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Thread: Disraeli, Inventor of Conservatism/Conservatism Passing Its Orbit [Vijay Prozak]

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    Disraeli, Inventor of Conservatism/Conservatism Passing Its Orbit [Vijay Prozak]

    The Inventor of Modern Conservatism
    From the February 7, 2005 issue: Disraeli and us.
    by David Gelernter
    02/07/2005, Volume 010, Issue 20

    BENJAMIN DISRAELI--TWICE PRIME minister of Great Britain, romantic novelist, inventor of modern conservatism--was a neocon in the plain sense of the word, a "new conservative" who began his career on the left. Conservative thinking dates to the dawn of organized society, but modern conservatism--a mass movement, a philosophy not for aristocrats and the rich but for everybody--was Disraeli's creation. That modern conservatism should have been invented by a 19th-century neocon is thought provoking. More surprising:His redefinition of conservatism is still fresh, and his political philosophy has never been more apt.

    Conservatism is the most powerful and electric force in the American intellectual landscape. Young people no longer discover the left and get excited; they are far more likely to get their intellectual kicks discovering and experimenting with conservatism. But what exactly do conservatives believe? How do they resolve the seeming paradox that so many conservatives revere the past yet are also progressives, determined to move this nation forward and let it grow, stretch, and inhabit more and more of its own best self? Disraeli produced a definition of conservatism that resolves the problem. It is so terse and compelling, it ranks as a milestone of political thought.

    He was a statesman who remodeled Europe and a thinker who examined some of the hardest of all political, social, and philosophical questions: How should democratic government work, what does party politics mean, where do the Jews fit in? I too "would lift up my voice to heaven, and ask," says the hero of his novel Tancred, "What is duty, and what is faith? What ought I to do, and what ought I to believe?" On these and related questions, Disraeli said fantastically improbable things that would be easy to dismiss except that many of them are true.

    Like nearly all successful politicians, he was a fine actor and first-rate manipulator, accustomed to saying things he didn't necessarily (wholly) believe. Like nearly all brilliant men, he could be hard to read. Like all celebrated wits and superstar parliamentarians, he was a champion improviser, superb at making things up as he went along. For all these reasons, historians tend to forget his passionate sincerity on the topics he cared about most: Britain, the Jews, the Tories, the government of England. No man ever left behind so many pregnant thoughts for his followers, admirers, and professional interpreters to ignore.

    He was born a Jew, but his father had him baptized at age 13 in a fit of pique. Disraeli the elder (who spelled his name Isaac D'Israeli) was angry with the local synagogue for insisting that he serve as an officer and fining him when he refused. Isaac was a modestly well-off literary man who published An Essay on the Manners and Genius of the Literary Character in 1795, and several collections of short pieces on a grab bag of topics, from "The Chinese Language" to "The History of Gloves." They were popular in their day and are still charming and readable, literary snackfood of a high order. Lord Byron admired D'Israeli, and called him the author "whose works in general I have read oftener than perhaps those of any other English author whatever."

    Unlike his father, Benjamin was religious by nature. He became a devout Christian. But nearly everyone regarded him as a Jew, and he agreed: He was a Jew, except theologically. As Disraeli saw things, "Jew" was a race--to which he was ferociously proud to belong. ("All is race," he wrote; "there is no other truth.") Bismarck captured the world's attitude to Disraeli at his height. The Iron Chancellor was not easily carried away. But at the Berlin Congress in 1878, where Europe's top statesmen were gathered glittering at the summit of European history, and Disraeli dominated the proceedings, Bismarck said: "Der alte Jude, das ist der Mann"--The old Jew, that's the man.

    His "racial" Jewishness affected his worldview profoundly. Jewishness lovingly embraced though imperfectly understood taught him plenty. Taught him the meaning of defiance and honor, of winning against long odds and looking after your own. Taught him loyalty, the real nature of aristocracy, the all-importance of spiritual intangibles that rationalists, utilitarians, and modernists like to dismiss. All these things weighed heavily with Disraeli and, through him, helped shape modern politics, modern Britain, modern America, and the world of 2005.

    HE WAS BORN IN 1804. He ran up debts as a young man that followed him deep into middle age. He wrote novels throughout his career; some made splashes, some were critical successes, some became famous--but none made big sales or big money until Lothair, which appeared when he was 65. He ran for Parliament and lost four times before he finally won in 1837. His maiden speech in the House of Commons was a famous fiasco. It was baroque and overblown--and (furthermore) Disraeli had brazenly offended an opposition clique earlier in the session; that was his real mistake. By the end of the speech he was all but drowned out by hoots, howls, and hisses. He finished with a celebrated promise, shouted at the top of his lungs so that people would hear: "Ay, sir, and though I sit down now, the time will come when you will hear me!"

    In Parliament and the Tory party, he worked his passage by skill, nerve, and transcendent talent, facing down a fair (though not disabling) load of anti-Semitism along the way. When the Earl of Derby retired in 1868 and it was his turn at last to lead the party and become prime minister, some Tories grudged him his position. His first term as prime minister lasted only 11 months. The six years of his "great ministry" began in 1874, when he was 69 and starting to fail in health and strength. "Power came to him too late in life," his protégé T.E. Kebbel admits in his 1907 memoirs. Victoria created him Earl of Beaconsfield in 1876; he died in '81. Yet for all his tribulations, his career in the end was such a blowout triumph that "from the hour of his death," Lord Randolph Churchill (Winston's father) wrote, "every Tory, in and out of Parliament, high or low, rich or poor, had exclaimed, muttered or thought: 'Oh, if Lord Beaconsfield were alive!'" "Disraeli's life was a succession of surprises," the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1911 reports, "but none so great as that he should be remembered after death more widely, lastingly, respectfully, affectionately, than any other statesman in the long reign of Queen Victoria."

    You could summarize his career, Lord Randolph thought, in a single sentence: "Failure, failure, failure, partial success, renewed failure, ultimate and complete triumph." The one ineffably sad thing about his life was that his beloved, devoted wife died in 1872, two years before he embarked at last on his triumphant great ministry.

    If Disraeli had never become prime minister he would be famous anyway, for dreaming up modern conservatism and (some argue) the two-party system itself in its modern form. If he had never entered Parliament he would still be famous, for helping mold England's social conscience--which England passed on to America and the West.

    He would be famous in other ways too. Robert Blake writes of Disraeli's two best-known novels, Coningsby and Sybil, that "he would be remembered for these if he had written nothing else and never become a minister." Gertrude Himmelfarb calls him co-inventor of the "social problem" novel; Isaiah Berlin names him "inventor of the political novel." His novels can be slapdash, but at their best they have the witty crystalline prose, the penetration and grace of F. Scott Fitzgerald at his best--although Disraeli (like Fitzgerald) was too apt to coast without pedaling, seduced by his own brilliance. ("When I want to read a novel," he said, "I write one.")

    And he would be remembered, had he never entered politics, as a wit and a phrase-maker. When the champagne appeared at a badly prepared banquet: "Thank God for something warm." In a speech at Oxford: "Is man an ape or an angel? I, my lord, I am on the side of the angels." A man should retire when he reaches "his anecdotage." In an 1878 letter: "It is not the beginning of the end; it is the end of the beginning." (There is this and other evidence that Churchill read him closely.)

    But above all Disraeli would be remembered, practical politics aside, as a thinker who grappled in his own way with the hardest problems of all.

    WHAT SORT OF MAN WAS HE? Sara Austen, friend of his youth, writes revealingly that Disraeli was "so actively kind." (Her emphasis.) He did not merely have good intentions; he was a good man. He might have been the most tactful Briton of the 19th century. When the queen published some slight notes (Leaves from the Journal of our life in the Highlands), he found occasion to begin a sentence: "We authors, Ma'am . . . "--which evidently made a big impression. He once told his wife, who had stayed up late to serve him his favorite dinner upon his return from the House, "Why, my Dear, you are more like a mistress than a wife!" She told the story to Kebbel, and "I could see," Kebbel writes, "that she took it as a very high compliment indeed." Naturally.

    Ordinarily he is evaluated against his great Liberal rival William Ewart Gladstone. But the two are incomparable. Gladstone was a politician, albeit deep and principled. Disraeli was a visionary man of letters, best understood in relation to such thinkers as John Milton and William Blake. Granted he was no great artist, but like Milton and Blake, he was a great man--and in some ways, the three thought along similar lines. They were masters of the English language (Disraeli's best genre was the partially impromptu parliamentary speech). They were each obsessed with God and prophecy, with England and her relationship to Israel.

    Those who see Disraeli as an anomaly (a Jewish Tory prime minister?) should remember Britain's long, deep obsession with classical Hebrew civilization during an intensely "formative" period. They should recall Milton's explaining, in Paradise Regained, that Israel's prophets are "Men divinely taught, and better teaching / The solid rules of civil government, / In their majestic, unaffected style, / Than all the oratory of Greece and Rome." They should recall Blake's Jerusalem, whose theme is the marriage (understood on many levels) of Jerusalem and Albion. Should recall Blake imagining himself the prophet Elijah and proclaiming,

    Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
    Bring me my Arrows of desire:
    Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
    Bring me my Chariot of fire.

    I will not cease from Mental Fight,
    Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
    Till we have built Jerusalem
    In England's green & pleasant Land.

    Among such men as Blake and Milton, Disraeli and his obsession with Judaism and Christianity, with Israel and England, is right at home.

    Disraeli saw "Jew" as, first and foremost, a nationality or race. The world having visited on them "every term of obloquy and every form of persecution," he wrote in his Biography of Lord George Bentinck, the Jews are, notwithstanding, "the human family that has contributed most to human happiness." Of course he felt deeply about Britain too: "Zeal for the greatness of England was the passion of his life" (thus his foreign minister, and the future prime minister, Lord Salisbury). Disraeli wrote in Tancred: "The general condition of England is superior to that of any other country"; "there is more political freedom, more social happiness, more sound religion, and more material prosperity among us, than in any nation in the world."

    Pride is basic not merely to his character but to his worldview. He admired the English aristocracy but he was positive that, on their own terms, he outranked them. The main theme of Tancred (notes Cecil Roth) is "the essential aristocracy of the Jewish people." Kebbel remarks that Disraeli "believed himself to possess a pedigree compared with which the pedigrees of the oldest families in Christendom were as things of yesterday."

    "Yes, I am a Jew," he explained not over-subtly to a politician who had attacked him on that account, "and when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon." His over-the-top pride, set against widespread Jewish self-hatred of the sort embodied by (for example) Marx or (nowadays) Noam Chomsky, is intensely refreshing--a cool dip on a hot day. Too bad so many Jewish intellectuals are afraid of the water. Take Isaiah Berlin, who breaks out the sneer-quotes to mock Disraeli for conceiving himself "lifted above the teeming multitude by the genius of a 'great' race." No doubt Berlin would have rated America, too, not great but merely "great"--or was he afraid to exult in Jewish genius lest his gentile friends not like him any more? Berlin is long dead, but many thousands like him live on. Who needs anti-Semites when so many Jewish scholars attribute a robust interest in Jewish achievement not to pride but to "insecurity"--a disease with which they seem suspiciously familiar?

    Pride in Britain drove Disraeli's foreign policy as prime minister. His first foreign policy success, according to the 1911 Britannica, "was the restoration [to Britain] of a much-damaged self-respect." Disraeli went to the Congress of Berlin determined that Britain's slipping prestige in Europe should be restored and her voice heard and her will respected. It is no accident that his once-opponent John Roebuck should have announced, on the PM's return, that "England now holds as proud a position as she has ever held, and that is due to the sagacity, and power, and conduct of the despised person once called Benjamin Disraeli but now Lord Beaconsfield."

    Disraeli was a bullfighter-of-the-spirit who loved and admired the British public as a bullfighter loves and admires the bull--but was determined to master it, break it to his will. His ambition was gigantic and almost (but not quite) all-consuming. "There is no incentive to exertion," he announces in Tancred, "like the passion for a noble renown." It turned out to be easier for him to climb "to the top of the greasy pole" (his phrase) in politics than literature, and so he devoted his best efforts to molding and leading Britain's Tory party.

    Genius is defiance. He got caught up once in an altercation with an Irish politician who finished by slinging anti-Semitic slurs--and who had forsworn dueling; so Disraeli called out the man's son, and worked hard to bring the duel about. In the end the law stepped in and prevented it. But no less a personage than the Duke of Wellington commended Disraeli's behavior (Cecil Roth reports) as "the most damned gentleman-like thing" he had heard of for some time. What struck the public at first as mere reckless publicity-seeking came to seem, in time, like reckless bravery. When he died, "courage" is the virtue for which his archenemy Gladstone chose to praise him. His philosophy amounts to a Metaphysics of Pride.


    WE CAN'T PICTURE THE MAN TRULY unless we know that women obsessed him his whole life. (And he obsessed them.) He was dark, handsome, exotic-looking--"strikingly handsome," according to an 1895 account, "with an air of easy grace." ("All the women are on my side," he wrote a female friend of his ill-starred first try for Parliament in 1832.) In youth he was a sharp dresser to the point of absurdity; when he grew older and went into Parliament, he got a grip and emerged as a model of good taste. By 1844 he felt able, in describing one of his characters in Coningsby, to mention "his dress rich and effeminate." That was Disraeli all over, baiting the public, reminding it that his own clothes had been "rich and effeminate" once; daring people to make something of it. Teasing the toro of public opinion like a master bullfighter who has been gored repeatedly but come back stronger.

    As a young man he scored some torrid love affairs, but in 1839 he married an older woman, carefully explaining that he was doing it for her money. Then he fell in love with her--so devoutly that their marriage remains a paradigm in the high-pressure world of high-stakes politics. His novel Sybil is dedicated to "the most severe of critics, but--a perfect Wife!"

    We picture him in middle age with his kindly, moist, knowing, nearsighted eyes, his face that seems more Jewish by the month, his quickness that can take your breath away if he feels like it. He listens to his own sentences like a connoisseur: loves hearing himself talk, especially to women; is a sought-out listener, too. Retails gossip with winning enjoyment.

    In old age he grows silent. He is an international celebrity, absolute center of attention wherever he appears. But he can sit for hours at a dinner party and say not a single word. His forehead is high, face lined, demeanor quiet and tired, eyes deep-set, quizzical, nearsighted as always, wistful.

    When he died there was a startling outburst of national mourning. "No such demonstration of grief was expected," reports the 1911 Britannica, "even by those who grieved the most."

    BENJAMIN DISRAELI is the founding father of modern conservatism as it exists in Britain and, arguably, throughout the Western world. But why was he a conservative? How did this quintessential outsider come to lead Britain's Tories, once the insider's party par excellence?

    He entered politics as an independent with radical tendencies. In some respects he held radical views his whole life. But he was elected to Parliament as a Conservative, and remained a Tory forever after. Why Conservative? people asked, and still do. A Jewish writer who anguished over poverty, believed in democracy and condemned (in prophetic language) the evils of "exclusion"? Isaiah Berlin explains that Disraeli's conservatism was phony but not hypocritical, because he was taken in by his own act. "He was an actor, and he became one with his act: the mask became one with his features: second nature replaced first." Which is too clever by half. Yes, Disraeli was an actor; he was an actor who happened to love and honor tradition--and so he had to be a Tory. (And he was hardly the first Jew, as he pointed out himself, to love and honor tradition.)

    In Disraeli's youth, Tories were the Church of England, country-squire party; Whigs were associated with Puritans and religious dissenters, with the trading towns and manufacturing centers and the great grasping, sprawling capital city. But the Reform Act of 1832 put Britain for the first time (a mere 60-odd years after the Declaration of Independence) on the road to democracy and changed the shape of politics.

    Before 1832, Britain's Conservative party was a rich man's party, promoting the interests of wealthy landowners. Such a party was plausible so long as Parliament was chosen by a tiny, monied subset of the population. Although the 1832 reform did not establish democracy--it enlarged the franchise to a point where roughly one in five adult males could vote--it made clear that Britain was headed towards democracy and would get there eventually. Obviously no "rich man's party" can prevail in a democracy. However prosperous the nation, the rich are never a majority. The Tory party had to change or face slow, painful death as democracy came on strong.

    Notice that Democrats in America insist to this day that Republicans, like pre-1832 British Tories, are the "party of the rich." John Edwards made this a major theme of his 2004 campaign. But the idea makes no sense. If it were true, Republicans could only win elections if the public were stupid--granted, a hypothesis many Democrats can live with.

    Post-1832, Britain's Tories had two main alternatives. They could turn themselves into a watered-down version of the opposition or become something brand new. Disraeli believed in the second alternative. He wanted the Tories to care about poverty, favor democracy, be "inclusive," and hold the nation's traditions in deep romantic reverence--in other words, be just like him. But his wants were irrelevant unless he could win control of his party.

    Which he did, by one of the strangest maneuvers in British parliamentary history. The 1832 Reform Act was a Whig measure and a huge popular success. The Tories emerged bewildered and stymied, like 1990s Republicans after a run-in with Bill Clinton. Sir Robert Peel became their leader; Peel, writes G.M. Trevelyan (who published his classic History of England in the 1920s), "reconstituted a 'Conservative' party out of the wreckage of the 'Tory' party destroyed by the Reform bill." But Peel's was a pale pastel Toryism, a watered-down Whiggism that attracted some Whigs but inspired no one. "Tory men and Whig measures," Disraeli called it--like the administration of Richard Nixon, or the views of Northeastern Republicans.

    Peel became prime minister in August 1841 after the Whigs lost a vote of confidence and then a general election. With Peel and his weak-tea conservatives running the show, Disraeli was a mere disgruntled back-bencher, no better than "a dark horse" (his phrase) for party leadership. But his moment arrived (unexpectedly) in 1846, when Peel decided to abolish the corn laws, import duties on grain. Free trade was a Whig-style issue. In promoting it, Peel was ignoring the most devoted and rock-ribbed Tories--who despised free trade (they wanted protection from cheap foreign grain) and were accordingly primed for revolt. Disraeli was no lover of the corn laws but saw his chance to beat Peel by leading the pro-corn-law rebellion. Despite opposition from his own party, Peel succeeded in abolishing the corn laws. But soon afterwards, the Tory rebels abolished him.

    Disraeli's maneuver split the party. The government fell, Peel resigned, and the Whigs took over. "Riven in twain on the Free Trade question," say Arnold Wright and Philip Smith in their colorful Parliament Past and Present (1895), "the conservatives sat on opposite sides of the House--the [Tory] Protectionists sharing the Liberal benches with the Whigs and Radicals, and the [Tory] Peelites taking their place on the opposition benches." (The layout of the House of Commons forces everyone literally to choose a side.) Disraeli had deliberately driven the jalopy of Toryism off a cliff. It was a cool 28 years before the Conservatives once again commanded a clear House of Commons majority. That gave him the time he needed to refashion the wreckage into a new kind of Toryism.

    Although he had used pro-corn-law sentiment to beat Peel, he soon admitted that these protectionist laws were dead ducks and couldn't possibly be revived. Some called his reversal unprincipled, which was fair up to a point. But Disraeli's real grievance was that Peel lacked vision, lacked any sense of what Toryism could become. Disraeli was Newt Gingrich taking control of the House Republicans for philosophic reasons but not by philosophic methods.

    Disraeli created the new Conservative party in opposition--and while he was at it, created the modern idea of an "opposition party." Blake calls him "perhaps the first politician systematically to uphold the doctrine that it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose. Indeed, he might be said by this practice to have established a precedent on which all subsequent Opposition leaders have acted."

    No matter what the issue, if the government was pro, Disraeli felt obliged to be con. "Above all maintain the line of demarcation between parties," Disraeli said, "for it is only by maintaining the independence of party that you can maintain the integrity of public men, and the power and influence of Parliament itself." He believed that a party must stand for a consistent, coherent worldview--not for an incoherent parade of tactical decisions with no overarching purpose or underlying philosophy. A party in the age of expanding democracy must write its principles in bold block letters, plainly and clearly. (Not a bad idea even today.)

    But there were two reservations. Disraeli saw his duty as opposition, never obstruction; never to prevent the House from voting. Furthermore, when the nation was at war, the opposition was duty bound to support the war effort. Disraeli disliked the Crimean War and said so, but assured the House that no English general fighting abroad would face any opposition effort "to depreciate his efforts and to ridicule his talents" so long as he was in charge.

    THUS DISRAELI FOUND HIMSELF in a position to rebuild the Tory party. How did he go about it? Reverence for tradition was central to Toryism and to Disraeli's own personality. He wanted his new-style Tory party to embody respect for tradition--wanted it to be new and old, to be a modern setting for ancient gems, a new crown displaying old jewels. This was a popular idea in 19th-century Britain, where "the future" and "the past" were both discovered, simultaneously.

    Disraeli's approach was like Barry and Pugin's in designing a new home for Parliament. The old one burned to the ground (except for a magnificent medieval hall and a few odds and ends) in 1834. The new structure, it was decided, should be built of modern materials and work like a modern building with all the conveniences--but should look medieval. The intention wasn't play-acting or aesthetic fraud; it was to use the best ideas of the past and present alongside each other.

    The result was wildly successful, one of history's greatest public buildings. Disraeli aimed to accomplish something similar for the Tory party. His underlying thought, which defined Disraeli-type Toryism and reshaped conservatism for all time, was that the Conservative party was the national party. Sounds simple and is. But everything else followed. If you understood "national" properly, then (on the one hand) the Tories must be a democratic, "universal," progressive party that cared about the poor and working classes--since the party was national it must care for the whole nation, for all classes. But the Tories must also be a patriotic party that revered ancient traditions and institutions, again inasmuch as they were the national--and therefore honored profoundly the nation's heritage and distinctive character.

    He put it like this:

    In a progressive country change is constant; and the great question is not whether you should resist change which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws and the traditions of a people, or whether it should be carried out in deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary and general doctrines.

    (Which is exactly the issue that divides Republicans and Democrats today.) If Tories were "national," the Liberal party was ("to give it an epithet," he said, "a noble epithet--which it may perhaps deserve") the "philosophic" party.

    In his Vindication of the English Constitution he explained that "the Tory party in this country is the national party; it is the really democratic party of England." The "national" party is the inclusive, universal party--"universal" meaning "all classes of Britain." "If we must find new forces to maintain the ancient throne and immemorial monarchy of England," he said in Parliament, "I for one hope that we may find that novel power in the invigorating energies of an educated and enfranchised people." According to one school of opinion (Cecil Roth reports), had Disraeli lived and got another shot at the premiership in the 1880s, he would have "extended the franchise to women, this being according to The Times of June 13th 1884, the 'trump Conservative card' which he kept up his sleeve."

    Thus the radical new idea of "Tory Democracy" (not Disraeli's phrase but his idea)--conservatism by and for the man in the street: Teddy Roosevelt conservatism, JFK conservatism, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan conservatism, the conservatism that has been so potent in modern Britain and America. JFK fits the pattern beautifully: people's man, tough stand-up-for-America man, lady's man--so to speak. But did Disraeli influence JFK? Like nearly every politician of his generation, Kennedy was deeply influenced by Churchill, who was deeply influenced by his father, who was deeply influenced by Dizzy.

    As Disraeli saw it, liberals and conservatives were equally progressive. But liberals were rational internationalists who worried what the Germans would say. Conservatives were romantic nationalists who worried what their forefathers would have said. (Thus "national" Republicans invoke the wisdom of the people and the authority of the Founding Fathers. "Philosophic" Democrats invoke the wisdom of the intellectuals and the authority of the United Nations.)

    Designing this new-old Tory party posed hard problems: How to preserve the Tories' heartfelt devotion to tradition and ancient institutions, but add an equally fervent belief in democracy? The "national" party was perfect. And for Disraeli the idea came naturally. There was nothing forced about his use of "nationality" or the enormous mystical significance he attached to the idea. He had always felt just this way about his own Jewish nationality, which played (in his own life) a role of deep mystical significance. Hard-headed but profoundly spiritual nationalism came naturally to him as a Jew, and turned out to be exactly the right basis for a new, progressive conservatism.

    GIVEN DISRAELI'S IDEAS AND PRINCIPLES, how did he govern? His credentials as a progressive were just as strong as Gladstone's, and Disraeli dismissed the idea that Liberals were in any way, shape, or form more "compassionate" than Conservatives. Disraeli and Thomas Carlyle were two prominent Tory thinkers who lit into the reactionary poor law of 1834: "Carlyle and Disraeli jeered at the statisticians who thought the condition of the poor could be measured in wages and prices, food consumption and longevity," Gertrude Himmelfarb writes. She calls Dickens's Hard Times, Disraeli's Sybil, and two novels by Elizabeth Gaskell "archetypes" of the brand new "social-problem novel." "What Sybil and Hard Times share," she writes, is a "sense of verisimilitude that spills over even into their rather melodramatic and satirical passages. . . . Even [Disraeli's] critics paid tribute to his zeal as a social reporter, his attempt to seek out the best evidence on the condition-of-the-people question."

    Disraeli was a social-conscience man--who connected compassion and social justice with Judaism. "The Saxon, the Sclav [sic], and the Celt," he wrote in Lord Bentinck, "have adopted most of the laws and many of the customs of these Arabian tribes"--by which he meant the Jews; "all their literature and all their religion. They are therefore indebted to them for much that regulates, much that charms, and much that solaces existence. The toiling multitude rest every seventh day by virtue of a Jewish law." And so on.

    Unsurprisingly, domestic legislation enacted during Disraeli's "great ministry" constitutes (according to Blake) "the biggest installment of social reform passed by any one government in the nineteenth century." Some historians point out that Disraeli himself was only marginally involved in the actual legislation; the details were all worked out by his enterprising Home Secretary Richard Cross. But after all, Disraeli was old and tired by the late 1870s, and there was no mistaking his intentions. He had been writing and talking about them in public and private, in novels and essays, as a back-and front-bencher, in government and opposition, on the floor of the House and on platforms all over the country for nearly half a century.

    Just as he saw "nationality" as a mystical attribute shared by every Briton, he saw the peerage and monarchy as national institutions that belonged to every Briton. He democratized not only the Tory party but the British monarchy. The titled nobility, he believed, were ombudsmen of the people--they alone among rich Englishmen had a duty and could be counted on to look out for the whole nation. Here once again his Jewish background played a role in his political thinking. The Jews were Europe's true aristocracy. Therefore, as a self-appointed member of the club, he looked benignly on England's titled nobility even before he was created Earl of Beaconsfield (and later, like Churchill and not many other Britons, was offered and turned down a dukedom).

    When the "great ministry" began, Disraeli's focus switched to foreign affairs. He became Lord Beaconsfield two years into the six-year period. Monypenny and Buckle, authors of the standard Disraeli biography (first published in six volumes between 1910 and 1920), write that "the name Disraeli" suggests "the destroyer of Peel, the re-creator of the Conservative Party . . . the promoter of Tory Democracy. The name Beaconsfield has quite other associations . . . the imperial and European statesman, the faithful custodian of his country's interests at a critical epoch in international politics, the leading figure at a European Congress."

    His devotion to Judaism put him in vague, romantic awe of The East. (He referred to Jews as "Arabian" or "Asian," to Jewish wisdom as the "Asian wisdom" by which Europe lived.) He was fascinated by Britain's holdings in India. (A character in Tancred casually proposes that the seat of the British Empire should be transferred from London to Delhi.) Once again big consequences followed from his infatuations.

    Disraeli became "the regenerator and representative of the Imperial idea in England," reports the 1911 Britannica. Cecil Roth writes that "his intuition, or almost vision, of a new relation between England and her overseas possessions" made him "the second founder of the British Empire in its modern sense"--"modern" meaning an Empire fated to convert itself eventually into a "Commonwealth" of independent states.

    He made Victoria "Empress of India." (To adopt this title was a suggestion he did not intend for her to take quite seriously. But she did, quite seriously.) His goal was a closer relation between the Indian people and the sovereign, who would take it upon herself to guarantee personally that their laws and religions would be respected. He acquired a large stake in the Suez Canal company for Britain, in part to protect Britain's route to India. He was determined to keep Russia out of Constantinople, partly because he believed that a Russian Constantinople would threaten the route to India. His views on Constantinople, and his determination that Britain should reassert her influence in Europe, led to his triumph at the Congress of Berlin--which peacefully redrew the map of Europe and did in fact keep the Russians out of Constantinople (or Istanbul)--of which they remain non-owners today. "A few years back, it was fashionable to decry his policy," Cecil Roth wrote in 1951--"a reaction against the earlier stage of patriotic glorification. But had it not succeeded, Russia would certainly have had long since her Mediterranean outlet, with incalculable consequences to the history of the world."

    WHAT OF DISRAELI'S IDEAS? How do they hold up, and where do they stand today? A nationality for Disraeli is a state of mind or sensibility or consciousness emerging out of the measureless past. (Its essence being a state of mind, it cannot easily be communicated in words, any more than a religious state of mind can be.) An individual might or might not be sensitive enough to tune in this "broadcast," to hear it and resonate with it. "Hear the voice of the Bard!" says William Blake,

    Who Present, Past & Future sees;
    Whose ears have heard The Holy Word
    That walk'd among the ancient trees.
    Disraeli, for one, heard music in the rustling train of time (as she sweeps grandly forward). If you are sensitive enough to "tune in" your own nationality--to be aware of your history and forebears and ancient institutions--you make yourself part of a living organism; take your place in a continuum--a living thing that was born when your nation was born and will live for as long as it lives. For Disraeli, liberalism is (merely) rational and reasonable. Conservatism, being national, is poetic and passionate.

    One consequence among many: Schoolchildren (Disraeli believed) are natural Tories. During the last generation or two, many Americans figured that youthful idealism made for Democrats and left-wingers automatically. Disraeli saw things just the other way: You are driven to make society better not by ideology but by sense of duty, your sense of oneness with the nation and its history. A romantic idea, he freely admits; the sort of thing that appeals to schoolchildren. Duty and honor were central to Disraeli's worldview. His proudest achievement, after all, was to bring home what he called "peace with honor" from the Berlin Congress. He was no warmonger; he called the Crimean War "just but unnecessary." But he did believe in peace through strength, through courage, through unqualified readiness to do your duty and (if need be) display your valor--ideas that the young once found appealing, intimately tied up as they are with romance and eros. And today, America's young people are indeed--at least by some calculations--more conservative than their elders.

    The Liberal says, in despairing disbelief: Can't you sense the world around us? Don't you care about its disapproval? The Conservative says, in despairing disbelief: Can't you sense the generations behind us? Don't you care about their disapproval? Liberals live "horizontally," spiritually in touch (they believe) with all the world's nations. Conservatives live "vertically," spiritually in touch (they believe) with their forebears and with generations to come.

    Marx and Disraeli are perfect countertypes--partly the same, partly opposite (like particle and anti-particle in nuclear physics; when they meet, they destroy each other). Marx and Disraeli are the principal creators of the modern left and right respectively--two 19th-century Jews whose fathers had them baptized, who worked mainly in London, who counted on British power to protect the world from a dangerous Czarist Russia, who died within two years of each other, in 1881 (Disraeli) and '83 (Marx). They were both obsessed with Jews and Judaism, but Marx (the atheist left-winger) hated Jews, Judaism, and religion in general; Disraeli (the devout right-winger) felt differently.

    Marx says, "Workers of the world, unite!" Disraeli says, Peoples of Britain, unite! Marx foresees one class united around the world. Disraeli envisions all classes united throughout the nation. Socialists had "internationals," but conservatives never felt any need to blend their national parties into transnational organizations.

    Yet Marx-to-Disraeli is not finally a left-to-right spectrum. Marx gave birth not only to the modern left but to totalitarianism. Marx's end of the spectrum is the "shame end," Disraeli's the "pride end." Shame was a powerful force in Marx's life; witness his self-hating anti-Semitism. Twentieth-century totalitarianism was created (not only but in large part) by shame. Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany were born out of humiliating defeat in the First World War: Germany beat Russia (Russian communism followed); the allies beat Germany (Nazism followed). Defeat and shame were not the only forces at work, but we can't understand the 20th century without them. Nor can we understand today's radical Islamic terrorism and totalitarianism (totalitarians being terrorists who have already got what they want) without understanding the central role of defeat and shame.

    Modern liberals are nothing like Bolsheviks or Nazis. They are closer to Disraeli's end of the spectrum than Marx's. Yet American liberals are more likely than conservatives to focus on the shameful in American history, conservatives on the things that make them proud.

    ONE FINAL DISRAELI MYSTERY: If he felt so strongly about Judaism, why did he spend his life as a Christian? It was all a mistake. (Albeit, in some ways, a lucky one.)

    On religious grounds as on so many others, he was a rare bird. Converts from Judaism to Christianity are usually hostile to one or the other--either to Christianity (which they felt forced for some reason to adopt) or Judaism (which they shucked off the first chance they got). Or they are indifferent to religion altogether. But Disraeli as usual was none of the above. He was a loyal and devoted Jew who loved Christianity. He was a serious, devout Christian capable of saying (through a character in a novel): "We agree that half Christendom worships a Jewess, and the other half a Jew. Now let me ask one more question. Which is the superior race, the worshiped or the worshippers?" (The distortion of Christian doctrine is deliberate, designed to make a point.) At the same time Nietzsche was inventing something called "our Judeo-Christian heritage," mainly to disparage it, Disraeli came closer than anyone ever has to fleshing out the idea and embodying it in his own thought.

    Nonetheless: If he did love Judaism, why did he not return to it? He spoke up loud and clear for a Jew's right to sit in Parliament. But when he was first elected, Jews had yet to win that right. Had he remained Jewish, his political career might have died in the womb. But he was a proud, courageous, defiant man. If he had concluded that Judaism was right for him, he would have been unable to keep himself from leaping back in with both feet. He didn't because of a mistake; he was misinformed.

    Monypenny and Buckle write of "Disraeli's great conception of Christianity as completed Judaism." Theologically, this was his central belief. The Hebrew Bible was sublime but incomplete. He was struck by the fact that Jesus, asked to summarize Christianity, cited two verses from the Hebrew Bible; in ethical terms Christianity, he believed, boils down to Judaism. Yet he also believed that the Hebrew Bible could not be the basis of a modern religion all by itself. Its basic ideas are right for all time, but the details were intended only for Jews of the distant past. Softening, mellowing, tempering were called for to turn this rough powerful steel into a safe instrument for the modern world. This Jewish sword had to be beaten into a universal plowshare. And if Jews would only just accept this (so painfully obvious!) truth, they would understand that the New Testament is the essential completion of the Hebrew Bible. And naturally they would all become Christian.

    The strange irony is that Jews do accept the main part of this argument and always have. They have always regarded the Hebrew Bible as "incomplete." Have always regarded the idea that you could base your whole life on it as naive and wrong. But normative Judaism regards the Talmud, the "spoken Torah," as possessing the same sanctity and canonicity as the Hebrew Bible (or "written Torah"). Under this doctrine, the Talmud accomplishes what Disraeli conceived the New Testament as accomplishing. Exactly.

    The Talmud is the "New Testament" of the Jews. The analogy is precise. Jews have no need for a New Testament because they already have one. Disraeli misunderstood, but pointed the way (accidentally) to a deep religious truth.

    HE WAS GIGANTIC. Even his mistakes were gigantic. One of the largest unplowed fields in modern scholarship is classical Israel's deep influence on the development of modern Britain and America. Fania Oz-Salzberger has done important work on the monumental influence of the Hebrew Bible and (in some cases) post-Biblical rabbinics on such seminal English political thinkers as John Selden, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke. She has also pointed out the ways in which this influence tends to be edited out of modern intellectual history. Recently the Shalem Center in Jerusalem sponsored a conference on "Political Hebraism" that dealt with many of these same issues. Disraeli's career is a hint that in this particular field, much material awaits excavation. The more one ponders the evidence, the more Jewish ideas--modern and ancient--emerge as basic to the modern state.

    Two of Disraeli's central interests, patriotism and democracy, were important to George Bush's 2004 victory. In this nation the people and not the courts are meant to lay out the moral and social foundations of society, subject only to constitutional absolutes. When anti-democratic judges and elected officials decide to update America's moral code on their own authority, the people get upset. Democracy in America has been hurt badly where it counts most. Disraeli knew well and said often: Nothing counts more than society's moral foundations. Next to that, all other issues are small change.

    Patriotism favors Republicans on a deeper level than many of them seem to realize. No one questions the personal patriotism of Democratic leaders. The real question is different: Where do you rank patriotism as a public virtue? Anyone who has looked at young people nowadays (in the Blue States especially) knows that, since we no longer teach them to be patriotic, many of these Blue State Specials no longer are. No country has the luxury of not speaking up for itself to its own children in its own schools. For a generation and more, we in the wealthy, influential, profoundly self-important Blue Regions have run our schools as if we were too sophisticated for any such low-brow, cornball drivel as teaching children to love their country. If this nation is serious about defeating terrorism, we must teach our children why we fight. From where I stand, we are not doing it--at least, not in Connecticut. The conservative party should be the national party, Disraeli said, and he knew what he was talking about.

    David Gelernter is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

    © Copyright 2005, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.

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    Conservatism Passing Its Orbit

    Conservatism Passing Its Orbit

    by Vijay Prozak

    8 February 2005

    What a fortunate time in which we live - it is a terrible age, where error is called truth and truth is excluded, but as every action has an equal and opposite reaction, what comes in this very time (we are the pivot) is an upsurge of momentum to change this illusion and replace it with something meaningful. This momentum is quite powerful, and it marks the full circle of a process upon which we embarked some millennia ago, in that those who wish to uphold our culture as Indo-Europeans have moved from a focus on involution, to a will toward evolution.


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    Post Conservatism Passing Its Orbit [Vijay Prozak]

    Conservatism Passing Its Orbit

    by Vijay Prozak

    8 February 2005

    What a fortunate time in which we live - it is a terrible age, where error is called truth and truth is excluded, but as every action has an equal and opposite reaction, what comes in this very time (we are the pivot) is an upsurge of momentum to change this illusion and replace it with something meaningful. This momentum is quite powerful, and it marks the full circle of a process upon which we embarked some millennia ago, in that those who wish to uphold our culture as Indo-Europeans have moved from a focus on involution, to a will toward evolution.


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    Ten Problems with Modern Conservatism

    What I hope to show here is not merely the futileness but the stark error of allying with, or using the guise of, conservatism to further the folkish ideal. But if not by this article then clearly by conservatism in action which has completely failed at putting up a proper front against the anti-folkish factions.

    Let us note also that by “Modern Conservatism” I do not mean post-WWI since it is utterly ridiculous to think that pre-WWI wasn’t “modern.” Rather by modern conservatism I mean to include both factions today who may use either of the prefixes paleo or neo, because they essentially are two branches of the same tree which support almost exactly the same goals yet embrace different methods. A minority of radicals does not prove this to be wrong but rather it is the radical who because he clings sentimentally to old customs in conservatism cannot see this to be true. Furthermore, most paleo-conservatives aren’t even radical but are extremely modest in their proposals. In America, the factions of Buchanan, Vdare, Etherzone, and the America First Party come to mind.

    Now then, there are several divisions of conservatism that one may adopt. These are cultural, social, fiscal, religious, nationalist, liberal, and environmental. We will try to cover them all, as they are for the most part intertwined.

    1. The first major problem with conservatism is that it has no solid ideology or doctrine.

    To conserve means to guard or defend, but no one can say what it is they’re defending other than mindless rhetoric. What they do explain only goes so far as based on mental constructs with no organic root or higher meaning, thus making their entire argument an easy target for opposition.

    For instance, they defend the “institution of marriage,” but what exactly does that mean? The conservative does not set down a specific doctrine explaining the metaphysics of sex, and it is doubtful whether they even know the full extent of gender roles. Hence, it would be wrong to defend marriage for marriage’s sake and ban divorce in all but the most extreme cases when very few people today have a grasp on the higher meanings of things in life. Obviously, just being against something isn’t enough if what you are for is really hollow and meaningless.

    A much worse example is their defense of the nation not as based on a race or single ethnic peoples but as a mishmash of people who may become “citizens” through legal processes and printed papers!

    It then seems that instead of being rooted in anything that is truly traditional, the conservative tendency is to merely resist change, but the modern world is so rotten that anything short of the most radical change would spell defeat.

    2. Conservatism is pro-immigration, pro-assimilation.

    Most conservatives are pro-immigration and anti-illegal-immigration, as long as the immigrants assimilate into the host culture. Again we must ask what do they mean by culture? Bourgeois culture? The problems with this are numerous and highlight conservatism’s lack of any real plan for change, because they know that the goal which they would like met would end up in total chaos, rebellion, and war.

    Furthermore, the small number of conservatives who are truly anti-immigration and not merely wish to reduce immigration or put it on hold for a while are yet in total opposition to the ethnically-based, mono-racial nation, just like the rest of them. It is only the smallest percentage of conservatives who are racially-minded as to be entirely inconsequential. It is this minute minority which asks us to assume that the many conservatives who have constructed or supported a politically-correct policy actually believe privately in a strict ethnic nationalism. Well if this is so, which it is absurd to assume, then these conservatives are cowards, traitors and liars, not worthy of any respect.

    Disregarding immigration, assimilation of a minority populace into the greater so as to achieve one single culture has proved to be impossible. This policy, which is favored by the mostly Christian conservatives requires a mass conversion of not only nonwhites into one single religion and way of life but also of all whites. The problems with this policy are numerous. Since first of all there is no absolute way of life that can be agreed upon even from within the Christian religion this task would then seem impossible and very troublesome, especially when we consider heathens, atheists, and those of other religions and social and political theories.

    Moreover, as is proper to the traditionalist teaching, the heart of the people is its spirit; therefore, when two or more groups possess a completely different spirit we then must accept that we are dealing with essentially different folk. For instance, the active spiritual development or initiation, which is central and proper to the Aryan way of life, is opposed by nearly all Christian denominations and considered “devil-worship.” (Note: Traditionalists don’t treat the Old Ways as “reconstructions” or “re-enactments,” but as something which they know, live, and breathe, and which was never truly lost.) So it is clear that we are talking about two entirely different peoples: what is considered folkish to a Christian is anti-folkish to the Aryan and vice versa (I am using Aryan in the proper sense, that is, of the spiritual race rather than merely biological). We cannot then assume to have any real and lasting coalition.

    3. Conservatism is anti-“pagan,” anti-initiatory, while pro-Christian and pro-missionary.

    As we have just noted, most conservatives favor Christianity as the only official religion while denying their own European pagan roots.

    Furthermore, conservative policy greatly supports and is influenced by the Christian missionaries, which by nature extends well beyond the boundaries of race and nation. The goal of Christianity is a world brotherhood as it has been with Christian missionaries since the religion began. Historically, the conservative policy has been one of messianic nationalism, not racial nationalism. The number of global Christian aid, charity, and missionary groups today is astounding.

    4. Conservatism emphasizes the democratic mission.

    Here is where conservatism parts with what was truly “rightwing” which was pro-monarchy.

    The democratic conservative mission is really liberal nationalist mixed with messianic nationalist, which aims to convert every nation of the world to that of “liberty” and democracy, and even more patiently, to Christianity or a “Christian-like” society. So in the case of religion and politics, which are intertwined, it is clear that this type of Christian conservative policy only recognizes “one folk” or which aims to create only one folk throughout the globe. (Note that even the paleo-conservatives like Pat Buchanan who oppose “global democracy by force” have high praises both for global missionaries and for spreading “democracy through diplomacy.” It is the same policy, merely a question of whether the means are peaceful or violent. These Buchananites thus knowingly or not make up a fake opposition, who simply have more patience than their fellows.)

    Now this is the complete opposite of radical traditionalism. In this, we seek to encourage all peoples to practice, return to, or remain true to, their own traditions. This is in stark contrast to the globalist plan to develop and modernize third world nations in order to trade with them, which by the way, I never understood the sense in that, giving someone your money in order that he may trade it back with you! No, rather we don’t want to trade any more than is necessary and feel that all peoples should remain in their natural habitats and according to their natural behaviors. There is nothing wrong with what we may call savage populations living in the jungle in a way which they have for ages. They do not need to be “saved,” that is to say, we do not need to modernize or “civilize” them, and indeed it would be wrong to do so. One should not take a people who have a belief in utmost superstition, who cannibalize their enemies, who mutilate their own bodies as “spiritual rites,” and who have very little by way of values, and all of a sudden place them in an environment where, provided their new modern technology, they may do irreparable harm. Perhaps even worse, should other peoples, such as the European or the Asian seek to become savage and take up all of the mannerisms, beliefs and practices of these savage people, as has been the case today.

    We don’t wish to take up the burden and convert these folk. We want all people to be who they are. What is natural to the Aryan is to rise above and beyond the human condition. And it is unfortunate that our societies have degenerated and become more and more like the savage.

    5. Another major problem lies in the emphasis on human rights, humanitarianism and constitutionalism.

    Indeed, a degree of compassion and consideration for your fellow people is to be respected. But when the idea of doing good for all people is of the utmost importance and is thus raised to a divine status then we have the makings of a catastrophe that really goes against the traditional world.

    Furthermore, when all humans are treated equally or when every human life is considered “divine” then we have a view that is troublesome and against nature, especially in terms of overpopulation. What results from this is a degenerate worldview, the adherents of which are focused mainly on satisfying their bellies and genitals above all else. The savage idea of quantity assumes priority over quality.

    6. Conservatism opposes the caste system.

    Conservatism appears to be the enemy of socialism but in reality this is merely a struggle between the conservative “merchant caste” and the socialist “worker caste.” Clearly, if conservatism recognized the traditional caste system they would be forced to give up their rule to either the warrior or the spiritual caste, and consequently, to ideologies that are no longer rooted in economies and free markets, nor “social rights.”

    7. Another major problem with modern conservatism is its stubborn tendency to reject the warrior spirit. On the one hand, conservatives are for a strong military, but at the same time they treat the militant and any militant devotion to a higher ideal as something to be abhorred as savage brutality and sometimes even “evil.” As a party of businessmen the conservatives instead tend to favor the solving of problems with money and “boycotts.” Yet when the military is of use they expect it to be subservient to civilian businessmen and their profane and distorted theories of religion. Now considering the lot of problems with modern conservatism I think this one to be the worst and most fatal to not only the party ideas but to our people as well. What Europe needs above everything else are warriors who serve no interest but that of Europe—not modern Europe but a New Europe proper to the organism and spirit of the European.

    8. Conservatism is centered around the economy.

    As we have stated, conservatism raises money to a divine status. Any political philosophy which is centered around money and the economy is completely degenerate. Much worse is the conservative economic plan of deregulation, free market capitalism, global trade, etc. Everything tends to become reduced to a lens through which is seen what is good is what generates capital, rather than if such a thing is harmful to the public. For instance, the international obsession with professional sports, and the bourgeois attitudes towards everything from art, science, and entertainment to religion, politics, and business.

    9. Conservatism has no environmental plan.

    Here again is where conserving the present way of life becomes utterly foolish and destructive. Our homelands, our seas and skies, our consumer products are all toxic and polluted. Conservatives refuse to even preserve our own environment and health for it might deplete their bank accounts!

    10. In conclusion, we must find that there is nothing in this modern world worth conserving other than our true folk and land.

    So here we meet a fork in the road.

    For when the core of a thing has become rotten we must turn to something else rather than remain associated with that which is decayed, flawed, and corrupt. I have done no different. When Paganism became associated with “nature worship,” with low arts, with Wicca and liberalism, I turned to Radical Traditionalism.

    Unfortunately, Christianity sealed its fate when its Church murdered the Gnostics, Cathars, Templars, Pagans, Heretics, Scientists, and numerous others. Without the Gnostic core Christianity became hollow and rotten (thus leaving only a Judaic Messianic root in its place).

    Similarly, without an aristocratic core for conservatism it becomes worthless and without anything of value to conserve. Far worse, however, that what is protected by the conservatives is that which we ought to eliminate: democracy, free market capitalism, global trade, economic expansionism, monopolization, etc. These severely flawed ideas succeed in making the socialist opposition a desirable choice for the masses. Either way, to live up to the conservative ideal is to betray your own people and worship gold instead.

    We then must conclude that only through Traditionalism can the folkish goal truly be met.

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    I'm not willing to vote for Conversos like Disraeli, Goldwater or Kerry, yet Sanders is vying for top dog against Biden and doesn't even make the pretence of Christian=Gentile and still expects to be elected by the Goyim. My family voted Gladstone and probably saw Disraeli as symbolic of a Tory farce trying to make a comeback and I say that as my family were originally Tories, just like Gladstone was. This means that Liberals weren't entirely Whig in origin and so, Conservatives were not fully Tory either.

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