O’Sullivan’s First Law
An eternal truth
By John O’Sullivan
National Review, October 27, 1989
Robert Michels — as any reader of James Burnham’s finest book, The Machiavellians, knows was the author of the Iron Law of Oligarchy. This states that in any organization the permanent officials will gradually obtain such influence that its day-to-day program will increasingly reflect their interests rather than its own stated philosophy. To take a homely example, congressmen from egalitarian parties somehow end up voting for higher pay and generous expenses for congressmen. We can also catch an ironic echo of Michels’s law in Stalin’s title of General Secretary, as well as in the fact that powerful mandarins in the British government creep about under such deceptive pseudonyms as “Permanent Under-Secretary.” All of which is by way of introducing a new law of my own. My copy of the current Mother Jones (well, it’s my job to read that sort of thing — I take no pleasure in it) contains an advertisement for Amnesty International. Now, AI used to be a perfectly serviceable single-issue pressure group which drew the world’s attention to the plight of political prisoners around the globe. Many people owe their lives and liberty to it. But that good work depended greatly on AI’s being a single-issue organization that helped victims of both left- and right-wing regimes and was careful to remain politically neutral in other respects. Its advertisement in Mother Jones, however, abandons this tradition by calling for an end to the death penalty.
The ad itself, needless to say, is the usual liberal rhubarb. “In American courtrooms,” it intones, “some have a better chance of being sentenced to death.” That is true: the people in question are called murderers. But Al naturally means something different and more sinister — namely that poor, black, and retarded people are more likely to face the electric chair than other murderers.
Let us suppose this to be the case. What follows? A mentally retarded person incapable of understanding the significance of his actions cannot be guilty of murder or of any other crime. A law that punishes him (as opposed to one that confines him for his own and society’s safety) is unjust and should be changed — whether or not he faces the death penalty. On the other hand, someone who is guilty of murder may be executed with perfect justice. His race or economic circumstances do not affect the matter at all. The fact that other murderers may obtain lesser sentences does not in any way detract from the justice of his own punishment. After all, some murderers have always escaped scot-free. Would Amnesty have us release the rest on the grounds of equality of treatment? Finally, Amnesty’s argument from discrimination could be met just as well by executing more rich, white murderers (which would be fine with me) as by executing no murderers at all. Significantly, Amnesty’s list of death-penalty victims” does not include political prisoners. America does not, have political prisoners, let alone execute them. Why, then, Amnesty’s campaign on the issue?
That is explained by O’Sullivan’s First Law: All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing. I cite as supporting evidence the ACLU, the Ford Foundation, and the Episcopal Church. The reason is, of course, that people who staff such bodies tend to be the sort who don’t like private profit, business, making money, the current organization of society, and, by extension, the Western world. At which point Michels’s Iron Law of Oligarchy takes over — and the rest follows.
Is there any law which enables us to predict the behavior of right-wing organizations? As it happens, there is: Conquest’s Second Law (formulated by the Sovietologist Robert Conquest):
The behavior of an organization can best be predicted by assuming it to be controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies. Examples: virtually any conservative party anywhere, the Ronald Lauder for Mayor campaign, and the British secret service. That last example is, however, flawed, since the British secret service actually was controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies in the form of Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, et al. In which case, Conquest’s Law should have operated to make M1-6 a crack anti-Soviet intelligence service of James Bond proportions. But these are deep waters.
Incidentally, Bob Conquest, who also doubles as a poet and literary critic, presciently commented ten years ago on the recent controversy over the Mapplethorpe exhibition. His 1979 collection of essays, The Abomination of Moab (not, alas, published in this country), coined the term Moabites to describe the false friends of art as opposed to its open enemies, the
Philistines: “The characteristic of modern methods of destroying art is that they are carried out by those who far from being indifferent or hostile, are deeply concerned.” The Biblical Moabites were the insidious enemies of Israel “who, from their capital at Shittim, infiltrated temple and harem and set the children of light whoring after strange doctrines.” Today’s Moabites have been out in force to defend both Mapplethorpe and a strange doctrine of — unrestrained government funding of the arts. The falseness of their friendship consists of their denial of any distinctions, moral or artistic or political, where Art is concerned. Morally, they argue that if Mapplethorpe’s pornographic photographs are banned today, the Venus de Milo will have to wear a bra tomorrow. Artistically, they discern no distinctions between different works of art which would offer a general basis for providing or withholding subsidy. And, politically, they obliterate any distinction between the absence of a subsidy and outright censorship.
Once something is called Art, Bob told me over the phone, Moabites take. it to be transcendental and beyond human criticism: “In which case it is, in effect, a religion and thus debarred from federal funding under the First Amendment.”
An excess of conscience
by Edward Lucas
Estonia is right and Amnesty is wrong
AMNESTY International used to be an impartial and apolitical outfit, focused on the single burning issue of political prisoners. Your correspondent remembers its admirable letter-writing campaigns during the cold war on behalf of Soviet prisoners of conscience such as Jüri Kukk, an Estonian chemistry professor. He died in jail 25 years ago with the hope—then not widely shared—that his country’s foreign occupation would eventually end.
It did. Since regaining independence in 1991 Estonia has become the reform star of the post-communist world. Its booming economy, law-based state and robust democracy are all the more impressive given their starting point: a country struggling with the huge forced migration of the Soviet era. The collapse of the evil empire left Estonia with hundreds of thousands of resentful, stranded ex-colonists, citizens of a country that no longer existed.
Some countries might have deported them. That was the remedy adopted in much of eastern Europe after the second world war. Germans and Hungarians—regardless of their citizenship or politics—were sent “home” in conditions of great brutality.
Instead, Estonia, like Latvia next door, decided to give these uninvited guests a free choice. They could go back to Russia. They could stay but adopt Russian citizenship. They could take local citizenship (assuming they were prepared to learn the language). Or they could stay on as non-citizens, able to work but not to vote.
Put like that, it may sound fair. But initially it prompted howls of protest against “discrimination”, not only from Russia but from Western human-rights bodies. The Estonians didn’t flinch. A “zero option”—giving citizenship to all comers—would be a disaster, they argued, ending any chance of restoring the Estonian language in public life, and of recreating a strong, confident national identity.
They were right. More than 100,000 of the Soviet-era migrants have learnt Estonian and gained citizenship. In 1992, 32% of the population had no citizenship. Now the figure is 10%.
In 1990, before the final Soviet collapse, your correspondent tried to buy postage stamps in Tallinn using halting Estonian. The clerk replied brusquely, in Russian, “govorite po chelovecheski” (speak a human language). That was real discrimination. Estonians were unable to use their own language in their capital city. Now that’s changed too.
Reasonable people can disagree about the details of the language law, about the right level of subsidies for language courses, and about the rules for gaining citizenship. Nowhere’s perfect. But Estonia’s system is visibly working. It is extraordinarily hard to term it a burning issue for an international human-rights organisation.
Yet that is what Amnesty International has tried to make of it. It has produced a lengthy report, “Linguistic minorities in Estonia: Discrimination must end”, demanding radical changes in Estonia’s laws on both language and citizenship.
The report is puzzling for several reasons. It is a bad piece of work, ahistorical and unbalanced. It echoes Kremlin propaganda in a way that Estonians find sinister and offensive. But most puzzling of all, it is a bizarre use of Amnesty’s limited resources. Just a short drive from Estonia, in Belarus and in Russia, there are real human rights abuses, including two classic Amnesty themes: misuse of psychiatry against dissidents, and multiple prisoners of conscience. Yet the coverage of these issues on the Amnesty website is feeble, dated, or non-existent.
Amnesty seems to have become just another left-wing pressure group, banging on about globalisation, the arms trade, Israel and domestic violence. Regardless of the merits of their views—which look pretty stale and predictable—it seems odd to move to what is already a crowded corner of the political spectrum. To save Jüri Kukk and other inmates of the gulag, people of all political views and none joined Amnesty’s campaigns. That wouldn’t happen now.
President Klaus spoke last Monday, warning for the new “substitute ideologies of socialism” such as “Europeanism” and “NGOism.” These “isms” are currently threatening Europe. “In the first decade of the 21st century we should not concentrate exclusively on socialism,” he said. Illiberal ideas are becoming to be formulated, spread and preached under the name of ideologies or “isms”, which have – at least formally and nominally – nothing in common with the old-style, explicit socialism. These ideas are, however, in many respects similar to it. There is always a limiting (or constraining) of human freedom, there is always ambitious social engineering, there is always an immodest ‘enforcement of a good’ by those who are anointed (T. Sowell) on others against their will, there is always the crowding out of standard democratic methods by alternative political procedures, and there is always the feeling of superiority of intellectuals and of their ambitions. As substitutes of socialism, Václav Klaus cited “environmentalism (with its Earth First, not Freedom First principle), radical humanrightism (based – as de Jasay precisely argues – on not distinguishing rights and rightism), the ideology of ‘civic society’ (or communitarism), which is nothing less than one version of post-Marxist collectivism which wants privileges for organized groups, and in consequence, a refeudalization of society […], multiculturalism, feminism, apolitical technocratism (based on the resentment against politics and politicians), internationalism (and especially its European variant called Europeanism) and a rapidly growing phenomenon I call NGOism.” Václav Klaus called for a European political system not to be “destroyed by a postmodern interpretation of human rights with its stress on positive rights, with its dominance of group rights and entitlements over individual rights and responsibilities, and with its denationalization of citizenship.” He explicitly opposed the “weakening of democratic institutions, which have irreplaceable roots exclusively on the territory of the states,” as well as “the ‘multiculturally’ caused loss of a needed coherence of various social entities” and the “continental-wide rent-seeking made possible when decision-making is done at a level which is very far from the individual citizens and where the dispersed voters are even more dispersed than in sovereign countries.” It is Europe where we witness the crowding out of democracy by post democracy, where the EU dominance replaces democratic arrangements in the EU member countries, where [some people] do not see the dangers of empty Europeanism and of a deep (and ever deeper) but only bureaucratic unification of the whole European continent. In 1999 he declared that “efforts to introduce the euro are to a large extent driven by EU bureaucrats who eat breakfast in Venice, lunch in Paris, and dine in Copenhagen, and do not like changing money three times a day.” environmentalism, in his opinion, is “the most prominent antiliberal, populist ideology of the contemporary world, comparable to communism and Nazism.
by Shannon Love
There is no more unaccountable group in America today than academics. This is true even when they work for public institutions. This is clearly on display in this story about the American Association of University Professors arrogantly claiming that anyone seeking to bring their work out into the sunshine threatens their “academic freedom”.
Academics tell us all how important they are, how they need great gobs of funding but when when the people ask for an accounting of the work and spending, they declare with great moral outrage that, “academic freedom” is under assault by the people wondering where there money went to and what is being done and said in their name.
Academics have forgotten that academic freedom isn’t a natural phenomena but rather a cultural artifact of the free west that people support because it provides benefits to the greater society. The ideal of academic freedom rest on the implied contract between the general society and academia that says that academia will use that freedom to explore and question every possible subject from every possible perspective. It’s the same contract we have with scientist. We let scientist poke around into uncomfortable areas as long as they use scientific methodology to do so. We expect academics in non-scientific areas to do the same. We expect that any academic should understand all perspectives on their area of study and that they should be able to make cogent arguments from of those perspectives.
Yet, since the 1960’s corrupt leftist have hijacked academia to serve their own political interest. They have abandoned, their obligation to investigate every perspective and instead have used the power and status of academia to advance their own pet political causes. Indeed, many in academia seemed to consider themselves political activist first and foremost and public intellectuals secondarily if at all. Even the very organizational structure of the modern liberal-arts department is built around the leftists obsession with race, sex, sexual orientation, imperialism, colonialism etc. Modern academics actively suppress non-leftists perspectives.
If this seems overwrought, just look at the comments to the article. Many posters cannot separate the idea of “unions are good” from the greater responsibilities of academics to the greater society. Clearly, many poster and apparently the AAUP appear to believe that because leftists think unions are good then therefore academics have not only the right but the duty to use pubic funds to advance union interest. The AAUP post goes to great lengths to point out that the Landmark organization that made the information request is a conservative organization. Why should that matter? It would only matter to people with a profound leftist’s political bias themselves.
In short, academics have broken the implied contract. They have abused the freedoms and latitudes granted to them by the broader society for their own selfish and often self-aggrandizing interest. Why should the rest of us grant them any assumption of the privileges of “academic freedom” when they arrogantly refuse to live up to the responsibilities that come with those privileges?
This is simply pure corruption in the public sphere on the order of using public resources to support specific political campaigns. I think that it far past the time when we called this behavior out for the corruption that it is and root it out of public universities. If professors want platforms to advance advance their pet political theories while suppressing dissenting voices, they can do it with private money at private universities. Professors who want public money must accept the responsibility, the expectations of integrity and the accountability that come with public money and public trust.
It’s time for academics to grow up and learn to be accountable.