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If Jefferson were a secular humanist and not a theist, he’d have written “We hold these truths…”

19 Feb

Thomas Jefferson, something of a “bare theist” or “Christian rationalist” wrote the preamble to the Declaration of Independence.  But how would it have read had he been a secular humanist instead?  As charitably as possible, here’ s my educated guess:

“We hold these truths to be good opinions of men; that all men should be deemed equal; that they should be granted by human conventions certain legal rights; and it seems best that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Still has some force, I suppose, but hardly provides a foundation or essential framework for the kind of basic universal permanent non-negotiable human rights that Jefferson and his colleagues were hoping to announce to and defend before the watching world.  Yet still people will say a belief or disbelief in a self-revealing God is of no political significance in society whatsoever.  If you want transcendent abstract entities (like universally binding irreducible human rights), you’d better have a worldview which makes belief in transcendent abstract entities justifiable.

On the other hand, presuppose the existence of a self-revealing infinite God, let that be the basic theological foundation or framework upon which you base your entire understanding of human rights, and you can easily and rationally get something that reads like this:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness….”

 

Fixing social problems without addressing family distintegration is taking a knife to a gun fight

18 Feb

From Peter Wehner (clip):

There is, as there has always been, an economic component to poverty and opportunity in America, including growth, access to capital, and mobility. And those things remain crucial. But I want to submit for consideration a proposition which has significant empirical backing: the main driver of poverty in America today has to do with culture, mores, and lifestyle choices, not with economics.

My former White House colleague Ron Haskins points out that “Census data show that if all Americans finished high school, worked full time at whatever job they then qualified for with their education, and married at the same rate as Americans had married in 1970, the poverty rate would be cut by around 70 percent.” The best way to keep open the pathway to the American Dream, then, is through a “success sequence”; graduate from high school, get a job, get married, and then have babies.

So what can we do to encourage more people to embrace this “success sequence”? By providing children with stable, orderly environments in which to grow up and to strengthen the institutions that shape the character and habits of the young.

In practical terms, what am I talking about? First and foremost, it means we need more stable, intact families. The theologian Michael Novak once called the family the original and best department of health, education, and welfare. If families fail, other adults can help fill the breach. But it is very nearly impossible for other people and institutions to fully pick up the pieces.

Children who are raised in broken families are far more likely to drop out of high school, use drugs, commit violent crimes, have children outside of marriage, develop mental health problems, become homeless, drop out of the labor force, go on welfare, and experience poverty. Indeed, the poverty rate for single-parent families is almost six-times the rate for married-couple families. “The best anti-poverty program for children is a stable, intact family,” according to former Clinton administration officials William Galston and Elaine Kamarck.

Unfortunately the news on the family front is fairly discouraging. More than 40 percent of all births today are out-of-wedlock. America has the highest divorce rate in the Western world. By the age of eighteen, over half of American children have lived apart from their fathers for a significant portion of their childhood. “The scale of marital breakdown in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent and seems unique,” according to the late historian Lawrence Stone.

How do we repair the damage? Public policies can help strengthen marriages at the margins. Laws can create incentives and disincentives for certain kinds of behavior (welfare reform and anti-drug policies are excellent examples). And society itself – through popular culture and the words of its most influential citizens – needs to send reinforcing signals when it comes to families. Families should not feel as though they are fortresses besieged by the outside world.

Why one British Liberal Democrat voted against same-sex marriage

18 Feb

Why one British Liberal Democrat voted against same-sex marriage.

Good post from Matthew Tuininga:

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In Catholic Voices (HT: First Thoughts) Sarah Teather, a Liberal Democrat parliamentarian with a record of advocacy for gay rights, explains why she dissented (one of only four Liberal Democrats to do so) when the British parliament voted to establish gay marriage on February 5.

I have previously taken a very public stance in support of gay equality in a whole range of areas, including supporting civil partnerships legislation in 2004 (which I was very proud to do), voting for all stages of equality legislation passed in the last two parliaments, working with schools to address homophobia and lobbying the Home Office for fairer treatment of gay people seeking asylum from countries where they fear persecution. I feel strongly about these issues and have devoted considerable time to campaigning on such matters over the last ten years.

However, changing the definition of marriage for me raises other more complex issues.

I believe that the link between family life and marriage is important….

My concern, however, is that by moving to a definition of marriage that no longer requires sexual difference, we will, over time, ultimately decouple the definition of marriage from family life altogether. I doubt that this change will be immediate. It will be gradual, as perceptions of what marriage is and is for shift. But we can already see the foundations for this shift in the debate about same-sex marriage. Those who argue for a change in the law do so by saying that surely marriage is just about love between two people and so is of nobody else’s business. Once the concept of marriage has become established in social consciousness as an entirely private matter about love and commitment alone, without any link to family, I fear that it will accelerate changes already occurring that makes family life more unstable. (I should add, that I also suspect it will make marriage ultimately seem irrelevant. After all, how long before gay people begin to say, as many straight couples of my own generation have begun to say, “if marriage is just about love, why would I need a piece of paper to prove it?”)

If I felt that the current legal framework left gay couples unprotected, I would be much more inclined to support the proposed legislation. However, the civil partnerships legislation, which I voted for in my first parliament, equalised relationships between same-sex couples before the law, providing the same protections as offered to heterosexual married couples… Virtually no new protections are offered to same-sex couples on the basis of this legislation on marriage, and any that are could easily be dealt with by amending civil partnership legislation….

The more I considered this bill the more I was unsure about the state’s role. If an important reason for marriage is that it is a space for having and raising children, I can see the relevance for the state being involved in regulating it and encouraging stability for the good of society and for children’s welfare. Similarly, if there is a need for protection of rights to property and rights to make decisions, there are good reasons for the state to provide regulation. But neither of these things is what this legislation is trying to do. In this case, the state is regulating love and commitment alone, between consenting adults, without purpose to anything else. That feels curious to me, as I would normally consider that very much a private matter.

Teather gets it. Despite the rhetoric of so many, the gay marriage debate is not about gay rights or equality under the law, all of which can be protected without establishing gay marriage. The marriage debate is about the nature of marriage itself. The implications are huge, not primarily for gays and lesbians, but for children, and for civil society. We will be learning the consequences for a long time.

“I went to hell, and brought it back with me.” How radical egalitarianism has contributed to the elimination of manhood and social carnage

8 Feb

Ummm, wow.  From Professor Anthony Esolen, who apparently has no interest in applause, recognition, or mobility in the modern university.  Posting the whole thing:

 In Philadelphia, about half of all students in ninth grade will graduate from high school. The dropout rate is especially high among black and Hispanic boys. President Obama’s answer to this problem is typical of the left: compulsion. Make dropping out illegal. In other words, force boys who are learning nothing to remain where they are learning nothing, to help make sure that nobody else learns anything, either. If they drop out anyway, turn them into criminals to be rounded up.

All this would cost a great deal of money, which Philadelphia does not have. And even if you could compel the boy, seething with resentment and contempt, to occupy a desk in a dreary schoolroom, you cannot compel him to learn. To try is a distant, “technological” response to a human problem. It is a way to pretend to generosity, while keeping those who suffer from your heedlessness far from your sight and smell.

Philadelphia has been engaging in a years-long lawsuit, at great expense, to force the Boy Scouts from their headquarters, which they occupy rent-free. Why no rent? Well, back in 1929, the year of the stock market collapse, the city fathers invited the Boy Scouts to occupy land on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Back then, the city fathers actually cared for the well-being of boys.

So the Scouts agreed. They built the building themselves. They then graciously turned ownership over to the city, with the understanding that they might use the building without paying rent. They, not the city, have assumed all the costs of maintenance ever since. It has not cost the city a penny. The Boy Scouts, in other words, did the city a tremendous favor, and are now rewarded for it with contempt.

Why the animus against the Boy Scouts? Because Copernicus was wrong. The world does not revolve around the sun. The world revolves around the predilections of upper- and middle-class feminists and their satellites.

The Boy Scouts retain the commonsense notion that it is not wise to bring boys into close quarters with men who are sexually attracted to boys, regardless of whether they act on those attractions. They retain the commonsense notion that if it were widely known that such men were scoutmasters, the boys would check out. They retain the commonsense notion that boys need fathers, who will teach them to be good men, ready to be fathers of their own families.

But the Philadelphia city council does not care about such things, because, when called upon to choose between their sexual antinomianism and the welfare of boys—many of whom only a group like the Boy Scouts can save from gangs—they will choose their preferred form of lawlessness every time, without regard for the common good.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, because for the last fifty years, even before Lyndon Johnson’s disastrous War on Poverty, technocratic managers, mainly but not exclusively on the left, have been building a system of mutual parasitism, funded by taxes.

One group profits, in power, from the profligacy of the other, which it “rewards” with money confiscated from the general public. They thus gain millions of publicly funded jobs to manage the people whom their policies have corrupted, and they move far away from those people, assuaging their consciences by voting correctly and holding correct opinions. Their hands do not get dirty.

What, on the dreadful day of doom, will that boy in Philadelphia say to the rich who have ignored him, or worse, who have profited by his confusion?

“I needed a good school, and you trapped me in a bad one, while you sent your own children elsewhere. When some people suggested a way for me to go to a Catholic school where I’d have a chance of learning something, you cried up the separation of church and state. You didn’t actually believe that you would be setting up any church as a state institution. It is just that you hated the Church a lot more than you loved me.

“I once lived in a real city neighborhood. The houses needed repair, so you called it a slum, and you tore it down. Then you built housing projects with all the beauty and safety of a parking garage. When these became hotbeds of crime, you tore them down too.

“You declared a War on Poverty, aimed at me, when you should have declared a War on Vice, aimed first of all at yourselves.

“You loved your vice more than you loved me. You could afford your vices, but I could not. Your vices made your lives, as you thought, more exciting. I did not have your cushion of wealth, so the same vices destroyed me.

“I was lonely, and you bought me a whore. My sisters were lonely, and you made them into whores.

“I needed the Church, desperately, because when a man is poor, he must face his helplessness every day. But the Church would restrain you, so, at every chance you had, you derided religious faith, and thus you snatched from me my most loyal friend.

“I had no job, and you overtaxed the man who might have given me one. Then you gave the job to someone on the other side of the world, or you winked while men left their families thousands of miles away, crossing the border to work at low wages, and you yourselves hired them, and ducked the taxes that you yourselves established. In this way you managed to do mayhem to two families at once.

“I was in prison, and needed to learn a trade, but you teamed up with union bosses to make sure I would not. You gave me dull and useless classes in communication, and television.

“I was clothed with the remnants of modesty and decency, and you stripped them from me. You praised bad men who celebrated violence in their ‘music,’ and hugged yourselves for your tolerance.

“My forebears lived on a farm, but your collusion with big business made it impossible for them to continue, not to mention your taxes on our land and our inheritances. When we moved to the cities, you moved away.

“I needed to learn to calculate, and you handed me a machine that would do it for me, and prevent me from understanding what I was doing. I needed to learn to read, and would have liked adventure tales for boys, but you gave me feminist propaganda, or comic books.

“I needed a father, but you preferred your fun. You passed laws that would reward my mother for not marrying my father. You hated marriage, because marriage brings a man into a family, and marriage restrains. You winked and smiled while my mother brought a series of irresponsible men into my life, none of whom was my father. They were dangerous. When they grew violent, you herded them into your corral, which you called ‘Domestic Violence.’ You refused to distinguish between husbands and these others. Thus did you continue to tear marriage down, and subject me and mine to more of the violence you pretended to decry.

“I needed a father, and you gave me the gang leader selling crack cocaine.

“I needed a father, and you laughed and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. Then you gave me a prison trusty.

“I needed a coach, to keep me in line during the difficult years, but you cut my teams and rosters. You called it ‘fairness’ to my sisters, and hugged yourselves for your enlightenment.

“I used to have a YMCA, but you turned it into a day-care center for people like you.

“I needed a father to show me how to love women, and you gave me porn.

“I once had virtue, the poor man’s heritage, but you trained me in vice.

“I needed a mother, and you, having taken my father away, did your best to take my mother away also. You had your work as doctors and lawyers, but my mother worked as a cleaning woman in one of your office buildings. When I grew overweight from the junk you made, because she wasn’t around to cook, you declared a War on Obesity, and profited by it.

“I needed a father, I always needed a father, and you turned your back on me, and told me what you knew was a lie, that a mother or two mothers or a mother and a boyfriend would do just as well. When it didn’t work out, you blamed everything but your own selfishness.

“I needed a father, and you were too busy with your sexual innovations to notice it.

“I needed a married mother and father, what every child needs, what every child has a right to, and you told me to go to hell.

“I went to hell, and have brought it back with me.”

My non-Christian neighbor is kind to me. Is that due to natural law or common grace? Paul Helm says, “Yes”

7 Feb

Theologian Paul Helm on the ever so subtle distinction some make between natural law and common grace.  From Helm’s Deep:

The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. (Acts 28.2)
Part of our resistance to the idea of natural law (besides the objection that the use of the term ‘natural law’ seems to belong exclusively to the Roman Catholic Church), is the multiple ambiguity of the adjective ‘natural’. Suppose an apple tree; the apples that it bears are natural, they are the product of the processes that are intrinsic to an apple tree’s being an apple tree and not a cherry tree. If someone attaches wax apples to the apple tree, then these are not natural apples, for they are not true apples. But now suppose that the apple tree is diseased and what is produces are scabby, gnarled specimens of applehood, hardly edible. These are natural in the sense that they are the true product of the tree, but they are not natural in another sense. It’s not natural for an apple tree to produce gnarled and inedible fruit. The fruit have been contaminated by disease of some kind, and so they are not natural in the (further) sense in which honey without any additives is ‘natural honey’, that is pure, uncontaminated honey. So there’s ‘natural’ in the sense of being natural as opposed to artificial, or conventional, or ‘introduced’, and natural in the sense of true and pure as against contaminated or added to. Two other senses of ‘natural’ are relevant here: natural in the sense of universal, and natural in the sense of original – It’s natural for the sun to rise, because the sun rises every day, or for apple trees to bear apples; it is natural, in the sense of original, for a viper to bite.

What of natural law? How is ‘natural’ being used here? In the thought of people such as Calvin and Aquinas, law is natural in the sense of being both universal and original; the presence of such law, and its recognition as such by men and women, are part of mankind’s primitive endowment. But it’s not natural in the sense that its operation in human life is normal or pure, rather it is presently diseased and contaminated by the disease and contamination of fallen nature. In the case of the operation of the natural law, the Fall has intervened.

Unless we are prepared to say that the Fall dehumanised the human race, turning us all into brute beasts, it is clear that some such distinction between nature and supernature is logically required by the Fall. For the Fall does not literally de-humanise, depriving mankind of its essential nature, for then human beings would become other than human. While it is true that occasionally Scripture refers to fallen human nature as ‘bestial’, in such places the reference is to the moral practices of fallen men and women, and not to their humanity that, despite the Fall, retains its essential characteristics. For essential features, such as reason and conscience and will, remain after the Fall, as (I believe) Paul implies in Romans 2, though these are corrupted and depraved by it. The supernatural gifts – principally holiness and true righteousness – were from a logical and metaphysical point of view ‘contingent’, but nevertheless they were vital from the point of view of mankind’s health and prospects.

As a result of the Fall mankind’s supernatural gifts comprising the imago dei are vitiated. To be shorn of supernatural gifts is to have the ordering of the various natural powers and abilities that remain removed. The consequence is ‘total depravity’, where the adjective is understood in an extensive rather than an intensive sense. Writing of fallen mankind Calvin says

True! he has a mind capable of understanding, though incapable of attaining to heavenly and spiritual wisdom; he has some discernment of what is honourable; he has some sense of the divinity, though he cannot reach the true knowledge of God. But to what does these amount? They certainly do not refute the doctrine of Augustine – a doctrine confirmed by the common suffrages even of the Schoolmen, that after the fall, the free gifts on which salvation depends were withdrawn, and the natural gifts corrupted and defiled.

So – to use a set of modern distinctions – the biblical view of natural law is not that the ‘natural’ as it was created is equivalent to the ‘secular’, a set of powers that are at best neutral as between the claims of theism and atheism, or between rival religions and no religion at all, say. The Fall does not mean that the contrast between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ is obliterated, but that (in the sense in which we re using it) the ‘natural’ is equivalent to the God-given. So that natural law has a supernatural origin, but it is not miraculous but it is universal, innate etc. in the senses that have been set out.

So how do the Dutch Calvinists come to emphasise common grace at the expense of natural law? What is the explanation of Bavinck’s mistake? It is, I believe, that he was working with a Counter-Reformation view of nature and grace, a view ultimately derived from Cajetan, and reading it back into Calvin’s own situation: a classic case of anachronism. Whether or not this is the precise explanation, it is fairly clear that Bavinck’s understanding of the Roman Catholic view of the distinction between nature and grace draws that distinction in much sharper lines than it is found historically in Augustine and Aquinas. Indeed, it is another account altogether.

So the idea here is that nature and grace entail two sets of powers or virtues, and these sets are contingently connected in that the set of powers which comprise ‘grace’ can come apart from the set of powers that comprise ‘nature’. In addition there is a basicness to nature in that while the gracious set of powers can come apart from nature, and nature thus exist on its own, the opposite cannot happen. Grace cannot exist apart from nature, though nature can exist without grace..

Bavinck says that the way in which common grace works is in traces of the image of God continuing in those who are fallen and who are not enjoying saving grace. For example, understanding and reason remain, as do the possession of natural gifts in certain individuals. Calvin would not demur. But his explanation is not that reason and understanding are part of the image of God, but that reason and understanding remain, though these are not part of the image, though they are necessary conditions of possessing the image, and are nevertheless damaged as a result of the Fall.

To say that a human ability or activity is the effect of common grace or that it is the working of nature, human nature, are thus two ways of saying the same thing, or almost the same thing. What the phrase ’common grace’ brings out is that these abilities and activities, as found in fallen and unregenerate human nature, are the result of undeserved, divine goodness. The effects of the Fall on human nature could have been worse than they are, and why they are not worse than they are is due to God’s undeserved goodness. ‘Nature’ looks at the same phenomenon from another angle, focusing on the persisting structures of human nature. How are the gifts of common grace expressed? In the workings of human nature, created in the image of God and now fallen and suffering loss and perversion as a consequence. Due to divine goodness, the Fall has resulted in loss and perversion but not in obliteration. So I argue that these expressions ;’common grace’ and ‘nature’ are complementary descriptions of the same phenomenon; they are not at odds with each other, and so they are not to be set in opposition to each other.

Strong families strong economies

6 Feb

More evidence concerning the most important but routinely ignored variable in social science.  From Patrick Fagan via the Public Discourse (the intro and conclusion):

Even if all the market reforms of the Washington think tanks, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes Magazine were enacted, we’d still need to kiss the Great American Economy goodbye. Below the level of economic policy lies a society that is producing fewer people capable of hard work, especially married men with children. As the retreat from marriage continues apace, there are fewer and fewer of these men, resulting in a slowly, permanently decelerating economy.

When men get married, their sense of responsibility and drive to provide gives them the incentive to work much harder. This translates into an average 27-percent increase in their productivity and income. With the retreat from marriage, instead of this “marriage premium,” we get more single men (who work the least), more cohabiting men (who work less than married men), and more divorced men (who fall between the singles and cohabiters).

All this is visible in the changing work patterns of our country, resulting in real macro-economic consequences. Fifty years ago family life and the economy were quite different.

Around 1960, just prior to the sexual revolution, the United States was the world’s heavyweight champion in economic productivity and earnings. Today we can still lift a lot, but, to extend the metaphor, we are moving down to the middleweight class. My colleague Dr. Henry Potrykus has shown that divorce alone has reduced the annual growth rate of the economy by at least one sixth since the mid-1980s, which with its compounding effect is by now quite significant.

No matter which way you look at it—through the lens of income, savings, or poverty—marriage is the great engine of the economy, with every household a building block that either contributes or takes away, millions of times over. Put all these families together, and we have the team that runs the American economy.

……….

The intact married family with children is the household that generates the productive work, income, and savings that purchase houses, food, cars, and clothing, use energy, send children to school, and save for college and weddings. It is of homes like this that the Nobel Laureate economist Gary Becker spoke when he said that “the mother at home raising her children contributes more to the economy than her husband out in the workforce.” If we want a vibrant economy, we must grow the best of children, just as the farmer who wants the best crops pays close attention to the timing of the seasons, and sows the best seed in the best soil he can.
Much like the farmer who neglects the basics, the peoples of Spain, Italy, and Greece have given up on traditional family life as the core of their culture and their future, and have vied with each other over the last few decades for the lowest fertility rate in the world. The finance ministers of the European Union (and the world) do not appear to have caught on to the economy-altering implications of this change, while we in the United States are well on our way to becoming a Spain, Italy, or Greece writ large, unless we again learn the fundamental law of the seasons of society’s regeneration, and the absolute necessity of the timely emergence of the young intact married family with children that worships God weekly.
But I suspect, as with crime and education, instead of identifying the main causes and promoting the best solutions, we’ll continue to fight over which color band-aid to apply to gaping wounds.
On another note, it is also necessary to point out that this problem is not clearly or easily addressed with the standard “movement” conservative lines (just cut taxes and unleash the free market).  Indeed, a case could be made that aspects of capitalism, as with an vast expansion of statist welfare policies and taxation, have contributed to the deterioration of the family.  This is something I’m currently looking into this possibility.  But as a classical conservative, the health of society and family is more important than unbridled capitalism.  The family is basic to human nature, part of the creational order, while markets are conventions of men and rightly subject to society’s control (same with the state).

 

 

Sensible talk about guns and gun control from Mark Mitchell

5 Feb

From Political Scientist Mark Mitchell:

Guns have been in the news a lot recently. The dialogue, such as it is, is dominated by voices that seem ill disposed to consider the legitimacy of the other side. Some demonize their opponents while others simply shake their heads, unable to comprehend how some could be so blind to facts so obvious. Some want to reduce “gun violence” by reducing access to guns, while others point to their constitutional right to own guns and decry any attempt to limit that right. Between the two positions there appears very little room for compromise. But at the very least, it might be possible to clarify some of the terms and issues surrounding these positions. To begin, however, here are the words of the Second Amendment:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

1. It is essential that we recognize that this amendment is not about keeping firearms for target practice or hunting. Plenty of politicians insist that they have no intention of restricting hunting rifles and shotguns. They claim that they love to hunt and even regale us with photos of themselves dressed like they stepped out of a Cabela’s catalog, happily shouldering a shotgun as they trudge through a field with a faithful German Shorthair at their heels. However, anyone who says that the Second Amendment is about hunting is either ignorant or intending to deceive. The Second Amendment is clearly addressing the idea of security, so let’s stop with the business about deer and ducks. That’s clearly a rabbit trail.

2. If the Second Amendment is about security, we have to inquire about the nature of that idea. Insecurity comes in a variety of forms. An external threat is one type of insecurity. It is conceivable that armed citizens could help thwart an attack from a foreign power and thereby help preserve the “security of a free state.” It is also possible that a “free state” could be threatened internally by a government that sought to diminish or eliminate the freedom of its citizens. Resistance to that encroachment would be possible by an armed citizenry and it is imaginable that an armed citizenry would provide a disincentive to those tempted to change the nature of the state. It may perhaps be stretching the original meaning, but when individuals are threatened by criminals intending harm, the security of a free state is jeopardized. Armed citizens could protect themselves, their families, and their neighbors while unarmed citizens are ill-equipped to do so.

Full Article

Austerity lessons from Sweden’s return to capitalism

4 Feb

Fascinating article about the return to capitalism and free-market solutions to many social problems facing European countries, including the most social-democratic of them all, Sweden:

THIRTY YEARS AGO Margaret Thatcher turned Britain into the world’s leading centre of “thinking the unthinkable”. Today that distinction has passed to Sweden. The streets of Stockholm are awash with the blood of sacred cows. The think-tanks are brimful of new ideas. The erstwhile champion of the “third way” is now pursuing a far more interesting brand of politics.

Sweden has reduced public spending as a proportion of GDP from 67% in 1993 to 49% today. It could soon have a smaller state than Britain. It has also cut the top marginal tax rate by 27 percentage points since 1983, to 57%, and scrapped a mare’s nest of taxes on property, gifts, wealth and inheritance. This year it is cutting the corporate-tax rate from 26.3% to 22%.

Sweden has also donned the golden straitjacket of fiscal orthodoxy with its pledge to produce a fiscal surplus over the economic cycle. Its public debt fell from 70% of GDP in 1993 to 37% in 2010, and its budget moved from an 11% deficit to a surplus of 0.3% over the same period. This allowed a country with a small, open economy to recover quickly from the financial storm of 2007-08. Sweden has also put its pension system on a sound foundation, replacing a defined-benefit system with a defined-contribution one and making automatic adjustments for longer life expectancy.

Most daringly, it has introduced a universal system of school vouchers and invited private schools to compete with public ones. Private companies also vie with each other to provide state-funded health services and care for the elderly. Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist who lives in America, hopes that Sweden is pioneering “a new conservative model”; Brian Palmer, an American anthropologist who lives in Sweden, worries that it is turning into “the United States of Swedeamerica”.

There can be no doubt that Sweden’s quiet revolution has brought about a dramatic change in its economic performance. The two decades from 1970 were a period of decline: the country was demoted from being the world’s fourth-richest in 1970 to 14th-richest in 1993, when the average Swede was poorer than the average Briton or Italian. The two decades from 1990 were a period of recovery: GDP growth between 1993 and 2010 averaged 2.7% a year and productivity 2.1% a year, compared with 1.9% and 1% respectively for the main 15 EU countries.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ECONOMIST

The Necessity of the Moral Supports in a Market Economy – Mark Mitchell

1 Feb

Good lecture on the moral foundations of the market economy.  As a classical conservative, Political Theorist Mark Mitchell argues  that market economies tend to raise the standard of living for all, but are not self-sustaining and self-perpetuating.  Rather, free economies must depend upon an adequate moral framework for them to be as beneficial as they can be.  Citing often the work of one of my favorite economists, Wilhelm Ropke, Mitchell warns lovers of free market capitalism of the limits of markets and their incapacity to bring about true genuine human flourishing.  Highly recommended:

Video Link

The Left’s War against Science

30 Jan

According to many, especially among the secular and liberal cultural elites, the arrow runs only one way.  Conservatives and evangelicals have been engaged, we are told, in an ongoing “war” against modern science (science defined as acceptance of Darwinian evolution, global warming, and embryonic stem cell research).  Despite evidence to the contrary, I simply want to point out in this post that it is rather easy to make the case that liberals too are blatantly guilty of readily dismissing or denying hard empirical data when even well-established facts don’t fit their ideological dogma.  Here are a few examples:

The impact of traditional family breakdown:

One of the most well-established empirical facts in the study of sociology, family and parenting, socio-psychology, political science, education studies, criminology, etc. is the relationship between the well-being of children raised in traditional or nuclear families versus those raised in alternative family arrangements.  Many times on this blog, I’ve pointed to this evidence, so I’m not going to do so again here.  But whether we are talking criminal behavior, poverty, health, educational performance, mental disorders, satisfaction with life, and other measures of social and personal well-being, the most important variable, cause, or factor is routinely the breakdown or nuclear family.  There aren’t even any close seconds.   But these facts don’t fit the liberal narrative, dogma, faith, that families are utterly malleable, kids utterly adaptable, all you need is love, there is no such thing as the “ideal” family design, fathers are unnecessary, marriage is unnecessary, gender roles in parenting are meaningless, there is no “right way” to raise kids, etc.  So, it appears that even when the facts and principle causes of so many social problems (or social “injustices”) that so trouble the left are perfectly clear, they are simply ignored or explicitly denied if they get in the way of an ideological narrative.  When empirical evidence meets dogma, in this case, the left does precisely what they accuse the right of doing, they stick their head in the sand or jam fingers in their ears.  Ironic? Yes.  Hypocritical?  True.  But most importantly, sad, because millions of suffering children are the result.  In many ways, this fact denying behavior is far more consequential than whether high school science textbooks describe human evolution as scientific fact or just a theory.

The reality of differences between genders:

The science is pretty doggone clear that real, significant, persistent differences in men and women exist.  From virtually every field, psychology and psychiatry, sociology and anthropology, anatomy and physiology, the evidence is overwhelming.  Even the secular left’s favorite theory of everything, evolutionary socio-biology and evolutionary anthropology, explains these theses stubborn (plainly obvious too) differences as perfectly normal, a natural part of the way humans survive and thrive.  But none of this matters because none of this works well with the dogma that men and women are interchangeable in society, families, parenting, the workplace, military, and so on.  When the belief or goal of a gender-blind society conflicts with established empirical and scientific fact, which does the left choose to give up?  Do they just objectively follow the facts or ignore, deny, dismiss them for the sake of an ideological paradigm and agenda?

The physiological nature of the unborn:

Early on in the abortion debate, the defenders of abortion argued that abortion can’t be wrong if the fetus is just a blog of undeveloped tissue.  When advances in medical technology and biological research began to yield clear evidence that this description was simply untenable, that instead, the fetus is far more developed at earlier stages than originally thought, did the pro-choice left bow the knee to science or stick to dogma?  You guessed it.  Their argument simply changed from it’s not life or it’s not human to it’s not a person or it’s not a person with rights that trump those of the mother, so it can be a person “worth sacrificing.”  Take a seat science, we’ll call you when we need you.

I’m not saying that conservatives are never reluctant believers in scientific consensus.  I’m only saying that many of us are, regardless of worldview persuasion, when that consensus or evidence doesn’t fit our most cherished beliefs.

Keep your religion private! Disrobing the public square, in Europe and America

29 Jan

Good article from the eminent sociologist Peter Berger:

The Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University publishes a very informative electronic newsletter about religious developments all over the world. On January 12, 2013, the newsletter carried a story originally published in the Buffalo News, about Joelle Silver, a high school science teacher in a community in upstate New York called Cheektowaga.  This melodiously named place, now a suburb of Buffalo, is located in the general vicinity of the so-called Burnt-Over District, which in the nineteenth century was a hotbed of Protestant revivals and other charismatic movements (the Mormons originated in the same neighborhood). Silver (a photo shows her to be an attractive young woman) is a committed Evangelical Christian, thus more or less in continuity with the regional religious history (although the town now has a large Polish community unlikely to be strongly Protestant).

It so happens that Cheektowaga, or at least its high school, also contains a militantly secularist teenager. This individual (no name given in the story) took umbrage at Silver’s displaying a variety of religious objects in the classroom, including posters with religious messages and a “prayer request box” belonging to a students’ Bible study group. The offended student alerted the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a militantly secularist organization operating out of Madison, Wisconsin. In response to its intervention the school ordered Silver to remove her religious materials from the classroom.

Silver sued the school authorities in U.S. district court for violating her constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. Her suit was supported by the American Freedom Law Center, a foundation with headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan, self-described as the “first truly authentic Judeo-Christian public interest law firm”. Both organizations engage in a mix of litigation and advocacy (respectively,  of “nontheism” and of the Judeo-Christian values supposedly foundational for American democracy). As part of its advocacy, the “nontheist” organization promotes signs wishing people “a happy Solstice” to replace Christmas messages. (I trust that they don’t put any of their signs up on public property, since someone might then sue them on the grounds that worship of the Solstice was part of the ancient Anglo-Saxon religion.)

Needless to say, both organizations deploy lawyers. Rebecca Markert, an attorney for the Freedom from Religion Foundation”, said: “Public employees, including teachers, have to act neutrally with regard to religion. They cannot push any religion.” Robert Muise, an attorney with the American Freedom Law Center, countered: “They essentially want her to cease being a Christian once she enters school district property.” He added that the other side regards any religious reference in schools “as if it’s some disease that has to be eradicated”. Dennis Kane, the school district superintendent, made a comment that is undoubtedly a correct (if you will, “neutral”) assessment of the situation—to the effect that the district was caught in the middle of a dispute between “two big special-interest groups”, and that it would be sued regardless of what it did or didn’t do.

Full article

Should Christians resist or welcome secularization?

23 Jan

There is a strand of Christian social teaching that, if it doesn’t welcome the secularization of culture, it’s at least pretty indifferent to it.  It posits that under conditions of secularization, the purification of the church can commence, as false believers lose interest in participating in the maintenance of a religion which the rest of the culture has now deemed outdated and unnecessary as an ethical system, a cultural icon and heritage, a unifying social tradition.  Yet, true believers will labor on, never falling away, making the church a closer approximation of the true eternal kingdom of God.  Isn’t that our primary concern?  When people live like Christians, benefit from Christian approaches to parenting, marriage, relationships, political convictions, etc., without being full committed followers of Jesus Christ, aren’t we just creating conditions that will make people feel like Christians under false pretenses only, allowing them to get the milk from Christianity free without bothering with the cow?  After all, what does it profit a society to gain anything from Christianity if its members lose their soul?  Indeed, some have argued that such a Christianized society is just what Satan has in mind.  Michael Horton relays such a sentiment in his book Christless Christianity (2008, p. 15):

“What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over a half century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday . . . where Christ is not preached.”

Of course, there are those who would argue that secularization is a bad thing, not only for the church and it’s mission in the world but also for the culture in which the church operates, and that God is concerned with both realms respectively.  According to this perspective, a culture that doesn’t reinforce the basic Christian worldview, at least it’s ethical commitments, will make becoming or staying a Christian quite unnatural and therefore less likely.  Think of raising a child in a Christian home; it is natural for most of them to become Christians because so many aspects of their life reinforce their Christian identity, way of life, core convictions, etc.  A child brought up in another environment (read: secularized cultural situation), will find Christianity to be quite unnatural, alien even.  Moreover, this strand of Christian social teaching often argues that Christianity is good for society, even if no one is truly naturalized or converted to it, and that this in itself is good in the eyes of God.  They would maintain that God is pleased with a society where traditional marriages and families, respect for human life, authority, compassion for the poor,  justice, peace, healthy and fed children, and so on all flourish, whether such a society increases the total number of devoted followers of Jesus or not.  In other words, aren’t the Christian trappings that benefit society good in themselves even if the pure gospel isn’t widely received in faith?  Isn’t that part of what Christians are doing when they love their Samaritan neighbors?

To put it simply, is God’s only concern with a society the extent to which it embraces the gospel of Jesus Christ (which can save anyone) or can a society genuinely please Him when it merely practices His moral law rather well (which doesn’t save anyone)?

Rod Dreher speaks to this tension in Christian social thought in a recent blog post.  He writes:

When I was a teenager and suddenly all skeptical and righteous, I used the distance between what we said we believed, and the way we behaved, to challenge my father. He told 17 year old me to go to church on Easter with my mom and my sister. Oh yeah? said I. If it’s so important to go to church on Easter, why are you going turkey hunting instead? 

He went turkey hunting after all, and let me stay home, if I promised to read the Bible. I promised, and I made good on it, but boy, was I satisfied that I had exposed the hypocrisy of the adult world.

No big surprise, then, that encountering Soren Kierkegaard in college lit my brain on fire, and brought me to an adult faith in Christianity. I especially adored his Attack Upon Christendom, which was SK’s vicious broadside against the state Lutheran church in Denmark. His point was that when Christianity is reduced to bourgeois morality, and when we are considered Christians only by virtue of nominal membership in a community, then true Christianity ceases to exist. I thought then that he was correct, and though I have a slightly different take on it now, I think the radical Protestant SK was far, far more right than wrong.

He was right that “Christendom,” in his formulation, can serve as an inoculation against the kind of commitment true Christianity demands. I have known people who rarely bothered to check their own beliefs and behavior against a Gospel standard, because they assumed that because they were baptized and behaved respectably, that they were Christians in good standing. I have been that person. Still am to a great degree, but I’m working on it.

Put aside the theology, and consider the matter sociologically. We have lived through, and are living through, the de-Christianization of the West. It is very far advanced in Europe, and advancing here. An orthodox Kierkegaardian might say that this is a good thing, because though it will result in a widespread falling away from formal adherence to the Christian faith, it will increase the quality of those who do believe, because it will have been a conscious choice — a choice that, in many places, will have been made in full awareness that to be a Christian is to stand outside of one’s own culture, and even against it. I can see why this would appear preferable, from a theological angle, to a Christian culture of lukewarmness and conformity.

From a sociological point of view, though, I think the news is very bad indeed, and for the reasons the New England reader brings up. However imperfect and flawed Christians have been over the cultures and centuries, Christianity has been, in my view, on balance a very good thing for us. The book to read is Paul Among The People, by the classics scholar Sarah Ruden. Ruden is a young progressive Quaker who defends St. Paul from his many modern critics. I interviewed Sarah on my old Beliefnet blog, but you might also want to check out this Christianity Today piece. Ruden’s view is that we read St. Paul today and compare him unfavorably to the way we see the world, especially on matters related to feminism and homosexuality. When you read Paul alongside pagan literature of the period, a very, very different image of him emerges. Paul actually comes across as a radical opponent of some extremely ugly normative practices in Roman society and culture. For example, male homosexuality in his day was almost entirely about powerful Roman men enslaving and raping boys — something that was widely accepted. Paul stood against that, Ruden shows. And Paul also defended the dignity of women in a classical world that devalued them. Her main point is that taken in historical context, Paul’s views are actually far more in line with what we believe today than with what was mainstream in the Greco-Roman world. It was the faith Paul preached and did more than anyone else save Jesus Christ to define that gave us most of what is particularly good about Western civilization.

The point is that Christianity gave us a set of standards around which to measure our conduct, and our progress toward moral goodness, in the same way Islam has done for the Islamic world, and other creeds and schools of thought (e.g., Confucianism) have done for other civilizations.

Back in 1989, in The Atlantic, Glenn Tinder wrote an essay about the political meaning of Christianity, titled, “Can We Be Good Without God?”. His point was that the loss of Christianity was bound to have effects on our civilization that many people only dimly see, if at all. Here’s how it begins:

We are so used to thinking of spirituality as withdrawal from the world and human affairs that it is hard to think of it as political. Spirituality is personal and private, we assume, while politics is public. But such a dichotomy drastically diminishes spirituality construing it as a relationship to God without implications for one’s relationship to the surrounding world. The God of Christian faith (I shall focus on Christianity although the God of the New Testament is also the God of the Old Testament) created the world and is deeply engaged in the affairs of the world. The notion that we can be related to God and not to the world—that we can practice a spirituality that is not political—is in conflict with the Christian understanding of God.

And if spirituality is properly political, the converse also is true, however distant it may be from prevailing assumptions: politics is properly spiritual. The spirituality of politics was affirmed by Plato at the very beginnings of Western political philosophy and was a commonplace of medieval political thought. Only in modern times has it come to be taken for granted that politics is entirely secular. The inevitable result is the demoralization of politics. Politics loses its moral structure and purpose, and turns into an affair of group interest and personal ambition. Government comes to the aid of only the well organized and influential, and it is limited only where it is checked by countervailing forces. Politics ceases to be understood as a pre-eminently human activity and is left to those who find it profitable, pleasurable, or in some other way useful to themselves. Political action thus comes to be carried out purely for the sake of power and privilege.

It will be my purpose in this essay to try to connect the severed realms of the spiritual and the political. In view of the fervent secularism of many Americans today, some will assume this to be the opening salvo of a fundamentalist attack on “pluralism.” Ironically, as I will argue, many of the undoubted virtues of pluralism—respect for the individual and a belief in the essential equality of all human beings, to cite just two—have strong roots in the union of the spiritual and the political achieved in the vision of Christianity. The question that secularists have to answer is whether these values can survive without these particular roots. In short, can we be good without God? Can we affirm the dignity and equality of individual persons—values we ordinarily regard as secular—without giving them transcendental backing? Today these values are honored more in the breach than in the observance; Manhattan Island alone, with its extremes of sybaritic wealth on the one hand and Calcuttan poverty on the other, is testimony to how little equality really counts for in contemporary America. To renew these indispensable values, I shall argue, we must rediscover their primal spiritual grounds.

Many will disagree with my argument, and I cannot pretend there are no respectable reasons for doing so. Some may disagree, however, because of misunderstandings. A few words at the outset may help to prevent this. First, although I dwell on Christianity I do not mean thus to slight Judaism or its contribution to Western values. It is arguable that every major value affirmed in Christianity originated with the ancient Hebrews. Jewish sensitivities on this matter are understandable. Christians sometimes speak as though unaware of the elemental facts that Jesus was a Jew, that he died before even the earliest parts of the New Testament were written, and that his scriptural matrix was not Paul’s Letter to the Romans or the Gospel of John but the Old Testament. Christianity diverged from Judaism in answering one question: Who was Jesus? For Christians, he was the anticipated Messiah, whereas for traditional Jews (Paul and the first Christians were of course also Jews), he was not. This divergence has given Christianity its own distinctive character, even though it remains in a sense a Jewish faith.

The most adamant opposition to my argument is likely to come from protagonists of secular reason—a cause represented preeminently by the Enlightenment. Locke and Jefferson, it will be asserted, not Jesus and Paul, created our moral universe. Here I cannot be as disarming as I hope I was in the paragraph above, for underlying my argument is the conviction that Enlightenment rationalism is not nearly so constructive as is often supposed. Granted, it has sometimes played a constructive role. It has translated certain Christian values into secular terms and, in an age becoming increasingly secular, has given them political force. It is doubtful, however, that it could have created those values or that it can provide them with adequate metaphysical foundations. Hence if Christianity declines and dies in coming decades, our moral universe and also the relatively humane political universe that it supports will be in peril. But I recognize that if secular rationalism is far more dependent on Christianity than its protagonists realize, the converse also is in some sense true. The Enlightenment carried into action political ideals that Christians, in contravention of their own basic faith, often shamefully neglected or denied. Further, when I acknowledged that there are respectable grounds for disagreeing with my argument, I had secular rationalism particularly in mind. The foundations of political decency are an issue I wish to raise, not settle.

If you liked that, read the whole thing. I think it goes a long way towards addressing the concerns New England Reader raised.

One more thing about Christianity and society. Yesterday on NPR, I heard a report about the rise of the Nones – people who don’t claim any religious affiliation. Excerpt from the interview with Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam:

ROBERT PUTNAM: I agree that there is this creeping secularization that Greg talked about, but I don’t honestly think that that’s the main reason for the rise in nones. I think there are factors that are really more important.

GREENE: OK. Give them to us.

PUTNAM: One of those is the distancing of this younger generation from community institutions and from institutions in general, actually. That’s the same pattern, actually, that we find in politics. These are the very same people who increasingly describe themselves as independents rather than Republicans or Democrats. And those are the same people also who are not joining the Elks Club or the Rotary Club or whatever. I don’t mean to be casting that as a critique of them, but this same younger generation is much less involved in many of the main institutions of our society than previous younger generations were.

You can see right there a negative correlation between the loss of religious faith and broader health of the polis. Correlation is not causation, but it is pretty interesting to observe the increasing atomization and individualization of American society, as expressed in a loss of involvement with all institutions, not simply the church.

So far, nothing above has actually answered my original question.  Is secularization a good thing for society?  For the Christian, it seems to me that the answer must be a mixed bag.  Christianity gave us so much of the good that we cherish (take for granted) in Western civilization.  Whether we are talking individual rights, freedoms, equality of women, separation of church and state, modern science, universal education, respect for human life and dignity, protestant work ethic, moderation in many personal and social vices, etc., we have much to applaud (and some to condemn) that came with the rise of Christendom and the Protestant Reformation.  How can a Christian be indifferent to that?  But, as a Christian, these beliefs, these practices, save no one ultimately and so they must be celebrated with a rather heaping dose of spiritual realism.  These outcomes must always be seen as merely nice byproducts of Christianity, but never the core or object of it, since being a decent human being is relatively good but doesn’t come close to hitting the Holy standard established by God, satisfied by His Son, and credited to us by faith in Christ.

“Such were some of you,” The story of a Lesbian, Feminist, English Professor turned Reformed Pastor’s Wife

21 Jan

I think of all my blog posts, this will be among the best and most important and helpful ones.  What an amazing, powerful, relevant, timely, encouraging, convicting, story. The life of this lady, Dr. Rosario Butterfield, has so much to say to each of us. To believers, what have you sacrificed for the Kingdom of Christ? Is your home open to those who might make you the least comfortable? Are you willing to be vulnerable before your church family about your fears, sins, problems? Do you seek to build genuine friendships with unbelievers? Are you more obsessed and bothered with the sins of unbelievers than you are your own? Are you willing to share in those burdens with others? Do you believe in the unlimited power of prayer? To churches, how welcoming are you to those who struggle with things like sexual sin? Does your church only feed the “we are all clean-cut clean-living folks” mythology or is it open and honest about the troubles within it? Does your church convey the wrong message about the Christian life? That it’s simple, not meant to be difficult, all gain and no pain? What does loving the sinner really look like? To the unbeliever, do you think that there is no hope? Have you assessed Christianity based upon the behavior of Christians or upon the claims of Christ? What if you are wrong? What if the bible is true? What if Jesus Christ actually rose of the dead? What would that mean for your life? What if you reached out in faith prior to having all the answers? What if change by you is impossible but with God all things are possible? Is it possible that your stereotypes of Christian folks are as inaccurate as their stereotypes of people like you? Is the Christian faith really only for the unintelligent, uncritical, weak, gullible, or is it intellectually tenable, compelling even, and deeply satisfying? How can a, lesbian, feminist, noted queer studies scholar, tenured professor, LGBT activist become a Reformed Evangelical pastor’s wife full of joy and love for others? Isn’t that impossible? Isn’t it? Is this a joke?

Based on her book Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (2011), take an hour with notepad in hand and carefully listen to this amazing interview, a wonderful powerful story of God’s grace.  She has so much to say to broken sinners in desperate need of grace.  That pretty much means us all.

” And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  1 Cor. 6:11.

 

UPDATE: Looks like she also wrote an article about her story at Christianity Today: Link

Christian, what did you expect? Guns, politics, and Christian eschatology

18 Jan

I recently had a discussion with friends about how Christians might respond to the gun control debate.  Is it really out of character for a Christian to purchase firearms for self-defense?  A friend suggested that a Christian will have a hard time squaring gun ownership for self-defense with the ethical principle of WWJD.  Ultimately, I argued that this belief is due to an over-realized eschatology, expecting too much bliss (featured in the age to come) in the here and now.  Here’s what I wrote about this:

If a Christian thinks that a ban on shoulder fired missiles is permissible, he has already acknowledged that the right to bear arms is limited to some extent. It very well could be that high capacity magazines and “assault” weapons are also reasonably restricted. That would probably depend upon whether those restrictions would really reduce violent crime, I suppose. Stepping back a bit, we have to remember what Jesus said, not what we wish he said or what we wish he was like and so on. So often, WWJD really just means to many What Would Rush Limbaugh Do (for the right) or What Would Santa Claus Do (for the left). In Christian theology, the world in which we live is fallen, broken, and corrupt. It must remain so until Christ comes back and perfects it, with total peace and total reconciliation of all things to their original good creational purposes. So we are living “between the times” which produces tensions in our public theology. Given this reality, Christ was a realist as well as an idealist. He wanted us to care for the poor, but warned that the poor will always be with us. He wanted us to practice peace, but warned that we must protect ourselves from those who would do violence to us. He wanted us to love our neighbor, but warned that we must operate as sheep among wolves, shrewd as serpents but harmless as doves. This is simply the posture of a Christian living between the ages of Eden and Heaven on Earth. It’s not a matter of simply looking in the Bible for your favorite kind of attitude (Santa or Rush). It’s a matter of carefully considered the whole counsel of God from Genesis to Revelation, doing biblical and systematic theology to uncover what God has really said, in full. Anyone can go on a fishing expedition in the Bible and simply throwback what they don’t want to catch. But that’s not doing theology, something all Christians are required to do (but few churches care for these days, opting instead for entertainment). Christians, then, as citizens in the City of Man, must not simplistically push for laws that are a better fit for the age to come (pure idealism). They must operate in this realm, in this age, according to the realities that they face in the here and now, where sin remains man’s biggest problem (idealism constrained by realism). In many ways, the question about whether Christians can or should rightfully morally own guns is similar to why in Christian theology there is a need for human government. In Eden, there was no human government. In the New Heavens and New Earth brought about by Christ in the age to come, there will be no human government. But in the intervening age, this age, there is, precisely because human nature is corrupt. So Christians agree with James Madison for why there is government, because men are not angels. It’s not a crazy logical leap to see why, then, Christians might feel theologically justified in arming themselves. We need government for our protection (Rom. 13) precisely because men are not angels, they are born in sin. We are permitted to own guns because men are not angels (protection against criminals). Moreover, we are permitted to own guns because government isn’t composed of angels (protection against governments). So Christians may feel justified in owning guns because they are skeptical that even our president can truly bring about a fundamental change in the human heart. Only Christ can do that.

This will ruffle feathers, but so be it. Having a biblical view of eschatology (the “end times”) will guard against the tendency to expect too much (or too little, though that’s less of a problem for Christian Right evangelicals and liberal protestants). Ultimately, Christians are citizens of another country, pilgrims in this land, subjects of another King, obedient to a higher law. Yet, many of us are too comfortable in the here and now and have what Christian theologians call an “over-realized eschatology” (a view of the church/Christian living now which unbiblically and unrealistically expects this world to look more like the next than it can or will in biblical time). In essence, we expect what should be seen as our hotel, to be our home. And so, we have become more patriotic than we probably should be, less critical of our favorite political parties than we probably should be, less critical of our favorite political ideologies and ideologues than we probably should be, we expect too much change and conformity to Christian moral norms in the culture, than we probably should, we are more obsessed with, demoralized or elated by presidential elections than we probably should be, and so on. Why? Because we act and feel more at home in a fallen world than in the perfect world to come. We let things in this world compete with our higher allegiances. It doesn’t help that our churches do not hearken us to another time and place, but present a version of Christianity to us that looks almost entirely like the world at present (but without all that cussing). Of course, we are to be salt and light in the world, and strive to impact the world for the Kingdom of Christ. But a Christian who is thinking biblically will ask with all seriousness, what did you expect? Did you expect a society that is peaceful or non-violent? Did you expect a society with no divorce? Did you expect a society where there is no poverty? Did you expect a society where there is no sexual immorality? Did you expect a society featuring God’s Own Party? Did you expect a society that is God’s Own Country? Did you expect a society with no war, disease, or famine? Did you expect a society where everyone is a Christian or even respects Christian belief or ethics? Personally, do you find that you do not struggle with sin, host as you are to the Holy Spirit? No? Then why do you expect any more in the world? If you expect these things, perhaps you are living prematurely in the age to come. Talking about being set up for failure…

The Enlightenment as parasitic on Christianity

17 Jan

I’ve lectured on American politics for several  years now.  It is always a delight to expose students to an understanding of Western civilization that they are utterly ignorant of, probably won’t hear even in many political science classes, and yet one that is utterly historical (for a taste, see my blog posts here, here, here , here, here and here).  The usual narrative is that liberal democracy, modern science, human rights, universal education, treatment of women, disestablishment of religion, are all byproducts of an enormous rescue mission spearheaded by brave secular intellectuals working and writing during a period collectively known as the Enlightenment.  Until that time, the mythology goes, the world was thrown into a religious dark age… and then there was light, and the light was the light of Reason and Reason was the light to men and Reason dwelt among us and so on.  But historians of  the history ideas know better.  From modern science to liberal democracy to separation of church and state, the values that Westerners cherish find their root firmly in Christian soil.  Brian Mattson has a blog post about this here:

I’ve been known to ascribe the supremacy of the Western world in just about every disciplinary metric to the Judeo-Christian worldview, or “Christendom,” for short. Whether it is law and justice, human dignity and value, science and technology, I maintain that the astonishing success of the Western experiment is due to distinctively Christian values.

I do not intend to prove this assertion in a blog post. Volumes would be required and, thankfully, volumes have been written. Well, that’s a link to at least one, anyway. There are many others.

But I do want to address a common objection to this point of view. Any time I’ve writtenan article along these lines, I hear this objection. I notice that Carl Trueman met this objection in a recent debate with an atheist.

It is this: Isn’t the success of Western values, science, and technology due to the philosophical movement known as the Enlightenment, rather than Christendom?

It is a powerful objection on the surface. I don’t think there is any real question that, for example, the Founding Fathers of the United States were to a significant degree influenced by the Enlightenment. It is John Locke, after all, to whom we owe our allegiance to the specific language of “the laws of nature and nature’s God.” The rise of rationalism and empiricism would seem on its face a serious “fly in the ointment” to my point of view.

So what about that? Is Western supremacy due to Enlightenment rationalism?

Only if you’re content to read things off the surface and assume the conventional myth of the so-called “Dark Ages” instead of digging deeper. The “rather than” assumes a radical ideological disjunction between Christendom and the Enlightenment, the former representing darkness, the latter representing light. I do, actually, think there is an antithesis between the two; but there are some important commonalities often overlooked. Here are some questions leading to my answer.

Why is it that when I read Rene Descartes, the father of Enlightenment philosophy, his first item of business after establishing his methodological skepticism is to prove rationally the existence of God? Why did he think that was important?

Why is it that when I read Immanuel Kant’s Religion Within the Bounds of Mere Reasonhe is so intent on retaining beliefs like human immortality and “God” as an ethical limiting concept? Why was it important for Kant to retain these Christian beliefs and incorporate them, albeit on purely rational grounds, into his philosophy?

Why is it that John Locke sought to establish on purely rational bases, time and again, distinctively Judeo-Christian ideas? It is silly to think his views on, say, private property, sprang fully formed ex nihilo  from his brain. There was already some conviction, born of the Western Legal Tradition and the 6th Commandment, inscribed on his “tabula rasa.

Why did Hegel build his Idealism around an aberrant doctrine of the Trinity? Why Christian categories at all?

My simple answer to these questions, and surely much more remains to be explored, is that these Enlightenment philosophers did not want to jettison wholesale what Christendom bequeathed to them. They loved the rule of law, human dignity and freedom (leaving aside the significant asterisk of *slavery), and scientific dominion over creation. There is no question that they wanted to jack up Christendom’s house and pour a new foundation. “Reason” would be the concrete rather than revelation, of course.

But regardless of whether their new foundation was sound in the end (still today a matter of great debate), to me the significant observation is that, in the main, they wanted very much to retain the house.

The Enlightenment is thus a parasitic movement. On many important philosophical questions it pursues the exact same ends as the worldview it allegedly rejects (how else do you explain Descartes’ arguments for the existence of God or Kant’s arguments for immortality?). But it tries to get there by another route.

This means the house, as it exists, belongs to Christendom. The Enlightenment is a movement of squatters. And the efforts of the squatters to dig a new foundation are irrelevant, at the end of the day, because on so many of the important topics people care about (natural law, scientific discovery, individual freedom and dignity) they were still trying to reproduce Christendom’s house. They wanted all the benefits of the Judeo-Christian legacy without all the “revelation” stuff. But that fact alone is more telling than any arguments I could actually produce for all the “revelation” stuff.

The success of the Western experiment is due to Christendom, and to those seeking to reproduce, in many ways, Christendom in the laboratory called “Pure Reason.” It is not a “rather than” sort of question, after all. Maybe they wanted a Christendom without Christ. No doubt many of them did.

But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The Battle for Marriage in Ireland

17 Jan

From Ireland’s Iona Institute:

The French debate surrounding gay rights may be more reasonable and tolerant than our own

15 Jan

Lessons From France, by Robert Oscar Lopez (clip):

France offers activists an example of a country that can question gay rhetoric without engaging in the violent homophobia one sees in the repressive laws of Putin’s Russia. Those who feel no ill will toward LGBT people, but who believe that there is something special about male-female relationships—marriages—especially because of their role in rearing children, must watch closely what unfurls. Edged by Spain and Portugal to its south and Belgium and the Netherlands to its northeast, France is surrounded by countries that have redefined marriage and treated gay parenting with indifference. Yet France is mounting an opposition.

As reported in the Guardian, France’s northern neighbor, the United Kingdom, is under increasing pressure to redefine marriages, with polls indicating that now 62 percent of British voters support the idea. With so many of France’s peer nations marching to the beat of “marriage for all,” most would have expected the French to say “à chacun son goût” to such issues, and go back to minding their own business.

Instead, the French have hit the streets in what can only be called a tidal wave. News about the various alliances forming against the redefinition of marriage and same-sex adoption emerges in snippets at lightning speed. Much of it is not translated into English. To help Americans learn what is happening, I have put up this website offering quick translations.

Yesterday, January 13, occurred the much-anticipated “manif pour tous” or “march for all,” pitted against the pro-same-sex marriage movement called “marriage for all.” Buses and trains from all over France carried hundreds of thousands to Paris to demand a referendum.

While a bill is scheduled for a vote in Parliament on January 29, an alliance of religious, secularist, straight, gay, rightist, leftist, and non-partisan sources has amassed to halt the bill’s passage.

The three most prominent spokespeople are unlikely characters: “Frigide Barjot,” a bleached-blonde comedienne famous for hanging out with male strippers at the Banana Café, and author of “Confessions of a BranchéeCatholic”; Xavier Bongibault, a young gay atheist in Paris who fights against the “deep homophobia” of the LGBT movement, believing it disgraces gays to assume that they cannot have political views “except according to their sexual urges”; and Laurence Tcheng, a disaffected leftist who voted for President François Hollande but disdains the way that the same-sex marriage bill is being forced through Parliament.

I highly recommend the whole article (shows how one can debate gay marriage, gay adoption, even if gay, without resorting to name calling).  The simple, obvious, highly ignored, rational distinction between the a person’s right TO children vs the rights OF children would help matters in the states.

The Louie Giglio saga and America’s New Moral McCarthyism

11 Jan

According to the Obama Inauguration Committee, they made a mistake when they asked Louie Giglio, an evangelical Christian, to give the benediction at the Presidential Inauguration ceremony.  They failed to discover early enough that nearly 20 years ago, he preached a sermon in which he quoted the scriptural passage saying that homosexuals (and other kinds of sinners given over to particular kinds of sins) will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  The public square has no place for such individuals in this age, they said.  They’ll need to look elsewhere for someone who fits the new cultural profile of hope and change, I suppose.  I do have one question.  For the speakers that are featured at the inauguration, can we presume that they have never made public statements criticizing evangelical, Catholic, or Mormon doctrines about sexuality or anything else?  I assume they’ve not since expressed disapproval of a religious viewpoint is clearly religious bigotry, intolerant, and we can’t have that, now can we?

From Dr. Al Mohler:

The fact that Giglio was actually disinvited was made clear in a statement from Addie Whisenant of the Presidential Inaugural Committee:

“We were not aware of Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection, and they don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this inaugural. Pastor Giglio was asked to deliver the benediction in large part because of his leadership in combating human trafficking around the world. As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans.”

That statement is, in effect, an embarrassed apology for having invited Louie Giglio in the first place. Whisenant’s statement apologizes for the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s failure to make certain that their selection had never, at any time, for any reason, believed that homosexuality is less than a perfectly acceptable lifestyle. The committee then promised to repent and learn from their failure, committing to select a replacement who would “reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance.”

The imbroglio over Louie Giglio is the clearest evidence of the new Moral McCarthyism of our sexually “tolerant” age. During the infamous McCarthy hearings, witnesses would be asked, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

In the version now to be employed by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, the question will be: “Are you now or have you ever been one who believes that homosexuality (or bisexuality, or transsexualism, etc.) is anything less than morally acceptable and worthy of celebration?”

Full post from Mohler

Ain’t nobody’s business but theirs, right? On America’s decline in marriage

11 Jan

From The Economist (clip):

If marriage affected only the two people who choose (or not) to wed, it would be easier to ignore falling marriage rates. But with them come rising out-of-wedlock birth rates. In 2010, 40.8% of all births were to unmarried mothers. Among Hispanics that figure was 53%, and among blacks 73%. In 1965 Daniel Patrick Moynihan, later a Democratic senator from New York, called for emergency federal intervention to aid in “the establishment of a stable Negro family structure”, and justified it in part by an out-of-wedlock birth rate among blacks of 23.6%—half what it is today.

With illegitimate births come single-parent homes, in which 35% of all American children lived in 2011. Children brought up in such homes fare worse than children raised by married parents over a range of academic and emotional outcomes, from adolescent delinquency to dropping out of school. The poverty rate among single-parent, female-headed families is over five times that of married, two-parent families. Nearly 71% of poor families lack married parents. And children brought up in poverty tend to be poor themselves.

Full article

 

Natural Law and Natural Revelation, a conversation between J. Budziszewski and Doug Wilson

10 Jan

J. Budziszewski, Professor at the University of Texas, talks Natural Law (something Calvinists are sometimes squeamish about) and Natural Revelation (something Calvinists have no problems with) with Doug Wilson (a Calvinist).  J. Bud (tired of being troubled with his last name) is a Roman Catholic, but truly a friend to reformed evangelicals (he’s written a book commending some evangelical political thinkers).  Here’s the conversation:

One doesn’t have to be perfectly virtuous to see society’s need for public virtue and it’s parent, religion

8 Jan

All of the founding fathers (and in this case, I do quite literally mean ALL) agreed on at least one thing regarding religion.  It was an “indispensable support” (Washington’s phrase) for the survival of the American republic.  Self-government is an experiment, they said.  Men running their own affairs, local communities, churches, individuals, families, left relatively alone, can work for the common good if public virtue was applauded and if personal virtue was relished, cultivated, transmitted from one generation to the next.  The principle parent of virtue is, they reasoned, religion and so they wanted religion to be widespread, taken seriously, and publicly promoted.  Ironically, the greatest skeptics of Christianity at the time was found among the founding fathers and yet the most articulate defenders of the necessity and public role of religion was the same group.  They knew that Christians weren’t perfect (several denied the basic tenets of Christian doctrine).  But that didn’t prevent them from advocating it as a public good for society.  In the same vein, Dr. Walter Russell Mead reminds us why even atheists most likely should (and would) regret getting what they wish for (clip):

For some, like the group of atheists who rented billboards a couple of years ago to denounce all religions as scams, if a sudden silence were to fall over all the pulpits in the world, it would be very good news.  But before too much time passed, even the most violent atheists would begin to notice that something was wrong.

Society really does depend on the imperfect virtue of its members.  Self restraint and moral behavior, even only realized in part, really are the foundations of liberty.  If too many people do the wrong things too many times, nothing can protect us from the consequences.

The weaker the hold of virtue on a people, the stronger the state needs to be.  If people don’t voluntarily comply with, for example, the tax codes, the enforcement mechanisms of the government need to be that much stronger.  If more people lose their moral inhibitions against theft, and against using violence against the weak, then society has to provide a stronger, tougher police force — and give them more authority under less restraint.

Yet at the same time the state becomes stronger, it loses control of itself.  When the moral tone of a people declines, bureaucrats and the police are not exempt from the decay of morals.  Perhaps a stratum of high minded elites and civil servants can keep up a moral tone that is significantly higher than the declining standard around them, but lesser officials and the police will reflect the society around them. They will steal; they will abuse their authority; they will manipulate the processes of the state to serve themselves and their favored clients.  The courts become corrupt; the security services link up with the crime syndicates.  Night falls.

This is not some abstract fear; history and the world today are full of places where the collapse of moral values blights daily life and undermines the prospects for development.  I’ve been to many countries where nobody trusts the courts, the police, the politicians or the journalists.  None of these countries are nice places to be, and more than anyone else it is the poor — those who most need the state and most need justice — who suffer the accumulated consequences of the moral failures of their society.

Sadly, people do not spontaneously choose to behave like angels.  Virtue has to be cultivated and developed.  Young people have to be persuaded, cajoled, admonished and above all inspired to seek wisdom, self control, a life of service and all the other virtues that are necessary for our civil lives as well as for the fullest development of our true selves.  Older people have to be reminded of their ideals, encouraged to live up to them and to continue fighting the good fight through the long years of adulthood and on into the twilight.

For some people, reason, commonsense and a strong innate moral constitution makes it possible to live a decent and useful life without the comforts and restraints of religion.  But for many more, only the feelings of awe, gratitude and fear occasioned by the awareness of a Creator can give them the strength and will to set out on the earnest and difficult road of struggle on the path to a moral life.  More, that inner sense needs to be refreshed: people need to hear the message expressed in compelling terms, and they need to hear it again and again through a lifetime.

All this can only happen if a lot of people who are still fighting their own private moral battles stand up on their hind legs in public and praise those virtues that they have not fully attained.  The recovering alcoholic has to tell the newcomer that there is hope for a better future — even if nobody knows better than a recovering alcoholic how easy it is to take that beckoning drink.  The pastor has to encourage couples in the congregation to strive to fulfill the ideal of a faithful marriage even if his or her own marriage hasn’t been spotless. The intellectual, struggling with questions and doubts about the meaning of faith, must share the best case for faith with a wider audience along with those honest struggles — or no one will benefit from a lifetime of study and reflection.

Does this mean that I’m arguing for a world of morality based on systematic hypocrisy?  GK Chesterton’s father, I once read, never went to church himself but always carried a Prayer Book on Sundays to set a good example for the lower orders.  Would we be any better off if we added hypocrisy to the lengthening list of our social sins?

It’s not that bad.  There is a line, I think, that separates the posturing hypocrite from the honest (but flawed) advocate for morals and faith.  There is a difference between the honest advocacy of hope and the self-glorification of a moral poseur — even if nobody in this business has completely clean hands.

Full article here

Is opposition to same-sex marriage an improper attempt to impose a Christian sacrament on Caesar’s empire?

8 Jan

Though this post is very brief, it is one of the most clear and full explanations of why Christians as Christians might care about same-sex marriage and what the Christian position most probably should be.  Very helpful.  I’m going to post the full entry from Anglican Theologian William Witt back in 2008:

There has been a discussion at [another message board] about the movement among Christians and other groups in California — including Hindus and Muslims — to organization in opposition to same-sex marriage. At least one individual who claims to be an orthodox Christian is opposed to this because it means Christians are “manipulating Caesar to force Christian sacraments on the empire. . . . Conservative christianity cannot be salt and light by means of Caesar’s sword.”

 This is my response.

In the history of Christian social thought, there have been at least the following models of the relation between church and state:

1) Separatist–the model of radical Anabaptism. The most vivid contemporary example might be the Amish, who, as much as possible, live separately from the rest of the culture, do not participate in politics, do not bear arms, live in their own communities.

2) Government as corrective of sin–Augustinian/Lutheran. In a fallen world, the primary responsibility of government is to punish evildoers and provide a safe space for the Church to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments. Luther’s “two swords” analogy illustrates the distinction. There are some things the state does that the church does not do, and vice versa. The state enforces law and executes punishment on criminals; the church does not.

3) Promotion of the Common Good–Thomist/Aristotelian/Hooker’s Anglicanism. “It is not good for the man to be alone.” God created human beings to be social animals. For humans to live together, there needs to be government to enable cooperation to promote human flourishing. The state not only punishes wrong-doers, but also takes positive steps to enhance human community and preserve the orders of creation. For example, anyone who uses the internet or drives an automobile on public streets is benefiting from a state that takes positive measures to promote the common good.

4) Transformationist–Calvinist. Inasmuch as possible, the state should work to transform society to promote Christian values, and anticipate the Kingdom of God. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech is a prime example. As I was watching the speeches at the Democratic convention last night, and I heard Ted Kennedy preach “Health care is a right, not a privilege!,” I was aware of just how much this Calvinist vision is alive in American culture.

5) Catholic subsidiarity/Reformed sphere sovereignty. (David Koyzis discusses this in his <em>Political Visions and Illusions</em> (InterVarsity, 2003)). There are numerous groups and cultures within a given society–churches, government, businesses, voluntary organizations, clubs, guilds, schools, etc. Each has its own realm of integrity and problems happen when groups trespass their bounds. The realms of the family or the schools, for example, are not the realms of either the state or the church; they have a genuine integrity of their own that both state and church need to respect.

6) Secularist separatism. Religion is a private matter of individuals and voluntary organizations. The realm of government is the realm of the public. The government should respect the right of religions to keep their own rules within their private environs, but the churches have no right to impose their private morality on the state or culture as a whole, and, if necessary, the state can pass laws that affect public matters that private voluntary organizations like churches must respect. So, for example, a Christian wedding photographer can be fined for refusing to photograph same-sex blessings. Catholic adoption agencies cannot discriminate against unmarried or gay couples.

There are, of course, other models.

 

Of the above six models, only 1) and 6) would suggest that the church has no business pushing against same-sex marriage. In any society of which Christians are citizens, Christians have the same privilege and duty to act in the public square as do other citizens.<more/>My own leanings are toward models 3) and 5). I would argue that heterosexual marriage is neither a creation of the state nor of the church, but is an ordinance of creation that pre-existed both. From a theological view, Genesis 1 and 2 is decisive. From an anthropological and historical view, it is clear that the heterosexual family predates not only government, but also cities and cultures. It was the heterosexual family that enabled cities, cultures, and eventually governments to be formed.

If the purpose of the government is to promote the common good, then the government has a moral obligation to promote the prospering of the heterosexual family, and to discourage cultural movements that would harm it. At the same time, because the family is a separate sphere, the government has to respect its freedom in that sphere. The government, for example, has no right to create a new definition of family by blessing same-sex unions. That is a violation of the family’s sphere of sovereignty. Because there needs to be some kind of coordination for human cooperation to take place, and there needs to both positive and negative enforcement of activities that benefit or harm the family, the government (by default) can establish laws to regulate such things as legal age of marriage, regulations of divorce, whether or not polygamy is permitted, compulsory childhood education, specific penalties for such specific violations of marital good as incest, domestic abuse, sexual predation, etc.

Similarly, the church also has the right to decide within its own sphere what are the requirements of Christian marriage, but the church neither creates marriage, nor has the right to change it. The church can forbid divorce to its members, specify who can or cannot be married within a church, but cannot bless things that would violate the very definition of marriage, e.g., same-sex unions.

Insofar as Christians are citizens, they certainly have not only the right, but the obligation to promote legislation that helps the family to flourish, and to resist legislation that harms it.

To complain that such legislation is coercive is to miss the point that all legislation is coercive. If the government passes a law that says I must drive on the right side of the street, I am interfering with the freedom of those of British ancestry who might prefer to drive on the left side of the street, but I am also preventing the deaths that would inevitably result if everyone was allowed the freedom to simply drive on whatever side of the street they preferred. Those who cannot have their sexual relationships blessed by the church or the state certainly have restrictions on their freedom to do what they wish, but this is true not only of same-sex couples, but of all whose sexual activity falls outside the norms of what it properly means to be family–certain consanguinous relationships, underage relationships, polygamy, etc.

Link to original

Calvinism and Political Theory

7 Jan

Passed along from the Cosmic Eye (Nelson Kloosterman’s blog), this is from the very fine book by H. Henry Meeter called The Basic Ideas of Calvinism (1939; in its 6th edition):

In adopting the Bible as his foundation in political science, the Calvinist takes a position which is rather unique. Most other systems do not attempt to base their views on the Bible. As their authority in affairs of state they will appeal, not to the Bible, but to some such ground as the will of the masses, or the individual sentiment of justice, or natural rights; or they will make of the state an autonomous body, which can decide what it will—always some human ground. This does not imply that adherents of such political systems will always object to your having religious views. Some who are atheists will object to it as the Soviet government is doing. Others are quite willing to allow religious opinions, but they maintain that these religious views should be private matters and should not be injected into politics. Others will go even further and allow religion to color certain political activities, such as the opening of political gatherings with prayer or occasional reference to God in speeches. But when it comes to the drafting of political views, they maintain that the Bible may not be the criterion. In politics, human opinions and human theories must decide. The Calvinist goes back to God. The will of God is determinative for the views which he must hold concerning the state.

How are we to understand the statement that the Bible is the Calvinist’s foundation in politics? Does the Calvinist expect the Bible to provide him with a political platform? It would be folly to expect such a thing. A political party in the United States changes its platform every four years. Despite such frequent changes it is a difficult matter to draft a platform which will satisfy all sections of the country. How then could anyone reasonably expect the Bible to supply a platform which would hold good for all ages and all classes? In fact, the Bible does not even offer us any organized political system which we can use. It does not even offer us a unified theological system. There is a more or less developed political plan presented in the Bible, the so-called Mosaic theocracy, that civil-ceremonial system found in the first five books of the Bible. But that system, according to the very words of Calvin, was made for other times and other conditions and does not hold good for today. In fact, the Calvinist does not believe that there is one hard and fast system of government which the Bible advocates. The Bible does not declare that the government must be a monarchy, or an aristocracy, or a democracy  The Bible offers eternal principles which should underlie and control all political systems. These principles never grow old, but like all principles they are eternal, changeless, and pertinent for all times and all conditions. When once one has mastered these principles, then one can build systems and construct platforms to meet existing conditions, and can critically analyze them to judge whether or not they are sound.

“Higher” education that is reduced to learning useful job skills, may be education but it’s not higher

5 Jan

Ironically, both a dominant Marxist and Capitalistic society can reduce men to worker ants fit for nothing more than service to the state, self-interest, or profit for others.  From Peter Lawler in the Imaginative Conservative (excerpt):

Tocqueville hurt our feelings by adding that there’s no higher education in America. Our first impulse is to say that’s not true: Many or most twenty-year olds in our country are in college, and we call college higher education—just read The Chronicle of Higher Education.

By higher education Tocqueville meant reading the great books of our tradition in their original languages and being accomplished in the high culture of art and music and so forth—the higher education of, say, Thomas Jefferson. He also meant being on the cutting edge of theoretical science—particularly theoretical physics—which Jefferson also surely was.

Tocqueville didn’t mean reading textbooks, taking multiple-choice tests, doing problem-identification group projects, absorbing PowerPoint presentations, being edified by self-helpy TED talks, or for getting squishy credit for internships or being civically engaged or picking up technical or entrepreneurial skills through random life experiences.

You have to admit: From Tocqueville’s point of view, there might be less higher education in America than ever. Fewer than 10 percent of students are majoring in the traditional liberal arts or theoretical science. Fewer and fewer of our colleges brand themselves liberal arts colleges, and some that still do aren’t really mostly liberal arts colleges anymore.

Not only that: Our general education programs—the education we believe all college students should share in common—have shrunk in size and been emptied of real content.

What remains of genuinely higher education is America is under relentless attack from a middle-class point of view. If education is unproductive—if it doesn’t make a contribution to working effectively or making money or being healthy, comfortable, or safe—it’s worthless, a waste of valuable time.

To control or not to control guns. That’s NOT the question. The Elephant in the Room at Newtown

2 Jan

To control or not to control guns.  That’s NOT the question.

From Russel Nieli:

Though both sides in this [guns] dispute have something sensible to say, they’ve missed an elephant in the room either because of willful blindness to anything politically incorrect or because of a lack of real-world experience. I speak of the problems associated with divorce, family breakup, father absence, and the enormous burdens placed on a single mom who must rear a troubled male child alone.

Adam Lanza was not normal. He suffered from morbid shyness and an inability to connect with his student peers and anyone else—a cold, withdrawn, hollow shell of a person to his classmates, an Asperger’s patient to professional psychologists. Even under the best of circumstances—with a loving, caring, two-parent family consisting of a husband and wife who complemented each other’s strengths and worked together as a team—raising someone like Adam Lanza would be a real challenge.

One can’t say how he might have turned out under different circumstances, but statistics show that having divorced parents, as Lanza did, plus a father who moves out of the household, remarries, and has little contact with his son for long stretches of time, is not the ideal formula for successful childrearing. Yet what sociologists call “family structure issues” were rarely discussed in the media, not even on conservative talk radio where one might have expected them to have a preeminent place. Most Americans, it seems, have so many divorced or single-parent neighbors, friends, and relatives (if they are not themselves divorced or living as single parents) that discussing family structure is simply too painful and too sensitive to be taken up in any honest or candid manner.

Read the whole thing

Letter from a Traditional Conservative

21 Dec

From Professor James Matthew Wilson from The Front Porch Republic:

You are right that most people do not know of what they speak when they deploy the two major terms of our political lexicon; as those terms are used, they have no permanent content, but rather serve as euphemisms for Republican or Democrat.  But a few things are worth establishing to correct this evisceration of meaning.

 Contemporary American-style conservatism and liberalism are merely two faces of that intelligible beast, (Eighteenth Century) Classical Liberalism.  Its vision says the substantive unit or entity in politics is strictly the individual, and the freedom of the individual is the primary good after which society and government seek.  Since, therefore, the term “society” indicates nothing more than a numerical aggregate of the individuals in a given area, then the only purpose of government must be to defend the potentially infinite number of “private” interests of these loosely gathered individual freedom-maximizers.

 American-style liberals and conservatives simply emphasize two distinct elements intrinsic to this vision: one insists that the “right” to unlimited wealth accumulation follows naturally from the freedom of the individual and that this right is only expressible if certain other freedoms are limited so that the literal place of the market can be stable and reliable (and therefore a relatively predictable place in which wealth — the value of a dollar — can be relied upon); the other insists that the individual’s freedom consists primarily in self-fashioning and that the self can only enjoy this free play — its individuality — if it can know that society is stable, ”equal,” and reliable enough that the products of the individual’s free play (the self made by the pure, autonomous will of the individual) will not have any material consequences.  The apparent differences in these positions arise specifically because their different advocates assume, but do not discuss, the first principle of individual equal freedom and attend only to particular questions in isolation from each other.  The advocate of “free markets” applies his first principle to certain questions and these prompt him to withhold its application in others; the same must be said for the “civil libertarian.”  Were either to apply his first principle in equal measure to everything, he would appear not merely as a libertarian but as a libertine anarchist — a libidinous monster convinced that the mad must be set free from the asylum, the murderer from his prison, and the self from the cage of society.

 Neither of these visions is “conservative” in any true sense.  They are both simply expressions of the basic tenets of bourgeois classical liberalism.  Generally, when someone says, “I’m conservative on some issues and liberal on others,” what he really means is that he is just a more consistent classical liberal than American-style conservatives and liberals, i.e. he has traced out more fully the consequences of the individual as the sole entity in politics and the individual’s protected freedom as its end.

 The Bush and Obama administrations have proven this model consistent in spades.  For, if the individual is the sole entity in society, he will always feel weak, relatively powerless, isolated, and alienated from the means to secure the future for himself.  Therefore, the liberal individual will trust no one but the State to secure his freedom, for only the State is large enough to do such a thing, and only the State is “real” enough to do it, since the liberal individual sees any other kind of supra-individual entity as an illegitimate one whose exercise of authority will always appear to him as oppression (e.g. the authority of a church, of a social class, of a sex, of an elite association or club, and finally even of the family).  The most liberal phrase of indignation is always, “What gives so-and-so the right to tell me what to do?!”  As such, it only makes sense that the “weak individuals” with interests in business would seek (as they have regularly since the Nineteenth Century) to harness the state to advance their unlimited wealth production and accumulation.  And, in an inevitable reaction, the “weak individuals” whose sense of freedom is bound up more in the free play of consumption and self-fashioning now turn to ask the State for the securing of their material equality and the administered stabilization of every aspect of their lives (except those few little places where “self-fashioning” needs to be most free, i.e. on the level of taste, consumer goods, and sterile copulation).

Read the rest here

You can give a boy a doll, but you can’t make him play with it

20 Dec

The logistical and ethical problems with trying to make toys gender-neutral

From Christina Hoff Sommers in The Atlantic:

Is it discriminatory and degrading for toy catalogs to show girls playing with tea sets and boys with Nerf guns? A Swedish regulatory group says yes. The Reklamombudsmannen (RO) has reprimanded Top-Toy, a licensee of Toys”R”Us and one of the largest toy companies in Northern Europe, for its “outdated” advertisements and has pressured it to mend its “narrow-minded” ways. After receiving “training and guidance” from RO equity experts, Top-Toy introduced gender neutrality in its 2012 Christmas catalogue. The catalog shows little boys playing with a Barbie Dream House and girls with guns and gory action figures. As its marketing director explains, “For several years, we have found that the gender debate has grown so strong in the Swedish market that we have had to adjust.”
Swedes can be remarkably thorough in their pursuit of gender parity. A few years ago, a feminist political party proposed a law requiring men to sit while urinating—less messy and more equal. In 2004, the leader of the Sweden’s Left Party Feminist Council, Gudrun Schyman,proposed a “man tax”—a special tariff to be levied on men to pay for all the violence and mayhem wrought by their sex. In April 2012, following the celebration of International Women’s Day, the Swedes formally introduced the genderless pronoun “hen” to be used in place of he and she (han and hon).

Egalia, a new state-sponsored pre-school in Stockholm, is dedicated to the total obliteration of the male and female distinction. There are no boys and girls at Egalia—just “friends” and “buddies.” Classic fairy tales like Cinderellaand Snow White have been replaced by tales of two male giraffes who parent abandoned crocodile eggs. The Swedish Green Party would like Egalia to be the norm: It has suggested placing gender watchdogs in all of the nation’s preschools. “Egalia gives [children] a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be,” says one excited teacher. (It is probably necessary to add that this is not an Orwellian satire or a right-wing fantasy: This school actually exists.)

The problem with Egalia and gender-neutral toy catalogs is that boys and girls, on average, do not have identical interests, propensities, or needs. Twenty years ago, Hasbro, a major American toy manufacturing company, tested a playhouse it hoped to market to both boys and girls. It soon emerged that girls and boys did not interact with the structure in the same way. The girls dressed the dolls, kissed them, and played house. The boys catapulted the toy baby carriage from the roof. A Hasbro manager came up with a novel explanation: “Boys and girls are different.”

Read the rest

 

The postmillennial, transformational, moralistic, incorrect brand of Woodrow Wilson’s “Calvinism”

19 Dec

Good post by Matthew Tuininga, correcting an otherwise good article on Woodrow Wilson and Calvinism and reminding us that Woodrow Wilson’s moralistic foreign policy was driven not by orthodox Calvinism or even the political theology of Calvin (or Machen or even Kuyper) but by a distortion of it popular among mainline clergy at the time.  A clip:

Wilson, however, saw the political developments of his time as advancing world redemption in a way that Kuyper did not. The Federal Council of Churches echoed this in 1912 by stating that Wilson’s presidential campaign had communicated that “our social order must be fashioned after the Kingdom of God as taught by Jesus Christ.” Such an intense connection between the gospel and politics was far more stark and problematic than Kuyper’s own rhetoric suggested. Kuyper tended to speak of politics as informed by a Christian worldview, but nevertheless as a function of God’s creation ordinances and common grace, distinct from Christ’s kingdom.

To be sure, Wilson self-consciously sought to follow a Calvinist political theology of transformation. As Curry puts it:

Wilson taught his students that John Calvin was the “great reforming Christian statesman.” Summarizing Calvin’s impact on Wilson, Magee argues that Wilson’s understanding of the Christian statesman mandated the reconstruction of “his own society in covenantal patterns,” along the lines of Calvin’s Geneva. For Wilson, therefore, participation in politics was not an option, but a “necessary . . . outcome of this Calvinist faith.”

This is all true enough. But what neither Curry nor Magee clarify is that Wilson’s reading of Calvin was clearly shaped by the dominant post-millennialism of Wilson’s day, which tended to interpret the great reformer through the lens of social gospel transformationalism. Calvin always identified Christ’s kingdom with the proclamation of the gospel and the establishment of the church. Because of his distinction between the spiritual and political kingdoms, Calvin never spoke about politics in terms of the advance of the kingdom of God, except insofar as magistrates were responsible to protect and establish the true church.

So when Curry writes that Wilson had no sense of Reformed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s classic distinction between “moral man and immoral society” (a distinction by which Niebuhr sought to preserve realism about the level of righteousness that is achievable in institutions and large groups of human beings in complex circumstances), he tells us far more about Wilson than he does about Calvin (let alone Machen or Kuyper). Calvin was a stark realist when it came to his understanding of politics, as well as the progress of peace and justice in this world. He constantly emphasized that the life of the church would always be a life under the cross, until Christ’s return.

Read the rest

When I say gun-control, you say prayer-in-school. Ready?

17 Dec

After a season of mourning, Americans are asking what can be done about this massacre.  But are we discussing real solutions or symbolic gestures in the wake of Newton?  I doubt that an original intent analysis of the 2nd amendment would invalidate laws that ban assault weapons.  I also doubt that such a law would do much to prevent massacres like the Newton tragedy.  I don’t doubt that such a law would make most Americans feel better.  Likewise, I doubt that an original intent analysis of the establishment clause of the 1st amendment would invalidate laws allowing non-sectarian vague deistic prayers in public schools.  I also doubt that allowing them would do much to prevent the Newton tragedy.  I don’t doubt that such prayers will make most people feel better.  It seems that after horrors like this, everyone latches on to their favorite political scapegoat in order to cope and to explain what seems inexplicable to most people.  In many ways, these reactions further indicate how political we have all become, assuming without thinking that all problems have political solutions.  My fear is that our collective attention turns to quick political “solutions” (gun-control or prayer in schools) that are more symbolic than substantive in nature, and then we end up missing the opportunity to address the more complex but real root cultural causes of evil like this, such as the disintegration of families, absentee fatherhood, indifference to the existence of a Holy God, worship of violence at an early age, the “Abolition of Man” (C.S. Lewis), and embrace of moral relativism.  But it’s far easier to just, pass a law.

If abortion is normalized as the absolute right of women, then the rationale for enforcing child support unravels

17 Dec

Penn Law Professor Amy Wax takes on Christine Overall (excerpt):

In keeping with the dominant discourse, Overall accepts almost without argument that reproduction belongs firmly in the realm of “rights,” both positive and negative. In general, and with carefully defined exceptions, people should be able to refuse to have children, and should not be prevented from having them. Few in the Western world, whatever their political stripe, would today question these fundamental precepts.

What is more problematic is her treatment of the hard cases that strain the principle. She gives long and careful consideration to disagreements between biological parents over whether to continue a pregnancy and allow a child to be born. Taking a distinctly feminist tack, and consistent with current law that views abortion as a right that is individual, fundamental, and virtually absolute, she insists the mother’s prerogative always trumps the father’s. The father can never prevent the mother from obtaining an abortion or insist that she have one.

She recognizes that this asymmetry can curtail a man’s capacity to become a parent or refuse that option, and so it potentially limits his reproductive “rights,” but she justifies this incursion by pointing to men’s need to enlist a women’s body and thus her consent and cooperation. This natural necessity, she believes, more than justifies limiting a man’s right to become a parent or not.

Tellingly, however, she then argues that the biological father should be charged with full financial responsibility for any child that his sex partner chooses to have, regardless of the man’s personal resources and desires. She insists that “what the man cannot do, with moral justification, is to make an individual, unilateral decision during the pregnancy to reject all responsibility for the infant.”

Overall’s approach to this particular conflict is emblematic of her method generally. Too often she treats reproductive dilemmas as abstract analytic puzzles, dissociated from the broader institutional, cultural, and historical contexts in which they are embedded. She has little or nothing to say about the elaborate norms and institutions that have evolved over time to negotiate the dilemmas she identifies. She virtually ignores the role these structures play in guiding behavior and in potentially moderating or avoiding some of the ethical conflicts she describes. Marital status and sexuality, she repeatedly claims, are irrelevant and ethically inert categories with no bearing on reproductive decision-making.

So, although she argues from “basic principles” that fathers must support their children, she is oblivious to the fact that, despite the recent expansion of efforts to enforce that obligation, the numbers of children actually receiving material, personal, and financial support from their biological fathers has steadily declined. She never considers the possibility that a complex system of incentives and customs might advance salutary goals more effectively than edicts grounded in the logic of rights and the force of law.

She seems unaware that channeling people’s behavior through imperfect and sometimes arbitrary conventions that assign intelligible and reciprocal responsibilities, burdens, and benefits might best minimize the evils she seeks to avoid. The most important convention is, of course, marriage. It is indeed an astonishing shortcoming of this book that the word “marriage” is almost entirely absent—it does not even appear in the index.

Traditionally, marriage carried implicit premises and promises. “Only if you marry me and stand by me can you count on me to bear and help raise your children.” Charles Murray once suggested that marriage should form the sole channel through which men’s rights and responsibilities toward women and children are recognized. Women and their offspring could not call upon unmarried fathers to support them, and unmarried men would have no power over or access to their children without the mother’s consent. This draconian suggestion certainly comes at some cost to innocents, but its logic is a bracing reminder that an individualistic and rights-based approach too often gives short shrift to the social systems that promote virtuous behavior.

In sum, by reducing the problem of men’s and women’s desire for children to the abstract analytical puzzle of “rights in conflict,” the author blinds herself to the evolved institutions, especially marriage, in which the varied interests and priorities of men and women were balanced and brokered. Perhaps there is no substitute for the practical infrastructure that allowed ordinary people to navigate the shoals of sexual choice. Without those structures, analytical paralysis quickly takes over.

Read all of it here

Opposition to gay-marriage is ultimately just hate, right?

14 Dec

In a society where justice is nearly always defined uncritically as fairness or in terms of equality rather than rightness or in terms of intrinsic purpose, I find that supporters of traditional marriage oppose gay-marriage but they can’t explain why.  Moreover, “movement conservatives” have a particularly difficult time with defending traditional marriage because they have elsewhere taken up the language of individualism, personal liberty, anti-government sloganeering, and other libertarian themes (though a case can be made that redefining marriage leads to bigger government).  This effectively muzzles them more often than not when asked to defend government involvement in defining marriage in a way that excludes or discriminates.  And let’s be clear, restricting gay marriage does discriminate, does exclude.  The question is whether such discrimination and exclusion can be justified given some other common good, as we do when we discriminate against polygamists or legally prefer traditional marriages and discriminate against “open marriages” or divorcees or single-parents in adoption decisions.  Kevin DeYoung has a brief but helpful blog post explaining to ordinary people why defending tradtiional marriage against other sexual unions is a reasonable position and hardly neanderthal.

Here’s a clip:

We must consider why the state has, for all these years, bothered to recognize marriage in the first place. What’s the big deal? Why not let people have whatever relationships they choose and call it whatever they want? Why go to the trouble of sanctioning a specific relationship and giving it a unique legal standing? The reason is because the state has an interest in promoting the familial arrangement which has a mother and a father raising the children that came from their union. The state has been in the marriage business for the common good and for the well-being of the society it is supposed to protect. Kids do better with a mom and a dad. Communities do better when husbands and wives stay together. Hundreds of studies confirm both of these statements (though we all can think of individual exceptions I’m sure). Gay marriage assumes that marriage is re-definable and the moving parts replaceable.

By recognizing gay unions as marriage, just like the husband-wife relationship we’ve always called marriage, the state is engaging in (or at least codifying) a massive re-engineering of our social life. It assumes the indistinguishability of gender in parenting, the relative unimportance of procreation in marriage, and the near infinite flexibility as to what sorts of structures and habits lead to human flourishing.

The rest

Government or private charity? The debate behind the debate over reducing the tax deduction for charitable contributions

14 Dec

For the recipients of generosity, the health of civil society, and the American experiment in self-government, reducing the charitable giving deduction, something both Republicans and the Obama administration are considering, should bother conservatives and Christians far more than raising the top marginal income tax rate. If it doesn’t, that says a lot. A difference in public philosophy over the extent to which government services should compete with or even replace private charity in society would be a far more meaningful discussion than tweaking tax brackets, IMO.

From the Washington Post:

In a series of recent meetings and calls, top White House aides have pressed nonprofit groups to line up behind the president’s plan for reducing the federal deficit and averting the year-end “fiscal cliff,” according to people familiar with the talks.

In part, the White House is seeking to win the support of nonprofit groups for Obama’s central demand that income tax rates rise for upper-end taxpayers. There are early signs that several charities, whose boards often include the wealthy, are willing to endorse this change.

But the White House is also looking to limit the charitable deduction for high-income earners, and that has prompted frustration and resistance, with leaders of major nonprofit organizations, such as the United Way, the American Red Cross and Lutheran Services in America, closing ranks in opposing any change to the deduction.

What we can’t not know: the sordid tale of the Fantasy Slut League

13 Dec

A group of high school boys in California created a competitive club in which members “scored” points by having sex with as many girls as possible.  They called themselves the Fantasy Slut League.  What does such a story tell us about Natural Law Theory?  It would seem to challenge, at first blush, the notion that there is a body of law, higher law, immutable binding universal moral law, divine law, that all men (even high school boys) know in their heart of hearts.  A body of law that “we can’t not know” no matter how hard we may try to suppress it (Romans 1).  But does this story challenge or confirm the Natural Law thesis?

From Carson Holloway:

What we have in California, then, is a case of young people taught by a corrupt adult culture that sex is fun and nothing but fun; that it is a source of physical pleasure unconnected to anything serious or beautiful. Nothing in their souls seems to have rebelled against this teaching, and we cannot help but fear that this is because there never was anything in their souls capable of judging such a teaching to be wrong.

But before we conclude sadly that the natural law must be written only on some hearts and not all, we might reflect that traces of it can be seen even in circumstances far more depraved than those found at this California high school.

Why, after all, does the master speak of his slave as an inferior kind of being? Is it not in order to trick his own conscience, which he has brutalized but not destroyed, and which still knows that it cannot be just to hold a human being as an article of property? Why does the Nazi refer to Jews and his other victims as parasites or vermin, as a kind of disease that must be exterminated for the sake of social cleanliness, if not because he knows that it is wrong to kill human beings who are not personally guilty of any crime?

These considerations let us revisit this story in search of some hint that the natural law lives in the minds of these youth. We find it staring us right in the face. It is in the very name they chose for their undertaking: “The Fantasy Slut League.” Slut. The use of that ugly word in this wretched context points to the natural law. Its derogatory connotation suggests that in choosing it, these boys knew, on some level, that there was something wrong in their pursuit.

Traditional adherents of natural law think that the meaning of sex is not exhausted by the pleasure it brings, but that this pleasure is linked to serious powers and noble responsibilities. By its nature, by our nature, sex is meant to be an expression of a loving and permanent commitment between a man and a woman. More than that, it is meant to achieve not only the good of uniting the couple but also of bringing new life into existence, which the couple will cherish and nurture. From this view, we debase sex—we debase ourselves—when we treat it as a game or an entertainment.

The word “slut” indirectly expresses this traditional view. It is a term of derision. It suggests contempt for the woman who treats sex, and herself, so carelessly. It suggests that she lacks self-respect and deserves no respect from others. The connection between sexual licentiousness and contempt for women is certainly not unique to the boys in that high school. The culture of promiscuity is nowhere celebrated more than in certain kinds of rap music, and no other kind of music is so saturated in contempt for the women that it views as nothing more than sexual playthings.

Considering the word “slut” in this way—as a paradoxically hopeful sign that people do have natural knowledge of the true purposes of sex—is in no way to embrace its abusive and discriminatory meaning. The word is abusive because it suggests disdain for, rather than a desire to help, sexually promiscuous women, whose lifestyle isn’t always a matter of informed choice but often a matter of coercion or the sad consequence of poor parental guidance. The word is discriminatory because it is ordinarily applied only to women and not men. But a moment’s reflection shows this distinction to be unjust and unreasonable.

The story of the “Fantasy Slut League” is sordid and sad, and might tempt some to despair about our culture and the natural law. On careful consideration, though, it also offers evidence of the natural law and hence some hope for the future of our culture. There is no denying that the very fact of the league shows we inhabit a culture that has gone far down the wrong path. At the same time, however, the organizers’ label for their league shows that the materials by which one might try to renovate the culture—human nature, human reason, the natural law—still exist in the minds that the culture has misshaped.

Read the full article from The Public Discourse

Politics flows downstream from culture, so what’s a traditional conservative to do?

12 Dec

From Bruce Frohen:

In a previous post I argued something I believe most traditional conservatives understand in their bones: we will not “take back” our culture and way of life, or even preserve room within which to lead lives of decency and virtue, through any grand political effort to construct a national political coalition. The assumptions and very characters of too many Americans have been twisted too much for too long by our increasingly secular, individualist culture and our administrative and welfare state. Americans, as a people, no longer have sufficient character to govern themselves as citizens of a free and virtuous republic. 

What, then, is a traditional conservative to do?
 
I’ve remarked many times that the good thing about a predicament like ours, in which we have been routed for decades in every sphere, is that there is no end of choices of where to begin working for improvement. It is vitally important, however, that we begin by getting our priorities in order.

To take yet another analytic step back (a process made necessary, I think, by just how far off the proper path we as a people have stumbled), setting the right priorities requires adopting the proper perspective.
 
It would be easy for me to say, at this point, that the proper perspective is that of eternity. The human person is meant for eternity, so all that matters, finally, is the state of our souls. And it would be wrong for me to say that this is too easy an answer, for one who takes such a position as seriously as it deserves. But not all of us are called to enter a cloistered life and the rest of us must face the fact that, for both good and ill, our surroundings affect our characters. 
 
Though not of this world, we must live in this world, working in it, raising our children in it, and even worshipping in it. What is more, the permanent goods themselves—truth, beauty, and virtue, for example—exist for us in concrete objects, institutions, and practices. As one cannot know beauty save through, for example, an inspired, well-crafted work of art, one cannot know virtue save through the examples of good men and women who show their character through concrete acts of bravery, magnanimity, or charity.
 
No grand structure, no Great Society, can teach our children (or us) how to lead decent lives, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. Even books and the utterly essential moral imagination they feed and inspire can do nothing to prevent formation of misshapen, abnormal characters if the reader has no living, breathing, human parents, teachers, and mentors on whose conduct to model his own. 
 
It’s not just pedagogically necessary to have face-to-face relationships, it’s absolutely necessary for us to be happy that we share our lives with other people. And we won’t be able to do this, won’t even be able to live with others in peace, unless and until we are bound together by custom and tradition. Even with strangers it is a custom (rooted, to be sure, in natural law) of respect and charity or magnanimity that prevents the war of all against all; not all cultures are or have been good about dealing with strangers. Families, churches, and other associations are all the more dependent on traditions in ordering their common lives because the relationships within them are closer and more important.

Read the rest here

What does conservative prudence require of Republicans today?

12 Dec

From Peter Wehner in Commentary Magazine:

Assume for the sake of the argument that this debate has been engaged and adjudicated by the public–and the public prefers the liberal solution (raising taxes on the “rich” in the name of “fairness”). Does the conservative movement, in order to maintain its strength and appeal, make peace with the public’s view? Or attempt to change it? And if so, how?

These questions are too large to tackle in a single post. I simply want to highlight a temptation all of us in politics face, which is to assume that because we hold a certain view, a majority of the public does, too. Those who hold this mindset usually fall back on an explanation that goes something like this: Republican politicians simply didn’t make sufficiently forceful and articulate arguments. If they had, the public would flock to our side since, after all, the arguments are all on our side.

The people who take comfort in this explanation usually reside in the “we have a communications problem” school. They lament the fact that we don’t have another Ronald Reagan to articulate conservatism and if we did, all would be right with the world once more.

I’m partially sympathetic to this view, since it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of quality candidates in advancing an intellectual cause. At the same time, it’s unwise to pin one’s hopes on producing, election after election, a candidate who possesses a once-in-a-lifetime set of skills. And Reagan himself, by 1980, had made peace with major elements of the New Deal (something he had not done in 1964).

As for the here and now: I’m actually conflicted as to what strategy Republicans ought to adopt in their battle with the president over the fiscal cliff, since I believe there are real downsides to capitulating on raising taxes on the top income earners. But however this issue resolves itself, conservatives should be careful not to assume that the problems we face are merely (or mostly) rhetorical.

It may be that a majority of the public, having heard both sides of the argument, believes that upper-income people are under-taxed. If that’s the case, it would be a significant error for conservatives to assume we simply need to make the same arguments, only louder, with more passion, and with more charts and graphs. It may be that we have to reframe the issue. Or it may be that we have to accept that waging the fight on this ground is injurious to the larger conservative cause. This is a discussion conservatives need to have in a calm, empirical way, resisting the impulse (on all sides) to either purge or impugn motivations — and to bear in mind that if conservatives give in to Obama’s demands, it may be a mistake but it wouldn’t be a violation of a high principle. Deciding on whether the top tax rate should be 35 percent or 39.6 percent, or somewhere in between, is a prudential, not  quasi-theological, argument.

A final, related point: Conservatives have to be alert to shifting circumstances. Today we face challenges – including wage stagnation, lack of social mobility, globalization, income inequality, fracturing families, and an entitlement crisis — that are in some respects quite different, or at least more acute, than the ones we faced in 1980, when the threats we faced included soaring interest rates, high inflation, and a top marginal rate of 70 percent. This doesn’t mean that the arguments about tax rates and the size of government are passé. But it does mean conservatism has to take into account a realistic assessment of the sentiments of the public – not in order to bow before them, but to be better able to shape them.

This is not, as some might suggest, an argument to abandon conservatism. It’s rather an argument to revivify it.

 

Introducing Burkean Conservatism: Between liberty and tradition

12 Dec

Excellent essay on Burkean conservatism by Professor Peter Berkowitz at the Hoover Institution on Burke’s concept of ordered or rational liberty, the place of tradition in maintaining the preconditions for liberty and self-government, the republican virtue of prudence and political moderation in the public square, and how Burke is relevant for today’s political discourse.

Clips:

Feuding among american conservatives for the title True Conservative is nothing new. Ever since conservatism in America crystallized as a recognizable school in the 1950s, more than a few limited-government conservatives, or libertarians as they have come to be called, and more than a few social conservatives — and their forebears, traditionalist conservatives — have wanted to flee from or banish the other. To be sure, the passion for purity in politics is perennial. But the tension between liberty and tradition inscribed in modern conservatism has exacerbated the stress and strain in the contending conservative camps. Fortunately, a lesson of political moderation is also inscribed in the modern conservative tradition, and nowhere more durably or compellingly than at its beginning.

Moderating the tension between liberty, or doing as you please, and tradition, or doing as has been done in the past, is a hallmark of the speeches and writings of 18th-century British statesman Edmund Burke. While the conservative spirit is enduring and while some have always been more amply endowed with the inclination to preserve inherited ways and others more moved by the impulse to improve or supersede them, the distinctively modern form of conservatism emerged with Burke’s 1790 polemic, Reflections on the Revolution in France. Writing as a friend of liberty and enlightenment, Burke eloquently exposed the brutality of the revolutionaries’ determination, inspired by a perverse understanding of liberty and enlightenment, to transform political life by upending and sweeping away tradition, custom, and the inherited moral order. Burke’s conservatism operates within the broad contours of the larger liberal tradition and embraces much of the spirit of the 18th-century Enlightenment. It is distinguished by its determination to moderate the tendencies toward excess that mark both liberty and reason.

Burke’s devotion to “a spirit of rational liberty”1 drives the great reform efforts of his political career: conciliation with America, toleration for Ireland’s Catholics, and protection of the interests and rights of the people of India. But even if we had only the Reflections, he would still deserve to be counted among our preeminent teachers concerning the balance of principles that favors liberty.

The causes to which Burke dedicated himself, and the well-wrought arguments he summoned in their behalf, teach that the paramount political task is to defend liberty. They also illustrate that while the purpose of politics is not to perfect man, securing the rights shared equally by all depends on tradition, religion, and community cultivating the virtues that fit citizens for freedom. And they clarify how the rival interests, multiplicity of groups and associations, and competing conceptions of happiness that characterize free societies make accommodation, balance, and calibration indispensable to the conservative mission. Burke’s storied career demonstrates that political moderation is not only consistent with but essential to vindicating the principles of liberty.

……..

The crux of the matter was that the revolutionaries’ novel doctrine demanded more than a change of government; it required “a total revolution,” one that would break from and cast aside established beliefs, practices, and institutions.

In contrast, Burke championed “a manly, moral, regulated liberty.” Liberty well understood, he argued, recognizes the power of self-interest but emphasizes self-restraint. It values calculation, planning, and ambitious state undertakings but attaches great significance to the steady development over centuries of sentiments, manners, and morals. Such liberty depends on a science of government — of constructing, conserving, and reforming the state — that involves “a deep knowledge of human nature and human necessities, and of the things which facilitate or obstruct the various ends which are to be pursued by the mechanism of civil institutions.” It recognizes that “the little platoon we belong to in society” — family, religious community, village or town — is the original source of “public affections” and furnishes the schools in which we develop “a love to our country and to mankind.” It rejects theoreticians’ and intellectuals’ definition of “the rights of men,” which legitimate license without limits. Instead, liberty well understood affirms “the real rights of men,” grounded in the advantages for which civil society was formed, including the right to live under the rule of law; to own and acquire property and to pass it on to one’s children; and generally to live with one’s family as one sees fit provided one does not trespass on the rights of others. The primary aim of government, which Burke characterized as “a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants,”  is to secure these rights. Just where the exercise of freedom passes over into a violation of another’s rights and how best to use one’s freedom to live well could only be determined by prudent reflection on tradition and custom, because they embodied the nation’s accumulated wisdom concerning the organization and conduct of human affairs.

Prudence, Burke famously observed, is “the god of this lower world.”2 It carefully considers circumstances, which “give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing color and discriminating effect,” and which “render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.”3 Prudence serves political moderation by mediating between principle and practice. It guides the reconciliation of liberty with the requirements of tradition, order, and virtue by taking the measure of all and, to the extent possible in the fluid and murky world of politics, issuing in judgments and actions that give each its due.

According to Burke, the French revolutionaries were immoderate in the extreme. By overthrowing monarchy and religion, they aimed to achieve emancipation from not merely a specific tradition or custom but the very authority of tradition and custom. Their goal, unreasonable in the extreme, was to establish an empire built on abstract reason alone. Prudent application of principle to circumstance would be unnecessary. Instead, they would mold circumstances to comply with pure reason’s demands. Marching under the banner of “the rights of man,” they set out to deduce the structure of a society of free and equal citizens without regard to the beliefs and practices, the passions and interests, the attachments and associations that fashion character and form conduct. Rather than counting on education grounded in history, literature, and the sciences to discipline and elevate a recalcitrant human nature, the revolutionaries sought to remake human nature and society to fit reason’s supposed revelations about citizens’ true wants and needs, rights, and obligations. The realization of the revolutionaries’ ambitions, Burke immediately discerned, would depend on the ruthless resort to violence. Anticipating not only Robespierre and the Reign of Terror but 20th-century totalitarianism, Burke presciently argued that the determination to use the power of the state to create a new humanity would bring about the dehumanization of man.

The quarrel between Burke and the French revolutionaries comes down not to whether liberty is good or is even the leading purpose of politics — Burke thought it was both — but to the material and moral conditions and the political institutions most conducive to securing, preserving, and extending it. The French revolutionaries put their faith in government’s ability to set the people free by developing institutions that satisfy citizens’ sensibilities by aggressively transforming them. In contrast, Burke emphasized the moral and political benefits that flow to liberty from the time-tested beliefs, practices, and institutions beyond government’s immediate purview that structure social life and cultivate manners and morals. The progressive side of the liberal tradition, the roots of which extend back to the French Revolution, tends to view traditional understandings of order and virtue as obstacles to freedom. In contrast, the conservative side of the liberal tradition, in the spirit of Burke, sees in them pillars of freedom and seeks to conserve the nongovernmental institutions — the family, religious faith, the voluntary associations of civil society — that sustain them.

………

Burke was no reactionary, dogmatically clinging to the old and rejecting the new. He observed in the Reflections that because circumstances are constantly changing, “a state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” Of course, the change in question must be prudent, wisely adapting enduring principles to the ordinary vicissitudes of politics. In extraordinary times, states must adjust to substantial shifts in circumstances, sentiment, and practice.

Prudent change depends on combining and reconciling “the two principles of conservation and correction.” The balancing of a conserving that is mindful of the need to correct and a correcting that proceeds with an eye to what deserves to be conserved is, in a free society, not an unwelcome political necessity. Such prudence is inseparable from respect for tradition and custom, because tradition and custom typically present not a clear-cut path but a “choice of inheritance.” Since the right choice about tradition must be freely and reasonably made, and since the reasonable use of freedom depends on the virtues nourished by tradition, liberty and tradition are mutually dependent.  This mutual dependence provides an opening to moderate the claims of liberty and tradition which, in a free society, frequently pull in opposing directions. To justly moderate, or harmonize, the competing claims of liberty and tradition, one must respect necessity without thoughtlessly acquiescing to what only appears necessary, and compromise in behalf of principle rather than compromise principle. Political moderation should not be confused with the absence of strong passion. It requires restraining the desire to vindicate immediately and completely a single principle and instead working to vindicate the whole family of rival and worthy principles on which the conservation and correction of liberty depends. As Burke’s career as a reformer vividly demonstrates, political moderation is propelled by a passion to strike the most reasonable balance among worthy but incomplete ends for the sake of liberty. Political moderation is a crucial part of the government of the self on which self-government in a free society depends.

……..

The need in free societies to combine and reconcile the principles of conservation and correction imposes formidable demands on the people and on office holders. To be sure, under government of all sorts, policy and law must constantly be adjusted, balanced, and calibrated in light of changing circumstances. But liberty guarantees that circumstances will always be changing, and in fact liberty tends to accelerate the pace of change. One manifestation of the larger challenge is the famous tension between conservatism and capitalism: Capitalism’s constant quest for newer and better products and techniques of production to achieve ever greater profits, and the affluence and luxury that free markets bring, demote tradition, disrupt order, and weaken the virtues of mind and character — such as self-restraint, industriousness, and thrift — that support free markets and free political institutions.

The larger challenge is rooted in the passions. Liberty excites the human love of novelty — for how can I be free if I must submit to the same old routines? And it goads the human love of dominion — for how can I be free if others defy my will? By simultaneously encouraging an aversion to authority and a desire for mastery, freedom also tends to provoke a backlash against freedom. The result in free societies is the generation of extreme and conflicting types: radicals who seek to extend government’s rule over others in the name of equality while freeing themselves from rules, and reactionaries who strive to reinstate traditional forms of authority, not only on themselves but on the rest of society. Liberty unrestrained and undisciplined fosters immoderation. Consequently, a government devoted to conserving and correcting freedom will require particular prudence in the art of balancing, or political moderation.11

The virtue of political moderation is often mistaken for a compromise with virtue, a softening of belief, a diluting of passion, a weakening of will, even an outright vice. But those are examples not of political moderation but of the failure to achieve it. Moderation in politics is not a retreat from the fullness of life but an embrace of it. Political moderation is called into action by the awareness of the variety of enduring moral and political principles; the substantial limits on what we can know and how effectively and justly we can act; the range of legitimate individual interests; the multiplicity of valuable human undertakings and ends; and the quest to discern a common good in light of which we can make moral distinctions and establish political priorities.12 Political moderation underlies self-government understood as the individual’s mastery of his own conduct and understood as a free people’s rule over itself.

Nevertheless, the virtue of political moderation will always serve as an inviting target for demagogues who seek to exploit the passion for purity in politics. In the Reflections, Burke warned that one who supports “a scheme of liberty soberly limited” is likely to be accused of lacking “fidelity to his cause.” The purists’ attack on the appeal to reason and the exercise of restraint in behalf of freedom will not end there:

Moderation will be stigmatized as the virtue of cowards, and compromise as the prudence of traitors, — until, in hopes of preserving the credit which may enable him to temper and moderate on some occasions, the popular leader is obliged to become active in propagating doctrines and establishing powers that will afterwards defeat any sober purpose at which he ultimately might have aimed.

Because of the perennial need to stand firmly against the common slander that political moderation is a feeble disguise for weak-kneed betrayal of principle, political moderation is inseparable from political courage.

Since Burke’s devotion to political moderation was hardly evident to all observers in his time and would have been disputed by many, he was compelled to clarify his beliefs about it. In the final paragraph of the Reflections, written25 years after he was first elected to Parliament and four years before his retirement, Burke declared that he had been one “almost the whole of whose public exertion has been a struggle for the liberty of others.” Aware that his attack on the French Revolution gave rise to the appearance of inconsistency, he made sense of the seeming contradictions by explaining the underlying reality. Invoking a classical image, he characterized his words and actions as those of a statesman

who would preserve consistency by varying his means to secure the unity of his end — and, when the equipoise of the vessel in which he sails may be endangered by overloading it upon one side, is desirous of carrying the small weight of his reasons to that which may preserve its equipoise.

To conserve liberty at a time when the French revolutionaries made extravagant claims on its behalf, Burke fervently championed the claims of tradition, order, and virtue. And when his countrymen failed to grasp its imperatives in their affairs abroad in America, Ireland, and India, he passionately urged reforms that enlarged liberty’s sphere.

The conservative side of the larger liberal tradition displays variations on the political moderation contained in Burke’s insistence on the importance of combining and reconciling the principles of conservation and correction. In1776 in The Wealth of Nations, Burke’s contemporary Adam Smith examined the mutual dependence of economic life and virtue. Smith saw that the market economy, which brought prosperity and nourished political liberty, both rewarded moral virtues — rationality, industry, ingenuity, and self-discipline — and corrupted workers’ character by condemning them to monotonous labor. He therefore insisted on the need for government to take action by, for example, providing education for workers and limiting the workplace demands imposed on them by manufacturers. InDemocracy in America, the first volume of which appeared in 1835 and the second in 1840, Alexis de Tocqueville argued that in the modern era democracy had become necessary and just and that while it fostered a certain simplicity and straightforwardness in manners it also encouraged selfishness, envy, immediate gratification, and lazy acceptance of state authority. To secure liberty, which he believed essential for a well-lived life, it would be necessary to preserve within democracy those nongovernmental institutions — family, religious faith, and civic associations of many sorts — that counteracted democracy’s deleterious tendencies. Family, faith, and civic associations taught moral virtue, connected individuals to higher purposes, and broadened their appreciation of their self-interest to include their debts to forebears, bonds to fellow citizens, and obligations to future generations. John Stuart Mill, an admirer of Tocqueville whose voluminous writings feature conspicuously conservative and progressive dimensions, made the case in 1859 in On Liberty that liberty served “the permanent interests of man as a progressive being.” At the same time, he distinguished between the use and abuse of freedom; defended a rigorous education continuing through university and combining science and humanities to equip individuals for freedom’s opportunities and demands; and favored political institutions that, while grounded in the consent of the governed, were designed to improve the likelihood that elections would bring individuals of outstanding moral and intellectual virtue to public office.

If a liberal in the large sense is one who believes that the aim of politics is to secure liberty, then Smith, Tocqueville, and Mill are, like Burke, exemplary members of the liberal tradition. Because of their common appreciation that free societies expose individuals to influences that corrode moral and political order and enervate the virtues on which liberty depends, they belong on the conservative side of the liberal tradition. Because of their shared understanding that limits must be imposed on government to protect individual liberty, but that those limits must not sap the energy or impair the authority government needs to secure liberty, their account of self-government emphasizes striking a balance between competing and essential principles. Their political moderation is a reflection of their passion for freedom and their reasoned understanding of the complex conditions that sustain it. The Federalist, the masterpiece of American political thought, embraces the conservative brand of liberal self-government they epitomize and constitutionalizes it.

The Three Laws of Social Programs

11 Dec

From Charles Murray:

Several people have tagged me and Losing Ground since Nicholas Kristoff’s column on Fridayabout the ways that social programs can backfire. It was a praiseworthy column—all of us on both sides of the political spectrum should be as ready as Kristoff to acknowledge problems with our beliefs. But it also offers an opportunity to recall the three laws of social programs in Losing Ground, because the backfires are not idiosyncratic. They occur everywhere and always for inherent reasons.

1. The Law of Imperfect Selection. Any objective rule that defines eligibility for a social transfer program will irrationally exclude some persons.

This law accounts for the reason that programs like Food Stamps and the Supplemental Security Income program constantly expand. Whenever the people who administer the programs run into a case of a genuinely needy person who has been excluded under a current rule, they tend to redefine the rule or otherwise alter the program’s administration to be more inclusive, which in turn brings more people who don’t need the social transfer under its umbrella.

2. The Law of Unintended Rewards. Any social transfer increases the net value of being in the condition that prompted the transfer.

Kristoff referenced the increased net value of being illiterate because of the “intellectual disability” payment of $698 per month that leads parents to withdraw their children from literacy classes. But the same thing is true of every payment of any kind that requires people to demonstrate that they have a problem before they qualify for the payment. It is not a defect in program design. It is inescapable whenever you give rewards for having a problem.

3. The Law of Net Harm. The less likely it is that the unwanted behavior will change voluntarily, the more likely it is that a program to induce change will cause net harm.

This is not as obvious as the first two laws, but just as inexorable. My favorite chapter of Losing Ground is a thought experiment about a government program that uses financial rewards to reduce smoking. If the rewards are small, nothing will change. If they are large enough to induce a significant number of people to quit smoking, the program will inevitably lead to more people who take up smoking in the first place and the net number of inveterate smokers.

Fewer and fewer people are old enough to remember, but once upon a time almost all children were born to married couples and almost all young men were physically able to work and knew how to show up on time and work hard. Then, in the mid-1960s, before globalization, before manufacturing jobs disappeared, while working-class wages were still going up, we decided that compassion should be bureaucratized. The three laws of social programs explain a lot of what has happened to the working class since then.

Can the Supreme Court rule on same-sex marriage without legislating morality from the bench?

10 Dec

The Supreme Court will hear to cases together on the issue of same-sex marriage.  First, they will hear a challenge to Prop 8 in California, which makes same-sex marriage illegal through popular referendum.  Second, they will hear a challenge to DOMA, which defines marriage for federal law as heterosexual and also permits states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriage contracts made in other states.  It would seem that come June of next year, the Court will either permit states to restrict same-sex marriage on a state by state basis if they choose to do so (narrow ruling) or it will require that states recognize same-sex marriages as valid across the board (broader ruling).  Among the issues at stake here is the question of whether Supreme Court justices can, should, or will engage in extensive extra-constitutional moral reasoning in deciding these cases.  For those who believe the legislating morality is properly the domain of the legislative branches and not the courts, this would be problematic.  Is it avoidable?  Yes, says Professor Adam Macloud:

one cannot determine how marriage ought to be defined in law without first addressing the question of what marriage is. Therefore, there is no morally neutral ground upon which to decide which relationships should be called marriages.

Nevertheless, there remains a way for the Court to resolve the narrower legal issues presented to it without foreclosing public deliberations on the more profound philosophical questions about marriage. A recent decision out of the United States District Court in Hawaii, in the case Jackson v. Abercrombie, suggests a way for the Supreme Court to move forward without (further) undermining its prestige and integrity. If the Supreme Court is looking for morally neutral ground upon which to stand, it could do no better than to read this decision carefully.

Like California, Hawaiians struck a considered compromise on the marriage question. Hawaii extends to same-sex couples who enter into civil unions all of the rights and privileges of marriage, and reserves the term “marriage” for one-man-one-woman unions. For this reason, the challenge to Hawaii’s laws, like a similar challenge arising out of Nevada and the challenge to California’s Proposition 8 that the Supreme Court is preparing to hear, threatens to lure the judicial branch onto dangerous ground. The courts cannot require these states to recognize same-sex relationships as marriages on the ground that same-sex couples are entitled to the benefits, protections, rights, and responsibilities of marriage; these states have already extended those entitlements to same-sex couples. The only remaining basis for judicial action on behalf of same-sex couples is a ruling that the intimate commitment of a same-sex couple is a marriage. That ruling would codify in the fundamental law of the land in the moral beliefs of judges.

Read the rest here

Traditional families tend to produce better students academically; the state has to do something about that injustice

7 Dec

So says the President of France Francois Hollande.  What’s to be done?  Well, applying a justice as fairness doctrine (see my blog post on this), level the playing field by eliminating homework (non-traditional families don’t do that well) and expand school hours (to mitigate against the positive gains gleaned from traditional homes).  You see, it’s pretty simple.  If justice means fairness, as John Rawls has argued, then no child should be disadvantaged because of circumstances beyond their control (being born to non-traditional families).  So, from behind a veil of ignorance where no one knows if they will or will not be born to such a family, we should construct a society where it wouldn’t matter.  That is, we should construct a society where the state, the great leveler, compensates for any of these disadvantages by increasingly replacing them as the premier social institution.  Sometimes that will be done by helping the less advantaged (helping them catch up); other times that will be done by slowing the more advantaged down.  If good parenting is highly beneficial and causing inequality in society, then we’ll just relieve parents of much of that responsibility and shift that burden to the state so that everyone is treated fairly.  Of course, if justice is rightness, then parenting properly belongs only to parents and is something intrinsically unique by design and purpose such that the state can never be the substitute for the family.  A government’s response to inequalities is not, in that framework, dealt with by undermining the family but by adopting public policy which encourages greater traditional family health, autonomy, stability, and formation.

Islam vs Islamism, a crucial difference we neglect at our own peril

6 Dec

From Clifford May in the National Review (excerpt; full article here):

A Koret Foundation Senior Fellow at Stanford University, Tibi describes himself as an “Arab-Muslim pro-democracy theorist and practitioner.” Raised in Damascus, he has “studied Islam and its civilization for four decades, working in the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and Africa.” His research has led him to this simple and stark conclusion: “Islamism is a totalitarian ideology.” And just as there cannot be “democratic totalitarianism,” so there cannot be “democratic Islamism.”

Brennan and other American and European officials are wrong, Tibi says, to fear that “fighting Islamism is tantamount to declaring all of Islam a violent enemy.” As for the Obama administration’s insistence that “the enemy is specifically, and only, al-Qaeda,” that, Tibi writes, “is far too reductive.”

Tibi also faults Noah Feldman, the young scholar who advised the Bush administration, and who insisted, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, that sharia, Islamic law, can be viewed as “Islamic constitutionalism.” Feldman failed to grasp the significance of the “Islamist claim to supremacy (siyadat al-Islam),” the conviction that Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists are inferior and that their inferiority should be reflected under the law and by government institutions.

Tibi makes this important distinction: All jihadists are Islamists, but not all Islamists are jihadists. In other words, not all Islamists are committed to violence, including terrorism, as the preferred means to achieve their goals. He asks: “Can we trust Islamists who forgo violence to participate in good faith within a pluralistic, democratic system?” He answers: “I believe we cannot.”

Chief among Islamist goals, Tibi writes, is al-hall al Islami, “the Islamic solution, a kind of magic answer for all of the problems — global and local, socio-economic or value-related — in the crisis-ridden world of Islam.” Islamists ignore the fact that such governance has been implemented, for example, in Iran for over more than 30 years, in Afghanistan under the Taliban, in Gaza under Hamas, and in Sudan. It has never delivered development, freedom, human rights, or democracy. As for Turkey, Tibi sees it as “not yet an Islamist state” but heading in that direction.

Tibi makes some arguments with which I’d quarrel. For example, he views Saudi religious/political doctrines as a “variety of Salafism (orthodox, traditional Islam) not Islamism.” I would counter that Salafism is a variant of Islamism, albeit one based not on the writings of Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, but on nostalgia for the glory days of the seventh century.

Nevertheless, the debate Tibi is attempting to initiate is necessary — and long overdue. During the Cold War there was a field of study known as Sovietology. It was taught in our most elite universities with strong U.S. government support.

Why isn’t Islamology — not Islamic theology, or “Muslim-Christian understanding,” or “Islamic thought” — a discipline today? For one, Tibi observes, because to “protect themselves against criticism, Islamists have invented the formula of ‘Islamophobia’ to defame their critics.” (How did Stalin not come up with Sovietophobia or Russophobia?) And of course if such slander fails to intimidate, there are other ways to shut people up: Tibi has “survived attempts on my life by jihadists.”

A second reason for the absence of Islamology: The U.S. government cannot back the study of an ideology it stubbornly insists does not exist. Finally, those who do fund anything to do with Islam on campus — for example, the Gulf petro-princes who have given tens of millions of dollars to Georgetown and Harvard — have a different agenda, one that does not include free and serious inquiry. We ignore what they are doing — and what Tibi is telling us — at great peril.

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