Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thoughts on Good and Evil

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The very mention of the words "good" and "evil" (especially the latter) can invariably be counted upon to set off a spasm of righteous indignation among the relativist left. They will be particularly incensed by what they misperceive as usages that have meaning only in a wholly religious (biblical) context. Because the left is at heart antinomian (1), they eschew and despise any kind of standards to include the norms of traditional civil society (2).
Abstracting from its historical and popular current usage, I take the word "good" to mean anything in the service of human life, liberty, prosperity and general well-being. Similarly, "evil" has the opposite meaning - things that are harmful or destructive to all or any. At a deep, non-verbal level, the concept of good would seem to be essentially linked to survival and avoidance of pain.

In simple societies one can imagine that there is fundamental clarity about what is good and what is not. Existential threats posed by nature, enemies, hunger, sickness and pain are seen as evils; safety, abundance that satisfies basic needs and physical well-being are seen as goods.

But in secure and prosperous societies that have developed technologies capable of control or avoidance of existential threats, the linkage of good and evil to survival tends to become obscure, rationalized and abstract. (3)

I think it is important to see good and evil not only in moral, ethical or religious terms but also in the light of practical efficacy. When, with good intentions stipulated, we embark upon a project to improve our condition, we must first decide if the objective is good, i.e., does it promote life, liberty, prosperity and well-being, and second, whether our methodology for achieving the objective is good by the same standards. If, on the other hand, our methodology causes the project to fall short of its goals, if it wastes resources and if it generates unintended evils, then, our original motivations are irrelevant to the outcomes. Efficacy rather than intent must be the standard.

The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number (4)

Who could argue? But the phrase in inherently problematic. In advanced, pluralistic polities there is great variation in the conception of what is good. How are we to decide? If we decide, how, precisely is it distributed and what is the cost? Do we accept evil to promote the good, and, if so, what calculus enables us to establish a balance? Simpler, though plagued with many of the same difficulties, I lean toward prescribing the least evil for the greatest number.

The least evil may be the "necessary evil" of minimalist government. In return for ceding some liberties to the collective we authorize a popularly supported government to defend us from external threats, enforce our laws and undertake only those tasks that are too large or too expensive to be accomplished by local communities. The least evil for the greatest number.

But what are the consequences if government expands beyond its modest mandate? The bargain to establish the necessary evil of government remains in place, and the growth of government invariably diminishes liberty and undermines the linkage between the popular will and government's priorities.

More precisely to the point, the Western left has, with near-religious zeal, rejected judgment to embrace tolerance, no matter the cost. The willful failure to discriminate -- especially in, but not limited to, matters of moral conduct -- has led to nihilism. To assert that everything is relative is to vitiate one's own argument in its very formulation. Yet those who hold relativist views often cite Jesus' injunction to "judge not...", failing to recognize that the remark was directed only to hypocrites. The most casual sampling of biblical writings reveals that, in fact, honest judgment is a cornerstone of the Judeo-Christian tradition as it was to the Classical one.

The ideas behind good and evil are pretty simple, really, and without much freight -- that is, until they are yoked to the special, controlling purposes of social, political, moral or religious ideologies.

1. This word emerges from the exegetical history of the Christian faith, but it is remarkably useful in the analysis of contemporary Western society.
2. The left is tied intellectually to the tradition of Rousseauvian thought, which, like antinomianism, champions wholesale rebellion against traditional standards. Cf. The Awful Specter of Standards.
3. I expand on this idea here.
4. Sometimes called "the greatest happiness principle", it derives from the philosophy of Utilitarianism, most closely associated with Jeremy Bentham and John Stewart Mill. The idea expressed has great intuitive appeal and manages to endure despite its vulnerability to reductio argumentation.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Broken Linkages, Broken Society (Part I)

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Human Nature, Behavior and Consequences
Despite the naive, ideological assertions of cultural Darwinists and utopian dreamers, human nature is a constant; it has not, does not and will not change. And it is important to recognize that men are not inherently good or evil -- they are both. To paraphrase Shakespeare, man is neither good nor bad but thinking (characterization) makes him so. I might add the poet's biblical borrowing that "there is nothing new under the sun". Men have weaknesses and strengths, and we are prudent when we organize ourselves in ways that discourage the former and promote the latter. It was the American Founders' unparalleled understanding of human nature that led them in the design of the most successful political and social system that has ever existed. But that system -- like the Founders themselves -- is imperfect and decays when our weaknesses overcome our better natures.
In societies that operate at Hobbsean subsistence levels the correspondence between behavior and consequences is bright-line clear. Strategies for obtaining food and shelter and for protection against predators, animal and human, demand close adherence in the cause of survival. In prosperous, secure societies the linkage between behavior and consequences tends to become obscured. Though it is no less real, its forms change. In primitive life one is well-advised to be ever-alert for things that bite and sting, for extramural warriors, for natural disasters. In our current environment we must be on guard against politicians, zealot ideologues and schemes of organized fraud, theft and deceit. We must know what is true in relation to our survival and prosperity and rely upon it. The venom of vipers may bring us a quick death, but the venom of tyranny is not less lethal. The latter is slower but enjoys better concealment.

Knowledge and survival
For persons living in primitive societies (or tyrannical ones) accurate, empirical knowledge of the environs of one's world -- dangers and opportunities -- wisely exercised, is essential to survival, security and prosperity. One must recognize and defend against the dangers of the natural world and aggressive fellow men; know how to obtain essential needs and protect himself and his family. We may imagine that persons in poor circumstances can ill-afford the luxury of denial, (1) but we are mistaken to think it a luxury we can afford.

In advanced, abundant societies that are largely free of existential threats, the linkages between imprudent behavior and serious consequences are attenuated. In a wealthy politea social safety nets expand, and the penalties for violations of civil and criminal laws tend to become relaxed, since, excepting some crimes of violence, transgressions are no longer seen to threaten survival. In many large business and governmental organizations linkages between knowledge, productivity and reward often become obscure. Similarly inadequate knowledge and false beliefs may be rewarded so that the very foundations of civil society become corrupt.

Labor and reward
"We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us". That phrase was a common, ironic expression in the states of the former Soviet Union, where slackers and producers were equally rewarded. Where the true rewards were more closely associated with party loyalty that performance. In America we are not so far removed from the destruction of of the labor-reward linkage. It is most clearly seen in large, bureaucratic institutions -- businesses grown overlarge (2), public education, big eleemosynary institutions and particularly in governmental and quasi-governmental bureaucracies such as many NGO's and most notably the U.N., where any sign of accountability in the accomplishment of its stated missions has seemingly vanished. In terms of sheer fecklessness, employee perks and high salaries the European Union is rapidly gaining, if not overtaking the U.N. In these examples personal and political loyalties rather than performance to standards of efficacy are the engines of advancement.

It is important to consider the role of bureaucracies. They are, in their beginnings, useful in providing infrastructure support for executive productivity. But they tend to grow and when they reach a certain size and command of power, their focus shifts from executive support to self-interest. As organizations expand the power and remuneration of their leadership grows commensurately.

The most serious erosion of the linkage between labor and reward can be seen in highly progressive tax schemes. When the most productive citizens are heavily taxed to support the less productive, incentives (rewards) are reduced and the creation of wealth suffers at the expense of broader society. The "pursuit of happiness" envisioned by the Founders is possible only when the sanctity of property rights is guaranteed; taxation for purposes of redistribution clearly violates those rights.

Entire classes have evolved in the US from small institutions that once formed a useful symbiosis with the productive class but have drifted away from their original purposes and grown to be parasitic. Examples include much of academia, public education, most government bureaucracies, the arts establishment, unproductive corporate divisions and staffs, politicized churches and synagogues, media and much of the intellectual class, public health institutions and many research organizations. These classes tend to expand while consuming more public and private wealth and delivering increasingly less useful product. As parasitic entities they divert wealth from entities that might have produced more of it.

Virtue and civil society
Figuring importantly in the Founders hope for a successful and enduring republic was the idea that virtue -- personal and civic, private and public -- was the necessary condition of its maintenance.
To the ears of tribal intellectuals (and to those educated by them) "virtue" may ring as a notion that is puritanical, Victorian or simply quaint; its practice largely abandoned, its meaning is largely lost. (3)
Respect, it seems to me, is at the heart of the concept of virtue. Respect for one's self, one's work, one's moral precepts and for others. It is essential to the success of civil society, since voluntary association is at its core, so that persons who are not seen as virtuous -- who are, say, dishonest, venal or generally contemptuous of others -- will tend to be excluded.

The ideas and beliefs behind this essay are these: (1) that human nature is an historical constant, and the best organized societies are those that practically account for its virtues and vices by linking behaviors to appropriate consequences, and (2) that these linkages can be broken with individual impunity only in societies of abundance, where there is sufficient wealth and freedom from existential threats to support those who do not produce or sustain them. Individual impunity, however, does not account for the cumulative, pernicious effects that inevitably corrupt societies. The constant companions of success are hubris and the waiting Nemesis.

1. One of the best examples of the workings of denial (especially among elitists) is cited in an earlier post linked to a French TV discussion. One cannot deal with the world as it is without knowing the world as it is.
2. The citation applies primarily to business, but the mechanisms critiqued are common to all large institutions. A broader picture can be found by following the links at the bottom of the article.
3. Honor and shame have likewise become epistemological curiosities.

Note: in this essay I try to establish a framework for specific, concrete examples to follow in Part II.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

In Praise of Wikipedia (Mostly)

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As the title suggests, I have some reservations about Wikipedia, but, on balance they are few.
Criticisms of Wikipedia are numerous (1) and broad, but correcting as best one can for the uniqueness of the Wiki model, they are much the same as for traditional encyclopedias. The Wiki staff, itself -- refreshingly -- examines the matter at some length. For a good overview see this New Yorker article.

I find that on matters not in general dispute, Wikipedia is generally a convenient and reliable source. As is the case with traditional print encyclopedia, one must maintain a healthy skepticism, and, when in doubt, examine source documentation.

Since many contributors, presumably, are academics or academically oriented, one might expect a certain liberal bias. An interesting study of contributors finds them "grumpy" and "disagreeable", but I'm not certain what to make of that...

In summary, discounting my own and others' perception of liberal (or PC) bias, I find Wikipedia a welcome, useful and convenient resource with few serious shortcomings. Still, caveat emptor.

My last Google inquiry of "Wikipedia bias" returned in excess of 3M hits.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sarah Palin: Boring, Dangerous and Confused

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And now I find myself writing a fourth essay commenting on Sarah Palin. But it's not Palin herself who commands my attention so much as the predictably irrational elitist response to her. Indeed, my earlier postings (here, here and here) have dealt more with elitism than with Mrs. Palin.

A better expression of elitist animus than this video interview with Martha Stewart (1) is not easily found. Ms. Stewart's choice of words is instructive.

"Boring" Translation: she is unworthy of my attention (or that of my ilk).
"Dangerous" Translation: her view of the world threatens mine. She's so ordinary. (2)
"Confused" Translation: persons who do not think as I do are intellectually deficient.
"I wouldn't, I wouldn't watch her if you paid me." Translation: I don't know anything about her, and I don't want to. But that doesn't alter my opinion.

Unrelated to Mrs. Palin but characteristic of elitism is the opening statement in the interview.

"I think everybody should give back..." Translation: I made money in this disgraceful and unfair free-market, capitalist economy. Hear my (pro forma) words of atonement.

Summing up. Self-arrogated sense of superiority, strongly held opinion in tandem with ignorance and mock PC self-effacement.

1. I am an admirer of Martha Stewart's entrepreneurial achievements, her intellect and her work ethic, and I took her part in the contretemps with overbearing federal prosecutors. I do not admire her immense personal arrogance.
2. How can a person be seen as at once boring and dangerous..? Why is she dangerous? "She speaks...she's so confused..." Dangerous behavior indeed.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sarah Palin: Disrobing the Left

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She's baaaack... Well, she never really went away, but her pre-print best seller, Going Rogue, has returned her to the spotlight. As Dracula might shield his eyes from a crucifix, so the left* scrambles for the cover of darkness.

What is it about Sarah Palin that so unhinges the liberal establishment? Why the hysteria that exceeds even Dubya-derrangement? While there are many things in play, I believe the preeminent one is the left's correctly perceived threat of exposure -- of unmasking, disrobing, tearing away the veil of hypocrisy, unwinding the swaddling of narcissism. Under Palin's gaze liberal elites feel suddenly naked and alone. Feel exposed as when a purveyor of fine art forgeries is confronted by the original. Faux meets real.

Palin has the temerity to be who she is -- without apology a practical, commonsense, constitutional conservative who stands her ground. Ready for all comers. Unforgivable.

The Palin fault line divides not only the political spectrum but also the human one of authenticity and pretense.

A Personal Note

I am not particularly sanguine about Sarah Palin as a potential candidate for the presidency, but I think she will have good effect in sorting the wheat from the chaff in the Republican Party, principled conservatives from the dodgy. I think she has, with deliberation, placed herself on a road to build credibility, knowledge and gravitas which may or not lead her to the White House.
Palin's expressed political opinions (closely akin to Fred Thompson's in my opinion) are congenial to mine, and I find little about her to criticize generally.
What I like best about Sarah Palin is her effect on the left, driving them to paroxysms of self-parody.
Regarding a possible presidential run, Victor Davis Hanson makes some good points in an article at PJM. That Palin will have to accumulate a body of knowledge superior to any opponent she may face, and she must deal with critics in her own party.

* I can't fail to add the unprincipled poseurs on the right. It is more about elitist culture than politics.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

American Socialism: Can It Be Stopped?

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Probably not. At least not by traditional methods of incremental change.

The problem is one of inertia. Regardless of who occupies the White House and congress, the enormous bureaucracies and career staff -- which if not uniformly ideological liberals -- are statists who favor the left's bias toward the constant expansion of government. In terms of political effect it is a distinction without a difference. That is unlikely to change given the fact that these firmly established institutions are loath to hire new applicants for employment who are conservative. (1)
Beyond the machinery of government (but connected) are the entrenched liberals in media, entertainment, organized labor and education who promote socialist principles. It is perhaps in education (K12 through graduate school) that the deepest and most lasting damage has been done. (2)

A resurgence of popular conservatism (or conservative populism) might "boot the rascals out", but the new lot would quickly find that, in fact, it has little real power to change or override the dominant bureaucracies and institutions.

Ugly Alternatives

We find ourselves at a place where popular revolt in one form or another may be the sole alternative that will drive political change. Methodologies would seem most likely to include the following: a widespread refusal to pay federal taxes; states firmly exercising the powers reserved to them under the Tenth Amendment and, finally, secession.

A tax revolt might have the most immediate effect -- a Cloward-Piven strategy turned on its head. (3) But, like belling the cat, it is fraught with practical difficulties. Given the general fear of the I.R.S., and the anticipation of draconian government reprisal, I think it would difficult or impossible to enlist the commitment of enough citizens -- particularly among the top five per cent of taxpayers -- to make the strategy work.
State exercise of Tenth Amendment rights seems more promising, and an increasing number of states are paving the way. The usurpation of powers reserved to the states is not new, but under recent administrations -- particularly the current one -- it has become blatantly aggressive, and it seems certain that the constitutional principle will be tested in the near future. In fact the testing has already begun, but it has not yet attained high-profile status.
Once a federal-state conflict (likely over medical marijuana, guns or universal healthcare) becomes the focus of news media attention, it will be interesting to see the response of federal government. We may reasonably expect that the initial tactic will be denial of federal funds to the offending state followed by the filing of lawsuits in federal courts. Assuming that a state refuses to be intimidated, what form of coercion might follow? And how would the state respond?
Which leads us to the possibility of secession -- the last and most parlous alternative to federal tyranny. I will deal with this in a future post that will attempt to make the case for secession and account for the probable consequences.

1. This series of articles by Hans von Spakovsky gives a revealing insider's account of institutional bias.
2. Whether wittingly, unwittingly or half-wittingly, educators have been drawn into the Gramscian mold of progressivism.
3. This strategy is designed to bring down government by overwhelming it with financial demands. A tax revolt would have a similar effect by depriving government of revenues.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

America and the West: Out With a Whimper?

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When we think about what's happening in America we sometimes fail to see ourselves as a part of a larger collapse -- that of the West, taken as a whole. What is happening here -- reckless deficit spending, multiculturalist abandonment of our heritage, failure of our educational system, Leviathan government, usurpation of sovereignty and liberty -- has been moving apace in Western Europe for decades and is rapidly approaching critical-mass momentum. The American left is in near-perfect alignment with the European left, and the right, as in Europe, forsaking principle, capitulates.

What happened to the right? Some say that, by that by the absorption of liberal memes, (1) the fundamental beliefs of conservatives have been attenuated. I prefer this explanation: that the prevailing cultural curriculum (embedded in education, media and political power) is essentially dominated by liberal feelings and ideas. In short the left owns the Western narrative, and conservatives, wanting critical skills not taught, have failed carefully to examine the assumptions to which they have unconsciously stipulated. Simply put, received knowledge that forms the basis of our thoughts and beliefs is shot through with unrecognized error. It is fair to say that, from the middle of the last century, the right has been intellectually and spiritually neutered.

This is commonly demonstrated by the thinking of "moderate" conservatives who pathetically appeal to the assumed but rarely seen good will and comity of liberals. The politics-as-war disposition of the left offers no quarter, takes no prisoners. The right, ignoring contrary evidence, repeatedly takes the pure hypocrisy of the left's feel-good mantras at face value, denying or failing to see that liberals have no interest in ideas but are solely driven by the lust for power. On this issue the conservative learning curve remains flat (2). Charlie Brown with Lucy and the football.

The singular need to manage and control the lives of others the first principle of the left (3). The history of socialism -- from the communist regimes in Russia and China to the fascism in Europe that served the ends of socialist power to the more recent events in Cuba and newly in Venezuela -- clearly illustrates the arrogation of power by the few to control the many. Worth noting is the glaring contrast between the stated goals of these regimes (improving the lot of the people) and the consequences measured in tens of millions of lost lives, imprisonment and servitude. Power and control.

The latest manifestation on the grand scale is the creeping domination of states by the European Union. With Ireland having caved on the Lisbon Treaty there seems little resistance left to overcome in the EU consolidation of power (4). Improving the lives of the people, again, is the ostensible purpose of this emerging Leviathan. What is exchanged for the organization's stated altruism is personal liberty, jurisdictional sovereignty at every level and, ultimately (ironically) what robustness remains in the economy. Power and control.

What is interesting in the case of Europe is that the brazenness of the EU seizure of authority is met by a near-total meekness of popular opposition. Europeans, more than most, should recognize the resurrection of the patterns from the last century. But they are spiritually and intellectually neutered.

If there is any hope for the survival of the West, it lies in America; but I am concerned whether America -- especially seen in the context of the present administration -- is only a couple of steps behind Europe. Still, there are elements in the traditional American character -- independence, individualism, belief in capitalist meritocracy, robust religious convictions and an innate distrust of government -- that are distinctive. The question is whether these traits have been bred out by liberal indoctrination. The tea parties, townhalls, Tenth Amendment initiatives and the rise of conservative media suggest they have not. The next questions would address numerical distributions, determination (will), and suitable methods of resistance.

Changing the administration at the polls will not be adequate to restore American conservatism. Much of the real power of the left in government is held outside the immediate confines of the White House, Congress and the courts. The enormous, powerful and bloated bureaucracies, like the education establishment are overwhelming liberal. A new Republican administration -- even if conservative -- has little power to curb the ongoing subversion of bureaucracies.

To date there have been no serious confrontations between states asserting Tenth Amendment rights, but I think it is only a matter of time, and that in the short term. How aggressively the government will act may determine the future course of this movement (5).

Modern secession is not out of the question. To be effective it would require a new confederacy of states that would be drawn outside the geographic lines of the Southern Confederacy. Despite the position taken by the left to the contrary, secession -- like nullification -- rests on solid legal ground today as it did prior to the Civil War (6). The Lincoln government responded by illegally asserting Northern power outside the authority of the Constitution. A similar government response to a new secession can be expected, but more swift and violent.


Whether the Western Tradition survives the postmodern philosophy that is the foundation of modern liberalism is anyone's guess. The erosion of critical thinking and sound education augurs against it, but there are signs of a modest revival of conservatism in Europe, and what may be the beginning of an energetic popular sovereignty movement in America.

I believe we have gone too far along the road to centralized government power to effect a reversal at the polls; change, if it comes, will be occasioned by a confrontation between state and federal powers. What form that confrontation might take and what consequences would follow cannot be known. On the other hand, the states may choose not to assert their rights against the general government. Therein lies the choice between whimper and bang.

1. Memetics, a hypothesis that wants to become a theory, is superficially attractive because it seems to add explanatory power to cultural shifts. In the end, though, it is at best shorthand for an old idea (learning by osmosis), and it adds little benefit to social analysis.
2. Conservatives naively assume that the left shares their commitment to the traditional rules of civil society.
3. Capitalism, individualism is anathema to control. Free people are by definition unpredictable -- hard to control.
The need to control is an interesting human phenomenon. I find myself wondering if there is a genetic marker at work. If one if discovered some day, I believe I could predict the outcome of a correlation with political leanings.
4. The Lisbon Treaty essentially establishes the EU constitution that was initially rejected by referendum. That document, running to about 40,000 pages, will empower Brussels to micromanage every aspect of the lives of European citizens.
5. About 17 states have either introduced or passed Tenth Amendment resolutions. The resolutions do not have the force of law, but they serve notice to the Federal Government that they are prepared to exercise powers of nullification.
6. There remain legalistic arguments to the contrary, but it is clear that it was generally acknowledge as the right of every state prior to the Civil War. Lincoln, himself, endorsed the concept in an 1847 speech supporting the secession of Texas from Mexico. Only when he became president and sought to consolidate Northern power did he argue against it. He based his new argument on the idea of the "perpetuity" of the union, which was written into the Articles of Confederation but was expressly rejected by the Founders during the Constitutional Convention.

Note: In future posts I intend to address questions of states' rights and secession in some detail. There are some signs that interest is growing in both Tenth Amendment initiatives and secession. About a month ago I ran a Google search on the string, "new secession" and found about 3.3M returns; yesterday the same search yielded 4.45M. Google Trends shows an interesting graphic report.
It is interesting to observe that certain groups are anticipating the emergence of civil conflict. Federal law enforcement produced a study designed to identify possible enemies of the state. On the other side of the coin, an organization called Oath Keepers (law enforcement and current and former military) has made a preemptive move to pledge that they will refuse orders to disarm or use force against citizens. Still others are concerned about the growth of anti-riot/crowd-control weaponry being acquired by law enforcement.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Conservative Reform and the RNC

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We are accustomed to thinking that all conservatives are Republicans, and that is roughly true. But we commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent when we assert that all Republicans are conservative. In fact, most are not.

Defining 'conservative'. Conservatives are persons who believe in principles of liberty, the rule of law, small government, capitalism and a free-market economy, the sanctity of private property and contracts, and, above all, respect for the Constitution as it was originally conceived and formulated.

Measuring the actual performance of our elected and appointed officials against the standards of conservatism, though, can be dicey. The American Conservative Union (ACU), which rates congressmen by voting record, is a useful resource. A 100% record of conservative votes leaves no doubt about the principles (and courage) of a legislator. Conservative voters may see voting records at, say, an eighty or ninety percent rating, as a strong endorsement of their elected representatives, but here one must be cautious.

The rub of analysis lies in exactly where (on what issues) a congressman deviates from conservative principles. In the case of my senators, they had spoken in favor of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and, absent the angry groundswell of public opposition, I suspect they would have voted for it. For that and other reasons I have serious doubts regarding their conservative fides.

I have come to realize that any rating below 100% leaves room for a lot of mischief and requires careful analysis. What to do? In order to assure a majority of principled conservatives in Congress it seems to me that constituents providing incentives for the RNC and liberal Republicans to align politically with conservatism holds promise.

The Republican Party and Conservatism

For some time I have seen the Republican Party leadership (RNC) as bureaucratic, ingrown, contemptuous of conservative principles and thoroughly feckless. Like their opposite number (perhaps by emulation) they have come to embrace statism as the expedient way to win elections. To be sure, winning elections is properly the business of the party, but at what cost?

Republicans have become the party of appeasement in domestic politics as Democrats long have been in foreign policy. As conservative principles have been allowed to languish, the party has become defensive -- reactive -- to political opposition. (1) By doing so they implicitly communicate that Democrats are in control of the rules of debate. Representatives of the Senator John McCain stripe reinforce that impression by demonstrating a willingness to sacrifice principle in the interest of comity.

Too many, nominally on the right, seem to argue that conservative principles cannot attract the votes of independents and loosely committed Democrats, and they make the case for a "Big Tent" approach. Michael Medved, for example, asserts that voters in traditionally liberal northern states cannot be won over by conservative ideas; therefore, conservatives must agree to compromise on principle in their campaigns. He cites the example of Olympia Snowe and others, who as representatives of a liberal constituency, must not stray too far to the right. In other words, what good is it to uphold doctrine and lose elections?

Absent careful examination, the argument is appealing. But I find at least three flaws in this line of reasoning. In the first place, it fails to acknowledge the obvious fact that there will always be some (many?) who cannot be wooed away from hard-case liberalism. In this case targeting votes on the hard left amounts only to squandering resources. Second, it seems to ignore the fact that conservative principles, persistently and well articulated, appeal to the majority of Americans. Finally, the argument does not take into account the naturally conservative disposition of most Americans. (2)

But I will concede one point: liberal states, generally more populous, are heavily represented in the electoral college. But that fact suggests that these states are liberal monoliths. History shows us that they are not. (3)

Changing the Party

I began this essay with the intention of exploring only various (and unexciting) strategies for enabling conservatives to become the new (or renewed) face of the Republican Party. I have since come to recognize that unfolding events in the grassroots political arena may offer unexpected support to those strategies.

The tea parties, townhall confrontations and the steady ascendancy of conservative media at MSM's expense may be taken as signs that America is moving toward the right. Ironically, we have liberal overreach, seen in the bullying tactics of the hard left to undo traditional American institutions, to thank. I think citizens instinctively understand that the hastiness, scope and "foreignness" of legislation pushed so hard by the current administration, is a naked attempt to expand and consolidate extraconstitutional powers without practical restraints.

How to take advantage? It appears to me that the RNC has been typically slow to appreciate the popular movement towards conservatism (or away from liberalism), and it lacks the responsive agility to seize opportunities. Where one sees leadership is at the level of elected conservatives and the various organizations with which they are associated.
From that I conclude that it is conservative congressmen, with the support of like-minded constituents, who can change the party from within.

Another Strategy

In the past I have contributed money to the RNC and to representatives in my state. But about two years ago, I chose another course. I had come to recognize that the Republican Party, itself, undermines conservatism. So also, do candidates who, like the party, sacrifice principle for victory at the polls. Where once I would have made donations to the RNC and local Republican candidates, I now opt to support only hundred per cent conservatives from any state who a.) show outstanding leadership and b.) are in closely contested races.

This strategy is loudly opposed by less-than-robust conservative spokesmen in the media. They argue that hewing too closely to principle does not win elections; does not guarantee pluralities. While that assertion has merit in the short term, where is the benefit of a liberal-Republican majority? John McCain, Lindsey Graham (for examples) and many others demonstrate that the question has already been asked and answered. "Moderate" Republicans and their Democrat counterparts till the same soil, and the harvest, predictably, is not conservative. (4)

Leaners and standers. Many Republican politicians "lean" toward the conservative platform, but they have absorbed the liberal memes
of the sixties that became popular orthodoxy, and they have been unable to think themselves out. Unconsciously and uncritically they have bought into the facile, seductive and intellectually specious (5) notions of Utilitarian philosophy -- the greatest good for the greatest number. Worse, they embrace the liberal perversion (6) of Jesus' admonition not to judge, believing that judgment must be suspended in all things. The result is a destructive combination of "touchy-feely" sentimentality that drives public policy accompanied by the inability to evaluate the need for it or the results that follow from it.

On the platform of conservative thought, standers, on the other hand, are not averse to the exercise of judgment. That is especially true in matters of social and fiscal legislation where conservatives recognize that public displays of pious "caring" seldom translate into actions that do not exacerbate the conditions they were meant to improve. The New Deal and Great Society programs being notable examples.

What Might Be Helpful

1. Conservatives should identify themselves more closely with Constitutional principles than with the Republican Party. Foremost among those principles, liberty.
2. To the extent that financial support is directed away from the RNC to bona fide conservative politicians, wobbly conservatives (and eventually, the party itself) will likely discover that their interests are best served by a political shift to the right.
3. Upholding conservative principles (clearly and consistently articulated without apology), will attract more support among voters than bargaining them away in cynical, expedient compromise. While they are privately (though often transparently) held in contempt by liberals, American voters have a remarkable ability to sort out hypocrisy. (7)

(1) Stipulating to the multicultural smarminess that passes for liberal values, pro forma apologies or denials inevitably precede comments that might potentially offend some identity group.
(2) Pew Research Center, Gallup, Rasmussen and other polls.
(3) Consider Reagan's electoral votes: 1980 - 489; 1984 - 525.
(4) While the ideological shortcomings of McCain and Graham (for the latter most recently) are well documented, even Senate Minority Leader, John Boehner, though among the best spokesmen for conservative positions, seems not above short-term political compromise.
(5) The greatest good for the greatest number. This idea, associated with the work of Jeremy Bentham, cannot sustain the weight of logical analysis or practical application. Though it was quickly refuted by Bentham’s contemporaries, it persists as a favorite liberal mantra.
(6) One of many good analyses is found here. I chose this citation because it is concise and well documented. To the list of examples offered by the author I would add Jer. 5.1
(7) I argue here that Barack Obama was perceived by voters as less hypocritical – more devoted to principle -- than John McCain. The hypocrisy of Obama lay in his false representation of the principles he held rather than his fidelity to them.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Assault on Western Civilization

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What do ACLU-led attacks on public religious observance and the increasingly scant attention now given to Greek and Roman history by the K12 curriculum have in common? Together they symbolize the consequences of a powerful, ubiquitous, longstanding, relentless and largely successful assault on the values and traditions of the West. It is not confined to the Western Hemisphere or to Europe; it is virtually worldwide. We have come to expect it from the UN, controlled by Third World despots, but it is the West, itself, that leads this suicidal charge.
The pillars of Western civilization are the classical tradition and the Judeo-Christian heritage. Perhaps the true value of the Western canon lies in the fact that it best accommodates the strengths and weaknesses of human nature.

I argue that the best of the Western tradition was codified in the Anglo strain of the Enlightenment, and arguably achieved its zenith in the ideals, beliefs and actions of the American Founders.

The Enlightenment
I often make a distinction of convenience between the Anglo (Scottish, English and American) and French threads of the Enlightenment. It is over-simple, to be sure, but it is useful and generally avoids the margins of argument.

The French, following the ideas of Rousseau and the leadership of Robespierre and others, chose totally to embrace reason and to turn violently against religion and tradition. They set out with remarkable energy to change not only the present, but the past as well. The Anglos also embraced reason, but they opted to integrate it with traditions of the Western heritage. The Muslims, curiously, decided to abjure reason altogether and strengthen their faith as an alternative frankly hostile to reason. One might say that the French welcomed reason and rejected God and the Western tradition; the Anglos welcomed reason in the context of tradition and thanked God for it; and the Muslims rejected reason and turned to God as an antidote.

The French (and German) philosophes laid the foundations of post-modernist thought, which elevated pure reason beyond the realm of praxis (experience, observation) to the point of logical absurdity -- cultural, moral and intellectual relativism -- leading ultimately to nihilism. This school of thought is very much with us today, and its heritors -- people of the left (1) -- are determined to do all possible mischief to Western Civilization. Interestingly, they are in many ways allied with those who rejected reason -- Muslims.

The People of the Left - Part I
It is commonly observed that liberals are largely concentrated in media (entertainment and news), education, organized labor, minorities and "victim" identity groups, NGO's and government bureaucracies. This is largely true of the world-at-large, but it is certainly the case in Western Europe, North, Central and South America and Canada. It is noteworthy that these entities have much in common. With few exceptions, they are insulated from free-market competition; they are not existentially accountable for their performance -- the consequences of financial failure. Many have lost the traditional linkage between productive work and earnings. Apparently unaware of their debt to it, liberals tend to despise capitalism. One suspects the sentiment is a holdover from European aristocracy.

Insulation is perhaps a key concept. After generations of prosperity and security, unknown in most of the world, notions of existential threat have taken on an abstract (unreal) quality. In places where economies are weak and governance bad concern with survival is likely to be a constant among the people; they are daily threatened by the possibility of death by starvation, disease, violence and natural catastrophe. Life cannot be sustained without an intimate knowledge of quotidian reality.

Liberal separation from the consequences of thinking and behavior is the foundational point I want to make here: I'll have more to say about secondary characteristics -- assumptions and beliefs of the left and about the non-ideological, "accidental" spread of liberalism.

Affordable Self-Deception
In societies that are relatively free of real poverty, infectious disease (medically amenable where it exists), and death by violence, and that have infrastructure to minimize the consequences of natural disaster, things are different. People can afford to maintain a (delusional) distance from reality. If one observes a rattlesnake, safely caged, or a human predator contained in a prison cell, he can indulge in attributing to them qualities altogether superior to their nature. Similarly, a person living in comfort and security may be dismissive of such "abstractions" as tyranny, jihadi terrorism or economic collapse.

Liberals ignore the lessons of history at their (and our) peril, but they are constitutionally unable to recognize or acknowledge peril. They tend, for example, to favor various kinds of collectivism -- from democratic socialism to Marxism -- over individualism while ignoring the devastation wrought under socialism in the last century -- crippled economies and death and imprisonment suffered by tens of millions and, generally, the tyranny that socialism always engenders. Collectivist social structures inevitably suppress the best qualities of human nature and encourage the worst.

The Founders, to their great credit, understood the reality of human nature and how best to account for it in the organization of government.

The People of the Left - Part II
Is the assault on Western Civilization deliberate, planned and maliciously intended? Yes and no.
Since the beginning of the 20th Century, there have been individuals and groups actively and frankly hostile the Western Tradition and dedicated to its destruction. Many were the intellectual descendants of the French philosophes, but others were motivated by ambitions to power, tribal mentality, anti-individualism, antagonistic cultural differences or politically organized religious beliefs.

What unites liberal ideologues is a vision of social perfectibility -- whether utopian or eschatological. These are people who measure reality against their imagined standards of Utopia or heaven.

At the other extreme are non-ideological persons influenced by liberal memes in popular culture and the orthodoxies of the educational establishment adopted since the 1950's. They are not consciously anti-Western primarily because the don't understand the concept. In a word they are ignorant -- of history, economics, politics and government. They act upon beliefs uninformed by knowledge or analysis. Excluding functional illiterates this group is theoretically salvageable.

Of all the intellectual bigotries and prejudices the abhorrence of liberty seems to top the list. Flowing from that position are the following corollary fears of and enmity towards: anything that is unorganized or regulated, and thus unpredictable; individualism; capitalism; free markets. In short they seek control over the lives, organization and behavior of others; control from which they, themselves, are exempt (2).

A set of sacred beliefs characterizes the left, and these are zealously guarded: social Darwinism, the idea that men are perfectible if properly governed; multiculturalism, which follows from the fear of making value judgments, in part leading to anti-patriotism and contempt for national sovereignty; the conviction that economies (not governments) are zero-sum; a natural affinity for national governments (particularly fascist and socialist) that use oppressive power to control their polities; wars are caused only by failures of negotiation; all men are inherently good, and when behavior indicates otherwise it is because of environmental factors; nature, in all its manifestations, is superior to mankind; all men and societies are literally equal and many more. All contrary beliefs are intolerable.

Finally, there is a set of behaviors most commonly associated with left. These include: intolerance of dissenting opinion (above) expressed in vicious attacks on opponents; intensity of feeling antithetical to a sense of humor; avoidance of honest debate (on the issue of Global Warming, for example); denial of reality not congenial to their prejudices and contempt for factual verification where it would challenge ideology (they simply rely on repetition of fallacious ideas to counter evidence); the use of intimidation, institutional coercion and violence in service of ideology; willingness to lie in furtherance of the "greater truth"; the use of third person plural in reference to grievance groups (they can't afford health insurance). Again, a sampling.

As I have said elsewhere, there is a remarkable similarity between the left and Islam. Opponents are allowed three options: conversion, submission or death. If this statement strikes the reader as excessive, consider the death tolls at the hands of socialist governments in the last century. I believe that in contemporary Europe and North America the left is restrained only by an incomplete consolidation of power.

Future Of the West
Or, in the language of game theory, does the future of the West cast a shadow? The answer to this question is impossible to forecast with confidence, but weight of evidence bodes ill for the survival of Western Civilization.

As Plato has his revenge on Aristotle, so Rousseau has his on Burke. Cultural, moral and intellectual relativism infects and cripples the governments and peoples of Europe, much of Latin America and Canada and is hard at work in the U.S. The model of infection -- pandemic -- seems appropriate, for spread of collectivist memes appears to have a viral quality and is abetted by intellectual elites and allied institutions such as the UN and the EU -- precursors to world government.

Some assert that the populations of Western countries (taken as groups of individuals) are far more conservative than their governments. This may be the case, but they lack the necessary institutional wealth, power and organization of ruling parties that exert their will through the instrument of government. And managed economies (which most increasingly are) effectively destroy the incentives and motivation for the expression of individual will.

The problems arising out the growth of the left, are greatly exacerbated in Europe by growing Islamic populations hostile to the values of their host countries, routinely living on the dole, and not held accountable by feckless governments that seek cover under the suicidal mantle of multiculturalism. These countries willing or fearfully yield sovereignty to malign immigrants who contribute negatively to their economies and, under direct threat of violence, ridicule existing law and insist on Sharia jurisprudence -- not only for themselves, but their countries of residence entire. The US, so far, has not been similarly affected, but it is only a matter of time.

So the outlook for the survival in strength of Western values seems generally poor. If Western Europe is to overcome the decline, Denmark is most likely to lead the way; on the global scale the US must lead. In neither case are the odds favorable.

Some readers of this essay will inevitably question the importance of Western survival. What's the big deal, they may ask. Political change and the realignment of cultures and values, after all, is the natural course of history.

So it is, I would reply. But consider that in all the past, no better organization of human society, governance, and economy ever existed than that informed by the classical tradition melded with the Judeo-Christian heritage that culminated, by way of the Anglo Enlightenment, in the thoughts, actions, systems and structures passed on to us by the American Founders.

Today's Western Civilization has created and deployed, via free-market capitalism and sound, moral, republican political systems grounded in the rule of law, more wealth and security
worldwide than would ever have been thought possible a century ago. The practical work of that civilization has never been surpassed outside the realm of hypothesis.

(1) The terms, "left" and "liberal" -- as I use them -- refer to persons who have adopted (consciously or otherwise) the ideology and thought of the continental philosophes.
(2) Think of neighborhood and condo associations. While many persons who offer service to these organizations act out of a sense of civic duty, others seem attracted by a fundamental need to organize and manage the behavior of others.

France: A Look Into America's Future

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Implausible Denial. One of the chief characteristics I have attributed to the left is denial. They deny what's there and affirm what ain't. France defines the standard.

Crime in France is a growing and serious problem. Much of it is -- by empirical standards, i.e., facts -- associated with the growing number of hostile, unassimilated Muslims*. Especially Muslim youths. But multicultural relativism and its ideological partners, elitism and political correctness, forbids acknowledging, and thereby dealing with, the truth.

Faithful to the traditions of Rousseau, Robespierre and the admirable outcomes of the Revolution, France would seem to be the purest exemplar of denial, but the balance of Western Europe is hotly competitive. Sadly, so is America.

But in America we have not yet reached the endpoint of reductio ad absurdum reasoning; in France they have.

At Brussels Journal, Tiberge, a regular contributor, transcribes the absurd rationalizations of a televised panel of French intellectuals -- "experts", discussing whether crime was really anything to be alarmed about -- whether violent criminals bear responsibility for their actions. They take consolation in the fact that, after all, things in France are not as bad as in, say, Pakistan....

This is funny, but pathos plays the trump card.

A fine first-person article by Theodore Dalrymple about the brazenness of immigrant criminality and the PC passiveness of French government.

Monday, September 7, 2009

About Power: Collective vs. Collectivist

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Pat Santy and others have written extensively about Obama-Left, Inc. being out of touch with reality and perpetually in denial. I agree with the analysis, but in the interest of simplicity, on the one hand, and praxis on the other, I have adopted a kind of bare-bones way of assessing liberal performance in the world. A way, that for me, answers the question, “so now what”?

I would argue that these people* are absolutely in touch with reality; but it is their reality. Where most of us perform to standards of quotidian efficacy -- i.e., paying the mortgage to keep the house, investing money for retirement, not meddling in other people's business, and so on -- liberals are busy making for themselves a place in Heaven (read Utopian 'justification'). What does it matter if their diplomatic strategy weakens and endangers the nation? If fiscal policy is profligate? If social policy enslaves us? Never mind -- their motives are pure. They have a vision. They belong to a tribe that sanctifies them.

We may call them elitists (which they are) or narcissists (which they are), but we need to know that the reality of our world is not the reality of theirs. We see their behavior as pathological and bizarre, but to them it makes perfect sense. They simply perform to different standards.

A useful conclusion: it is pointless to reason with liberals, for reasoning (in the traditional Western sense) runs counter to their primary goals -- defense of a secular religion and its belief system and the acquisition and maintenance of power. Power (collective power), they understand perfectly. It is their stock-in-trade. And it is opposing, naked power alone -- not persuasion -- that will cause them to change.

One knows one has scored points when hysterical cries of 'righteous' outrage are heard from the left. The potential loss of power threatens their very being. The argument for power is sustained by observing the effects (ranging from defensiveness to open hostility) of tea parties, town halls and the growth of conservative media and the Tenth Amendment initiative. Though the right, historically, has been uncomfortable with the collective exercise of political power and will, when liberty is at stake the time for that exercise has arrived.

It all comes down to this: it is one thing to understand the enemy (I use the word advisedly) but another to know how to defeat him. The left will use whatever power is at their disposal to subject or eliminate -- in one way or another -- those who hold a different world-view. To force non-believers into submission, forced alliance or extinction. Here, there are remarkable similarities to Islam.

One thinks of the dreary, demeaning, undifferentiated existence of persons living in the former Soviet Republics -- statism in one of its more benign forms. But is a short journey to recall crematoria, gulags and killing fields. Only a few years ago I would have dismissed that last sentence as pure hyperbole, but no longer. There is no want of historical precedent in the annals of collectivist governance.

When individual liberty is attacked by political powers that are not amenable to reason or persuasion, it must be defended by political power. Modest conservative organization (above) has so far been surprisingly effective, which suggests that the power of the left may be overrated. But the left, over the span of a century, has had enormous influence in government and society precisely because its power has been organized. Therein lies a lesson.

When I use the terms "liberal" and "Left" in most of my critical essays I am referring to to committed ideologues on the far end of the political spectrum -- those whose intellectual heritage derives from Rousseau and Marx. These are the True Believers and their enablers.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Open Thread

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Boston, August 29, 2009

Funeral services today for Edward M. Kennedy. Mary Jo Kopechne unable to attend.

End of post.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Does BHO Rhyme with WHO? It Should.

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The metastasizing, coercive power of government, increasingly unchecked by constitutional restraint, led by a narcissist and his far-flung elitist cohort of KGB-progressives from the houses of congress and offices of bureaucrats to the streets of ACORN. One and all channeling the shades of Rousseau, Marx, Gramci, Marcuse and Alinsky; recklessly betting the wealth of our nation and the liberty of its people on the impossible prospect of reaping a bountiful harvest from the tainted soil of Utopia. Grownups who live on this side of the rabbit hole have reason to be afraid

Childish Fear

The darkened, crape-hung rooms, cobwebs, spaghetti intestines, pans of blood, severed heads, painted-grape eyeballs, skeletons, moans and screams from dark recesses... pretty scary stuff for an impressionable kid. You round a corner and come face to face with a motionless, ghoulish figure. You freeze and sharply draw in a breath. But by now you're beginning to sort things out -- it's just a prop, another dummy meant to terrify you. You relax and then the 'dummy' comes alive, jumps out at you and grabs you by the shoulders. BOO!

Adult Fear

The state of American politics today is somewhat reminiscent of that first haunted house. It has the same eerie, menacing otherworldly quality. And the same terrifying BHO!

Chairman BHO! now rules the haunted house, and if he holds sway, we may see it furnished with real body parts. There is ample precedent.

Pat Santy Resumes Her Blog

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After a brief lacuna between July 6 and August 20, the Dr. Sanity blog is back in business. Since I wrote earlier about her decision to quit, I post here to square the record. Glad she's back.

End of post.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Comprehensive Legislation: Just Say No - Part II

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Across the political spectrum, this mantra is often repeated: “Real immigration reform must be comprehensive…”

It’s the word “comprehensive” that really bothers me when used in connection with any big government program. Stimulus, healthcare reform, Cap and trade, Energy policy and the former, failed initiative for immigration reform — all are comprehensive. And bloody-well scary.

Here, I deal with immigration reform because the content of that legislative proposal is less unclear than, say, healthcare reform. The only kind of comprehensive reform I can imagine endorsing is one that addresses dysfunctional law-making (Part I).

Government regularly shows itself to be inept and incompetent even when writing simple, targeted law (such as the “wildly successful” Cash for Clunkers), how much worse will be legislation that addresses an issue as complicated as immigration reform?

Any comprehensive law will typically be embodied in hundreds or thousands of pages that are virtually incomprehensible — sections filled with arcane legalisms and referencing equally incomprehensible prior legislation. Perfect vehicles for the deliberate obfuscation of all manner of pernicious agendas. Perfect vehicles for engendering unintended consequences that will themselves eventually require more comprehensive laws.

Rather than comprehensive, reform (any) law ought to be incremental, carefully prioritized, narrow in scope and clearly written. That would permit quicker implementation and allow for empirical evaluation and adjustment, as needed. The sum of incremental legislation would, over time, become, effectively, comprehensive.

Over time?
one might object. But we haven’t got time; this is urgent (another scary word in government)! I would reply by noting that healthcare reform under the Clintons was the most urgent problem facing that administration; what might have we accomplished by now if we had approached that issue incrementally?

If, in the case instant, the elements of reform (many complex, but not complicated) were properly prioritized, many parts of “big bang” style reform might become moot. For example, if we began with aggressive law enforcement (requiring a robust form of state ID) — employer sanctions, penalizing “sanctuary” violations etc., it is likely (in fact, already proven) that illegal immigrants would return to their native homes of their own volition. In itself, serious enforcement would eliminate the need for a complicated and almost-impossible-to-administer legalization program — the major and most controversial element of reform. Likewise, if would simplify and reduce the cost of healthcare burdens (simplifying reform in that area), presumably reduce the cost of policing in major metropolitan areas (addressing crime associated with illegals), and soften the pressures on the prison system. The list goes on.

Aside from ad hoc efficacy, there are other benefits to the incremental approach. They are best illustrated by looking at the destructive effects of comprehensive bills. They cause confusion, social and political tensions, frustration, resignation, apathy and contempt among American voters. Worse, the public’s sense of confidence in their representatives and government itself is eroded, inviting a pervasive cynicism that effectively discourages citizen participation at all levels of government. High prices to pay.

I conclude by saying that comprehensive legislation (read sweeping changes) in any form is a bad idea. One would hope for a time when legislation was written in a way that voters — let alone congressmen — could not only understand, but explain to others. The simple, clear and broad language of the Constitution and Bill of Rights should stand as a model. On that point I entertain some hope but no optimism.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Open Thread

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Cash for Clunkers: Taxes for Government. A perfect metaphor

Friday, August 14, 2009

Comprehensive Legislation: Just Say No - Part I

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This essay is meant to provide some background for a subsequent posting which opposes any kind of "comprehensive" legislation (reform or otherwise) and argues for a radical simplification in the crafting of law. What is at stake is the principle of individual and community sovereignty.

Beginning with the Johnson administration it became the mission of government to write all laws -- general and regulatory -- in a way that they would be extremely detailed, anticipate future judicial scrutiny, be self-executing and account for all contingencies. * That trend continues unabated with the result that these laws are largely impenetrable by legal minds and laymen alike. Tax law is the example most often cited, though environmental law may be even more labyrinthine. Among the consequences are the sheer difficulty and cost of deployment. implementation, compliance and enforcement. Laws that once might have been simple, clear and brief are now beyond understanding. Perhaps the worst effect of the current state of affairs is the fact that the courts can interpret law in a way that suits them; in other words, the rule of law has been superseded by the rule of men.

It was the intent of the Founders that laws be made as general as possible to be adjudicated by the courts on a case-by-case basis. It is worth noting that the most important, foundational law of the land -- the constitution -- was written in just such a way. None of the amendments in the Bill of Rights exceeds a single paragraph! Of these some of the most important (I think of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments) each comprise a single sentence.

The intent of the modern style of legislation is to increase the power and control of central government. Perhaps the best contemporary example is the EU constitution, which has grown from a mere 27,000 pages in April 2008 to about 40,000 today. Compare that with the widely circulated Cato edition of the Constitution, all amendments and the Declaration of Independence, which fits comfortably in a shirt pocket.

Phillip K. Howard, The Death of Common Sense, Ch. I

Thank God For Barack Obama

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Hillary Clinton could not have carried off the feat so effectively as has BHO. His singular achievement has been to awaken and energize the essential conservatism of the American plurality.

The robust elitism of Mrs. Clinton could not have rivaled the malignant narcissism of Obama -- a narcissism which prevents him from concealing effectively his sinister and wholly pernicious anti-American agenda.

The president has created for himself a persona* that some have seen as magisterial, sanctifying and noble. But a little scratching at the surface reveals a buffoon, profoundly ignorant of history, lacking a foundation in common knowledge and common sense, innocent of the values of the Western Tradition, but keenly attuned to Marxist principles. His persona might have been more skillfully crafted -- more marketable -- with the benefit of a true understanding of "America as it is".

It is frankly amazing that the American heritage of distrusting the centralized power of government has not entirely been bred out of our citizens -- casualties of K12, academe and the media. But apparently some notions of individual sovereignty yet persist.

Middle America seems to have awakened sufficiently to perceive the threat that Obama poses to the the nation. One can hope that it will lead -- even modestly -- to a revival of appreciation for founding principles. Thank God for Barack Obama.

Because the narcissist has no innate sense of self, he creates a persona -- an image -- of what he wants to be. In the words of Drew Pinsky (The Mirror Effect), "The key to understanding the Narcissus myth is not that he fell in love with himself, but that he failed to recognize himself in his own reflection."

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Palin Fault Line

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More interesting, perhaps, than Sarah Palin herself is the hysterical reaction she elicits -- from the left especially, but also from a few on the moderate right. It is a phenomenon. It is a war of social and political memes. A war between WASP America and "America as it should be".

As I see things, the characteristic reactions from the left are essentially different in kind from those on the right. The left is visceral, suggesting that Palin is seen as an existential threat (about which more); their reactions are marked by expressions of fear, anger, rage and a deep-seated hatred. The right shows more restraint, suggesting that differences may be more about turf -- political poaching -- and contention over conservative orthodoxy.

On the grand scale we see that a proxy war is being fought in America. The person and candidacy of Sarah Palin are incidental as a cassus belli; she is a symbol of a 'dangerous' worldview. She represents traditional American values and ideas of American exceptionalism so despised and feared by the institutional left. It is also about liberal lifestyles derivative of its own contrarian values.

In this essay I aim to say more about lifestyles (as an expression of social and political values) and less about worldview. The latter I will dispose of with the broad strokes of postmodernist philosophy and some of its most pervasive and pernicious subsets: multiculturalism and militant secularism, relativism and, in particular, elitism.

Politics-as-war. The punishment dealt to Sarah Palin by the elitist left is astonishing, both in scope and virulent meanness. She was attacked on every front: by her political enemies in Alaska (for which some justification might be found) by the usual suspects in print and TV media, by organized Democrat lawyers and (as MediaMatters chortles) by activist bloggers.

What is it about Sarah Palin that provokes the left to become so animated? To mobilize its army of destroyers so quickly? Is it her political views? I think not. She may be closer, politically, to Fred Thompson than to others on the early Republican slate. But Fred Thompson never caused much stir among the opposition. Unlike other candidates, Palin does not honor elitist rules -- the legacy from the childrens' rebellion of the 60's -- that demands political correctness and insincere comity toward that element of the opposition that resists demonization. In short, she is herself, and she has the effrontery not to join the club.

Elitist society in America grows and gains political power as a consequence of expanding government, which itself is increasingly elitist. Since its power is attenuated by pluralist notions asserting the competence of private citizens to make decisions, it is the natural enemy of pluralism. Jonah Goldberg points to the elitist component of big government:

It [fascism] was objectively and proudly populist while at the same time fascists openly argued for an elite cadre of superior, if not super, men who would run the country. The Leninists had a similar argument with all that avant-garde of the proletariat and whatnot. In America, I think a big, big, big part of the problem is the permanent civil service bureaucracy which is naturally sympathetic to big government and parties that champion big government. These governmental elites, in collusion with academia and the "helping professions," take it upon themselves to find new ways to "run" the society. [Emphasis mine]

He adds:

Whenever a political movement arises — like American conservatism — which challenges the elite-bureaucracy's authority they are accused of working against "the people" and the "downtrodden." Just look at all of the silly things people say about John Bolton. Journalists are key to this process because they share the bureaucratic elite's vision of both government and the masses.

The divide between Sarah Palin and the left, I believe, is fundamentally a proxy for that between elitism and pluralism.

She is elite, without being elitist. That is a thing the left cannot abide. The aura (self-arrogated) of moral and intellectual superiority is the liberal shibboleth for success, power and political entitlement. Elitism has the characteristics of membership in an exclusive club which rewards mediocrity and achievement alike. In the case of the former it masks, by general consent, personal and professional shortcomings. The tenured second-rate intellectuals of academe, writers and pundits for whom untested assumptions serve in the place of facts, bureaucrats and elected officials who rise by virtue of crafted appearances and in-network support rather than merit — all persons whose inadequacy is concealed under the mantle of club membership. To be sure, there are true elites in the club, but they hold the conceit that their achievements (in whatever field) entitle them to determine the course of the politea.

Elitism is not exclusive to liberals; it is all too common on the putative right. But, in my view, elitism is the defining characteristic of the left and a minor — if disturbing — attribute of the right.

Which returns us to Sarah Palin. She has elite bona fides, but she refuses to “play fair” (by elitist rules), thereby threatening to expose the the life-sustaining (read narcissist “supply”)* fiction of elitist superiority. She has shown a ‘dangerous’ and threatening willingness to name persons, things and ideologies for what they are. And that calls for circling the wagons.

Narcissist “supply” is the sum of inputs required to maintain an exalted self-image. For the narcissist it has an existential quality, sustaining the very life of the psyche. It is equivalent to the supply of drugs in substance addiction. I think that idea goes a long way toward explaining the sheer magnitude of the visceral hate-fear response from the far left. Elitism and bullying are prominent manifestations of narcissism.

Note 1: usually I avoid 'psychologizing', but I have come to think ideas about narcissism are justified by common sense and experience; more, I believe they have the virtue of explanatory power in analyzing irrational non-adaptive behavior.

Note 2: I rather like Sara Palin, but mostly because of her ability to set the wolves to howling. Jim DeMint would be my choice if he chooses to run.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Alien Obama - Part II

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Given a provenance as dubious and murky as that of our current president, an antique would find no market among careful buyers. Matters of interest include his mentors, associates and academic and professional records. Yet we have invested the treasure and security of our nation in a cipher -- Barack Hussein Obama.
Who is this man? What do we know about him? By deliberate concealment the public record is scant, but to many of us the little that is known is in no way reassuring. What we do not know may be even less so.

"Birtherists" is the derisive term coined (presumably by the left) to mock citizens who have a legitimate interest in verifying the details of his birth. Elitists of all political stripes assert that the question is settled and to pursue it further is unworthy and smacks of conspiracy paranoia. Though attributed to the strawman malign far right, I believe the desire for definitive resolution has popular support.

The verification of Obama's birth alone, however, focuses much too narrowly. It is a proxy for a plethora of other information deliberately concealed or suppressed. The concealment of information, in itself, raises questions.

Those questions include troubling personal and political
associations, lack of information (records, grades, papers) regarding his education, early trips to Pakistan and elsewhere in the Middle East, close connections with the Socialist party in Chicago, his communist mentor in Hawaii, the absence of written records.... The list goes on. Yes, these are things we have been able to learn, but only in the most superficial way. The president and persons with whom he was associated refuse to add probative detail. As many writers have already noted, Mr. Obama's record -- opaque as it is -- would disqualify him government employment requiring security clearance.

So in what way is President Obama an alien? I believe (despite K12, academe and the media) there remains a strong current of individualism, common sense and distrust of government among most Americans; core beliefs and opinions that are shared by the great majority but not by Mr. Obama and his cohort on the hard left. Two issues, for example, are the sanctity of life and the second amendment, but those differences with mainstream America are only ideological symptomatic of foreign worldview.

Therein, I believe, lies the clear disconnect that defines Obama as alien. In his speeches, actions, writing and thinking he has shown himself to be postmodernist, Eurocentric and elitist. He views The Constitution (which is at the heart of American values) as a malleable document that impedes the exercise of dirigiste government power. He is not a patriot in the deeply embedded American sense, seeing himself – as do all 'enlightened' persons – as “a citizen of the world”. How much at variance he is with the mainstream is suggested by a citation from the Washington Post:

Traditional values in the United States, Baker found, are very different than in other nations. Unlike nations where collective identity is based on common ancestry, in the United States, he wrote, the imagined community is "a shared set of ideas." These are the ideas of the Constitution: personal liberty, equality, democracy and the rule of law. America was invented, not inherited. Our traditional values don't come from the fatherland, the volk or an ancient regime. Nor are our most basic shared values a selection of moral positions held by conservative American Christians.
Seen in this way, it is clear that traditional American values are alive and well. Constitutional ideals have unchallenged legitimacy, as do the worth of family, religion (or spirituality) and national pride. This is a stark contrast to the countries that have radically rejected their traditional values: Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Japan and the former Eastern Bloc nations.

I close with an anecdotal reference that seems telling. Even allowing for the giddiness of campaign fatigue -- putting myself in the candidate's position -- I simply cannot imagine myself ever uttering the phrase, "57 states" or the revealing, "America as it should be."

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Alien Obama - Part I

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When we think of aliens our imagination may turn to the spacemen of the Roswell, NM or to the melded Robert Heinlein* sort. Of more recent vintage, sliders, conjured up by sci-fi writers who follow eleven-dimension physics -- parallel universes in "inner" space. Or infiltrated spies. More mundane, we may simply consider immigrants -- especially those reared outside the Western Tradition.

Whatever the kind of alien, the term conveys a sense of strangeness, otherness. It means strange, foreign, of or belonging to another. A person who is among us but not of us. It is notable that"Alien" and "Alias" derive from a common root.

Which brings to our president. Is he an alien or an alias, or both? If an alias, we might say, Obama A.K.A.... How to finish the sentence? Is he an original thinker or is he a creature of puppeteers? As I said in an earlier post, we know what he is by his actions and by those of his words that manage to make sense. But we do not know who he is.

I confess that I find it extremely difficult to understand, let alone characterize Mr. Obama and his stranger-than-Haight-Ashbury cohort. Most of their pronouncements are, to me, so outrageous -- so alien -- that I hardly know how to respond. Cognitive overload.

Of many examples, here are two. Mr. Obama on several occasions has put forward his view of "negative" and "positive" rights. Negative rights (one suspects that the adjective was deliberately chosen for its darker connotation) are the very ones spelled out in the Bill of Rights -- those crafted to protect the people from the otherwise inevitable abuse of government power. Positive rights -- those Mr. Obama favors, on the other hand, are those which would enable the government to exercise its power over the people -- always for "good" purposes, of course!

Then there is his stated and demonstrated disdain for notions of private property. Wealth is accumulated for the purposes of sharing -- redistribution; private enterprise, on its face, is not compatible with that view. These ideas are certainly alien to our founding principles.

James Lewis, in a fine article appearing in the American Thinker, captures the idea especially well.

And yet the Obama "birther" debate is important. What's important about it is the feeling a growing number of Americans have in their bones that Obama is foreign -- to our traditions, loyalties and shared understandings about the nature of America. In a way the legal debate matters less than that bone-deep sense that Obama is fundamentally "Other than American".


This is not a secret. Obama is foreign to America in a way that has little to do with his birth certificate. He could be American-born and still think in this very anti-American way. A lot of people are. But whatever he is legally, there is not a shred of doubt that he is steeped in an Anti-American way of thinking.

In the concluding Part II I will try to point out that the more we learn about Mr. Obama the more questions are raised.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Friday, July 31, 2009

Good Government? A Challenge to Readers (Revisited)

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This is a shot across the bow of the statist ship. Or perhaps a Socratic-style taunt. It poses, in any case, a question (or is it a thought-experiment?) that wants an answer.

This is a challenge that, given the wholly pernicious initiatives of the present administration -- healthcare reform, cap and trade, stimulus doles and nationalization of the private sector -- seems to have more urgent relevance than it did at the time of first posting.

The challenge is simple enough, really. It is this:

Cite an example of a serious problem in contemporary society -- social, political or economic -- that is not caused by or exacerbated by government.
To date this challenge has elicited few comments, and no satisfactory answers in any forum. But in this era of trope and chains -- well, who knows?.

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