knowing that, being immortal, time was on their side and they will be able to take over the world. 

(To be continued ...)