Whistling Past the Graveyard

The Biden Administration is getting played by Xi Jinping and flirting with national disaster in its geopolitical handling of China.


Earlier this week, President Joe Biden met with China’s dictator Xi Jinping for nearly 3 hours in Bali, Indonesia at the G20 Summit of nations. The meeting has been described by analysts as a boon for future cooperation between the nations and their leaders on major transnational issues and a positive step away from tension and towards engagement. According to the Biden administration, the discussion cemented the idea on both sides of the Pacific that conflict is not coming and that a new Cold War is indeed not in the cards. The Biden administration is touting this as a genuine diplomatic success and a move towards stability in East Asia, and has praised President Biden’s warm personal relationship with Xi. From reading major news reports of this meeting, you’d think that the US and China are on a glide path towards better relations in the short and long term, under the joint leadership of Xi and Biden – a big step towards mutual security after the chaos of the Trump administration.

Unfortunately for us, that framing is inaccurate in the extreme. This meeting makes us no safer, gives us no positive assurances from China, and betrays the Biden administration’s terribly naïve instincts on foreign affairs.

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The Rational Policy Podcast Episode 6 – 2022 Midterm Recap

The 2022 midterm elections were quite eventful, seeing mixed results in the Senate, House, and gubernatorial elections. Listen in to this episode of the show to hear the latest updates, analysis of the various races, and overall takeaways from the election. Will the Republicans dump Trump? Will the Democrats double down on Biden? Will American voters ever have candidates they want to vote for, instead of merely voting against the other guy? Tune in for these answers and more.

https://anchor.fm/rationalpolicy/episodes/Episode-6—2022-Midterm-Recap-e1qlu3p


The Millenarian Midterm: https://rationalpolicy.com/2022/11/03/the-millenarian-midterm/

The King Over the Water: https://rationalpolicy.com/2022/10/20/the-king-over-the-water/

The Millenarian Midterm

American politics is replete with apocalyptic and millenarian rhetoric; this has only ramped up in the leadup to the 2022 midterm election. Thankfully, those who feel this way are dead wrong.


Norman Cohn published his excellent academic tome on European religious apocalypticism, The Pursuit of the Millennium, in 1957. It dealt primarily with groups and events which occurred nearly a thousand years earlier, yet it is just as relevant to modern politics as it is to Medieval heresy. Cohn describes an era that was rapidly changing socially, culturally, economically, and politically; he writes of charismatic prophets, millenarian movements, and revolutionary vanguards. In the Middle Ages in Europe, these changes and the various group responses to them revolved heavily around religion – the center of life for the people of the time. This period was full of religious sects and ideologies which believed in the immediate coming of the end of the world and the replacement of the current society with a new world order[1] – either the Kingdom of God, or a version of Hell on Earth. These millenarian movements were very Manichaean in their outlook; they saw only good and evil, with no area in between. Of course, the members of the in-group were good and fought for Christ, while their persecutors were evil servants of Satan or the Antichrist.

Given this eternal struggle for the future of existence – a future that would, again, be decided imminently – accepted social morality and religious doctrine were quick casualties to the necessity of winning the battle for the soul of the world. One such sect, the adherents of the Free Spirit movement, were spread across Europe over five centuries and, according to Cohn, represented “the only thoroughly revolutionary social doctrine that existed” at the time.[2] Their brand of radical individual salvation led to “an affirmation of freedom so reckless and unqualified that it amounted to a total denial of every kind of restraint and limitation;”[3] everything could be theologically justified. This attitude was embraced by many millenarian groups during the Middle Ages, often leading them into violence, revolt, drastic social change, harsh treatment of dissent, and – eventually – death at the hands of the Church or State. All of this stemmed from the idea that the end was nigh, and true believers had to act accordingly to achieve salvation and defeat the foe which sought to destroy the world God built for His children.

If you’ve been paying attention to politics over the past several years, you may find these ideas and tropes painfully familiar. Our partisan politics – the closest thing modern secular society has to Medieval religion – has been riven by Manichaean thinking, revolutionary eschatology, radical ideologies, and apocalyptic warnings. People on both right and left see their ideological rivals as seriously attempting to destroy the country – if not the entirety of civilization – and claim the current moment as the precipice of either total victory or total defeat for their cause. These stakes are viewed as permanent, with no path back for the losers in the new world created by and for the victors. As such, any actions taken to avert this catastrophe are justified and justifiable. “By any means necessary” is not an uncommon adage to hear in radical political circles. This is all millenarian thinking. And as the 2022 midterms approach, this millenarianism has ramped up to 11.

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The King Over the Water

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 already here.), 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.[1]

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Third Time’s the Charm?

As protests against the Iranian regime escalate yet again, will the US stand against the totalitarian theocrats in Tehran or continue to appease them?


For the third time in just over a decade, the Iranian people are bravely protesting against their dictatorial regime and the indignities it forces upon them. In June 2009, the Green Movement erupted in Tehran after a widely-disputed election returned the regime-approved favorite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. The next day, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to register their dissent and contest the (likely bogus) election results; the protestors were angry about the state of the economy, the regime’s costly foreign adventurism, and the clear disregard for the will of the people. Students, middle-class workers, and young people drove the movement, which lasted through the end of 2009. In news that wouldn’t shock anyone, the protests were brutally repressed, with thousands of arrests, hundreds of killings, and televised show trials reminiscent of the Stalin era.

Ten years later, anti-regime protests broke out again, this time triggered by an “abrupt increase of at least 50 percent in gasoline prices.” The protestors were mainly lower-class young men who were frustrated by high unemployment and lack of economic opportunity, some of which was exacerbated by American sanctions on the country due to its nuclear program and support of terrorism. Using the 2009 playbook, in which protests were coordinated and anti-regime anger spread via the Internet, the 2019 movement proliferated rapidly across the country in just a few days. Demonstrations erupted in 29 of Iran’s 31 provinces, showing significant cracks in the Islamic regime’s traditional power base. Still, these protests were put down as harshly as were those in 2009; the government cracked down hard on demonstrators, using lethal force and detaining thousands. In just 4 days in November 2019, the regime killed 321 civilians in its forceful response to the anti-government sentiment.

Now, just a few years later, massive anti-regime protests have once again arisen in Iran. As in 2009 and 2019, they have spread like wildfire, with sizeable demonstrations cropping up across the country. But will they end in the same way, with the regime still empowered after crushing a nascent democratic movement? Or will this time be different? Much of the answer relies on the specific nature of these protests, as well as the Western (read: American) response.

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