Author Archives: Benjamin David

About Benjamin David

Benjamin David is a PhD student in political theory. A Georgia native, he has lived in Washington, DC since 2010. He is a co-editor of alongside former classmate Kelse Hillery.

“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

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a 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

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

Rand Paul’s Filibuster and the Separation of Powers

Senator Rand Paul held the floor of the Senate in a bid to prevent a vote on the nomination of John O. Brennan to be Central Intelligence Agency Director on Wednesday.

Frustrated by what he sees as the Obama administration’s refusal to answer a direct question- whether the administration claims the power to kill non-combatant American citizens on American soil- Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky took to the Senate floor at 11:47 AM Wednesday morning to stall the nomination of John Brennan for CIA director.

Regular readers will know that several of the contributors here at Beyond the GOP (including myself, Kelse Moen, and Radagast) have addressed the Obama administration’s drone policy as one of the most pressing contemporary constitutional issues. Even still, the true value of Senator Paul’s filibuster today does not so much lie in the fact that the use of drones is a bad policy as it does a reaffirmation of the constitutional system of checks and balances that holds the American constitutional order in place.

Senator Paul makes it very clear that his filibuster has little to do with the selection of Brennan as CIA director and everything to do with the legitimate role the Senate plays in limiting the power of the Executive Branch. “This is not so much about Obama; this is not so much about John Brennan. This is about the rule of law,” declares Paul, approximately three and a half hours into his speech.

The Constitution makes it clear that the war-making powers of the President are subject to the oversight of the war-declaring and war-funding powers of the legislative branch. Whether or not Americans agree with the President’s drone policy, it is within the best interest of all Americans to have a Senate that will fiercely defend any intrusion on their express constitutional duty to give oversight to the Executive branch.

For far too long, Beltway insiders have done far too little to combat the growth of what Political Scientists have described for decades as the “Imperial Presidency”- that is, a Presidency that is no longer bound by the Constitution or by competing branches of government. Perhaps this time the Obama administration has gone too far. Perhaps this time, the self-declared “Checks and Balances Caucus” of Rand Paul (R-KY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Mark Udall (D-CO) will stand together in bipartisan support for civil liberties.

Personally, I doubt it. But one can still hope…

Categories: Checks and Balances, The Constitution, Tyranny | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Waco Massacre and the Modern State

Waco tanks

The Wall Street Journal has published a very provocative piece by Philip Jenkins on the federal government’s 1993 massacre of the Branch Davidians, a fringe religious sect in Waco, Texas. This Thursday marks 20 years since the initial attack by ATF agents that would lead to 50-day siege by the FBI and, ultimately, leave 80 sect members, including 20 children, dead.

What makes Jenkins’ article unique is that he emphasizes the extent to which Americans have historically allowed a high degree of toleration for fringe religious sects, a toleration that has become endangered by the consolidation of all political power into the hands of the centralized American state:

Though some religious groups (most notably the Mormons) have occasionally faced violent opposition, Americans have proved remarkably tolerant of religious separatists. If people who believe in imminent apocalypse feel the need to flee the wrath to come and seek refuge in the wilderness, why shouldn’t they?

Only gradually, in the 20th century, did the state begin to encroach, as military conscription during World War I and the welfare state made it impossible for sects to maintain complete isolation.


The outcome of the Waco siege left people stunned by the sheer amount of bloodshed. But the broad popular hostility to Waco also suggests that Americans generally do respect the rights of believers to follow their own paths, however far removed from mainstream.

Over time, though, those rights have in practice been limited by the state’s growth. If America’s religious frontier is not exactly closed, then it is far more constrained than it ever has been.

Why exactly the centralization of power should lead to the targeting of minority groups within society is an interesting question. On the one hand, the national government has often grown in strength while attempting to protect certain favored minority groups from discrimination: a very worthy goal, in most cases. But to the extent that it has done so, it has also introduced a minimum level of mandatory national conformity to which all groups- even fringe religious sects in out-of-the-way places- are held.

What makes the modern state different from every previously existent social-political association is that it reserves to itself a total, unquestionable authority to enforce its will. This absolute authority is equally threatened by the leader of a fringe sect as it is by a discriminatory employer. Both of these individuals, to the extent that they disconfirm the illusion of national conformity and challenge the authority of the state,  pose an existential threat to the state, and thus neither can be tolerated.

And herein lies the danger of relying on the power of the centralized state to protect minority rights: the moment at which a minority ceases to be in danger of extinction and instead begins to try, however meekly, to assert some degree of self-determination, it becomes an enemy of the centralized state.

The great conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet provides one of the best articulations of this phenomenon in his timeless book The Quest for Community:

The State becomes powerful not by virtue of what it takes from the individual but by virtue of what it takes from the spiritual and social associations which compete with it for men’s devotions.


The absolute political community, centralized and omnicompetent, founded upon the atomized masses, must ceaselessly destroy all those autonomies and immunities that are in normal society the indispensable sources of the capacity for freedom and organization.

Fortunately, as Jenkins’ article reminds us, Americans are still naturally suspicious of attempts to curb the power of fringe groups within society. As long as this remains the case, there will continue to be a remarkable degree of toleration for those challenging the supremacy of the state. But the federal slaughter of the Branch Davidians in 1993, like the assault on the Weaver family at Ruby Ridge in 1992, serves as a reminder that the state’s desire for power, supreme and uncontended, remains unsated.
Categories: Localism, Religious Liberty, Secession, Tyranny | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

First They Came For The Serial-Killers…

Fugitive cop-killer Christopher Dorner has just become the first human target of an unmanned aerial drone, according to Express.

This news comes just days after a leaked Justice Department white paper laid out the Obama Administration’s legal arguments for using drones to target U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism. A response to the paper by Herbert Titus and William Olson was published in American Thinker and highlighted some of the more troubling aspects of the white paper, including the very real possibility that drones could be used on American soil.

According to the white paper, there are only three requirements to order a killing.  First, “an informed high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.”  Second, capture is “infeasible.”  And third, the ” operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with the applicable law of war principles.”  Indeed, from the white paper, it is not clear why killings of U.S. citizens on American soil would be judged by a different standard.

The fact that these targeted killings have heretofore been conducted on the other side of the world might have allowed the Administration to shelter American voters from the true horror of what their government is unleashing. Having a drone strike on U.S. territory might change all of that. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to say that it would take extraordinary circumstances for American sensibilities to become accustomed to the presence of unmanned drones on American soil. Using them against a burly, Manifesto-writing, assault-weapon-wielding cop-killer would seem to be a perfect storm for those in the Obama Administration anxious to put a positive face on their drone program. The fact that Dorner’s string of killings comes in the wake of other highly-publicized mass shootings only makes the situation seem more desperate.

At this point, there is no way to tell what the long-term implications of drone use on U.S. soil will be. But if the media continues to hype up the recent surge in gun violence, it would be reasonable to expect to see more, not fewer, gunmen targeted by aerial drones. And at the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether those gunmen are ex-cops with personal grudges or part of an elaborate international conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government; American citizens are bound to get caught in the crossfire either way.



It should be clarified that the use of drones to find Christopher Dorner has been questioned by some sources and that the LAPD has yet to confirm their use. Furthermore, the official quoted in the Express article implied that drones were being used merely to locate, not kill, Dorner. To the extent that my initial post failed to bear out this distinction, apologies are due. Finally, if unmanned drones are used to find Dorner, it wouldn’t be the first time they were used against American citizens: local police used an unarmed drone in 2011 in a standoff against a North Dakota family accused of stealing cows. I’m not kidding. Unarmed drones have also been used along the Mexican border.

That being said, I believe there are several points made in the original article that are still valid:

1) The recently-leaked Justice Department memo laying out the legal arguments for using drones to assassinate U.S. citizens fails to rule out the use of drones on U.S. soil, implying that the Obama Administration sees no legal barrier to their use on U.S. soil, against U.S. citizens.

2) We might not see the first lethal drone strike on U.S. soil today or tomorrow, but I found it hard to believe that it will not come soon. Both the escalating use of unarmed drones domestically- as well as of armed drones overseas- point to them playing an increasing role in eliminating perceived threats both at home and abroad. On this point, I hope that I am proven wrong.

3) The use of drones- whether armed or unarmed- without judicial oversight and authorization is troublesome from a constitutional perspective, as well as from a privacy perspective. Article III of the Constitution lays out the legal basis for treason against the U.S. government. For the executive branch to claim the authority to ignore standard judicial proceedings and summarily execute citizens without a trial process represents a gross violation of the separation of powers.

4) While I reject the argument that the LAPD is bound by the Fourth Amendment ban on “unreasonable searches and seizures,” I am deeply troubled by the use of high-tech aerial spy machinery, used without judicial warrant or public oversight.

Categories: Uncategorized | 5 Comments

72% of Americans Support Nullification.

In some of the most uplifting news I’ve heard all week, 72% of Americans oppose the Federal government arresting marijuana users in Colorado and Washington, according to a recent Reason-Rupe poll. 68% of respondents also said the Feds should not arrest those who grow marijuana in Colorado and Washington, and 64% of respondents said the same for those who sell marijuana. All of these activities are still illegal under Federal law, but the citizens of these states don’t care. Neither, apparently, do about 2/3 of Americans.

So much for nullification of federal laws being outside the political mainstream.

Of course, for those within the ranks of the Republican Party who support breaking up the hegemony of national power, there is still significant work to be done. Back in November, a CBS News poll showed that only 35% of Republicans believe the President should allow Colorado and Washington to effectively nullify federal drug laws.

What’s most important here is not whether conservatives think smoking marijuana is itself a good or a bad thing; what’s most important is that they recognize that living in a federalized system necessarily entails allowing citizens of other states to control their own destiny. The Constitution leaves the state governments responsible for exercising the “police powers”: looking after the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of their citizens. There is absolutely nothing within the Constitution that authorizes the federal government to exercise any authority here.

If constitutionally-conscious conservatives are waiting for the perfect time to strike that first blow against the federal Leviathan, this may be it; 72% of Americans will stand behind us when we do.

Categories: Uncategorized | 9 Comments

What’s Wrong with the March for Life?

On Friday, I took advantage of being up in Washington, DC and attended the March for Life. I had previously attended the march in 2011- my first year in DC- but, for whatever reason, I was more personally affected by this year’s march than I had been two years prior, and not just for the better. There were some elements to the March for Life that I found somewhat disturbing and that I fear may threaten the long-term political efficacy of the March for Life and the pro-life movement as a whole.


I’ll start with the positive senses I gained: it was reassuring to see that, 40 years after Roe v. Wade, the pro-life movement is still strong enough to generate a crowd of hundreds of thousands on a cold January morning (cold enough, at least, to keep all of my incredibly lame graduate school colleagues at home while I ventured out alone). Secondly, the overwhelming prevalence of young attendees helps to emphasize the extent to which the pro-life movement has successfully transmitted their message to the rising generation of voters. The fact that so many of these young attendees are also female helps to make last year’s campaign rhetoric of a Republican “war on women” seem somewhat suspect.


All in all, then, the March should at least provide some cause for optimism for the pro-life community as a political movement. Unfortunately, however, such reasons for optimism are heavily counterbalanced by one remaining hurdle that the March for Life must clear if it ever wants to effect any kind of meaningful political change. That hurdle is the March’s explicitly Christian overtones and its failure to significantly expand past their natural support base in the Roman Catholic Church to include other slices of the American culture that should be sympathetic to the pro-life cause.

The overwhelming Christian (and particularly Catholic) influence on the participants was hard to miss: countless examples of Christian imagery and language made it very clear that the March for Life is anything but ecumenical. Is this a problem? Well, it is if the pro-life movement wants to be a force for justice inside a political environment that is actively hostile to the Christian faith, in a country where roughly ¼ of the population is, at least nominally, Roman Catholic.

-          Numerous hand-made signs sported Bible verses: in addition to the predictable Jeremiah 1:5 (“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”) and Exodus 20:13 (“Thou shalt not kill”), other signs and banners cited Luke 1:44 (“The infant in my womb leaped for joy”) and Psalm 127:3 (“Children are a heritage from the Lord”), along with quotes from assorted saints and fathers of the Church.

-          Images of the Virgin Mary were almost ubiquitous.

-          One woman held up a display of a baby doll superimposed over a crucifix.

-          Countless Catholic colleges, high schools, and churches had banners advertising their presence

-          Members of Texas Youth for Life carried small wooden crosses.

Leading up to the March, a rally was held on the National Mall where attendees prayed together and received encouraging words from various speakers. These speeches were at times even more explicitly Christian than the signs and banners of the attendees.

-          “I believe our country is in need of revival,” declared Senator Rand Paul. “I believe our country is in need of spiritual cleansing.”

-          Father O’Malley of Boston read aloud a twitter shout-out from Pope Benedict to all those in attendance.

-          A woman representing the abortion recovery group “Silent No More” implored women who had had abortions: “we want you to experience the love of Christ!”

-          Other speakers made casual reference to “The Gospel of Life”: a word choice that might make literal, translational sense to those who are in-the-know, but which almost assuredly sounds like religious jargon to those listeners outside the Christian faith.

-          Perhaps most egregiously, as the March began and attendees started to clear the National Mall, the speakers played Contemporary Christian artist Third Day’s song “Trust in Jesus.”

These expressions of faith, when taken together with the patently apparent fact that the majority of attendees are there because of their affiliation with a religious institution, all coalesce to create a potentially intimidating environment for those outside the Christian faith who are generally sympathetic to (or at least willing to listen to arguments by) anti-abortion advocates.

In addition to non-religious attendees, the rally’s identifiably Catholic flavor might prove intimidating to evangelicals who are in the decided minority at the March for Life, although they are well-represented in the pro-life movement. John Murdock at First Things had a recent article discussing this disparity. This is not to say that evangelicals are at all unwelcome: there were at least a couple of protestant churches represented at the rally, and I saw nothing that would indicate that Protestants or evangelicals were in any way unwelcome. However, if the March for Life has intentions of becoming a practical political movement instead of a rite-of-passage for Catholic teenagers, they would do well to be much more intentional in incorporating Protestants into their mix.


Wandering around the National Mall during the rally, I spotted a large banner advertising the group “Secular Pro-Life”  and went by to hear their perspective. The representatives of “Secular Pro-Life” were excited to talk to any passers-by and graciously took the time to answer any questions I had. Describing themselves as an outlet for irreligious anti-abortion advocates, as well as religious minorities (Mormons, Muslims, Jews, “spiritual but not religious”, and Wiccans), “Secular Pro-Life” has grown exponentially in the past few years. Regularly attending pro-life rallies and conferences, the organization tries to break up the perception of spiritual homogeneity within the pro-life movement. “We’re the non-scary people” explains a female representative of the organization (who proudly sports a “Pro-Life, Pro-Gay” sticker).

In the middle of the largest anti-abortion rally in the country, the representatives of “Secular Pro-Life” seem to be just as excited as their Catholic counterparts. The religious folk surrounding them seem gracious and genuinely appreciative for the participation of this little island of irreligion in their midst. The sight of the “Secular Pro-Life” banner is a nice addition to the sea of crucifixes and Blessed Mothers engulfing it. But one wonders how many non-Christian pro-lifers would be willing to stand alone in a crowd such as this.


The pro-life movement prides itself on the fact that it is growing stronger with the passage of time. And there is certainly something to be said for the fact that, 40 years after the passage of Roe v. Wade, the pro-life movement seems nowhere giving up. If the opponents of abortion ever win a decisive victory- and I pray they do- it will be because the general culture in America has taken a dramatic turn toward life. And when that happens, it will have precious little to do with the March for Life.

The Catholic Church has anchored the pro-life movement for 40 years. When evangelical Protestants were slow to take up arms in response to Roe v. Wade, the Catholic faithful spurred them to action. But, barring a major shift in the country’s demographics, the Catholics cannot win a decisive victory for life on their own. For that matter, neither can the evangelicals; both camps need to come together to find a way to appeal to those outside the Church.


There is another troubling aspect at work here: by solely focusing on overturning Roe v. Wade, pro-life advocates are ignoring much more promising avenues for eliminating abortion. While the culture wars may not be fairing so well for conservatives on the national level, the Jacobins have yet to fully penetrate the American heartland. Why not pour efforts into the nascent 10th Amendment resurgence?

Secondly, Focusing exclusively on overturning Roe v. Wade gives the case a sense of legal legitimacy that it does not deserve. Roe v. Wade is bad law, not only because they made the wrong policy decision, but because its conclusion is supported absolutely nowhere in the Constitution. Why treat it as if it were binding law at all? Why not encourage states to nullify Roe? Why not encourage Congress to pass a bill clarifying that the term “person” in the 14th Amendment applies to unborn children?

We’ve had 40 years of the pro-life movement telling us to wait for a personnel change on the Supreme Court. I say we’ve waited long enough. 40 years of Roe: that should be enough to show any conservative that the Court is not the defender of the Constitution that we like to pretend it to be.

Categories: Cultural renewal | Tags: , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

In Defense of Homeschooling

My colleague Joe Ptak has written a post linking homeschooling to the rise of cultural pluralism and the erosion of the civic culture, which he argues leads to a “culture of relativism.” Once you start homeschooling, according to Joe, you threaten the stability of a society and open the door to “anarchic relativism.” It’s an innovative argument, associating the rise of homeschooling with cultural disorder and a lack of cultural unity. Unfortunately, it’s also an argument that relies on several troubling assumptions, all of which Joe leaves wholly unstated.

Let me start out by admitting that there are a lot of points in Joe’s argument that I’m unclear about. For one thing, a crucial part of his argument seems to be that homeschooling leads to having a “fractured civic ontology.” Now, perhaps I am somehow out of the loop here (it wouldn’t be the first time), but I cannot, for the life of me, understand what a “fractured civic ontology” looks like nor do I understand how it differs in practice from an “intact civic ontology.” Joe does link to the Wikipedia entry for Ontology, yet somehow I doubt that Heideggarians and Cartesians coexisting together is the kind of cultural pluralism he’s worried about.

It’s also up to the reader to determine what Joe means when he talks about the importance of “civic culture”: a phrase that I take, rightly or wrongly, to be an appeal to the civic republican tradition which emphasizes the importance of having a commonly-held  set of social, political, and personal moral values. At the surface level, this might sound like a very conservative goal; in fact, Joe seems to be appealing to the sympathies of traditionalist conservative readers by using the republican (small-r) and largely conservative language of civic virtue and the need for some kind of cultural cohesion. For Joe, it seems that the real goal of educating children is not to make them educated, but to make sure that they are inculcated with the correct civic views. Of course, from a conservative perspective, the value of such civic education depends entirely upon which views are being transmitted.

What Joe doesn’t make explicit is that he implicitly considers the educational system a better source for civic virtue than he does parents. The desire to instill virtue, public as well as private, in their children is undeniably one of the major reasons parents choose to educate their children at home. Joe recognizes this, but sees home-instilled values as a “recipe for extremism” because the children will not encounter views that contradict the parents’ own.

However, if Joe is really concerned about the pervasive effects of “relativism,” this should be a good thing, shouldn’t it? Joe seems to feel that a plurality of viewpoints within a society is “insidious” while a plurality of viewpoints within the homes of (typically conservative) families prevents extremism. If opposing views can help combat extremism at the family level, then why not extend this principle to the whole society? Alternately, if a plurality of viewpoints inevitably leads to moral relativism, then why would we want to thrust the children of conservative families into moral confusion? There is an obvious double standard here, and one begins to wonder if Joe’s problem with homeschooling is not so much that it allows for a plurality of views, but that it allows for the propagation of what he considers to be the wrong view.

Secondly, Joe suggests that having a “fractured civic ontology” totally precludes us from teaching moral values to our children, but it is wholly unclear why this should be the case. Once again, Joe seems to attribute the transmission of moral and civic principles to the society writ-large (or at least to the education system writ-large) instead of placing responsibility for the moral upkeep of the young where it has been for millennia: in the hands of the church and the family. Standing contrary to this tradition, Joe seems to see such localized, bottom-up propagation of moral principles as “anarchistic” and opts to side with centralized, uniform, top-down transmission of moral principles flowing from the society directly to school children, with as little interference from the family as possible. This is certainly a way to combat pluralism in society, although the accompanying loss of liberty and local particularity make it hard to believe that any theoretical benefits outweigh the definite costs.


The problems of moral relativism and a lack of social cohesion in society that Joe refers to are serious issues that deserve serious consideration. In bringing attention to these issues, Joe does conservative readers a great service. An honest examination of these issues, however, shows the nation’s public school system to be a large part of the reason that they are a major issue. And while Joe allows for parochial schools, his total dismissal of homeschooling seems unwarranted.

Far from being anarchistic and undermining of the culture, homeschooling has been one of the major ways that concerned, traditionally-minded families have responded to the moral relativism that pervades the contemporary American educational scene. If, from an academic perspective, the entire K-12 educational industry in this country seems more interested in producing a certain type of citizen than classically educated individuals, and if that type of citizen seems engineered to radically alter traditional American society, then wouldn’t choosing an alternative education for your child (either parochial schools or homeschooling) be a defense of the civic culture?

Homeschooling- whether for religious, educational, or philosophical reasons- has quickly become one of the most dramatic and effective rejections against contemporary American culture. In an age of increasing uniformity and decreasing local particularity, homeschooling provides the ultimate expression of decentralized control and local values. It would be a shame for conservatives to write it off due to fears that homeschooled students might turn out “different” than their public-and-private schooled peers.

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Localism, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thoughts on Burlington, Vermont’s Assault Weapons Ban

As political pundits continue to debate whether the President will push for more gun control in the wake of the Newtown shooting, the City Council in Burlington, Vermont has moved ahead with a proposal to ban assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Now, like many conservatives (including at least a few who write for this blog) I am skeptical about gun-control measures and believe they inevitably do more harm than good. This will surely be no different.

Since 2008, however, local gun restrictions have served as somewhat of a touchstone among conservatives, separating out those who are consistent in their support for the principles of constitutionalism and federalism from those who are willing to abandon them if they feel doing so serves their political goals in the short-term. The former camp has been wary of a string of recent Supreme Court cases striking down local gun regulations on 2nd Amendment grounds; the latter camp has lauded such cases as conservative victories.

Contrary to the way it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court in recent decades, a plain reading of the Bill of Rights reveals that its provisions, including the protection of the right of the people to “keep and bear arms,” were meant to restrict the power of the Federal Government over the states. To use the 2nd Amendment, then, to increase the Federal Government’s authority over state and local governments is a complete inversion of the Amendment’s original intent as well as a plain reading of the text. The value of having a Constitution, or a written law at all for that matter, lies in the vesting of authority in concrete, identifiable words instead of the capricious and arbitrary whims of a judge empowered to decide cases based on his own views of substantive justice. That value is lost when the law, as it is written, is not enforced.

If Burlingtonians are upset about this ban- as they rightfully should be- the proper avenue for them to take would be to claim that the ban violates Article 16 of the Vermont Constitution, an argument that seems eminently plausible.

Inevitably, however, Republican pundits will respond to the Burlington measure with the same knee-jerk reaction that they always take, and will call for the assault rifle ban to be overturned. Republicans, like virtually all Americans today, seem to have a hard time understanding the fundamental principle of American federalism: that the best political solutions are always based upon concrete, practical realities  that can only be lived out on the individual and communal level. When those realities of lived human experience are translated into national political issues, the only way they can be expressed is through vague platitudes and hackneyed talking points. There is no lived national reality, because humans do not live on a national level: we live and experience life on a much smaller scale.

Far from realizing this point, most Americans today seem to take an almost Rousseauian approach: that a policy somehow doesn’t count unless it is applied equally to all Americans everywhere through what Abraham Lincoln described as the “mystical” wholeness of the American Union. Republicans today need to realize that this fixation with Nationalism (through national elections, national solutions, and yes even those ubiquitous “national conversations”) is unhealthy, unconservative, and fundamentally un-American.

Categories: Federalism, The 2nd Amendment, The Constitution | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The NRA vs. The Constitution

Michael Maharrey and the good folks at the Tenth Amendment Center have an excellent post responding to a bizarre and patently unconstitutional policy proposal by NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre.

In a recent media event, Mr. LaPierre suggested that Congress should authorize the placement of armed police officers in every school nationwide. Of course, as Maharrey points out, such an unprecedented authorization by the federal government is supported nowhere in the Constitution:

“If LaPierre thinks Congress can just ‘do stuff’ without any constitutional authorization, I wonder what makes him think they have to pay one iota of attention to the Second Amendment?”

It’s a fair point, and one that I’ll take one step further: LaPierre’s enthusiastic support of recent Supreme Court decisions striking down state and local gun laws based on specious judicial reasoning demonstrates a similar lack of concern for what the Constitution actually says. Aside from the fact that dipping the Supreme Court’s fingers into Second Amendment jurisprudence will probably not end well for supporters of gun rights, there is a larger problem at stake: Mr. LaPierre, like most Americans on both the Left and the Right, fails to realize that advancing his organization’s interests at the expense of the Constitution provides a sense of undeserved legitimacy to constitutional usurpations by opposing interests.

The Second Amendment should be the first line of defense for supporters of gun rights. Instead, misuse of the Amendment by LaPierre and the NRA might lead to its undermining. Now that the expectation is for the Supreme Court to determine how the Second Amendment should be interpreted, all it would take is one or two personnel changes on the Court to wipe away all the so-called progress that LaPierre has spent his life laboring for. When you consider that the Court is likely to endure at least two or three ideological shifts in the lifetime of the average  American, you have to question the reasoning of those who would jeopardize the stability of the constitutional order in exchange for short-term political gains.

Maharrey sums up this problem nicely:

“The gun-ban-nuts want to ignore the Constitution and strip away rights protected by the Second Amendment.

Not surprising.

But now we have the “conservative” response – equally destructive to the Constitution.

Seems to me we have a pair of cures far worse than the problem.”

Categories: Constitutional Law, The 2nd Amendment, The Constitution | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Righteous Path

Since Kelse had a music-themed post recently, I thought I would join in. I was taking a walk this afternoon when the Drive-By Truckers’ song “The Righteous Path” came up on my MP3 player.

If you don’t know the song, here’s a video of the band performing it at Austin City Limits:

The narrator tells of his struggles to provide for his family and survive in a world that’s moving too fast. He’s not a philosopher and he doesn’t have answers to the dilemmas he and his society are up against, but what makes the song’s message so poignant is the refrain he keeps repeating in response to every challenge he faces:

“I don’t know God but I fear his wrath
I’m trying to keep focused on the righteous path”

“More bills than money, I can do the math
I’m trying to keep focused on the righteous path”

“I’m trying to keep focused as I drive down the road
On the ditches and the curves and the heavy load
Ain’t b****ing ‘bout things that aren’t in my grasp
Just trying to hold steady on the righteous path”

Drive-By Truckers

I don’t claim to know the political views of Patterson Hood (who wrote and sings lead on this song), but I would argue that the singer’s response to what we can call the “Crisis of Western society” is a fundamentally conservative one.

Western society has undergone a tremendous shift in recent centuries: the economic, technological, and social forces of modernity have brought about immense change. Unfortunately and for whatever reason, the spiritual and social forces that used to support humans have not always been able to keep up with those changes. The spiritual and moral guidelines that we tell our children to live by seem to have been written for simpler times. Traditional communities- filled with people who raised each other’s children, beared each other’s burdens, and felt a mutually-shared sense of responsibility for their neighbor’s well being- are now a thing of the past. The traditional family unit, once the bedrock of society, is now on life support.

This is the “Crisis” that Western civilization is faced with: millions of people in Western society no longer feel as if the world they live in was made for people like them. They feel lonely, alienated, dislocated, and unable to cope with the increasingly-fast pace of their increasingly-materialistic and increasingly-empty lives. Meanwhile, they seem no longer able to turn to those institutions and relationships that used to provide a source of meaning.

This “Crisis” engenders two basic responses: the first is the revolutionary response; the second is the conservative response.

The revolutionary response is summed up well in a line by Karl Marx: “Philosophers have explained the world; it is necessary to change the world.” Tired of feeling like the world he lives in is fundamentally broken, the revolutionary will take it upon himself to redeem it. Moreover, the revolutionary will inevitably feel that contemporary society is so thoroughly corrupted at this point that his only choice is to completely level the whole structure and rebuild from scratch.


It is this desire to change the world and remake it in our own image- in essence, to supplant God- that is the hallmark of every totalitarian philosophy. It’s what fueled Communism and Fascism in the 20th Century. It’s what makes the Islamists strap bombs to themselves in the 21st Century. It’s what makes revolutionary philosophers like Rousseau so dangerous, in spite of attempts by some conservatives to whitewash him. Ultimately, I believe it was this revolutionary response (in a somewhat milder form, thank God) that propelled Barack Obama to the White House in 2008.

The conservative response is much more humble in its ambitions. Like the narrator in “The Righteous Path,” the conservative will attempt to do the best he can to provide for his family, try to live up to traditional standards of morality, and (to paraphrase Mr. Hood) not “worry about things that aren’t his grasp.” Fundamentally, the conservative believes that any resolution to the cultural “Crisis” will be brought about more as a result of his own inward moral development than of any government program or the regulation of others’ behavior.

This is not to say that the conservative never seeks to change his society. Seeking justice always requires some element of social alteration, but the conservative always sees society on the whole as doing more good than harm and will thus be apprehensive about jeopardizing the already-fragile social order through radical action. The revolutionary’s glossy visions of the world transformed hold no sway over him because he doesn’t believe Utopian goals can be attained.


Ultimately, those still fighting for the preservation of that which is best in the Western tradition have a difficult task at hand: they must find some way to make classical/Christian morality and traditional bonds of community and family once again accessible to a culture that can no longer take them for granted.

Until such a time, the fate of Western civilization rests on the uncommon strength of everyday men and women who, like the singer in “The Righteous Path,” try their best to follow traditional morality without understanding it and lacking the accompanying social pressure that used to encourage obedience to it. Our fate rests on the shoulders of people who “fear the wrath” of a God they no longer know, who hopelessly wander through the long-forgotten ruins of Athens and Jerusalem without every fully knowing what a healthy civilization looks like but still somehow sensing that the answer lies in some forgotten tradition.

Let’s hope they can keep it up a little longer. At least until my dissertation gets published…

Categories: Cultural renewal, Ideology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Secession Poll

GeorgiaStateCapitol-001The USA Today ran a brief story the other day on recent polling that shows “Georgia Republicans are divided on an issue with roots in the Civil War: secession.” Set aside for a second the humorous historical error of believing that the ageless political act of breaking away from one political society to create another somehow originated in the American Civil War; what is more interesting is that this is even a headline.

We’ve talked about the prospects for contemporary secession on this blog before (Joe, Kelse, and yours truly have all weighed in). Personally, I hope the discussion isn’t over; this is a topic that is both timely and immensely relevant to the questions that this blog is dedicated to: the interplay between historical tradition and a conservative desire for continuity, the limitations inherent in classical liberalism, the “pre-political” societal foundations on which political success or failure depends. Secession is an irreplaceable discussion tool for any student of American politics willing to dig deeper than a superficial description of current political actors and institutions.

According to the USA Today article, Public Policy Polling took a recent poll, whereby 26% of Georgians (as opposed to 18% of Americans) and 42% of Georgia Republicans (as opposed to 25% Republicans nationwide) support their state seceding from the Union. Another 42% of Georgia Republicans say they are opposed to secession. One might be able to write a lot of this off as political posturing- many Republicans are still sore after losing the Presidential election. But what do we make of the fact that Georgia Republicans support secession at a significantly higher rate than their national counterparts? What do we make of the fact that a majority of Georgia Republicans failed to identify as explicitly anti-Secession? What does this mean for the prospects of a strident supporter of “states rights” winning the Republican nomination and being elected Governor? Georgians might not be ready to secede just yet, but the fact that a significant part of the state’s electorate (including nearly half of the state’s majority party) is toying with the idea is bound to have political consequences, good or bad.

Plus, let’s not forget that the prior American secession movements of 1775 and 1860 started as responses to practical political circumstances as well.  That’s often what it takes to get the ball rolling.  Also, talk of secession was going on long before Lincoln was elected (anyone remember the Hartford Convention?); so we might not be at 1860 levels yet, but how far are we from the political environment of 1814? Most Americans don’t sit around thinking about political philosophy and theories of state sovereignty and the nuanced history of state-Federal relations. As a consequence, most Americans won’t ever consider drastic political action until a traumatic political event forces them to. The real question is: how far do we have to go down this road in order to get to that point?

Categories: Secession | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

Sir Thomas More and Drones

The New York Times has a nice article on the White House’s push to develop a “rule book” to regulate drone strikes. Apparently, during the campaign the Obama White House was scrambling to develop concrete procedures that would regulate how and when a hypothetical Romney administration could use drones. The article quotes an unnamed White House official admitting “There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands.” Once the election was over, however, such an attempt to institutionalize policies suddenly lost their sense of immediacy. The White House is still working on crafting a “rule book” but seem in no real rush to do so.

The overarching message from all of this seems to be: “there need to be clear standards and procedures in place; just not for us.” Rarely is liberal hypocrisy ever so blatant.

While it is reassuring that the Obama administration at least comprehends that their actions have consequences that will continue after them, they don’t seem willing to change their own behavior accordingly. The NYT article points out the very real possibility that other countries will follow suit in developing and using drones. The fact that the Obama administration sees no problem continuing to use drones that kill a startling number of civilians  (including children) without first formulating any kind of institutional regulations for ordering drone strikes shows a contempt for legal procedure that borders on the tyrannical. The fact that the entire drone program remains shrouded in secrecy only adds to the dangerous precedent being set. Set aside what such strikes do to the public perception of America in Yemen and Pakistan; it is this disregard for legal procedure- in effect, disregard for the rule of law- that will come back to haunt America.

All of this reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies (and plays). In Fred Zinnemann’s film adaptation of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More gives one of the most eloquent defenses of constitutionalism and conservatism to ever grace the silver screen.

The Obama administration may think that killing terrorists and protecting America’s security is a worthy enough goal to justify working without specific institutional procedures. But when we begin to cut down the laws that stand between us and whatever Devil we are after, that same law will be utterly unable to protect us from the Devil, as well as ourselves.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Secession and Constitutional Preservation: a Response to Charles C.W. Cooke

For the most part, I try to avoid reading National Review. Whatever problems I have with William F. Buckley, he was at the very least a contemplative and thoughtful individual who cared very deeply about the conservative tradition he often represented to the American public. The same cannot always be said for the magazine he started in 1955. Charles C.W. Cooke’s recent article regarding the current discussion of secession provides a useful case-in-point.

To the reflective conservative, the prospect of secession should at least be an interesting academic exercise- one that would ostensibly involve such considerations as the origins of governmental authority, the historical nature of the American Union, and whether the current constitutional order is still salvageable. Such considerations, however, are apparently lost on Cooke. There are timely and thoughtful arguments that can be made on either side of the contemporary debate about secession. Cooke’s dismissal of the issue out of hand, however, betrays the emptiness of his supposed conservatism and contributes nothing to a genuine discussion of the merits and drawbacks of secession.

Fundamentally, Cooke’s argument falls apart because he has a myopic understanding of history. More specifically, Cooke sees only a train of “light and transient causes” in the political sphere where conservatives should see a systemic pattern of compositional disintegration in the constitutional sphere. He draws from the language of the Declaration of Independence to illustrate the differences between the historical circumstances of the American Framers on one hand and modern proponents of secession on the other:

If modern secessionists were to accept the premise that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation,” what would be on their account? Which “facts” would “be submitted to a candid world”? Obamacare? Dodd-Frank? The amnesty executive order? The HHS mandate? Please. These are serious problems to be sure, but they are political problems, not problems of structure.

This underlies a chronic vice of the type of conservative that the National Review regularly employs: the disassociation of contemporary political issues from their broader philosophical and historical contexts. The common understanding of history as “one damn thing after another” arises from this perversion of history into an unending parade of unrelated- and thus apparently transient- factual occurrences.

An honest examination of the current dilapidated state of the American constitutional order tells a different story. Consider for a moment:

- The branches of the Federal government seem more interested in colluding than in checking each other’s constitutional transgressions.

- The states have virtually no political power with which to check their agents in Washington.

- The President wages war at his own dictatorial whim.

- The rightful law-making power of Congress has been delegated to an ever-increasing executive bureaucracy, facilitating the decline from republic to technocracy.

- The American electorate that once vigorously guarded their constitutional rights now willingly surrender them without so much as a second thought.

- That most sacred of all First Amendment prohibitions, that against prohibiting the “free exercise of religion”- has recently been shown to be little more than a “parchment barrier” as James Madison predicted it would.

In short, if Mr. Cooke does not see structural problems in the American constitutional order, either he is not looking or the term is as utterly devoid of meaning as his understanding of history. By the standards of the 18th Century, the current American government is completely bereft of internal mechanisms of restraint and is thereby a de facto dictatorship.


Whether or not Texas or Georgia or any other state should secede from the Union remains to be argued. But the stakes are much higher than Cooke indicates. The current structure of government has proved itself, up until this point, to be untenable.

If Mr. Cooke is correct in calling the United States “the greatest force for good in the history of the world”, then it is surely because of the great constitutional order that we have built upon over the centuries. That order is based not upon national boundaries but upon the resonance of that order within the populace it governs. That that resonance is weaker now than ever before seems evident: as Cooke points out, the President can still say he governs by virtue of the “consent” of the American people writ large. What he cannot say, however, is that he governs by the “consent” of the people of Wyoming.

Perhaps the best chance at preserving that which is best about America- our political culture, our constitutional order, our respect for the rule of law and the Western cultural inheritance- is through the dissolution of the American state. A dismantling of the American state might not be a dismantling of the constitutional order; rather, it might be a preemptive step toward restoring an order now dead.

Mr. Cooke is correct: secession is no matter to be taken up lightly. But when the alternative is the further disintegration of the best of America, the prospect of secession deserves honest consideration.

Categories: Secession, The Constitution | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Post Election Analysis: Moderation as Vice

By some sort of cosmic irony, Mitt Romney’s defeat in the presidential election is now being held up as a sign that the ultra-conservatives exercise too much control in the Republican Party. Critics charge that if the Republican Party wants to become political relevant again, it must subdue its more radical elements and start putting forth more moderate candidates. Social issues need to be abandoned in order to attract more women voters, and the Republican line on immigration needs to be reconsidered in order to reach out to Hispanics.

According to this narrative, Republicans nominated Romney as a result of their “devil may care” attitude toward the broader electorate. And while this may or may not have been true in some of the other races around the country, anyone who followed the Republican Primary, however, knows this is patently false. To the contrary, Romney got the nod mostly because Republicans felt that he was their best chance to beat Obama. That assessment might have actually been correct, at least inasmuch as Romney never promised to spend his presidency talking about the dangers of contraception, somehow resisted the urge to talk about his policy toward U-beki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, and because- no matter how much he loves America- that patriotism never lead him to cheat on his wife. Excuse me: cheat on his wives.

So it wasn’t as if Republicans were ignorantly throwing out the most radical candidate imaginable. On the contrary, Republicans nominated the candidate who they didn’t really believe in themselves: is it such a wonder that the rest of America didn’t either? Mitt Romney, the “etch-a-sketch” candidate, was supposed to be the perfect candidate largely based around the fact that he would say anything, be anyone he needed to be in order to become President.

In the end, it was Romney’s lack of conviction, his lack of authenticity that became his defining characteristic. By the end of the primary, rather than an “etch-a-sketch,” Romney became the “color-by-number” candidate: unhesitatingly trying to give conservatives, then Americans, everything they said they wanted. He became the best facsimile conservative around. He knew he couldn’t become “severely conservative” overnight, but he could be something so close that the untrained eye wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Romney said all the right things, appealed to all the right groups, and looked the part. To give an example that Romney himself is probably fairly familiar with: he aced the job interview. And as any job applicant will tell you: when you apply for a job, you tweak your resume to fit the position you are applying for, and then you tell them what you know they want to hear. Mitt Romney found out all too late that Americans are suspicious of “cookie-cutter” candidates; in that much, at least, the general electorate is wiser than the Republicans gave them credit for.

After all of the talk of the “lesser of two evils” and all of the nose-holding-while-voting, one lesson from this election should be patently clear: the problem is not that Republicans believe too strongly in their own principles. The problem is that Republicans continually vote for the “lesser of two evils” because they don’t actually believe their principles will work in practice.

When I filled out my absentee ballot, I wrote in Ron Paul for President and I caught hell for it from family members who told me I was “throwing away” my vote. What Romney’s failed candidacy shows, however, is that the real ones “throwing away” their votes are the ones who vote for the supposedly “electable” candidate who in the end stands for absolutely nothing.

Because it doesn’t matter how moderate and pragmatic the Republican nominee is- the Left will ultimately paint him as a radical. The solution to the Republican Party’s electoral woes is not to continue moving toward the center until (to paraphrase Mittens) we allow absolutely no daylight between ourselves and the Democrats, but rather to articulate a clear alternative to their policies. Let’s face it: we’ll never out-pander the Left.

Categories: 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Murder She Tweeted (Twote?)

Now that the presidential campaign is over, we can finally start to look back on the race with some degree of objectivity. This is the moment that we political scientists live for: our chance to be clinically detached while attempting to engage a public that is still half-interested in politics.

This story is a few weeks old, but it gives a perfect snapshot of the 2012 election. We’ve already posted articles here and here, about out how childish and uninformed American political discourse has become. However, when we start to talk about assassination threats on Twitter, everything else starts to look pretty good in comparison.

Yes, assassination threats on Twitter. I wish I was joking.

It turns out that after the foreign policy debate a few weeks ago, an astounding number of Obama supporters took to Twitter to vent against Mitt Romney. And to issue death threats. To take one of many, many examples, look at the words of I_B_New_York: “i jus used close to $200 worth of food stamps today…Romney dont take that away..70% of America will assassinate u.” More examples are listed at the bottom of the article.

The threats kept coming through at least Monday, according to Once again, to take a particularly colorful example: Jamarea Gage writes: “I’ll personally f*****g kill Romney if he try’s some dumb nazi s**t f**k that.” Or this tweet by Lifted Boy: “I crash that f**king airplane that that f**got n**ga Romney, stab Mrs. Romney in her G** D**N esophagus. & won’t stop until the cops come in.”

In a way, I’m not that surprised. In fact, I’ve come to fully expect this kind of rhetorical violence, given our current political climate. What is interesting to note, however, is that there seems to be a double standard in the media’s coverage of Twitter death threats. Very few media outlets have touched the Romney threats, while two relatively isolated cases of assassination threats against Obama have received a staggering amount of media attention.

The first came back in September,  when there was a national furor over 16-year-old Alyssa Douglas tweeting the following:

Her Twitter and Facebook accounts were promptly deleted and she became a national symbol for racism and bigotry. A Daily Kos article (written, incidentally, under the hilarious nom de plume therehastobeaway) opined, “when a 16 year-old white girl takes to Twitter to openly call for the assassination of our President, you have got to wonder where we, as a society, have gone wrong;” [emphasis in the original]. The author went on to encourage viewers to contact the FBI, the Secret Service, and Ms. Douglas’ high school Principal. Ms. Douglas herself was quickly inundated with hate mail. Worst of all, she doubtless found life for her entire family turned completely upside down due to a single thoughtless, childish action.

The second example also took place back in September when Secret Service officers arrested Donte Jamar Sims in Charlotte, NC. Sims had tweeted, among other things, “Ima hit president Obama with that Lee Harvey Oswald swag” and “Well IMA Assassinate president Obama this evening.” I suppose on one level we can draw a distinction between the immediacy and specificity of Mr. Sims’ threats against the relative improbability of JCBaltodano’s “If Romney wins the elections I will start a national riot to kill his a**!” but that’s really missing the bigger point at hand.

All of this paints a very disturbing picture. Many leading Democrats placed the blame for Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting on Republican rhetoric. They were right, in at least one sense- not in suggesting that Jared Lee Loughner drew his inspiration from Sarah Palin, but in recognizing that there were larger cultural reasons for this violence. And while death threats against the President have been the subject of much media attention- much of it warranted, some of it perhaps not (as in the case of Alyssa Douglas)- there has been just as much, if not more hatred coming from Obama supporters in recent weeks.

The political climate is in shambles, and all of this goes to illustrate a point I made in my very first post on this blog: that a rotten culture leads to rotten politics. You can’t expect to fix the vitriol and violence in the political sphere without first addressing the deep-seated cultural problems that underlie this kind of rhetoric. If we continue down this path, it seems likely that violent rhetoric will soon lead to more and more acts of political violence.

Beneath the surface of every assassination threat lies a deep and unyielding spiritual need. And no amount of hand-wringing or public shaming by therehastobeaway is going to fix that need.


Here are a couple examples from the MSN article mentioned at the beginning of the article:

Categories: 2012, Cultural renewal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Write in Ron Paul- The Only Conservative Choice

There is a peculiar hypocrisy that has been going around conservative circles in recent weeks and months: scores of genuine conservatives have dutifully lined up to vote for Mitt Romney, all the while lamenting the state of the political culture generally and the Republican Party in particular. They are convinced of two things above all else: 1) that they have no option other than voting for Romney and 2) that someone else is to blame for this sad state. They blame the mainstream media, the ever-declining culture, big business, party elites, and each other; seemingly, however, none of them stop to consider that blame lies most directly on those who continue to lend their support to a system that has shown so many times that it cannot work. If conservatives continue to vote for the Republican Party, no matter who they put forth, they have no one to blame but themselves.

Despite what you may have heard, conservatives do have a choice next week: a choice to either be on the side of the Constitution and traditional conservative values and a choice to be against them. Actually, two choices to be against them: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are actually on the same side on this issue, like virtually every other issue of any long-range consequence. Mathematically speaking, the practical effect your vote will have is negligible- it is more symbolic than anything else.

In the long run, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference which one of the two major candidates wins. The U.S. will remain on the fast track to bankruptcy. Our foreign policy will still wreak havoc abroad and fuel imperial delusions at home. The economy will eventually improve from the current depression, but the Fed will continue to cause economic turmoil in the future. Millions of unborn lives will continue to be sacrificed every year to the pagan god of “individual choice.” More and more economic and political power will be sucked into the vacuums of Wall Street and Washington, DC. More and more Americans will become reliant on an entitlement system that will become more and more untenable. Worst of all, the Constitution will continue to hemorrhage political meaning as it is undermined by Republicans and Democrats alike. If John Roberts’ decisive vote to uphold the Individual Mandate tells us anything, it is that so-called “strict constructionism” is dead on the Supreme Court.

In short, the system will continue along its current unsustainable trajectory.

There is a way out of this mess, albeit one that would require us to turn our backs on the path that both major parties have become hell-bent on walking. In order to save America in this late hour, we can no longer afford to compromise. Our national debt cannot sustain another Reagan or Bush, to say nothing of an Obama or Johnson. After decades of unsuccessful attempts at changing Washington from the inside, maybe it’s time for conservatives to finally realize that the answer to our present political crisis will not come from Washington, but from another source. In our constitutional system, the next most likely candidate for political action has always been, and will continue to be, the several states.

The question then becomes: will either of the candidates bring us closer to a country that lets the states take the lead on matters of national governance? Will either candidate be the first President in over a century to restore respect for the Constitution? Has either candidate shown any sign that they recognize the precarious position that the current trajectory has placed us in? I think not.

If my vote is to be purely symbolic and nothing else, I want to be sure that my vote will not be misidentified. Jill Stein may have some positive decentralist qualities, but overall stands for more statism than either major party candidate. The Constitution Party, as a whole, seems to be on relatively firm footing, but in selecting a candidate as mainstream as Virgil Goode, they demonstrate that they are willing to compromise political integrity in order to gain a few (and I mean a VERY few) votes. Gary Johnson has always leaned more toward the libertine side of libertarianism.

The one candidate that I can vote for without my voice being misconstrued is Congressman Ron Paul. For the past five years, he has been the most dependable national proponent for the constitution, for federalism, and for tradition- all of the values that traditionalists hold dear. He considers himself “libertarian,” but emphasizes an attendant personal moral responsibility more than Johnson does. That, combined with a lifelong demonstration of personal character, more than outweigh any distaste I might otherwise have for the misappropriation of the term “Revolution.” When I sent in my absentee ballot,  I voted for Ron Paul.

Categories: 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Traditionalism and “Transcendent Truth”

In a recent post, Joe questions whether traditionalist conservatives such as myself necessarily rule out the existence of any kind of truth that “transcends history.” Kelse, in response, gives a helpful example in asking whether traditionalists would deny the existence of universal economic laws, such as that minimum wage laws encourage unemployment.

Both Joe and Kelse seem to be taking traditionalism as saying that no universal truth can be known. If this is indeed the case, then conservatism of this sort would indeed have relatively little to offer the world. If traditionalists believed that every law of nature was subject to a random process of historical development and held no bearing over the laws of nature existing in any opposing tradition, this would be a rather dubious set of beliefs indeed. Such a philosophy would be rightfully subjected to charges of moral relativism by those who attempt to find some objective standard existing wholly outside history. For the sake of argument, let’s call the proponents of this anti-traditionalism “ideologists.”

This portrayal of traditionalism, however, misses the point by a wide margin. In turning to history, traditionalist conservatism does not deny the existence of an objective standard by which to judge particular traditions. On the contrary, the pursuit of universal truth is of ultimate importance. The key difference between traditionalists and ideologists (on both the Right and the Left) is that traditionalists attempt to locate universal truth within history, while ideologists attempt to find it existing outside of history. Traditionalism holds, as my colleague Edmund Babbitt argues quite eloquently in a separate response to Joe, that: “Universality is manifested concretely and intelligibly in the best of tradition, custom, and precedent produced through human action over time. Stated differently, universality requires particularity or historicity for existence and particularity or history requires universality for eternal meaning.”

A good example of this relationship can be found in Christianity. According to the Christian faith, God is a transcendent being and divine law exists outside of history. In order for humans to understand divine law, however, it was necessary for God to enter history in the form of a man: Jesus of Nazareth. The transcendent became historical and our understanding of divine reality is thus a thoroughly historical one. Once an element of universal truth is uncovered within a tradition, it can be applied more generally outside the tradition, although its historical nature must always be kept in mind.

All of that to say: there are some truths that the traditionalist recognizes as having universal validity. Gravity, for example, is no less of a physical reality in an indigenous tribe that has never heard of Isaac Newton. Or, to take Kelse’s example, the connection between decreased employment and minimum wage laws is no less of an economic reality in any country that favors Keynesian to Misesian economic theories.

Kelse’s minimum wage example, however, requires further examination. Although we now know that minimum wage laws lead to higher unemployment, it still remains to be proven that they should not be enacted. After all, are there economists out there who support minimum wage laws specifically because they are thought to be a good way of increasing employment? I hardly think so. Rather, the proponent of minimum wage laws might argue that they are necessary to prevent the exploitation of workers, that their benefits to those who are employed outweigh the detriments to those who are not, etc.

Eventually, in order to make a faithful argument against minimum wage laws, the libertarian will have to address the elements of a particular culture in order for his economic arguments to carry any weight. Some cultures might be conducive for startup competitors to enter the marketplace, others might not. Some cultures might have strong cultural proscriptions against mistreating your employees, others might not. Some cultures might feature a social safety net that will protect the most vulnerable members of a society, others might not.

The point here is not to argue that minimum wage laws should be enacted in some cultures; personally, I’m not sure that the benefits will ever outweigh the harm they cause. Rather, my point is that truth divorced from historical context is not necessarily true at all. “Human nature” is unchangeable and universal, but the interplay between what is generally human and what is unique to a particular culture- between nature and nurture, if you will- is far more complex than the ideologists acknowledge.

For, in eschewing history and focusing only on ahistorical “laws,” the ideologists are in constant danger of mistaking genuine cultural idiosyncrasies for universal truth. They observe some truth about human nature- a truth that is entirely contingent upon cultural and environmental factors- and from there assume that it is a truth about human nature generally. They are, in more Voegelinian terms, mistaking the “existence of order” for the “order of existence”: assuming that because a particular order exists in one culture, that this truth must “transcend history” and represent the order of all reality.

Let’s return to the example of Christianity provided above. A Christian might reasonably say, looking at the life of Christ, that “it is a universal truth that all men must love one another” or “it is a universal truth that all men need a divine Savior”; on the other hand, saying “it is a universal truth that that Savior must speak Aramaic” or “it is a universal truth that that Savior must die on a cross [a method of execution peculiar to its time and place]” would be confusing the instantiation of truth with the essence of truth.

Truth as we know it always has a historical character. We may, over time, get closer to understanding the true “order of existence,” but we do so, not primarily on the strength of our own individual reason- which is feeble and necessarily bound by our historical circumstances- but by relying on the historical truth embedded in the best of our cultural heritage. This reliance is the true essence of traditionalism.

Categories: Ideology, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Replicating American Libertarianism

Kelse’s response to my post “Traditionalism and Statism,” suggests that my defense of traditionalism over some kind of rational libertarianism was off-base because I focused only on the tradition that he and I share, not on traditionalism as such. Kelse suggests that, were we to focus our attention on a different culture (he gives the example of Saudi Arabia), my argument would have much less to offer it. There are three points I would like to make in response to this: 1) libertarianism as Kelse knows it is inextricably tied to a particular historical context, 2) traditionalism offers more hope for the libertarian-minded individual in Saudi Arabia than Kelse suggests, and 3) that this form of tradition-infused libertarianism actually has more to offer than does a purely reason-based libertarianism, if one can be said to exist.

Kelse readily acknowledges that his own libertarian beliefs fit relatively well into the broader Anglo-American tradition. He stops short, however, of recognizing that this is because the Anglo-American tradition gave birth to libertarianism.

Without the Magna Carta, without a Hobbesian conception of social atomism, without a Lockean understanding of property rights and religious toleration, without the Scottish Enlightenment, Kelse wouldn’t be the same thinker he is today. It is important then to note that Kelse’s beliefs do not arise “in a vacuum independent of tradition” as he argued in an earlier post. Either libertarianism is not as “reason”-based as Kelse suggests, or else reason is not as easily divorced from tradition as we are prone to believe. Either way, libertarianism has slowly grown and evolved within a particular historical context (borrowing, here and there, from minds outside the Anglo-American tradition).

Why was it not rationally deduced all at once? Did people just not think hard enough? Was Murray Rothbard the world’s first fully rational man? On the contrary, the history of philosophy would suggest that, whatever the differences in our individual reasoning capacities, all humans are in some way bound by the limits of their own tradition’s worldview: there are certain things they can and cannot see from their own particular historical vantage point. The Enlightenment notion that we have already achieved the pinnacle of human wisdom from which no further growth is possible is, from this point of view, laughably hubristic. One might then say that Anglo-American libertarianism is the best political philosophy heretofore known (which is improbable but conceivable), but one cannot say that it is the best that will ever exist.

As a traditionalist, I am proud of my culture’s accomplishments and believe that elements of its tradition have much to offer the modern world today. Yet, I do not believe that my own tradition represents any kind of grand advancement in human development. The value of my tradition is the same as the value of every other tradition: it conveys a universal truth about humanity. If a tradition has endured over hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years, it must have some degree of staying power. Thus, although I might have serious spiritual, cultural, and political differences with members of the Muslim world, I would have to acknowledge that there must be something worthwhile within their tradition to allow it such longevity.

This is not to suggest that there are not aspects of every tradition that do more harm than good to a society. My primary cultural identity comes from being born in the American South. And while there are many aspects of my culture that I love deeply, there are also some unfortunate aberrations from that tradition: slavery, discrimination, and racial prejudice to name a few. Did slavery exist for so long because it conveyed some deep truth about human nature or encouraged human excellence? Obviously not. So, as a Southerner, I must make a conscious choice to emphasize some aspects of my tradition over others. In order to make this distinction, I admittedly must have some understanding of a higher good that transcends my particular historical tradition. In a sense, perhaps this is similar to what Kelse means when he talks about “reason.” That being said, I would maintain that universal truth can only be understood through historical tradition.

This leads to an important point I was attempting to make, perhaps somewhat awkwardly, in my previous post: as a traditionalist, I am not trying to perfectly recreate an instantiation of universal truth that has already existed in the past; I am attempting to reformulate that truth to fit new circumstances. In the process, I am also constantly trying to improve my own tradition.

The libertarian-minded individual living in Saudi Arabia has the option of doing the same thing. If he were to look back at his own culture and see that theocratic Islamist statism does indeed lead to human excellence, he might begin to reconsider his previous attachment to libertarianism. If, on the other hand, he finds within his own tradition some kind of cultural precursor for limited government, for individual liberty and property rights, then he has the option of building upon this tradition and pointing his culture toward the type of society he sees as best encouraging human flourishing.

Ostensibly, a distinctly Saudi Arabian form of libertarianism won’t look exactly like the Anglo-American libertarian tradition that Kelse is familiar with. Nor should it. Libertarianism in America itself originated within a particular culture. Why should Saudi Arabian libertarianism not? Or alternatively, why should we hold out hope for Anglo-American libertarianism thriving in Saudi Arabia?

Libertarianism, to the extent that it has been separated from its original cultural moorings, has proved to be a more destructive than positive influence. If the Saudi Arabians want a more libertarian culture, then they should develop one within their own cultural context.

Categories: Cultural development, Libertarianism, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Traditionalism and Statism

In his post “Conservatism and the Paul Krugman Paradox,” Kelse argues that traditionalist conservatism must necessarily devolve into one of two positions: 1) a coherent philosophy that is bound by its own terms to accept certain unsavory parts of the political culture (i.e. Statism); or 2) an incoherent philosophy that in reality is not traditionalism at all, but a front for some other set of beliefs (i.e. Libertarianism or Statism). The variant of traditionalism depicted by Kelse is indeed deeply flawed, but there is another articulation of traditionalist conservatism, drawn from the philosophy of Edmund Burke, that is much more tenable and that is able to resist the growth of the state on its own terms.

Despite the way he is often presented, Burke was far from being a slave to the predominant cultural and political impulses of his day. In particular, Burke was willing to go against short-term political and cultural trends if they threatened the stability of a much deeper tradition. In cases such as today where the governing political system is fundamentally at odds with the greater historical tradition, Burke would have no trouble in abandoning the current instruments of government.

It was in this vein that Burke supported the spirit of the 1689 Glorious Revolution. When James II was actively undermining the basic constitutional structure, his overthrow became a matter of traditional continuity. Burke also argued passionately for the impeachment of Warren Hastings, Governor-General of India, on charges of corruption and mismanagement. In one of the most well-known speeches of his long career, Burke argued, in part, that Hastings’ actions had threatened the valuable cultural traditions already present in India. For Burke, it did not matter that British imperialism was at its zenith and that an appreciation for traditional Indian culture was not exactly on the political horizon. His foremost goal remained protecting the larger tradition.

What does this mean for traditionalist conservatism today? Among other things, it means that the traditionalist need not accept parts of the current political order that are in opposition to the greater tradition. If he apprehends that certain contemporary political institutions- for example, the modern welfare state- are in tension with the greater part of the old Anglo-American tradition, he is obliged to decry those institutions as aberrations and work to overthrow them.

Tradition, as here described, is much deeper than merely the aggregate of all changes over time. The value of a tradition is not merely that it tells us the things that have been done in the past- the value of the tradition lies in what it tells us about universal truth. We see the way that people have organized and conducted themselves over many generations and thereby discover some truth about human nature. The fact that people in recent decades have become accustomed to having a much larger federal government says absolutely nothing about the older tradition- the two are completely incommensurable. In comparison to the greater Anglo-American tradition, the modern state is easily seen as an aberration from the older tradition, not a further development of it.

It is important to note too that, the goal of the traditionalist is not merely to resurrect dead aspects of the older tradition. Because of his attention to history and cultural context, the traditionalist understands better than anyone that antiquated formulations of the tradition cannot be replicated without losing their original effect. Rather than attempting to replicate the past instantiations, the goal of the traditionalist is to find the eternal truths that are conveyed within the old tradition. Once a tradition has been abandoned, the traditionalist must set about trying to find some way to fit the truth found within the tradition to a new historical context. In other words, he must find new ways to instantiate the best aspects of the old tradition. As a consequence, the traditionalist does not attempt to return to a previous instantiation, even if it is one that he personally has some affinity for.

The traditionalist may at times feel like an anachronism- yet if he is to succeed in reinvigorating the tradition, he must find a way to make the valuable parts of the old tradition accessible to a new generation that he feels quite distant from.

Categories: Traditionalism | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Did someone say “binders full of women”?

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The case for cultural renewal

At the outset of this blog, I would like to exploit a political theorist’s prerogative and direct the reader’s attention away from the immediate political concerns of the day by asking a more fundamental question: what is the relationship between politics and culture? In particular, to what degree are changes in one dependent upon hospitable conditions in the other?

All too often, I fear, conservatives tend to focus upon political issues and demonstrate a lack of interest in cultural change. At the risk of superimposing a theoretical coherence over the seemingly haphazard and self-contradictory nature of so-called “mainstream conservatism,” I would suggest that while conservatives today rightly emphasize the stultifying effects government programs can have on American society, they fail to understand that the obverse is also true: that spiritual and intellectual weakness in a society can set a ceiling for what is possible in the political realm.

Continue reading

Categories: Cultural renewal | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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