Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Scalia is certainly not the ideologue he's made out to be. He believes in a natural law and believes he can discern it, but his position is that the Court (since Erie RR v. Tompkins [304 US 64, 78 (1938)]) is not free to use its own determination of natural law to override legislation. His judicial philosophy is that we have no choice but to achieve a provisional morality (or truth, I imagine) by consensus.
This rides on a kinda Rawlsian acknowledgement of what Aquinas, et al., admitted—-that there is a natural law, but interpretations will vary. Natural law, in all their views, of course must guide legislation. Unless one believes that questions of right and wrong are not germane to how a society orders itself.
These things get abstract to the point of nonsense in a hurry, because some believe the language of "rights" or tradition supersedes right and wrong. Justice Thomas disagrees, in that he would never subordinate his moral conscience to novel but reasonable legal theories or even to stare decisis. This is why John Locke wanted to drum the Catholics out of public life, as their allegience is to something higher than man's law. Scalia, however, would be quite acceptable to Locke, as he appears to have become a "reasonable" man, and stare comes with the performance of his duties.
Surely, using the Bible as “proof” to someone who rejects it is foolish if not tautological. It certainly stands to reason to use the language of the Other while trying to sway him to your position. Natural law was rehabilitated by Catholics in the past century as a lingua franca, and is achieving increasing acceptance by other philosophically-minded Christians as well.
But on the other hand, sometimes a “reasonable” theory of law is inadequate to the task, or the locutor is. That’s why Justice Thomas boldly holds to the asserting natural law, as simple as the statement “slavery is wrong.” Many reasonable men tried to make the reasonable case against slavery over the centuries, but with only a non-foundational view of human rights (i.e., absent the endowed by their Creator part), it was a tough go.
And so, because we are all citizen-rulers in this here democracy, sometimes, joining that Rawlsian consensus that x is wrong is all that remains, regardless of whether the minority thinks the way the judgment was reached is “reasonable.” This is Scalia’s pro-democracy, non-ideological view of law. However, since the Constitution, as a social contract, permitted slavery, Scalia's legal philosophy would be powerless to overturn something like Dred Scott.
Dang. Such are the limits are reason and of law.
To illustrate, we as a society have decided that cruelty to animals is wrong, and have codified that sentiment into law. The abstract “neutral” theories of law that have been bandied about of late cannot reasonably accomodate that sentiment. A bland, neutral reading of property rights yields that animals are property that we can dispose of as we see fit and nobody can say boo.
But that is not society, it is not the law, it is not “rights,” and it’s not reality. Cruelty to animals is wrong because it’s wrong. Sometimes we cannot transcend such tautologies; words and abstractions fail us, yet we ban it anyway. And if Peter Singer and PETA can convince a sufficient number of Americans that meat is murder, so shall it be.
It is often proposed that the Bible must be left at the door when we decide how we should legislate. But it must be noted here that Christians believe revelation is real. If the Constitution is truly neutral on religion, it must be agnostic, not atheistic. If one votes in this here democracy that x is wrong because God said so, that will have to do. Agnosticism must leave the room to answer, maybe He did.
On this, Scalia and Thomas would agree, but for very different reasons. They are not pod people. I find Rudy to be a thorough Lockean; he should adore Scalia, but Thomas should scare the bejesus out of him. Once you get into questions of right or wrong, the sky's the limit.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
I suppose it was the Sojourners forum on June 4th that really got me thinking about this, though it's something I've also noticed in my corner of the academy (political theory, law, politics etc.). The observation is as follows.
On the one hand you have people concerned with poverty as such, that is, making sure that as many people as possible have enough to eat, clean water to drink, and a roof over their head. For these people inequality is a problem to the extent that some people are so poor that they do not enjoy a basic standard of living (for how this might apply to the American situation and the "poverty line", see here). These people may disagree as to the best means with which to address the truly disadvantaged, but they agree that the real problem is something tangible as are the solutions (more calories, rooftops, innoculations, etc.).
On the other hand are folks who think inequality as such is unjust and something to be remedied. To be sure, these people are also concerned about the sort of poverty mentioned in the previous paragraph, but these folks would not be satisfied with raising everyone to a basic level of economic prosperity. Even if everyone had enough to eat and a roof over their heads, and we can throw in even health care and cable television, these folks would still think that there is a serious injustice in any inequality, as if the creation and maintenance of wealth is a zero-sum game.
In the many graduate seminars I've sat in, the truly disreputable thing to do was not to hold a religious or pro-life position (though those were not necessarily welcomed), but to question this second premise about inequality and the sacrosanct role of government to redistribute wealth.
This brings to mind a few things. First, the first concern about inequality is one that can realistically be addressed and real gains can be made whereas the second approach to inequality will never succeed. This is because the second sort of concern, let's call it the concern of the levellers, finds an enduring harm in a psychological principle that feeds off the thought, "They have more than I do."
Second, this psychology is precisely the one JJ Rousseau diagnosed brilliantly (I'm afraid his solutions were not so brilliant) as being infected with amour-propre, the condition in which when I think of others I think only of myself, and when I consider my own value I frame it entirely with regard to others. Or as Pierre Manent has put it, "Man lives for the gaze of others, whom he hates."
Third, the solution to amour-propre as put forth by the levellers is, well, to level, as opposed to encouraging people not to define success entirely in terms of material prosperity ("entirely" is a key word there, as the truly poor would have to be saints to flourish in abject poverty).
Finally, this distinction helps us, or at least has helped me, understand some of the politics of poverty and the proposals put forth to approach it. People in both groups can agree on policies, both governmental and market-based, to help the truly poor. What people in the first group don't often realize is that some (most?) policies are tailor-made not merely to lift up folks at the very bottom but bring down a lot of folks at the top.
And while I'm not the most economics-savvy person on the planet, this seems to lead not only to bringing folks down at the top, but keeping a lot of folks dependent and strapped at the bottom.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
It turns out, as detailed in Paul Wolfowitz' letter to Judge Walton urging sentencing leniency for Libby, that Libby, while an attorney in private practice, had "helped a public official defend himself successfully against libelous accusations, something that is extremely difficult to do for anyone in public office. The official in question was Richard Armitage..."
So: Is there anyone out there prepared to defend the proposition that Armitage is not the scum of the scum of the earth? In the words of Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off: "Anyone? Anyone?"
And when RudyG was asked about the criticism of his pro-choice position from Catholic bishops, a lighting bolt momentarily cut off his response.
I dunno what, but something's going on...
Monday, June 04, 2007
The great humanist Hugo Chavez is currently distributing some social justice in Venezuela, initiating yet another round of Latin American land reform. He's also building socially just housing:
Bella Vista is one of 12 “communal towns” that Mr. Chávez plans to build this year. It has neat rows of identical three-bedroom homes for 83 families, a reading room, a radio station, a building with free high-speed Internet service, a school and a plaza with a bust of Simón Bolívar, Venezuela’s national hero.
With financing from state banks, the cooperative plants crops like manioc, corn and beans, which officials in Caracas say are better suited to soils here than sugar cane. By burning the cane during land seizures, the squatters prepare the land for other crops and give owners less incentive to fight for control. The state and federal government holds Bella Vista as an example of the ideological fervor Mr. Chávez is trying to instill in the countryside.
Lisbeth Colmenares, 22, was radiant as she showed a visitor her new home here, where she and her family live rent-free.
“Before Chávez, the government would have been happy to let us starve,” said Ms. Colmenares, holding her 6-month-old daughter, Luzelis. “We’ll never let what we have now be taken from us.”
Until those without such pretty houses come knocking at your door demanding their social justice. So it goes, Señora Colmenares, round and round. Why should you have two shoes when I have none?
Saturday, June 02, 2007
The original Reform Club, (pictured on the sidebar to the right) was conceived as a place where worthy gentlepersons of all persuasions could convene in the spirit of inquiry into the human condition, and exchange their views before a wider audience, for the benefit and edification of all.
This blog, thenewswalk.com, is the successor to that tradition and to The Reform Club blog, founded by ST Karnick and Hunter Baker (see links to them on the sidebar at right as well).
A reposting of the below was requested by a certain Dr. Watson, and the request is timely. Here it is with minor updating:
(L to R) George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, GK Chesterton, 1928.
It will not do to paper over the fundamentals.
Every society reaches a point where it must examine its principles and choose whether to recommit to them or toss 'em out for new ones. Although it gets clearer every day that Western Civilization has reached that point, the question of the Crisis of the West was brought into exquisite focus nearly 100 years ago by a group of British gentlemen who called themselves The Reform Club.
Orthodoxy or modernity? That's the tension lying behind almost every issue of our times, and to recognize that is the first step to understanding not only our times, but our society, our own lives, and the human condition.
Current events are a logical starting point, because we share some commonality with the particulars. But to seek genuine understanding, they must only be our starting point. To duplicate the babble (perhaps the most deeply rooted etymology in the English language: the Tower of Babel, where no one is intelligible to the other) that passes for intelligent discussion elsewhere and everywhere is insufficient to the purpose of this blog, which like that club of visionaries in the past century is dedicated to the search for foundational, not ephemeral, truths.
In 1928, the orthodox GK Chesterton debated his existential enemy, the modernist George Bernard Shaw (with Catholic radical Hilaire Belloc as moderator), on how a society should order itself economically. The transcript can be found here, and reading it is good for the soul.
The discussion was playfully and wisely entitled "Do We Agree?" To understand what they were after, presenting unique and foundational views peppered with not a little bit of wit, is to understand our aspirations for this blog.
To parrot the prevailing arguments from elsewhere serves no purpose: it's a waste of time and cyberink. We must do our homework on what's already been said elsewhere---especially on the side opposite our own---commencing with an understanding of Square One so we can move together toward Square Two.
Square Two (in the least) is our goal, if this blog is to be more than a pale copy of the rest of the internet. Quality over quantity, inquiry over debate, original voices over echo chambers.
This blog recommits itself to its principles, and that is non-negotiable. We will not and cannot gear ourselves to the lowest common denominator. It's for others to preach to the masses: Like the original Reform Club, we shall preach to those who themselves preach to the masses---to arm them not so much with answers, but with the proper fundamental questions that must be asked again and again.
The rest of our principles we shall leave open to examination, as honest inquirers and seekers of truth are honor-bound to do. We leave the doors of our modest club open to those of like mind and spirit, and rely on them to help us preserve what we are, and to help us toward what we aspire to be.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
They are of course wrong, because where else would conservatives of any stripe go? The Democrat Party? That’s funny. A Third Party? A perfect recipe for irrelevance. Sit out and let Democrats win? Hardly a solution that will show the Republican Party they mean business. Be assured that if Giuliani does get the nomination some, maybe many, will sit out the election. This is what is known as sacrificing the better for the best. How anyone could imagine that Hillary Clinton would be a better choice than Giuliani is beside me.
Of course they wouldn’t actually think that. Rather it would be a “to hell with the Republican Party” move. That’s great. We get Hillary and a Democrat Congress and Senate. This would certainly show the Republican Party that alienating social conservatives is not a good move, but it would be too big a price to pay for proving a point. I would rather put my chips on Giuliani knowing that the acceptance of his social liberalism is an aberration due to our war on Islamic radicalism.
But it looks like we may have another option very soon. Fred Thompson made it known on Monday that he is going to be a candidate for the nomination. I would say that many social conservatives are very happy this will be the case. This gives us another option for a candidate who looks and sounds presidential and who is a solid conservative.
It is going to be very interesting how Thompson plays Giuliani’s social liberalism, whether he attacks it, ignores it or takes pot shots here and there. Social conservatives will be closely attuned to how he handles this. My guess is that he will make the argument against Rudy by playing up his own socially conservative bone fides, with maybe a pot shot here and there. I would further guess, that if Thompson plays his cards right Giuliani is in trouble. His 9/11 credentials are formidable and impressive, as is his standing up to liberal interest groups while he was governor. Yet his social liberalism is a huge liability in Republican primaries. Thompson brings none of the liabilities of McCain or Romney and as many or more strengths. Things are going to get very interesting.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
The Summer of Love hits its 40th birthday this year and is getting damned cranky. Ex-hippies have bought into the bohemian enclave of San Francisco's legendary Haight-Ashbury district, at a cool million plus a pop for a modest Victorian. Unfortunately, "gutter punks," the addled and addicted spawn of the 60s, are taking all the cache out of being underwashed, unemployed and unsheltered.
"I'm sick of stepping over gangs of kids, only to be told 'Die, yuppie!' A lot of us were flower children, but we grew up," said Robert Shadoian, 58, a retired family therapist. "There are responsibilities in this world you have to meet. You can't be drugged out 24/7 and expect the world to take care of you."
It's a beautiful thing, karma. The reporter notes that "one ex-hippie who returns frequently for its bohemian vibe said he makes a point to hand out cash to panhandlers:"
This used to be a place where kids could come to reinvent themselves, 'Like a rolling stone, like a complete unknown, no direction home.'
Now the Haight is a grittier, less forgiving reality. But these are still our kids. You don't help them by deporting them. You do it right in your own neighborhood. If any place can do this, it's Haight-Ashbury.---Peter Coyote
Mr. Coyote lives across the bridge, in Mill Valley.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
First up is Al Gore's latest assault on reason, The Assault on Reason. True to form, it's reviewed by ubiquitous southpaw Joe Conason (the Nation, Salon, HuffPo, truthdig, the Prospect). Conason's latest polemic, It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush, was already obsolete when it hit the presses this year, unless Dubya gets his keister in gear. So many constitutional protections to dismantle, so little time.
The only surprise, then, is learning that if there's one thing even better than Al Gore's book, it's the "always unusually smart and farsighted" Al Gore himself, who speaks with "the moral authority of a man who many believe was wrongly barred from the presidency." The moral authority of a mook who lost an unlosable election, then lost every bit of national sympathy by trying to get votes from the military disqualified, I reckon.
Gore's book is about Bush and global warming and news media concentration and the vacuousness of television and stuff. Gore prefers "facts to metaphysics," we're told, so that's a relief. But when Conason tells us that Gore's "insistence on detail and thoroughness...is rooted in his conviction that most Americans have little understanding of the world in which they live," the educated consumer of Times-ese unearths the review part at last: Gore thinks we're all ignorant and Conason admits the book is boring.
For a review of the new Reagan Diaries, it's over to that renowned expert on political philosophy and history, the Times' Fox News-denigrating media writer Tim Rutten. He allows that Reagan was a nice guy and not ego-driven in the least, and doesn't drag in Iran-Contra until the ninth paragraph! This is the only mention Rutten makes of the Cold War except for Reagan's affinity for the refuseniks. Reykjavik, John Paul, Solidarity? The Sandinista government slipping Cuban arms into El Salvador? Nah. (Rutten does like the bit about Nancy Reagan throwing out the first ball at the World Series, though.)
"Reagan's conservatism runs through his observations less as an ideology than as a deeply felt emotion," writes Rutten, Reagan apparently preferring metaphysics to facts. "He believed communism was evil..."
As if Reagan didn't know his Hayek. It is questionable whether Rutten does, though, which makes one think Al Gore might have a point about people who don't understand the world in which they live. Especially those who are paid to write about it for us.
Fortunately, here's a nice batch of excerpts from The Reagan Diaries. It's a pity that because of the concentration of the news media in so few (and hostile) hands, the readers of the LA Times will have little idea of what's actually in them. We pajama folk will have to point the way.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
But here's what interested me: according to Gaidar, when Saudi Arabia began producing more oil in 1985, the USSR lost $20 billion in oil revenues from the resulting drop in oil prices. And that's what started the whole ball rolling. Get that? $20 billion. If I've done the calculations right, that's $38 billion in today's prices. Can you imagine our whole system folding on account of a $38 billion hit? With a federal budget somewhere north of $2 trillion, that's chump-change. A rounding error, right?
The USSR was done in by a rounding error. Talk about ignonimous endings...
Friday, May 18, 2007
Orthodox priest John Parker resents ("Benediction Fiction") being asked/required to leave Jesus Christ out of his benediction at the University of South Carolina med school's chapel, in favor of a "We Dig God, Whoever He Might Be" speech. He declined the honor.
Parker has somewhat of a point when it comes to the sectarian origins of private institutions. One should not feel embarrassed about speaking about Christ in a chapel with a cross on it, nor feel an obligation to skip Him over.
I'd not be insulted if I heard about Allah or Vishnu in an appropriately dedicated chapel.
But to the heart of the matter, about generic benedictions in the public square per Ben Franklin's American "civil religion": I would cringe on behalf of my Jewish friends if Parker started his prayer as intended, "O Lord Jesus Christ our God..."
If Parker felt the need, in a non-sectarian milieu, to testify for Jesus Christ as God, anyone in the audience with a theological disagreement with that "Truth" would be well within his own needs to get up and testify to the contrary, or in the least, walk out.
We, as a society, don't need that noise. We've done everything we can to get around it.
Now we might discuss the Founding's "civil religion," that America has some established culturally Judeo-Christian/monotheistic foundation, and that appealing to the gods or The Goddess---whoever She might be (or perhaps....SATAN??!!!), might likewise be an unnecessary provocation in the public square. But that would needlessly complicate things, eh?
But we love needless complications these days.
What I would say is that the Judeo-Christian God is our cultural baseline. There is One of Him, and He looks after us. The Founders were OK with that.
Look, if a Jewish friend is over for dinner, we say grace in some universalist fashion. Of course. But I admit that the atheists get the whole "through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Amen" deal. What the hell---in for a penny, in for a pound, and besides, to accommodate their sensibilities would require me to negate all of my own. It's one thing to show respect, another to put a bullet through your own head.
Besides, the food's always great at Casa TVD due to the divinely-inspired Missus. Nobody's complained around here yet, and me, I think they like the grace being said. Makes the food taste better. Like life. And Mrs. TVD doesn't mind atall when the thanks get directed slightly upward.
Who knew? Ahmadinejad, Bin Laden, Hamas, Hizballah, all of them: They're nothing more than we-are-the-world greenies. And that's the real reason the Iranians want nuclear reactors.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
The "All Fred All the Time" newsticker on our right side panel
was put in as a lark, since Fred is the X-Factor and things have been fairly predictable in the GOP nomination race.
But Fred has just tied John McCain for second place at 18%. Although Rudy still enjoys a massive lead (at 38%), if Fred keeps not running like he is, he'll be taking that oath of office in January '09, fer sure.
Late add: Like me (see comments to Dr. Zycher's post below), Fred prefers no immigration bill to this one---“With this bill, the American people are going to think they are being sold the same bill of goods as before on border security. We should scrap this bill and the whole debate until we can convince the American people that we have secured the borders or at least have made great headway.”
Like a fungus or a future spouse, Fred kinda grows on you...
And even were such a monstrous action possible, the inevitable news clips of such family misery would destroy public support. Far better to get rid of the disincentives to assimilation: bilingual education, bilingual ballots, welfare for the native-born children of illegals, ad infinitum. Even with such policies, the evidence is strong that substantial assimilation in the form of English language skills and the like is the norm by the second or third generation.
And let us not forget that people who come to America to work do us no harm in the aggregate, while the substitution of a wall in place of the Statue of Liberty as the symbol of America is hardly salutary. The rantings of such as Michelle Malkin---who, as I believe I have mentioned before, does not appear to have had any ancestors on the Mayflower---are devoid of analytic content, curiously analogous to the rantings of the ineffable Al Gore, Laurie David, and Cheryl Crow in the context of purported anthropogenic climate change, and thus are fundamentally religious in nature.
Yes, a nation is far more than a labor market. But the labor market is not irrelevant, and it is leftist multiculturalism that is the real threat to a nation united around the ideal of equal opportunity. That "conservatives" now are rallying around an outlook so destructive is deeply disturbing.
The founders of the American republic and their dear Mr. John Locke were quite sanguine with Christianity (specifically non-miraculous Jesusian principles) as their nation's foundation. FDR didn't have to deal with the decay of virtue that modernity ushered in during the latter half of the 20th century. Order and societal cohesion gave way to the language of "rights."
But the Founders wouldn't have been particularly concerned with Rev. Jerry. Falwell's wildest statements were coherent with even theological outliers like Tom Paine and that notorious sybarite Jefferson, both of whom accepted a Providential God (and Who conforms most closely to the Judeo-Christian one above all others), and Who favored the virtuous and allowed the wicked to fall from His favor.
Jefferson himself suspected that the young republic might soon be punished for its toleration of the "peculiar institution." The punishment, if it was such, was grave indeed, today commonly called The Civil War. We can say that even Rev. Falwell's opportunistic/inopportune statement about 9-11 being a result of the United States' fall from virtue isn't terribly out of line with even the most skeptical of the Founders. Go figure.
Jerry Falwell was unsophisticated to be sure, and the moderns will miss kicking him to the curb, since he was pretty easy pickin's. Dear Mr. Locke may not prove to be such a cakewalk, because when one speaks of America, one cannot push him out of the way, one must go through him.
Unless one chooses a path through the gutter, of course. Jerry Falwell would have liked that linked essay, I think, and so, R.I.P. In the end, his public life (not his ministry, which never made the papers) wasn't about Trinitarianism or heaven or hell. It was about virtue.
I'm out on a limb here, but I think even Jefferson would have found some sort of good word to say about him. Certainly George Washington would've:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports...[L]et us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.---Farewell Address, 1796
The Rev. Falwell has passed from the scene. His Bible, John Locke, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson have not. The dialogue, and the inquiry, sustain. We cannot relieve man's estate while ignoring his soul.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
I was never a big fan of Falwell as my theology is quite a bit different than his, but the man did a lot of good for a lot of people and never harmed anyone. But to the Liberal Hate Machine he is Satan himself.
What’s amazing about liberal bile is that so little of it is reserved for Muslim terrorists who are our real enemies. For some reason, probably that they just aren’t Christians, Muslims get a pass even though everything they believe is antithetical to liberal Western culture and life. Not to mention that a certain subset of Islam wants to wipe us and everything we believe off the face of the earth. No big deal, as long as they aren’t Christian fundamentalists.
Monday, May 14, 2007
I wrote it up for American Spectator.
Despite the moment described above, I fully agree with those who think the Giuliani campaign is over and doesn't know it, yet. Read the rest of the article for the explanation.
A baby burbled audibly in the silent crowd. Perhaps it was pure serendipity that the child wore a t-shirt proclaiming "I love NY," but I remembered the old stories of LBJ's campaign appearances where he exhibited tremendous flair by tossing a gorgeous white Stetson into the assembled mass. What the folks never knew was that the greatest of Texas campaigners had practiced his aim and had a staffer charged with the task of catching that hat at every stop. When Giuliani walked over to the baby, mugged with it, and jumped back to the podium proclaiming, "Hey, I am a politician!" to the obvious delight of the audience, I wondered how often such happy accidents occur. Nobody at HBU was skeptical. They loved it and the ice was broken.