Set Me Free (From Ideologies) Part 3

Thursday, May 6, AD 2010

The Catholic Church is the biggest defender and promoter of the large traditional family. This endorsement of large families is something that tests the loyalties of ideologues because the Church doesn’t conform to liberal or conservative political pressures.  The more-or-less typical liberal ideologue seems to take on the ideal of saving the global environment by way of discouraging the Church’s teachings on Life and Family issues.  The more-or-less conservative ideologue often takes on the approach to economic theory that goes something like- “you breed em’ you feed em'”. I don’t find much support for either of these hard positions in the actual teachings and guidance given us via Christ’s Church.

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12 Responses to Set Me Free (From Ideologies) Part 3

  • “The right to property is closely connected with the existence of families, which protect themselves from need thanks to savings and to the building up of property.”

    Perhaps also an argument against the Estate Tax.

  • Phillip- I think the estate tax is an interesting one in that it is – at the fed level- directed only at multimillionaire holdings, with exemptions for operational family farm estates and small businesses- and it is a tax that has strange bedfellows- I read a good book on preserving the estate tax by Bill Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins- Wealth and our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes- there are many who feel that extreme inheritances tend to create an aristocratic presence that undermines the meritocracy element in American society which was in part a reaction against the old Euro-aristocracies.

  • Actually I will defer as you may be correct. But you also may be wrong on how much businesses and small farms are protected. For example:

    http://www.dailyfinance.com/story/taxes/small-business-owners-face-estate-tax-dilemma/19349404/

    It might not be the Gates’ children only that are affected. But I will let others who have more expertise in this address.

  • Perhaps the ammendments to the law discussed in the bill above were passed.

  • Regarding the estate tax, I like Greg Mankiw’s thought experiment on it:

    Consider the story of twin brothers – Spendthrift Sam and Frugal Frank. Each starts a dot-com after college and sells the business a few years later, accumulating a $10 million nest egg. Sam then lives the high life, enjoying expensive vacations and throwing lavish parties. Frank, meanwhile, lives more modestly. He keeps his fortune invested in the economy, where it finances capital accumulation, new technologies, and economic growth. He wants to leave most of his money to his children, grandchildren, nephews, and nieces.

    Now ask yourself: Which millionaire should pay higher taxes?… What principle of social justice says that Frank should be penalized for his frugality? None that I know of.

  • I don’t want this entry to become all about the estate tax debate- I will just end it here with the recommendation to anyone wanting to go deeper with that one to find the Gate’s book I mentioned above and offer a critique of the many arguments and proofs he lays out there for that particular tax. So, if you want to debate the tax please someone write up their own entry and/or do a short critique of the book’s main points if you have time for the research.

  • Fair enough, but the estate tax is an instructive example of why it’s difficult to make blanket policy prescriptions based on CST. Clearly, the argument against plutocracy works in favor of the tax, but Mankiw’s horizontal equity illustration goes against it. CST does not cut neatly across party/ideological lines as some would have you believe.

  • Without getting into exactly what form(s) of taxation are best- what about the proposals from the Church on having subsidies for families to reach a true family wage, and having remuneration for domestic work- I’m thinking mostly of stay at home moms working hard taking proper care of the kids and abode- what about these specific ideas?

  • About the only safe thing that one can say about tax policy derived from CST is that taxes should not unnecessarily burden the poor. After that it is pretty much all prudential.

    The example of family farms regarding the EGT is a good one. Such farms are subject to the same exemption as any other estate assets. Until this year 3.5MM and back down to 1MM I think next year. Is that exemption too low? Why? Are farms different from other businesses, aside from all too common romantic attractions? Wouldn’t most Americans love to own a $1MM farm?

    The risk of plutocratic cross-generational wealth accumulation is belied by the real facts, which are that family wealth becomes less concentrated and generally diminishes over generations. Ask the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Kennedys, Dukes, etc.

    This is not to say that the EGT cannot be justified, but the arguments are less stark. It is true that there is something a bit unappealing about children and grandchildren living off the hard work of their ancestors, but those ancestors may well have under taken the initiatives they did precisely because of a desire to take care of their progeny. After all they choose their heirs.

    Similar problems abound with income taxes. While ability to pay is certainly a valid factor in the calculus of tax fairness, one cannot dismiss that disparities in that factor have a substantial choice component. While most everyone wants to be rich, few people are willing to undertake the combination of risk, hard work, and discipline required. It is easier to let the other guy do it and just slice off a piece.

  • I for one, as a hardworking mother at home, would most definitely like to see some sort of recognition that what we do is real work.

    Socializing and nurturing children; providing their earliest (and some would say most crucial) formation as human beings and citizens; guiding and directing their habits, hygiene, and studies; teaching them the fundamental skills to cope with danger, challenge, and the unexpected; watching over their nutrition, environment, and exercise … The list of what I do goes on and on. A day-care worker doesn’t do everything I do, and what she/he does isn’t done as efficiently because the time to do it comes only in pieces.

    These are important tasks. Stay-at-home parents should be able to do them without having to pay for the privilege.

    Finally, families create stability in a culture, and tax laws, just like all other laws, ought to recognize that fact and adjust accordingly.

  • Sibyl,

    I agree completely. In the abstract, the state should promote the traditional family structure. The larger the family, the greater should be the benefits. Special loans or grants should be given by banks for family businesses or any sort of family financial endeavor.

    Ultimately, though, Christian families must come to rely on each other. So the state should not enshrine the nuclear family, which in my view can become a restrictive fifedom for domineering parents.

    I hate to use that stupid line, but it is true that “it takes a village” – its just that it takes a Christian village, a Catholic village, a community and a parish rooted in traditional Christianity. It doesn’t take the socialist welfare state that Hillary Clinton was talking about.

    I’m not an old man but I’ve seen enough to know that many couples struggle financially in vain. If they would loosen their grip on “their property”, their territory, “their” children (which even good people in today’s society treat more and more like possessions or pets), then many of their problems could be resolved.

    This is how the Mexican community often operates; many families sharing resources. Of course the families are usually related. Its why they can be relatively poor and still out-breed blacks and Caucasians in the United States. They don’t have “more kids than they can afford” – they share burdens among themselves.

    We don’t need to rely on blood relations the way a lot of ethnic communities do. We have a spiritual community; the Body of Christ. But we don’t use it. We are all afraid of one another, afraid to “impose”, afraid to “overstep”, afraid to “offend”, afraid to offer ourselves. If you aren’t completely self-sufficient, you’re a “loser.” You can turn to the anonymous state for help without being judged.

    This is a problem in attitude we need to address. One day, if I have the resources, I will start my own Christian community. Nothing fancy – just encourage Christian families with the same values to live on the same street, send their kids to the same school (or possibly establish a private homeschool), maybe even jointly own a local business together, and see where it goes. It will have to be a community where people trust one another, where parents trust other parents to watch and teach their children for a day (and how much better would that be than some atheist from the teacher’s union pushing homosexual propaganda?).

    Sorry to ramble on. I just believe Christians should voluntarily renounce individualism and materialism.

  • Joe- I’m pretty much with you- I have been dreaming of starting or joining some kind of family monastic movement such as you described- I also wrote up a Catholic Education vision document which hasn’t made it very high in the food chain as of yet- where part of it is to create businesses in Catholic schools along the lines of lasermonks.com, I envision different types of consumer products being made and sold in Catholic communities and schools- bringing much needed monetary resources into Catholic schools which are reeling from steep tuition charges and an over-reliance on a few wealthy benefactors.

    As for the whole State welfare dilemma- I think it is made more complex by our embrace of the global economy whereupon the corporate culture has moved into highly mobile mode, picking up and moving around the country and world- the worker bees must keep up- and so we move about the country, pulling up stakes and putting more and more distance between immediate and extended family members- and one result has been that families and even neighbors are less likely to have formed the deeper bonds of friendship, trust and so forth, so we don’t feel comfortable asking for help from even our parish families because of that body-soul thing- grace builds upon nature- and though we share a spiritual communion we are simultaneously caught up in our cultural milieu that has us moving around, and busily attending to all the other time-takers in life- commuting time, kids activities, face time with our own spouses and children, and down time after stressful work days- what is lacking is the time to spend just hanging out in community at our parishes developing the purely human relationships where we actually know each other;s life circumstances and then feel the call to help or seek help in immediate things like financial crisis and so forth- as it is, if I get laid off chances are the house is put up for sale and the job search becomes a national one because you have to move with the tide of job opps- for good or ill this puts more of us into situations where government funded safety nets are very important- when you have more kids, you need more assurances- not everyone is going to have the call/vocation to start a business from scratch or have some unique talent that translates readily into a fabulous market position in the economy of the moment.

The Tea Party and Social Conservatives

Thursday, April 15, AD 2010

Hattip to my friend Paul Zummo, the Cranky Conservative.  When asked what type of conservative I am, I have usually responded “just conservative”.  Like most conservatives I know, I am conservative on social issues, fiscal policies and foreign policy.  When one part of conservatism is ignored in a political race, electoral disaster often looms.  That is why I embrace completely what my fellow Illinoisan, Paul Mitchell said in a recent speech:

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40 Responses to The Tea Party and Social Conservatives

  • It is interesting to me that the passage above assumes the desirability of foreign policy hawkishness and low taxes; what it is justifying is the value of the family and faith. I tend to approach the question the other way around, accepting the value of family and faith and progressing outwards from there to evaluate the desirability of hawkishness and low taxes.

  • That is because you are a natural Democrat John Henry! 🙂

  • More seriously, I believe Paul was responding to attempts from some quarters to define the Tea Party as only a fiscally conservative movement. That is simply not the makeup of the Tea Party movement, as attendance at a big Tea Party rally would indicate.

  • That is because you are a natural Democrat John Henry!

    Heh. It’s worth recalling that the overwhelming majority of Catholics were Democrats prior to the hardening of their support for abortion rights in the 1980’s.

  • I believe Paul was responding to attempts from some quarters to define the Tea Party as only a fiscally conservative movement

    Yes, the pro-lifers need to fight to retain their position in the conservative coalition. About 2/3 of Republicans are pro-life, but that other 1/3 is noisy and tends to include many of the party elites. I understand the dynamics there, I was just struck by the difference between the structure of the argument in the passage and how I think the argument should be more properly ordered.

  • “Heh. It’s worth recalling that the overwhelming majority of Catholics were Democrats prior to the hardening of their support for abortion rights in the 1980’s.”

    Quite right John Henry. I am not a typical Catholic in that regard. On my father’s side, the Protestant part of my family, they have been Republicans since there was a Republican party to belong to. My Catholic mother was a Newfoundlander and therefore had no ancestral affiliation with either party, although she was proud when JFK was President, long before the colorful revelations came out about him.

  • re: defining the movement

    Local bloggers claiming to speak for the TPM recently posted a “guidelines” written up by a D.C. mid-level conservative activist named Eileen Mahony:

    “Leave the conspiracy theories at home. The Tea Parties are about small government, fiscal responsibility, and liberty — not birth certificates or black helicopters. Likewise for social issues.”

    Nice to see social issues grouped in with conspiracy theories.

    Some political leaders are getting too dumb or too personally licentious to know how to exploit social conservatives.

  • I am socially and fiscally conservative which is why I, like the Holy Father and JP2 before him, abhor an aggressive foreign policy. Being pro-life means promoting the lives of Iraqis and Afghans too. Being in favor of small government means a smaller role for the military too.

    The Tea Party needs social conservatives. It doesn’t need neo-cons.

  • Neocon restrainedradical? I was a conservative probably long before you were living on this globe. The idea that standing up to those who mean us harm abroad is an aggressive foreign policy I deny. Respecting the lives of Iraqis is ill-served by leaving them to the tender mercies of insurgents who would slaughter them, and respecting the lives of Afghanis is ill-served by leaving them to the tender mercies of the Taliban who give blood-thirsty despots a bad name.

  • The “neo-con” label is thrown about (usually as an insult) by people who have little knowledge or interest in the history of the term. It once had a very specific meaning. It was originally used to describe former leftists who were “mugged by reality” in the 1960’s and became increasingly conservative during what Paul Johnson termed “the collectivist ’70’s,” a time when democracy seemed in retreat around much of the globe. Some (but not all) of those former leftists were Jewish. All of them were strongly pro-Israel and very anti-Communist.

    Nowadays, the term seems to be used as a term of abuse to describe anyone leftists (and paleo-cons, who often sing off the same sheet of music as the lefties when it comes to defense) dislike.

    By leftist standards, Reagan would be considered a “neo-con” today, and yet nobody ever described him as one back in the 1980’s.

    Respecting the lives of Iraqis is ill-served by leaving them to the tender mercies of insurgents who would slaughter them, and respecting the lives of Afghanis is ill-served by leaving them to the tender mercies of the Taliban who give blood-thirsty despots a bad name.

    Exactly so. I wonder at those who indulge themselves in the wishful thought that if we withdraw from the world the world will leave us alone. We tried that in the ’90’s. Didn’t work out so well for us, did it?

  • Well said Donna!

  • It was intended neither as an insult nor as a catch-all for anyone I disagree with. I don’t think any of us here need a lesson in the origins of the term. I meant it in the modern sense to refer to those who share the worldview (defined primarily by foreign policy) of Irving Kristol’s ideological heirs, Bill Kristol and Co.

  • As for the matter of whether the Tea Party movement is socially conservative: I recall anti-war protests in my liberal urban neighborhood just a few short years ago (amazing how those protests vanished after November 2008, although we still have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan). Plenty of signs depicting Bush as a Nazi, etc, but also plenty of signs which had nothing at all to do with the matter at hand – everything from animal rights to “Free Mumia” to abortion “rights.” Every pet cause of the left was represented.

    Personally, I’d prefer to see the TP stay focused on economics and taxes. I would expect that if you polled a bunch of TP people, the majority of them would be more conservative socially than the population as a whole. But I don’t expect to see pro-life signs at a TP because, however dear to our hearts that cause is, it has no more to do with the TP than pro-abort signs had to do with the anti-war cause. After all, the movement arose as a response to the stimulus package. Americans may disagree on social issues but there seems to be a majority consensus that A. we are overtaxed, B. government spending is outrageous and will be a great burden on future generations and C. the political and media elites in this country have grown increasingly arrogant and out of touch with the ordinary folks who pay the bills. The TP needs to build on that consensus if it is going to be something more than people letting off steam.

    The liberals would like nothing better than to see the movement splinter as social cons and libertarians and neo-cons and paleo-cons battle each other hammer and tongs. In the meantime, the Dems continue to spend like drunken sailors and devise new ways to squeeze money out of the populace.

    It is true that a fiscal conservative is not necessarily a social conservative. But what is even truer is that a liberal Democrat NEVER is, and we found out just a few weeks ago that when push comes to shove, a Blue Dog “conservative” Dem knows who’s buttering his bread.

  • I meant it in the modern sense to refer to those who share the worldview (defined primarily by foreign policy) of Irving Kristol’s ideological heirs, Bill Kristol and Co.

    But, again, that common usage is sloppy. “Neo” means “New.” It made perfect sense to describe Irving Kristol and his wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb, as neo-cons because they were once liberals (heck, I think Irving was a one-time card-carrying Commie)who turned conservative. But their son, William, has never been on the left. There’s nothing “neo” about his conservatism. (And he is certainly a social con – I recall him and Juan Williams, both normally mild-mannered, polite types shouting at each other about Terri Schiavo. Kristol was angrier and more passionate than I’ve ever seen him.)

    Yes, he believes in a foreign policy of strong defense and interventionism when necessary – traditional cornerstones of GOP policy. I guess what baffles me is when people (not necessarily you personally, RR) talk as if “neo-conservativism” is some strange mutant strain of conservatism that sprang up like the ebola virus in the post-9/11 Bush administration.

  • Donna V. writes:

    “The liberals would like nothing better than to see the movement splinter as social cons and libertarians and neo-cons and paleo-cons battle each other hammer and tongs.”

    I suspect they would love more to see social conservatives shut up as they are further and further driven out of politics. Fiscal conservatives are incapable of challenging liberals (and improvident citizens) on a cultural level, which is why a fiscally-focused movement will not succeed in its long-term goals. Our broken culture spawned the broken economy. Focusing on economics misses the foundational damage.

  • Neo-Neoncon, a blogger, is an example of the “liberal mugged by reality” type.

    My philosophy boils down into making sure folks have a chance to make their own moral choices, with support for the right ones– thus, all around conservative and pro-active foreign policy.

  • I suspect they would love more to see social conservatives shut up as they are further and further driven out of politics.

    Liberals would love to see conservatives of any stripe shut up, so the choices facing voters ends up being like the ones faced by many Europeans – do you want the far leftist or the center-left one? Many “conservative” European pols would fit solidly in the mainstream of our Democratic Party.

    Fiscal conservatives are incapable of challenging liberals (and improvident citizens) on a cultural level, which is why a fiscally-focused movement will not succeed in its long-term goals.

    Yes, but we have to do something in the short term. When you’re suffering from a raging toothache, you go to the dentist immediately. Later on, you consider whether the fact that you eat 5 candy bars a day and rarely brush your teeth might be connected to the fact that you’ve got 10 cavities. Kevin, I certainly agree with you that a culturally self-indulgent country will not be a fiscally sound one, but when we’re in a situation where many citizens refuse to consider basic math, we have to start somewhere.

  • John Henry the Democrat Party you are referring to does not exist any longer and not just because of the abortion issue. It is a a party of elitist who believe in relativism , a govenrment controlled by those who think they know what is good for the people, regardless of what people think, a government that caters to thos bored and unhappy people who consume and produce nothing and take from those happy people who produce all. It is a party that keeps people down and continues to extend welfare rather than workfare to thousand of those on the dole and their succceeding children who continue to remain in that status generation after generation amd party of the intelligensia who continue to brain wash our children and students in an education format from kindergaten to PHDs. That is what the party is today and beware if you opne your mouth to be critical, as it is also a party who try to control speech and their own interpretation of the Bill of Rights and their so callled envolving Constitution

  • I agree that in terms of the Tea Party movement itself, the emphasis should be on the fiscal side of the equation. As Donna suggests, move of these folk are probably socially conservative as well, but in this very narrow sense it is best to concentrate on a few core economic issues.

    But in the broader sense, it is folly to separate economic and social conservatism. Even if we look at this from a purely political standpoint, it is actually on social issues that conservatives have generally had broader support than on economic issues. Sorry David Frum.

  • “We tried that in the ’90s”

    We did? Really? When?

    I recall being in Iraq in the 90’s, in Bosnia, in Somalia, not to mention military bases around the world, and that littel thing in Panama (that may have been late’80s – the memory is the first thing to go). So is that your defintion of “leaving the world alone”?

  • During the nineties the Clinton administration did its very best to ignore Islamic terrorism and hope the problem would go away. Clinton specialized in futile cruise missle strikes for public consumption.

    http://www.examiner.com/x-24794-American-History-Examiner~y2010m2d17-Terrorism-in-the-90s

  • Clinton probably bombed or deployed troops to more countries than any other president. If it weren’t for Carter’s 11th hour appeasement deal, Clinton would’ve bombed North Korea. All the intervention caused Bush to run as the more isolationist candidate.

    But trying to get neo-cons/hawks/interventionists/warmongers/whatever to understand why America is hated is like trying to get a blind man to understand what color is.

  • Rubbish Restrainedradical. You are as one with your ideological ancestors the isolationists in this country in the Thirties who almost ensured a victory by the Third Reich in World War II. Isolationism is a good way to simply kick the can down the road for a future generation to deal with a problem while posing as holier-than-thou and calling those who have eyes to see what is coming warmongers.

  • A few years ago, someone called me a “neo-con” in the comboxes on Chris Blosser’s blog, Against the Grain. Here was my tongue-in-cheek response:

    “To apply the term ‘neoconservative’ to me or any other Southerner is an oxymoron. The South is arguably the most conservative region in the country, but there ain’t nothin’ ‘neo’ about our conservatism. We’ve always been pro military and have favored a muscular U.S. foreign policy going back to the earliest days of the Republic … The appellation ‘neoconservative’ by definition doesn’t apply to the traditional conservatism of Southerners.”

  • yes restrainedradical the same country that has bailed out country after country after wars, tsunamis , earthquakes, disrepair, genocide, AIDS, and thru foreign aid. Do you think if we stop the money we send each year to keep the UN fiancially stable and stop all our aid to other countries for any reason and removed all our troops from every base in Korea, Europe, Iraq, Afghanistan, and every other country, would that make them love us more. And btw blind persons FEEL colors.

  • AFL- you forgot the sea turtles.

    When my ship was heading back to Japan after we’d helped Thailand recover from the Christmas Tsunami, which is where we’d gone after we left support for Iraqi Freedom, we stopped and cut several trapped sea turtles out of a net.

    I know I sure wouldn’t pick a guy who tried to gut the military as having “bombed or deployed troops to more countries” than any other unless I was very sure, especially when as I remember he only acted when utterly forced to do so–no matter how much death resulted, or how much it made matters worse. Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti and the NoKs come to mind….

  • I supported the war in Afghanistan. I’m not opposed to the UN or foreign aid. I’m no isolationist. If anything, I have a bias in favor of world government. I, unlike many bloodthirsty Americans, don’t celebrate every shot America fires.

    Yes, afl, pulling troops out of all those countries would make them love us more. It’s a fact supported by polls.

  • That you favor a world government restrainedradical and that you consider some of your fellow Americans bloodthirsty surprises me about as much as the news that the sun rises in the east and that it sets in the west.

  • That you favor a world government restrainedradical and that you consider some of your fellow Americans bloodthirsty surprises me about as much as the news that the sun rises in the east and that it sets in the west.

    Then why did you say he was an isolationist?

  • BA
    I’ll answer, although un-invited, why DRM called RR an isolationist.
    World government hopefuls consider that government (at least for the purposes of discussion) as being entirely non-military. Without nations, militaries will no longer exist. Then all reactionary responses to the long arm of world governance will be charaterized as threats to the domestic peace of the world. These will be handled by police, who will be armed and trained not very differently than the special operations forces now maintained by evil national governments.
    isolationism today, in response to (always) malicious nationalistic interventionism, is not inconsistent with the “can’t we all get along ruled by our oneworld betters” global governance worldview. Logic need not apply.

  • Except for paleocons BA, something I have not considered restrainedradical to be, a strong adversion to the use of American military force and a faith in the UN and globaloney often go hand in hand, as Kevin points out.

  • Foxfier, I like the sea turtle story.

    Given the UN’s less than shining track record and proven corruption, how anybody can place trust in that sorry organization is beyond me.

  • World government. That would be just great for Catholics. Sure it would.

  • Indeed Mike, there is urgent need of a true world political authority. It would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all. Obviously it would have to have the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties. Without this, international law would risk being conditioned by the balance of power among the strongest nations.

    Kevin & Don, there must be a word to describe me other than isolationist. I’m not a Pat Buchanan or Ron Paul type isolationist. Can someone who supports free trade, more immigration, foreign aid, supported the war in Afghanistan, and urged intervention in Liberia, Rwanda, and Sudan, really be called an isolationist? A soft-isolationist? A soft-interventionist? An interventionist-isolationist?

  • RR,
    I didn’t call you an isolationist, I just defended the notion that eventual-one-worlders often adopt an isolationist approach to foreign policy under the current world terms of engagement.

    From your last post, either you actually believe that man is perfectable by his own efforts (heresy, however the thought is framed) or you have left unstated the requirement that the one world government entity actually be constituted and behave as the Catechism “hopes” it will. The UN is decidedly not in compliance, nor even is it likely reconcilable to that standard.
    I too wanted us to intervene in Rwanda. But since you place so much weight in polls, just think for a few minutes about the polling data six months into a bloody US occupation in Rwanda, carried out no matter how uprightly by a predominantly white US military. Polling data would support the notion that the US was trying to re-establish the slave trade and Jesse Jackson wopuld be shaking down Army Emergency Relief for Rainbow PUSH.

  • RR,
    I should have added in my last post that there is urgent need for a true world political authority capasbvle of setting all these wrongs right. But uhnless you know when Jesus plans to return, I’ll not be holding my breath that any of the pretenders out there will make things better.

  • You need to turn up your irony detector restrainedradical in regard to Mike’s comment. 🙂

    I believe that under current world conditions a world government would be the greatest engine of tyranny in the lamentable annals of human folly. As for international law, I have always thought that books on that topic should be shelved in the fiction section of libraries. At most we have international suggestions, a condition I find preferable to ceding authority to some body that would attempt to govern all the inhabitants of this planet.

  • Kevin, I more or less agree. My support for military intervention is always conditioned on likelihood of success which I am not competent to assess. I do think a world government (not necessarily the UN in its current form) can make things better. I think it already has in many areas (e.g., trade, law harmonization, and humanitarian aid).

    Don, you need to turn up your double irony detector or I need to turn down my double irony.

  • In that case restrainedradical perhaps you would care to address Mike’s suggestion that a world government would be a disaster for Catholics?

  • I don’t know how else to address it. Maybe it’s Mike’s turn to respond to my response.

3 Responses to Set Me Free (From Ideologies) Part 1

  • Just a word of caution on the authority of the Compendium. Even the Compendium itself recognizes that some of what is in it does not partake of infallibility:

    “In studying this Compendium, it is good to keep in mind that the citations of Magisterial texts are taken from documents of differing authority. Alongside council documents and encyclicals there are also papal addresses and documents drafted by offices of the Holy See. As one knows, but it seems to bear repeating, the reader should be aware that different levels of teaching authority are involved.”

    Also Catholic Social teaching as you point out, does not fit any particular political position. Fortunately, CST also notes that it does not propose any particular political solutions. That is in fact left to the prudential judgment of the laity (yes it is up to the use of prudence – the practical application of moral norm to a specific problems.) Thus CST also notes that Catholics in good faith can disagree on particular solutions. To say otherwise is in fact to act contrary to Catholic Social Teaching itself.
    Now it seems you are not doing so but you do head near the shoals of Ultramontanism (as some other Catholic blogs do) by thinking that by reading the Compendium you will come up with a specific solutions. You won’t. Specific moral principles to apply – yes. Particular solutions that all are called to adhere to as good Catholics – no.
    I agree that one has to avoid ideologies that reduce the truth to sound bites. But there is a distinction between ideologies and ideas. Long, hard, cold thought out ideas that have internal coherence and which can provide specific political solutions. These ideas which form from the understanding of history, politics etc. have internal validity as expressions of human reason and if solidly based are a valid means of approaching problems of the world today. Even you admit to some with your FDR approach. This is okay.
    Its okay to have internally consistent ideas that propose solutions to political problems as long as one is open to new understanding as the study of history, politics, etc. develop. Even the Church (in one of JPII’s social encyclicals which is lost on me now) admits this much. That some of what is in CST is based on current understanding of history, economics etc. and can develop as these disciplines and as human understanding itself develops (see my first admonition above about differing degrees of authority.)
    So the bottom line is, I don’t have a problems with Conservative/Liberal etc. But let all come forth with solid, reasoned arguments and not the raw emotionalism that Charity in Truty decries. Let the best current understanding of social problems be presented with solid economic, historical etc. understanding. Then let Catholic laypersons with solid ideas (and not ideologies) make solid, prudential decisions.

  • Appreciate the insights Phillip- I suppose my goal is not to replace a brother/sister’s ideology with another one- but to get every serious Catholic who makes a big show of being a out and proud “conservative” or “liberal” and so forth- to think again- not to convert to another ideology, but to just leave off the self-labeling when saying you are Catholic- a Christian disciple- should suffice. I recall cringing at Sen. Brownback after receiving Father Pavone’s personal endorsement for President, going around saying that he was the “true Conservative”. Is that a good public witness for Christ, given that Christ is giving us a social doctrine that doesn’t lend itself easily to ideological adherences? Personally, I don’t see how an honest reading of all the social doctrine materials can lead me to voluntarily accept the imprisonment of any merely political ideology. I have tendencies toward the FDR Democratic party mold, but I recognize the fallibility of such to address all issues for all time- I won’t suggest that it wasn’t surprising that so much of the Catholic Church faithful were inclined to the FDR-Dem party – even in the Hierarchy- given the connections people were seeing between the social teachings and the political visions offered at the time. Of course times change, and appeals to FDR are not what I am much concerned with.

    I believe we are living in a bit of a new Barbarian Age- more subtle than before, very high-tech, but also very deadly to bodies and souls- I see the Barbarian movement in the establishment Left and Right- with abortion killing millions and a serious lack of global solidarity leading to unnecessary military conflicts and unjust economic situations. America is part of the problem and part of the solution- I’m focused on getting my nation to get out of the business of being part of the problem.

    As for the Compendium- I realize that differing levels of teaching authority are in play- but the fact that they are now given new circulation in the Compendium which is a concise rendering of the entire corpus of our social doctrine should be cause for new appreciation for all of it’s contents. At minimum what is in there must be taken deeply into our developing consciences- to say that only the most explicit detail of a particular principle of social teaching is worth reading would be a major error in prudential judgment. I figure if the Magisterium or Church leader puts something down on paper for our consumption, we should attempt to take time to consume it, let it work through our minds and imaginations, so that when we set about proposing specifics on major issues, or vision statements- we will have the benefit of all of the Church’s vast wisdom. I think that too many Catholics abuse the notion of prudential judgment to simply short-circuit the papal words that don’t mix well with their chosen ideological adherences- I’m not making a personal accusation to you Phillip or anyone in particular- but I am suspicious of everyone who clings too closely to something like what Brownback said “I am the true Conservative” I’m very suspicious of true believers in political ideologies.

  • Thanks for your reply. Will respond more fully after Easter. Quick reply is that I appreciate and look forward to your insights also.

Debra Medina Fails To Disavow 9/11 Truthers, Rick Perry Gets My Vote

Thursday, February 11, AD 2010

[Updated]

It has been said that all politics is local.

And so it is.

I have had some issues with whom to vote for in the upcoming Texas gubernatorial elections.  Especially with the Republican primary coming up and Debra Medina gaining fast on current Governor Rick Perry.

Insurgent Republican candidate Debra Medina was a asked a question by Glenn Beck on his radio show if she would deny that there was any government role in 9/11 and she hedged.

Mr. Beck followed up with a direct question and she still hedged.

Continue reading...

103 Responses to Debra Medina Fails To Disavow 9/11 Truthers, Rick Perry Gets My Vote

  • I listened in this morning because I wanted to hear what she had to say. I saw this as a make it or break it moment for her campaign. The interview seemed to start off rocky. In reply to the question, “Who is Debra Medina?”, she briefly talked about herself and then went into critiques of Perry and Hutchison. Glenn was audibly annoyed, by that point.

    On the one hand, I wonder why the 9-11 Truther question was asked; it didn’t seem to pertain to the issues facing Texans today. But, as I sat listening, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She was dancing around the issue! This little dance routine looks like a tacit admission of Trutherism. She never outright rejected the notion. The perception now, despite what she said, is that she’s a Truther. She’s finished. Finished.

  • I didn’t listen to the radio show, only to Medina’s comments on the show.

    Like you the question wasn’t really relevant in certain ways, but the way she answered it was awful.

  • It’s because of Beck’s target crowd.

  • I listened to one of the clips and he said he brought it up because he got a lot of mail accusing her of being a Truther. Based on her answer, there was probably a lot of legitimate concern out there and it turned out to be a fair question. I’m not a Beck fan, but I’m not sure what’s wrong with not having Truthers as a target audience.

  • I thought Truthers were liberal Democrats who despised Bush, the same way Birthers tend to be conservatives who despise Obama.

    If this woman is running as a Republican for governor of one of the reddest of the Red States, by what logic does she figure sympathy for the Truther movement helps her win votes? If she were running for, say, mayor of Berkeley or for Congress from some hard-left-leaning district I could see her logic; but this doesn’t make sense.

  • Texas isn’t very red. The TX House of Reps is 77 Republicans and 73 Democrats — a 4 vote majority. The TX Senate is 19 Republicans to 12 Democrats — a 7 vote majority.

    There’s been much talk in terms of changing demographics in Texas. In about 10 years, this state will arguably be purple, politically speaking.

  • When I was working in politics in Texas we had a term, Texicrat, for Texas Democrats. Think RINO, but in reverse.

  • Tito, I must say I’m sad that you will be voting for Governor 39%. We’d be better off being governed by cardboard for the next four years.

    I am totally opposed to Governor Perry and I am still entertaining the idea of voting for Debra Medina (who I oppose practically down the line on almost every issue) to vote against Governor Perry in the GOP primary (which will count me as a registered Republican until the next election — the horror!). It was a gaffe, sure. I’m more disturbed that Perry was unaware that the Advanced Care Directives Law that has seen the euthanasia of a six month old infant and several others had passed through the Texas Senate when he was the Lt. Governor and President of the Texas Senate.

    You’ll disagree, sure. Vote your conscience. I’m not rather concerned that someone’s gaffe in failing to deny that they believe in a conspiracy theory as more important than defeating Governor 39% who has been more than a horror. I’m not how sure one’s views over something that has no affect over the immediate points of Texas’ public policy absolutely disqualifies someone from your vote unless you think the other candidate is better on public policy. Mandatory vaccinations? An education budget that has been either frozen or cut in the last 16 years? — In the last 5 year in Houston alone, nearly 250 teachers were fired for criminal activity including criminal misconduct, child sexual abuse, and workplace intoxication — and I can’t seem to find one candidate talking about such issues other than lets-be-anti-Washington. Great. How are we going to solve our state’s problems?

    Of course, there’s that ever-annoying dilemma. With any of these candidates, I’m going to find their agenda sickening and their Democratic opponent is almost surely going to be pro-choice. I’m really divided over the question of whether it is legitimate not to vote for conscientious reasons.

  • Medina is a Truther and therefore unfit for any public office as far as I am concerned. It takes a special type of paranoid idiocy to believe that 9-11 was the work of agencies of the government.

  • “Medina is a Truther and therefore unfit for any public office”

    Well, that depends on how you define a Truther. It could mean :

    1) someone who believes the 9-11 attacks were actually plotted or staged by the Bush administration;
    2) one who believes the Bush administration knew the attacks were coming but chose to do nothing to prevent them;
    3) one who believes the Bush administration discounted or misinterpreted evidence that the attacks were imminent, and thereby failed to prevent them;
    4) one who believes the U.S. government has not revealed all that it knows about the origin and nature of the attacks.

    Conclusions #1 and #2, which assume that Bush was willing to let thousands of innocent American citizens die purely to provide himself with a pretext for launching the War or Terror, the PATRIOT Act, and other measures, are examples of “paranoid idiocy.”

    Conclusion #3 simply assumes that Bush and/or his advisers made mistakes, though not necessarily malicious ones. Conclusion #4 presumes that the government might be withholding certain information for security reasons, or to protect certain parties from embarrassment or exposure. While we may not agree with these conclusions (and I don’t), I think they can be held by reasonable people.

    If Medina says simply she doesn’t know the “whole truth” about 9/11, she may mean something similar to Conclusion #3 or #4, not necessarily #1 or #2. However it’s evident she handled the question very badly.

  • I have to wonder, if Sarah Palin handled this question badly — let’s say almost identically — would it change your view of her or your willingness to cast a vote in her favor?

  • I don’t understand the Governor 39% thing. What’s that about?

  • My views regarding Truthers Eric are independent of the person making the statement.

  • Well, since at this time I have no intention of voting for Sarah Palin — it wouldn’t change my view of her.

    I’m just baffled that Medina would attempt to run as a more-conservative-than-thou Republican if she was a genuine, hard-core Truther who really believed Bush was that evil. Is she trying to appeal to the libertarian, Ron Paul types who consider everything the Big Bad Feds do evil?

  • My guess Elaine is that like Ron Paul she is a paranoid conspiracy nut who normally has the good sense to not go full headcase before the sane. Beck caught her in an unguarded moment.

  • Tito,

    With all due respect, this is a really poor reason not to vote for Debra Medina.

    And while I remain highly skeptical of the logistical aspect of the 9/11 conspiracy, it is a documented historical fact that factions in this government (and it is far from the only government in history) have considered false-flag operations in the past.

    Operation Northwoods, for instance, is not a hallucination. It’s not tin-foil hat spectulation, it is real, verified, accepted history that absolutely no one denies.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Northwoods

    And this is only ONE example, ONE historically documented, scholarly approved, mainstream comfortable instance of the US government either considering, or actually perpetrating, harm on its own citizens (lets not forget the Tuskeege Experiments either).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuskegee_syphilis_experiment

    Unless Medina is actually coming out and saying that she believes the US government planned and executed 9/11, I think its incredibly closed-minded to write her off. Voters should look at policies, not implied personal opinions.

    That’s just my two cents, and I’m sure everyone will disagree. It’s cool 🙂

  • I’m also really just disturbed by this notion that an failure to immediately disavow an idea that isn’t popular (although I think this particular idea is more popular than you realize) is automatic grounds for disqualification, as if our minds must instantly shut down.

    Forgive me if I see this as an example of knee-jerk group-think and want nothing to do with it.

  • Perry won his 2006 re-election bid with 39% of the vote, which is humorously exactly where he’s polling right now in the GOP primary.

  • Perry won his 2006 re-election bid with 39% of the vote

    So what? 39% is a pretty respectable figure in a four person race, particularly when two of the other candidates are competing with you for votes on your half of the political spectrum.

  • Eric,

    you said, “I have to wonder, if Sarah Palin handled this question badly — let’s say almost identically — would it change your view of her or your willingness to cast a vote in her favor?”

    I am probably one of the Biggest fans for Sarah, but if she answered this way… I would have disowned her in a heartbeat!

    I’m sorry Joe, but you are wrong… we don’t need loons running the government.

  • This was a clear and definite set up. First of all, to not question what happened on 9/11 and to simply accept the government’s account is blissful and disgusting ignorance. Debra Medina did not say that 9/11 was an inside job or that she believed that government insiders allowed 9/11 to take place. It is a fact that some of the 9/11 commission members said that the investigation was doomed from the start. So what is the public supposed to make of such claims? Medina simply said that she was not satisfied with the official story. She is not alone. Many Americans feel this way and Mrs. Medina should not be expected to disavow a staff member simply because that staff member questions the government’s “official story”. Beck is a Hack and anyone who agrees with his sentiment on this issue will believe just about anything, I suppose. Any talk show host who labels an individual running for governor as a “9/11 truther” is only trying to do one thing and that is to distract the public from focusing on important issues like government taxation and an overreaching federal government. Make no mistake, this was a planned attack by the republican establishment of Texas to bring down Debra Medina. Sarah Palin just endorsed Rick Perry and Glenn Beck has been in Palin’s pocket from day 1. Medina’s following was getting to be just too large to be allowed to go on any further. Anyone who has followed her race closely can see through the blinders the neocons have put up for the public.

  • Debra Medina is like a non-press adored Barack Obama.

  • It is possible I suppose that she answered the question as she did because she assumed that Beck is a Truther. Surprise! Like a lot of Beck’s critics, and I say this as someone who thinks Beck is half a lunatic, she made assumptions about Beck rather than being aware about what his actual views are.

    Beck has long been a severe critic of the Truther movement as the nut cases in the movement themselves realize:

    http://www.infowars.com/beck-says-truth-activists-in-the-white-house-threaten-obamas-life/

    This might be an indication that Medina is not a Truther, but rather just another politician attempting to curry favor with whoever is interviewing her at the moment. That is somewhat pathetic, but it is not paranoid crazy.

  • I’m with Brett on this.

    I like Palin, but if she would say what Medina said, I would immediately drop any interest that I had for her.

    That simple.

    I don’t buy the conspiracy theory one iota.

    And with much respect to Joe, when it happens I’ll believe it.

    There would be a near-revolution if the government were actually implement anything like Northwoods.

    There are still people who believe that FDR allowed Pearl Harbor to be bombed, which I don’t believe one bit.

    🙂

  • Tito,

    The only reason government DIDN’T was because JFK was, in spite of his flaws, a man with a moral compass. This proposal was drafted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It went almost all the way up to the top – but the buck stopped with Kennedy.

    Forgive me if I think it is reasonable to believe that George W. Bush was not of the same caliber. Or Bill Clinton. And certainly not the current clown.

    Bottom line – our government has factions within it that are morally willing and able to plan the mass murder of US citizens to advance a foreign policy agenda. The hard evidence that it carried out 9/11 is somewhat lacking – I personally believe that it was gross negligence and incompetence this time around – but I certainly don’t believe that those who think government is CAPABLE of it on a moral level are insane.

    I think you’re naive if you think people in power are checked by some profound respect for human lives that even the average citizen finds difficult.

  • I love the defenses of Medina: “Don’t listen to what she *said*, listen to what her campaign wrote after the fact!”

    Who are you going to believe, her furiously-spinning flacks or your lying ears?

    Listen, it’s pretty clear that her “Truth”erism is, like it is for all “Truth”ers, a lazy exercise in mental masturbation. Anybody who really, truly believed that the government was complicit in 9/11 would do more than try to argue it’s a “Federal issue” (which ranks as one of the 10 dumbest political statements I have ever heard or read). They would actually be trying to *do* something, and not just sign web petitions, make internet videos harassing Danny Bonaduce (no, really) or try to burn chickenwire. Consistent with her statements and political bent, you’d think that Medina would at least organize a tax protest, for the love of Ron. “Everybody fill out new W-4s!” Legal. Easy. Noticeable. And it would crimp the evil regime, even if just a little bit. But no, she makes a jurisdictional argument, of all things, not to address the issue.

    None of them deserve to be taken seriously because, deep down, none of them seriously believe a word they emit on the subject. To use an analogy appropriate to a Catholic blog, “Truth”ers are a church made up entirely of the lapsed.

  • I’ll continue playing devil’s advocate here, because I think it needs to be done.

    Dale,

    You said,

    “Anybody who really, truly believed that the government was complicit in 9/11 would do more than try to argue it’s a “Federal issue””

    Actually, no, that doesn’t logically follow. Belief and action are not logically connected in that way. You can say that they ought to or they should – but not that they must.

    “They would actually be trying to *do* something”

    Again, no. That’s not an argument.

    This really isn’t about the substance of their claims, but the error in logic you are making here. The actions or lack thereof of 9/11 truth folks have absolutely nothing to with whether or not they ‘actually’ believe it. Belief implies nothing.

    We might say that anyone who really believed in Jesus Christ would devote their entire lives to Him, but then, we’d only have a tiny handful of Christians left. There’s what we ought to become, and what we are.

  • The fact that Operation Northwoods was developed and advocated is not evidence that our government conspired to produce 9/11. 9/11 truthers are nutters of the same ilk as flat-earthers. Joe, you are a good and smart guy, but one really can have a mind so open that all gray matter manages to escape.

    Don’s hypothesis is the most reassuring, even if it does take considerable speculative liberties.

    Finally, I admit that it is technically possible that the truthers are right, just as it is technically possible that the flat earthers are right. But folks who vote and live their lives respectfully mindful of these bizarre technical possiblities are missing the boat big time.

  • Mike,

    “The fact that Operation Northwoods was developed and advocated is not evidence that our government conspired to produce 9/11.”

    I NEVER argued that it was. That is NOT my point.

    I said, very clearly – and against all hope that I would be properly understood – that it simply means that people who suspect that the government is morally capable of such a thing are not crazy. They have a precedent.

    So please understand, two entirely distinct claims. The precedent of Northwoods:

    1) Does show that it is not crazy to believe government is capable of harming its own citizens (and we have JFK alone to thank for putting a stop to what the CIA and Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted to do)

    2) Does NOT prove a single thing about 9/11, obviously.

    So while I question 9/11 truthers on the logistics of the whole conspiracy, I DO NOT question their sanity for believing that the government could contemplate such a horrific act. And Northwoods is only ONE example.

  • Joe:

    Well, no right back! 🙂

    The lack of action–deeds–suggests quite a bit about the putative believer. It is a strong indicator that the belief in question is a matter of mere minor habit, or a dilettantish (word coining time!) dabbling done because it’s what a subgroup expects.

    Let’s try it this way. Consider the following hypothetical (none of which is true, amusingly enough): I say I’m a fervent Democrat and I believe the Republicans need to be stopped at all costs because their policies are uniformly destructive and threaten our nation.

    Subsequently, you find out that (1) I’ve never donated to a Democratic candidate, (2) never had a yard sign for a Dem on my property, (3) I’ve never done volunteer work for Democrats and (4) it turns out that I vote about 20% of the time.

    On the other hand, I’ve renewed my Detroit Lions season tickets at the first opportunity for the past 22 years, price increases or no, and despite the fact I know the feckless owner of the Lions bankrolls GOP candidates and causes.

    Thus, while you would not be in a position to call me a liar with respect to my claim to be a dogged Democrat, you could draw some conclusions about the nature of my claim and its importance in my life.

  • against all hope that I would be properly understood

    LOL 😀

  • We need to remember what this was all about:

    “Operation Northwoods, which had the written approval of the Chairman and every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for innocent people to be shot on American streets; for boats carrying refugees fleeing Cuba to be sunk on the high seas; for a wave of violent terrorism to be launched in Washington, D.C., Miami, and elsewhere. People would be framed for bombings they did not commit; planes would be hijacked. Using phony evidence, all of it would be blamed on Castro, thus giving Lemnitzer and his cabal the excuse, as well as the public and international backing, they needed to launch their war.” — Body of Secrets, James Bamford, 2001

  • Dale,

    Yes, one could do all of those things – but one would have to make an awful lot of unwarranted assumptions to do so. All could be explained in ways other than laziness.

    1 – you have no money
    2 – you don’t have a yard
    3 – you’re too busy
    4 – you’re threatened with job loss if you leave work to vote

    Or, alternatively, one could do one or more of these things but just isn’t comfortable for whatever psychological reason.

    All of these things happen to people on a regular basis. The bottom line is that you can’t make judgments about a person’s sincerity without knowing something more about their circumstances.

    As for Medina, she’s running for office. Presumably she’s spending her own money toward that end. Perhaps she thinks that will be more effective than convincing a handful of people not to pay their taxes this year. Again, I think you’re making unwarranted assumptions about her. She might – might – embrace an unpopular position so its easy to just pile on the assumptions; she’s so unpopular, who will care?

  • I don’t think Operation Northwoods shows the government was capable of orchestrating 9/11. It’s one thing to talk about doing something like this, quite another to actually carry it out. Further, the scale of what was proposed was not comparable to what happened on 9/11. The proposals generally involved either fake incidents or attacks on a small number of non-citizens. That’s shocking enough, but it’s nowhere close to plotting to kill tens of thousands of Americans.

  • Eric, et al,

    I to have the very same concerns about Perry. I was quietly seeing and maybe even hoping that Medina would creep up the polls as she had recently overtaken Hutchison for number 2.

    Believe me, I’m going to hold my nose when I cast a vote for Perry.

    Like McCain, I’m not that enthusiastic as it is.

    Unlike McCain, I have seen Perry work closely with the pro-life movement in the legislature and he has been “our man” in Austin getting things done, or at least going to bat for us and our legislative bills.

    He’s learned his lesson, believe me, I’ve inquired.

    Perry has got my vote after Medina’s unfortunate comments.

  • Words just don’t matter any more, do they?

    I might as well type asjdkhbsjkfhbjskgbfjkdgbjk the next time I want to make a point. It would be just as effective.

    “I don’t think Operation Northwoods shows the government was capable of orchestrating 9/11.”

    It shows that government is morally capable of it – that is what I said. The logistics are a different story. I made that distinction several times. I should have typed djbfdsjkgbskjgdb instead.

    “It’s one thing to talk about doing something like this, quite another to actually carry it out.”

    Is it another thing when the Joint Chiefs of Staff propose it? The only reason it wasn’t carried out Kennedy’s personal opposition.

    The talk only does one thing – it obliterates the ceaseless and stupid claim that anyone who believes government could or would kill its own citizens is “crazy.” That’s the only claim I am making.

    Or, AJgjisfgbjfgbjshfgbsf.

    “Further, the scale of what was proposed was not comparable to what happened on 9/11.”

    The scale isn’t relevant. What was proposed was bad enough. And no one said anything about “tens of thousands” – only 3000 or so died on 9/11. A terrorist campaign “in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington” – could have ended up killing or wounding just as many. Not to mention all of the innocent people who would have died fighting the phony war.

    Or, ritoyritoyuitory.

  • Joe H.,

    Ewrtjvjrum gweercfviop weporijwoiu qwefijkfj qjkfaslkuj kljlkj eiruqtcb adfga? qpwoeiru alf, aslfkj to what asfkl.

    Eric,

    zvxbvbm tyru f asjg, afas ja asw.

    Dale,

    The city of Detroit reminds me of Kabul, just as pretty but not so much.

    BA,

    As mfnf, asdfklj “paokj” dhakh sdfho.

  • I mean, have you listened to the emotional-hysterical reasons why people won’t even CONSIDER the possibility? It’s just that they can’t bear to think for one second that American soldiers are being sent to fight and die for a lie. Well, that’s not an argument. It’s an emotional response.

    If someone wants to completely and totally reject 9/11 conspiracies on the facts, I respect that. In fact, that’s what I do myself.

    But to reject it on the assumption that government would never do or contemplate doing such a thing, or on the grounds that we MUST NOT THINK lest we denigrate the service of the men and women overseas are just forms of self-imposed idiocy. To then turn on people who share a different interpretation of the facts, given what government is historically capable of, and call them cooks, crazies, even traitors who ought to be shot, is just crazed mob mentality. It isn’t sane, it isn’t rational.

  • “I don’t think Operation Northwoods shows the government was capable of orchestrating 9/11.”

    It shows that government is morally capable of it – that is what I said. The logistics are a different story. I made that distinction several times.

    My comments were directed towards morals, not logistics.

    The scale isn’t relevant. What was proposed was bad enough. And no one said anything about “tens of thousands” – only 3000 or so died on 9/11.

    The expected death toll was in the tens of thousands. The only reason it wasn’t actually that high was that people ignored official statements that it was safe to stay in the Towers. Anyone who thinks the government was behind 9/11 has to think they were planning on killing far more people than actually ended up dead.

    A terrorist campaign “in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington” – could have ended up killing or wounding just as many.

    Allow me to quote from the Wiki page on Operation Northwoods that you linked to earlier:

    The terror campaign could be pointed at refugees seeking haven in the United States. We could sink a boatload of Cubans en route to Florida (real or simulated). We could foster attempts on lives of Cuban refugees in the United States even to the extent of wounding in instances to be widely publicized.

    I don’t think attacks on Cuban refugees in the states “even to the extent of wounding” were likely to kill thousands of American citizens. Again, even trying to wound a non-citizen is really bad (and sinking a boat load of refugees would be horrendous), but it’s not on the same level as deliberately killing thousands if not tens of thousands of your own citizens.

  • Joe:

    You are a game interlocutor, I concede that! 🙂

    But…I don’t know that my carefully-stacked deck allows you to play all of the cards you want to play–e.g., the self-declared diehard Dem has plenty of money to spend on Lions–Lions!–tickets. Granted, that may also be a symptom of a delusional personality in and of itself, but I’ll put that aside for now.

    More to the point, my hypothetical shows the belief holder to be knowingly acting against the holder’s alleged firm belief by actually funding that which he asserts is anathema.

    Which is what the “Truth”ers are doing by living out the status quo under the most illegitimate regime in American history.

    It seems that you have met a better grade of “Truth”er than I have. I envy you. In *every* case where I have stumbled across one, it is either a case of lazy paranoia alloyed with dogged ignorance, or worse (and thankfully rare) is closely-associated with hatred of Jews.

    I have no problem with a distrust of government–even where it is reflexive, so long as there are limits. I think it’s wired into our national character and usually serves us well. But when it lapses into a habit of paranoia, it becomes corrosive. The “Truth”er mentality is deeply corrosive, and is of a piece with other anti-reason/hyper-individualist memes floating about in American life right now, which is why I react so badly to it.

  • “My comments were directed towards morals, not logistics.”

    That wasn’t clear. It is now. And I completely disagree.

    “Anyone who thinks the government was behind 9/11 has to think they were planning on killing far more people than actually ended up dead.”

    If the ends justify the means, then the difference of thousands isn’t really a difference at all.

    And again, you leave out all of the people who would have died in the phony war, a war against a country under the direct protection of a nuclear superpower. I’m sure the Soviets would have sat on their thumbs while all of this unfolded.

  • If the ends justify the means, then the difference of thousands isn’t really a difference at all.

    If numbers don’t matter, why did the report suggest that people would only be wounded in the attacks rather than killed, or that the various attacks would or could be faked rather than real. Why the focus on non-citizens? I don’t think it is realistic to human psychology to say these things don’t matter.

    And again, you leave out all of the people who would have died in the phony war

    Soldiers dying at the hands of the enemy in a war you started (for what you believe to be justified reasons) is not the same as you killing your own citizens.

  • Dale,

    “The “Truth”er mentality is deeply corrosive, and is of a piece with other anti-reason/hyper-individualist memes floating about in American life right now, which is why I react so badly to it”

    I’m not concerned with various “mentalities”, to be honest with you Dale. All that matters to me are facts and logic, both of which are independent from one or another kind of “mentality.” A crumpled up napkin in the gutter that has the expression “2+2=4” on it is telling me a truth regardless of its grimy and smelly presentation.

    On many of the facts, I think 9/11 truthers come up short. But the premise that government would carry out such an operation is not delusional, since there are plenty of historical precedents for it here and in every other country.

    The precedent, obviously, proves nothing. It does something else. It makes it reasonable to question and investigate the official narrative of 9/11. It provides a good reason to search for proof. It makes the people (or some of them at any rate) who do search for it “not crazy”, not traitors, but reasonable people with a legitimate concern.

    Now, let me address this:

    “More to the point, my hypothetical shows the belief holder to be knowingly acting against the holder’s alleged firm belief by actually funding that which he asserts is anathema.”

    By this logic, though, no one who pays taxes in this country really believes in anything. Both left and right disagree with where a lot of the tax money goes – to what the left believes are unjustified wars, to what the right believes are unjustified welfare programs, to what Christians believe are immoral, sacrilegious purposes, and so on and so forth. People pay taxes because they don’t want to risk jail, not because they don’t care.

    That’s just being pragmatic. There is a time and place for self-sacrifice in the name of a cause, and my guess is that most people do not feel that this is the time. Or, they are cowards.

  • “If numbers don’t matter, why did the report suggest that people would only be wounded in the attacks rather than killed”

    Different people and different governments have different approaches to these matters. The Project for a New American Century reports stated quite clearly that the entire foreign policy agenda they wanted to see implemented would require a “Pearl Harbor” type of event.

    A larger scale war may require a larger scale incident. It could be that simple.

    Of course, their saying it, and their being guilty for arranging it, are indeed two different things. It isn’t a distortion of the truth at all, however, to say that this think tank, whose members went on to occupy key positions in the Bush administration, greatly benefited from the 9/11 attacks. It’s the plain, unvarnished, indisputable, documented truth.

    “I don’t think it is realistic to human psychology to say these things don’t matter.”

    Then I believe you are being naive about man’s capacity to do evil.

    What you’re really saying here, in making these distinctions between citizens and non-citizens, terrorist attacks and wars, is that the same people who are willing to go to war on the basis of outright fabrications, drop bombs on civilians, and cause thousands of deaths – in the name of a cause they believe is justified – would be completely unwilling because of some magic barrier in their minds to do anything remotely similar to their own citizens.

    Forgive me if I don’t think that particular approach to human psychology is realistic. Operation Northwoods, is, as I said, only one example of the government’s willingness to commit crimes against its own people (or lets say, innocent people).

    There were Operations Ajax and Gladio, in which innocent civilians – albeit non-Americans again – were murdered by the CIA in collaboration with other intelligence agencies in foreign countries. There is MK Ultra, there is the Tuskegee Experiment, which WERE done on American citizens. There is the reckless use of depleted uranium which has caused untold misery to a number of US combat veterans, these are only a few.

    Personally, I don’t think the numbers mattered at all. IF the government did 9/11 – IF – then it was clearly aimed at simply bringing down the Twin Towers as a symbolic landmark, whether there was 1 person or 10,000 inside.

    “Soldiers dying at the hands of the enemy in a war you started (for what you believe to be justified reasons) is not the same as you killing your own citizens.”

    If you send soldiers off to die for a lie, and especially back then when the draft was being used, then I don’t think there is a relevant difference. How many people do you think would volunteer to fight and die for what was an obvious, open lie, or a reason so immoral and stupid that it would have to be covered up by a lie?

  • Plus, the wiki entry doesn’t have everything.

    “The Joint Chiefs even proposed using the potential death of astronaut John Glenn during the first attempt to put an American into orbit as a false pretext for war with Cuba, the documents show.

    Should the rocket explode and kill Glenn, they wrote, “the objective is to provide irrevocable proof … that the fault lies with the Communists et all Cuba [sic].”

    http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=92662&page=2

    Can we trust the crackpots at ABC news?

    We have a clear pattern of deception and reckless disregard for the sanctity of human life.

    Given that, the only thing I say follows is that we take claims seriously. It’s a lesson as simple as the one we learn from “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”

  • “I’m not concerned with various “mentalities”, to be honest with you Dale.”

    You should be. The way people think–or, in this case, won’t–is exceptionally important, especially in the context of a society that aspires to be self-governing. To the extent lazy paranoid un-thought becomes widespread, all of us will suffer. The hardening of destructive intellectual patterns and the championing thereof by the strident is always a precursor to civil conflict. It was in America from the 1840s to Sumter and it was the same with the run up to the Spanish conflagration in 1936. I’m not saying we’re anywhere near such a horror here, but the initial signs are worrisome.

    More to the point, your tax analogy dodges the monstrous nature of what “Truth”erism says about our current republic–namely, that it is dead.

    Not reformable, not fixable at the ballot box, not subject to redress in the courts, but *dead.* It posits that an illegitimate regime has enthroned itself on the corpse of the American republic, having committed the mass murder of American citizens before our eyes for various sordid and squalid ends. That the murderous puppetmasters who perpetrated this atrocity are so slippery and clever that they cannot be rooted out despite the “obvious” “evidence.” With the war in Iraq or on abortion, the various political factions at least have the honest hope that the ballot box might move policy in their favor, however incrementally. Not so the “Truth”er.

    Whether honestly held or as is currently practiced, “Truth”erism is the political equivalent of the sin of despair. It is another toxin in the body politic. I pray to God that it remains in the inert form we see in adherents like Medina.

  • As a former resident of Texas I feel it is a shame that Medina fumbled the question and that so many are so sensitive to the ‘truther’ question they would actually fall into the arms of Rick Perry.

    Rick Perry has had more than enough time as governor of Texas. He should be retired from public service and forced to work the private sector.

    Medina has handled herself extremely well in the debate footage I have seen, and technically her answer was not wrong, just horribly answered. I would be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt that she was shaken by the question which— lets be honest, has nothing to do with Texas politics. And shame on Glenn Beck for an atrocious interview. He just lost a viewer.

    Clearly Medina falls into the category of ‘truthers’ that do not necessarily accuse the government of being ‘behind’ the 9/11 attacks, but nevertheless suspects that all that can be revealed about that day has not seen sunlight. While I personally do not think the U.S. government had anything to do with the attacks I think it is fairly naive to portray the U.S. government as being completely in the dark regarding a rising and ongoing threat. Also it is naive to not believe that some in our political class privately wait for just such disasters in order to advance their own ideological agenda. ‘Never let a crisis go to waste’ indeed.

    One question I would have for those (among the Right) who immediately are now going to vote for frat-boy extraordinaire Rick Perry: if it is so easy to imagine a ‘conspiracy’ amongst bankers and politicians to extract money from the taxpayer through the bailouts, why is it impossible to imagine a ‘conspiracy’ among political elites to further entrench their foreign policy agenda?

    The 9/11 highjackers ‘conspired’ to murder thousands of American citizens. Enron executives ‘conspired’ to coverup their pattern of fraud and theft. The CIA conspires EVERYDAY to destabilize governments not to their liking. Environmentalists conspired to gain economic and political control in order to mold society as they see fit. A few thousand years ago, political and religious authorities ‘conspired’ to murder Jesus Christ.

    Again, do I believe the U.S. government, in twirling-mustache fashion engineered the fall of the WTC and Pentagon? No. Mostly, because they’ve proven themselves to be so grossly incompetent in all lesser ambitions. BUT if you think for one second that the most powerful and influential people in the United States do not have interests contrary to the safety and well being of the ‘common good’, and that they work (ie, CONSPIRE) in the advance of that agenda: you’re living in la-la land.

    People don’t suddenly become angels and saints when they work in higher office. When I entered the professional world at an ad agency, one of the biggest surprises was the open pettiness, back-stabbing, egomania and over-the-top theatrics of ADULTS. It wasn’t until several years after being on projects ranging from film productions to simple busy work that I realized it wasn’t much different in the upper-levels of society: just the stakes were much higher.

    I fully admit I’m not cutout for such an office. I would not want to be a part of a culture where my all too common weakness can result in lives being ruined or snuffed out.

    Bully for Medina for giving an honest, if not well-articulated answer, despite the known backlash that would come. Thats more than can be said for either Rick Perry or Sarah Palin.

  • The Project for a New American Century reports stated quite clearly that the entire foreign policy agenda they wanted to see implemented would require a “Pearl Harbor” type of event.

    I assume you are referring to the PNAC report Rebuilding America’s Defenses, which includes the following quote:

    Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.

    If you read the section of the report in which this quote appears for context, you’ll find that the “transformation” and “revolutionary change” referred to in the quote consists of things like adopting information technologies, reforming the military procurement process, and generally streamlining the military to make it smaller and more effective. So, in context, the quote 1) doesn’t say that a new Pearl Harbor is desirable; and 2) is talking about an area of military policy that a) doesn’t have anything to do with Iraq, and b) hasn’t actually happened yet. To say that this quote somehow gives any credence to 9/11 conspiracy theories is, in my opinion, pretty thing gruel.

    It isn’t a distortion of the truth at all, however, to say that this think tank, whose members went on to occupy key positions in the Bush administration, greatly benefited from the 9/11 attacks.

    It’s true that some people associated with PNAC held positions in the Bush administration. On the other hand, some of the people associated with PNAC who held positions in the Bush administration were against the Iraq War. So perhaps they needed to be a bit more discerning about who they let into their cabal.

    Personally, I don’t think the numbers mattered at all. IF the government did 9/11 – IF – then it was clearly aimed at simply bringing down the Twin Towers as a symbolic landmark, whether there was 1 person or 10,000 inside.

    The question isn’t whether you consider the cases to be morally different. The question is whether the fact someone is willing to attack, wound, or possibly even kill a small number of non-citizens means they would have no compunction about killing large numbers of their own citizens. I don’t find that remotely plausible.

    How many people do you think would volunteer to fight and die for what was an obvious, open lie, or a reason so immoral and stupid that it would have to be covered up by a lie?

    The assumption here is that if you have to lie to get people to support a war, then the reasons for going to war must not be compelling. I don’t think the folks who proposed Operation Northwoods saw things that way. They appear to have believed that a Communist Cuba was a severe threat to American national security, and that popular reluctance to take action wasn’t justified.

  • Dale,

    “Not reformable, not fixable at the ballot box, not subject to redress in the courts, but *dead.* It posits that an illegitimate regime has enthroned itself on the corpse of the American republic, having committed the mass murder of American citizens before our eyes for various sordid and squalid ends. ”

    If that’s what’s true, it’s what’s true. In my view it is never intellectually sound to reject a theory because of its implications – yet that is what most people seem to be willing to do. There are perhaps other good reasons to reject the 9/11 conspiracy, but the implications for the American republic is absolutely not one of them. One can believe that this country is finished without believing that 9/11 was an inside job. Personally I think we are hovering on the edge. And I don’t see how that is despair – that is just history.

    Countries, empires, they come and go, they rise and fall. You speak of the sin of despair – there is also the sin of presumption, in this case, that America is a divine institution that cannot fail, like the Church. I’m not saying YOU believe that, but it could follow from what you’ve said.

  • Plus, the wiki entry doesn’t have everything.

    “The Joint Chiefs even proposed using the potential death of astronaut John Glenn during the first attempt to put an American into orbit as a false pretext for war with Cuba, the documents show.

    Should the rocket explode and kill Glenn, they wrote, “the objective is to provide irrevocable proof … that the fault lies with the Communists et all Cuba [sic].”

    Actually, this is mentioned in the Wikipedia article, and the proposal wasn’t to kill John Glenn, but to blame the Cubans for it if he died.

  • For the record, the Project for a New American Century was not a ‘think tank’, but an advocacy group. I believe it employed four people.

  • I had a response typed up, but the internet connection here is so terrible that it failed to load it… and I don’t feel like doing it again.

    Needless to say, I disagree, BA. Briefly, by paragraph.

    1. PNAC also advocated regime change against Iraq, and the Afghan war was planned in advance of 9/11.

    2. Association is not membership.

    3. The thousands if not millions of people who die on both sides of a war also count – anyone willing to go to war under false pretenses at the potential cost of that many lives is certainly capable of carrying out acts of terrorism against citizens.

    4. Obviously, the reasons were not compelling to the American people, or to Congress, that democratically elected and accountable body that alone is supposed to have the authority to declare war.

    Instigating terrorist attacks to spread a level of fear and panic that will lead to a war that will cost thousands of lives is a criminal conspiracy, an act of evil on the scale of 9/11.

    That’s all I’ll say on it.

  • 1. PNAC also advocated regime change against Iraq, and the Afghan war was planned in advance of 9/11.

    Lots of people advocated regime chance in Iraq. What does that have to do with 9/11?

    You cited a PNAC quote about the need for a new Pearl Harbor. As I showed, the PNAC quote doesn’t actually say what you claimed. Do you not care about that?

    I don’t know what you mean when you say the Afghan war was planned in advance of 9/11. Nor do I see what that has to do with PNAC.

    2. Association is not membership.

    I don’t think PNAC even has members. If you’re going by employees of the organization, then it’s not true that they went on to hold high positions in the Bush administration. If you want to include people who were signatories on PNAC statements, then you’ll get people who opposed the Iraq war, as well as those who supported it.

    3. The thousands if not millions of people who die on both sides of a war also count – anyone willing to go to war under false pretenses at the potential cost of that many lives is certainly capable of carrying out acts of terrorism against citizens.

    I don’t say they don’t count. They do, however, count differently, at least to most people (if you don’t think it made a difference to the creators of Operation Northwoods, then why were their proposals so focused on non-citizens and/or plans involving minimal casualties?)

    4. Obviously, the reasons were not compelling to the American people, or to Congress, that democratically elected and accountable body that alone is supposed to have the authority to declare war.

    Sure.

  • Joe,
    You can *perhaps* make a plausible case for the federal government being willing to have the appetite for a horrible false flag operation on this scale (personally I think that is a real stretch when considered in context), but the case for the proposition that it could and did pull it off is simply not plausible. The very idea that thousands of co-conspiritors have successfully remained silent is just plain laughable, and that is why we are all laughing at the 9/11 truthers. The fact that you don’t think it is laughable is frankly kind of disturbing. The willingness to be a contrarian can sometimes be an emblem of courage and intelligence, but only sometimes.

  • BA,

    “Do you not care about that?”

    I do. Obviously that quote has been misused, so I care about that. But there’s still the fact that its foreign policy prognosis required a 9/11 to go into effect. That doesn’t prove anything, as I said.

    The only reason I brought it up was to answer one of your questions – why the Northwoods proposals weren’t as drastic as a 9/11. I said a bigger war, a longer war, a more expensive war on multiple fronts, would probably require a bigger justification. Just such a war was being dreamed up before 9/11. Again, it proves nothing.

    On Afghanistan:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1550366.stm

    “why were their proposals so focused on non-citizens and/or plans involving minimal casualties?”

    See above. The scale of deception and the loss of life that would have resulted make it just as bad. We can only speculate on the reasons why the plan wasn’t more drastic – but when you fit it in with a PATTERN of willingness on the part of the CIA, factions of the military, and others to murder civilians to advance political goals, It ISN’T crazy. The other two operations I mentioned, Gladio and Ajax, involved exactly that. There was also Operation Condor in Latin America which the CIA had a hand in as well.

    People can justify these covert opts and the assassination of innocent civilians however they like. Frankly I would rather debate whether or not such things are justified rather than whether or not they happened, or could happen again.

    I’ll also remind you that I DON’T think the US government pulled off 9/11 – only that I believe that FACTIONS within it are CAPABLE of that level of evil, and that isn’t crazy to say so. That’s all. That’s the argument – that the supposed benevolence of the government, or some supposed barrier in their minds that says “murdering innocent civilians all over the globe is fine, but never ever domestically” is not the reason they wouldn’t do it. And that’s the reason I most frequently hear for dismissing 9/11 truth claims out of hand, without even looking at the evidence.

    If that doesn’t apply to you, then we have no quarrel. If you reject it for other reasons, then we probably agree.

  • Mike,

    “The very idea that thousands of co-conspiritors have successfully remained silent is just plain laughable”

    I don’t think you need “thousands of co-conspirators” – no one argues that. If their premise is that you need thousands of people to orchestrate this, then obviously that is laughable, but I don’t think they accept that premise and there’s no logical reason for them to.

    “The fact that you don’t think it is laughable is frankly kind of disturbing.”

    Again, I do – but I don’t think they would accept being boxed into that corner. So I’m not going to laugh at people for a position they don’t hold.

  • Joe,

    I was going to write out a response, but frankly the disagreement between us is minor enough that it’s probably not worth arguing over. I apologize if I came across as rude or overly hostile/nitpicky.

  • It’s all good. I get too defensive at times myself, so I apologize if I overreacted.

  • I’ll add one more thing for general consumption.

    It wasn’t that long ago that anyone who questioned anthropogenic global warming was considered a kook and a nut. Defenders would ask, “what, are you saying the whole scientific establishment is lying?”

    It turns out that the willful collaboration of thousands of people in a big lie wasn’t really necessary – it took one research team and its accomplices in the UN to trickle down false information to scientists all over the world. Before climategate, glaicergate, amazongate, et. al., the IPCC was consider “the gold standard.” Now it is about as valuable as dirt.

    Climategate and the surrounding “gates” are evidence of a conspiracy among a handful of people in positions of authority to distort and falsify information. They got millions of people to believe them unquestioningly, and thousands of scientists to use their data as a basis for their own research.

    For those who still don’t understand the extent to which the IPCC’s theory has imploded,

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/the-great-global-warming-collapse/article1458206/

    Again, none of this makes a case for 9/11. I reiterate that I don’t think Bush administration planned and executed 9/11. But it shows that conspiracies can begin with a few people “in the know” and spread down through compartmentalization – no one beneath those who know has all or most of the information, only enough to fulfill their part.

  • Hey Joe,

    in one of your beginning responses you said…”The only reason government DIDN’T was because JFK was, in spite of his flaws, a man with a moral compass.”

    I will disagree with you and so does President Diem, he had him murdered.

  • Oh sheesh Bret, I’ve heard plenty of JFK conspiracy theories but that’s the first I heard that President Diem of South Vietnam did it. Actually, if he really did do it (and that’s a big if), more than likely it was his sister-in-law Madame Nhu’s idea. As I posted some weeks ago, Madame Nhu seems to have been the closest thing to a bona fide female dictator in modern history.

    Between “Castro did it,” “the Mob did it,” “the CIA/FBI did it,” “LBJ did it,” and “Woody Harrelson’s father did it,” and now “the South Vietnamese did it,” have we missed anybody?

  • Pingback: The Adventures of Debra “Kadabra” Medina « docweaselblog
  • Elaine,

    “W” and Dick Cheney.

  • Elaine,
    I’m afraid that Bret’s imprecise use of pronouns confused you. I’m sure he was referring to JFK’s alleged involvement in Diem’s murder. The allegation that JFK had Diem murdered is also a bit imprecise. Most historians agree that (i) the US was indeed increasingly uncomfortable with Diem due largely to his contemptable oppression of Viet Nam’s Bhuddist community, (ii) Viet Nam’s military decided that Diem needed to go and plotted a coup, (ii) these military leaders sought and received assurances that the US would not intervene in the event of such a coup, and (iv) the military offered Diem safety if he surrendered, Diem declined and was killed later after being captured.

  • The reason to Vote for Medina is to get the entrenched political classes out of power. Perry is a corporate Republican as far as I have heard. I think the solution is to vote out every incumbant except proven – as in initiators of legislation and spenders of political capital such as Chris Smith of NJ pro-lifers. Perry is part of the problem with his mandatory guardicil vaccinations.

  • Elaine,

    Sorry for my imprecise use of pronouns. Diem was dead before Kennedy was assassinated.

    Mike what you said is true; however, to overthrow one of the Biggest Anticommunist during the middle of the Vietnam war because the press thought that the Buddhist community was being suppressed (which it wasn’t) was lunacy.

    He was a solid Catholic who knew the evils of communism.

    In reality, it was Roger Hilsman, Averell Harriman’s plan with Henry Cabot Lodge doing the ground work. Secretary of State George Ball approved the overthrow and Kennedy agreed (but to Kennedy’s defense he thought it had been cleared with Sec. of Def. McNamara and General Maxwell Taylor which it had not).

    He did not surrender to the Americans because he did not trust Lodge (with good reason). But he did surrender after he went to Holy Mass. He and his brother was gunned down afterwards.

  • Oh by the way Elaine, you have Madame Nhu all wrong. That is another female who was assassinated by the press.

  • How to destroy a 9/11 truther:

  • BREAKING: Sarah Palin 9/11 truther controversy makes hypocrite of Glenn Beck

    http://www.infowars.com/sarah-palin-911-truther-controversy-makes-hypocrite-of-glenn-beck/

  • If you can find a mainstream news organization reporting this it would be appreciated.

  • Glenn Beck is a truther himself. To all of you closed minded hate filled war mongers……

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBn-VIW7ivE&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

  • Not a hypocrite,

    I’ve wasted 7 minutes and 31 seconds of my life viewing and searching the video you posted of Glenn Beck accusing the U.S. government and “W” of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks.

    He never said anything remotely close to your claim.

    He did say we have a right to question our government and then quickly pointed out he doesn’t when it comes to 9/11.

    He made a reference to Sandy Berger and questioning if both Slick Willy and “W” were in cahoots in regard to him, but not to 9/11.

    You failed.

    Again.

    To prove that Glenn Beck is a truther.

    I will delete anymore posts that you put up if it includes calumny again.

  • Countries, empires, they come and go, they rise and fall. You speak of the sin of despair – there is also the sin of presumption, in this case, that America is a divine institution that cannot fail, like the Church. I’m not saying YOU believe that, but it could follow from what you’ve said.

    It’s late, but I don’t want to leave a misimpression. No, I don’t believe the U.S. is a divine institution, nor particularly one guided by providence.

    But I won’t back off the analogy of “truth”erism to despair: to the extent the phenomenon breeds a genuine cynicism and paranoia, it is a mental/quasi-spiritual cancer on the republic. I agree that America is in considerable trouble at the moment, but for the sake of my children (the first among many reasons) I don’t want to see it die on my watch. A determined, hard-working, clear-eyed and clear-thinking citizenry is a must at this hour. “Truth”ers present none of those virtues, and in fact prevent the cultivation of the same. Ditto the paranoia of birtherism, albeit on a much smaller scale.

    Put another way: the death of America would be a calamity that would make the fall of Western Rome in the fifth century look like a recession. Imagine Constantinople, Athens and Alexandria being obliterated at the same time, and you have a measure of what would happen.

  • Not a hypocrite:

    1. Tito is right. I’m no fan of Beck, but he is not a “truther.” You are mistaken or worse.

    2. There is only one way to avoid being a hypocrite: Conform you conscience to your actions. For those of us who struggle unsuccessfully to conform our actions to our conscience, we live with the knowledge of imperfections and therefore our hypocricy every day.

    3. Given your statement re Beck, I must assume defamation is not a sin in your book — you not being a hyprocrite and all.

  • Beck might not be a truther, but I think the rather rudely and aggressively stated point was this:

    Beck said the same thing Medina said.
    Medina said we have a right to question.
    Medina was called a “truther”.
    Ergo, Beck is a truther.

    All you have to do is disavow premise 3 for this thing to go away. Debra Medina is not a “truther”, and I hope she wins in TX.

    For Dale,

    “A determined, hard-working, clear-eyed and clear-thinking citizenry is a must at this hour. “Truth”ers present none of those virtues”

    That simply isn’t true, Dale, especially among the educated engineers and political activists in their ranks. Disagreeing with them is one thing; degrading their character is another.

    “the death of America would be a calamity that would make the fall of Western Rome in the fifth century look like a recession.”

    I think you overstate the problem a bit.

  • Joe,
    I don’t know whether Medina is a truther, but her handling of Beck’s question leads one to believe that she falls into one of the following categories:

    1. She is a truther.

    2. She is not a truther but is willing to pander to them.

    3. She is not sure and has no developed opinion either way.

    4. She thinks truthers are wrong but also thinks their opinion is a reasonable one.

    I realize that you are comfortable that a person can hold 3 or 4 and still be fit for office. I’m not.

  • Fair enough, Mike, but do you think that Beck and Palin, who have made similar statements, fall into the same category?

  • “educated engineers and political activists in their ranks”

    They’re the worst of the bunch, and are causing the most damage. A degree is no indicator of character, much less clear thinking. Likewise a career in political activism.

    “I think you overstate the problem a bit.”

    The mightiest nation in history, the lynchpin of the western political system, the strongest economic power ever to exist, going down in flames? Actually, I understate the potential horror. Western Rome didn’t have nukes, for starters. Nor did Rome provide massive amounts of aid to nations struggling with disease and poverty. The cascade effects are incalculable, and would take a great deal of work to overstate. Great empires–and, yes, America is in many ways an empire–do not die peacefully in their beds, unless there happens to be a reasonably like-minded heir to hand off the scepter to. That’s happened once in history–Great Britain passing the baton to America.

    Now, there’s no one to pass the baton to.

  • Joe,
    Yes, if they did in fact make similar statements. That said, I think it is disingenuous to say that Beck and Medina are comparable because both said that people have the *right* to question the government (something no American would disagree with), when Beck then explictly emphasizes his disagreement with truthers to the point of ridicule whereas Medina carefully and obviously deliberately chooses to not do so. And I’m not aware of Palin behaving similary to Medina. If I’m wrong on the facts, I’m all ears.

  • And Joe, I do not think Beck is fit for public office, but for other reasons. Palin is clearly fit for public office, though quite possibly an ill-fit for the presidency, at least at this point in time.

  • Mike,

    Palin, according to the video I saw on youtube, was willing to say publicly that she supported another 9/11 investigation. Though I think her intent was simply to tell the people who asked her what they wanted to hear, Medina supporters might understandably, if illogically, want to play the same game with Palin and say that supporting another 9/11 investigation is tantamount to not believing the official story, which could therefore mean that she gives credence to truther claims.

    Medina, moreover, HAS expressed her disagreement with truthers, unless we are of the mind that she did too little, too late after having been put on the spot. Her statement to the press afterward is good enough for me, and I think it would be more important to get back to the issues. To me its absurd to hold this against a person if you think they’re right on the issues.

    It would be one thing if she persisted and started campaigning on a truther platform, but she hasn’t done that. One moment of hesitation shouldn’t undo a campaign, and the fact that it can is precisely what is wrong with this country. It’s like the Dean scream. It’s media sensationalism and I reject Beck, Fox News, and Rick Perry’s attempt to manipulate the electorate with this irrelevant distraction.

  • Thanks, Joe. I admit that I have not followed this very closely, and it may be that Medina’s later statement is more than adequate — I don’t recall reading it. But I would emphasize that if the statement is basically akin to my option 4 above, it would not be adquate in my view. And it would not be comparable to Beck.

    As for Palin, it depends on context. If all she honestly meant was that thge 9/11 report was deficient and glossed over failures and errors that the public had the right to know about, fair enough. If she was playing with ambiguity to pander to the truthers, then bad on her and I see no difference with Medina at all.

  • To any truthers who might be reading this thread, please go to Popular Mechanics at the link below and learn why you are truly wasting your time.

    http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/military_law/1227842.html

  • In regard to Sarah Palin and 9-11, the question was asked her by someone calling himself Anthony the Activist during a rope line that she was proceeding down. Here is the video he made.

    Unlike Medina, Palin did not have the following question asked to her:

    “Do you believe the government was in any way involved in the bringing down of the World Trade Centers on 9/11?”

    Nor did Palin give this type of answer:

    “I think some very good questions have been raised in that regard,” Medina replied. “There are some very good arguments, and I think the American people have not seen all of the evidence there, so I have not taken a position on that.”

    Comparing what Palin said to what Medina said is like comparing swans and swine.

  • Don,

    It really isn’t like that at all.

    If one voices support for the idea of a new 9/11 investigation, then one can reasonably assume that they believe the old one wasn’t good enough, that there are still problems with the “official story”, etc. That’s what 6 of the 10 people on the panel said anyway.

    That isn’t THAT different from what Medina said – using a little common sense. And it certainly isn’t different than the clarification she made afterward.

    So its probably time to move on and concentrate on the issues. I certainly don’t believe that Medina spends her waking hours in fits of paranoia about government conspiracies.

  • Mike,

    I think BOTH Medina and Palin were doing what politicians do.

    Medina, I think, probably assumed that a lot of her grassroots supporters were sympathetic to, or actually were, 9/11 truthers. And this might be the case, because a lot of them are anti-establishment types, and Medina is an anti-establishment candidate. That’s not her fault. It’s not her fault that polls show 86% of Americans question the official story and that the “truther” position, in one form or another, is a hell of a lot more popular than its opponents understand. And I think THAT ALONE was the real reason for her hesitation.

    Palin was being Palin – telling people what they want to hear. She’s an amazingly gifted politician.

  • Disagree Joe. Medina was specifically answering a question as to whether she believed that the government was involved in bringing down the World Trade Center. Her answer indicated that she believed that the truthers had asked some very good questions and made some very good arguments. She is either a truther, lying or was simply bone ignorant and pandering to Beck since she wrongly assumed that Beck is a truther.

  • As for Palin, she was indicating that she would support a new 9-11 investigation in order to assure that 9-11 didn’t happen again. Presumably she was referring to the miserable intelligence failure prior to the 9-11 attack and a new investigation could highlight steps that could be taken to correct such an intelligence failure in the future.

  • Joe,
    It may be that both Palin and Medina were saying what they thought their audiences wanted to hear, but the more important fact is that they did not say the same thing as Don amply demonstrates. To suggest that they were similar requires taking profoundly unfair and unwarranted inferential liberties with Palin’s statements.
    It may be that there are more truthers out there than I realize, but if so I’m glad I don’t get around more.
    I’m perfectly willing to believe that the 9/11 report failed to disclose certain intelligence failures, perhaps even deliberately failed to do so; but in my view anyone who takes seriously the view that the government was actually involved in some conspiratorial way with the attacks is seriously and sadly out of touch with reality.

  • “To suggest that they were similar requires taking profoundly unfair and unwarranted inferential liberties with Palin’s statements.”

    I think it’s also pretty unfair to not allow Medina to clarify her remarks, or apologize for them if that is what’s called for. This “one strike and you’re out” rule of politics is absurd, especially when the issues are so high. It’s like a shutting off of the mind. I can’t do that.

    The number of genuine truthers who believe that it is a proven fact that 9/11 was an inside job is probably small, but the number of people who think that the government is covering something up is a substantial majority, according to the polls I’ve seen.

  • Joe, I agree completely with your last post. If Medina has issued or will issue a statement that makes it clear that she is not only not a truther (something that I assume she already has done) but also understands that the truther position is irresponsible and nutty, then she is fine by me. In other words, thus far her conduct has led me to believe that she is in one of the last three categories I listed earlier. If she makes it clear that she is not, then we are good to go.

    There is a HUGE difference between believing that our government covered up or might have covered up some things not disclosed in the 9/11 report versus believing our government was actually involved or might have been actually involved in a conspiratorial fashion in arranging and executing the incidents. There are many plausible reasons one might speculate as to why the report could have been less than complete, including some that almost everyone might agree are legitimate. And might the report have glossed over some shortcomings and misteps in order to avoid embarrassing certain powerful parties or interests? Sure, that is possible. But I believe (and hope) that the number of Americans who actually take the inside job possiblity seriously (let alone think it is an established fact) is very small, but I don’t know. My point remains that it is this — the truther — position that is nuts. A candidate who leads me to believe that they don’t think it is nuts is simply not fit in my view.

  • “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” — Arthur Schopenhauer

    “1,000 Architects & Engineers Call for New 9/11 Investigation ”

    More than 1,000 worldwide architects and engineers now support the call for a new investigation into the destruction of the Twin Towers and Building 7 at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. After careful examination of the official explanation, along with the forensic data omitted from official reports, these professionals have concluded that a new independent investigation into these mysterious collapses is needed.

    http://thetruthnews.info/census.html#911

  • Why would a call for an independent investigation into 9/11 throw such abject fear into people?

    And when did “truth” become a dirty word, and someone who wants to know the truth become someone to be despised, and a subject of suspicion?

    If the officially approved version of 9/11 is accurate and true, wouldn’t an independent investigation by “we, the people” just prove that fact?

    We all know that our government would NEVER, EVER lie to us. So what could they, or anyone else, possibly have to fear from some independent fact checking by the citizens?

  • It’s a shame that a Catholic website would attack the 9/11 truth movement. What is wrong with not believing the official story? It is not wrong to question authority. I am a Christian and I don’t believe the official story of 9/11. I am a responsible American, husband, and father. I am not a nutjob or Glenn Beck drone. I make my own decisions.

    Glenn Beck attacked Medina, threw her the question out of left field, to purposely cause her bad press, within 30 min. after hanging up with Glenn, Perry’s campaign had audio excerpts via cold calls sent to Texans trashing Medina.

    Glenn Beck is controlled opposition. His job is to subvert the Tea Party movement, water it down, and lead the masses back to the NEOCONS.

    There is nothing ‘Christian’ about Endless War.
    http://www.wtc7.net/

  • Joey,

    There is absolutely no evidence of government involvement.

    Do you also believe that FDR ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor?

    Do you also believe that the moon landing was staged?

  • Here is a video of Sarah Palin–saying she would like another 911 investigation and another video of Glenn Beck saying he has questions about 911 and its our right and DUTY to question government:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcngiD6Sq6Q&feature=youtu.be, Palin supports new 911 investigation.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FSwztg8Xvk Glenn Beck video, says it’s our DUTY to question government

    It’s noteworthy that both Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin receive their checks from Fox.

    Debra Medina isn’t a 911 truther any more than I am.
    I knew the mud-slinging would start and it has.

    There is a difference between a “Truther”–one who believes the government is responsible for the attack on 9/11, and those who think the government may have known something and failed to stop it–as with the attack at Ft. Hood, Texas.

    Beck has lost a lot of Texas viewers; over 17% of his television audience over this–NOT INCLUDING those who have quit listening to his radio broadcast. One article I read said it was close to 1,000,000,000 viewers–probably a combined figure.

    Oh, and while I’m at it, here a link to an old speech by Governor Perry, in which he admits that he shares Vicente Fox’s dream of an open border with Mexico.

    http://governor.state.tx.us/news/speech/10688/

    Think about THAT before you cast your vote.

  • Beck EVERYDAY questions the validity of this present administration. I listened to him for years and can say that it seemed to me that he definitely had an agenda. Medina is the best for TX and for this country. Perry and Hutchinson are of the establishment and I would rather risk Medina then go with the same old same old making things worse. Take a look at who pays Beck his millions, who his publicist is and then maybe you will understand why he probably obeyed some directive from somewhere. Mr Beck is NOT WELCOMED in my home anymore on radio or TV.

  • Was Perry or Hutchinson ever asked if they were 9/11 truthers? And since when is it wrong to question the government? The greatest country in the world the USA is capable of evil…take a look at abortions…so I am not saying either way I am just saying that the evil perpetrated on our most helpless and who is to say the government never had any false flag operations!?!

  • It’s a free country.

    You have every right to question the government.

    With it comes consequences.

    For example my opinion is that Truther’s are nuts.

    I have a right to that opinion.

    Unfortunately for you and Medina, 99% of the rest of the country thinks Truthers are nuts as well.

  • I did not and do not like the way that Glenn Beck handled the interview with Debra Medina and at the time I accepted her later explanation and seeming clarification, as having been made in good faith. But this is my problem with Debra Medina. Debra Medina should either explain what is going on in the Debra Medina Facebook page or say why she does not accept the basic principles and ethos of the US Constitution ( if that is her position ) or shut up. Frankly, I am sick of Debra Medina rabbiting on, appearing to be a conservative constitutionalist nationalist republican, whilst on the Debra Medina Facebook page if one expresses views in the ethos of Ronald Reagan or Senator Barry Goldwater, one will likely be hounded remorselessly up to and including death threats and yet at the same time, the Debra Medina Facebook page is a comfortable place to express admiration for somebody like the British MP Mr George Galloway.

  • ” John Says:
    Sunday, February 21, 2010 A.D. at 1:13 pm
    “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” — Arthur Schopenhauer

    “1,000 Architects & Engineers Call for New 9/11 Investigation ”

    More than 1,000 worldwide architects and engineers now support the call for a new investigation into the destruction of the Twin Towers and Building 7 at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. After careful examination of the official explanation, along with the forensic data omitted from official reports, these professionals have concluded that a new independent investigation into these mysterious collapses is needed.

    http://thetruthnews.info/census.html#911

    I have tried to engage 9/11 truthers in reasonable debate about the events surrounding the World Trade Center on 9/11 and these folks are simply not willing to do that, what they will most usually do is spew Youtubes and cut and paste at one. In one of the rare instances, that one of these characters was willing to get in to a debate with me, in which in that particular instance they were making an argument that sprinkler fire suppression systems, should have been able to fight and extinguish the fire, having effectively lost the argument on that point, ( re the capabilities of the sprinkler systems ), they then went on to claim that no aircraft had hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. What is also interesting, is that when in a popular internet forum, I advanced the possibility that 9/11 might have been a false flag operation but conducted by Aliens from outerspace, this idea attracted little interest, despite the fact it is a more legitimately plausible concept than many of the arguments advanced by the truthers, which fits well with my view that the 9/11 truther movement has very serious ideological and political objectives and its not just a bunch of folks who prefer convoluted conspiracy theories to simple explanations well grounded in facts.

Martin Luther King on When Not To Be Conservative

Monday, January 18, AD 2010

I have long been, and remain, a temperamentally conservative person. To my view, the ills created by radically overturning a social order are usually far greater than the benefits realized. And yet, there are times when justice demands change that is not gradual. One of the counter-examples I generally keep in mind to my Burkian conservative tendencies is this selection from Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”, which a friend once emailed me during an extended discussion on conservative versus progressive mentalities:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

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6 Responses to Martin Luther King on When Not To Be Conservative

  • This letter is also a mighty fine explanation of how the greatest obstacle for pro-lifers is pro-lifers themselves.

  • Well, Martin Luther King was a democratic socialist in a time when the Red Scare was still very much alive, so my guess is his answer to “when not to be conservative” would be “pretty much always”.

  • Sounds more like Malcolm X than MLK. Malcolm X also chided the complacent black community that was content that the crumbs falling from the white man’s table were getting bigger.

  • “This letter is also a mighty fine explanation of how the greatest obstacle for pro-lifers is pro-lifers themselves.”

    Yes and no. On the level of tactics, yes, but on the level of strategy, no.

    For instance, the lukewarmness or down right opposition of some pro-lifers to using graphic images to depict the reality of abortion really disturbs me. They would put the truth away so as not to be “pornographic”, and make the ridiculous and stupid argument that to use these images is “consequentialist” – presuming that showing the images themselves is somehow a bad thing that will lead to good, when in reality, to show the truth is always a good thing.

    On the other hand, when I look at the energy that sincere pro-lifers put into political initiatives that are certain to fail, such as personhood initiatives that are popular right now, I think they are asking for too much, too soon. The majority of Americans are not ready to make the leap into recognizing full personhood for the unborn. The first of these initiatives in Colorado was defeated by nearly 3/4 of the electorate. That is a brick wall of reality.

    So it is hard to know when or how to strike, but my view is that the ground has to be prepared a little better before personhood initiatives will win the day.

  • What is justice to one is terrorism to another. What is worse is that the vast majority only see what they want to see because to see things as they are might challenge their beliefs.

    To most “good” catholics, who are lost in my opinion, the issue is abortion. To me I see MLK’s “opinion” regarding white moderates, as much more applicable to the Catholic Church and its “justice” regarding divorce/annulment.

    The Church will continue to fail in its mission as it ministers to only “some” of its people and destroys others not in its “favored” status.

    The Catholic Church is a Church of “white moderates”, and we are not talking race here.

  • I made the mistake of watching some PBS yesterday, a documentary about the takeover of Attica. While the documentary sympathized with the prisoners, my reaction was the opposite to what was intended. It reminded me of just how much evil was unleashed by the radical reformers of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Was the country best served by the non-moderates?

    This inevitably raises the question of whether the moderates forced the radicals into extremism. For twenty years before King’s death, racial barriers were breaking down. If the moderates had moved more quickly, perhaps the Black Panther types would have never risen to prominence. If the radicals had moved more slowly, maybe the riots of those years could have been avoided. Maybe we got through the whole process with the least bloodshed possible. I don’t know.

Quote of the Day: Hayek on Individualism

Tuesday, January 12, AD 2010

From “Individualism: True and False” (1946)

…[T]he state, the embodiment of deliberately organized and consciously directly power, ought to be only a small part of the much richer organism which we call “society,” and that the former ought to provide merely a framework within which free (and therefore not “consciously directed”) collaboration of men has the maximum scope.

This entails certain corollaries on which true individualism once more stands in sharp opposition to the false individualism of the rationalistic type. The first is that the deliberately organized state on the one side, and the individual on the other, far from being regarded as the only realities, while all the intermediate formations and associations are to be deliberately suppressed, as was the aim of the French Revolution, the noncompulsory conventions of social intercourse are considered as essential factors in preserving the orderly working of human society. The second is that the individual, in participating in the social processes, must be ready and willing to adjust himself to changes and to submit to conventions which are not the result of intelligent design, whose justification in the particular instance may not be recognizable, and which to him often appear unintelligible and irrational.

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Going Rogue

Thursday, December 17, AD 2009

A guest post by Paul Zummo, originally posted at his blog, The Cranky Conservative.

It’s probably not a good idea generally to buy a book out of spite, but in some ways that is precisely what I did when I picked up Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue.  We had had a meeting at work, and several of my co-workers were amusing themselves with some anti-Palin jibes.  So at lunch time I decided to take a stroll to the local book store and pick up Palin’s book, prompting the “Oh, Sarah Palin” observation from the clerk, who must be wondering why anyone in the middle of enlightened Dupont Circle would be interested in the right-wing Neanderthal. And I have to admit that I also delayed reading the book until after I got home from Thanksgiving vacation so that I could proudly read the book on the Metro.

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7 Responses to Going Rogue

  • Great review Paul.

    As I thought she was perturbed by the questions Couric was asking her. Though her responses should have been more ‘presidential’ thank emotional.

  • I believe Mrs. Palin was caught short by the cattiness of Ms. Couric’s questions, and by her attitude.

    There is that about television interviewers / commentators which seems to lead them to think that they have enough political experience to be valuable thinkers on the political scene. They have not. They are mostly graduates of some political science [whatever that is] course, in which they learned techniques of debating, looking to score “Gotcha!” points. Their knowledge of history and of foreign countries and cultures is abominably shallow.

    I wonder how many can speak and read a foreign language.

  • Reading Palin’s book on the D.C. Metro? My, you’re a brave man, Mr. Zummo 🙂

    Gabriel: Actually, I believe most journalists, whether of the vanishing print breed or the TV kind, have “communications” degrees. I believe Canadian novelist Robertson Davies (who was a newspaper man for many years) said it takes a couple of hours tops for a bright kid to learn how to write an “inverted pyramid” news story – it’s not something you should build your education around. He thought a grounding in history, English lit, foreign languages and cultures, etc. was far better preparation for an aspiring reporter, and that the mechanics of the business should be part of the on-the-job training.

  • And I too find it heartening that she is influenced by Sowell. Reading “A Conflict of Visions” completed my own journey from left to right. The country would be in better hands if we had a president who uses Sowell, rather than Alinsky, as a guide.

    One area where I still have lingering doubts about Palin is foreign policy. Yes, she’d do better than Obama, but that’s setting the bar low. It’s a mindfield out there, and I am not sure she’s given it adequate thought. Does she say much about it in her book?

  • Donna:

    She doesn’t touch too much on foreign policy except in the context of energy policy and the need for “energy independence.” She does mention that as Governor of Alaska she did have to deal with the Canadian government on various border issues. As I said, she doesn’t get into a lot of policy detail in the book, but she doesn’t sound like a complete babe in the woods.

  • I second Donna’s endorsement of Sowell. I was first introduced to him in 1979 watching the PBS Free to Choose series hosted by Milton Friedman. He impressed me then and has never stopped. I also enjoyed his Conflict of Visions book. He truly is a first rate thinker.

Humpty Dumpty Defines Conservatism

Wednesday, December 16, AD 2009

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,'” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll 

For whatever reason, adults on the internet often fall into relabelling each others politics with all the glee that second graders find in saying, “Am not!”, “Are too!”, “Am not!” 

Sometimes, it gets downright silly, as in this comment:

Hah! Nobody has yet addressed my basic point – American arch-liberals, direct offsprings of the Enlightenment, are under some illusion that they are “conservative”. Couldn’t be more wrong. As for me, I’m an old-style Christian Democrat with not much time for rights-based individualism, the so-called separation of church and state, lassez-faire liberalism, or muscular nationalism. I’m a corporatist, I’m fully on baord with Bendict’s world political authority, and I’ll take Catholic social teaching over American Calvinist economics any day, thank you very much.
 
Who is supposed to be the conservative again? 

Now, let’s think for a moment on what “conservative” means, if you’re not Humpty Dumpty.

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47 Responses to Humpty Dumpty Defines Conservatism

  • This is a hilarious post. Apparently conservatives are not about the conservation of traditional understandings of conservatism, and instead want to redefine it all the while trying to say it is those who are conserving the tradition who are the ones redefining it.

    Sorry, the yoke’s on you.

  • DC, while there is an intellectual ancestry of contemporary conservatism which stretches back a couple centuries, the commenter is still correct that American operates with the boundaries set by the Enlightenment, and that in the context of those debates, contemporary conservatives *are* liberals in the broader sense (I’m thinking of MacIntyre’s taxonomy of radical liberals [Marxists], liberal liberals [contemporary progressives], and conservative liberals [contemporary conservatives]).

    Second, wouldn’t it be the case that a political position which sought to re-establish “pre-Enlightenment” conservatism would in justly be deemed conservative, even if it rejected aspects of the intervening 200+ years?

  • Chris,

    Agreed that all viable political movements at this point represent some form of liberalism. What I was attempting to highlight here is that we have someone comparing the two following:

    American conservatism: [social conservatism] + [18th century political and economic liberalism]
    European Christian Democrats: [social conservatism] (at least, by European standards) + [19th century political and economic liberalism]

    I’m very much unclear how one compares these two and concludes that American conservatism is more liberal than the Christian Democrat tradition.

    If the commenter’s contention was simply, “I may be liberal, but so are you, because we both draw our ideas from post-Enlightenment thought” I would have no issue. It’s claiming that American conservatism is liberal while Christian Democrats are not that I don’t think will fly.

  • Henry,

    This is a hilarious post. Apparently conservatives are not about the conservation of traditional understandings of conservatism, and instead want to redefine it all the while trying to say it is those who are conserving the tradition who are the ones redefining it.

    Perhaps it’s because you were laughing so hard when you wrote your comment, but it’s a little hard to understand what you’re actually attempting to say here. What I pointed out is that:

    1) American conservatism represents a significantly older political movement than the Christian Democratic parties do.
    2) American conservatism draws on the oldest political philosophy still surviving in America (there are no loyalist/royalist parties that I’m aware of at this time) and as such is clearly “conservative” within the American political context. Trying to transplant in a movement which evolved later in Europe for very different reasons would in no sense be “conservative”.

    In what sense can Christian Democrats be considered to be “conserving the tradition” when they represent a much more recent (and more liberal) compromise with liberalism than American conservatism (which might also be termed “classical liberalism”)?

  • I, for one, am interested in hearing more about “Bendict’s [sic] world political authority.”

  • Actually, I should ammend: The commenter’s point would make sense if one were able to tenably hold the view that Christian Democrats are entirely bypassing Liberalism and the intellectual heritage of the Englightenment (French and Scottish) and represent some sort of a revival of a pre-Englightenment political ideal.

    I’m just very unclear how one could hold this view. Christian Democracy does take some elements of traditional, pre-Enlightenment society and culture, but then, so does American conservatism, which consciously adopted ideas dating back to Aristotle, Polybius and Cicero as well as traditions of English common law. But it is also, clearly, the result of an attempt to draw together those elements from conservative, free market, progressive and socialist lines of political thought which seemed most compatible with Christianity and develop a hybrid political programme. As such, Christian Democracy draws on a great deal of progressivism and socialism, as well as classical liberalism and traditional European culture. One can hardly see it as being a return to pre-Enlightenment thought.

  • And there he goes against with the indiscriminate use of “Calvinist.” What exactly about free-market economics corresponds to the Calvinist belief in human depravity and God’s predestination? And why does MM always suppose that when he writes on the Internet, his words are being read by people who hate Protestants with such an irrational passion that merely using the label “Calvinist” — no matter how absurdly inapt — will make them recoil and become social democrats?

  • DC, your replies make sense… thanks for offering the clarification.

  • The direct ancestors of American conservatism were Whigs that advocated a cautious, rooted social and economic progress against the perceived (correctly, it turns out) radicalism of abstracted universalism.

    The argument, in other words, was within the large umbrella of liberalism. This is different from the European (non-British) conservative tradition. Yet, even though the Australians have it more right (Liberal v. Labour), there is an American conservative tradition that can properly lay claim to the word. What is awkward is that it is a defense of a revolution (actually two: 1688 and 1776). The reason this claim is proper is because it is, by comparison, not radical, and because different cultures and nations will necessarily have differing labels for similiar notions.

  • Darwin,

    My issue with this is that Christian Democracy clearly evolved beyond 19th century “liberal” economics, especially after Pius XI declared that whole edifice to be gravely immoral in Quadragesimo Anno. The development of Christian Democracy after WWII saw it turn more towards welfare-statism.

    As for this view that Benedict wants something akin to a global government, it is false. And I have to say, given what I see coming out of the UN these days, especially when it comes to population control and “family planning”, I find it hard to believe that Benedict would be on board with any of that.

    Right now the forces of globalism are almost entirely dominated by pro-abortion, pro-eugenics fanatics who believe the world is “overpopulated.” In theory I believe greater international cooperation and even, one day in the future, a planetary government would be great. In reality, I want absolutely nothing to do with a “world order” dominated by people who are so hostile to life and liberty.

    I move closer to “nationalism” because and only because America as a sovereign state has a political process through which abortion and other threats to life can be defeated – a process that we see has been increasingly abrogated in Europe, Canada, and other countries. And Pope Benedict has remarked on other occasions that he too prefers the American system when it comes to the ability Christians have to influence public policy, something sorely lacking in Europe.

  • Despite the joke, this is a deadly serious topic, and I’ll treat it as much.

    Somebody once pointed out that the Church still has not made its peace with liberalism. Perhaps not, but Christian democracy is the best attempt yet. Is Christian democracy influenced to some extent by liberalism? Without question. But it is also based on Catholic social teaching, which is the Church’s “official” answer to liberalism and modernism, at least so far.

    Remember, CST challenges and condemns both individualism and collectivism, because they are based on flawed anthropologies. American liberalism is underpinned first and foremost by the autonomy of the individual – it is this that gives rise to a strong laissez-faire ethic and the denigration of any role for government in economic life (but not in broader social life).

    But CST is not based on this underlying premise. It sees a properly defined role for govermment within the social order, geared toward the common good. It is for this reason that I believe modern Christian democracy is far more “conservative” than is American liberalism. Rememeber, the founders of CST were deeply conservative (think of Leo XIII and Pius XI). They saw a correct role for government in both economic and social affairs, and indeed – drawing subsidiarity to its logical conclusion – saw that some responsibilities should be assigned to the supra-national entity. So in this sense, I believe it does flow from what you call “pre-Enlightenment” thought.

  • But CST is not based on this underlying premise. It sees a properly defined role for govermment within the social order, geared toward the common good. It is for this reason that I believe modern Christian democracy is far more “conservative” than is American liberalism.

    I largely concur with your comment, but this aspect of your characterization would need the qualifiers of locality when in characterization of governmental organization. This is why it is so difficult, especially as one highly concerned with social issues, to make common cause with leftist politicans (and there is a lot of room for commonality with “traditionalist conservatives,” especially in areas of foreign policy and “free trade”) within the context of a liberal democracy. The tendency toward statism in that socio-political context produces terribly toxic social policy enforced at levels far beyond the local – abortion out of the democratic process through Roe, homosexual activists using the courts to bypass the democratic process, the imposition of “no fault divorce”…the list goes on.

    Now granted much of this flows from the elevation of “rights” and “autonomy,” but that does not mean that leftist/social democrat types should be such strong advocates. And I’m afraid that Christian democrat types can’t or won’t do much, in practical terms, for the cause of locality and social traditionalism.

  • S.B. Says:
    “I, for one, am interested in hearing more about “Bendict’s [sic] world political authority.”

    Here is the paragraph they are probably pointing to:

    67. In the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth. One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect[146] and of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. This seems necessary in order to arrive at a political, juridical and economic order which can increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all peoples in solidarity. To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago. Such an authority would need to be regulated by law, to observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, to seek to establish the common good[147], and to make a commitment to securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth. Furthermore, such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights[148]. Obviously it would have to have the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties, and also with the coordinated measures adopted in various international forums. Without this, despite the great progress accomplished in various sectors, international law would risk being conditioned by the balance of power among the strongest nations. The integral development of peoples and international cooperation require the establishment of a greater degree of international ordering, marked by subsidiarity, for the management of globalization[149]. They also require the construction of a social order that at last conforms to the moral order, to the interconnection between moral and social spheres, and to the link between politics and the economic and civil spheres, as envisaged by the Charter of the United Nations.

    But if you go to the footnotes (citing to the Compendium of Social Doctrine), you’ll see a global super state is not the intent:

    441. Concern for an ordered and peaceful coexistence within the human family prompts the Magisterium to insist on the need to establish ?some universal public authority acknowledged as such by all and endowed with effective power to safeguard, on the behalf of all, security, regard for justice, and respect for rights?.[913] In the course of history, despite the changing viewpoints of the different eras, there has been a constant awareness of the need for a similar authority to respond to worldwide problems arising from the quest for the common good: it is essential that such an authority arise from mutual agreement and that it not be imposed, nor must it be understood as a kind of ?global super-State?

  • I don’t quite get the (widespread) view that Christian Democratic parties are socially conservative but economically liberal.* It’s true that CD parties (at least in Europe) tend to be more economically liberal than the Republican party, but they also tend to be more socially liberal. It’s also true that CD parties are more socially conservative than other major parties in Europe, but they also tend to be more economically conservative than those parties. CD parties basically occupy the same political space in Europe that the Republican party does in the U.S.; it’s just that because European countries tend to have more left leaning populations the center-right parties in those countries are more left leaning (both socially and economically) than is the center-right party in America.

    * For purposes of this comment I’m using ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ in their American sense.

  • Also, when MM says that he’s a Christian Democrat, it’s important to remember that he’s not talking about the existing Christian Democratic parties (just the other day he was revelling in the fact that the head of Italy’s CD party was physically assaulted).

  • “American conservatism: [social conservatism] + [18th century political and economic liberalism]”.

    Throw in support for a strong national defense and that pretty well defines me politically, along, I think, with a plurality of Republicans. To understand American conservatism, a good starting point is to compare and contrast the American and French Revolutions, and why Edmund Burke looked kindly upon the Americans and urged a war to the end against the French Revolution.

  • Is American Liberalism really “underpinned first and foremost by the autonomy of the individual?”

  • Christian Democrat? Sounds nice, but just how Christian are European Christian Democrats in 2009? Since the early post-war years the CD has become increasingly secular. MM can admire some ideal of Christian Democracy that exists solely in his head, but his version is not the one which exists in Europe today. It’s like me saying I am a member of the Whig Party. Here’s Catholic Belgian Paul Belien, writing about new EU president Herman Van Rompuy

    “In the mid-1980s, Van Rompuy, a conservative Catholic, born in 1947, was active in the youth section of the Flemish Christian-Democrat Party. He wrote books and articles about the importance of traditional values, the role of religion, the protection of the unborn life, the Christian roots of Europe and the need to preserve them,…,

    In April 1990, the King did in fact abdicate over the abortion issue, and the Christian-Democrat Party, led by Herman Van Rompuy, who had always prided himself on being a good Catholic, had one of Europe’s most liberal abortion bills signed by the college of ministers, a procedure provided by the Belgian Constitution for situations when there is no King. Then they had the King voted back on the throne the following day.;…,

    Now, Herman has moved on to lead Europe. Like Belgium, the European Union is an undemocratic institution, which needs shrewd leaders who are capable of renouncing everything they once believed in and who know how to impose decisions on the people against the will of the people. Never mind democracy, morality or the rule of law, our betters know what is good for us more than we do. And Herman is now one of our betters. He has come a long way since the days when he was disgusted with Belgian-style politics.
    Herman is like Saruman, the wise wizard in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, who went over to the other side. He used to care about the things we cared about. But no longer. He has built himself a high tower from where he rules over all of us.”

    No, none of that cursed individualism there! Also, not very much in the way of Christianity.

    http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/4181

  • Zach: I’ve recently begin rereading Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” which I first read as an undergrad. Tocqueville understood that that, just as checks and balances were built into the American political system, religion and community life served as a check on individualism run riot. He wasn’t just talking about Protestants either:

    “In the United States there is no single religious doctrine which is hostile to democratic and republican institutions. All the clergy there speak the same language. Thus American Catholics are both the most obedient believers and the most independent citizens.”

  • In any event, conservatism in America is intended to conserve certain things which are here now, and to restore certain things where were here at the founding of the republic and are no longer because they were changed by “progressives.”

    Self-described conservatives vary according to which items from the founding of the republic they think need restoring, and how important they are. And, they vary according to which things currently present need conserving.

    However, inasmuch as they intend either to prevent change from the status quo — to “stand athwart history yelling stop!” in the famous (and slightly ironical) formulation — or to restore that which was lost during the 20th century, they uniformly represent a looking-back approach to social progress.

    And that instinct, to look back, makes the label “conservative” a reasonable one to apply. I suppose one could distinguish between the items where they want to keep the status quo, and those where they want to reverse 20th century changes to the status quo, by calling them “conservatism” and “restorationism” respectively. But the latter isn’t really in-use except with respect to restoring monarchies, so using it here would cause confusion.

    So I expect “conservative” is a reasonable selection of moniker, so long as the audience…

    (a.) …understands that conservatism means something different in the U.S., where it’s related to strict-constructionist Constitutional Republicanism, than in other countries, where because their history differs, it may refer to communism (Russia) or theocratism (Iran) or even monarchism (restorationism again).

    (b.) …is willing to exercise the modicum of care needed to understand how a particular speaker is using the word “conservatism,” and adapt to it without submitting overmuch to the nerdy-student’s urge to constantly correct his usage with niggling historical details that aren’t relevant to the speaker communicating his meaning.

  • You all have inspired me to write 🙂

    I’m gonna have a lot to say about all this very soon.

  • MM,

    I appreciate the serious engagement despite the humorous framing of the post.

    Somebody once pointed out that the Church still has not made its peace with liberalism. Perhaps not, but Christian democracy is the best attempt yet. Is Christian democracy influenced to some extent by liberalism? Without question. But it is also based on Catholic social teaching, which is the Church’s “official” answer to liberalism and modernism, at least so far.

    I must admit, I’m not always entirely sure what people mean when they talk about the Church not having made its peace with liberalism. Does the Church deny the ideal of providing all citizens with equal rights under the law? Does it deny the validity of representative government or the idea of legitimacy stemming from the consent of the governed in the secular realm?

    I think, at most, it can be taken to mean two things:

    1) The Church is itself not by any means a democracy, and so it does not rule itself through “liberal” means. This makes some people very angry, but it seems to me pretty much an irrelevance since the Church is clearly something wholly different in kind from secular governments. That the Church does not (indeed, cannot) rule itself via liberal forms of government is no more a statement for or against liberalism in the secular political realm than that fact that families are not ruled through liberal institutions.

    2) Arguably, in some senses our moral theology has not fully grappled with the implications of liberal political institutions. For instance, much of our moral understanding of political actions is centered around how rulers and subjects should behave, while the partly self determining, mostly subject state in which a single citizen of a representative democracy finds himself is rather less well explored.

    My impression is that you mean by saying that Christian Democracy is the best rapprochement between the Church and liberalism yet that Christian Democracy is less inimical to Christianity than socialism and communism, yet in the post-WW2 era has become strongly associated with the comprehensive welfare state, strong employment regulation, etc. That, in itself, is something Catholics can debate (and I’d rather not get sidetracked into it now) but for the present purposes, I’m not clear how that makes Christian Democracy “conservative” in that the welfare state is something which only sprang into existence post 1840 or so. And strong labor policy only began to appear several decades after that. I suppose one can argue that it was somehow in the spirit of the old Catholic monarchies, but since none of the old Catholic monarchies practices such policies (indeed, state coffers were very small by modern standards, taxes were often highly regressive, and spending was primarily military and construction) I just don’t see how the argument works.

    Remember, CST challenges and condemns both individualism and collectivism, because they are based on flawed anthropologies. American liberalism is underpinned first and foremost by the autonomy of the individual – it is this that gives rise to a strong laissez-faire ethic and the denigration of any role for government in economic life (but not in broader social life).

    I’m unclear how American liberalism is underpinned primarily by the autonomy of the individual in a way that European liberalism (and Christian Democracy in particular) is not. It’s true that the writing of the era of the founding places a strong emphases of individual liberty and due process — but that only makes sense as it was written against the backdrop of absolutism. The earliest forms of continental liberalism (circa the French Revolution) showed similar tendencies, indeed far more radical and dangerous ones which nearly all of the American founders reacted against.

    Perhaps one of the main differences here is that while the US has remained in existence and retained the same constitution for 200 years and change, the continental governments have all turned over many times during that period, with most of them now having constitutions or institutions established shortly after WW2. As such, their founding concerns have much more to do with labor relations and the problems of a mass society than do those of the US, which was overwhelmingly and agricultural society at the time of its founding and for some time after.

    Because of this political ancestry (and perhaps due to some more general social factor which seems to make European culture more subject to collective action — judging from movements good and ill over the last couple hundred years) there is a greater degree of collectivism in Christian Democracy than in American conservatism, but it seems to me far from sure that the tendency to vote oneself and one’s class greater assurance of economic security is necessarily less “individualistic” than supporting greater opportunity. What it reflects more than individualism vs. solidarity is a divergence in the degree to which people think it is possible to better themselves at all through their own effort.

  • Pingback: What Is A Conservative? « Non Nobis
  • Of course the Church has not “made its peace with liberalism”, and it never will–Catholicism and liberalism are two logically incompatible belief systems. Liberalism’s ideal is state neutrality towards competing “comprehensive” theories of the good. Practically, it means reducing society to a means for maximizing and equalizing the satisfaction of private desires. Conservatives and Christians think it inevitable and good that society should be held together and legitimated by a traditional way of life and a common, substantive vision of justice. The purpose of the state is to protect the common good (not private goods, or even their sum) and defend the moral consensus. Catholics in particular believe that God’s authority extends not only over each of us as individuals, but over corporate groups, including states.

    The contradiction between liberalism and Catholicism extends to virtually every point. Liberals are egalitarian; Catholics are corporatist and hierarchical. Catholics defend distinction of roles based on sex, age, familial relationship, and clerical status. Liberals are cosmopolitan; Catholics recognize the duty of piety towards ancestors and fatherland.

    Incidentally, the idea of “legitimacy stemming from the consent of the governed” is absurd in any realm. As real conservatives like de Maistre realized, the whole distinctive essence of authority is that you are morally obliged to obey even if you don’t want to. If I say “this person has authority over me, because I decide to grant it to him”, there is no real relationship of authority at all. As soon as I get an order I don’t like, I can just revoke my grant of consent.

  • DarwinCatholic,

    Rereading my response, I think it sounds too dismissive and disrespectful, and I apologize for that. I have enjoyed many of your postings, and I think you’re right that the Christian Democrats aren’t more conservative than American conservatives.
    I think we “Throne and Altar” types have both of you beaten in that department.

  • “As real conservatives like de Maistre realized, the whole distinctive essence of authority is that you are morally obliged to obey even if you don’t want to.”

    Hardly. Someone may have had a crown because some ancestor conquered a territory or was chosen by nobles after an old line died out, but that did not impose a moral obligation on those subject to them to obey their commands, as the multitudinous civil wars and rebellions that afflicted most monarchies attested. A monarch might well claim that a subject was morally obliged to obey him, but such a claim does not thereby create a moral obligation to obey. All government does in fact rest ultimately on the consent of the governed long term. When that consent is withheld long enough by a large enough segment of the population, any state, no matter its form of government, will ultimately totter and fall.

  • Bonald,

    I’ll certainly cede to you that Throne and Altar types are significantly more conservative that either Christian Democrats or American conservatives!

    Trying to answer major points concisely:

    – I’m not sure that Liberalism is indifferent to competing theories of the good, as it recognizes that we cannot be sure that people will correctly recognize the good. So for instance, I think there’s a very clear answer as to whether statist, universal health care is a good idea — but I’d be hesitant to be confident that, if the US had a king, the king would arrive at the correct conclusion in the matter. The virtue of Liberalism in this regard is that one can at least be sure that the majority will get what they deserve in regards to the rule of their country, even if they don’t get what’s right. Now, in that regard, I guess I’m conditionally liberal (in the classical liberal sense) in that I would, for one, make no move to demand more liberal institutions if I lived in a monarchy or aristocracy and didn’t think that the current rulers were ruling badly. But in a situation where one is forced to demand some sort of change because of bad rule, I would advocate liberal institutions over simply changing dynasties.

    – On legitimacy stemming from the consent of the governed: It strikes me as something which can only apply to the whole (or at any rate, majority) of the governed, not to individuals. The fact that I don’t like Obama does not allow me to disobey laws with impunity. I would mostly follow Socrates in Phaedo in regards to the claim that since I have so willingly lived in the US for so long, it would be immoral of me to suddenly claim that I am not governed by its laws now.

    However, even in a monarchy, there are points when victory in a dynastic war results in a different succession of rulers gaining power — essentially because the realm as a whole is willing to follow the one and not the other. And, for instance, it strikes me that by the 1860s, one could no longer really claim the the Bourbons were the “legitimate” rulers of France. They had simply lost their credibility by the time of the Second Empire. They were the descendants of kings, but they were no longer meaningfully kings.

  • When that consent is withheld long enough by a large enough segment of the population, any state, no matter its form of government, will ultimately totter and fall.

    So Stalin ruled by the consent of the governed? Who knew!

  • One might point out that deliberative institutions at all levels were prevalent in medieval Europe. They were not dependant for their operation on conceptions of legitimacy associated with John Locke being ambient in any part of the populace.

  • Well, in a sense, didn’t he?

    Sure, Stalin had a finger on a scale in the sense that anyone who expressed dissent was killed or sent to Siberia (along with a lot of people who hadn’t even expressed dissent), but didn’t it essentially amount to the fact that people were more willing to be ruled by him than to pay the price of getting rid of him?

    By comparison, Hitler was not able to maintain rule over the parts of Russia which he conquered — primarily because the USSR was successful in getting millions of people to die in order to prevent him.

    Trying to think this through, I’m coming up with a couple of possibilities as to what “consent of the governed” might be taken to mean (if it means anything):

    1) Rulers ought to rule through the consent of their subjects, in a way which their subjects do not object to, and those who rule through force/oppression instead of through consent are “illegitimate”.

    2) A ruler derives his ability to rule through the willingness of others to listen to him, regardsless of whether he achieves this through ruling well or oppression. This may be very nearly a tautology, in that it basically amounts to saying: you’re a ruler if people follow you for some reason. On the other hand it does seem to provide a working definition which both ruler and subjects could consult: You are only the ruler if, for some reason, most of your subjects actually acknowledge you to be the ruler. (If not, you’re a pretender.)

  • So the Soviet Union still exists BA, who knew? Force can work short term, and Stalin’s reign of less than three decades was short term, but ultimately any regime cannot govern when a substantial portion of the population simply refuses to give their consent over the long term to the regime.

  • I might also note that even the Nazi regime was quite concerned about German public opinion. A good example is the successful Rosenstrasse protest of German women opposing the removal of their Jewish husbands from Berlin to concentration camps in 1943.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosenstrasse_protest

  • but ultimately any regime cannot govern when a substantial portion of the population simply refuses to give their consent over the long term to the regime.

    Not so sure about the relation between the political class and the populace. With regard to events in Soviet Russia during the years running from 1953 to 1957, I think you see evidence toward the proposition that a totalitarian order can be unsustainable because the will to sustain it hardly exists outside its author. By one account, while Stalin was on his deathbed, Laverenti Beria stood by him reviling him.

  • “By one account, while Stalin was on his deathbed, Laverenti Beria stood by him reviling him.”

    True. Then Stalin looked as if he was going to regain consciousness and Beria began kissing his hand. Little did Beria realize, although he soon found out, that Stalin’s support was the only thing keeping him alive.

    The massive bloodletting that Stalin and Mao engaged in domestically is simply unsustainable for any society. Short term they reigned supreme, long term they damaged the communist brand fatally among most of their populations.

  • A lot of Russians thought Stalin didn’t know about the oppression they suffered under – and that if he only did, he would stop it.

  • Fair point. For such an unlikeable figure, Stalin was surprisingly beloved.

  • Traditionally the Russian peasantry would say the same thing about the Tsars. “If only the little Father knew!” Stalin’s cult of personality was a knowing attempt to place himself in the Tsar’s place. When his aged mother asked Stalin just what his job was, he responded “Well mama, do you remember the Tsars? I’m sort of like a Tsar.”

  • Force can work short term, and Stalin’s reign of less than three decades was short term

    Three decades is the short term?

    So the Soviet Union still exists BA, who knew?

    The Soviet Union didn’t cease to exist because Stalin lacked the consent of the governed, but if you want an example of a still existing totalitarianism, there’s North Korea. No doubt your answer to that will be that the North Korean regime’s days are numbered, and that eventually it too will fall based on its lack of consent by the governed. Not only does this render the claim nonfalsifiable, but it renders it somewhat vacuous as well. If all the consent of the governed idea means is that a state can’t exist without popular support for thirty, er, sixty (ninety?) years then that isn’t saying much.

  • Stalin had a finger on a scale in the sense that anyone who expressed dissent was killed or sent to Siberia (along with a lot of people who hadn’t even expressed dissent), but didn’t it essentially amount to the fact that people were more willing to be ruled by him than to pay the price of getting rid of him?

    If I hand over my money to a mugger rather than be killed by him, does that mean I have consented to his having my money?

  • “No doubt your answer to that will be that the North Korean regime’s days are numbered, and that eventually it too will fall based on its lack of consent by the governed.”

    Of course it will, and you know it. North Korea isn’t a nation but rather a vast concentration camp as indicated by the starving defectors that escape from it. It is a prime example of the devastating consequences of leaders attempting to rule without the consent of the governed: a truly Orwellian nightmare of a “nation” of prisoners ruled by a few guards. Unlike Orwell’s dystopia however, North Korea is not an example of the trend of the future but rather an example of an extreme despotism doomed to die. Rather than aiding your case BA it strengthens my contention that the consent of the governed is necessary for any regime long term. A substantial portion of any population withholding that consent for long enough is going to doom any regime. Every state if it wishes to endure long term has to get consent and acceptance from most of its population.

  • I would not say that. I think you can say that in Occidental civilization, political systems with genuine durability tend to incorporate a modicum of pluralism and make ample use of deliberative institutions and political authority exercised face-to-face. The Hohenzollern and Romanov monarchies would be the notable exceptions. It also appears that the Occidental pattern is now global (more or less).

  • I’m happy that my remarks on legitimacy have stirred up so many interesting comments. I see that several people pointed out the best argument for the “legitimacy comes from consent” position–namely that if nobody recognizes a ruler as legitimate, he is not, in fact, legitimate. I would say that authority has the interesting property of being based on recognition, but not on consent. We all recognize a duty to obey the state, whether or not we consent to it (even implicitly). Where does this duty come from? Like all authority, it comes from God. I must obey the state because, strange as it may seem, for me the U.S. government symbolizes God in His role of judge and ruler. If the state only represented the will of the majority, and not God, than my obeying it would be nothing but herd-mentality servility.

    Haven’t I just pushed the problem back one more step? What gives the U.S. this symbolic value for me rather than, say, the king of Spain? I suppose its the fact that I’m part of a people, a collective consciousness, with its distinct culture, traditions, and ways of symbolizing the world. Every people must symbolize God’s authority over them, both individually and collectively, and they do that partly through the state. To withdraw allegiance from the state would be to sever myself from my ancestors and my countrymen by removing myself from their symbolic universe. Filial piety forbids me to do this.

    I hope this makes sense.

  • “If I hand over my money to a mugger rather than be killed by him, does that mean I have consented to his having my money?”

    Yes. To live instead of die is a choice.

    But, that isn’t why people follow and obey dictators, at least not in the long-term.

    Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro – none of them would have been able to come to or stay in power without the support of at least the majority. Heck, Hitler was elected. He didn’t win a majority but he did win more votes than any other candidate. Even Lenin wouldn’t make a move until election results showed that a majority of Russia’s urban workers supported the Bolsheviks (even though they were overwhelmingly opposed by the rest of Russia). While they were in the minority among the group they believed they needed to win, Lenin insisted on pacifism for purely pragmatic reasons. Castro and Mao and other third world dictators had legions of followers who supported their rise and maintained their power.

    Anti-imperialism was a popular and powerful force. The hearts and minds of the young were swiftly captured and turned against skeptical or resistant parents. People believed they were breathing the air of genuine freedom – from domination by Western powers. They saw measures we would consider totalitarian and unworthy of human dignity as necessities in the struggle against imperialism.

    Sure, these totalitarian regimes will eventually collapse – new leaders that don’t have the same charisma will replace the ones that did have it. The old problems that the leaders sought to address will vanish, or their successors will make things worse than they were. It only takes a few military units to sour on the regime for the whole thing to come tumbling down.

  • “If I hand over my money to a mugger rather than be killed by him, does that mean I have consented to his having my money?”

    Yes. To live instead of die is a choice.

    By this logic rape would be impossible. Rape is sex without consent. But when a man with a gun threatens to kill a woman unless she submits, she chooses to live instead of die, which is a choice. Hence the sex is consensual, and hence not rape.

    Of course the above argument is invalid, because it just isn’t the case that you consent to something when forced into it at the point of a gun.

  • Well, first of all, it wouldn’t be impossible – if you physically pin a person down, even their choice to resist wouldn’t matter.

    In your example, how is a choice NOT being made? To say there is no choice is to say that there is literally no other possibility. This is simply false.

    Perhaps there is a difference between simply making a choice, and “consenting” – I’ll grant that. But there is a choice.

  • Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro – none of them would have been able to come to or stay in power without the support of at least the majority.

    There is a distinction between organizational skills and popular support. Moqtada al-Sadr was able to establish himself as a power in Iraq even though his political party has clocked in with less than 5% of the vote in competitive elections. Columbia’s insurgent groups made a brief foray into electoral politics twenty years ago and their performance suggested a base of similar size; those characters have been making a mess of Columbian public life since 1964 or therabouts..

  • In your example, how is a choice NOT being made?

    Did I say there was no choice being made? I said there was no consent.

The Dignity of the Working Man

Monday, September 7, AD 2009

It is perhaps not a bad time to devote a few thoughts to the dignity of work. Work is not always seen in a wholly positive light. Many of us don’t like going to work, and the rigors of labor are reflect in Adam’s curse, when after the fall he is told that he shall eat only by the sweat of his brow, struggling to win sustenance from an unfriendly soil.

Yet we also recognize that that is an essential dignity to labor. Through labor we meet the essential needs of life, and labor is frequently a service: Husbands and wives labor for each others’ sake, parents labor to support children, we share the fruits of our labor with our churches, with the less fortunate, with our friends and family. We rightly take great pleasure and pride in serving others this way. As a father, even the most tiresome or repetitive task can be a source of satisfaction to me when I know that by this means I am providing for the needs and pleasures of my wife and children.

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4 Responses to The Dignity of the Working Man

  • The odd thing is that some of the leftist Catholics around here will be completely impervious to anything you just said. It’s not that they’ll disagree with it, it’s that they won’t even comprehend that anyone could sincerely care about anything other than maximizing the amount of money transferred from one pocket to another. In their stunted view of the world (and of the Church), the only thing that matters is how much money people have.

  • Excellent article!!!

    I am a left-leaning Catholic and I agree very much with your words and sentiments.

    I particularly like how you (who ever the author is) describe the dignity of work. As a teacher I have found that almost to a person, all students from every background and socio-economic level enjoy the feeling of doing work, just like all people like enjoy and even have the need to learn useful things. They get trained and taught to see learning as worse than playing and the they get habituated to the idea that work is something to be avoided, but once they are in a situation where they are contributing and improving themselves, they have unbounded energy. Just as an example, practicing for football is not really that much more of an enjoyable exercise than weeding a garden. Yet our culture (liberal and conservative) cheer for the one on Friday nights while pretty much ignoring the other. This and the natural tendency to equate success with million dollar contracts for football for a very small group compared to the minor economic incentive for the millions who labor in fields, creates a message that kids understand.

    I believe you insightfully described the tension between the “common good” and “social welfare” between the relationships of a “closed community” and an open and diverse, larger society. These tensions are huge and the answers are not simple unless you, like the Amish consistently and consciously remove yourself in some ways from one or the other. Yet even Amish communities are advertising their products on the internet.

    I agree that federal government programs almost always oversimplify issues and local problems. The local and personal responsibility should always be the first step in dealing with any issue, including labor laws and regulations if needed. Yet corporations over the last several decades, have successfully gotten the legal standing to remove themselves from local responsibilities. I would rather unions and labor laws be few and weak; I’d rather welfare and regulations be unnecessary, but in a time when honest physical work and small businesses are being disadvantaged compared to large corporations, there does need to be some balance maintained.

    Your last paragraph is excellent and I think reflects my views and the views of most liberal and conservative leaning Catholics!

    Addendum: Globally industrialization and urbanization have created some of the most powerful pressures on families and societies. Both create greater physical dependencies upon populations for everything from food and water to social contacts. I think these changes have been far too rapid for most societies to adapt sensibly and are a major cause for why some conservatives feel the need to embrace cutthroat economic, objectivist views and some liberals to embrace socialist, “nanny state” views. Both are over-reaction to overwhelming changes and the I expect the best thing that we can do is to be realistic, respectful and compassionate in our debates.

    Addendum: Maybe some on the far liberal side are myopically focused on the idea that money by nature bad or that wealth needs to be constantly redistributed from the rich to the poor, but actually that is a pretty rare belief. To be progressive or left-leaning does not mean to be a socialist or a fascist as Glen Beck likes to claim. That is a form of propaganda, like the idea that dems are always “weak on national defense” and “tax and spend.” It is an example of delegitimizing an opponent by oversimplifying their position. (For example most of the legislators in the House of Reps who are ex-military, are democrats.)

    Last Addendum: I personally have worked as a member of a union and most of the time I haven’t even noticed them. I think they need to change dramatically. As Steve Jobs of Apple once said, I’d support teacher unions if they could tell me how to fire bad teachers.

  • I’m not sure if I get some sort of consensus award for writing something that both SB and MacGregor like, or if that just means I wrote something incredibly general, but thanks, guys.

    MacGregor,

    For some reason the template only shows the author’s name in the footer on the home page, not when you click through to that article itself. Dunno how that looks in RSS if that’s what you’re using. But this one is mine. You can also see things by author if you click on the “Authors” links in the sidebar. We span a pretty wide spectrum politically, though I think everyone has a lot of respect for each others’ commitments to the Church.

  • I serve on the board of a social enterprise (a more appropriate term for what we do than a “charity”) that serves people with disabilities. Our goal is to have work for them to do. I have to admit that before I began serving on this board, I wrote off the term “the dignity of work” as just blather. But being around people with disabilities, who are excited to be able to go to work, made clear to me what the term really means. Not being able to work, not being allowed to work is the great indignity.

    Virtually everyone can serve others, in some way, through what most of us call “work.” I am concerned about institutional barriers to that service and, frankly, have to question the morality of them. I’m thinking of minimum wage laws (if I can do something but not very much, minimum wage laws say that it’s better that I don’t have a job), work permits (why should I be prevented from working here because I was born in another country?) and the like.

    I remember seeing a video about the Irish American experience. They had an interview with the son of an immigrant who had worked in the hard rock mines of Montana. He said that “One day, I asked my dad, ‘Why do you do it? Why do you go down in that hole every day?’ My dad looked and me and said ‘Makin’ a better life for the likes of you.’ I never asked him about it again.”

Who Says No

Thursday, August 20, AD 2009

People at various points in the ideological spectrum have pointed out it’s a little odd to see conservatives objecting to the idea of the government deciding what medical procedures ought not to be covered, when they’re apparently okay with insurance companies deciding what procedures ought not be covered, or with people not being able to afford procedures because they lack good insurance. However, it strikes me this difference may actually make a fair amount of sense, both for some pragmatic reasons and some emotional/ideological ones.

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6 Responses to Who Says No

  • Mark Steyn:

    http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=YmI3YzBjMTI4NDVjMjViMThjM2VhMzQwYjY4YjdkODE=

    Right now, if I want a hip replacement, it’s between me and my doctor; the government does not have a seat at the table. The minute it does, my hip’s needs are subordinate to national hip policy, which in turn is subordinate to macro budgetary considerations.

    ***
    You’re accepting that the state has jurisdiction over your hip, and your knee, and your prostate and everything else. And once you accept that proposition the fellows who get to make the “ruling” are, ultimately, a death panel. Usually, they call it something nicer — literally, like Britain’s National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

    ***
    After my weekend column recounted the experience of a recent British visitor of mine, I received an e-mail from a gentleman in Glasgow who cannot get an x-ray for his back — because he has no sovereignty over his back. His back is merely part of the overall mass of Scottish backs, to which a government budget has been allocated, but alas one which does not run to x-rays.

    Government “panels” making “rulings” over your body: Acceptance of that concept is what counts.

  • After my weekend column recounted the experience of a recent British visitor of mine, I received an e-mail from a gentleman in Glasgow who cannot get an x-ray for his back — because he has no sovereignty over his back.

    See, I’m instinctively opposed to greater government involvement, but I can’t see it ever happening in America. X-rays aren’t that expensive, and he would always be able to buy an X-ray on his own dime. X-rays aren’t that expensive. It’s not a conservative principle to demand that government welfare programs pay for everything imaginable.

  • I’d say it is when the government program forecloses other options.

  • But I don’t see how a government program here could even conceivably prevent anybody from getting an X-ray on their own dime.

  • “People prefer making hard choices themselves — even if it’s not much of a “choice”. “”

    I hope this is true!

  • Bonus, if your insurance company sucks and you go buy something else, you don’t have to keep paying the old insurance company.

Conservative Nation

Tuesday, August 18, AD 2009

2009 -08-04-consumer-confidence-better

Gallup is out with an interesting poll here showing that self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals in all but three states, often by substantial margins.  In three states, Hawaii, Vermont and Massachusetts, liberals and conservatives are tied. Liberals are only in a majority in the District of Columbia.  The state by state results are here.  As a conservative I would like to thank President Obama for his hard work in swelling the ranks of conservatives in time for next year’s elections. 

 

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6 Responses to Conservative Nation

  • It’s certainly true that the number of people identifying as ‘conservative’ has gone up, but party affiliation (i.e. ‘Republican’ v. ‘Democrat’) is more instructive from my perspective – and tells a very different story about the relative strength of the parties. Measured by registered party affiliation, Democrats have a sizable advantage in 30 states; Republicans in 4.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/122003/Political-Party-Affiliation-States-Blue-Red-Far.aspx

  • Ah, John Henry, but it is the independents who usually determine the elections and in the latest polls their views are swinging strongly in a Republican way. As a conservative, I’ll take strength in ideological numbers over party id any day. We’ll see in 2010.

  • November 2010 is an eternity away, politically speaking.

    Just as it was unwise to extrapolate permanent Republican and Democratic majorities based on the elections of 2002/2004 and 2006/2008 respectively, it’s too early to tell if this has some modest realignment potential or is just focused anger at a current set of policies.

    A lot can happen in 14 months.

  • Self-described conservatives have outnumbered self-described liberals for decades, so that’s not really new. Registered Democrats have also traditionally tended to outnumber registered Republicans, though the gap did close briefly during the Bush years.

    I suspect that the polling on conservatives vs. liberals paints an overly rosy picture (at least from a conservative perspective). People who hold stereotypically liberal views have a tendency to disclaim the liberal label (perhaps you’ve noticed this) which would tend to make the number of liberals appear lower in polling than is actually the case.

  • I doubt if we have to wait till 2010 on second thought. The Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections are usually fairly accurate bellweathers for the coming year, and those will occur in November of 2009.

    If people aren’t going to self-identify as liberals now with liberals in complete control of the federal government they never will. I think Gallup is catching something here. I might also note that there are a fair number of self-described Democrats who haven’t voted for the party of the donkey in years. My mother-in-law is such a “Democrat”.

  • Per Rasmussen the Gop has led the Democrats now on the generic Congressional ballot for eight straight weeks.

    http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/mood_of_america/generic_congressional_ballot

    This of course is very important because candidates are now being recruited and building up warchests.

Conservatism is Alive and Well

Thursday, July 9, AD 2009

BurkeIt has become popular to sound the death-knell of Conservatism.  I believe the evidence indicates otherwise.

The latest polls indicate that Conservatism is in great shape.  A plurality of Americans consider themselves conservative.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/120857/Conservatives-Single-Largest-Ideological-Group.aspx

At 40% self-identified conservatives are almost twice as numerous as self-identified liberals at 21%.

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29 Responses to Conservatism is Alive and Well

  • I think part of the reason that self-identified conservatism and pro-life are on the rise is not so much that people’s beliefs are changing, but because they are starting to realize what it is to be pro-choice and liberal by watching Obama.

    I believe Bush’s +/- did not hit that low until late in his first term, am I mistaken? How long did it take Carter to get that low? Just curious.

  • Don,

    Do you believe the GOP is legitimately conservative? Do you think that if they came “roaring” back in 2010 that they would have learned from their mistakes from 1994-2006?

    As I’ve said before, my major sticking point with the GOP is on spending and foreign policy. The Republicans can talk all they want about reigning in social programs and spending, but in the arena of the military industrial complex, they have no qualms with a perpetual distortion of the economy to keep the U.S. on a war-footing. To me that says the party is neither interested in a true peace nor is it interested in a defensive strategy for the country that does not exacerbate brewing conflicts. It makes them closer to their liberal counterparts.

    I think there are glints of hope, but for me it comes from the more libertarian wing of the party. I’m more interested in seeing if Peter Schiff runs and takes on Chris Dodd in Connecticut or if Rand Paul can mount a proper run in Kentucky. For any one paying attention to the House, it seems as if Ron Paul is finally being taken seriously by his own party on monetary and economic matters. His H.R. 1207 bill to audit the Fed is a major victory for him regardless of whether it passes. Ideologically speaking, what Paul represents is the genuine enemy to Obama’s socialism/statism.

    If the Republicans regain a modicum of congressional power and then immediately go back to business as usual… well it will only prove their irrelevance to those of us who lean conservative but have left the GOP.

  • Anthony

    I guess it all comes down to what Conservative is. I have stated for some time that the various conservatisms being at eachg other throat and wanting to expell the other branches has been counterproductive. I very much would like to return to the world of I agree with you on 70 to 80 percent of things and will agree to disagree on the other 30 to 20 percent.

    However each branch (The Paleos, The Decicit hawks, the Cruncy Cons, the Libertarians, the neo cons, the social conservatives) like the French Revolution just keep yelling purity purity purity. As we see in the French Revolutuon that did not work out so well.

    At some point people did to fight things out in the primary and learn to work together

  • Donald,

    The latest polls indicate that Conservatism is in great shape.  A plurality of Americans consider themselves conservative.

    I think it should be pointed out that “Conservative” has been defined, re-defined and re-defined yet again; the most current definition (that which the general populace might regard as “conservative”) might actually be what was formerly considered in preceding years “liberal”, at the very least.

  • Now, this is a funny post, given that I just had an article posted on Inside Catholic today arguing that conservatism’s prospects don’t look so good.

    http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6416&Itemid=48

    Depending on how you word a political question, you can get people to agree to just about anything. I can also point to polls where the majority of Americans support national health insurance.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/01/washington/01cnd-poll.html

    This was a pretty big factor in the 08 election too. No one wants to hear that “healthcare is a privilege” and not a right. A candidate who doesn’t look serious about ensuring that all Americans receive health coverage is doomed. The GOP is incapable of saying much more beyond “government shouldn’t do it”. That’s just not enough anymore.

    There are polls like this, which show a generational gap that could be deadly for the GOP in the future:

    http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2008/05/progressive_generation.htm

    As a “millennial” (boardering on Gen-X), I concur with the assessment made here. And I think this part of Obama’s appeal. Then there are the demographic shifts which will make whites a minority by the middle of the century, maybe the end of the century. I guarantee these latest polls don’t take into account the millions of potential Hispanic voters.

    That said, here’s what I think: conservatism as an ideology may do alright, but the GOP as a party is dying a slow, painful death.

    In the end, many Americans want things that are contradictory given the political options they have available. What matters most are political priorities. If the majority of Americans are pro-life, that’s great – but how important is it next to the economy, next to other issues? If its at the bottom of the list, then it doesn’t matter.

  • “However each branch (The Paleos, The Decicit hawks, the Cruncy Cons, the Libertarians, the neo cons, the social conservatives) like the French Revolution just keep yelling purity purity purity.”

    I don’t know if I’m looking for purity so much as I am honesty. The only place where I’m more inclined towards “purity” is in the Constitution. The only honest way to govern, IMHO, is by holding to it in the extreme. If there are provisions that we disagree with or think are no longer sustainable, then we ought to have the intellectual honesty and willingness to amend it, rather than just go off any which way we choose and chalk it up to “interpretation”.

  • “At some point people did to fight things out in the primary and learn to work together.”

    Agreed, and I think by 2010 what has happened this year under the Obama administration will be a great unifier. I always have contended that Jimmy Carter made more conservative converts than Ronald Reagan ever did. Mr. Obama is now providing the same service.

  • Given that eulogies were delivered for the GOP in 1992 and for the Dems in 1994, 2002 and 2004, I’m suspect of any claim that a party is about to die.

    That said, to hell with the GOP. I’ve tired of their pro-life lip-service. Few Republicans have stood up against the culture of death except for token gestures to NRTL. We’ve even seen Republicans here vote AGAINST measures that would ban state funding to institutions that perform late-term abortions in caucus because it would bolster the credentials of certain pro-life Democrats. Even the Republicans against abortion turn a blind eye toward or are complicit in massive contraception funding.

    Enough talk about reform. It’s time for revolution.

  • Given that eulogies were delivered for the GOP in 1992…

    The GOP has already gone the way of the Whigs; you just haven’t realized it.

    I mean, come on: a liberal like George W. Bush regarded as “conservative”?

    The new breed is not ‘GOP’; the GOP died long ago.

  • “I mean, come on: a liberal like George W. Bush regarded as “conservative”?

    The new breed is not ‘GOP’; the GOP died long ago.”

    Bush was not a liberal. Again there are many branches of conservative thought and we have to dela with that. If the Bush’s of the world are liberals then we can have the GOP convention in a phone booth.

  • If the Bush’s of the world are liberals then we can have the GOP convention in a phone booth.

    Good luck finding one…

  • Gripes about the GOP have been a staple on the Right long before Barry Goldwater, and I have sometimes engaged in such griping myself. The simple truth is that there is no other party for winning elections by conservatives other than the GOP. Libertarians, considering how long they been around, have shown a complete inability to attract votes. Third parties, such as the Constitution Party, are a complete waste of time if the goal is to actually win elections rather than to vent. The GOP is the conservative party in this country and the goal of conservatives should be to increase their dominance within that party.

  • If the GOP wins elections by selling out pro-lifers and fiscal conservatives, I have no vested interest in seeing them win elections.

  • Agreed Steve and that is why it is important for conservatives to increase their dominance in the party. The Stop Rudi movement last year helped prevent Giuliani from coming within shouting distance of the nomination last year. Similiar movements can be utilized to prevent those who are not fiscally conservative from winning nominations. By 2010 I think the political environment will be favorable to conservatives, especially in Republican primary elections.

  • In the end, many Americans want things that are contradictory given the political options they have available.

    I think that’s a good point, Joe. Though part of that contradicts the mandate for universal health care: Polls generally show that while Americans are in favor of universal health care, they are not in favor of higher taxes, of the government rationing health care, or the government telling them where they can get covered health care. Classic case of the people being in favor of having cake so long as that won’t prevent them from eating it first. Where this will all end up is hard to say, but I have serious doubts that the idea that general opinion has actually shifted much at all to the left — just as claims that it had shifted much to the right in 94-04 were exaggerated.

    e. & Steve,

    For sure, the GOP is not as conservative as many would like, and I think everyone has standing beefs with it’s recent direction. (My own have to do with immigration and fiscal responsibility.) One of the things that the American two party system tends to do, though, is draw both parties towards the center of gravity. If we had half a dozen or more viable political parties like a lot of parliamentary democracies, we might be able to find niche parties more precisely to our liking, but given the American system we’re pretty much left to try to make sure our own ideas gain the upper hand within the wider GOP.

    I’ve always thought it would be interesting if the two major parties split into 4-6 medium-sized ones, but I don’t see it as very likely since so many political forces reinforce unity. Given that, taking our toys and going home doesn’t really do conservatives much good.

  • Bush was not a liberal…

    George W. Bush not a liberal?

    The man who single handedly destroyed the remnants of social conservatism — something even his opponents would never have done — not a liberal?

    Truly, conservatism (as it was once known) is dead.

  • Donald and Darwin,

    Sorry for getting a little hot under the collar, here. Just thinking about the way the GOP and some of the high-profile right to life orgs have double-crossed the pro-life movement gets me a little fiery. It drives me nuts that W. has pro-life cred when he became the first prez to fund research on the destruction of human life.

    That said, I fear we are witnessing the opposite of Darwin’s ideal of having 4-6 smaller niche parties. Rather than having two parties, we have just one. I certainly don’t think McCain would be as awful as Obama. But I do feel pretty confident that policy (particularly fiscal) would be quite similar in nature.

    I don’t think the two party system is anchored to the center to appeal to the masses. I think it’s anchored to the center because the same interests fund both parties.

    The powers that be offer us two alternatives that both advance their ends, and I suspect they care little who wins. For 20 years we’ve gotten identical policy from both parties: Center-right on foreign policy, unapologetic defense of Israeli aggression, fiscal irresponsibility, and center-left on pro-life issues.

  • The Republicans can talk all they want about reigning in social programs and spending, but in the arena of the military industrial complex, they have no qualms with a perpetual distortion of the economy to keep the U.S. on a war-footing.

    If I am not mistaken, the share of domestic product accounted for by military expenditure has increased from 3.6% to 4.4% in the last decade.

  • Libertarians need to take over the Republican party. Its that simple. I agree with Don, the libertarian party has been unable to attract votes. I think that is due in part to their own awkward, compromised platform.

    Ironically, Peter Schiff today announced his exploratory committee to run as a Republican from Connecticut. As a guy who predicted the economic collapse for years while being laughed at, I wish him luck. Like Rep. Paul, I doubt he’ll be able to count on his own party to support him.

    But if Schiff can make it through the primary, I think he has a better than 50/50 shot at sending Chris Dodd home. Good riddance, I say.

    The GOP must return to its principles and then deliver on them. That’s why they’ve been loosing. It won’t be long before the Obama-luster starts to wear off big time…

  • It’s not clear to me that conservatism qua conservatism is winning so much as the economy isn’t improving, and people (irrationally in many cases) blame whoever happens to be President for what’s going on in the economy. If the economy recovers in time for the mid-terms, Obama and the Congressional Democrats will be fine. If it doesn’t they won’t and he may be in trouble in 2012 (if the GOP can find a candidate). But I don’t think it means conservatism is alive and well – although reports of its death (like liberalism in 2004) may have been greatly exaggerated.

  • I don’t think the two party system is anchored to the center to appeal to the masses. I think it’s anchored to the center because the same interests fund both parties.

    So it’s just a coincidence that the policies of both parties tend towards the center?

  • B.A.,

    I dispute the notion that policy of both parties gravitates toward center. As it has been previously mentioned in this thread, the center jumps all over. When we only have two mainstream parties, the center will be halfway between each party, almost by definition.

    It’s all relativism. I think many of us here would agree that neither party is anywhere near the middle on fiscal policy. A true fiscal centrist, these days, would be derided as an extreme, right-wing capitalist.

  • The center shifts depending on events. The election of Reagan signaled a shift to the right in many areas. Reagan, with many false steps to be sure, helped lay the groundwork for a formidable resurgence of the GOP which did not end until 2006. Now Obama, in his own way, is helping lay the groundwork for such a resurgence again.

    http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/obama_administration/daily_presidential_tracking_poll

    I agree with John Henry that much, as always in American politics, depends upon the economy. That is why while I am optimistic politically I think this coming winter will be rather grim, unfortunately, economically. I am besieged currently with more bankruptcies and foreclosures than I have ever experienced before. If the economy has hit bottom, one would not know it from Central Illinois. Here I think the worst is yet to come, and I have been giving this warning to all of my clients, both institutional and individual.

  • I dispute the notion that policy of both parties gravitates toward center. As it has been previously mentioned in this thread, the center jumps all over. When we only have two mainstream parties, the center will be halfway between each party, almost by definition.

    The center will be halfway between the two parties only insofar as those parties gravitate towards the center. To take an extreme example, if one of the parties were to come out in favor of cannibalism, this wouldn’t move the center towards a more pro-cannibal position, but would only serve to marginalize that party.

  • B.A.,

    I think that point is pretty absurd.

    But if we will enter the realm of the absurd, than I’d counter by saying I suspect if there were a pro-cannibalism organization with a great deal of money and clout or a strong cannibalism union, that we’d be hearing a lot about how cannibalism is only one issue among many or that “I voted for him in spite of his pro-cannibalistic viewpoints.”

    At various points in time this last half century, you could have made that same point substituting abortion, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, same-sex marriage, and a whole host of other issues for cannibalism.

  • At various points in time this last half century, you could have made that same point substituting abortion, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, same-sex marriage, and a whole host of other issues for cannibalism.

    True. If public opinion were to become more pro-cannibal, so would the politicians (as Mencken wrote of Harry Truman “[i]f there had been any formidable body of cannibals in the country, he would have promised to provide them with free missionaries fattened at the taxpayers’ expense.”) But in that case the political parties would be following public opinion, not the other way around.

  • If, as Don predicts, “the worst is yet to come” economically, that could cut both ways when it comes to conservatism/liberalism.

    While right now it seems to be producing a groundswell of tax revolts and demands to rein in government spending, cut social programs, etc., it could also have the opposite effect as more people find themselves in need of government-funded or supported services.

  • Not if they blame the Obama policies Elaine for producing an Obama recession or, God Forbid!, an Obama depression. What the government is doing now is completely opposite from what it should be doing to encourage economic growth. Unfortunately a great many people are going to get a very nasty lesson in what happens when we have, at best, a double dip recession.

  • This is what I mean by signs that the worst is yet to come.

    http://www.ntcnews.com/2009/07/wall-street-pm-070909-dow-stays-under.html

Diagnosing contemporary conservatism's ills.

Monday, June 22, AD 2009

Apropos of DarwinCatholic’s post on the meaning of conservatism, the following comment from Francis Beckwith (What’s Wrong With The World) struck a chord:

“Conservatism–as a philosophical, cultural, and political project–does in fact have boundaries, and those have been set by the cluster of ideas offered by such giants as Burke, Lincoln, Chesterton, Lewis, Hayek, Chambers, Friedman, Kirk, Weaver, Gilder, Buckley, and Reagan. There are, of course, disagreements among these thinkers and their followers, but there is an identifiable stream of thought. It informs our understanding of human nature, families, civil society, just government, and markets.

“What contemporary conservatism has lost–especially in its Hannitized and Coulterized manifestations of superficial ranting–is the connection to a paternity that is necessary so that its intellectual DNA may be passed on to its progeny.

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16 Responses to Diagnosing contemporary conservatism's ills.

  • DEAR GOD! YES! YES! YES!

    Christopher, this is one of those moments when someone puts fragmented thoughts into coherent words.

  • This also reminds me to write that letter to FOX as to why I think Sean Hannity should just be taken off the air.

  • I confess I don’t see much of a identifiable stream of thought among the figures mentioned. Some of them, no doubt, would have been horrified at being identified with others in the group, or explicitly disclaimed any conservativism.

    The intellectual foundations of conservativism have always been something of a post hoc affair (I’m not saying this is unique to conservativism). The way people talk, you’d think the average Goldwater voter could have quoted you chapter and verse from Russell Kirk. I doubt it.

  • Perhaps our writer would like all conservatives to be nice and polite and drink tea with pinkies upended. When the world of ideas is a moshpit where knees and elbows are needed. He forgets that William F. Buckley Jr. of blessed memory, an elite by birth, used very sharp elbows and knees in public debate. Firing Line was the model for many of the Fox News programs- Buckley would invite liberal guests, only to undress them clothing article by clothing article. In the Media World, conservatives operate at a disadvantage of numbers and resources. Hannity, Coulter, et al, even with the ratings dominance of Fox, must compensate with honking rhetoric at times. Meanwhile, El Rushbo gets bigger numbers than anybody anywhere. Mostly on the strength of his ideas.

  • Blackadder — true, it’s not that cut and dry. On that note, I had recommended this introductory essay on the other thread — on the disparate influences and intellectual threads of “American conservatism” and their points of agreement.

    I found George Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 is also a good read.

    Regarding Beckwith’s criticism, while before my time, I’m disappointed that we don’t have a television show of the calibre of, say, Buckley’s Firing Line.

    The wasteland of Fox News’ “pseudo-conservative” television has to some degree been replaced by blogs and online interactions. Websites like “First Principles” and the various journals (First Things, Weekly Standard, etc.) which might encourage such a return to and examination of conservatism’s intellectual sources.

    Due credit to Ann Coulter, however — apparently she did recommend Chambers’ Witness in one of her books and prompted a number of them to take it up.

  • *laughs* Of course the TV guys aren’t known for their great philosophical arguments!

    They’re not dealing with highly philosophical folks who want to listen and reason– they’re dealing with folks who either already agree, or who are disposed *not* to agree and will only consider their words if they’re sufficiently startled.

    Sweet Mother, most of the folks watching will be results of the public school system– the same one that has more years of sex ed than history ed?

    Would we also be surprised at sidewalk preachers who appeal less with sweet reason than with ways to get your attention, then direct you to places you can get more information?

    Sure, they’re shallow– but they get the ideas out.

    I’d argue that right thought is less suited to this style of being spread, which is why left thought is so much more common in the area.

  • There has to be some kind of middle ground where we are able to firmly articulate our beliefs backed by a fairly in depth understanding of our historical roots. I’d agree with Frank and with Chris on the boorishness of Fox News and most of its talking heads, though I think he’s underestimating Laura Ingraham and, to a lesser extent, Coulter.

    What we’re seeing time and again in these blog debates are two groups kind of talking past one another. There are a group of conservatives that are tired of taking what seems to be the Marquess of Queensberry approach to political debate, and another concerned about the crassness of some of the political commentary. While I can understand the hesitation on the part of the latter group, it does seem that there’s a subtext to this debate as often the people who cry the loudest for a more temperate tone also want a more temperate kind of conservatism, one that abandons some of the core principles and policy positions of modern conservatism. This only angers the other side even more, and so the rhetoric becomes even more intemperate.

    And as much as it pains me to say this, perhaps we should stop being overly academic. There’s absolutely nothing wrong – and it’s in part necessary to understand the philosophic roots of conservatism. But we’re not going to make that many advances with master’s theses and doctoral dissertations (that was a very painful sentence to write). We should be able to convey the eternal principles of conservatism without boring the masses to sleep, but without the gutteral thoughtlessness of people like Hannity.

  • It strikes me that part of the thing here is that if one has a political movement which a larger percentage of its voters are actually interested in, it will have a fairly loud/populist tone to many of its spokespeople. One can only get away with having a calm, elite, academic tone to all debate if one’s actual voters are such absolute sheep that they don’t bother following any of the movement discussion.

    The solution is simply to have layered communication vehicles, some of which are okay with remaining small because of the limits of their appeal. Fox News and talk radio by their nature need to appeal to tens of millions of people. Magazines like National Review, American Spectator or First Things necessarily take a higher brow approach, and have a smaller appeal.

  • “Sure, they’re shallow– but they get the ideas out.”

    Well said Foxfier. People like Rush, Hannity, Levin, Ingraham and Coulter have to entertain in order to stay on the air. They also carry the conservative message to a mass audience, something that National Review and blogs simply can’t do. I would also note that when WFB started National Review it was attacked as sensationalist and boorish. I recall one initial review stating that the country needed an intelligent conservative journal but National Review clearly did not meet the bill!

    There is more than enough room in the conservative movement for both conservatives of the head and of the heart.

  • To the extent that Rush Limbaugh can communicate the core convictions and ideas of conservatives and/or the Republican Party in a popular medium, he has my wholehearted support.

    Where I get off the Limbaugh train is, say, his off-the-cuff loose cannon remarks — for example, on the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib:

    “This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we’re going to ruin people’s lives over it, and we’re going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I’m talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You [ever] heard of need to blow some steam off?”

    and taking a cavalier “it’s not torture if you can survive it” approach to waterboarding.

    To the extent that these kind of remarks become — given his popularity (and Hannity’s, and Coulter’s, et al.) — the public face of American conservatism for the masses and the media alike, I see that as an impediment.

    And I don’t think even William Buckley himself, despite his penchant for “sharp elbows and knees”, would have approved.

  • I believe it was William F. Buckley, he of the upended pinky and refined manners, who referred to Gore Vidal as a “fa___t.”

    So, as long as we’re talking about superficial ranting, which Buckley did plenty of times, I don’t really see the difference between him and Hannity, except that Beckwith uses him to make his alleged point.

    By the way, Beckwith compares favorably with Hannity, Coulter, et al., in his own ignorance of his tradition when he speaks of Catholicism.

  • Nemo,

    On Beckwith and his comprehension of Catholicism (as a convert to such): irrelevant and stick to the topic.

    Paul,

    Completely agree w/ your comments @ 11:03 am.

    I admit these days much of what I see — from the pundits at Fox News to the recent RNC resolution to call on the Democratic Party to rename itself “Democrat Socialist Party” to Michael Steele’s “the GOP needs a Hip Hop makeover!” and rationally-challenged articulation of pro-life principles — makes me wince.

  • I believe it was William F. Buckley, he of the upended pinky and refined manners, who referred to Gore Vidal as a “fa___t.”

    Buckley once called Vidal a queer during a heated exchange in which Vidal had referred to him as a crypto-Nazi. I doubt it was an exchange he wished others to emulate.

  • In regard to Michael Steele Christopher, we are in complete agreement. The man can’t seem to make up his own mind as to what he believes, let alone lead the RNC!

  • It’s on youtube if you’d like to see it in context, too.

    Frankly, I can’t say an accurate sexual slur rises to the level of offense of “you are a wanna-be mass murdering, eugenically-minded quasi-pagan trying to take over the world.” Not very productive, but I’d have offered to clobber the tootaloo too.

  • “I believe it was William F. Buckley, he of the upended pinky and refined manners, who referred to Gore Vidal as a “fa___t.” ”

    Buckley said it on nation-wide television, although he used the term “queer”.

    Here is a link to the video and the transcript:

    http://concordlive.wordpress.com/2008/02/28/william-f-buckley-jr-vs-gore-vidal-1968/

    As far as I know Buckley never expressed any regret for what he said, and considering it was said to Gore Vidal, good novelist but rancid human being, leaving completely aside his sexual preference, I can understand why.

What Is Conservatism

Sunday, June 21, AD 2009

Seeing a fair amount of discussion as to what “conservatism” is or is not cropping up on various threads — and not having time to write a massive treatise on the topic — I’d like to put forward a few basic thoughts on the topic and then turn it loose for conversation with our readership, which clearly has a number of opinions as to the matter.

I would argue that conservatism is, to a great extent, a relative term. Conservatives seek to preserve the ways and institutions of the past. In the ancient Greek and Roman world, there was a worldview present among conservatives that there had been, in the past, a literal golden age — in the age of the great heroes. Among modern conservatives, resistance to change is rooted more in a suspicion of programs of change based upon ideologies that seek to remake the human person or society into new forms. In this sense, conservatives do not necessarily hold that the way things have been in the past are necessarily good, but they lean towards the fear that drastic change will make things worse.

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30 Responses to What Is Conservatism

  • There has to be something more to conservatism than a simple defense of the status quo, whenever, wherever.

    I believe the Church’s social doctrine is essentially conservative. I also think Aristotle was essentially conservative. I think the conservative view of society, at least up until this thing called American conservatism, is that of a hierarchical social organism.

    It is a travesty that in this day and age only leftists are regarded as opposing great social inequality, while those on the right – often, not always, but often – justify it or at least accept it as a necessary outcome of economic freedom.

    For in Aristotelian and Catholic political thought, which I think anyone would be hard-pressed to dismiss as ‘leftist’ (seeing as how both pre-date the concept), wealth and property can and must be regulated with an eye to preserving a social balance. It isn’t about leveling or envy; it is about preserving the peace and ensuring that each member of society is rightfully recognized for the contribution they make.

    A conservative, then, has the goal of preserving or conserving society as a social organism. Whether it is ancient Greece or America in the Great Depression, you have those who insist that economic freedom is good only within limits, that the role of government may extend beyond mere prevention of force and fraud.

  • American conservatism is, in large part, the political ideals of the Founding Fathers. These ideals of course did not spring newborn to Earth in 1776. The largest ingredient was the experience of the American colonists from the time of settlement up to the Revolution. The colonies were largely left to their own devices by England throughout most of the colonial period. They grew used to running their own affairs. The American colonists were lightly taxed by the governments they set up, probably the most lightly taxed people in the history of the world. Self-reliance was a must in a new country with virtually zero in government services, and not much in the way of government at all, especially outside of the few towns. This was a great laboratory for a grand experiment in a new way of looking at government, and this experiment is still underway.

  • There has to be something more to conservatism than a simple defense of the status quo, whenever, wherever.

    Well, I would say that at any given time and place, conservatives have an ideology which is rather more than this, but that the conservative tendency is one towards preservation of whatever is seen as the good of the past.

    It is a travesty that in this day and age only leftists are regarded as opposing great social inequality, while those on the right – often, not always, but often – justify it or at least accept it as a necessary outcome of economic freedom.

    In a sense, though, wasn’t this the case in many earlier cases as well? Around 1800, conservatives (and the Church very much among them) were defending, at least in essentials, a system in which the vast majority of the population were effectively bound to the land and living at a level barely above subsistence, while a small minority owned the land and enjoyed a level of wealth and comfort unimaginable to peasants. The liberalism of the French Revolution and the other political and cultural revolutions which swept Europe were imagined to be a leveling force, though in many ways they opened the door to a devolution of social structures which allowed even greater social inequality.

    Not only were conservatives (and the Church) defending a system of inequality, but of ingrained and inflexible inequality. Modern inequality is, at least, porous and meritocratic in nature by comparison.

  • Darwin,

    You have hit on my favorite topic!!! A few points:

    Conservatism begins with Burke.

    A plausible case, depending upon definition, can be made for “pre-Burke conservative figures” (limiting to the the West and obviously depending upon defintion). I believe a good case can be made for Cicero and Hume.

    The Enlightenment changed everything. And I mean everything. We cannot escape this umbrella. Rights-infused liberalism is in the very air we breathe. Thus conservatism in any definition will contain some aspect of liberalism.

    Here is my definition of conservatism. In one phrase, the negation of ideology. In longer form over several considerations here:

    http://vox-nova.com/2009/02/06/what-is-conservatism-part-v/

    Now, in sum, I would say it is this – in effect, a sentiment…. :

    the negation of ideology, the political secularization of the doctrine of original sin, the cautious sentiment tempered by prudence, the product of organic, local human organization observing and reforming its customs, the distaste for a priori principle disassociated from historical experience, the partaking of the mysteries of free will, divine guidance, and human agency by existing in but not of the confusions of modern society, no framework of action, no tenet, no theory, and no article of faith.

  • Jonathan,

    Shoot me an email at tito[.]benedictus[at]gmail[dot]com.

    Thanks!

  • Such definitions, of course, beg the question of how political and social practice could follow. Essentially, a “conservative” reaction to a policy problem would be : 1) against systematic and large-scale application (the coercive) 2) against both the individual and the synthetic collective as the foundational unit of society.

    So – applied to “gay marrige”, for example, Patrick Deenan spells this out here:
    http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/?p=3636

    Here, culture and community are more important than politics, and group morality is more important than individual right and justice. (And in my conjecture, culture and community, the foundations of conservative sentiment, require homogeneity and.or assimilation.)

    The problem for U.S. conservatives is not only that their political goals are often infused with liberalism and rights, but that there was not much terribly conservative about its founding. One may still wish to preserve and value founding principles, however, seeking cautious change following Burke and so on, and thus lay claim to the title (although the case might well fall apart philosophically).

  • Burke of course was quite sympathetic to the American Revolution, so sympathetic that during the Revolutionary War his political opponents denounced him as an “American” and a near traitor to the Crown. I have always thought that Burke’s sympathy for the American Revolution, and his condemnation of the French Revolution, is one of the keys to understanding American conservatism.

  • Donald, that is certainly true, but remember that Burke was very much in the liberal tradition and remained a loyal Whig his entire political life, which was rather long.

    The reason that conservative sentiment (not ideology, and conservatism can certainly have an ideology…in fact, several intellectuals like W. Kendall and Kuehnelt-Leddihin wanted to make it an ideology) begins with Burke is that he wrote in reaction against an earth-shattering event, a culmination of liberalism. By this I mean that conservatism is a reaction to liberalism, its partial parent.

    And thus a style, a sentiment, a bias against efforts of utopianism, ideology, and against the promise of a bright new future casting aside considerations of human nature. This is all over the Reflections – natural rights must be in accord with prior practice and convention (my reason of association with Hume and Cicero). This is a received, accumulated, generational wisdom worthy of commitment against movements that would seek to alter them so as to pursue ideological aims.

    The Rockingham Whigs hated arbitrary monarchical power, most of England’s overseas colonial adventures, and wanted very badly internal governmental reform. When Burke spoke of the Glorious Revolution as a “revolution not made, but prevented,” he meant that James II, the last Stuart king overthrown in 1688, was trying to increase royal prerogatives and was thus the true revolutionary. This was against Britain in its development of natural right. The American revolution was positive by his lights in the same manner, due to prudence and prescription in its pursuit of natural right (from God, not usually the right of liberalism). The colonists sought to preserve and continue the English institutions of representative government and private rights founded in the transcendent first and foremost.

    This takes us to the case that “conservative” requires the transcendent, which strikes me as plausible yet is at the very least another fault-line of argument, similar to Russell Kirk v. Frank Meyer and W. Kendall.

  • I don’t have a whole lot to contribute here, perhaps because of my own ignorance on shifting definitions over time.

    The Catholic Church is “conservative” by nature because its mission is to preserve the teachings of Jesus Christ. Politically however, she might find herself aligned with either political liberals or political conservatives in any given time or place.

    In the United States “conservative” ought to be defined by adherence to the Constitution of the United States, even when inconvenient. Events and culture have manipulated and warped that definition beyond recognition, to the point where genuine fidelity to the founding documents is shattered across the political spectrum. One party might be better on civil liberties, while the other better on economic matters.

    I suppose anything else would qualify as additional, no matter how valuable.

  • (I apologize in advance for my comments; I do not mean to be disrespectful. I follow your inspired blog with real affection.)

    “I would argue that conservatism is, to a great extent, a relative term. Conservatives seek to preserve the ways and institutions of the past.
    Because conservatism is a suspicion of change, we see conservatives embrace very different causes in different places and times.”

    While the historical context is interesting for understanding Conservatism it may be the wrong premise for a “positive” definition (when President Reagan said “tear down this wall” he wasn’t looking back !). If Conservatism is being “suspicious of change” then you have to twist the definition and make the definition “relative” because there is no fixed point in the past to which Conservatives are clinging (wink). The same argument can be advanced regarding our beloved Catholic Church –would you say that we are trying to preserve the ways of the Borgia Popes or the Avignon Popes? -. There are some unchangeable Catholic Values, rather than institutions or ways, we seek to preserve. So I would argue that to define Conservatism we need to define Conservative Values, rather than look at some mythical past.

    If you define modern liberalism as an attempt to establish in our society a set of different values; and you define Conservatism as an attempt to stop the spread of those “foreign”-in the sense of different- values you get to your definition of “Conservative seek to preserve”. The problem with that definition is that we become defined by them, Conservatism is opposition to change, and then they define change as good and opposition to change as bad; so we end up as “bitter clingers”.

    “In the American context, conservatives hold to the ideals of the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers . . . limited government, constitutionalism, division of powers and local/regional rights. Because free markets were rejected by adherents of socialism and communism, American conservatives tend to be pro-business.”

    Here you attempt to define Conservative Values, good ! Maybe this is a useful discussion, and we can make some progress. Conservatism is not just pro business/free markets (again you are letting them define us: business is bad; conservatives are pro business; conservatives are bad). Conservatism is about Capitalism and Capitalism only works with a market system and strong property rights The reason Conservative Economist like free –competitive- markets is that with increased competition prices are lowered, to the benefit of consumers. Note that increased competition reduces profits to companies. That is why companies spend so much money lobbying the government seeking to limit competition. Companies do not like free markets. So again, we cannot define Conservatism as pro business; we are pro competitive markets and therefore pro consumers.

    I feel that we need to rescue Capitalism as a bedrock value. At the end of the day we are in an ideological struggle with the Marxist/Communist/Socialist/Liberals/Leftist –notice how they mask themselves to make inroads into a gullible population, does this attitude remind you of the forces of darkness- Wow ! now I’m really sounding like a paranoid kook LOL

  • Pingback: Diagnosing contemporary conservatism’s ills. « The American Catholic
  • The website ‘First Principles’ (from the ever-resourceful Intercollegiate Studies Institute) has a helpful overview of American conservatism and its contributors.

  • I wish someone could coin a new word to describe what we call “conservatism” because at its root it means attempting to conserve already-existing or well-established ideas. In the area of social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, that is exactly what conservatives are attempting to do. However, some economic and other policies favored by conservatives, such as school choice/vouchers and privatization of Social Security, would actually represent radical change from the status quo.

    Right now I am in the middle of reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography “The Long Loneliness.” Day was an active socialist/communist prior to her conversion to the Catholic faith, and continues to be thought of to this day as very left-leaning because of her pacifism and labor activism. Yet, some of her ideas would be considered extremely “conservative” today. For one thing, she and many of her followers like Peter Maurin did NOT approve of Social Security or most of the New Deal social programs. They believed that making the needy dependent upon government for help was another way of enslaving them. To this day many Catholic Worker houses do not apply for tax exempt status because Day believed works of charity should be done for their own sake and the government should neither encourage nor discourage them.

    Some ideas are, IMO, kind of hard to classify as either liberal or conservative. Take Chesterton and Belloc’s ideal of distributism. My understanding of it, based on what I’ve read about it so far (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) is that it means every individual or family owning enough property or other means of supporting themselves to make a decent living without having to be dependent upon an employer or the government.

    So, is distributism a conservative or liberal idea? Chesterton himself said that the problem with capitalism was not that there were too many capitalists, but too few. However, he was very opposed to the notion of “big business” and distributist ideas are said to have heavily influenced the creation of American anti-trust laws. I don’t think that would go down well with some of the hard-core economic conservatives who think ANY government regulation of business is evil.

  • As a student, I am really learning a lot about conservatism and other agendas from your article. Thanks!

  • “So, is distributism a conservative or liberal idea?”

    It is neither, really, though if I had to choose one, I would say conservative.

    The Church’s view on private property is that it is a right attendant with social obligations and duties. You may not do whatever you please with your property. Your right to own it is conditioned on your duty to use it morally.

  • There are 2 dimensions to this debate. The first is definitional. The dominant strand of American “conservatism” is in no way conservative — it is pure, undiluted, liberalism. Darwin defines conservatism as an evolution vs. revolution concept, and there is some validity to this hermeneutic. But it falls short. For the economic order of the New Deal is firmly embedded in the economic and constitutional order, and yet the so-called “conservatives” oppose it. I think Sam Tanenhaus puts it best — this group defines itself by what they oppose (often using cartoonish generalization) and thus employs tactics that border on Marxist (and I mean Marx’s followers, not what he said himself).

    I think a more pertinent approach would be to say that conservatism values the stability of the social order, and the community over the rights of the individual. Obviously, opposition to abortion and gay marriage would count, but the rest of American “conservatism” is a hymn to individual rights (guns being the most egregious example). And on guns, I think Darwin is being a little deceptive — the American right does not oppose gun control because no such controls existed historically, but because they have totally ingested a liberal ideology of protection of the individual from outside coercion.

    The second question is the relationship to Catholic social teaching. In a sense, these debates over the definition of conservatism are academically interesting, but not that relevant. For Christianity does not call us to be “conservative” in all senses. Yes, we are called upon to protect the common good, but we are also called upon to change the social order if it is faulty. We share conservatisms suspicion of utopia, and yet we are called to build God’s kingdom on earth. There is a tension here, for sure, a tension which probably underlies all the divisions within the Church.

    Final point: the American definition of conservatism is nothing more that old liberal enemy condemned by the modern Church — from Pius XI’s twin rocks of shipweck (capitalism and socialism) to John Paul’s idolatry of the free market. Call it what you like, but we should oppose this ideolgy just as much as we should oppose socialism.

  • Elaine,

    The Church in its social teaching also insists that government programs not make people dependent on such programs in that they will be enslaved.

  • For the economic order of the New Deal is firmly embedded in the economic and constitutional order, and yet the so-called “conservatives” oppose it.

    Yeah, not so much. Do conservatives want to abolish the FDIC, Social Security, or the SEC? They do not. There are exceptions, but generally speaking conservatives are fine with the post-New Deal economic and constitutional order. At most they seek to restrain its growth a bit.

    this group defines itself by what they oppose (often using cartoonish generalization)

    I think this is true of most every political group. Recall Henry Adams statement that politics was the organization of our hatreds. There’s a lot of truth in that.

  • For the economic order of the New Deal is firmly embedded in the economic and constitutional order, and yet the so-called “conservatives” oppose it.

    I think this assertion would require a lot more teasing out to see if it’s true and to what extent. Clearly, a lot of the New Deal was not well embedded in the economic and constitutional order, since much of it was rejected as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and overturned. Kosher butchers are no longer being jailed for the sin of allowing their customers to select which chicken they want to buy. But what I assume you mean at this point is that those elements of the New Deal which have survived are now embedded in the economic and constitutional order, and yet you perceive American conservatives to be against them. The obvious question in regard to this is which elements of the New Deal you have in mind, and who among conservatives are actually calling for the repeal of those elements.

    I think a more pertinent approach would be to say that conservatism values the stability of the social order, and the community over the rights of the individual. Obviously, opposition to abortion and gay marriage would count, but the rest of American “conservatism” is a hymn to individual rights (guns being the most egregious example).

    Why do you think this would necessarily be “conservative”? Certainly, there are certain cases where progressives might assert a new individual “right” which is detrimental to the social order and conservatives oppose it, but there might be a fair amount of disagreement as to whether a “right” is individual, and whether it is in fact detrimental to the social order. It seems to me that the definition you’ve chosen here may be more suited as a framework for expressing approval and disapproval of specific political positions than for articulating a philosophy. Though perhaps you just need to expand on it a bit further. What would you see as the things that should be major “conservative” concerns at this time and place in history?

    Keep in mind, especially, that thing which some see as aiding the social order will be seen as others as destructive to it. It’s widely held that social safety net programs aid the social order, while radical individualists oppose these programs. But in a sense, programs which make it more economically feasible for individuals to remain economically provided for without the aid of a community enable individualism. It’s perhaps instructive that medicare and social security (which I assume are programs you are very much in favor of) are both rejected by the Amish and (if the several mentions I’ve run into are correct) by many members of the Catholic Worker movement, because they replace the works of a local community with a direct relationship between state and individual.

    And on guns, I think Darwin is being a little deceptive — the American right does not oppose gun control because no such controls existed historically, but because they have totally ingested a liberal ideology of protection of the individual from outside coercion.

    I’m not sure how exactly you discern the motivation of conservatives in this regard, but I’ll admit that there is a liberal egalitarianism involved. As you’ve pointed out on occasion, gun violence is a phenomenon which afflicts primarily the urban poor, and support for gun ownership comes primarily from the rural and suburban middle class. If we truly had not attachment to liberal egalitarian ideals, everyone would support the idea of banning gun ownership by people who live in cities but are not property owners. (Or perhaps even more reprehensible from a modern liberal point of view, simply ban ownership by poor minorities.) However, although that kind of class and property-based distinction would have been perfectly acceptable in most times and places in Christian history, we all have too many enlightenment liberal ideals at this point to accept such a resolution, and so conservatives end up supporting the same rights for everyone else as they support for themselves. Personally, I think that’s rather a good thing, but I’ll freely admit to being formed by the Enlightenment on that point.

  • So “conservatism” is bad because it’s really just “liberalism”? And “liberalism” is bad because . . . ?

    I think Sam Tanenhaus puts it best — this group defines itself by what they oppose (often using cartoonish generalization)

    Well, anyone’s beliefs can be recharacterized in that way. You, for example, could be described as defining yourself in cartoonish opposition to SUVs, guns, for-profit health care, Calvinists, Israel, Republicans, Karl Rove, and pro-lifers who do anything besides make excuses for their beliefs.

  • I find it interesting that with any discussion of “Conservatism,” more often than not, the conclusion is that conservatives are afraid of change. Conservatives can be agents of change, as in our revolution. The signers of our Declaration of Independence, justified the need for change, in other words conservatives do not like change for the sake of change. Given the right justification, change is not only desirable, but necessary. The human rights enumerated in our Declaration included the right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of “Happiness.” These words are the contribution of John Locke, who as an enlighten philosopher provided us with the notion that individuals precede governments, he also stated that ownership of property is created by the application of the individual’s labor. Locke also stated a preference for limited government, “Property precedes government and government cannot dispose of the estates of the subjects arbitrarily.” Locke’s contributions are central to the Federalist papers, our founding fathers, and they remain true to today’s conservatives (Treatment of Chrysler bond holders). As a conservative I can tell you that I am for:

    – Limited Government: Check and balances is critical to limit government abuse. We are in favor for a Federal Republic; as opposed to a Unitarian Republic were the capital city dictates to the rest of the nation, i.e., national entrance exams administered by the Ministry of Education in Paris, France. We believe in limited and government as our founding fathers. We oppose Federal encroachment on State rights i.e., Department of Education.
    – Home rule: Most conservatives support parochial schools because of the participation of students, parents and the community at large. Today home rule is eroding before our eyes with the temptations of federal moneys and mandates with strings attached. – Individual rights: We tend to support life and opposed abortion in many levels, but the first and foremost is the concept of the individual life. Today, the political correct response is that “privacy,” trumps the life of the child. However, where is the privacy when you consider that most abortions are performed as a method of contraception and at tax-payers expense? Where is my privacy when the School district decides to take the role of parenting a six grader about contraceptives? Lastly, most abortions are performed on minorities. In the not so distant future someone is going to accuse the proponents of abortion of genocide. This is a Civil Rights issue waiting to happen.
    – Limited Taxes: Essential to the well being of the nation/state/local.

    Conservatives are environmentalist too. However, our support for the environment or any other effort is proportional. Ask yourself at what expense are we to support any government effort (Mussolini kept the trains on time)? We oppose most changes that are open ended. Conservatives are not willing to sacrifice our individual freedoms for an imposed fuzzy greater good. Conservatives are tolerant, and are unlikely to impose behavior on others. An example of this behavioral enforcement is the manner in which we regulate smoking. I do not smoke, but why the persecution, or societal ostracizing of smokers? Are you really exposed to cigarette smoke (what is the frequency of smoke inhalation)? Who do we go after next; fat people? Or perhaps we go to Plato’s Republic to find a formula for discussing the individuals that will make-up our City-State. Do we want beautiful people, young, old, academics, and pious people? I can guarantee you that Conservatives are not social engineers; we are suspicious of initiatives that prescribe individual behavioral changes.

    Conservatives want change but only when well justified. We embrace most issues/arguments facing this great nation of ours. But what we hold dear is our God given “free will,” and the freedoms to exercise it. We also, accept the many choices/responsibilities that come with having made any of life’s choices. We the people empower our government, and that is a great one way street.

  • As you’ve pointed out on occasion, gun violence is a phenomenon which afflicts primarily the urban poor, and support for gun ownership comes primarily from the rural and suburban middle class.

    Perhaps we could locate some social research on the question. If what is true in my social circle is true generally, sport hunting is characteristic of small towns and rural areas and, while found in all social strata, is most likely practiced by wage-earners, not the bourgeoisie. Shooting clay pigeons is more upscale, but, again, has a diverse clientele.

  • In rural Illinois, almost every one has a firearm of some sort: rich, poor and middle class. I am an odd man out since the last time I shot a firearm was the last time I did target practice with an M-16 in the Army.

  • in a sense, though, wasn’t this the case in many earlier cases as well? Around 1800, conservatives (and the Church very much among them) were defending, at least in essentials, a system in which the vast majority of the population were effectively bound to the land and living at a level barely above subsistence, while a small minority owned the land and enjoyed a level of wealth and comfort unimaginable to peasants.

    Hereditary subjection was, by 1789, characteristic of Eastern Europe, not Western Europe. There were some residual feudal dues in France; serfdom was gone in England and in uplands generally.

    The historian Jerome Blum did some back of the envelope calculations some years back and concluded that the exactions on Eastern European peasantry were generally severe. However, one needs be careful not to confound the manifestation of a generally low standard of living with the manifestation of a maldistribution of wealth or income. IIRC, the income from about 30% of the land area of France repaired to the clergy and nobility, who together constituted about 4% of the population. Asset ownership in occidental countries in our own time is likely at least as skewed.

    In Eastern Europe at that time, the crown was commonly an advocate of extensive reforms in the agrarian system, including the abolition of hereditary subjection (for reasons of economic efficiency). A faction of the nobility favored a like course of action.

  • If what is true in my social circle is true generally, sport hunting is characteristic of small towns and rural areas and, while found in all social strata, is most likely practiced by wage-earners, not the bourgeoisie. Shooting clay pigeons is more upscale, but, again, has a diverse clientele.

    Well, given that (due to personal and regional background) I can’t help seeing “middle class” as starting at or below 30k/yr in most parts of the country — we’re not necessarily picturing different things here. 🙂

    It’s one of the peculiarities of America that we all like to think of ourselves as middle class.

  • Hereditary subjection was, by 1789, characteristic of Eastern Europe, not Western Europe. There were some residual feudal dues in France; serfdom was gone in England and in uplands generally.

    I’m probably heavily handicapped here in that 18th and 19th century political history is very late for me (classicist and medievalist by training) which means that I mostly know what I’ve exerted myself to study: Britain, Ireland and Russia, but only general outlines in between for that period.

    That said, I was leaning more heavily on “effectively bound to the land” in that the degree of industrialization in much of Europe in 1750 to 1850 was not necessarily enough to allow most peasantry (in the broad sense, not legally surfs in the West) many options when coming in to the cities — and the options when they did so were often rather poor.

    Given that as late as the cold snap following the eruption of Krakatoa in the 1880s there were serious regional food shortages in parts of Europe as a result of poor crops due to bad weather, I think its accurate to see the inequalities between hereditary nobility (and “gentle” classes in the wider sense) and those on the land as being much wider than today’s inequalities, in that it was a gap between near subsistence agriculture and a level of plenty which would look fairly upper class even today.

    That said, I may well be letting my impressions run away with me here and am subject to correction.

  • While I think discussions of political terminology are sterile, I think one might repair to Thomas Sowell’s dialectic between the ‘vision of the anointed’ and the extant practices of ‘the benighted’, who are distinguished by the respect they accord the contrivances of the chatterati over and above the intelligence encoded in institutions as they have evolved over time. The folk in our own time who wish to replace the magisterium of the Church with the pronouncements of he board of the American Psychological Association and replace family relations with user-defined entities whose continuance is dependent upon consumer taste have their analogue in the folk who contrived the Cult of the Supreme Being and the French Revolutionary calendar.

    Since Mr. McClarey has brought up the American Revolution, one ought to note some contrasts between that and the French Revolution. The political order delineated in the Constitution of 1789 here was an elaboration upon the extant colonial forms; in France, each of the constitutions adopted between 1790 and 1813 took no cognizance of the political forms existing prior to 1789. The abolition here of legally-delineated orders of clergy, nobility, and burgesses can be seen as a consequence of the limited presence of the British nobility in the colonies to begin with as well as the confessional variegation between the colonies and sometimes within them; there it incorporated a violent rebellion upending existing social arrangements. Here the disestablishment of one or another protestant sect over the course of the last quarter of the 18th century a consequence of the demographic loss of position by the pre-eminent confession (in the South) and the loss of institutional verve (in New England); there it incorporated first a legislated attempt to render the Church a department of the French government and later an attempt to replace the Catholic faith with a deistic cult.

  • The French Revolution and the American Revolution share little in common except for the term Revolution. It is instructive to read the varying reactions of the Founding Fathers to the French Revolution, from the puerile enthusiasm for it by Mr. Jefferson, to the adamant repugnance towards it shown by Mr. Adams. A good book is waiting to be written on the subject. Conor Cruise O’Brien wrote a first rate book on Jefferson’s infatuation with the French Revolution, but little has been done as to the other Founding Fathers, except for Adams.

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Tea Parties, Principles and their Application

Thursday, April 16, AD 2009

I’m a big fan of the personal finance speaker & author Dave Ramsey… when our oldest was born nearly five years ago and my wife prepared to stay home to take care of her and her siblings-to-come, I didn’t know how we were going to manage on my income alone; Ramsey’s book and radio show provided us with a straightforward, systematic approach to managing our finances, and for that, I am grateful… his is the talk radio show that I still listen to most.

But when it comes to politics, Dave is far too typical of many mainstream conservatives: he confuses principles for their application, just like Limbaugh, Hannity, et al.

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15 Responses to Tea Parties, Principles and their Application

  • or more on this — especially some concrete examples of such an application — I heartily recommend Grand New Party by Ross Douthat

    Sorry, but that was one of the most tedious bores of a read. The funny thing about that book was that I was actually prepared to disagree with many of the book’s arguments, but what disappointed me was not that their arguments were incorrect, but that they simply didn’t make many arguments. It was 150 pages of questionable history followed by about 50 pages of the most generalized policy prescriptions.

    Douthat and his ilk remind me of the underwear gnomes from South Park.
    Step one: appeal to the middle class.
    Step two: ?
    Step three: Win elections.

    What’s missing from step two is any suggestion about substantive policy that would actually address the middle class. It seems at times as though they’re content with an “I feel your pain” approach to politics that is bereft of any meaning. And when they do offer up specific policy, its manifestly unworkable. If you add up all the tax credits they suggest in the book I think the average American would wind up getting triple their annual salary back in refunds.

    Furthermore, while I would agree that tax cuts are not necessarily an inherent part of the conservative philosophy, resisting the urge to believe that government can solve most of the problems hat we face is. Therefore, opposition to ridiculous government spending is in fact part and parcel of conservatism in the sense that is the practical application of the anti-utopian current within the conservative philosophy. And while it may be true that many Americans want greater government intervention, the prescription should not be for conservatives to simply wave their hands and succumb to the bad policy, but rather we should redouble our efforts and inform and persuade the public as to why that course of action is a bad idea.

    After all, we’re Catholics. Aren’t we supposed to resist the urge to simply follow the whims of the crowd?

  • the prescription should not be for conservatives to simply wave their hands and succumb to the bad policy

    I think that’s the heart of this disagreement, Paul… I certainly agree that opposition to ridiculous government spending is a common application of conservative anti-utopianism, but that doesn’t mean that all government spending is utopian and therefore to be avoided… that’s libertarianism more than it is conservatism. The question is, exactly how ought the government play its appropriate role in support of the common good? I think too often conservatives reflexively presume that no such appropriate role exists, but that’s certainly not the Catholic position.

  • but that doesn’t mean that all government spending is utopian

    No, it is not, but certainly a huge chunk of what we do spend is. Is there any conservative justification for the bloated stimulus package that was just passed, or the even more bloated budget being debated?

    I think too often conservatives reflexively presume that no such appropriate role exists,

    That’s a bit of a straw man, and one that’s been debated here on this blog recently. Personally speaking, I am not an anarchist nor am I opposed to all government spending and/or activity.

  • Is there any conservative justification for the bloated stimulus package that was just passed, or the even more bloated budget being debated?

    No, but that wasn’t the point of my post (or of GNP, as you know). My reference to the tea parties and the focus of their ire (overspending) was merely a contemporary event I used to contextualize my larger point… as I noted, I agree with the sentiment of yesterday’s rallies. My concern is that “lower taxes, less spending” has become an ideological mantra.

    That’s a bit of a straw man, and one that’s been debated here on this blog recently. Personally speaking, I am not an anarchist nor am I opposed to all government spending and/or activity.

    Acknowledged. I didn’t mean to imply that *you* held that view… as I noted, I do that that too many of our fellow conservatives hold it, though. Or at least, that’s the implication of their rhetoric.

  • The tea parties are representative of the Joe The Plumber-ization of America. All the complaining about how the government spends money from people that pay little to no federal income tax. (If you are paying under $10,000 in federal income taxes, you aren’t paying much in my book. FTR, I don’t pay a federal income tax because I have children, and most people with children don’t pay a net tax.)

  • This posting was, indeed, one of the most tedious bores of a read. Don’t you have an editor? Don’t you have a wife?

  • Thanks for the comment, Gabriel… I appreciate your willingness to engage in a thoughtful conversation.

  • all the complaining about how the government spends money from people that pay little to no federal income tax.

    But that, in and of itself, is part of the issue. Nearly half of Americans pay no net income tax, and yet we’re spending trillions and trillions of dollars that will have to be paid back by someone. Well, I’m 32, so I sure as hell have something to worry about because I plan on living quite a while longer, and my 8-week daughter will sure as heck be straddled with paying this back.

    What people seem to be missing is that these protests are as much about spending as they are about taxes. These folks recognize that if we continue to spend as we are currently doing, then inevitably we’re going to be paying a lot more to Uncle Sam. It’s either that or declare nation-wide chapter 11.

  • MZ,

    All the complaining about how the government spends money from people that pay little to no federal income tax. (If you are paying under $10,000 in federal income taxes, you aren’t paying much in my book.

    Not to be combative, but doesn’t that essentially boil down to, “Shut up and enjoy the oligarchy, you plebs!”

    Extrapolating from the amount of taxes I pay now with four kids, I think I’d have to make around 150k in order to pay 10,000 in federal income taxes. Now, I wouldn’t object to making 150k, and it could certainly happen, but I’m not sure that we want to say that only the top 10% of families get to even discuss whether taxes and spending are too high. (And if we did, someone else would probably chime in that they’re too rich to be allowed to have an opinion on whether they should be taxed.)

    Chris,

    I’m not sure that if the general feeling right now is so much that more needs to be spent overall, or simply that more needs to be spent on “essential things”. But I would tend to say that the very basic, “lower taxes, less spending” cry is too simplistic to work very well for conservatives at this point. Or at least, it isn’t enough to rally more than 20-30% of the population.

    The problem to a great extent is probably that conservatives have been so successful in scaling back taxes since 1980 that for a majority of Americans the income tax is no longer all that real a burden. And while some people are willing to get worked up about taxation in general even if it doesn’t hit them very hard, a great many people are willing to sit back and say, “not my problem.”

  • The problem to a great extent is probably that conservatives have been so successful in scaling back taxes since 1980 that for a majority of Americans the income tax is no longer all that real a burden. And while some people are willing to get worked up about taxation in general even if it doesn’t hit them very hard, a great many people are willing to sit back and say, “not my problem.”

    Exactly, Darwin… I wonder how many people remember how much higher income tax rates were back then.

    I concur with your first point… I think of health care, for instance… many (most?) working families find the costs of medical care burdensome, and are looking for help (not necessarily handouts). I think it’s incumbent upon us as conservatives to try to address these real concerns, but from our principles, not a statist approach.

  • Not to be combative, but doesn’t that essentially boil down to, “Shut up and enjoy the oligarchy, you plebs!”

    Not really. The sentiment is more of “My masters fights aren’t mine.”

    I’m not sure that we want to say that only the top 10% of families get to even discuss whether taxes and spending are too high.

    Discuss away. It is akin to men discussing labor and delivery though. As I’m sure you are aware, the wealthy tended to vote for Obama and also tend not to think taxes are too high. The idea that we can’t afford this spending is a nonstarter though. It just isn’t the case that the income tax burden is high by any measure. Conservatives would do better to argue that the spending is imprudent. One can at least make a legitimate argument there.

    Nearly half of Americans pay no net income tax, and yet we’re spending trillions and trillions of dollars that will have to be paid back by someone.

    I don’t know about you, but I get about as much benefit from the feds as the taxes I pay. I don’t engage in interstate commerce. I don’t fly overseas. I don’t depend on our navy to defend my ships from pirates. I don’t think the argument that everyone benefits equally (or even proportionately as a percentage of income) actually holds.

  • It is akin to men discussing labor and delivery though.

    We all have a stake in the economy. Regardless of how much in taxes each individual pays, the general sentiment behind the tea parties is that the current levels of spending the resulting taxation will prove ruinous for all. It may be that a minority of the populace feels this way now, but Obama’s approval ratings are trending downward and movements like this have a way of taking off; witness the property tax revolt of the late ’70s and how it blossomed into the tax-cutting enthusiasm of the early ’80s.

  • It probably also has a great deal to do with where one chooses to define having a stake. The total federal income taxes I pay are well under $10,000, but they are slightly over my total takehome income for an average month. Needless to say, that’s a fair amount of money to me. (And that’s with four kids and a mortgage worth of deductions and tax credits.)

    So one can argue that it’s an argument for our “betters”, but while it’s true that “the rich” voted heavily for Obama, if only people who paid more than $1000 in income taxes the previous year had been allowed to vote, McCain would almost certainly have won.

    And while I agree that taxation does not currently rest that hard on modern “average Americans”, I _do_ think average Americans have reason to be concerned about the fiscal position that we seem to be getting ourselves into at the moment, because paying our way out of it (and the long term economic slowness that may be involved) will end up affecting a lot more than the top 20%.

  • Fiscal madness at the federal level obviously has a major impact on the economy. We cannot pile up the debt we are currently adding fecklessly without it eventually causing the economy to completely cease to grow. Unless the Federal government simply repudiates the debt, or pays the debt in vastly inflated currency through hyper-inflation, either alternative being an economic calamity for the average citizen, there is no way that this debt is not ultimately going to be paid largely by tax increases on not only the wealthy, but also the middle class.

    Of course none of this takes into consideration the fact that the tea bag protests also take aim at taxes and spending at the state and local level. I think many of our readers would be surprised at the high percentage of their income that goes for taxes. Looking at the state, federal and property taxes my wife and I pay adds up to 31% of our income for 2008. This does not include “hidden” taxes which include sales tax, tax on utilities, etc. Pointing to the federal income tax alone merely touches the tip of the tax iceberg for the typical American.

  • DarwinCatholic Says:
    Thursday, April 16, 2009 A.D. at 3:08 pm
    “It probably also has a great deal to do with where one chooses to define having a stake. The total federal income taxes I pay are well under $10,000, but they are slightly over my total takehome income for an average month. Needless to say, that’s a fair amount of money to me. (And that’s with four kids and a mortgage worth of deductions and tax credits.)”.

    Do you include in this the 15% that goes for Social Security? The wickedness of the 15% is that is a flat tax, especially hard on the poor. If you make say $20,000 a year, $3,000 goes out in Soc Sec taxes, half paid by you, half by the employer.

    In the discussions about taxes and the debt, the question might well be raised “where is the money to come from to pay the debt?”. Might it not make more sense to tie debt to particular taxes? The governments seem to be working on a charge card mentality.

Freedom vs. Choice

Wednesday, April 15, AD 2009

It’s fashionable at the moment to write conservatism’s epitaph. Such epitaph writing is not my project here, but there is a sort of inherent tension in the recent history of conservatism which I would like to examine briefly.

For the last hundred years and more, conservatives have often found themselves arguing against those in the political and economic spheres who believe that we can achieve a great improvement in society by instituting some sort of centrally controlled state economy. Socialism, communism and fascism all attempted, in different ways, to create new and better societies through assigning people roles and resources rather than allowing their allocation to occur through a decentralized system of millions of individual decisions taking place independently every day.

Perhaps this is the great modern temptation. People looked at the incredibly intricate (sometimes seemingly orderless) organization of society resulting from custom and the summed decisions of millions of individuals and thought, “Now we have the ability to plan all this instead and do it better!” Various sorts of ideologues tried to impose various sorts of new order on society, and conservatives dragged their feet and tried to keep things as they were, allowing people to make their own decision as they saw best whenever possible.

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10 Responses to Freedom vs. Choice

  • Very well said. It’s been a bugaboo of mine for some time as people seem to relish championing bad choices all in the name of freedom. I once commented to a friend of mine about how silly I thought it was to own and operate a Hummer, and he made some kind of comment about the freedom to buy any vehicle a person wants. But I didn’t say anything about regulating hummers out of existence – I merely stated my own personal opinion on the matter. Of course, that brings up a semi-related subject: getting called on the carpet for wanting to suppress free speech when all you’ve done is make a criticism of what another has said, but that’s another matter.

    And here’s a little Edmund Burke to hammer home the point:

    But I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to anything which relates to human actions, and human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind. Abstractedly speaking, government, as well as liberty, is good; yet could I, in common sense, ten years ago, have felicitated France on her enjoyment of a government (for she then had a government) without inquiry what the nature of that government was, or how it was administered? Can I now congratulate the same nation upon its freedom? Is it because liberty in the abstract may be classed amongst the blessings of mankind, that I am seriously to felicitate a mad-man, who has escaped from the protecting restraint and wholesome darkness of his cell, on his restoration to the enjoyment of light and liberty? Am I to congratulate a highwayman and murderer, who has broke prison, upon the recovery of his natural rights? This would be to act over again the scene of the criminals condemned to the galleys, and their heroic deliverer, the metaphysic knight of the sorrowful countenance.

  • I appreciate this post because I have been coming across this same phenomenon myself – celebrating what is inherently disordered out of spite for those who wish to regulate it.

    People have been doing it to the Church for a long time, celebrating every deviant kind of sex in an effort to annoy. There is something cathartic about spite, it makes us feel like we’ve done something without really doing it. It’s what the feminists and others on my college campus would do, holding public lessons on how to properly put on condoms to spite the Protestant preachers there to give an earful to the kids about the dangers of sexual immorality.

    One conservative friend of mine decided to leave all his lights on during that hour when the environmentalists wanted all lights off as some sort of reminder of the threat of Global Warming. I’m not even sure he is convinced that GW is “fake”, but he was so annoyed by the effort – a purely voluntary effort in this case – that he wanted to “show them”.

    I wish we could do better, but even I like the thrill of spite, though I usually don’t engage in it politically. More on a personal level.

  • One can never have too much Burke! He, the Founding Fathers and Lincoln are my main political guiding lights. Burke put the point succinctly in a phrase I have never forgotten: “The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations,”.

  • One of the best recent theologians on this topic is the Belgian Dominican, Servais Pinckaers, whose _Sources of Christians Ethics_ is one of the best texts on moral theology of the 20th century. In that work and others, he distinguishes “freedom of indifference” and “freedom for excellence” (others have similarly distinguished “freedom from” and “freedom for”); it’s clearly the former notion which is dominant in general American discourse, unfortunately.

  • DC,

    And so it’s easy to find oneself celebrating Hummers to spite the environmentalists, celebrating cigarettes and fatburgers to spite the health regulators, and declaring we have no obligation to help the poor to tweek the social democrats.

    I’m not so sure that the former is really true so much as the Hummer is used a symbol of this particular freedom, I doubt that Laura actually has a hummer. That said, I don’t believe for a SECOND that many conservatives would suggest that there is no obligation to aid the poor, and the evidence is overwhelmingly the other way. Conservatives give FAR MORE to charity even excluding religious contributions than do liberals, we take our PERSONAL obligations to charity very importantly. I really think your comparison is apples to oranges. We can argue deep moral theology about the rightness of ever owning a hummer, smoking cigarettes or eating fatburgers, but there is not question as to the immorality of denying to PERSONALLY aid the poor and most vulnerable. The latter should be taken to heart by the “social democrats” such as Obama, who gave paltry sums to charity until he started running for national office and even then is dwarfed by the generosity of Bush and Cheney.

    Keeping ones lights on as a protest against an act of earth-worship seems like a reasonable protest, and really, relative to the cost of a rich liberals private jet flights to the site of similar protests is really not harmful to the environment (not to mention the environmental harm in promoting the earth-worship).

  • That said, I don’t believe for a SECOND that many conservatives would suggest that there is no obligation to aid the poor, and the evidence is overwhelmingly the other way.

    It’s a fine distinction, but I have heard a number of other self identified conservatives say that they have no obligation to help the poor, but should be left free to choose to do so (or not) as they see fit.

    I would tend to say, on the other hand, that we do have an obligation to help the poor, but that some or all of that obligation should be left up to free action rather than being forced. (In similar terms, I suppose, how we as parents have an obligation to care for our children, but the state doesn’t step in and take care of them for us until neglect becomes severe.)

    The data is, of course, that — whatever the reason — conservatives do have a tendency to give more to charity than their liberal economic peers.

  • We are obliged not just as individuals, but as a society to aid those in need… I think that sometimes we overreact to the statist impulses of some by claiming that no such communal obligation exists, when in fact it does.

  • The government should aid those who cannot aid themselves. The problem is that we have too many people receiving assistance from the government who could work and who are simply getting an undeserved free ride. This of course detracts from aid that should go to those truly in need.

    An all too typical disability scam is reported on here: http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2008/10/police_sergeants_9year_fight_f.html

    As the father of a son who, because of his autism, will probably never be able to work outside of a sheltered workshop environment, I have only contempt for healthy individuals who through fraud and scams take tax payer funds that could make life so much better for those unable to work.

  • True, Chris, and I also know that in my own case (because I admit having the “OK, this environmentalist is scolding me? I’m going to run out and buy a steak and turn the heat up, so there!” reaction), it’s also a desire to tweak the left’s puritanism.

    Leftists are not puritanical about sex, so they think they’re not puritanical. However, their prudishness has been transferred to other spheres – eating, drinking, health, and consumption. And as far as turning on the lights during Earth Hour, well, I made no special effort to have my place ablaze with lights, but, like Al Gore, I didn’t turn off my lights either. I agree with Glenn Reynolds on this one when he says he’ll start acting like global warming is a crisis when the people who tell us it is one behave like it themselves.

  • Agreed, Donald. This is another reason why subsidiarity is so important, not just theoretically, but practically as well: if problems are addressed at as small a level of government as possible, there is greater efficiency and more room for the exercise of prudence (as opposed to bureaucratic process; cf. MacIntyre).

Most People Are Not Like You

Wednesday, February 18, AD 2009

Almost no matter who you are, the above is almost certainly true. Yet it’s a fact that few people seem to readily grasp.

I was struck by this as I continued to read the exchange between Ross Douthat and Will Wilkinson over whether secular libertarian intellectuals should all pack up and join the Democrats. Will predicts:

…I think intellectual capital flight from the right really does threaten the GOPs future success. If Republicans keep bleeding young intellectual talent because increasingly socially liberal twenty-somethings simply can’t stand hanging around a bunch of superstitious fag-bashers, then the GOP powers-that-be might start to panic and realize that, once the last cohort of John Birchers die, they’ve got no choice but to move libertarian on social issues. Maybe. I like to imagine.

This reads like it comes from some alternate universe, to me,

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19 Responses to Most People Are Not Like You

  • People like Wilkinson have been crying out since 1976 that the GOP needs to go liberal on the social issues. That was John Anderson’s theme in the 1980 Republican primaries and fueled his third party run in the general election. It is all rot. Most republicans are fiscal and social conservatives and believe in a strong defense. A political party does not achieve success by alienating its base.

  • “And the majority of people who actually vote (and thus determine which party is in charge at a given time) are so woefully uninformed that making intellectual statements about parties as a whole is nearly impossible”.

    Does anyone else find this woefully superior?

  • Does anyone else find this woefully superior?

    Well, it’s true that I’d feel pretty comfortable saying that simply by having the interest to read that much about politics, regular readers of this blog are probably in the top 10-20% of voters as far as being informed. So yes, I suppose I am rather elitist in that sense. Though for what it’s worth, I’d also be ready to say that being informed about politics is not necessarily indicative of much of anything in regards to one’s worth as a person or overall intelligence.

    Perhaps I’m overestimating based on the sort of “man on the street” interviews which those on either side of the political spectrum are often able to use to point to how idiotic the other sides voters are (recall the YouTube that was going around where a local radio station got a bunch of Obama voters to voice their support for Obama’s opposition to Roe v. Wade, and even his choice of Palin as a running mate), but I do tend to think that the average voter has a very, very simplistic understanding of politics and economics (and the stands that the candidates have taken on them.)

  • Winston Churchill said that the best argument against democracy was a five minute talk with the average voter. I have noticed that when I discuss budgetary woes of the government with people who do not follow these issues very closely, invariably they will say that there would be plently of money if we didn’t give so much to foreigners. When I point out that foreign aid is a miniscule portion of our budget they will often refuse to believe me. I have never been interested in professional sports and my knowledge of that subject is small. I am afraid that a substantial percentage of the voters have the same attitude towards politics and the functioning of the government. I do not think it is elitist to point this out, but merely factual. Needless to say, this does not cause me to think that intellectual elites in our society make better political judgments. I agree with Buckley that I would rather be governed by people chosen at random from a phone book than the faculty of an elite academic institution. Well educated people are just as likely as ill-informed people to make their political judgments on the basis of myths, prejudices and passions, perhaps more so since so much of higher education has been politicized.

  • Remember the much-maligned “values voters” of 2004? Well, gee, what happened to them all? Did they all take up recreational drugs and wife-swapping during the past 4 years and thus social conservatism is now on its last legs?

    I don’t think this past election had much to do with social conservatism at all. It was decided by the economy, above all, and by the fact that Obama ran a very good campaign (and had the MSM in his back pocket) and McCain ran a very poor one. (Other factors: the GOP learned nothing from the kicking it got in 2006 and so was seen as Dem-lite and the media successfully demonized Bush – who certainly made his mistakes.)

    One thing I do believe is that the conservatives made a great error in ceding the culture to the Left. As a result, we have kids who are indoctrinated in public schools, exposed to all sorts of garbage in the media, and have reached maturity thinking the party of “freedom” is the one which wants to expand government into every reach of life and the GOP is the party of white guys who yearn to oppress everybody. How the heck you reverse that at this stage in the game is beyond me. The only thing I can hope for this that once these Obama-smitten young folk actually get out of college and are paying taxes, the burning issues of gay marriage and pot legalization will recede in importance. It’s struck me before that that “political correctness” came to the fore in prosperous times. And it took hold most strongly in those parts of the country with high percentages of well-to-do upper middle class people with the luxury to worry about sexist language, recycling, “a woman’s right to choose” etc, etc. Real estate ain’t cheap in Berkeley on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

    P.J. O’Rourke was a Maoist in college. Then he got his first job and took a look at what was withheld and lo, a conservative was born. And the GOP didn’t have to jettison its pro-life plank or become “cooler than thou” to bring him around.

  • Oops, that should be “Berkeley or the Upper West Side of Manhattan.”

  • “P.J. O’Rourke was a Maoist in college.”

    When he told his rock-ribbed Republican grandmother that he was a Maoist she said “Just as long as you aren’t a Democrat dear”. Looking back on this time O’Rourke said: “I like to think of my behavior in the sixties as a “learning experience.” Then again, I like to think of anything stupid I’ve done as a “learning experience.” It makes me feel less stupid.”

  • Well educated people are just as likely as ill-informed people to make their political judgments on the basis of myths, prejudices and passions, perhaps more so since so much of higher education has been politicized

    Very true, and what is wearisome is that these people think they’re rational and expremely knowledgable when all they’re doing is expressing the fashionable prejudices of the day. Mac down at the truck stop might have some ignorant prejudices, but Mac usually don’t think he knows everything about everything. Whereas I’ve had the most frustrating conversations on and off-line with college-educated people who “know” belief in God is idiotic, the Pope is a Nazi, the Founding Fathers were contemptible racists, Republicans hate poor people, animals should have the same rights as people do – who said there is no belief so foolish an intellectual has not held it?

  • “expremely”??? Was I trying to type extremely or supremely? Actually, I rather like “expremely.”

    (I really need to break down and get me some reading glasses. I’m at that age,…,)

  • “who said there is no belief so foolish an intellectual has not held it?”

    True Donna. My late mother and father never attended college although they made certain that my brother and I did. I never met a professor at college or law school with as much common sense as my parents displayed to me every day. The education I received at college and law school was mere icing on the cake for the more important lessons I learned from my factory worker parents. I just wish they had been alive to help their lawyer son and his librarian wife raise their own kids. I don’t think we have done badly, but input from them would have been invaluable.

  • Agreed, Donna. One of the reasons I’m suspicious of the technocrat culture which so many on the left seem enamored of (Europe envy, I guess) is that I think the elites generally know rather less about a situation than they think.

    Doesn’t stop me from being something of an elitist, but at least I’m an elitist who doesn’t think that knowing a great deal about a topic means that I should make everyone’s decisions for them.

    To know much is to know you don’t know everything.

  • Donald, since we appear to have similiar tastes in humorists, I think you’ll appreciate Iowahawk’s take on the Archbishop of Canterbury, written in Chaucerian English:

    http://bighollywood.breitbart.com/dburge/2009/02/17/heere-bigynneth-the-tale-of-the-asse-hatte/#comments

    It won high praise from Christopher Johnson (who I pray swims the Tiber one day).

    /OT

  • Ha! Donna if Iowahawk isn’t making a mint from his brilliance in the “real world” there is no justice. The man is consistently the funniest writer on the net. The Archbishop is a prime example of the worthlessness of education without an ounce of common sense.

  • Donna V.,

    How about a pic for your ID?

  • He knows people like him and I know people like me. But neither means that all young intellectuals are like us.

    While I agree with your broader point about the nature of political coalitions, I think there are solid grounds for believing Will’s intellectual and educational formation is more typical of young intellectuals than yours (or mine).

  • Tito: I confess – I have no idea how to post a picture here. There – now you all know there is no way I can be a member of the techocratic elite:-)

    DarwinCatholic: Good point. I would add that we live in a time when verbal glibness is frequently mistaken for wisdom. It isn’t just the honest but gulliable townfolk who get taken in by the snake oil peddlers.

    Donald: I had the good fortune to meet Dave Burge (Iowahawk) at an informal get-together of conservative bloggers and blog readers held in Chicago in 2004. He looks like a pretty hip fellow, a guy who would have been playing the bongos in a bebop jazz band 50 years ago (the goatee gives him a Maynard G. Krebs vibe); but he said that the tension between the small town Iowa values he was raised with and the Chicagoland liberals he is now surrounded by inspires much of his writing. I didn’t talk to him for long, but we found we both have a weakness for cheesy low-budget 1950’s sci-fi flicks. A very affable, pleasant man. I don’t think he was making a lot of money from his writing then; I hope that has changed.

  • Above post is yet another echo of longtime New Yorker Moon Pitcha critic Pauline Kael. Who remarked that she was surprised that Tricky Dick swamped Goo Goo George in 1972 presidential election because nobody she knew voted for Trickster. Above essayist apparently polled limited number of people or own self for conclusions. Lies damned lies and statistics I say. I could say that Current Apostle for Hope and Change is worst thing to happen to Democratic party. Looks about true. Even though House Speaker La Pelosi is real President and allows Hope/Change Apostle to do her bidding as she sees fit. But- proof of my own. Many of y’all know that last Friday night, Phila. Police Officer John Pawlowski murdered- fifth officer killed in a year. Within 12 hours, Facebook group page set up to memorialize him. More than 11000 members as I write including own self. And my darling brilliant goddaughter Regina. And many many other young folks who admire and respect our fine law enforcement pros and mourn Officer Pawlowski- Mass of Christian Burial on Friday noon at Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. Thus I have confidence in this nation’s future.

  • I know that most of the folks I know with any sense don’t talk to folks who look like they’re doing “man on the street” interviews– and that’s both for the liberal and conservative folks.

  • “DarwinCatholic: Good point. I would add that we live in a time when verbal glibness is frequently mistaken for wisdom. It isn’t just the honest but gulliable townfolk who get taken in by the snake oil peddlers”.

    I believe the subject was exhaustively discussed by Socrates in THE SOPHIST.

    [Note; The Sophists were the lawyers of their day. They could argue both sides of a case with equal conviction].