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2020: A Mixed Bag for Classical Liberalism

While 2020 has been a dreadful year because of Covid-19, its results for classical liberalism have been more varied. The appointment of Amy Coney Barrett has made the Court more originalist and thus more classically liberal than it has been for over a century. The results of the 2020 election were mixed. The candidate decidedly hostile to classical liberalism won, but his party fared far worse than expected when the recession and pandemic might have predicted a blowout in its favor. Nevertheless, the culture has become even less hospitable to classical liberalism with wokeness infecting not only our universities but our corporations. Because elective politics and the judiciary are ultimately transformed by culture, these cultural shifts create a negative balance sheet for classical liberalism as a new decade begins.

The Court

For decades, appointments to the Supreme Court have promised to change it from a dynamo of progressivism to a court that adheres to the Constitution as written. And for decades those promises have gone unfulfilled. The Burger Court was famously the revolution that wasn’t. Most of President Nixon’s appointees voted to create a right to abortion out of whole cloth. Sandra Day O’Connor proved more a politician than a jurist, splitting the difference rather than reading the text. Anthony Kennedy spouted aphorisms worthy of fortune cookies rather than locating his reasoning in the original meaning of our fundamental law. Chief Justice John Roberts seems very focused on maintaining the Court’s institutional capital even at the expense of sound reasoning. A fundamental reason for all these failures is that many appointees by Republicans have drifted leftward during their tenure, while no recent appointee of a Democrat has moved to the Right.

But the long period of failure to fundamentally change the Court has ended with Barrett’s confirmation. Chief Justice Roberts is no longer the swing justice. Originalists are a plurality, if not a majority, on the Court and as the justices themselves realize, originalism will be the framework for constitutional decision-making.

Originalism advances classical liberalism because the Constitution is largely a product of applied and practical classical liberalism. Its rights are negative liberties against the state, not positive claims to the state’s assistance. It creates a structure of tricameralism, requiring passage of a law by two houses, whose members are elected for different terms and mostly at different times, and the signature of the President or a two-thirds supermajority to overcome his veto. Action by the federal government is thus purposely difficult to achieve. To be sure, the Court’s permissive delegation doctrine has allowed administrative agencies to rule by fiat without compromise on specific rules, but that doctrine is likely to be modified by the new Court.

The difficulty of forging federal law, in turn, makes states more pivotal in politics and creates the beginning of subsidiarity. That structure is also classically liberal in nature, as states (and cities within them) must compete in a market for governance.

The Constitution does not directly instantiate a set of classical liberal policies, like free market economics, but it creates a structure of limited government where such policies have a better chance of being sustained. 2020 thus marks the return to a real possibility of a Constitution friendly to classical liberalism—a great achievement due in no small measure to Donald Trump.

Elections

The more classically liberal candidate lost the election for President. Trump’s appointments to both the Supreme Court and lower courts would have continued to advance originalism and a classically liberal framework of governance. Biden’s will do the opposite. Biden wants to grow the state enormously. Trump, while no sound steward of fiscal affairs, is not so profligate. Trump is, on the whole, a deregulator, Biden a regulator. In particular, Biden will increase government involvement in health care to the detriment of innovation and efficient pricing and pave the way for single-payer. Even without Congress, he promises to interfere with the labor market. Classical liberals were rightly worried about some of Trump’s trade policies. But Biden has already announced a moratorium on pacts that would create freer trade.

The Left’s attack on merit is ultimately an attack on liberty because only a hierarchy enforced by law can prevent a meritocracy from developing in a modern society.

To be sure, there were reasons for a classical liberal to vote against the President, but they largely revolved around his failure to suitably fill the office of head of state, thereby degrading the essential symbolic and unifying function of the presidency.

While from the classical liberal perspective Trump was clearly the better, if far from perfect, candidate on policy, his defects as head of state often brought these policies into disrepute. Thus, his loss is not quite as much a blow to classical liberalism as it would otherwise be. And the rest of the election was far from a disaster. The more classically liberal party gained substantial seats in the House and may well retain the Senate—this despite a pandemic and recession that typically favors a party of big government.

Moreover, the results of the most important referenda—the most direct expression of the people’s will—leaned in the classical liberal direction. Most importantly, the voters in California—a state that regularly elects leftists to office—voted decisively to retain its prohibition on race and gender preferences in government jobs and state university admissions. In my own state of Illinois, the electorate rejected a progressive income tax, so disgusted was it with its bloated and corrupt government—a problem it shares with many other jurisdictions run on principles opposed to classical liberalism.

Culture

Despite the great improvement in the judicial branch of government and tolerable results in the election, classical liberalism remains in peril because of an ongoing cultural revolution. Classical liberalism was propelled by the culture of the enlightenment—its valorization of the individual, its celebration of merit, and its adherence to an empirical view of the world. All these tenets of enlightenment thinking are under threat today, and classical liberalism cannot survive as a philosophy of governance unless they remain dominant.

First, identity politics is intensifying its grip on the United States. Universities, including my own, declare themselves “antiracist” institutions, while making race and gender the preferred prism of all thought outside the hard sciences. Some of our corporate culture now resembles the elite universities. That is not surprising because these universities are the pipeline to the high ranks of corporations. And unfortunately, some aspects of Trumpism have themselves taken on an aspect of identity politics, wrongly viewing the United States more as an ethnic polity like France or Germany than one dedicated to ideals consonant with classical liberalism.

Individualism is closely related to the creation of a meritocracy embodying the enlightenment idea that the individual rises according to his or her talents. An open society determines what talents are most needed. Today, however, the meritocracy is under sustained critique. The attack on merit is ultimately an attack on liberty because only a hierarchy enforced by law can prevent a meritocracy from developing in a modern society. We are seeing the first proposals that reflect this assault from efforts at allocating slots in selective public schools according to race to abolishing private schools.

Finally, a deeply antiempirical spirit stalks the land. This development is, in part, related to identity politics because that politics assumes, against all evidence, that all disparate results among different groups are the results of disparate treatment (although sophisticated analysts, like Thomas Sowell, have shown that the causes are in fact very complex). But that antiempirical turn transcends identity politics and has its roots in the need for many to live by some secular myth that will explain the entire world. The continuing inability of some supporters of Donald Trump to accept the reality of his defeat may also reflect the need to live in a world of fantasy. Social myths fit uneasily with complicated facts, which thus must be suppressed.

The future of culture is unpredictable. Moral relativism, for instance, was on the rise until 9/11 seemed to make it untenable. But the key features that have been undermining the enlightenment culture on which classical liberalism rests have been gaining strength for a long time. The political correctness on which the more virulent identity politics of our time builds began in the 1980s. The decline of mainstream religion has been ongoing for a century. It is these underlying trends that make me most concerned about the future of classical liberalism, even as it now has gained a redoubt in our judiciary and retained a perch in our politics.

Reader Discussion

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on December 31, 2020 at 07:39:51 am

All your criticisms of Trump are identity politics. He isn't from your tribe of losers so he's not presidential. There is a vast pile of evidence that the election was STOLEN and you accuse Trump supporters of being anti-empirical. You cry about the loss of meritocracy but laude the theft of an election from the most meritocratic candidate in history.

Classical liberalism is dead because your tribe of losers keep killing it. You didn't like Reagan when he was in office and you sure don't like Trump.

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TB
on December 31, 2020 at 08:45:12 am

What an intellectual mess McGinnis has made of his aspiration to provide a reliable summary of America politics at the close of 2020.

Per usual, he gets his conclusions about half-right, and the half he gets right is not worth suffering the half he gets wrong, while the half he gets wrong, also per usual, would concede far too much to the Left, badly undermine conservatism, and prove of far greater value to the Left, which he meekly claims to oppose, than to classical liberalism, which Professor McGinnis boldly claims to endorse.

American politics after Trump, as far as the eye can see, is about the power of conservatism, not "classical liberalism," to protect liberty, restore the lost constitution, promote the common good, re-empower politically-exploited Americans, and defend the USA against the imminent existential threat posed by the revolutionary Democrat Party and its ally, the Chinese Communist Party. McGinnis' classical liberalism, as it was once embodied by and reflected in the Republican Party, has little political power today and, except as a spoiler, is of little value in that fight. Insofar as, arguably, they once stood for the constitutional and natural rights of the individual and for free markets and fair trade, classical liberals (Establishment Republicans) jettisoned their political and moral credibility in the period 1968-2016 (with a brief, failed attempt at restoration from 1980-88) and lost their political power in 2016, so that today classical liberals like Professor McGinnis wander in the political wilderness looking for a political party, while spouting platitudinous verse from an 18th century book of mythology.

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paladin
on December 31, 2020 at 09:03:34 am

“But the long period of failure to fundamentally change the Court has ended with Barrett’s confirmation.”

Maybe, but then again, as long as those who desire to render onto Caesar or themselves, what belongs to God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, continue to conspire to deny The Author Of Love, Of Life, And Of Marriage, and thus The Author Of Our Unalienable Right to Life, to Liberty, and to The Pursuit Of Happiness, “The Center Cannot Hold”.

There is no such thing as a conspiracy in Truth, one can only conspire against The Truth.
Salvational History has revealed that “When God Is denied, human Dignity disappears”, and when human Dignity disappears...

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N.D.
on December 31, 2020 at 09:41:30 am

Who can deny, that as The Veil is being lifted, a Great Apostasy is being exposed, for to deny the inherent essence of authentic Love, Life, And Marriage, is to be, in essence, anti Christ.

“Penance, Penance, Penance.”

May Our Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Heart Be Triumphant soon!
“Hail The Cross, Our Only Hope.”

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N.D.
on December 31, 2020 at 11:18:40 am

I share classical liberal principles with Prof. McGinnis. But what a crazy analysis he provides.

“To be sure, there were reasons for a classical liberal to vote against the President, but they largely revolved around his failure to suitably fill the office of head of state, thereby degrading the essential symbolic and unifying function of the presidency.”

Never mind the obvious fact that “Trump is unpresidential” was a construction of the MSM that repeatedly misquoted and lied about Trump, President Trump has repeatedly and explicitly opposed socialism and supported free enterprise. McGinnis and others must be willfully blind to not notice that the Democrats are now embracing the idea of abolishing capitalism and replacing it with socialism.

As for the election, willful blindness is again needed to not see that it was stolen. The statistical anomalies are red flags; the well-documented systematic exclusion of Republican observers from counting are confirmation.

Prof. McGinnis seems even to be skeptical of national sovereignty:

“...some aspects of Trumpism have themselves taken on an aspect of identity politics, wrongly viewing the United States more as an ethnic polity...”

That’s another lie fabricated by the MSM. Trump repeatedly emphasized *principles* that make America different.

What a poor “classical liberal” review of 2020. In 2020 we’ve watched officials impose arbitrary and draconian lockdowns and masking mandates, entirely disrupting normal life. We’ve watched marxist insurrectionists burn cities largely unopposed. We’ve suffered systematic suppression of news, ideas, and viewpoints by MSM and social media tyrants, and mass adoption of hateful woke ideology by the intelligentsia. We’ve watched socialists cheat in the presidential election, apparently successfully. This has been a catastrophic year for classical liberalism (or conservatism, if Paladin insists). What is McGinnis thinking?

Americans will have liberty in the future only if the common people refuse to submit and are effective in their resistance. Our leaders - political, intellectual, spiritual - have utterly failed us.

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Charles N. Steele
on December 31, 2020 at 17:53:43 pm

Why not have an audit, not to see if the votes were counted accurately, but rather to see if the votes that were counted were authentic.

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N.D.
on December 31, 2020 at 11:34:54 am

One further point to both McGinnis and Paladin: neither of you seem to realize that classical liberalism is fundamentally about protecting the natural rights of the individual, and that this is the only basis on which humans can sustain an advanced, prosperous society. Anything else descends into a zero-sum dog-eat-dog world.

Yet McGinnis accuses Trump of “degrading the essential symbolic and unifying function of the presidency.” That is, he was not an effective Fuhrer. What a bizarre “classical liberal” complaint!

And Paladin dismisses classical liberalism as “an 18th century book of mythology.” This “mythology” is the only basis for America’s constitution; I don’t know whatever other sort of American conservatism Paladin is imagining. But any other isn’t worth conserving.

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Charles N. Steele
on December 31, 2020 at 12:53:10 pm

Steele, we probably do not disagree!

I do want to restore and then, at long last, preserve the lost constitution. My contention is that soi disant "classical liberals" for most of the last half-century and for reasons of political accommodation, election expediency, and economic greed, failed to do that and, in that failure, not only abandoned but worked actively to distort the original constitution and the country's founding economic principles. What McGinnis calls classical liberalism does not exist in American politics; it is not espoused by American politicians, certainly not by American statesmen (if you can find any outside of Trump, Pompeo and a handful of Senators and Congressmen, none of whom ever mentions classical liberalism.) Those politicians who once might have called themselves classical liberals abandoned our founding political and economic principles, so that classical liberalism, if it is viable at all, is now merely a homeless political faction whose advocates, like McGinnis, George W. Bush, the ghost of John McCain, the Koch brothers, the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the Brookings Institution, and the American Enterprise Institute, et al. spout the political and economic principles of the founding disingenuously, as if they were mere fiction, the tenets of a mythology.

Conservatism, having demonstrated its political currency and its principled consistency, has now replaced classical liberalism, both in political principle and in political fact. You may continue, anachronistically, to call it "classical liberalism" (if you insist,) and we may (possibly) disagree on matters of trade (which I insist must be honest, fair and non-mercantile before it can be "free",) but I think we are both defenders and advocates of essentially the same principles and politics.

McGinnis stands, ostensibly, for some portion of what we espouse but is, consistently, a limp-wristed defender of that and a sporadically-confused critic of principles, politicians and policies which spring from and have strongly redounded to the benefit of the classic liberal tenets which he professes to espouse.

We certainly agree that McGinnis made a mess of his rear view mirror reportage on 2020.

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paladin
on January 01, 2021 at 08:41:58 am

Yes, we largely agree then. I think it’s a mistake to consider McCain, any Bush, or Brookings to be classical liberal - they are simply patrician progressives - but contemporary libertarians (Kochs, Cato, Reason, AEI, etc.) have abandoned commitment to philosophical principles. They focus almost exclusively on policy and trying to be “relevant;” they pander to progressives and the left, trying to sell “libertarian” solutions. They are swamp wannabes, hence the de rigueur denunciations of Trump. They are of no use to normal Americans under assault by progressives and the radical left, and of no interest to the progressives to whom they try to appeal. Disappointing to see McGinnis doing this, but it explains why his 2020 retrospective is so confused.

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Charles N. Steele
on December 31, 2020 at 13:38:49 pm

I suspect that McGinnis would defend to the death his self-description as a bona fide classic liberal. Thus, it is ironic that his thin, contradictory and inconsistent political analysis of 2020 actually supports my point that contemporary classical liberals have (long ago) abandoned their 18th century principles and exist, now, as disembodied political souls mouthing theory they no longer believe.

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paladin
on December 31, 2020 at 21:14:42 pm

I have no idea what 18th century book Palladin refers to; maybe it’s author is Adam Smith; or additionally Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and more. Common good, consent of the governed, and liberty are not U.S. principles. (We saw in 2020 license to let fellow-citizens’ blood for egocentric liberty.)

However, the “the only basis for America’s constitution” is the hard-earned humble-integrity expressed by the founders in the 1776 Declaration of Independence from England. They attributed spiritual authority to “Nature’s God”, accepted military authority “to the Supreme Judge of the world”, relied on “the good People” to take responsibility for killing fellow-royal-subjects in red coats, and later negotiated military providence from France. Their declaration conformed to Genesis 1:26-28’s the-God of necessity charging humankind to constrain chaos on earth. The founders, by not lessening the English Trinity, then Protestant, separated church from state.

Nothing in the framers’ 1787 U.S. Constitution’s domestic order lessened the humble-integrity the founders established through physical independence from the oppressor. And the non-dissident-framers who signed the Constitution codified the psychological independence in the 5-day old preamble. It proffered a people’s proposition for public-discipline “in order to” establish responsible-human-independence “to ourselves and our Posterity.”

Alas, Congress usurped Genesis 1, the 1774 Declaration, the 1787 Constitution, and the entity We the People of the United States when they created a Congress-religion partnership in the 1791 Bill of Rights. We, the 2021 ourselves and our posterity must reform the U.S. to the 1787-proffered humble-integrity: in the year 2021.

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PHILLIP BEAVER
on December 31, 2020 at 14:09:13 pm

What utter tripe!

Unpresidential, you say!
How about Truman or clinton and the "Blue Dress"?
How presidential is it to hide in a basement for 6 months?
How presidential is it to accept "amenities" from a host of foreign governments.
Trump may not be the most erudite politician (basically because he is NOT a "politician") but just imagine how well "Sleepy Joe" will do at the podium.

Trump encouraging identity politics via support for America's status as a distinct state / nation?
Provide us with some evidence.

And as for "enlightenment" principles, need I remind the learned Law Professor that the "individualization" of society began long before the so-called enlightenment and it was the product of Christianity and its reference, indeed PREFERENCE for the individual soul and conscience inherent in all human beings.
Stick to law, not history!
And again we observe the almost de rigeur slander against Trump by a member of the academy, indeed by a self described classical liberal, who is apparently unable to detect in the object of his calumny those very same classical liberal beliefs and practices that he assures us he himself avows.
This is an example of the "passively woke" I have previously mentioned. Out of fear of cancellation by the rest of the faculty lounge or the deranged and delusional self important "scholars" matriculating towards madness at university, our esteemed classical liberal displays none of the courage of classical liberals in defense of their very principles. Instead they, too, adopt and deploy ad hominem arguments against The Trumpster. How shallow are the critiques?
How shallow must be the commitment to 'classical liberalism" when it is so readily susceptible to the voice of the mob?
One wonders how the classical liberal would have critiqued Abraham Lincoln because (it is reported) that he had a "squeaky voice."

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gabe
on December 31, 2020 at 14:27:52 pm

One begins to suspect that Professor McGinnis would be willing to be locked in a despotic house as long as it had "classical liberal" drapes.

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z9z99
on December 31, 2020 at 14:22:23 pm

Than God that Lincoln lacked the "sensibilities", the disposition of our passively woke academy and 21st century literati.
Let me suggest that the American people, unlike the intelligentsia, CHOSE Trump for the same reason that Lincoln chose US Grant.
When asked why he retained the cigar smoking, whiskey drinking US Grant, Lincoln replied, "HE FIGHTS."
Apparently, no one in academia is able to grasp this simple concept / appeal.
The Trumpster FIGHTS. And the fight was for American principles and the welfare of American citizens.
Who in the academy fights? Who is as resolute as was Grant? or Trump?

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gabe
on January 01, 2021 at 10:47:49 am

I've reflected on them all, commented on many, and, in appreciation of dissent's importance to classical liberalism, I hereby nominate Professor McGinnis' "2020: A Mixed Bag for Classical Liberalism" as the "Worst Article of the Year." Those who read my nomination may express your gratitude for having survived 2020 despite liberalism, liberals and the China Virus by agreeing with me.

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paladin
on January 01, 2021 at 12:31:32 pm
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Larry
on January 01, 2021 at 12:41:34 pm

I think that one issue with Professor McGinnis's essay is that the title suggests more ambition than is contained in the subsequent text. A more instructive title might have been "2020: A Mixed Bag for Classical Liberalism as Seen From a Safe Space." The essay reads like a book report prepared by a student who only read the dust jacket, or a pulp fiction author who throws together a penny-a-word novella just before the rent is due. In short, it would seem that Professor McGinnis's observations aren't especially insightful because they don't tell us anything we don't already know, and seem to be written as much for the author's personal interests as for the benefit of the reader.

It appears that Professor Steele's objection is that what Professor McGinnis is assessing is not really Classical Liberalism, but rather some contemporary knock-off that has merely borrowed the name. I fully respect Professor McGinnis's right to choose the topic and extent of his writings, and do not intend the following as a complaint that he did not address the topics mentioned. He is of course under no obligation to satisfy the personal preferences of the few people who comment here. However, the state of "Classical liberalism" could stand a comment or two as to how it was impaired in 2020 by:

1. An occasional want of courage in those who profess to value it, who merely sit on their hands or shake their head timidly when the outrage mobs come for its true defenders;

2. Refusal to embrace defenders of Classical Liberal principles because they aren't "our kind of people," allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good, and confusing form with substance;

3. Pretending that the above mentioned timidity and loss of nerve in defense of something worthwhile is really an act of noble principle, to be applauded and admired while the something worthwhile burns.

Perhaps 2020 was a mixed year for Classical Liberalism because it was a subpar year for the character traits that are necessary to classical liberalism.

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z9z99
on January 01, 2021 at 20:18:45 pm

No,Z9, that’s not my objection at all. My objection is that 2020 was a catastrophic year for liberty and classical liberalism, so Prof. McGinnis’ review makes no sense.

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Charles N. Steele
on January 01, 2021 at 11:49:17 am

Several comments to the grab bag of posits. First, the slide by supposed classic liberal justices to progressivism is the result of the institutions of law education teaching a progressivism to their "skulls full of mush". Second, Trump did nothing more than demonstrate that classic liberalism can easily "progress" a society by providing opportunity for individuals to flourish. Third, progressivism has been predominate in government since world war 2 and has all but destroyed true liberalism. The administrative state has fulfilled the question that Woodrow Wilson once asked " what about duty to society ( that is the collective)?"

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Jeff
on January 01, 2021 at 13:25:02 pm

Paladin, Z9 and others make quite valid critiques of McGinnis' essay as well as commenting on some apparent traits that may be open to question.

However, in the Spirit of the New Year and in Hopes that the New Year may bring some "adjustments" in those traits, let me offer this in support of McGinnis.

"I am shocked, shocked, I tell you" that McGinnis continues to "gamble" here. With all the scorn directed his way by we little band of agitators, one would think that McGinnis would retreat back into the warm embrace of the library / faculty lounge.
Not so!
He continues and not without a certain measure of fortitude. For this, I think we owe him a certain measure of respect, if not admiration.
Who else would put up with the abuse?
Kudos to you, Prof. McGinnis. Keep writing and we will keep critiquing - after all, what else is there to do during the second year of the plague.

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gabe
on January 01, 2021 at 23:20:40 pm

Gabe,

I trust that Professor McGinnis and the other scholars who post here do not take the comments personally. Like you, I appreciate their efforts. I too wish Professors McGinnis, Rogers and Rappaport, Theodore Dalrymple, Mark Pulliam, et al. a Happy New Year.

I will maintain however that we pay a compliment to the operators of this site, when we take them at their word; that the site is for discussion of "the classical liberal tradition of law and political thought and how it shapes a society of free and responsible persons." The essays and other works posted here are valuable contributions to this effort, however many of the opinions published here are far from disputable. Occasionally a thoughtful piece is tainted, if not vitiated, by curious omissions, disastrous and unnecessary concessions, and condescending and gratuitous gibes. These should not go unchallenged, particularly when they may have implications for the understanding and practice of ordered liberty.

Some of the pieces published here require no small measure of forbearance regarding theoretical or hyper-academic points; the essays that present arcane theses along the lines of "Arnie Bumpschnert's 1961 masterpiece 'American Plumbing Fixtures In the Inter-War Years' created a revolution in neo-liberal thought." I can patiently accommodate the idea that some flavor or other of "originalism" will clear the way for a new golden age of liberty, and acknowledge the validity of some arcane, and perhaps trivial, observation regarding theoretical politics and such. But we, or at least I also look for an occasional full-throated defense of free speech, without hedging or equivocating. I hope to see a argument, or even a debate, as to whether Critical Race Theory is anything more than an ahistorical, pseudo-academic clap-trap. I hope to find critiques of technocracy, self-censorship on campus, and the thoroughly corrupt and repugnant idea of identity politics. When instead these items, and others like them, find incidental accommodation in the pieces published here, I feel invited to comment.

Back in 2018, I had a discussion here with Kevin Hardwick, in which I suggested that there are three reasons to offer arguments on a site such as this:

1. To develop and better understand one's own position, i.e. arguments of exploration;

2. To convince others of the correctness of one's argument, i.e. arguments of persuasion; and

3. To blindly attack contrary arguments when persuasion fails, i.e. arguments of conquest.

I have no problem with writers posting any of the three types of arguments, and do not consider that any particular view or belief originates from a malign motive. But I am also reluctant to give anyone the benefit of the doubt when I perceive a given argument to create a peril to what I think of as liberty.

Anyway, Happy New Year everyone.

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z9z99
on January 01, 2021 at 15:33:43 pm

Well, Hell! I'll kick the dead horse.
One thing wrong with "The Worst Article of 2020" is its erroneous conclusion that 2020's results were "mixed." In fact, 2020's results were terrible. Professor McGinnis gets his "mixed" results by giving classical liberalism credit for a victory of conservatism, "the great improvement in the judicial branch of government," and by wrongly claiming "tolerable results in the election," whereas the election results were, in fact, intolerable if one considers that the constitution's legal and electoral systems failed, awarding millions of unlawful votes and tens of millions of lawful votes to the worst presidential candidate in American history, while awarding control of the House and potentially awarding control of the Senate to the Revolutionary Democrat Party.

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paladin
on January 01, 2021 at 20:45:27 pm

Paladin, the results of 2020 *were* mixed: a mix of bad, terrible, and absolutely dreadful. There have been good things - new relations between Israel and Arab states, a weakening of the Iranian regime, etc. but these seem dependent on having Trump in office.

I’ve probably been too kind to Prof. McGinnis. His ridiculous “a deeply antiempirical spirit stalks the land” cites a fact-free NYT rant by Ross Douthat to dismiss those of us who actually look at the myriad of statistical anomalies, the well-documented systematic barring of Republican count-watchers from key locations, etc. is deeply antiempirical, as well as shameful. And the real tragedy is that if this theft stands, the political system will be permanently closed to anyone hoping to promote liberty.

After careful thought, I join you in voting this the worst article of the year.

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Charles N. Steele
on January 01, 2021 at 22:10:36 pm

Well, thanks to you and Larry. Two votes is two more than I expected. I'd rather be right than president.

Haha the melodrama of “a deeply antiempirical spirit stalks the land.”
Sounds like The Shadow's "Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of man." but not as imaginative.

As far as empiricism and the 2020 election, I point McGinnis to the wisdom of the Beatles in Yellow Submarine: "Be empirical. Look!"

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paladin
on January 04, 2021 at 18:12:02 pm

Elections in the eyes of the loser appear always to be stolen by the winner, even when the loser fails to convince even judges appointed by him.

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Curious
on January 02, 2021 at 10:36:14 am

I will offer no comment in the form of a well-wishing sur-reply of good will. To do so strikes me as tantamount to unwarranted quasi-apology creating the disagreeable appearance of defensiveness and regret for having appropriately rendered deservedly sharp criticism of a poorly conceived, badly executed (unfortunately, not "executed" by an editor in the form of prior restraint) article by a contributor whose not-infrequent commissions of those offenses might be ignored were they not so predictably aggravated by his baseless pot shots at an outstanding president who is justifiably admired by at least 74 million Americans, including many readers of this blog site, and who, after having been brought to his knees by four years of open contempt, scurrilous abuse and criminal brutalization from his morally untethered enemies, ought not endure disguised abuse and polite derision from professed friends of his special achievements.

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paladin
on January 02, 2021 at 10:37:02 am

THE article is deeply flawed. The foundation to its premises are ambiguously misleading since the author fails to clearly define his terms.
Classical Liberalism historically was the political dissent against absolute power and especially monarchy. I takes a divergent turn when applied to commerce and economics as a source of liberty and freedom. Neoclassical "free market" ideology is a variant that subdivides further into liberal and libertarian positions. all the same can be said about the fallacies of "originalism". The one thing that was common among the founders was their radical rejection of monarchy itself. To claim that contemporary conservatives preserving their own version of status quo is "originalism" is tantamount to class snobbery. Classic Snobbery, I might add.

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BRUCE E. WOYCH
on January 02, 2021 at 13:25:28 pm

Z9 & Paladin:
Had a boyhood friend, George Lukeides (sp?). a not very bright fellow, but well meaning. He ALWAYS bore the brunt of our jokes. Yet, he ALWAYS came back. We all liked him not least of all for always coming back and continuing to take the "hits" (not literal).
We all respected him for that while continuing to shred his "idiotic" statements.
Is McGinnis' middle name George.
And I am a sentimentalist.

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gabe
on January 02, 2021 at 13:57:03 pm

And just so there is no mistaking my position on "passively woke" types, here is some commentary from Theodore Dalrymple (from "Waaaaay back")
Hat Tip to Powerline Blog:

"How to read a society

The original source of this quote from Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels) appears to date to a 2005 Frontpage article or interview that is no longer accessible online:

Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

Looking around for the source of the quote, I came upon Dalrymple’s 2000 City Journal essay “How to read a society.” The essay is collected in Dalrymple’s Our Culture, What’s Left of It, published by Ivan Dee in 2005 and still in print. The essay takes an extended look at the Marquis de Custine’s Russia in 1839 (also still in print in various forms and editions). In this essay Dalrymple observes:

If Custine were among us now, he would recognize the evil of political correctness at once, because of the violence that it does to people’s souls by forcing them to say or imply what they do not believe but must not question. Custine would demonstrate to us that, without an external despot to explain our pusillanimity, we have willingly adopted the mental habits of people who live under a totalitarian dictatorship."

This is precisely what the "passively woke" do not comprehend but...
"hate the sin; love (or in my case, bemusedly tolerate) the sinner.

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gabe
on January 03, 2021 at 10:00:16 am

Regardless of one’s politics, no one who would desire to Mirror Justice and thus uphold the spirit of the law, and thus The Spirit Of Our Constitution, would object to this statement:

https://www.cruz.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=5541
It serves no one to count counterfeit votes in an election, once, twice, or even thrice, four times, five times...for only authentic votes are valid.

In fact, to give a counterfeit vote the same weight as an authentic vote, is to make a mockery of the role of citizens to be present in our Republic.

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N.D.
on January 03, 2021 at 12:29:02 pm

And what exactly is the most deceptive source that has resulted in this “mixed bag for “Classical Liberalism”, and the desire of a multitude for a great reset sans God?

In order to deny God’s Truth, the atheist materialist overpopulation alarmist globalist, desire is to begin with Genesis.

“According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female—hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.”
-Crisis Magazine

It is precisely the erroneous notion of gender neutrality, and thus the denial of being in essence, a beloved son or daughter from the moment of conception, this great deceptions, that has led to bishop v. Bishop, cardinal v. Cardinal, and pope v every validly elected Pope, making it appear as if it is possible for a counterfeit church to exist within Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, And Apostolic Church, outside of which, there is no Salvation, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.

It has always been about The Marriage in Heaven and on The Earth.

“Blessed are those who are Called to The Wedding Supper Of The Lamb.”

The denial of The Unity Of The Holy Ghost,(Filioque) and thus the denial of The Ordered Communion Of Perfect Complementary Love, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, is the source of all Heresy, including Modernism, which denies The Unity Of The Holy Ghost and thus denies the fact that “It is not possible to have Sacramental Communion without Ecclesial Communion”, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.

https://ethics.house.gov/publications/code-official-conduct

New changes

https://rules.house.gov/press-releases/pelosi-and-mcgovern-unveil-details-rules-package-117th-congress

Woe to us!

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N.D.
on January 04, 2021 at 13:32:46 pm

Since there seems to be no new essay on offer toady, I will add the following observation here:

Above I suggested that perhaps Professor Steele's objection to Professor McGinnis's essay is that the latter was not really "Classical Liberalism." Professor Steele replied that this was not his objection at all. Of course, Professor Steele is the authority on what he meant, and his declaration is definitive on the matter. But my conjecture was based on the following statements of Professor Steele:

Prof. McGinnis seems even to be skeptical of national sovereignty

One further point to both McGinnis and Paladin: neither of you seem to realize that classical liberalism is fundamentally about protecting the natural rights of the individual

Yet McGinnis accuses Trump of “degrading the essential symbolic and unifying function of the presidency.” That is, he was not an effective Fuhrer. What a bizarre “classical liberal” complaint!

It appears at least arguable that the claim is that Professor McGinnis believes in classical liberalism, but does not realize what it is. Again, this may be just my flawed interpretation, and the final word belongs to Professor Steele, but it does raise a question for this discussion:

Would classical liberals make the same assertion regarding contemporary "Classical Liberals;" i.e. that we believe in classical liberal principles, but do not fully realize what they are? When one considers that Classical Liberalism derived from disparate Scottish, British and French thought, this is quite possible. I think it is also possible to direct the inquiry the other way: has history provided evidence that the Classical Liberal tradition was incomplete, and that its origins did not adequate account for later developments?

I think one area worthy of discussion is the treatment of political parties. Madison in Federalist 10 discussed factions, giving examples of persons in a "rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal distribution of property, or for any other improper or wicked project." Later, in Federalist 48 he discusses how each branch, "department" in his words, would guard its prerogatives against the encroachments of the others. He seems to maintain complete distinctions between the political interests discussed in the former essay and the institutional interests discussed in the latter. Madison does not address the rise of political parties, where the benefits of the separation of powers is compromised, not by encroachment of one branch of government on the other, but by the same political party dominating separate branches, and thus allowing partisan political interests to dominate institutional interests. Madison's apparent conception of factions being discrete collections of narrow interests limited in location and breadth does not anticipate a two party system with each party willing to pursue its own broad agenda to the detriment of institutional integrity. Thus we are left with the conundrum of the administrative state, discussion of Court packing, of lawfare, of the circus of the most recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings, of "I have a pen and a phone," etc. Madison did not seem to specifically address the challenge of the party system to ideals of Classical Liberalism, although he did remark, in the final paragraph of Federalist 48

The conclusion which I am warranted in drawing from these observations is, that a mere demarcation on parchment of the constitutional limits of the several departments, is not a sufficient guard against those encroachments which lead to a tyrannical concentration of all the powers of government in the same hands.

To this I would add that "Classical Liberalism" needs more than enlightenment principles in order to prevail, or perhaps even to survive. It also needs an appreciation and competency in partisan politics that cannot afford to become too enamored of form over substance. The modern opponents of Classical Liberalism do not seem to have agreed to the ground rules that prevailed 240 years ago.

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z9z99
on January 04, 2021 at 15:28:02 pm

"The modern opponents of Classical Liberalism do not seem to have agreed to the ground rules that prevailed 240 years ago."
Do you mean to say "proponents of Classical Liberalism" rather than "opponents?" Otherwise, I am confused, which is my normal state of mind nowadays.
I agree on what the ground rules of CL were 240 years or so ago. I argue that they are no longer practiced in politics or economics, not even by the proponents of the original CL, who still espouse but honor the original ground rules of CL only in the preaching and breaching of them.

Nor do I agree, as McGinnis argues, that our founding was largely CL per the Enlightenment. It was, rather, the culmination and consequence of political conservatism applied to the history of English liberties, traditions and common law and in brilliant response and adaptation to unique domestic exigencies and international opportunities and sui generis religious and cultural homogeneity.

The Left, for a hundred years, has been trying to steal the founding by claiming it as either the first-born son or the adopted bastard child of its darlings, the Enlightenment and abstract reason.

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paladin
on January 04, 2021 at 16:26:49 pm

Paladin,

Allow me to take this opportunity to correct a few typos and mis-stated thoughts. Of course, I meant "today" rather than "toady" and "English" rather than "British," and I probably made a few other goofs that have escaped my notice. What I meant by the sentence that you quoted is that the methods of politics that prevailed when Classical Liberal ideas were ascendant are not the same ones that we must contend with today. Adams oft-quoted remark that the Constitution was intended "only for a moral and religious people" seems to assume that the processes of politics would respect certain mores, the kind that would have frowned upon a Senator threatening the Supreme Court for example, or a politically clumsy president who was too dim to understand that "I won" was not a description of the best interests of a diverse and heterogeneous country, nor of useful politics.

Classical Liberalism assumes a certain amount of good faith among parties that disagree, but modern political factions (the opponents of Classical Liberalism) see no need to concede the point.

What Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton and Mason failed to foresee is not that politics would become contentious, ( the whole point of the Federalist papers was to persuade the citizenry considering a contentious dispute), but that politics would become unprincipled, and worse, silly. I suspect they would be at a loss to explain how cognitively declining mediocrities could be heads of the executive and legislative branches of government. Upon hearing the word "A-woman" at the end of an invocation I could see Adams amending his comment to "Our Constitution was made only for a serious people...you ain't it."

It may perhaps be that Classical Liberalism is at its best amid "unique domestic exigencies and international opportunities and sui generis religious and cultural homogeneity," and does not know what to do with itself in the midst of unparalleled affluence, leisure and technological achievement. It may that it is best suited to the situation where liberty is a not-quite realized ideal, rather than an unappreciated blessing that stupid people are willing to trade in the name of transient emotional fashions.

Frankly, I am not dogmatically wed to the term "Classical Liberal." I don't care what a political philosophy is called as long as it:

1. Treats the freedom of speech as more important than anyone's subjective feelings;
2. Acknowledges that all persons are equal before the law and not in some artificial and arbitrary way;
3. That human dignity and not subjective grievance is the basis of justice;
4. That risk in an inherent element of human life and "safetyism" is a destructive and foolish approach to living in the world;
5. That the family is the most important institution in a society and cannot be replaced by "experts," busy-bodies, "villages," or ideological experiments;
6. That there is no "expert" who knows what should be meaningful to me better than I do;
7. That human life is never an ordinary thing;
8. That government is inherently incompetent at acts of compassion, charity, and empathy. Politics ruins the higher angels of our nature;
9. That the attributes most useful to winning elections or being appointed to bureaucratic authority are not necessarily those that result in the best governance.

I'm sure there are more, but those are the highlights.

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z9z99
on January 04, 2021 at 17:39:40 pm

Since stone tablets, if they are to have lasting import, require ten "sayings" or "matters", let us add one and make a New Decalogue:

10) It recognizes, respects and teaches history in the full knowledge that all prior philosophical restructurings of society lacking an appreciation of history and tradition have yielded the most inchoate despotic disruption to social comity and human liberty.

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gabe
on January 04, 2021 at 17:54:49 pm

Yes, that's a good one. I suspect that one area where the "Classical Liberal" view conflicts with modern intellectual fashions is in the rights and responsiblities of parents generally, and with regard to education in particular.

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z9z99
on January 04, 2021 at 18:09:51 pm

In re stone tablets with ten items: you forget that according to The History of the World, Part I Moses comes down from the mountain carrying THREE stone tablets, proclaiming to the Jews:
“The Lord Jehovah has given unto you 15…”
before he drops and breaks one tablet and then says,
"10 – 10 commandments.”

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paladin
on January 04, 2021 at 18:22:33 pm
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z9z99
on January 04, 2021 at 17:01:39 pm

One other quick note:

I would expect someone to argue that our political traditions have often diverged from the Classical Liberal ideal; that Preston Brooks clubbed Charles Sumner with a cane on the Senate floor, or that John Adams wasted time fretting about titles. But these examples demonstrate that the underlying political values were contrary to them; i.e. they were the exceptions that proved the rule and healthy political principles intervened to prevent recurrence. Our contemporary environment on the other hand is one in which incivility begets incivility, and silliness begets silliness. It is one in which departures from the norm encourage further departures, to the point of absurdity and parody.

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z9z99
on January 04, 2021 at 17:58:21 pm

Well, I can heartily embrace your thoughts in both replies.
Indeed, I think your 9 points of Classical Liberalism might form the basis of a political recovery program for fantasy and incivility addicts. (AA has a 12 step recovery program, so you might want to add a few points in deference to precedent.) Neo-liberals would benefit enormously from embarking on your 9 step program, and the assurance of anonymity would assuage any fears they might have of being outed and canceled by their peers. Graduation would entitle them, henceforth, to call themselves Classical Liberals.

BTW: I read you, then, as confirming my interpretation of your initial reply: it is not the few professed opponents of CL (how many can there be except among the woke? Even modern liberals claim, falsely, to be CL's) but rather the many hypocritical but self-described proponents of Cl, who, today, "do not seem to have (both) agreed (and adhered) to the ground rules that prevailed 240 years ago."

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paladin
on January 04, 2021 at 21:08:29 pm

Well if it is on YouTube, there is no way that I can deny it!
15 it is!

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gabe
on January 04, 2021 at 21:32:22 pm

I want to add one thing (well actually a couple of things):

1) Z9's near "Decalogue is absotively on-point. Also his discussion of Madison and political parties - I had asked a friend, a writer and PhD expert on American Revolution for referral on that very topic. Even he failed in providing any insight (as did the author he suggested) on Madison's understanding and consideration of "parties." The big gap, not just in CL but in Madison,s otherwise brilliant construction of the American government is AND was "parties" Factions and as Z9 suggests "mediocrities" make for corruption of the "fundamental sort", i.e., not only financial, but of the fundamentals of a regime, it's operating principles and the underlying predicates of moral and rational restraint.
2) Paladin's assertion that the claims of the wokerati and the associated claims of the Enlightenment origins of the Classical Liberal American Revolution are also on-point; and not simply because the woke and the hypocritical CL'ers do not follow the Enlightenment (nor understand it) but because the roots of Classical Liberalism may be more directly attributed to the Papal Revolution of the Late Middle Ages and the Scholastic Period. This is where it began and it still cherished individual "souls" or "conscience" rights unlike the modern woke and it destroyed the conception of a "corporate" society, i.e. caste. Apparently, the modern woke and CL adhere to a regressive view of societal formation, governance and law - one that not only entails but demands "caste", class and / or racial components.

Lastly, although I am LOATHE to do so, I must disagree with Z9's characterization of woke politics as silly.
It is anything but silly as it is far more nefarious in intent and betrays the arrogance of those who feel safe in stealing an election.
It is a determined and concerted and repeated SLAP IN THE F'ING FACE to the non-woke citizenry. It is false and it is patently false, They know it. They don't care that others know it. And they presume that we are either too stupid. too weak to contest their falsehoods AND they know that they have the Titans of Truth to act as arbiters of their constructed Truths.
It ain't silly, my friend. It is arrogant AND corrosive of human liberty and dignity.
I suspect that I would probably be sanctioned were I to exclaim : "To Arms." But, of course, a sensible fellow would never utter such a challenge when "Slap in the Face" with "Million Dollar Fines for Doctors dispensing Covid vaccines to the unauthorized", etc etc. ( See Andrew Cuomo;s latest diktats) and / or imprisoning those deemed to be contagious. Gee, Lavrentia Beria never had it so easy!

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gabe
on January 04, 2021 at 23:29:43 pm

Gabe,

Your point is well-taken, and I do not disagree in general, but I will note that I use the word "silly" in the sense of "absurd or foolish." I do not mean to imply innocuous or frivolous. I meant silly in the sense that the "Pastry War" between Mexico and France was silly, notwithstanding the fact of about 290 casualties.

You are of course correct that the aims of the "woke" are grave and dangerous. This does not keep their claims from being silly. Part of the strategy of the woke is to dare you to call their views "silly" so that they can bring down the wrath of... well, foolish and absurd people. The term "A-women" is silly. It is foolish and absurd. The person who uses it does not do so for the sake of clarity or "inclusion" or enlightened discourse. He does so for the reasons given in the Theodore Dalrymple quote that you cited above: to get you to pretend that it is not silly. The point is to get you indicate your willingness to go along with the most ridiculous and absurd claims of the left to demonstrate that you will not object to their more nefarious claims. The fact is that "A-women" is silly, as is the claim that two X chromosomes do not determine female genitalia, or that there is such a thing as a unisex uterus, or that Taco Tuesday is the modern equivalent of the trains arriving at Treblinka.

Yes, the "woke" are dangerous; yes, their world-view is legitimately regarded as anti-human and destructive; yes they are likely to cause much misery and harm without achieving any thing worthwhile. But their pretensions to the moral inheritance of Martin Luther King, and Frederick Douglass, and St. Francis is, for lack of a more succinct word, silly.

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z9z99
on January 05, 2021 at 10:57:59 am

So we are not talking Month Python and "The Ministry of Silly Walks" here, are we?

https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-symantec-ext_onb&hsimp=yhs-ext_onb&hspart=symantec&p=ministry+of+silly+walks#id=2&vid=66f31ff28d1d2fb8bf50ea593dccbcdf&action=click

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gabe

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