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Wise Man, Charles II

EU Referendum’s Richard North could not resist this, and nor can I:

Charles II, hearing of a high character of a preacher in the country, attended one of his sermons. Expressing his dissatisfaction, one of the courtiers replied, that the preacher was applauded to the skies by his congregation: “Aye”, observed the king, “I suppose his nonsense suits their nonsense”.




Salem’s Lot

Over at the Corner yesterday, I linked to Dorothy Rabinowitz’s fine WSJ piece on the involvement of Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate in the Massachusetts senate race, in the persecution of the Amirault family, the true victims of a now notorious sex abuse trial. What Ms. Rabinowitz has to say is, as so often, a must-read. She concludes as follows:

Attorney General Martha Coakley—who had proven so dedicated a representative of the system that had brought the Amirault family to ruin, and who had fought so relentlessly to preserve their case—has recently expressed her view of this episode. Questioned about the Amiraults in the course of her current race for the U.S. Senate, she told reporters of her firm belief that the evidence against the Amiraults was “formidable” and that she was entirely convinced “those children were abused at day care center by the three defendants.”

What does this say about her candidacy? (Ms. Coakley declined to be interviewed.) If the current attorney general of Massachusetts actually believes, as no serious citizen does, the preposterous charges that caused the Amiraults to be thrown into prison—the butcher knife rape with no blood, the public tree-tying episode, the mutilated squirrel and the rest—that is powerful testimony to the mind and capacities of this aspirant to a Senate seat. It is little short of wonderful to hear now of Ms. Coakley’s concern for the rights of terror suspects at Guantanamo—her urgent call for the protection of the right to the presumption of innocence.

If the sound of ghostly laughter is heard in Massachusetts these days as this campaign rolls on, with Martha Coakley self-portrayed as the guardian of justice and civil liberties, there is good reason.

There are a couple of good books on the topic, but I’ve always been surprised about how little historians have had to say about the American abuse panics of the 1980s and early 1990s. They were in many ways a reincarnation of the witch trials of an earlier era, complete with junk science (the conjuring up of ‘repressed memories’ in particular) and religious hysteria (the belief in widespread Satanic cults) and, as such, a terrifying reminder of the persistence of irrationalityand superstition in the most advanced of societies as well, of course, as the willingness of the ambitious to exploit it.

But if the silence of the historians is striking, so was the reluctance of the politicians of that time to take a stand against what was an extraordinarily destructive phenomenon. Cowardice is also, it seems, a permanent value.

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