Sunday, October 20, 2019

William Barr echoes Adolf Hitler, with "militant secularists" playing the role of the Jews

Attorney General William Barr gave a speech at Notre Dame university where he resurrected some of Adolf Hitler's most odious rhetoric, with "militant secularists" (i.e. people who believe in reason and science rather than medieval superstitions) playing the role previously occupied by the Jews:
He [Barr] insisted that “the traditional Judeo-Christian moral system” of the United States was under siege by “modern secularists” who were responsible for every sort of “social pathology”, including drug abuse, rising suicide rates and illegitimacy.
(Here is the transcript in case you want to read what he actually said.)

I wonder if Mr. Barr considers the sexual abuse of minors to be a "social pathology", because there's a lot more of that going on in the Catholic church than at any secular organization that I know of.

14 comments:

Peter Donis said...

Thank you for linking to the transcript. I think the Guardian is overstating things somewhat; while as an agnostic I would have preferred Barr not to base his argument on religious grounds, I think the argument he is making (or at least the steelman version of it I am about to give) does not actually require those grounds. And in fact this argument is a challenge to us secularists (not "militant" secularists--see below) as much as it is to religious people.

I think the central point of Barr's speech is here:

"[The Founders] never thought the main danger to the republic came from external foes. The central question was whether, over the long haul, we could handle freedom. The question was whether the citizens in such a free society could maintain the moral discipline and virtue necessary for the survival of free institutions."

Barr argues that religion is the only thing that can provide that moral discipline and virtue, and you are basically arguing that religion can't actually do that. I agree. But I don't think secularism has shown that it can do that either. And I think that is the fundamental challenge that secularism faces.

"militant secularists" (i.e. people who believe in reason and science rather than medieval superstitions)

I think your parenthetical definition here defines "secularists", not "militant secularists". I think "militant secularists" is narrower: it means people who don't just believe in reason and science rather than medieval superstitions, but think that reason and science alone can solve all problems and that we, right now, have enough knowledge of reason and science and enough ability to use them to solve all problems. I am not a "militant" secularist by that definition; I prefer reason and science to medieval superstition, but I also think that institutions, like religion, that have been part of human society for pretty much as long as there has been human society are there for a reason, even if it isn't the reason the people in those institutions think, and we should be very, very hesitant to tear down those institutions if we don't have anything better to replace them with.

I believe you argued in a past post that, while you didn't believe in religion yourself, you weren't trying to take religion away from people who find that it adds value to their lives. But militant secularists (as opposed to just secularists) *are* trying to take religion away from people. And I think Barr rightly argues that that is not a good thing. Certainly I don't think it's a good thing when secularism can't meet the challenge I described above.

Publius said...


Ron Garret, Militant Secularist

Barr anticipated your reaction in his speech:

First is the force, fervor, and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion we are experiencing today. This is not decay; it is organized destruction. Secularists, and their allies among the “progressives,” have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.

These instruments are used not only to affirmatively promote secular orthodoxy, but also drown out and silence opposing voices, and to attack viciously and hold up to ridicule any dissenters.

Barr gives a speech promoting Christian morality, and what do you do? Do you post a post promoting secular morality? Perhaps a point-by-point refutation of Barr's points?

No, you attack him as Adolf Hitler.

Apparently the militant secularist preferred response to any challenge is to lie, lie big, and keep lying.

Again, comparing Barr to Adolf Hitler, is a form of Holocaust Denial, which apparently you are all-in for now.
To quote Alan Dershowitz,
"Everybody is compared to Hitler. Everybody is compared to the Holocaust. Israel defending itself against Gaza rockets—oh, they're Nazis. Anybody who compares Trump or anybody else to Hitler essentially is a Holocaust denier because what they're saying [is], 'well, there were no gas chambers, there was no Auschwitz, there was no plan to kill six million Jews.' They minimize it,"

You should be ashamed, if a militant secularist is capable of that.

Ron said...

@Peter:

> Barr argues that religion is the only thing that can provide that moral discipline and virtue

No, he doesn't.

First of all, his position is not actually that *religion* is the only thing that can provide "moral discipline and virtue", it's that "Judeo-Christian moral standards" are the only thing that can do that. (And, of course, he believes that the Catholic church is the ultimate arbiter of what "Judeo-Christian moral standards" actually are.)

And second, he doesn't *argue* this, he simply *states* it without evidence, as members of the Trump administration habitually do. In fact, he states is *contrary* to the evidence, as I pointed out in the OP.

> I don't think secularism has shown that it can do that either.

You're wrong about that too, but it's a non-sequitur. Whether or not secularism fails in the same way that religion does is neither here nor there (though again I have to ask, where are the organized rings of atheist child molesters?). The point is that Barr is blaming "every measure of social pathology" on a particular group. For Hitler, it was Jews. For Juvénal Habyarimana it was the Tutsis. For Barr it is "militant secularists". It doesn't matter what that phrase actually means, what matters is what it *does*, and what it does is divide the world into the virtuous "us" and the evil "them" who are responsible for "every measure of social pathology". That's always the first step in the genocidal playbook: separate us from them, and blame all the problems in society on "them" and ascribe all virtue to "us". Quibbling over terminology doesn't impact this dynamic in any way (in fact, it's one of the things that facilitates the strategy).

@Publius:

> No, you attack him as Adolf Hitler.

No, I attack his *rhetoric* as having the same form as Hitler's (and Habyarimana's and probably every other leader of a genocide ever, though I have not done a comprehensive review): it calls out a particular group as being responsible for all of society's ills, while holding up the another group (of which he and his audience both happen to be members) as examples of the highest virtues. He does this while ignoring the manifest fact that the Catholic Church has engaged for decades, possibly centuries, in systematic child sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups. Until you and Barr acknowledge that, you can take your Judeo-Christian virtues and go fuck yourselves with them. No one who is complicit in child sexual abuse gets to lecture me about my moral virtues.

Peter Donis said...

his position is not actually that *religion* is the only thing that can provide "moral discipline and virtue", it's that "Judeo-Christian moral standards" are the only thing that can do that.

Yes, fair point.

he doesn't *argue* this, he simply *states* it without evidence

He does give evidence: that the abandonment by society of the standards he advocates has also led to an abandonment of the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment, as well as other negative consequences. You obviously don't view that evidence the same way he does, but that doesn't mean he hasn't given evidence.

Whether or not secularism fails in the same way that religion does is neither here nor there.

Yes, it is, because secularism is the ideology under which our current State operates. That is one of the things Barr is pointing out.

For example, our system of compulsory government-provided education operates under a secularist ideology. In this respect, btw, I think Barr misidentifies the root problem: it isn't the abandonment of his particular preferred values, it's the providing of education by the State. *Any* State-provided education is going to violate the liberty of some portion of society, because it is going to indoctrinate some portion of children with views that their parents do not think are good for them to be indoctrinated with. In our current society, most of those parents happen to be religious (mostly Christian but not all), but that doesn't make the issue any less valid. Secularist State-provided education is no less a violation of liberty than religious State-provided education would be.

That's always the first step in the genocidal playbook

I think this is a huge overreaction on your part.

Peter Donis said...

> I don't think secularism has shown that it can do that either.

You're wrong about that too


I don't think I am. I don't see secularists in general as being any more virtuous or morally disciplined than religious people. I think people in general vary extremely widely in virtue and moral discipline, and I don't see any appreciable difference in the average or in the range of variation between secularists and religious people.

where are the organized rings of atheist child molesters?

You seem extremely fixated on this one particular failing of the Catholic Church. Child molestation is bad, but it is hardly the only bad thing.

The secularists who set up our current State education system were quite open and explicit about the fact that the system was supposed to indoctrinate children in a particular set of beliefs, whether or not their parents agreed. And they were also quite open and explicit about the fact that many of those beliefs were being indoctrinated, not because they were established by reason and science, but because they made people more compliant citizens. I think much more harm has been done by that than by child molestation by Catholic priests.

Ron said...

> I don't see secularists in general as being any more virtuous or morally disciplined than religious people.

They don't have to be. They only have to be *as* virtuous.

> You seem extremely fixated on this one particular failing of the Catholic Church.

It's currently the low-lying fruit. Child abuse is widely regarded as a particularly egregious moral failing, and it is now well documented and widely acknowledged that the Catholic church engaged in a systematic cover-up of widespread child sexual abuse within its ranks for decades. So I can cite that example without having to argue about it. But it's far from the only example I could cite. But again, this is a red herring. Even if the Catholic church were every bit as virtuous as Barr and Publius think, that would not change a thing. Aryans were arguably virtuous before Hitler came along. That doesn't change the fact (and it is a fact) that the first step in the Holocaust, and the first step in many, many other genocides, has been calling out one group as the root of all social evils. *That* is what Bill Barr has done here. Everything else is a distraction.

> I think much more harm has been done by that than by child molestation by Catholic priests.

You may well be right about that, but that is a completely different topic. You want to write a guest post about it?

> I think this is a huge overreaction on your part.

You may be right about that too. I certainly hope you are. I am descended from people who decided to act despite everyone around them telling them that they were overreacting, so it's not at all implausible that I have a gene for being overly cautious. Still, I'd rather be chicken-little than a victim.

Do I think that Trump and Barr are actually going to end up leading an industrial scale killing machine like the Nazis? No. Do I think they will clear the way for smaller-scale atrocities? They already have. Does it worry me that I'm a member of the group that Barr has chosen to call out as responsible for "every measure of social pathology"? Yes. It scares the living daylights out of me, because whether or not we actually end up at the gas chambers, that kind of scapegoating is, in point of historical fact, how these things usually begin.

Peter Donis said...

I am descended from people who decided to act despite everyone around them telling them that they were overreacting, so it's not at all implausible that I have a gene for being overly cautious. Still, I'd rather be chicken-little than a victim.

I understand all this, and I completely get where you are coming from. I read your description in a previous comment thread of what your grandmother told you. I just wanted to provide another data point from a different person with a different background.

Do I think they will clear the way for smaller-scale atrocities? They already have.

While I am confused by the approach being taken by Trump with Turkey and the Kurds (I get the idea of getting the US out of foreign wars being a long term goal, but I don't get this particular short term application of it), I don't think it has anything to do with any of the viewpoints Barr expresses in his speech.

Peter Donis said...

You may well be right about that, but that is a completely different topic. You want to write a guest post about it?

I don't know that I'll have the time any time soon to do a proper treatment of the topic suitable for a guest post, but I'll keep it in mind. Thanks for the offer!

Ron said...

> While I am confused by the approach being taken by Trump with Turkey and the Kurds ... I don't think it has anything to do with any of the viewpoints Barr expresses in his speech.

It demonstrates that the Trump administration has no qualms about endorsing and enabling genocides. (And the Kurds are not an isolated incident.)

There are other things they've done that I could have cited as reasons to be worried: family separation. Concentration camps. The detention and near-deportation of U.S. citizens. I could go on and on. All of these things indicate to me that neither Trump nor Barr gives a rats ass about anything Jesus said. Certainly neither one of them cares about (or, I daresay, has ever even read) Matthew 25:45 or Mark 10:25 or Luke 20:25. If you're going to hold up your religion as the only hope for civilization shouldn't you at least know a little bit about what it actually stands for?

Publius said...

Didn't Read, or Read & Didn't Understand, Part 1

Did you read the Barr transcript? If you did, you didn't understand it.

> No, you attack him as Adolf Hitler.

@Ron:
>No, I attack his *rhetoric* as having the same form as Hitler's

Nice equivocation! Well done!

@Ron:
(and Habyarimana's and probably every other leader of a genocide ever, though I have not done a comprehensive review): it calls out a particular group as being responsible for all of society's ills, while holding up the another group (of which he and his audience both happen to be members) as examples of the highest virtues. He does this while ignoring the manifest fact that the Catholic Church has engaged for decades, possibly centuries, in systematic child sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups. Until you and Barr acknowledge that, you can take your Judeo-Christian virtues and go fuck yourselves with them. No one who is complicit in child sexual abuse gets to lecture me about my moral virtues.. . .

How is Barr ignoring it? The child abuse scandal within the Catholic Church is well known. Is it required to be mentioned in every speech given by every Catholic, or a speech given to a group of Catholics?

Barr says, "Religion helps promote moral discipline within society. Because man is fallen, we don’t automatically conform ourselves to moral rules even when we know they are good for us." Which is to say that people aspire to conform to moral teachings, but often fail to achieve it.

By the way, who does get to lecture you about your moral virtues?

Publius said...

Didn't Read, or Read & Didn't Understand, Part 2

@Ron:
You're wrong about that too, but it's a non-sequitur. Whether or not secularism fails in the same way that religion does is neither here nor there (though again I have to ask, where are the organized rings of atheist child molesters?). The point is that Barr is blaming "every measure of social pathology" on a particular group. For Hitler, it was Jews. For Juvénal Habyarimana it was the Tutsis. For Barr it is "militant secularists".

Check out atheist crimes against children here.

It's currently the low-lying fruit. Child abuse is widely regarded as a particularly egregious moral failing, and it is now well documented and widely acknowledged that the Catholic church engaged in a systematic cover-up of widespread child sexual abuse within its ranks for decades. So I can cite that example without having to argue about it.. . . But again, this is a red herring. Even if the Catholic church were every bit as virtuous as Barr and Publius think, that would not change a thing. Aryans were arguably virtuous before Hitler came along. That doesn't change the fact (and it is a fact) that the first step in the Holocaust, and the first step in many, many other genocides, has been calling out one group as the root of all social evils. *That* is what Bill Barr has done here. Everything else is a distraction.

You're upset and freaking out because you think Government is a moral agent, both representing what is good, and intervening to enforce what is good. Your secularism leads to to government as your enforcer of virtue.

But what does Barr say?
"Interestingly, this idea of the State as the alleviator of bad consequences has given rise to a new moral system that goes hand-in-hand with the secularization of society. It can be called the system of “macro-morality.” It is in some ways an inversion of Christian morality.

Christianity teaches a micro-morality. We transform the world by focusing on our own personal morality and transformation.

The new secular religion teaches macro-morality. One’s morality is not gauged by their private conduct, but rather on their commitment to political causes and collective action to address social problems."


Earlier in his speech, he said:
"But religion helps teach, train, and habituate people to want what is good. It does not do this primarily by formal laws – that is, through coercion. It does this through moral education and by informing society’s informal rules – its customs and traditions which reflect the wisdom and experience of the ages."

Barr is not calling for government action in any way - "We transform the world by focusing on our own personal morality and transformation."

At the end of the speech, what action does he call for?
"And we know that the first thing we have to do to promote renewal is to ensure that we are putting our principles into practice in our own personal private lives.

We understand that only by transforming ourselves can we transform the world beyond ourselves.. . ."


"Beyond this, we must place greater emphasis on the moral education of our children."

"I think we should do all we can to promote and support authentic Catholic education at all levels.

Finally, as lawyers, we should be particularly active in the struggle that is being waged against religion on the legal plane."


To summarize, Barr calls for:
1. Personal moral discipline
2. Moral education of one's own children
3. Promotion and support of Catholic schools
4. Defend the free exercise of religion against secular legal attacks

That's it. Personal action, not government action.

It's bizarre and sad that you think that only way people deal with groups they disagree with is to perpetuate genocide against them.

Publius said...

Didn't Read, or Read & Didn't Understand, Part 3

@Ron:
>It demonstrates that the Trump administration has no qualms about endorsing and enabling genocides. (And the Kurds are not an isolated incident.)

You don't give a rat's ass about genocide. How much have you written about the genocide of the Yazidis, or the Rohingya, Darfur, or the Bambuti? None?!

Yet you're all in for the murdering of babies via abortion.

By the way, how is your fight to the death to allow Steven Cavanaugh to believe in the Flying Spaghetti monster coming along?

Peter Donis said...

It demonstrates that the Trump administration has no qualms about endorsing and enabling genocides.

I don't see how the Trump administration is endorsing any genocide by the Turks, since they are trying to get the Turks to stop.

As for "enabling", I'm not sure how broad you intend the standard you are implicitly using here to be. Suppose the US troops had not been pulled out of the buffer zone in Syria where the Kurds are, but the Turks had started invading that zone anyway, being careful only to do so in areas where there were no US troops but only Kurds. Would the US be enabling genocide if we didn't order our troops to move to fight the Turks and push them back into their own country? (Note that doing that would not be within the scope of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force by Congress that is currently in effect; it only authorizes US troops to be deployed to fight terrorist organizations like ISIS.)

Also, genocides happen all over the world. Are you suggesting that US troops should be deployed everywhere in the world that genocides are considered likely enough to warrant efforts to stop them? Or is there something special about this particular situation?

I think there is a valid concern about the specific situation with the Kurds, but it isn't "enabling genocide", it's more like "abandoning an ally". The reason I said I was confused about the approach being taken, since I haven't seen anything from the administration that addresses this obvious concern. But that concern is different from (and much more specific than) "enabling genocide".

Peter Donis said...

Would the US be enabling genocide if we didn't order our troops to move to fight the Turks and push them back into their own country?

Or, for that matter, should we send our troops back in now that the Turks are misbehaving, with orders to oppose Turkish forces if necessary to protect the Kurds?