#126: Democracy, Populism, and the Decline of the West

June 28, 2015

A good friend just complained to me about what she perceived as bad rhetoric on the Republican side in current discussion of the homosexual marriage SCOTUS decision. She wanted the candidates to focus on the legitimate argument of the SCOTUS abuse of power, rather than talking about the bible. I understand her frustration and want to give it the attention it deserves. Here’s my response to her.

This is not about rationally defensible positions, this is about political strategy. Ultimately, we have to face the truth that democracies, whether direct or representative, inevitably morph into mobocracies, which are disguised tyrannies. The reason is not obscure, it lies in the method by which power is acquired in democracies, namely the vote. As long as this is the case, democracies will drift into tyranny and, equally inevitably, bankruptcy. This is because the voting mechanism makes populism the inescapable winner. And this is because reason is by far not the effective path to votes.

Populism is not Socialism or Communism, populism is a strategy, not an ideology. There are several elements in a successful populist strategy. First, and most important, give presents to the masses (the Romans gave “bread and circuses”). Second, capitalize on mass envy of the more successful. And third, give the masses an absolution narrative.

The third warrants emphasis. There is nothing more pervasive psychologically among the unwashed than a sense of personal inadequacy and failure. What they want more than anything else is an “explanation” for their not being rich which absolves them of responsibility for that fact. There is thus nothing more politically effective than the “it’s not your fault” narrative, especially when it’s coupled with the “it’s HIS fault” story, where HE is the successful, white, middle-aged male. The Left uses all of the above tactics in it’s march towards power.

The populist strategy is made stronger by the fact that it is not only employed by politicians; it is also employed by the mass media, and, most damaging, it is employed in the marketing of products. Advertisers shameless fawn over, flatter, and misrepresent the true nature of their consumer targets. Ads are replete with “minority” figures, e.g. blacks, Hispanics, females, and now homosexuals being shown as morally superior, cleverer, and more powerful than middle aged white males who are ugly villains. In addition, I should add that Big Government, whether in the hands of Democrats or Republicans, is firmly in alliance with the giant multi-national corporations, which donate millions upon millions of dollars to election campaigns. This is not a Left versus “business” scenario, this is a Left versus individual taxpayer scenario.

Thus, if the Republicans followed your advice, they would only be preaching to an ever diminishing choir. They do have a chance of getting a large turnout from the Evangelicals and cannot afford to lose them. Hence the bible rhetoric. Notwithstanding, there are candidates who have been at the very least mixing in reason with religion. Jeb does it from time to time, but Walker does it most of the time; Jindal can’t win, but he’s a brilliant guy who knows what’s going on. You might not like Huckabee’s religious rhetoric, but he is really very smart. Kasich would be excellent. There is really a marvelous array of brains and talent on the Republican side.

That said, it doesn’t matter. The populist strategy is near impossible to beat. This is even more so in the U.S. case because the Democrats have intentionally increased the size of the ignorant masses since the 1960s. The welfare policies instituted under Johnson’s “war on poverty” have had the effect of incentivizing breeding in the welfare population. Ted Kennedy’s legislation changed immigration policy so as to favor illiterates from third world countries over Europeans. And now, the Democrats are working to turn 25 million illegals into voters.

America was made great by the mass acceptance of a collection of “myths” that made up the average man’s self-image and image of the country. These “myths” included being Christian, being patriotic, and trusting various authorities such as the police and the government. All of these have been under systematic attack by Left-infused universities and Left-infused media. The prognosis for America is bleak in the extreme.

The only chance that America has at this point is that enough Democrats are nauseated by the Hildebeast to simply not vote, but that’s a slim chance at best. And even should the Beast lose, there are gigantic hurdles to be overcome if the U.S. is to once again lead the world towards peace and civilization.

#125: The First Amendment and Government

April 1, 2015

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The above is the text of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Considerable ink has been devoted to commenting on its intent, which is surprising to me, since it seems pretty clear on the face of it. I may be missing something of its subtlety, though.  Perhaps we can lay the blame for its seeming opacity on Jefferson who is credited with the phrase so commonly used today: “the separation of church and state.” I’m not sure that this phrase adds anything but confusion where originally things were clear. Paraphrasing Berkeley’s felicitous phrase, we can say of Jefferson, that he has “… first raised a dust, and then complain(s), we cannot see.”

I have browsed scholarly opinion on this subject and confess that I find it wanting. In the references I followed, I found no consideration of the historical awareness of the Founding Fathers or their constituencies. So I had a look at the context of 17th and 18th c sensibilities in the New World. The following two paragraphs come from the Library of Congress, which is scarcely a partisan source:

“Many of the British North American colonies that eventually formed the United States of America were settled in the seventeenth century by men and women, who, in the face of European persecution, refused to compromise passionately held religious convictions and fled Europe. The New England colonies, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland were conceived and established “as plantations of religion.” Some settlers who arrived in these areas came for secular motives–“to catch fish” as one New Englander put it–but the great majority left Europe to worship God in the way they believed to be correct. They enthusiastically supported the efforts of their leaders to create “a city on a hill” or a “holy experiment,” whose success would prove that God’s plan for his churches could be successfully realized in the American wilderness. Even colonies like Virginia, which were planned as commercial ventures, were led by entrepreneurs who considered themselves “militant Protestants” and who worked diligently to promote the prosperity of the church.

European Persecution

The religious persecution that drove settlers from Europe to the British North American colonies sprang from the conviction, held by Protestants and Catholics alike, that uniformity of religion must exist in any given society. This conviction rested on the belief that there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens. Nonconformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics. The dominance of the concept, denounced by Roger Williams as “inforced uniformity of religion,” meant majority religious groups who controlled political power punished dissenters in their midst. In some areas Catholics persecuted Protestants, in others Protestants persecuted Catholics, and in still others Catholics and Protestants persecuted wayward coreligionists. Although England renounced religious persecution in 1689, it persisted on the European continent. Religious persecution, as observers in every century have commented, is often bloody and implacable and is remembered and resented for generations.”


I think we can safely conclude that the people of U.S.A. were not concerned that others might worship differently than they or that their government might include evidence of Christianity in their buildings or writings; no, they were only and mightily concerned that a government might try to prevent them personally from worshiping as they wished. They were single-mindedly intent on preventing what Roger Williams called  “inforced uniformity of religion.” [my italics]

The thing to note here is this: there is no demonstrable link between the existence of a government infused with the Christian culture and symbolism of its founders and the imposition of such on others! Nor does the presence  of such on university campuses imply a lack of welcome to those of other faiths.

Let me address the actual text of the First Amendment.

The first thing to notice is the semi-colon. It separates two disjuncts of differing subject matter. The first disjunct concerns religion directly, the second only tangentially, if at all. Let’s focus, therefore, on only the first: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”

Characteristically, this clause indicates what Congress may not do, it limits Congressional power. Specifically, it indicates that Congress may not exercise its power by either creating a religion or preventing a religion from being created. There is only one way in which Congress is capable of exercising power, and that is through the “making of laws.”

We can see the intent here clearly if we compare the text to this modified axample:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of a public company, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”

This would admittedly be an idiotic amendment and would never pass, but we would immediately understand that it was attempting to prevent Congress from having any power over the creation or dissolution of companies. Similarly, the First Amendment is intended solely and exclusively on preventing Congress from having a say in the births or deaths of new religions or religious practices.  It does not, even by implication, have anything to say about a separation of Church and State.

Let me make this perfectly clear: there is no inconsistency in the existence of a Christian government and religious freedom. The First Amendment addresses only the latter, not the former. In no way whatsoever does it address the existence or non-existence of a Christian government (unless in the sense that it prohibits any Congressional legislation “making” the government Christian).

 So, you ask, why are some many people arguing as if it applied to the former? Why all this talk of the separation of Church and State?

I think the blame lies largely, as it so often does, with the French. So much of what we deal with today is sadly the detritus of the French Enlightenment and its dying spasm, the French Revolution.  The French Revolution, heir as it was to one hundred years of Rationalism, was intent on erasing the Ancien Regime, the Church and its clergy especially included, and reconstituting society on a “purely rational” basis. Read this as “a purely secular” basis. Jefferson in particular was fond of thinking of himself as a European style “intellectual” (not unlike our current Democrat politicians) and was an outspoken fan of the French Revolution. I suspect that he and others like him increasingly insinuated the “separation of Church and State” meme into common discourse.

One last time: The First Amendment does NOT require the cleansing of all Christian writings and symbols from government.

#124: Jews and the Writing on the Wall

March 29, 2015

The writing on the wall.

The phrase refers to an old testament story in which a disembodied hand writes mysterious words on a wall during a feast given by Belshazzar. As they are interpreted by a Jewish seer named Daniel, they are a warning that Babylon is about to fall to Persia, which it then does.

This suggests that Bibi Netanyahu is today’s Daniel, the U.S. today’s Babylon, and Obama is today’s Belshazzar. And Obama just can’t seem to read the writing on the wall.

He’s not the only one, though. Progressive/liberal Jews suffer from the same reading impairment.

But, we’ve seen all this before.

Of course, there are minor differences. Different members of the cast are taking on different roles. That’s always bound to be the case. Last time, it was the Germans in the lead, with a supporting cast of Austrians and a multitude of bit players. Today, it looks like the French are vying for the lead, with a supporting cast from Norway, Sweden, Hungary, Greece, as well as others, not to mention the Obama administration.

We’ve seen all this before.

The 1930s were the cradle of the Holocaust and, little known though it is, one can locate the point of origin in Hungary. Of course, killing Jews had been an episodic horror in Europe for a couple of thousand years, but Hungary gets a special mention for spawning Gyula Gömbös as PM in the outset of the 30s. it was Gömbös who coined the party name “National Socialism” adopted later from him by Hitler. The Hungarians were thus the inventors of Nazism complete with virulent anti-Semitism, though it was perfected by the Germans.

Hungary has a Nazi party again, it’s called “Jobbik,” and it comes again complete with anti-Semitism. Hungary is again the canary in the mine signalling the presence of Zyklon B. Last time, the Germans made the move first, beating the French to it. This time, perhaps, the French will do it first. Marine le Pen has taken care to downplay her party’s anti-Semitism; just wait till they’re in power. The Greeks have one called “Golden Dawn.”

Violent anti-Semitism takes its cue from the top. The government “signals” that it’s “ok” to go after the Jews. The Nazi party in Germany did that under Hitler with Krystallnacht. It’s happening now all over Europe under the cover of the mantra, “I have nothing against Jews, it’s just Israeli policies I’m against.” It’s happening in the U.S. under Obama using the same mantra while demonizing Bibi Netanyahu. We know that things are changing when the comedians feel safe in attacking Jews under the umbrella of comedic license.

Dieudonne M’Bala is a French comic who spouts Nazism openly on stage, complete with anti-Semitism. Lena Dunham, who is actually nominally Jewish, just published a piece in the New Yorker which can only be called anti-Semitic. This is happening now because government and media have signalled it’s acceptability. Yes, there are people pushing back, but the damage has been done. Once this genii is out of the bottle, there’s no pushing him back in. In the New Yorker! Can you imagine!?

But Dunham is an important example. She is Jewish, she is liberal/progressive, and she attacks Jews and Judaism. It’s been like that since the Russian revolution and was seen most dramatically in the 1930s. Jews have always wrestled with the conundrum of what to do in an anti-Semitic world. Some have tried becoming a-religious (there is actually a database that was managed by the Hebrew Community Organization of Vienna which registered official withdrawal from Judaism), some tried outright conversion, others tried assimilation, others tried remaining orthodox where they were, and yet others chose Zionist aliyah, once Israel became available.

The anti-Semites have always capitalized on this internal division. Often, they didn’t have to do anything, they just sat back and watched the Jews attack themselves, siding with the enemy. I don’t know what the explanation of this phenomenon is, but for lack of a better term I term it “L.A. Syndrome” on the model of “Stockholm Syndrome,” where hostages come to identify and ally themselves with their captors. The syndrome is most aggressive among the assimilationists who use their often impressive talents to demean and humiliate the people from whom they sprang. Perhaps they hope to curry favor with the disdainful gentile environment by demonstrating that they are even more anti-Semitic than the goyim. It could, I suppose, equally be called “N.Y. Syndrome” since there are as many progressive Jews in N.Y. as L.A., but I have the irrational bias that L.A. Jews are more self-destructively progressive than New Yorkers.

Obama and the Democrat Party have declared war on Israel. There are varying explanations available for this, some making it psychological, some political. My guess is that, as always, there are multiple converging factors, some political, some economic, some psychological, all leading to the same inexorable historical conclusion: Kill the Jews, it’s all their fault. The bottom line is this: It will very likely soon become unsafe to be a Jew in the U.S., and a large number of Jews will be voluntary participants in making this come about.

Many Jews and other progressives will deride this claim as paranoid. This is the U.S.A., they will say, it will never happen here. This is simply historically ignorant.

Jews were despised in the U.S. during the early 20th C. WW II was NOT fought over saving Jews, in fact F.D.R. was far from the “friend” of the Jewish people that popular Jewish progressive mythology would make of him. Indeed, assimilated Germans in the 1930s made precisely the same claim about Germany: We are Germans, they said, nothing will happen to us. American financiers were openly pro-Nazi and American corporations had extensive business dealing with the Third Reich.

Today, we have the same internal division and conflict among the Jews in the U.S. that we saw in the 1930s in Germany and Austria. We still have the atheists, the outright conversions, the assimilationists, etc..  

There is, however, one significant difference. It is this: the Jews of the 1930s were clear on the identity of their enemy, namely the Nazis; the Jews of today are fragmented with respect to their enemy, namely the international Left.

The Jews of Europe during the 1930s were collateral damage within a brutal internecine war, one between socialist/commies, on the one side, and the Nazis, on the other. This was not, as is often said, a war between the Left and the Right. It was a war between the Left and the Nazis, it was a war between cousins, both of whom despised Jews. The “Right,” meaning by that the free enterprise conservatives, were not in the war at all, unless you mean by “in the war” profiteering wherever they could. The true Right has only one ideological commitment, and that is making as much money as is possible. Attacking the Jews was largely a part of the Nazi strategy, however much it might have also converged with other factors. There are at least two reasons that the post-war mindset does not include the wartime Leftists among the Jew murderers, 1) that they were too busy staying alive to attend to killing Jews, and 2) the post war intellectuals recast the European commies as the “good guys” in that war. Here’s a newsflash: there were no “good guys” in Europe’s part of WW II, just as there are no “good guys” in the Iranian/Arab conflict (except, probably, for the Kurds).

In that war, the Jews thought of themselves as historically and ideologically attached to the Left, however much those on the Left went about murdering them and hating them. This commitment to the Left continued after the war and the American Jews set about marketing this ideology even as they acquired disproportionate influence in the media and in the Universities. These Jews have functioned as a fifth column not only in the U.S.A., but also in Israel and they currently function as a powerful tool of the anti-Semites. L.A. Syndrome.

What they did not understand and still do not understand is that the mainstream non-Jewish Left-wing U.S. population NEVER relinquished its own 1930s loathing and contempt for the Jews. This previously concealed hatred is now being revealed as anti-Semitism, is becoming socially acceptable again. We can see it in the activities of the Presbyterian church, which is fairly frothing at the mouth. The pre-WW II American population was not that far removed from its European counterpart as far as attitudes towards Jews were concerned. Europe is currently returning to its pre-war attitudes and America is following suit.

To quote the anarchist Chernishevsky and the Communist Ulyanov (aka Lenin): What is to be Done?

I have a few thoughts on this.

1) Strengthen bonds with Christian Evangelicals, the only group for whom Israel and Jews are flavor of the month;

3) See whether the Evangelicals can work to form a relationship with the Hispanics (a long shot — the Hispanics are Catholics and the Evangelicals Protestants);

4) Shift all political allegiance to the U.S. Republican Party (for the time being, our only bet);

3) Work on regional Arab alliances, at least for the sake of security.

Jews are in greater danger now than at any time during my life. It has never been more important for Jews to identify most precisely who their friends are and who their enemies are.

Sadly, Jews have never been very good at reading the writing on the wall.

#123: The Significance of Executive Orders

December 5, 2014

The media, including some very astute commentators, have been framing Obama’s recent executive action on illegal aliens as being a violation of the “separation of powers.” What they mean by this is that the writers of the U.S. Constitution were intent on balancing the powers of Congress and the Executive (the Presidency) so that neither was in a position to encroach on the rights of individual citizens. The people of the American colonies were justly gun shy of governmental powers, having just fought a blistering war against the British monarchy. But while this description of our current crisis is not wrong, it also fails to focus our attention on what really lies at the heart of the conflict. We can only see this if we become aware of what the contending forces represented to the 18th century American population.

Now, it is true that this population was far from homogeneous. There were the British, the Dutch, the Spanish, the French, and yet other smaller groups. And it is certainly true that not all of these wanted to sever ties with Europe, but there were certain common prevalent assumptions, at least once the war of revolution had been won. The most notable that we tend to forget is that the citizens of each of the states tended to think of their states as mostly autonomous polities much closer to nations than to our modern American states. We can see this in the acrimonious constitutional debate and more specifically in the content of the Federalist. This series of newspaper articles was written to persuade the people of the diverse states that their interests would be best served by a union of which they were extremely suspicious. They were already linked by the Articles of Confederation, a very limited form of connection, and they were being asked to take a further step in the direction of allowing external control. This was far from a sure thing at the time, it was a very difficult sell. The Constitution, therefore, was written with the single minded goal of assuring the population that a centralized take-over could not take place, and the instrument in the document standing between the feared and despised central authority was the Congress.

Thus, my point is that a contemporary power conflict between the President and Congress is a precise enactment of the revolutionaries’ worst nightmare. Calling it an issue in the Constitution-defined relation of the Executive to Congress is not false, but it leaves the casual hearer with the idea that this is merely a “technical” institutional question. Far from this, the Obama power grab is exactly what the Constitution was intended to avert and Obama is playing the role of George III.

#122: The Seppuku of the Democrat Party

November 6, 2014

Well, the U.S. Democrat party has suffered a historic defeat. The Leftist mainstream media outlets are for the most part issuing this mantra: this wasn’t an endorsement of the Republican party, it was a rejection of “incumbents.” On Fox News, this is the pitch being marketed by the resident Obama Apologist, Juan Williams. Poor Juan, his job is getting ever more difficult. Spin, spin, spin. Hey, Juan, it wasn’t “incumbents” they were hating, it was Democrats lurching to the Left.

Let’s look at what happened.

When Manchurian Candidate Barack Hussein Obama was elected in 2008, the Democrat party had already been taken over by a coalition of far-Left apparatchiks, some ideologues, and some just self-serving populist opportunists. What else can we conclude from the trio of Pelosi, Reid, and Obama? The Democrat party of the 1950s had ceased to exist. These new Democrats drew a conclusion from BHO’s election, a conclusion he himself enthusiastically accepted, namely that the country was ripe for a centralised Leftist government takeover. They believed that the following three things were now within their reach:

1) Growing the government in size, reach, and power;

2) Growing the dependency class to make them the dominant force in elections (increasing the welfare and foodstamp population — the Democrats LOVE high unemployment, it places more people on the government dole; bringing in as many illegal dependent immigrants as possible); and closest to BHO’s heart:

3) Permanently destroying the Republican opposition by any means possible.

As it happened, this was a triumph of hope over reason as their huge losses in the 2010 midterms should have persuaded them. But they ignored the 2010 losses and they and their feckless boss doubled down on their fumbling, bumbling, lurching towards the far, far Left. Notice I don’t say they doubled down on their “policies”; this bunch of political gangsters never had actual policies — all they had were last-minute reactions selected for their “optics” which they hoped would retain their “base.”

They failed to understand the true message of 2008 and 2012. Those successful elections were the result of a converging number of factors which did not include a mass approval of their lurching to the Left. The factors included 1) rejection of the Bush years, 2) the symbolism of Obama being both black and white, a kind of personification of the public’s sentimental fantasy of blacks and whites “coming together”, 3) all the illegal votes cast across the U.S., 4) a coalition of parasites (welfare & food stamp takers, single mothers, trial lawyers, brainwashed “students” living off their parents, unions, especially government unions), 5) a very weak Republican opposition, and 6) a very effective “ground game.”

None of this entailed an approval of the Democrat lurching to the Left.

When Obama was elected in 2008, his controllers concluded that this was the Left’s BIG chance, one that was not likely to come again. BHO actually stated what their intention was, but few believed him: it was to “transform” America. This was more than “code”, it was a direct statement of intent: We’re going to turn you into, at the very least, a Social Democrat state on the European model.

Well, they’ve worked on that for the past 6 years. The elections of 2010 told them unequivocally: Stop doing that! We don’t like it.

They didn’t listen. Obama managed to get elected again in 2012 for all the reasons I mention above, but the people hadn’t changed their minds from 2010. Yet the Democrats concluded from McCain’s loss that the Republican “brand” had been permanently and irrevocably damaged.

In 2014, the people repeated what they said in 2010: Stop! We’re not buying what you’re selling! We don’t want it!

Once again, we see BHO and his controllers doubling down.

Remarkably, they’re sticking to the stories and strategies that led to two historic massive party defeats. They are, in effect, in the process of committing political Seppuku, ritual suicide. There is, of course, this difference: Seppuku involves both courage and honor — neither of which are discernible anywhere in the Democrat party. They are doing to themselves what they intended to do to the Democrats.

One can only hope that they succeed soon, before even more damage is done.

#121 Obama and Ebola

October 27, 2014

Obama’s anti-quarantine argument is this: ““The best way to protect us is to stop the epidemic in Africa.” This was stated by his mouthpiece, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. What, exactly, is this institute? It is a government funded organization receiving several billion dollars annually from the U.S. taxpayers. Listening to Fauci does not persuade that this money is well spent.

I don’t want to argue the wisdom of quarantine, though it seems so obvious as to be painful. Only social science masters of the counter-intuitive could question the usefulness of quarantine, but that’s not my issue here.

What bothers me about this line coming from Obama and his henchmen is that the identical argument could be made about Isis. Indeed, Bush did make exactly this argument about fighting in, first, Iraq, and then Afghanistan. He said that it was important to fight them there because otherwise we would wind up having to fight them here. His strategy might have worked had Obama actually followed it.

Instead, Obama pulled our troops out of Iraq and he’s in the process of pulling them out of Afghanistan, and we are now having to fight Islamic terrorists on our own soil. On the other hand, he actually did “put boots on the ground” in Africa to fight Ebola. Clearly, he’ll use troops for anything except what they were meant to do, which is to protect the interests of the U.S.A..

So if the brilliant Obama believes his own anti-quarantine argument, he probably should have kept troops in the Middle East to fight the Islamic terrorists. Isis is precisely political Ebola. Conversely, if he was persuaded by his reasons, whatever they might have been, for pulling out of the Middle East, he probably should be quarantining against Ebola and leave our soldiers here.

For my own part, operating without the handicap of government funded instructions, it seems that 1) we should quarantine returners from West Africa (best to err on the side of caution), 2) we should send the people from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to West Africa where they can work on stopping the  epidemic (may as well get some use out of them — but quarantine them when they return), and 3) we should get our military busy in Iraq and Syria sterilizing the area of Isis terrorists.

#120: Nostalgia and the Cafe Figaro

October 5, 2014

Thoughts of the Café Figaro came into my mind this morning for really no reason at all. It was a coffee shop in Greewich Village frequented by beatniks and wannabe beats from middle class homes back in the 50s and 60s. At first, I couldn’t even remember the name. Now I’ve got the name, but I can’t remember what it looked like. Just fragments. Well, my time with the Figaro was over 50 years ago, altogether a different world. But nostalgia thrives on time.

I have a friend who’s mildly in love with a Lady something-or-other whose portrait hangs over his fireplace. Actually, a lot like the film-noir Laura with Dana Andrews. Another friend introduced me to the wartime memoir of Marie Vassiltchikov, a post revolution Russian princess adrift in wartime Berlin. He was clearly in love with her. Both of these women were dead, so it’s clear that people can be in love with people who are no longer alive. Can one be in love with a fictional character? Difficult to say, but my guess is that there is no logical connection between an emotion and a fact. If my friend found out that Lady something or other had never existed, that she was just an artist’s construction, he would most likely still stay in love with her.

Which brings me to nostalgia, because nostalgia is a kind of being in love. In love with a time, a place, a set of events, even a person, but it’s defined by temporal distance. This means that nostalgia is quintessentially romantic. It’s true that while romance is most always dependent on the soft-filtering given by the passage of  time, there are other ways of achieving that misty effect. For example, the influence of raging hormones can certainly improve one’s perception of things. Still, other things being equal, romance is based on the long ago and far away. This is why fairy tales always begin with those words.

Well, time has soft-filtered the Café Figaro for me, so much so that I can barely remember it. Yes, one can feel nostalgia for a time barely remembered, perhaps even more strongly because of that. When I visited Vienna for my first serious stay there, I was overcome with a nostalgia for a world my parents had lived, but I never had. It was an intense feeling episode. And of course the Vienna of the early 20th c I was responding to had been a truly shitty time, and still I felt this overwhelming bitter-sweet emotion. Maybe Vienna is a poor example, maybe there was really something uniquely beguiling about it. Both Freud and Stefan Zweig among others had very powerful love-hate for the city. No, I think it was probably nostalgia. The Viennese were artists of nostalgia, treacly kitschy nostalgia.

I have no problem identifying my feelings about NYC and the Figaro in the 50s and 60s as nostalgia. But describing the actual octet of emotions is very difficult to do, since like a real chamber piece it changes with the moment, though the instruments remain the same throughout. The dominant theme is that of sehnsucht or a special kind of “longing.” But there’s also a sadness and a mourning for something important that’s been irrevocably lost. This something that’s been lost seems to me to lie at the heart of nostalgia, but what is it?

I think it’s a longing for the romantic wonders of lives not lived and never to be lived. Roads not taken and never to be taken.

But there ought to be a word that complements “nostalgia,” for that emotion we have when we are young and contemplating a yet unknown future, a single but not yet definite one of the paths. When we are old and look back the past is hazy and indistinct, filtered into soft focus, barely discernable in its detail. Often we intentionally or not revise it. But the future is at least as hazy and indistinct when we are young and looking forward. And there’s also a longing there, a longing for the future.

The problem with nostalgia is that there is an inescapable disappointment in the moment that we feel it. We know right in the moment that we feel it that the time cannot be retrieved and we mourn it.

The difference is that with youthful future-longing, while we also yearn for something inaccessible, we will eventually get what we want, if we’re lucky. But there’s once again a disappointment; by the time we arrive at our destination in the future, the longing we felt for it in our youth has long disappeared, to be replaced with a longing for the past from which we began.

When I sat in the Café Figaro in the early 60s, broke and depressed, nursing the single coffee I could afford, fantasizing about a future about which I could only hope that it would be much better, it didn’t occur to me for a moment that there would come a time when I would be nostalgic for those moments.