[Peter Brimelow writes: I've always had a special fondness for libertarians who are sensible about immigration, which was just one of the reasons I agreed to write this Foreword to Ilana Mercer's new collection of columns Broad Sides: One Woman's Clash With A Corrupt Culture.]
"Yes – but she's a handful!"
This was the reaction of one of the leaders of American libertarianism when I called to consult him about the blazing arrival on the media scene of Ilana Mercer, ground zero in Washington State after a meteoric transit through Canada. (And before that, Israel—and before that South Africa…)
My attention had been instantly commanded by Ilana's columns, circulated by her many admirers by email and now appearing every Friday on WorldNetDaily. And also, I admit, by pictures of her lovely face. (Ditto.) The combination of brains and beauty is rare. But I am old enough to know that it does happen and has to be taken very seriously when it occurs.
Still, looking again at Ilana's columns, now collected in this volume, I have to admit: she is a handful!
It is one thing to advocate libertarianism in a political culture that is still basically dominated by statist liberals. It is another to be willing to address the problems of mass legal and illegal immigration—a government policy, of course, and a logical subject for analysis, but absolutely ruled out of court by the libertarian establishment, what the late and much-missed Murray Rothbard called the "Kochtopus" after a major donor. It is yet another thing to be a proud Zionist and fiercely opposed to America's Iraq invasion (and critical of Pat Buchanan's criticisms of the neoconservative "cabal" in the Bush Administration, albeit fairly moderately by Mercer standards...for what that's worth!).
I don't know what this is doing for Ilana's career. But it's great for her readers—although they must be prepared, as they turn these pages, for her furious eye to fall on one or other of their own favorite causes.
This volume appears at a moment of peculiar crisis for libertarians in general and for Ilana in particular. The normal patriotic reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks has been translated by the Bush Administration and its cheerleaders into a general war in the Middle East.
Ilana supported going after al-Qaida in Afghanistan—she characteristically describes it as "a legitimate act of retaliation and defense, accommodated within St. Augustine's teachings." But she is appalled by the invasion of Iraq. The measure of her distress can be gauged by a fact that she notes grimly: despite massive U.S. media coverage, audiences are getting a more balanced picture of the complexities, and of the carnage, from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
You have to have reached the U.S. after a prolonged passage through Canada, as both Ilana and I did, to appreciate what it takes to say that.
Ilana's experience of Canada's combination of parochial political correctness and complacency—now that must have been an epic confrontation!—came after her experience of living in two countries at the center of world attention, and in constant danger: South Africa and Israel.
Reflecting on the mounting costs of the Iraq War, she writes:
"These days, I think a lot about Avshalom. The Avshalom I knew was as beautiful as his biblical namesake, King David's son. Avshalom had dimples to die for, big brown eyes, and blond, sun-streaked curls. The vision of him, topless, on a red Ferguson tractor, as he ploughed the fields of the kibbutz, was very fetching."
"Avshalom was 19 or 20 when he died. Like all Israeli boys, he was conscripted and he fell in some or other maneuver. My class lost another boy. There may have been more since, but I lost touch."
Yet, somewhat to my surprise, it is actually quite rare for this most emotionally intense of columnists to draw on such personal experiences. What seems to motivate Ilana, ultimately, is ideas.
Thus at a time when the entire American punditocracy, liberal and "conservative" (and, emphatically, libertarian), had turned on Senate Majority leader Trent Lott for his momentary excess of enthusiasm at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, Ilana raises her elegantly manicured (I imagine) hand to say that
(a) Lott obviously had no intention whatever of restoring segregation (or doing much of anything else, she might have added);
(b) Quite apart from segregation, Thurmond's presidential run in 1948 did have a worthwhile point: states' rights.
The autonomy of the states, Ilana points out, indeed is—was—a barrier to tyranny.
"States' rights," she notes,
"are an obstacle to ridding the nation of racism only in as much as the First Amendment is such a barrier. So long as property rights and free speech are respected, individuals are bound to exhibit preferences or express tastes that others will find displeasing….Abolish states' rights and one does away with a measure of freedom and property rights, not racism."
Then, being Ilana, she goes on to add:
"A fact that was not lost on Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler; both were great centralizers. Lincoln hagiographers would protest to the contrary, but it isn't incendiary to point out that he and Hitler shared very similar views on states' rights—Lincoln's unfavorable views of such rights are seconded by Hitler in Mein Kampf."
It is incendiary to point this out, of course. But it also displays a mind fearlessly in pursuit of analytical truth—as does the fact that Ilana wasn't even born until long after 1948, the year of Thurmond's presidential bid, and grew up in countries with no real tradition of federalism at all. She has figured this out all by herself, in the teeth of the conventional wisdom.
Very much the same is true of Ilana's writing's on immigration policy. Mass immigration is actually a new phenomenon in the U.S.—it was triggered by the Great Society's disastrous 1965 Immigration Act, before which there had been 40 years with very little immigration, one of many such pauses in U.S. history. As a result, because most people are incapable of absorbing new ideas after 18 or so, most of the current generation of politicians and pundits just haven't gotten the message.
Ilana appears to have gotten the message in part because of empirical evidence proving current policy's paradoxical consequences—she cites Harvard economist George Borjas on the deteriorating relative skill levels of the post-1965 influx. But, also, characteristically, she is fascinated by Hans-Herman Hoppe's argument—in his Natural Order, The State And The Immigration Problem—that immigration is ultimately an issue of the host community's private property rights, systematically violated by the modern welfare/ transfer/ managerial state.
And this is just the trivial stuff. Reading Ilana, I learn that Halle Berry "sells" because she is "…a sepia-tinted Charlize Theron: a hollow-eyed, marshmallow-cheeked, toothy, Theron-type looker." And that "the true finger-blistering, almighty Fender-benders [this seems to be something to do with guitar playing] remain in the musical closet… Tony MacAlpine, Yngwie Malmsteen, Eric Johnson, Vinnie Moore, Steve Morse and, of course, Sean Mercer. Recordings of their furious licks will be missing from the stores and the airwaves so long as consumers are willing to pay for stuff that sounds as if it was produced after three lessons with a bad tutor."
For me, the single most arresting, and illuminating passage in this book was Ilana's analysis of the "spasms of no-fault forgiveness" that caused some citizens of Littleton, Colorado, to applaud the erection of crosses for the Columbine high school killers alongside those for their victims. (The two crosses were destroyed by a father still bearing the unimaginable burden of grief for a murdered son.)
Ilana succinctly describes this as "the first sign of people adrift in a moral twilight zone" and "showing religious doctrinal failure."
In contrast, she writes:
"The Jewish perspective pivots on the 'passion for justice,' wrote my father, Rabbi B. Isaacson, in the International Jewish Encyclopedia. Justice always precedes and is a prerequisite for mercy…mercy without justice is no mercy at all."
In Ilana Mercer, the passion for justice lives on.
Peter Brimelow, President of the Center for American Unity, editor of VDARE.com, Senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, columnist for CBS MarketWatch, and best-selling author of the much-denounced Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster (Random House - 1995) and The Worm in the Apple: How The Teacher Unions Are Destroying American Education (HarperCollins - 2003)