Toward an Augustinian Evangelicalism, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Christianity, Libertarianism, Traditionalism | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Toward an Augustinian Evangelicalism, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Christianity, Libertarianism, Traditionalism | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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)
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

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 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

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

O’Rourke to Obama: Stop Being a Grinch!

P.J. O’Rourke has an op-ed in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, “Dear Mr. President, Zero-Sum Doesn’t Add Up.” He thanks the president for doing his job, getting bin Laden and not being Jimmy Carter, but also refuses to thank him for the variety of foreign policy and economic mistakes of his presidency.  Mostly, O’Rourke goes after Obama for insistence on understanding economics as a zero-sum game, focusing on redistribution of a fixed economic pie. Leaving aside a discussion on conservative and libertarian understandings of economic growth, O’Rourke makes an outstanding point about the nature of Obama’s economic plans. In the Christmas season, does he seem more like Santa or the Grinch? Do the President’s economic plans appeal to the generosity represented by the symbol of Mr. Claus or envy represented by the symbol of the Grinch? O’Rourke writes,

A zero-sum faith in getting what’s wanted by taking it can extend to faith itself. In some places there is only one religion. If other people have a religion of their own they must be taking away from my religion. Give up that faith, infidels.

Speaking of infidel faiths, Mr. President, please consider the message of this Christmas week—a message of giving, not taking. And consider your prominent position as a messenger of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. When you embrace a belief in the zero-sum nature of what’s under the Christmas tree and propose to redistribute everything that’s in our Christmas stockings, you’re asking the world to go sit on the Grinch’s lap instead of Santa’s.

Categories: Libertarianism, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Calvin Coolidge, Morality and Economy

The Acton Institute has an interview with Garland S. Tucker, III the author of The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election. The book is interesting because it examines the two major nominees in the 1924 election, the last time that both parties nominated conservatives. On why modern conservatives should know more about Calvin Coolidge, Tucker says,

Modern conservatives need to understand Calvin Coolidge because he is the only modern president who actually implemented the complete conservative agenda. Coolidge sharply reduced taxes, while also sharply reducing government spending, the national debt, and the regulatory scope of government. At the same time, he earned the approbation of a huge majority of the American electorate. In the face of a severe postwar recession in 1920, the Harding administration began to implement conservative policies, but the major implementation came under Coolidge (and Mellon) in 1923-1928. The result of lower tax rates and reduced government spending was the greatest sustained decade of economic growth in U. S. history.

But Coolidge is important not just for his economic views, but for what he sees as the connection between the economy and morality.

Coolidge once said, “I favor economy in government not just to save money, but to save people.” He not only believed strongly in the economic efficacy of free markets, individual initiative, and limited government , but he understood these economic principles were undergirded by moral principles. He saw the debilitating dependency created when citizens depend on the government rather than on themselves and their fellow citizens. The Washington Post commented, “Few persons, probably, have considered economy and taxation as moral issues. But Mr. Coolidge so considers them, and his observations give a fresh impression of the intensity of his feeling on this subject. He holds that economy, in connection with tax reduction and tax reform, involves the principle of conservation of national resources. A nation that dissipates its resources falls into moral decay.”

Well, that’s something to which conservatives and libertarians should pay attention.

Categories: 2012, Libertarianism, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , | 1 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

President Obama and the Future of Conservatism

The re-election of President Barack Obama to a second term of office has sparked some intense debate about the place of conservatism in American politics in particular and in American society more broadly. This blog is no exception in its participation in this post-election evaluation of the state of conservatism at the precipice of a second term for the Obama presidency.

I am, perhaps, in the minority on this blog, because what I am going to say in this post-election autopsy differs from the majority on this blog who express a view which I think could be accurately labeled decadent conservatism. This is a worldview that turns history and experience on its head; it is a view that, to be honest, I don’t recognize as conservative, if conservatism is to be understood, defined and delimited by the Six Canons of Conservatism laid down by Russell Kirk so many years ago in his The Conservative Mind.

  1. Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience.
  2. Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems…
  3. Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a “classless” society.”
  4. Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked…
  5. Faith in prescription and distrust of “sophists, calculators, and economists” who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs
  6. Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress

Conservatism at its best is not supposed to be an ideology; conservatism at its best is supposed to be a practical, realistic and empirically-driven approach toward the world. In the lament over the re-election of President Obama, I think some conservatives miss out on being conservative. These conservatives have elevated the pure abstraction of ideology over the brass tacks that makes conservatism so, well, real. Really real, in a way that distinguishes it from and serves as its intrinsic appeal over all of its ideoligical opposites, such as the many varieties of leftism that have had the unpleasant fact of having existed.

However I fear that conservatism or conservatives – at least of some varieties – cannot legitimately or at least convincingly make that reference to reality in the wake of this response to President Obama’s re-election. Not if conservatives are rejecting history and experience in favor of celebrating abstract, vague and circuitous appeals to eras and ideas that are no longer relevant to the American cultural, social or political tradition. Well, a historicist cannot. A traditionalist, I suppose, can.

So, after this long, winding and lamenting encomium to conservatism, what do I think the re-election of President Obama means for conservatism? It means absolutely nothing. This is because conservatism is dying — conservatives are killing it.

If conservatives and conservatism want to begin to digest and respond to the re-election of President Obama, it would seem that we should take a page from Andrew Sullivan and read some Michael Oakeshott

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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

Hope, Change and the Staid President

My apologies to readers and fellow contributors to the blog; this is later in the day than I wanted to post. That being said, here it is.

Up to this post, our readers have been given advice (with one notable exception) to behave in a way that in practice results in a repudiation of the two-party system in which we participate. I do not think that voting third-party is an effective behavior; I think it is a radical behavior that is contrary to the tenets and the practice of conservatism. So, like Chuck O’Shea, I advocate the support of one of the major two-party candidates in this election. The candidate I support will be the one running against him. I believe that a conservative should support President Barack Obama for re-election in 2012.

This post is broken up into two sections: the first section will provide an anchor for the argument by way of description of a practical conceptualization of the kernel of conservatism as uncertainty; the second section will shift to a description of a case (through secondary sources) for why President Obama has governed as a conservative and why this should be sufficient to persuade conservatives to support him for re-election.

Part 1: Conservatism as Uncertainty

The arguments that have dominated this blog revolve around the definition of conservatism and the corollary of who and what qualifies as conservative today? Many of us on this blog have input time and energy into answering a question that pundits more important than we are
have dwelt. This suggests a broadness, perhaps more accurately and precisely, a foundational uncertainty to be the characteristic which is hallmark of conservatism. Conservatism, in a sense, is so dysfunctional and confused (or at least antifoundational) that a prominent conservative magazine is subjecting itself to an identical tortured process that we are conducting at the same time we are conducting it.

This uncertainty can be understood as an effect of a fluidity the vocabulary of the traditionalist-historicist conservative would recognize as the universal being expressed in the particular; further, in its vocabulary, it is what the rationalist would recognize as a fundamental abstract principle being applied to or filtered by and through reality: it is a cornerstone of a conservative case to support President Obama for re-election in 2012.

Part II: President Obama as Conservative, or the Prudence of Practice

Let me move to the second portion of this post, which lays out a case for the conservative support of President Obama by a brief examination of his policies in his first term.

Bruce Bartlett summarizes the case for Obama the conservative in the following bullet points (h/t to paul krugman

His stimulus bill was half the size that his advisers thought necessary;
He continued Bush’s war and national security policies without change and even retained Bush’s defense secretary;
He put forward a health plan almost identical to those that had been supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney in the recent past, pointedly rejecting the single-payer option favored by liberals;
He caved to conservative demands that the Bush tax cuts be extended without getting any quid pro quo whatsoever;
And in the past few weeks he has supported deficit reductions that go far beyond those offered by Republicans.

I think that list makes a compelling case for the conservative to support President Obama for re-election in 2012. This is not about abstractions such as ideological purity, pro-life bona fides or any other conceptualization of conservatism whose essence exists outside of time and space; rather, this is about an on-the-ground, historically contingent conservatism which recognizes that history puts us in a set of circumstances in which liberal “big government” of the New Deal and Great Society are essential, defining characteristics of the relationship between a citizenry and its government; furthermore, that to recognize this relationship is to be cognizant of the historical concreteness that is, allegedly, at the core of conservatism. Such that this historical reality of post-New Deal and post-Great Society liberalism means that President Obama is the one conservative candidate running for President during this election. The other choices you have – which have been discussed on this blog – occupy positions on the ideological branches of the left and the right. When the pundits recognize a continuity between the two major parties’ candidates’ policies; and, when progressives recognize you to be a conservative and make a case against your candidacy for re-election, then you must be doing something right behind which conservatives (no pun intended) can throw their support.

If other conservatives want to make a convincing case that Obama is a liberal or a left-wing President of any type, then they will have to respond to the policies that he has implemented by effectively demonstrating how they represent a liberal rather than a conservative style of governance. References to a vague, amorphous, and essentially content-less notion of history or tradition will not be a strong foundation for a persuasive case against the conservative’s support for President Obama’s re-election. Nor will an effective case be made by attempting to demonstrate that his policies are contrary to certain principles (free-market, big government, etc) which are inherently conservative, at least not in an American sense of the term; nor is it sufficient to argue (however effectively one does make the argument), that in certain instances he has been an advocate, instigator or ally of policymakers or policy proposals that are contrary to alleged tenets of traditional culture (e.g., religious freedom or individual rights in the example of the health care reform bill): cherry picking is left for the fruit, it does not belong in a philosophically abstract or an empirical argument against a case for the re-election of President Obama.

The responses the economic crisis, the policies of reform, and the foreign policy that President Obama has pursued and implemented during his first term in office, point to a candidate for re-election who chooses to maintain a steady course and extract a limited amount from the circumstances given to him. That is to say, his presidency has been a conservative one. Stories of his past notwithstanding, he makes a poor example of a radical liberal, and an even poorer boogeyman of conservative critique, analysis and alarm. President Obama has governed with restraint; he has pursued policies with an eye toward the possible and not just purity of principle; he has behaved in a way that conservatives can and should recognize to be in resemblance to the doctrine, tenets and canons of conservatism. It is easy to understand why that is the case if one disregards the rhetoric and emotion that are expended in response to President Obama, and consider for a brief moment the policies he has actually pursued and realize that he is a conservative (or at least a run-of-the-mill Democrat, who is, nevertheless, probably more conservative – in a non-ideological understanding of the term – than most Republicans or self-described conservatives are at this point in our political history).

At the end of the day, the conservative is not left wondering why he should support President Obama in 2012; rather, he is left to wonder why he should not.

Categories: 2012, Ideology, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

On Conservatism and Ghostly Tales

I wish that I had seen this before Halloween. The University Bookman has published a review of Russell Kirk’s gothic novel Lord of the Hollow Dark. It’s one of my favorite gothic novels, admittedly, a genre with which I have limited experience. All Hallows Eve was one of Dr. Kirk’s favorite holidays. Like Christmas, today Halloween is very much a (ugh) consumerized holiday, “severed from its Catholic roots as a solemn day in honor of the saints and even from the earlier Celtic festival of Samhain, where the dead mingled with the living as newly departed souls traveled to the otherworld.” However, Kirk still believed that it was a time that could remind us that “there are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in [our] philosophy.”

Kirk, author of many short ghostly tales and three novels, was considered a master of the genre. No doubt quite a surprise to many readers of his political and cultural works. However, he understood the genre to be an excellent outlet for the exploration of what is more than mere materialism. He writes in his essay “A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale,”

[A]s the rising generation regains the awareness that ‘nature’ is something more than mere fleshly sensation, and that something may lie above human nature, and something below it—why, the divine and diabolical rise up again in serious literature.

Something like that, the author of the review thinks, could be happening now with the fascination with vampires and such in popular literature. We’ll see. The author presents the possibility but is as dubious as I am that these works actually “uplift humanity.” Kirk’s characters prevailed in his stories because of their “timeless virtues” and aid from sources more than natural, a lesson on the value of tradition in preserving salient virtues and the mystery of human existence. This is why, for Kirk, the ghost story is a peculiarly conservative genre. He writes,

[The writing of ghost stories] has been a skill innately conservative. As M. R. James wrote of Le Fanu, “The ghost story is in itself a slightly old-fashioned form; it needs some deliberateness in the telling; we listen to it the more readily if the narrator poses as elderly, or throws back his experience to ‘some thirty years ago.’” If faithless to this trust, the ghost-story writer will deserve to be hounded to his doom by the late James Thurber’s favorite monster, the Todal, “a creature of the Devil, sent to punish evil-doers for having done less evil than they should.”

Stories of ghosts, if Cicero was right that ghosts are the damned haunting the places of their evil deeds, are a reminder that “[T]enebrae ineluctably form part of the nature of things; nor should we complain, for without darkness there cannot be light.” This is why Kirk liked Halloween.

Kirk saw how occasions such as All Hallows Eve might serve as opportunities to take back the moral imagination from the diabolical. It is an occasion to remember saints who continue speaking through a legacy of lives that sought to push under the dark powers of their times.

That’s Kirk’s understanding of ghost stories. But I haven’t even discussed Lord of the Hollow Dark. Go and read the review. It’s a great book.

Categories: Cultural development, Traditionalism | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Burke and Traditionalism

There is an interesting, albeit three-year old, post at Front Porch Republic titled “Is Burke Our Intellectual Father?” that bears upon our present subject, the value and meaning of traditional conservatism. The author, James Matthew Wilson, answers in the affirmative and takes some pains to make it clear why he thinks that Burke spawned that peculiar intellectual movement called traditional conservatism. Along the way he touches upon several issues of importance to our readers (especially those who have read about conservatism and positivism, questions for historicists, or rationalism).

First, is Burkean traditionalism “consummately anti-intellectual” and his “antithesis of ideology to be a renunciation of ideas”? Wilson answers in the negative. Burke’s target was intellectual reductionism and abstract rationalism that it so often becomes. His interest was in the concrete results of such abstractionism and reductionism in terms of the human cost of such philosophical mistakes in human affairs.

The real cause of Burke’s ire, however, was the supposedly intellectual disdain with which his contemporaries greeted the conditions of actual human life-of what we may redundantly call lived experience.  Rejecting the claims of natural rights variously articulated in the months after the French Revolution, Burke contended that, as rights, liberties, and restrictions “vary with times and circumstances, and admit of infinite modifications, they cannot be settled upon any abstract rule; and nothing is so foolish as to discuss them upon that principle.”  Human experience is not only the source of human wisdom, but its permanent condition and also its end.  Those who would either transcend the concrete conditions of history or ignore the legitimate concerns for the preservation of human happiness in order to take flight into utopian realms of abstraction succumb to a double weakness; their minds blithely reduce reality to theory and, in pursuing a theory, may brutally cause real suffering.

Second, Burke stands closest to his intellectual opponents among the Jacobins and English Whigs in holding that society is an artifice, the construction of human hands to provide for human wants. Society is a social contract, Burke writes,

It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection.  As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.

Third, such a partnership demonstrates each man’s dependence upon his fellow men, not only those living at the same time as himself, but all those who came before him and bequeathed his current circumstances. By the same token, every person alive will pass on those circumstances, either in improved or dilapidated form to future generations. There is no escape from this existential situation. This is the meaning of traditionalist’s insistence on looking to historical circumstance; it is the precondition of man’s social, political, and intellectual existence. Wilson writes,

We are not our own, and we are not therefore sovereign rulers of ourselves or our society, at least to the extent that we compose a small part of an ‘eternal society’ comprising past, present, and future generations.  As such, the work of artifice is founded in a Constitutional theory; the English constitution, as the exemplary form of government, works ‘after the pattern of nature,’”

There is much else in the post that is interesting and it provides a good introduction to Burke’s thought. I encourage our readers to read it.

Categories: Cultural development, Ideology, Traditionalism | 1 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

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

Historicism’s Confusion and a Case for a Positivist Conservatism… Kind of…

Warning: this is a bit all over the place heavy on the links. My apologies.
In his response to my critique of the conservative overworship of history, Edmund Babbitt puts the hammer to my position, so to speak, by providing a passionate explanation of the conservative embrace of a historicist conception of human knowledge. Yet, it remains unconvincing and, I think, produces more questions than answers in its defense of traditionalist-historicist conservatism.
First, I would disagree with Edmund’s description of the main claim for which I argue: while I concede that my position presupposes an abstract (ahistorical?) “standard of judgement” in order to determine what is good and bad (within history), that is not, I don’t think, the emphasis I want to make in my argument. It is not an argument for one philosophical position in opposition to another. Rather, and this may be a distinction without a difference, my argument is that the conservative historicist is in some way fundamentally flawed and needs to reconsider its philosophical (non)foundations.

The does not demonstrate that the “standard for discerning universality is found in history.” The essay makes the assumption that it is, and assumes that the standard exists, but it makes transparent neither the argument, nor provides much empirical-historical (or abstract-rational) support for the claim. To put it simply: it merely asserts, it does not argue, that the relationship(s) between history, human experience and human existence are inter-related in an inseparable (constitutive?) way. Until such evidence is provided and an argument is made for the traditionalist-historicist conservative position, then the traditionalist-historicist conservative is stuck drawing circles for arguments.
If it is the case that there is no object of existence outside of reality that can provide conservatives with any philosophical guidance, then what does that mean for the conservative believer in any type of religion? What does that mean for the Christian conservative (Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant) who recognizes the central event that is the incarnation? It would seem that such an event presupposes the existence of something outside of history; and if we are to grant that, then surely it would follow that other lesser standards (which may or may not be perceivable by us humans) of judgment, knowledge or existence would potentially exist outside of history as well. And we should entertain the possibility of transhistorical entities (or facts, whatever terminology one would like to use to describe what exists out there).
What if it is a problem of perception, not existence as such – conservatives of the traditionalist-historicist type just get the order wrong? Our existence is not historical, but it is our truncated experience that results in an incorrect perception that our human experience itself is historical; rather our existence is individual and nonhistorical. Could it be that a more accurate descriptive understanding of what we call the historicity of human experience and human knowledge is that we perceive experience in a way that is formed by our time and place but which is not reducable to temporal-spatial conditions? if we recognize that it is at the level of perception that our “historical” experience is to be found, but our existence itself is not historical? Even though we are bound by time and space (history), our knowledge of that which is good, true and beautiful is not necessarily dependent upon a cognizance of the historicity of our individual consciouscness or the historicity of human experience in general. It is still something that can be referenced to as existing independent of the historical experience in which we find ourselves.
How do we understand “civilized society” and how does it follow from our interactions with the society that our knowledge of what is right and wrong comes from it? And what are we to make of those who reject the society (such as abolitionists, to toss out that tired reference) in favor of an order that we in our day would presumably not be opposed to (the whole slavery thing, that is)? Is it the encounter with other societies and the broadening of the parameters of their historical consciousness that are contributory causes to the existence of such examples in history? Or can we attribute the existence of such individuals and such ideas to modes of knowledge that potentialy operate beyond the strictures of historical experience? Or is it that they learn from the society in which they exist about the good the true and the beautiful? In which case, there are still problems for the traditionalist-historicist conservative, who must then explain why it is not only that the wrong tradition exists and persists to dominate and define the society, but also how it is the minority in the culture (as opposed to the majority in the culture) who discover this correct expression of the tradition in contrast with the majority who ignore it or otherwise is not aware of it; it would seem that given the variety of interpretations that could occur, then there is some other standard (empirical or rational) that is not historicist that better explains the riddle of tradition than historicism explains it. Just beause it is the case that people encounter the good, the true and the beautiful as people bound by time, space and plcae, does not mean that historical experience is how we know such forms of knowledge or that such forms of knowledge are inherently historicist. It only means that we are finite. But we already knew that.
If the reformers have only history to look to in order to find reasons and inspirations for their reform, then it would seem that traditionalist-historicist conservatism and conservatives have no way within the tradition itself to “carefully mitigate the worst of their past and creatively rearticulate and enhance the best of their traditions.” It requires some other standard (empirical or rational) in order to mitigate the worst and discover and promote the good. Unless one wants to claim that historicity does provide that standard, but then it would at best seem to be merely myth, not anything concrete borne out of the experiences of those steeped in the culture. What is reform but an alteration of this historical and contingent reality? (somewhere in all of this discussion about historicity and historicism and all this other fun stuff is a commensurability problem, i just know it)
Historicism, in so far as it is open to the possibility of human development of that which is imperfectable, seems dangerously open to the potential of being an inspiration to the utopian scheming and ideological nightmares that have hampered our history.
I think that if conservatives want to make an insighftul and convincing argument for their position, they are going to need to make reference to a body of knowledge or school of thought besides and beyond historicism and the broader interpretivist viewpoint of which it is a subtype.
I think conservatism should look to alternative – more sophisticated? – ways of self-understanding than the repetitive, circular and evidently not evident historicism. Perhaps in the case of historicism, Leo Strauss is right.

Categories: Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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