GUEST POST: A Last Jedi Fan Strikes Back

This guest post comes from local Star Wars fanatic Luke LoPresto, who has written for De Civ before. It never would have occurred to me to review The Last Jedi in this way–my strategy has been to ignore all the political arguments around it–but, having read Luke’s take on it, I approve of his approach. (Now if someone could just convince me that the Casino Planet wasn’t a waste of Poe and Rose’s talents.) Now, over to Luke:

by Luke LoPresto

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a film series went completely insane–or so you’d think from the Internet, where, to some, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a daring sequel in an overcautious era, taking a blockbuster series into uncharted territory. To others, it’s a disorganized mess that betrays the childhoods of everyone involved. In an era where, as Chesterton warned, campaigns to abolish right and wrong have nearly abolished right and left, politics have come to dominate the debate over The Last Jedi. (Because we all know how much people loved the politics in the prequel trilogy.)

After two viewings, I want to explain why I love this movie and why you shouldn’t be put off by the ideologically “progressive” interpretations of The Last Jedi emanating from Hollywood and Manhattan.

Attack of the Thinkpieces

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some trepidation walking into the movie theater, worried that the movie from left-leaning Hollywood would consist of Disney spitting on my values as a cradle Catholic and a conservative. It was small reassurance to know that Disney loves money far too much to risk no longer getting it from white men like me.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see the movie was not a heavy-handed left-wing propaganda piece. General Hux never says “Make the Galaxy Great Again” or anything like that. But this didn’t stop all the usual suspects from posting commentaries on how the film was a condemnation of the usual feminist buzzwords like “toxic masculinity” and the most “feminist” and “diverseStar Wars movie ever made (which is at least plausible; logic dictates one of them must be). Predictably, right-wingers have risen to the bait and condemned the movie for selling out to SJWs, unintentionally validating the thinkpiece-writers’ projections and letting them win the argument.

That’s not the narrative I read into the movie at all. I instead saw a broader parallel to the friction between the Millenial generation and Boomers or Gen X, represented by the younger and older contingents of the film’s cast, respectively.

A New Take

Poe, in particular, is so focused on destroying a First Order dreadnaught in the opening battle that he gets an entire Resistance bomber squadron killed, for which Leia demotes him. Then Leia is incapacitated and Laura Dern’s vice admiral Holdo takes over. Despite the Resistance fleet being tracked through hyperspace – bringing up the very real possibility of a mole in the heroes’ midst – by the First Order, who is now slowly picking off the fleeing heroes, Holdo refuses to explain her apparent non-plan to the recently demoted Poe, who apparently has never heard of operational security or “need-to-know,” except he uses the latter term later, so I guess he’s just an idiot.

Now the “I don’t like just sitting here doing nothing” trope is nothing new, but consider how the word “resistance” has gained whole new connotations in the two years between the releases of The Force Awakens and this film. The pyrrhic victory against the dreadnought, and later the disastrous consequences of Poe’s unsanctioned mission for Finn and Rose (specifically, the fleeing Resistance lifeboats being exposed and shot at, necessitating Holdo’s epic sacrifice), almost seem like an admonition of the modern “bash the fash” mentality. Rose’s lines about “saving what we love” instead of just “destroying what we hate” may sound uncomfortably close to the “Love Trumps Hate” slogan, but it’s not a bad lesson, not by any means. We should fight to defend the things worth fighting for, not just to crush our so-called enemies.

Meanwhile, on Luke Skywalker’s island, Rey begs the original trilogy’s hero to return to action, beat up the bad guys, and save the day. Luke, however, tempered by thirty years of experience and wisdom, is reluctant to act, knowing how the wrong move can have disastrous consequences. He’s not entirely right, but he’s not entirely wrong, either.

Rey, much like the audience, is convinced things will play out much like they did thirty years before, with herself in Luke’s role of young hero and Kylo Ren in Vader’s role of conflicted villain poised to return to the light. In the end she is…less right than she thinks. After Rey, so-called Mary Sue, gets Force-ragdolled around the room by Snoke, Kylo betrays his master, but it’s not out of the goodness of his heart; he’s just sick of taking orders. So all Rey has accomplished is replaced one dictator with a slightly less stable dictator. Whether this is good or bad for the galaxy at large remains to be seen.

Rey drawing hasty comparisons between the myths she grew up with and her current situation reminded me of those who compare “Trump’s America” to Nazi Germany. In both cases, we see people jumping to conclusions and reacting accordingly, with less-than-ideal consequences. Luke, having experienced a lot more of history himself, doesn’t fall for this trap (RIP Admiral Ackbar) and warns: “This is NOT going to go the way you think!”

The Phantom Controversy

I could go on. Kylo Ren’s declaration that he and Rey should “let the past die” and “kill it if you have to” echos the progressive sentiment of sweeping away any references to less politically-correct, less “enlightened” eras of history, the sort of mentality that leads to the removal of statues of anybody who ever said anything racist. And near the film’s conclusion, just when you think the last traces of the old Jedi have been burned to ashes, it turns out Rey salvaged the ancient Jedi sacred books. “Page-turners they were not,” but that doesn’t mean she can’t learn from them.

Did I also mention Poe’s rather hasty jump to the conclusion that Vice Admiral Holdo is a full-on traitor just because he can’t personally figure out her plan and/or doesn’t agree with it? Trump-Russia collusion scandals, anybody? Not only is Poe wrong, his subsequent mutiny is cut short so quickly it’s downright embarrassing. I’m sure people who break the chain of command usually think they’re doing the right thing, but the chain is there for a reason, guys, and breaking it can cost lives.

All of that sounds very different from the thinkpieces you’ll see elsewhere, right? Almost like I watched an entirely different movie. Did I discover the film’s creators’ true intentions? Well I can’t prove that I’m right…but you can’t exactly prove that I’m wrong, either.

Why did I come to such different conclusions? Probably because I love Star Wars enough to give it the benefit of the doubt, or because I want to hold out hope that not everybody in Hollywood is a full-blown social justice warrior.

Or – and hear me out on this one – maybe it’s because I focused on “who” the protagonists are: an isolated young adult desperately seeking her purpose in life, a recent defector of conscience who is still too scared for his own life to commit fully to the cause, a dedicated soldier who isn’t ready to watch his comrades die seemingly for nothing, a naive orphan grieving her sister’s death, a subordinate leader thrust to the top of the chain of command and now responsible for the lives of hundreds, an aging veteran at the end of his life who believes that his life’s work and purpose have all come to naught.

Those clickbait websites, on the other hand, are too focused on “what” the protagonists are: a white woman, a black man, a Hispanic man, an Asian woman, an older white woman with pink hair for some reason, an older white man.

The proper reaction to the ethnicity of the cast is “meh.” Far too many commentators, on both sides, have rejected color-blindness… which has helped make them blind to everything else going on in The Last Jedi.

The Franchise Awakens

A lot of people have rejected The Last Jedi because they don’t like the direction it takes the series, or because they think it betrays the earlier films, or because its subplots are subpar. I recognize there are plenty of valid criticisms for this movie, but I don’t think it is bad. I think it is challenging. It challenges the viewer’s preconceived notions about the Force, about Luke Skywalker, and about the very nature of storytelling itself. When was the last time a franchise blockbuster movie did that? In the age of comparatively interchangeable and disposable superhero films with minimal consequences, characters who are cornerstones of modern culture are being evolved in The Last Jedi, and our assumptions are being shattered, our preconceived notions disabused.

I know not everyone is as passionate about Star Wars as I, so I won’t begrudge anybody the right to hate this movie. But I will step in and argue with anybody who claims this movie is bad. As far as I can tell, nothing in this movie is indefensible. It’s well-executed, thought-provoking, and highly entertaining. You can dislike something and still acknowledge that it is good. I don’t particularly enjoy reading Shakespeare but I won’t claim it’s garbage.

But… if you were disappointed in the film, if you wanted to love it and found it wanting, I hope I’ve helped you find something to love about it. Find something you like about it and try to keep it in your mind. Find something you hate about it and try to explain it away in your mind. This isn’t real-world politics. It’s a movie. It’s a galaxy far, far away. A little bit of positive bias won’t hurt. Or at the very least, learn to respect it for what it is and for what it’s trying to do. It’s good practice for all of us in dealing with our fellow man. And when it comes to art and its influence on our thinking, inspiring us to engage with new and challenging points of view, whether we decide to agree with them or not, is definitely a goal worthy of a Jedi Master.

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A Roman Memory

Interior of St. Mary Major. The apse is truly breathtaking. The church (including the apse) were built by wealthy Roman patrons during the final century of the Roman Empire, and it has been essentially unchanged for 1600 years.
Interior of St. Mary Major. The apse is truly breathtaking. The church (including the apse) was built by wealthy Roman patrons during the final century of the Roman Empire, and it has been essentially unchanged for 1600 years.

When I was studying in Rome, I attended Mass at the great basilica of St. Mary Major, one of the leading churches of Rome (which has no shortage of important churches!). It was a beautiful Mass with an enormous, elaborate entrance procession. The parish’s “arch-priest” was saying Mass that day and came in decked out in serious-business garments with a serious-business entourage. I don’t remember the details, but I remember being impressed.

It took me a few minutes to realize that this impressive arch-priest was Cardinal Bernard Law, the quintessential devil of the American sex abuse cases, best known today as the (absolutely deserved) villain of Spotlight. Not a pedophile cleric himself, Law nevertheless worked for decades to protect them. I had always believed he had been exiled from the United States and sent to a monastery to live out his days in sackcloth and ashes.

One of the clearest memories of my entire life as a Catholic is the sick, furious horror I felt at that moment, when I realized Law had not been punished, but promoted. That he was sitting here in a fancy-pants cathedral in rich garments at the pinnacle of the Roman Church while his victims languished in Boston, still suffering the lifelong wounds of child sexual abuse. The rage I felt in that moment–at Law, at St. John Paul II, at the entire institutional Church–has never, ever subsided. On the contrary, subsequent years have justified my anger, again and again. My aphorism, “Never trust a bishop,” started there, in October 2009. I suppose I am grateful to Law and JP2 for so flagrantly flaunting justice that even I couldn’t help but see it. I believe Rod Dreher erred intellectually when he converted to Orthodoxy, for I still believe Catholicism is true… yet Dreher’s famous apologia captures well the emotions I feel toward the institutions and leaders of the Catholic Church today.

And that’s my eulogy for Cardinal Bernard Law, who died today. I will pray for the repose of his soul, and, in the spirit of “love thine enemies,” I encourage you to do the same. May he rest in the same peace of Christ he worked so hard to deny to his flock. And may the Roman Curia, which plans to give Law a cardinal’s funeral with full honors while (still) neglecting the abuse scandal, be utterly destroyed, so that no stone be left upon another stone, amen.

(I suppose this post takes me out of the running at the next conclave.)

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Reminder: The FCC has regulated ISPs for most of the Internet’s life.

I don't like to use this word in politics, because it is so very, very charged... but, at this point, how else can I respond to the cable companies' pattern of flagrant dishonesty?
I don’t like to use this word in politics, because it is so very, very charged… but, at this point, how else can I respond to the cable companies’ pattern of flagrant dishonesty?

There’s a lot of net neutrality stuff going on right now, and since that’s an issue I’m rather interested in, there might be two or three posts about it over the next few days. For now, just a quick li’l reminder:

The cable companies (not to mention FCC Chairman Pai) are screaming right now that the FCC never, ever dared regulate Internet Service Providers during the early days of the Internet. They claim that the modern free Internet grew up on top of an equally free infrastructure market where ISPs benevolently expanded their networks and increased speeds in order to earn a bigger profit–the perfect capitalist love story–until the Evil Obama Administration released the first-ever ISP regulations mandating net neutrality in 2015. You may even see this story repeated in outlets like the Wall Street Journal, which could never resist such a perfect free-market fable.

Well, I say “fable.”

The more accurate word is “lie.”

Remember that. The cable companies are lying to your face on this one, and they’re hoping you don’t know enough about the ISP regulatory regime of the ’90s and ’00s to gainsay them. So let me give you a quick refresher on what we discussed in these pages a few years ago:

The FCC has taken action to compel Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to comply with some form of net neutrality regulation for 23 out of the 28 years ISP’s have existed.

15 of those 28 years have been spent under the so-called Title II regime–the strictest form of regulation available to the FCC.

This is not new. And the telecoms know it.

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Star Trek: Discovery Is Just Somebody’s R-Rated Simm

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery, and some of the links contain spoilers to some of the best bits of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

PICTURED FROM TOP LEFT: A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER WHO'S YOUNG, A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER WHO'S A WOMAN, A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER, A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER WHO'S THE BEST, THE FIRST REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER, A GRADUATE OF THE VULCAN SCIENCE ACADEMY WITH A TRAGIC PAST WHO SOMEHOW HAS A HIGH-RANKING STARFLEET COMMISSION AND NEARLY BECAME THE YOUNGEST CAPTAIN IN THE FLEET WITHOUT EVER APPARENTLY GOING TO STARFLEET ACADEMY OH AND ALSO SHE'S SPOCK SECRET ADOPTIVE SISTER HE NEVER EVER EVEN ONCE TALKED ABOUT
PICTURED FROM TOP LEFT: A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER WHO’S YOUNG FOR HIS RANK; A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER WHO’S A WOMAN; A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER; A REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER WHO’S THE BEST; THE FIRST REGULAR STARFLEET OFFICER; AND A GRADUATE OF THE VULCAN SCIENCE ACADEMY WITH A TRAGIC TALE OF ORPHANHOOD WHO SOMEHOW HAD A HIGH-RANKING STARFLEET POSITION AND NEARLY BECAME THE YOUNGEST CAPTAIN IN THE FLEET WITHOUT EVER APPARENTLY GOING TO STARFLEET ACADEMY OH AND ALSO SHE’S SPOCK SECRET ADOPTIVE SISTER HE NEVER EVER EVEN ONCE TALKED ABOUT

I don’t talk much on De Civ about my personal life, but I am an enormous Trekkie and always have been. I once memorized a song listing all the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, more or less in order, and the most damning thing of all is that I routinely find it genuinely useful to have this song memorized.

I even used to run a Star Trek roleplaying game online.  A dozen or so players from around the world came up with Star Trek characters they could pretend to be aboard my “starship” and we all wrote Star Trek adventures with each other, using short chapters called “posts.” I played the captain, a bitter Bolian war hero, and I was ultimately responsible for coming up with good plots for the other characters to play through. The game ran for several years, and we had a lot of fun.

This is called “simming.” There’s a whole subculture around it. People who like the Original Series simm ships from Kirk and Spock’s time, people who want to “continue” Star Trek make simms that share the time period and feel of Voyager and Next Generation, and so on. People who want to make Star Trekdark and gritty” make restricted “R-rated” simms which are inspired by Star Trek but with cussing, dark and pessimistic storylines, character death, and a lot more sex. There are even a few who like the J.J. Abrams movies enough to make simms based in the “Abramsverse.” Simms often organize into federations of dozens of different simms called fleets, which allows them to share stories across a large shared multiverse.

Of course, because of Sturgeon’s Law, most simms are terrible, repetitive, joyless, and unstable. But some aren’t. (Mine, for instance!) Even a few of the R-rated games were surprisingly decent.

There was one R-rated game in my fleet called, I think, Deep Space 17. It was captained by a chipper 16-year-old girl named Penny whose character (in one of the Mary Sue flourishes for which simms are justly famous) was also a 16-year-old girl named Penny, the youngest captain in Starfleet, an absolute prodigy. When she decided to make her game more “mature,” I think she had some genetic virus infect her that turned her into a 21-year-old, and then she added an R-rating to her game and the characters started angsting a lot more. Her game had a lot of people shouting at each other and having sex and making Difficult Choices because Every Episode Needs To Be Dark, but, for a simm, she had good writers, and she became a good writer herself. It was different enough from everything else in my fleet that I honestly enjoyed reading their adventures.

Fast-forward to today. I’m no longer a simmer, but I am faithfully watching every episode of the new Star Trek: Discovery (currently paywalled for American viewers at CBS All Access). It’s unlike any Star Trek that has ever been televised before. And yet, every week, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that I’ve seen this all before. None of the shocking twists have made me even bat an eye. Several of them have made me roll my eyes. But so much of Discovery is new and different, where could that feeling be coming from? And why do I feel so disappointed in a show that is so bold and fresh and new–all things I’ve long believed a new Star Trek needed to be?

It finally clicked with me when this happened in episode 5, “Choose Your Pain”:

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A New Party: Why It Ain’t Happening, One Year (ish) Later

I haven’t blogged in months, because I haven’t quite known what to say.

In May 2016, I wrote a pretty radical piece calling for the formation of a new political party in the wake of the Trump candidacy (now presidency). I had several follow-ups throughout the year, encouraging voters in “safe” states to vote for third-party candidates and talking about the early goings of the new party I happened to join, the American Solidarity Party — among other things. I received quite a lot of kind and supportive mail from readers, many of whom indicated that you were ready to pick up a flag and follow me. Thank you for that.

And yet, while American politics are somehow even more obviously dysfunctional than they were this time last year, it’s obvious to everyone that the viable New Party I called for and predicted has not actually emerged. The Republicans and Democrats are still the only game in town, and (unless somebody with a lot of money has a BIG trick up his sleeve) they’ll still be the only viable parties on Election Day 2018. I felt I couldn’t continue this blog until I had come to grips with that. I owed some explanation to all of you who supported me.

So what happened?

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Fly the Unfriendly Skies!

HONESTLY, THIS WHOLE POST IS JUST AN EXCUSE FOR ME TO POST A SCREENCAP FROM THE FIRST EPISODE OF THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, WHICH WAS ALSO TITLED “FLY THE UNFRIENDLY SKIES”**

In response to the United fiasco of this weekend (read up here if you’ve been living under a rock, or are an Internet archaeologist reading this post from the 23rd century), I’ve seen more than one person call for the airlines to be “re-regulated.”

It just so happens that I was flying this weekend, so this was on my mind already. Also, the fact that I have hated United for many years is a matter of public record (look at the date on that one! PRESCIENCE!), so I really can’t resist posting about this.

Besides, airline regulation isn’t as simple as either “side” makes it out to be. Rolling back the Reagan-era reforms of airline regulations, as some left-wingers want to do, would be a disaster. But, then, so would eliminating all airline regulations, as some right-wingers want to do. Airline regulation is a tricky business, and deserves a tiny bit of close scrutiny before we pass judgment.

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Re-Up: Just War Theory Tested in Syria

Four years ago, I wrote a piece for this blog analyzing proposed military strikes against Syria.

Back in 2013, ISIS didn’t really exist in Syria yet; the major rebel group was the al-Nusra Front, affiliated with al-Qaeda. The President was still Obama. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had just launched illegal and immoral chemical attacks against his own people, which crossed what President Obama had called a “red line.” The President had already waged an illegal war in Libya, but he had painted himself into a corner on Syria, he did not want to upset negotiations with Iran, and so he decided to submit the question of Syrian war to Congress (which the Constitution requires anyway). Following my blog post, Congress declined the invitation to war, and here we are today.

Thing is, not that much has actually changed in Syria, so my post then holds up pretty well today. You can read the whole thing here, but here’s a short excerpt:

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How Anyone Could Do Such a Thing

A lotta people think that there are certain crimes that are really hard to commit. Even if you manage to commit one of these extra-terrible crimes, they are (supposedly) even harder to live with. Guilt, people think, eventually consumes the criminal.

Gosh, this is a good show.
From Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 2, Episode 19: “Blood Oath”

Hollywood agrees. For example, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there’s a really good scene where Lieutenant Dax, who is considering killing someone, asks Major Kira about what it’s like. It runs like this:

DAX: How many people did you kill?
KIRA: What?
DAX: While you were in the underground.
KIRA: Too many.
DAX: Were they all faceless Cardassians or did you know who you were killing?
KIRA: Why are we talking about this?
DAX: If it bothers you, we can stop.
KIRA: It bothers me.
DAX: I’m sorry.
KIRA: Why, are you thinking about killing somebody?
DAX: Me?
(Kira realizes)
[…] 

KIRA: Jadzia. Your questions about my experience with killing. If you’re wondering what it’s like. When you take someone’s life, you lose a part of your own as well.

You’ve probably never seen this one scene from a particularly obscure episode of Star Trek, but you’ve probably seen a hundred others like it. This exchange is everywhere in our media, from MacGyver‘s speeches to Harry Potter’s Horcruxes. There’s a deep, deep belief in our culture that most of us are incapable of committing murder, because we would just feel too guilty about it. Murder is supposed to feel different from other crimes. We are therefore shocked when we see unrepentant murderers in courtrooms, and we have never, as a culture, been able to come to grips with the way murderous governments can rise to power and enlist their own citizens in committing atrocities. “How could anyone do such a thing?!” we ask.

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Justice Gorsuch and Net Neutrality

Credit: /u/Dunkizle
Credit: /u/Dunkizle

Nobody seems to have pointed this out yet, so I guess I might as well put something up quick.

President Trump is not a big fan of net neutrality, and his new FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai, is, uh… really not a fan. Mr. Pai is already working on rolling back the FCC’s net neutrality rules, which were passed under President Obama. Most conservatives agree with Trump. Judge Gorsuch, of course, is a conservative nominee appointed by an anti-net neutrality president. So the going assumption is that Gorsuch will hurt the cause of net neutrality if confirmed to the Supreme Court. That he will not protect the open internet.

This is a mistake.

“Net neutrality,” for those of you who have never read my gigantic posts about it, is the principle that internet service providers (such as Comcast) have to allow their users equal access to the entire Internet. Under net neutrality, Comcast can have its own video service that competes with YouTube, but it cannot block YouTube from its network to force you (the Comcast subscriber) to use the Comcast video service. Nor can it treat its videos differently from YouTube videos as they travel down the wire to your computer: you get both videos as fast as possible, based on whatever data rate you are paying for. Nor can Comcast force YouTube to pay extra to connect with its network. And so forth.

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The Bishop’s Lament: Apb. Chaput’s New Book

My review of Archbishop Charles Chaput’s new book, Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Faith in a Post-Christian World, is up at The Federalist today.  Here is the link, and here is an excerpt:

Chaput repeatedly refers to the Supreme Court’s lawless decision in Obergefell v. Hodges as a watershed moment, but it seems clear from his litany of evils that the walls have been closing on American Catholics in for years. Obergefell was thus not a radical transformation of the American order, but the culmination of a culture that has been transforming for a long time now. After all, as Chaput writes, “Culture precedes and informs politics. And American culture has moved miles from the assumptions of the Founders.”

What Obergefell seems to have provided is clarity. “It can’t be like it was” anymore, Chaput laments. At one point, he favorably quotes Rod Dreher’s writing on the so-called “Benedict Option,” which sees Christians as besieged resistance cells in America. Chaput insists, like Chesterton’s Adam Wayne, that natural patriotism—love of the land that raised you—is a virtue. The love he still bears for his country, even as he mourns it, is obvious, and cuts a sharp contrast with anti-liberals like Ferrara. Yet Chaput’s anticipation of a “Dark Age” in America is a far cry from Archbishop Ireland calling America “liberty’s native home” and “the highest billow in humanity’s evolution.” Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised, since the book is literally titled Strangers in a Strange Land, but the Archbishop of Philadelphia losing his faith in the American project seems like a watershed of its own.

It’s not as dark as all that, but it made for a good excerpt. It’s a pretty good book on the whole!  Read the whole review at The Federalist, or you can grab the book itself on Amazon.

Longtime readers of this blog will notice a little “easter egg”: in this review, I mention Christopher Ferrara’s Liberty: The God That Failed… which I also reviewed, on this blog, back in 2012 or something.  My review of Liberty: TGTF is here.

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