9.29.2008

to bail or not to bail

Who's right?

Daniel Larison or Robert Miller? Or maybe this guy?

I honestly don't know on this one. I prefer Larison's argument because he stands on principle but I'm not entirely sure he's right. He may be slightly hyperbolic. And Miller seems too quickly dismiss the heretofore unseen collusion between government and business that this $700 billion dollar project is.

Or do I find myself agreeing with Prof. Miron of Harvard?
So what should the government do? Eliminate those policies that generated the current mess. This means, at a general level, abandoning the goal of home ownership independent of ability to pay. This means, in particular, getting rid of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with policies like the Community Reinvestment Act that pressure banks into subprime lending.

The right view of the financial mess is that an enormous fraction of subprime lending should never have occurred in the first place. Someone has to pay for that. That someone should not be, and does not need to be, the U.S. taxpayer.
Seems sensible.

David Foster Wallace on atheism

From a haunting commencement address he gave in 2005:
Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clich├ęs, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

9.28.2008

shifting emphases

Apropos of the liberation theology discussion, I offer this passage from Charles Chaput's new book, "Render unto Caesar". Here he is dealing with the theological viewpoint (if that's the right word) that stresses first social reform:
But a more common reading of the text- in fact, a distortion - is to look at Gaudium et Spes as giving priority to Christian engagement with the political world, as if the old stress on personal reform were merely a prelude the maturity of the modern age. Worse, this shift away from the old struggles of "personal morality" can have the effect of implying that people are simply the products of social structures. Thus, any faults we have are excusable faults of our natures. In America, this has grown into a cult of self-esteem and an unwillingness to judge. It's now hard to claim that anything anyone does, anywhere, is inherently wrong. As one observer said, Gaudium et Spes actually upholds the old personal morality, and in doing so, exalts human beings: "The view of man that is ascendant in American society today is not one that thinks too much of man, but too little." (pp. 132)

9.27.2008

Liberation Theology - 3, Gutierrez's flawed anthropology

This is a rough first draft, and I think there are a few mistakes in here, or at least things that are unclear. Comments are welcome!

The main argument of Fr. Gutierrez's foundational text, "A Theology of Liberation" is straightforward. It is simply that Jesus of Nazareth came to free us from sin and thus its consequences. For: to remove the cause (sin) is to remove the effect (injustice). Gutierrez argues that Christ calls us to a radical liberation, an integral liberation which frees us from all material and spiritual burdens. In Fr. Gutierrez's words, "the salvation of Christ is a radical liberation from all misery, all despoliation, all alienation." (pg. 104)

Of course, this is true, but in a different sense than Fr. Gutierrez means. This radical liberation will be radically incomplete until the end of days, until the realization of the eschaton. Until then, misery and despoliation will remain in this Vale of Tears. In saying this, I intend to limit Christian hope - in this world. Hope is a theological virtue. Vertically, it extends infinitely. Horizontally, not so, for this would amount to a conflict, to idolatry. That is, we would be placing our hopes in the creation rather than the Creator. The traditional understanding is that we do not hope infinitely in finite things. After all, the reason we can have any hope in this world is because we hope in the next. I think this is a principal error of liberation theology as espoused by Fr. Gutierrez: his hope is misplaced. The first thing is not put first.

This mistake is the result of a few flawed assumptions made about the human being which come from modern philosophy. The primary mistaken assumption of Fr. Gutierrez is that human nature is mutable. Indeed, he explicitly says that
through the struggle against misery, injustice, and exploitation, the goal is the creation of a new humanity. Vatican II has declared, "We are the witnesses of the birth of a new humanism, one in which man is defined first of all by his responsibility toward his brothers and toward history." (Gaudium et Spes, no. 55) This aspiration to create a new man is the deepest motivation in the struggle which many have undertaken in Latin America.(pg. 81-82)
It is tempting to just call this rhetorical excess because Fr. Gutierrez is generally imprecise with his words. But the effects of this assumption appear nearly everywhere else in the book. So in this case I think we must take him at his word. And in taking him at his word, we are obligated to note that this idea of his is deeply mistaken. God did not come to Earth to create a new human being, he came to redeem fallen human beings. And as St. Thomas Aquinas taught, Grace perfects nature, it does not change it. And this only happens with our free consent.

Each person individually is faced with a great battle: always saying yes to God. Original sin, which resulted in our fallen human nature prevents us from perfecting this "yes" in this life. Until the end of days we will live with the consequences of original sin. Christ gratuitously removes this wound, but His work is not complete until the end of time. It is very telling that Gutierrez does not address the political consequences of original sin: if he did, he might have to admit he has built his theology on a mistake - the idea that human beings are perfectible in this life. And so this idea causes him to misplace or at least incorrectly prioritize his hope.

Almost all of Gutierrez's other mistakes flow from his anthropology, which has yet additional errors. Take, for example, his understanding of sin:
... in the liberation approach sin is not considered as an individual, private, or merely interior reality - asserted just enough to necessitate "spiritual" redemption which does not challenge the order in which we live. Sin is regarded as a social, historical fact, the absence of fellowship and love in relationships among persons, the breach of friendship with God and with other persons, and therefore, an interior, personal fracture... considered in this way, the collective dimensions of sin are rediscovered. (pg. 102-103)
It is difficult to understand what Fr. Gutierrez is talking about. Seeing as how he makes no specific reference to another thinker, I would posit he is battling a straw man here. The traditional understanding is that sin is something that is an individual, personal offense, first against God. Obviously, this offense has social implications, because to offend God is to offend our neighbor, because of Christ. ("'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'" - Mt. 25:40) But in this traditional understanding, sin is not something a society can commit. Social structures do not sin. Individual persons sin. The idea that societies are responsible for sinning is a great lie. It is yet another instance of self-deception, of pride. Why? Because it mitigates our guilt. It's easier to say "the society made me do it" than it is to say "I've done wrong." To further clarify this point, I am not saying that conditions in a society cannot lessen our culpability. I am saying that the line of good and evil runs through every individual person's heart. How is this all related to anthropology? Well, this emphasis on the social nature of sin is probably rooted in an overemphasis on the communal aspect of man's nature.

And so what's all this theology for? Gutierrez does all this to justify arguing for the state control of the means of production, of businesses and etc. This way, the state can redistribute wealth evenly. Fr. James Schall, in his book Liberation Theology puts the structure of the programme this way: "Poverty - Dependence - Exploitation - Conscientization - Revolution - Socialism - this is pictured as the natural sequence so that any other view which might propose a different logic to the same end is more or less equivalent to rejecting the dire needs of such peoples." (pg. 38). The goal of all this theology is revolution to usher in socialism.

It's one thing to preach the preferential option for the poor, and it's another to insist the only way to satisfy this option is through revolution and socialism. I think in the final analysis, this theology is not really a theology so much as it is a call for socialist revolution.

9.26.2008

noteworthy

And I'm sure we all noticed that John McCain was lauded by his opponent tonight for his repudiation of torture, eh?

why videogames?

Why videogames?
"But there was something else about it, something I really didn't want to admit. I asked Paul Sams, the Blizzard COO, why people played WoW and his answer was simple, if a bit depressing: "How often in your everyday world do you get to feel heroic?" he said. "How often do you get to step into a world and do something big and meaningful? People need an escape from ordinary life. It's just something people need." "
Modern life doesn't provide many opportunities to be heroic. There's no adventure. Our culture doesn't give us a purpose, a telos, a summum bonum. In fact, it's actively hostile to the idea (see Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, et al.). Human nature abhors a vacuum, and video games are one way to fill the void.

Christians must contend that human life does have a purpose: to serve God. This is life's great adventure, this is the challenge of every human life (whether we know it or not). And this adventure calls for heroes - moral heroes. John Paul II used to remind young Catholics that God calls everyone to moral and spiritual greatness. And hey, he knew what he was talking about.

9.25.2008

An education in virtue (not that it took)

In high school I was able to feign familiarity with the books I was required to read. Some of my friends and I shared a utilitarian educational philosophy, one that, in retrospect, I see as immature foolishness. We would be as knowledgeable as was required for us to succeed at a high level, nothing more (but in our defense, our school encouraged this). But because of this philosophy, I missed out on reading a great number of classic works of literature. I'm trying to remedy this situation now.

And so I've been reading Jane Austen's novels. Jane Austen is marvelously attentive to detail and a great painter of the possibilities of human relationships. She takes virtue and vice very seriously, and shows her readers all the considerations that can shape human sentiment and affection. By taking these things seriously, Austen provides her readers with a vivid portrait of a type of human greatness: greatness in human love.

My most recent encounter with Ms. Austen's work was Mansfield Park, the story of Fanny Price. Mansfield Park is first a story about the perseverance of virtue during great trial. The novel's heroine, Fanny Price, is a mild-mannered girl who gets put through some awful trials by some supposedly reputable, high-class characters. But their flaws eventually come to a head in a few great crises that precipitate a happy ending. All the while Fanny Price remains steadfast in her commitment to what is true and good. In the end, she is rewarded. The story is a reminder that virtue is its own reward even if the circumstances of our lives do not seem to justify that proposition.

In short, Jane Austen is a great teacher of virtue. She doesn’t tell us what virtue is, she shows it to us in her characters. This showing is a unique function of literature, and it is one of the reasons her books are so great. And they are at least half-entertaining, too!

The Acton Institute's defintion of freedom

It has been frequently argued that the Acton Institute advocates for a flawed understanding of human freedom, a "neo-liberal" one. But anything but superficial similarity with the Acton Institute would see that interpretation as egregiously flawed. See, for example, this movie clip:



This is wholly consonant with the Catholic understanding of freedom, which is really freedom for moral and spiritual excellence.

To compare, a passage from the Catholic Catechism:
1731 Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.

1733 The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin."

Where's Thomas Jefferson Today?

We need Thomas Jefferson to be President again:
And I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.
Read more of Jefferson's memoirs here.

Iraq, Abortion and Proportionality

Fr. Dwight Longnecker explains very clearly why abortion and the Iraq war are not morally equivalent evils:
First we have the question of proportionality of both numbers and time. How many people have been killed through abortion, and how many people are being killed in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan? There have been around 4,000 military deaths in Iraq and about 1,000 in Afghanistan, and there have been around 90,000 deaths caused by internecine violence in Iraq. The war has been going on for five years. In comparison, deaths from abortion in the United States have been going on for 35 years, and abortions worldwide number about 42 million per year. The sheer number deaths over time involved in these two issues are not morally equivalent.

Second, it's argued that, in both abortion and war, innocent lives are lost, but we must consider the "innocence" of the deaths. In abortion, a totally innocent and vulnerable unborn child who is incapable of self defense is killed. This is more morally outrageous than the killing of an armed opponent in war. An opposing combatant has chosen (at least partially) to take up arms and be involved in killing, and is therefore not innocent. The armed combatant also has the possibility of defending himself.

To be sure, there are also civilian casualties in war, and these -- especially the children -- are innocent of wrong doing. That they are injured or harmed is a terrible injustice, but is even this morally equivalent of abortion? I think not, because of several other considerations. Nearly 90,000 have been killed by fellow Iraqis, not by American soldiers. Along with this we must consider the intention of the American forces. While the American invasion of Iraq may have opened the door to the internecine atrocities, the Americans never intended for civilians to be killed, and have made huge sacrifices to eliminate the terrorists and end the atrocities and anarchy by bringing law and order.

Which brings us to the third point: In judging the morality of any action we not only consider the objective act itself, but we also consider the intention. A general who plans to go into battle does not consider first and foremost how he can best kill enemy combatants. His first goal is something else, like the liberation of a city or the elimination of a military threat or a strategic facility of the enemy. He accepts that he may have to kill enemy soldiers, but that is not his first objective. Even when a soldier goes into combat he may be trained to kill, but he is also trained to kill only as a last resort. He is first trained to avoid killing and to take the enemy prisoner if at all possible, and he is supposed to treat the prisoner humanely. It is true that in war this does not always happen, but we are considering here the intention, not the ultimate outcome.

In contrast, the abortionist or one who procures an abortion sets out to kill as the first intention. They may have an ulterior motive that seems good, but the primary intention of their action is to take an innocent life. Politicians who support abortion therefore enable those who wish to kill innocent and defenseless children. Even if the particular war is unjust, the soldiers and politicians who instigated the war were doing so (even if in a debased way) not to promote killing, but to promote an ultimate goal of justice and peace.
I think this shows quite clearly that those who insist that these two issues are equal are obscuring significant differences.

9.24.2008

Wasilla Rape Kit Update

Jim Geraghty over at National Review Online's The Campaign Spot has dug in on the rape kit story in Wasilla, AK.
Before the state law was changed, Wasilla was paying for rape kits out of city funds. If that is the case, it would appear to refute the whole crux of the charge against Palin as mayor.

And again, to reiterate, we have no paperwork indicating that any victim was ever charged for a rape kit by Wasilla.

Just about every key detail of this attack on Palin has proven wrong, or is unverified.

Read more details here and here. Read the whole "Wasilla Debunking Kit" article here.

9.23.2008

file under ridiculous

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I present you with the following news story. Here is the headline from my alma mater's student newspaper, dated last Friday:

Students work to learn in big lectures

The article goes on:
"[Joe] said he and his classmates often have to tell the professor to slow down because many of the students are unable to keep up with explanations and exercises while jotting down notes."
The article is astounding. Behind the headline and the complaint there is a strange assumption that college is supposed to be easy, that it isn't supposed to be a lot of work. Why do students have this assumption? Why are they publicly voicing their complaints? And what does this say about our expectations for education?

9.22.2008

miscellaneous wisdom

"The single most important political act you can do is to be a saint."
- Peter Kreeft

"God doesn't require you to be successful, only faithful."
-Mother Teresa

"Drinking a cup of green tea I stopped the war."
- Zen Bhuddist saying

"There is not harmony in the world until there is harmony in the state; there is not harmony in the state until there is harmony in the family; there is not harmony in the family until there is harmony in the heart."
- Confucius

"God is not an uncle, God is an earthquake."
-Rabbi Abraham Heschel

I am a shareholder in AIG

Some reactionary remarks on this past weekend legislative efforts: I'm uncomfortable with the federal government's willingness to align itself with failing American companies. I understand the argument in favor of these policies goes something like this (disclaimer - I know nothing about this stuff, correct me if I'm wrong): because these failing banks are insured by the FDIC, if they go under, the taxpayers will have to shell out a gigantic sum of money. So, if the treasury secretary steps in and provides a giant sum of money to stabilize the companies, there will be less burden on the taxpayer in the long run.

Is this a good argument? It seems like it, at least on the surface. Does it justify the actions of the federal government? This is less clear. Time magazine explains my hesitancy:
This is the state of our great republic: We've nationalized the financial system, taking control from Wall Street bankers we no longer trust. We're about to quasi-nationalize the Detroit auto companies via massive loans because they're a source of American pride, and too many jobs — and votes — are at stake. Our Social Security system is going broke as we head for a future where too many retirees will be supported by too few workers. How long before we have national healthcare? Put it all together, and the America that emerges is a cartoonish version of the country most despised by red-meat red-state patriots: France. Only with worse food.
And where does the authority for this type of action come from? It's certainly not in the Constitution. But, on second thought, the authority comes from the American people. The government has been involved in similar projects since the New Deal. We shouldn't be surprised - this concentration of power is exactly what we wanted.

In the NYT today, Bill Kristol lays out the case against the Bush administration's legislation:
But is the administration’s proposal the right way to do this? It would enable the Treasury, without Congressionally approved guidelines as to pricing or procedure, to purchase hundreds of billions of dollars of financial assets, and hire private firms to manage and sell them, presumably at their discretion There are no provisions for — or even promises of — disclosure, accountability or transparency. Surely Congress can at least ask some hard questions about such an open-ended commitment.

And I’ve been shocked by the number of (mostly conservative) experts I’ve spoken with who aren’t at all confident that the Bush administration has even the basics right — or who think that the plan, though it looks simple on paper, will prove to be a nightmare in practice.
Yep.

9.21.2008

George on the three pillars of a healthy society

Any healthy society, any decent society, will rest on three pillars. The first of these is the respect for individual human beings and their dignity. A society that does not respect the person will generally treat human beings as cogs in a larger social wheel - their dignity and well-being may legitimately be sacrificed for the sake of the collectivity. A healthy liberal ethos supports the dignity of the human person by giving witness to fundamental human rights and civil liberties, and, where a healthy religious life flourishes, faith provides a grounding for the dignity and inviolability of the human person.

The second pillar of any decent society is the institution of the family: the original and best department of health, education, and welfare. No institution surpasses the healthy family in its capacity to transmit to each new generation the understandings and traits of character on which the success of every other institution of society depends. Where families fail to form, or too many break down, the effective transmission of the virtues of honesty, civility, self-restraint, concern for the welfare of others, justice compassion, and personal responsibility is imperiled. Without these virtues, respect for the dignity of the human person, the first pillar of a decent society, will be undermined and sooner or later lost, for even the most laudable formal institutions cannot uphold respect for human dignity where people do not have the virtues that make that respect a reality and give it vitality in actual social practices.

The third pillar of any decent society is a fair and effective system of law and government. This is necessary because none of us is virtuous all the time, and some people will be deterred from wrongdoing only by the threat of punishment. Contemporary philosophers of law tell us that law coordinates human behavior for the sake of achieving common goals - especially in dealing with the complexities of modern life. even if all of us were virtuous all the time, we would still need a system of laws (considered as a scheme of authoritatively stipulated coordination norms) to accomplish many of our common ends - safely crossing the streets, for example.

- Robert P. George, First Things, "Making Business Moral"

9.20.2008

battleground state

It seems the Obama faithful are out campaigning in NH. We just had a few visitors to our door here. Seems early for door to door, no?

9.17.2008

Mussolini on Moral Relativism

Everything I have said and done is these last years is relativism, by intuition. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology, and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable. If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories, and men who claim to be the bearers of an objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than fascism.

—Benito Mussolini, Diuturna (1921)

the media is full of itself

From the Drudge Report on Monday, "CBS: The Sarah Palin Phenomenon is Doomed". I clicked in earnest (part of being conservative and the track record of conservative politicians is beaten-dog syndrome, we just expect our candidates of being a closet socialist). I partly expected more details on the "bridge to nowhere" earmark issue or maybe some other new thing. However, what I found was this:
The primary reason why the Palin bubble will burst is that the media will decide that they are bored with her. They'll need to move to shine a light on a fresh issue or individual.
I literally laughed out loud in my cubicle (sometimes I wonder what my cube-neighbors think). The media is so absurd and full of itself that it actually believes Sarah Palin would not have become so popular if they had not ran so many stories and as if they were to stop covering her so much the excitement would disappear.

I'm paraphrasing, but I've heard it quoted often that a prominent journalist in 1984 said "I have no idea how Reagan won, I don't know anyone who voted for him". That says it all right there (Reagan won by a landslide).

And this is just vicious:
Now that we've built you up, it's about time for us to knock you down.

Can Sarah Palin withstand the body blows that are being inflicted by the national media?
I don't buy that the media is responsible for building Sarah up, and I don't think that she will be knocked down by the media. If anyone will knock Sarah Palin down, it will be herself (either on the campaign with a mega-gaffe or in a debate with Joe Biden).

9.16.2008

Should the state take a stand on first things?

Peter Kreeft has had more of an influence on me than perhaps anyone else. Here he addresses a fundamental question for politics: should the state take a stand on first things?



Lots to learn here. Here is a quote Kreeft provides from Lewis, as food for thought and to motivate you to listen. The quotation is presented in answering the question of whether the polis ought to have a single and definite telos.
"I fully embrace the maxim that all power corrupts. I would go further. The loftier the pretensions of the power, the more meddlesome, inhuman and oppressive it will be. Theocracy is the worst of all possible governments. All political power is at best a necessary evil. But it is least evil when its sanctions are more modest. Thus the Renaissance doctrine of Divine Right is for me a corruption of monarchy, Rousseau's general will, of democracy and racial mysticisms of nationality, and theocracy is the worst corruption of all. But I don't think we are in any danger of it."

-From Lillies that Fester, C.S. Lewis
I cannot recommend this lecture highly enough. I think it is wholly relevant to every conversation that's ever taken place at Vox Nova. Hopefully I can transcribe it so it can be studied in more detail. (or maybe I'll just email Peter Kreeft and ask if he'll send me the essay - is that unreasonable?)

To see all the videos, follow this link. Or, it is also available in mp3 format from Trinity Law School here.

positive rights and natural rights

Here Professor Hittinger explains the origin of, and distinction between, positive rights and natural rights. These concepts are foundational in the study of law and justice.
Where do rights come from? Now, it’s undoubtedly a fact that most rights derive from human agreements. Umpteen-thousand times every day - well in fact, umpteen thousand times every day just in the state of Texas, individuals make contracts which specify precisely who owes what to whom. For example, if I decide to get a new car, and I want to lease a new car from Honda, the issue of justice is usually pretty clear. Justice obtains when I give to Honda what I owe them, namely, let’s say $300 a month for a lease payment, and Honda gives to me what was specified in the contract, namely, use of the car. Umpteen-thousand times every day, people figure out who owes what to whom because they make an agreement about it, and most of the time these agreements are pretty clear. Not always.

Where else do rights come from, besides contracts? Rights also come from the actions of government at the municipal, state and federal level. Every day, they too, reach agreements as to “who owes what to whom”. First, in the order of what’s called legal justice, which regards what individuals owe to the state. For example, a traffic code says that I owe to the entire community the act of driving on the right hand side of the road. But, states, local communities, political communities, also make agreements as to what the state owes individuals. For example, under federal law, the government owes to me, or to any criminal defendant, a trial by jury in a criminal case. Plainly, what I’m trying to say here is that most questions of justice are the creatures of contracts and positive laws, where we try to be very precise about who owes what to whom. The thing owed is called your right.

But then the issue emerges – are all rights merely the creatures of contracts and human positive laws? Are there rights that exist prior to those things created by human beings? And, if so, they’re entitled to be called natural rights. They’re called natural because, although governments recognize and enforce these rights, the rights are thought to be grounded in obligations which exist independent of contracts and statures. And you wouldn’t have to look very far to find these rights mentioned in our state constitutions, especially the right of religious conscience, which is mentioned at the beginning of virtually all of our state constitutions. Our state constitutions don’t believe that they created by contract the right of religious conscience. Rather, they believe that you have a right not to be coerced in matters of religion because this belongs to you by nature, not by contract, agreement or by stature.
- Russell Hittinger, "American Constitutionalism"

Other posts on this subject here.

9.15.2008

R.I.P. David Foster Wallace

" “He had a mind that was constantly working on more cylinders than most people, but he was amazingly gentle and kind,” Mr. Pietsch said. “He was a writer who other writers looked to with awe.”"

Truman, Reagan, ... Palin?

Steve Hayward has a very interesting piece that is chock full of some great elements. He believes there are a lot of similarities between Palin and two of the best Presidents (in my humble opinion) in the 20th Century, Truman and Reagan.

Before he gets into this comparison, he asks the question (more eloquently than I) whether common people have a place in governing or rather should there be a governing class. Surely there is evidence of people on both the right and the left who buy into the snobbery that only certain people are "qualified" for elected office.

I believe one of the biggest problems facing American governance today is the fact that we as a people rely too much on Government. This concept of governance lends well to the idea of a "governing class". I think we would all be better off if we had people who took time away from their careers to serve in Washington rather than people who choose to be career politicians.

Hayward finds the irony in the idea of a governing class:
The issue is not whether the establishment would let such a person as Palin cross the bar into the certified political class, but whether regular citizens of this republic have the skill and ability to control the levers of government without having first joined the certified political class. But this begs an even more troublesome question: If we implicitly think uncertified citizens are unfit for the highest offices, why do we trust those same citizens to select our highest officers through free elections?
The more I think about it, the more I think I understand why the Palin pick enrages liberals and excites conservatives. In general, liberals believe that the means to a prosperous society are through a strong government, hence the idea that someone who is to lead a government should have years and years of political experience (Obama?). While conservatives inherently believe that when individuals are left to their own society will prosper.

It's not just that Palin lacks "experience" its the fact that she is a normal American who went to a no-name college that enrages the left. So, more than a few things there for people to comment on, but before you do I highly recommend reading Hayward's whole piece first.

Republican, or Dark Lord of the Sith?

The Onion, or the NYT?: Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes See piece for usual charges leveled against Republican candidates. "Evangelical base!" "personal vendettas!" "favors secrecy in government!" "fired people!" etc.

9.14.2008

Palin, what happened here?

There are some people who think Sarah Palin approved a policy that would make rape victims pay for the police to investigate their own cases. Obviously, this is a horrible policy and a terribly inhuman idea. If Sarah Palin really approved such a policy, it would throw into question her character and judgment. Even if she didn't approve the policy, it would seem this is a pretty big oversight. So what happened?

The evidence seems to suggest that she signed off on a significantly reduced budget that was apparently achieved by making this change: making rape victims pay for their own investigations. There does seem to be evidence from a local newspaper that the policy was implemented. The budget and policy was produced by a one Duwayne Charles Fannon, a Palin-appointed police chief. Palin must have approved the policy the police chief used to reduce the budget, no?

Well, I'm not sure we can know what happened. She certainly approved the budget, but does that mean she approved all the means by which the budget was achieved? Maybe. Should she have known? Yes, of course, she was at least somewhat responsible.

I'm inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt; I don't think if she really knew what the policy was she would have approved of it. But she signed off on the budget. So either she didn't know or she did. Her campaign says this:
Palin spokeswoman Maria Comella said in an e-mail that the governor "does not believe, nor has she ever believed, that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence-gathering test."

"Gov. Palin's position could not be more clear," she said. "To suggest otherwise is a deliberate misrepresentation of her commitment to supporting victims and bringing violent criminals to justice."
What do we make of this? I think a solid judgment either way requires more information. Is there more information about this?

libertarianism and prudence

Here's an idea I haven't come across before:
Douthat and Salam—unfashionably, even heretically, in contemporary Republican circles—recognize that the new globalizing age, with the attendant dislocations being experienced by the “Sam’s Club” citizenry, calls for some considerable amount of government intervention. Given that Sam’s Club citizens are in many respects the backbone of the American citizenry, the nation has a decided interest in actively protecting the increasingly fragile institutions that support the values of hard work, self-sacrifice, family values, communal norms, and good citizenship.

Echoing older observations of Tocqueville, Douthat and Salam repeatedly note the likelihood that as democratic citizens are forced onto their own devices and are shorn of the bulwark of extended family and community, they will of necessity turn to the government for assistance, potentially ushering in a “massive tutelary state” that will gladly assume the functions of soft despotism. In the absence of public policies aimed at undergirding the unsteady pillars of civil society, the authors rightly suggest that truly collectivist policies of dependence will be the likely outcome if the only alternative on offer is a cold insistence on free markets and self-reliance alone.
This is a powerful argument against settling for nothing less than conservative-libertarianism. I think it works because, quite frankly, libertarianism is not a very popular philosophy in modern America. Often times, I tend to romanticize the principles of the American founding. I tell myself: if we were only to embrace the principles of the Founding, of federalism, limited government and ! Good things would happen. Perhaps civil political discourse would return to our national dialogue. Hey - it would at least be better than this slouch towards relativism and socialism which so threatens our freedom from tyranny. But I digress.

Douthat and Salem's book seems to demonstrate the importance of political prudence (hah - I'll have to read it to be sure, I guess). There is always a great temptation for anyone who thinks seriously about politics to buy into a society that does not and cannot exist in reality, at least in the absence of a great revolution. We all have our "ideal" political community. There is the ever persistent temptation to become disenchanted with what is, and thus a temptation to neglect what is. We should be conscious of this, and not immediately dismiss calls for incremental reform.

9.13.2008

call me sentimental, maybe cheesy.

I found Denzel Washington's The Great Debaters to be heart-wrenching. It is, among other things, a profound argument for the natural law. It shows us, quite effectively, that justice is not the interest of the stronger.

liberation theology - 2

Father Schall seems to have penned a column especially for me. And for that, I thank him. The column is wittily titled "Liberating Theology from Politics," and directly addresses an issue I am trying to uncover with respect to modernity, Christianity and politics.

Some modern Christians, when talking of politics, incorrectly define the hierarchy of mankind's priorities in this world. This is usually done in an attempt to justify political projects in the name of Christianity. The inversion of priorities is this: first, we need to work to eliminate oppressive socio-economic strucutres. Second, we need to work for peace or interior freedom. Third, we need to work to be be good persons, persons who try not to sin. In this inversion, priority is given not to personal, self-reform and repentance, but to the restructuring of society.

A prime example of this inversion of Christian priorities can be found in "A Theology of Liberation" by Fr. Gutierrez. Working off of Marxist assumptions about class struggle and the nature of oppression, Gutierrez writes,
“For that reason I distinguished three levels or dimensions of liberation in Christ, and Puebla made the distinction its own (nos. 321-329). First, there is liberation from social conditions of oppression and marginalization that force many (and indeed all in one or another way) to live in conditions contrary to God’s will for their life. But it is not enough that we be liberated from oppressive socio-economic structures; also needed is a personal transformation by which we live with profound inner freedom in the face of every kind of servitude, and this is the second dimension or level of liberation. Finally, there is liberation from sin, which attacks the deepest root of all servitude; for sin is the breaking of friendship with God and with other human beings, and therefore cannot be eradicated except by the unmerited redemptive love of the Lord whom receive by faith and in communion with one another.” (pp. xxxviii)
The most obvious reason this is delusional is that we will never be able to eliminate unjust structures from society. All human societies are imperfectly just; it is naive to think we could ever eliminate unjust social structures. But there are other, deeper reasons this is a problematic idea.

Father Schall discusses a few of them in his column (maybe a bit indirectly). He is addressing the modern age, theology and politics:
...The modern age has done everything in its power to tell us that we will all be better people -- but only if we just redo the work of creation, or overcome the Fall, or reform our political structures, families, property, classes, or our political parties. We will, no doubt, be called "individualists" if we think that the task of saving our souls is rather what we should be about.

The implication of most modern ideology is that we can do nothing for ourselves until these magic reforms first take place. For many, this proposition comes as a relief as it dispenses us from doing much until things outside of us are better. These reforms, however, always end up with much blood on their hands, because they forget what passes through the human heart. The system, we say, was responsible, not the individual.

Along with Plato and Aristotle, the classical Christian view suspected rather that social reforms would be consequent on the inner reform of our souls. The problem that Christians had with the classical understanding of virtue was not that it was unknown. Rather, the question was: Why was it so difficult to practice this known virtue? This latter difficulty could, in the Christian view, only be confronted with some understanding of the Fall and grace.

We have developed a system in which such ideas as virtue and grace are never so much as whispered among us. No guarantee, moreover, can be given that, if we choose to live a good life and persist in this life until our death, we will be praised by the world. Just the opposite is implied. We are warned that, like Christ Himself, we will be both misunderstood and persecuted, not only if we are bad (which we too often are) but if we are good. If I cannot strive to be virtuous until the public order is reformed according to some philosophically designed formality or other, there seems not much sense in trying. The Christian view of man rejects the premises on which this latter view is built, a view that pretty well dominates our modern culture.
The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us: "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." It seems that liberation theologians tell us that we will not be able to keep God's commandments until we reform society. The response to this critique is likely that the two tasks are not mutually exclusive, and we should and need to work for both at the same time - both reform ourselves and our societies. But because we are finite creatures, this is often a difficult if not impossible task. We are limited in both time and choices and it may be the case that we can't be both a person of great prayer and a political revolutionary. So which ought to come first? Well, if we follow the Gospels, I think we have to say prayer comes first. In the Martha and Mary story, Jesus taught us there was only one thing necessary.
"Martha, Martha," The Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42 NIV)"

9.12.2008

"Country first"?

McCain's "Country First" campaign slogan is a bad one. To see why, replace the abstract word country with the concrete thing it refers to: "USA First". It's too nationalistic, whether or not it's intended. Country should not and cannot be "first". The traditional list of priorities, in descending order, was God, family, and then country. This slogan is an awkward inversion of this list. Doesn't anyone on the McCain team realize the impression this slogan can give?

But it is clear that this is not the way the slogan is meant to be interpreted. McCain means by this slogan that, when he goes to Washington, he is not going to serve himself - he is going to put his country first, over and against his personal profit. It has become part of the "theme" of his campaign. Putting aside whether or not campaigns shoudl have a theme, I think we ought to recognize that this is his real intention with the slogan "country first".

But, what we appear to be saying is still important.

the new things

Read RJN today:
More than he wanted to be remembered for having been president, Mr. Jefferson wanted to be remembered as the author of the Virginia “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom.” In the text of the bill he underlined this sentence: “The opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction.” In a republic of free citizens, every opinion, every prejudice, every aspiration, every moral argument has access to the public square in which we deliberate the ordering of our life together.

“The opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction.” And yet civil government is ordered by, and derives its legitimacy from, the opinions of the citizenry. Precisely here do we discover the novelty of the American experiment, the unique contribution of what the Founders called this novus ordo seclorum, a new order for the ages. Never before in human history had any government denied itself jurisdiction, whether limited or total, over that on which it entirely depends, the opinion of its people.”

9.11.2008

liberation theology - 1

At the beginning of his work, "A Theology of Liberation," Father Gutierrez says a few things that stand out as worthy of dissection. I have arranged these things with my commentary in no particular order. Please forgive the rather conversational style of these remarks; I intend to work these questions into a more serious analysis later on down the line - I've just finished the introduction and the first chapter of the book, but I want to record some of my questions thus far.

First, he speaks of certain material conditions as being incompatible with faith in Jesus Christ:
“These considerations should not make us forget, however, that we are not dealing here solely with an intellectual pursuit. Behind liberation theology are Christian communities, religious groups, and peoples, who are becoming increasingly conscious that the oppression and neglect from which they suffer are incompatible with their faith in Jesus Christ (or, speaking more generally, with their religious faith). (pp. xix)
I have two questions:
1. What is the oppression and neglect these people suffer?
2. How is it incompatible with their faith in Jesus Christ?
He can't be using the word incompatible in any meaningful way, because this would imply that Christianity is only for people who have achieved a certain level of material well-being. The oppression and neglect he speaks of, is, in general (at least in the introduction) very poorly defined.

Second, he makes a few strange remarks about the nature of the poor.
“Our time bears the imprint of the new presence of those who in fact used to be “absent” from our society and from the Church. By “absent I mean: of little or no importance, and without the opportunity to give expression themselves to their sufferings, their comraderies, their plans, their hopes. “ (pp. xx)
Some more questions
1. Where did these poor come from and how are they “new”?
2. Why weren’t they able to express themselves and how do you know this?
3. Why is expression valuable or necessary?
The idea that the poor are a new arrival on the world scene is very strange to me, and seems to be based on some woefully ignorant assumptions about history. Father Gutierrez also seems fond of speaking of humanity as if it's divided into two different worlds. He frequently makes remarks like “The world of the poor is a universe in which the socio-economic aspect is basic but not all inclusive.” (pp. xxi). I don't understand what he's talking about unless he means to speak of the perspective of the poor. I don't think it helps to speak of the poor living in a different world, because, quite matter-of-factly, they don't.

Next up, perhaps the strangest remark in the entire introduction. I think without further qualification, this particular comment would make Christianity as a religion impossible. I have highlighted the part to which I am referring:
“In addition, the experience of these years has shown me that generous solidarity with the poor is not exempted from the temptation of imposing on them categories foreign to them and from the risk of dealing with them in an impersonal way. Sensitivity to these and other dangers is part o f a human and Christian praxis whose truly liberating effects extend to those who are trying to carry on such a praxis for the benefit of the poor and the exploited. If there is no friendship with them and no sharing of the life of the poor, then there is no authentic commitment to liberation, because love exists only among equals. Any talk of liberation necessarily refers to a comprehensive process, one that embraces everyone. This is an insight that has been repeated again and again since the beginnings of liberation theology and that in my own case has become much more firmly established and has acquired a much greater importance with the passing of years.” (pp. xxx, xxxi)
Love only exists among equals? What can he possibly mean by this?

The last thing I would like to mention from the introduction is his frequent disparaging of older works of theology as culturally insensitive and unconconcerned with how we are to live out our faith. This is a theme that pervades his whole work and is part of his chief criticism. Here is a good example:
“In liberation theology the way to rational talk of God is located within a broader and more challenging course of action: the following of Jesus. Talk of God supposes that we are living in depth our condition as disciples of him who said in so m any words that he is the Way (see John 14:6). This fact has led me to the position that in the final analysis the method for talking of God is supplied by our spirituality. In other words, the distinction of the two phases in theological work is not simply an academic question; it is, above all, a matter of lifestyle, a way of living the faith. Being part of the life of our people, sharing their sufferings and joys, their concerns and their struggles, as well as the faith and the hope that they live as a Christian community – all this is not a formality required if one is to do theology; it is a requirement for being a Christian. For that reason, it also feeds the very roots of a reflection that seeks to explain the God of life when death is all around.” (pp xxxii, xxxiii)
The first sentence seems to imply that in older theologies, rational talk about God was not about following Jesus. If he doesn't mean to imply that, than what exactly is he saying? If he does mean to say that, how can he say that? All "older theology" that I'm familiar with was principally concerned with following Jesus, because part of following Jesus is knowing Jesus. His general disdain for the work of older theologians is strange to me.

9.10.2008

Shermer critiques academics who think conservatism is a mental disorder

Rod Dreher points out an annoying article from Edge titled "What Makes People Vote Republican?" (Edge is a good website to read, if only because it hosts the philosophizing of some prominent public scientists) The responses solicited by Edge are more interesting than the article itself. In my opinion, the highlight piece comes from Michael Shermer, the editor of Skeptic magazine and a free-market thinker.
Two cheers for Jonathan Haidt's essay. At long last a liberal academic social scientist has recognized (and had the courage to put into print) the inherent bias built into the study of political behavior—that because Democrats are so indisputably right and Republicans so unquestionably wrong, conservatism must be a mental disease, a flaw in the brain, a personality disorder that leads to cognitive malfunctioning. Thus, Haidt is mostly right when he asks us to move beyond such "diagnoses" and remember "the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. When Republicans say that Democrats 'just don't get it,' this is the 'it' to which they refer."

I allocate two (instead of three) cheers for Haidt's commentary because I think he does not go far enough. The liberal bias in academia is so entrenched that it becomes the political water through which the liberal fish swim—they don't even notice it. Even the question "What makes people vote Republican?" hints at something amiss in the mind of the conservative, along the lines of "Why do people believe weird things?" As Haidt notes, the standard liberal line is that people vote Republican because they are "cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death." A typical example of this characterization can be found in a famous 2003 paper published in the prestigious journal Psychological Bulletin by the New York University social psychologist John Jost and his colleagues, entitled "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition," in which they argue that conservatives suffer from "uncertainty avoidance," "need for order, structure, closure," and "dogmatism, intolerance of ambiguity," all of which leads to "resistance to change" and "endorsement of inequality."
While I generally find Shermer annoying, his response to this piece is priceless. The whole response is well worth reading. For that matter, Dreher's comments, too.

Norris v. America

Looks like I'm going to have to make an Amazon order:

9.09.2008

conversations about religion

There are some mostly blameless persons who think of religion as a disease. After someone's declaration of religious commitments, the implicitly (or explicitly) expressed reaction is: "Oh, how'd that happen to you?" The conversation is then stifled because when someone comes down with an illness it's best not to talk about it, lest they be reminded of how terrible the situation really is. Jokes are made to lighten the mood. But then the conversation is limited by thoughts of "Dude, don't say that in front of the religious kid, he might be offended!" For religious people are judged to be judgmental, because religious people believe in right and wrong, and they take the idea of right and wrong seriously. The religion doesn't necessarily have to be any one in particular, but Christianity is often seen as the most judgmental and therefore the worst dis-ease to come down with. It seems that religious people need to make the argument that, hey, everyone believes in right and wrong, and it's not something to be scared of.

9.08.2008

the modern conservative delusion?

Heavy stuff from Daniel Larison:
For decades, perhaps long after most of them stopped believing it, most conservatives have objected to the distortions of the sexual revolution and the pretense that there were no meaningful differences between the sexes. Stressing the distinctive and complementary roles of men and women, bristling at the suggestion of an identical equality of the sexes and railing against the idea that men and women are simply interchangeable in their roles, conservatives have pushed back, at least rhetorically, against the destructive and perverse notion that men and women are in all important respects the same. Perhaps it has been the last seven years of embracing the anti-jihadist propaganda praising secular modernity and women’s emancipation that has helped to erase these ideas from the minds of most conservatives, or perhaps it was the quintessential modern conservative delusion that we can “have it all”–complete with political Amazons leading the charge for traditional culture–that has blinded everyone to what is being compromised here. You could hardly ask for a better representation of the spiritual illness afflicting American conservatives than this: the subordination of familial and particularly maternal obligations to the service of party political activism. This is the illness that drives people to Washington to “do something” rather than remain at home preserving and creating the sane culture they claim to desire that the politicians praise and do nothing to protect.
This, to me, seems like a great example of over-thinking, over-conceptualizing. I'm not so sure the situation with conservatives is as he describes. Men may just be happy to have an actual conservative on the Republican ticket. His point about sacrificing familial obligations to party politics is taken though. For conservatives, politics is never first or even second (this is one of many reasons McCain's slogan "Country First" is a bit disturbing).

physics as metaphysics

I don't recommend reading Leonard Susskind's new book, but I do recommend reading this review of it:
I was eager to learn how, in the end, Susskind and company showed that Hawking was probably wrong — that information is indeed conserved. But first I had to get through a 66-page crash course on relativity and quantum mechanics. Every book about contemporary physics seems to begin this way, which can be frustrating to anyone who reads more than one. (Imagine if every account of the 2008 presidential campaign had to begin with the roots of Athenian democracy and the heritage of the French Enlightenment.)

Finally we get to the heart of the story, and it turns out to be a mind-bender. To make sense of Hawking’s paradox one must consider how much information, measured in bits, the 1s and 0s of binary code, can fit inside a black hole. The amount, it turns out, does not depend on the black hole’s volume, as one might expect, but on the area of its “horizon” — the flat, funnel-like mouth of the cosmic rabbit hole.

Susskind explains this dizzying notion about as clearly as is probably possible. Every time a bit falls into a black hole, its opening expands by one square Planck length — an area billions and billions of times smaller than a proton. It is because of this phenomenon, Susskind contends, that the information isn’t lost. A description of everything that falls into a black hole, whether a book or an entire civilization, is recorded on the surface of its horizon and radiated back like imagery on a giant drive-in movie screen. As with a hologram, three dimensions are contained within two.

Strangest of all, we learn, this holographic conjecture — elevated in the book, perhaps prematurely, to the holographic principle — may apply to the entire universe. Hence the notion of our own reality as an illusory projection of some flatlanders’ membrane world. It’s as though the pixilated people we see on television are real and the actors are only secondary manifestations.
Oh, the actors are only secondary manifestations? I see now.

praiseworthy choices

I should say at the outset that this post assumes the reader shares a traditional Catholic perspective on sexual morality, which may or may not be true. In the case that you do not share this perspective, I want to make it clear that I am not trying to offend or condemn or judge anyone, but only to discuss an ethical issue objectively. Catholic morality is what it is, and exists independent of me. You may certainly disagree with some of the tenants of Catholic morality - if that is true, I invite you to discuss your differences with me in the combox or via email (civicsgeeks@gmail.com).

M.Z. Forrest is a Catholic contributor to the group blog Vox Nova. His latest post tackles the topic of teen pregnancy in a rather unforgiving way. Normally, I would comment on the VN page, but for some reason he has decided to close the comments and stifle conversation. So, I'll try to continue it here. I think his misstep comes right at the beginning:
I do not find “keeping the baby” to be laudatory in the least. It is certainly better than the alternatives, but that is hardly saying much.
He correctly says keeping the baby is better than the alternatives, the alternative being to kill the baby. He then says that this "is not saying much". Why, I ask, is this not saying much? I say that not killing the baby says quite a bit! I also think this is a choice that deserves to be celebrated, especially in the face of a hostile culture. It says a lot when someone makes a choice for life in the face of difficult circumstances. This is something to be applauded. An attitude that would condemn it or ignore the goodness of a choice for life is foreign to Catholicism and just plain unforgiving. Further, applauding the choice for life does not entail applauding the choice for pre-marital sex. I'm not sure why you would think it would.

9.07.2008

new wounds and old wounds

Looks like Brady is out for the season.

9.05.2008

the spotless mind

One of my favorite movies is 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of Jim Carrey's better outings. If you recall, the movie involves a procedure that allows patients to erase memories of their choosing. The New York Times reports something today that suggests that a procedure like this might not be that far off! Brave new world, here we come:
Scientists have for the first time recorded individual brain cells in the act of summoning a spontaneous memory, revealing not only where a remembered experience is registered but also, in part, how the brain is able to recreate it.

...

Single-cell recordings cannot capture the entire array of circuitry involved in memory, which may be widely distributed beyond the hippocampus area, experts said. And as time passes, memories are consolidated, submerged, perhaps retooled and often entirely reshaped when retrieved later.
While the process is not yet totally understood, it looks as if they are certainly on the way. The philosophical and ethical implications of this might be worth discussing. If we could erase memories, could we erase guilty knowledge? Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

Warmongering

I was very pleased to hear McCain speak these words
I hate war. It is terrible beyond imagination.

I’m running for President to keep the country I love safe, and prevent other families from risking their loved ones in war as my family has. I will draw on all my experience with the world and its leaders, and all the tools at our disposal - diplomatic, economic, military and the power of our ideals - to build the foundations for a stable and enduring peace.

9.04.2008

sympotein

“Why does the Platonic dialogue about politics and laws begin with such an extensive conversation about wine? What is the artistic or logographic necessity demanding this? The proper interlocutors in a conversation about laws are old citizens of communities famous for their laws, for their obedience and allegiance to their old laws. Such men understand best what living under laws, living in laws, means. They are the perfect incarnation of the spirit of laws: of lawfulness, of law-abidingness. But their very virtue becomes a defect if there is no longer a question of preserving old laws, but of seeking the best laws or introducing new and better ones. Their habits and their competence make these men impervious to suggestions for improvement. The Athenian induces them to participate in a conversation about wine-drinking, about a pleasure that is forbidden to them by their old laws. The talk about wine-drinking is a kind of vicarious enjoyment of wine, especially since wine-drinking is a forbidden pleasure. Perhaps the talk reminds the two old interlocutors of secret and pleasurable transgressions of their own. The effect of the talk about wine is therefore similar to the effect of actual wine-drinking; it loosens their tongues; it makes them young; it makes them bold, daring, willing to innovate. They must not actually drink wine, since this would impair their judgment. They must drinking wine, not in deed, but in speech.

But this means that wine-drinking educates to boldness, to courage, and not to moderation, and yet wine-drinking was said to be conducive to moderation. Let us therefore consider the other partner in the conversation, the Athenian philosopher. To doubt the sacredness of the ancestral means to appeal from the ancestral to the natural. It means to transcend all human traditions, nay, the whole dimension of the merely human. IT means to learn to look down on the human as something inferior or to leave the cave. If the philosopher is to give political guidance, he must return to the cave: from the light of the sun to the world of shadows; his perception must be dimmed; his mind must undergo an obfuscation. The vicarious enjoyment of wine through a conversation about wine, which enlarges the horizon of the law-bred old citizens, limits the horizon of the philosopher. But this obfuscation, this acceptance of the political perspective, this adoption of the language of political man, this achievement of harmony between wisdom and law-abidingness is, it seems, the most noble exercise of the virtue of moderation. For moderation is not a virtue of thought: Plato likens philosophy to madness, the very opposite of sobriety or moderation; thought must not be moderate, but fearless, not to say shameless. But moderation is a virtue controlling the philosopher’s speech.”

What is Political Philosophy?
II. The Classical Solution, pp. 31-32
Leo Strauss

9.03.2008

a reactionary remark

I think Palin's speech was pretty good. But it could have been better, no?

At the First Things blog, Joseph Bottum expresses my thoughts perfectly:
Here’s the curious thing, though: Not once in her speech did she make any mention of abortion—the center of the social-conservative issues.

You could argue that the dwelling on her family helped make the point nonverbally, and her phrase “a servant’s heart” was a way of reaching out to evangelicals. And you’d be right.

Still, the absence of any use of the word abortion suggests that she was not playing to the base. Rather, she was playing to the suburban moms for whom abortion is not a driving issue, one way or the other.

I can’t say I like it; she’s pro-life and needs to say so. How we talk about abortion is as important as how we attempt politically to overturn Roe v. Wade. But given the energy Palin’s nomination has generated in Republican circles, the McCain-Palin campaign may imagine it’s got the social conservatives locked up, and so it makes the target the squishy middle.

At the very least, however, we need to hear less about how the speech last night was pandering to the base—about its being red meat for social conservatives to feed on. I liked Palin and her speech, but, as a pro-lifer, I’m still hungry.
Another contributor to the First Things blog, Amanda Shaw, provides the best summary of the counterargument; which, upon reflection, is the better understanding:
When she stood up on the stage before all of America, with her pregnant daughter by her side and her Downs syndrome baby on her shoulder, she reminded us exactly where she stands on abortion. Her daughter’s and her own decision to keep and love their babies may not have been the most politically expedient or personally easy choices, from the hockey-mom perspective, but they speak far louder than words.

And actions, not rhetoric, Palin promised last night, is what she’s all about: “Among politicians, there is the idealism of high-flown speechmaking, in which crowds are stirringly summoned to support great things. And then there is the idealism of those leaders . . . who actually do great things. They’re the ones who are good for more than talk.” At least in pro-life matters, Sarah Palin stands with the latter.

what is a political community?

I've been having a conversation with the Catholic Anarchist that has made me think I understand nothing about politics. I argued that the Church is not a political community, because the Church does not operate by coercion but by voluntary association. To which he replied,
The Church is a political community whether you’d like it to be one or not. It is, of course, more than a political community, but it is political nonetheless. Must all political communities operate by coercion? Doesn’t the u.s. claim to be a voluntary association? I don’t follow you.
In an attempt to more carefully define what I meant, I ended up saying this:
I think there is a misunderstanding between us concerning the proper use of the word political. By political, I mean a community that is bound together by some coercive authority. I think you are using political in a broad sense to mean any human relationship or group of people. He then asked if all political communities operate by coercion. I think the answer is yes: in all political communities there is necessarily a coercive force. A political community requires laws and there must be punishment for transgressing those laws. The enforcement of that punishment requires a coercive force.
It sounds odd to me to have to explain things in this way - I thought coercion was one of the only things that distinguishes a political community from any other type of community. So, in an effort to present this question to a broader audience, I ask you: am I crazy?

What makes a political community?
Update: My original argument was wrong, at least as it was formulated. If I were to rephrase now, I would say that the Church is a type of political community, but it is distinct from the state, the polis, by nature: the Church does not have or need a coercive force. I still think the state, the good community, does.

The goal of my argument was to argue against anarchy; to prove that the coercive force of the state is unfortunately necessary and at least a qualified good. Again, I must emphasize that this is not something that I like. Rather, I think it is a consequence of original sin and a part of human reality in the present time.

Thanks to dminor of the blog The Minor Premise for a good conversation and cleaning up my muddled thinking about these terms.

nytimes retracts

The NY Times had three front-page hard hitting stories about Gov. Palin yesterday. One day later, it has already retracted one of those pieces. Apparently a single source is enough evidence to place something on the front page of the paper alongside two other attack pieces.

The information in the Times article was based on a statement issued Monday night by Lynette Clark, the party's chairwoman, who said that Ms. Palin joined the party in 1994 and in 1996 changed her registration to Republican.

On Tuesday night, Ms. Clark said that her initial statement was incorrect and had been based on erroneous information provided by another member of the party whom she declined to identify. The McCain campaign also disputed the Times report, saying that Ms. Palin had been registered consistently as a Republican.

I would say that this kind of journalistic fraud would be "unbelievable", but unfortunately for the NY Times, it is all too believable.

9.02.2008

rational control, leo strauss, manliness, etc.

Conservatives want to conserve the modern liberal political experiment. Seeing what good it has done (and understanding that it would take a physical and intellectual revolution to rapidly change regimes), conservatives want to be a friend of liberalism. And a good friend will praise what you have done that is good and help you to see and remedy your failures.

Liberalism, like everything human, is imperfect. While there is much good to be celebrated in liberalism, there is also much with which to be concerned. One danger and temptation liberals face might be called the desire for rational control. Modern politics, beginning with Machiavelli, is the attempt to explain and construct society in such a way that will prevent chaos and minimize suffering. Leo Strauss explains Machiavelli’s reasoning thusly,
[that] there is something fundamentally wrong with an approach to politics which culminates in a utopia, in the description of a best regime whose actualization is highly improbable. Let us then cease to take our bearings by virtue, the highest objective which a society might choose; let us begin to take our bearings by the objectives which are actually pursued by all societies. Machiavelli consciously lowers the standards of social action. His lowering of the standards is meant to lead to a higher probability of the actualization of that scheme which is constructed in accordance with the lowered standards. Thus, the dependence on chance is reduced: chance will be conquered.

What is Political Philosophy?,pp. 41
The Machiavellian character of our political life has also been reinforced by the determinism of modern natural science. The idea is that, if only the right system is established, or the right government and people put into place, than we will have true and final justice. Rational control is a decent enough idea, and has been weakened by the philosophers that followed Machiavelli; but taken to the extreme it is Utopian and can be dangerous, as the 20th century has shown. We must recognize there are limits to both our reason and our action. Some things we will not be able to prevent; some things we will not be able to fix.

The influence of the idea of applying rational control or social planning on our societies also affects the way we understand each other. In order to be controlled, human beings have to be commodified. In this process we lose our individuality and our personality. This commodification is something that is normally linked to capitalism, to the free market economy, but I think the actual source of this problem is even deeper. Harvey Mansfield of Harvard traces it down nicely in his recent book Manliness:
“Rational control tries to free itself from an individual self, which it sees as arbitrary, distracting, entangling, and irrational. So it works to diminish the importance of the individual. Professionalism makes one individual replaceable by another, for example, one doctor by another; technology makes available machines that work for anyone who submits to the requirements of their use; democracy gives authority to the multitude, it used to be said, or majority as we say – a certain number of undefined individuals. Individuals such as these are exchangeable for one another as they have no individuality. Lacking individuality is the way rational control likes us to be, that we can be governed without regard to our foibles and without encountering foolish excuses for resistance. Rational control believes in individualism rather than individuality, an individualism of individuals effectively alike, as in Hobbes’s state of nature. Nowadays it often speaks the language of diversity, but it believes in egalitarian justice that leaves manliness, the cause of diversity, unemployed.”

Manliness, pp. 234-235
A good way of understanding the significance of an idea is by contrast. The ancient understanding of politics was spiritual, moral, and teleological. Politics was about the good life and the good society. Peter Maurin, a modern but anti-modern thinker famously said, “a good society is one that makes it easy for you to be good.” The Ancients would nod their heads in agreement and the moderns would mostly disagree. (thanks Peter Kreeft) For modern political theorists, politics is not about the good life but about the functional, safe and stable society.

The Ancients and Moderns ought to be put into conversation. There is much to be learned from the dialogue. Contrary to perhaps the popular opinion, the American Founding is not totally detached from Ancient wisdom. In fact, a good case can be made that American political institutions incorporate a great synthesis of Ancient and Modern political thought; I hope to explore this idea some other time. It suffices for now to reference the quotation that is currently being used as a subtitle for this blog, as it is an excellent summary of what a wise Ancient thinker would say to the modern liberal democrat: “A free society cannot survive if we are so free that nothing is expected of us.”

who needs experience?

Currently there is a small scuffle going on concerning political experience. Political experience, I argue, is only useful insofar as it demonstrates political prudence. That is, that it demonstrates a record of leadership and ability to implement political ideas. The ideal candidate for the highest office in the land would have a record of successful governing experience in some type of executive position, a position where choices have to be made.

But if a candidate lacks such a record, should he/she be necessarily disqualified from seeking the highest office in the land? I think the answer is no, and the reason the answer is no is because politics is not, in the first place, about leadership. It is first about ideas, and second about character. Leadership or spiritedness is only a part of someone’s character. Neither of these things, good ideas or good character, necessarily need to have been demonstrated in a similar position to which the candidate aspires. This is especially true if the person does have great political ideas, and the manly attitude necessary to assert them.

In this particular election I don’t think political experience should be a significant issue for either candidate. Talk of experience often serves to distract from the substantive policy differences that ought to be the focus of our conversations, but perhaps both conversations are possible.

9.01.2008

our theatricals

"It is as a dream, a pleasant dream!" he exclaimed, breaking forth again after few minutes musing. "I shall always look back on our theatricals with exquisite pleasure. There was such an interest, such an animation, such a spirit diffused! Every body felt it. We were all alive. There was employment, hope, solicitude, bustle, for every hour of the day. Always some little objection, some little doubt, some little anxiety to be got over. I was never happier."

With silent indignation, Fanny repeated to herself, "Never happier! - never happier than when doing what you must know what not justifiable! - never happier than when behaving so dishonorably and unfeelingly! - Oh! what a corrupted mind!"

Mansfield Park
Vol II Chapter V
Jane Austen