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Culture Books

The road to Smurfdom

Books

The road to Smurfdom

Are we at the mercy of the mob?

Kevin Williamson’s just-published The Smallest Minority: Independent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics (Regnery) includes excellent insights. Williamson recognizes that social media are primarily “a means of seeking human connection, not communication but communion.” He sees that those who have absorbed Darwinism need to distract themselves from their “eternal insignificance.” 

Williamson achieved notoriety last year when The Atlantic hired him to build ideological diversity in its liberal staff, only to fire him when liberals criticized his ideas. Williamson sees socialism and fascism as twins, not opposites. Adolf Hitler knew he didn’t have to seize companies to work his will: When asked if he would nationalize German industries, Hitler apparently said, “I shall nationalize the people.” In the United States, the left can win by “recruiting the aggregate power of American employers into the program of intellectual repression”—sometimes by force, sometimes by offering padded servility. 

Williamson eloquently attacks “ochlocracy—periodic and desultory mob rule effected through the exploitation and domination of both public and private centers of power.” He sees how left and right populists “agree in broad terms about censorship in principle: They disagree about whom to censor.” They get control by defining danger down, suppressing free speech by saying it will create a thunderstorm, although only wispy clouds are visible at the moment.

Williamson rightly sees “the disciplinary corporation” as the front line of cultural battles: The corporation is “a place where values get refined and expressed, a source of social norms, and the main theater of social action for a large class of people. … Our houses are where we sleep. Corporations are where we live. Corporations are our homes.”

That’s why firings of dissidents are important: “The point of the exercise is to bend the corporation to the will of the mob, repurposing the corporation as an instrument of political and intellectual suppression.” When churches are sidelined and government suspect, the corporation becomes “a welder of wills … dedicated not only to the pursuit of particular secular business goals but to a transcendent and all encompassing mode of life.”

So Williamson is well worth reading, and his criticism of Donald Trump is apt: He “inspires his enemies to imitate him.” But Williamson falls into that trap when he describes our current period as the “Golden Age of Fame Whores” and viciously attacks several celebrities. Better to do unto others what they should have done unto him.

BOOKMARKS

Tyler Cowen’s Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero (St. Martin’s, 2019) makes a case even for Big Tech: Seems to me the power of the biggest should set into motion the gears of anti-trust action. David Bahnsen argues The Case for Dividend Growth (Post Hill, 2019).

On the Edge of Infinity (Ignatius, 2019) is Clemens Cavallin’s biography of a great Canadian writer, Michael O’Brien. Cavallin describes O’Brien’s conversion experience at age 21 and his crisis at age 34. He also shows the background to O’Brien’s greatest work, Island of the World, and the development of his Father Elijah novels, which feature a Jewish-turned-Christian protagonist and a cultured Antichrist. Speaking of great literature, Anthony Verity’s new translation of Homer’s The Odyssey (Oxford, 2016) makes it come alive.

Mike Chase’s How to Become a Federal Criminal (Atria, 2019) is an amusing look at the enormous volume of laws of which we might run afoul. Among the potential routes to jail: wearing a postal uniform if you aren’t a postal worker, threatening a clown, mailing a miniature spoon, running a mail-order dentures business, shooting a Canada goose from a sailboat if the sails are unfurled, importing a pregnant polar bear, selling a 24-pound can of spinach containing more than 12 millimeters of caterpillar, selling a bottle of wine with “zombie” in its name, gesturing to a horse in a national park in a way a “reasonably prudent” person would not, moving a table on federal land, or giving your boat to a pirate. —M.O.