Communism 4.0

One of the strongest criticisms which the journalist and writer Edmund Fawcett (whose excellent book I reviewed only yesterday) had of the Nobel Prize winning economist Friedrich Hayek was the latter’s conflation of ‘advances’ in modern science and his juxtaposition of these atop social and economic theory in an attempt to make a point. Specifically, this related to the use of evolutionary ‘survival of the fittest’ ideas to attempt to describe the creative destruction processes of spontaneous order as laid out in his book “The Fatal Conceit”. Despite my immense regard for Hayek’s genius, I agree here with Fawcett’s point. Hayek’s painful contortions in an attempt to marry two disciplines which are unrelated – natural science and human economics – was pained and ultimately unsuccessful.

In my book on Venezuela’s Bolivarian Alliance, back when that failed construct was still a ‘thing’, I wrote a chapter on Hugo Chavez’s economic model which was then called “Socialism of the XXIst Century”.  This idea, as introduced by the Mexican sociologist Heinz Dieterich, goes something like this: “We couldn’t get our centrally planned economic model to work last time because we didn’t have enough information, and it was too slow coming in to allow us to be able to plan. But thanks to the computing power of the microchip, we’re sure that this time we can make the algorithm work.” Advance in computation technology means we will receive a corresponding advance in planning capacity. We all know how that went; bonfires of human flesh beside a bread line.


Utopians will be utopians.

The lesson here remains that too often intellectuals are allowed to conflate disparate disciplines to their own advantage, without being called on the inconsistencies. Nobody is a greater culprit than the socialists and their ‘progressive’ movement. Taking unprecedented technological advancement and applying those ideas to moral and societal constructs, each generation they re-attempt to make the case that those too should change as fast as does the speed of the WIFI which connects them.

I was recently scanning the news and an article caught my attention. It was referencing the proposals of ‘e-democracy’ in places like Europe and Argentina to combat the crisis of confidence that the ‘west’ is having in our liberal model. Intrigued, I followed the conversation, taking me to DemocracyOS, a crowd-sourcing platform for elections, which took me to YouTube where the founder of Argentina’s “Internet Party” was giving a slick TED Talk presenting her vision for the future of her country; and then on to the party platform. And there it was: direct democracy, a new economic model, the city and its primary social function, educational transformation, investing more where there is less.

All code words, and not particularly well hidden, for socialism. “The problem (in Venezuela) is not that socialism has been poorly implemented but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.” Alas nobody seems to listen.

The utopians are at it again – this time using flashy viral ‘TED Talks’ and the internet to attempt to re-package for sale the moldy old idea of communism. Latin American politics is like this – which makes working in politics on the continent sad and hard. Every advance in vehicles, in mechanisms, in methodologies, in technology is seen as another chance to peddle that most tired of failed ideologies.

The main problem here is that people mistake the polished veneer of the packaging for a genuinely new product; a beautiful IPhone 8 case hiding a flip-top Nokia, to be consistent with the metaphor. But too often, by the time the Nokia sees the light of day, the product has already been purchased.

And there are no returns.

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Our Liberalism of Melancholy

“Our liberalism of melancholy.” That’s how Edmund Fawcett, journalist and writer summed up his sweeping tale of ‘liberalism’ as an idea and its impact on the west. Liberalism, in the historical sense of the word, “Liberalism is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality” as Wikipedia says (the source of all knowledge, I know…).

Liberty and equality. The story of liberalism is the story of humanity’s struggle between these two mutually desired, and often exclusive, outcomes. Liberty – to live an uncoerced life responsible only to ourselves, our consciences and our God. Equality – to not cling desperately on a hillside, naked babies playing at our feet while the rain pours through; squatting in squalor inside a self-engineered brick house, raw sewage running down the makeshift cement steps all the while gazing longingly below into the country clubs and garden parties of our betters.

This is what Edmund Fawcett’s audacious march through modern western history is about. Modern, not pre-modern, not post-modern. Liberalism is an idea that rests squarely in the realm of modernity; nation states and separate but equal powers and taxes; government programs and central banks and courts. All the systems that are fraying in our post-modern world.

It is very clear that Fawcett did his homework, and it would be despicable to throw rocks at so great a work of scholarship, so important a tome. He is in every sense a ‘liberal’, and does not use the word to paper over a multitude of sins as does the political variety of that tribe; and for that I am grateful. Nevertheless, there does remain some concern in my mind on issues of tone and focus, issues that I often debate with myself and others. Because, despite the extraordinary research presented in this tome, the question remains: Is liberalism a happy little nut to be found at the center of increasingly illiberal layers continuing out right and left until they arrive at totalitarianism of one or another extreme – or is in fact a continuum of degrees with totalitarian collectivism at one end of the spectrum and genuine ‘liberty’ at the other?

Edmund Fawcett is most obviously a ‘social democrat’, saving his most merciless contempt for what he calls the ‘hard right’, a term without definition but linked to certain conservative parties and movements in the United States. Given the tendency of ‘social democracy’ to slip easily these days out of the, oh let’s call it ‘consent of the governed’ – and into famine and death (modern Venezuela as only the most recent example) – I wonder if his criticism is not perhaps misplaced. Certainly any serious study of ‘liberalism’ that reduces Ayn Rand to ‘adolescent cult’ status and Ronald Reagan’s historic successes to ‘pushing at an open door’ risks a-priori alienating those liberals who see the philosophy of individualism and government restraint as central to their exercise of liberty; and conversely the social democratic philosophy of altruism and government overreach as too easily manipulated, especially in a post-modern world where the principles of ‘liberalism’ are not well grounded anymore in society. A world where, “After the collective highs of 1989, many liberals now worry whether liberal democracy can continue to work. They worry whether its inner tensions, once a strength, are not threatening to become a weakness. They worry whether liberal democracy is not losing its appeal.”

I have two main comments on this excellently researched and eloquently presented treatise. The first is that it focuses too much on individuals; and too many of those politicians or economists. Politicians follow philosophers and philosophers generally both create and then channel changing ideas in society; while many economists are notoriously deluded (Krugman, cough… cough…). Liberalism in the west was a result of ideological advances brought about by philosophical changes which have their roots in the renaissance, the industrial revolution, the mass-production of reading material and the dramatic increase in well-being and literacy following the end of the dark ages. This rebirth of philosophy set man, not nature nor God at the center of the human experience. Fawcett did not outline how this moved through art and literature and religion in a way that couched the advance of liberalism in its historical context. He could take as an example of how to do this from “The Cause of Hitler’s Germany.”

My second concern, related to the first, was that it was less a story about liberalism and more a chronological Rolodex of ‘liberals’; and again mostly politicians. Individuals who did feats great and small to advance the cause of liberal ideology; but not why, never outlining what was changing in the minds of men which allowed their work to have withstood the test of time. Taking this fact, along with the aforementioned concern that Fawcett leaned more on ‘social democrat’ politicians than others, means this book would best be read in tandem with “The Triumph of Liberty.” The ‘other side’ of the story, as it were.

All that to say, I am grateful for Fawcett for what must have been a herculean effort to deliver this awe-inspiring dissertation to print. He is obviously quite well-read and informed; and now so am I for having read his wonderful book. I highly recommend it, for those of you who love your liberty – who wonder where it came from – and who fear that we are losing it.

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Civilization and the Smithsonian

Civilization; what is civilization? What differentiates a civilization from a culture, from a language or a piece of land surrounded on all sides by a border, arbitrary or otherwise but which nevertheless encloses – freeing or imprisoning depending upon the nature of things and the flow of history? For me, a sign of civilization is a society which preserves pieces of itself from one generation to the next; a preservation which is not concerned with party or government or ideology but which recognizes that in the good and the bad, the successes and the failures we are found. Stories to be proud of and to cringe over during their retelling but which notwithstanding we allow because they are also a part.

For me this is important, and it’s poignant because I spend a lot of time away; wandering through places old and new, places echoing with stories of past greatness as well as those not-yet-great.


Though my shadow falls across these lands for a time, a season, none of them are mine; and so when I do come home I like to take a second to remember who I am, where I am from. To refresh myself in the stories and values that run through my consciousness and feed my imagination. And it’s grand, when I do return home: to feel the hard earth of my land under my feet – to smell the smells and listen to the sounds and savor the tastes. To look at her; deliberately and with intentionality. I went this time to the Smithsonian Museum of Art. Art – it’s the first to get destroyed in a war, when a civilization commits suicide like in Syria or Venezuela; ink on canvas goes up in flames, rock formed into sculptures is destroyed easily in a blast. So too the artists: blood of those who thought to express an opinion, to expose themselves in the hopes of teaching and in turn learning something. Something about themselves, their past and the people who came before who also nestled in the valleys and dales of the heartlands their ideas of belonging. The blood of creators, running freely down the stairs of a hotel; fertilizing the fields, their last gift to those who they tried to warn.


What I found this time was a story, our story. A portrait of America – blemishes and all, the good and the bad and the hard. African American artists who dared to paint as the expression of their frustration with a system that was changing too slowly. Great epic landscapes, wild and naked and free. Visions of tomorrow; snapshots of tenements and burned out churches and poverty, black and white, immigrant and people who have only known America. Portraits of great men whose names roll off the tongues of even the ignorant juxtaposed against the nameless – the anonymous who fought and strove and died and who only ever will be remembered on a small canvas hanging lonely on a wall in a tired old building upon a swamp.

This is the story of America. Our story, for those who dare to see and learn. And though my countenance may never grace a wall to inspire future generations; it is nevertheless my story as well. For this I am grateful.

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“The Idiot” by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I’ve always wondered why history chooses certain books for preservation, for posterity and others are discarded. It is said that a classic is a book that is still being read 100 years after its publication. For this reason, and if for no other reason, “The Idiot” deserves to be read. Like Gabo once said about Dostoevsky (or maybe it was Tolstoy?) “(…) reading it was an agony, sweating and struggling through each word (a paraphrase)”. Borges once said “(…) if something doesn’t come naturally, if you find yourself struggling through reading something, you shouldn’t for it is not for you (also a paraphrase)”. That is of course wrong – and Borges should posthumously thank God that nobody followed his advice or he too would be lost. Yet I digress.

All that to say, this is a hard novel to read. If you are struggling, know you are in good company. The prose is thick, it is old Russian and translated – and I imagine it also loses something going from Russian to English. For those who know, they say that Russian is a beautifully poetic language – the language of artists and, yes, novelists. Much of that doesn’t cross the language barrier.

What fascinated me most was a glimpse first-hand into the life of pre-revolutionary Russia; when there were still nobles and lords, when the Tsar was hanging out in Petersburg and his subjects, those not plowing the potato fields, were engaged in mischief. It is full of quotes that are as relevant today, almost two hundred years later and a world away as they were then, showing that humanity changes much and also not at all:

“I’ll tell you one fact, ladies and gentlemen” he went on in the same tone, that is, with extraordinary enthusiasm and warmth and at the same time almost laughing, perhaps at his own words, “a fact, the observation and even the discovery of which I have the honor of ascribing to myself, and even to myself alone; at least it has not been spoken of or written about anywhere. This fact expresses the whole essence of Russian liberalism of the sort I am talking about. First of all, what is liberalism, generally speaking, if not an attack (whether reasonable or mistaken is another question) on the existing order of things? Isn’t that so? Well, so my fact consists in this, that Russian liberalism is not an attack on the existing order of things, but is an attack on the very essence of our things, on the things themselves and not merely on their order, not on Russian order but on Russia itself. My liberal has reached the point where he denies Russia itself, that is, he hates and beats his own mother. Every unfortunate and unsuccessful Russian fact evokes laughter in him and all but delight. He hates Russian customs, Russian history, everything. If there’s any vindication for him, it is perhaps only that he doesn’t understand what he’s doing and takes his hatred of Russia for the most fruitful liberalism…”

One can see people today even debating the same ideas, their merits and their dangers.

The Idiot is mostly a novel about mischief. The Idiot, Prince Myshkin, is “entirely positive… with an absolutely beautiful nature” according to Joseph Frank. He loves two women, one perhaps a scoundrel and the other also naive and somehow star-crossed. Neither love works out – but, that is the nature of love. It could be a simple novel, but it is complex – coming as it does from the mind of a master. We read the old books to look back in the past, to remember that there were sophisticated people walking the planet long before we arrived to stumble across it glued to our IPhones; and to realize that while technology “progresses”, humanity – our dreams, fears, concerns. Our morality. Is really rather quite static.

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The Politics of Everything

Do you love your life, and all its riches?

Have you ever read a novel, turning page after page after page as your bedside clock ticks away the seconds, the minutes, the hours; anxiety at tomorrow’s exhaustion an insufficient motivator to quell that craving in your consciousness to answer the burning questions ‘What is next? Who did it? How can it possibly end?’ Have you watched a movie, popcorn rendered powder in your grip as the panic of the moment overcomes you? Forgetting even to breathe lest you miss that revelation, the building crescendo holding you tightly, powerlessly – possessively. Have tears streamed unchecked down your cheeks as young love is lost? As the gladiator is defeated? As the spaceship explodes? Have you ever yourself been young, your last dollar securing the ticket which guarantees entry into that world beyond the curtain where anything is possible; seated beside her, dressed in your finest – a tie and jacket, shirt pressed, cologne wafting into your eyes. Did you sit, clenching your stomach afraid even to breathe against the purity of the power of the Phantom or Val jean? Elegance and austerity beside a nascent passion; comfort and companionship next to a timeworn love, grey perhaps but not stale or dry but instead mature like a fine wine. Voices, stories – dreams.

Have you ever sat on a bar-stool cheering on your team, lubricated by the fine spirits of camaraderie – screaming until your lungs ached and your voice was hoarse, desperate for victory not because it matters but because it matters not at all? The raucous tenseness as the seconds of the timer count down, the silence before the explosion when finally the buzzer slices through the thickened air.


Have you worshiped your God, lifting your voice higher and higher to touch the almighty? Have you served the poor? Have you given to the needy? Have you embraced the homeless; taken the unwanted into your homes; surrendering more than your share to those who do not, who cannot deserve it – and has doing so filled you with joy?

Have you listened to the anthems, considering so great a sacrifice; hiked the purple mountains of your lands and marveled at their beauty? Have you skied the storied slopes? Have you bathed in the temperate waters, ignoring the transient affiliations of the beach-goers, irrelevant against the blanketing sun? Have you reveled in the power of the written word without having to ask yourself to what service they are surrendered?

Have you lived your life? And do you love it?

This is what they would take from us – those who think in groups, and invite you to do the same. They would ask you to look around the congregation to demand not if the Lord is found there, if His spirit is moving and His grace is sufficient, but instead to answer that most miserable question of all “For whom did they vote?” They mandate that before you watch that movie you consider party; as to entertain – to stand between – loses its great calling. They require that you choose your champions based not upon reasons that arise from birthplace or camaraderie, colors or community but instead petty, partisan politics.

Politics. It is everywhere these days, isn’t it? In the chicken sandwich; in the Broadway Theater; in the church pew and most recently in the bar beside the plate of Nachos and lite beer as you celebrate your lineup. Politics in the soup; politics for breakfast and lunch and dinner; politics on the Wheaties box and in the Disney cartoons. Politics during “Top Forty” and on the front of the sports section and in the comics. Politics, that spiked club with which the unenlightened beat each other. I, for one, have had enough. I want to watch a sunset without seeing red – I want to choose a novel without wondering if my dollar is to be used to do me harm – and I wish to enjoy my team as a moment of respite, to revel in a contest which is not existential, which does not empower those who seek my downfall.

I want to live my life free of those who would poison the fountains of happiness in my grumpy old republic. Is that too much to ask?



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The Joy of Jamaica!

There’s a little island a few hours south of the US, in the Caribbean, where people are wont to go to relax. Thick green jungles that climb five and six stories high, dark but not menacing – a fertile goodness that shows the perfect anarchy of nature, punctuated by the delicate purples and pinks and blues of the hundreds of flower species pollinated by the butterflies and the bees – a roiling of life. Crystal waters hugging white-sand beaches, coral reefs hosting life abundant and wild, octopuses and sharks and eels. A brackish pond where the water sparkles and glows as you swim in the night, magical and luminescent.


Food – jerked pork; music, Bob Marley on the street corner and in the buses and on the minds of everybody. “Have you heard of Bob Marley?” asked a gardener at an old slave plantation, the one where the national hero was born, that was now owned by a Jamaican man and employs dozens of locals freely and graciously in the ultimate act of revenge against the slave-owners of old. “Of course,” I said, listening closely trying to wade my way through the pidgin. “Usain Bolt?” “Yes,” I said, smiling again, his own grin infectious as he exclaims. “They are from Jamaica!”

Joy – Jamaica is a joyful place. I’ve noticed this trait in many African countries where I’ve visited or lived – that joi de vivre, that ability to find something to smile about despite the hardship. Jamaica has this, but perhaps even in greater measure; Africa’s anguish is still fresh and bloody while Jamaica looks back to the past in remembering, using that ancient misery as a bedrock for a national motto that sounds a lot like “Don’t worry about a thing, cuz every little thing is gonna be all right” but could just as easily be, “They will never again rob us of our joy!”

Slavery – the story of Jamaica is the story of slavery. What is a beautiful and fertile atoll to the modern tourists was at one point a prison island, much like Cuba is today. Where people served at the pleasure of the masters and could say nothing, do nothing for fear that somebody would come for them in the night. The stories of defiance are in every breath of Jamaica’s national joy. A freedom hard-won and well-cherished. Samuel Sharp (whose plantation I visited) and the Christmas Rebellion. A burned down house, left untouched to be reclaimed by the jungles as a permanent reminder of the fight to be free. The tireless work of William Wilberforce an ocean away who nevertheless thought of nothing but Jamaica’s slaves. Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley.

Yet Jamaica has managed to move beyond the hatred and resentment – finding a joy in sharing their experiences with the wandering tourists, like me. It was nice for me to be a tourist for a moment, usually my sojourns in foreign lands take me to places where I stand out too much; but in Jamaica I was just part of the herd, ferried from resort to beach to restaurant and listening to the stories and the music of the islands.


Now an admonition to those of you who have lost your joy – who think only of retribution, of redistribution, of revolution; who look at the world around you and see only injury and offense (you know who you are). Go to Jamaica. They need your visit, their majority industry is tourism. You need it too – to see in a green jungle and a white sandy beach a limitless expanse of opportunity; and to listen to music of meaning and freedom which is a lesson to us from a people who suffered and who have decided that suffering would not be the end of their story, but instead the beginning as they transformed it into their gift to the world – joy.

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Lords of Misrule, Joel D. Hirst

A new review of my novel “Lords of Misrule” – please share.

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