Cultural renewal

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

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

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

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

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

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

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

Detroit - Arsenal of Democracy

Detroit bankrupt

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

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

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

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

“When You’re Here, You’re Family”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Peter Viereck Can Tell Today’s Conservatives

In later editions of his bookConservatism Revisited: The Revolt Against Ideology, Peter Viereck includes a second part with the provocative title “The New Conservatism: What Went Wrong?” In his provocative post on “cool kids” conservatism, Kelse mentions Viereck fairly negatively in a discussion about just what it is that conservatism is worth. I think Viereck presents a challenge to the libertarians and the conservatives on this blog (as well as a lot of what counts as the conservative right today) in those few pages. It is relevant today, just as it was when it was first published around 40 years ago.

Here are some passages which, I think, require contemporary conservatives to face some unpleasant political realities.

(from page 134 of the Transaction edition 2005)

In America, Southern agrarianism has long been the most gifted literary manifestation of the conservatism of yearning. Its most important intellectual manifesto was the Southern Symposium I’ll Take My Stand, 1930, contrasting
the cultivated human values of a lost aristocratic agrarianism with Northern commercialism and liberal materialism. At their best, these and more recent examples of the conservatism of yearning are needed warnings against shallow practicality. The fact that such warnings often come from the losing side of our Civil War is in itself a merit; thereby they caution a nation of success-worshippers against the price of success. But at their worst, such books of the 1930s, and again of today, lack the living roots of genuine conservatism and have only lifeless ones. The lifeless ones are really a synthetic substitute for roots, contrived by romantic nostalgia.

Such romanticizing conservatives refuse to face up to the old and solid historical roots of most or much American liberalism. What is really rootless and abstract is not the increasingly conservatized New Deal liberalism but the romantic conservatives’ own utopian dream of an aristocratic agrarian restoration. Their unhistorical appeal to history, their traditionless worship of tradition, characterize the conservatism of writers like Russell Kirk.

In contrast, a genuinely rooted, history-minded conservative conserves the roots that are really there, exactly as Burke did when he conserved not only the monarchist-conservative aspects of William the Third’s bloodless revolution of 1688 but also its constitutional-liberal aspects. The latter aspects, formulated by the British philosopher John Locke, have been summarized in England and America ever since by the word “Lockean.”

And he states further (this on page 142 of the previously mentioned edition)

What about the argument (very sincerely believed by National Review and Old Guard Republicans) that denies the label “conservative” to those of us who support trade unionism and who selectively support many New Deal reforms? According to this argument, our support of such humane and revolution-preventing reforms in politics—by New Dealers and democratic socialists—makes us indistinguishable from liberals in philosophy. Shall we then cease to call ourselves philosophical conservatives, despite our conservative view of history and human nature?

So, conservatives, what is your answer to his question?

Categories: 2012, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Rand Paul, Robert Nisbet, The Constitution, Traditionalism, Tyranny | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rand… Randy… Oooh Yeah

As Ben, Kelse and others consider the profundity and efficacy of Rand Paul’s epic filibuster, and while I think of a response to Kelse’s awesome critical examination of my self-identified conservatism, I counsel us to take a step back to remember what’s really important:

Tell the White House to designate May 20th as Macho Man Randy Savage Day

I have seen it on facebook and I’d like our readers to be aware of this important step for American national pride, unity and occasional monarchy.

Let’s reminisce this man’s profound effect on our country

As I watched Randy Savage call out with confidence and certainty the then-World Wrestling Federation President, I immediately thought of Rand Paul’s epic filibuster: not because he’s the cream of the crop, but because Randy Savage lost to Ricky Steamboat in Wrestlemania III. That doesn’t give me confidence in a long view of the effect of Senator Paul’s action. It just makes me think that, after everything is said and done and the script is finished, he will lose. Randy Savage lost to a great technician from Hawai’i; Senator Paul will ultimately lose to a great technician from Hawai’i (perhaps with some outside interference from his allies). Just call me a pessimist.

But don’t let that stop you: work for your democracy, don’t wait for your democracy to work for you. Rand Paul is working for our democracy. So, too, can the memory of Macho Man Randy Savage.

Categories: Constitutional Law, Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Libertarianism, Rand Paul, The Constitution, Traditionalism, Tyranny | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Gaypocalypse and the Conservative Cause

PRSanco has written a provocative post which gives to the conservative a pragmatic solution to the gay marriage debate that currently divides the country and causes conservatives to break out in cold sweats as they lie awake at night waiting for the gaypocalypse.

The problem is that this is not a new solution. Andrew Sullivan did it first. In 1989 he wrote a now seminal article arguing that conservatives should support gay marriage. From that time, conservatives have only stood against history, yelling their throats raw in an effort to defend “tradition” instead of becoming a guide of social and political change. So, while there is a debate, let’s not mistake that it is an academic one. Instead of pining for the old, why don’t conservatives get on with a justification for their existence, which is to conserve the social order? Conservatives can’t do that if they’re scaring the crap out of us in an effort to warn us of the great Gaypocalyse. We get it. The world is changing. Traditional marriage is coming to an end. If we accept gay marriage we are spelling the end of traditional marriage by fundamentally rejecting the definition that has undergirded Judeo-Christian culture for thousands of years. Now do your thing and guide the change so that it doesn’t devolve into some radical left wing gay orgy (literally). It’s what we’re supposed to do. It’s our thing to keep the society from becoming overwhelmed by its baser instincts. Yet we’re not doing that. We’re too busy telling the world about how society is succumbing to the democratic whims of its lesser selves. Way to drop the balls, guys.

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Localism, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Philosophers and the Conservatives

Alexander Rosenberg and Daniel Little have written excellent books which introduce to the student of the social sciences the many different philosophical problems that the student will implicitly explicitly confront in his progress towards his mastery of the discipline(s). While both books provide excellent and overlapping overviews of the major philosophical dilemmas that are inherent to the social scientific enterprise, the Little book has one feature that elevates it above Rosenberg’s effort: examples. While Rosenberg’s book provides a philosophically rich discussion of the themes and arguments in the philosophy of social science – whose questions and answers have significant implications for the design, execution and expectations of the practice(s) of the social sciences, his book lacks the kind of (con)textual references which would appeal to the student or practitioner of the social sciences who would like to know how topics and perspectives on matters such as causality; cultural and moral relativism; the other sciences; or, Marx and Freud, have to do with them.

Little comes through where Rosenberg lags. Whereas after reading Philosophy of Social Science, the reader (whether or not he is a student of the social sciences) may be left wondering how the themes discussed in the chapters are relevant to what is placed on the average political science syllabus, journal article or book, very early on and consistently in Varieties of Social Explanation, the reader is made aware of the implicit and explicit relationships between the philosophical themes under consideration and the nuts-and-bolts work that comprises social science. Each chapter of the book contains within it any number of separate and brief boxes highlighting social scientific research, which provides concrete examples of topics of study in order to connect the abstract philosophy of social science with the concrete reality of social science practice.

I recommend both books to any student of political science, political theory or other social science disciplines. In particular, I think the political theorists would have a lot to say in response to the philosophical topics dealt with in the philosophy of social science. The bloggers and readers of beyondthegop.com would, I think, have many opinions – some strong, others weak – on the philosophical matters that social scientists and social science confront. On whether or not human behavior is rational; whether or not human behavior is best understood as a product of the structure or function of a particular social system; whether or not there are universals in human cultures or whether or not there are incommensurable differences in beliefs, morals and/or cultures; whether or not a science of human behavior is either possible or desirable; and, how the answers to these and other questions affect our study of human behavior. All of this is taken under consideration in both of the books.

 

So what is a conservative to say to the person who wants to be a social scientist? I think that the answer depends on the conservative. I say this to, I suppose surreptitiously, point out that conservatism per se really has nothing to say to the study of human behavior. After all, conservatism claims to be the anti-system. Anti-ideology, anti-rationalism (enlightenment), anti-change, anti-dreams, fantasies and fancies. The does not leave much for conservatism to say to a person who wants to systematically study and produce conclusions about the social world. Conservatism is not Marxism (some of whom, working in that tradition, have produced some interesting stuff).

I don’t think that conservatives should be looking to conservatism in order to find any guiding wisdom for the study of the social world. The conservative – traditionalist, neo, paleo, christian, etc. – should realize that the self-acknowledged limitations of conservatism imply that the conservative has to search elsewhere if (s)he wants to actually make conservatism matter. Decouple and unpack the assumptions that the individual traditionalist has about the world and then come back to conservatism after the traditionalist has a slightly better understanding of the relationship between his view of the world that is independent from the conservatism that is supposed to be its source. Is it at this level where I think that the conservative theorist can meet the philosophy of social science.

After that meeting, when the conservative has engaged the topics, then return to conservatism with a better understanding of the philosophical issues at risk and then improve upon the presentation of conservatism. Philosophy of social science has the potential to give a great deal to conservatism. I hope that the conservatives will be willing to dialog with it.

Categories: Cultural renewal, Ideology, Libertarianism, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Homeschooling on the Rise

This story is a few weeks old, but quite interesting.

Homeschooling is on the rise, according to the Economist.

Three decades ago home schooling was illegal in 30 states. It was considered a fringe phenomenon, pursued by cranks, and parents who tried it were often persecuted and sometimes jailed. Today it is legal everywhere, and is probably the fastest-growing form of education in America. According to a new book, “Home Schooling in America”, by Joseph Murphy, a professor at Vanderbilt University, in 1975 10,000-15,000 children were taught at home. Today around 2m are—about the same number as attend charter schools.

While modern homeschooling started off as a movement by leftists to get their kids out of the oppressive capitalist American school systems, it is now a staple of religious conservatives.

Today the ranks of home-schoolers are overwhelmingly Christian, and 78% of parents attend church frequently. According to the National Household Education Survey in 2007, the main motivation for home schooling was for religious or moral instruction (36%), followed by school environment (21%) and the quality of instruction available (17%). After this comes concerns about special education, the distance of travel and even nut allergies.

But don’t think that “religious” means only Christian. Muslims are one of the fastest-growing homeschooling groups in the country.

So homeschooling is growing. What about the success of homeschooling?

Academically, home-schooled children seem to do well; they enter higher education in proportions similar to those who are conventionally educated, and score as well or better on college entrance exams. Nor, on the evidence of Mr. Murphy’s book, are they socially backward: most seem confident, assured and well-adjusted. They also have fewer behavioural problems. But one study did find higher attrition rates when they enter the armed forces.

The rise of homeschooling is an important trend for several reasons. Most importantly, it gives to parents–and takes from the state–control of children’s moral and intellectual training. It is essential to the survival of a free society that the state does not have a stranglehold on the upbringing of the young. It is essential that families and communities  control the education and character formation of future generations. The variety of viewpoints that emerge in such educational decentralization (both Christians and Muslims taking full advantage of their educational freedom) preserves the diversity of thought that renders an overbearing monolithic state a difficult undertaking.

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Libertarianism, Traditionalism | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Strike blows against militarism and hollywood

In a blow against militarism and for restraint – for conservatism – the White House has responded to a petition to begin construction of a Death Star with a “no.” 

That’s probably a good thing…

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, The Constitution, Traditionalism | 1 Comment

Political Science, Theory and Philosophy

Over at the duck of minerva blog, there have been a few responses (and responses to responses to a recent paper written by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (whose blog can be read here). The topic of the paper is outside of the scope of the normal stuff we discuss on the blog – the title is “Leaving Theory Behind: Why Hypothesis Testing Has Become Bad for IR” and it is to be published in European Journal of International Relations – but, I think relevant to what it is we write about; it gives another spin to and expands the scope of the persistent debate on this blog between tradition, history, and rationalism.

On the blog, we discuss all sorts of political topics; but, how do we make the connection between what it is that we write about – honey boo boo. guns, small-r republican gun control obamacare, libertarianism – and larger methodological and epistemological questions that might arise – yet the answers to or assumptions about which we might take for granted – as we try to make sense of our social world?

Are Mearsheimer and Walt right to lament the decline of theorizing and its replacement with hypothesis testing? What is the relationship between the political philosophy and political philosophers (like the folks on this blog) to the study and practice of political science? In our critiques of contemporary culture, our emphasis on the good, the true and the beautiful, and a relatively rich description and understanding of human behavior, what is it that we can say as we look at the discipline? How can we appear to people outside of the discipline as more than simply smug newspaper readers or smug obscurantists? Getting the message out; connecting theory to policymaking, and being more aware of the effect of our philosophical assumptions on the study of, and pronouncements on, politics. We’re conservative, sure, but we’re also dudes and chics who’ve spent a lot of time in the classroom thinking about these questions that many people don’t really care about nearly as much as we do. And I think that demands a reflection and engagement with ourselves. And that might begin with trying to figure out how it is that we think. What are the implications of our philosophical positions. And what role those philosophical assumptions have – how they trickle down (or up? or no trickle at all?) into manifestations of political positions. Just a thought.

So… hypothesis testing: good or bad for the study of politics or international relations in particular? Why, why not, what are the deficiencies, flaws or mis-directions of that approach? If not it, then what are alternative approaches toward the study of politics? Should an emphasis be placed on theory instead? And what kind of theorizing should one do in order to study politics?

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Traditionalism | Leave a comment

Honey Boo Boo’s Cri de Coeur

I have been thinking about writing a blog post about Alana Thompson, better known as Honey Boo Boo, for some time now.  What I’ve realized is that Alana Thompson can only be saved by you and me.  I think a lot of people know the show is horrible, but they watch it, only ironically of course.  They watch, because they get pleasure from knowing that they’re better than Alana and her mom.  They and TLC are in on the joke about exposing these horrible rednecks.  But what’s missing from that view is that Alana is a person.  A human being.  Apparently she is six years old now.  Six.  It might already be too late not to ruin this human, this person, for life.  And if you’ve watched the show you should feel complicit in it.  When, in eight short years, this poor soul turns to drugs and alcohol the watchers of this show should feel a lump of guilt in their throats.  Yes, it’s partly Alana’s mom’s fault, and yes it’s partly TLC’s fault.  But if you’re watching the show, you’re making it profitable for TLC and Alana’s mom to keep treating Alana like she’s inhuman.  You, who rail against capitalism, the evils of capitalism are possible because individuals allow them to flourish.  Turn off the t.v., I beg you, change the channel.  You can literally save a life.

I read an article once about sexually abused children.  It turns out that the ones who are able to find order and sense in the world, to find some kind of justice, are able to walk away from abuse relatively unscathed.  Those kids who feel that they can turn to figures of authority for help, and get that help, and their perpetrator is punished, find a way to function in this flawed world.  Those kids who never turn to authority fare worse, and the worst of all are those who turn to authority and are ignored, denied, or intimidated.  Those are the kids you read about who ended up over-dosing on heroine, hanging themselves in their bedroom late at night, or taking a leaping jump off a Manhattan rooftop.  These kids never find peace, can never make sense of this evil and terrible world.  For these kids all there is is senseless disorder and the crushing pain of a society that sacrificed them, rejected them, and forgot them.

Apparently Alana and her mom were recently guests on the “Dr. Drew Show.”  Most of the news articles focused on the fact that Alana apparently slapped Dr. Drew in the face.  What was less talked about were Alana’s answers to Dr. Drew’s questions.  Alana could not help but scream NO! when Dr. Drew asked if she liked being on t.v., she continued that she hates fans coming up to her all the time.  Both times Alana’s mom contradicted or ignored her; it isn’t true, she said, but Alana insisted that it is.  She complained that not even her principle calls her Alana, calling her Honey Boo Boo instead, and her mom denied it.  True or not, Alana is begging to be heard.  She is already beginning to lose hope, she is acting out in desperation that some responsible adult, some authority will save her; will restore meaning and order to her world.  Her mom won’t, her principle won’t, Dr. Drew won’t, not even after she slapped him. Do something, help me, that is her cri de coeur.

What I am asking is that you act as the responsible authority for Alana.  Decide, and mean it, that you will never watch this abuse again.  Take the show off the air.  Only we can do it.  TLC won’t do it, and Alana’s mom won’t do it.  This show will continue to air as long as it is profitable, as long as people are willing to watch.  Maybe, just maybe, if Alana realizes that adults, that Americans, are actually not interested in watching her be exploited and abused, her sense of right and wrong, of decency and justice can be restored.  Maybe she won’t need to numb the pain, or stop it altogether eight or ten years hence.

The quality of our society is determined by the quality of the aggregate individuals who make it up.  There is really only one thing you can do to make our society better, and that is to make yourself good, when you are good, your example may inspire others to be good, and then you begin to have an impact, but it must begin with being good.  Be better than Alana’s mom and TLC, not by making fun of this poor child that has been sacrificed, rejected, and abandoned, be better than them by not abusing Alana, by switching the channel and by restoring some small bit of order to our world.  Please, only you can save this girl’s life.

Image

Save Alana Thompson’s life.

Categories: Cultural renewal | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Denzel Washington to GQ: Take Responsibility for Yourself

So, with classes over for the winter break I browsed the October edition of Gentlemen’s Quarterly (stop snickering) and found an interesting interview with Denzel Washington, one of my favorite actors. I thought his closing comment worthy of note. When asked, “If you had one thing to say to African-American readers of GQ, what would you say?” Mr. Washington responded,

Take responsibility. One of the things that saddens me the most about my people is fathers that don’t take care of their sons and daughters. And you can’t blame that on The Man or getting frisked. Take responsibility. Look in the mirror and say, “What can I do better?” There is opportunity; you can make it. Whatever it is that you choose, be the best at it. You have an African-American president. You can do it. But take responsibility. Put your slippers way under your bed so when you get up in the morning, you have to get on your knees to find them. And while you’re down there, start your day with prayer. Ask for wisdom. Ask for understanding. I’m not telling you what religion to be, but work on your spirit. You know, mind, body, and spirit. Imagine—work the brain muscle. Keep the body in tune—it’s your temple. All things in moderation. Continue to search. That’s the best part of life for me—continue to try to be the best man.

This seems like good advice for all young people, not just GQ‘s African-American readers. And it is the sort of advice that, if followed on a wide scale, ensures the sort of self-responsibility that keeps individuals free and self-sufficient.

Categories: Cultural renewal | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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.

Marx

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

Benevolent Sexism

Here’s a great point-to link from Charles Murray over at AEI. It’s the abstract for an article from the Psychology of Women Quarterly on “benevolent sexist.” Read and enjoy the combination of ridiculous academic prose and even more absurd academic reasoning.

Previous research suggests that benevolent sexism is an ideology that perpetuates gender inequality. But despite its negative consequences, benevolent sexism is a prevalent ideology that some even find attractive. To better understand why women and men alike might be motivated to adopt benevolent sexism, the current study tested system justification theory’s prediction that benevolent sexism might have a positive linkage to life satisfaction through increased diffuse system justification, or the sense that the status quo is fair. A structural equation model revealed that benevolent sexism was positively associated with diffuse system justification within a sample of 274 college women and 111 college men. Additionally, benevolent sexism was indirectly associated with life satisfaction for both women and men through diffuse system justification. In contrast, hostile sexism was not related to diffuse system justification or life satisfaction. The results imply that although benevolent sexism perpetuates inequality at the structural level, it might offer some benefits at the personal level. Thus, our findings reinforce the dangerous nature of benevolent sexism and emphasize the need for interventions to reduce its prevalence.

Murray comments:

When social scientists discover something that increases life satisfaction for both sexes, shouldn’t they at least consider the possibility that they have come across something that is positive? Healthy? Something that might even conceivably be grounded in the nature of Homo sapiens?

I think we’ve had enough of that, Mr. Murray!

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

Secession: Seriously, People?

Ben has written a thoughtful and provocative critique of charles cooke’s criticism of the recent secessionist movements. I disagree with Ben’s view.

The late paleoconservative writer Sam Francis also held a critical view of modern secessionist movements, writing in February 1998 in his Chronicles Magazine column “Principalities and Powers” of Southern neo-secessionist movements that

There are, to put it simply, two strong
reasons why secession, for the South or any other part of the
nation, is not a good idea. In the first place, it is not
practical; in the second place, even if it were practical, it
would not be desirable.

In a later section of that same column, he writes about something of an irony of contemporary american secessionist movements by pointing out that the south “begins to vanish as a cultural unity” in comparison to movements of cultures that have more legitimate claims to secession as a result of more distinctive cultural-linguistic, religious and historical traditions than the south. Additionally, the contemporary south receives much in the form of government subsidies, legal policies (e.g., affirmative action) and welfare programs.

I am not convinced that there is a “disassociation of contemporary political issues from their broader philosophical and historical contexts” of which any contemporary critic (such as any at national review) is guilty. First, history is on the side of NR, as well as the guys at Claremont.

Second, the philosophical assumptions behind ben’s position are, I think, flawed. The long view of history borders on the deterministic and integrates history and philosophy in a way that denies the very causal and ethical frameworks necessary to justify the secessionist claims. It is difficult to view the vague, hyperbolic and abstract observations about the current state of cultural and political affairs as having any actual explanatory power with regard to the current secessionist movement. At some point, the broader historical and philosophical view must be rejected in favor of something that actually provides a decent causal explanation, which does not require so long a view of time for its power. The alternative view of history, which seems to be assumed, that history is a collection of related and enduring borders on the deterministic (or inevitable) which has some serious philosophical problems to respond to. Alexander Rosenberg briefly addresses historicism in his survey of contemporary philosophy of social science which I will selectively quote here

A theory or method is historicist roughly if it holds that in order to understand and to predict subsequent states of a system-whether a whole society or an individual person-we must have detailed knowledge of the (usually distant) pas states of the system. Even to predict the very next “stage” in the development of a neurosis or an economic system, we need to know about events long past in the life of the individual {usually the patient’s infancy) or the society-sometimes even its prehistory.

He goes on to state one of the problems of historicism with regard to causality

This sort of causation bears the same problems as teleological causation. Recall in Chapter 5 (“Causation and Purpose”) the problems of future events, events that don’t yet exist and therefore cannot bring about present ones. Historicism requires that past events, which no longer exist, bring about future events somehow without affecting present ones. But if past states do not leave a mark on the present that we can identify and employ to chart the future, then their determination of the future cannot be through causal means known to the rest of science. For causation does not work through temporal gaps any more than it works through spatial gaps. There must be chains linking the earlier to the later. And a complete knowledge of the intrinsic causal properties at any link, together with laws, should be enough to determine the character of future effects, without adding information about earlier tasks.

I excerpt all of that in order to make somewhat transparent the assumption(s) behind Ben’s view of history that he employs and to suggest that the view of history has serious problems, for the simple reason that the broad view of history is unnecessary. Which is not to concede that history is an unrelated and transient set of “facts”; but rather, that the view of history that he argues simply should not be – and probably is not – a view of history that is required in order to understand the contemporary secessionist movements. There simply is no “broad historical and philosophical context” that is short changed in the critique that Charles Cooke gives of the contemporary secessionist movements. Not unless one wants to make the claim that the contemporary secessionist movements have their roots in historical “causes” of half and full and full and a half centuries past; but, these movements don’t support that type of claim. These movements don’t seem to support the broader claim of historical and philosophical context that is allegedly missing from pages of NR. This is because, most likely, the evidence that is in does not support a historicist interpretation of the secession talk, but rather an interpretation that is bound up in recent events that some people just don’t like which is the immediate, easiest and most likely best explanation for the uptick in secession talk.

More interestingly – and this should be of interest to those of us who have participated in the historicism versus the not historicism debate on this blog – it would seem that there is an odd appeal to abstract concepts and reasoning detached from the foundation and structure of concrete, lived experience in the listing of alleged flaws in the system. There is nothing in that list – nothing unique or concrete – that the historical circumstances are ripe for a breakdown of the republic, or that even the corrosion of the structure of government is any different now than it may have been in 1950 (or 1900, or 1860, etc): the point is that those grievances are not structural, but rather political and cultural; and are not specific enough to be able to be distinguished from similar laments that could have been uttered at any other time in the history of this republic. Unless we can establish a bright line with specific examples to demonstrate that yes, this is the time and the place that spells our country’s last breath, then those words are reality-denying fantasy.

Harry Jaffa writes a line that should make all traditionalists stop, take a deep breath, and think

Contrary to our “paleoconservatives,” the truths of the Founding do not depend solely upon tradition or divine revelation, but are “discerned in human nature” by human reason grounded in “self-evident truths.”

Further, Jaffa writes

Notwithstanding the great gulf between them, Kirk and Kristol have been as one in their fanatical opposition to the doctrines embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Like Carl Becker, they held that “To ask whether the natural rights philosophy of the Declaration of Independence is true or false, is essentially a meaningless question.” This has been their received and unexamined premise. They are undisturbed by the fact that it renders meaningless the American political tradition itself.

And additionally, he writes

The Declaration is today the first of the Organic Laws of the United States in the United States Code. All acts and deeds of the United States since 1776, including the original Constitution, have been dated from its signing. According to a joint statement of Madison and Jefferson in 1825, the Declaration is not only the act of separation of the thirteen colonies from Great Britain but “the act of Union” by which the thirteen became one (6). Kirk’s assertions about the Declaration are expressions of ideological fanaticism, with no foundation in history or reason.

From these few comments, one can make a claim about paleoconservatism and contemporary secession movements that suggests that at their foundations, neither traditionalist conservatism nor the secessionist movements are grounded in american tradition, history or reasoning. It is, to use Jaffa’s words, “ideological fanaticism.”

 

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Secession, The Constitution, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Jean Jacques Rousseau: The Patron Saint of Conservatives

Chuck O’Shea has written an excellent post about the merits of economic and political localism.

The type of social arrangement Chuck applauds is, I think, a variant of the model(s) of democratic activity about which benjamin barber and others have written.

I guess I’m going to use this post to highlight the drunk uncle of intellectual conservative thought: Jean Jacques Rousseau

Although many traditionalists are critical of rousseau, the critical-negative reaction to rousseau is not universal among conservatives. Given the connection between hegel and rousseau; the continuing impact of rousseau on (at one time) contemporary debates about human nature, the modern woman and modernity, Rousseau is as relevant now as he ever would be. As wearily skeptical products of the Enlightenment, we conservatives ought to be more open to him as an intellectual father of the counter-enlightenment. His moral realism should be a welcome respite from the imaginative fantasies of the neo-jacobins; and other ahistoricists who reject the concrete for the abstract and unreality for the difficult complexities of human experience.

So, let’s re-open those books by him, examine that secondary literature, human nature and recognize his origins and re-interpret him and his work for what he did and the legacy he left, instead of accepting the image and interpretation that the babbitts and kirks of the world have left to us.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Traditionalism | 1 Comment

If a Politician Will Steal for You, He Will Steal from You

The Art of Manliness has a post from a few weeks ago that relates to politics. It’s a short excerpt from a speech Theodore Roosevelt delivered in 1910. While not a fan of Roosevelt’s politics, I think he makes a good point about the dubious nature of most politicians’ promises.

The very last thing that an intelligent and self-respecting member of a democratic community should do is to reward any public man because that public man says he will get the private citizen something to which this private citizen is not entitled, or will gratify some emotion or animosity which this private citizen ought not to possess.

Let me illustrate this by one anecdote from my own experience. A number of years ago I was engaged in cattle-ranching on the great plains of the western United States. There were no fences. The cattle wandered free, the ownership of each being determined by the brand; the calves were branded with the brand of the cows they followed. If on the round-up an animal was passed by, the following year it would appear as an unbranded yearling, and was then called a maverick. By the custom of the country these mavericks were branded with the brand of the man on whose range they were found. One day I was riding the range with a newly hired cowboy, and we came upon a maverick. We roped and threw it; then we built a little fire, took out a cinch-ring, heated it at the fire; and the cowboy started to put on the brand. I said to him, “It is So-and-so’s brand,” naming the man on whose range we happened to be. He answered: “That’s all right, boss; I know my business.” In another moment I said to him: “Hold on, you are putting on my brand!” To which he answered: “That’s all right; I always put on the boss’s brand.” I answered: “Oh, very well. Now you go straight back to the ranch and get what is owing to you; I don’t need you any longer.” He jumped up and said: “Why, what’s the matter? I was putting on your brand.” And I answered: “Yes, my friend, and if you will stealfor me you will steal from me.

Now, the same principle which applies in private life applies also in public life. If a public man tries to get your vote by saying that he will do something wrong in your interest, you can be absolutely certain that if ever it becomes worth his while he will do something wrong against your interest.

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

Post Election Analysis: Ok Guys. Pep Talk

What was it the Mayans said about 2012? Anyway, about last week: it could have gone better.

Let’s be honest here. The political future is bleak. A good portion of the populace would prefer the sham security of the state to liberty, with all the wondrous uncertainty that it entails. We can try to convince people, but it’s not that they don’t understand freedom; it’s that they don’t want it. It’s not that they don’t see the value of local control; it’s that they don’t want to take the responsibility themselves. As Ross Douthat explains: “Lesson of this election is always bail out, never touch entitlements.”

We took a beating, but that doesn’t end the world. From Deadwood (language alert):

I have no illusions about what Romney or the Republicans would have done if things had gone differently last week. If the Republicans had won we would have faced the same frustration that followed 2004, and 2000, and 1988, and 1984…etc. Things would have continued more or less in the same statist direction. Nevertheless, I do see the election as a clear ratification of statism in a way that a Romney victory was not. Even though Romney offered little in the way of an alternative, it was at least an opportunity for the electorate to say, “Well, to hell with this!” even though they would have to say the same thing in four years. That didn’t happen. If anything, the parties will both shift to the left (an illegitimate political term from the French Revolution, but you know what I mean). Certain encouraging trends that Kelse notes aside, it still means a repudiation of traditionalist and libertarian ideas. I’m happy we have those eight good YAL-endorsed candidates, but we have little else.

However, it is possible that the Republican Party will not shift to the left and become more statist, but more libertarian. It’s a dubious statement given the likely political fallout, but nonetheless it is probable that libertarians will have a larger microphone within the opposition party in the coming years. Neoconservative Bill Kristol affirmed the increasing presence of the Pauls and their type in the future of the Republican Party on Fox News. Apparently a hard pill for him to swallow.

I’m ambivalent as to whether this is a good thing. On the one hand, I like the Pauls for reasons Ben outlined before and I look forward to the increasing presence of Rand Paul on the national stage; on the other, many who claim to support them are fools. So when we say that followers of the Pauls will have an increasing role in the Republican Party, I don’t know that it will be a good thing for reasons that will become clear below.

Everyone, including the talking heads in the video posted above, have asserted that conservatives have lost on social issues. Maybe they’re right. In 1980, two thirds of people defined the family as father, mother, and children. Today, one third or less define it that way. All social conservative values essentially trend around the central place of the family. A decline in the traditional (as in the basic mom, pop, kids) understanding of the family tracks a decline in social conservative values. Many libertarians deny that the changing attitudes are a problem. Like the nineteenth century utilitarians they hate the intermediary institutions that circumscribe the individual, the family most of all. It alone is able to shape individuals from the cradle through all of their formative years. They see the collapse of the family as only one more step in the march of individual freedom. Unfortunately, in my experience, the Pauls pull a lot of support from this brand of libertarian.

The problem that should concern libertarians—and does concern traditionalists—is that the family is the unit that trains people to be self-sufficient and provides them with a financial (and emotional) safety net to keep them free from the need for government aid. Persons without that background will turn to the state to provide that security. If a kid wanted to go to college, the family would rally around and provide the means to get him there or at least co-sign on the loan. If he wanted to start a business, he would turn to his family for the starter loan. At least then, if the kid couldn’t make the payments he would have to work it off for mom and dad or dad’s brother Sam. But what if kids don’t have two parents? What if the only possible back up plan is to stick it to Uncle Sam (the proverbial Uncle Sam, not their actual Uncle Sam) when they don’t get a job or can’t make the payments?

No amount of ratiocination regarding the free market (and I like the free market) will convince them that their lives will be worse without guaranteed healthcare and guaranteed retirement funds and all the rest. The local community composed of family and friends used to provide for individuals financially when times were tough. Now we just turn to Ole’ Uncle Sam. The election is an indication that more and more people see things that way, either because they can’t imagine an alternative or because they aren’t willing to take the risk.

This is another way of saying that persons are more than homo economicus. Libertarians often make the same mistake as Marxists in thinking that people are only their economic interests: appeal to those and you win. The fact is, you don’t. Which is both reason for encouragement and discouragement. On the one hand, we have the trends on filial decline noted above: that’s the bad news. On the other hand, it means that we can still articulate a case for traditionalism and libertarianism and actually have a chance of prevailing.

This is all to say that the pre-political matters for politics. The political outcome of any election will only reflect the possibilities inherent in the pre-political elements already in place. The question then is: how can we influence those?

So let’s turn now to an oldie but goodie, Albert J. Nock’s 1936 essay in The Atlantic, “Isaiah’s Job.” Nock was notorious for his belief that speaking to the multitude was useless. He believed he was speaking to a Remnant who would endure through the contemporary civilizational crisis and rebuilt civilization once it became possible again. He uses the prophet Isaiah as the symbol for the man God calls to minister to the Remnant.  Isaiah, however, is confused as to his role. It doesn’t seem like any significant portion of the people will listen to him.

“Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.”

It’s a great article. The problem is that it works from the premise of despair. Whatever traditionalists and libertarians want to say about the Republican Party and its presidential candidate, the election was still a repudiation of our values and ideas. People by and large embrace what Obama offers. This isn’t reason to despair. Renewal is possible among many people, not just a purported Remnant that will rebuild when all has fallen. Historically, it’s happened under worse circumstances.

What are we to do? Remember the scene from Deadwood above:

The world ends when you’re dead. Until then you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man and give some back.

Edmund Burke reportedly said something similar, “Never despair, but if you do, work in despair.” Kelse could be right; renewal could be on the horizon. Either way, whether for the Remnant or for the masses, we’ll keep blogging and attempting to articulate those permanent values that become clearer to us as we study and discuss the traditions of order and liberty we inherited.

Categories: 2012, Cultural renewal, Libertarianism, Traditionalism | 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 examiner.com. 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.

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

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

Horwitz on Voting

Economist Steve Horwitz has this to say on his Facebook page,

I’m willing to bet my time spent writing and lecturing has turned dozens of people into libertarians, and some or many of whom actually vote. If so, then my time spent not voting and influencing ideas has an effect on the world of ideas and this election far greater than my own vote, or yours. So that is what I will do today instead of voting.

To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with voting. I just think there are far more effective ways of being an engaged citizen and protecting oneself and others against the foxes. Voting is neither the only nor most effective form of engaged citizenship. I will continue to teach, write, and speak, especially to public audiences, all of which are also ways of generating political change and guarding the henhouse from the foxes.

This relates to our perennial concern over the pre-political. Dr. Horwitz has a far greater influence over what people think and how they act–and therefore how they vote–because of his social and academic activities apart from casting his one vote, which he chooses not to do. John Adams would have called him an “aristocrat” in the sense that he exerts disproportionate but salutary influence on the society around him. Society, according to the conservative, needs such people to shape the pre-political toward ends that make good politics possible.

Categories: 2012, Cultural renewal, Libertarianism | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Why I am, as a Conservative, Voting for (ughh) Romney, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Vote Republican

Yes, I am, as a conservative, voting for (ughh) Mitt Romney. (Hmm, I think I might have just thrown up a little bit in my mouth.) Why would I do this? Do I not understand that his foreign policy is virtually indistinguishable from Barack Obama’s and therefore a rejection of the Burkean prudence that I so ardently admire?

Do I not understand that his pro-life stance is a recent and rather suspicious addendum to his policy preferences serving only to make him slightly more palatable to social conservatives so as to harvest their votes? And, what’s worse, do I not know that he has more than alluded that his administration will support nothing of value to the pro-life cause?

Do I not understand that his economic proposals are only a reconfiguration of the current statist status quo?

In short, do I not understand that if aliens were plotting to conquer earth they could do worse than to release a mutant called “Obamney” that appears as two but speaks as one? We’ve seen this before, a few times actually.

Well, yes, I understand all that. However, I am voting for Mitt Romney (ughh, gulp) nonetheless. And here’s why.

Conservative political principle numero uno: politics is the art of the possible; it is the method of attaining salutary change by degrees among the political possibilities. We view history in terms of decades, centuries and millennia, not in terms of elections cycles. We do what we can in the political arena based upon the possibilities before us. Right now we’re facing a general election, specifically, for our federal president; not a primary, not a constitutional convention, not a decision on which party to give our affiliation or contributions.

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Categories: Cultural renewal, Ideology, Traditionalism | 5 Comments

Some Cultural Skepticism

Ben David kicked off this blog with a post on “cultural renewal.”  There’s a lot in that post—much with which I agree and much with which I don’t—and hopefully one of the themes of this blog will be to draw out some of the many implications for cultural conservatism discussed in that post.

For my part, however, I am skeptical of the entire project of “cultural conservatism” itself.

To start, it seems that in discussing “culture,” Ben is assigning an objective value to what is in fact a subjective phenomenon.  That is, it makes no more sense to me to say, “culture should follow such-and-such pattern,” than it does to say “you should like to eat lobster” or “you should enjoy Nicki Minaj’s music”—each is just a personal taste which cannot be rationally proven or disproven as right or wrong.

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