Manufacturing up-from-hardship tales to sell to the Ivies

Wednesday, December 26th, 2018

The T.M. Landry College Preparatory School seems like a predictable outcome of our current system:

Bryson Sassau’s application would inspire any college admissions officer.

A founder of T.M. Landry College Preparatory School described him as a “bright, energetic, compassionate and genuinely well-rounded” student whose alcoholic father had beaten him and his mother and had denied them money for food and shelter. His transcript “speaks for itself,” the founder, Tracey Landry, wrote, but Mr. Sassau should also be lauded for founding a community service program, the Dry House, to help the children of abusive and alcoholic parents. He took four years of honors English, the application said, was a baseball M.V.P. and earned high honors in the “Mathematics Olympiad.”

The narrative earned Mr. Sassau acceptance to St. John’s University in New York. There was one problem: None of it was true.

“I was just a small piece in a whole fathom of lies,” Mr. Sassau said.

T.M. Landry has become a viral Cinderella story, a small school run by Michael Landry, a teacher and former salesman, and his wife, Ms. Landry, a nurse, whose predominantly black, working-class students have escaped the rural South for the nation’s most elite colleges. A video of a 16-year-old student opening his Harvard acceptance letter last year has been viewed more than eight million times. Other Landry students went on to Yale, Brown, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell and Wesleyan.

Landry success stories have been splashed in the past two years on the “Today” show, “Ellen” and the “CBS This Morning.” Education professionals extol T.M. Landry and its 100 or so kindergarten-through-12th-grade students as an example for other Louisiana schools. Wealthy supporters have pushed the Landrys, who have little educational training, to expand to other cities. Small donors, heartened by the web videos, send in a steady stream of cash.

In reality, the school falsified transcripts, made up student accomplishments and mined the worst stereotypes of black America to manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity.

Culture is too important to be left to the sociologists

Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

Culture matters, Virginia Postrel reminds us:

The mid-20th century period in which the modern libertarian movement arose is now looked upon with great nostalgia, especially in the United States. As my friend Brink Lindsey puts it, the right wants to live there and the left wants to work there.

When Donald Trump says “Make America Great Again,” the again refers to the world in which he grew up. The war was over, standards of living were rising, and new technologies from vaccines to synthetic fibers promised a better future.

Social critics of the day deplored mass production, mass consumption, and mass media, but the general public enjoyed their fruits. The burgeoning middle class happily replaced tenements with “little boxes made of ticky-tacky.” Snobs might look down on the suburbs, but families were delighted to settle in them. Faith in government was high, and other institutions—universities, churches, corporations, unions, and civic groups—enjoyed widespread respect.

It looked like a satisfactory equilibrium. But it wasn’t. The 1950s, after all, produced the 1960s.

Consider a series of best-selling books: The Lonely Crowd, by David Riesman, published in 1950; Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and The Organization Man by William Whyte, both published in 1957; and The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, published in 1963. All of these books, and undoubtedly others I’ve overlooked, took up the same essential theme: the frustration of the person of talent and integrity in a society demanding conformity and what Riesman called “other-directedness.”

These books succeeded in the economic marketplace, as well as the marketplace of ideas, because they tapped a growing sense of discontent with the prevailing social and business ethos. Their audience might have been a minority of the population, but it was a large, gifted, and ultimately influential one. Despite the era’s prosperity—or perhaps because of it—many people had come to resent social norms that demanded that they keep their heads down, do what was expected of them, and be content to be treated as homogeneous threads in the social fabric. The ensuing cultural upheaval, which peaked in the late 1970s, took many different forms, with unanticipated results.

One of the most paradoxical examples I’ve run across comes from Dana Thomas’s 2015 book Gods and Kings, on the fashion designers Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. It’s about Galliano, who was born in Gibraltar and grew up in South London as the son of a plumber. His career, Thomas comments in passing, was made possible by two cultural phenomena: Thatcherism and punk.

How could that be? After all, Thatcherism and punk are usually seen as antagonistic. I asked Thomas about it in an interview. “Both were breaking down British social rules and constraints,” she said. Punk brought together kids of all classes, while Thatcher’s economic reforms encouraged entrepreneurship.

    If you had an idea and you had the backing then you could make it happen, no matter what your dad did in life or your mother did in life or where you came from or what your background was, or where you grew up or what your accent sounded like. These were all barriers before. So it double-whammied for Galliano. It was great. Because it allowed him to get out of South London, get into a good art school and be seen as a bona fide talent on his own standing, as opposed to where he came from. And he was also able to get the backing to start his company, because there was more money out there. It gave him more freedom. Before punk and before Thatcherism, chances were the son of a plumber was not going to wind up being the head of a couture house.

If you care about the open society, how could you not be interested in a phenomenon like that? How exactly do such transformations take place, and what are their unexpected ripple effects? What processes of experimentation and feedback are at work? Could a young designer do the same thing today and, if not, why not? Are these moments of cultural and economic opportunity inherently fleeting?

(Hat tip to Arnold Kling.)

Sacrifices must be made!

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

The Occult Defence Agency Budgeting Simulator looks like a bit of fun:

Occult Defence Agency Budgeting Simulator
“Sacrifices must be made!”

The minister, who was previously in charge of education, and before that, of health, and who is now heading occult affairs after the most recent cabinet reshuffle, having once again failed to unseat the prime minister, shakes your hand. His skin is damp and oddly yielding. You relax when you realize he doesn’t mean human sacrifices. He just wants to reduce your organisation’s budget, he explains. By twenty percent. Effective immediately.

Your organisation is in charge of defending the United Kingdom from paranormal threats. Vampire covens, stray werewolves, pixie swarms, cultists with funny robes and impractical daggers, unlicensed hauntings, and more obscure matters. Also, to liaise with sister organisations as part of the EUROCC framework — except maybe not anymore, as no one can agree on whether EUROCC, which predates the EU, is affected by Brexit — and to render occult aid and advice to the government — as if they’d ever listen.

Your predecessor, in charge for over twenty years, finally retired last year, got his life peerage, and is now spending most of his time with ducks. He left behind a sprawling agency and very little documentation as to which parts are vital to the defence of the realm, and which parts are the hobby-horses of an eccentric Oxfordian.

Well, you’re just going to have to find out. Start cutting.

Gestures of virtue are as formalized as kabuki

Monday, December 17th, 2018

We’re back to the hypocrisy sweepstakes, Camille Paglia:

As a bumptious adolescent in upstate New York, I stumbled on a British collection of Oscar Wilde’s epigrams in a secondhand bookstore. It was an electrifying revelation, a text that I studied like the bible. What bold, scathing wit, cutting through the sentimental fog of those still rigidly conformist early 1960s, when good girls were expected to simper and defer.

But I never fully understood Wilde’s caustic satire of Victorian philanthropists and humanitarians until the present sludgy tide of political correctness began flooding government, education, and media over the past two decades. Wilde saw the insufferable arrogance and preening sanctimony in his era’s self-appointed guardians of morality.

We’re back to the hypocrisy sweepstakes, where gestures of virtue are as formalized as kabuki. Humor has been assassinated. An off word at work or school will get you booted to the gallows. This is the graveyard of liberalism, whose once noble ideals have turned spectral and vampiric.

Why Is American mass transit so bad?

Friday, December 14th, 2018

Why Is American mass transit so bad? It’s a long story:

One hundred years ago, the United States had a public transportation system that was the envy of the world. Today, outside a few major urban centers, it is barely on life support. Even in New York City, subway ridership is well below its 1946 peak. Annual per capita transit trips in the U.S. plummeted from 115.8 in 1950 to 36.1 in 1970, where they have roughly remained since, even as population has grown.

This has not happened in much of the rest of the world.

[...]

What happened? Over the past hundred years the clearest cause is this: Transit providers in the U.S. have continually cut basic local service in a vain effort to improve their finances. But they only succeeded in driving riders and revenue away. When the transit service that cities provide is not attractive, the demand from passengers that might “justify” its improvement will never materialize.

[...]

[The Age of Rail] was an era when transit could usually make money when combined with real-estate speculation on the newly accessible lands, at least in the short term. But then as now, it struggled to cover its costs over the long term, let alone turn a profit. By the 1920s, as the automobile became a fierce competitor, privately run transit struggled.

But public subsidy was politically challenging: There was a popular perception of transit as a business controlled by rapacious profiteers—as unpopular as cable companies and airlines are today. In 1920, the President’s Commission on Electric Railways described the entire industry as “virtually bankrupt,” thanks to rapid inflation in the World War I years and the nascent encroachment of the car.

The Depression crushed most transit companies, and the handful of major projects that moved forward in the 1930s were bankrolled by the New-Deal-era federal government: See the State and Milwaukee-Dearborn subways in Chicago, the South Broad Street subway in Philadelphia, and the Sixth Avenue subway in New York. But federal infrastructure investment would soon shift almost entirely to highways.

[...]

It is not a coincidence that, while almost every interurban and streetcar line in the U.S. failed, nearly every grade-separated subway or elevated system survived. Transit agencies continued to provide frequent service on these lines so they remained viable, and when trains did not have to share the road and stop at intersections, they could also be time competitive with the car. The subways and els of Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston are all still around, while the vast streetcar and interurban networks of Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Detroit, and many others are long gone. Only when transit didn’t need to share the road with the car, and frequent service continued, was it able to survive.

[...]

All of these [systems introduced in the 1970s] featured fast, partially automated trains running deep into the suburbs, often in the median of expressways. With their plush seating and futuristic design, they were designed to attract people who could afford to drive.

But these high-tech systems were a skeleton without a body, unable to provide access to most of the urban area without an effective connecting bus network. The bus lines that could have fed passengers to the stations had long atrophied, or they never existed at all. In many cases, the new rapid transit systems weren’t even operated by the same agency as the local buses, meaning double fares and little coordination. With no connecting bus services and few people within walking distance in low-density suburbs, the only way to get people to stations was to provide vast lots for parking. But even huge garages can’t fit enough people to fill a subway. Most people without cars were left little better off than they had been before the projects, and many people with cars chose to drive the whole way rather than parking at the station and getting on the train.

[...]

Service drives demand. When riders started to switch to the car in the early postwar years, American transit systems almost universally cut service to restore their financial viability. But this drove more people away, producing a vicious cycle until just about everybody who could drive, drove. In the fastest-growing areas, little or no transit was provided at all, because it was deemed to be not economically viable. Therefore, new suburbs had to be entirely auto-oriented.

A principle of periodic reduction of bureaucracy should be built into every social organism

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

The deep state is no myth, Camille Paglia says, “but a sodden, intertwined mass of bloated, self-replicating bureaucracy that constitutes the real power in Washington and that stubbornly outlasts every administration”:

As government programs have incrementally multiplied, so has their regulatory apparatus, with its intrusive byzantine minutiae. Recently tagged as a source of anti-Trump conspiracy among embedded Democrats, the deep state is probably equally populated by Republicans and apolitical functionaries of Bartleby the Scrivener blandness. Its spreading sclerotic mass is wasteful, redundant, and ultimately tyrannical.

I have been trying for decades to get my fellow Democrats to realize how unchecked bureaucracy, in government or academe, is inherently authoritarian and illiberal. A persistent characteristic of civilizations in decline throughout history has been their self-strangling by slow, swollen, and stupid bureaucracies. The current atrocity of crippling student debt in the US is a direct product of an unholy alliance between college administrations and federal bureaucrats — a scandal that ballooned over two decades with barely a word of protest from our putative academic leftists, lost in their post-structuralist fantasies. Political correctness was not created by administrators, but it is ever-expanding campus bureaucracies that have constructed and currently enforce the oppressively rule-ridden regime of college life.

In the modern world, so wondrously but perilously interconnected, a principle of periodic reduction of bureaucracy should be built into every social organism. Freedom cannot survive otherwise.

(Hat tip to Neovictorian.)

The fashion industry was crucial to the election of Donald Trump?

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

I find it fascinating that this is framed as “Cambridge Analytica weaponised the fashion industry“:

According to the data obtained (the majority of which came from US users), certain fans of American denim brands such as Wrangler, Hollister and Lee Jeans could be more closely linked to low levels of openness and mistrust — and therefore more likely to engage with pro-Trump messaging. This data also showed more esoteric fashion labels such as Kenzo or Alexander McQueen tended towards a more open and imaginative fanbase, which Wylie said leant more towards typical democratic voters.

Who could’ve guessed that a populist right-wing candidate would appeal to fans of Wrangler jeans?

Libya has gone full circle

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

Some compare militia-dominated Tripoli with Al Capone’s Chicago, but the comparison is false, because Al Capone didn’t have artillery:

Seven years after Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in the Arab spring revolution, Libya has gone full circle from dictatorship through revolution, democracy, chaos and back to a new kind of tyranny. Except this time there is not one dictator but dozens, in the form of the very militias who defeated him.

[...]

Driving through this city means navigating a political fog as you try to work out who among the rag-tag gunmen in assorted uniforms and battered pickup trucks are gangsters, and who constitute the official security forces of the United Nations-backed government. After a while you realise they are the same. One unit is freshly kitted out in smart blue uniforms of the interior ministry, but it remains a militia, as violent and threatening as before. Tensions are high after the body of one warlord was dumped by rivals outside a city hospital in the latest tit-for-tat killing.

[...]

Tripoli’s warlords are on the state payroll, through the simple expedient of gunmen threatening the bankers with kidnapping or worse. Similar pressure resulted in the government handing its all-important intelligence and surveillance portfolio to an Islamist militia. Even as militias fight each other in the capital, they also fight the army of the nationalist warlord Khalifa Haftar, a brooding presence far to the east.

Meanwhile, the citizens suffer: there are shortages of petrol, electricity, water and banknotes. Libya is rich, with £50bn of foreign reserves and booming oil production. But only a handful of banks — those controlled by militias — are permitted to dispense cash. Citizens form kilometre-long queues to collect it.

Bush was a prodigy of all-aroundness

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

Steve Sailer looks back at George H.W. Bush‘s life:

A massive but usually overlooked theme in George H.W. Bush’s career was his goal of reversing 1938 and opening Mexico up to American business interests (in return for which America took some of Mexico’s surplus population off its hands).

[...]

WWII: Bush joined in the Navy in 1942 upon graduating from prep school. When he finished his training and was commissioned in June 1943, he was the youngest aviator in the Navy at age 18. He flew 58 combat missions in the TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, which was much improved over the TBD Devastator torpedo bomber that was wiped out at Midway. Still, any torpedo bomber was a big, slow target, and Bush got shot down by anti-aircraft fire once. He parachuted into the Pacific and was rescued by a sub after 4 hours.

In general, Bush was a prodigy of all-aroundness: e.g., after the war he graduated from Yale in 2.5 years while being captain of the baseball team and making it to the College World Series final twice. Bush was married at 20 and a father at 22. Overall, Bush was a superior individual without being supreme in any one aspect, rather like previous GOP previous Gerald Ford, whose record as the longest lived President he recently exceeded. (Jimmy Carter will likely break Bush’s age record early next year.)

He was a Bonapartist two decades before Bonaparte

Thursday, November 29th, 2018

Alexander Hamilton was always the odd man out in American politics:

He was not born in any of the original thirteen colonies. He was born on the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis to a Scottish father and a half-British, half-French mother; he was born out-of-wedlock in an era that took illegitimate births very seriously. When his father found out that his mother had been married before and even had a child with another man, he abandoned the family. Hamilton’s mother died when he was thirteen years old, leaving him orphaned. The boy was sent to live with his uncle who committed suicide not long afterward. Nobody can claim that Hamilton was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Hamilton was adopted by a local Nevis merchant and seemed destined to live an unremarkable life in trading. Everything changed, however, when he wrote a letter to his adoptive father about a hurricane that had struck the island while his father was out at sea. A family friend, struck by the powerful language and clever expressiveness of the letter, decided to publish it in a journal. It was a distinctive honor for a young man who was mostly self-educated. In the end, the letter impressed influential people on Nevis enough for them to gather a small fund to send Hamilton to be educated in New York.

Perhaps the only thing more unusual than how Hamilton came to the thirteen colonies was the political philosophy that was shaped by his mostly self-taught mind. There was always something earthy and practical in his ideas. Although he wore the same white breeches and powdered wigs as his peers and mouthed all the same silly slogans about the rights of man, Hamilton was never truly a classical liberal. Hamilton was a man wholly out of place and time, a foreigner in his own tongue, a stranger in his own home, a man who had slipped through the gaps of one era and fallen into another. He was a Bonapartist two decades before Bonaparte. He was a Caesarist one thousand eight-hundred years after Caesar lay dead on the marble steps of the Curia Julia.

Hamilton understood something that few Americans of his era understood; in fact, he understood something that even fewer Americans of our era understand. The core of Hamilton’s philosophy is something that liberals of all stripes, classical and modern, try their best to ignore or deny: good government comes from good leaders. Government is, by necessity, an executive function.

The clash of any idealism with recalcitrant reality

Sunday, November 25th, 2018

Russian “populism” (narodnichestvo, from narod, the people) began in the 1870s, Gary Saul Morson explains:

The “narodniks” dominated Russian thought for two decades, and their successors, the Socialist Revolutionaries, became the country’s most influential political party until the Bolshevik coup. The importance of Russian populism lies less in its programs than in its ethos, a guilty idealism that can teach us a lot today — not only about populism itself but also about the clash of any idealism with recalcitrant reality.

Russia’s greatest writers, painters, and composers all reflected on, if they did not participate in, what one historian called “the agony of populist art.” “Agony” is the right word to describe a movement whose greatest artists drank themselves to death, committed suicide, or went insane. Russians’ natural extremism makes the problems inherent in all idealistic movements especially visible.

Jolting from one panacea for evil to another, Russian intellectuals at last arrived at worship of “the people,” a term usually meaning the peasants, who constituted the overwhelming majority of the population. Today, the word “populist” is often used as a term of abuse disparaging boorish, mindless followers of a demagogue, but “narodnik,” though originally pejorative, was soon adopted by the populists themselves to indicate their reverence for the Russian people’s innate wisdom. To argue for a policy it was common not to demonstrate its effectiveness but to show that it was supported by “the people,” as if the people could not be wrong. In Anna Karenina, everyone is shocked when Levin, Tolstoy’s hero, rejects this whole way of thinking. “That word ‘people,’” he says, “is so vague.”

[...]

Likharev [from Chekhov's "On the Road"] worked as a “barge hauler” because that horrible occupation became the populist symbol of the people’s suffering. The most famous painting of the 19th century, Ilya Repin’s heartrending Barge Haulers on the Volga (1870-73), depicts a group of men harnessed together to haul riverboats.

Ilya Repin Barge Haulers on the Volga (1870-73)

In a widely read article on contemporary Russian painting, “Apropos of the Exhibition,” Dostoyevsky explains that he anticipated a depiction of barge haulers wearing ideological “uniforms” with “the usual labels stuck to their foreheads,” but to his delight found nothing of the kind. To be sure, he opined, rags like the ones these workers wear would immediately fall off, and one of the shirts “must have accidentally fallen into a bowl where meat was being chopped for cutlets.” But the people are real. Two are almost laughing, a little soldier is concealing his attempt to fill his pipe, and none is thinking about oppression. You love these defenseless creatures, Dostoyevsky explains, and can’t help thinking that you are indeed indebted to “the people.”

Populism fed on guilt, and everything about Likharev, down to his very gestures, expressed a consciousness of guilt about something. The populist ideologists insisted that all high culture depends on wealth stolen from the common people and is therefore tainted by a sort of original sin. As Russia’s greatest autobiographer Alexander Herzen lamented, “All our education, our literary and scientific development, our love of beauty, our occupations, presuppose an environment constantly swept and tended by others… somebody’s labor is essential in order to provide us with the leisure necessary for our mental development.” Shame and guilt over unearned privilege shaped a generation of the “repentant nobleman.” Pyotr Lavrov’s Historical Letters (1868-69), the populist bible, put it this way: “Mankind has paid dearly so that a few thinkers sitting in their studies could discuss its progress.”

Perhaps high culture should be abolished altogether? This urgent question came to be called “the justification of culture,” with many writers contending that justification was impossible. Since the symbol of Russian culture was Pushkin, critics, most notably the nihilist Dmitri Pisarev, insisted that any pair of boots is worth more than all of Pushkin’s verse.

[...]

The populist argument about “the justification of culture” became part of what philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev called “the Russian Idea” and, so far as I know, marks Russian culture as unique. (To be sure, it is common today to convict the Western tradition as the product of imperialism and dead white males, but that is still different from rejecting high culture per se.)

[...]

The populists’ efforts to “go to the people” failed utterly. Far from embracing their revolutionary ideology, the peasants turned their worshipers in to the police. In despair, many populists—but not Garshin or Uspensky—established the Russian terrorist movement. If Russian history demonstrates anything, it is that nothing causes more evil than the attempt to abolish it altogether. The scarlet flower blooms in the Gulag.

To this day the idea persists that the Russian people, especially the simple rural ones, somehow carry the moral solution to all the world’s ills. Under what Dostoyevsky called their “alluvial barbarism” lies the purest spirituality. For Russians, faith in the people’s virtue is equaled only by another belief: in the moral glory of Russian literature. That belief is warranted.

Terrorist success depends on support from polite liberal society

Saturday, November 24th, 2018

Gary Saul Morson concludes his history of Russian terrorism with these words:

Dostoyevsky’s Possessed had suggested that terrorist success depends on support from polite liberal society, and that proved accurate. The division of people into friends and enemies, the celebration of righteous anger, and the romanticization of violence eventually led to a state based on sheer terror. In the name of the many, the radical intelligentsia and their liberal defenders made possible the rule of the chosen few.

The terrorist state emerged directly from the terrorist movement

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

After 1917, Socialists-Revolutionaries and anarchists denounced the Bolsheviks as betrayers of the cause, Gary Saul Morson notes, but all the Bolsheviks did was direct the same tactics against them that they had directed against others:

The terrorist state emerged directly from the terrorist movement and did so without a break. The Bolsheviks employed terror — including random killing, taking hostages, and seizing property by force — as soon as they took power. Lenin set up the Cheka, his secret police force, in December 1917, before the Bolsheviks faced any serious armed resistance. That same month Trotsky declaimed: “There is nothing immoral in the proletariat finishing off the dying class…. Be put on notice that in one month at most this terror will assume more frightful forms.” Concentration camps were set up in 1918. We “must execute not only the guilty,” Nikolai Krylenko, a top Bolshevik, demanded. “Execution of the innocent will impress the masses even more.” Even in relatively peaceful 1922, Lenin wrote that in any new criminal code “jurisprudence must not eliminate terror…. It must vindicate and legalize it.’”

At first the goal is social justice

Thursday, November 22nd, 2018

The history of Russian terrorism reads like fiction — for a reason:

Boris Savinkov’s life not only reads like fiction but, as historian Lynn Ellen Patyk has argued, was consciously lived according to fictional models. As director of the SR Combat Organization, Savinkov organized several important assassinations. His career also included a prison escape, a later attempt to set up a new combat organization, service in the French Army during World War I, a cabinet post in Alexander Kerensky’s Provisional Government, and the founding of a terrorist organization directed against the Bolsheviks. Pretending to be a group of his followers, Bolshevik officials lured him from abroad, arrested him, and condemned him to death, after which he offered to join them. He begged the head of the secret police, Feliks Dzherzhinsky, to be employed in more terror, but soon after, in 1925, either committed suicide or, more likely, was defenestrated. Much later, Stalin, demanding that one of his henchmen employ more torture during interrogations, supposedly exclaimed: “Do you want to be more humanistic than Lenin, who ordered Dzherzhinsky to throw Savinkov out a window?”

The hero of Savinkov’s novel What Never Happened at last realizes that “he had fallen in love, yes, yes, fallen in love with terror.” Savinkov’s own memoirs describe one figure after another who shared this passion. His friend Kaliayev, a terrorist almost as famous as Savinkov himself, “dreamed of future terror… he said to me… ‘A Socialist-Revolutionary without a bomb is no longer a Socialist-Revolutionary.’” Savinkov describes Christians who worship terror and a “convinced disciple of Kant… [who] nevertheless regarded terror with almost religious reverence.” Russian philosophers are a breed of their own.

Savinkov’s career exhibits a dynamic found in most, if not all, revolutionary movements. At first the goal is social justice, which must be achieved by revolution. Soon the goal becomes revolution itself, which in turn requires terror. Finally, terror itself becomes the goal. Whenever sufficient justification for a position is that it is more radical, and whenever compromise suggests cowardice or collusion, the drift toward greater horror becomes irresistible.

Westerners won’t sympathize if you talk to them the way we talk among ourselves

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

The Russian revolutionaries had no more effective advocate abroad than the charismatic Stepniak, Gary Saul Morson explains:

Stepniak made his literary reputation with Underground Russia (1882), written in Italian but soon translated into English, Swedish, German, French, Dutch, and Hungarian. The best commentator on Stepniak, Peter Scotto, stresses the significance of a letter Stepniak wrote to some Russian comrades to explain why the book was less than candid. Underground Russia was designed, Stepniak explained in the letter, to convince polite Europeans that Russian radicals shared their liberal ideals — a bald-faced lie — even if they were compelled to resort, highly reluctantly, to violence. Westerners won’t sympathize if you talk to them the way we talk among ourselves, he cautioned, and so you must omit mentioning our program and illuminate the movement “in a way that makes it clear that the aspirations of Russian socialists are identical — temporarily, to be sure — with those of the radicals of European revolutions.” By “temporarily” Stepniak means that the radicals demand civil liberties only so long as they make terrorism easier. “Propaganda in Russian for Russian youth should, of course, have a completely different character.”