Monthly Archives: February 2009
I was somewhat fascinated the other day, when participating in a discussion of school vouchers on another blog, to hear someone make the assertion that public schools are “more democratic” than vouchers because everyone must use the curriculum which is decided via “the democratic process” in public schools, whereas with vouchers someone might attend a religious (or otherwise flaky school) teaching things you do not believe to be true.
This strikes me as interesting because it suggests to me a view of democracy rather different from my own. Thinking on it further, I think there are basically three reasons why one would consider deciding things democratically (defining that broadly here as “by majority vote, either directly or via elected officials”) to be a good thing:
Something for the weekend. For a wonder I am posting an Irish song about something other than rebellion against the British! The incomparable Wolfe Tones singing The Hot Asphalt. I trust this song will be appreciated by all who have ever worked on a road crew or who have ever had a family member who worked on a road crew. It is tough work, necessary work, and, until this song, unsung work. Here is another set of lyrics for the song.
Critics of the Bush Administration often complained (especially during his first term) that Bush used 9/11 as a justification for nearly everything he did. Given that the country was widely supportive of the administration in the years right after the attack, this was (the complaint went) a way for Bush to do things he’d wanted to do anyway under the guise of responding to an emergency. While I think this complaint was overstated, there is an element of truth to it. For instance, I don’t think there’s a whole lot of question that many within the administration (rightly or wrongly) wanted to get rid of the Baathist regime in Iraq even prior to taking office.
In this respect, Obama seems to have found his 9/11, his excuse for doing all the things he and his party want to do while assuring everyone it would be a Very Bad Idea it not Downright Unpatriotic for them to disagree. Obama’s 9/11 is the recession, or as the media seems to have named it “The Worst Economic Downturn Since the Great Depression”. (This is, to my mind, a rather unwieldy name. Perhaps we could just call it the “Big Recession” or the “Little Depression”?)
Thus, in his presentation of a new budget which is heavy on partisan measures (big tax increases on “the rich” and preparation for major changes in social service structure and spending) and racks up the largest deficit (as percentage of GDP) since 1942, Obama assured people that this was necessary in order to restore the economy:
I have referred to the “Stimulus” bill as the Bankrupt the Nation Act of 2009 here, here, here, here, here, and here. Now we have Senator Judd Gregg (R., N.H.), the man who Obama wanted to be Commerce Secretary, confirm what should be obvious to everyone: we are on the road to national bankruptcy. Heaven knows this problem didn’t start with President Obama. However, his misguided policy of multi-trillion dollar annual deficits will push us over the brink into national insolvency. We are in for very tough economic times for a very long period.
Hattip to Father Z at What the Prayer Really Says. The Civil War and fried chicken, brought to us by an American turned Australian, what could be more American than that!
A decrease in solidarity means people have fewer resources to turn to in time of crisis.
With a decrease in solidarity, a man either makes it on his own or fails on his own.
If a man is struggling to make it on his own, a child becomes an unwelcome hindrance. A child is an economic drain, and if a man has no other resources, a child might destroy his chances of success.
Thus it should come as no surprise that programs to provide economic aid to poor soon-to-be-parents would decrease abortion rates to some extent.
Archbishop Chaput gave a remarkable address in Toronto on Monday. Here is the address with comments by me interspersed:
I want to do three things with my time tonight. First, Father Rosica asked me to talk about some of the themes from my book, “Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life.” I’m happy to do that. Second, I want to talk about some of the lessons we can draw from the recent U.S. election. And third, I want to talk about the meaning of hope.
The Great NYU Kimmel Food Court Occupation comes to a bloodless end. (Or "how NOT to spend your college tuition")
Last week a group of “student-empowering, social-justice-minded” students and assorted ragamuffins and rabblerousers from neighboring colleges (many affiliated with TakeBackNYU) had the stunningly-brilliant idea of barricading themselves in a food court in New York University’s Kimmell Center, “in a historic effort to bring pressure on NYU for its administrative and ethical failings regarding transparency, democracy and protection of human rights.”
While I’m on the topic of narratives, Matthew Boudway at dotCommonweal has a post up entitled “They Cannot Fathom Their Failure”.* The post is based on a George Packer column, which basically makes the argument that conservatives “cannot fathom the failure of their philosophy” after the recent financial crisis, and that to deny they have been discredited is a form of self-delusion. This is a charge, I suppose, to be approached with trepidation; false consciousness is notoriously difficult to disprove. That said, it may be worthwhile to offer some thoughts in response. Here is an excerpt from the post:
…“[T]hey cannot fathom the failure of their philosophy.” Not “they will not fathom” it. They cannot. Sure, the response of many conservatives to the bailout and the stimulus package has been opportunistic and cynical. Many of them, though, simply cannot imagine what it would mean — what it now does mean — for the premises of their policy agenda, and indeed of their entire political philosophy, to have failed. Not even the most spectacular failure can force anyone to learn a lesson he desperately wishes not to learn. Historical events are always complicated and contingent enough to admit of more than one interpretation, and the most plausible interpretation is often not the most attractive.
One of the difficult balances to achieve in the area of politics dealing with “social services”, and with bringing a proper Catholic understanding to how we as Christians should strive to shape such policies, is knowing how we should balance efficiency with proper concern for human dignity and human pride. I see this as being particularly the case when it comes to some of the large scale assistance programs which form part of our “social safety net” in the United States. Many of these are, it seems to me, essentially welfare of “assistance programs”, yet are cloaked in the form of all-encompassing “savings” or “insurance” programs.
For example, the purpose of Social Security was clearly to assure that the aged are not relegated to poverty once they are no longer able to work. In the past, this was done through private savings, the help of one’s children, and the help of one’s community. However, these mechanisms often fell through, and so people often found themselves in poverty in their old age. Thus was created the Social Security system, which collected money via a payroll tax and “saved” it to fund retirement payouts after age 65. Medicare, which is designed to assure that the elderly can afford medicare care is much the same.
Pope Saint Leo the Great on Lent:
I. The Benefits of Abstinence Shown by the Example of the Hebrews.
II. Use Lent to Vanquish the Enemy, and Be Thus Preparing for Eastertide.
III. Fights are Necessary to Prove Our Faith.
IV. The Christian’s Armour is Both for Defence and for Attack.
V. Abstinence Not Only from Food But from Other Evil Desires, Especially from Wrath, is Required in Lent.
VI. The Right Use of Lent Will Lead to a Happy Participation in Easter.
Even before Slumdog Millionaire won the Oscar for Best Picture last weekend, the popular/artsy/Bollywood crossover flick had created a strange new tourist trade: People traveling to Mumbai to visit the vast slums which are home to 10 million people and the setting for the movie. I must admit, the idea strikes me as fulfilling every negative stereotype of self-indulgent Western patronization towards the world’s poor. “Oh, let’s go tour these slums and see how the little people of the world live! How caring of us to spend our vacation there, and then we’ll hit the beach afterward.” Still, I’m sure that everyone means well, and according to the article the tours are being conducted by some locals who insist on small groups, no cameras, and return 80% of the profits to help people in the slums.
Still, I was particularly struck by a passing reference near the end of the article, which struck me as showing exactly the sort of difficult balance that good intentioned Westerners seeking to regulate the third world for their own good often fail to take into account:
One of the great principles that tends to be ignored in our debates about economics, social justice, and governmental involvement in the lives of the people is solidarity. We argue about how involved the government should be in our lives, what kinds of safety nets it should provide, and to what extent it should mandate and appropriate in order to provide for the most needy of society. We argue about how well certain economic theories–capitalism, Keynesian economics, socialism, etc.–work in providing justice, or even providing just shelter and food. We argue about subsidiarity, and how it should be practiced, and while that touches on solidarity, it doesn’t fully overlap.
One of the arguments about governmental involvement is how the aid provided is cold and distant. By the time the welfare check is spat out of the massive, convulsing, bureaucratic mess that is the government, any principle of charity has been rendered flat. The recipient is a name on the list, judged worthy to receive a handout based upon an entry in a database. At first this seems like an argument of aesthetics. If a man receives a welfare check from the government rather than from friends in the community or local charities, he still receives the money he needs to survive. Yet there is a deeper problem here than merely looking at from whom the money comes, or how much charity exists in the entity delivering assistance. The continual reliance on the federal government to solve our problems aids in the breakdown of solidarity.
Is it any wonder that we have become so polarized, so factious, so estranged?
Hattip to commenter Blackadder who brought this to my attention in a post on Vox Nova last year. On the 277th birthday of George Washington, it is appropriate to recall these words of Pope Leo in regard to the Father of our Country:
“Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion.”