Wanted: Convicted Moderates to Stop the Anarchy

What rough beast slouches toward Washington?  Pundits, politicians and citizens have their own opinions; but I cannot believe that anyone doubts, as the poet Yeats writes, that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Only the radical, right fringe is convicted. They alone are willing at all cost to see their dogma realized, step by ugly step. Sweet reason has gone begging. Again in the poet’s words, “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

No one voted with passion.  Aye votes were painstakingly drawn from those at the least risk of losing votes back home. Others waited for a comfortable plurality to hide beneath — voting as late as possible and hoping for forgiveness back in Peoria. Many voted  “necessarily” to stop the madness — hardly the stuff of true belief. The liberal left cast its inconsequential votes, but partly to  prevent default.  The ultra-right and  the ultra-left made strange bedmates. It remains to be seen whether or not we have squashed the tyranny of  minority views, Tocqueville’s greatest fear for the survival of the republic. Effectively we got a taste of multi-party politics in the form of factionalism.

Now, the rough beast will come in the form of the Committee of Twelve, carefully stacked to continue the same polarization, six to six, between democratic socialists and libertarians. It’s beginning to look so much like European history that I wonder when the fascists will appear — fascism being the triumph of the military industrial complex, i.e. money and might. In the meantime deadlock will occur and the triggers will be pulled and we will be off again into the madness, trying to correct not having dealt with the Simpson-Bowles Commission Report. Simpson-Bowles was our last shot at reasonable tough love and sweet reason.

The poet’s wisdom must be heard. Yeats’ “Second Coming” should be required homework for Americans. Things have fallen apart. The center has not held. The 2012 election must bring victory for  a new center — a center that can hold. Nothing is more important now than convicted moderates in large numbers.

Steadfast and cautious,


D. “Tortoise” Taylor


William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?



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Can Americans Be Friends?

I’ve stolen the idea for this blog from Albert Camus.  In 1945 he gave a speech to L’Amitié Française (French Friendship) called “Defense of Intelligence.”  Camus speaks about the third word in the French trinity of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.  We Americans do not speak of fraternity, but the speech made me think that perhaps we should.

The subject is not back-slapping camaraderie, but a more serious kind of deeper friendship which requires an intelligent assault on falsehood and hatred.  For Camus these were the legacy of Hitlerism.  In America in 2011 we see other forms of falsehood and hatred — a frightening trend in the debasement of fact and mindless hatred. More fundamentally Camus believed that  intelligence had to be saved from the leftover poison of Hitlerism and the constant threat of dictatorship.  Poisoning intelligence is job one for the would-be dictator. And “the most difficult battle to be won against the enemy in the future,” said Nobel Laureate and French Resistance member Camus, “must be fought  within ourselves, with an exceptional effort that will transform our appetite for hatred into a desire for justice.”

In devastated France nothing less than intelligence itself had to be saved and defended before the French could be friends again.  Camus quotes Goering who declared, “When anyone talks to me of intelligence, I take out my revolver.” Does this sound familiar?  Does it ring any bells?  In occupied Europe and Vichy France, “philosophies of instinct” and “feeling over understanding” dominated.   At the time according to Camus, “If you merely make an effort to understand without preconceptions, if you merely talk of objectivity, you will be accused of sophistry and criticized for having pretensions.  No we can’t have that!  That is what must be reformed.”

The French man of action was not defending what some Americans might now call fuzzy-headed intellectualism or pinko liberalism.  He was defending intelligence backed by courage.  He suggested that a nation “passionately attached to truth”  is the only insurance against a “vast solitude” and the only way to friendship in a democratic republic.

Steadfast and cautious,

The Tortoise

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