Saturday, May 28, 2005

Is the Pope Catholic?

“Is the Pope Catholic? How can this be?” seems to be the attitude of The World’s commentators towards the new Pope. One such World contributor, Mort Kondracke, rebuked his new Holiness on April 29 for his failure to get along with other religions like Islam. Kondracke chides the former Cardinal Ratzinger for calling such other religions “deficient”. Apparently the Pontiff should adopt the journalistic attitude that all faiths are equal. That Benedict XVI disagrees may have something to do with Jesus’ admonition that no one comes to the Father except through Him. But Kondracke – who claims to be a church-going Protestant – seems to think the Vatican should lengthen its list of Saviors, perhaps by adding Mohammed and Buddha. Honor diversity

More apoplectic yet are Cokie and Steve Roberts, in a column of April 25, also in The World. The famous media couple wonder if Benedict XVI can: “…impose a rigid worldview on unwilling followers?” And Cokie and Steve disclose their answer: if he doesn’t loosen up, financial reality will come down hard on the new Pontiff who “…won’t be able to control the laity, the people who fill the pews and collection plates every Sunday.” In exchange for their nickels and dimes this laity will insist on Benedict’s blessing of Catholic birth control, feminist nuns and feminist priests, abortion, homosexuality – in short, the Vatican must join the parade pushing all the latest notions of social progress. The two Roberts also think his new Holiness should be less judgmental – like them: “…as a mixed religious couple – Cokie is Catholic, Steve is Jewish – who respect and embrace each other’s traditions, we find this element of his theology particularly disturbing.”

Actually, plain facts and figures show that these literary luminaries have things completely backwards. The Presbyterian Church USA, the Methodists, the Episcopalians – all of these mainstream denominations have turned liberal along the lines of the Kondracke/Roberts prescription, and a powerful lot of good it has done. All have lost millions of members and tons of money. Many of these churches are now in danger of being ripped apart by disagreements between evangelical conservatives and the honor-diversity-crowd, which is led by left-wing elements ensconced in each church’s central bureaucracy. A good deal of the conflict was sparked by the efforts of militant lesbian “theologians”, a few years ago. With the financial support of these mainstream Protestant denominations they had a big meeting of far-left earth muffins at which they prayed to Gaia the Earth Goddess and set out to “re-imagine” Christianity. The dust has not settled yet, and if the Vatican wants to kill the Catholic Church, it should go down this same road.

That Cokie Roberts (Catholic) and Steve Roberts (Jewish) “respect and embrace each other’s traditions” is nice; so is respecting the Easter Bunny and Santa. But do Cokie and Steve respect and embrace each other’s theology? That is hard to believe, since the two have big disagreements, far bigger than, say, those between Presbyterians and Methodists. So the likely answer is that Cokie and Steve don’t care very much. Because they worship cultural diversity, their priority is “traditions”. With respect to theology such people are willing to believe anything, which means they believe nothing. But if you believe nothing, why bother going to church on Sunday? (or Saturday, as the cultural case may be.) Don’t waste your time and money: spend it on an extensive – and expensive – Sunday brunch. That many people do so is one reason membership and attendance are down at so many churches; the other is that serious worshippers have left for other churches, ones that take the Bible seriously and make moral demands of their members. Those churches are growing by leaps and bounds; unlike what modern journalists think, no Church can afford to be a democratic institution, forever changing its core beliefs to accommodate the latest fads.

(Letter from Wim de Vriend, Oregon.

Friday, May 20, 2005


Next May 29, France will decide once again, as so often in history, the destiny of the Old World. It is a question of the plebiscite on the new European Constitution, which in order to go into effect needs the unanimous ratification of the twenty-five member countries of the Union.

The constitutional text, which occupies no less than 474 pages of the Official Newspaper of the Union, contains numerous contradictions and ambiguities, and therefore it is no surprise that vast sectors of the French center and the right give weighty reasons to vote for the "No." Diverse opinion polls indicate that at least half of all Frenchmen are inclined to vote "No."

In administrative and economic matters, the Constitution establishes a gigantic supranational bureaucracy with headquarters in Brussels, a species of neo-totalitarianism with powers to intervene in all economic life, with regulations without end, of which not even the famous French Camembert and "foie gras" will be saved. An omnipotent Leviathan, capable of suffocating with its regulations all free initiative, but at the same time useless for promoting authentic economic progress.

In matters of historic roots, the Constitution, to describe the philosophical origins of Europe, avoids any reference to the Christian substratum of the Old World, as if almost twenty centuries of her history (and fifteen of France, since the conversion of the Franks in the fifth century) could be erased with a single stroke.

In moral matters, the Constitution, at the same time that it injures the concept of the family based on marriage between a man and a woman, opens the doors to pseudo homosexual marriage, abortion, euthanasia, etc.

It would be childish to say that the 474 pages of the Constitution do not have anything acceptable. What we do affirm is that they contain sufficient contradictions and ambiguities so as to stir up thoughtful and serious motives for voting "No." If the "No" succeeds, it will be possible to open up in France and in Europe a healthy process for a reformulation of the constitutional text, which would at least make it acceptable.

In addition to the above, a paradox exists in the French debate about the European Constitution: among the followers of the "No" are the clear and healthy elements of the center and the right to which reference has been made - but also active are anarchist groups of the extreme left, linked to the World Social Forum, which have even assumed the leadership. A noisy left, discredited and losing more prestige, which is engaged in the triumph of the "No," without being worried about the sovereignty and independence of France, desiring in reality that this nation and all Europe be directed along the path of chaos and of fragmentation, because for them "the worse it becomes, the better."

A certain part of the French press that is partisan to the "Yes" has also taken advantage of that paradox, and the consequent confusion created, to try to discredit the healthy sectors of French public opinion that will vote for the "No," identifying them as allies of the extreme left and presenting them as primitive, reactionary, against economic progress and the interests of Europe.

It is our desire that in the current French battle over the plebiscite, truth, common sense and lucidity predominate, and that public opinion in that country know how to differentiate the wheat from the chaff.

The above text was emailed to me from "Destaque Internacional - Year VII - No. 168 - Buenos Aires / Madrid - May 13, 2005 - Coord.: Javier González. (

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Why "Media Watch" needs watching

Viewers of ABC television's "Media Watch" program last week must have felt that The Australian's columnist Janet Albrechtsen had done something really wrong. For the "soft left" journalism of Media Watch, her real crime was to contest the media focus on the bad news out of Iraq. But, rather than substance, Media Watch searched for a chink to smear Albrechtsen. It came in an Albrechtsen quote: "When something positive does happen it either gets filtered through the anti-war eyes of the media or is all but ignored. And that's what the terrorists are counting on. They must detest The Wall Street Journal. Each fortnight the paper's website ( includes a round-up of good news from Iraq..."

Gotcha, suggested Media Watch's Liz Jackson. Media Watch couldn't find the good news round-up on That was until it linked to a "spin-off site", a "sister site" or a "Dow Jones" website There, the round-up of Iraq good news was the work of a Brisbane blogger, not a WSJ journalist. His blog was not edited, nor paid for. Albrechtsen had falsely given it the credibility of The WSJ.

No Liz, the OpinionJournal editor, James Taranto, points out that OpinionJournal is in fact a WSJ website. It's the website of the paper's highly influential editorial page. Both he and its assistant editor work for the WSJ print edition as well. They pay the Iraq good news contributor a modest fee and edit his work. Taranto would have told Media Watch this if they'd have rung. Albrechtsen was correct to say The WSJ's website carries the Iraq good news round-up. Her "honest, and very small error" was to refer to the wrong WSJ website. "Since the goal was to make another journalist's honest mistake look like a deliberate misrepresentation, one cannot credit Media Watch with acting in good faith," Taranto says. The Australian looks forward to Media Watch's correction on Monday night.

The above editorial appeared in "The Australian" of May 14, 2005 but such editorials tend not to stay online for long so I have reproduced it here

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Chilean martyr advocated surgical 'cure' for homosexuality

Berlin: Salvador Allende, the socialist president of Chile who was killed during a CIA-backed coup in 1973, was an anti-Semite who held fascist ideas in his youth, says a new book which has split Chile.

The book, Salvador Allende: Antisemitism and Euthanasia, will shock those around the world who revere the late president as a socialist martyr deposed by the right-wing General Augusto Pinochet with the backing of Washington and big business.

The disclosures come from Allende's 1933 doctoral dissertation which had been kept secret. In it he asserts that Jews have a disposition to crime, and calls for compulsory sterilisation of the mentally ill and alcoholics.

Victor Farias, the book's Chilean-born author, said Allende quotes approvingly a "cure" for homosexuality, which was then a crime: "It could be corrected with surgery - small holes would be made in the stomach, into which small pieces of testicle would be inserted. This would make the person heterosexual."

Farias, who teaches at the Latin American Institute of Berlin's Free University, says only opposition from medical associations prevented Allende, a medical doctor, from introducing a compulsory sterilisation program when he was Chile's health minister from 1939 to 1941.

The Allende family accused Farias of "manipulating documents". Allende's supporters say such views were common in the 1930s, and insist he should be judged on his political record, not early writings.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

When Bigots Become Reformers

The Progressive Era's shameful record on race

REVIEW of The Progressive Era and Race: Reform and Reaction, 1900–1917, by David W. Southern, Wheeling, W.V.: Harlan Davidson, 240 pages, $15.95 -- by Damon Root

The Progressive movement swept America from roughly the early 1890s through the early 1920s, producing a broad popular consensus that government should be the primary agent of social change. To that end, legions of idealistic young crusaders, operating at the local, state, and federal levels, seized and wielded sweeping new powers and enacted a mountain of new legislation, including minimum wage and maximum hour laws, antitrust statutes, restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol, appropriations for hundreds of miles of roads and highways, assistance to new immigrants and the poor, women’s suffrage, and electoral reform, among much else.

Today many on the liberal left would like to revive that movement and its aura of social justice. Journalist Bill Moyers, speaking at a conference sponsored by the left-wing Campaign for America’s Future, described Progressivism as “one of the country’s great traditions.” Progressives, he told the crowd, “exalted and extended the original American Revolution. They spelled out new terms of partnership between the people and their rulers. And they kindled a flame that lit some of the most prosperous decades in modern history.”

Yet the Progressive Era was also a time of vicious, state-sponsored racism. In fact, from the standpoint of African-American history, the Progressive Era qualifies as arguably the single worst period since Emancipation. The wholesale disfranchisement of Southern black voters occurred during these years, as did the rise and triumph of Jim Crow. Furthermore, as the Westminster College historian David W. Southern notes in his recent book, The Progressive Era and Race: Reform and Reaction, 1900–1917, the very worst of it—disfranchisement, segregation, race baiting, lynching—“went hand-in-hand with the most advanced forms of southern progressivism.” Racism was the norm, not the exception, among the very crusaders romanticized by today’s activist left.

At the heart of Southern’s flawed but useful study is a deceptively simple question: How did reformers infused with lofty ideals embrace such abominable bigotry? His answer begins with the race-based pseudoscience that dominated educated opinion at the turn of the 20th century. “At college,” Southern notes, “budding progressives not only read exposés of capitalistic barons and attacks on laissez-faire economics by muckraking journalists, they also read racist tracts that drew on the latest anthropology, biology, psychology, sociology, eugenics, and medical science.”

Popular titles included Charles Carroll’s The Negro a Beast (1900) and R.W. Shufeldt’s The Negro, a Menace to American Civilization (1907). One bestseller, Madison Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race (1916), discussed the concept of “race suicide,” the theory that inferior races were out-breeding their betters. President Theodore Roosevelt was one of many Progressives captivated by this notion: He opposed voting rights for African-American men, which were guaranteed by the 15th amendment, on the grounds that the black race was still in its adolescence.

Such thinking, which emphasized “expert” opinion and advocated sweeping governmental power, fit perfectly within the Progressive worldview, which favored a large, active government that engaged in technocratic, paternalistic planning. As for reconciling white supremacy with egalitarian democracy, keep in mind that when a racist Progressive championed “the working man,” “the common man,” or “the people,” he typically prefixed the silent adjective white.

For a good illustration, consider Carter Glass of Virginia. Glass was a Progressive state and U.S. senator and, as chairman of the House Committee on Banking and Currency, one of the major architects of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of his state’s massive effort to disfranchise black voters. “Discrimination! Why that is exactly what we propose,” he declared to one journalist. “To remove every negro voter who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the numerical strength of the white electorate.”

Then there was political scientist John R. Commons, an adviser to the Progressive Wisconsin governor and senator Robert M. LaFollette and a member of Theodore Roosevelt’s Immigration Commission. Commons, the author of Races and Immigrants in America (1907), criticized immigration on both protectionist grounds (he believed immigrants depressed wages and weakened labor unions) and racist ones (he wrote that the so-called tropical races were “indolent and fickle”).

Woodrow Wilson, whose Progressive presidential legacy includes the Federal Reserve System, a federal loan program for farmers, and an eight-hour workday for railroad employees, segregated the federal bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. “I have recently spent several days in Washington,” the black leader Booker T. Washington wrote during Wilson’s first term, “and I have never seen the colored people so discouraged and bitter as they are at the present time.”

Perhaps the most notorious figure of the era was Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman, a leading Southern Progressive and inveterate white supremacist. As senator from South Carolina from 1895 to 1918, Tillman stumped for “Free Silver,” the economic panacea of the agrarian populist (and future secretary of state) William Jennings Bryan, whom Tillman repeatedly supported for president. “Pitchfork” Tillman favored such Progressive staples as antitrust laws, railroad regulations, and public education, but felt the latter was fit only for whites. “When you educate a negro,” he brayed, “you educate a candidate for the penitentiary or spoil a good field hand.”

Nor did African Americans always fare better among those radicals situated entirely to the left of the Progressives. Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs, though personally sympathetic to blacks, declared during his 1912 campaign for the presidency, “We have nothing special to offer the Negro.” Other leading radicals offered even less. Writing in the Socialist Democratic Herald, Victor Berger, the leader of the party’s right wing, declared that “there can be no doubt that the negroes and mulattoes constitute a lower race—that the Caucasian and even the Mongolian have the start on them in civilization by many years.” The celebrated left-wing novelist Jack London, covering the 1908 heavyweight title bout between black challenger Jack Johnson and white boxing champ Tommy Burns, filled his New York Herald story with lurid ethnic caricatures and incessant race baiting. “Though he was a committed socialist,” observed Jack Johnson biographer Geoffrey C. Ward, London’s “solidarity with the working class did not extend to black people.”

As Southern thoroughly documents, these examples just begin to scratch the surface. Progressivism was infested with the most repugnant strains of racism. But was there something more, something inherent in Progressivism itself that facilitated the era’s harsh treatment of blacks? According to Southern, who repeatedly maintains that racism derailed “the great promise” of Progressivism, the answer is no. “The ideas of race and color were powerful, controlling elements in progressive social and political thinking,” he argues. “And this fixation on race explains how democratic reform and racism went hand-in-hand.”

That is surely correct, but is it the whole story? As the legal scholar Richard Epstein has noted, “the sad but simple truth is that the Jim Crow resegregation of America depended on a conception of constitutional law that gave property rights short shrift, and showed broad deference to state action under the police power.” Progressivism itself, in other words, granted the state vast new authority to manage all walks of American life while at the same time weakening traditional checks on government power, including property rights and liberty of contract. Such a mixture was ripe for the racist abuse that occurred.

Take the Supreme Court’s notorious decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), a case that has rightly come to symbolize the South’s Jim Crow regime. In Plessy, the Court considered a Louisiana statute forbidding railroads from selling first-class tickets to blacks, a clear violation of economic liberty. In its 7–1 ruling, the Court upheld segregation in public accommodations so long as “separate but equal” facilities were provided for each race, setting off an orgy of legislation throughout the old Confederacy. South Carolina, for example, segregated trains two years after Plessy. Streetcars followed in 1905, train depots and restaurants in 1906, textile plants in 1915–16, circuses in 1917, pool halls in 1924, and beaches in 1934.

No doubt many of those businesses would have excluded or mistreated black customers whatever the law. But in a market free from Jim Crow regulations, other businesses would have welcomed blacks, or at least black dollars, forcing racist enterprises to bear the full cost of excluding or mistreating all those potential paying customers. (This was one of the chief reasons the segregationists pushed for those laws in the first place.) The state, in the eloquent words of the historian C. Vann Woodward, granted “free rein and the majesty of the law to mass aggressions that might otherwise have been curbed, blunted, or deflected.”

Furthermore, this tangled web of regulations, ordinances, codes, and controls was spun during the heyday of Progressivism, precisely when such official actions were least likely to receive any meaningful scrutiny. Southern, despite his otherwise close attention to the many permutations of race and racism, fails to recognize this major defect in the Progressive worldview.

A similar failure handicaps his treatment of one of the era’s rare victories for African Americans. In Buchanan v. Warley (1917), the Supreme Court unanimously overturned a Louisville ordinance segregating residential housing blocks by race. The case involved a voluntary contract between a white seller and a black buyer for a housing lot located in a majority-white neighborhood. Under the law, the new black owner could not live on the property he had just purchased.

Writing for the Court, Justice William Rufus Day held that “this attempt to prevent the alienation of the property in question to a person of color…is in direct violation of the fundamental law enacted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution preventing state interference with property rights except by due process of law.”

Yet Southern dismisses this rare and important victory as “hollow” and incorrectly asserts that it “was decided not on the grounds of human rights, but on those of white property rights.” In fact, the judicial recognition of black rights stood at the very center of the decision. Justice Day’s opinion clearly states that the Fourteenth Amendment “operate[s] to qualify and entitle a colored man to acquire property without state legislation discriminating against him solely because of color.”

Nor should Southern’s characterization of this victory as “hollow” pass unchallenged. As the legal scholars David Bernstein and Ilya Somin have argued, the Buchanan ruling played a major though sadly underappreciated role in the burgeoning fight for civil rights. “Buchanan could not force whites to live in the same neighborhood as blacks,” Bernstein and Somin write, “but it did prevent cities from stifling black migration by creating de jure and inflexible boundaries for black neighborhoods, and may have prevented even more damaging legislation.” It is well worth noting, they continue, that the South did not adopt South African–style apartheid at this time, despite widespread white support for such measures.

In addition, Buchanan was the first major Supreme Court victory for the four-year-old National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a huge boon for the organization that would go on to win the landmark Brown v. Board of Education (1954), overturning Plessy. W.E.B Du Bois, an NAACP founder and longtime editor of its newsletter, The Crisis, gave Buchanan credit for “the breaking of the backbone of segregation.”

Despite these significant shortcomings, The Progressive Era and Race deserves careful attention. The Progressive movement unleashed, aided, and abetted some of the most destructive forces in 20th-century America. The better we understand this history, the less likely we are to repeat it.