VDH versus Yuval Levin

Victor Davis Hanson writes,

And yet, warts and all, the Trump presidency on all fronts is all that now stands in the way of the completion of what was started in 2009.

We are no longer in the late 1950s era of liberal reform. It is now a postmodern world of intolerance and lockstep orthodoxy.

Etc. I prefer Levin’s view of the world, but I recognize that I could be wrong about that. It would be interesting to see a debate between the two viewpoints that is empirical rather than merely rhetorical.

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29 Responses to VDH versus Yuval Levin

  1. Curt Gardner says:

    When VDH writes that Trump is “surrounded by excellent appointees” I feel like we must live on different planets (or maybe just different Americas?). But I take his point that it’s all about Trump.

  2. BC says:

    VDH’s argument, at least in the opening few paragraphs, seems to be completely based on the notion that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The progressive left is an enemy of free speech and due process. Trump is an enemy of the progressive left. Therefore, VDH reasons, Trump must be a friend of free speech and due process. But, this last claim is absurd.

    Communists and fascists were *both* enemies of (classical) liberalism, as are the progressive left and the alt-Right. Enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend thinking seems to be a common affliction nowadays. To be fair, such thinking can be valuable tactically in limited contexts. It fails when applied to long-term strategic thinking, such as when discussing the evolution of the “soul of America”. The Soviet Union was a useful tactical ally in the war against the Nazis. However, one would have been sorely mistaken if one viewed them as the last best hope for freedom in 1941.

    • Asdf says:

      The long term strategic situation is that America is more NAM, and therefore more leftist, every year. When they become a majority that’s a tipping point, as should be obvious from places like Detroit, Baltimore, or CA. All attempts to say things aren’t that bad ignore this fact, or pretend that 30 straight years of failing to convert Hispanics despite bending over backwards is going to change real soon now.

      The “soul of America” has a biological component that can’t be ignored.

      • BC says:

        So, you admit that a central component of the Trumpist and Alt-Right agenda is to make immigration and other policies based on race with the explicit goal of limiting Non-Asian Minority population. (I had to look up NAM since I don’t speak Alt-Right.) Also, you admit that when Trumpists talk about the “soul of America”, that is code for limiting Non-Asian Minority population. Hopefully, those that fashion themselves classical liberals will no longer dismiss accusations that racism is a central component of Trumpism.

        • The Ghost of Andrew Jackson says:

          Why in the world would it be a problem for Trumpism that one of its central components is a plan for dealing with truths that no one else within conservatism will even acknowledge?

          It’s an obvious and undeniable statistical truth that minorities, especially NAMs, tend to vote Democrat. It’s only slightly less obvious that Democrats know this, and have planned accordingly. As the country becomes “more diverse”, i.e. less white, more people will vote for the Democrats, and fewer people will vote for the Republicans, because minorities, especially NAMs, tend to vote Democrat. NAMs also have different policy preferences from whites — they aren’t terribly keen on classical liberal positions like freedom of speech, at least not where those positions rule out the prospects of further legal privileges for NAMs — which of course the Democrats will take into account. And already are.

          It’s not hard to imagine this going to the Supreme Court in a post-liberal, majority-NAM America, and the Supreme Court holding that, in light of the indisputable fact that the Constitution is a living document to be interpreted by the standards of the times, and the equally indisputable fact that the standards of the times hold that “hate speech is not free speech”…

          And what’s the classical liberal response to all this? Should the Redcoats fight honorably and line up in formations to be picked off by rebel guerrillas? Hey, man, they may have all died and lost the war, but at least they did it with honor…

          • Octavian says:

            Does it occur to you that the fact that you and some of you fellow ‘alt-right’ types regard certain people as a problem to be solved might be part of why they vote against you?

            I mean, obviously Mexicans and Muslims are going to vote Democrat. Why wouldn’t they? A Republican president goes out of his way to alienate a group of people, and you point to their opposition to Republicans as evidence that they need to be further alienated. Surely you can see the circularity of this reasoning.

        • asdf says:

          It’s not the position of Trump, who seems pretty clearly not racist and whose positions are equal to or to the left of Bill Clinton 1996 (or for that matter to the left of the legal immigration regimes of much of the OECD). That such incredibly moderate positions cause a kind of psychic meltdown on the left followed by a scorched earth “resistance” should give you an idea where these people want to go over the next 30 years.

          As to myself, I certainly endorse a biological reality based view of the world and think it has implications for public policy. I grew up around Asians and lived there and its pretty clear that being xenophobic racists who doesn’t like immigration of NAMs has been a blessing to them. I also grew up around Jews, many of which spent time in Isreal, another chauvinist country with an explicit ethnic identity that builds walls to keep the NAMs out.

          I’d prefer a westernized version of what LKY accomplished in Singapore through his open acknowledgement of biological truth and shaping of public policy accordingly. This puts me in opposition to the cuck right who spend all day complaining about his success because he didn’t do it in a “classic liberal” way.

          As to the rest of it Ghost of Andrew Jackson sums it up nicely. We don’t have to guess that the future will look like. It looks like the countries these people came from, or like the American cities they have control of today. All the cuck right can offer is to either pretend it won’t be that bad or pretend nothing can be done about it. I’ve got a child, I can’t just abandon the future.

          • Octavian says:

            This must be why Singapore so resembles China, early 20thcentury US so resembled 19th century southern/eastern Europe and Ireland, and why Glendale so resembles Armenia.

            You’re not a biological realist, asdf. X correlating with Y is not the same as Y being principally determined by X. Why do you think ‘NAMs’ are biologically prone to vote Democrat? IQ? Surely even you can’t be oblivious to the surfeit of low IQ whites that vote Republican. So clearly IQ isn’t the determinant here. If it were you’d be just as worried about low IQ whites. Is it culture? Because, again, even you must be aware that most of the cultural problems of black communities are mirrored in white Appalachian and rural southern communities. Why do unwed crack addicted mothers in Detroit bother you more than unwed meth addicted mothers in West Virginia?

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          I had to look up NAM since I don’t speak Alt-Right.

          I first learned the term in a university multi-cultural office. The idea was that, since Asian-Americans already have good grades and test scores, they don’t need special help to meet our diversity goals. But African-Americans and Hispanics do. Multi-cultural offices began as an attempt to help minorities so it was necessary to tweak the term.

        • BC says:

          Ghost of Andrew Jackson and asdf are perfect tonics to enemy-of-my-enemy and anti-anti-Trump thinking. The Progressive Left wants equal-outcomes policies that favor NAMs. The Alt-Right wants unequal-outcomes policies that favor whites. Traditional conservatism and classical liberalism are about race-neutrality/equal rights/equal opportunity, not engineering race-based outcomes.

  3. collin says:

    I think VDH is like Steve Sailer that they are both suffering from living in multicultural California, and I don’t have a clue on any major break of the neo-liberalism system of Bush Sr./Clinton/Bush/Obama followed the Reagan Revolution.

    1) In terms of illegal immigration, the number of illegal immigrants was less in 2016 than 2008 and most Presidents dating back to Eisenhower (FDR?) were open to illegal immigration or temporary work visas for seasonal agricultural picking. And oddly enough the increase deportations are probably increasing the Hipanic-Americans wages the most in 2017 versus Rust Belt WWC!
    2) The long term impact of Ferguson and Gates is really small here and the position of minorities will continue to grow. The reality is the urban minority population are probably better off in the next generation than the smallish town WWC populations.
    3) I am not sure Trumps is a strong military as he does not like risking his political position. That is one reason why he might not support a war with Iran because it will not be popular and likely be an extended 4 year war. You can say the same thing on Healthcare and possibly taxes.
    4) I do find Trump inability to deal with trade like his campaign speeches very interesting. Look at the promises to coal miners that will require exceptionally unpopular measures to the rest of the nation.

    5) Although pundits are over-emphasize the Virginia returns, but I am not seeing Trumpian campaigning successful at all and the Republicans are at risk of losing more Bush 2002 suburban soccer mom base. Even the Ga-06 Handel victory in the special election was not a Trumpian campaign (she was the sane one versus Ossoff the Pelosi BFF) and it was only 4% victory compared to Price 10% victory last year.

    And for the most part the far right nationalist candidates have done poorly in Western Europe as well and even the Germany 2017 election it was still a Merkel win. (Notice Le Pen did not have a clue on the EU trade and Euro so she lost hard with right center voters.)

    • collin says:

      Again most conservative pundits when analyzing the Trump campaign forget he stated loudly to protect Social Security and Medicare. Outside of immigration and free trade (both issues in 2008 were not Party defined), he ran as a centrist candidate and he did not sound that much different than Richard Gephartdt.

      • Asdf says:

        Trump ran on bill clintons 1996 platform. He even won clintons 1996 voters (the scotts Irish). The past is a foreign country.

        Romney should have run up reagen electoral votes, but America is more diverse now. It’s also pathetic that the most cuck never trumper Romney did worse with minorities then trump.

        • collin says:

          Generally true except:

          1) There was lot more illegal immigration growth in Clinton’s second term than Obama years and I don’t remember illegal immigration was a significant issue in 1996. (It mattered more on Ross Perot, same as below)
          2) Clinton fought for NAFTA in which Trump heavily campaigned against. TBH I never understood how poorly HRC campaigned on the economic success of husband terms.
          3) Frankly, no incumbent President was going to lose in 1996 especially against Robert Dole who the Republican Hubert Humphrey.

          • asdf says:

            1) Clintons rhetoric on immigration was to the left of Trump. I also remember the whole widely publicized incident where he sent a swat team in to deport that latino boy who came over on the raft or whatever.

            The whole 1990s were an era in which illegal immigration was extremely unpopular, and politicians paid lip service and passed laws, but nothing was done. Had the law been enforced we’d be having very different discussions.

            2) Yes, NAFTA is strange. The 1990s were a weird time on the trade issue. The whole Ross Perot thing probably made the 1990s go a very different way then it would have otherwise.

            Partly, HRC is slightly more true believer then Bill. Also less politically competent. The biggest issue though is that the incentives of a more non-white electorate are different, and the Dems just forgot that Ohio doesn’t yet look like CA.

            3) Reps should have adopted the Sailer Strategy in the 1990s. What worked in 2017 would have worked even better back then. 2017 would be a much better year to live in as well. Instead they purged the sailer wing of the party to run low T establishmentarians that never won those hispanic majorities or “natural conservatives” they promised.

            Had they gone Sailer in the 1990s we’d have much better options in front of us today. The math is a lot more difficult now.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            I’m not sure what the “Sailer Strategy” is. I know he has written:

            The Republican Party has been successfully marketed (by its enemies) as the White People Party. If you’re not white, they don’t want you, they don’t like you, and their policies will hurt you. And just because you have light skin, don’t think they want you; Jewish and MENA (Middle East/North African) people aren’t really white.

            But says Sailer, there are lots of contrary interests in this “coalition of the fringes,” not to mention distrust and lack of respect between groups. If the Republicans were really focused on winning, they would try to market the Democrats as the Black People’s Party, and split off the non-blacks.

          • Octavian says:

            “Low T establishmentarians”
            I admit I laughed at this one, but remarks like this make you near impossible take seriously.

  4. Handle says:

    It would be interesting to see a debate between the two viewpoints that is empirical rather than merely rhetorical.

    If you can arrange it, I’m willing, and commit to presenting the case in a manner which adheres to high standards of rigor, respectability, professionalism, and civil courtesy.

    • Shayne Cook says:

      Handle, Arnold:

      I’m afraid I would find any “debate between the two [inherently political] viewpoints supremely dis-interesting and uninformative.

      What I would much rather see is an initial and ongoing evaluation of both Trump administration, and the more significant Congress’, performance, exclusively from the perspective of Arnold’s Patterns of Sustainable Specialization and Trade (PSST) paradigm. That would be both interesting and informative – and economics instead of politics.

      And I’m already convinced that Arnold could and would do so adhering to high standards of rigor, respectability, professionalism, and civil courtesy. He has consistently done so in the past – no “refereeing” required.

      How about it, Arnold? Are you up for that?

      • Handle says:

        1. Arnold already specified an empirical debate, which makes it more interesting for spectators than a mere expressiion of differences of political opinion.

        2. Better for Levin (or someone similar) to defend his own thesis. Primary advocates are more motivated than sympathizers.

        • Shayne Cook says:

          The thing is though, Handle, when and if I become interested in Levin’s “thesis”, opinion, or even perspective, I’ll read Levin (or whomever else). But I don’t find it interesting. I certainly don’t find it informative. Indeed, just attempting to sift through all the metaphors, colloquialisms, theme-enhancing adjectives and hyperbole contained in these two essays alone just makes me tired all over.

          How does one apply empiricism to metaphor, Handle? Are Levin/YDH going to “empirically” count the warts or guardrails or NFL psychodramas in/on/around the Trump administration? And then compare them with the “empirically” counted counts of warts/guardrails/NFL psychodramas in/on/around previous presidential administrations? And then, perhaps via alleged “empirical debate”, establish some optimal number of warts/guardrails/NFL psychodramas as guidance for future presidential administrations for which to strive? Or perhaps establish some sort empirically-defensible, and thereby optimal, “soul of America”? For that matter, how do warts constitute a thesis?

          These two essays are drivel, Handle, and should be recognized as such. They lend themselves to publication as opinion pieces in the National Enquirer, and certainly NOT to anything I would recognize as “empirical debate”. I can assure you that neither of these two essays would have made it past my literal and metaphorical “red pen” had they been submitted to me as written assignments, even when I was teaching lower-division undergrad courses.

          Conversely, and more to the point of my original comment …

          I consider Arnold’s PSST perspective the most interesting, compelling and potentially informative construct to be proposed from any economist in a very long time. And I would very much appreciate (be interested in and informed by) discussion of current events and political policies, exclusively from within that PSST paradigm. And that, best, originating from the original author of PSST.

  5. Moo cow says:

    Curious what was “started” in 2009? How would it have been completed save for Trump. The Affordable Care Act?

  6. Jeffrey S. says:


    I’d love, love, love to read that debate — Arnold should sponsor it. If not Levin, maybe someone else could be found to represent the “respectable” conservative/Republican position (for example, one of the EconLog guys — Scott Sumner? Bryan Caplan?) Or some other establishment figure — a guy like Pete Wehner would be a good fit (a fellow scholar with Levin at the Ethics & Public Policy Center!)

    • Octavian says:

      I doubt either Sumner or Caplan would fit the bill.

    • Handle says:

      David Brooks has a Levin-like op-ed in the NYT today, “The Siege Mentality Problem.”

      Pay close attention to how it ends, in sorrow at the lost opportunity to offer a stable peace on generous terms.

      In 1099, as they were moving down the Levant coast, the Fatimids attempted to make peace with Raymond and the other Crusader armies, on the condition that they not continue towards Jerusalem. It would have been utterly inconsistent with the Crusaders’ beliefs, intentions, interests, and fundamental premises to take that deal.

      Pretty soon, the remaining residents of Jerusalem (the Christians had been thrown out, because Iftikhar ad-Daula knew there could be no deal), were experiencing their own “siege mentality problem.” They were probably worried about the horrible things that would happen to them if the siege succeeded. They were correct.

  7. Jeffrey S. says:

    You know who else would be an interesting guy to debate — Scott Alexander over at Star Slate Codex. His answer to the neo-reactionary movement is still a pretty good effort (and an empirical one) to attempt to critique Moldbug and gang from a neo-liberal perspective:


  8. Handle says:

    There a pretty good metaphor going around which provides a good way to frame the VDH / Levin disagreement: “prison gang politics.”

    That is, not the internal group dynamics of actual prison gangs, but the transition of mainstream democratic politics into “by any means necessary amoral realpolitik” and high-stakes, all-out, “join the ruthless killers or be killed” group conflict, where tribal loyalties have priority over group-transcendent norms, and where anybody on one’s side gets a pass for anything if it helps the team, and no one on the other side gets credit for anything either.

    It is, in part, a consequences of polarization from a normal to bifurcated poltical distribution, with an increasing cap between the bimodal humps, combined with the winner take all / zero-sum logic of elections in an incredibly powerful and interventionist state.

    Now, no decent person likes prison gangs or what they do. Every decent person wants to live in a world without that kind of social dynamic.

    But if any of those decent people find themselves in a rough prison, then if they actuality care about survival, they are going to rationally drop those decent preferences and hook up with any gang that will have them, no matter how nasty the gang, it’s membership, and the dirty way it fights, happen to be.

    Prison gang politics is tragic and awful, but in prison one doesn’t have nicer options.

    We are all currently trapped in this very real prisoners’ dilemma.

    The question is whether there is any clever way for opponent groups to coordinate out of the bad prison equilibrium and back into the nicer one. It does no good to go on and on about how life without shanking is preferable to life with it; every decent person already agrees with that. The question is whether hope is a plan or just wishful thinking.

    Many people are concluding that hope is not a plan, and so, with regretful resignation, getting their tattoos, taking their loyalty oaths, and sharpening their shivs.

  9. Tom G says:

    From Levin: Over the past decade and more, ideas rooted in this kind of vision have been developed and refined by a cadre of generally younger, policy-minded conservatives. From health care and education to welfare, regulation, public administration, and across the full spectrum of domestic affairs, they have worked to turn this vision into substantive policy proposals.

    It’s been over a year, and there is NO Republican health care on offer for Trump to sign, tho he seems ready to do so, whenever the Rep majority Congress gets to it.

    Only Rep incompetence / internal disagreement is stopping Congress from doing what the The Conservative Movement / GOPe has been claiming they want done — Trump is not stopping them.

    Venezuela is not “doomed” — after thousands, or millions, die due to socialism, something not so leftist will be put into place and the survivors will continue living and start rebuilding. Venezuela just defaulted. When was the time for normal Venezuelans to panic? — after Chavez was first elected? At that point it was already too late … The normals didn’t treat it like Flight 93, and in the next few months thousands will be dying; millions are hungry.

    Kurt Schlichter talks about the normals vs elites (with humor! very needed for conservatives). More normals voted Trump, including more normal Black & Hispanics (NAMs).

    In the US, all the major US cities are Dem dominated, and on a path to unsustainable bankruptcy (tho maybe not SF/ Silicon Valley). They favor Big Gov’t, they’re about to have Big Gov’t problems. And here I’m favoring the term Big Gov’t over “socialism”, since so few know what socialism is.

    VDH is more correct, and it looks like we need more anti-Big Gov’t folk, willing to fight against the progressive agenda.

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