Victor Davis Hanson

America’s Civilizational Paralysis

by Victor Davis Hanson // Defining Idea

Image credit:Barbara Kelley

The Greek city-states in the fourth-century BC, fifth-century AD Rome, and the Western European democracies after World War I all knew they could not continue as usual with their fiscal, social, political, and economic behavior. But all these states and societies feared far more the self-imposed sacrifices that might have saved them.

Mid-fifteenth-century Byzantium was facing endemic corruption, a radically declining birthrate and shrinking population, and the end of civic militarism—all the last-gasp symptoms of an irreversible decline. Its affluent ruling and religious orders and expansive government services could no longer be supported by disappearing agrarians and the overtaxed mercantile middle class. Returning to the values of the Emperor Justinian’s sixth-century empire that had once ensured a vibrant Byzantine culture of stability and prosperity throughout the old Roman east remained a nostalgic daydream. Given the hardship and sacrifice that would have been required to change the late Byzantine mindset, most residents of Constantinople plodded on to their rendezvous with oblivion in 1453. Read more →

Medieval America

By Victor Davis Hanson // Town Hall


Pessimists often compare today’s troubled America to a tottering late Rome or an insolvent and descending British Empire. But medieval Europe (roughly A.D. 500 to 1450) is the more apt comparison.

The medieval world was a nearly 1,000-year period of spectacular, if haphazard, human achievement — along with endemic insecurity, superstition and two, rather than three, classes.

The great medieval universities — at Bologna, Paris and Oxford — continued to make strides in science. They were not unlike the medical and engineering schools at Harvard and Stanford. But they were not centers of free thinking.

Instead, medieval speech codes were designed to ensure that no one questioned the authority of church doctrine. Culturally or politically incorrect literature of the classical past, from Aristophanes to Petronius, was censored as either subversive or hurtful. Read more →

Angry Reader

Comment from a Reader:

Dear Mr. Hanson;

I left the Republican Party soon after watching eight years of ineffective “leadership” by Mitch McConnell, John Bohner, and now Paul Ryan. But the tipping point came when Trump was nominated for president. I cannot belong to a political party that would nominate an ignoramus and blowhard who has no interest in America other than how it can enrich him.

Trump has the mentality of a not-very-bright 8 year old. I am sad to witness people like Dennis Prager, Bill Bennett, Ann Coulter, you, and many others I formerly respected who are now in thrall to the unsophisticated and ignorant Trump.

The GOP is finished. Conservatives and those who love and respect our Constitution must form a new organization to push back against institutional Leftism. Trump is the last person we need to lead that movement.

John Nernoff

Victor Davis Hanson’s Reply:

The use of the adjectival phrase “in thrall” has no support in anything I wrote about Trump, my least favorite of the 16 primary alternatives, and reflects poorly on both the reasoning and character of the Angry Reader.  Unfortunately, I live in the real world of 51/49% in which there are usually bad and worse choices. In that context, the specter of a 8-year Clinton continuum to Obama’s two terms is truly frightening. I suggest Mr. Nernoff review the latest Wikileaks trove and then collate it with prior hacked Clinton emails and Foundation business. “Unsophisticated and Ignorant” Hillary certainly is not. But I might prefer in our Manichean world of 2016 unsophistication to unconstitutional criminality and inveterate lying. If you seek monuments to why Hillary should not reach the White House, simply look around you from the carcass of the Middle East to a soon to be nuclear Iran to war drums from North Korea to Moscow—all a topping to a wrecked health care system, $11 trillion in new debt, and the corruption of once hallowed institutions from the IRS to the FBI. There is a 51% great likelihood that a president Trump would bring in far more conservatives than would Hillary Clinton; sometimes that is all we get.


The So-Called Trump Supporter/Defender/Endorser

The Corner
The one and only.
 by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online
I think we at National Review have to be very careful in blanket condemnations of Trump “endorsers,” “supporters,” “defenders,” and scare-quote “conservatives” as if they were a monolithic group of mindless extremists or utter fools. Many or perhaps even most, who for years have supported National Review, did not support Trump in the primaries. Many saw the Trump phenomenon not as melodrama, but as tragedy — given eight years of Obama, the sense that the so-called “rules” are not applied equally to an elite in Washington, the past failed centrist campaigns of McCain and Romney, the perceived inability of the Republican party to address open borders, staggering debt, Obamacare, and the trajectory of social extremism, along with the ineptness of what had been billed as — and what we thought would certainly be — an especially gifted Republican primary field. Into that void, Trump barreled in with searing heat where in the past sober and judicious light were perceived to have failed. The rest is history.
The challenge for Republicans — whatever the election result and to the extent that it is fixable — will be to bridge the gaps between the diehard Trump core, the so-called conservative media and political establishment, traditional-minded independents, and the conservative base. Key will be discovering what were the conditions that created Trump (especially that undeniable strain of supporter that saw losing with Trump as preferable to possibly winning with a more marketable Republican candidate), both the candidate and the message, and the avoidance of self-righteous disdain that will only be perceived as the sort of elitism that empowered the Trump phenomenon in the first place.
Many National Review readers (as well as those who we all hope will return to NR) are hardly fanatics in their support for Trump. Their common bond is a deep and existential fear of what four, and likely eight, years of Hillary Clinton will do to the country on top of eight years of Obama’s hard progressivism. It is sometimes true that they overlook Trump’s glaring flaws, most recently his gross language, and that has and will have more consequences, but mostly they are frustrated with the double standards of the Left, which poses as morally superior on matter of gender, sex, and feminism, and yet has had for a half century no problem, for political reasons, canonizing the fatally negligent Ted Kennedy or the serial sexual groper, philanderer, and perhaps sexual assaulter Bill Clinton.
Finally, it would be wiser before rather than after the election to seek common ground. And one way to do it is to be careful in all but writing off millions of conservative voters and thousands of loyal National Review readers who will vote Trump as somehow beyond the pale, and whose support, and the expansion of that support, are essential to finding ways of unifying conservatives.

The Tenth Life of Donald Trump

  by Victor Davis Hanson// National Review Online
By seizing control of Sunday night’s debate, he steadied his faltering candidacy — a bit. The Sunday debate recalibrated the moribund Trump candidacy. It will not end this week. The stampede and groupthink calls for his resignation will ease. Trump might have lost the debate on points of detail, but by the end of hour one, he had won it on energy level and audacity.
No one has ever spoken so bluntly to Hillary Clinton in her 30 years in politics. The confrontation was long overdue. In an either/or race, Trump at least reminded the audience that he is running as a refutation of the status quo. Hillary still bores with the idea that Obama’s record is fine and her continuance of it will make things even better.
Trump, as the teenage delinquent, was at times, as expected, repetitive and brash. Hillary, as playground monitor, was characteristically off-putting, sanctimonious and disingenuous. At one point she foolishly explained her advocacy of being duplicitous by comparing herself to a supposed two-faced Abe Lincoln. Pulling Old Abe down to pull yourself up is not a good idea. Nor is referring voters to “fact-checking” at her own website! And there is something now surreal about Hillary’s promises to get tough with Putin, after she cooked up that ridiculous stunt of a red “reset” button in Geneva in 2009, while subsequently caving on almost everything the Russians wanted.

Read more →

Angry Reader

Comment on: Is Trump Admiral Bull Halsey of Captain Queeg?

October 4, 2016

So—you tuned in hoping to see “Bull” Halsey? I suppose that was a reasonable expectation if the following propositions were true:

       1. “Bull” Halsey was a draft dodger.

      2. “Bull” Halsey was a cheat.

  1. “Bull” Halsey was a four-flusher.
  1. “Bull” Halsey was an ignoramus.
  1. “Bull” Halsey got his information from “the shows.”

 I could go on—in fact, I could go on and on and on—but I hope you get the point. It’s that I’ve never seen this amount of self-delusion in one place at one time before. The mere act of instituting that comparison means your judgment ranks at zero, now and forever.


 Bob Acker

Victor Davis Hanson’s Reply:

Mr. Acker,

I wrote in the column that conservatives—not myself as you write—probably tuned into to see Trump as a Bull Halsey-like character, not as Captain Queeg of The Caine Mutiny. You do not understand the craft of allusion, metaphor, or simile. I suggested that Trump supporters probably thought he would come out in the first debate in speech and candor as aggressive and tough, in the manner that Admiral William “Bull” Halsey often employed tough rhetoric in World War II. Instead, I suggested that Trump’s confused debate performance reminded one of the neurotic fictional character Captain Queeg of the classic movie The Caine Mutiny, who melted down in courtroom rants about the trivial.

You strangely object to that narrow comparison because you seem to think that the life Trump has lived does not match the heroism of Halsey. True, but my limited comparison was to the impulsive Halsey’s combative language, not inclusive relative morality. According to your simplistic logic, Trump commensurately also could not be compared to the neurotic Queeg because Queeg never existed—he was first a fictional and later a cinematic character. So I am also not allowed to note the comparison between Trump and Queeg because it would be unfair to the non-person Queeg: the phantom of literature and film whose made-up life might not have been akin to Trump, the “four-flusher”?

The arrogance and puerility of your angry letter (“It’s that I’ve never seen this amount of self-delusion in one place at one time before. The mere act of instituting that comparison means your judgment ranks at zero, now and forever.”) only add to your utter confusion about comparisons to limited rhetorical characteristics of real and fictional characters.

Finally, if I were to say on occasion that Mitt Romney was Kennedyesque, in some of his better rhetorical moments, would the blinkered Acker then object that the comparison between the morally upright Romney and the dissolute and often abhorrent sexual practices of John F. Kennedy made the narrow rhetorical allusion unfair to Romney?

In sum, the angry letter is utterly incoherent, reminding us that ignorance and arrogance are a lethal combination.


Trump, Politics, and Our Sexual Schizophrenia

 Conservatives should know better than to so quickly validate a dishonest narrative that benefits the other side.


A few minutes into Sunday’s debate Donald Trump’s decade-old crude sexual banter with a reporter from an entertainment show was mentioned by the CNN moderator. Donald again apologized for the comments, and Hillary immediately pounced on Trump’s misogyny, throwing in his alleged racism and Islamophobia. To his credit, Trump ignored her slurs and attacked her record. When Democrat loyalist Martha Raddatz pressed on, Trump let loose with a powerful contrast with Bill’s record of abuse––which Hillary side-stepped.

Welcome to another debate on everything except the issues. Consider the reporting on Trump’s comments, which is the mother of all dog-bites-man-stories. I don’t know what cocoon you have to come from not to know that every single day millions of men––and women–– of all ages, races, and sexual persuasions exchange vulgar, crude banter about sex. And you’d have to be particularly dumb, or duplicitous, to be shocked that a New Yorker with a flamboyant and braggadocios personality who is involved in casinos, reality television, construction, and beauty pageants probably would do so on a regular basis. Or, if not dumb, then a partisan hack indulging in rank hypocrisy in order to gain political advantage. Welcome to another episode of America’s political hypocrisy and sexual schizophrenia. Read more →

From Greek tragedy to American therapy

From Greek tragedy to American therapy


The Greeks gave us tragedy — the idea that life is never fair. Terrible stuff for no reason tragically falls on good people. Life’s choices are sometimes only between the bad and the far worse.

In the plays of the ancient dramatists Aeschylus and Sophocles, heroism and nobility only arise out of tragedies.

The tragic hero refuses to blame the gods for his terrible fate. Instead, a Prometheus, Ajax or Oedipus prefers to fight against the odds. He thereby establishes a code of honor, even as defeat looms.

In contrast, modern Americans gave the world therapy.

Life must always be fair. If not, something or someone must be blamed. All good people deserve only a good life — or else.

A nation of victims soon becomes collectively paralyzed in fear of offending someone. Pay down the $20 trillion debt? Reform the unsustainable Social Security system? Ask the 47 percent of the population that pays no income tax to at least pay some?

Nope. Victims would allege that such belt-tightening is unfair and impossible — and hurtful to boot. So we do nothing as the rendezvous with financial collapse gets ever closer.

Does anyone think a culture of whiners can really build high-speed rail in California? Even its supporters want the noisy tracks built somewhere away from their homes.

Even animals get in on the new victimhood. To build a reservoir in drought-stricken California means oppressing the valley elderberry longhorn beetle or ignoring the feelings of the foothill yellow-legged frog.
Read more →

Is Trump Admiral Bull Halsey or Captain Queeg?

by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review
In debate No. 2, Trump owes it to the ‘deplorables’ to focus on the issues and exert some self-control. In the first debate, Hillary stuck out her jaw on cybersecurity, the treatment of women, sermons on the need for restrained language, and talk about the shenanigans of the rich — and Trump passed on her e-mail scandals, her denigration of Bill’s women, her reckless smears like “deplorables,” and her pay-for-pay Clinton Foundation enrichment, obsessed instead with the irrelevant and insignificant.
In fact, the first presidential debate resembled the final scene out of the Caine Mutiny. Trump was melting down like the baited Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), in his convoluted wild-goose-chase defenses of his arcane business career. Watching it was as painful as it was for the admiral judges in the movie who saw fellow officer Queeg reduced to empty shouting about strawberries.

Read more →

The Next President Unbound

There is reason to worry about both candidates abusing power as president, because Obama and the press normalized executive overreach.

By Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online
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