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Different Types of Equality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Libertarian (Minarchist) Saint Augustine

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Toward an Augustinian Evangelicalism, Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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“Beyond the GOP” in 2014

Dear readers of Beyond the GOP,

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in liberty,

Benjamin David

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History of Conservatism

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

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

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Syria and the Bankruptcy of Liberal Universalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Guardians of the Word: Conservatism and Academic Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

“When You’re Here, You’re Family”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like Harlots on a Piano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

asparagusproust

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

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

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

“I’m going to dinner with Dr. M.”

“The French professor?”

“Yeah. Did you have him?”

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

“Why don’t you like him?”

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

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

“Gosh. What did he say?”

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

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

“Harlots? As in, like, two of them?”

“Yup. On a piano.”

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

“Well, you’re a guy.”

“Yeah, I guess that is pretty sexist.”

“You guess? It’s horrific.”

“So what’d you do?”

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

“What’d you say to her?” I asked.

“I told her what he said.”

“What’d she do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is she?”

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

“What is it?”

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

“Did she?”

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

“You didn’t?

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

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

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

We laughed.

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

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

“And how are you doing?” I asked.

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

“What? Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Categories: Feminism, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The IRS Makes a Star Trek Parody

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

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A Little Supreme Court Skepticism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Rise of the “Post-Movement Conservatives”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Northerners Against the Civil War

As a libertarian from Massachusetts—an opponent of aggressive war and a supporter of peaceful secession—I take a kind of ambivalent view of my state’s history. I certainly support the South’s right to secede from the Union and condemn the brutality that northern troops inflicted . . . but it’s still hard to side with people who found slavery morally acceptable. The standard line that “the South was wrong about slavery but right about everything else” is a little weak. Being wrong about slavery is to make a pretty huge mistake. It isn’t quite the same as being wrong about mandatory seat belt laws. Even though Massachusetts tends to always side with the statists, at least it didn’t make that mistake.

So I’m very excited to see this new movie (with a screenplay by Bill Kauffman, no less!) about Yankee opposition to the Civil War.

At least in the book version, the hero of the story is not an abolitionist. Still, it’s nice to see a portrayal of the Civil War that admits that other people wanted peace besides slaveholding southerners. There’s a whole forgotten tradition of Yankee libertarianism—perhaps best exemplified by the abolitionist Boston lawyer Lysander Spooner—that supported both the right to secede and the slaves’ rights to emancipation. After all, both derive from the uniquely libertarian right to private property.

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Libertarian Blind Spots on Gay Marriage

Some spokesmen for a group called “Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry” have an op-ed in The Daily Caller making the libertarian case for gay marriage. They write:

As conservatives and libertarians, the three of us believe that we’d all be better served if government extricated itself from the business of marriage altogether, leaving it as a private contractual matter. Government is already big and intrusive enough, and too invested in telling ordinary Americans what is right and wrong. And as Senator Rand Paul said last week, getting government out of marriage would also take away the time-worn opposition talking point about efforts to “redefine marriage.”

However, for the time being, getting the government out of marriage is not a realistic possibility, especially given the many legal issues tied to marriage today. The next best thing, then, is for the government to act equitably in its involvement in marriage, and that means allowing all committed couples the freedom to marry and to have their marriages recognized by all levels of government.

This is an argument you often see on the libertarian left. I wonder, though: is there any other issue where libertarians would say that the cure for a government entitlement is to expand and federalize it, so that it involves more people?

You would never hear a libertarian say, “I believe that we should end foreign aid. But until we end it, it’s only fair that each country gets an equal share.” Most people would realize that, far from ending foreign aid, a program of “aid equality” would just increase the demand for it.

So why is gay marriage any different? If it is “unrealistic” to imagine the government leaving the marriage business today, won’t it be even less realistic when millions more people are entitled to federal marriage benefits?

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Nullification Comes to Cornell

I’ve written an article for the Cornell Daily Sun‘s law student column, defending state nullification. I argue that the people of the states—and not the Supreme Court—must to be the final decider of federal law. This is quite the minority position in law school, which, for various reasons, teaches everyone to think of federal litigation as the only way to solve contested constitutional issues.

You can read it here.

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Rand Paul on Lochner

During the middle of his epic filibuster last week, Rand Paul made a very unexpected reference to the 1905 Supreme Court case, Lochner v. New York. (Randy Barnett has the full transcript here.)

Lochner is a case that all law students are taught to hate. It involved a New York law that limited the amount of hours that a bake shop employee could legally work. Later revisionist scholarship has shown that the law was actually a piece self-serving special interest legislation, backed by the unions that represented established bake shop employees, who feared new immigrant competitors. The immigrant bakers tended to work long hours in order to catch up with and displace their established competitors.

But regardless, Lochner has earned the hatred of the legal mainstream because the Supreme Court ultimately invalidated the law, holding that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protected workers’ freedom to contract with their employees for whatever terms they wanted. By limiting the amount of hours they could work, New York violated the workers’ “liberty of contract.” It wasn’t until the New Deal that the so-called “Lochner era,” in which the Court would strike down these kinds of economic regulations on “liberty of contract” grounds, was actually reversed.

It is pretty impressive that Rand Paul could speak extemporaneously (and accurately) on Lochner, hours into his filibuster. Even more impressive are his references to the extremely obscure  Buchanan v. Warley case: another Lochner-era decision, where the Supreme Court struck down a segregationist law prohibiting people in majority white neighborhoods from selling their homes to black buyers (and vice versa). Obviously, this law also interfered with the liberty of contract—legal scholar David Mayer believes that, if it had been allowed to stand, it could have ushered in a South Africa-style apartheid system in America.

I certainly support liberty of contract too, and I want desperately to be able to applaud the Lochner era. After all, as Paul stated, the liberty that the Supreme Court protected wasn’t just about economic freedom, narrowly defined. The justices understood it to refer to a broader liberty to live your life free of legislative interference, unless there was some overriding reason for the government to step in. (David Bernstein and David Mayer have explained this in more detail in two excellent books.) If the Court still protected individual liberty the way they did in the Lochner era, it is hard to believe that it would stand for drone bombings of American citizens. As it is, however, Lochner‘s concern for actual rights has given way to the mushy Mathews v. Eldridge case, where life, liberty, and property are just personal “interests” that can always be tossed aside without a prior hearing if the government has a good enough reason to do so. Unsurprisingly, Mathews is one of the first cases cited in the Obama administration’s notorious drone memo.

But, while the Lochner justices’ hearts were in the right place, the era is best considered a tactical mistake—kind of like YAL endorsing Ted Cruz or Murray Rothbard going hippie.

For one thing, much of the Lochner era’s advances came from overturning state—rather than federal—laws. In the short term, it is certainly nice to see obnoxious state regulations get knocked down. But in knocking them down, the Lochner Court really just transferred power from local communities to the central government, treating the federal government as the ultimate source of power.

At the time, that might not have been so bad, given that the federal government was relatively laissez-faire. But when the old laissez-faire was replaced by Hoover and FDR’s statism, the central government could only face resistance from weakened and emasculated states. By focusing on immediate gains, the Lochner justices undermined the states’ power to fight bigger threats to liberty later on.

Second, the whole premise of “rehabilitating Lochner” assumes the Supreme Court as the proper arbiter of all constitutional issues. I’ve commented before on Murray Rothbard’s anecdote about the eighteenth-century “Burgundy Circle,” which also tried to impose top-down reform and failed miserably—the Burgundy Circle is, I think, a great cautionary tale for contemporary libertarian centralists. Over-reliance on the Supreme Court places our faith in a group of people who don’t necessarily have any personal interest in promoting liberty. And even if they did, there are only nine of them, which means that small changes in personnel could lead to huge reversals of earlier gains. The Lochner era famously ended when a single justice, Owen Roberts, switched allegiance from liberty of contract to the New Deal. Even if we work as hard as we can to revive Lochner, a similar switch—our even something as banal as Clarence Thomas forgetting to look both ways before crossing the street—could prove our undoing.

Unlike Rand Paul, I can only muster at most one cheer for Lochner. The mainstream hatred for it stems mostly from an unwarranted hatred for libertarianism in general. But, as a libertarian, I see more hope in empowering individuals and local communities to check the central government than I do in convincing the central government to check itself.

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The Enigma of Rand Paul

Ben hopes that Rand Paul’s filibuster yesterday can turn civil liberties and checks and balances into bipartisan issues.

I hope so too—and I think there’s some reason for hope—but I’m still extremely skeptical. While lots of people are “standing with Rand,” the support isn’t nearly as universal as one might hope.

Among liberals, the MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell called the filibuster “rambling madness,” while Dave Weigel at Slate breezily writes it off as silly “paranoia.” Nancy Pelosi claims that “life is too short” to care about it—though for many future drone victims, life would be much longer if Pelosi cared a little more.

Likewise, if you read the comments sections of the various Slate and Huffington Post articles on the filibuster, you will find a shocking amount of virulently anti-Rand, pro-drone comments, presumably from regular, middle class, non-pundit voters who would have been up in arms if Bush ever claimed the right to target American citizens like Obama does. The vitriol hit a particularly horrifying note when one HuffPo commenter—jocrin—fantasized about Obama sending a drone to murder Rand Paul in the middle of his speech. Checks and balances, indeed.

And of course, the other side is nearly as bad. It is very hard to imagine people like Ted Cruz opposing drone strikes if it were a President Romney ordering them. Anyone who can remember back to last week might recall the Tea Party’s hyperbolic attacks on Chuck Hagel, for Hagel daring to suggest that the Iraq War was anything less than sunshine and roses. Lest we also forget, Rand Paul did not carry himself well through the Hagel hearings, though he ultimately did the right thing.

It’s possible to take these claims of hypocrisy too far. Many of the HuffPo commenters tend to focus myopically on such Tea Party hypocrisy—a tactic that looks a lot like a coping mechanism to avoid the uncomfortable question of whether their own president is pursuing policies that they should, consistently, oppose. Just because some people are hypocritical doesn’t mean we should oppose them when they do good things. But it does mean that we shouldn’t take what they say at face value.

Still, the powers of partisanship notwithstanding, it seems safe to say that Rand Paul has never been more popular than he is today. Principled liberals like the ACLU, Code Pink, and even Van Jones have expressed their support. Van Jones went so far as to call him a “hero.”

Maybe this will be a lesson to Rand that he can garner more support by standing against war and supporting civil liberties than from endorsing Mitt Romney or pledging war on behalf of Israel. He can never please the Obamaphile hordes who have sworn allegiance to their leader, right or wrong. But maybe he will realize that his cultural base lies more with the younger generation of antiwar civil libertarians than with the Fox News-watching septuagenarians that he has hitherto courted.

We will have to wait and see. Like all else with Rand Paul, his filibuster was an enigma.

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Donald Livingston at the South Carolina State House

My college honors thesis advisor, Donald Livingston, recently testified at the South Carolina House Judiciary Subcommittee in favor of state nullification. Tom Woods has the full text of his remarks.

Dr. Livingston is a brilliant paleo-libertarian philosopher who first got me to realize that decentralism and freedom go together. In college, I profiled him for the Young Americans for Liberty.

One South Carolina Democratic congressman complains that Dr. Livingston’s testimony “insults the institution we serve” and continues, “I fundamentally reject his vision for our country.”  Of course, Livingston’s vision is about empowering local communities, not bureaucrats. I’m it sure it would threaten this congressman’s way of life. For that alone, he deserves our acclaim.

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A Conservatism the Cool Kids Will Like

Being a conservative academic can be tough and thankless. On college campuses, all the accolades will go to the Left. When you apply for teaching positions, you have to hide your own convictions just to get the job. If you do get the job (remember that F.A. Hayek won the Nobel Prize but couldn’t get tenure at the University of Chicago), your peers won’t really respect you, or they’ll only grant you the grudging respect of an outsider who doesn’t belong. Intelligent media outlets like the New York Times and NPR will feed your colleagues an endless stream of tidbits on just how dumb people like you really are, and how superior they all are in comparison.

Given the culture we live in, it’s understandable that a lot of conservatives will start longing for the praise that their liberal friends receive, but which is always denied to them. It’s a process that anyone who’s spent any time around conservative students and academics has seen countless times. You realize that you can’t win any praise by pushing conservative ideas, so instead you push liberal ideas from a so-called conservative perspective. People like Bruce Bartlett, David Frum, and Sam Tanenhaus have turned it into an art form.

Ann Coulter recently made a lot of waves by calling libertarians “pussies” for doing essentially the same thing. Libertarians like to focus on their support for gay marriage and legalized pot, which earns them a few pats on the head from liberals. But at the same time they downplay their positions on things like economics and employment discrimination, which would invoke liberal hostility. She’s right to call this cowardly. Drug legalization is certainly important, but so are free markets—and focusing on one and not the other is just a cheap way to court praise and avoid confrontation.

Joe Ptak’s recent string of posts on this blog represents a perfect example of the cloying conservative begging for praise.

Most recently, he tells us that conservatives must accept gay marriage, because, in his words, it isn’t as bad as “some radical left wing gay orgy.” Okaaay. They should also oppose the March for Life because—gasp!—it is “ideological.” And if they object to the massacre of peaceful Branch Davidians at Waco, well, then they’re just a bunch of “tin-foil hat wearing oddballs” who “ignore or deny the fluidity and tension of the temporal that is at the heart of a historical understanding of politics.” (I’ll admit I’ve heard the tin foil part before, but the second part . . . well, that’s a new one.) Rather than attacking the modern state, conservatives are also supposed to “touch the ‘why’ of power.” (I don’t know what that means, or even what a “why” feels like. I just know that touching one doesn’t seem overly important, especially if it takes away from real opportunities to delegitimize the state.)

Oh, and, beyond all that, conservatives should also vote for Barack Obama, because, hey, he decided not to build a Death Star.

Of course, though all of these positions are justified from an allegedly conservative perspective, they all reach conclusions that perfectly align with the Democratic Party platform.

In this kind of “conservatism,” the liberal is the one who makes history; the conservative just lives in it. So, if the world that the liberals made empowers the government to massacre peaceful separatist groups, so be it. Conservatives will just make sure the liberals don’t go too far. (Joe writes: “It’s our thing to keep the society from becoming overwhelmed by its baser instincts.”) But of course, with every successive change, the definition of “going too far” expands. Twenty years from now, we can expect Joe to support “radical left wing gay orgies” as being preferable to pedophiliac orgies.

Here, the liberal is the rock star who passes through town impregnating groupies and trashing hotel rooms. The conservative is the meek lawyer who stops by the next day to settle accounts and smooth over hard feelings. But never does the conservative question that preventing destruction in the first place is a worthy goal. Nor does he question the justice of a world that leaves only destruction in its wake.

No: “Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do and die.” After all, to call social destruction “unjust” would be radical or ideological or . . . something.

Maybe Michael Oakeshott or Peter Viereck would recognize this as conservatism, but—as Joe asked of the Waco massacre—why should we care? If your version of conservatism just so happens to justify everything the Left does, then what’s the point of even calling it “conservatism” at all? Does it really matter if you like Burke’s epistemology if you also vote for Barack Obama and make peace with the modern state? Why not just drop the pretense and call yourself a liberal?

It’s always respectable to stand up and fight for your principles. So conservatives should be willing to accept the Left’s ire if that’s what sticking to your principles leads to. But to constantly tailor your positions just to fit in with the popular kids—that’s just a middle school morality that should be totally rejected.

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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

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