May 2007 Archives
May 1, 2007
A Tolerant Tyranny
(I've already supplied these links to WWWTW's contributors, but want them available to readers as well. Gotten via friend Jeff Culbreath.)
This one's to an NCR piece about a recently passed law in England making it "illegal for a teacher in any school, including a Catholic school, to state that homosexual activity is morally wrong..."
The other concerns an effort of the Oregon legislature to "eliminate attitudes opposing homosexuality," although the scope of the measure is not clear to me.
There is also a move underway in California to repeal Prop 22, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
The Interminable Dialectic of Modernity: Theoconservatism
The April issue of First Things features an adapted version of a lecture Fr. Neuhaus delivered at Beeson Divinity School, entitled Christ Without Culture. Neuhaus, suggestively modifying the famous Niebuhrian taxonomy of the ways in which the relationship of Christ and culture has been understood, adds to the list - Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ and culture in paradox, and Christ transforming culture - the formulation Christ without culture. Noting that there is, in point of fact, a distinctive American culture, and more specifically, an American culture as it pertains to religious affirmations, Neuhaus elaborates:
Now, as a matter of historical and sociological fact, Christianity is never to be found apart from a cultural matrix; Christianity in all its forms is, as it is said, “enculturated.” In relation to a culture, the Church is both acting and being acted on, both shaping and being shaped. What then do I mean by suggesting this sixth type, Christ without culture? I mean that the Church—and here Church is broadly defined as the Christian movement through time—can at times adopt a way of being in the world that is deliberately indifferent to the culture of which it is part. In the “Christ without culture” model, that indifference results in the Church unconsciously adopting and thereby reinforcing, in the name of the gospel, patterns of culture that are incompatible with her gospel.
May 2, 2007
A Primer on Neoconservatism
Much ink and many pixels have been spilled in disputations over the nature and significance of neoconservatism, particularly as this tendency appears to be the dominant political motif of the present administration. Much of the discussion has been, well, not so much a discussion as an exchange of incandescent invective, and, when it has not been so intemperate, it has tended towards the obfuscatory, as in the attempt to deny that there actually exists a definable tendency corresponding to the term "neoconservatism". Fortunately, prominent neoconservative Michael Novak has obliged those pining for a succinct exposition of neoconservatism. That interview, however, requires some interpretation; for, like a scriptural text, the story of neoconservatism is not a fit one for private interpretation, particularly the self-interpretations of those who authored it. Unlike a scriptural text, which is best interpreted from within the tradition out of which it arose, neoconservatism is best interpreted by outsiders. After all, is it not the case that we are often understood best by those who are, well, not us?
To this end, I propose to provide an interpretation of select passages from the linked Novak interview, refraining from emotionally-freighted language; imagine the deadpan delivery of Bob Dole, and you will have in mind the intended tone.
May 3, 2007
The Closet Is Your Private Place
The "right of privacy" isn't.
That is, it isn't a right to do what you choose to do in private without undue busybody meddling by others.
"It", to be clear, is the legal right of privacy found by the Warren/Douglas court to be emanating, as a postmodern penumbra, from the U.S. Constitution in the contraception case Griswold vs. Connecticut.
The Wrong Stuff
"Rights" are all well and good, but I expect that the natural and positive law could be expressed without ever using the term, and we might well be better off avoiding the term as much as possible. At the very least I expect that whenever we use the term "right" to express something true about the moral order or desirable about the legal order, that that expression supervenes on saying the same thing in terms of obligations. A "right" as far as I can tell is just a rule whereby we discriminate between one set of claims and another, and decide what moral (or legal) obligations obtain to the parties involved.
I'll set aside what that imples about the term "equal rights", which on its face would seem to be a self-contradictory requirement to discriminate without discriminating. Suffice to say that although it isn't necessary for the use of the term to result in the banishment of substantive meaning from our politics, in practice it most often does have the effect of banishing meaning from our politics. If everyone always has to be treated equally then distinctions have to be made not to matter: meaning must be banished. Yet the assertion of any "right" is an assertion that some distinction matters: that one claim or set of claims must trump a conflicting claim or set of claims: that the meaning of the specific conflict must be resolved.
The politics of repair.
As Mr. Martin mentioned in passing below, the philosophy of the ancient world, (and the philosophy of Christendom, once the former was, as has been said many times, baptized by Christian thinkers, culminating in the great Aristotelian synthesis of the Dumb Ox, Saint Thomas Aquinas) hinged upon the parallel between order in the soul and order in the commonwealth. This was an insight into the political character of man that was not lost on our more immediate ancestors, here in America. Their literature abounds with quotations emphasizing the folly of trying to erect a tolerable commonwealth upon the sifting sand of human vice or appetite
Why "Freedom" Means "PC Tyranny"
Modern people like to think politically almost exclusively in terms of rights as opposed to obligations. Framing politics in terms of "rights" makes it seem as though there is a progression toward greater human freedom as more rights are recognized. More rights (the unreflective modern presumption goes) means more freedom.
But this is only illusory, precisely because one man's right is necessarily another man's obligation. One man's right discriminates between his substantive claim and some other man's substantive claim. One man's property right is another man's trespass. Every political right carries with it an authoritative discrimination, backed by the full force and credibility of the government, between some set of substantive claims and some other set of substantive claims. A "right" by its very nature asserts authoritative discrimination.
What's Right With the World
American Religion: Mammon
Blanche Barton, author of an autobiography of Satanist Anton LaVey, not speaking disparagingly, has suggested that the Neo-Tech "system of thought...offers Satanism in a grey flannel suit, promises overnight wealth, and never mentions the dreaded `S' word."
May 4, 2007
A broken dialogue.
Uncle Sam, Uncle Sam, can you lose heart?
We’ve got your propositions right
On down to the very last part:
Our theory yet remains so ever pristine;
And nary a man who can think
Shall its sure principles demean.
O Sam, Uncle Sam, your test is of Will:
Whence, pray tell, shall it come?
Once you were more than mere city on hill.
Once you taught men grand principles true,
And brought even History to its end—
Such deeds you once did, can you no longer do?
Sam, Uncle Sam, in the balance you stand.
And beg we, arise! Arise for this:
The foe is out there in the sand.
Vindicate theory, by theory make free:
And set the seal of Solomon
With demos and Crescent, magnificently.
“You call my name Uncle, council of mine;
But of affection you have little:
For cliché, for dry treatise you pine.
Men will die for many things dear,
Even whole nations sometimes;
But no mere theory can move them, I fear.
“Yes, old Uncle Sam does theory contemn
When fire and slaughter roar red.
Steal yourself, then, and say to my men:
‘Remember the peril your fathers faced bold,
And in my own name proudly defied.’
Tell them of home: strength will return tenfold.
“Men call me Uncle, sir; remind them of home—
Where uncles and urchin cousins
In pastures long loved and long known
Are ne’er forgotten, nor forsaken, but saved.
For this men will die; for this they will give—
And o’er the land of the free, banner yet may wave.”
The Wave of No Future
Mark Steyn has been banging on for many months now about the demographic decline of the great liberal welfare states of the West (and East), especially compared to the enviable fecundity of the Islamic world. Now James C. Capretta, in an interesting piece for The Weekly Standard underlines the point that this decline has everything to do with the (apparently unchallengeable) ascendancy of government-run pension systems like Social Security.
As Capretta points out, "a primary motivation for having children in earlier times was economic security in old age. As parents became frail and less productive, it was expected that one or more of their adult children would take care of them, oftentimes by bringing them into their homes. Married couples thus 'invested' in numerous children, in part, to ensure there would be family members to care for them in their twilight years. With state-run Social Security, the government has largely assumed this family responsibility. Married couples have a greatly diminished economic incentive to have children, because now they are counting on--and paying for--government-based old age support."
Take away that "primary motivation," and the consequences are (or should have been) predictable: "a government-run pension system equal to 10 percent of a country's economy correlates with a reduction in the Total Fertility Rate (TFR)--which measures the average number of births per woman during her lifetime--of between 0.7 and 1.6 children, after controlling for other variables...This is extraordinary given that most industrialized countries now have TFRs well below 2.0...The bigger the Social Security scheme, the steeper the fertility decline."
To which I would add that "government-based old age support" (which, in the US, includes Medicare as well as Social Security) not only reduces the natural incentives for having babies, but also the incentives for raising them rightly.
Which is to say: it reduces the incentives for bringing up one's children - for training them - in the traditional middle-class virtues: i.e., in industry. In prudence. In temperance. In fidelity. Etc. Instead, as Pavel Kohout has pointed out, people in the modern welfare state can increasingly afford to treat their children as "pets" - indulged, and flattered, and encouraged to "follow their bliss," as the phrase goes.
Can you say "disaster in the making?" For although programs like Social Security and Medicare make it less important from the individual point of view to have lots of kids and to bring them up conservatively (so to speak), the long-term solvency of such programs precisely depends on people going on doing just that. Over to Mr. Capretta:
"Gunnar Myrdal, the eminent Swedish socialist economist, observed in the 1940s that state-run, pay-as-you-go pension systems are built on a fundamental 'contradiction': They reduce the economic incentive within a family to have children, even as they remain ever dependent on a new generation of productive workers."
Capretta's whole piece is well worth a read. But there is one point where I part company with him. And that point concerns the essential nature of the disaster that is in the making here. For him, the worry is that the welfare state might prove unsustainable, unless we can get people to have more babies. But he seems not to be at all bothered by the collapse of traditional expectations about what family members owe to one another. He writes:
"Acknowledgment of Social Security's role in fertility decline is not an argument for abandoning government-sponsored old age support. The elderly--and their adult children--far prefer financial independence to dependence..."
To which I'm inclined to reply: well, yeah, sure. Old folks don't want to be reduced to dependency on their children. And young folks don't want to get stuck with the burden of looking after their parents. So if you're looking to maximize (short-term) preference-satisfaction, such programs are the way to go.
But is that any way to make people better people?
Correct me if I'm wrong - but I might have thought that the mutual and unbreakable ties of obligation that bind parent to child and child to parent are among the essential features of our humanity, and that anything that weakens - or promises to replace - those ties, however superficially attractive to both parties to that relationship, is the devil's own brew. Why should I welcome a world in which parents pamper their children, and where children abandon their parents, with an easy conscience, so long as the whole system is enonomically sustainable?
Neoconservatism and Political Economy - A Reply to a Comment
Neoconservatism is a topic that has received a fair amount of commentary during the course of the past six years, and seems likely to receive still more, as a lame-duck administration continues to wallow in lameness, the war continues to drag, and the host organism of the neoconservative movement, the Republican Party, hurtles toward the abyss of 2008. Neoconservatism is a topic warranting serious reflection, for while the media and the average American might well content themselves with the knowledge that some neoconservatives promoted a foreign policy that resulted in a Mesopotamian quagmire, the tendency is not one that will be slinking off to die on one of history's ash-heaps anytime soon.
In light of these considerations, it seemed preferable - instead of offering a quick response to a thoughtful comment - to elaborate upon the nature and origins of neoconservatism.
May 6, 2007
A few words from our sponsor...
...on this Sunday, words stumbled upon while looking for something else, and which remind me of the purpose of this place:
Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about "liberty"; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about "progress"; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about "education"; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. The modern man says, "Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty." This is, logically rendered, "Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it." He says, "Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress." This, logically stated, means, "Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it." He says, "Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education." This, clearly expressed, means, "We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children."St. Gilbert, from Heretics
The Nature of Evangelicalism--a difficulty
As everybody and his uncle in the blogosphere seems to have now heard, Prof. Frank Beckwith, my colleague at Right Reason, has returned to the Roman Catholic Church and has consequently resigned his position as president of the Evangelical Theological Society.
Though I am not Roman Catholic, I have the greatest respect for Frank and wish him all the best in service to the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we both worship and follow. This has to be an intensely difficult time for him, complicated by the whole ETS presidency issue, and I have not the slightest desire to add in any way to that pressure. This post, then, though occasioned by Frank's recent decisions, is intended to be a discussion of a conundrum that faces some evangelical organizations today.
Poets and teachers.
A commenter last week repeated a common charge against Russell Kirk, which is a common charge against half a dozen great Conservatives, beginning with Burke: that he was “more a poet than a philosopher,” that he was imaginative in his wording, that, in short, his verbal talent exceeded his philosophic. To answer this charge, I call on Mr. Kirk himself, proffering his summary of the Middle Age: “Two types of humanity were the wonder of mediaeval Europe: the great saint and the great knight. In later ages, their descendents would be the scholar and the gentlemen.” That magical and masterful literary summary appears in what I regard as his masterpiece: The Roots of American Order.
There, friends, is a gift for your recent graduate. For this book abounds in such philosophic poetry as that. A young man or woman who regards him- or herself as educated may graduate knowing little of the Middle Age (this is a condition common enough to be a mark against our institutions of learning): now he or she will knowing something at least, and a precious thing, the truth.
And of course there is a whole chapter on the Middle Ages to follow. So let us have done with this notion that men of letters cannot teach because they are more poet than philosopher.
May 7, 2007
Tiger wins in Charlotte.
Tiger Woods took home another tournament trophy Sunday, ninth in his last twelve events on Tour. 9 of 12 — the statistic is mind-blowing in this game. But the really astonishing thing is this: he wins now by means quite different, and more admirable, than he used to.
In this victory in Charlotte, on the superb and mysterious Quail Hollow Club, with a loaded field — I believe the CBS anchor said 27 out of the top 30 players in the world — Mr. Woods won by two strokes and it could have been more. He played several poor or unimpressive shots, or just unlucky ones, first on a wild stretch on Saturday’s rain-delayed third round, which included a hole-in eagle by Vijay Singh, and then again, improbably, on Sunday. But in the end, Tiger Woods won this up-and-coming event by his mastery of what is most succinctly called the Tough Par Putt.
May 8, 2007
Gas station mutterings.
I spent $50 to fill the gas tank of my minivan the other day; and will spend about the same, all over again, this week. A mere two years ago (as I discovered recently when I happened to flip through one of my daughter’s baby books), this would have been close to half that sum. Yet the “shock” of a rise in the price of strawberries and fast food, occasioned by the enforcement of immigration law and the concomitant tightening of the labor market, would, we are regularly admonished, cripple the economy. The same sort of men who call us to discipline and perseverance in supporting a grueling foreign war — by coincidence, perhaps, in the very region from whence comes the raw material for gasoline — quake with trepidation for what might happen to American enterprise if order were restored on the border. We can remake the world but we cannot restore our own border? It’s the sort of thing that leaves you muttering at the gas station.
No Harm, No Foul
The other night I dropped in on the O'Reilly No-Spin-Zone. He was in the middle of an interview, and the spinner at the plate was ABC's John Stossel, who sometimes makes sense, just as O'Reilly is sometimes Catholic. They were discussing the current case of the D.C. Madam, who, it seems, is threatening to ruin some prominent reputations. She claims not to have been involved in prostitution, but O'Reilly and Stossel took it for granted that that is in fact what she was providing. But, said Stossel, so what? Who was getting hurt? he asked. Why are we trying to put people in jail for this sort of activity? Don't people own their own bodies? He lays his thoughts out at more length here.
May 9, 2007
In Saecula Saeculorum, Amen.
Recent arrests of (qualifiedly) indigenous jihadists, four of whom are Muslims from the former Yugoslavia, and three of whom are illegal immigrants, have failed to stimulate even a simulation of the sort of discussion America must have if it is to secure itself from the depredations of such men. Such a discussion would, of necessity, be liberal in scope, encompassing interrogations of everything from immigration policy to the squalor of a foreign policy which issues in the creation of sharia states along the underbelly of Europe, and brings to power sharia regimes further to the east.
Archbishop speaks on freedom and history.
“Modern man must be convinced again that he is free.” So declares Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver in a vigorous little talk delivered some weeks ago in Philadelphia. I do not believe I have heard the modern crisis ever put so succinctly and powerfully. The word freedom is nearer to our lips than perhaps any other society of men; and yet we do not believe in it. With every new calamity — every school-shooting or horrific murder, every affront to our honor as a nation, every cynicism, every petty betrayal, every sordid plunder — our instinct is to interpret events in light of material forces, against which man has no power of resistance. “Things are in the saddle,” as a great American wordsmith put it, “and ride mankind.”
The Only Thing A Muzhik Understands Is Force!
The hawks in Reagan’s administration assured him he couldn’t reason with communists. One adviser, the historian Richard Pipes, told Reagan the Russian mind worked in ways fundamentally different from our own. The peasant mentality of the Russian muzhik, Pipes had written in 1977, held “that cunning and coercion alone ensured survival: one employed cunning when weak, and cunning coupled with coercion when strong. Not to use force when one had it indicated weakness.” Reagan disagreed. Ignoring the advice of hard-liners like Pipes and the neoconservative strategist Richard Perle, Reagan preferred jaw-jaw to war-war. “We must and will engage the Soviets in a dialogue as serious and constructive as possible,” he insisted in a 1984 address. ~Dan McCarthy
There is something very powerful about the idea that it is impossible to reason with an adversary, especially one as genuinely perverse as the Soviets. What is striking about this excerpt from Dan's interesting review of Diggin's book is how this episode of Reagan and Richard Pipes compares with the present administration and its acquiescence in the theories of those who embrace such works as The Arab Mind. Whether it is the muzhiki of Russia or the Arabs, you have to deal with "those people" with a firm hand (i.e., threats, weapons build-ups or military action). One is reminded of the ivory tower rationalisations of mass murder by the fictional Dr. Garrigan from The Last King of Scotland: "This is Africa. You have to meet violence with violence. Anything else, and you're dead." Neoconservatives seem to be of the mind that Dr. Garrigan's approach to problem-solving is applicable on every continent. Perhaps the good doctor would have concluded along with certain latter-day enthusiasts of the ends justifying the means that you must get your hands dirty in a good cause. But I digress.
May 10, 2007
Tony Blair and the Jihad.
I am conflicted on the subject of Tony Blair. There are good reasons to dislike him intensely. He has, for instance, presided over the abolition of Britain’s liberty. There has been no more reliable advocate of Liberalism, or more feckless and even perverse skeptic of multiculturalism, than Tony Blair.
On the other hand, his loyalty and eloquence as an ally has been unfailing; and shone most brightly when America was in her hour of need. This is no small thing. Nor should it be forgotten that he disarmed Socialism in Great Britain, and allowed the British people to prosper — at least materially.
Whether Britain can be said to have prospered, in the more general sense, under his Governments, is an open question. Business enterprise has been unfettered to some degree — but rushing in behind the levelers of Liberalism, Blair’s men, has been a wave of social ruin and debasement, of nihilism and passivity, almost unparalleled in the Western world. It is like American cities in the 1970s. And perhaps the Liberals can take credit for this at least: they have demonstrated that their philosophy, when implemented with sufficient vigor, can deprive men of any race, creed or color of their culture and manners, and reduce them to barbarism.
Into these ruins filtered the agents and provocateurs of the Jihad; and they will not be easily dislodged. This may well be Blair’s most lasting legacy: as from ruins of the decaying Byzantine Empire the Turkish Jihad acquired its resources and even manpower, so too may today’s incarnation of the Jihad soon gain control of substantial resources in Europe, including in Great Britain. Tony Blair presided over the first steps of this ominous process.
I was late yesterday morning. (To where isn't important). I wasn't the only person to arrive late. Some still-unexplained though not uncommon phenomenon had turned a twenty-five minute drive into an hour.
The equanimity of the folks arriving late was uncharacteristic of the modern world: enough so that people started talking about it. A lovely pregnant woman related how two thirty-something self-besuited males (I will not say men, though that is the word she used) shoved roughly past her and an elderly woman in order to get the elevator.
That got me to wondering how much the drive in had helped condition the attitude of the narcissuits.
Having been issued a sort of philosophical summons to render an account of my opposition to the political economy of the neoconservatives, and indeed, of the American consensus of the past several generations, I propose to provide an answer to the question, "Why such stridency against cooperation for mutual betterment, AS DETERMINED BY THE PARTICIPANTS"? Ultimately, this is a question that implicates what I take to be the fundamental questions of political thought, namely, what is justice? and how is justice to be sought and approximated in the ordering of our earthly affairs?
Sometimes, conservatives exasperated by such skepticism concerning freedom and markets will frame the question as one of hypocrisy: Why would an executive who has arrived at a decision to outsource his manufacturing in order to save x dollars per hour on wages and benefits be regarded as greedy, while the American employees who wish to retain those wages and benefits are not so regarded, and are often considered to be struggling to retain something to which they are entitled? And what has this to do with public policy? Any one of several different, though interrelated conservative answers to such a query could be articulated, though I only wish to focus on one for the present. For the purposes of political economy, the executive has a higher set of hurdles to clear.
May 11, 2007
The University: Reform if you would preserve.
Cardinal Newman wrote very astutely, if a bit acidly, that it is a misfortune to be self-educated. It may be a misfortune; often it is a joy and a calling. But even where joyous it must always be an exception, unless barbarism is ascendant. In that sense we might almost say of a society which, by lassitude, heresy or avarice, forces many men to become autodidacts: “there is a society oppressed by barbarism.” Upon reading a devastating essay by Larry P. Arnn in the Fall 2006 issue of The Claremont Review of Books, one is left with that distinct impression. Ours is a society oppressed by barbarism. Misfortune will be the lot of Americans for some time to come — at least for those Americans who believe that “education” contains a notion of diligent immersion in, and exploration and veneration of one’s own civilization.
What Arnn — President of Hillsdale College — lays out in some detail is an arraignment of education in America so shattering as to induce the reader to a kind of despondency, followed by, it is to be hoped, a very solid kind of defiance. As Arnn tells it, with subtlety and incision, the agents of barbarism are in the driver’s seat; and the would-be defenders of civilization are reduced by bafflement, misconception, and disarray. Deriving from work by a committee of the President’s Advisory Council, the verdict is grim: “our kindergarten students rank with the best in the world in their knowledge of science and math. For each year that they are subjected to the capable attentions of our public education system, they fall a step behind. By the time they graduate from high school, they rank at the 10th percentile in math internationally, struggling to keep ahead of the unschooled goatherds of the Third World.” It might be added, of course, that a goatherd at age eighteen is probably the master of quite a variety of useful skills, such that his education is, in its own way, quite adequate.
Why People Choose Abortion Over Adoption
I was recently involved in a discussion about a sperm donor (or his estate, if I recall correctly, but it isn't important) being sued by a lesbian couple to whom he had donated his sperm. A child was born, the child was adopted by the lesbian couple, the male donor's estate was sued for money.
The knee-jerk reaction to this kind of case seems to be that it is wrong to view the natural parent as having any obligation to support the child once the child has been adopted by another. But that knee-jerk reaction is, in my view, wrong.
May 12, 2007
Owl at Home
In the dull and dingy ranks of "easy reading" for young children, the books of Arnold Lobel stand out like notes of bright color. Lobel is the author of Frog and Toad Together, and if easy reading books could be classics, several of his should be. Probably my favorite is Owl at Home. Owl is a feathered version of an Oxford don. He wears shabby clothes and does such eccentric things as running up and down the stairs fast to see if he can be in two places at once, thinking of sad things so that he can make tear-water tea ("It tastes a little salty, but tear-water tea is always very good"), and talking to the moon.
One of the best Owl stories is "The Guest."
May 13, 2007
For this Sunday, we travel back in time, for a few thoughts not my own:
In an age which has in great measure repudiated the only kind of fear that Johnson acknowledged, it takes a little effort to repossess the knowledge of certain positive consequences that follow from an outright acceptance of the point of view centering in religious humility. Of these, one of the foremost has to do with the communication of ideas: with the nature of the ideas and the way in which they are expressed. The assurance of a common commitment, common perils, and a common goal with all mankind at once justifies addressing one's fellow men on the perennial topics of mutual and ultimate concern. It is unnecessary to apologiaize for raising subjects universally acknowledged to be of profound importance. That these have been discussed before is insignificant in face of the fact that everything to come is still involved with them. Platitudes are not platitudes while they are being tested in the fire of personal experience. To an apprehension vital and unjaded, a truism is a truth. And a conviction that our private welfare is implicated is a wonderful sharpener of attention...
May 14, 2007
The wild unknown country.
One fact of nature and development that decisively separates America from her ancestors in Europe is that “wild unknown country” out West. At one time in our history it was only as far west as the Appalachians, then it shifted to the west bank of the Mississippi; and even when parts of the farther West were settled, whole huge swaths of its interior remained wilderness. Some are almost so to this day. When the last region of Europe to be settled was settled can only be conjectured, I think, but it was before the first was settled in North America. Columbus sought a western route to the East, not because Europeans did not know the East, but because a great martial Eastern Power blocked access to it. So Columbus found North America, and Americans have been finding more of it ever since (or least they had been, until relatively recently.)
Though I have been a resident of Southern states for over a decade now, and even tentatively consider myself an adopted son of the South, I was in fact born and raised in Denver, Colorado. My ancestors were the first Italians in that fair city.
May 15, 2007
Conservative voter's dilemma.
[UPDATED 12:25 est.]
May 16, 2007
Property and Self-Mutilation
If I own it, I can pierce it. If I own it, I can paint it. It is mine, mine, mine, and I can do what I want with it.
That is the message that the staples-through-the-eyebrows crowd is attempting to convey, about their bodies, with their self-mutilations. Apparently Eve Ensler did not understand that when she said:
I went from Beverly Hills where women were getting vaginal laser rejuvenation surgery--paying four thousand dollars to get their labias trimmed to make them symmetrical because they didn't like the imbalance. And I flew to Kenya where [women were working to stop] the practice of female genital mutilation. And I said to myself, "What is wrong with this picture?"
May 17, 2007
Bound by Disagreement?
On another thread, I had attempted to flush from hiding the Social Pathologist's moral conviction regarding the Church's teaching on artificial contraception, since he is a Catholic and a physician. So as not to fall in danger of going too far off that thread's topic, he has responded by email, and kindly granted me permission to post those remarks here. As follows:
* * * You wanted to know where I stood in regard to artificial birth control. I don't wish to give anyone the impression I'm something that I am not, but I'll briefly outline my position as follows.
1.) Sexual relationships should only occur in the context of marriage as traditionally understood: period.
2.) Directly intended abortion is wrong.
3.) Sterilization is wrong.
4.) While I am unsympathetic to the Church's position on contraception, I see that it is logically consistent and I am bound to support it.
5.) On the matter of non destructive IVF--That is, sperm fertilizing one egg outside the married couple and then transferring it to the uterus-- I disagree with the Church but am bound to support its position. Otherwise, I broadly support the Church's opposition to IVF.
6.) In the same way that charging at fair interest was once considered by the Church as usury, I believe that Pius VI prudentially erred in classifying ovulatory regulants, i.e., The Pill, as contraceptives. Therefore I feel I can prescribe these agents in some form of good conscience, though I have my moments.
7.) Saying that, I do not prescribe the low dose pill. I believe its inherent "sloppiness" in its suppression of ovulation leads to a reliance on its secondary methods of contraception--barrier to sperm and possible inhibition of implantation--and it is therefore morally unjustifiable. I rarely prescribe it for medical reasons as well.
8.) I'm not a big fan of NFP for the same reason that Zippy isn't; It makes you unhappy.
If you judge a tree by its fruit, Humanae Vitae was a dreadful document, the faithful left in droves after it and a general culture of disobedience was instituted. As I see it, there are two possible reasons:
a) The faithful were flawed: the traditionalist interpretation.
b) The Document and its reasoning were flawed. Error is just as likely to be seen in moral rigidity as it is in moral laxity. I'm generally inclined to think that the Church repeated the mistake of Galileo, confusing metaphysical truth with practical matter. The document was right in affirming contraception wrong, but it was wrong in its classification of what was contraceptive.
Anyway those are my thoughts on the matter.* * * *
[By "the mistake of Galileo" I assume he means the Church's mistake in the reasons brought to bear for its disciplining of that man.]
My initial reaction is that there is much here I ought to take strong issue with, but I'd rather hear others' reactions first. There is also much to unravel, that is, to draw him out on. But he's offering a summary of his thoughts, not a treatise, so perhaps that can happen in comments. Since we have a happy diversity (never thought I'd hear myself say that) of contributors here (and readers too), I thought their various perspectives might be of interest.
Most importantly, the Social P. is a valued commenter here, as at other places, and while rigor and some measure of passion are welcome, courtesy and respect for another's honesty are required.
A Rad idea about 14th Amendment Jurisprudence
Long, long ago in a blog far away (the archives of which appear to be no longer available), I was introduced by a lawyer to the state of 14th Amendment jurisprudence. I've found a page on-line here that says roughly the same thing as what he said.
Here follows a slightly uncharitably worded summary of my own: The 14th Amendment says that states may not deny to any person the equal protection of the laws. This seems to mean that the states can't treat people unequally by law. But how can we possibly apply that, since all laws involve treating people unequally? A law against theft treats thieves differently from non-thieves. So what are we going to do? Hey, I know. Let's create three stages of scrutiny that the federal courts will apply to state laws, based on whether or not the state laws treat people unequally on the basis of "suspect categories." The most glaringly suspect category will be race or national origin, because the 14th Amendment was originally passed for the purpose of protecting former slaves. But gender is now also a suspect or semi-suspect category, and being disabled is becoming a suspect category as well. If your state law treats people unequally on the basis of something that hasn't been designated a suspect category, your state is in luck. That law only has to pass minimal scrutiny or the "rational basis test" by the federal courts if challenged as unconstitutional. But if your law treats people unequally on the basis of something designated a suspect category, then it has to pass strict scrutiny, which means it's prima facie unconstitutional, and you'd better have an overwhelmingly important state interest that it serves or it's going to be struck down. Intermediate scrutiny is somewhere in the middle.
Got all of that?
Equality, List-Making, and Degrees of Freedom
The modern liberal order is premised on the political primacy of freedom and equality over traditional, natural, or otherwise unchosen constraints. Tradition and nature are allowed to play a political role, but only inasmuch as the roles they play are freely chosen. It is not the job of politics, in the modern liberal order, to carry out directly any natural or traditional imperative; but only those imperatives mediated by the actual choices of a free and equal body of supermen-citizens.
One way to think about equality is that it asserts identity with respect to an attribute. Therefore, there is no such thing as equality-qua-equality when applied to anything actual: equality is always preceded by a modifier which tells us the attribute that is identical from one instance to another. So we can have numeric equality, racial equality, gender equality, etc. "Equality" with no modifier at all would mean literal identity: a thing is always equal in this most general sense only to itself, not to anything else.
Still, though, this remains ambiguous. Racial equality for example raises (without answering) the question of circumstances: specifically, in what circumstances are we to treat the attribute in question - race - as identical. And in a political or moral context, what this seems to be prescribing is that there are certain true facts which must be ignored or made-as-if-not-true in the context of certain decisions. So specifying what equality means involves the creation of a master list of true facts which must be ignored and circumstances in which we are to ignore them.
May 20, 2007
Times Change (cont.)
For this Sunday, we continue with Bertrand Bronson, circa 1952:
* * * The assumption that men are basically alike in all times and places, and that the sum total of scientific information already available or yet to be discovered is unlikely to make any radical alteration in human nature, obviously puts a premium on the way in which the old truths are restated. This is not...to reduce the importance of the old truths, which are old because they are fundamental and therefore discovered early, and which, only because they are familiar, are likely to be rejected unless continually re-presented in fresh and agreeable forms.
May 21, 2007
At the local yard sale . . .
My (now former) condo complex had a big yard sale on Saturday morning. I took two of the kids out there to peruse the wares. First serious collection of books we come upon features five attractive volumes of popular political theory. The titles:
The Beginners’ Guide to Mao
The Beginners’ Guide to Marx
The Beginners’ Guide to Lenin
The Beginners’ Guide to Trotsky
The Beginners’ Guide to Einstein (?)
I stood and gawked for a moment. I wanted to tell the woman standing there: the only one you're missing is The Beginners’ Guide to Hitler.
I did buy a nice Oxford edition of MacPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom for a mere two bucks, so I got that going for me, which is nice.
May 23, 2007
Opiate of the Economists
The redoubtable Steve Sailer has rallied to the side of renowned immigration economist George Borjas, who, with this post concerning the effects of immigration upon the black community, summoned forth an incogent and spluttering reaction from Bryan Caplan. Caplan, as might be expected from a member-in-good-standing of The Guild, delivers himself of the opinion that Borjas is missing the point of trade specifically, which apparently entails the absolutely free flow of labour, and of economic analysis generally:
There isn't a decent economist alive who would oppose free trade in textiles by pointing out that it hurts American textile workers. But Borjas has made a career out of pointing out that unskilled immigration hurts unskilled natives. (The only surprising thing is how small an effect he finds). A major point of economic reasoning, as far as I'm concerned, is going beyond the obvious losers of trade to all of the less-obvious - but equally human - winners.
May 24, 2007
Culbreath on feminism.
Mr. Jeff Culbreath, a friend of many of us here, has a brilliant essay up on why and how to resist feminism. Go read it.
May 26, 2007
Let's keep the church political
Now that I have your attention...
My Right Reason blog colleague Dan Bonevac has a post on the "emergent church" and "church growth" movements in evangelicalism and their goal to move evangelicals to the left in political activism. To my mind this is numinously evident from overwhelming evidence, one prominent bit of which is Rick Warren's switcheroo from listing abortion as a "non-negotiable issue" in 2004 to his appearing recently with none other than Barak Obama to oppose AIDS. (Was someone in favor of AIDS?) His response when challenged is given by a commentator in Dan's thread: "Left wing, right wing. I want the whole bird!" This, to my mind, more or less defines "shallow," but apparently not everyone agrees.
May 27, 2007
Some Things Never Change
Our last Sunday with Samuel Johnson, for the time being, though the first to offer an actual excerpt of his own writing, wherein he declares upon the "works of fiction" gaining fashion in his day, the difficulties (and virtues) of which are equally, if not more keenly, felt in our own time, now that the feeding of fantasy to the populace has become an industry. Most important for our puposes, though, is the fact that, however varied his subjects may be, the same force and foundation of character impresses itself upon them all:
...But the fear of not being approved as just copyers of human manners, is not the most important concern that an author of this sort ought to have before him. These books are written chiefly to the young, the ignorant, and the idle, to whom they serve as lectures of conduct, and introduction to life. They are the entertainment of minds unfurnished with ideas, and therefore easily susceptible of impressions; not fixed by priniciples, and therefore easily following the current of fancy; not informed by experience, and consequently open to every false suggestion and partial account.
May 28, 2007
Civilization without Religion?
Here at What’s Wrong with the World, we have recently endured the spectacle, not without its amusements, of conventional freethinking arguments. We have not neglected to laugh at the absurdities into which these poor men have cast their minds. But we have sometimes neglected, perhaps, to pray that they would be freed from this bondage. And we should not make light of the oppression of this bondage, yoked upon both the minds of individual men, and through them upon the public life of the Republic. As our won Daniel Larison sharply puts it, Freethinking ruins all things.
Old Russell Kirk was a man who bent is supple and penetrating mind over this oppression, especially in the latter part of his career, after he returned to the Church of Rome.
* * * *
So it has come to pass, here in the closing years of the twentieth century. With the weakening of the moral order, “Things fall apart; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. . . .” The Hellenic and the Roman cultures went down to dusty death after this fashion. What may be done to achieve reinvigoration?
Memorial Day. In the media our fighting men will be remembered mostly as an exhibit to sentimentality or even victimology. There is a very unpopular war on, waged on dubious grounds by a compromised government; but more than that our media is almost incapable of avoiding the plunge into maudlin sentiment. This vice is a crippling one, because there is so much more to memorialize than the grief of those bereft.
It is, for instance, worth remembering our fighting men as such: as soldiers and marines and the rest, the free and the brave, who fought because they were born to fight, and died because they were prepared to die. Let us remember the good that they did: the tyranny overthrown, the enduring peace achieved; the magnanimity in victory and honor in defeat. Let us remember those men who gave their blood to vindicate a just cause: the just cause of self-defense; the just cause of intolerance for conspicuous and menacing wickedness. Let us balk the media and remember, just for a moment, not only the grief, which is quite real, but also the glory, which is also real. Greater love hath no man than this, our Savior told us.
Let us hail the victorious dead.
Annie Jacobsen Vindicated (Updated)
Snopes, call your office; it's time for an update.
Annie Jacobsen has been speaking out for years about what she saw on Northwest Airlines Flight 327 on June 29, 2004.
But the hoax-detector site Snopes.com labels her story as an urban legend, or at least an urban myth, blown up wildly out of proportion by Annie's all-too-vivid imagination. The group of Syrian men seated in a zig-zag pattern in the plane, making hand signals to each other throughout the flight, using the bathroom continuously in rotation, and standing up in unison when the fasten seatbelt sign went on (and there's more suspicious behavior where that came from) were a musical group, don't you see? Which means, of course, that they couldn't possibly have been carrying out a terrorist dry run. All the flight attendants and the air marshals felt all along that Ms. Jacobsen was exaggerating. She was endangering the flight by making such a fuss. Everyone thought so. They tried to calm her down, but she wouldn't listen. Poor, hysterical woman. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
Thanks, Snopes. We're so glad you're there to tell us when to brush these things off. We wouldn't want to be credulous, now, and get all bent out of shape for nothing.
Bauer's a Bore
Those of you who take a little torture with your TV dinner might be experiencing a bit of post-game letdown now that the final episode of this season's 24 has come and gone.
Paul Cella has long wanted one of us here to savage the show, believing that it perpetrates much mischief in the American moral imagination, or what's left of it. He is apalled that millions of his fellow citizens watch it weekly, unrepelled by certain of Jack's interrogation techniques, which this season included snipping off a Russian diplomat's finger with a pair of wirecutters.
May 30, 2007
The two freedoms.
Many a careful and penetrating student of politics — Burke, Oakeshott and Weaver come immediately to mind — has made a distinction between freedom as enjoyment and freedom as power. The former is tethered firmly to the historical and the particular, and even to the personal. This freedom, as Weaver put it, “is something that gathers around the hearth, inheres in local associations, and endears to a man his place of habitation.” It is not about action or force, but rather appreciation. Its spring is gratitude and its provocation the threat of change or deprivation. The man aware of this liberty will be more aware of his obligations than his rights; and he will feel, deep in his bones, the honor and joy it is to fulfill obligations honorably. He will not hesitate to embrace sacrifice.
Freedom as power is ahistorical and idealized. Not enjoyment of the things that exist, but the potential of those that one day might, is what gives it life. Its mark is that it almost has no tether, but rather a balloon that carries it to and fro according to the wind. Its spring is concepts spun out of the minds of men. It is adventurous and dissatisfied with the present; it needs no external provocation, but often demonstrates a complicated lineage of influence. Though this freedom is dismissive or even contemptuous of history, it is perfectly unintelligible without it. That is to say, the observer must consent to enter the history or world of this theory of freedom in order to understand it. Its historical roots are deep, tangled and long, but we may take the French Revolution as its great exemplar and solidifier. Its parlance is “rights”; its aspiration is to rule or possess; its currency is force. It operates on human desires, downplays obligation in favor of privilege, which its construes as right, and is oriented toward the future. Men possessed by this version of freedom tend toward grandeur of theory, stridency of debate, bafflement at reluctance, and exasperation at dissent.
Islam: You can check out any time you like, but you just can't leave
Lina Joy has been denied the right to be legally deemed a Christian by Malaysia's highest court. The court affirmed precedents according to which all ethnic Malays are Muslim, in which case a sharia court must decide whether or not they can convert to Christianity. The sharia courts, of course, apply Muslim law, according to which conversion is not allowed. Lina is a baptized Christian, but the government will not remove "Muslim" from her identity papers. This means that she cannot marry the Christian man she desires to marry. It also means that sharia courts continue to have jurisdiction over her. Not surprisingly, her lawyer (who happens to be a Muslim) has received death threats for representing her. Malaysia's constitution ostensibly guarantees freedom of religion--but not if you were "born Muslim," I guess. Lina has (graciously) been allowed to change her name from the Muslim one she was given at birth.
Next time you hear something like, "Muslims in the West would like the opportunity to be governed by their own laws in family matters" or "Canadians are opposed to the limited application of sharia law even if it is only for Muslims," consider the implications of the fact that you can't leave Islam. What is really aimed at in such initiatives is the situation in Malaysia: The "secular" government deems certain people to be Muslim from birth and then, dutifully applying sharia law "to Muslims" refuses to let them leave that religion in legal fact, referring all matters of family law and the like, including marriages, to sharia courts for such people throughout their entire lives, even against their will.
May 31, 2007
What Have We Become? - Part 1
As I suspect most readers of these pages will be aware, the son of Boston University professor of history and international relations Andrew Bacevich was killed while serving in Iraq. I'll not linger on the loss, which, like all such losses, is unutterably tragic, tinged in this case by the irony of the fallen hero's father's reputation as a critic of Bush's Mesopotamian misadventure. Our prayers must be with the Bacevich family as they mourn their loss.
The loss of a young officer, however, while an occasion for private grieving, is veritably pregnant with portents for the future of this nation, well beyond the polarization of our political discourse that would have the vilest of war enthusiasts penning letters to Prof. Bacevich to lay the blame for the loss of his son at the elder man's writings. For here it is not merely the nature of the loss - though even this alters its aspect when contemplated in light of the political setting - that arrests the mind, but the also nature of the political establishment itself. Though the sort of people who were rankled by the celebrated First Things End of Democracy symposium will likely bridle at the suggestion, it is all but incontrovertible that the response of the establishment to public opinion on the war (and on other matters, as we will see) indicates that the integrity of our ostensible republic of self-governing citizens has been compromised, perhaps mortally.
Only Jingoes Can Bring Peace?
When Richard Nixon promised an "honorable end" to the Vietnam war it had specific resonance because of Nixon's record as an anti-Communist hawk. Anti-Communists trusted that Nixon understood the real threat of Communism. Hillary may have — until recently — burnished her hawkish credentials, but she's hardly a Democratic Nixon. And her supporters are hardly the war-on-terror equivalent of raging anti-Communists. Does anyone think that Hillary is particularly passionate about the Islamist threat? Is there anything like a Nixon-to-China move she could pull off? And the rest of the Democratic field is far more dovish than Hillary. ~Jonah Goldberg
Against this, Ross makes the important point that the Iraq war is far more unpopular than Vietnam, which may make this “only Nixon could go to China” logic irrelevant. It is true that Iraq is more unpopular in May 2007 than Vietnam was in July 1967. One reason for this greater unpopularity of the Iraq war may be that July 1967 was relatively earlier in the escalation of American involvement in South Vietnam than May 2007 is for the deployment to Iraq. 1967 and 2007 are useful points of comparison as years before presidential elections, but otherwise comparing poll results from these years may be misleading. From the first large-scale American deployment in March 1965 to the time of that poll was obviously a little over two years (even though there had been some level of involvement in South Vietnam going back to before the 1960 election), while we are beyond the four-year mark and, as things are going right now, the war seems likely to continue well beyond Inauguration Day 2009. 2007 for Iraq is actually more directly comparable to 1969, and you will find that a fairly similar percentage of Americans (58%) believed the Vietnam War to be a mistake by October 1969 as now believe the Iraq war to be a mistake (61%). Update: Ross has taken this objection into account in a later post.