14 min read

Dear Intelligent American,


It was 100 years ago this week past that Vladimir Lenin, a disciple of Marx and an ideological beast whose foul plans for mankind intentionally instigated the death of scores of millions, himself kicked the bucket. A series of strokes accomplished the deed—not the bullet to the back of the head nor the ice axe that concluded the lives of countless others. Nor starvation. Nor freezing in the Siberian gulags, or collapsing in Killing Fields or laogais or other sites of misery, inhumanity, torture, and depravity crafted by the diminutive monster whose answer to the question—“What Is to Be Done?”—was mass murder.


And somehow, despite the staggering body count, the depravations, the hatred of God and family and freedom, despite the ongoing brutality of Communism—who right-minded would trade places with a North Korean?—the architect of madness (his corpse still eerily preserved for tourists) who has spawned contemporary plagues of illiberalism and cultural terror seems . . . un-reviled.


What is it about these Commies—Mao, Che, Castro, Ho—that deprives them of History’s justice and the full-throated contempt they so richly deserve?


Some do not forget. Should you ever find yourself in Washington, maybe take the time to visit the Victims of Communism Museum.


Better Read than Dead


1. At First Things, Robert Carle checks out a new book documenting Red China’s cultural revolution. From the review:


Xi’s glamorization of the Cultural Revolution is reflected in Beijing’s chic dining scene. In Red Classics Restaurant, for example, waitresses in Red Guard uniforms serve meat and vegetables in plain style to invoke an era of stark living. You can have a fully themed wedding in this restaurant, posing for photos in matching Mao suits on a tractor parked in one corner.


In her new book, Red Memory, Tania Branigan describes the clashing memories of the Cultural Revolution. Those who suffered under the brutality of the Red Guard describe an infernal decade when Mao turned his murderous paranoia on his own people, leading them to tear each other to pieces. Children denounced their parents, and students murdered their teachers. In Mao’s campaign against the four “olds” (Old Ideas, Old Culture, Old Customs, and Old Habits), traditional Chinese culture and morality became targets for destruction. . . .


Red Memory is full of chilling stories of brutality and betrayal. Fang Zhongmou witnessed the torture and beating of her husband by adolescent Red Guards. She endured years of interrogations at her workplace because her father had been a landowner. One night in 1970, while doing laundry at home, she launched into a tirade against Mao. Her son told her, “If you go against my dear Chairman Mao, I will smash your dog head in.” He reported her to officials. After two months of violent “struggle sessions,” Fang was executed. The son grew up to be a guilt-ridden adult who agonizes over his mother’s gravesite.


2. At The Wall Street Journal, Kimberley Strassel explores and explains a new poll revealing the stark divide between America’s elites and . . . just about everyone else. From the piece:


More striking is the elite view on bedrock American principles, central to the biggest political fights of today. Nearly 50% of elites believe the U.S. provides “too much individual freedom”—compared with nearly 60% of voters who believe there is too much “government control.” Seventy-seven percent of elites support “strict rationing of gas, meat, and electricity” to fight climate change, vs. 28% of everyone else. More than two-thirds of elite Ivy graduates favor banning things like gasoline-powered cars and stoves and inessential air travel in the name of the environment. More than 70% of average voters say they’d be unwilling to pay more than $100 a year in taxes or costs for climate—compared with 70% of elites who said they’d pay from $250 up to “whatever it takes.”


This framing explains today’s politics better. While this elite is small, its members are prominent in every major institution of American power, from media to universities to government to Wall Street, and have become more intent on imposing their agenda from above. Many American voters feel helplessly under assault from policies that ignore their situation or values.


3. At Church Life Journal, Abigail Favale investigates whether there is redemption possible for the word “gender.” From the contemplation:


This ordinary person, I will confidently bet, is far more apt to use the term “gender” than any other term—and what they likely mean when they use that term is a person of a certain sex: i.e., men are the male gender, and women are the female gender.


This is the pedestrian language of the uninitiated, the uninformed, the supposed ignorami whose sensibilities have not been sufficiently shaped by critical theory or slogans punctuated by hand-clap emojis. This is the language of the naïve and benighted who blithely conflate gender with sex, who instinctively assume that men are male and women are female.


And this is precisely why we should embrace it.


Despite the cultural dominance of disembodied “gender” in elite environments and on social media, it has not wholly colonized the mind or tongue of the average person. This presents us with an opportunity for redeeming the term “gender,” to build upon that intuition that gender is rooted in the sexed body, and that one’s gender refers simultaneously to one’s sex and one’s personal identity as man or woman—because those are inseparable.


4. At The American Conservative, Robert VerBruggen assesses the relationship between welfare and single parenthood. From the analysis:


The idea that an expanding welfare state drove the increase in single parenthood has long been controversial, perhaps most famously through its appearance in Charles Murray’s 1984 work Losing Ground. Interestingly, Murray’s own views on the topic have softened, as he told me when I interviewed him for a 2022 City Journal profile: “There was something in the nature of modernity that was pushing these phenomena of family breakdown over and above the welfare system.”


Today, I would summarize the evidence this way: There’s a strong circumstantial case that welfare benefits increased single parenthood to some extent, but to what extent is difficult to nail down using scientifically rigorous methods.


The circumstantial case amounts to a combination of simple facts. Welfare benefits increased alongside the increase in single motherhood; welfare benefits grew competitive with less-educated men’s wages and had rules limiting benefits primarily to single mothers; and single mothers in fact used these benefits in large numbers. In addition, the welfare theory does a decent job of matching the timing of the single-parenthood increase as well as the fact it was most pronounced among those with lower-incomes.


5. At National Affairs, Niall Ferguson calls for the founding of a new type of university. From the piece:


The University of Austin takes a different approach. Rather than model itself after a public corporation, with a board, a CEO-president, and a collection of stakeholders and employees with ill-defined powers to hold the president to account, the university takes its inspiration from the Constitution of the United States in establishing a clear tripartite separation of powers.


As in our national Constitution, the president has considerable power over the university's governance—having, for example, the ultimate say over appointments and promotions of teaching staff. However, there are real checks on presidential power. Under Article I, Section 6, of the university's constitution, "a discretionary decision of the President may be reversed by an affirmative vote of a simple majority of the Trustees," and the trustees may dismiss the president if at least two-thirds of them vote to do so (Article I, Section 7). The chief financial officer also has to present his annual budget to the trustees, a majority of whom must vote to pass it (Article II, Section 8). We thus see the board of trustees as the parliamentary or congressional body, exercising explicit but limited controls over the executive branch.


Another novel feature of our university is that the admissions process is not delegated to the bureaucracy—a practice that has led to innumerable abuses. Instead, it is managed by the academic staff, and led by the deans of the various centers (Article III, Section 3).


6. At Front Porch Republic, Grayson P. Walker finds federalism crucial to America flourishing. From the reflection:


To the historically inclined, it’s an open secret that political communities are prone to separate. Ours is no exception. From the failings of the Articles of Confederation to the outbreak of the war Lincoln described as a formidable attempt to disrupt federal union, our nation has been an object lesson on political separation. And yet we have remained intact, not for the sake of American unanimity but, to paraphrase Polybius, “to preserve liberty through stability.”


Although our Union endures for now, mark my words: the only way the United States will continue to thrive is for individual states to flourish. And central to the states’ flourishing is the authority to operate as the “laboratories of democracy” the Framers envisioned.


Oklahoma is proof of concept. Because of the leadership of governing conservatives like Governor J. Kevin Stitt, we’re years into a turnaround that’s led to record investment in public education; given rise to the state’s largest savings account; and made Oklahoma a regional leader in net domestic migration. In other words, people don’t just like what’s happening in Oklahoma, they’re moving here to become part of it.


As an Oklahoman, it’s not lost on me that Oklahoma’s turnaround would’ve been next to impossible in most nations, where one set of rules are imposed on the masses, usually from afar. Notwithstanding concerted efforts to centralize American political power in the hands of Congress and the president, American power is still divided. And that’s a good thing. Because although it may seem counterintuitive, freedom is actually enhanced, not curtailed, when states have the right to experiment, subject to important federal constitutional limitations, with social and economic polices till they do right by their citizens.


7. At The European Conservative, Jorge Buxadé argues that the continent—a thing of three millennia of history—cannot be reduced to the whims and diktats of Brussels bureaucrats. From the reflection:


Europe is much more than the Union. Europe is its nations, its peoples, its history, its culture, its religion. Europe is not the no-go-zones promoted by the globalists, nor the migratory invasion, nor population replacement.


For decades, the adversary, the enemy, has been fighting for the imposition of a kind of specific but banal cosmopolitanism that seeks to reorganise our personal, family, social and professional relations, through the supranational integration of markets, social networks, and international organisations, governmental and non-governmental alike.


It takes us out of the natural, our territory, landscape, family, nation, religion, and offers us, in exchange, a plan of artificial banalities: instead of the physical territory, virtual empty spaces; instead of the unique landscape, the undefined planet; instead of the family, immigration and temporary shelter; instead of the nation that unites and embraces us, the collectivisation into conflicting groups, indigenism, tribalism, and sexism; instead of religion, the fanatical idolatry of climate, sex, or money.


Its aim is none other than to create and promote a new type of individual that destroys and reconstructs itself, de-territorialised, geographically nomadic, spiritually nomadic, and virtually nomadic. The kind of individual who says he is walking but doesn’t know where he is coming from or where he is going. But he keeps on walking—and he ends the day exhausted, without a single idea of his own.


8. More Europe: At The Spectator, Christopher Caldwell concludes that the center will not hold in the EU. From the essay:


Anyone seeking to understand the coming shift in Europe should examine an incident that took place at a bal populaire in the French countryside, three nights before Wilders’s surprise victory. Four of five carloads of young men, all of them apparently from a crime-ridden housing estate in the old shoe-making city of Romans-sur-Isère, burst into a village dance hall eleven miles away. They reportedly shouted anti-French insults and stabbed several party-goers; one, a sixteen-year-old rugby player, died on the way to hospital. The following weekend, dozens of French youths marched through the housing project shouting: “Islam out of Europe.”


This is not exactly an immigration problem. The killers, though of immigrant descent, were French citizens. But public opinion took it for an immigration problem. Pressure mounted on President Emmanuel Macron to harden an immigration law passed in December that he had hoped to use to shore up his party’s prospects before June. He wound up needing the votes of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally to gain a majority for it—an unprecedented collaboration.


When there are crises in migration, voters take it out on the EU. The wave of refugees walking overland from the Syrian war zone in 2015 brought Brexit a year later, and an Italian government led briefly by a coalition of two Euroskeptic parties (the Five Star Movement and the League) two years after that. This year an immigration problem of continent-wide dimensions faces Europe once again, and it comes accompanied by other crises that intensify worries over immigration—in particular the wars in Gaza (disturbing to Europeans for its brutality) and Ukraine (disturbing to Europeans because their side appears to be losing it).


9. At Tablet Magazine, Corey Brookes, black minister in an impoverished Chicago neighborhood, slams DEI. From the piece:


My community is so far behind that I no longer look at the data showing how we’re on the bottom of every education and socioeconomic chart. I see the evidence every day. That’s why it sickens me whenever I read news of our culture war over DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), most recently during the public trial of Claudine Gay. What struck me was that several DEI advocates, in their defense of Gay, claimed to be fighting for communities like mine. They talked of how not everybody is born equal, how systemic racism is in the DNA of America, how white supremacy keeps us down at every turn, and the absurd oppressor-oppressed binary that leaves no gray area for nuance.


This experience was disembodying. It was like listening to people who don’t know you talk about you as if they knew you from way back when. Sometimes this disconnect between this DEI ideology and the realities of my community was so deep that it was laughable. . . .


The reality is that DEI is an ideology for the privileged. It helps people like Claudine Gay who exploit race for power and prestige and it hurts communities like mine by exploiting them for poverty-porn.


10. At City Journal, Naomi Schaefer Riley finds drug-ridden Portland’s concern for homeless children woeful. From the report:


It’s not just the pills. Fentanyl fumes can harm children (and adults), as can touching the foil where it gets cooked. Kevin Dahlgren, who does homeless outreach in Portland, recently encountered a mother and her young child playing with fentanyl foil. “I told her not to let him play with that. It’s no different from ‘don’t play with a needle.’” Terrance Moses, founder of the homeless-outreach group Neighbors Helping Neighbors PDX, says that he has to wash his clothes after entering the homeless encampments—the fumes stay on you. In certain camps, he dons a hazmat suit.


Children live in these grim places; no one knows how many. But Moses has seen their faces peeking out of tents. “I mean infants, all the way up to high school. At first, [the parents] are standoffish,” he says. “They hide their kids because they don’t want to be reported.”


Moses, an African American army veteran who moved to Portland from Philadelphia almost three decades ago, started working with the homeless in 2016, initially helping them to dispose of their trash. Then he started bringing hygiene kits. Seven years ago, he mostly dealt with adult men, including many vets. But in the years since, the drug crisis and homelessness have exploded—as of April, about 18,000 people were homeless in Oregon, a number up nearly 23 percent from two years prior, and including more women and children.


11. At the National Catholic Register, Joe Bukuras reports on an Illinois teen who raised beaucoup bucks to keep her school open. From the beginning of the article:


Seventeen-year-old high school senior Susan Lutzke may have successfully saved her childhood Catholic elementary school from closing after raising more than $400,000 to address the institution’s financial difficulties.


The principals of St. Bede School in Ingleside, Illinois, announced on Dec. 13, 2023, that if the money wasn’t raised by Jan. 26, the school could face closure. Loving her experience at St. Bede, Lutzke immediately sprung into action.


“Honestly, I didn’t really think about it that much,” she told CNA in a Jan. 5 interview. “We found out the night of Dec. 13, and we were kind of sad about it. And then the next morning I made a GoFundMe in the car in the parking lot at my high school.”


The crowdfunding campaign almost instantly began generating funds, with almost 900 donations ranging from $10 to $50,000.


12. At National Review, awards season brings out the snark from movie critic extraordinaire Armond White. From the piece:


Artistic and emotional achievements such as John Wick 4, Rebel Moon, All of Us Strangers, The Taste of Things, and Asteroid City lose out to the superficiality of Oppenheimer, Killers of the Flower Moon, and The Zone of Interest and the inscrutable nothingness of Barbie and Poor Things. Cinema aesthetics are lost when most movies (purportedly to be watched in theaters) are actually television—protracted, repetitious narration per Netflix, Amazon, and Apple. And not much worth looking at. Such a medium no longer esteems the vision, kineticism, and imagination of Chad Stahelski, Zack Snyder, Andrew Haigh, Tran Ahn Hung, and Wes Anderson. Movies become a platform for reckless political demagogues: Christopher Nolan’s enigmatic hand-wringing; Greta Gerwig’s underdeveloped ideological immaturity; and Scorsese’s broken cinephilia and lack of historical focus, a Bidenesque form of anti-American dementia shared by most critics.


Movies once saturated the culture, especially when the Oscars were bestowed long after films were widely distributed and deep into the following year’s spring. This allowed for maximal reflection by the public. Today’s rush to judgment goes against the way films used to settle into the culture and enrich it: Brotherly combat in John Wick 4 between Keanu Reeves and Donnie Yen dynamized the Marlon Brando–Rod Steiger confrontation in On the Waterfront. The maternal battle between Rebel Moon’s Nemesis (Bae Doona) and Harmada (Jena Malone) elevated and distilled the “You bitch!” moment in Aliens. The child-parent emotional fusion in All of Us Strangers intensified the generational contrasts of The Godfather, Part II. Deep sympathies between artists-chefs-lovers Benoît Magimel and Juliette Binoche in The Taste of Things spiritualize the loyalties of Casablanca. Recalling bygone personal ambitions, Asteroid City matched social identity to post–World War II national myths since darkened in No Country for Old Men. No such echoes ring in this year’s noisy traffic jam.


Awards season deprives us of true cultural appreciation by highlighting films for their undeserved, soon-forgotten, injudicious acclaim. Never vote in haste.


Lucky 13. At The Berkshire Edge, Peter Most discusses the declarations of the people of Great Barrington about whether, for a newcomer and aspiring “local,” the twain can even meet. From the beginning of the article:


There is a quip that when it comes to breakfast, the chicken is interested while the hog is deeply committed. This came to mind one recent morning when I joined a few folks swapping Great Barrington insights over coffee. At some point, the discussion turned to what makes a “local.” One person posited that to be deemed a “local,” you need to have been born and die here, a level of commitment none at the table were able to muster. Another person noted that he had moved to the area in the late 1990s and his three kids were born and raised here (New Marlborough), yet he recognized that he could never qualify as a “local”—unless, that is, he could gain “local” status through his “anchor babies.” Nice try, he was told, but it wasn’t going to happen.


As I pondered the question, I contacted the keeper of all Great Barrington knowledge, Eileen Mooney, to determine whether a local should be referred to as a “Great Barringtonian” or “Great Barringtonite.” Ms. Mooney advised that only a newcomer would consider using such terms. Off on the wrong foot before I got started. Since Ms. Mooney suggests “local,” local it shall be.


The issue of local also recently came up on social media in connection with the posting of an article regarding Great Barrington’s small-town charm. The article was so laudatory that one would think it was drafted by the local chamber of commerce, yet it engendered postings, some since deleted, suggesting that only locals knew the real Great Barrington before newcomers came and ruined it. To their credit, no posters went as far as to suggest that newcomers were poisoning the blood of our community, but the comments were in the vicinity.


Bonus. At Plough Quarterly, Jane Clark Scharl vents about the costs—societal—of online shopping. From the piece:


I know some people like to shop. I’m not one of them (except for books). For me, the pull to online shopping was already strong, and then the Covid pandemic hit. Now, I find myself tempted to order everything from hand soap to coloring books to a new couch on Amazon and get it delivered right to my door.


But more and more, I find myself wondering what giving in to that temptation is really costing me. What am I giving up when I hand my money over to Amazon in exchange for fast delivery and a wide range of mediocre goods? And why do I feel a stab of guilt when I hit that “buy now” button, even when the purchase is a responsible one, meaning it is built into my budget and is something my family needs?


It’s not just me; I’ve talked with a number of people who admit to feeling anything from sheepish to downright ashamed about their reliance on Amazon. There’s a reason for that: this isn’t the way buying and selling is supposed to be. What have we lost?


For the Good of the Order


Uno. On the new episode of “Givers, Doers, & Thinkers,” Jeremy Beer and guest John Cuddeback discuss the importance of meaningful relationships in the pursuit of a joy-filled life. It’s a must-listen, which can be done right here.


Due. At Philanthropy Daily, Amy Zhou shares the way that public/private funding can reach those communities that truly need help. Read the article here.


Department of Bad Jokes


Q: What do you call the newsletter writer who lost his nose and his body?


A: Nobody Knows.


A Dios


It’s a few years old (2017 to be exact), but Marian Tupy’s article for the Cato Institute, penned on the 100th anniversary of Lenin & Co. prevailing in the Russian Revolution, calculates the (“unnatural”) death toll. It is simply staggering. Read it here . . . and pray for the lost souls.


May the Unbelievers Gain Graces to Believe,


Jack Fowler, found now as ever at jfowler@amphil.com.

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