Misappropriating Burke

Thursday, May 2, AD 2013

One of the most tiresome and repeated tricks I see in political discourse is right-leaning moderates using Edmund Burke’s name in justifying big government conservatism. The latest to use Burke’s name to justify political moderation is Peter Berkowitz in his book Constitutional Conservatism: Liberty, Self-Government, and Political Moderation. Here’s a blurb from the book.

The first entrenched reality is that the era of big government is here to stay. This is particularly important for libertarians to absorb. Over the last two hundred years, society and the economy in advanced industrial nations have undergone dramatic transformations. And for three-quarters of a century, the New Deal settlement has been reshaping America’s expectations about the nation-state’s reach and role. Consequently, the U.S. federal government will continue to provide a social safety net, regulate the economy, and shoulder a substantial share of responsibility for safeguarding the social and economic bases of political equality…..the attempt to dismantle or even substantially roll back the welfare and regulatory state reflects a distinctly unconservative refusal to ground political goals in political realities.”

And here’s a blurb from Harvey Mansfield.

Peter Berkowitz makes a match between Edmund Burke and the American Founders to give ‘political moderation’ a good name on our partisan battlefield. A short, effectual book with shining prose, a telling argument, and a lasting message. –Harvey C. Mansfield, Harvard University

Jeffrey Lord takes on Berkowtiz as well as Jennifer Rubin, Joe Scarborough and others who are preaching the value of capitulation moderation. As usual, Lord does a fantastic job of eviscerating the case for moderation. First, addressing the blurb quoted above, Lord writes:

So the New Deal is now the Founding principle of America? And attempts to “dismantle or even substantially” roll back the New Deal “reflects a distinctly unconservative refusal to ground political goals in political realities”?


Even Bill Clinton waxed Reaganesque when he said in that famous 1995 State of the Union message that “the era of Big Government is over.”

Berkowitz’s thinking — which Rubin shares — is a pluperfect example of what led a couple generations of American leaders to believe the Soviet Union was here to stay. Those were the folks rolling their eyes in their supposed sophistication when President Reagan insisted the Soviets were headed to the “ash heap of history.” Only to watch astonished as the Berlin Wall came down followed shortly thereafter by the Soviet flag over the Kremlin. Precisely as Reagan predicted.

Lord further examines how this bedrock principle and the programs created by the New Deal are crashing around us. As he writes:

The fact of the matter is that the New Deal is imploding all around us. With all manner of experts repeatedly warning the U.S. is being relentlessly driven towards a financial cliff, with entitlement spending on track to eventually consume first the defense budget before polishing off the entire federal budget. The fact that Democrats are tying themselves to the equivalent of an unexploded political IED is their decision.

But what, pray tell, is moderate, Republican or conservative about accepting the idea that America is headed irrevocably to bankruptcy and chaos?

There’s much more at the link as Lord explains how the social consensus keeps moving the left. “Moderation,” therefore, will only lead to more government control and, eventually, less freedom.

Jeff Goldstein also discusses Lord’s article and has more insights as well.

Lord and Goldstein both do great jobs of explaining the problems with Berkowitz’s position, but I want to focus on the admittedly more academic point, and that’s Berkowitz’s misappropriation of Burke.

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5 Responses to Misappropriating Burke

  • whenever Burke or Kirk are cited today (and they seem to be cited interchangeably by select people,) 99% of the time what follows is “I’m for the liberal position, and here’s a conservative-sounding reason why” only maybe taking it a bit slower. In that case, what’s the point — why should liberals agree that society should move slower toward the goal if you’re accepting their conclusion anyway, and why should conservatives accept the conclusion.

    Political ideologies should have come to a defined set of things that they either do/don’t accept, period, although obviously some issues are a little more complex depending on the situation. Maybe this makes politics too much like religion but far as I can see it’s the only way conservatism can avoid playing perennial catch-up to liberalism, and looking stupid protesting a change but later conceding to it.

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  • Those seeking to use Burke as a defense of Big Government need to ponder this section of Burke’s speech on Conciliation With America:

    “For, in order to prove that the Americans have no right to their liberties, we are every day endeavouring to subvert the maxims which preserve the whole spirit of our own. To prove that the Americans ought not to be free, we are obliged to depreciate the value of freedom itself; and we never seem to gain a paltry advantage over them in debate, without attacking some of those principles, or deriding some of those feelings, for which our ancestors have shed their blood.”

  • Midge Decter used to chide Richard John Neuhaus thus: “you don’t think low enough”. Consider the possibility that Scarborough is doing what he was hired to do. (One might suggest the same of Rubin, but the Washington Post Writers Group was at one time (still?) the home of George Will as it was for the two most capable liberal opinion journalists of the last three decades, Henry Mitchell and Richard Cohen).

    Betwixt and between, Dr. Berkowitz alludes to something true. In 1929, public expenditure amounted to 9.5% of gross domestic product. Reproducing the sort of political economy congenial to a metric like that would be the sustained work of a generation or more. What that metric would incorporate would be allocations to the military of Canadian dimensions, paying down most of the public debt, reducing public expenditure on law enforcement and the courts to shares found in 1980 or thereabouts (when the homicide rate was twice what it is today), limiting welfare spending to foster care and nursing homes, quite possibly ending public education, &c.

    Dr. Berkowitz sketched out some of his ideas years ago in an article and the whole project sounded inane, something I would be far to lazy to attempt to digest if distended to the length a 250 monograph. Could one of you with patience and a head for political theory give us a summary of just how Edmund Burke’s writing justifies the budget of the USDA or HUD, or covering Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac deficits for a half generation, or putting sometime lawyer Barack Obama and lapsed academic Steven Chu in the venture capital business?

Rewriting Jefferson

Monday, June 25, AD 2012

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine sent me a link to David Barton’s book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson. It’s almost like my friend, knowing my academic interest in Thomas Jefferson, cast some bait in my direction. And two months later, I took it.

I can honestly say that I went into it with an open mind. Even if Barton misinterpreted Jefferson, maybe he would do so in at least a semi-convincing way. After all, it’s possible for individuals to have high opinions of Thomas Jefferson without being historical hacks. I have tremendous respect for David Mayer, for example, and his opinion of Jefferson is completely different than mine.

Sadly, my low expectations were met. To be sure, Barton does offer enough arguments to rebut the most absurd and historically inaccurate claims about Jefferson. For example, Barton correctly points out the fallacy of the claim that it has been definitively proven that Thomas Jefferson fathered children by the slave Sally Hemings. I also believe that Barton’s insinuations about the partisan motivations behind the claims have some merit. But this chapter exemplifies so much of what is wrong with Barton’s methodology. While there can be no conclusive argument made that Jefferson fathered children by Hemings, it is also impossible to assert with any certainty that he did not. But Barton cannot leave well enough, and Barton distorts the findings of the commission tasked with determining the paternity of Hemings’ children to make it appear that Jefferson almost certainly could not be the father. While it’s certainly true that genetic testing at this stage of history cannot offer conclusive proof one way or the other, the idea that the father of Hemings’ children can be any one of  a dozen men or so is also not really credible. Personally I am rather agnostic on the question, and don’t think it is of huge historic import, but Barton stretches the truth almost as badly as those who adamantly insist that Jefferson was the father.

The real meat of the book focuses on the topic of religion. Again, Barton is incredibly frustrating to read. He asserts towards the beginning of the book that it is important to read primary sources, and to truly understand the historical context when judging historical figures. He is correct on both counts. He then incredibly proceeds to selectively cite dubious secondary sources in order to prove his assertions, and then ignores broader context when cherrypicking quotes from Jefferson.

A prime example of Barton cherrypicking Jefferson occurs in a chapter in which Barton tries to prove that Jefferson was no fan of the secular French Enlightenment. Barton offers as proof of this assertion a critical passage in one of Jefferson’s letters regarding the French philosopher Guillame Raynal. Evidently one critical passage about one obscure thinker is all the evidence we need that Jefferson was at odds with French Enlightenment philosophy. Well then.

Barton’s reliance on dubious sources bites him when discussing the supposed Jefferson Bible. Again, Barton is correct in the narrowest sense when he notes that Jefferson did not attempt to create a bible. Rather, two separate works by Jefferson – The Philosophy of Jesus and The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth – were compilations of Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. It wasn’t a “bible,” and Jefferson never attempted to pass these compilations off as such. But then Barton claims that neither work was as unorthodox as historians have claimed them to be. Jefferson did not cut out the supernatural elements from the Gospel, and indeed included some stories that referenced miracles and the afterlife. But as Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter demonstrate in Getting Jefferson Right, Barton’s source declaring that Jefferson included the miracle stories in his compilations is just plain  wrong. As for the other examples of Jefferson including references to the supernatural, these were mainly concerned with the afterlife. Throckmorton and Coulter concede that Jefferson did believe in the afterlife, thus it isn’t all that surprising that Jefferson would include these references. After all, Jefferson was not an atheist. He certainly believed in God, though he did not believe that Jesus Himself was a member of the Godhead.

And that is really the fundamental problem with Barton’s work. Barton tries mightily to paint Jefferson as some kind of conventional Christian, suggesting that his heterodoxy developed late in life as he fell under the Unitarian influence. Barton has to ignore almost an entire lifetime of Jefferson’s work in order to reach this conclusion. Here is how Jefferson expressed his views on Jesus:

The question of his being a member of the Godhead, or in direct communication with it, claimed for him by some of his followers, and denied by others, is foreign to the present view, which is merely an estimate of the intrinsic merits of his doctrines.

1.He corrected the Deism of the Jews, confirming them in their belief of one only God, and giving them juster notions of his attributes and government.

2.His moral doctrines, relating to kindred & friends, were more pure & perfect than those of the most correct of the philosophers, and greatly more so than those of the Jews; and they went far beyond both in inculcating universal philanthropy, not only to kindred and friends, to neighbors and countrymen, but to all mankind, gathering all into one family, under the bonds of love, charity, peace, common wants and common aids.  A development of this head will evince the peculiar superiority of the system of Jesus over all others.

3.The precepts of philosophy, & of the Hebrew code, laid hold of actions only.  He pushed his scrutinies into the heart of man; erected his tribunal in the region of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head.

That’s pretty clearly not orthodox Christianity to me.

Jefferson would even call Jesus’s teachings defective, though he praised Jesus as an ethicist. His compilations from the Gospels were meant to restore Christ’s teachings to their original intent, as it were. Jefferson believed that Paul and the other Apostles had distorted Christ’s work, so that is why he took out all accounts of miracles and references to Jesus being in any way part of the Godhead. Most importantly, his compilation ends at the death of Christ on the cross and his placement in the tomb. Jefferson rejected the resurrection.

Jefferson repeatedly excoriated Paul as one of the principle impostors who distorted Christ’s teachings.

Of this band of dupes and imposters, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and firm corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.

Jefferson added that Paul was a “Platonist who had brought beclouding mysticism to Jesus’ clear moral teachings.”

Barton also glosses over Jefferson’s disdain of the clergy. He cites some examples of Jefferson praising men of the cloth, but in almost every example Jefferson was praising a fellow heterodox Christian. It would be like trying to prove that someone is a faithful Catholic by highlighting their words of praise for Voice of the Faithful or Catholics for a Free Choice.

In several of his letters, Jefferson overtly criticized organized religion. “My opinion is that there never would have been an infidel, if there had never been a priest,” he wrote to Samuel Smith, meaning that religion creates artificial guidelines which restrict freedom of thought. He added that clergy only lay down these rules in order to augment their own power. “The artificial structures they have built on the purest of all moral systems, for the purpose of deriving from it pence and power, revolts those who think for themselves, and who read in that system only what is really there.”

Barton is correct to temper some of the more extreme claims about Jefferson and religion. Jefferson was no atheist, and it would not entirely be correct to say that he disdained Christianity as such. On the other hand, Barton glosses over much of Jefferson’s more negative assessments of Christianity. Most importantly, his attempt to portray Jefferson’s heterodox views as a late-life aberration is simply laughable.

Barton and those that follow him do neither conservatism nor Christianity any favors by distorting the historical record. Barton seems to be under the impression that each of the Founding Fathers must be protected from the slings and arrows of Progressive historians who would tear down these great men. I share Barton’s distrust and even contempt for most contemporary historians. But Barton’s pseudo-history is no way to counter this trend, and only provides ammunition to those who would mock conservative Christians. The progressive reading of Jefferson happens to be the correct one. Well, you know what they say about stopped clocks.

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14 Responses to Rewriting Jefferson

  • “then ignores broader context when cherrypicking quotes from Jefferson.”

    The ignorance of some people who write books on subjects is vast. The cherrypicking quotes phenomenon is picking up steam the past few years on historical themes, where polemic and assertions based on a very superficial knowledge of a period and the individuals involved appear to be the order of the day. I see this all the time in books about Lincoln.

  • I was delighted to see this review and correction. I concur with Mr. McClarey that cherrypicking historic narratives is totoally destructive of decent scholarship. As Christians the refromers did it to the Bible and gave us heresies and schisms that abound to this day.

  • I read and at times skimmed Barton’s book and found it weak in portraying the true Jefferson. As one who esteems Jefferson, who crafted one of the greatest documents in history — The Declaration of Independent — and who espoused limited government, states’ rights and individual liberty, I lament that we live in Hamilton’s America characterized by big central government with “implied” constitutional powers beyond those originally intended. Indeed, Jefferson had his warts, as we all do, but in the main our third President was a great man whose ideas and ideals helped form a great nation.

    As much better description of Jefferson the man and his political philosophy can be found in Marco Bassani’s book, “Liberty, State & Union: The Political Theory of Thomas Jefferson.” Bassani writes that in Jefferson’s view the three greatest men that civilization had produced were John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton. In contrast, Hamilton said the “greatest human: was Julius Caesar.

    Don and others are right in noting that “cherrypicking” of quotes is a common practice used to support an author’s sometimes skewed or mistaken point of view. Mencken, Hitchens, Dawkins and other atheists frequently quoted from Scripture and other sacred writings to argue their cases, as do countless others. As has been said, “The Bible is an old fiddle on which you can play any tune.”

  • I lament that we live in Hamilton’s America characterized by big central government with “implied” constitutional powers beyond those originally intended.

    Wrong. In fact, we are very much living in Jefferson’s America, but it’s the anti-tradition, utopian Progressive Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton was not the proponent of a leviathan state that his critics (and, I guess, some supporters) have made him out to be.

  • Jefferson is easier to cherrypick than other figures since he had a vast correspondence throughout his life and he wasn’t the most consistent thinker to begin with.

  • Paul, I respectfully disagree. States’ rights, a linchpin of Jeffersonian democracy, have all but vanished. Once considered sovereign, the states, which are supposed to have all rights not reserved to the federal government, are subordinate to the federal government. This was the core of Hamilton’s national view.

  • Joe, you have to separate the surface-level stuff from the deeper philosophy. Yes, Jefferson was an ardent states’ righter – in fact, his views on states rights can be considered extreme. But when you dig deep into Jefferson’s worldview, you have actually have the elements that lead to the creation of the leviathan state. Jefferson would have abhorred what has happened to state sovereignty, but in a greater sense its his very own philosophy that helped lead to this moment. And isn’t that the fundamental problem with the Progressive philosophy, namely, unintended consequences?

  • Jefferson is easier to cherrypick than other figures since he had a vast correspondence throughout his life and he wasn’t the most consistent thinker to begin with.

    Very true. Thomas Jefferson left behind an enormous amount of correspondence, and over his life you can probably find him taking both sides of almost any issue. But I do think that it’s possible to sift through the totality of his writing and come to very firm conclusions as to where he generally stood.

  • Paul, when you refer to a leviathan state I automatically think of Hobbes whose thesis was that government rested on a social contract, an idea that Locke among others embraced. It is know that Jefferson was influenced by Locke and perhaps a step removed by Hobbes. No doubt Jefferson would have “abhorred” the loss of states’ rights but I imagine, too, that even Hamilton, Madison and the other Framers would not have recognized the modern United States of America.

  • Not that it is terribly important, but I remember reading somewhere that the descendants of Sally Hemings’ oldest child had French markers so he could not be Jefferson’s son. The descendants of her other children did not have those same markers, but had markers found in the Jefferson family. I remember that his nephew was strongly suspected as the father, but Jefferson himself could not be ruled out. Now someone tell me if I am remembering correctly.

  • Jenny,

    I believe that it is true. Hemings’ oldest son, Thomas, has been ruled out as being Jefferson’s son.

  • Nearly OT, but worth sharing: there’s an interesting theory that Jefferson may have been inspired by St. Robert Bellarmine’s writings (as filtered through an absolutist Anglican critic) in drafting part of the Virginia Declaration of Rights.


    More expansive (and unsupportable) claims have been made regarding Bellarmine’s influence, but Hunt’s thesis makes modest and more supportable claims.

  • I have read that Charles Carrol, influenced by Bellarmine, also influenced Jefferson

  • Man, as a sovereign person, constitutes the government, gives government its sovereignty. When government stops respecting and appreciating the sovereignty imbued to it by the sovereignty of the human being, it ceases to be government and is hell.

When You Vote Democrat, Your Taxes Get Raised

Monday, May 31, AD 2010

The Governors office and both chambers of the Washington State legislature are currently under Democratic control. Years of spending on European style socialist programs have created a budget deficit. The Democrats have decided instead of cutting or trimming their state programs whey will instead add a beer tax (and more) to compensate for the budget shortfall.

Republicans don’t have all the answers either.  But you know (most times) it won’t be taxes that they turn to to solve a budget deficit.

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13 Responses to When You Vote Democrat, Your Taxes Get Raised

  • If taxes were raised to 90% but abortion would be entirely stopped, would you support the tax party or the anti-abortion party?

  • That’s a big “if”.

    But that in most likelihood not ever happen.

  • Plus, I’m pretty sure if you vote democrat you won’t get into Heaven.

  • We need to return to the good ol days of fiscal responsibility we had under Bush.

  • In 15 glorious months, President Quis Ut Deus has achieved: one-in-six Americans unemployed or underemployed. One-in-ten mortgages delinquent. One-in-four mortgage balances higher than the home value. One-in-ten mortgaged homes will be repossessed after the Obaguvmint cuts the loan modification masquerades. One-in-four credit card balances being written off. ETC.

    All this economic achhievement through $800 billion in federal fiscal stimulus (the Chineses fiscal stimulus worked, the dems’ went to pay dem voters/prop bankrupt blue states) and $1.25 trillion in worthless mortgage securities bought by the Fed – that has just ended. Not to mention destructive (same as the bubble run-up) monetary policy actions . . . When the “chickens come home to roost”, we will hold responsible the Dems.

    Next year the Dem powers (controlled congress 39 months) will solve all of the above. The president and Pelosi/Reid will end the evil tax cuts for the rich: Look out below!

    And, in 2013 they’ll add 30 million to government health care entitlement programs and save $$$ billions (ya’ think?). And, generate all the electricity people need with sunbeams and zephyrs. So, they can tax the crap out of oil and gas.

    While he was saving the economy, Obama found the ten minutes he needed to save the Gulf Coast from oil spill devastation – 40+ days and nothing.

    All according to plan objectives: destroy the unjust, racist private sector and reduce citizens to an equal level of poverty and dependency.

    I have the answer: raise taxes!!!!!

  • I’m glad there is an admission that the political right doesn’t have all the answers either.

    To the point — with a Republican President and a Republican Congress there was an increase of public funding of abortion, an increase in the size of government, and a budget-busting foreign policy agenda. Has President Obama and the Democrats done anything to slow this train wreck? No. Will they? Probably not. Do they deserve criticism? Most certainly.

    But this is not merely a Democratic problem. A great number of the same Republican politicians that would be re-elected this November and many of whom would become national leaders are the same figures who were supporters of the Bush Administration, supporters of deficit-spending, and a number of which who voted for 8 years for massive funding of Planned Parenthood without any pro-life amendments through Title X and other programs — and, of course, the National Right to Life’s legislative hawks were out playing cards somewhere, surely only concerned with what the Democrats are doing.

    Every social program has its lobbyists and defenders. Some programs are legitimate and I don’t oppose them at all; others are not. Some I think should be consolidated, others terminated, and some continued. But it is the demand for social programs but a love for low taxation (no revenue) that has created the budget crisis — not just the spending.

    In California where voters tend not to oppose, in principle, social spending, there is also a law — passed by an amendment on the ballot — that does not allow taxes to be raised unless there is a 2/3 majority in both chambers of the California congressional legislature which is terribly difficult. In other words, this is a two-sided problem. So with a number points of distinctions, I do agree with this post.

    Though I do pray that those concerned about fiscal matters will join me when there is a Republican majority in Congress and a Republican president and oppose the growth and massive spending of American imperialism.

    – We spend more on defense than the next 10 nations combined.
    – Our Navy exceeds in firepower the next 13 navies combined. We have 100,000 troops in Iraq, 100,000 (with the arrival of additional troops in Afghanistan), 28,000 in Korea, 35,000 in Japan, and 50,000 Germany. Do we actually need a presence with such great number in the last three countries mentioned?
    – According to the DOD, there are 716 (or more — some may not be counted because they are secret facilities) U.S. bases in 38 countries.
    – According to the DOD’s “Active Duty Military Personnel Strengths by Regional Area and by Country” there are U.S. troops in 148 countries and 11 territories.
    – We spend $1 trillion dollars a year for the Pentagon, two wars, foreign aid to allies, 16 intelligence agencies, scores of thousands of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our embassies. Much of this spending is on “the credit card” and we are currently building a $1 billion dollar embassy in London, England in the midst of this economic downturn. Do all of these efforts, all of these facilities, et al, constitute something — every measure of it — that is essential to our security?

    So here’s an idea — it is not a new one — but it is a good one. Republicans will fight new taxes and Democrats will fight to save social programs. So why don’t we gut the American empire?

    Does it make sense that we borrow billions and billions from Europe, Japan, and the Gulf states to defend those same countries? Why borrow billions from China to defend the rest of Asia from China? It is absurd to borrow from all over the world to be defenders of the world.

    Accuse Democrats until you’re blue of being socialist utopians that want to rob Peter to pay Paul. You might be able to make that claim with credibility if you are too alarmed that the Republicans now are on a war-without-end Wilsonian crusade with great budget-busting spending that has as its declared utopian goal of “ending tyranny” in our world and “promoting freedom” — an objective that obviously cannot be achieved in its totality in a world with sin and must surely it won’t be achieved through external force or solely through the use of arms.

    In short, vote Republican and you too will see a budget deficit and war without end. So let’s band together behind a coherent position and reform the parties from within.

  • …and war without end…

    How very silly – in addition to being historically inaccurate.

  • daledog,

    The point was meant to be hyperbolic — and I was not referring to historical precedent (Democratic presidents have launched more wars, surely) but the current political reality underscored by exaggeration. Objectives such as “defeating terrorism,” “fighting tyranny,” and “promoting freedom” are concepts not too far apart from that of “fighting poverty” and “combating racism.” In other words, these long-term objectives are not tangible, feasible goals (versus short-term goals such as “stabilize Iraq and withdraw”) and if the use of arms is an integral strategy in our foreign policy on such matters, then the Republicans will give us more war. If the terrorists move from Afghanistan into Pakistan or we catch them Iran, then we will have to follow them there and wage war against them and in the process nation-build where we’ve wrecked havoc — and this is a costly endeavor and it certainly has its advocates, McCain and Lieberman particularly.

    That was my point.

  • with a Republican President and a Republican Congress there was an increase of public funding of abortion


  • No Public Funding of Abortion: Myth or Status Quo?:

    In recent months, primarily due to the health care debate, much attention has been given to the contentious issue of public funding of abortion. Though it is true that the status quo, for the most part, has been not to directly subsidize abortion, Americans have been both directly and indirectly subsidizing abortion in a number of ways virtually since its legalization in 1973…

    …During the nominally pro-life Bush Administration, there was considerable federal funding of abortion. Planned Parenthood received funding through the Title XIX (Medicaid) and Title X appropriations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, gaining over $50 million per year through each program.

    The Title X appropriation which funds a “comprehensive” sex education and contraception program is particularly alarming. Its prime recipients are Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion organizations and facilities. While Title X monies cannot be used directly to fund abortions by organizations such as Planned Parenthood who provide abortions, the increase of available funds can be used to offset operational costs and free up resources that can be used to promote and expand abortion services. For the fiscal year 2008, the tax-exempt “non-profit” abortion provider Planned Parenthood reported taking in $1.0381 billion dollars in revenues. More than a third of Planned Parenthood’s budget (roughly $350 million) came from grants from the federal government. In other words, taxpayers directly underwrite abortion by underwriting abortion providers.

    Despite this obvious problem, President Bush signed the appropriations bill increasing the Title X funding level to $265 million, a total of $11 million more than it had been in the last year of the Clinton Administration. In 2004 President Bush signed the annual appropriations bill increasing Title X funding to $280 million, a $26 million increase over his first term. After the election of a Democratic Congress in 2006, Title X received its largest funding increase in 35 years, totaling $310 million with the signature of the then-Republican president.

    In the 1980s, President Reagan issued an executive order clarifying the statute prohibiting Title X funds cannot subsidize abortions to also mean “that Title X recipients may not refer for abortion or combine family planning services with abortion services.” Thus, under the Reagan Administration, health care professionals working in Title X-funded clinics were prohibiting from providing any abortion-related information or referrals. This policy was continued by President George H.W. Bush and was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1991. The executive order, however, was rescinded by President Clinton.

    This regulation was surprisingly never reinstated by President Bush; federal appropriations to the Title X program increased every year underwriting the abortion business with taxpayer dollars, with the majority of those increases occurring with a Republican (and an allegedly pro-life) majority in Congress and all on the watch of a nominally pro-life Republican president.

    By no stretch of the imagination could one imagine any of this changing during the Obama Administration. The current trend has continued, with the 2009 and 2010 Title X appropriations totaling $312 million and $317 million, respectively. President Obama in his 2011 budget proposal has suggested a $10 million increase in Title X spending, a total of $327 million.

    It is worth noting that Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) introduced an amendment to the 2009 HHS Appropriations bill intended to de-fund Planned Parenthood. The amendment read: “None of the funds made available under this Act shall be available to Planned Parenthood for any purpose under Title X of the Public Health Services Act.” The amendment (surprisingly) passed out of committee but failed on a floor vote.

    Unfortunately a few pro-life Democrats did not vote in favor of the Pence amendment, though many did. This issue—disunity in terms of congressional pro-life votes—has become quite a stumbling block for pro-life unity that must seriously and immediately addressed. This need not be downplayed nor need it be exaggerated—there are both wavering as well as courageous pro-life Democrats in Congress.

    In the same instance, one must wonder why is it that the Pence amendment or another equally pro-life measure was not enacted in the six years of a Republican majority to ensure that organizations that provide or refer for abortions did not receive Title X funding? It is almost certain there were a sufficient number of yes-votes. This might be a cynical point (as well as true one) but it seems that the Republicans have gotten too comfortable not forcing the abortion issue by avoiding “showdowns” or any sort of direct confrontation that does not seem to carry with it any sort of political capital that benefit’s the party. In other words, it is not surprising (to a skeptical mind like my own) that Rep. Mike Pence, no matter how sincerely pro-life he may be, would offer such an amendment with a pro-abortion majority in Congress. There is political capital in the amendment’s victory as well as its failure—it is but another issue that the GOP can use against the Democrats. At the very least, the amendment distracts from the enormous sums that Planned Parenthood was receiving under a Republican President and congressional majority. If this is true, there is nothing particularly heroic about the amendment; it is nothing more than bait for pro-life voters.

  • So why don’t we gut the American empire?

    Because there is no American empire.

  • I obviously don’t mean “American empire” in a strictly historical use of the term “empire.”

    Though I’m not sure if you insist on nit-picking my arguments with distinctions instead of substantially undermining it — unless my argument is, for the most part, reasonable.

  • I am not nitpicking over your terminology, Eric. There is a good deal of blatherskite in ‘palaeo-conservative’, libertarian, and social antiquarian discourse (see ‘Front Porch Republic’) about ’empire’ and ‘resistance to empire’. They are not contending with anything outside their own heads. You use their words.

    If I recall correctly, our balance of payments deficit on current account has, since 1982, usually run to about 4% of gross domestic product. That is a measure of the extent to which we are borrowing abroad for our various objects – private consumption, investment, and public consumption.

    Public expenditure is a compound of government purchases of goods and services and transfer payments. Private consumption amounts generally to around two-thirds of gross domestic product. Expenditure on the military and the intelligence services has varied between 3.5% and 8% since 1982, and now stands at around 5%. Military expenditure makes but a modest contribution as to why you are ‘living beyond your means’. There is, however, no secular trend in living memory with regard to the devotion of productive resources to the military. About 10% of domestic product was devoted to the military in 1955. By contrast, the medical-industrial complex accounted for 5% of domestic product in 1960 and 16% today. You made a complaint about the size of our Navy. The personnel strength of the U.S. Navy is the smallest it has been since 1941.

    Bringing ends and means in balance requires financing your public consumption and transfer payments from tax revenues and penalizing private consumption with the tax code. Right now, we face acute problems with fiscal imbalances brought on by an exceptional situation in the economy, so the military budget is an inviting target. The thing is, you only have banking crises once every fifty or sixty years or so in this country. As a rule, the level of military expenditure we have had over the last decade is quite sustainable. The economic arguments against ’empire’, such as it is, are bogus.

9 Responses to Economics Rap Battle

The Contradiction of Religious Freedom

Wednesday, January 20, AD 2010

Perhaps one of the most cherished freedoms of liberal democracy (in the sense of classical liberalism, not modern progressivism) is the freedom of religion. Much though I admire many elements of Western Civilization prior to the modern era, I cannot help thinking that the end of the formal confessional state has generally been a good thing not only for the state, but even more so for the Church. It has given the Church, no longer tied down by the need to support explicitly Catholic regimes, the freedom to speak more openly and forcefully on the demands that Christ’s message puts upon us in the public and economic realms.

That said, it seems to me that there is a built in contradiction in the place of religious freedom in classical liberalism: While religious freedom is a central element of classical liberalism, the ability of a state to function as a liberal democracy will collapse if a large majority of the population do not share a common basic moral and philosophical (and thus by implication theological) worldview. Thus, while religious freedom is a foundational element of classical liberalism, only a certain degree of religious conformity makes it possible.

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30 Responses to The Contradiction of Religious Freedom

  • If, however, there is fundamental disagreement among the populace about basic issues of right and wrong and what the purpose of the human person is, the victory of the other side will increasingly look to the defeated like an unacceptable tyranny, and the state will risk coming apart at the seams.

    I think this an interesting point. As people’s views change as permitted in an environment of religious liberty, it’s possible that they will diverge to the extent that the commitment to religious liberty and other unifying ideals will erode. Hobbes, for instance, thought this threat was an excellent reason for the state to abolish religious freedom altogether. In this scenario, religion would be yet another tool of good governance.

    Another possibility, of course, is that views will diverge to the extent that there are competing views of what religious freedom should mean and how it should be embodied in law, but that the underlying commitment to religious freedom will remain intact. I would say in broad terms that this is where we are today, and actually also where we were at the time of the Founding. There have been developments since then, of course (most notably the dramatic expansion of the state, which creates many more potential areas for conflict), but I think this tension will probably appear in any pluralistic democracy.

  • this tension will probably appear in any pluralistic democracy.

    Agreed. Which leads to the question, can a pluralistic democracy survive itself? Or is the non-confessional state doomed to eventually fracture in the face of worldviews within the citizenry which overly diverge?

  • Which leads to the question, can a pluralistic democracy survive itself? Or is the non-confessional state doomed to eventually fracture in the face of worldviews within the citizenry which overly diverge?

    I would answer in the affirmative. However, I think it essentially applies to confessional states too. it’s not like being a confessional state automatically excludes critical differences. In fact, if we look at the Protestant rebellion (“Reformation”) you can see how the idea of a confessional state actually facilitated such factors. No state has ever lasted forever in form or appearance and I don’t expect it to ever happen.

  • Interesting commentary. One would think that the post-modern cult of relativism, which is on the rise in western society, would even further complicate things. No longer is the issue simply what is right and what is wrong, but whether or not right or wrong even exist objectively.

  • No inherent contradiction is presented if “freedom” is rightly understood. Freedom does not correspond with the absolute individual authority to will as one pleases. “Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values” (Par. 3, VERITATIS SPLENDOR, 1993). The very basis for “religious freedom” is grounded in the protection of conscience, thereby preserving the integrity and dignity of the human person, i.e., his very nature (see, e.g., Par. 2, DIGNITATIS HUMANAE, 1965). Freedom, in this sense, might be better understood in terms of freedom from coercion, a type of negative right. Consequently, we lawyers sometimes refer to such negative rights and the rules for preserving such rights as “prophylactic” remedies, something to protect against an evil. It would be improper to invoke “religious freedom” as a means to usurp the very good it is intended to achieve in the first place. Therefore, it would not be the legitimate exercise of freedom to achieve some of the results suggested, e.g., to modify the meaning of the human person is such manner as to remove the protection afforded in the first place – that of sanctity of conscience. Such an exercise of will would be an abuse of freedom, and not the legitimate use of freedom. Do such abuses occur in American politics? Yes, but I would argue it is grounded in an erroneous understanding of “freedom.”

  • Jon, I agree with your central point (the proper meaning of freedom), but the problem remains, in that the meaning of freedom as it is used in the First Amendment is not self-evidently the proper one. In fact, it seems likely that it is rather the *improper* one.

  • I think the extent of the requisite religious conformity is the sticking point. I do not think that people need to have the same religion, nor does it need to be eastern or western, but simply that they be in some sense a spiritual people, i.e. concerned with spiritual things. Morality is more or less the same in all religions.

    I think our problem is that we are not a moral or a spiritual people. We are hedonist, apathetic and lazy. I don’t think the problem is necessarily with liberal democracy (except for how it may have facilitated this growth). The problem is that no society, however organized, can survive a people so devoid of a sense of purpose, morality and passion.

  • Chris, perhaps there are some contemporaries who argue the “improper” grounding of freedom based on the omission of certain language; however, I believe an honest examination of the historical context and the debate surrounding the inclusion of the Bill Rights (incl. 1st Amd) bear out that the understanding of the founders regarding “religious freedom” is at least the one grounded in natural law principles, e.g., as expressed in the Decl. of Indep. (Archbishop Chaput advances a similar position in his “Render unto Ceasar.”)

    A basic principle of legal interpretation involves, among other things, appealing to the records of debate that resulted in the enacted language along with attendant circumstances. How could the formation document (Constitution) of the federation be interpreted apart from the dissolution document (Decl. of Indep)? I submit that it can’t, at least honestly.

  • I think Zach makes a good point that the issue is in part “how pluralistic”. It’s tempting to argue that the US used to have a much more united vision of morality, the human person, and the state — though clearly slavery was a recognized problem from the beginning, which did indeed cause the country to break apart. But I think that some degree of diversity is certainly sustainable, so long as there is agreement on a sufficient number of base principles. I think you could certainly have a stable state with a mix of Protestants and Catholics and non-Christians and non-believers — so long as (whether out of habit or shared philosophy) the vast majority had sufficient agreement about basic moral and philosophical standards.

    I’d have to think about it more, but what I think I’d want to argue is that liberal democracy is generally the best (or least bad, if one wants to be Churchillian) form of government, but that in order to have any sort of stable state it’s necessary for the state to be of such a size and composition that there is already sufficient agreement for people to agree to be governed by the same laws. The problem is, of course, that societies change over time, and so a region which was at one point united can splinter over time. I’m not sure, however, that there’s much that the state itself can do to prevent this kind of splintering from happening — that’s the job of the wider culture, and an example of how the apparatus of the state is (or certainly should be, at any rate) subordinate to the culture, not the other way around.

  • Jon, I agree that the Constitution needs to be read with the Declaration in mind, but I don’t think it matters: I number myself among those who see the Founders as heirs of the Enlightenment more than as heirs of a robust Christian tradition with a strong natural law component. And as such, I think their conception of freedom is not as intrinsically ordered towards the good as is ours, but — as primarily a negative sense — tends towards an understanding of freedom as license. I see today’s emphasis on “choice” (whether it’s the NRA or Planned Parenthood) as in keeping with the underlying philosophy of our founding, not in opposition to it.

  • DC, I agree with your points in both ‘graphs… some diversity is sustainable, and societal cohesion can really only be maintained by the culture itself… the state seems powerless to do so while remaining a democracy.

  • Chris, I’m not sure the Founders’ view of liberty as “license” applies as strongly in the context of religious liberty, as it does for perhaps other liberties or rights (“license” in its ordinary sense of being free from all constraint). For example, I don’t believe the Founders’ would protect the right to practice a religion involving human sacrifice.

    Even if the Founders’ formulation of the “good” was hampered by their ideological perspective, given than the right of “religious liberty” is not absolute (as noted above), I’ll restate my thesis: that their approach vis-a-vis religious liberty would at a minimum fall short of redefining the human person so as to extinguish those very same rights. Note that I’m addressing the narrow case of religious liberty here as it corresponds to the original post.

    As I discussed above, negative rights under the law function as prophylactics, and I believe it achieves its purpose here. That freedom when improperly understood may foster a propensity to license is, as noted by other commentators, a cultural problem, and the gov’t is ill equipped to promote true virtue in a plural society, as recognized even by St. Augustine in his time, so I won’t conflate that issue in this discussion.

  • “It has given the Church, no longer tied down by the need to support explicitly Catholic regimes, the freedom to speak more openly and forcefully on the demands that Christ’s message puts upon us in the public and economic realms.”

    I’ve said something similar in the past, but now I question this. First, this kind of comment risks treating freedom as coming from the state or the social structure rather than the Gospel.

    Second, the Church hierarchy is now perhaps just as committed to defending non-confessional regimes and the liberal democratic order.

    Third, the Church hierarchy doesn’t seem very outspoken in an age of democratic freedoms. Except for the pro-life issue, the Church at present seems mostly incapable of leading. Her shepherds fear alienating the laity, the mainstream media, and the political parties.

    However, the general topic of the original post is sound.

    Boiled down, someone with political authority has to define “religion” and “freedom,” and in our state those definitions will be skewed and/or severely contested.

    I’ve long pondered Federalist 2’s comments about how Providence “has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people–a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion…”

    That “same religion” line probably meant Protestant Christianity, not the “Judeo-Christian” compromise preached in the US decades ago, and certainly not the diversity-celebrating ethos of contemporary elitism.

    When the composition of the people has changed, how can the constitution of the government (its best parts at least) remain unchanged?

  • Assuming you’re correct, perhaps the increase of pluralism in our society and around the globe will give rise to rethinking of the state itself. I wonder which of the two, in time, will prove the stronger. Will our pluralism fundamentally restructure our society or will the structure of the state put a halt to our pluralism? Or will we not reach that point, but remain in permanent tension?

  • In the piece you state that “the ability of a state to function as a liberal democracy will collapse if a large majority of the population do not share a common basic moral and philosophical (and thus by implication theological) worldview…” as though this idea is axiomatic. It is anything but axiomatic. Morality does not, as you suggest, derive from religion. Consider the recently exposed attempts, now well-documented, by the Catholic church to conceal the rampant sexual exploitation of children by its clergy. Insofar as the sexual exploitation of children might be considered as perhaps the one area in which moral condemnation might be considered as both universal and absolute among religious and non-religious alike, I think we can safely conclude that morality is separate from religion and can not be derived from it. Moreover, insofar as religion (in this case the Catholic church) has shown itself to be uniquely delinquent on this issue, we can further conclude that the Catholic church, if not necessarily religion generally, is not only amoral, but immoral. QED

  • Morality of course derives from religion as a historical fact. Without a religious sanction you do not have a binding morality but mere opinion about morality. As for people who are religious engaging in sin, that will only shock people who mistake men for angels. If men were sinless there would be no need for the ten commandments and other religion based codes of morality. That men violate such codes says nothing about the validity of the codes and everything about the capacity of humans to commit evil. As for your attempt to claim that sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy is “uniquely delinquent”, I assume you said that with tongue in cheek. Grave crimes against children are committed by adults in every calling known to man. Judging from media accounts, public school teachers seem to be especially culpable in this area.

  • @ D. McClarey – Respectfully, your statement that “[m]orality of course derives from religion as a historical fact” is merely a conclusory restatement of the original proposition and is patently absurd on its face for the same reasons I’ve stated. Of course, the is no “of course” about it…and that is my point. As for my characterization of the Catholic church’s response to the the sex abuse scandal as “uniquely delinquent”, I do not mean to say that no other entity as ever committed a similar offense against morality as that too would be absurd. I do, however, think that the Catholic church’s response has been and is “uniquely delinquent” as to the degree to which they permitted, and then by failing to adequately address the issue enabled, the abuse. By ignoring the problem and reassigning offending priests to other parishes rather than turning those priests over to authorities for prosecution or at least ensuring that those priests would be assigned to duties that would avoid contact with children transformed what were the individual transgressions of a few into a systemic transgression. Hence, by any measure, the Catholic church committed immoral acts or what you would no doubt term, “sins”. The church must accept responsibility for its actions and, by so doing, acknowledge that it has no direct moral authority. If it has any moral authority at all it is, at best, derivative. If moral authority is, arguendo, vested derivatively in the church then it is only one of many sources of such authority and therefore is subject to your criticism that such authority is subjective and relative.

  • Karl,

    You don’t even have to accept that religiously derived moral norms are correct to see the truth of my statement (though your illogic that follows is pretty impressive, and all the more ironic by your summing up with the scholastic QED.)

    If a society is made up of multiple factions with radically differing ideas of what is right and wrong, and each group tries (as is natural) to enforce their notions of right and wrong through the mechanism of the law, strife will inevitably result.

    We saw this in our own history with the issue of slavery. One section of the country believed that slavery was a profound moral evil — another believed it was natural and perhaps even beneficial to the enslaved. Prohibitionists saw it as evil not to outlaw slavery, slavery supporters saw it as an unacceptable abbridgement of their freedom to hold private property.

    The result was the bloodiest war in our history. For my point to hold, it’s not even necessary to rule on which side was right, or if there even is such a thing as right and wrong. So long as the two groups believed that there was such a thing as right and wrong, and had different beliefs about it, strife was the inevitable result.

  • Hence, by any measure, the Catholic church committed immoral acts or what you would no doubt term, “sins”. The church must accept responsibility for its actions and, by so doing, acknowledge that it has no direct moral authority. If it has any moral authority at all it is, at best, derivative.


    If it turns out that a drug enforcement unit has been trafficing in drugs illegally, does that mean that there are in fact no laws against narcotics? No.

    If you think that Catholics believe that things are right or wrong only to the extent that the Church practices morality, that the Church is the source of morality by examplar, that would at least explain your confusion. But otherwise this line of argument simply makes no sense.

    The Church claims that it has correctly relayed through its teachings the moral laws (both revealed and natural) which God created humanity to live in conformity to. Whether individual Catholics or even large groups of Catholics successfully live according to those laws would seem to have no relation to whether those laws are indeed true.

    The sins of priests and bishops are no more a disproof of Catholic theology than a physicist having a car accident is a disproof of the laws of motion. Failure to conform to a law does not disprove its existence.

  • No, my statement that all morality derives from religion is historical fact is not conclusory but simply a statement of fact. The morality of all civilizations derives from religious teaching. You can deny this, but it places you squarely in the category of people who deny that fire burns and water is wet. Your idea that sins committed by clerics deprives the Church of moral authority is risible. The moral authority of the Church comes from God. That authority remains if every pope going back to Peter were a vile fiend. The sinful clerics are condemned by the teachings of the Church that they failed to follow. Their sins no more undermined the authority of the Church than Peter’s denial of Christ before the crucifixion or the betrayal of Christ by Judas undermined the authority of the Church. 2000 years of sins and human folly have not undermined that authority.

  • @ DarwinCatholic – “If a society is made up of multiple factions with radically differing ideas of what is right and wrong, and each group tries (as is natural) to enforce their notions of right and wrong through the mechanism of the law, strife will inevitably result.”

    Naturally. Strife is the essence of democracy, and our laws are the product of compromise and adaptation which seeks a balance between individual freedom and the order that must prevail in a society in order to maximize the individual freedom of all.

    “Failure to conform to a law does not disprove its existence.”

    True, but the church failed to enforce the law within its own ranks, holding itself above the law. Do you not see the contradiction that impends here?

  • @ McClarrey –

    “No, my statement that all morality derives from religion is historical fact is not conclusory but simply a statement of fact.”

    This sir, is a conclusory statement. If the things explained as the numerator and the things needed to be assumed in order for the statement to be true as the denominator results in a value < 1, you have made a conclusory statement. If you're at all confused about this, you might want to consult a Jesuit (or a rabbi).

  • No it is a statement of historical fact. All civilizations have based their morality on religious teaching. Once again, you can deny this, but you are simply wrong as a factual matter.

  • Karl,

    I agree that discussion and compromise between opposing view points is the essence of democracy — however I think it’s pretty self evidence that the disagreements one can successfully compromise between have to be within a certain minimum range in order for the process to work. If disagreements are too extreme, the basis for democracy breaks down because any possible compromise will be seen as utterly unacceptable by some portion of the population.

    Imagine that 40% of our population demanded the right to stone women who got pregnant out of wedlock. Meanwhile, 55% believes this would be murder. Some 5% is for some reason able to hold themselves above teh debate.

    If the 40% is truly set on enforcing their beliefs about stoning, indeed believes it will destroy their way of life and make life not worth living if they’re not allowed to stone women who get pregnant out of wedlock, what you’re going to have is a breakdown in civil order and a lot of violence. There’s simply not a way to address that kind of disagreement via the sort of compromise and give-and-take which we use to settle disputes like whether we should subsidize corn production, or whether we should have government health care.

    That’s what I’m talking about here.

    True, but the church failed to enforce the law within its own ranks, holding itself above the law. Do you not see the contradiction that impends here?

    Um, no.

    You’re consistently missing two key points:

    1) The Church does not claim that it sets morality arbitrarily the way that a legislature passes regulations. Rather, it claims to have received from God and passed on to humanity a set of immutable laws formed by God. This isn’t a common law situation where one can claim that failure to enforce is a ceding of control.

    2) You’re also not clearly accounting for what happened here. If the Church had been going around preaching, “Bugging little boys is absolutely wrong. However, if a priest does it, it should not be treated as a crime and he should be allowed to continue,” you would at least have a point that Church teaching was incoherant. Rather, you had the Church clearing teaching that something was wrong, but in some dioceses the bishops were ignoring claims that some of their priests were committing acts which were both crimes and grave sins. It is, unfortunately, all too common that those who are in some form of authority misuse it to their advantage. For instance, I know several police officers who completely ignore speed limits in their personal driving, and then routinely get off when pulled over by flashing their badges. Nonetheless, the fact that cops rarely write other cops tickets does not mean that the speed limits don’t exist. It just means that people in authority often abuse it.

    Indeed, in the case of the scandals, one might actually take the opposite lesson: the fact that a coverup occurred underlines that the Church is correct in stating that the moral law against molestation is a “natural law”, one written in the hearts of man and understandable even without revelation.

  • I think Mr. Wulff is obviously confused about a number of things, but I am not sure you’re quite right, Donald, that all civilizations have based their morality on religious teaching. I’m trying to remember where I encountered the argument (C.S. Lewis, I think), but there are writers who believe that one of the crowning achievements of Judaism and Christianity is the integration of morality and the experience of the numinous.

    To cite one example, the gods of Ancient Greece or Rome were hardly moral exemplars, and the philosophers rather than the priests devoted themselves to exploring moral philosophy. Of course, I think in the end, that explorations of morality and experiences of the numinous eventually have to cross paths, but I’m not sure that’s always how it’s worked historically.

  • All civilizations John Henry base their morality on religious teaching. In regard to the Greeks for example I refer you to Hesiod’s Works and Days from circa 700 BC:

    “Muses of Pieria who give glory through song, come hither, tell of Zeus your father and chant his praise. Through him mortal men are famed or un-famed, sung or unsung alike, as great Zeus wills. For easily he makes strong, and easily he brings the strong man low; easily he humbles the proud and raises the obscure, and easily he straightens the crooked and blasts the proud, — Zeus who thunders aloft and has his dwelling most high.”


    Hesiod put into writing the religious traditions of the Greeks that attributed all morality as a gift from the Gods. It is certainly true that later philosophers were troubled by Gods in some of the Greek fables who acted in an immoral fashion, but that did not negate the Greek belief that the Gods had granted to man morality, and that the Gods punished mortals who failed to observe the laws of morality.

  • Religious freedom is inherent in revealed religion, especially the Catholic faith. God reveals and we respond. How we respond is what defines our life. All morality is religious – it can’t be anything else. A philosophical morality is devoid of the transcendent and will collapse because it becomes a human construct and this world is passing away.

    Sure, humans can discern the natural law; but, what inspires that desire? The natural human inclination is to dominate and destroy. Rare is the man who searched for truth before Truth entered space-time. Look at Confucius (Kung Fu Tze), Aristotle or Lao Tzu, they were on to something but like all human efforts it cannot be fulfilled.

    The state’s responsibility is to act negatively, as lucidly pointed out above. Government is not supposed to provide health care, housing, sex-change operations or even food. Government, properly designed, is to curtail the will to power of any group, faction or individual including the state itself. This effort will ultimately always fail because we cannot be perfected in this world.

    Religious freedom is the fundamental freedom – all others, including the right to life are based on the free choice of humans to respond to God. The real question isn’t should the state protect religious freedom – that is self-evident, it must. The real question is what is religion? Without the answer to what religion is, then we cannot expect the state to protect our free choice as regards ‘religion’.

    Religion, properly defined, is the justice we owe to God. Only the Catholic faith has a claim to the fullness of truth. Of course, as Catholics we are free to obey God or rebel. We just must be aware that there are consequences. Those consequences are ours to chose and not for the state to determine. Yet the state must provide the environment of choice, which requires adherence to the truth. Our freedom is not license it is the freedom from coercion save when we seek to coerce another. We are free to do what we ought, not what we want.

    The ultimate penalty for abuse of the freedom of religion is imprisonment for eternity – a dark self-imposed isolation. The good news is Jesus came to set the captives free.

    America has her Masonic/Jacobin/Enlightenment stain and a rich, vibrant Christian tradition. Does she need to be Catholic? No. But America must be Christian. She has to be Christian to be America even if no Christians live here. No other religion, no other philosophy or ethos can promote authentic human freedom.

    Our free, Christian nation has her best days ahead of her, we just have to overcome this relativist chaos right now and then again and again and again until we ultimately fail – and then we win.

    Our Lady of America, ora pro nobis.

  • Gentlemen,

    Thank you for an enjoyable debate. I think the comments and the tone have been respectful and important, valid points raised on all sides. This experience has reaffirmed my faith that people of different points of view, even on those subjects held most dear, can be exchanged in a civil, respectful manner.

    Be well.

The Claremont Reviews Advent Interview with Fr. James V. Schall

Tuesday, December 15, AD 2009

Since 2002 Ken Masugi, a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute and lecturer in Government at Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, has conducted Advent interviews with James V. Schall, S.J., author of over thirty books on political theory and theology. Fr. Schall teaches in the Government Department of Georgetown University.

The interviews themselves are a delight to read and span a variety of topics from current events to the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI to issues in philosophy, theology and ethics — and sometimes, in addition, what books Fr. Schall himself is reading at that particular moment in time.

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4 Responses to The Claremont Reviews Advent Interview with Fr. James V. Schall

Difference and Equality

Thursday, December 3, AD 2009

Individualism is one of those terms which a great many people use in a great many different ways, so it has been with interest that I’ve been reading Individualism and Economic Order by F. A. Hayek. The book is a collection of essays dealing the individualism, its definition and its place in the economic order.

From the first essay, “Individualism: True and False” comes an interesting thought:

Here I may perhaps mention that only because men are in fact unequal can we treat them equally. If all men were completely equal in their gifts and inclinations, we should have to treat them differently in order to achieve any sort of social organization. Fortunately, they are not equal; and it is only owing to this that the differentiation of functions needs not be determined by the arbitrary decision of some organizing will but that, after creating formal equality of the rules applying in the same manner to all, we can leave each individual to find his own level.

There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal. While the first is the condition of a free society, the second means, as De Tocqueville described it, “a new form of servitude.”
(Individualism and the Economic Order p. 14-15)

This strikes me as touching on the sense in which classical liberals in the tradition of Burke and Smith can still be considered “conservative” in the old sense of the term. Although Burke is commonly accepted by those who argue that classical liberalism is not “truly conservative” as being conservative in his outlook because of his reaction to the French Revolution, he was (like Smith) Whig, though they were Old Whigs, not True Whigs or Country Whigs. Prior to the French Revolution, Burke had been generally supportive of the cause of the colonists in the American Revolution.

Taking Hayek’s point, classical liberals in the tradition of Burke and Smith do not reject the necessary hierarchy of society. Nor do they embrace sudden, transformative social change. As such, they can certainly be seen as conservative. However, they do seek sufficient freedom within society to allow people to “find their own level”, believing that there is a natural hierarchy of ability which will thus result in an ordered society, and a more desirable one than one in which hierarchy comes strictly from birth and rank.

In this sense, the freedom of a classical liberal society creates social order, and a more stable one than the sort that an ancien regime conservatism maintains. Indeed, arguably, at this point in history, it is only this Whig-ish conservatism which is commonly found within society. Ancien regime conservatism has virtually died out.

Entirely different are notions of politics or the human person in which it is held which all people are truly and fully equal — in ability and inclination as well as in human dignity. Such systems would indeed seem to lead quickly to a most undesirable oppression.

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18 Responses to Difference and Equality

  • The trouble with “individualism” in rightist (traditionalist or right-liberal) argumentation today is the lack of realization of what Robert Nisbet pointed out in the 50s and Patrick Deenan has been hammering home in recent years: it is an invitation to statism, and an opening for a grave lonliness.
    ( http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/?p=4115 )

    Individualism and personal freedom, which should always be second to virtue as a value, tends to deny a very basic truth that all conservatives must embrace: the absolute and inherent incompatibility between liberty and equality. Left-liberals value the latter, and right-liberals the former. Each is a false human anthropology when out of context. We are products of a particular time and social environment, and that cannot be escaped – which makes family the most foundational unit of the good society.

    The purpose of freedom and liberty is to protect family, material and immaterial.

  • Jonathan,

    Actually the Hayek essay (“Individualism: True and False”) this quotes would be worth your time (it’s fairly short) in that one of the things it seeks to do is arrive at a proper understanding of what individualism means in relation to the classical liberal tradition.

    What, then, are the essential characteristics of true individualism? The first thing that should be said is that it is primarily a theory of society, an attempt to understand the forces which determine the social life of man, and only in the second instance a set of political maxims derived fromt his view of society. This fact should by itself be sufficient to refute the silliest of the common misunderstandings: the belief that individualism postulates (or bases its arguments on the assumption of) the existence of isolated or self-contained individuals, instead of starting from men whose nature and character is determined by their existence in society. If that were true, it would indeed have nothing to contribute to our understanding of society. But it’s basic contention is quite a different one; it is that there is no other way toward and understanding of social phenomena but through our understanding of individual actions directed toward other people and guided by their expected behavior. This argument is directed primarily against the properly collectivist theories of society which pretend to be able directly to comprehend social wholes like society, etc., as entities sui generis which exist independently of the individuals which compose them. The next step in the individualistic analysis of society, however, is directed against the reationalistic pseudo-individualism which also leads to practical collectivism.

    I’d be curious at your reaction to it.

  • Is it perhaps too much of an oversimplification to describe the different views of individualism as a means/end dichotomy. Randian and leftists see individualism as an end in and of itself, whereas conservatives/classical liberals merely see it as a means by which to achieve a more just social order.

  • Darwin,

    As I recently pointed out on a different thread, the classical liberalism of the American founders was also balanced by their classical republicanism, which includes an emphasis on virtue and does not shy away from regulating wealth to preserve society.

    I would argue that classical liberalism never created a stable society – other political forces such as aforesaid classical republicanism, or later on labor movements and the Church tempered and balanced it.

    Finally, I would argue that all most all of the classical liberals are gone – that even the vast majority of libertarians are not truly classical liberals. Why? Because I believe anyone defending the right of total, untaxed inheritance today cannot possibly believe in a “natural aristocracy”, a “meritocracy”, or anything other than the perpetuation of oligarchy and plutocracy.

    Except the one libertarian I met as a socialist who said we could strike a bargain – we could tax the hell out of inheritance as long as he could become rich in his lifetime without paying a dime on it. I always thought it was a good idea.

  • Darwin,

    Hayek and Röpke, in their analysis of the “humane economy,” both identify the elevation of individualism as something like “reationalistic pseudo-individualism which also leads to practical collectivism.”

    One problem though, especially for the traditionalist conservative critic (my own politics), is that Hayek’s case for the “free market” (i.e. The Constitution of Liberty) draws very heavily from Hume, A. Ferguson, and Adam Smith. That is not necessarily a red flag (Mill and Bentham would be for sure) but it remains the British, skeptic, empirical tradition. That tradition has both much to admire and quite a lot to deride from the traditionalist perspective.

    Their case rests on the necessary ignorance of human judgement, which is correct (in a civilized society, there is no centrality capable of managing a complex social outgrowth, so a minimal state is best) but also incomplete.

    Hayek, IMO, is relevant at the theoretical level yet less so at the practical level, and this is due to some uncomfortable topics like demographics and population composition. Here my critique would turn Buchananite: specific government policies matter less than the quantities and qualities of populations. Racism and sexism become cheap and lazy charges at that point, yet this is the obvious problem with all shades of individualism at the intersection of public policy – Finland, for instance, is “Finlandly” because of the Finns themselves, not because of philosophy and governmental mechanics.

  • there is no other way toward and understanding of social phenomena but through our understanding of individual actions directed toward other people and guided by their expected behavior

    This is a very good refutation of Randian libertarianism and its incorrect anthropology. Individualism should not mean that subjective action is sacrosanct; it is, instead, a better way to analyze the social outcomes that are obviously the product of so many individual decisions. The temptation is to play identity politics and assume that these social constructs have some nature or form that can be counted on to behave in certain ways… Just to name one example, it would be foolish to assume that all Catholics will act similarly, ceteris paribus.

  • The trouble with “individualism” in rightist (traditionalist or right-liberal) argumentation today is the lack of realization of what Robert Nisbet pointed out in the 50s and Patrick Deenan has been hammering home in recent years: it is an invitation to statism

    Okay, let’s test this. Which part of the globe is more individualistic: the United States, or Europe? Which part is more statist?

  • Blackadder: on a blog discussing the anti-gay marriage vote in NY, a European leftist jumped in and said basically, see, this is why in Europe a supra-national body decides these issues, because we don’t want a situation where people vote to deny other people their rights. He obviously thought that was highly superior to the way we rednecks do things.

    Ironically enough, it is the Left which now embodies the mentality of the ancien regime. In Europe, the dukes and earls have been replaced by the EU elites, because the judgment of the peasants is not to be trusted. And many liberals in this country also put their faith in the elites and the courts and would like us to become more like the Europeans in that respect. The funny thing to me is that it’s basically feudalism presented as cutting edge progressivism.

  • “The funny thing to me is that it’s basically feudalism presented as cutting edge progressivism.”

    On target analysis Donna. Leftist comments about the tea bag party protests reminded me of a British aristocrat looking down his nose and cursing at the American rabble of 1776. The Left has a childlike faith in government by experts with the “proper opinions” amd judges with the “proper opinions”. Voters simply cannot be trusted to elect representatives with the “proper opinions”. That is also why Leftists love treaties to bind what elected representatives can do.

  • European leftist jumped in and said basically, see, this is why in Europe a supra-national body decides these issues, because we don’t want a situation where people vote to deny other people their rights. He obviously thought that was highly superior to the way we rednecks do things.

    Maybe it’s all Providence. Clearly someone like this isn’t a clear enough thinker to understand the virtues inherent in a properly constructed constitutionally limited republic. Its a pity when someone forfeits his ability to shape society for the better and contribute to his own governance, but maybe it’s best that those who would, should.

  • on a blog discussing the anti-gay marriage vote in NY, a European leftist jumped in and said basically, see, this is why in Europe a supra-national body decides these issues

    That’s an interesting argument, or at least it would be if it was remotely true. There’s no supra-national body in Europe telling nations that they have to recognize gay marriage. The issue is decided country by country, and in fact most European countries do not recognize gay marriage.

  • Because I believe anyone defending the right of total, untaxed inheritance today cannot possibly believe in a “natural aristocracy”, a “meritocracy”, or anything other than the perpetuation of oligarchy and plutocracy.

    Clayton Cramer has visited this issue on occasion and (I believe) has some citations to literature. His point: that with some exceptions (the duPonts, for example), families tend to lose their mojo after a few generations and their wealth is dissipated (by alcoholism, failure to earn well, and bad investments, among other things). A sad contemporary example would be Robert Kennedy’s in laws.

    You also would not want to work it so that an able businessman could not provide for his wife or his disabled children.

  • Okay, let’s test this. Which part of the globe is more individualistic: the United States, or Europe? Which part is more statist?

    Europe is more statist. This doesn’t negate though, the point of the first post, and I think ties into the second. A welfare state/statist/collectivist/ect. governmnetal organization “works” much better in a homogeneous society, for reasons explained by Putnam among many others.

    And so one big reason “individualism” as a public ethos is an open pathway to statism is that the “autonomous rights-based individuals” many open border/libertarian types tend to be happy to receive will over time make the country significantly more statist: one glaring example is California in the last three decades.

  • A welfare state/statist/collectivist/ect. governmnetal organization “works” much better in a homogeneous society, for reasons explained by Putnam among many others.

    The evidence isn’t that it works any better, only that it is more popular. I don’t see that as being necessarily a positive.

  • I think we find the first link between individualism and statism in Hobbes. First he shatters organic society and breaks us up into individual atoms, then he reconstitutes us in the body of the Leviathan, the absolute monarchy.

    This is why I object when people compare modern statism to feudalism, calling it “neo-feudalism.” At least in places such as England, the average peasant probably had more freedom certainly than a “worker” under communism. It was the medieval village (and the Church as the provider of social services) that had to be broken up and destroyed so that absolutism and statism could consolidate themselves.

  • The evidence isn’t that it works any better, only that it is more popular. I don’t see that as being necessarily a positive.

    I disagree with you on the evidence, but that’s another argument. Let’s accept this premise: in a homogeneous society (race, ethnicity/culture, religion, language being the most important) a statist system of governance is more popular and nothing else. This is not nothing if that state retains republican or democratic processes….in fact, popularity of large-scale policy is essential to societal harmony and decent, honest governance. Diversity and proximity equals conflict – all across the world, all across time and environment. Does this mean any one person is “lesser” than another? No. It means human populations are different, and (for powerful evolutionary reasons) prefer their “own.”

    Now let us consider a societal opposite. With different (and, by the way, strongly self-segregating populations), and with our incredibly advancing understanding of genetics, the future of social policy could very well be very contentious and ugly, with resentments galore.

    Geoffrey Miller in the current Economist:

    Human geneticists have reached a private crisis of conscience, and it will become public knowledge in 2010. The crisis has depressing health implications and alarming political ones. In a nutshell: the new genetics will reveal much less than hoped about how to cure disease, and much more than feared about human evolution and inequality, including genetic differences between classes, ethnicities and races.

    Uh oh. I just don’t see how it is not obvious that such revelations, in a republican society with democratic processes, an egalitarian ethos, and different populations, is not a toxic mix.

    (And again, let me be clear: I am not saying, nor do I believe, that any one person has less moral worth or inherent human dignity than another.)

  • Joe,

    I guess I see two issues with your characterization of the approach that classical liberals would/should take to inheritance:

    1) I’m not aware the Burke, Smith, etc. in any way endorsed a confiscatory approach to inheritance.

    2) The desire to be able to pass on an inheritance does not necessarily stem from an opposition to meritocracy (some idea that because your parents were rich you deserve to be rich regardless of your own abilities) but rather from self interest in the sense the classical liberals talked about it. When Smith talks about “self-interest” he means no so much “selfishness” or “what I want for me, myself” but rather “what I, myself, want to do with my goods”. One of the very natural things that people desire (and work to achieve) is the ability to take good care of their loved ones and of other causes or institutions they care about. In this sense, wanting have the fruits of one’s labor result in financial support for one’s children, one’s church, etc. would all be examples of “selt interest” in the classical liberal sense.

Smith, Hume and the Servile State

Wednesday, September 9, AD 2009

I was recently listening to an interview with Stanley Engerman, co-author of Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Slavery. It was an interesting discussion overall, but what particularly caught my attention was basically a side-note.

Engerman referenced Adam Smith’s understanding of slavery which he described as being that slaves had no incentive towards greater productivity, with the result that using slave labor rather than free labor was inefficient. Smith thus attributed the fact that people use slavery despite it’s inefficiency to the will to domineer over others:

But if great improvements are seldom to be expected from great proprietors, they are least of all to be expected when they employ slaves for their workmen. The experience of all ages and nations, I believe, demonstrates that the work done by slaves, though it appears to cost only their maintenance, is in the end the dearest of any. A person who can acquire no property, can have no other interest but to eat as much, and to labour as little as possible. Whatever work he does beyond what is sufficient to purchase his own maintenance can be squeezed out of him by violence only, and not by any interest of his own. In ancient Italy, how much the cultivation of corn degenerated, how unprofitable it became to the master when it fell under the management of slaves, is remarked by both Pliny and Columella. In the time of Aristotle it had not been much better in ancient Greece. Speaking of the ideal republic described in the laws of Plato, to maintain five thousand idle men (the number of warriors supposed necessary for its defence) together with their women and servants, would require, he says, a territory of boundless extent and fertility, like the plains of Babylon.

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5 Responses to Smith, Hume and the Servile State

  • This is one area where my skepticism peeks up. My knowledge base is stronger toward the comparative situation of Russian serfs. I pretty sure your stronger area is the ancients. In all 3 cases, the excess above subsistence was not a lot. I some cases and times, subsistence could not even be maintained. The idea of the lazy slave or the lazy serf doesn’t seem to mesh very well in that environment. For the sake of argument, assume the slave was 10% less productive than the free man. That 10% may have been the difference between subsistence and death.

    As far as efficiency goes, I would think the base evaluation would be the mill. Certainly, centralization isn’t required to support a mill, although it can make it easier. The big difference between cotton and corn though was that corn was eaten. If you were a subsistence farmer devoting 10% of your land to cotton to gain extra income, you may have found very little income by the time everyone in the ladder got paid. A cotton plantation removed the middleman in the process. Just a few basic thoughts. Perhaps I’ll write more later.

  • I don’t think “laziness” is a useful concept here. Suppose that a slave would make a good doctor. If you put him to work in the fields picking cotton he may be working as hard as he can, but he’s still not being anywhere near as productive as he could be. Slaves tend not to reach anywhere near their productive capacity because a) they have no incentive to, and b) the more educated/skilled a slave is, the more dangerous.

  • This is one area where my skepticism peeks up. My knowledge base is stronger toward the comparative situation of Russian serfs. I pretty sure your stronger area is the ancients. In all 3 cases, the excess above subsistence was not a lot. I some cases and times, subsistence could not even be maintained. The idea of the lazy slave or the lazy serf doesn’t seem to mesh very well in that environment.

    You’re right, my familiarity is mostly with the ancient world, though over the last couple weeks I’ve been working through a set of lectures on the early history of the American colonies, which obviously talks a bit about the tobacco farming economy.

    There was at least some kind of acknowledged motivation problem with slaves (those you weren’t actively trying to work to death like those in the mines or the galleys) in the ancient world. Xenophon write a bit about the necessity of trying to find ways to keep slaves motivated. Engerman argues that Smith’s claim that slaves lack incentive to work displays an ignorance as to how plantations were actually in in the 1700s, since according to his research non-monetary rewards (such as time off, better clothes, more food, etc.) were frequently used in order to motivate slaves.

    Looking at the colonies, it does seem like slaves were mostly only used in situations where they were producing high value cash crops, not for basic food production. But my thought would be that with lower profits per worker growing corn that tobacco or sugar, there wasn’t as much incentive to do that work via slave plantations, since the profits to be skimmed off were smaller.

    It seems like the temptation to use enslavement would be the greatest when you have a situation where a large number of fairly low skilled but highly manual work can be used to produce a very high value product. If the work has to be skilled, or it isn’t highly manual, or the produced product was low margin, it would seem like there simply would be little temptation to engage in slavery.

  • Your discussion of slightly higher subsistence put me in mind of Communist countries. My wife emigrated fromPoland around the time Communism collapsed, and some of her relatives (who are generally very working class) there now look back on the pre-collapse times nostalgically, because they had basic levels of subsistence with job security and relatively low labor, although they lacked many of the luxuries you mention (car, color TV, multiple channels). In Poland, these views are only very common among pensioners and people who worked in industries that collapsed, and they’re tempered a little by Catholicism and nationalism, but in Russia they’re much more common.

    On the issue of motivation, I recommend American Slavery, American Freedom by Edmund Morgan. The indentured servitude that preceded large-scale slavery in the British colonies and the labor issues in Britain saw the problems of unmotivated workers, if I recall correctly. Maybe it’s the notion of lazy English proles that inspired Smith, as well as Belloc (and Marx & Engels)? On the other hand, it was Orwell who found hope in England’s proles, so maybe not.

  • As I recall, Darwin, slavery as practiced in the Colonial period differed (generally speaking) from that in the antebellum period in that there there were fewer of the 19th-century equivalent of the agribusiness– i.e. big cash crop plantations (mostly cotton and rice, in my environs.) There was also some of that Enlightenment thinking that if you were going to keep slaves, you had a responsibility to be humane–thus many plantation owners were running creches, retirement homes, and training schools at their own expense and were only profiting from a segment of their “property” at any given time.

    The big plantations of the antebellum period operated on the assumption that the work force was going to have to be entirely replaced every seven years or so–slaves tended to be literally worked to death.

    It seems to me that “laziness” of the work force was a favorite topic for the ownership in both the above cases; small wonder that a work force under coercion should do as little work as possible. I think the difference was that in Colonial times the inherent flaws and inefficiencies in the system were more generally recognized by its practitioners.

Grassroots Push for Democrats for Life

Sunday, June 21, AD 2009

Here is a blog I wrote for fladems4life.org- this is the website for Florida Democrats for Life organization- If you are a Democrat and pro-life you should seriously consider joining the National and State chapters for Democrats for Life. There is a lot of freedom for you to bring your ideals and ideas into these growing organizations. I believe it is mostly a waste of time trying to turn Democrats into Republicans or vice versa- there is a philosophy of governance that pulls deeper than individual issues- even big issues like abortion.

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30 Responses to Grassroots Push for Democrats for Life

  • Tim,

    As always, we are in agreement. Though lately I have been wondering if perhpas, as well, conservatives might be won over to the Catholic economic and political perspective.

    Perhaps we need a movement on both sides of the spectrum – one which encourages Democrats to accept pro-life, pro-family values, and one which encourages Republicans to embrace new and better economic ideas. Then we might meet in the middle and shift the whole center of gravity, away from liberalism in its economic and cultural forms, and towards a truly communitarian vision in which the state plays a supporting role (as opposed to no role at all, or too great a role).

  • I somehow found my way here after reading an article about another Christian pro-test about something irrelevant to the mainstream. My instinct is to not waste my time on this, but here it is…STOP MAKING DEMOCRATS OUT TO BE ANTI-FAMILY…just some of us believe that government has NO PLACE IN A WOMAN’S UTERUS…and certainly some middle aged, middle income white MAN has no business pushing for legislation that effect women…pro-choice is not the same thing as pro-abortion. Everyone wants less abortions happening. Only the Catholics also want no birth control, no sex education…gosh, that will work well for preventing unwanted pregnancies…and “family values?”…look at the personal lives of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Riley, Gingrich, the list goes on…hypocrites on ‘family values.’ I teach Sunday school, I pray and I am curious about my faith…but I will be damned to allow the religious right to continue to make abortion a political issue. Keep the church out of my government and I will keep the government out of my church. The Catholic church (and many Catholics) scare me more then any other religious group. So please, do not try to patronize Democrats with this issue. We know the truth…Republicans use it to get single issue voters…it is highly effective. Let the Democrats keep fighting for urgent things that effect the already living…things like energy efficiency, global warming, poverty, urban plight, labor, and health care…

  • Pro-Family Democrat,

    You have no right to tell us what we can and cannot do as Catholics we have freedom of speech.

    You confuse establishing the Church as the official church of the United States to Catholics speaking up about their values. Just as you speak up about your right to kill children in the womb.

  • Tito…

    Again, this time slower for you…no one here is pro “killing children in the womb”….(but those are choice emotional words, well done)…I am not pro-abortion…a concept that seems to be void to most ‘pro-lifers’…if you all would slightly bend to include PREVENTION into your cause we could probably work for a common good…but you are limited in your fight.

    Again…keep your church out of my government and I will keep the government out of your church…you can’t have to both ways. You should be very scared to continue to blur the lines…church-led government like Iran…or Government led church, like Hitler’s Germany and cold war Eastern Europe…are you really wanting to be like that?

  • Joe,

    Yea- it’s strange fighting against sexual liberalism and economic neo-liberalism simultaneously- it puts you on the ‘outs’ with both major political forces in this country anyway. I was being a little polemical about how it is easier to convert to pro-life than to change party affiliation- it did work that way for me though. Even though I hold firm to being a Democrat and working within that party, I don’t vote for the party so much as the candidate- though there are times when I haven’t done the necessary homework and all I have facing me in the ballot box is a name and a party affiliation- for local elections the abortion issue is pretty moot. But philosophically, I can see the Democratic Party taking abortion out at the national level if it gets it’s act together, and combine that natural law legal move with the necessary social program and safety net investments to make sure women are not going to face undue hardships in seeing their children through to birth at minimum.

    One other side note- I agree with Ralph Nadar about how the Dems have in many ways embraced the Republican neo-liberal economics- though both parties have gone in for dubious massive bail-outs for the large investor class- see Jeff Faux’s book The Global Class War- for info on how Clinton began the sell-out of prior Democratic party inclinations on economics. Just because I see a major role for government in such things as directing economic outcomes- I don’t go in for all of the Greenspan/Bush/Obama bail-outs of dubious banking and investment interests- economics is not a zero-sum game, you don’t just print money up to bail out the big boys- you do have to get resources moving with fixed currency exchanges and investments like the Marshall plan and/or Manhattan Projects for morally positive outcomes. I will post my campaign column on “Common good, Common-sense Economics” at a later time.

  • Baby Killing Democrat,

    Your argument sounds like I’m against slavery but I don’t want to push my views of being anti-slavery on others.

    Also I have a right to speak my values, so keep your anti-Catholic views out of the public forum.

    Islam and Catholicism are different. It’s also a straw man argument. You, like many democrats, dwell in relativism and think all religions are the same.

    Just as Hitler came to power pushing socialism, Obama is very similar. Just as Hitler, Obama is a great public speaker. Just like Hitler’s thugs, ACORN rigged the votes in strategic states. Just like the Brownshirts (who were militant homosexuals) the Black Panthers intimidated voterr. (two can play the “Hitler-card”).

    When you start drawing analogies such as you have, you know you’re losing the argument.

    If you want to prevent the killing of innocent children in the womb, then outlaw it.

  • Tito,

    your last rant is what makes me think you all are loony…just more proof…so cool, thanks…

    and when you put Acorn, Obama, Hitler and what have into your analogy…your not just losing an argument…your losing your mind.

    My guess is..it’s been awhile since you have been laid…homophobic AND a conspiracy theorist…mix in neo-nazi pro-lifer…been awhile since you had a date I bet.

    You keep on that crusade of yours…good luck. hahaha…

    I need to go wake my baby from his nap…and go meet my family at the pool for some family time…that crazy thing that us anti family Democrats writhe from…hahahaha

    you see, freak? I didn’t “kill my babies”….I just waited to have them when I was ready…thanks to being educated and informed about how babies are made…

    may the Dear Lord forgive you for being such an intolerant and bigoted ass…

  • oh one more thing Tito

    “If you want to prevent the killing of innocent children in the womb, then outlaw it”

    you are so sadly misinformed and ignorant…wow.

    We should do this with so many things…let’s start with murder. That should be illegal…then it would finally not be a problem…drunk driving, that’s another one…mmmm….we are on to something here, Tito!…how about drug use? Excellent…that IS a pesky problem. And while we are at it, how about robbery, home invasion…man, if we just made them illegal…gosh, we should have done this years ago!!!

    Excellent thought process Einstein…

  • While I may not agree with precisely the way Tito addressed you, you did say…

    “just some of us believe that government has NO PLACE IN A WOMAN’S UTERUS”

    And some of us believe that every human being, regardless of his or her location, has a right to exist. It is that simple.

    If I believed that it wasn’t a human life inside a woman’s uterus, I wouldn’t care about it. If the unborn human being has no value, then abortion should be legal.

    If the unborn human being does have value, then nothing can justify abortion. It is really that simple. The government has every right to protect human life. Seeing as how 99% of pro-lifers don’t care about the 99% of medical procedures that don’t involve killing a human being, it is simply false to make this a women’s issue.

    Even moreso in that I think men should be held accountable as well. Please don’t make us out to be misogynistic. This is about parental obligation, not women’s rights. No one has a right to neglect, abuse, or murder their child, man or woman.

  • Baby Killing Democrat,

    Odd that you bring up Hitler then mock me for mocking you.

    Again, it is God that you are angry at, you’re just a troll throwing vitriol at anyone that doesn’t adhere to your disordered view on life.

    I’ll pray for you.

  • I have found myself in the Lion’s Den…so I ask you. You middle aged men who fight for the unborn…what have you done to help the BORN? Have you adopted an unwanted child? Do you want to raise a minority child born to a drug addicted mother? Please do, it would make your argument credible. Do you volunteer at county hospitals to rock the newborn, who has been abandoned while it detoxes from meth? Do you work in the foster care system to give those children an equal chance in the world? Do you support social systems that provide a family with the LIFE LONG support they will need? Not short term…”here are some bottles, diapers and a winter coat…good luck.” WHAT DO YOU DO to help those children? Those children born, here and now…breathing, living, suffering, hurting, hungry and unwanted. Do you help them? I’m betting on ‘NO’

    And again I say to you…prevention is the key. Stop thinking abstinence. Get out of the box. I am NOT a sexual libertarian…or whatever you called Democrats…the most offensive, sexually degrading shows I have seen are on FOX…the “values channel.” Republicans, Catholics, Christians, pro-lifers…you do not have the moral authority. I am not a “baby killer” because I want to see prevented pregnancies for women that do not want to yet be mothers.

    You must separate the radical pro-life movement and include prevention and education.

    But if abortion were to be illegal…the Republicans will lose too much of their base…they know it. It will never change. Bush didn’t change a thing…why? Because you all came back and voted for him again.

    Patronizing your vote.

    good luck in your fight to get Dems on board. Single issue voters are pathetic. If they would give up all the important issues we are working on, so they can go hold up a sign and shout at young girls…good riddance…

    I hear the pitter patter of my son’s feet…he wants to join his siblings at the pool…


  • Does pro family include the prenatal?

  • Pro-abort Troll, I have three kids, including an autistic son, so don’t rant to me about the demands of parenthood, my wife and I have lived them. I have been active in the pro-life movement since 1973. For the last decade I have been on the board of the crisis pregnancy center in my county that gives assistance to women dealing with problem pregnancies. I am currently president of the board. Many of these women we help eventually come back to volunteer with our organization to help other women. We also have an outreach to post-abortive women to help them heal from the bitter despair often engendered from a “safe, legal abortion.” In short I have done what I can to help women in bad situations as a result of pregnancy and abortion. Do I have all the answers to the complex social problem of unwanted pregnancies? I do not. But I do know that killing the child is not a solution, and that the law must protect unborn children as it does born children, if we are to have any pretense of being a civilized society that values human life.

  • Pro-Death Democrat,

    No one here made any claims to “Fox” being the values channel. Most of us don’t even watch tv for that matter. We like to read books mostly.

    I am a board member and a volunteer to a crisis pregnancy center and many more other post-natal care facilities. In addition I pray every day for the end of killing babies as well as praying in front of baby killing facilities such as Planned Parenthood.

    I am a young man in my thirties, but I am old relative to the movement since most of my colleagues are toddlers all the way up to college students who pray with me in front of abortion mills, volunteer with many pro-life organizations that helps pregnant moms and abstinence programs.

    I don’t believe in killing innocent unborn babies and will work until my dying days for the end to the mass slaughter of babies, which is the greatest civil rights challenge in our nations history.

  • Wow- I go out for ice cream and the playground with the family and look what happens to my father’s day blog entry!!

    Well all I can say is that while I am a middle-aged man, my chief pro-life teachers in life have been women. I didn’t just become Catholic and then receive my marching orders from the Pope to become anti-abortion. I had enough life experiences to teach me the true nature of abortion to lead me to oppose abortion with or without a religious conversion. As an update, my wife was one who helped me clear the final hurdles about abortion- she is the one who told me that the only women she can understand would still be pro-choice on abortion are women who have not had children. She is the one who has told me before the births of our children, she is the one who made me promise that no matter what goes down, if there comes a point where there is a choice to be made between her life or the baby she has only seen on ultrasound- go with the baby always! Now I know I am only a middle-aged male, but these kind of witnesses from my female wife have made a deep impact. Maybe the claim will be made that my wife is a self-loathing female- well that logic would follow anyone who opposes a U.S. war and speaks out negatively. Maybe only active duty service men and women should be able to participate in the political debates concerning whether the country should go to war or not.

    I’m not buying it. Now I agree with the need for investments in all kinds of pregnant women/children/family social helps, which is why I am pushing for the Pregnant Women Support Act, it deals with a lot of the root causes of abortion- so don’t paint the pro-lifers with too broad of a brush as being insensitive to women and children already born. We may have strong disagreements on the value of contraception, but there are a host of other ways to address many of the same root causes- shall we work together on those, or just continue to issue angry emails and look upon our opposites as pure bad guys. I personally disagree with many things that mainstream liberals and conservatives put forth, but I also find room for common ground, and I am willing to work on that, even as I keep on trucking with my full list of ideals, pushing the system as is my right to do in a free society.

    I’m not sure that non-religious persons would embrace my way of loving the women in my life- but I have a facebook cause entitled “Dads Protecting Daughters” which shows more of the politics of my heartfelt love and devotion to my female children- girls I would die a thousand painful deaths over to save- the content of my love may be in some ways mistaken, but do not mistake my intent- I love the women in my life, and I do not believe that supporting abortion rights is any way to say I love you to any woman. That’s my humble but strong opinion.

  • This guy gives us yet another opportunity to look at how the pro-choice movement makes a complete mockery out of logic.

    “You middle aged men who fight for the unborn…what have you done to help the BORN?”

    Why would this have any bearing on the argument? Something is either true or it is not. What the person proclaiming that truth does on their spare time has no relevance. The answer to the question may well be, ‘absolutely nothing’. So what? Go back to logic 101. 1+1 = 2 even if Hitler says so. The sky is blue even if Stalin says so. Truth claims have to be evaluated independently of the person making the claim.

    “Do you support social systems that provide a family with the LIFE LONG support they will need?”

    I can’t speak for the others, but I do, as a good in itself. But again it is irrelevant. With or without those systems, either abortion is murder or it isn’t. If it is, it is unjustifiable. If it isn’t, then who cares if there is a system in place?

    “And again I say to you…prevention is the key. Stop thinking abstinence. Get out of the box.”

    This is simply not about abstinence. There are plenty of married people having morally licit sexual relations who nonetheless seek out the services of the abortionist. This is about parental obligation. To make it all about sex reduces the unborn child to nothing else but a consequence of sex. It is that, but it is also more. It is a child of two parents and an independent human being.

    That said, birth control does not prevent abortion. It encourages abortion. It creates a mentality and a lifestyle of sex without consequences, but it only has to fail ONCE, people only have to forget to use it ONCE for that false reality to implode. Then people are left completely unprepared for the consequences, and the less prepared people are, the more likely they are to abort.

    “the most offensive, sexually degrading shows I have seen are on FOX…the “values channel.”

    True, but again, irrelevant.

    “I am not a “baby killer” because I want to see prevented pregnancies for women that do not want to yet be mothers.”

    We all know what a pregnancy is, and what you mean by ‘prevented’.

    A woman isn’t pregnant with a kidney or a spleen, but an unborn child, a unique individual with its own genetic code and potential in life. The only way to ‘prevent’ it from being born is to kill it. So, we have a child, and we have killing. Making it sound political or clinical doesn’t change what it is.

  • Tim, as a pro-life Democrat, I obviously agree.

    If I lived in Florida, I would strongly urge you to run for re-election and I would work for your campaign.

    Joe, this is yet another reason as to why we should run on the same ticket. I’d be willing to be the Vice President for 8 years. So that I can succeed you for another 8 and be in the White House for 16 years (diabolical laughter).

  • Normally liberal Democrats are all in favor of protecting groups of people who are seen as vulnerable, powerless, or discriminated against, particularly women and racial minorities. Wouldn’t it be perfectly logical for them to regard the unborn as an oppressed class deserving of protection as well?

    I realize, of course, that the main reason liberals seem to have a blind spot with regard to the unborn is their insistence upon absolute sexual freedom. However, most liberals don’t seem to have a problem restricting the “freedom” of an employer to sexually harass or intimidate workers, or the “freedom” of pedophiles to access child porn, so even they acknowledge that there are SOME limits on sexual freedom.

  • I think “Pro-family Democrat” is the reason many of us see making the Democratic party pro-life as a practical impossibility.

  • Phillip raises an excellent point. I have paid dues to Dems for Life, but even on the local level, pro-life voices are made VERY unwelcome at Democratic Party gatherings. The (God help us) “Pro-family Democrat” types treat respect for life as hate speech; it’s hard to imagine any common ground with them.

  • I am registered as an independent, but I would not have any qualms voting for a pro-life Democrat. I would even volunteer for a pro-life Democrat and actively participate for Democrats for Life.

    In fact I have done those three things in the past, but only at the local level.

    This is only the beginning, but we shouldn’t lose faith. Continue working within the Democratic Party to begin a dialogue and eventually a change from their pro-abortion platform.

    With God all things are possible.

  • Here’s the plan guys- I know that strong Republicans are pretty biased against the idea that Democrats can pull themselves together on Life issues because of the current establishment/activist hostility to traditionally religious worldviews- it is natural to suppose that an organization that you disagree with to the core could ever change on something that is nearest to your heart. But, I think that there is much more positive in the classic Democratic model as Elaine describes above- and also I don’t think that “Pro-Family Democrat” represents the mass of Democratic voters. This is KEY.

    I recommend Mark Stricherz’ book – Why The Democrats Are Blue- I plan on doing a brief sketch of the book for a blog entry in the future. The book depicts how secular liberalism came to dominate the upper reaches of the Party by way of legal strategies internal to the Party as the Party Boss system was challenged- there was enough to justify reform on the old boy network, but of course, the wrong type of folks took advantage and led the Party down the drain.

    I take it as a given that there is a very large untapped “market” among rank and file Dems- the type of people who vote Democratic for economic and other meat and potato reasons, but disagree with varying intensities to the social liberalism that comes with that package. As evidence, look at how many states voted as a majority for Obama but then also voted down gay marriage or voted for trad marriage definitions. And even though african-americans and hispanics voted strongly for obama, there are probable majorities among these folks who would love to support traditional morality candidates- but they haven’t had many opportunities.

    I would say that the strategy of Republican Catholics to just continue casting aspertions on minorities for voting Democratic- as if everyone should just fall in line and become overnight Republicans- that is beyond wishful thinking. The fact that many of us feel that the establishment Republican strategy of having an end game of sending abortion back to state legislatures- is not even a worthy pro-life strategy in the first place, is another point to consider.

    Instead of focusing a lot of energy trying to convert Dems over to Repubs, or Repubs over to Dems, I would rather spend time now building up a network of traditional religious voters within the Democratic fold- among those who are Democratic already for reasons I have spoken of many times before. This is why I am addressing myself primarily to fellow Democrats- it is not very helpful for Republicans to jump in with more negativism about how “hopeless” the Democratic Party is- I get it- but I think both major parties are “hopeless” on paper, but God trumps the paper, and I believe that there is a numbers game that is to the favor of transforming the Democratic and Republican parties to be much much more pro-life if only the sleeping giants of traditional religious folks awaken and assert themselves. My role is to try to help organize that within the Democratic fold. I would suggest that religious Republicans focus more on getting the Republican party to put abortion on a much higher shelf than it has in the past. For example if Bush/Cheney had spent half the energy they devoted to the case for invading Iraq on bully pulpiting and pushing the Republican Congress to educate the American people to the facts of Life beginning at Conception, with legislation being passed saying the same, putting the issue in front of the Supreme Court repeatedly- then I don’t think we would be sitting here looking at a very diminished Republican party today.

    But my job here is not to keep beating up on Republicans, I need to focus on my party, and since I believe only a strong two major party strategy against abortion will do the trick- I believe my mission is good, and not self-delusional. If or when I come to see that I am wrong, I would probably go with trying to form a Natural Law/Common Good Party rather than join a Republican Party where I disagree with their core assumptions about the nature of the role of the political community, which results in my even finding too many serious flaws in their approach to abortion that I couldn’t find any true enthusiasm- even though I do vote Republican sometimes- mostly at the national level where I have to admit that while establishment Republicans are lukewarm on abortion, Democrats have bacome ice cold. If we use an analogy from Scripture where the unborn are unconcerned- I see establishment Republicans as the Pontius Pilates’ trying to wash their hands of abortion by sounding like impartial, unemotional originalist judges, while the establishment Dems are more like the Chief Priests who are very actively stirring up the people against the rights of the unborn. Not a pretty choice to make- with few heroes out there in the mainstream.

  • I notice that Elaine Krewer is the only lady who’s commented here, so I figured I’d put my oar in just so PFD doesn’t get the notion this is entirely a hangout for middle-aged men.

    Middle-aged woman, here. Mom of four. Doctrinally conservative Catholic with liturgically eclectic tendencies. Pro-life feminist in the tradition of the nineteenth-century suffragists. Have had a crisis pregnancy. Have volunteered with a Birthright center. Been volunteering with kids for a couple of decades. Make regular contributions to those less fortunate.

    I bear you no ill-will, PFD, but if you’re going to sashay into a combox and post a bunch of inflammatory accusations and rambling rants, you shouldn’t be too surprised if some of the gentlemen reading forget they’re gentlemen.

  • Dear readers-

    Good for you! We need to work hard to end abortion by election of more Pro-Life Democrats who will pass laws in this respect and Pray for those who want abortion and have back alley shops they call offices! God will do his thing!


    Robert L. Jones
    A Blue Dog Democrat

  • Is abortion wrong because abortion is anti family, against God’s law, and/or coercive?

  • Student,

    That is part of it. But mostly because it violates the Fifth Commandment of “You shall not kill”, ie, killing innocent babies.

  • This blog post and the comments are an excellent witness to both the Catholic faith and the “pro-life, whole life” doctrine it teaches. Pro-family Democrat, you are in my prayers. Kudos to everyone here who will doubtlessly be called “good and faithful servants” by our heavenly Father some day!

  • Thank you so much for this very interesting post. I am pro-life, but disagree with the Republican party about just about everything else. If anything, I am probably a bit more liberal than the Democratic party on many issues. I feel in such a crisis about this. I like what you wrote about “limited government” verses “limited responsibility” and the importance of the common good.

    I was just talking with my husband–actually in tears–because I have always been political and civic minded and voted since age 18, and yet I feel like I have no one to vote for.

    For the record, I am not Catholic, although I am Christian. And also for the record, I am a woman and a feminist and have been pro-life almost all of my life. But that is not what matters. Sadly, I do think that a lot of liberal men who otherwise might be pro-life are bullied by the more radical elements in the pro-choice movement–are told that they have no right to have an opinion about abortion because they are men, which is irrelevant if abortion is murder.

    Anyway. Sorry to crash your party, but I wanted to say that what you are doing is inspiring.

  • Should God’s laws influence (if not control) government’s laws?

  • From: Lila Cuajunco
    Date: Sun, Jul 5, 2009 at 7:03 AM
    Subject: Fwd: FW: Fwd: Fw: OPEN LETTER TO OBAMA
    To: [email protected]

    On Thu, Jun 25, 2009 at 1:38 AM, Lila Cuajunco wrote:
    Hi Georgia – Thanks for the Open Letter to Obama. I will send it to my

    ———- Forwarded message ———-
    From: Georgia Froncek
    Date: Sat, Jun 20, 2009 at 1:47 PM
    Subject: Fwd: FW: Fwd: Fw: OPEN LETTER TO OBAMA

    This letter you are about to read was written by a 4th grade teacher
    recently. She even gave the world her telephone and fax numbers. She
    is a brave, bright, PATRIOT! We are in dire need of more true American
    citizens who are proud of OUR United States of America . WAKE UP
    AMERICA . . . Please . . . Before it is too late!

    April 27, 2009

    The White House
    1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
    Washington , DC 20500

    Mr. Obama:

    I have had it with you and your administration, sir. Your conduct on
    your recent trip overseas has convinced me that you are not an
    adequate representative of the United States of America collectively
    or of me personally.

    You are so obsessed with appeasing the Europeans and the Muslim world
    that you have abdicated the responsibilities of the President of the
    United States of America. You are responsible to the citizens of the
    United States.

    You are not responsible to the peoples of any other country on earth.
    I personally resent that you go around the world apologizing for the
    United States telling Europeans that we are arrogant and do not care
    about their status in the world. Sir, what do you think the First
    World War and the Second World War were all about if not the
    consideration of the peoples of Europe ? Are you brain dead ? What do
    you think the Marshall Plan was all about?

    Do you not understand or know the history of the 20th century? Where
    do you get off telling a Muslim country that the United States does
    not consider itself a Christian country? Have you not read the
    Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States ?
    This country was founded on Judeo-Christian ethics and the principles
    governing this country, at least until you came along, come directly
    from this heritage. Do you not understand this?

    Your bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia is an affront to all
    Americans. Our President does not bow down to anyone, let alone the
    king of S Audi Arabia. You don’t show Great Britain , our best and one
    of our oldest allies, the respect they deserve yet you bow down to the
    king of Saudi Arabia. How dare you, sir! How dare you!

    You can’t find the time to visit the graves of our greatest
    generation because you don’t want to offend the Germans but make time
    to visit a mosque in Turkey . You offended our dead and every veteran
    when you give the Germans more respect than the people who saved the
    German people from themselves. What’s the matter with you?

    I am convinced that you and the members of your administration have
    the historical and intellectual depth of a mud puddle and should be
    ashamed of yourselves, all of you. You are so self-righteously
    offended by the big bankers and the American automobile manufacturers
    yet do nothing about the real thieves in this situation, Mr. Dodd, Mr.
    Frank, Franklin Raines, Jamie Gorelic, the Fannie Mae bonuses, and the
    Freddie Mac bonuses. What do you intend to do about them? Anything? I
    seriously doubt it.

    What about the US . House members passing out $9.1 million in bonuses
    to their staff members – on top of the $2.5 million in automatic pay
    raises that lawmakers gave themselves? I understand the average House
    aide got a 17% bonus. I took a 5% cut in my pay to save jobs with my

    You haven’t said anything about that. Who authorized that? I surely
    didn’t! Executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be receiving
    $210 million in bonuses over an eighteen-month period, that’s $45
    million more than the AIG bonuses. In fact, Fannie and Freddie
    executives have already been awarded $51 million – not a bad take. Who
    authorized that and why haven’t you expressed your outrage at this
    group who are largely responsible for the economic mess we have right

    You can’t blame ANY of the above on George W. Bush. WHY are you so
    determined to give this country’s dwindling wealth to corrupt
    politicians and your corrupt friends?

    I resent that you take me and my fellow citizens as brain-dead and
    not caring about what you idiots do. We are watching what you are
    doing and we are getting increasingly fed up with all of you. I also
    want you to know that I personally find just about everything you do
    and say to be offensive to every one of my sensibilities. I promise
    you that I will work tirelessly to see that you do not get a chance to
    spend two terms destroying my beautiful country.

    Every Real American

    P.S. I rarely ask that e-mails be ‘passed around’…………
    PLEASE SEND THIS TO YOUR EMAIL LIST……it’s past time for all
    Americans to wake up!

    Ms Kathleen Lyday
    Fourth Grade Teacher
    Grandview Elementary School
    11470 Hwy. C Hillsboro,
    MO 63050
    (636) 944-3291 Phone
    (636) 944-3870 Fax

Tortured Credibility

Friday, May 22, AD 2009

It has become an oft repeated trope of Catholics who are on the left or the self-consciously-unclassifiable portions of the American political spectrum that the pro-life movement has suffered a catastrophic loss of credibility because of its association with the Republican Party, and thence with the Iraq War and the use of torture on Al Qaeda detainees. Until the pro-life movement distances itself from the Republican Party and all of the pro-life leadership who have defended the Iraq War and/or the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on detainees, the argument goes, the pro-life movement will have no moral authority and will be the laughing stock of enlightened Catholics everywhere.

Regardless of what one thinks about the Iraq War and torture (myself, I continue to support the former but oppose the latter) I’m not sure that this claim works very well. Further, I think that those who make it often fail to recognize the extent to which it cuts both ways.

Continue reading...

42 Responses to Tortured Credibility

  • I don’t think being “pro-life” will lose credibility because the position is True, but “pro-lifers” who associate with other violations against human dignity might.

    Personally, I do not understand how a thoughtful Catholic can support the Iraq War. I’ve yet to really hear air tight moral justifications for it, and if memory serves the entire run up to the invasion reeked of jumping the gun while post 9/11 emotions still ran high. Not exactly conditions for sober decision-making.

    The decision was not only an act of aggression, it was unconstitutional and a strategic blunder. It put us on the road to bankruptcy and rather than secure our safety I believe it to be contributing to an environment for further violent conflict. The truth is, almost a decade out from 9/11 and we were given Saddam Hussein on a platter instead of Osama bin Laden.

    The fact of this occurring under a Republican administration is rather irrelevant. If party actually mattered the war funds would have been taken away by the Democratic congress at any time after 2006. Now, half a year into Obama’s tenure and the line on withdraw is “give us three years”.

    The fact that this messy war has tainted other Republican “values” is not surprising. Look at everyone suddenly crying out that capitalism has failed!

    I would expect that if Obama does not end the war in a satisfactory way by the next election, or if there is a new conflict in Pakistan or Africa… leftist values too will begin to be dragged down. Voters will become sick of everything he says, just like Bush. The anti-war left would likely be as deflated and the pro-life right.

    If you ask me its the insanity of tribalism at work. If you take the “us vs. them” two party system and combine it with the general ignorance… well what do you expect? And besides, its not as if people on the genuine left and the genuine right really make it into power, is it?

    The war was never about securing the American people. It was however, about securing the American federal government; it dominance and control. Thats something both center-left and center-right can agree on. Ironically, they are losing both bit by bit, British-style.

    To this day I believe that the path to regain power is within Republican hands: all they have to do is repudiate the war. Maybe change their name, too. 🙂

    As far as the pro-Life movement is concerned… I do indeed think it is in their best interest to grow beyond the party. I think they have to if they are looking to build majorities that can withstand the back-and-forth of American politics.

    Most libertarians seem to be pro-choice, which is mind-boggling. There’s room there to grow a little bit.

    Pro-lifers do not need a majority of Democrats on their side. Just enough to make the larger party think twice when it comes to abortion legislation. They have to consider which piper they are going to pay. If abortion were more often argued in terms of the civil rights movement, perhaps left-leaning politicians could be persuaded.

    I guess, Darwin, my broader point is – none of it matters. Its tit-for-tat politics and none of the influential players are interested in moral consistency, just majority-building. By defending the Republican alignment of values or that the pro-life movement is perfectly at home where it is, you’re playing into the hands of pollsters and politicians.

    Or, perhaps I made no sense, even to myself.

  • Personally, I do not understand how a thoughtful Catholic can support the Iraq War. I’ve yet to really hear air tight moral justifications for it, and if memory serves the entire run up to the invasion reeked of jumping the gun while post 9/11 emotions still ran high. Not exactly conditions for sober decision-making.

    Well, I think I can at least claim to have been sober, in that I’d supported forcibly removing Hussein from power ever since 1991. I considered it profoundly immoral for Bush Sr. to have called on the people of Iraq to rise up against their dictator, with the implicit promise that the US would support them, and then leave them to die in the hundreds of thousands instead. I would have supported an invasion at any time since then, and I considered it to be justified, given that Iraq had never satisfactorily obeyed the 1991 cease fire anyway. If Clinton had been willing to get rid of Hussein at any point during his term, I would have supported that.

    I do think that the WMD justification was poor at best. Yes, there was a general belief (even among Iraq’s military) that they had chemical weapons. But they were not a great threat to us. However, given that I’d been in support of deposing Hussein for over ten years already, I didn’t consider the punitive justification a major obstacle to what seemed long overdue already.

    But, I can certainly understand why other Catholics would believe differently.

    By defending the Republican alignment of values or that the pro-life movement is perfectly at home where it is, you’re playing into the hands of pollsters and politicians.

    I don’t know that I’m so much defending the status who as pointing out that it’s hardly surprising to anyone. There are parts of the GOP platform that I absolutely disagree with (I’d support open borders) but I don’t think anyone does himself any favor by getting all worked up over where the current alignments are. It’s ludicrous to claim that the pro-life movement has lost credibility as a result of being associated with the GOP in a way that immigration reform and opposition to the death penalty haven’t as a result of being associated with the Democrats. All are known to be highly partisan agendas with established bases of support, and pretending that’s news to anyone does not strike me as doing one credit. Even if one would appreciate realignment.

  • “It’s ludicrous to claim that the pro-life movement has lost credibility as a result of being associated with the GOP in a way that immigration reform and opposition to the death penalty haven’t as a result of being associated with the Democrats. ”

    I suppose it would depend on how you see credibility. The movement is philosophically credible by being moral and constitutionally correct. But politically I can see how some would say they’ve lost credibility in terms of their ability to win elections, win court cases and influence legislation. If a movement is going to cast its lot with one party, then its goals are inevitably tied to the success or failure of unrelated issues. Only the thick-headed would exclusively equate political success to intellectual legitimacy.

  • Anthony,

    If a movement is going to cast its lot with one party, then its goals are inevitably tied to the success or failure of unrelated issues

    the movement has no choice but to cast it’s lot with one party since the other party is diametrically opposed to it’s principles and has rejected it outright.

    You’re not proposing some ridiculous third-party option, are you?

    The suggestion that some sort of post facto repudiation of the Iraq war will make even the slightest difference in the next election is living in the past, open your eyes and look forward. Whatever the key issue of 2010 and 2012, it will not be Iraq 2003-2008.

  • The suggestion that some sort of post facto repudiation of the Iraq war will make even the slightest difference in the next election is living in the past, open your eyes and look forward. Whatever the key issue of 2010 and 2012, it will not be Iraq 2003-2008.

    This is due to american historical amnesia, of course.

  • Rather a reaction to the coming Obama Crash. Unless there is a major terrorist attack, and I wouldn’t rule that out, the economy will be the overriding issue in 2010 and 2012 and the signs are not good currently for Obamanomics.

  • Michael I,

    what Donald said. But also, the American people realize that right or wrong the Iraq invasion was a bipartisan decision that most of the people agreed with as well. Their disatisfaction was almost entirely due to the poor state of affairs until it was rectified by the surge which President Bush (R) ordered at the recommendation of General Petreus (R?), and the urging of Senator McCain (R), and the majority of the Republican party. The main thing people will think about with regard to Iraq will be that it was won by the Republicans before Obama took over, or that Obama snapped defeat from the jaws of victory, very unlikely since he kept on the Robert Gates(R) to ensure that it wouldn’t happen.

    Donald is exactly right, the issue of 2010 and 2012 will not be Iraq 2003-2008. If I had to predict, sadly, it will be economic malaise, inflation, crushing federal deficits, massive tax increases, and quite possibly devastating terrorist attacks or other security issues (Russia, Iran, North Korea, take your pick).

  • “the movement has no choice but to cast it’s lot with one party since the other party is diametrically opposed to it’s principles and has rejected it outright.”

    I think the point is not whether or not the choices, in the short-term, of what seemed best for the survival of the movement is correct. After Roe v. Wade, the Democrats became increasingly dominated by pro-choice politicians, supported by the abortion-minded groups, etc. The GOP was very welcoming.

    I think the point of the criticism (right or wrong) is that possibly unforeseen affects are what we’re experiencing now.

    I think he is saying that the pro-life movement by making itself dependent solely on the success of a single party has made its own success contingent on that party. If positions predominantly accepted by that party are, largely down-the-list, against one’s best judgments of what better achieves justice then despite their pro-life convictions, some will feel disenfranchised and/or uncomfortable or even alienated by the rest of pro-lifers, some, not all, of which give a blind stamp of approval to the platform because of the party’s stance on life issues.

    And because this issue has divided itself across party lines, it appears to be a partisan issue when it really should not be.

    I posted a link from a story in the Human Life Review a while back talking about trouble pro-life Democratic candidates had in receiving funds, despite their records, from pro-life groups; other problems included Republican candidates being endorsed over pro-life Democrats with untainted abortion records — though, as far as I know, this hasn’t happened so much on the federal, rather than, state level. It’s why people — rightly or wrongly — say that some pro-life groups might as well be Republican PACs.

    Another problematic case is the fact that pro-life Democrats are so “diaspora” and not collectively organized at the local levels that it makes it rather difficult, even for principled, pro-life Democrats to actually launch a campaign. They don’t have the resources, even for those who are unequivocally pro-life. Some settle and work in the trenches for pro-life groups or other justice causes. Others simply — and I imagine this happened during the Reagan years — became Republicans.

    As a result, it is very very difficult for the pro-life movement to enter the realm of the Left because fellow pro-lifers are suspicious, perhaps with valid reason, to suspect “double talk” or false pro-life credentials.

    However, this very reality, I think makes the pro-life movement a house divided against itself while the pro-choice movements is moving in lock-step and that’s the source of their temporal victories.

    Now, I’m sure no one is saying that a one-party pro-life party is the way to go to. Some are hesitant, I’m sure for valid reasons, that it is difficult, or even counter-productive, to support self-described “pro-life Democrats.” Perhaps they’re right.

    However, here are my criticisms — some valid, perhaps some not. Everyone will have to judge for themselves.

    When Reagan was the president, the pro-life movement gained quite a bit of ground. Yet, the Clinton Administration quickly turned the direction of abortion and bioethical policies the other way. The Bush Administration was eight years of undoing the damage done by the Clinton Administration and restoring and adding new pro-life policies. Now we’re in another reversal.

    This tit-for-tat can keep going, or the other party can be infiltrated from within. There has not been much ground on this made, necessarily, but the organization Republicans for Choice (http://www.republicansforchoice.com/) are all but invisible. After the election, I’ve read a many articles and seen many people claiming that it was the “values-sector” of the party driving out moderates with their alleged extremism and litmus tests. I’m not making their argument; I am simply stating their assertions. The GOP, as seen, has no problem recruiting pro-choice Republicans to run for office (more than likely in liberal districts) to win office. I suppose the thinking is that it’s better to have someone with you 90% of the time then 0%.

    This reality tried to manifest itself in the 2008 GOP presidential primaries. The pro-life movement responded forcefully — not for the best candidate in my view — but responded nonetheless. Yet, I cannot help but wonder: what if?

    What would happen if the GOP with its new RNC Chair, Mr. Steele, so committed to “inclusion” and diversity and non-application of litmus tests went in a different direction? What if, God forbid, at some point, the pro-life movement split between viable candidates and all pro-choice and socially moderate Republicans concerned with fiscal conservatism, not cultural values, line up behind a single, less-than-pro-life candidate?

    I think that’s the bind. What is a pro-life person to do in this situation? Surely, a hypothetical, cynical GOP strategist might ask: would they really go to the other party? If this did occur: what would you do? Some I imagine would put a protest vote and not vote at all. Others would vote for the GOP, take what they can, and work to change the case next time. But it would surely be a source of division and debate: a house divided against itself. It seems that if voting is a moral obligation, then, one can’t simply sit at home and let good pro-life Republicans lose their seats and more pro-choice seats be taken in Congress by the Democratic party. What about pro-life Governors? What about the Presidency? The latter of two who appoint judges (depending on the State) and can realistically set a judicial seat in the pro-choice camp for perhaps a generation. Right now, that’s the scare with Obama’s SC nominee coming. Surely it would be better — and on this no one disagrees — that power can exchange between the parties and there would be little concern over nominee’s abortion positions.

    It seems that the success of the pro-life movement rises and falls with the GOP. I think it’s problematic.

    I don’t think it’s nonsense per se to envision Republican strategists, pure pragmatists, to realize that abortion is a potent electoral tool and not so much a human rights issue. This isn’t to say that there are several candid and sincere pro-life Republicans serving in public office.

    In the last 40 years, there have been only 2 Democratic appointments to the Supreme Court. Reagan chose two nominees that ended up being pro-choice and so did Bush I. Seven of the nine Justices since Roe have been made by Republicans and the pro-life movement has not garnered the votes needed by the court in order to get a 5-4 majority.

    This goes back to the question of pro-life Democrats. I think many Democrats who are pro-life cannot garner the resources or support to make it to office. The Democratic party won’t fund pro-life candidates, but rather would search for pro-choice candidates — anyone — to run in opposition to such candidates in primaries. That’s the key. A pro-life Democrat might do fine in a general elections against a Republican. In recent decades, they usually win. But rather it is the Democratic primary is an incredible challenge because of a lack of resources to compete against their fellow party-members who are singling them out surely over abortion. The GOP doesn’t hesitate to fund it’s pro-choice candidates: primaries are fair game. Let the voters decide.

    The list of pro-life Democrats who had high political ambitions who realized this reality is growing. Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, and many more were all at one point pro-life.

    Now certainly there change of conviction is morally incorrect and a reflection of poor character and courage. Many of such candidates do so for political expediency; others remain “pro-life,” but compromise their position and “moderate themselves” to win some base votes that they otherwise cannot win office without. Some later become explicitly pro-choice; others try to uphold the pro-life facade. Surely, the cooperation in evil doesn’t justify such actions. However, I think the fact that this occurs reflects a support that is not there, not just for cowards who will compromise, but for those who genuinely will seek office and never win it because they aren’t willing to sell out their principles.

    Yet, it just makes me wonder, if a pro-life Democrat launched an exploratory committee to seek the presidency and actually made it onto the ballot for the Democratic primary, how many pro-life groups or pro-life Americans, might actually extend help in resources for such a candidate to survive the assaults of NARAL, Emily’s List, and Planned Parenthood which is without a doubt the most organized, financed political movement in the U.S.? I’m skeptical of the number of people who would cross over from the GOP and cast their vote to ensure the pro-life candidate wins. I’m sure they have their reasons for it as well.

    I’m not sure anything I’ve said is valid or just my jumbled, ramblings.

    Perhaps, my most controversial thought is this…

    I won’t say it is a double standard.

    I just will say I dislike the reality. It seems that to be authentically a pro-life Democrat you must support Republican candidates, even with the most strident conviction that these candidates will not work fervently, or even with passion, to curtail the horror of abortion — but are rather giving you lip service. Right or wrong, I believe this to be the case. Yet, if you vote for or support pro-life Democratic candidates, some, again, not all, will see this as a moral compromise and support for “pseudo-pro-life” candidates. To such candidates, much scrutiny is given; but this same critical eye is not extended to the pro-life politicians in the GOP; it seems to me, perhaps, I’m wrong, they get quite a bypass. Nor do such individuals see any sort of necessity in helping such candidates win and defeat pro-choice candidates in a party direly in need of pro-life presence.

    Pro-life Democrats can never achieve leaders seats on committees and roles of leadership if they aren’t greater in number to be a force not to be thrown around.

    So, at the end of the day, pro-life Democrats seem to have a responsibility to ensure that Republican candidates beat pro-choice Democrats; yet, the issue of pushing their party in a more pro-life direction, seems to be an issue that is sort of “their problem” — and I cannot see how this current reality doesn’t lend itself to helping the Republican party politically. It maintains its hold on a crucial voting bloc.

    So, not so surprisingly, I agree, at least, in part with critics that the pro-life movement in some respects behaves like a Republican PAC.

    As it so happens, two parties that are pro-life forces competition, competition produces results. It seems then that pro-life Democrats are a potent tool for pro-life success. Even from 2000 to 2006, not a piece of pro-life legislation could pass through Congress without the remaining pro-life Democrats to neutralize and overcome pro-choice Republican votes.

  • But also, the American people realize that right or wrong the Iraq invasion was a bipartisan decision that most of the people agreed with as well.

    Not true, and also irrelevant.

  • “the movement has no choice but to cast it’s lot with one party since the other party is diametrically opposed to it’s principles and has rejected it outright.

    You’re not proposing some ridiculous third-party option, are you?”

    No, I’m proposing that we patiently persuade… a lost art in the United States.

    There has to also be a way that makes the pro-life cause and Democratic political interests better partners. Recall that after 2004, some Democrats began to wonder aloud (perhaps not seriously, but still) of becoming more friendly to the pro-life side of things. I had hoped the “Blue Dog” Democrats might be a moderating force, but not so it seems..

    Though, a third party would always be welcome in my view, however unlikely. It will never happen until enough disillusioned but still caring individuals decided to organize and work to breakdown election rules.

    “The main thing people will think about with regard to Iraq will be that it was won by the Republicans before Obama took over”

    I don’t agree. I think people will see it as an expensive mess (fiscally and morally) by Republicans that had to be cleaned up with more expenses by Republicans.

    And in the not-to-distant future they will see that Obama is carrying on that proud tradition, just in a lefty, Oprah-y way with nice posters and logos. Whether they have the courage to see past it remains to be seen.

    “The suggestion that some sort of post facto repudiation of the Iraq war will make even the slightest difference in the next election is living in the past, open your eyes and look forward. Whatever the key issue of 2010 and 2012, it will not be Iraq 2003-2008.”

    You’re joking right? If they don’t repudiate it then why would those of us who can remember past last week believe them ever again? I used to be fairly Republican 8 years ago. I’ll never vote for either major party again unless there is fundamental changes in attitude. I don’t care how naive or idealistic it is. We’re Catholic, for pete’s sake. We’re supposed to be better than this.

    The Republicans either lied, were incompetent or made bad judgement. All are good reasons to be kept from power as long as possible. “The Surge” no matter how militarily successful is irrelevant to the underlying issues that got us into the situation in the first place. If “winning” in Iraq looks the same as our perpetual “victories” in Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Germany, etc. then… no thanks.

    Don’t get me wrong… the Democrats are guilty of all that too!

    “Donald is exactly right, the issue of 2010 and 2012 will not be Iraq 2003-2008. If I had to predict, sadly, it will be economic malaise, inflation, crushing federal deficits, massive tax increases, and quite possibly devastating terrorist attacks or other security issues (Russia, Iran, North Korea, take your pick).”

    The Iraq war is not over, so it is not “2003-2008”, its “2003-present”. Its Obama’s War now, just like Afghanistan and his little games in Pakistan.

    I agree that economic issues are going to be the issue. But gee, I wonder what contributed to this mess… perhaps our ludicrously expensive foreign policy based on principled values like bribery or blowing things up.

    Will inflation be the issue? Of course, thanks to the billions spent, borrowed or created at the start of Bush’s term and exponentially increased under Obama.

    If a “security issue” (real, imagined or just for fun) does come up, you can bet that they’ll sell it as beneficial to our economic woes. Which is like saying WWII ended the Great Depression (it didn’t). Or perhaps they’ll say that this war (presuming its Iran) will be cheaper because the troops are already there! The cannons can be adjusted just a few degrees further east!

    I must say… if there is another “devastating” terrorist attack and the U.S. goes into another post-9/11 funk of spending and shooting…I’m not certain the “Republic” can survive in anyway thats worth describing as free.

  • Anthony, I agree. Despite my own previous assumptions, I’m not so sure I’ll be crossing over and helping the GOP in 2010; maybe not in 2012.

    I might have a straight down the line Pope Benedict XVI ballot.

  • “I might have a straight down the line Pope Benedict XVI ballot.”

    My mind is being tragically torn into a million pieces that the very thought of Pope Benedict XVI, Vicar of Christ, Bishop of Rome… and POTUS!

    Thomas Jefferson would be very, VERY disappointed!

  • If you say you won’t support pro-life Republicans in 2010 or 2012 for office against pro-abortion Democrats… what’s the logical conclusion?

    If you say you don’t want the Republicans back in power any time soon, and you’re not insane enough to think that somehow a magical third party will take sweep the congress in 2010 and the presidency in 2012, then the only conclusion is you prefer the RADICALLY pro-abortion Democrats.

    If you don’t see the strategy of supporting the Republican party straight ticket, then vote your conscience on each legitimate candidate on his own merits. That’s the ONLY moral option.

  • I said I’d write in candidates.

  • Michael J. Iafrate,

    Not true, and also irrelevant.

    Of course it’s true, 70% of the population supported the invasion, and both parties with a very few exceptions.

    Relevence? It’s relevent to the point of what will happen in 2010/2012.


    No, I’m proposing that we patiently persuade… a lost art in the United States.

    I agree, we should patiently pursuade the luke-warm to be on fire for pro-life, and for the pro-abortion to be pro-life or at least luke-warm. THis applies to either party of course. Franly though, you can have a much greater influence on Republican platforms that you like or don’t like than you will on dropping abortion from the Democrat platform. THere is just a lot more tolerence for dissenting views in the Republican party.

    “The main thing people will think about with regard to Iraq will be that it was won by the Republicans before Obama took over”

    I don’t agree. I think people will see it as an expensive mess (fiscally and morally) by Republicans that had to be cleaned up with more expenses by Republicans.

    I don’t think most people really have as short a memory as you do about the invasion (bipartisan and popular support), if their memory is short they’ll probably only remember that we won (unless Obama snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, and that they’ll REALLY remember. Expensive? In 2003-2008 terms perhaps, but it is so small compared to Obama’s spending sprees it will not really factor on the decision.

    You’re joking right? If they don’t repudiate it then why would those of us who can remember past last week believe them ever again? I used to be fairly Republican 8 years ago. I’ll never vote for either major party again unless there is fundamental changes in attitude. I don’t care how naive or idealistic it is. We’re Catholic, for pete’s sake. We’re supposed to be better than this.

    Actually you may not be aware but there are bigger things at stake than a popularly supported invasion in 2003, the Church is pretty clear on this, abortion is a much more serious issue. 40 million murdered innocents and counting… no comparison.

    The Republicans either lied, were incompetent or made bad judgement. All are good reasons to be kept from power as long as possible. “The Surge” no matter how militarily successful is irrelevant to the underlying issues that got us into the situation in the first place. If “winning” in Iraq looks the same as our perpetual “victories” in Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Germany, etc. then… no thanks.

    Shame on you.

    The Iraq war is not over, so it is not “2003-2008?, its “2003-present”. Its Obama’s War now, just like Afghanistan and his little games in Pakistan.

    That’s my point, Iraq war, initiated under popular support, waged by the Republicans (poorly at times, but later brilliantly and successfully) from 2003-2008. The wrap-up is Obama’s to screw-up, it will not help him if he lets the job be finished properly, but it will devastate him if he screws it up.

    I agree that economic issues are going to be the issue. But gee, I wonder what contributed to this mess… perhaps our ludicrously expensive foreign policy based on principled values like bribery or blowing things up.

    Have you actually looked at military spending as % of federal spending or GDP? It’s tiny. Other “foreign policy” spending is money that’s been wasted for decades, nothing new here, I’d drop most of it immediately.

    If a “security issue” (real, imagined or just for fun) does come up, you can bet that they’ll sell it as beneficial to our economic woes. Which is like saying WWII ended the Great Depression (it didn’t). Or perhaps they’ll say that this war (presuming its Iran) will be cheaper because the troops are already there! The cannons can be adjusted just a few degrees further east!

    I must say… if there is another “devastating” terrorist attack and the U.S. goes into another post-9/11 funk of spending and shooting…I’m not certain the “Republic” can survive in anyway thats worth describing as free.

    are you a pacifist? I’m wondering, because you seem to make no distinction between just and unjust wars, ie. real = just, imagined, or just for fun = unjust.

  • Eric Brown,

    I said I’d write in candidates.

    let me get this straight. You consider your objections to the Republican platform to be on such a morally equal level to abortion, even when balanced against the alternative’s incredibly immoral policies… that you would vote AGAINST a viable and authentically pro-life candidate in your congressional district, or for president?

    Think about your position here, it’s untennable. If there is a viable and authentically pro-life candidate you have a moral obligation to support him. In the case of two less than authentically pro-life candidates the Church leaves your conscience to measure the best course, but not when one of them is authentically pro-life.

  • Well, I voted for quite a few Republicans in 2008 and not without a lot of hesitation.

    However, the problem is, that I don’t take at face value that the GOP and Republicans are “authentically” pro-life. Better on abortion than Democrats by far, but not per se…

    And I am not sure if it is a Catholic moral obligation to vote straight ticket Republican.

    I might have reservations to cooperate in the scheme, but I’m not opposed to doing it.

    Read my earlier post.

  • “Actually you may not be aware but there are bigger things at stake than a popularly supported invasion in 2003, the Church is pretty clear on this, abortion is a much more serious issue.”

    Killing is killing. Maybe you’re capable of making value distinctions between innocent, unborn children and innocent Iraqi lives (unless you’re convinced none are innocent), but I’m not.

    The “bigger picture” you refer to is only a numbers game. But the result is the same: death, unintended consequences and damage to human dignity.

    “Shame on you.”

    I’m going to explain myself rather than take that personally. This is the internet after all.

    Our intervention in Japan and Germany is not over. We’re still there, in one capacity or another. And we shouldn’t be, regardless of whether the Germans or the Japanese wish us to be. Here it is 60 years after a terrible and bloody war and American treasure is still being sent abroad to places in which the native peoples are more than capable of taking responsibility for themselves.

    Oh yeah, and dropping two atomic bombs? Morally reprehensible. Nothing to be proud of about that. I can’t imagine Christ doing anything other than weeping.

    So sorry, I’m not going to take The History Channel view of American “victory”.

    “Have you actually looked at military spending as % of federal spending or GDP? It’s tiny. Other “foreign policy” spending is money that’s been wasted for decades, nothing new here, I’d drop most of it immediately.”

    Its a trillion dollar war now, Matt. Plus untold losses on the Iraqi side and an incalculable amount lost in terms of productivity. Who cares about percentages at that point?

    If that money had to be spent, it would have been better but towards meeting our burdensome domestic obligations. The bills are adding up…

    By other “foreign policy” spending… do you mean wasted things like… diplomats?! Linguists?! Negotiators?! You know, the guys that try to resolve problems without killing someone. 🙂

    I’ll give you one thing, if you’d get us out of the U.N. I’d back you up. Thats some prime property here in Manhattan I’d love to see sold off.

    “are you a pacifist? I’m wondering, because you seem to make no distinction between just and unjust wars, ie. real = just, imagined, or just for fun = unjust.”

    I don’t consider myself a pacifist. I do however, believe that the threshold for a just war is extremely high and rarely reached. Additionally, in cases where it is justly reached rarely is it justly executed. I have the same attitude towards the death penalty.

    The American Revolution and The Southern War for Independence to my mind were justified. (I also want to include The Texas Revolution, but my memory is a bit faded on it) Our involvement in WWII was justified, but I think we should have no delusions about the politics that lead up to our entering the war. I also believe portions of how WWII was executed were unjust.

    The Spanish-American War, WWI (a special shout-out here), the Korean War, Vietnam, Gulf War I and II etc. are unjust wars in my view.

    The current war in Afghanistan should have been formally declared after 9-11, with victory clearly defined. My opinion has been that it should have been declared specifically against Al-Qaeda, since they did the same to us in the late 90s. War against the state of Afghanistan should only have been declared if they chose to continue material support to Al-Qaeda.

  • I think the issue is less guilt by association than it is the fact that association can draw you into defending things that really shouldn’t be defended. Over the past month, for example, folks at EWTN, First Things, Inside Catholic and the American Life League have defended the use of torture (or enhanced interrogation, or whatever they’re calling it these days). They didn’t have to do that, and I suspect that if the sides had been reversed (with Dems largely supporting these methods and Repubs opposed) that they wouldn’t have done so. But there’s something about politics that makes people feel that they need to “defend their team” regardless of the system.

    To some extent this may be inherent in the nature of politics (if it weren’t for this political ‘team spirit’ I doubt you could get very many people to participate in the political process or even vote). And it certainly applies on the left as well as on the right. But the danger is real.

  • Blackadder is correct.

  • In the last 40 years, there have been only 2 Democratic appointments to the Supreme Court. Reagan chose two nominees that ended up being pro-choice and so did Bush I. Seven of the nine Justices since Roe have been made by Republicans and the pro-life movement has not garnered the votes needed by the court in order to get a 5-4 majority.

    In the interests of precision it should be that George Bush – pere made just two appointments to the Court, one of which worked out badly. Please also note that Republican presidents have had to maneuver eight of their last 12 court appointments past a legislature controlled by the political opposition. This reality has been salient with regard to the tenure of Anthony Kennedy and David Souter. One might also note the list of registered Democrats who have sat on the Court since 1969 (one of which was nominated by Gen. Eisenhower):

    1. William O. Douglas
    2. William J. Brennan, Jr.
    3. Byron White
    4. Thurgood Marshall
    5. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
    6. Steven Breyer

    Not one of them had to run an obstacle course erected by a Republican Senate. Only one of these (White) ever showed much resistance to enactment by judicial ukase of whatever the prevailing ethos was in Georgetown (and it is doubtful that Mr. Justice White’s most controversial acts of refusal would have been regarded as remarkable either in the legal professoriate or among politicians at the time he was appointed in 1962). Seven of the twelve Republican appointments have been failures, in part because of negligence (Gerald Ford’s and George Bush-pere’s), incompetence (that of Richard Nixon, John Mitchell, and John Dean), and in part because (it is reasonable to surmise) of successful deception by the candidate in question (Sandra Day O’Connor).

    What is a more interesting question is why Mr. Brown would have more than a laconic interest in the competition between the two parties with regard to any other nexus of issues. Both parties are promoters of some version of the mixed economy. The Democratic Party is a reliable ally (the Republicans merely acquiescent) in the promotion of the designs of the social work industry, the organized appetite of academia, the teacher’s colleges, and the public employee unions. Certain subcultures within the population appear to be tribal Democrats). Why should these distinctions excite Mr. Brown’s loyalty?

  • Anthony, I think a lot of it depends on whose ox is being gored. Being partly of Cuban ancestry, I would take issue with your statement that the Spanish American war was unjustified–or at least, that element within it that consisted of Cuban citizens fighting to rout their foreign rulers. And while my Southern creds are impeccable, I confess that I remain deeply divided about the legitimacy of the Wah of Nawthun Agression–particularly the nasty little bit of Confederate adventuring in Charleston Harbor that set off the whole powder keg.

    I am glad to see, however, that you have no false illusions about WWII. Though there is no doubt in my mind that it was justified, I have often reflected recently that the brutality inflicted by all sides–Allies included–in that conflict, makes the sturm und drang about the Iraq War seem doubly ridiculous.

  • Art,

    Then it seems then that more careful vetting would be something GOP presidents should work on and pro-life advocates should strongly affirm that they desire anti-Roe judges and won’t settle for compromises.

    Even in the 1980s, the Democratic party was markedly pro-choice, but there were still a few pro-life Democratic votes in the Senate and I don’t think it was filibuster proof. I’d have to look into that; I’m not so sure if compromise and “moderate” candidates was so necessary.

    Agreed, however, that O’Connor was successful. I must say that I’ve been disappointed with the most recent women firsts — Supreme Court Justice, Secretary of State, Speaker of the House, to be particular. They were all pro-choice…so sad.

    On another note —

    I am a Democrat because I agree predominantly with the party’s platform. And I feel that I simply wouldn’t fit in with the GOP. I practically diverge away on every issue.

    In regard to competition, my only point was that if the Democratic Party had a pro-life plank, the GOP couldn’t half-ass deliver on its promises or fail to give abortion the priority it deserves because pro-life advocates could find a home and place in the Democratic Party. Therefore, competition would increase and the party’s would try to out do each other — but the effect of that is real progress in stopping abortion.

    In other words, the tit-for-tat of pro-choice vs. pro-life means one Administration puts in place pro-abortion policies, another Administration rolls it back, then again, and again. Progress is very slow; if this were not the case, then progress would quicken.

    My feeling on this is that the pro-life movement because of the grave evil of legalized murder doesn’t have the luxury to make up strategy as it goes. I happen to think our current strategy is too tied up in one party. People can disagree; but I think my reasons are valid. Thanks.

  • cminor – Wars for political independence usually to my mind are justified. Or perhaps I just have soft spot for people who wish to be left alone and chart their own course. As I’ve argued over in the past – I believe there is great value behind the principle of secession.

    What I object to in my list of unjust wars is the element of military intervention. Its one thing to philosophically support foreigners, or offer them peaceful-oriented material support (food, medical aide, etc. – mostly for civilians). Violent intervention is a bridge too far. I’m one of those guys who think neutrality is a legitimate and respectable response to foreign wars, especially ones at great geographical distance.

    Eric –

    I’m of the personal view that if the Democrats did have a pro-life bench they would be wildly successful and almost impossible to defeat.

    Granted I’m not a Democrat and never will be. The concerns that their platform addresses I might have heart for, but their solutions more often than not have unintended or misunderstood consequences. LBJ’s Great Society, for example, was anything but. FDR’s social security has contributed ironically to making us less financially secure. These policies, sold to the American public as being in line with liberty, over time make the population dependent – and I would even say pawns or slaves – to the state.

    The Democrats are in essence the party of social and economic intervention. The Republicans are a party of moral intervention and militarism. When politically convenient or necessary, both parties will swap philosophies.

  • Wars for political independence usually to my mind are justified. Or perhaps I just have soft spot for people who wish to be left alone and chart their own course. As I’ve argued over in the past – I believe there is great value behind the principle of secession.

    Interesting. In most ways, I think I would tend to say the exact opposite.

    Indeed, one of the American wars I have more difficulty justifying is the Revolution. And my sympathies in the Civil War are definitely with the North.

  • The Republicans are a party of moral intervention and militarism.

    that’s the talking points anyway. In reality, the Republicans as a policy advocate for intervention in the cause of justice, to protect the lives and rights of the citizens. As to militarism, look again, far more military interventions under Clinton than under Bush or Reagan. Regime change in Iraq was a Democrat policy also.


    I am a Democrat because I agree predominantly with the party’s platform.

    Wow. That’s quite a statement since many of their platform items are contrary to Catholic teaching.

    – abortion
    – contraception
    – secularism
    – limiting the rights of parents to educate their children

  • Matt,

    Last time I checked, party platforms are quite long lists.

    National security policies (which covers an array of issues), foreign policy (again an array of issues), health care, public funding of education, energy, taxes, fighting poverty through private and public sector solutions, and the list goes on.

    If you consider the whole of the platform, I agree with the vast majority of the points.

    Lastly, I don’t think anywhere in the party platform does it state we support “secularism.”

    I’m not saying that many Democrats have a wonderful understanding of the idea of separation of Church and State, but that’s flat out not in the platform.

    I didn’t say I agree with every point of the platform.

    If we had a point list and went down the party platform of each party and I had to respond ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ — the Democrats would win. Ask me to vote between candidates and probably not.

    Matt, could you really work on not being so overly aggressive and condescending as a commenter? Seriously. It’s not really in this post, but there are more charitable and engaging ways to address people.

    You could have said quoted my comment and asked:

    “Eric, could you clarify what you mean here? A few tenets of the Democratic platform contradict Catholic teaching.”

    That’s very charitable and not so assuming.

    I’m sure we’re all guilty, but we argue on this blog so much about “good” Catholics and “bad” Catholics, let’s strive to actually imitate Jesus.

  • Darwin –

    Perhaps living in Texas will influence your outlook. Certainly myself having been born and raised in Houston I experienced a subculture in America that took pride in its republican sovereignty as a historical footnote. However, Texas by and large is mostly just ‘bark and no bite’ when it comes to independence. Post-Civil War they’ve been properly beaten into submission and made to feel guilty (like the rest of the South) for ever daring to give Washington the screw.

    In the case of both The American Revolution and The Civil War the ultimate goal was not destruction of the enemy but merely her expulsion. If the South succeeded in gaining independence, perhaps the war would have been known as ‘The Southern Revolution’ or ‘The Second American Revolution’. Had both the above conflicts been genuine ‘civil wars’ I would think the endgame would involve usurping power in London and Washington D.C.

    Thats all I’ll say… I’m already too far off topic.

  • The American Revolution and The Civil War the ultimate goal was not destruction of the enemy

    The ‘enemy’ in the first case was the legitimate central government.

    As for the second, I think one can argue that secession was permissible as a matter of positive law. The thing is, both the continued subjection of the slaves and the effort necessary to discontinue that involved the use of force.

  • ****
    that’s the talking points anyway. In reality, the Republicans as a policy advocate for intervention in the cause of justice, to protect the lives and rights of the citizens. As to militarism, look again, far more military interventions under Clinton than under Bush or Reagan. Regime change in Iraq was a Democrat policy also.


    Maybe I’m being dimwitted, but I think you just responded to my ‘talking points’ with your own set.

    The Republican record is atrocious, especially when it comes to the litmus test of a strict reading of the Constitution and following what I can only presume are Jeffersonian principles. On matters of free speech, spending, declarations of war, states rights and social/government programs they have not lived up to their speeches. They pick and choose which rights and which liberties and which kind of justice just as much as Democrats.

    Our politicians are ‘Cafeteria Constitutionalists’ if I can paraphrase.

    Clinton might indeed have more military interventions (Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq immediately spring to mind), but the cost was no where near that of Bush II. My ‘militarism’ reference is more geared toward the current state of the party and the cultural attitudes attracted to it.

    Like I said above, those described philosophies are also quickly swapped depending on the political weather. Right now, for instance, the Republicans have become much better on a variety of issues. The problem is they have zero credibility.

  • *****
    The ‘enemy’ in the first case was the legitimate central government.

    As for the second, I think one can argue that secession was permissible as a matter of positive law. The thing is, both the continued subjection of the slaves and the effort necessary to discontinue that involved the use of force.

    I’d love to debate all these points, but it is another topic thread. Unless we have permission to go free-for-all. 🙂

  • Anthony,

    Following the self-indulgent principle of “it’s my thread so I’ll take if off topic if I feel like it”, because this strikes me as an interesting topic:

    I guess the hang-up for me is that as a conservative (and also looking at Church just war teaching) that regional independence (or national self determination, or call it what you will) is not an absolute good. In the case of the American Revolution, it strikes me that the injustices being imposed by the British were arguably very small compared to the evils of a drawn out war. Though the political philosophy of the American founding fathers strikes me as sufficiently far superior to that of the British empire that I an strongly tempted to say it was worth it anyway.

    In the case of the Civil War, I’m mildly sympathetic to states rights, but the stand was only being taken over states rights in order to insist on slavery. In that regard, I would happily have carried a rifle for the Union.

    Still, interesting conversation. I hope you’ll be around next week when I post my review (possibly multi part) of Empires of Trust. That should generate some interesting conversation.


    I think you’re right on tribalism. The temptation seems to have been too strong for some pro-life advocates to defend what they should not. Though at the same time — I don’t necessarily see the mistakes of those people as discrediting the movement as a whole. Or at least, it should not do so in the eyes of people who have long been used to swallowing the bitter pill of abortion support in the leaders they look up to on various “social justice” issues.

  • *****
    The ‘enemy’ in the first case was the legitimate central government.

    I don’t think I’ve heard anyone argue that the British crown was illegitimate, just tyrannical. The grievance, as I remember, was basically that a.) the crown’s actions were unjust and economically destructive, and b.) there was not sufficient representation in Parliament for the American colonies to voluntarily submit if they wanted to.

    Had those matters been better negotiated I would not have seen much cause for political separation. But they weren’t, so in my view it was justifiable to expel the threat to life, liberty and property and replace it with a better suited form of governance. It was time, as they say, to ‘appeal to heaven’.

    With regard to the war between the states its messier and more complicated, but similar to the situation with Britain.

    Let me first say that slavery is as reprehensible as abortion, contrary to any conception of liberty and should be rejected at all times and by all peoples. Were I living in America circa the 1850s, 1860s I would have been anti-slavery, but at peace with Southern secession.

    I often wonder if perhaps by allowing the South to secede, in time slavery could still have been done away with; particularly if Southern states sought to rejoin the Union at a later date. That way we could avoid the half million American deaths and a century of racial and and cultural resentment that is the Civil War’s sad legacy.

    I do not believe that slavery was the exclusive issue at stake in the Civil War. Not every individual fought for the same reason. If truly the war was one of liberation and not one of radically changing our Union’s understanding simultaneously, then permitting secession followed by an invasive mission to free slaves would have made more sense. Abolishing slavery in those states that did not secede would also have been more consistent on the part of the Union. Buying slaves and freeing them would also have made more sense. But both sides dug in… there had to be more to it than the lone moral debate over slavery.

    The South, in my view had a natural and popular desire to dissolve a political arrangement; no matter how imperfect or disgusting their own house could be. (Slavery, if I recall rightly, was enshrined in the CSA Constitution).

    Also I believe there to be legitimate historical and philosophical arguments over Lincoln’s goals at the war’s outset and the role tariffs and taxation played in further aggravating the conflict. Pro-Union historians who concede certain points about Lincoln usually argue that the president grew into being ‘The Great Emancipator’ over the course of the war thus legitimizing the “it was all about slavery” view. But if that is to be allowed then it could also be allowed that for the South what began as a wrong-headed defense of slavery grew into a larger and legitimate cause for political liberty.

    Its a real historical shame that the principle of ‘state’s rights’ – or rather a deference to local government – is tainted by the stench of slavery. Perhaps its only fitting that large, federal government is duly being connected to the stink of abortion, euthanasia, war and economic foolishness.

    I guess the hang-up for me is that as a conservative (and also looking at Church just war teaching) that regional independence (or national self determination, or call it what you will) is not an absolute good.

    I’m not certain there is much to say from the Church’s perspective and I only have a few, sketchy thoughts here.

    For one, after life, liberty is a natural and necessary condition in order for mankind to pursue good. I tend to think that if liberty is abridged (either by a state or individual) it further complicates pursuing a moral good via moral means. An individual or a people placed in a desperate situation they’re likely going to react desperately I’d imagine. The slave is legitimate in his revolt against the master, just as the South had legitimacy in its desire to no longer be under Washington’s growing power.

    Second, and perhaps more telling, concerns the general attitude towards ‘the State’. Where as I see the Church as a ‘higher’ form of institution that teaches and loves (however imperfectly some times), the State is considerably lower or lowest in my estimation. Indeed, I find it positively parasitical and unproductive.

    I would note that this does not mean I am not patriotic. I love my country. I love its peoples, my family, my friends, its lands, its culture and even its intellectual traditions. I cannot transfer that love to the State, indeed I find love of state to be dangerous and inescapably competitive with the things I ought to love (my neighbor, my God, etc.).

    Were I to run for office, my platform would likely be to tie the federal government’s hands as much as possible and follow the Constitution to the letter – even when inconvenient.

  • As has been remarked, parliamentary representation in Britain prior to 1832 was quite haphazard – – rotten boroughs, pocket boroughs, dominacy of Lords over Commons, &c. The lack of assignment of representation to the colonies was an aspect of that. (To this day, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, and the residuum of overseas colonies do not have such representation). Why a series of excise taxes should spark a territorial revolt is an interesting question, from a sociological standpoint. Excises on paint and paper and tea may be good or bad policy. Such does not ‘tyranny’ make.

    Lincoln’s original motivations are an historical question. My purpose was to make a rough and ready statement as to why I would conceive of the use of force in that circumstance as legitimate.

    Personally, I think the U.S. Constitution is manifestly defective and should be scrapped.

  • I did not know about the sketchy representation in Parliament. Huh… the more you know!

  • Anthony

    As to Lincoln and the Civil War

    As a Southern one hears that often the Victors write hisotry. However as to the Civil War I often find the losers(we southerners) have often wrote it or “rewrote it” with amazing success. This was whiched one of its climaxes when Woodrow Wilson was elected and suddenly that horrid film he screened became the offical line

    First there is no evidence that Slavery would have gone away. It seemed to be growing by leaps and bounds in Texas. That was once a Catholic NO SLAVE STATE. It is without a doubt that SOuthern Leadership wanted a slave empire. Their constant designs on Cuba and Central America a prime example. In fact a slave Manifest Destiny with desgins on California. I suspect if things had gone differently if DC had been captured and even Philly I am not so sure that areas like New Mexico and Arizona to say the least would have been given back. There was consideravle Confederate action in New Mexico for example and the COnfederate recognized a Arizona Seccesionist Govt

    As to the “growing Federal Power” if you look at the Seccession Declarations of the States SLAVERY was the issue. While a few threw in talk of light houses and the occasional tariff this was the prime concern

    Southerners had used Federal Power quite a bit. They imposed a gag rule on Slavery in Congress, the mails could be censured of anti slavery things. Also what they wanted in the end was a Federal Slave Code. That would have been the largest exapnsion of Federal Power ever. In fact it was largely on this that the SOutherners broke with the Democrat party on that fateful day in Charleston at the Democrat Convention

  • First there is no evidence that Slavery would have gone away.

    Counter-factual speculation is somewhat idle. However, it ought be noted that the abolition of slavery in the United States was appended to the abolition of hereditary subjection all over Europe and Russia over the period running from 1789 through 1864. (Admittedly, serfdom is a qualitatively different institution). Also, I believe that the abolition of slavery in Brazil was enacted just a few years after the close of the American Civil War.

  • Well, the boll weevil would have done in the cotton industry one way or another, so retaining large quantities of slave labor would have become considerably less profitable for one major export at least. Importing new slave labor would also have become increasingly difficult and unprofitable, considering that standard practice on the big plantations in immediately antebellum Georgia and the deep South was to work slaves more or less to death over several years and then replace them. Slave escapes would likely have largely emptied border states (maybe we’d have a wall down the middle of the continent!) There might still be slavery, but not to the same extent as before; likely the system would have gotten extremely draconian before finally starting to fizzle, however.

    Currently I live in a South that, all things considered, is in pretty good shape. If a war (that we started) is what it took to bring the abomination that was slavery to an earlier close and my Confederate forefathers had to lose it so that this corner of the country wouldn’t degenerate into a demagogue-ridden third world state, though they haunt me for saying it, it’s just as well.

    For the record, I got the full Southern version of history in grade school. The victors didn’t write it all.

  • BTW Anthony, what other issues governed the decision to secede to anywhere near the degree of slavery? Please.

  • My favorite history of the Civil War was written by Shelby Foote, and the best study of command in the Civil War, Lee’s Lieutenants, was written by Douglas Southall Freeman. When it comes to the Civil War, the Southern viewpoint has produced myriad first class histories.

  • “BTW Anthony, what other issues governed the decision to secede to anywhere near the degree of slavery? Please.”

    I never said slavery was not part of it. My view has always been that the debate over slavery poured into a lager crisis over the meaning of the Union.

    I merely reject the argument that the Civil War was exclusively over that acute issue. The question of both liberty for slaves, political liberty for the Southern States and the Union’s meaning under the Constitution.

    You can’t disconnect the slave issue from its Constitutional aspects, its economic aspects any more than you can its moral ones. I’d also add that as one who leans rather libertarian the lens through which I’m viewing things is liberty itself. Questions of authority are antithetical. Why can’t one believe that slaves should be free and Southern states free? It seems rather “American” to me.

On Liberalism, Equality and Positive Freedom

Tuesday, May 12, AD 2009

Listening to this week’s EconTalk interview with Alan Wolfe, author of the recently released The Future of Liberalism, I was struck by the following quote from the book, “Modern liberalism promises equality through what [Isaiah] Berlin calls a positive conception of liberty. It is not sufficient for me merely to be left alone [which is negative liberty]. I must also have the capacity to realize the goals that I choose for myself. If this requires an active role for government, then modern liberals are prepared to accept state intervention into the economy in order to give large numbers of people the sense of mastery that free market capitalism gives only to the few.”

In discussion with host Russell Roberts, himself quite libertarian, Wolfe says that liberals do and should concede that at times empirical evidence will show that such government intervention actually reduces personal autonomy, in which case he advocates changing one’s position. He cites school choice and welfare reform as to examples of traditionally conservative positions he has adopted because he considers that these were both cases of alleviating dependence created by government programs.

But the examples that Wolfe provided of intervention to assure positive freedom struck me as interesting, and provided me with some insight into how thoughtful liberals view the world.

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29 Responses to On Liberalism, Equality and Positive Freedom

  • There is modern positive liberty like Wolfe’s, which is materialistic, and there is classical positive liberty – classical republicanism, and of course, Catholicism.

    The Catholic conception of liberty has always been positive. Freedom is the freedom to do good, freedom from sin. True liberty is not found in license but in virtue.

    It was the point of my last entry here. And according to the social teaching of the Church, there is much that can be done to promote positive liberty.

  • I would agree that the Catholic understanding of freedom has always been a positive one in that freedom is ordered towards the end of doing good, and it only good to the extent it is thus used.

    However, I’d question whether anything other than negative liberty is necessarily implementable politically. The law can leave me free to do the good, but if it forces me to do the good, then I am no longer free to do the good but rather acting under compulsion.

    Indeed, isn’t law generally much better at negatives than positives? For example: It’s fairly straight forward to punish child abuse, but next to impossible to successfully force all parents to be good parents.

  • DC,

    you nailed it there.

  • Darwin,

    Why does the word “force” have to make an appearance?

    There seems to be a knee-jerk assumption, sometimes, that positive liberty necessarily entails the use of force.

    I’ve always seen positive incentives as a way to promote positive liberty. And a measure of social equality is necessary for the survival of political democracy and republican institutions.

    I wrote more about this at VN today, in fact. Pius XI wrote, for instance,

    “First and foremost, the State and every good citizen ought to look to and strive toward this end: that the conflict between the hostile classes be abolished and harmonious cooperation of the Industries and Professions be encouraged and promoted.”

  • Why does the word “force” have to make an appearance?

    Heh. Well, what can I say, Joe. You are talking to an fairly old fashioned conservative, and as such I’d tend to say that one of the distinguishing marks of a state is that it has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.

    I would agree with you that positive incentives are a way to promote positive liberty. (And I’d also agree that a measure of social equality is necessary to maintain political democracy — though I think it’s once again getting hard to maintain, as if it were ever easy.) But even so, that can only “promote” positive liberty, not assure it.

    I do think that we can promote positive liberty, but the only liberty we can assure is negative liberty. And if we’re to have liberty at all, we invariably end up leaving some room for it to be misused rather than used rightly.

    (I saw the VN piece, but I didn’t have the chance to read it yet because I was in the middle of writing this one. I’ll finish tomorrow, I promise.)

  • All of politics is the use of “force” in a sense. The state exists to get people to do what they otherwise might not.

    On the topic of the role of government: I haven’t listened to Wolfe’s interview, but I’d say that there isn’t a simple “algorithm” for determining which activities are best left free and which need to be done by the state. One place to start — at least with economic policy — is to look at technical questions of market failure and public goods. That’s the easy stuff. Of course there are moral considerations and considerations of incentives. There’s also the law of unintended consequences and the reality that even the best-intentioned policies have a way of creating perverse outcomes. Sometimes doing nothing is better than all the alternatives.

  • I want to add that the libertarians who argue for nearly total negative liberty on moral grounds are obviously misguided from the Catholic point of view. We are social animals, not autonomous consumer-individualists, and there is such a thing as the common good if you’re intellectually honest about it.

    But the conservative in me is wary of “overdefining” that common good, developing it too broadly, so that the compulsion of the state is behind every good deed. There is truly something damaging to charity when that happens. This is what the give and take of politics is about: the community defining what is acceptable to relinquish to state power. Right now, Americans seem to be demanding ever more goods and services from government, all the while cursing high taxes. It will be interesting, to say the least, when the unstoppable force and unmoveable object collide.

  • Given the way things have been going in this country, with the Patriot Act and all, I don’t believe negative liberty can be ensured either.

    America has just been lucky. Two oceans separated it from both the wars and the ideologies that started them that devastated so much of the world in the 20th century. And yet, even then, we had COINTELPRO in the 1960s. I won’t even include things like Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus or the internment of the Japanese.

    On civil liberties – leaving out economic theory – I am a libertarian, though I am quite disappointed with the ACLU’s secular bias against Christian communities. Anyway, it is hard for me to take conservatives seriously, unless they are consistent paleocons or libertarian-ish (i.e. Buchanan or Ron Paul), who go on about ‘the size of government’.

    So many of them supported the Bush administration’s erosion of civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism, trading liberty for security in a war without any clear objectives, a war against a concept, a war against a particular military strategy (which is what ‘terrorism’ is) a war that by definition cannot be won.

    So many of them cheered as riot police employed violence against anti-war protesters and other left-wing dissident movements.

    So many of them are willing to see the boarder and entire states militarized to keep out future immigrants and deport or punish the ones that are already here – all 12-20 million of them. Such an operation will require nothing less than an Orwellian police state.

    In short, so many of them are willing to make a Faustian bargain with the powers that be, assuming that they will never be the targets of government repression. Get the Muslims, get the commie leftists, get the illegals – and then they’ll come for the home schooled kids, the outspoken priests and ministers, the gun owners. We all have a horse in this race on both sides of the spectrum.

  • Joe, it is necessary to win wars so that we bloggers can be left to bloviate in peace. I have absolutely no problem with the government taking stern measures against those who give aid and comfort to enemies pursuing the defeat of my nation. That Lincoln’s administration, for example, tossed quite a few people into jail during the Civil War I find infinitely preferable to having the nation split into two countries. I do have a great deal of a problem with the government taking any action against groups who are not giving aid and comfort to our enemies and who are not engaging in domestic terrorism.

    As for freedom, my views on that subject are nicely set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist papers, Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France and Lincoln’s writings.

  • Donald,

    The bottom line is, I don’t trust the government with the powers it has granted itself to fight ‘the war on terror’.

    The Civil War had a clear end in sight. The so called war on an emotion/military tactic has no end. Terrorism will always be possible, from now until the end of human civilization. To say that powers must be expanded and liberties curtailed to fight
    ‘terrorism’ is to say they ought to be so forever.

    It is absolutely tyrannical that the government can now imprison anyone without charges at any time, for virtually any reason. Our fourth and fifth amendment rights have been effectively nullified. Protest is still legal per the first amendment but the police are finding new ways to attack, intimidate, and arrest as many people as possible.

    Cop worship on the right, and gun control fanaticism on the left, are two currents that will rip the liberty right out of our hands if they aren’t checked.

  • So many of them supported the Bush administration’s erosion of civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism, trading liberty for security in a war without any clear objectives, a war against a concept, a war against a particular military strategy (which is what ‘terrorism’ is) a war that by definition cannot be won.

    So many of them cheered as riot police employed violence against anti-war protesters and other left-wing dissident movements.

    This diatribe would be better suited if it was based on fact. I keep hearing about this supposed erosion of civil liberties, but I have yet to see any evidence that there has been any such substantive erosion. As for this little fantasy about the police coming in and clobbering on all the ole peaceful protesters, can you document one incident in the past 8 years when the police came in and arrested protesters who were not, in fact, breaking the law. Considering I live in the DC area and have seen my fair share of protests, I have a hard time buying this exaggeration.

    Get the Muslims, get the commie leftists, get the illegals –

    If it feels better to caricature those you disagree with, knock yourself out Joe.

  • It is absolutely tyrannical that the government can now imprison anyone without charges at any time, for virtually any reason.

    Joe, this is not even remotely true. What alternate reality are you living in where you can be arrested without charge or habeas corpus? This is not 1862.

    Again, it would help your argument out tremendously if you were decrying things that were actually taking place.

    Protest is still legal per the first amendment but the police are finding new ways to attack, intimidate, and arrest as many people as possible.

    Again, do you have any actual evidence for this, or is this all just supposition?

  • I’m not caricaturing everyone I disagree with, Paul.

    Maybe you’ve never met people who believe these things. I have.

    And as for fact, I mean, I don’t want to be rude but can you use a search engine? There are dozens of documented incidents, people rounded up by the hundreds at lawful protests after being charged by the police.

    I’ve seen video footage of riot cops paying off agent provocateurs, footage of them laughing and calling protesters ‘cockroaches’. You think they respect your first amendment rights? They’re only interested in preserving ‘order’.

    Finally, even if there wasn’t a single documented instance of power being abused, we have a duty to resist infringements on the Bill of Rights, which is precisely what the Patriot Act and related legislation are.

  • And NY got lucky with this one:

    “The New York State Court of Appeals yesterday disagreed with Wisconsin’s second-highest court in ruling that police may not use Global Position System (GPS) tracking devices without a warrant.”


    I’m relieved that the police were put in their place, at least in NY – poor Wisconsin. I’m unnerved in the certainty that they will continue to push the limits of the law until they get what they want, nation wide.

  • I could post these all day.


    It’s a whole world of information out there. For now.

  • Joe:

    “Use a search engine” is not a particularly compelling form of documentation. The onus is on you, the person making the argument, to prove your point. I’m not your r.a. That said, I will follow your links.

  • Joe:

    First of all, I will give you credit for actually attempting to prove your arguments through documentation. That’s more than can be said for some people.

    That said, I don’t believe what you’ve offered is compelling proof for the widespread accusations that you’ve made. They point to either single abuses, or are concerned with at best debatable uses of technology. For example, I am not necessarily comfortable with the use of cameras, but I’m not going to make a leap here that it indicates we are living in a police state. I would probably oppose the use of technology described in the last article linked to, and as someone who just received a fairly bogus camera ticket, I’m inclined to oppose all traffic cameras on general principle (I keed, I keed).

    You made a couple of very specific allegations which you haven’t come close to backing up. First of all, you indicated widespread abuse of first amendment rights with cops arresting people without cause. I’m willing to concede that cops can get carried away, and that they have certainly made improper arrests. I am not an apologist for the police, nor do I think they are incapable of abusing the system. At the same time, I’m not exactly just going to accept your say-so that the police regularly have unjustly arrested scores of protesters. It is possible to have a lawful protest, but for someone to engage in unlawful conduct during the protest. The first amendment is not a license to do whatever one wants. So, yes, the burden of proof is on you as the one making the allegation.

    Second, you made the far flung claim that all of us can pretty much be arrested for anything at any time, something for which you did not back up save with what looks to be a pretty bad case in a local community, and even that doesn’t follow from the example. So again, you’re going to have to do better.

  • Joe’s links are lame. While I disfavor the use of photo ticket cameras, this is a prudential judgement call. Just not a big deal, unless you are a criminal I suppose. The passion with which people worry about such things is akin to the 1950s and flouridization and the 1990s and black helocopters. And the story about the boy is also less than disturbing. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,519570,00.html

  • Thanks, Mike. As usual, I assumed there was another side to that story.

  • I do agree with Joe on the Patriot Act. Even though the Bush administration used it benignly to root out terrorists in our midst, President Obama is now using it as a club against alleged death threats as Joe pointed out in the Patriot Act abuse.

    That brought a chill down my spine. That is not what the Patriot Act was made for.

  • OK, I just did some quick research and it seems that the story of the kid being arrested because of the Patriot Act is unsubstantiated.

    I retract part of my previous statement, but the potential for abuse is out there.

  • Paul,

    There are literally hundreds of links to follow, though. You say you aren’t my “ra” – as if I need to do the research myself, lol. All you have to do is google something like “abuse of patriot act”, you’ll get dozens of links to mainstream news stories. Am I supposed to do all that, here?

    Also, there is the matter of looking for relevant information. For instance, in that camera article, the real point is that they want to do here what they have in Britain – the modern surveillance state. Not only are there cameras everywhere – there are people behind the cameras who speak to you through mounted speakers. If you litter, for instance, a polite British chap will tell you through the speaker, identifying you by your clothes or other characteristics, to please pick up the trash.

    And the GPS tracking – that doesn’t bother you either? It doesn’t bother you that they want to know where you are, 24/7, without a warrant, if they just suspect you of something?

    If you guys don’t see it as a portent of something far more dangerous, that’s your prerogative, I guess. Some people say, “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about”.

    When it comes to the defense of civil liberties, history, common sense, and morality tell me to be vigilant. Nothing bothers me more than the flippant skeptic unwilling to take historical patterns seriously. Bringing up previous examples as if they are invalid because they didn’t lead directly to a police state is hardly convincing.

    By what logic are they excluded as links in a chain? Or if they really are absurd claims, by what logic are they associated with valid, documented claims? It’s guilt by association.

    As for the arrest of anti-war protesters, you have to read the stories. There are too many to count.

  • As for the arrest of anti-war protesters, you have to read the stories. There are too many to count.

    Yes, you’ve said that multiple times, as though repeating something simply makes it true. Sorry Joe, you still have not produced evidence. If there are so many stories, then you will kindly produce them. You see, I have a life and a job and I don’t feel like hunting around google all day looking for the stories that are supposed to convince me that, hey, Joe was right all along.

  • Oh, and Joe, you still haven’t even come close to justifying this whopper:

    It is absolutely tyrannical that the government can now imprison anyone without charges at any time, for virtually any reason.

  • Well, when you have time, check it out. You think I don’t have a life?

    I may not be around to do it anyway – my computer has viruses and I think it’s finally time to get a new one. Might be a few days. Surely you’ve got 2 minutes to do a google search and just look at the headlines… if you had time to write that last post, you have time to do that.

  • On a side note, I’d submit that the reason for the Orwellianly named “Global War on Terror” is that no one wanted the very un-PC but more accurate title, “Global war against a rag tag network of Islamic extremests who want to destroy US assets and kill US citizens”. There were a number of conservatives who pointed this out at the time — though sometimes because they wanted to use a term with more “fight” such as “Global War on Islamic Fascism”. (Itself a poor term, I think, since the terrorists aren’t really fascists and if some Islamic countries are fascist, that’s not necessarily our problem.)

    I’m somewhat split on issues such as the Partiot Act. On the one hand, so far as I can tell it’s not nearly as nefarious as many people think. On the other hand, I think that we often kid ourselves as to how much ability we have to protect our citizens. All this foolishness in the airports with taking our shoes off and confiscating eyedrops is not keeping anyone any safer, it’s just an extended kubuki show so that if there is another massive attack on US soil we can all tell ourselves we did everything we could. I’m in favor of giving law enforcement legitimate tools to combat terrorist organizations — that’s what our leaders have a responsibility to do — but we do want to make sure we don’t give them too much power in the process. Europe is already far more spied upon and locked down than we, and we can see from their example that it’s still quite possible for people to carry our terrorist attacks in the UK and on the continent.

    Going back to the general point, it sounds like we probably have a fair amount of agreement on how the state should give negative liberty — and probably a good deal more than it currently does. I would imagine that we might differ a fair amount on how successfully the state can encourage the positive use of freedom, and how successfully it can shape equality, which allows greater positive freedom.

  • Bah. The idea that the War on Terror (such as it’s named) is taking away our civil liberties is in my mind a slippery slope argument akin to the cry that Obama is going to take away our guns. Lots of smoke, but very little fire. Nations can take reasonable steps to protect their citizens, just as they can take reasonable steps to ensure economic justice.

    If I were to worry about a slippery slope erosion of liberty, I’d be much more concerned about “rightthink” when it comes to gay marriage, abortion, and religion in general. People losing jobs and being threatened for their opinions on these matters is already happening… *cough*MissCalifornia*cough*

    And you can Google *that* stuff, too. : )

  • The US is geographically larger than Sweden. Using the same math, Bill Gates controls 20% of the GDP of Washington state. These are meaningless shock stats. Well, maybe not. I find it a great indictment of US economic policy that despite a single family controlling 1/3 of the GDP of Sweden, the US still has greater income inequality!

Obama Wants Living Constitution Theory For SCOTUS Nominee

Saturday, May 2, AD 2009

With the announced retirement of Supreme Court Justice David Souter President Obama wasted no time in addressing the issue of what he’s looking for to fill this vacancy.  In so many words he clearly stated his desire for an activist judge with an eye towards reengineering America [emphasis and comments mine].

“It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives [meaning he wants a Justice who holds fast to the Living Constitution Theory,ie, an activist judge finding invisible law where none existed], whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation.”

The following excerpt clearly reveals President Obama’s contempt for legislative history in effect eliminating a potential nominee that adheres to the theory of original intent.

“I will seek someone who understands that justice is not about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook.”

One thing is for sure, it will be an extremist liberal and pro-abortion nominee.

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13 Responses to Obama Wants Living Constitution Theory For SCOTUS Nominee

  • Obama’s nominee is unlikely to be an originalist, and they will certainly uphold Roe. This does not mean, however, that Obama has contempt for legislative history or the judicial record. For starters, it’s justices like Scalia who dislike legislative history (because it’s easy to find support for almost any position in the congressional record). As to the judicial record, upholding Roe at this point is respecting the principal of stare decisis. Originalists care about the original understanding of the Constitution, and less about legislative history and the judicial record.

  • John,

    I’ll take your word on it since you’ll be barristering soon enough!

  • John,

    I forgot to mention that they do use legislative history, but not in all cases.

  • Just to be clear, ‘legislative history’ is a tool of statutory interpretation which involves looking at the Congressional record and statements from bill sponsors, etc. Scalia, as a ‘textualist’, thinks only the text of the statute should matter. Obama’s nominee is more likely to favor ‘legislative history’ than a Scalia-type nominee.

    ‘Original intent’ or originalism has to do with Constitutional interpretation; and the theory of the living constitution (which, imo, all justices adhere to in practice to one degree or another) is another theory of Constitutional interpretation.

  • Stare decisis-“To stand by that which is decided”-when we feel like it.

    Stare Decisis tends to be invoked by judges who like a prior decision and ignored by judges who believe the prior decision was a piece of judicial idiocy. Of course when a court is dealing with constitutional issues stare decisis plays less of a role because the constitution, and the correct interpretation of it, is more important than prior decisions of any court. As Roe amply demonstrates however, too often the tool of Constitutional interpretation used by the Supreme Court and many other courts might rightly be called “making it up as they go along”.

  • The doctrine of stare decisis is of limited value in constitutional matters, since erroneous court decisions cannot be rectified by subsequent legislation. While this judicial doctrine has value, the weight it merits should be inversely proportional to the degree of wrongness and degree of importance of the prior decision to which it would be applied. From the standpoint of actual legal reasoning all that Roe has in its favor is stare decisis, given that its rationale is ridiculously deficient, and that is not much. But for the reasons Don suggests, that will be enough for any Obama appointee who favors abortion rights on policy grounds. He will find the scoundrel’s refuge in stare decisis for sure.

  • As Donald and Mike describe, stare decisis tends to be arbitrarily invoked and ignored depending on the judge and the issue. The post originally read ‘Obama’s contempt for legislative history and the judicial record‘. In response, I was pointing out that Obama’s nominees would be unlikely to show contempt for the judicial record (i.e. stare decisis) with regard to Roe, rather than expressing a more general opinion about the importance of stare decisis.

  • I had never been to this blog until now. Why does this blog look so shamelessly like Vox Nova? Couldn’t you guys find another theme? Come on… 🙂

  • Katerina,

    You guys have a beautiful set up and have the best theme. We couldn’t’ find another one that was better. You guys chose the best template out there!

    Imitation is a form of flattery you know!


  • Cannot fault anyone for having good taste.

  • Yeah, the reference to “legislative history” doesn’t make sense here. “Legislative history” is a term referring to how Congress enacted a statute — committee reports, House reports, and the like. It’s not a term that refers to the Constitution. And moreover, Scalia (who is at least a “fainthearted originalist,” as he describes himself) is a huge opponent of looking to legislative history . . . his opinion is that Congress enacted whatever is actually in the law, and that it’s dangerous for judges to go beyond the law to look at what some Senate committee might have said that’s different.

  • Obama’s judges will be interested in stare decisis ONLY until they run into a case … such as what happened in Lawrence v. Texas … in which they suddenly decide to overturn precedent.

    This Weekly Standard piece from a while back explains the left’s new-found affinity for stare decisis:

    THE HEARINGS on John Roberts’s and Sam Alito’s nominations to the Supreme Court featured a Latin phrase most people hear only in connection with Supreme Court confirmations: stare decisis. Stare decisis is the legal doctrine holding that in general, an issue once decided should stay decided, and not be revisited.

    Nowadays, it is liberals, not conservatives, who talk about stare decisis in committee hearings, generally in the context of abortion. Oddly, though, it’s also liberals who want nominees to agree that the Constitution is a “living document.”

    How is it that liberals have become, simultaneously, the champions of both fidelity to precedent and an ever-changing Constitution?

    Part of the answer, of course, is that the left’s commitment to stare decisis is selective. Many of the Supreme Court’s iconic liberal decisions overruled prior case law. Brown v. Board of Education (1954), overturned Plessy v. Ferguson (1896); Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), which established the constitutional right to a free public defender in felony cases, overruled Betts v. Brady (1942); Mapp v. Ohio (1961), which applied the exclusionary rule to state court prosecutions, overruled Wolf v. Colorado (1949); and so on. Nor need we reach far back into history for such instances. Just two years ago, in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), the Court found a constitutional right to perform acts of homosexual sodomy, thereby overturning Bowers v. Hardwick, which itself was no historical relic, having been decided in 1986. Yet none of the liberals who now wax eloquent about stare decisis criticized Lawrence’s violation of that principle.

    When liberals talk about a “living Constitution,” what they really mean is a leftward-marching Constitution. Liberals – especially those of an age to be senators – have spent most of their lives secure in the conviction that history was moving their way. History meant progress, and progress meant progressive politics. In judicial terms, that implied a one-way ratchet: “conservative” precedents can and should be overturned, while decisions that embody liberal principles are sacrosanct. To liberals, that probably seemed more like inevitability than inconsistency.

  • Why does this blog look so shamelessly like Vox Nova? Couldn’t you guys find another theme? Come on… 🙂

    We had the ‘Kubrick’ theme for the first five months, but Kubrick doesn’t have the sidebar on individual posts. This made navigation less convenient and, as it turns out, meant the sitemeter was only catching about 40% of the visits. This format was the easiest to transition to from Kubrick. Plus, as Tito said, it looks good and there’s nothing wrong with flattery through imitation from time to time.

Unreasonable Compensation

Thursday, April 23, AD 2009

With people focused on the economic downturn, many have found it a good time to give a little extra thought to whether other people are making more than they ought to. The president has spoken out several times against “excessive compensation” of executives, and a number of people have floated the idea of adjusting the top marginal income tax rate to effectively cap total compensation at ten million dollars a year. MZ tackled the question somewhat humorously here.

Beyond question, $10 million is a lot of money. Most of us will never see anything like that much money, and so it seems entirely reasonable to demand: Why should anyone be paid so much? What’s so special about CEOs and actors and baseball players that they deserve tens of millions of dollars? Aren’t they running off with the money that we should be getting instead?

I certainly wouldn’t claim that executives are not often paid more than they are worth. A board of directors is still a group of people with emotional commitments (including wanting to assure themselves that they made the right pick in choosing the current CEO) and they will certainly not always do what is in their own best interest. Though we may be comforted that in a free economy the incentives are in place to automatically punish them for not doing so.

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22 Responses to Unreasonable Compensation

  • supply and demand, it’s just that simple.

  • Concerns over executive compensations always seem overblown to me; a way for politicians to express faux moral outrage over what is almost entirely a matter of symbolism. In its worst form it exploits a crude populist instinct based on the haunting fear (and resentment) that someone, somewhere might be overpaid. Notice, even if confiscatory taxes were imposed on income over $10 million, the tax would generate very little revenue because the contracts would just be restructured. I suppose there may be some symbolic value in preventing people from being paid large salaries, but it seems to be a very minimal and cheap sort of value.

  • Indeed it is a distraction away from the far more vast and destructive sums being either created or spent by the government.

    While there is something to the argument that top executive are over paid, its really an irrelevant question. They should be paid whatever the market is willing to pay them. If the agreement on compensation is consensual then morally there isn’t much to argue against. If its a stupid move of the part of the employer, that will be revealed in due course as the company’s fortunes decline.

  • One of the odd things about executive compensation is that the people who actually have to pay the compensation tend to be the ones who are least concerned about it.

    As for whether it can be justifiable to pay someone $48,000 for an hour’s work, I think that the Wilt Chamberlain example shows pretty clearly that it can.

  • I’ll point out that to some of the workers on the lower end, $105 extra a year is a big deal (probably an extra week’s groceries).

  • There is a problem with executive compensation. Not that it’s too high, but that it’s unresponsive to the needs of the stakeholders – principally the shareholders of the company. This occurs because of imbalances in corporate governance. I think there are reasonable adjustments that the SEC could make to level the playing field so that shareholders can better control the selection of directors and ensure their interests are better served. This would result in a better correlation between compensation and benefits to the company.

  • I am opposed to high executive pay not because I think it needs to be re-distributed in a futile attempt at equality (real equality will be established through Distributist principles), but because that much money in the hands of a single individual easily translates into disproportionate political and social power.

    The disproportionate wealth stems from ownership, not work. More evenly balanced ownership, i.e. on the cooperative model, will address the problem. We will see that, after all, it is possible to compete and succeed without paying someone 34 million dollars to make all the big decisions. What a waste of resources.

  • I also want to add, whenever I’ve looked up CEO compensation, I see a break down that shows, like I said, that almost all the compensation comes from ownership: stock options, etc.

    The actual salary, for instance, of the CEO of Wal-Mart a few years ago was only 1.1 million, but he took home over 20 million in compensation.

    So, I don’t care about 1 million. I don’t think that gives a person a disproportionate political presence, though, if he is a Christian, he doesn’t need that much money and should give a lot of it away. But that’s his decision.

    I do care about the 20 million. Because it places too much power in the hands of one person.

  • My understanding is that it became a lot less advantageous for companies to give executives stock after the Sarbanes/Oxley round of accounting rules revisions.

    It looks like in this case, the CEO for 1.4M in salary, 5.3M in bonus, 7.9M in stock options and 18.6M in “non equity incentive plan compensation”. So about 1/4 stock, if I’m reading that right.

    It’s really interesting to me (in the sense that it highlights our differences) that you find the stock issues more troubling than the salary. I tend to be very much in favor of paying executives mostly in stock rather than in cash (especially if it’s restricted stock they can’t sell for a certain number of years) in that I think it incents them to look longer term.

    Now for instance, at the company I work for I own about 500 shares total, and my bonus is based on how profitable we are (so it was a lot smaller this year 🙁 ). By comparison, the CEO owns a much, much larger percentage of the company. But I generally consider that positive because I hope it means he’s incented to make good long term decisions for the company. The same actions that will make his billion dollar stake in the company be worth 1.5 billion would make my $5,000 stake worth $7,500, and assure me a safe job and good bonuses in the meantime.

    Which basically makes me realize that while I support a democratic (or more properly: representative democracy) ideal when it comes to political structures, I’m basically a monarchist or oligarch when it comes to the corporate world — though I want to see the castes be porous in a meritocratic kind of way.

  • “I do care about the 20 million.”

    Yeah, right.

    Is that only when his stock options are worth that much?

    Would you actually express the same disgust and resentment when his shares are significantly worth less?

    I can’t believe that folks here have the gall to think they can dictate such seemingly draconian terms on companies across America without actually paying any heed whatsoever on the kind of negative repercussions that might likely occur as a result.

    A talented individual such as a Steve Jobs might as well earn a mere dollar/year for his salary, but God forbid that he should happen to be compensated in stock options which value for the most part ultimately depends on his management of the company.

    Should his skillful management of the company be appropriately reflected in the value of those stock options, crucify the bastard!

    Should the value of said stocks fall below a buck, all the better!

  • “while I support a democratic (or more properly: representative democracy) ideal when it comes to political structures, I’m basically a monarchist or oligarch when it comes to the corporate world”

    And so here’s where we’ll have our disagreements 🙂

    I don’t see how a political democracy can be supported by an economic oligarchy indefinitely. We may call it a political democracy but if real power is distributed differently, it’s just a name.

    What is it people really want in life? I think we agree that no one needs millions of dollars to live a dignified and comfortable life; I should hope we would also agree that any man who says ‘only 30 million can make me happy’ doesn’t have a natural right to it.

    I see no reason why a man can’t be happy with a salary that provides a dignified, comfortable life. I don’t see why progress or economic decision making has to be conditioned on such large compensation. I have a very hard time respecting a person who insists on that much money. What would happen if they didn’t get it? Would they die? What would happen if they just lived at a middle class level, maybe a little higher? It would prevent them from wanting to do a good job?

    I guess I don’t understand how that works. I have many flaws and faults, many sins of which I am guilty, but the need for that much money is something I can say I’ve never had. In fact, give me a computer with an internet connection and I’ll live in a tool shed or a van if I have to 🙂

  • “Would you actually express the same disgust and resentment when his shares are significantly worth less?”

    Disgust and resentment? You’re projecting your own feelings on to me, E.

    I’m for the stock being more evenly distributed to all of the people whose labor create the wealth that the CEO has been hired to manage. Production is a partnership.

  • e,

    Don’t be unhinged. No one said what you’re suggesting.

    Joe did say that he finds it easier to approve of cash compensation than stock compensation — which I find myself at variance to — but no one is talking about crucifying anyone.

    (BTW, I don’t think Steve Jobs even gets stock options. He still owned a major chunk of Apple from when he founded it and figured increasing the value of that was enough. As someone who bought Apple stock in 1996, I agree.)

  • There is a lot to chew on here. I think we are in agreement that the compensation is mostly tied to the performance of the firm rather than the actual work product. My greater concern is not necessarily the gross dollar amounts as much as they act as a first dividend and our lax bankruptcy laws induce companies to undercapitalize thereby resulting in the socialization of risk and the privitization of profit. Similarily companies that carry too much cash on the books place themselves at risk for leveraged buy outs. LBOs wouldn’t be near as advantageous without the bankruptcy protection. Why own company stock if your bonus is equivalent of the dividend of x% of the float? Why worry about the long term health of the company, if you can be paid first and now for risk you aren’t really assuming?

  • The biggest problem I have with large executive bonuses at failing companies is the fact that the top people who are driving companies into the ground are being rewarded while the people at the bottom who are doing the front-line work, no matter how well they do it, get screwed.

    Take the Chicago Tribune, which is handing out $18 million in bonuses to its top executives while firing about 50 reporters, editors, and photographers. The people who actually make the paper worth reading (or used to, before Sam Zell got ahold of it) get nothing while the people who come up with one harebrained marketing idea after another get rewarded, on the grounds that they are sooo talented that the Trib Company simply must provide them with incentive to stay.

    An insistence on high levels of profit for the benefit of stockholders and executives is a big part of what is destroying the newspaper industry, to which I devoted 20 years of my life. It led to Gatehouse Media — a mega-corporation owned by some mysterious hedge fund in New York — buying up nearly every significant newspaper in downstate Illinois, running up massive amounts of debt, then having to slash and burn the staff at nearly every newspaper it owned.

    Now there’s nothing wrong with making a profit, of course; there’s nothing wrong with making big profits if they are the result of genuine innovation and high demand for your product. If Steve Jobs makes gazillions of bucks because Apple computers are great products and everyone wants one (including me, I love them), I don’t have a problem with that. It’s the idea that you can increase profits SOLELY by making risky investments and cutting costs (which usually translate into massive layoffs) that I have a problem with.

  • Elaine,

    While it’s a spectrum rather than a duality, it strikes me you basically have high growth business models and sustaining business models. A sustaining business model has the capacity to keep employing everyone well, and if it has investors to provide them with a small return each year. But the business itself is not going to be worth much more in five or ten years than it is now. A great many small family businesses fall in this category. On the other hend, you have high growth business models where you expect the worth of the business in five or ten years to be anywhere from 2-100x what it is now. These are the sorts of businesses which can return a lot to people via stock, etc.

    It strikes me that a number of the problems we have with “corporate raiding” have to do with people who take what is fundamentally a sustaining business model and try to turn it into a high growth business model for a while in order to turn a quick profit. It’s bad for the business, and indeed basically everyone involved except those who cash out early and run.

  • It’s bad for the business, and indeed basically everyone involved except those who cash out early and run.

    The difficulty, though, is that ‘corporate raiding’ is one of the most effective checks we have on agency costs like empire-building (AOL-Timewarner anyone?) and excessive perquisite consumption. Moreover, such ‘raids’ generally benefit shareholders, while the people doing the raiding are assuming much of the risk. LBO’s provide management with a very strong incentive to eliminate inefficiency and produce stable cash returns. I’ll admit that bankruptcy perhaps eliminates too much of the downside risk (as M.Z. suggested), and that some features of these deals are problematic, but here as elsewhere the benefits need to be considered in addition to the drawbacks. And I think LBO’s play an important role in reducing agency costs.

  • “I’ll point out that to some of the workers on the lower end, $105 extra a year is a big deal (probably an extra week’s groceries).”

    Indeed. But if I read the post correctly, hiring the cheaper guy could end up in revenue loss for workers.

    When you’re one of the guys on the factory floor who gets laid off because the company’s not being run well, it’s a big deal, all right.

  • Joe,

    I guess I’d need to think a little more deeply on the topic, but a few thoughts:

    – I’d see democracy as more necessary for a state than for a company because with a state (especially a large, modern state) the potential dangers involved in failure or overthrow much outweigh the greater efficiency one might find in a monarchy or oligarchy. Businesses on the other hand, present fewer problems when they fail. And leaving a badly run company is generally far, far easier than leaving a badly run country.

    – This is kind of an assumption of the above: It seems to me that individual decision making is almost invariably more efficient than collective decision making. Our form of government (representative democracy) recognizes this, in that rather than having everyone vote on everything, we elect people who then make decisions either individually or collectively. While a company of any size is large enough that one person can’t know enough to make all decisions, I do strongly support business models in which each person is the decions maker in regards to his set of responsibilities, with managers making decisions where necessary rather than doing everything by consensus. It’s not as simple as straight top-down management, but like with a well-run army the executives should give the next level of management a clear set of orders and objectives, those managers formulate order and objectives to accomplish those, and so on down the line. Each person down to the individual worker is a creative part of the whole, but each takes direction from above. Given my experiences in various companies I don’t find the idea of true bottom up management very attractive. I guess I should read up on how this works out in reality in organizations like Mondragon.

    – That said, I do strongly believe in profit sharing and employee ownership stakes. I don’t necessarily see why we should require everyone owning the company equally (if the CEO and CFO were the joint founders of the company twenty years before, it makes total sense to me that they’d own far more of it than the 1000th worker hired who’s only been on staff a year) but I do think that everyone should have a real stake in the company they work for. At the same time, my experience is that often the upper levels of management not only make decisions that have wide ranging effects, but they frankly put in more time than most workers would want do. As I’ve started to have to deal with VPs and Directors more, I find myself getting called into meetings that start as early as 7am or run as late as 7pm, and all the executives I know are answering emails and making phone calls in the evenings and through the weekend. 70+ hour weeks seem standard for them — and I’ve got to say that one of the things I’m enjoying about not being in business for myself anymore is not feeling like I need to put in 80 hour weeks.

  • John Henry,

    Agreed. LBOs are certainly not always a bad thing. Sometimes they turn a failing company into a successful one again. (And as you point out, the leveragers are the ones taking on the risk — since they are “leveraged” as in borrowing the money to fund buying the company on the assumption they can make it work.)

    But at times there do seem to be examples of people taking overweight old companies and trying to turn them into growth monsters when they’re simply in industries where there’s not that much room for growth. (Obviously, the people who try to do this must disagree about whether there’s room for growth.)

    I’d tend to put the fad of buying up regional newspapers around the country over the last ten years in that category. It doesn’t seem to me that there’s much growth potential in regional newspapers these days — at best you can keep them at a sustaining level. Though there are very interesting exceptions. The WSJ has turned itself into a broader national newspaper over the last five years and as a result is growing quite nicely.

  • The problem with this issue (like with many others) is it is multi-faceted and people choose to only address the area that fits the point they want to make or demagogue. Class warfare plays well with the masses so politicians make hay about CEO XYZ getting $$$$$$$ in compensation. It is an easy target to shoot at just like complaining about overpaid ballplayers. Truth is salaries at the top have skyrocketed over the last couple decades. However, that truth doesn’t automatically equal all being overpaid or mean that government intervention is necessary or proper to fix the perceived problem. We often hear that a company needed to pay X amount in order to attract top talent. Problem with that argument is it isn’t always top talent (or top results) being rewarded.

    This situation is similar to the problem caused by “free” health care. Whenever the end user is not responsible for the cost of something you can be sure the cost will escalate unchecked. In this case because of the dilution of the strength of the individual stock holder no one is able to speak up about the corporate waste or mismanagement of assets. If a company is owned by one or a few people they tend to be more careful about out of control spending including spending on management. However, a massive corporation has billions of share holders who have little or no say in the level of compensation, perquisites, or golden parachutes offered to management. I am strongly opposed to government interference, but I see it coming because most boards of directors are too cozy with management and are failing to provide proper oversight.

  • Well said. While some may think $10M or $40M is a lot of money for a CEO there are workers in Africa or China that think making $10 per hour is a lot of money. The goal should not to be to drag down those doing well but to lift up those that are not. You’re free to quit your company if you think the CEO makes too much money. You’re also free to better yourself with FREE books at the library so you can move up the ladder. Besides, the free market will reward and/or punish companies that do stupid things with their money much better than two corrupt politicians being wined and dined by some lobbyist that “help” them decide who gets paid what and who gets taxed and how much.

Symbolic Action

Friday, April 3, AD 2009

Symbols mean things, but they do not necessarily accomplish things in concrete fashion, so they often seem to be a prime source of argument and misunderstanding in the political arena.

Last week, environmental activists throughout the US participated in a “green hour” in which they all committed to turn off all electricity-using appliances in their possession for one hour (from 8-9pm, as I recall). This was supposed to express to the leaders of the G-20 nations the importance of moving to implement regulations to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.

Not being a major devotee of the global warming cause (I don’t think the kind of restrictions that could realistically be passed would do much good if global warming is in fact a man-made phenomenon, so I would be more interested in putting resources into mitigation than regulating power production) this gesture strikes me as a bit silly. If you really thought that reducing power consumption was important, it seems to me you should reduce your power consumption. Permanently, that is, not just for one hour and then go back to normal.

In the same sense, I suspect that the continuing controversy over Notre Dame University honoring President Obama looks silly to outsiders.

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5 Responses to Symbolic Action

  • Good piece!

    “I think the bishops have been right to state their point and state it firmly and calmly, and I don’t think there’s a whole lot else to discuss beyond that.”

    Agreed, totally. I’m glad I’m not the only pro-life Catholic who thinks so.

    I actually wrote about this same exact topic – symbolic battles – in the essay I linked on my last blog entry here.

    I think the symbolic struggle arises when the real victories look unattainable or unrealistic, when they look distant. I look at this symbolic struggle in the context of Christianity being driven out of the public square and mocked relentlessly by the culture. In that context it is a symptom of decline and defeat.

    Confrontation of evil is necessary, but I think in this time of crisis especially, inspiration to do good is even more important. I don’t think the pro-life movement in America can defeat the Obama administration in a head to head political battle, anymore than the American revolutionaries were able to fight head to head with a British regiment. Other tactics are required.

    We also have to keep in mind that voters in three states rejected pro-life measures last fall. Even as voters went to the polls in California to shoot down gay marriage, they also shot down a simple parental notification for minors seeking abortions. This is disastrous, if one’s entire strategy hinges on politics.

  • The one thing I’d want to be clear on is: I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that movements resort to symbolic struggles when they can’t attain real victories. Rather, symbolic actions are how cultures build the moral consensus which allows “real” victories.

    So with the environmental movement, successfully building a sense of moral duty to do certain “green” things (regardless of whether in objective terms they result in true environmental benefit) makes it possible for the environmental movement to score real victories.

    Similarly, if we as a Catholic culture were successful in enforcing a sense of shame and moral outrage in regards to abortion such that the leadership of Notre Dame would never have even thought of inviting a pro-choice politician to speak at their commencement, that same cultural shame impulse would result in lots of real victories. (Not to mention many fewer abortions.)

    The difficulty is that building a cultural sense of shame intentionally is hard. As with so many things, action often inspires belief, so I think refusing to grant honors to pro-choice public figures would be a good start. But it takes a lot more than that to rebuild a cultural conscience. And that so many people (ND administration being an example) see no problem with inviting Obama underscores we have quite a ways to go.

    But, having gone on verbosely for a while, I’d say the reason there’s not much more to say about it is simple that it’s a very simple thing: We should be ashamed to give an honor to a pro-choice politician. Since that’s all there is to the point, extended discussion often just becomes an escallating repetition of: “We should be ashamed to do such a thing.” “Why?” “BECAUSE WE SHOULD BE ASHAMED TO DO SUCH A THING, YOU GODLESS FREAK.”

    And then things get nasty…

  • Well said. It also seems to me that while it’s a small matter beside the larger abortion issue, little of the brouhaha has focused on the significance of the day. Commencement is, after all, for the students who are graduating; after four or more years’ hard work it seems to me they ought not to have their successes overshadowed by a speaker who (1) is a shoe-in to draw all attention away from them to himself and (2) has a public history of actions likely to be morally repugnant to a great many of them and those present to cheer them on. If I were a ND grad this year I’d be hopping mad–and would probably seriously consider not attending my own graduation.

    Did Fr. Jenkins consider the potential impact on his graduating class in making this decision, or was the Obama magnetism too strong to resist?

  • Sadly, I’m coming to believe that most people care more about symbolism in politics than they do about reality.

  • Perhaps because symbols are much easier to understand than reality.

Lessons of the Financial Crisis

Wednesday, February 25, AD 2009

While I’m on the topic of narratives, Matthew Boudway at dotCommonweal has a post up entitled “They Cannot Fathom Their Failure”.* The post is based on a George Packer column, which basically makes the argument that conservatives “cannot fathom the failure of their philosophy” after the recent financial crisis, and that to deny they have been discredited is a form of self-delusion. This is a charge, I suppose, to be approached with trepidation; false consciousness is notoriously difficult to disprove. That said, it may be worthwhile to offer some thoughts in response. Here is an excerpt from the post:

…“[T]hey cannot fathom the failure of their philosophy.” Not “they will not fathom” it. They cannot. Sure, the response of many conservatives to the bailout and the stimulus package has been opportunistic and cynical. Many of them, though, simply cannot imagine what it would mean — what it now does mean — for the premises of their policy agenda, and indeed of their entire political philosophy, to have failed.  Not even the most spectacular failure can force anyone to learn a lesson he desperately wishes not to learn. Historical events are always complicated and contingent enough to admit of more than one interpretation, and the most plausible interpretation is often not the most attractive.

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7 Responses to Lessons of the Financial Crisis

  • 100% spot on, John Henry. Well said.

  • I have a feeling I will be repeating that Megal McArdle line until everyone is very tired of it, but it’s something always worth keeping in mind.

  • If the financial crisis somehow disproved conservative economic policies, then how does one explain the fact that the crisis is even worse in Europe and Japan than it is here?

  • Ah, but that’s only because the evil American conservatives victimized all the foreigners, right?


  • Well, one could reply that the financial crisis spread from the U.S., but as the links BA provided show, the leading economic indicators in other countries fell off prior to the U.S. crisis. And proponents of regulation and intervention in my view need to offer a compelling reason to believe that the political process is more effective at regulation than the financial markets. Granted, the track record of the latter has been less than stellar recently, but countries with higher levels of regulation generally have much lower economic growth and slower recoveries from economic downturns.

    At a minimum, if one is going to make the strong claim that a political or economic philosophy has been completely discredited, then one should provide evidence for the position.

  • Sarbanes-Oxley has had a chilling effect on risk-taking and investment, resulted in less firms going public

    Having done contract work for the past three years and doing work for the same company from time to time, I have seen two companies revert back to a private firm and a new one never going public. Sarbanes-Oxley was a major variable in their decisions to revert or remain private.

  • Pingback: Free Markets Have Been Discredited… « The American Catholic

Political Philosophy or Ideology?

Saturday, February 14, AD 2009

While we’re discussing libertarianism and its derivations, Randy Barnett at The Volokh Conspiracy recently flagged a post by a libertarian that I found interesting:

I’ve always found libertarianism to be an attractive political philospohy. But…the libertarian perspective has a couple of traps. The trap Barnett describes is a particularly tough one to get out of: once seduced by a libertarian idea, like “goods and services are produced & distributed more effectively when markets are not interefered with by coercive agents like government”, its apparently obvious correctness turns it into a sort of semantic stop sign.

I went through a phase where if, say, education or healthcare policy came up in conversation, I’d say “Markets! Markets markets markets! MARKETS!” I found these conversations astonishingly unproductive, but I didn’t think to blame myself.

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3 Responses to Political Philosophy or Ideology?

Contact Conservatism

Thursday, January 29, AD 2009

Bearing has an interesting post up which I suspect reflects the political experience of many serious Catholics over the last twenty five years. The whole thing is worth reading, but I’m quoting it extensively because I think the point she’s making is interesting and widely applicable:

I entered full communion with the Catholic church at the Easter Vigil in 1993, when I was a freshman in college…. A couple of years after that, I had a second conversion in which I was forced to realize that I could not be simultaneously a believing Catholic and a supporter of legal abortion. (Why it took me so long is another story again. Hint: There were some serious problems in that particular RCIA program.)

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21 Responses to Contact Conservatism

  • The phenomenon is among the good fruits of the pro-life movement. Like Catholic younguns standing with fundamentalist elders and Orthodox Jewish rabbis at the D.C. Mall every February 22. Or a major hardcore teevee fundy minister, John Hagee, disavowing any real or imagined anti-Catholic sentiments to express his admiration for our own Benedictus Magnus. Or a bright, conscientious young man like see above getting older, more orthodox Catholic, and horrors more conservative. Attention Iafrate or the other folk who occasionally get snotty on this blog- these are the people for whom you claim to speak. Doesn’t work that way.

  • “I’ve noticed more and more over the years that serious Catholics I know who I would not think of as being political seem to gradually get drawn into strongly conservative stands on a number of essentially secular issues.”

    I’ve noticed the same phenomenon. I think one of the main reasons for this is that we tend to read people who agree or are sympathetic with us. I don’t visit Daily Kos very often, for instance (although I’ll read people like Yglesias). Nobody likes to regularly read people who mock their deepest beliefs.

    And so, over time, we gradually hear much more about the good arguments for all sorts of conservative positions, and less of the counter-arguments. As abortion is one of the most significant (perhaps the most significant) divides between the parties, conservatives are more likely to at least be sympathetic to pro-lifers, and so pro-lifers are more in contact with people in the conservative movement.

    Personally, I think it is important for people to resist this tendency to a certain extent. I try, at least, to formulate my opinion on various issues without regard to which political party supports them. But, honestly, it seems to me that many people do not make the effort to do this. Granted, everyone has a limited amount of time to spend arguing about politics; it’s reasonable once you’ve determined that there are not other proportionate reasons not to keep up-to-date on every issue. But political tribalism can get tiresome.

  • I think this is a reasonable point, but I would hasten to suggest that these moves to conservatism are necessarily wrong. Especially when you consider that the paradigm has shifted such that many things that today’s Republicans do is not necessarily all that conservative in a historic context. Reagan would have been mortified at some of the actions of the Bush administration, Obama is certainly no JFK.

    It certainly would be better if there was a balance between the parties on the most fundamental of Catholic issues, as there had been prior to Roe vs. Wade, perhaps, this balance could be restored though, if all Catholics voted against the evil of abortion. If all Catholics refused to vote for democrats as long as abortion was one of their platforms, they would either wither and die or drop it like a hot rock. If all Catholics took an active role in the Republican party, they could certainly create a very balanced left-right position, and one weighted in justice as well.

  • What a excellent post. Also let me say something as to political “tribalism” In some ways its is easier being a conservative and being what could be argued the broad tent of the Republican party than perhaps the Dems

    We see this in the fact that conservatives seems to be eating their own lately calling everyone else in the party RINOs. We have Movement Conservatives, Liberatarian COnservatives, COmapssionate Conservtive Republicans, Cruncy Cons, Paleo Cons, Neo Cons etc etc.

    I think the diversity of all this for good and for bad is not really contemplated a good bit but it is a reality. I can put lets say 5 or 6 of some of the leading Republican leaning conservatiove Catholic bloggers in a room and while uniting on abortion will be at each others throats on the torture debate, Policy toward Israel, No Child Left behind, immigration policy, the Medicare Drug Benefit , global warming etc etc.

    So while I do think that Pro-lifers because of interaction might take on a overall more conservative ethos I am not sure in reality they are all in the same tribe.

    The Democrat party does not seem to me to exactly allow this as well as they once did. If though there is long time effective Blue Dog Democrats movement with real numbers and a real pro-life movement wellwe might see that over there

  • should be “not necessarily”

  • I agree with John Henry’s analysis, but I would also had that to a large extent party loyalty has more to do with the party than with the actual policies the party favors. Here in the Midwest, for example, it’s not uncommon to meet people who hold conservative views on a whole range of issues (not just social issues but also on matters relating to economic policy and national defense) who are nonetheless Democrats. The same phenomenon used to be true in the South though it has since died out. If you probe them on why this is, the answers typically have to do with policies and politicians from the past, rather than anything going on right now. In many cases being a Democrat is like being a sports fan – it’s more a matter of loyalty to the “home team” rather than support based on any recent accomplishments.

  • Jh,

    will be at each others throats on the torture debate, Policy toward Israel, No Child Left behind, immigration policy, the Medicare Drug Benefit , global warming etc etc.

    and rightly so, the Church is clear there is morally acceptable diversity of opinions in these areas.

  • blackadderiv,

    do you think that is exclusive to the Dems? If so, why is that? I don’t know many Republicans who that would apply to.

  • Matt,
    I think that would describe a lot of northeastern Republicans who are becoming democrats. Party affiliation throughout New England, NY, and PA seems to be switching toward Dems, partly because of new voters, but also because the kind of Republicans who correspond to BA’s analysis are becoming independents or Republicans – the reverse of the Southern shift.

  • do you think that is exclusive to the Dems? If so, why is that? I don’t know many Republicans who that would apply to.

    I think there are cases where something like this would be true of Republicans, but my impression is that (at least recently) this has been less true of them than for Democrats. Part of the reason for this, I think, is that the Democratic party tended to be associated with other groups, such as unions, particular ethnic communities, etc., which helped to forge loyalty and identity among members. I don’t think there was anything comparable for Republicans, aside from perhaps the country club.

  • I fit with the original post. The Democratic party drove me away over abortion. I vote for a lot of Republicans I can barely stomach. Still, I have drifted more conservative, partly because I argue with the conservatives and rarely debate liberals. I find arguments for smaller government, and free markets persuasive – but I don’t just roll over. If it weren’t for abortion, I’d probably still lean Democratic, but that’s changing.

    What does surprise me is how many people ‘drink the GOP cool aide” as some put it. I supported Bush (although I voted Constitutional Party – I’m in a solid blue state) generally, but found it odd how many intelligent otherwise thinking Catholics would get so upset and antagonized at any questioning of Bush – which lessened by the end, but seems to be coming back.

    I need to reread Eric Hoffer’s “True Believers”


  • Somewhat similar situation with me.

    What has turned me off most with Democrat(ic)s is that when challenged they get emotionally unstable and begin ad hominem attacks instead of focusing on the issues. Granted these aren’t all Democrat(ic)s, but it was enough that it partly contributed towards me drifting towards more pro-life and conservative issues (though my faith was the predominant denominator).

    What I’ve noticed in this past election is the obtuseness of many (alleged?) Catholics that know their faith yet go on voting for pro-abortion candidates. I’m still grasping whether it’s due to party loyalty or a just poor catechesis.

  • Tito- the latter. Oh, and folks get together on January 22. I knew that. Bad typing fingers, bad typing fingers….

  • I think it’s poor catechesis combined with a crisis of identity. Speaking as the OP, I know part of what took me so long was “I can’t bear to see myself as someone who votes Republican.”

    Before that, it was hard to see myself as someone who opposed abortion, too.

    And I think a lot of that is successful propaganda from legal abortion supporters who try to paint the anti-abortion side as backward, anti-woman, anti-science, “single-issue” voters, etc. There’s so much marginalization of any opinion that might move people even a step towards protecting the unborn.

    An impulse to fairness has me wondering if it goes both ways, if there is an element of propaganda within the pro-life movement aimed at vilifying or marginalizing pro-choice people [as opposed to vilifying abortion] in order to create an emotional barrier to “conversions” of identity from pro-life to pro-choice.

    I mean, I know I’ve seen pro-choice people claim that pro-life people call them babykillers, but I’ve never seen anyone actually aim that word at another person, in writing or in speech.

    Unless our insistence that preborn humans are people is supposedly the “emotional” barrier, since it prevents us from seeing the truth that’s obvious to them, e.g., that preborn humans are only potential people and therefore have only potential rights. I guess from that perspective it could look like a sort of emotional blackmail, aimed at getting us to identify with the preborn human, to see ourselves as former fetuses. Just like I felt a strong emotional pressure to avoid seeing myself as one of “those” people who opposed abortion, a pressure that lasted years into my conversion and kept it incomplete.

  • Bearing,

    It goes both ways. I don’t know how the pro-choice crowd talks about us, but us pro-lifers have our own language and it can get out of hand (at times). Though I have noticed a considerable drop in this type of derogatory language these past three years.

  • Interesting…I’ve never understood the Catholic comfort with voting Democrat. I can’t think of a single issue advocated by the Democrats in the last 50-odd years that I would have agreed with them on.

    I certainly grew up in the post-Roe world, born well after the intellectual shift in the two parties had taken place in the early 1970s.

    As a teenager I never saw myself voting for or supporting Democrats, even when I was indifferent to abortion as a political issue.

    I’ve never grasped what’s so appealing, especially to Catholics, about the statist economic policies and dovish weakness the braying ass has stood for.

    [ed. – please no profane language]

  • Well, Flambeaux, I guess the last few years have been a process of me wondering that myself. I was Democrat-leaning before I became Catholic, and have leaned less that way since.

    But perhaps it will make more sense to look at it negatively. How about, instead of trying to understand a Catholic comfort with voting Democrat, try to understand a discomfort with voting Republican. Maybe for some, Republicans are more revolting than Democrats are appealing.

    Or maybe it’s just easier to claim you dislike one politician than to claim you like another. Disdain is cooler than enthusiastic support.

  • bearing,

    Maybe for some, Republicans are more revolting than Democrats are appealing.

    Or maybe it’s just easier to claim you dislike one politician than to claim you like another. Disdain is cooler than enthusiastic support.

    What do you find less more revolting than abortion? More importantly, what does Church?

  • I’m working my way backwards through a bunch of your past posts and adding my two (or three or four) cents to them 🙂

    Politically I tend to vote Republican, mainly due to the pro-life issue and a general tendency to prefer smaller government. But, that being said, I have voted for pro-life Democrats and if one were running for a major office today I would go out of my way to vote for them, because I believe that if the pro-life movement is to survive, it needs to become bipartisan and not be anchored so tightly to the conservative wing of the GOP. In this fashion it will be better able to ride out the inevitable swings back and forth in public opinion.

    I also believe that the GOP at the national level is making a huge mistake by being overly harsh on immigration. Yes, I sympathize with all the arguments about how immigrants should “play by the rules” and respect the law. I believe uncontrolled illegal immigration is unfair to the immigrants themselves (since it allows them to be exploited by their employers) as well as to legal immigrants and U.S. citizens. Some kind of reasonable solution, neither too harsh nor too lax, is needed.

    That being said: like it or not, the children of illegal immigrants who are born in this country are citizens and will be old enough to vote before you know it. Some of them already are. Hispanic voters could be a gold mine for the GOP with their pro-life, pro-family ethic and strong affiliation to either Catholicism or evangelical Protestantism. If the GOP keeps hammering on the “send them all back where they came from” message, they will lose the next generation of Hispanic voters. Hispanics will soon pass blacks as the biggest minority in the nation so to lose them is to lose, period.

    I think the pro-life and conservative movements have shot themselves in the foot too many times by voting for candidates who proved to be corrupt or incompetent, and thereby discredited everything they stood for, making it that much harder to elect conservatives in the future. Some will argue that President Bush 43 fell into this category; I would not classify him as incompetent, so much as disappointing.

    In closing let me cite an example from the wonderful world of Illinois politics. In 1998 we had a real live pro-life Democrat, Glenn Poshard, running for governor against then-Secretary of State George Ryan. Ryan was Republican and also claimed to be pro-life. I was tempted to vote Democrat that time, but ended up voting for Ryan, thinking that the Republicans were the more reliable pro-life and pro-family party. Well, we all know where that got us. Ryan pretty much destroyed the Illinois GOP and paved the way for the walking, hairbrushing disaster we know as Blago. If there is any vote I have ever cast in my life that I wish I could take back, that is it.

    I do not know what I would do if I were confronted with a choice between a pro-choice candidate who seemed to be reasonably competent on other issues, and a candidate who claimed to be pro-life but was obviously corrupt, incompetent, or insane. In other words, envision a replay of the 2006 gubernatorial election, but with Blago’s and Topinka’s party affiliations reversed and Blago being pro-life. Would I, as a Catholic, have been obligated to vote for Blago in that situation? Would I have been obliged not to vote at all?

  • I voted for Poshard. I had my doubts about Ryan on the pro-life issue, amply justified as it turned out, and I knew from my contacts in Kankakee, Ryan’s home turf, that Ryan was a crook. In regard to Blago and Topinka what a miserable election that was: both pro-aborts, with one a crook, and another a member in good standing of the corrupt Combine. I held my nose and voted for Topinka, while despairing of the low state of Illinois politics.

  • I voted for Topinka as well, on the grounds that she was the lesser of two evils both with regard to abortion (Planned Parenthood didn’t consider her pro-abortion enough for their taste, since she did actually endorse things like parental notification) and with regard to corruption and mismanagement, though she was far from ideal on either count.