Thursday, December 15, 2022


A long article, but an interesting point of view.



If your views by definition are enlightened and progressive, why should you bother understanding those of the other side?

By Barton Swaim

Dec. 9, 2022 4:11 pm ET

The most obvious change in American politics this century is the sorting of voters along educational lines. The Democrats are increasingly the party of educated urban elites; the GOP belongs to the white working class. The dispute is over suburban and minority voters. The latter still plump mostly for Democrats, although the party’s social radicalism is pushing them toward the GOP. Voters with impressive educational credentials tend to be Democrats, and those without them lean strongly Republican.

That one party is the educated party—that its members see themselves, in some respects accurately, as more cultured and informed than their opponents—has generated an intellectual pathology that is obvious to everyone but themselves. Adherents of the smart-people party have lost the capacity for self-criticism. Which on its face makes sense. If your views are by definition intelligent, those of your critics must be dumb.

 Who needs self-reflection? 

We can start to understand the Democrats’ predicament by ridding ourselves of a set of metaphors. For a decade or more, we’ve been told that left and right live in “silos” or “bubbles” or “echo chambers” or “information cocoons.” The left watch MSNBC and read the New York Times, and the right watch Fox News and listen to talk radio. 

Exacerbating this state of affairs, we’re told, are social-media platforms whose algorithms give politically attuned users only content they’re likely to agree with. Facile claims to the contrary, Facebook, Twitter and similar platforms don’t have this effect. A 2019 study, “Are Filter Bubbles Real?” by Axel Bruns of Queensland University Technology in Australia surveys a wide array of evidence and finds that social-media users on all sides get plenty of exposure to content with which they disagree. “Ironically,” Mr. Bruns writes in an aside, “echo chamber and filter bubble concepts may have become so popular with some journalists, media critics, and politicians because members of these professional classes are genuinely more likely to inhabit an information cocoon of sorts.”

In any case, the silo/bubble metaphor doesn’t describe American politics in the 2020s for the simple reason that there is no silo or bubble. Or if there is, it’s very large and almost exclusively populated by adherents of the smart-people party. 

If you’re on the right, you simply can’t isolate yourself from the habits and attitudes of left-liberal progressivism. They are everywhere. The most determined imbiber of right-wing opinion still watches television and movies and reads the mainstream press. The left-liberal outlook is expressed everywhere in these media, and generally it isn’t expressed as viewpoint but as established fact. 

The conservative voter who follows nothing but right-wing accounts on social media still sees CNN as a captive audience at airports. He advises his college-age children as they negotiate campus environments in which they’re expected to state their “pronouns” and declare themselves “allies” of the “LGBTQ2SIA+ community.” However scornful of left-wing opinion he may be, his employer still subjects him to diversity training. He attends a concert by the local symphony orchestra and has to listen to a four-minute lecture about systemic racism or climate change before the music starts. He can’t watch a pro football game without enduring little pronouncements of wokeness. The right-winger may get 100% of his news from Republican-leaning news sites but still has to be vigilant as his 5-year-old browses the children’s section of the local public library.

There is no bubble, no silo, for such a person.

The urban-dwelling knowledge-class progressive experiences few such dissonant moments. So pervasive are the opinions of left-liberal progressivism throughout American culture that the adherent of that worldview may roam freely in it with minimal disquiet. The TV ads that subtly legitimize the latest sexual identity; the lefty sermonettes intoned at public events; the movies and sitcoms that virtually all accept trendy orthodoxies; the race-fixated version of American history promoted in public schools—these the holder of conventional progressive opinions can absorb almost without noticing it. 

The left-liberal outlook has triumphed across American culture—in corporate boardrooms, in government agencies, in sports and entertainment institutions, in K-12 education bureaucracies, in universities and in media organizations. But that is precisely what has robbed progressives, especially those in the political class and in the media, of any ability to criticize themselves or doubt their own righteousness. They don’t engage with serious arguments advanced by the other side. They live in a world in which it is possible to pass through a month without encountering much in the way of serious conservative opinion. When they do encounter a conservative view, it is pre-categorized as “fringe” or “extreme” by the calm, omniscient NPR voice that relates its content.

And so progressives have become, if I could put it bluntly, incurious and lazy. Every conservative journalist born in the last 70 or 80 years has, early in his career, come to the sad realization that liberal writers and intellectuals, the people conservatives are so careful to read and react to, don’t actually read conservatives or know much about the right. Their attitude recalls that wonderful line in “Casablanca” when Ugarte (Peter Lorre) asks Rick (Humphrey Bogart), “You despise me, don’t you?” 

Rick’s answer: “If I gave you any thought, I probably would.”

In the early 2000s, the Bush administration’s critics in Congress and the media showed no interest in understanding the neoconservative outlook that supposedly drove the Iraq War. Preposterous caricatures and badly informed theorizing were enough. Today, the left’s politicos and journalists, with a small number of exceptions, have still made no effort to understand the strangest and most surprising turn in politics in many decades: the election of Donald Trump. Russian meddling, “collusion” with Vladimir Putin, fear of nonwhite people, the ignorant reaction of poor white opium addicts, a resurgence of fascism—any explanation was OK as long as it didn’t involve self-reflection.

Something about Mr. Trump gave Democrats and liberal journalists all the emotional license they needed to discount, once and for all, any possibility that a Republican might have a point. No party that could nominate Mr. Trump deserved further thought; the GOP had, in their eyes, defenestrated what was left of its legitimacy.

Consider the past two years of Democratic governance. A slender majority in the U.S. House and a 50-50 tie in the Senate somehow led Democrats to believe they had no opposition to speak of. At times they seemed literally to believe this, as when Sen. Bernie Sanders and others fulminated against his Democratic colleagues Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema for resisting President Biden’s so-called Build Back Better bill—as if the bill had two opponents and not 52.

Democrats and their backers in the news media, insisting on the infallibility of science, doubled down on onerous Covid restrictions long after it was clear that shutdowns, school closures and mask mandates were futile and destructive. In July of this year Anthony Fauci said his only regret is that he didn’t recommend “much, much more stringent restrictions” in the spring of 2020. Even now, long after the views of antimasking and anti-shut down protesters have been largely vindicated on the available evidence, long after fans of China’s draconian restrictionism have been disgraced by the reality of China’s failure, no one has offered an apology or an admission of error. 

The pullout from Afghanistan was a stupendous debacle, but virtually no Democrat in Congress or the administration could be found to hint that the thing had been less than ideal. Violent crime has returned to major cities, but the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN and elected Democrats have treated the matter as though it were an invention of conservative media. Massive levels of illegal immigration at the southern border, too, are treated by Democrats as though the whole business is made up.

On economics, Republicans warned the administration in early 2021 about the danger that trillions in spending would inflate the currency. Their warnings were ignored. Inflation exploded, and the administration denied it. In August 2022 President Biden asserted that inflation was “zero percent.” He was, absurdly, comparing that month’s prices to the previous month’s, ignoring everything that happened before July.

A global energy shortage has sent gas and electricity prices skyward. Congressional Democrats and the administration might easily have backed off their green commitments, promoted fracking and increased domestic oil production, at least on a temporary basis. That would have brought prices down, which was the only outcome Mr. Biden and other elected Democrats appeared to care about. I am not aware that such a policy change was ever considered. 

Rarely in politics does anyone admit fault. You don’t expect high-ranking members of either party to acknowledge straightforwardly that they were wrong about anything. But people sometimes adjust, even if they don’t admit they’re adjusting. After the 2022 midterm elections, in which Democrats outperformed expectations but still lost the U.S. House, the president was asked what, in light of the fact that three quarters of Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction, he plans to do differently in the future. His reply: “Nothing.” You can discount Mr. Biden’s words for senescence, but that answer expressed perfectly the solipsistic self-confidence of his party. 

Even if the Democrats had been crushed in the 2022 midterm elections, they would have been unable to adjust. Their cultural dominance discourages them from changing course, which is why they can be counted on to invent exogenous reasons for electoral defeats: an allegedly racist TV ad in 1988, shenanigans in Florida in 2000, faulty voting machines in Ohio in 2004, collusion with Russia in 2016. Mr. Trump adopted this custom with abandon in 2020, but Republicans, who aren’t encouraged by elite culture to think themselves infallible, usually blame each other for electoral losses. Hence the 2013 autopsy, as wrongheaded as it was. There is no Democratic correlative to such a document. 

Democrats will hotly contest this analysis of their mindset and behavior. They will note that Republicans, too, think themselves infallible, and conservatives discount the views of their critics.

And they do—sometimes. But Republicans and conservatives, when they are empowered and can make decisions, can’t depend on elite society backing them up. If a Republican official somewhere expresses a view falling outside the liberal conventional wisdom, that official can expect opposition from every segment of educated elite society—Hollywood actors, Fortune 500 boardrooms, university-based experts and so on. Blowback from so many sources isn’t easy to take, and in that case the Republican official will often, perhaps usually, back down.

But this objection—the objection that Republicans often behave peremptorily—misses the point. The GOP is, increasingly, the party of the uneducated, of the uncredentialed worker who lacks proper data and nuance. Surely it is the educated voter, the respecter of scientific argumentation and informed debate, who bears a special responsibility to consider contrary views. It’s the smart person, not the stupid or ignorant one, who holds the gravest obligation to respect views other than his own. Yet owing to his status as a smart person, respecting other views is precisely what he can’t do.

Mr. Swaim is an editorial page writer at the Wall Street Journal.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Another American civil war? It’s not imminent, but ...

Another American civil war? It’s not imminent, but ...



A SOLID minority of Americans — around 20% — say violence can be justified to “advance an important political objective.” (Manuel Balce Ceneta Associated Press)

I don’t believe the United States is on the verge of civil war.

I don’t believe it even though a substantial portion of Americans support political violence and despite chilling examples ranging from the scheme to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol to the brutal beating of Paul Pelosi to the increase in armed right-wing activity.

I don’t believe it despite warnings from experts that it’s coming.

“America is rushing headlong into another civil war, and it’s a matter of when, not if,” Christopher Sebastian Parker, a UC Santa Barbara political science professor, told the Guardian in an article last month titled “How close is the U.S. to civil war?”

Stephen Marche, author of “The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future,” said: “The United States is a textbook example of a country headed for civil war.” Conditions, he said, are “ripe for political violence.”

“They are preparing for war,” said Barbara Walter, a political science professor at UC San Diego, to the Washington Post. “And not talking about it doesn’t make us safer.”

And I don’t believe it even though those dire prophecies are buttressed, to some extent, by public opinion.

For instance, a solid minority of Americans — in the 20% range — say violence can be justified to “advance an important political objective.” Furthermore, according to the Pew Research Center, Americans see their political opponents as more “close-minded, dishonest, immoral and unintelligent” than other Americans. Nearly 9 out of 10 voters expressed concern to pollsters last month about the increased risk of politically motivated violence.

Despite all that, I think this country has a ways to go before we take to our bunkers. Call me a starry-eyed optimist (or a self-delusional fool), but I believe that most Americans still share a fundamental respect for rules, laws and institutions, a respect built over 200-plus years of history. The vast majority of Americans are not on the violent fringes but buy into the basic expectations and benefits of democratic society.

I don’t believe you topple that with one bum presidency or a handful of divisive Supreme Court decisions or some horn-hatted, flag-wielding vigilantes storming the Capitol, or even with sporadic right-wing extremist violence. Will there be conflict and more violent incidents ahead? Yes, probably. Sustained warfare or guerrilla insurrection? Not right now.

But here’s where I switch arguments a bit. Because I also believe — as a person whose family was forced to upend its stable, settled existence when Hitler came to power — that this is no time for complacency, either.

I’ve seen signs of upheaval in this country in the last seven years that I couldn’t have imagined just a few years earlier. Two presidential impeachments within 13 months — the same number there were in the previous 230 years. Two-thirds of Republicans convinced President Biden was not fairly elected. Twitter mentions of “civil war” up by nearly 3,000% after the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago in August. Hate crimes increasing around the country.

If I were to worry, if I were to wake up at night in a sweat fearing for my country, here’s one thing I would definitely focus on: Our political system no longer seems to work. Government is stymied, paralyzed and rancorous.

Even when one party wins a majority it accomplishes little. The filibuster is an immense obstacle to legislative action in the Senate, allowing little to get done except through gimmickry and procedural machinations. The hurdles to amending the Constitution are virtually insurmountable; some experts believe it will never happen again.

The governing process as it’s now practiced doesn’t encourage deliberation, compromise or the common good at all; instead, it rewards scorched-earth conflict with your enemies. Winning matters; governing not so much.

For voters, this creates intense frustration that threatens to boil over. If working within the system doesn’t improve things, voters will eventually reject the system. If elections yield no meaningful benefits, Americans will lose faith in voting. If they feel misled, mistreated and undervalued by Washington, they will become angry and disenchanted, lose faith in institutions, and turn elsewhere for solutions, including to demagogues.

Consider abortion, although it’s just one of example of many. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the United States no longer recognizes a constitutional right to abortion, even though more than 60% of Americans believe the process should be legal in most or all cases.

So, OK, fine; in a healthy political system, Congress would now pass a law codifying abortion rights nationally, in line with the desire of most Americans. But the legislative branch is broken and can’t respond. Despite popular support, the proposed bill lacks the votes to overcome the 60-vote filibuster requirement in the Senate.

The left and right both feel the frustration. According to Pew, only 8% of Americans see government as very or extremely responsive to the needs of ordinary citizens. Dissatisfaction with Washington is one of the few things on which Republicans and Democrats agree.

In our system today, incumbents are virtually unbeatable; money corrupts elections; political parties gerrymander voting district lines for unfair advantage. The candidate with the most votes doesn’t necessarily become president. States of fewer than a million residents have the same representation in the Senate as those with tens of millions of people.

And it’s not clear what can be done about it.

In the years ahead, the U.S. could calm down and revert to the old status quo, or perhaps the Cassandras are right and we’ll face a literal civil war or a sustained guerrilla insurrection or a “cold” civil war characterized, as some have speculated, by partisanship, mistrust and paralysis.

If we hope to avoid those latter outcomes, government needs to become responsive to the needs of the voters.


What Does the Chinese Communist Party Fear the Most?


‘Stability Maintenance’ Means Repressing the Chinese Spirit

A massive web of agencies works to stamp out the smallest inklings of political discontent


By Chen Guangcheng

Nov. 25, 2022 6:10 pm ET Taken from the Wall Street Journal


“What does the Chinese Communist Party fear most?” Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked me this question during a private meeting in Washington in January. Having been persecuted by Beijing for more than seven years for my human-rights work, I know that it is crucial to ask these fundamental questions. It’s the only way to begin to break down the bulwarks that prop up tyrants everywhere. “What the CCP fears most,” I told Mr. Pompeo, “is that its own illegitimacy will be exposed.”

Even the most strident authoritarian regimes know that real power lies in the legitimacy gained through democratic elections. That’s why many dictators—from Vladimir Putin to Saddam Hussein—make a ritual show of holding elections even when few are convinced the results will be legitimate. Real elections would mean an end to the dictators’ power. The simple truth is that people everywhere want freedom.

The people of China are no different. The communist regime took over by force in 1949; in the subsequent seven decades it has never held free or transparent elections, and instead has subjected the population to a steady stream of state-induced trauma, the reality of which it systematically and violently represses. But repression can’t extinguish the spirit. More often, the greater the repression, the greater the desire to find freedom.

No one understands this paradox more than the Communist Party. That is why in the post-1989 era it has focused on what it calls “stability maintenance” via a massive web of agencies tasked with stamping out the smallest inklings of political discontent. High-level officials are also leaders in propaganda or other domestic security offices. Tactics supported by the regime to achieve stability at all costs include extralegal measures like surveillance and harassment, disappearance and torture.

The idea of stability maintenance involves eliminating any sources of incitement. This can mean snuffing out a protest like the one last month on an overpass in Beijing, where a man held a banner that read: “Remove dictator and national traitor Xi Jinping.” It can mean literally destroying human remains, both to hide evidence of wrongdoing by the authorities and to eliminate a potential location for mass gathering. Dong Jianbiao was detained for protesting the long-term imprisonment of his daughter, who was charged with the “crime” of splattering a photo of Mr. Xi with ink. The authorities blamed Mr. Dong’s sudden death in custody on diabetes, but when family members were taken to the morgue they found his body covered in bruises. The authorities cremated the body five days after his death.

In some years Beijing has reported spending more on stability maintenance than on the military. The Communist Party’s severe response to dissent is perhaps the best evidence of the ability and desire of the Chinese people to demand their rights. Unfortunately, U.S. leaders from both political parties have given the party the legitimacy it craves. In the 1970s the U.S. recognized Beijing diplomatically at the expense of Taipei. In the 1990s the U.S. granted the regime most-favored-nation status and helped it join the World Trade Organization. Decisions like these allowed Beijing to cut lucrative trade deals while dodging criticism of its atrocities.

The U.S. and other democratic nations must stand by the Chinese people and stand up to the Communist Party. Western governments should reach out to dissidents and take a stand for the rights of Chinese citizens, condemning the party’s disregard for human rights and persecution of the Chinese people. American corporations should put principle over profit and stop bowing down to the Communist Party. These steps benefit not only the Chinese people but also the long-term interests of the U.S., encouraging peace and stability.

Every dictatorship has weaknesses that could become its undoing. It doesn’t matter how much pomp is on display at the party’s regularly scheduled meetings. It doesn’t matter which leader comes out on top or who is most insistent on holding on to power. It’s all an illusion. It has nothing to do with the hopes and dreams of the Chinese people, which aren’t any different than those of people around the world. They want freedom and self-governance, which the authoritarians in Beijing are incapable of delivering.

Mr. Chen is a distinguished fellow at the Catholic University of America’s Center for Human Rights and author of “The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight for Justice and Freedom in China.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Safe Streets, William Barr


Safe Streets

Wm Barr

WSJ 102722


The violent crime surge was preventable. It was caused by progressive politicians reverting to the same reckless revolving-door policies that during the 1960s and ’70s produced the greatest tsunami of violent crime in American history. We reversed that earlier crime wave with the tough anticrime measures adopted during the Reagan-Bush era. We can stop this one as well.

Studies have repeatedly shown that most predatory crime is committed by a small, hard-core group of habitual offenders. They are a tiny fraction of the population—I estimate roughly 1%—but are responsible for between half and two-thirds of predatory violent crime. Each of these offenders can be expected to commit scores, even hundreds, of crimes a year, frequently while on bail, probation or parole. The only time they aren’t committing crimes is when they’re in prison. For this group, the likelihood of reoffending usually doesn’t recede until they reach their late 30s.

The only way to reduce violent crime appreciably is to keep this cohort off the streets. We know with certainty that for each of these criminals held in prison, there are hundreds of people who aren’t being victimized. This “incapacitation” strategy requires laws, like those in the federal system, that allow judges to detain repeat offenders before trial when they pose a danger to the community, and that impose tough sentences on repeat violent offenders.

History shows this strategy works. Before 1960, violent crime in the U.S. was modest and stable. In the early ’60s, however, liberal reformers pushed to turn state justice systems into revolving doors, with violent offenders quickly released on parole or probation. Predictably, violent crime exploded, going from 160 crimes per 100,000 population in 1960 to 758 per 100,000 in 1991.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration and several large states started locking up violent offenders, and the nation’s prison population rose from about 300,000 to almost 700,000. This radically flattened the rate of violent crime, which rose only 11% during the ’80s. By 1991, when I first became attorney general, the revolving door was in overdrive in many states. Nationally, murderers served less than six years on average; the average time served for rape was three years. In Texas, offenders typically served only 15% of their sentences. Five of 8 felons released from prison were arrested for new crimes within three years.

The George H.W. Bush administration initiated the doubling of federal prison capacity, pushed states to do likewise, and launched a broad movement to toughen up state justice systems. It also greatly expanded joint federal, state and local task forces to target the worst violent criminals for stiff sentences under federal gun, gang and drug-trafficking laws.

The results of these policies were stunning. By 1992, as more violent offenders were incarcerated, the trajectory of violent crime started falling for the first time in decades. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush continued these policies, and from 1991 to 2013, the total prison population in the U.S. doubled—from roughly 800,000 to 1.6 million. At the same time, violent crime plummeted, dropping for 23 years. By 2014 it had been cut in half—to a level not seen since 1970—and homicides of black victims were down by about 5,000 a year.

Nevertheless, progressives complained: Why were we imprisoning record numbers when crime was receding? They missed the point. Crime was dropping precisely because we were keeping violent criminals in prison. Progressives call this “mass incarceration,” but their rhetoric is deceptive. It implies people are being locked up indiscriminately. On the contrary, incapacitation is a precision strategy. It targets and uses prison space primarily for violent criminals who pose the greatest threat to public safety.

Unfortunately, 23 years of successful crime reduction came to an end with the resurgence of progressive policies in the Obama administration, which saw a return to the revolving door and the demonization of police. Incarceration rates started falling again, and by 2014 crime rates were headed back up. This reversal was temporarily halted by the Trump administration, which succeeded in driving violent crime down until the summer of 2020. It started to climb in the wake of the Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter riots. It continues to rise without any end in sight.

Progressives have no solution. As in the ’60s, they call for more social spending to address the supposed “root causes” of violent crime. But even if we knew how to address the root causes effectively, which we don’t, implementing the solution would take decades. People are entitled to protection now. Even the best-designed social programs have no chance of success in neighborhoods strangled by violence and fear. Law and order is a prerequisite for social progress.

Progressives say we can’t afford to keep violent predators in prison. On the contrary, we can’t afford not to. A 1992 Justice Department report, “The Case for More Incarceration,” showed that the cost of keeping a chronic violent criminal in prison is small compared with the costs of letting him roam the streets.

In other contexts, we spend huge amounts to reduce the risk of premature death or injury to members of the public, including billions on highway safety or environmental quality. If we started using the same cost-benefit analysis for law enforcement, we would be spending many times more than we do today on police and corrections.

The very purpose of government is to secure a peaceful society—making life safe for law-abiding citizens by protecting them from violent predators. Progressive politicians are doing the opposite, blighting the lives of the law-abiding with their warped solicitude for the criminal few. We can stop the swelling crime wave only by rejecting these politicians and their destructive policies. It is time for a return to sanity.

Mr. Barr is a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute. He served as U.S. attorney general, 1991-93 and 2019-20.

Sunday, November 20, 2022




WSJ 080822


There sure is a lot of moralism going around. Censorship, condemnation, excommunication, demands for apologies. There are even spontaneous chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” directed at the villain of the moment. I recently saw an ad for a psychology workshop that argued outright that people from “privileged” groups should “hurt” and “feel shame.” People are guilt-tripped for using disposable straws, liking a canceled song or speaking “ableist” words.

How did we descend from the libertine culture of the 1960s—“if it feels good, do it”—into a pit of endless shame?

Ask Sigmund Freud. He divided the psyche into three parts: the id (unconscious drives), the ego (the conscious self) and the superego (the site of moral ideals, inhibitions and shame). Freud saw mental health as the result of balance—being aware of feelings as they come and go, but not letting any one part of the psyche become too dominant.

A large amount of mental illness is attributed to an overactive superego. Cycles of harsh self-criticism can induce depression or push people toward drugs or alcohol. Inhibitions around things like cleanliness or public speaking can underlie anxiety disorders. Rigid prohibitions can contribute to sexual dysfunctions and eating disorders. Judgments, righteous anger and control can lead to interpersonal problems.

Some psychoanalysts argue that the superego, in its purest form, is linked to a “death drive,” which seeks to regulate all thoughts and feelings down to zero. This is the suffocating aspect of Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Fully internalized, it’s the logic of suicide.

The superego isn’t always ethical. Someone could feel intense shame for having something stuck in his teeth during a date and no guilt at all about cheating on his taxes. The superego is often irrational, though its pronouncements can feel as if they come from on high.

The superego is often linked to father figures. In the Oedipal drama of early childhood, a son supposedly identifies with his father to internalize rules and ideals to live up to. Freud, like Plato, thought the parts of the psyche paralleled strata of society. The ego resembles a society’s leaders, the id is like the masses, and the superego is most like the police or other bodies that enforce rules—bureaucrats, censors, corporate HR. The leaders (the ego) have to manage the selfish desires (id) and the moral idealism (superego) that drive society. They do so by gratifying them somewhat and directing them toward productive goals, but not letting either entity seize control because both tend to be shortsighted.

How does all this fit into the transformation of the 1960s counterculture? In the 1960s, many figures on the left tried to abolish the superego (some consciously, others less deliberately), and this goal seeped into the entire counterculture. It wasn’t only the overthrow of “the patriarchy,” an anti-father ethos, or the shifting of sexual mores, but a deeper attempt to overthrow rules and gratify desire.

Obviously it didn’t work. Selfish desires are too destructive. Children need discipline; societies need laws. New rules emerged—rules that were somehow still opposed to the old rules but attempted to perform the same functions. The result is a patchwork morality that’s harsh in some places, absent in others and ultimately incoherent. If excessive sexuality is causing trauma and exploitation, rather than curtailing sexuality, activists demonize masculinity, deny the differences between the sexes, and eliminate due process.

Hypermorality is now everywhere. “Implicit bias” training attempts to purify the unconscious of forbidden thoughts. There are the extreme inhibitions of safety culture and the use of ostracization to target heretics. Then, there are grandiose moral ideals. Zero carbon. Zero gun crime. Zero pedestrian deaths. Zero tolerance.

There’s also the misattunement of moralization. Criminals get compassion while police are vilified. There’s sometimes more judgment of people who don’t wear a mask than of people who rob stores. Insults directed at white people or men are seen as the epitome of justice and wisdom, while even unconscious bias against other groups is seen as unforgivable.

What happens to a society when the leadership is overpowered by a dysfunctional superego? Unachievable and grandiose ideals lead it astray. Narrow goals that hit moral notes override wise leadership. People lose sight of the big picture, of social cohesion and the need for humility, pragmatism and tolerance.

As the superego bears down too heavily, symptoms can emerge: paranoia, loss of reality, odd behaviors, despair. Eventually, as the over-pressurization of moralism intensifies, the desires of the masses erupt. A monstrous id emerges to topple the monstrous superego. This response is unlikely to be well-organized. More likely it will be impulsive, awkward and strange—a paroxysm of forbidden desires, gratifying but destructive.

The only hope is a new ego that can rein in the dysfunctional superego. This requires leadership that can speak directly about the costs of excessive morality and uneven standards and let people be people, with the diverse desires they have, under fair, pragmatic rules.

Hypermorality is seductive because it seems, well, virtuous. But in practice it dampens spontaneity, joy and ease, and it often has hateful overtones. It can make relationships cold, bitter and formal. It wastes enormous amounts of energy, and it makes society less fun. The id is the source of humor, creativity and inspiration. The superego is stiff and dull.

More to the point, hypermorality often worsens the problems it aims to address. Think of people who constantly criticize themselves for being socially awkward, making themselves more awkward. Or think of someone who tries a severe diet only to become more attached to junk food. Prolonged Covid lockdowns can increase excess deaths, aggressive “antiracism” can aggravate racial tension, and intrusive forms of social coercion, however well-meaning, can provoke hostile reactions.

One doesn’t have to agree with all Freud’s claims to see value in his perspective, but many of his points are shared by others in history. Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching, “Try to make people happy and you make them miserable. Try to make people moral and you make them evil.” Societies require a light touch. They need a limited superego attuned to the most important wrongs, one that holistically considers costs and benefits of rules and is gentle enough to let us be human. It’s good advice for individuals too.

Mr. Hartz is a psychologist in private practice in New York City.

Lincoln’s Vision of Democracy by Allen C. Guelzo


Lincoln’s Vision of Democracy


At Gettysburg, he chose his words carefully—

especially the prepositions, ‘of,’ ‘by’ and ‘for’ the people.


By Allen C. Guelzo

Nov. 8, 2022 2:20 pm ET


The news of the great battle at Gettysburg came to Abraham Lincoln by fits and starts. But when it was finally confirmed on the morning of July 4, 1863, that Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army had been forced to retreat, the tidings couldn’t have been more welcome. To a crowd of well-wishers who gathered outside the White House, Lincoln exulted that “the cohorts of those who opposed the declaration that all men are created equal” had at that great battle “’turned tail’ and run.”


Before month’s end, plans were developing to create a majestic national cemetery in Gettysburg for the more than 3,300 Union dead, with dedication ceremonies to take place on Nov. 19. The featured orator would be the august Edward Everett. But for the actual dedication sentences—a “few, appropriate remarks,” as David Wills described them in his invitation letter—the organizers turned to Lincoln.


What they expected was probably perfunctory. But Lincoln gave them something far beyond their expectations. In 272 terse and simple words, the president laid out the story of the American republic in three stages: past (“four score and seven years ago”), present (“now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether this nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can endure”) and future (“we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain”).

The brevity of Lincoln’s remarks also left the Gettysburg Address dark with hidden lights. Why the oddly biblical opening? Why the invocation of 1776 and the Declaration of Independence rather than 1787 and the Constitution? What would have happened if, in the ensuing two years of the Civil War, we had failed the “testing”?


The least well-examined words of the address, however, are its expansive triplet: “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” This wasn’t merely a rhetorical flourish. In that triplet, Lincoln lays out the three fundamental elements of democracy. The first is consent—government of the people. “According to our ancient faith,” Lincoln said in his 1854 speech objecting to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which compromised on slavery, “the just powers of governments are derived from the consent of the governed.” That meant plainly “that no man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent. I say this is the leading principle—the sheet anchor of American republicanism.”


A second distinctive feature of democracy is the people’s voice in the affairs of governing—government by the people. It matters little whether that active voice is the direct participation of individuals, as in ancient Athens, or through their representatives, as in the American Constitution. From his earliest moments in politics, Lincoln argued that government by the people—through their laws and through elections, and not by mobs with nooses and shotguns—was the only legitimate expression of democracy. “I do not deny the possibility that the people may err in an election,” he conceded in 1861. “But if they do, the true cure is in the next election.”


The third basic element of democracy is a government that serves the interests of the people—government for the people—not those of a monarch, an aristocracy or an angry and contemptuous elite. For that reason, Lincoln wrote, government served to do only those things that need “to be done, but which they cannot, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves,” such as roads and bridges, schools and asylums, the enforcement of the laws and the defense of the nation. While government isn’t “charged with the duty of redressing, or preventing, all the wrongs in the world,” he said in 1859, it does have the responsibility to keep from “planting and cultivating too many thorns in the bosom of society.”


Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg wasn’t an explosion of rhetorical fireworks. That kind of speaking was reserved for Everett’s 13,000-word oration, teeming with classical allusions to Thucydides and Pericles but without a single sentence anyone could remember afterward. Lincoln’s was an essay on why American democracy had been founded, why it was worth the sacrifice to preserve, and what the country could anticipate if it emerged whole from the conflict. The example of that sacrifice would stimulate “a new birth of freedom,” like the new birth revival preachers had exhorted people to embrace—a revitalization of the original purpose of the American Founding that would, as Lincoln said in 1858, “turn this government back into the channel in which the framers of the Constitution originally placed it.”


That new birth is the task that lies before every succeeding generation of Americans. In it, we find our way not only back to Lincoln but to democracy itself. We return to the dignity of a human form that can stand upright before its Creator, with no autocrat or prince casting an intervening shadow, with hands outstretched to nature and its God, and to each other. When we do, the shades of those Lincoln honored at Gettysburg will embrace us, as the sun shines again on government of the people, by the people, for the people.


Mr. Guelzo is director of the Initiative on Politics and Statesmanship at Princeton University’s James Madison Program.


A long article, but an interesting point of view. WHY THE "SMART" PARTY NEVER LEARNS   If your views by definition are enlightened...