Friday, June 6, 2014

The Party of the Ruling Class

How do we deal with the meme that sank Mitt Romney, the idea that he was an unfeeling rich man that didn't care about "people like me."  Mona Charen makes the point directly.
Many Republicans now recognize that they must propose reforms that speak to middle- and working-class voters, and shed their image as the party of the rich.
But what is it that makes the Republican Party the "party of the rich?"  Is it that the rich Koch Brothers push the Republican line?  Or that Mitt Romney laid off a union steelworker? Perhaps it's because the Republican Party does not rush in with a new program when people are hurting.

But it was George W. Bush who said: "when people are hurting, the government's gotta move."  And this was the guy that didn't care about New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina.

OK, so the Democratic Party is the Mommy Party that believes that you must rescue little Johnny from everyone of his escapades.  The Republican Party is the Daddy Party that believes that when Johnny goes off to college it's time for helicopter parents to fly back to the pad and let Johnny figure things out on his own.

But the Democrats still get a lot of mileage out of the "party of the rich" meme even though you and I know that most rich people -- especially 2nd generation liberal trustafarians, and certainly the ones living in the richest zip codes -- vote Democratic.  Of course they do.  Their mothers get them into selective colleges by hook or by crook and they come out as good conforming members of the ruling class.

William Tucker just went to a class reunion at his top-ranked New England college, and he was just about the only Republican voice there in a class that includes one Nobel prizewinner and one on the way. "All of my classmates have prospered to a degree that none of us would have anticipated when we were swilling beer and pulling all-nighters back in the day."
There’s a predictably high portion of doctors, lawyers, research scientists, and college professors, but also an uncommon number who seem to have stumbled into finance, almost inadvertently.
And they are all liberals.  Tucker attends breakout sessions where everyone agrees with the liberal agenda except him.
When I arrived around 9 a.m. an earnest group of about 50 classmates and their wives was already deeply engrossed in the question of how to save the nation’s spirit. This time the discussion was more unguarded. “We’ve got to make this non-partisan,” said one panelist. “We’ve got to get Republicans involved.” “Of course Republicans are wrong about everything but we’ve still got to make them feel like they’re a part of it,” said another. After another hour of this I stood up and said once again I disagreed with every word but didn’t want to take up people’s time. “No, tell us what you think,” they insisted. So I let loose.
Talk about a meeting of the ruling class!  You can't make this up.  Tucker tells the group to "several gasps of disapproval from wives in the audience" about "a small museum in Colorado" that spent two years getting regulatory approval to divert a stream to build a generator. I mean, you can't just let people run around diverting streams in Idaho, darling!

And they call the Republican Party the "party of the rich."

Now there's no doubt that if you called Tucker's classmates and their wives "the rich" to their faces they would be insulted and the wives would gasp.  They know they can't be the rich because they are Democrats and the Republican Party is the "party of the rich."

So what's the strategic thing to do?  It probably won't work to counterattack with "so's your father" stuff.  It doesn't matter that the Democratic Party is the party of the rich and the crony capitalists.  Frontal attacks tend to be very costly and end up achieving nothing.  See: World War I.

No, I suggest creating the meme that the Democratic Party is the "party of the ruling class," the people that won't let you alone, that want to boss you around about everything from stupid light bulbs to baking wedding cakes.

The point about the "party of the rich" meme is that liberals want ordinary people to think that Republicans are callous moneybags swilling martinis up at the country club that just "don't care about people like me."

The point about the "party of the ruling class" meme is that conservatives want ordinary people to think that liberals are bossy meddlers swilling Chardonnay up at the faculty lounge that won't leave you alone and insist on telling you how to live your life.  Everybody knows some stuck-up little academic Hitler that uses their teaching or administrative position to make life miserable for everyone around them.

I know.  Just one little meme isn't going to change the world.  But it's a start.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bergdahl: Obamis Just Don't Understand Honor

Many conservatives are puzzling over why, just why, the Obama administration would get itself into such a mess over the Bergdahl prisoner exchange.  How could anyone treat Bergdahl's likely desertion as just a matter of missing a class on Monday?

The answer is simple.  It is honor.  Lefties don't understand honor, male or female.  And especially they don't understand military honor. The whole point of the left has been to expunge honor from the culture, except for the honor-among-thieves culture among lefties and community organizers.  Yeah.  It's one thing for Obama's Organizing for America buddies to "have his back."  But not for the rest of us.

If you want to understand the whole question of honor, a good place to start is James Bowman's Honor, A History. It comes down to this, writes Bowman:
 [T]he basic honor of the savage -- bravery for men, chastity for women -- is still recognizable beneath the surfaces of the popular culture that has done so much to efface it.
But it is not just the act of bravery that is important; it is the reputation for bravery.  And by bravery we mean the reputation for standing in line with your fellow kinsmen or fellow soldiers and not running away in the heat of battle.  In the Greek hoplite honor and bravery meant literally standing in the shield line and not breaking away, for victory in hoplite battle usually went to the side whose shield wall collapsed last.

That is where the duel comes in.  The aristocratic duel is a corruption of the code of honor.  It goes beyond the idea that my deeds of courage speak for themselves; it says if that you attack my reputation for bravery I will kill you.

In the development of the modern nation state the idea of honor developed from bravery among kinsmen to bravery among hoplite soldiers to bravery in the army of the nation state.  That is why the bravery of Sergeant York in World War I is such a big deal and why the cowardice of Private Eddie Slovik in World War II was such a big deal.

And that's why the apparent desertion of Sgt. Bergdahl is such a big deal to the men and women in the armed forces.  It's about their loyalty to to their buddies, then their unit, and finally the United States.  That is the code of honor in the US armed forces.

Obama & Co. don't understand that because they have a different code of honor.  It is not to family, not to nation.  It is to the movement, the progressive movement, or whatever the current left-wing thing is at the time.

Obama & Co., with Hollywood, celebrate the anti-hero who makes a point of declaring that he does not owe loyalty to family or to his city or his nation.  So to them Sgt. Bergdahl's hesitance about doing the army thing is only natural.  That's how Obama & Co. feel too.  Enough of this nationalist nonsense!  Peace and Justice!  And that's how the mainstream media seem to owe loyalty to Obama and his agenda rather than to the United States and the rule of law.  In their code, the United States and the military are rather shabby things.  And the constitution was drawn up by slave-owners.  What matters is to fight racism, sexism, and inequality.

Of course all along the Obamis have known that they need to bow to the national gods.  They must say that there is no blue America or red America, but just one exceptional America, and when their minds are focused by the need to win the election they can stay on message.

But they don't really believe a word of all that exceptionalism crap.  They just say it because they must.  Just as they know they must wear those stupid American flag pins.  Their loyalty and honor code is, we might suggest, the the honor code of the community organizer.  The loyalty and the celebrated acts of bravery are the acts to advance the banner of progressivism.  Like the UAW and the Battle of the Overpass.  Or the Movement against the Vietnam War.  Or the Battle for Women's Rights, or the Battle for Marriage Equality.

I would argue that the entire left-wing movement is really a crazed millennial cult.  That everything it does leads to a dead end, whether the economic dead end of communism, the free-stuff dead end of the welfare state, the reproductive dead end of feminism and homosexualism, the population dead end of environmentalism.

Actually, we've seen this before.  Rodney Stark has a name for our modernacademic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex.  He calls it upper-class asceticism.  It starts with Buddhism, and the young prince Gautama Siddhartha giving up his princedom, his wife and children, for a higher life.

Ring a bell does it?

According to liberal philosopher Charles Taylor the trick is to combine a commitment to human flourishing with a commitment to something higher.  So you can't reduce life just to human flourishing.  Nor can you reduce it to upper-class asceticism unless you are a liberal trustafarian.

But back on Earth our liberal masters are screwing up royally, because they have selected themselves into an upper-class ascetic cult and are trying to force-feed the rest of us on their divine manna from heaven.  So they wrong-foot themselves again and again, and sooner or later the American people are going to take notice.

The folks that really need to take notice are the millennials, because they are the folks getting most royally screwed by the Obama doctrine.  But first they have to unlearn everything they learned from their liberal unionized teachers from K through grad school.

And the folks that will struggle hardest with that will be millennial women.  Nothing personal, but my life experience is that women actually believe what they have been taught, whereas men tend to think that the whole school thing is a joke.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

We Need a Religion of Limited Government

Young Voices Associate Cathy Reisenwitz has taken a look at the new ideas in YGNetwork's "Room to Grow" proposals, and wonders what's the point.  Forget the "new" ideas.  How about some good "old" ideas?
Here’s a old/new idea: get government out of the way. cut off the spigot. end the subsidies. cut the regulations. help the middle class by allowing the market to work for them.
Cathy quotes Cato scholar Scott Lincicome:
“To advocate new in-kind or monetary transfers (tax credits, wage subsidies or whatever) to the poor and middle class without also fixing the policies that inflate prices and hinder consumption won’t actually permit these Americans to improve their and their families’ lives,” Lincicome writes. “Put simply: who cares if you have a few extra dollars per week from the government if the cost of many highly-regulated and subsidized necessities keeps outpacing any such increase?”
Who cares?  Ordinary people care about their own personal subsidy, their own personal "few extra dollars per week." It's true that "Bankers, lenders, schools, realtors are all 'helped' tremendously by artificially high prices, demand boosts, and regulatory capture."  And it's true that ordinary people get nickels and dimes compared to the C-spots that the big boys get from Big Government.  But ordinary people are attached to their nickel-and-dime subsidies.  Low-paid educated young people say Yea! when Pune-born Brahmin Kshama Sawant calls for a $15 minimum wage in Seattle, even though it hurts minority youth and pushes marginal employers off the books.  Middle-income people rely on and support the mortgage interest deduction even though the rich benefit far more.

The trouble is that if you actually come out and propose to cut all the subsidies and transfers you won't get elected dogcatcher.  That's because politics has always been and always will be about looting and pillaging.  Join my free company, the young aristocrat used to say, and you'll get your share of the loot.  Vote for me, the modern politician says, and I'll make those greedy employers pay you more out of their profits.  The Tea Party hates bailouts for big banks, but don't start talking about reforming Social Security and Medicare.

The point about limited government is precisely that it proposes to limit the looting and pillaging.  It says that if everyone backs off their demands for loot we will all be better off in the long run.  But in the long run we are all dead.

In The Faith Instinct Nicholas Wade gets to the heart of the matter.  How do humans control the freeloader and the freebooter, the looter and the pillager?  With religion.  It is religion that says "thou shalt not steal" and "thou shalt not covet."  And religion usually throws in a God that knows what you are doing even if you hide your looting from the people in your community.  God will judge you for your transgressions on the Day of Judgment, and don't you forget it.

The problem is that left-wing politics from Marx to Pelosi says that it's OK to loot and pillage, as long as you are a member of a traditionally marginalized minority.  Hey, it's not just OK, it's the epitome of fairness and justice!  Lefties have made a religion out of free-loading.  As the pundit says: this will not end well.

Obviously, it's not going to be easy to turn things around.  The point about religion, including today's left-wing sects, is that it is faith; you believe in spite of setbacks and defeats, and that certainly applies to our liberal friends.  We won't turn things around with a book or two, or even a rational discussion of the zero-sum game of subsidies and carve-outs.

What it will take is a new religion, one that will inspire millions of people with the idea of limited government without subsidies, and fill their hearts with a new idea of the good.  This will not be a political movement, but a moral and cultural movement that redefines the idea of the good.  It will have to inspire ordinary people to reject the blandishments of politicians and activists, because to the new believers such offers of free stuff are simply wrong, and not just wrong but offensively wrong.

Personally, I don't doubt that the Republicans emerging in the race for President in 2016 know what needs to be done: cut spending, subsidies, carve-outs, reform entitlements, reform education away from the "blob" status quo.  But a politician has to practice the art of the possible, and conduct the charm offensive that gets him to 51% of the vote.  And that, as a famous US politician once demonstrated, means leaning heavily on vague promises of Hope and Change, and blurring the actual details of the Change to come.

I'm with you Cathy Reisenwitz.  But I also know that to get where you want to go will take a long journey, and a transformation in the hearts of millions of Americans.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Critiquing Obama from the Enlightened Left

Every time we hear of a new incident of Obama administration lawlessness, we have to wonder.  Do liberals really not see this as a problem?

We know what is going on.  The news media and the cultural czars reckon that Obama and the liberal activists and the Democratic Party have their heart in the right place and so the corner-cutting on Obamacare, the bogus wait-list scam at the VA, the ludicrous exchange of several Taliban leaders for a US deserter, all these are just friction.  The Obamis know the media feels this way, so they figure that they can get away with anything.

But they might look behind them, because it's one thing to roll over the law when you are winning.  It's another thing to violate the law to cover up your mistakes.

I get where the liberals are coming from.  They are on a mission to create a peaceful and just society, and they know that what with the racists, sexists, and homophobes out there, that there is very little time left in the Obama administration to fight inequality and save the planet.

So liberals lose sight of the fact that the USA is a society, not a church, and its job is not to right all wrongs but a rather more modest goal: to keep people out of the streets.

The purpose of laws and constitutions and rules of law is not to hamstring good liberal governance, but to keep the opposition from flooding into the streets.

Let's make this even clearer.  Suppose that all liberals are good guys and all conservatives are evil racists.  Liberals should still govern according to law and not cut corners because when the government cuts corners the opposition starts to get really angry.  It starts to wonder if the governing party will cancel the next election.  It starts organizing for civil war.

So here is my question: What's the point of cutting corners on the fight against inequality and saving the planet if the nation dissolves into civil war and we all start blowing each other up?

There are, of course, two lefty governing narratives.  One is the Fabian Society/Progressive era narrative that educated, progressive people are "nature's noblemen" and therefore ought to rule.  Noemie Emery beautifully captures the fatuity of the movement with this:
They had a dream. For almost a hundred years now, the famed academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex has dreamed of a government run by their kind of people (i.e., nature’s noblemen), whose intelligence, wit, and refined sensibilities would bring us a heaven on earth. Their keen intellects would cut through the clutter as mere mortals’ couldn’t. They would lift up the wretched, oppressed by cruel forces. Above all, they would counter the greed of the merchants, the limited views of the business community, and the ignorance of the conformist and dim middle class.
The only problem is that government, any government, is force, and politics is division, dividing the electorate in half, so every new government program replaces voluntary cooperation with force.  The reason that the academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex is in trouble is that, stripped of its kindly librarian image, it is force.  Meanwhile the whole point of social animals is to reduce the expense and the incidence of force to a minimum.

The other narrative is the revolutionary tradition associated with Marx.  The Marxists made the argument that even if the middle-class governments of the 19th century obeyed the law it was still unacceptable, because exploitation, and therefore revolution was the only remedy.  But Marxism ran into problems.

By the end of the 19th century it was clear that, even if the bourgeoisie were beasts and that 19th century government was nothing but the executive committee of the bourgeoisie, the workers were not getting "immiserated" but were actually prospering in a modest way.  If that were true then maybe revolution wasn't the answer.

By 1920 it was clear that the workers of the world identified first with their homelands and only second with their class.   By 1940 it was clear that the bourgeoisie wasn't the only power center dealing out exploitation.  You had Bolsheviks not just bullying but killing people by the millions.  By 1950, you could add fascists and Nazis to that list.  By 1970 you could add the Maoists.

So the thinking Marxist had to rethink.  What had gone wrong with the Enlightenment and the revolutionary projects?  That's what "critical theory" and the Frankfurt School was all about.  The marquee effort of the early Frankfurt School was The Dialectic of Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno.  Writing in California during World War II as refugees from Germany, they wondered if the problem wasn't in the very nature of the 18th century Enlightenment, for "What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order wholly to dominate it and other men."  They also observed how the conversation in the public square of the 18th century coffeehouse had become institutionalized in the propaganda blasts of mass media.

Some of the Frankfurt Schoolers were just lefty charlatans.  I am thinking of the New Left's darling Herbert Marcuse and his specious doctrine of "Repressive Tolerance."

But then we come to my guy Jürgen Habermas.  A student of Adorno, he is acutely conscious of how the average German just went along with the Hitlerian crimes, just going along to get along.  And he appreciates how even the welfare state has is authoritarian aspects.  What is left then of "enlightenment and emancipation" in such a world?

In the 1960s Habermas tried to locate "critical theory" within a triad of "interest" in Knowledge and Human Interests.  According to Thomas McCarthy in The Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas the technical interest is about developing knowledge in the natural sciences in the "behavioral system of instrumental, feedback-monitored action".  He takes up C.S. Peirce's pragmatism about developing knowledge that is reliable "in arriving at beliefs that future events will confirm rather than render problematic".  Good knowledge helps humans be successful in their interactions with nature.

The practical interest is about developing knowledge as a social project:
the dimension in which concepts, methods, theories, and so forth are discussed and agreed upon, in which the framework of shared meanings, norms, values, and so on is grounded, is the dimension of symbolic interaction that is neither identical with nor reducible to instrumental action.
We climate deniers can see how the practical interest applies to "settled" climate science.  It's not just science, it's a community of scientists.

Then there is "critical theory" and its emancipatory interest.  On Habermas' reading, the Enlightenment itself was supposed to be emancipatory. Thus: "Emancipation by enlightenment required the will to be rational." Thus Kant's sapere aude! to have the courage to use your own reason. Habermas traces the theme of emancipation through Fichte, Hegel, Marx.  Yet these thinkers could not stop the positivist movement that reduced the scope of reason so that "reason became scientific reason."  But the point of critical theory is to look at the existing structure of power, of received notions about reality and forms of life, and to reflect upon them.  It is the struggle to be free of the chains of the past.

Of course "critical theory" was tremendous fun for lefties when the criticism was all about the bourgeoisie and capitalism and whacking away at the patriarchy and institutional racism.  But our liberal friends are noticeably reticent when it comes to a reflective attitude towards their own tradition and its narratives.

For instance, one might ask: how much is left of enlightenment and emancipation in a society that taxes its citizens out of 35-40 percent of their daily labor?  There seems to me to be an "emancipatory interest" in reflecting upon the dominatory aspects of an authoritarian state that minutely taxes and regulates every citizen up the ying-yang.  We might profitably read Habermas, who says that we must balance the "systems" aspects of capitalism and bureaucracy with the intersubjectivity and discourse of equals in the "lifeworld."

Just how much intersubjectivity and discourse is going on in Obama's America when liberal bullies are out everywhere demanding that people "check their privilege" when they are not falling on their fainting couches when some ageing billionaire says nasty things to his 30-ish mistress?

I was reading a piece today in which the writer suggested that either President Obama doesn't know what he is doing or, more problematic, he does know.  My guess is that at a tactical level, President Obama does know what he is doing, and he doesn't care that he is tearing up the Constitution and the rule of law.  But at at a much higher level he has no clue about the nightmare he is setting up for his party and the nation.

Either way, what's really needed in America is a genuine "critical theory" that looks at the embedded social and cultural structures not just of "advanced capitalism" and mass media but at the whole "academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex."

Because if you ask me the present ruling class of the academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex really has no clue what it is doing to America.  Today we have Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (H/T saying that the new EPA standards to reduce coal plant emissions "will strengthen public health, create new jobs, spur innovation and lower electricity rates."

Can she really believe that?  If she doesn't, then she is just a canting politician.  If she does believe it, then it's "Houston, we have a problem."

Friday, May 30, 2014

Liberals Don't Know Better

Here's a nice little piece from the Wall Street Journal.  Guess what: the Obamis at the Census Bureau don't like the way racial classifications are going with the Hispanic community.  You see, according to Amitai Etzioni,
[M]ore that two million Hispanics changed their racial classification to "white" in the 2010 census from "some other race" in 2000.  Overall, according to official data, 53% of Hispanics classified themselves as white in 2010.
Oh no!  We can't have that!  Millions of Hispanics calling themselves white?  What will happen to the Democrats' race politics?  What will happen to all those vital majority-minority congressional districts? What will happen to the racial spoils system. So now the liberal racists at the Census Bureau are working overtime -- and no doubt getting substantial bonuses -- figuring out how to corral Hispanics back into nice convenient categories to help liberals play race politics.

It's cool, isn't it!  The New York Times calls George Zimmerman a "white Hispanic" when it fits the narrative.  But when a more specific classification is needed to bolster up liberal political hegemony, fuggetaboudit.

Here's a cool idea!  Let's add an "honorary white" racial category on the Census form for people that want to be in with the patriarchy and the neo-colonialist set.  And for people that just think it would be cool to be white.

The interesting thing is that the government doesn't need racial classifications unless it's planning to do race-based government.  In fact the only reason the government needs any data is for purposes of command and control.  Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by James C. Scott. No kidding!

This command and control thing applies to everything.  If the government weren't mucking around with the economy, stimulating and money printing and subsidizing and taxing over 30 percent of the yearly income of the people, it wouldn't need any data.  Oh sure, it would need to be the lender of last resort during a financial panic.  But you don't need much data for that, because the people that desperately need to borrow money to maintain liquidity will identify themselves to the appropriate authorities.

But when the government gets into some activity it needs data.  Principally, of course, it needs data so it can figure out what to do when things go wrong, in accordance with the inevitable unanticipated consequences of government action.

In this spring of 2014, as the VA implodes and the president flubs his speech at West Point, liberals are getting ready to do the Fantine thing and sing:
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
and so on.  Back before Barack Obama liberals certainly had a dream; it was about them and their intelligence and compassion and wisdom.  But it's turning into a nightmare and so liberals are getting ready to think of themselves as helpless victims, just like poor Fantine did back in the horrible days before the welfare state.

Only liberals did this to themselves.  They have tried to make politics do things it can't do.  They have used their power to put government to work on things that government can't do.  Because government is force, and force is only good for breaking things and force has to be a last resort.

That's just the liberal stupidity side of things.  Then there are things that go beyond stupidity.  There is the liberal record on exhuming racism out of its well-deserved grave and making race and class and gender the center of liberal neo-tribal politics.

We cannot know what awaits us at the end of neo-tribal liberal identity politics, although it is encouraging that ordinary Hispanics don't seem to want to be marginalized off in a corner of the liberal plantation and 53% of them call themselves whites.

But we got where we are today because of liberals. As Noemie Emery writes:
They had a dream. For almost a hundred years now, the famed academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex has dreamed of a government run by their kind of people (i.e., nature’s noblemen), whose intelligence, wit, and refined sensibilities would bring us a heaven on earth.
Because liberals knew better. Only now the dream is every day turning into a nightmare.  Hey Fantine!  Let's sing it together:
I dreamed a dream in time gone by...
 Now the dream is over, pal.  Get used to it.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Moral Dilemmas in "The Secret Life of Violet Grant"

What do you get if you mix romance with history and politics and throw in a little spy thriller?  You get The Secret Life of Violet Grant by my New York Times bestselling daughter Beatriz Williams.  Now available in bookstores everywhere.

What can I say about it except go and order yours?  And what more can I say without ruining your whole experience with plot spoilers?

Let's start with this.  Manhattan girl-about-town Vivian Schuyler -- the same Schuylers that my man Alexander Hamilton married into centuries ago -- gets a suitcase in the mail in 1964.  It seems to have belonged to her great-aunt Violet that disappeared mysteriously right before World War I.  What gives?  
Well, Vivian is a spunky kid, even if she is rich, and even if she only got her job as fact-checker at Metropolitan magazine because she's the best friend of the owner's daughter.  In fact Vivian might remind you of the spunky heroines of those now-forgotten 1930s screwball comedies. So she ignores the warnings from Mums and Dadums about the danger of family scandal and bores right in to the suitcase mystery to figure out just what happened back in 1914.  That sets up a glorious romp through Manhattan with lots of drinking and smoking on the one hand and the gradual unraveling of the life of the mystery of the great-aunt Violet who left New York in 1912 as a young science graduate to join the masters of the universe trying to figure out the nature of the atom in Britain and Germany.

In between the dizzying plot twists we get a lot of moral dilemmas.  What do you do if you find that you and your best friend are in love with the same man?  What do you do when your lover wants you to have an abortion?  What do you do if an educated girl comes to you wanting an abortion?  What do you do if you think that a young woman in the office is being improperly treated?

Sorry, liberals.  These questions are considered not as black and white political issues of rights and "Justice!" but as moral dilemmas that challenge good people in their daily lives, that don't have easy answers, and that ought to be worked out without the clunking fist of government.

The biggest issue, that comes up again and again, is who can you trust?  When someone says they love you, do they really love you or are they trying to use you?  And what are you prepared to sacrifice for love? I think I can say, without betraying the story, that in Violet Grant these questions remains open right down to the last page.

Violet Grant is my daughter's third novel with Putnam and, if you ask me, she is getting better with every book.  Beatriz Williams is willing to take risks, and the more she writes, the bigger the risks.

The central question is, if you are writing a novel that mixes romance, history, politics, and a bit of spy thriller, how far can you go?  How much is enough?  What will the punters like?  The only thing to do is to put pen to paper and find out.  And that's what Beatriz Williams has done.  And what she has done is deliver a glorious romp that, if you pay attention, is really about the Big Things: love, courage, honor, decency, and sacrifice.  And their opposites.

What else is there?