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The A Yeoman Farmer Series Part IV:

Friday, October 30th, 2020

[Mark Safranski/ zen]

I am stirring from blogging retirement to bring you a series culled from a historical-political essay by a scholar who is a very long time reader of ZP who wrote this post over a long period of time following the last presidential election. He writes under the pseudonym “A Yeoman Farmer” and his foil is the famous “Flight 93 Election” essay of “Publius Decius Mus” in The Claremont Review of BooksI will be breaking the essay into parts and turning the footnotes into section endnotes with each post and linking to the previous sections that have been posted. This post comprises Part IV and the final conclusion of the series.

Part I can be found here

Part II can be found here

Part III can be found here

The Reichstag is always burning: a commentary on The Flight 93 Election

By: A Yeoman Farmer


9. Continetti trips over a more promising approach when he writes of “stress[ing]
the ‘national interest abroad and national solidarity at home’ through foreign-
policy retrenchment, ‘support to workers buffeted by globalization,’ and setting
‘tax rates and immigration levels’ to foster social cohesion." That sounds a lot
like Trumpism. But the phrases that Continetti quotes are taken from Ross
Douthat and Reihan Salam, both of whom, like Continetti, are
vociferously—one might even say fanatically—anti-Trump. At least they,
unlike Kesler, give Trump credit for having identified the right stance on
today’s most salient issues. Yet, paradoxically, they won’t vote for Trump
whereas Kesler hints that he will. It’s reasonable, then, to read into Kesler’s
esoteric endorsement of Trump an implicit acknowledgment that the crisis is,
indeed, pretty dire. I expect a Claremont scholar to be wiser than most other
conservative intellectuals, and I am relieved not to be disappointed in this

The “right stance on today’s most salient issues” sums up the problem for what ails
America is not today’s more salient issues, it is something deeper and not one that is
solved by having the “right stance”, a stance that seems to be right only because it
fits the author’s prejudices. If the right stance were all that mattered, then there is no
fundamental choice to be made only different stances on the same issues. In other
words, there are no choices left, only policy positions, which itself suggests that the
crisis the author claims exist is simply that his policy preferences, the right stance, is
not being chosen or can be chosen. Yet, the author, aside from describing a
declension of the most alarming kind, the 1000-year progressivist Reich awaits,
simply refers to the right policy stances. One wonders if the real 1000-year Reich
could have been defeated with the right policy stances.

What is surprising, but in a deeper sense is not at all surprising since it fits the
contempt for the “corrupt” America, is that none of the conservatives and specifically
Trump did not have a proposal or thought for the opioid epidemic killing thousands of
Americans. Instead, the key issues are immigration, trade, and war as if these are
what are killing the most Americans each year. Here is where Kesler’s glib statement
and the author’s implicit support for it are revealed for their dishonesty. Trump did
not have a policy proposal on the opioid crisis and Hillary Clinton did. 6 I guess that
Professor Kesler believes that no policy option for opioids is better than Clinton’s
policy option.

What is not explained nor is it explored is how conservatives contributed to America
becoming so corrupt that it was in danger of going over the cliff on immigration,
trade, and war. If we look at the broad level, we see that Obama brought down
immigration levels, improved America’s trade position, and worked to bring
America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan to an end. However, we are to
understand that America is at the cliff edge without having a point of reference to
know when it was not on the cliff edge or what specifically about the general issues
(trade, immigration, and war) as well as the eight sub issues that appear as
constants within American society (all societies?) was not problematic previously but
became problematic in 2016?

We are also given an insight into what Trumpism means when the author praises
Continetti’s proposals. Here is what Trumpism appears to be:

national interest abroad and national solidarity at home
foreign-policy retrenchment
support to workers buffeted by globalization
tax rates and immigration levels’ to foster social cohesion.

On the surface, these appear anodyne or boiler plates. What President does not
seek the national interest abroad and national solidarity at home? Is this an issue for
the campaign? This would also suggest that Obama was not pursuing the national
interest and national solidarity. The desire for foreign policy retrenchment seems to
seem a strange desire since Obama worked to retrench American foreign policy with
Muslim countries and to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If these were
not retrenchments, then what does retrenchment look like? We are told America First
would be a form of retrenchment but would it be if it too seeks the national interest
abroad? How can we retrench foreign policy and simultaneously seek the national
interest abroad? As for the desire to support workers buffeted by globalization, this
appears laudable yet contradictory. Does this mean that we are to be insulated from
globalisation’s negative effectives and open to its positive effects? How exactly does
that work? It seems to be a nostrum that sounds good, it tastes great and it is less
filling or is simply sound and fury signifying nothing. It is a way to flatter the audience
that wants to hear that the government will take care of them so that we return to big
government to protect the worker by intervening in the economy to pick the winners
and losers. This might be Trumpism, but it is certainly not conservatism. As for tax
rates that foster social cohesion that seems rather strange approach unless the idea
is that misery loves company since tax rates have no connection to social cohesion.
Perhaps this is the silver bullet to solve social cohesion, better tax rates. Who knew?
Then again, the author might be right about conservativism’s decline if the best it can
do about social cohesion is to argue that tax rates are the answer.


10. Yet we may also reasonably ask: What explains the Pollyanna-ish declinism
of so many others? That is, the stance that Things-Are-Really-Bad—But-Not-So-
Bad-that-We-Have-to-Consider-Anything-Really-Different! The obvious
answer is that they don’t really believe the first half of that formulation. If so,
like Chicken Little, they should stick a sock in it. Pecuniary reasons also
suggest themselves, but let us foreswear recourse to this explanation until we
have disproved all the others.

Once again, the author suggests that things are so bad that we need a change and
not just any change, but a radical change, but without explaining what it is that ails
America except that the policy alternatives are so bad that people have voted for
them for the past eight years. What we are to understand is that we have a choice
between Candide or Gibbon without a choice between them. We are presented with
a Manichean choice when the reality is that statesmanship is rarely presented with
such choice except in the most extreme positions, usually moments of existential
crisis (think Churchill rallying Britain and the West against Hitler’s onslaught). The
author does not want to accept that the general direction of America can be
improved in some areas but that the Republic in its core is stable or is at least in a
position where the normal challenges that any republic faces are not approaching an
existential nature. If the Republic is in an existential crisis, the ails that he mentions
are at best the symptoms and not the cause, but we cannot discuss that because the
author believes that the symptoms are the cause.

As for the author’s lament of the conservatives who display a Pollyanna-ism which
he claims is unwarranted, we must ask what he thinks of Christians who believe that
final success is to be found with Christ so that any of the today’s travails can be
endured for that reason. In other words, the author seems strangely quiet about
religion’s role in conservatism or more generally the role that optimism plays within
America and American politics. If we follow the author, then we must refuse to be
optimistic in the face of challenges and that the challenges are so great that
optimism cannot be justified. More to the point, if they are to claim things are bad
they must be so bad that radical change is required, not just change but radical
change, which raises the question of whether conservatives can argue things are
bad, or things are very bad, but if they do they must embrace radical change for
anything less is surrender to unwarranted optimism.

However, what bothers the author is that his fellow conservatives either do not
believe that things are that bad, in particular as he does not grant that they can be
that bad in specific areas without being that bad overall, or they have a pecuniary
interest to say that things are bad but not so bad as to allow specific changes without
an revolution within the regime. In a neat rhetorical twist, truly Trumpian, the author
declares his fellow conservatives, who do not support him or Trump, are liars or on
the take.


11. Whatever the reason for the contradiction, there can be no doubt that there is
a contradiction. To simultaneously hold conservative cultural, economic, and
political beliefs—to insist that our liberal-left present reality and future direction
is incompatible with human nature and must undermine society—and yet also
believe that things can go on more or less the way they are going, ideally but
not necessarily with some conservative tinkering here and there, is logically

The author, by looking at a potential contradiction, almost gets close to the problem
but seems to lose his way. He forgets what Strauss taught that all societies have
contradictions and those societies that try to remove them will destroy themselves for
that is what liberalism requires–the end of contradictions. If this is what the author is
trying to argue, that conservativism retains the same contradictions as Liberalism,
then that is a different argument to America is in terminal decline if it remains on its
current path, unless one thinks that America is not, nor ever was, a liberal country
and to pursue liberalism is the catastrophe that needs to be resisted. Yet, if that is
the argument, it fails, despite the author’s rhetorical flourishes, for two main reasons.
First, America is *the* liberal experiment since its founding. To argue that it was
never liberal, even assuming the argument that it was a deeply republican liberalism,
seems anachronistic. The second is that America’s pursuit of liberalism is its
experiment that unfolds with each generation where conservatives have offered the
necessary course corrections to keep that experiment from ending in failure since
that experiment by definition is whether human nature finds fulfilment through
liberalism and whether the experience of the past 230 years has provided evidence
in that argument. Yet, the crisis to which the author addresses, but does not identify,
is within liberalism, American liberalism, which he does not explore since he never
goes to the cause. Even though he gropes towards the source and sort of touches
on possible solutions, without understanding what he is doing, that is his heart is in
the right place, he never gets to the core of why America is in crisis and why Trump
has been able to emerge as a symptom of that crisis and his attempt to solve that
crisis is hampered by being its symptom. However, the author seems to believe it is
a crisis of liberalism as if there is a serious alternative within America to liberalism or
one that remains untried if not unimagined.

What some of his less restrained colleagues have accepted is a previous alternative
to liberalism, an outcome that is coeval with politics. However, their preferred
alternative only appeals because they have forgotten its previous failures elsewhere
in the belief that *this time* it will work in America which is a country founded in direct
opposition to that alternative.


12. Let’s be very blunt here: if you genuinely think things can go on with no
fundamental change needed, then you have implicitly admitted that
conservatism is wrong. Wrong philosophically, wrong on human nature, wrong
on the nature of politics, and wrong in its policy prescriptions. Because, first,
few of those prescriptions are in force today. Second, of the ones that are, the
left is busy undoing them, often with conservative assistance. And, third, the
whole trend of the West is ever-leftward, ever further away from what we all
understand as conservatism.

What has become clear is that the author really likes to present everything as a
Manichean choice in which the choice is either/or and rarely, if ever, both/and. Either
you must embrace radical change or you admit conservatism has failed. What is
curious about the author’s argument is how ahistorical it is. To claim that he knows
or has divined or diagnosed conservativism’s failure, suggests he has an insight into
conservatism, liberalism, and the American experiment that is superior to any other
argument. In his own words, if he is right, then conservatism is wrong and wrong
simply about everything until he arrived. Yet, for his audacity, his argument lacks
substance. As someone once said, the more audacious your argument, the less
evidence you need, which is perhaps describes the Trump campaign. For a
politician, this is excusable, but for someone professing to be a public commentator it
is inadequate if not bordering on incompetence masked by rhetorical eloquence.

The choice is a false one. America can continue without change to its regime, its
functioning liberal democratic society, its political institutions and norms and one can
demand that there is a need for change within all three without conservatism being
wrong. Yet, it is not whether one is wrong about America, it is that if you do not see
the problem as the author sees them then you are wrong about conservatism and
everything else.

You are:

Wrong philosophically

In a word, you are not a conservative. How we came to this moment is uncertain or
how no one else saw it not clear, but conservative philosophy is wrong for not seeing
that a fundamental change is needed. Except for being a Never Burke conservative,
he does not explain what that means to be philosophically wrong.

wrong on human nature

What is not clear is what this means. Human nature is not fixed nor is it fluid.
Instead, it is something, like philosophy itself, in that we are still working to discover it
which is why you can see dramatic changes in regimes or changes in politics based
on what we understand about human nature. It does not mean human nature has
changed or is changeable to know that our understanding of human nature develops
as we contemplate what it means to be human. However, that type of argument or
understanding is not presented here since it would get in the way of the political

wrong on the nature of politics, and

This statement seems redundant since if you are wrong about human nature then
you must be wrong about politics if it is to determine the best way to live as humans
since it is predicated upon a shared or agreed understanding of human nature. As
mentioned above, that understanding of the nature of politics cannot be fixed for it is
then political philosophy is at an end. If that quest is at an end, then we are now
transported into sectarianism.

wrong in its policy prescriptions

Finally, this seems superfluous since the failure of philosophy, human nature, and
the nature of politics would mean that any policy prescription would be wrong.
Except that it isn’t which gets us back to a deeper secondary question, again
unanswered and unasked by the author, in that we only see hints or a shadow of it or
rather its negation makes us aware of its presence. The author never explores the
relationship of thought to politics or how political philosophy informs political theory
for policy prescription especially as they appear only to be needed to resolve or
apply what is already agreed or already implicit in the system. If politics or political
thinking does not require philosophy or political philosophy, then the author should
discuss that since it seems to be a fundamental element of whether conservativism
is right or has something to say or whether the American experiment is even
possible. But, we never get to see this work. Instead, we are told why we are wrong.


Here we are doubly disappointed. The author does not explore such questions, as
we would expect that if you are to disagree and be wrong about the fundamentals of
political life, philosophy, human nature, politics and policy prescription then
something must exist to demonstrate this but the evidence for his argument is
disappointing in its superficiality and shallowness. The evidence that you are wrong
is that:

first, few of those prescriptions are in force today.

Our philosophy is wrong, our understanding of human nature is wrong, our
understanding of politics is wrong because few of those prescriptions are in force?
How does that follow? How can you draw such a sweeping conclusion from such
meagre evidence? The public do not like us and did not vote for us so everything is
wrong. Our policy prescriptions were changed, not all so some must have worked,
but most and therefore we are wrong not that the policy prescriptions were wrong or
poorly supported. It seems laughable but here we are and it gets worse because
some conservatives seem to disagree with other conservatives about what
conservative prescriptions are best.

Second, of the ones that are, the left is busy undoing them, often with
conservative assistance.

What this suggests then is that the policy prescriptions that were badged as
conservative might not have been truly conservative but served a faction and
therefore were not rooted in anything enduring except for what that faction wanted.
However, that is not possible because this problem is caused by the ever-present
bogeyman—the Left.

And, third, the whole trend of the West is ever-leftward, ever further away
from what we all understand as conservatism.

The author makes it appear that “fundamental change” is required without saying
what is a fundamental change. He hits at something deeper, something larger,
something longer lasting, something permanent, but he dares not address it. If
Trump is the fundamental change, we must wonder what was Franklin Roosevelt or
Lyndon Johnson? Were they the continuity candidates? We can believe that America
needs changes and there are areas of great or even urgent attention and we can
also know that the 2016 election is nowhere as important or requiring a “fundamental
change” as say the 1932 election or the 1968 election.

Leaving aside the hyperbole, which is quite difficult since the piece and its thinking
are infused with it, we face the fundamental question that is still unasked. The author
assumes that the policy prescriptions he has described, or the “right stances” on
policy issues, are what needs to change. If this is the radical change, the
“fundamental change”, then we have to ask: “How is this different from just another
series of policy proposals?” Within the essay, we do not find a fundamental or *the*
fundamental question, which would indicate a crisis of the magnitude exists, has
been asked.

End Part IV


6. When Professor Kesler used to make similar glib statements in his graduate seminars, some
students would ask afterwards about a particular statements and he would often grin and prevaricate
demonstrating his superior rhetorical skills and thus provided the more advanced students a second
seminar in the art of sophistry or the challenge of trying to differentiate the philosopher and the
sophist. One student, a veritable ubermensch, would often buy him a beer to congratulate him for
being particularly skilled in dodging that day’s questions. In the academic arena such games are
educative. In the public domain, they prove problematic because they display a desire to flatter and
dissemble to promote a man singularly unqualified to be president as the public cannot discern their
educative effect and only their political effect. If an academic is to dabble in politics, the least they can
be is responsible, but history has shown academics, particularly German ones have been less than
responsible when getting involved in politics.

Coronavirus meets the limits of logic

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — this one’s strictly for fun ]

We have my friend the bead game designer JustKnecht to thank fo passing along this gem:

That’s a screen-grab, it has to be — and it’s pretty astonishing to find the chyron to a screen-grab referencing Bertie Russell, let alone Russell’s paradox. I must have grabbed dozens of chyrons a few months back, when I was looking for game and sports metaphors for warfare — I never saw anything like this!


BTW, it’s an ouroboros paradox too, isn’t it?

Words are Deeds, Coronavirus instance

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — establishing the proper connections between words and realities — things, places, persons, emotions, actions — has long been a preoccupation for poets, philosophers and the curious more generally ]

From a New Yorker piece, titled Seattle’s Leaders Let Scientists Take the Lead. New York’s Did Not
By Charles Duhigg
The initial coronavirus outbreaks on the East and West Coasts emerged at roughly the same time. But the danger was communicated very differently.

— here’s the relevant context:

The first diagnosis of the coronavirus in the United States occurred in mid-January, in a Seattle suburb not far from the hospital where Dr. Francis Riedo, an infectious-disease specialist, works. When he heard the patient’s details—a thirty-five-year-old man had walked into an urgent-care clinic with a cough and a slight fever, and told doctors that he’d just returned from Wuhan, China—Riedo said to himself, “It’s begun.”

For more than a week, Riedo had been e-mailing with a group of colleagues who included Seattle’s top doctor for public health and Washington State’s senior health officer, as well as hundreds of epidemiologists from around the country; many of them, like Riedo, had trained at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta, in a program known as the Epidemic Intelligence Service. Alumni of the E.I.S. are considered America’s shock troops in combatting disease outbreaks. The program has more than three thousand graduates, and many now work in state and local governments across the country. “It’s kind of like a secret society, but for saving people,” Riedo told me.

And here’s the key —

Upon learning of the first domestic diagnosis, he told his staff—from emergency-room nurses to receptionists—that, from then on, everything they said was just as important as what they did. One of the E.I.S.’s core principles is that a pandemic is a communications emergency as much as a medical crisis.


D’oh — coronavirus is a communicable disease..

On second thoughts.. that’s the point, isn’t it? We call diseases “communicable” because they spread in a manner that’s analogous with the spread of ideas — or fears, for that matter — through human communications networks.

One or other, both or neither?

Friday, January 31st, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — Modi or Trump, special or chosen? — with thanks to The Emissary on BrownPundits — and closing in on the shining suchness of the Tathagata ]

Modi of India, Trump of USA?


Trump of USA proclaims himself the Chosen One, while Modi of India’s supporters claim Modi is the Special One.

Who knew?



  • The Emissary, The Special One
  • Giphy, I am the Chosen One
  • **

    Buddhist logic from the beginning differs from its Aristotelian cousin, featuring the chatushkoti or tetralemma:

    India in the fifth century BCE, the age of the historical Buddha, and a rather peculiar principle of reasoning appears to be in general use. This principle is called the catuskoti, meaning ‘four corners’. It insists that there are four possibilities regarding any statement: it might be true (and true only), false (and false only), both true and false, or neither true nor false.

    Hence my title, One or other, both or neither?

    Oh ah:

    speaking of the Buddha, Nagarjuna states that the Buddha’s teaching is “emptiness is suchness, not suchness, both suchness and not suchness, and neither suchness nor not suchness.”


    The suchness of the Tathagata is the suchness of all phenomena.

    Rumor therefore has it that there’s a fifth possibility, a refuge from all dualities: the shining suchness of the Tathagata.


    No, really — please comment!

    Chuang-tzu or Zhuangzi, it’s a laughing matter [review]

    Sunday, July 28th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted at BrownPundits — Zhuangzi, a light-hearted philosopher dancing to his own laughter, illuminated by CC Tsai ]

    Zhuangzi: The Way of Nature
    translated by Brian Bruya, illustrated by CC Tsai
    Princeton University Press, 2019
    US $ 22.95


    You may be acquainted with the yin-yang symbol — or as it’s more properly called, the Tai-chih or Taiji — but here’s CC Tsai‘s version, with dragon:

    That’s the style of CC Tsai‘s illustrations, which — rather than Brian Bruya‘s translations — are the featured aspect of this version of the Zhuangzi: it also encapsulates the essence of Zhuangzi‘s thought.

    Here’s the comic book version of a very comic work of profound, non-invasive philosophy.


    Zhuangzi is a Taoist, one who would allow the arising and fading away of things in their natural order, with as little thought-commentyary, let alone intervention, as piossible — given the human tendency to go round and round in circles even while sitting still — Laozi‘s Tao Te Ching is the simple and direct exposition of this way of approaching and appreciating life, while Zhuangzi presents the same appreciation in the formm of quizzical tales and (naturally, absent) morals..

    Ah. Thus the seagull, Laozi tells Confucius, who came to discuss benevolence and righteousness, doesn’t get white by soaping yup and washing itself, nor does the crow get black by dipping itself in ink: benevolence, similarly, is not a matter of soap and water — it simply arises where it arises.

    You get the feeling Laozi wouldn’t mind having left it at the seagulls doing what they do, and likewise with the crows — but Confucius dropped by and asked about benevolence and righteousness, and Laozi responded as was only benevolent and polite..


    My favorite story in all of Chuang Tzu / Zhuangzi is the story of Lord Wen-hui’s cook Ting, who taught him the natural way of things while cutting up an ox. In Burton Watson‘s translation:

    Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee – zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.

    “Ah, this is marvelous!” said Lord Wen-hui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”

    Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now – now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

    “A good cook changes his knife once a year-because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month-because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room – more than enough for the blade to play about it. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

    “However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until – flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

    “Excellent!” said Lord Wen-hui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!”


    That’s a long-ish quote, but its rollicking good humor will have carried you through it, and I wanted to give you a sense of the Zhuangzi as I have known and loved it — to taste it in comparison with CC Tsai‘s vision / version of the same tale, as represented in a couple of frames from his telling:


    So now we have Burton Watson‘s “the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room” and Brian Bruya‘s “my knife glides in and out between the bone joints, moving as it pleases: the cow suffers no pain and, in the end, doesn’t even know it’s dead.”

    Pretty remarkable, either way — but that’s in English, and who knows what contortions a translator must make to move from Chinese into English? Watson‘s Chuang-tsu is closer to Lao-tsu, if you compare the statement of principle to its embodiment in an anecdote:

    Ursula Le Guin‘s translation of the Tao Te Ching is even more succinct:

    The immaterial enters the impenetrable..

    No wonder cook Ting’s vorpal blade went snicker-snack, to borrow a phrase from Lewis Carroll‘s poem, Jabberwocky. And come to think of it, Lewis Carroll, aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the Christ Church, Oxford logician, may indeed be the English language’s native equivalent of the Chinese Zhuangzi.


    As I hope I have indicated, Chuang Tzu / Zhuangzi, even in translation, is a writer of enormous charm and insight, and CC Tsai‘s presentation marries the conventions of the comic book with classical Chinese artistry to provide an exemplary introduction to one of the world’s great philosopher-humorists.

    Delightful. Warmly recommended.

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