Is It All An Illusion?

British philosopher John Nicholas Gray is probably the most broadly respected intellectual in the world today, gaining acclaim from the Right for his book on Isaiah Berlin and his work that influenced Margaret Thatcher, and appealing to the Left with books criticizing “the delusions of global capitalism” and supporting an agnostic liberalism. Neither wing will be pleased with The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Inquiry into Human Freedom.

The aim is ambitious—to tackle a large subject in a brief compass. For all its concision, Gray’s new book is a heavy lift. His theme is that all the world is an illusion recognized by the one obvious truth, the “fact of unknowing,” which can only be escaped by an “inner freedom” that rejects any higher form of consciousness trying to “impose sense on your life.” To avoid “becoming an unfaltering puppet” of some higher rationale, one must simply make one’s way as best one can in this “stumbling human world.”

Gray (not to be confused with the American psychologist and author of Men Are from Mars) concedes that this is a difficult sell, saying “today practically no one could accept such a stoical ethic,” even though it was “common in the ancient world” of Greece and Rome. Stoicism was defeated first by Christianity’s promise of happiness in another world, and then by “a curdled brew of Socratism and scraps of decayed Christianity” called modern scientific materialism. Even Nietzsche, who criticized both the “brew” and the “scraps,” himself bought into the resulting materialism through his “absurd figure of the Ubermensch” embodying the “fantasy that history can be given meaning by force of human will.”

Gray is unrelenting: “If you want to reject any idea of God, you must accept that ‘humanity’” also “does not exist.” But few materialists will follow the logic. With God and Christianity dead, the modern world retains its faith in humanity through a modern gnosticism that claims to know mankind in full through reason and science. Far from “being seemingly annihilated by Christianity, Gnosticism has conquered the world. Belief in the liberating power of knowledge has become the ruling illusion of modern mankind.”

Modern gnostics believe “human beings can be fully understood in terms of scientific materialism” and so must deny that they have free will. That science will allow humans to escape and free them from their natural limitations is the “predominant religion” of today’s “boldest secular thinkers,” Western intellectuals generally, and much of the modern world. The religion of science sees humankind as “puppets on genetic strings, which by an accident of evolution have become self-aware.” If marionettes could have a religion, it would be gnosticism.

Traditional Gnostics saw humans as created by an evil demiurge so that freedom must produce evil. True freedom could therefore only exist in a world without choice. The goal of moderns is to turn randomly-evolved humans into machines, or puppets who will behave well. The problem Gray sees is that the perfected version will have to be programmed by the existing, flawed version. Contrary to the widespread materialist belief, violence and mayhem have not been overcome in the 21st century; Gray brings in enough facts to show that things may even be worse than the horrible last century. Much that goes under the rubric of popular mass movements and desires for freedom and democracy is actually manipulated by the same Old World powers to produce the same (or even more) violence. Moderns simply use the “sorcery of numbers” to hide the true depths of brutality today.

According to Gray, in ancient times, humans lived in ignorance but did not pretend to any universal truth. With its “claim to be a revelation for all, Christianity undermined this tolerant acceptance of illusion,” displacing philosophy’s earlier skeptical illusion of paralyzing uncertainty with universal truth. But as Christianity waned, its claim to universal truth was adopted by materialism, science, and modern ideologies of imperialism, communism, and human-rights democracy that have produced even greater destruction. Gray argues that the whole scientific revolution is a “by-product of mysticism.” Socrates consulted oracles, Newton believed in alchemy and numerology, and Kepler was a mystic. The Renaissance and Enlightenment were developed in Christian environments. Even modern views assume that humans are mechanical flesh but somehow have a self-aware spirit.

Self-awareness is the predominant illusion, but there is no scientific basis to the claim that human beings are unique in having consciousness. Dolphins and chimpanzees show self-awareness. If they do not fully comprehend their consciousness—and clearly they don’t—the same is true of humans. The illusion of unique human consciousness is “a prejudice inherited from monotheism.” It is an extension of the Christian notion of the soul. Without a Genesis-like Creator specifically placing humans higher with special consciousness, there would be no such idea. Moreover, the whole belief that the world is composed of matter is “metaphysical speculation.”

Indeed, the dominant power of the materialist culture today suppresses “religion’s most valuable insights. Modern rationalists reject the idea of evil while being obsessed by it.” The most important difference is that “religious believers know they face an insoluble difficulty while secular believers do not.” Traditional believers know evil “cannot be expelled from the world by human action. Lacking this saving insight, secular believers dream of creating a higher species.”

The goal of the futurist Ray Kurzweil is to have humans cease being biological organisms altogether and become wise machines; and since Kurzweil is himself a multi-millionaire with control of Google’s genetic research resources, he just may have the billions to finance the transformation.

Christianity’s illusion presents a “more truthful rendering of the human situation” and may even be “the least harmful illusion.” Christianity is anti-tragic given its ideal of salvation in another world but is in this world “closer to ancient understandings of tragedy than it is to modern ways of thinking.” Yet it, in the end, is an illusion too—indeed the one that started it all.

Today, the world faces a new period of instability as faith in political solutions fades and “renascent religion contends with the ruling faith in science to replace it.” Civilization implies restraint, but “violence has a glamour that is irresistible.” Social freedom defined as “mutual non-interference” is a “rare skill.” That type of freedom is not natural. Practices, such as the rule of law, that have allowed such freedom where it has appeared in the past (mainly in the West) are being compromised or “junked” altogether. The only solution for one who values freedom is an inner freedom so interior that it matters not what kind of government one lives under.

But why is having a government that will allow even that degree of freedom not an illusion, too?

Donald Devine, senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, and the author of America’s Way Back: Reconciling Freedom, Tradition and Constitution, was director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during Ronald Reagan’s first term

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

The Democrats’ Pope Problem

Democrats beware. Pope Francis has set a trap for you worse than for the conservatives.

Sure, the mainstream media has spent its time highlighting Francis’ Republican snares — on immigration, the environment, the death penalty, and market economics. But Republicans were at least consoled by Francis’ views on the traditional family, marriage, divorce and abortion that still allow them to reach out to blue collar and Hispanic Democrats.

Paradoxically, the Pope ensnares Democrats more by undercutting their bread-and-butter favorite: attacking inequality. Their core appeal is to assault the one percent richest and demand income be redistributed to the poor.

So far, so good, but that only works within the boundaries of the U.S. Francis wants worldwide equality. That is an entirely different matter. The world median annual income is $1,225 per person according to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic’s The Haves and the Have-Nots. The world’s wealthiest one percent begins at $34,000 per person (after taxes). Almost all of the world’s 60 million “rich” are in the U.S. or Europe, and half of the planet’s one-percenters live in the U.S., totaling 29 million voters.

Americans, of course, would consider making only $34,000 far from being wealthy. Indeed, the median U.S. income is $34,500, meaning half of Americans are rich by world standards. The point at which Americans are designated poor for a family of four is $23,000, which would make them among the world’s income leaders.

One of Francis’ main examples of excess is using air conditioning. It produces energy that harms the environment through pollution and contributes to the waste that is choking world resources. The fact is 80 percent of America’s official poor have air conditioning. Will Nancy Pelosi tell them they will have to give it up?

Based on Census data, Heritage Foundation analysts Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield report that nearly three-quarters of the official U.S. poor have a car or truck (and 31 percent have two or more); nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite television; two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and a quarter have two or more. Half have a personal computer (and one in seven has two or more); half of poor families with children have a video game system such as an Xbox or PlayStation; forty-three percent have Internet access; forty percent have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV; a quarter have a digital video recorder system such as a TIVO. And, ninety-two percent of poor households have a microwave.

This is precisely the consumerism Francis deplores.

How would worldwide redistribution take place? The IRS would require every American file a statement of their income for the year, including the monetary value of welfare and programs like Social Security and Medicare. Wealth could be ignored in the calculation by turning all assets to the government (eliminating capital gains), including savings and retirement programs. The Treasury would then tax all income over $1,225 per person, including children, at 100 percent and send it to the poor of the world, imposing its own taxation only thereafter.

It would be extremely difficult to find a list of those in poverty, so the check would probably have to be made to governments trusted to give it to their poor. If they do, this would be an enormous gain for counties like China, India, and Russia, but would also allow them to invest the resulting greater taxes in both domestic and military programs. Worldwide demand would change radically from services and high-end goods to basic food, clothing and shelter, allowing the planet’s enormous subsistence level population to survive.

America would obviously have to change. Present high-end service and manufacturing (and their jobs) could no longer be supported by after-tax U.S. income, so investment would need to shift radically to a more agricultural and industrial age production system for both domestic and international markets. Stock prices in these industries would lose much of their value, perhaps replaced by increases in agriculture and low-end manufacturing. With decreased tax revenue, defense spending would plummet; and programs like Social Security and Medicare would have to be reduced drastically, with the benefit of ending the threat of bankruptcy in the present programs. Manufacturing waste would decline dramatically, but agriculture and primitive energy methods might even produce increased world pollution.

Imagine Democrats selling this program, telling those on welfare, the U.S. poor, union members, greens, and indeed the whole lower half of the population that they are too rich and must reduce their income to take care of the real poor of the world who live on only $1.25 a day or less.

The final result would be the world Francis envisions with less waste, more primitive consumption and lifestyles, and world income equality. But the U.S. Democratic Party would be out of business.

Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of “America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition and Constitution,” and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

It’s Back To Dysfunctional Washington

As Congress and their symbiotic bureaucratic, media and lobbyist co-conspirators return to Washington after a month’s vacation, they will find they missed all the explosive summer fun.

It was not pleasurable but the government did detonate the Colorado Gold King Mine in August when the Environmental Protection Agency tested how new procedures could be used to clean-up one of the hundreds of abandoned mines in the American west.

The EPA has been struggling with pollution control since 1980 when newspaper reports of benzene and dioxin traces were found in property owned by a school at Love Canal, New York and Congress established a Superfund under the EPA to clean up the most dangerous chemical waste sites.

Unfortunately, the EPA test turned into 3 million gallons of toxic mustard-tinted sludge containing lead and arsenic spilling into a river system extending into New Mexico and Utah. Unable to cleanse its own 1,300 sites, the EPA immediately changed the subject by issuing a new regulation ordering the private sector to clean up methane gas emissions, threatening recovery in the oil business.

True, much in Washington was less dramatic as the bureaucracy turned out millions and millions of checks to Social Security and government retirees, Medicare health enrollees, veterans, students, farmers, subsidized businesses, states, contractors, employees, researchers, and grant recipients. While sending checks is pretty simple, the fraud and error rates totaled 12 percent, with improper payments for seven Health and Human Services programs alone announced at $78 billion for 2014.

One of my first experiences in government was during the 1980s, on a visit to the Federal Aviation Administration. I was viewing its plans for a massive new mechanized air traffic control system and its need for more flexible personnel rules. Three decades later this August, FAA was finally installing new software. Unfortunately, this failed and cancelled 476 airline flights.

My old agency, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, announced that the number of hacked personnel and security clearance files increased from 18 to 22 million, which national intelligence head James Clapper said not only increased exposure risks, but that future hackers could change information to make the guilty appear harmless and the innocent compromised.

At the same time, the Internal Revenue Service found that 610,000 tax files had also been hacked.

Housing and Urban Development Inspector General David Montoya reported 25,000 low income public housing tenants were richer than allowed, one earning $497,000 a year. After setting the destruction of the Islamic State as a presidential priority, the summer found only 54 moderates graduating from the “train and equip” program to confront ISIL in Syria, although 72 more were promised soon.

Worse, five of the New Syria Force’s graduates were captured by an al-Qaeda affiliate and nominal ISIL opponent al Nusra soon after they arrived in Syria. The force has degraded since with many of their U.S. arms now in enemy hands.

Meanwhile, the economy struggled to exceed the anemic 2 percent growth against historic recoveries twice that rate. The administration’s solution was to increase the minimum wage and get tough on business. During the summer doldrums, Wendy’s restaurants announced higher minimums would cause them to cut jobs and increase automation. Likewise, investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods estimated that “Since 2009, 49 financial institutions have paid various government entities and private plaintiffs nearly $190 billion in fines and settlements” with only one conviction. How many jobs could have been created with $190 billion?

Following last month’s embarrassment over 30 years of National Institutes of Health advice against cholesterol and fats proving wrong, a Columbia University study questioned the national Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommending breakfasts to reduce weight, finding the extra meal actually increased heaviness in overweight people.
A recent study in the journal PLOS Biology reported half of all such biomedical studies are flawed.

And all of this governmental incompetence happened over just one month.

What will Congress do? The leadership plans the old Kabuki routine of a stop-gap funding bill or a continuing resolution before the end of the September fiscal year and last minute increases in the debt limit and highway trust fund with no real reform. The leadership has promised that there will be no government shutdown and no debt default but the presidential aspirants and many back-benchers in both parties are threatening to do both.

The nation’s top public administration professor, Paul Light, concludes the national government cannot faithfully execute its laws. The national government is doing everything and nothing works. No wonder Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are toping the polls.

No one seems to care that the bloated ossified national government is simply dysfunctional. The administrative state is imploding and the only solutions are socialists more of the same, old statist bureaucracy or a blonde autocrat on a white horse promising personal benevolent authoritarianism.

Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of “America’s Way Back: Reconciling Freedom, Tradition and Constitution”, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

Donald Trump’s Napoleon Moment

Patrick Buchanan gets right to the core of the phenomenon called Donald Trump with his headline, “The Rebirth of Nationalism.”

Because of America’s two-party system and the dominance of individualistic libertarians and social conservatives in one party and left-egalitarians and interest-group liberals in the other, we forget the basics. As the late great political scientist Aaron Wildavsky taught us years ago there are four fundamental political types: egalitarians, individualists, social conservatives, and—the ones we forget about—what he called “fatalists.”

We tend to forget the fatalists because they tend not to vote. They view the world as foreign, chaotic, ephemeral, dangerous, on the edge of falling into bedlam. He used the analogy that their world is like a marble rolling unsteadily on a glass surface, rolling and pitching who knows where. Government has some control but is run by an untouchable, all-powerful elite acting in its own interest. Such a world can only be tamed by something enormously powerful and masterful, and only during a crisis. Then a strong central government supported by angry, patriotic nationalists and led by a popular Napoleon on his white horse can arrest the anarchy. Trump’s autobiography is titled Think Big and Kick Ass.

Buchanan tapped into the same world—although with vastly more intellect and subtlety—but he learned Wildavsky’s lesson. Fatalists do not vote, except perhaps enough to win a primary or two, and the elite strike back hard. It is difficult to sustain the anger, although Buchanan came closer than many remember. Trump may turn out to be more fortunate since popular resentment has risen to a boil this time. Bernie Sanders taps into it too, and when fatalists do vote they might go for either party. But the Vermont socialist has no horse; Trump has billions and the celebrity, willingness, and audacity to ride them.

Pollster Frank Luntz came reeling out of one of his distinctive focus groups the other day crying “my legs are shaking” from seeing the depth of commitment of the Trump supporters he interviewed at the session. “I want to put the Republican leadership behind this mirror and let them see. They need to wake up. They don’t realize how the grassroots have abandoned them. Donald Trump is punishment to a Republican elite that wasn’t listening to their grassroots.” He even showed the audience unflattering images of and statements by Trump meant to turn them off. It did not work. At the end they were more committed than at the beginning.

Political analyst Tom Charles Huston predicts the establishment Republican presidential candidates will sputter—Trump quipped Jeb Bush puts his audiences to sleep—and the business “donor class” elite will desert them, happy to support Hillary or Joe Biden to advance their crony capitalism rather than moving to a conservative with an edge who might be able to confront Trump—and them.

If Trump wins Iowa and New Hampshire, it is difficult to see any opponent who could rally South Carolina two weeks later, or Nevada. Then on March 1 a half-dozen Southern states with many fatalists (remember Huey Long) will split the opponent’s ranks further. On March 15 Bush could be ousted by Marco Rubio in Florida, with John Kasich winning by a smaller than expected margin in Ohio. Trump could win by losing, saying they were only favorite sons. No one would be left anyway. If he wins either state, it is all over.

So what was impossible a few weeks ago now becomes a real possibility.

The willfully blind establishment in Italy did not think Benito Mussolini or even Silvio Berlusconi could win, either; both succeeded because the reasonable right floundered. The latter became prime minister three times. How does President Trump sound? Or President Hillary?


The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Jeb Bush Has To Provide Government Reform Details

Congratulations to Jeb Bush for promising as president to take on the Washington bureaucracy. But, as they say, the devil is in the details.

He has credibility. As Florida governor, Bush cut the state bureaucracy by 11 percent over his eight years. If he becomes president, he now proposes to freeze federal employment and then reduce it by 10 percent over the four year presidential term through attrition.

Bush qualifies this with a “three-out, one in” proviso allowing one new employee for every three slots cut.

This sounds good in today’s rapid news cycle, but the details reveal important qualifications. He relies primarily on retirements to meet his goal. What happens if they are not sufficient?

Attrition alone also allows the better employees to leave, creating imbalances.

Yes, most of the reduction should be by attrition; but some must be fired to target program functions that need to be cut or eliminated. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency when he reduced non-defense civilian employment by 100,000, 90 percent of separations were by attrition; but the other ten percent were aimed at bad programs to show he was serious about the whole effort.

Bush did say that program reform is critical and promised tax, regulatory and entitlement reforms — but will only detail them sometime in the future. He did specifically propose a line item veto, a balanced budget amendment, procurement reform, and baseline budgeting — all of which would be positive but have been languishing for years.

His proposal not to pay Congressmen who do not vote is simply silly and impossible to become law. And his plans to limit lobbying sound as good as they did from Barack Obama until someone reminds folks of the Constitutional right to petition the government.

The heart of his proposal is to reform the civil service, which he correctly recognizes is dysfunctional. But he misrepresents the source of the problem, saying that much of today’s bureaucracy “is a relic from the 1970s and the Carter administration,” which “didn’t have the taxpayers’ interest foremost in mind.”

Actually, Jimmy Carter’s one real accomplishment as president was the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 which was implemented by the Ronald Reagan administration in 1981, and actually rationalized the performance appraisal system and introduced pay-for-performance for senior executives and managers.

Unfortunately, it was President George H.W. Bush who presided over the elimination of merit pay for managers and the downgrading of performance management. In the wake of 9/11, President George W. Bush attempted to reintroduce performance management at the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security; but these were stalled by the unions and their friends in Congress and were finally abandoned.

Gov. Bush promises to do better. He recognizes the feds are paid more than the private sector, they have much richer benefits, and the bad ones are rarely disciplined or removed.

He proposes “no more doling out raises across the board,” to reintroduce merit pay and financial rewards for good performance, and to remove nonproductive employees in “weeks rather than years.”

What is missing but essential is a focus on contractors who make up the great majority of those who do national government work but are not formal employees. As the public has lost confidence in bureaucratic expertise, it has proved impossible to increase the size even under Democratic presidents and Congresses.

As political scientist John J. Dilulio, Jr. shows in his book “Bring Back the Bureaucrats,” to run the present government even marginally well it would be necessary to add a million or more bureaucrats.

The federal government has increased its programs exponentially on the domestic side since Reagan, but it has roughly the same number of employees. How can that be?

The answer is private or lower-level government contractors do the work, about 8 to 1 for every national government employee.

In Florida, Bush did cut some 13,000 state jobs but mostly converted them into government contractors and increased the total overall. He cut taxes by $20 billion, but his budget authority increased from $49 to $71 billion–an incredible two-thirds growth. Debt increased from $15 to $23 billion and the debt service from $928 million to $1.7 billion per year.

State government actually increased dramatically during the Bush years.

It is refreshing to hear government management reform given such emphasis. It has not been front and center in a presidential election since President Jimmy Carter. But Carter used it as an alternative to reducing governmental functions. Hopefully, Gov. Bush will not

As an excellent new study by the CATO Institute’s Chris Edwards, “Why the Government Fails,” documents, the real problem is over-centralization; and the only real solution is to cut programs and send functions back to state, local and private institutions.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth