The Neanderthal Creed
November 18, 2003
Senator Edward Kennedy, who prides himself on
opposing discrimination against all minorities, committed a gaffe the
other day. Speaking of President Bushs judicial appointees, he
pledged that the Senate wont confirm any
As a Neanderthal, I find that
shockingly insensitive. Senator Kennedy is, after all, the uncle-in-law of
Californias new governor, who achieved great fame playing
Neanderthals in the movies. How can he be so openly contemptuous of the
concerns of the Neanderthal community?
President Bush hasnt even
nominated any real Neanderthals to the Federal judiciary. His choices are
all far too progressive to suit us, even if Senator Kennedy
considers them reactionary. To his way of thinking, anyone
who is less than enthusiastic about destroying human fetuses is
hopelessly behind the times.
But as all Neanderthals
understand, much of the trouble in this world is caused by people trying to
keep up with the times. Such people consider following current trends
imperative, because they have no unchanging standards by which to judge
those trends. For them, change automatically means improvement, and the
word change itself is a kind of mantra for them.
mentality is marked by an odd faith in the future, with a corresponding
disdain for the past. It believes that the future will be better, if present
trends continue; the only change it disapproves of is change back toward
This faith was best expressed by
the progressive journalist Lincoln Steffens, who returned from a visit to
the Soviet Union to proclaim, I have been over into the future, and
But by what standard will the
future be better, when to the progressive mindset all standards are
themselves impermanent and fluid? After all, progressives tell us,
there are no absolutes; they even speak of evolving
standards. What seems good today may appear bad from the
perspective of the future. Even todays progressive may become
tomorrows reactionary, if he fails to keep up with the times!
Lord, we know what we are, but we know not what we
may be, says Shakespeares mad Ophelia with demented
insight. She doesnt know she is expressing the progressive
philosophy in a nutshell.
Well, the present is the glorious
future of yesterdays progressives. Is it really an improvement? By
definition it must be. But not everyone finds it so.
The Neanderthal will have none
of this. By his standards, history isnt an unbroken record of
improvement. He is keenly aware that in the struggles of the past, the
right side hasnt always won. Believing that the right side is
always victorious is, as G.K. Chesterton put it, like believing in trial by
The stronger side usually wins.
This proves nothing about which side was right. Often the right side winds
up on the dustbin of history. In most of the great struggles
of the past, there have been reasonable and honorable men on both sides
before the issue was decided by power and, sometimes, sheer chance. And
sometimes neither side was right.
For this reason, the Neanderthal
understands that historys losers are often worth listening to.
Making allowances for his partisanship, the memoirs of Jefferson Davis
are extremely illuminating about the War Between the States. He argues
compellingly that under the U.S. Constitution any state has the right to
secede from the Union. The fact that his side lost in no way refutes the
logic of his argument.
This is especially hard for
Americans to understand, because the United States has won most of its
wars and has never been conquered and devastated by a foreign power. We
lack the sense of tragedy, irony, and history itself that is common to
people who have tasted bitter defeat.
Our enormously emotional
reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks was partly due to sheer amazement:
we had felt immune to such violence. The Neanderthal was shocked, but
not surprised. He had almost expected something like this. Or even worse.
The Neanderthal isnt
necessarily a pessimist, but he regards the progressives optimism
about history as insanity. And he cant share the
progressives faith that government can protect us from evil
a faith held even by many people who consider themselves
History ought to be a sufficient
cure for optimism, but many Americans seem to be incurable.