Loose Ends (131)

A lot of our commenters expressed great doubt if not opposition to Caitlyn Jenner’s candidacy to be governor of California. It seems to me a classic case of he-said, she-said.

Believe it or not, next week I am giving a commencement address. In person. At a university. I’ll post the text after it’s all done, but preparing a commencement address presents a unique challenge. It’s not like a traditional lecture, and above all the thing to do is avoid all of the usual dumb cliches that the most popular celebrity commencement speakers like Tom Brokaw or Oprah Winfrey deal out. (The best debunking of commencement cliches in a commencement address was offered by the great Edward Banfield almost 50 years ago.)

Anyway, in my search for prompts to inspire my composition, I fetched my tattered notebook from my first seminar with Harry Jaffa almost 40 years ago, because I recalled that in the very first class session I had with him, he had a lot of interesting and provocative things to say about the modern university. But it was the very first thing I wrote in my notes from that first class session that caught my eye just now:

The revolt against authority by the left is designed to bring in tyranny, to overthrow the rule of law, and sweep away all the secure rights of individuals, to bring in the rule of Marxism and socialism.

Pretty good description of current “Progressive” measures such as the 1619 Project, Critical Race Theory, and the rest of the program that seeks consciously to destroy the authority of American constitutionalism, and replace it with their total rule.

A parallel reminder from Whittaker Chambers, in 1954: “In the U.S. the Left must take power by deception. . . What else is socialism but Communism with the claws retracted?”

Another classic passage that bears on the essential maliciousness of the modern “Progressive” mind comes from C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. If you’re not familiar with this work, it is the fictional ironic letters written to a junior officer in Satan’s army with instructions on how to corrupt the particular human assigned to this junior temptor. Although geared to higher spiritual matters, here and there are passages of great perception about modern ideology. Like this one from Chapter 15, which illuminates the malignancy of Progressivism’s fixation on “the Future” and the “side of history” that they always want to help move along at a faster pace:

Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. With this in view, we sometimes tempt a human (say a widow or a scholar) to live in the Past. But this is of limited value, for they have some real knowledge of the past and it has a determinate nature and, to that extent, resembles eternity. . .It is far better to make them live in the Future. Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time — for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. Hence the encouragement we have given to all those schemes of thought such as Creative Evolution, Scientific Humanism, or Communism, which fix men’s affections on the Future, on the very core of temporality. Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead. Do not think lust an exception. When the present pleasure arrives, the sin (which alone interests us) is already over. The pleasure is just the part of the process which we regret and would exclude if we could do so without losing the sin; it is the part contributed by the Enemy, and therefore experienced in a Present. The sin, which is our contribution, looked forward.

To be sure, the Enemy wants men to think of the Future too — just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow. The duty of planning the morrow’s work is today’s duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present. This is not straw splitting. He does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do. His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him. But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future — haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth — ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the present if by so doing we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other — dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see. We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.

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