The answer is simple, and goes straight to the heart of the radical climate change movement.
You may have recently seen the photos or videos of radical climate change activists – often associated with the groups Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil, and the Last Generation – who enter museums and proceed to douse works of art with foodstuffs before gluing their hands to the wall. If you haven’t, the video below, from Germany this past weekend, is a great example of the tactic.
This assault on art has been met with skepticism from some more moderate climate change groups and activists, but has also been praised by many in the media. According to the tactic’s defenders, these paintings are protected by glass and also, who cares about art if we’re all going to die in a decade due to the climate catastrophe?! I’ve written on the absurdity of the worst climate change hysteria before, and the use of emergency language to make an end-run around the democratic process; these activists embrace those tactics and language in their vandalism disguised as protest. Their talk about people “starving,” “freezing,” and “dying” is similarly ludicrous, as those results largely happen due to a lack of fossil fuels, not a surplus; I debunked this specious argument further in my latest podcast episode.
But what is most interesting – and telling – about the vandalistic protests which have recently found their targets in art museums is something which cuts to the very heart of the radical climate change movement: its fundamentally anti-human and anti-civilization ideology.
On the folly of yoking a political movement to a lost cause.
Political parties and movements have often been captured by strong personalities and wild overpromises. One is reminded in this regard of the rise and dominance of the Jacobins of the French Revolution, led by the irrepressible Maximilien Robespierre and driven by promises of utopia and crusades against an ever-changing roster of ideological foes. To borrow a phrase from the counterrevolutionary thinker Jacques Mallet du Pan, the Revolution often ‘devoured its own children’ on its continuing quest to root out wrongthink and redress perceived injustices. The Jacobin Terror destroyed the progressive dreams of its supporters in a blood-fueled spasm of violence, turning the French Revolution in a decidedly more moderate direction that ended with the eventual restoration of the very monarchy it overthrew. Processes like these have recurred again and again throughout history, usually ending in a total rout for groups like the Jacobins; it is quite a bit rarer for the defeated party to hang around afterwards, still siphoning loyalty and attention from its backers.
We are seeing a version of this phenomenon playing itself out in real time in American right-wing politics. As the consequential 2022 midterm elections approach and chatter begins around the 2024 Presidential election (I’m sorry, but yes, it’s alreadyhere.), Republicans and conservatives are faced with a stark choice: return to the MAGA fold and embrace Donald Trump, or move forward with new blood and ideological competition. The answer they choose will determine whether the party capitalizes on an historic opportunity to dominate American politics and advance conservative ideas or fails and is forced deeper into the political and ideological wilderness during a crucial period for the nation. As noted, this is not a new occurrence in political history, although it is uncommon. Focusing on past grievances and trying to turn back the political clock generally isn’t a winning strategy, especially when it is paired with overpromises and personality cults. Still, these lost causes have drawn support time and time again. One of the prime historic examples of the power of such a combination to ruin political fortunes and movements comes from 17th and 18th century Britain: the failure of the Jacobites.
A brief defense of a quintessentially American holiday.
Columbus Day has largely been a minor national holiday with deep local roots since it was federally recognized in 1971. It was first celebrated long before that, however. Starting off in New York City in 1792 as a commemoration of the 300th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, the holiday has kept this identity over the centuries but has also been adopted as a celebration of Italian-American heritage. Most people think of it as the one day off from school in October before the deluge of holidays in November and December. Recently, it has gained in prominence – or infamy – due to a progressive crusade to label Columbus a genocidaire and to rechristen the holiday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. These campaigners accuse Columbus of perpetuating a deliberate genocide of native peoples and label the European interaction with the New World as irredeemably bad. This activist campaign has gained ground over the past decade and several states have officially changed their calendars accordingly. As useful and proper as it is to memorialize the contributions of Native Americans to the United States, the defenestration of Columbus Day is a terrible mistake. In many ways, Columbus Day is itself a perfect encapsulation of our amazing country and its evolution over the centuries into a “more perfect union.”
In episode 3 of the Rational Policy Podcast, host Mike Coté premieres a new recurring format – the Foreign Telegram. In this Foreign Telegram, for October 2022, Mike discusses three major topics in international affairs that have been on his mind over the past few weeks: Italian elections, Iranian protests, and the escalating Russo-Ukrainian War. Starting off, Italy’s recent parliamentary elections are briefly explored and mainstream narratives about the right-wing victors debunked. The reaction to this event is a microcosm of the broader trend over the past decade or so of populist issues being overlooked by the EU. Next, Mike talks about the growing anti-regime protests in Iran which were sparked by the religious police killing of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, for the “crime” of improper hijab. He recaps the situation, analyzes the potential impact, and lays out several suggestions for US policy. Also touched on are some common criticisms of this hawkish and direct approach. Lastly, the escalating war in Ukraine is broken down and major recent events explained, from the Ukrainian counteroffensives, to the Russian mobilization and annexation of Ukrainian territory. Mike also considers the Nord Stream pipeline sabotage, the nuclear rhetoric emanating from Moscow (and isolationist reactions), and what may happen next. Tune in for this comprehensive session on foreign policy and America’s role in responding to recent events.
This past weekend, Italy held snap parliamentary elections to replace its unpopular government. Although results are still being finalized, it looks as though the big winner of the day was the right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party. Brothers of Italy received the greatest share of the vote, twenty-six percent, and together with Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, they seem poised to build a government with popular backing.
If you’ve heard anything about the results of this democratic process from the mainstream media, however, it has likely been descriptions of Brothers of Italy and particularly Meloni herself as “hard right,” “far-right,” or even “fascist.” She has been labeled “a danger to Italy and the rest of Europe” by The Guardian, and the New York Times called her “the first far-right nationalist to govern Italy since Mussolini.” Reading those pieces, you might expect Meloni’s views to echo Il Duce’s famous fascist dictum: “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” In reality, this media framing relies purely on conjecture, guilt by association, bad history, and bias.