September 15, 2007

Poisonous Pabulum

Americanism is the set of beliefs that has always held this country together in its large embrace. Americanism calls for liberty, equality, and democracy for all mankind. And it urges this nation to promote the American Creed wherever and whenever it can--to be the shining city on a hill, the "last, best hope of earth." Ultimately, Americanism is derived from the Bible. The Bible itself has been a grand unifying force in American society, uniting Christians of many creeds from Eastern Orthodox to Unitarian, and Jews, and Bible-respecting deists like Thomas Jefferson--and many others who respect and honor the Bible whatever their own religious beliefs.

--David Gelernter
This sort of thing used to be heard at a certain kind of patrioteering rally. Don't get me wrong, love of one's place, one's people, one's country is a fine thing. But what is preached here is love of an abstraction, and replacing one's own particular love with a universal imperative. It's like preaching motherhood instead of caring for one's own children. Universal imperatives, usually founded in seemingly praiseworthy ideals, lead to universal bloodshed and universal tyranny. "Americanism" is no different.

Gelernter's is a rather silly and inaccurate reading of the Bible. Whatever interpretation of the Bible one favors, it's certainly not about equality or democracy, and the liberty it preaches is not Bill of Rights liberty but freedom from sin and death. The Bible is the story of particular communities--Israel in the Hebrew Bible, and the followers of Jesus and then the early church in the New Testament--it's not a philosophical, let alone political, manifesto.

For that matter, "democracy" was hardly beloved of the founders. Madison advocated many of the nation's institutions as checks against democracy. Civil society and consensual government are not the same thing as democracy, and as Goethe tells us, equality and liberty are inconsistent. You can't have both. "Legislators and revolutionaries who promise equality and liberty at the same time," he wrote in his Maximen und Reflexionen, "are either psychopaths or mountebanks."

Gelernter's actually not bad on the follies of pacifism and globalism, though horrible in his acceptance of allied propaganda in WWI.

Gelernter was a victim of the unabomber, and apparently quite a fine computer scientist. Too bad he writes political drivel.

1 comment:

empiricus said...


(same comment left at Eunomia - respond where you prefer)-

I strongly suspect that I am the only Eunomia reader-responder (other than perhaps Mencius Moldbug if he still reads here) to have ever actually written parallel processing code in Linda, the development of which is AFAICT Gelernter’s main claim to fame in CompSci (the Linda language never made it out of the university; only CS grad students and DoD researchers like me ever used it to my knowledge).

Back in the day when I cared about such things, I was fairly unimpressed with Gelernter as a computer scientist, but I certainly considered him as deserving of recognition as a Real Computer Scientist as anyone else, and more than many who got more funding. A borderline case for the “quite important” qualification, I guess.

Dr. Gelernter is unquestionably a victim of the Unabomber (though he’s also an example of someone trying to derive additional moral authority from his victimhood), and AFAIK he is indeed Conservative observant, but why do you think his standing in CompSci, whatever that standing might be, makes his garbage any more infelicitous than it would be if e.g. he’d been a noname professor of accounting who got maimed by Kaczynski?