Different Types of Equality

It occurred to me the other day that we might be referring to any number of different reams or spheres when we speak of “equality”. This is not really a novel insight as we often qualify ourselves by saying such things as “equality under the law” or “equality in fact” and so on. But I think it is complicated enough to warrant some further exploration.

There seem to be at least four major (and many minor) levels at which we can compare human beings and speak of their equality or lack thereof. At the top there is a sort of metaphysical assumption effectively taken for granted here in the modern Western World that all human beings are fundamentally equal. This is contrast to the second conception of equality which says no, we are not actually, materially equal. We all have different talents and abilities and such. Even so, we are fundamentally equal. Or, to say it in another way, we are different yet equal. Anyway there is an understanding that tall men do not have more humanity than short men.

So far so good, but this says nothing about society. There seem here to be at least two more phenomena we could be speaking of when we ask if two people are equal. One is that of the legal system in place. This regime generally treats all equally, but only generally. There are outstanding exceptions. Children, do not have the right to vote or execute contracts. Criminals sometimes have their right of movement curtailed. So we are not really treated equally, or perhaps only treated equally under certain conditions which all (in theory) can reach given time and effort. And even here the criminal, once attaining his status as such, remains a human being. The seventeen year old is just as human as the eighteen year old though our system places one in a different status. So we are always still equal in the metaphysical sense.

Finally, there is the way in which we relate to each other on a personal level. As much as we probably believe in the fundamental equality we often suspend such thinking when making our own appraisals of others. We bring in attributes such as smoking and politics and sports and such when we rank people we know or know of. Clearly such attributes are important to us. Not everyone I meet is equally valuable or pleasant on this personal level and at this personal level I feel entitled to make my own rules. Here is the realm of opinion.

Beyond these four there are other types of equality or lack of equality in other, more specialized and more specific spheres of operation. All members of a church are equal insofar as they are all adherents to that faith. Then again, the leader of the service assumes a position radically different from that of the congregation. After the service we become mere citizens again and other ways of looking at ourselves come into play. One business may have many specialized members. One may involve pure labor and workers are reduced to mere “working hands”. A surgical unit treats is members differently from that of a demolition crew.

Again, these observations are not particularly novel. On the other hand, “equality” is one of these terms that we want to elevate to a place of importance to the extent that we may realize how tied it actually is to context. It may be worth thinking about. Of course we are all fundamentally equal but is that even a live issue? I suppose the real point of this exploration of equality (if there is a point) might be that we live in a wide variety of realms. And the political realm is just one of these, and of only relative importance, and squeezed somewhere in the middle. (But then again, people reading this blog probably know that too.)

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The Libertarian (Minarchist) Saint Augustine

What if I said that St. Augustine was a libertarian? This is not mere provocation. Aside from the obvious anachronism of applying a modern term to the late Roman period this statement is probably true. Of course there are some caveats. Augustine was a theologian and political theory was only of marginal interest. He did not, so far as I can tell, stress the importance of human agency and property rights or the dignity of man but his ultimate political prescription is for some sort of minarchism.

 

For Augustine people could not be trusted. The only purposes of the state are to protect citizens from internal and external threats. Beyond this it ought to restrain itself for action was likely to do more harm than good. Besides, even if the state could affect positive change such action was not likely to succeed, was not its purpose, and not of any real consequence (given the importance of the spiritual life). To be fair this is pushing the matter a bit far as our political systems today are more nuanced and more representative than those of the late Roman period but even so there is a definitive libertarian bent in Augustine’s political thought (and politics is the concern here). 

 

The most important insight though is that Augustine (most famously in his distinction between the City of God and the City of Man) emphasized the importance of different spheres in which human beings may operate. In a certain sense Augustine was fortunate to live in such a violent and chaotic era and, more importantly, one in which his spiritual system had not yet fully triumphed. As such he recognized what the medievals (Aquinas)

forgot and what the moderns are barely able to recognize: that politics is not everything, much less the most important thing, there are other distinct spheres in which we can act.

 

In the medieval world administrative collapse, feudalism and a spiritually homogenous society allowed for church and state (read morality and state in later eras) to be intertwined. This trend was solidified most notably in 1648 by the Treaty of Westphalia (which simultaneously cemented the notion that the nation-state is a legitimate political unit and declared that the sovereign ought to determine the religion of his subjects). Of course the enlightenment projects operated on the same principle. The state ought to walk hand in hand with science and progress and the creation of a better man.

 

Now we find ourselves in 2014 and are so enamored with politics and what we imagine it entails that we generally believe, either explicitly or implicitly that whatever is good must somehow be connected to the political realm. Augustine recognized that this was not the case. Between the fourth century and the rise of modern liberalism (though not all varieties) only a few reformed theologians seemed to recognize this truth and they were essentially swept away. They were of course admirers of Augustine and like him were more interested in theology than practical politics.

 

Nevertheless Augustine had hit on something fundamental. Politics is not nearly as important as we like to pretend. We ought to be very suspicious of those with power. We ought to exercise ourselves in other spheres. The state has no legitimate functions beyond merely protecting us from harm. That which matters is not, and ought not, to be political.

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Toward an Augustinian Evangelicalism, Part 3

From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism. By D.G. Hart.

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids, MI, Cambridge, UK. 2011.

Given evangelicalism’s historical discontinuity with conservatism (discussed here and here), what hope is there for a fusion? Or is there no hope? Hart argues that while certain features of evangelicalism has made it wary of conservatism, an evangelicalism that seeks an authentic Biblical faith will find in conservatism a helpful ally, a useful means to understanding politics. However, there are barriers that Hart seeks to overcome, such as evangelicals’ appeal to the supremacy of Scripture over all other authorities and evangelicals’ tendency to understand social reform as guided by Biblical mandate.

Hart cites Russell Kirk’s definition of conservatism as a disposition to conserve, not an ideological program. Hart writes, “[Kirk] believed that liberalism was responsible for intellectual blueprints that would make society and citizens conform to ideals. By contrast, conservatives sensed what is right or true or beautiful and ideally adjusted thought to real circumstances, both good and bad” (187). Liberalism tends to establish a program for society, while conservatism looks to the past to discover what is good and then seeks to amplify that.

While evangelicals do rightly abide within their Protestant tradition in their appeal to Scripture as supreme in all of life, they err in “an abuse of the Reformation’s doctrine of sola scriptura” by applying an appeal to Scripture to political life. A healthy dose of Augustine’s doctrine of “Two Cities” would help evangelicals to clarify when to appeal to Scripture and when it is acceptable to appeal to other sources. In political matters—those dealing with the City of Man, which is composed both of faithful Christians and unbelievers—evangelicals should realize the salience of non-Christian thinkers and enduring forms of political order. Discussions of federalism, republicanism, the common law, and the Constitution are all in order in such a discussion.

Evangelicals have historically been tempted by millennialist notion of a messianic nation, but a sense of a distinction between sacred and profane time would help evangelicals understand that their millennialism should be about Christ and his purposes for his Church, not for the world at large. Expecting America, or any nation, to adopt Biblical standards is naïve when considering what Protestants hold to be true of human sinfulness. It’s best to adopt a policy of prudence and restraint in human affairs. Such a policy does not reject Biblical teaching, but takes seriously its descriptions of the historical effects of the Fall.

I would also note here that the evangelical Left, who attack America as some version of the Great Satan for its past sins regarding racism, classism, etc., are only invoking a reverse of the position of the Religious Right. America is a particularly wicked nation, the Whore of Babylon, for its failure to instantiate Christ’s kingdom. In its place, the Religious Left would erect a new order that does establish Christ’s kingdom on earth.

All this is not to say that evangelicals should return to the catacombs. But rather that they should engage politically by the terms of the secular city. They are not engaging in church governance of the redeemed, but in just governance of a society composed of Christians and non-Christians. Thinking in those terms puts evangelicals directly in the center of a respectable vision of Christian political engagement, one reaching back to Augustine if not also to Romans 13. And it is a vision that will win them political allies among Catholics, fellow Protestants, and many non-Christian conservatives and libertarians.

Hart argues that evangelicals, their historical political affinities aside, do have a conservative disposition. They value local communities and families. In practice, and even largely in theory, Evangelicals are much more localist than Catholics or other high church traditions. They focus almost exclusively on the local church, community groups, and Bible studies. Additionally, Evangelicals were drawn into politics over federal encroachment on public schools, which hindered the ability of parents to provide their children with the education they wanted for them. Even Falwell opposed the efforts of “political ideologues to refashion society without regard for the customs and beliefs of average citizens” (215). These impulses are fundamentally conservative and evangelicals would do well to explore the political thinking offered by traditionalist conservatism.

Libertarians have a stake in evangelicals embracing a more traditionalist outlook. Traditionalist evangelicalism will be wary of efforts by the law to straighten the bent moral timber of humanity. Biblical moral teaching is clear and evangelicals are not likely to embrace libertinism any time soon. However, as it stands, evangelicals are guided by nationalist and statist prerogatives, even if they are divided by whether the warfare or welfare state would better implement their designs. An evangelicalism chastened by Augustinianism would support limited government, local autonomy, and, yes, even substantial rights to dissent from cultural and social norms. Hart’s book offers much for evangelicals to think about—and much for which traditionalists and libertarians can hope.

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Toward an Augustinian Evangelicalism, Part 2

From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism. By D.G. Hart.

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids, MI, Cambridge, UK. 2011.

“Compassionate conservatism,” the mantle donned by President George W. Bush and articulated by University of Texas Professor Marvin Olasky, follows readily from Marshall, Falwell, and Reed. Christians need to care for the poor and these figures criticized the inherent suspicion traditional conservatism had toward expansive government. Bush attempted to increase charitable giving through government action in his faith-based initiatives. According to his administration and supporters, government and religious institutions could enjoy a new partnership. Those of us old enough to remember the Bush administration remember the outcome, as Hart writes,

Bush’s faith-based initiatives stumbled most significantly over constitutional questions related to the First Amendment and whether federal support for religious charities constituted an establishment of religion. Even more difficult was harmonizing conservatism with an expansion of the federal regulations in the conduct of religious and private organizations. Did Bush and Olasky really believe that in the era of OSHA and the EPA the federal government would simply let a thousand points of light shine without also specifying the wattage, color, and times for shining? (144-5)

The rise in the last decade of the Religious Left is only an outgrowth of what was present all along, namely, evangelicals’ penchant for understanding American government as a means to Biblical ends. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, the National Review of the American Religious Left, was heavily involved with Students for a Democratic Society in college. He attributes his political activism to his understanding of Scripture. He advocates a Christian revolution “not only to change and reform the economic and political facts and forms of the world but to seek fundamental change in the very framework of a world system that needs to be continually examined and tested by the judgment of the Word of God” (qtd in 155-6). Hart describes Wallis’s notion as “[c]omprehensive, idealistic, even utopian.” As Hart notes, its unattainability has given Wallis a long and successful career.

The Religious Left is just as prone to millennialism as is the more national security-driven Religious Right. In Letters to a Young Evangelical, published in 2006, author Tony Compolo spends most of the book arguing for the political and social views that evangelicals should hold, all of which are predictably liberal. Two years later in Red Letter Christians, Compolo argues that since Christ has come then His kingdom had begun and it is the duty of Christians to advance social justice defined, of course, as a grab bag of liberal policies (170-1). For Compolo, the state is a means of advancing the kingdom of God, only through welfare instead of warfare.

The Religious Left, just like the Religious Right, makes its appeal to the Bible and its mandates of care for the poor. Both theological liberals and born-again evangelicals made use of the late nineteenth century slogan “What would Jesus do?” While evangelicals saw it as a means to make sure that one submits his whole life to the Lordship of Christ. It also meant a possibly inappropriate application of Biblical principles, meant for the believer’s life, to political affairs, which are applicable to all members of a polity, including many non-believers.

In the next post, we’ll examine Hart’s answer to the question: should evangelicals be conservative?

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Classical Liberalism is Political, Conservatism is Not (Part Three)

There are a few caveats which I should mention before ending this quick and dirty introduction to my take on conservatism. The first is that while conservatism itself raises some red flags conservatives as people are not an issue. Ron Paul is as close as we have come to having a well known libertarian politician and he was a social conservative (keeping things in perspective). I place more trust in him than I would Gary Johnson. Freedom and limited government can be viewed either as a means or an end and it is far more constructive to view it as a means. Strategically this plays into the hands of conservatives. Civil society, for example, will do just as well if not better in a minarchist state than it would in a crony state which subsidizes private organizations.

 

Practically of course this has not happened. The state is more interested in subsidizing its own organs for supposed progress and welfare of the masses. This leads to the second caveat which is that in the United States today progressives are winning. They have been winning since at least the new deal. Given the current state of affairs I would have no problem seeing even radical, dogmatic neoconservatives in the places of power if it meant weakening the secular, materialist socialists.

Simply put, I would like to see conservative people (any variety is good but some are better than others) in power but no conservative policies. Social engineering is just as much a disease of conservatives as it is of progressives. When conservatism becomes politicized we become just as bad as those people on the left. We ought to have a neutral regime with limited powers. I am not naive enough to believe that this ideal will ever be reached but the night watchmen state really is what we ought to seek.

 

And, if conservatism is really as great as some claim than this type of regime will only weaken the progressives while doing next to no harm to conservatives. Such a regime would cause the Department of Education to wither away while the Salvation Army would likely not be hurt.

 

I apologize for this very quick and dirty introduction but now it is out of the way. I was certainly painting in broad strokes but I think it was necessary to quickly explain the benefits of classical liberalism and he problem with politicized conservatism.

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Toward an Augustinian Evangelicalism, Part 1

From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism. By D.G. Hart.

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids, MI, Cambridge, UK. 2011.

Dr. Daryl G. Hart has published an excellent book that bears explicitly on the purpose of this blog: to discuss issues of libertarianism and conservatism. From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism sets out to demonstrate how American evangelicals never really adopted specifically conservative ways of viewing the world, even while in the last few decades of the twentieth century evangelicals self-identified and voted as conservatives. He details the history of evangelicalism in America, its differences in outlook from conservatism, the crack up of the Religious Right, and closes by discussing whether evangelicals should be politically conservative.

This post will come in three parts. Unfortunately, it was more difficult than I first imagined to do justice to the breadth of Hart’s points, which are important for understanding the past and future of evangelical political thought and whether it will continue to embrace or ultimately reject a more activist government. This post will review Hart’s discussion of evangelical political thought up through the Religious Right. The second post will discuss Hart’s explanation the relationship between “compassionate conservatism” and the Religious Left. The third and final post will reflect on Hart’s answer to the question, should evangelicals be conservative?

Since 1980, evangelicals have been considered a reliable Republican constituency, voting as one of several groups in the tenuous alliance that composes American political conservatism. However, this was not always so and we have seen this stereotype fall apart in the last few election cycles. In the early twentieth century, evangelicals believed that the church was responsible for society and for establishing a national agenda and purpose. The Social Gospel grew out of this impulse. The split between theological liberals and fundamentalists did not annihilate this underlying thrust in evangelical political thought, even if it would take different forms in actual political action. Both groups believed in America as a Christian nation and in the legislation of Christian morals. Neither group could be described as conservative. Hart writes,

[E]vangelical political thought developed independently from the debates that shaped modern conservatism. Instead of relying on conservative insights about order, liberty, and the health of civil society, evangelicals habitually resorted to their Bibles…[F]or evangelicals, Scripture was a better guide to the affairs of the United States than the demands of republicanism, constitutionalism, federalism, or the balance of powers. (16)

Today, evangelicals who predominantly write books and teach in universities are politically leftist. Rather than an odd development, Hart argues that this makes sense given the manifestation of American evangelicalism’s particular assumptions. While Peter Marshall’s The Light and the Glory exerted enormous influence on the political views of American evangelicals in an ostensibly conservative direction, it demonstrates the inherently un-conservative way evangelicals have historically viewed politics. Rather than understanding every political order as inherently flawed, Marshall argued for an America that is providentially chosen to advance God’s will in the world. The timing of its publication, 1978, allowed it to take on enormous significance for American evangelicals and rally them to the conservative Republican party which offered the most strident opposition to another superpower that made similar “providential” claims—minus God, of course.

The most impressive intellectual luminary among evangelicals of this period was Francis Schaeffer. His book How Should We Then Live? provided an argument that more or less amounted to an assertion that a free and stable society would emerge from a truly Protestant society. The influence of Marshall and Schaeffer on the Religious Right currently coalescing around several key figures pushed them in an activist rather than conservative direction. “[D]eep within the soul of the members of the emerging Religious Right beat the heart not of a Burkean conservative but of a Finneyite activist.” (89) Rather than breaking with the excesses of 19th century revivalism, which spurred efforts at wholesale social reform including the counterproductive temperance reforms, the Religious Right took their cue for social reform from such figures as Charles Finney and concerned themselves with targeting what they believed to be existential threats to political order.

Hart argues that evangelicals ended up in the “conservative” category because of similar issues of concern to American conservatism, but not a similarity in thinking. Like neo-conservatives and libertarians, evangelicals hated Communism. Jerry Falwell specifically cited its atheism as the real reason for its threat. While such a concern dovetailed nicely with the mostly religious traditionalism of conservatism, the similarity stopped there. Falwell and company were not concerned about government spending per se, but about government spending on welfare, which they considered socially corrosive. But government spending on national defense appealed to them as necessary for the defense of a Christian nation against the godless Communist threat posed by the Soviet Union.

Ralph Reed, the head of the Christian Coalition, articulated a “religious conservatism,” but, besides being religious, it was difficult to see how it was conservative. Reed’s political heroes included the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Social Gospel, and William Jennings Bryan (134). For Reed, being “religious” was all one needed to be “conservative.” Lacking was a deeper introspection into Christian doctrine and its implications for political activism.

In the next post, we’ll move to Hart’s discussion of “compassionate conservatism” and the Religious Left.

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Classical Liberalism is Political, Conservatism is Not (Part Two)

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” The problem with any society is that there will always be disagreement between its members and these conflicts may or may not be political in form (politics again defined as the legal structure and power structures). Perhaps the fundamental question is how to structure society.

Such fundamentals are of course the great strength of libertarian and classical liberal arguments. We / they want a government to be neutral, to not pick favorites, to allow the best to survive and the rest to drop away. The arguments are fairly consistent and there is no need to go into detail here. I am not naive enough to believe that those who wield power will ever be perfectly neutral and disinterested umpires but this is a goal we should strive for nonetheless.

 

Classical liberals need no further convincing here. Bastiat, Hayek, Friedman and Hazlit are sufficient. The case needs to be made that conservatives should also struggle for such an open and free system. There are two important reasons why conservatives too should seek a classical liberal society. One is that, as libertarians are eager to point out, once conservatism becomes politicized it becomes dogmatic and, in a certain sense, authoritarian. (I admit that there is a liberal metaphysical assumption at work here; that the initiation of force is illegitimate unless used in self defense. I would guess though that the foundations of this assumption need not be defended here.) The point here is that those who seek political power ultimately seek the use of force to impose themselves on others. It does not matter if he is protecting the family or the proletariat.

 

The second reason to fight for classical liberalism is that in a relatively neutral system (which we do not have; the progressives are winning) the conservative way of living and thinking will be triumphant. If the nuclear family is so much more stable and successful than the various alternatives being put forward (which I believe it is) we have nothing to fear from our intellectual and ideological opponents. This assumes that the fight is fair which it has not been since at least the 1960s (in the social sphere). But then again the fight against government intrusion is more convincingly made by a libertarian than a social conservative.

 

Of course I have just argued, in a very superficial and probably less-than-convincing manner that there is little to no space for conservatives in politics. This site is dedicated to thinking about the big conservative (whatever that means) party in the United States. As such there are a few clarifications and caveats that need to be explained.

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Classical Liberalism is Political, Conservatism is Not (Part One)

I believe the conservatives (I imagine those conservatives who visit this site) and classical liberals are natural allies. I also believe that the problems they have with each other are not the result of any natural incompatability but rather arise as a result of speaking at cross purposes.

 

Truth be told it seems to me that the best sort of conservatism (there are plenty of bad varieties) is not actually a political ideology whereas the best sort of (classical) liberalism is a political ideology only. Before I go into more detail let me state that when I speak of politics here I am speaking of power structures and legal regimes. These are the things that actual politicians can modify, create and destroy. I undertake a political act when I pay my taxes, not when I donate to my favorite charity. A home owners association is a political unit. The family (far more important) is not. (Unless we are speaking of parental authority over children which is a power structure strictly speaking.)

 

This political science type definition of politics may be problematic to some but it is important if I am to illuminate what I take to be the real relationship and distinction between conservatism and classical liberalism. Conservatives have no real political views. When they do they become, in the worst case scenario, dogmatic and domineering ideologues. The stereotypes of reactionary priests and kings become true. Classical liberals are supposed to limit themselves to purely political (essentially legal) considerations. When they do not they become, in the worst case scenario, moral relativists and post-modernists. The stereotypes of the confused and disoriented nihilists become true.

 

This is not to say that conservatives should step out of the political realm or not care about the rules by which society is governed and structured. It is merely to say (broadly speaking) that as an ideology conservatism is not meant to be exercised primarily in this field. (Where it is to be exercised I will discuss at a later point.) The point here is that liberalism offers a real political system. When done properly it is very systematic and principled but actually offers real answers. (More on that next.)

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“Beyond the GOP” in 2014

Dear readers of Beyond the GOP,

Ever since the first conception of this blog, the administrators of Beyond the GOP have experimented with many different approaches in an effort to find a distinctive voice. The process has been one of continued gradual refinement of the blog’s original purpose as the editorial staff has continually attempted to find a balance between developing a unique, coherent voice for the blog as a whole while still remaining true to the original mission of allowing for a proliferation of various strands of traditionalist and libertarian thought that we feel are underrepresented in both academic and popular “conservative” discourse.

Due to this continued process of refinement, as well as recent personnel changes, Beyond the GOP will undergo a significant change of direction in 2014. Rather than aiming for a few contributions by a wide array of diverse contributors, we will focus on having more consistent production from a few key contributors who share more of a common vision for the blog. At the same time, Beyond the GOP will begin to focus more attention on two issues which the editorial board feels makes our site unique: 1) the necessity of achieving some degree of cultural redemption before substantive conservative policy goals can be made tenable, and 2)the attempt to elucidate the areas of continuity between historically-minded traditionalism and small-l libertarianism. On this latter category, there are, of course, major areas of philosophical discordance which should not be glossed over, least of all on this blog. However, to the extent that both traditionalist conservatism and anti-statist individualism are both existentially threatened by the burgeoning federal Leviathan, both of these intellectual camps have more reason to make common cause with one another than either does with the mainstream contemporary Republican Party.

The intention here is to focus once again on the absolute need for conservatives to look “beyond the GOP” if they want to ever present the American populace with a true alternative to the growing power of the federal state and the continual erosion of the cultural inheritance and political institutions that together make individual liberty possible.

We are still in the process of determining the final lineup of regular contributors for the next adaptation of Beyond the GOP, but our hope is to add one or more new authors, including at least one coming from a more libertarian or classically liberal perspective.

My deepest gratitude go out to all the friends, readers, and fellow bloggers that have made Beyond the GOP’s first full year such a surprising success. I personally feel deeply indebted to all of the many varied contributors who gave up so much more than their time and energy.

Yours in liberty,

Benjamin David

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November 22, 1963: JFK, CS Lewis, and Aldous Huxley, Rest in Peace

John F. Kennedy, CS Lewis, and Aldous Huxley all died on November 22, 1963, fifty years ago yesterday. The Federalist has a nice article on the juxtaposition of the first two luminaries. Naturally, the assassination of a president received much more attention than the death of an admittedly quite famous Cambridge academic. He had graced the cover of Time Magazine in 1947 and his book sales were remarkably high. Huxley is most famous for his dystopian novel Brave New World, which explores the potential of a future where capitalism has given us everything we want, and what we want enslaves us. However, in hindsight, it may be Lewis who is the most significant figure of them all in terms of influence. Author Stella Morabito writes,

The coincidence of JFK and C.S. Lewis dying on the same day gives us a lot to ponder. Many people mourned and adored Kennedy for his worldly glory, his seemingly superhuman qualities – brilliance, style, good looks, and being “Mr. Camelot” himself. By contrast, Lewis, the stodgy looking medievalist at Oxford, would have been the actual specialist on the legends of Camelot, and the enchantment it holds for us. But Lewis also might have reminded all who mourn that they are really yearning for something else: an eternal glory.

Kennedy, whatever his popularity at the time, entered a half century of semi-divine status. He was revered and loved. His Camelot metaphor maintained a mythical hold on the American imagination, at least in terms of its memory of him. Lewis’s popularity waned after his death, but revived in the 1970s due to various developments within American Protestantism as well as a resurgence in interest in his Narnian children’s stories, widely regarded as the finest children’s stories of the twentieth century. Since then his fame has only grown. In 2011, the British Royal Mail released eight stamps, each celebrating a mythical character from British literature. Two were dedicated to Narnia characters, Aslan and the White Witch.  It’s not just his influence but his wisdom and intellectual respectability that have received additional attention.

The fact is that so many of Lewis’s insights on human folly and the nature of evil are in brisk circulation, very readable, compelling, and potentially life transforming to whomever may stumble upon them.

While Huxley’s dystopian future was imaginatively frightening, it is Lewis’s analysis that has been much more prescient:

And today people are more frequently consulting Lewis’s 1943 lecture “The Abolition of Man” because it’s so breathtaking in its prescience. In it Lewis warns about the debunking of objective reality in education, which amounts to the mocking of virtue and honor. This opens the door to abuses in technologies that doom our humanity. So we end up clamoring “for those very qualities we are rendering impossible.” He illustrates the irony and madness of it all with this splendid line: “We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

He makes the identical point in his dystopian novel That Hideous Strength, which has often been compared to Huxley’s for its critique of modern social engineering.

For the 50th anniversary of his death, acclaimed theologian Alister McGrath published a new biography, C.S. Lewis: A Life, incorporating new archival material into his study (including a recently discovered letter from Lewis to the Swedish Academy recommending JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings for the Nobel Prize). This year McGrath also published The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis, a collection of eight previously unpublished academic essays exploring various aspects of CS Lewis’s work, including his conception of myth, use of ocular as opposed to auditory metaphors in his work, and curiosities associated with his autobiography Surprised by Joy. Both books are a joy to read and an important insight into the life and mind of an extraordinary man who we remember today, fifty years after his death.
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Conservatives in 2014!!

In yet another example of the decay of time-tested social and cultural institutions as a consequence of conservatives dropping the ball, now that Syria is put on the backburner, we get an opportunity to tackle the President’s domestic agenda. But, it is a domestic agenda that has been eclipsed by foreign policy maneuvers. Although the domestic issues (budget, immigration and a federal reserve bank chairman) can return to to the forefront as a result of the President’s speech to postpone a congressional vote on a Syria strike in favor of a diplomatic solution; an immediate effect is confusion and a reduction in credibility with regional allies. Fellow conservatives, have no fear: Syria will still cost the left.

Although the Obama administration’s Syria media campaign provides a useful template in order to pursue his domestic policy goals, conservatives should not get their pants in a bunch. The administration has expended energy and resources to sell this foreign policy proposal, which has gotten in the way of his domestic goals. That should provide conservatives with some relief before the country gears up for the domestic battle ahead in which the standard-bearers for small government have no strategy to preserve what is left of said small government, as some of its members get boiled in kettles of controversy which threaten to take down the party from the inside.

Be that as it may, conservatives, libertarians, and other lovers of liberty and tradition (even RINOs) should not worry, because the the roadblocks and barriers to his domestic agenda are plentiful, as he turns his attention back to his plans for this country. His agenda is plain to see; the mess of problems that is liberalism is something conservatives can focus on when they challenge the left’s domestic dreams.

The president faces several institutional and socio-political barriers and constraints as he turns to his domestic agenda, which should please conservatives. First, he faces a Congress controlled by a party with a faction which opposes his policies and will go to great lengths (i.e., government shutdown) and an intraparty war in order to see that his policies do not become the laws of the land. Second, while polls show that the American people want domestic policy proposals, the president is running into the possibility that he will have reduced power to enact his agenda as a result of his “lame duck” status, which increases the slope of his uphill battle. This is because a) he has devoted and diverted extensive energy and resources expended on a military intervention the American public does not want, that his party does not want, and that this Congress does not want; and, b) there is a Republican Party in control of the House of Representatives that will battle him over the budget and repeal his health care reform bill during upcoming political battles between these clashing institutional actors. While he may want to swerve toward domestic priorities, the amount on his plate may be too much for him to handle, especially as the 2014 midterm elections approach. And 2014 is where the fire that is conservative hope blazes brightest.

As the administration and the Democratic Party gear up for a midterm election that Obama has said is crucial and to which he is devoting substantial resources, the Republican Party has introduced legislation which puts the screws to the Democrats by targeting health care reform while avoiding a government shutdown, taking ground in the domestic policy debate as the two major parties react to and capitalize on a political dead ball to gain an advantage in the upcoming elections; state party Republican infighting raises questions about the possibility of a unified party that can win back the Senate and maintain the House in 2014, and a grassroots conservative movement that is active and ready to turnout in 2014; conservatives are working to replace incumbent Republicans in an effort to bring conservatives back to power in the GOP by repeating history(?) and battle this latest iteration of liberalism, the ideology they’ve been battling since the beginning of time.

History of Conservatism

It is an exciting time to be a conservative. We are witnesses to a liberal domestic agenda losing steam as a foreign policy blunder sapped this administration and its party of the resources it needs to meet those goals. We are witnesses a conservative insurgency in the Republican Party which is pressuring establishment Republicans to vote on policy based on conservative principles and is ready to hold them acountable in November. We are witnesses to a renaissance within the Republican Party that has the potential to rekindle the lineage that extends from Reagan to Goldwater up to Taft and beyond, which will reconnect us to tradition and history so that this country can regain access to and profit from “…the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.” in an opportunity to once again stand athwart history yelling stop against the liberal onslaught that continues to cause this country to aimlessly drift.

so, c’mon conservatives: let’s get better!

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NCIS Season 11 – the departure of Ziva David and Cheers for the National Security State

For NCIS fans, the season premiere looks great. As most people (who a) care and/or b) watch the show) probably know, Cote de Pablo is leaving NCIS. In what looks to be an exciting and awesome premiere, an explosion will occur, someone will die and Gibbs comes out looking good — in other words, just another stellar episode in the series that gave us Colin Hanks playing a Dick (Parsons, that is).

Regardless of your opinion of them, everyone should tune in to NCIS to learn the answer to that burning question: what will happen between Anthony DiNozzo and Ziva David? Tune into the season premiere, and you will find out.

So as we are busy here at beyondthegop analyzing, interpreting, explaining and debating the contours, fissures, and peaks and dips of the modern liberal state, don’t forget about the thing that makes this country awesome: great television celebrating public order, moral clarity, law enforcement bureaucracy and the concept of the national security state in a fearful and eternal fight against bad guys.

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Syria and the Bankruptcy of Liberal Universalism

President Obama and his cabinet officers are campaigning to secure support for a military strike against Syria. If he succeeds he will overturn precedent and make sovereignty obsolete in a perversion of America’s political system through an “inevitable mess” which at best weakens our national security, while at worst risks spiraling us into an epic political crisis. In other words, it’s not worth it.

The President is encountering skeptics within his own support base, among members of Congress (his institutional co-equal), a divided international community and a public that is tired of war, as he and his administration maintain a strong media campaign to make their case and generate support for a strike. Regardless of the outcome, the Syria issue will likely have repercussions for President Obama’s domestic agenda in his apparent repeat of history. Syria would be an addition to numerous events which have developed into a cascading force which overshadows his domestic policy goals.

Of particular interest to the bloggers at and audience of beyondthegop.com is the conservative skepticism toward the call for action against Syria. Members of the contemporary Old Right are thrown together with neoconservatives, Tea Partiers, the public and members of the establishment left in an ad hoc opposition movement that cuts across party lines and ideological boundaries. As the full-court press against the media continues, the American public (and its government) is left wondering who the war is for.

An American strike against Syria will wreck the very liberal values and norms that modern liberals hold close to their hearts. The media campaign, the domestic political risks and the divided international community belie the credibility and the sustainability of the “liberal world order” which America currently maintains. President Obama’s case for intervention – his attempt to defend the norms of liberalism – in Syria demonstrates that liberalism is sick and it is dying. This disease is terminal and is the most recent symptom of liberalism’s crisis and imminent death.

As Congress continues to postpone a vote on a policy which most members of the two legislative bodies do not support (partially consistent with a public opposition to military intervention), the Obama administration and other actors (specifically Russia and Syria) consider diplomatic alternatives to avoid a US military strike and resolve the problem peacefully (i.e., through the transfer of Syrian chemical weapons into international control, a proposal that has met political and logistical problems).

While the United States weighs the possible benefits and costs of turning enemies into friends, we should take a step back and consider the bigger picture: liberalism is dying, and a military intervention into Syria may just be the push it needs into the coffin.

Categories: Checks and Balances, Constitutional Law, Ideology, The Constitution, Tyranny, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Guardians of the Word: Conservatism and Academic Freedom

Check out this journal article, “Guardians of the Word: Kirk, Buckley, and the Conservative Struggle with Academic Freedom,” in the new issue of Humanitas. I take a look at the views on academic freedom from two of the most prominent conservative intellectuals of the last century, William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk, and compare them, arguing that Kirk presents the opinion more consistent with traditionalist conservatism and that Buckley takes a position similar to his liberal detractors.

Buckley’s position on academic freedom is well-known–God and Man at Yale catapulted the twenty-five year old into the public spotlight—but Kirk’s position, as articulated in Academic Freedom: An Essay in Definition, is not. I think it’s a pity. He offers a fascinating take on academic freedom and demonstrates how the practice arose from humanity’s long search for truth. Kirk describes scholars as “Guardians of the Word,” seekers of truth who do not bow to political or social pressure. The role of the academy is to provide an environment conducive to this search. But unlike the unidirectional progressive argument which understands the above sentences only in terms of liberals and radicals challenging the status quo, Kirk explains the complexity of this search. He defends the role of liberals, those who challenge the prevailing view, and conservatives, those who work to preserve and pass on the enormous “bank and capital of nations and of ages.” Kirk writes,

[B]oth the conservative bent and the liberal bent should not only be tolerated, but encouraged. If there were no liberals, we should find it necessary to invent some; if there were no conservatives—but perish that thought. (AC, 159)

The dialectic between these two positions allows for true progress, the growth of tradition. It’s a nuanced argument and deserves a hearing.

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Will the Beauty of the Ages Be Food for the Creditors?

A news story that has a personal touch for me – the bankruptcy of Detroit (I am from the the mitten)
Michigan
Detroit declared bankruptcy on July 18, 2013. Detroit’s debt exceeds $18 billion. As storied a history as the city has, it is unfortunate that it has decayed so greatly since its World War II prominence

Detroit - Arsenal of Democracy

Detroit bankrupt

One of the institutions caught in the middle of the bankruptcy is the Detroit Institute of Arts. This renowned museum risks losing much of its collection in order for Detroit to repay its creditors. The auction house Christie’s will appraise an expected 3,500 of the museum’s 60,000+ pieces for the possible sale to creditors. This possibility has already had effects in the region, as Oakland County has voted to treat any attempt to raise money for creditors through an art sale as grounds to terminate its financial support of the museum.

Even though the Michigan Attorney General has said that the art can’t be sold, this has not stopped a very rich debate over what should happen to the art from taking place.

So, should the art be sold or not? Does the city’s debt require (and should it be) that the art museum’s collection be sold to pay off the city’s debt? Or can (and should) the art work be protected from being sold off? Do the rules of the market apply to this stuff – these commodities – or is art work in a museum a type of thing that is immune or outside of the boundaries of the rules of the market? It’s an old old debate made new.

Categories: Atomism, Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Federalism, Ideology, Libertarianism, Localism, Traditionalism | Leave a comment

“When You’re Here, You’re . . . . Here”

Apparently I am about ten years behind the times, and Olive Garden seems to have recently made the same realization that I did.  In my last post I commented on the growing trend in America of fast-food chains, corporate restaurants, and the frozen food section replacing the age-old tradition of families enjoying home-cooked meals together.  However, it would seem that encouraging families to cook and eat together is passé.  The nuclear family is already dead, and Olive Garden is capitalizing on this knowledge to launch a new ad campaign.  Instead of their 14-year old slogan, “When You’re Here, You’re Family,” which sounds oppressively family-centric, Olive Garden is choosing a more inclusive and no-nonsense slogan: “Go Olive Garden.”

If it sounds more like a football rallying cry, that’s probably no accident.  Olive Garden, or rather its ad agency, seems to believe, and perhaps rightfully so, that we have moved beyond even the nostalgic longing for family gatherings around the dinner table. Harkening back to that time in our history will no longer have the emotional effect that once caused us to pull out our wallets.  Olive Garden, like me, may have been slow on the uptake, but it is trying to revamp its image, starting with a new television ad voiced by Modern Family’s Julie Bowen—an appropriate spokeswoman for the dysfunctional family.

Unfortunately, while some news outlets have criticized the new slogan as “something awful,”[1] they have missed the deeper point and  interpret the change simply as Olive Garden “freshening up” its image and catering to the average American’s “hectic” life.  Unlike Michelle Obama, we ought not be so hasty in our praise of the corporation.[2]

Now in order to appeal to the “modern family,” the family element must be removed.  As the new Olive Garden ad illustrates, the scenes that strike a chord in the hearts of Americans are women striking yoga poses, an ethnically diverse group of friends taking pictures of themselves with a smartphone, and Vespas.  This postmodern montage of the happy, socially atomistic, and “hectic” American life is lacking, interestingly, images of these people actually eating together—what we presumably would go to Olive Garden to do.  This is not insignificant.  Olive Garden recognizes that it can’t have it both ways—the picture of mealtime in the “hectic” American life is not a pretty one.  The only people who regularly gather around a dinner table together are, let’s face it, families.  Since this image no longer resonates with Americans, the ad simply puts together piecemeal images of hip yoga poses and ice-skating and then flashes us dishes of food in the hope that we’ll emotionally link the two and decide to eat at Olive Garden.

This truly has the potential to be an effective ad campaign.  We are made to feel that the “modern” American life is a happy one, in all of its disjointed social atomism.  At the same time, we are made to forget that mealtime has become a solitary and hurried affair, lacking in any purpose beyond getting it done as quickly and cheaply as possible. And indeed, who needs to gather and share life’s joys in happy moments around the dinner table when we have gladly replaced this age-old experience with a the ability to perfectly perform the downward facing dog.

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Misconceptions? What Misconceptions?

Ben has written a provocative post which challenges the conventional wisdom that is hammered into our heads in grade school and celebrated by every pundit, pundette and person in America. He takes on the reading of the Declaration that we received from Lincoln, who famously immortalized it in his Gettysburg Address of November 19, 1863.

To close his post, he asks the readers of this blog

So, once again, my question for the reader: when you celebrate the Declaration of Independence this 4th of July, exactly what are you celebrating? Is it the Declaration of state sovereignty, historical particularity, and continuity with the past? Or is it the Declaration of the American “nation,” universal abstraction, and revolution? I’m afraid I already know the answer.

My answer is that I celebrate the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. Contrary to Ben, I think that Lincoln’s Declaration is continuous with the Founders’ Declaration. I think it is his interpretation of the Declaration and of Lincoln that are misguided.

Ben advocates a compact theory of constitutional development; I think that the compact theory is wrong. Lincoln was correct to argue that the nation predates the individual states. Daniel Webster eloquently describes the type of relationship upon which this nation was built – and which Lincoln correctly, in my view, defended at Gettysburg – in his second reply to Senator Hayne. It is not a compact between states.

When the gentleman says the Constitution is a compact between the States, he uses language exactly applicable to the old Confederation. He speaks as if he were in Congress before 1789. He describes fully that old state of things then existing. The Confederation was, in strictness, a compact; the States, as States, were parties to it. We had no other general government. But that was found insufficient, and inadequate to the public exigencies. The people were not satisfied with it, and undertook to establish a better. They undertook to form a general government, which should stand on a new basis; not a confederacy, not a league, not a compact between States, but a Constitution; a popular government, founded in popular election, directly responsible to the people themselves, and divided into branches with prescribed limits of power, and prescribed duties. They ordained such a government, they gave it the name of a Constitution, and therein they established a distribution of powers between this, their general government, and their several State governments. When they shall become dissatisfied with this distribution, they can alter it. Their own power over their own instrument remains. But until they shall alter it, it must stand as their will, and is equally binding on the general government and on the States.

The gentleman, Sir, finds analogy where I see none. He likens it to the case of a treaty, in which, there being no common superior, each party must interpret for itself, under its own obligation of good faith. But this is not a treaty, but a constitution of government, with powers to execute itself, and fulfil its duties.

Ben claims that there is no evidence that the states viewed themselves in the way Lincoln viewed them. Yes, there is evidence of the shared view. The legislators and jurists during the founding era shared this proto-Lincolnian view of constitutional development. If Ben were correct in his view of the relationship between the states and the federal government, then Georgia would have won. But it didn’t. While the myth of the compact is alive and well, the accumulation of history points to a union “of the people, by the people, for the people” – not of, by and for individual, voluntary states.

Moving on, Ben attempts to refute Lincoln’s alleged claim that we were a nation founded upon universal truths and abstract rights. He claims that the Founding Fathers held a contrary view. I disagree with that claim and Lincoln did, too. I don’t mean to be flippant, but I don’t have a problem with an interpretation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution which outlaws slavery of African-Americans. And I don’t see why (other) conservatives would or should have a problem with that interpretation Lincoln left us. That said, I’m open to being persuaded.

I don’t disagree with Ben that Lincoln believed that the Declaration was enshrined with abstract truths or rights. But I think to stop there, as Ben seems to, presents a misleading portrait of Lincoln.

I don’t think that Lincoln was the radical, abstract, history-and-tradition-dismissing statesman that Ben seems to suggest. Reading Lincoln in context (biographically and philosophically), I think it is clear that he has a narrow understanding of this right of equality. It is an understanding that does not assume that everyone will enjoy equality or that the government will force everyone to be equal – as actual Jacobins may believe; but, only that the founders “declare[d]“ that the right of equality exists. And his argument is specific to the historical crisis against which Lincoln stood. Lincoln makes it very clear in his speeches and letters – and his biography provides further evidence – that in his argument in favor of a right to equality he is he is speaking about and against slavery. Lincoln was historically aware and recognized the continuity between the views of the Founders and his own.

Finally, Lincoln is a conservative. He said so himself. He is a conservative cut from the type of cloth that those of us at beyondthegop are cut from.

We conservatives can learn a lot from Lincoln. We should take a moment to examine the historical context in which he developed, advocated and implemented his constitutional views, rather than paying lip service to history. His writings demonstrate that had deep respect for the Founding, the Constitution and the republican experiment that the American Revolution launched.

A revolution that was, contrary to the typical conservative interpretation (including Ben’s), a radical event. Gordon Wood corrects this misunderstanding in his Pulitzer Prize winning book

If we measure the radicalism of revolutions by the degree of social misery or economic deprivation suffered, or by the number of people killed or manor houses burned, then this conventional emphasis on the conservatism of the American Revolution becomes true enough. But if we measure the radicalism by the amount of social change that actually took place–by the transformations in the relationships that bound people to each other–then the American Revolution was not conservative at all; on the contrary: it was as radical and as revolutionary as any in history. Of course, the American Revolution was very different from other revolutions. But it was no less radical and no less social for being different. In fact, it was one of the greatest revolutions the world has known, a momentous upheaval that not only fundamentally altered the character of American society but decisively affected the course of subsequent history.

Which Declaration do you support? The Declaration of history or the Declaration of Lincoln?

From Dred Scott

In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.

A Lincolnian declamation(?)

 

Categories: Declaration of Independence, Federalism, Ideology, Secession, The Constitution, Tyranny | 1 Comment

Three Misconceptions about the Declaration of Independence

“The Gettysburg Address has become an authoritative expression of the American spirit — as authoritative as the Declaration itself, and perhaps even more influential, since it determines how we read the Declaration.”– Garry Wills

——-

Americans have always celebrated Independence Day as an important moment in the development of the American character. Still, I wonder if Americans today don’t have a radically different understanding of the Declaration of Independence than earlier generations did. Indeed, the original meaning of the Declaration seems to have been eclipsed by subsequent events. In particular one could argue, as Gary Wills does, that Americans understand July 4, 1776 through the lens of November 19, 1863- the date of Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.”

That short speech has become a fixed part of the American psyche and I would argue that we are worse off for it. In those 10 sentences lie not only the foundational elements of Lincoln’s political thought, but also a blueprint for a drastic recasting of the American constitutional order. So, on this Independence Day, I would ask the reader to take a moment to consider exactly which “Declaration of Independence” it is that we are celebrating- is it the “Declaration” of Lincoln or that of the Founders? For the two are wholly incompatible.

——-

Much of what Lincoln says in the Gettysburg Address can be seen as a direct commentary on the Declaration. Notably, it is the Declaration and not the United States Constitution that Lincoln sees as the centerpiece of the American political order. There are three underlying principles of Lincoln’s political thought that can be drawn out through a close examination of the Address, and all have to deal, more or less directly, with his peculiar interpretation of the Declaration:

1) America was founded, as a “nation”, in 1776.

2) America has been, since its inception, established upon universal truths.

3) America is, at its heart, revolutionary.

These propositions deserve individual treatment. Each of them represents not only a misunderstanding of American history, but a deeply flawed political theory. And each of them has been increasingly accepted by each subsequent generation of Americans.

——-

1) America was founded, as a “nation”, in 1776.

The line “four score and seven years ago” points back, from 1863, to the year 1776 and not, as one might expect when talking about the founding of America, to the ratification of the Constitution. Lincoln has two reasons for emphasizing the Declaration over the Constitution: one philosophical, to be discussed in the following section, and one practical, based on Lincoln’s historical understanding of the American founding.

To Lincoln, the issuance of the Declaration of Independence symbolized an era of pre-Constitutional national unity: the American colonies were engaged in a united struggle against British rule and joined together to collectively announce their new identity as a nation. Lincoln saw this moment as the precise beginning of the national American government.

Advancing this theory of the founding was absolutely critical for Lincoln. He was fighting a war against a Southern polity that was premised around an opposite conceptualization of the founding. The Southern states considered themselves to be sovereign nations in their own right and parties to a “compact.” This “Compact Theory” of the Constitution posited that the 13 original states, after they had won their own individual independence from Britain in the Revolutionary War, had then only surrendered a portion of their sovereignty to the national government in ratifying the Constitution. As sovereign states, they had as much a right to withdraw from that compact as the modern US does to leave the United Nations.

Lincoln’s narrative precluded such an argument. If the American nation- starting with the Declaration- was historically prior to the states as political entities, then any efforts to reclaim a state’s residual sovereignty were invalid attempts to get in between the “American people”- considered in the aggregate- and their government. As a rhetorical ploy, Lincoln’s narrative works well; the only problem with it is that it is not supported by the historical record. The Declaration did not symbolize the birth of any pre-constitutional American “nation,” chiefly because, just as the states were engaged in fighting their own wars for independence, they authorized their own declarations for independence as well. By July 4, 1776, delegates to the Continental Congress from 12 of the 13 colonies had already received prior authorization by their state governments to declare independence. The delegates from New York had not been authorized by their state legislature to vote in favor of independence and thus abstained from voting until weeks later. Even though the states collaborated with one another in fighting for, and declaring, their independence, there is absolutely no historical evidence that they saw themselves as comprising a singular “nation” in the sense Lincoln used the word.

2) America was, at its inception, built upon universal truths.

Lincoln’s reliance upon the Declaration of Independence was also due to the fact that the Declaration, unlike the Constitution, easily lends itself to a political theory based on abstract, universal principals. Lincoln wrote in 1859 that the Declaration put forth “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times.” In the same letter, Lincoln goes on to write that the “principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society.” In the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Lincoln claimed that the writers of the Declaration “meant to get up a standard maxim for free society…. which declares that ‘all men are created equal.’”

To see the Declaration as advancing this kind of timeless principle is perhaps even more common today than in Lincoln’s time, but it is nonetheless a very flawed reading of the text. For one thing, once the reader gets past the first four sentences of the Declaration (if the reader gets past the first four sentences of the Declaration), it becomes very clear that the author is much less interested in the kind of “standard maxim for a free society” that Lincoln is advocating. Rather, the reader finds a laundry list of violations of the traditional British common law. In other words, the Declaration of Independence is very much bound to its own historical setting. The great conservative scholar M.E. Bradford picks up on this, arguing that “to anyone familiar with English letters and the English mind in the 17th and 18thcenturies, the Declaration of Independence is clearly a document produced out of the mores majorum- legal, rhetorical, poetic- and not a piece of reasoning or systematic truth.”

3) America is, at its heart, revolutionary.

So Lincoln’s conception of the Declaration as a work of abstract philosophy is, once again, based on bad history. Yet there is an even more dangerous consequence of Lincoln’s reliance on universal principles. Implicit in basing a political theory on abstract philosophical principles is a belief that society must be constituted upon those principles and that any society that is not must be replaced.

To this effect, Lincoln spoke repeatedly throughout his career about the need for a “new act of founding” which could potentially undo the damage done by the ratification of the Constitution and return the country to the principles embodied in the Declaration. His entire conception of America as being a “new nation” recently “conceived” demonstrates the extent to which he saw 1776 as a radical break from the past. Yet how closely does this conform to the historical record? Exactly how “revolutionary” was the Revolutionary War? It certainly didn’t uproot the social hierarchy or even drastically alter the political and legal institutions that made up colonial America. In other words, the American “Revolution” was not “revolutionary” at all- at least not in comparison to those historical revolutions which have truly been based upon abstract, universal principles.

Nevertheless, in spite of his status as a recent conservative icon, Lincoln’s political theory celebrates radical, truly revolutionary political change. Indeed, this approach of leveling society and then rebuilding it to conform to a set of abstract philosophical principles has always been the foundation of every revolutionary political ideology: from Plato on down through Rousseau and the French Jacobins, and then up to the modern revolutionary crisis with Marx, the story remains the same. Lincoln, however pleasant his “universal principles” might sound to the modern ear, was willing to do incredible things in order to conform America to the abstract vision in his head. Just how far he was willing to go is up for debate. But a hard look at the historical record leaves Lincoln looking more like a revolutionary than a conservative, despite modern attempts by “conservatives” to appropriate him.

——-

Each of these political principles appears as a factual proposition. As a historical matter, each of these propositions proves false. As a matter of political theory, each of the propositions lends itself to very dangerous results. Whatever the Revolutionary War and the original Declaration of Independence might have lacked as “revolutionary” political actions- with the word “revolutionary” understood in its most radical and deadliest sense- has been compensated for tenfold by the revolution that followed directly from Lincoln’s vision of America.

So, once again, my question for the reader: when you celebrate the Declaration of Independence this 4th of July, exactly what are you celebrating? Is it the Declaration of state sovereignty, historical particularity, and continuity with the past? Or is it the Declaration of the American “nation,” universal abstraction, and revolution? I’m afraid I already know the answer.

Categories: Declaration of Independence, Federalism, Ideology, Secession, The Constitution | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

The Question of Standing in United States vs. Windsor

Amid all of the hyperbole on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate in the wake of the Court’s ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, one of the most interesting legal aspects of the case has gone unnoticed. While Justice Scalia’s dissent (found here, starting at page 34 of 77) gained some traction in conservative circles for calling the majority opinion “legalistic argle-bargle” and accusing the majority of portraying opponents of gay marriage as “hostes humani generis” (that is to say, “enemies of the human race”), the real thrust of his legal argument has largely been ignored. Perhaps this is partially because questions of legal standing require an intermediate level of understanding of how the Supreme Court operates, while most political commentators and armchair critics of the Court have only an elementary understanding. But I think part of it also has to do with the fault that “conservatives” are often just as guilty of misunderstanding the role of the Court in the way Scalia describes.

Scalia argues that, since there was no legal controversy at stake- inasmuch as the Department of Justice and the plaintiff both were seeking the same result and the plaintiff’s legitimate financial injury had been cured by the lower court’s ruling- the Supreme Court had no standing to hear the case at all. Since the Court has been empowered by the Constitution with the “Judicial Power” to decide “Cases” and “Controversies” that arise before the Court, the Court must restrict itself to actual legal controversies and not cast itself as the branch charged with “answering” any and all constitutional questions. Viewed in this light, the “case” of United States v. Windsor seems to have been, at best, a manufactured controversy by the time it reached the Supreme Court, however much it may have been hotly contested at its inception.

In addressing the conditions under which the Court can review a law’s constitutionality, Scalia writes that:

“We can do so only when that allegation will determine the outcome of a lawsuit, and is contradicted by the other party. The “judicial Power” is not, as the majority believes, the power “‘to say what the law is,’”… giving the Supreme Court the “primary role in determining the constitutionality of laws”…. In other words, declaring the compatibility of state or federal laws with the Constitution is not only not the “primary role” of this Court, it is not a separate, free-standing role at all. We perform that role incidentally—by accident, as it were—when that is necessary to resolve the dispute before us.”

In analyzing this legal argument, I will go ahead and admit, first off, that I am no legal expert.[1] I will also go ahead and admit that I am not usually a big fan of Justice Scalia. I believe that he, like every other member of the Court, is willing to twist the plain meaning of the text of the Constitution to fit his own political objectives. That being said, I think he is absolutely right in this case. Not on policy grounds, necessarily, but certainly on legal grounds.

Admittedly, this quibbling over whether a case is adequately disputed might seem rather trivial to those who assume the predominant modern view of the role of the Court in the U.S. constitutional framework. If the Court is charged with being the final arbiter of all constitutional questions, then restricting it to answering actual legal “cases” and “controversies” seems to pointlessly impede the Court in performing its most indispensable function.

On the other hand, if the function of the Court is merely to be the chief judicial body, as the wording of Article III would imply,[2] then it is perfectly reasonable to expect the Court to restrain itself from weighing in on any constitutional questions beyond the scope of the particular legal controversy immediately before it. For one thing, expecting it to be the final voice on the constitution turns it into a political, as well as judicial, organ. Furthermore, our current method of conflating the two roles of “judicial authority” and “pseudo-constitutional policy makers” is not philosophically coherent and often lends itself to bad policy. The foundation of our legal system is based upon the ideal of a cold, impartial application of the law; introducing the roles of policy expert, legislator, and ethical philosopher can only serve to muddle the judicial process.

Acknowledging the judicial nature of the Court does not diminish the Court’s ability to strike down unconstitutional laws. In fact, the case of Marbury v. Madison which established judicial review remains a prime example of the type of legal controversy that the Court was meant to resolve. And if, in deciding a case, the Court should determine that an act of Congress goes beyond that branch’s constitutionally-proscribed boundaries, it certainly seems a legitimate use of the judicial power to declare that act null and void. But this cannot be the Court’s primary function. For if the Supreme Court is restricted to only addressing “cases” and “controversies” before it, then expecting it to somehow simultaneously manage to be the final, authoritative voice on any and all constitutional questions raises serious logistical questions. To expect this much from the Court would be wholly unrealistic and, if we take the language of Article III at face value, wholly opposite from the intention of the Framers.

Who, then, is capable of answering constitutional questions? I would posit that this function was meant to be shared by the three coequal branches of the federal government, as well as by the sovereign states that created that government as their agent. Admittedly, this solution does not give itself as easily to definitive, top-down solutions, but perhaps it shouldn’t. After all, how many Americans would trust the President or Congress to be the final interpreter of the Constitution, and in so doing provide a constitutional check on themselves? Why should we not limit the Supreme Court in the same way? Under such a polycentric system, the process of determining the constitutionality of an Act of Congress (or a decision by the Court, for that matter) will of course be a political one, but let’s not kid ourselves: so is the Supreme Court’s current method of deciding cases.

Hopefully by separating the Court’s political function from its judicial one, we can at least preserve the dignity of the latter. Until then, we’ll continue to get “legalistic argle-bargle” with an eye toward a particular policy objective. Since that seems to be what parades itself as “law” these days.


[1] My own abortive attempts at legal education will attest to this fact.

[2] Article III of the Constitution begins with “The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court…” (emphasis added)

Categories: Constitutional Law, The Constitution | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“When You’re Here, You’re Family”

There once was a time in America when the frozen food section didn’t supply the average shopper with all three meals—and everything in between.  There was a time before fast food “restaurants” and corporate chains bombarded us at every turn with catchy, sensory, and sentimental advertisements convincing us that their food is a taste of home.  I can’t help but think that the rise in convenience foods, fast food, and restaurant chains must be linked to greater social and cultural phenomena.  It is nothing short of eerie to see the latest ad campaigns with slogans like “see you tomorrow” (Applebee’s) and “come on home” (Hardee’s), displaying pictures of happy people—often groups of family and friends with huge plates of food and alcohol in front of them, laughing it up!

Most ads seem to try to appeal to what is hidden within us all: a yearning for good food and family or friends to share it with.  They harken back to the time when this was the norm.  If we look back just 60 years, we can find a time when families gathered around a table of home-cooked food, every day.  Granted, this was a time before gender roles started to change, and most women stayed at home, making it easier to spend hours in the kitchen—the time necessary to make quality meals from scratch.

As women started to work outside of the house full-time, enjoying homemade meals became less of the norm.  Cooking for a family of four every night of the week—or even most nights is not easy. It’s time-consuming and, after a long day of work in the office, physically demanding.  It also requires a great deal of planning ahead in order to avoid daily grocery-runs.  Perhaps that explains why only about 40% of Americans eat home cooked meals at least 6 nights a week.[1]

There is no question that pre-packaged and pre-made food saves hours of time spent in the kitchen, but for some, it still isn’t worth it.  The trade-off for saving time is meals that are often high in fat and sodium, a trademark of frozen and fast food, and contain a whole host of preservatives and additives, while lacking fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  The health benefits of cooking at home are just one reason to do so.  The effects of a fast-food nation, in every sense of the word, are far-reaching and complex.  Farmers, families, the land, our relationship with and understanding of the food we eat, and our heritage and traditions are all affected.

Dinner used to be more than a meal.  The preparation of it was not drudgery but an art that involved mother and children (and sometimes father too) and heirloom recipes.  Kids learned to cook meals that were traditional to the family heritage by watching and oftentimes helping mom do it.  They learned the repertoire and the staple ingredients and eventually could cook the meals themselves and pass on the family heritage.  Children learned what different foods were—in their whole form—and how to prepare them.  They developed palates that could appreciate home-cooked meals over mass-produced, flash frozen and reheated dishes at chain restaurants.  Preparation and meal-time was an opportunity for parents and children to gather and recount their day, especially all the mundane aspects.  Studies have actually shown that families who eat dinner together have stronger bonds, eat more nutritiously, are less likely to be overweight, and children are better adjusted and less likely to abuse alcohol or drugs.[2]  Now less than 50% of American families eat together just 4 nights a week. Less than 30% eat dinner together 7 nights a week.[3]

There used to be a time too when restaurants served home-cooked meals.  The Olive Garden and other such corporate restaurants would like you to believe that an Italian grandmother is back in the kitchen cooking up the vittles, but their meals are mass-produced and shipped frozen.  The only thing familial about Olive Garden is their advertising slogan: “When you’re here, you’re family.”  I doubt that the wait staff at Olive Garden feels like a part of my family as they grab my table’s plates from irritable, overworked and probably underpaid line-cooks.  At one time, restaurants represented regional and local cuisine and/or the owner’s particular culture and heritage.  One of the best ways to get to know a new city was by eating at the restaurants and experiencing the cuisine.  Now, one has to actively research and seek out the local places where family recipes are still used and still represent a distinct culture.

We must ask ourselves what is to become of a nation losing its cultural cuisine and identity?  Socially atomistic individuals eating a frozen dinner alone is not just a dreary thought, it is representative of much larger cultural decay.  When dinner (and many other once communal activities) becomes “every man for himself,” we must wonder if our political and legal institutions too will reflect that mantra.  Can these institutions, which arose during a time when family and community bonds were strong, survive the withering social ties?

Fortunately, people around the world are sensing the profound consequences of the loss of local cuisine. Slowfood is an international undertaking to revive the culture of food that once existed and is now suffering around the globe. “Locavore” recently became a popular word used to describe those who sought to grow and eat food locally, and the bumper sticker slogan “go local” also illustrates people trying to buck the corporate fast food trend. People attracted to the Slowfood movement and localism seem to understand the vast implications of what we are losing as a culture by turning over the art of cooking to corporate America.

Why does hardly anyone in America cook anymore?  We have made, it seems, the unconscious decision that the easy way is the better way, without realizing all we are losing by not cooking.  It is certainly possible to carve out the time to cook most meals at home and have the family gather around the table for just an hour or two a night. How do I know? Because despite her full-time job and busy schedule, my mother made it happen every night, and it is something for which I am forever grateful.

Categories: Atomism, Cultural renewal, Localism, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Like Harlots on a Piano

Today we are featuring a guest post from Wm. Samuel Bradford, who runs The Method Reader, where he examines the line between reality and fiction.

Disclaimer: What follows is a critique of feminism. I’m aware that getting a white guy to maneuver the intricacies of oppression is like one of those blind cave newts trying to cross a highway. Nonetheless, my goal is an impartial, balanced account, with all bloviations pierced and deflated, all privileges checked at the door. The last thing I want is to resemble recent Republican commentary on the issue of women’s rights, reminiscent of a pileup on the freeway. The force of impact from a chain reaction of bizarrely inaccurate remarks on the subjects of rape and basic anatomy results in near-fatal insertions of foot into mouth such that Q-tips have been issued to undergraduate political interns for the gentle swabbing of toe jam out of synaptic pathways.

The following story is true. I changed the names, and despite the inevitable interpolation in recalling decade-old dialogue, the gist is still there.

My first two semesters of college, I took Dr. M’s 17th and 20th century French literature courses. Twice a week the rest of the students and I sat around a Harkness table and fumbled through conversations in a language we didn’t know that well about a book we didn’t understand (or read to begin with). The perfunctory fumbling petered out after about twenty minutes, and the rest of the hour was mercifully filled by Dr. M, who, with impeccable French spoken in a long, unapologetic middle-Georgia accent, parsed the tenets of Cartesianism from a photo of one of Louis XIV’s chairs.

When Dr. M was awarded a research grant, he chose me from a pool of applicants for a research assistant position (my only distinguishing credentials included the ability to stay awake in class and once recognizing Irene Papas from a clip of Iphigenia). Dr. M. had dedicated thirty years of his life to the Mélusine manuscripts of Jean D’Arras, which is a medieval legend about a French fairy woman who could turn into a dragon. My mother, who wanted me to be a dentist, later bought me a butterfly net so that I could “go catch medieval fairies in the woods with Dr. M” as part of my “research” (her implied quotation marks).

He had already done the grunt-work: trips to French monasteries, bargaining with librarians, amassing a small mountain of microfilm slides printed from photocopied manuscripts. He had a draft of his book, which was to be a critical bilingual edition of the legend. The problem was that the printed microfilm photos of the manuscript were too small to decipher. He had a system of arranging two magnifying glasses in front of the paper in order to proofread his transcriptions. We had to be careful not to work in direct sunlight, for fear of fire. He wanted me to align the magnifying glasses while he read.

You should have seen his face when I brought him a poster-sized copy of a manuscript page from the Xerox machine. His eyes looked like they still had the magnifying glasses in front of them. So after a couple of hours in the copy room I was able to save him a few months of eye-strain. For my efforts, I was given two things: 1) a shout-out in the acknowledgements: “For his valuable assistance in solving problems related to manuscript access, I wish to express sincere thanks to my research assistant, William S. Bradford” and 2) a level of trust that granted the opportunity for completely open discussion.

I remember discussing Hinduism, Lorca, Cervantes, his time serving in Vietnam, the pettiness of academia. He told me how he met his wife. He got me into Proust, and I remember him reading this long passage where Proust chronicles the hues of ripening asparagus for the entirety of a page.

“You see how it matters?” he said. “It all matters with Proust. Everything is important.”

I had a vision of the purple-green asparagus with a scintillating halo of St. Elmo’s fire. Everything was important. That page was a challenge to the reader – an aesthetic rebellion. Admittedly, it’s not hard to blow the mind of a nineteen-year-old. My reaction was something like this:

asparagusproust

The semester ended, and we stayed on good terms. Every once in a while we met up for supper.

My senior year of college I briefly dated (three months) a girl — let’s call her Genevieve — who was a triple major in psychology, religion, and women’s studies. I’m pretty sure she ended up graduating summa cum laude, but I don’t know because we graduated at different times. She was also a feminist, and not the everyone-should-care-about-equality garden variety, but more the symposium-attending-Vagina-Monolouging -may-or-may-not-have-held-up-a-banner-on-the-steps-of-the-capitol variety.

“So what are you doing tonight?” she asked me one evening. This was early in the relationship, the part where you are respectful of the other person’s freedom, but already affecting it by virtue of the Observer Principle.

“I’m going to dinner with Dr. M.”

“The French professor?”

“Yeah. Did you have him?”

“Ugh. Yes.” I am in no way trying to belittle this woman, even though this is the weird situation of describing a former liaison. Keep in mind that she won a scholarship, had written a novel while in high school, and now speaks, I’m pretty sure, a few different languages. All that aside, however, I think I remember her making the “gag me” face when I mentioned Dr. M’s name.

“Why don’t you like him?”

“He made the most sexist remark that I’ve ever heard.”

I couldn’t imagine him saying anything insensitive. The man was sensitive enough to induce epiphanies from asparagus.

“Gosh. What did he say?”

“You know how he always made us speak French in his class?”

“Yeah.”

“Well I was trying to answer his question once, and he cut me off in the middle of my answer. He told me I was too timid. That I needed to be bold with French.”

“And that’s sexist because he’s presuming that you’re timid —”

“No, Sam. C’mon. I haven’t gotten to the sexist part yet: he told me that I needed to elocute like harlots on a piano.”

“Harlots? As in, like, two of them?”

“Yup. On a piano.”

“Wow. That’s quite an image.” I imagined some sweaty, gap-toothed saloon girl sprawled across the top of an upright. “He never talked to me like that.”

“Well, you’re a guy.”

“Yeah, I guess that is pretty sexist.”

“You guess? It’s horrific.”

“So what’d you do?”

“I wrote about it on the course evaluation, but naturally the professors never read those, so I took it to Dr. O’Brien-Stuart.” Dr. Pamela O’Brien-Stuart. That’s not her real name, but I want you to know that I’m not taking a cheap-shot; her initials really are P.O.S. Anyway, she’s a professor in the women’s studies department, and would later serve on Genevieve’s thesis committee.

“What’d you say to her?” I asked.

“I told her what he said.”

“What’d she do?”

“I don’t know. She took it seriously. She’s on a lot of committees and everything.”

“I had no idea Dr. M said things like that.”

“Well, he does. So enjoy your dinner with him.”

At dinner that night, we entered the familiar and lovely trance of jumping from esoteric idea to esoteric idea. We measured out the time in bathroom breaks from all the post-dessert coffee. Dr. M was in rare form – his book, the culmination of his career, was very well received in France. He glowed like asparagus.

But I still couldn’t shake the image of the harlots.

“I started dating a girl,” I told him. “I think she’s a former student of yours.”

“Who is she?”

I told him. He squinted at the ceiling, and after a moment, started to chuckle to himself silently.

“What is it?”

“I remember her. She wrote the most curious thing on my course evaluation.”

“Did she?”

“She said I told her to elocute like harlots on a piano!”

“You didn’t?

“Why, no, Guillaume. That’s the funniest thing I ever heard. I told her to have confidence – elocute like Horowitz on the piano.”

Vladimir Horowitz, the pianist bruited for his bold, percussive interpretations of Chopin.

Dr. M’s southern accent was so impressive, Horowitz glissandoed into Harlots.

We laughed.

“I hope you two are happy together,” he said, thumbing a chuckle-induced tear from his eye.

This kind of sentence makes for bad writing, but the truth of it is so rumbling and pervasive that I cannot strike it: I sighed in great relief.

“And how are you doing?” I asked.

“Well, Guillaume, I have to tell you. I’m not returning to school in the fall.”

“What? Why?”

“My performance was up for review, and they didn’t grant me tenure.”

“I can’t believe it! But, your book! People like it!”

“It is what it is. I’m too old to keep fighting for it, so I’m retiring early.”

He picked up the tab while I was in shock. The consummate genteel liberal arts scholar. What about fairies? What about asparagus?

Dr. P.O.S. carries a lot of weight on the faculty. Now, I’m not saying that Genevieve’s complaint is what caused Dr. M’s tenure to be declined, but I am saying that it certainly couldn’t have helped things. I’m also not saying that this whole thing is what caused our breakup not too much later, but I am saying that it certainly couldn’t have helped things.

Wordsworth has that line in Tintern Abbey that gets at what I’m trying to get at: “of all that we behold/ From this green earth; of all the mighty world /Of eye and ear,–both what they half create,/ And what perceive.”

Perception is not just perception. We half-perceive and half-create.

I’ve done it. When I was writing my thesis on Old English riddles, I could walk down the street and gurgle out tomes describing how every fluttering pigeon, every piece of trash, every “eat more chicken” advertisement related directly to this one particular manuscript from ten-and-a-half centuries ago. Foaming with zeal, I wondered how no one else could see the connection. Graduate school is a unique form of madness.

Just consider what’s wrong in half-creating something that has the potential to condemn. My wife keeps up with the feminist blogosphere, and her segue into that portion of our conversation, which has become a running joke between us, is always “And the feminists are outraged again.” I want to suggest that pointing out the good must play more of a role because Wordsworth leaves room for the opposite to be true as well: look for good, and you will half-create it.

As a teacher, I do that all the time. If a student is off-task, I act aloof and comment on something good that the kid is doing. If I continually point out an error, the kid will start to identify him/herself with being the bad kid, which is only a stone’s throw (and just consider who’s throwing the first stone) from not caring that he/she is a bad kid. I want the students to associate themselves with being well-behaved and thoughtful. In most cases, the student will feel guilty and auto-correct the bad behavior, because now bad behavior is not part of who he/she is. I’d like to see more of that in feminist rhetoric. Perhaps, for example, there could be a blog that chronicles exemplary instances of people not being sexist. If that sounds like a toothless approach, you have to ask yourself: are you seeing something, or are you seeing what’s been on your mind a while?

I’m worried that people will read this and their faces will tug into smug smiles and they’ll say “oh, those crazy feminists!” and dismiss it. Don’t do that. If you think about it, this is not just a critique of feminism; it’s a critique of the general mindset of politics. Republicans and Democrats fall into this same Wordsworth Romantic Idealist trap[1]. If anything, they want to up the percentages on the half-create side. Take this example, where one side hears “It takes a village to raise a child” while the other side hears “The villagers are going to take your child away from you and raise it.”

I can forgive Genevieve’s blunder because she was unaware of what she was doing. In that case, a conversation, a blog post, or an ecumenical David Foster Wallace Youtube video about awareness can improve things. In fact, I did explain the whole situation to Genevieve the next day, and she was stunned into silence (whether her conscience was pricked enough to attempt fixing her error — or at least apologize — is another story on which I don’t have the details). At the very least, she became aware. But what is moderately frightening is when the Wordsworth Phenomenon becomes a deliberate political tactic: it behooves the party to purposefully misconstrue a statement in the way that is as detrimental as possible to the other party because a certain percentage of people will take what you say at face value no matter what. This becomes a higher priority than critical reasoning. Cut your losses with the few followers who take context into consideration and are subsequently appalled by you.

The universal complaint regarding politics is that one side never listens to the other side, right? On the contrary, it ironically requires an almost monastic level of devotion to the other side in order to make such a calculated miscalculation. Take the Republican pronoun-antecedent obliteration of context in Obama’s “You didn’t build that” speech as an example (that = the business owner’s business vs. that = the roads and bridges). Targeting such an innocuous phrase is like plucking a fly from the air with a pair of tweezers. The Republican response was not an innocent grammar error, and no remedial lesson in pronouns is going to stop that kind of thing from happening.

Look, feminism isn’t to blame. Sexism is there. It’s real, and it’s a huge problem that needs a lot of attention. I’m not denying that. But a concern I have is that passions can become hallucinations, and the greater concern: political parties exploit that potential. And if that’s the case, Proust’s asparagus is reduced to a phallic symbol. Horowitz becomes at least two harlots.


[1] Wordsworth was not the first to forge this idea. Between laudanum hits, he and Coleridge read a lot of German idealist philosophy, including Schopenhauer and Schelling.

Categories: Feminism, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

In Defense of “Wives, Mothers, and Daughters”

In case you missed it, certain feminist quarters have, in recent months, taken the Obama administration to task for his tendency to refer to women as “our wives, mothers, and daughters” in policy speeches. Back in February, a petition on the White House’s “We the People” page protested the President using similar language in his State of the Union speech. The feminist blogosphere has since been in a bit of a remarkably prolonged state of fury over what they perceive as a tendency to only value women in direct correlation to their relationship to men. One blogger recently equated talking about women in this more relational sense with “perpetuating rape culture by advancing the idea that a woman is only valuable in so much as she is loved or valued by a man.”

Now, all of this uproar over a relatively innocuous turn of phrase, (innocuous compared to, say, drone strikes against innocent women in Yemen and Pakistan), might seem a bit overblown. Far be it from me to wander unwittingly into the linguistic hinterland that is home to the contemporary gender-equality movement. However, behind all of this debate over the President’s language, I think something much more profound- and troubling- is taking place here.

What is really being objected to is not so much the President’s choice of words but a particular understanding of human nature. The current culturally-prevalent view of human nature rests on an anthropological assumption that posits womankind as consisting, ultimately, of atomized female  individuals with no inherent social or familial obligations to any other individuals (male or female). Speaking generously, one could perhaps attribute this individualistic view of human nature to a misguided affirmation of the undeniable value of each individual man or woman. But to the extent that this modern anthropology advances each woman’s individual identity as an alternative to the preponderance of social/familial identities that traditionally have held sway over both genders, one can easily expect those (quite legitimate) relational identities to be seen as a threat to a woman’s true worth, which proponents of this view argue is internal and non-relational. In other words, to the extent that women see their relationships with other individuals (or with the Divine) as an integral part of their being, their status as women is somehow suspect. Melissa McEwan, who started the We the People petition against Obama’s “wives, mothers, and daughters” language, did so because she took exception to any expression of femininity that “defines women by their relationships to other people.”

The problem with all of this is that society cannot long remain functional once its members (both male and female) reject their traditional obligations to one another. The foreseeable social consequences of such a radical break in human self-understanding sound all too familiar today:

-          an increase in divorce and abortion rates

-          an increase in the number of children born out-of-wedlock or raised in single-parent households

-          an increasing, culturally-pervasive materialism that attempts to fill relational voids with physical possessions

-          an increase in interpersonal egocentrism that sees other people as mere tools to be used for one’s own gratification

-          a decreasing amount of mutual respect among relationships (particularly inter-gender relationships) of all forms

If these indications of social disintegration sound familiar to the modern ear, it is because of the enormous extent to which modern American society (with considerable help from the welfare state) has successfully stripped modern men of those relationships- as husbands, fathers , brothers, etc.- that historically have given male life meaning. Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon references as much when she writes that  “women are still living in a world where we, unlike our male counterparts, are defined by our relationships to others.”

From a relational and familial standpoint, American society today seems to be on the verge of going completely off the rails, if it hasn’t already. To the extent that proponents of gender-equality are troubled by the perceived increase in destructive behavior patterns among American males (especially in regard to their relationships with women), they recognize this problem. To then present women in an individualistic manner- particularly to the exclusion of the relational components of human nature- is not only to deprive each female life of a significant source of meaning, but to exacerbate their own social disintegration.

Categories: Atomism, Cultural renewal, Feminism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The IRS Makes a Star Trek Parody

The result? Exactly what you’d expect. Nick Gillespie at Reason excoriates the waste of taxpayer money. As for me, I’d rather see tax money going here—where we can all get a laugh at the IRS’s expense—than see it spent on bombs or drones.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

A Little Supreme Court Skepticism?

Today, my Facebook feed is all gay marriage, all the time. But while college kids sanctify their progressiveness by uploading pictures of equal signs, it looks like the Supreme Court is treating the issue with a little more skepticism.

Justice Alito (“the Burkean justice“) asks, “You want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones or the Internet? I mean . . . we do not have the ability to see the future.” It looks like some of the others are at least open to throwing the case out for lack of standing. (Ironically, such a “setback” would only happen because the petulant Governor Brown refused to defend Prop. 8 in court!) Dismissing for standing would leave the lower court ruling against Prop. 8 in place, but would stop short of imposing the Court’s definition of marriage on the rest of the country.

The New York TimesAdam Liptak writes that the justices are partially motivated by fear of creating a new Roe v. Wade, which, rather than settling cultural disputes, only exacerbates them. According to Liptak, even Justice Ginsburg has her qualms:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal and a champion of women’s rights, has long harbored doubts about the ruling.

“It’s not that the judgment was wrong, but it moved too far, too fast,” she said last year at Columbia Law School.

I have no basis to predict how a pro-gay-marriage ruling would compare to Roe. And predicting rulings on controversial cases is generally a loser’s game. Months from now, all of today’s armchair speculation might look incredibly naive.

But, at the very least, it’s nice to see the justices expressing a little more skepticism against pushing the entire country in their preferred cultural direction. Why, after all, do Alabama and California need to have the same marriage laws? And why should Anthony Kennedy be the one to decide that?

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Rise of the “Post-Movement Conservatives”

At the The American Conservative, Maisie Allison profiles a number of conservative public intellectuals who defy not only the Republican Party, but also the all-too-stale “conservative movement.” This loosely related group of individuals is dubbed “post-movement conservatives.”

She opens up her piece with a reference to Peter Viereck. His thought weighs down heavily throughout the entire article, with copious quotations and excerpts from the essay of his on which I also relied for quotations, in my last post on the “challenge” that Viereck poses to contemporary conservatism and conservatives. But hers is a much better use of his work.

I think her article provides an opportunity for us at Beyond the GOP to consider where it is that we fit in with contemporary conservatism, and where it is that we want to fit. Are we a part of this post-movement conservatism? Are our potential allies that she mentions: Andrew Sullivan, David Frum, Conor Friedersdorf and other journalists, bloggers, pundits and intellectuals who neither follow the party nor the movement?

Or are those figures a part of the problem? As is specified in the article, is a “post-movement conservatism” a type of myth?

As Ben, Kelse, and others seem to suggest in their writings, for conservatism to be effective—for conservation to occur—conservatives must act radically. Conservatives cannot accept the welfare state, it cannot accept the centralization of the government, but rather there must be an intellectually sophisticated, philosophically robust and principled outlook that privileges culture, and its change, above the exercise of political power.

In that decision to prioritize cultural power above political power, I think we follow the tone set by Viereck’s “pre-political conservatism” more than the political-power-oriented conservatism of the figures who are a part of her “post-movement” group. And because of their emphasis on changing the political climate, it may be the case that those figures singled out as “post-movement conservatives” are a part of the problem. They are the conservatives who cause us at Beyond the GOP to scratch our heads and worry about their conservative bona fides. As a result, at least as the article conceives of it, “post-movement conservatism” would seem to be a myth. At the end of the day, they are just a part of that conservative movement.

Unless . . . we are part of this movement. It seems that at times we are as concerned with ideological purity as any “movement” conservative organization or media organ. Take the narrative of Judeo-Christian foundations on decline; secession; or history, tradition, and rationalism. We seem to rehash debates that occurred decades ago. We’re just a part of that stale, self-contained dialog that the “post-movement” conservatives have broken out beyond. Where do we fit in the movement/post-movement scheme?

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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