Category ►►► History of Moral Philosophy
December 24, 2012
Perversity, or Why I'm Ever the Optimist
End of the year musings...
I tend to wax philosophical at the turn of a new year; bear with me!
November 6th last, too many Americans made a terrible mistake: They voted for a Progressivist antiAmerican, a man obsessed with nightmare fancies of neocolonialism, who envies the action-action-action! of the French Revolution and the Terror that followed. Barack H. "You didn't build that" Obama appears to aspire to the values, such as they were, of that dark era: liberté (by which he would mean giving everybody the liberty to obey his orders), égalité (of outcomes, regardless of effort and intelligence), and fraternité (in the sense that since everyone is your relative, everyone can hit you up for a handout).
We know why Obama is a Jacobite; but why did the people vote to reelect him? Was it through sheer perversity, deliberately doing the exact opposite of what you know is right, moral, and effective?
No. That accurately describes the Progressivist leaders; but I believe the voters who reelect them (again and again) are quite ignorant of the great political struggle that led to the founding of our nation of freedom and true liberty, and why that means a damn. They have no inkling why the American Revolution stands alone, exceptional, the only uprising for individual liberty and Capitalism in the history of the world. Nor do they understand the distinction; to most folks, one revolution is as good or bad as another, just another power grab from the haves to the have-nots.
But why are the people so ignorant? Because the schools no longer teach civics, no longer teach honest history, no longer teach any formal logic at all. You go to public school for thirteen years, but you learn not a thing about those tumultuous, ideological arguments between democracy and kingcraft.
If it's mentioned at all, it's "taught" without authority or conviction. If mentioned at all, it's contrasted, unfavorably, to the French counterpart, where the narrative better fits the "story" that the Left wants to tell: citoyan-soldiers manning the barricades, a la Les Miz, to the accompaniment of stirring music and liberal subtext. Delving any deeper is counterindicated, labeled propaganda, mocked as "moral philosophy," and hushed in public schools.
All right, so why don't schools teach moral philosophy anymore? Because the axis of propaganda -- teachers, administrators, educational unionistas, presstitutes, and corrupt politicians -- never believed in either the cause or the street-level practice of the triumvirate of actual liberty: individualism, property rights, and equality under the law.
And last, before you ask, the axis doesn't believe in liberty because it wants, not to free mankind, but to shackle it to Progressivism's "inevitable progress"... a future of an endlessly expanding and intruding State that engulfs and devours the world, a totalitarian Leviathan.
The gift of moral reasoning waxes and wanes in society; it was strong right after the Revolution but dwindled before the Civil War. The grand argument over slavery revived the practice of moral debate, but it faded as the nineteenth century drew to its close in the Gilded Age, when ultra-materialism ruled and Gatsby was great. During the next half-century, two world wars drove us to think clearly about individualism and its opposite, totalitarianism; but a protracted, ambivalent, secretive "cold war" led an entire generation to question the fundamental premise that there was any difference between Us and Them. (Cf. John Le Carré.)
Moral clarity roared back following the attacks on September 11th, 2001, but we have lost focus again in the Obamic moment. Yet this very history of oscillation gives hope that today's moral apathy can reverse gear yet again. There is no reason to suppose that such "boom and bust" behavior anent moral reasoning has ceased, or that we Americans will never regain our ecstatic visions of divine liberty.
But not if Progressivism has its way. Everything in that perverse creed depends upon Americans' continued ignorance and willful blindness. However, we know from history that eventually, the sleeper wakes. And when he does, when something bursts his soap-bubble of somnolism, when he draws his first waking breath in decades, American culture can turn on a pinhead... and turn against the present pinhead.
The most important task for lovers of liberty is to keep making the moral argument for liberty, for decency, and for fairness... meaning treating everybody equally under the law, not singling out unpopular minorities -- the rich, Capitalists, businessmen, the Jews -- for a national "two-minutes hate." So long as we do that, we are primed for the long-awaited Unexpected, that unpredictable incident that yanks America's attention away from all the "free stuff [euphemism]" the government dangles then snatches away, and towards a true calculus of freedom.
And that is why I'm an eternal optimist: It's never too late to cast off the chains of intellectual atrophy and servitude, never too late to rediscover the revelations of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and yes, even Abraham Lincoln.
So no matter how bleak the playing field at the moment, quitting is not an option; defeat is a communal act: If we never surrender, we can never fully lose.
December 21, 2008
Found: Source of All Those New Democrats
We've all been wondering -- oh, all right... I've been wondering -- whence came all those gazillions of Democratic voters who propelled the over-the-top Barack H. Obama over the top. Well, it appears that a new survey by the Josephson Institute of Ethics may have found part of the answer:
Teenagers lie. They cheat and steal, too. And they are doing it more often and more easily than ever.
That is the conclusion of the latest “Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth”, released this week by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, a partnership of educational and youth organizations. The institute conducted a random survey of 29,760 high school students earlier this year (as they have every two years since 1992) and found that the next generation of leaders have a somewhat casual relationship with the truth.
Among the findings:
- 30% of teenagers (35% of boys, 26% of girls) claim to have stolen something from a store in the past year.
- 42% (49% M, 36% F) said "they sometimes lie to save money;" I'm envisioning 14 year olds crouching down in front of the Mann theaters ticket office, and in a squeaky voice, insisting they're only 12. But in addition, 83% told their parents a lie about "something significant;" again I'm guessing, but I'd say about smoking, drinking, toking, or, er, going a little too far with their boyfriends or girlfriends.
- 64% -- nearly two-thirds! -- cheated on a test; 36% let their mice do the writing, turning in papers they downloaded off the internet. (Perhaps these are the future Joe Biden voters?)
- And to make things worse (and even more confusing), a quarter of respondents confessed that they lied about "one or two" of the questions on this very survey! Of course, that begs the question: lied which way, to make themselves sound more honest and trustworthy, or more wicked cool?
What this survey, which shows a growing trend of falsity, cheating, and amorality, tells us is that we are not only raising yet another generation of kids without a functioning moral compass, but more threateningly, a generation of kids who haven't the slightest idea that there is a real world out there where lying, cheating, and stealing not only won't get you anywhere, it can destroy your life.
I wonder how this recklessness with the truth -- heck, recklessness even with the things they make up -- affects their romantic relationships, their friendships, their own self respect? How can a person honestly, deep down, respect himself if he knows he's a lying sack of offal?
Of course such truth-challenged, reality-denying kids would be much more likely to grow into Democrat-voting young adults; the Democratic Party is the party of fantasy, denial, and situational ethics. Naturally, not every Democrat is dishonest... but the contemporary Democratic Party rewards brazen dishonesty in a way that I don't believe any previous political party in the United States has done.
Heck, look who just got elected president... and how he did it.
I firmly believe this is the result of leftist government schools (followed, after a while, by secular private and even religious schools) ceasing to teach ethics, civics, or even basic right and wrong, for fear of trampling on some kid's "right" to choose his own "values." (For that matter, even the substitution of "values," a content-neutral term, for "virtues," which implies a fixed moral code, is a terrible symptom of the disease of nihilism.)
My worthy co-conspirator in a number of projects, Brad Linaweaver, has recently coined a neologism to describe another aspect of this; he refers to members of ELF, ALF, PETA, and other such eco-nut radical activist groups as "econihilists;" I believe he defines the term to mean self-identified ecologists who are so anti-human and pro-nature that they actually ache to see the entire human race destroyed, to make room for the more "moral" species -- spotted owls, blue whales, blue-green algae, Ebola viruses, and the like. I don't think they would put it exactly that way, but that's the gist of their practical philosophy, such as it is.
Both the econihilists and the teens in the Josephson Institute's survey seem to share a deep loathing of the human race... which I can only conclude comes from a deep inner loathing of themselves. Paradoxically, I believe this self-loathing stems from the self-inflicted soul-wound of lying, cheating, and stealing; it is both cause and effect.
By being afraid to tell kids that there is a real right and a real wrong -- that some moral codes are absolute, not subject to the whim of the actor -- we may be sowing the seeds of our species' own destruction.
Perhaps it's time to tell the leftists running the nation's schools to go take a long walk on a short shrift. In my political manifesto, I shall declare that it's time for the GOP, marginally better on absolute morality than the Democrats, to seize the schools back from the dark side... "for the sake of the children." It's one of several strategic goals that the Republicans must pursue with vigor, making the case without compromise, now that we're completely cut out of the legislative and executive power.
To paraphrase Janis Joplin, "Political freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
December 11, 2007
Read This Column!
I rarely do this. You know I rarely do this, and you know why: I'm far too enamored of the sound of my own typing to spend my time hyping someone else's griping.
But I have to say, just click here and read this splendid piece by Dennis Prager... and I don't say this just because I'm trying to suck up to the man (not just because).
Just a para or three, for the flavor:
It is not for this Jew to define a Christian. I only explain evangelical Christian opposition to Mormons calling themselves Christians to make the point that even as I understand their opposition to Mormons calling themselves Christian, I equally oppose voting for anyone based on his theology. Evangelicals have the right to proclaim Mormons as non-Christians, but they hurt themselves and their country if they measure a candidate's theology. They should concern themselves with a man's theology only when choosing a religious leader. When choosing a political leader, theology should not count.
The reason is -- and I have come to this conclusion after a lifetime of interaction with people of almost all faiths and writing about and studying religion -- theology does not appear to have much impact on people's values. Liberal Christians and Jews share virtually no theological beliefs yet think alike about virtually every important social value. So, too, conservative Christians and conservative Jews share virtually no theological beliefs, yet they think alike about virtually every important social value.
Meanwhile liberal and conservative Protestants are in agreement on theological matters -- both believe in the Trinity, in the Messiahship of Jesus, on Jesus being the Son of God, on salvation through faith rather than through works, and more -- yet they differ about virtually every social value. Obviously, shared theology doesn't create shared moral or social values.
It is, of course, a meditation on those evangelicals and others who call themselves Christian but don't appear to practice much Christian charity... on those men who wear their religion on their ballots, and who loudly proclaim they can never vote for Mitt Romney because Mormonism is "a cult." (What do they think Christianity started out as, during the days of imperial Rome?)
It's a fine, fine hymn which every him and her should hear.
September 24, 2007
Cindy Sheehan's Day of Out-of-Tunement Manifesto
I rarely do this, as you know: I rarely link to some piece and say simply "read this." (I'm too in love with the sound of my own fingers typing on a keyboard.)
But here's an exception. Read Cindy Sheehan's Yom Kippur "sermon," delivered at Michael Lerner's Beyt Tikkun "synogogue;" you will be -- if not exactly glad, then at least agape. (Rabbi Lerner is Hillary Clinton's mentor, author of the Politics of Meaning and other works of Socialist agit-prop masquerading as theology.)
My response (I love this) is entirely contained in the list of categories I had to attach to this post.
(Well, one more thing. It has always been my understanding that Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, is a day for each person to atone for what he, personally, has done wrong -- not "atone" for his enemies failing to live up to his own lofty standards, apologize for all the times America hasn't followed his lead, or wallow in self-righteous indignation that nobody listens to him. 'Nuff said; read the list of categories above.)
October 14, 2005
What Is a Religious Test?
So are conservatives "hypocritical," as E.J. Dionne concludes, for objecting to the Democrats' use of religion to criticize nominees like John Roberts then turning around and using Harriet Miers' religion as a reason to support her now?
The answer is an emphatic No, they are not. There is no hypocrisy involved for the simple reason that those opposing the use of religion before are not the same people as those encouraging its use now.
Dionne falls into the classic liberal trap of seeing groups of people instead of individuals. He writes that "President Bush's supporters" will "play religion up or down, whichever helps them most in a political fight." When Sen. Dick Durbin implied that Roberts might not be acceptable because he was a Catholic, several of Bush's supporters opposed that position on principle:
Durbin had his head taken off. "We have no religious tests for public office in this country," thundered Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), insisting that any inquiry about a potential judge's religious views was "offensive." Fidelis, a conservative Catholic group, declared that "Roberts' religious faith and how he lives that faith as an individual has no bearing and no place in the confirmation process."
But now, Dionne announces in triumph, President Bush himself mentions Miers' evangelical Christianity as a selling point, and several other religious conservatives and conservative groups (not including Fidelis) are pleased by that fact. I suppose the identity-politics of the Democratic Party has confused the columnist... but here on this side of the aisle, we actually believe in individualism. If John Cornyn thinks we shouldn't use religion in any way to consider a judicial nominee's fitness, while James Dobson thinks it's perfectly all right, that quite obviously does not make either of them a hypocrite.
Other examples of possible conservative "hypocrisy":
- Bush supporters think we should round up all illegal immigrants and deport them, but then they turn right around and say we should give them guest-worker status!
- Bush supporters think the government is spending too much money, but then Bush supporters are in favor of a prescription drug benefit for Medicare!
- Bush supporters say that government should keep its hands off people's private lives, but wouldn't you know it? Bush supporters angrily attack Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned laws against "sodomy," as judicial activism!
- Bush supporters say same-sex marriage should be legal because to do otherwise is discrimination -- and then they scream that same-sex marriage should be illegal because traditional marriage is the cornerstone of civilization!
Those wacky, Bush-supporting hypocrites just can't make up their minds. Of course, in each case above, I played the Dionne trick: the first part of each charge referred to a different group of people than the second -- the only point gluing them together being support for George W. Bush's presidency.
The Democratic Party is a patchwork quilt sewn together from a pile of special interests, each of which comprises single-issue voters; it's like a coalition of convenience in a fractious parliamentary system: any deviation on the part of any prominent Democrat from revealed word on any issue is brutally suppressed, because of the panic that advocates for that issue -- taxing the rich, abortion, pulling the troops out of Iraq, same-sex marriage, abortion, Social Security stasis, welfare for everyone, abortion, affirmative action, or abortion -- might pull out of the fragile coalition, causing electoral collapse.
By contrast, the Republican Party is a big tent with room for many divergent opinions. The center-right coalition has proven remarkably stable: libertarian conservatives like California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, social and religious conservatives like William Bennett and James Dobson, spending hawks like the gang at National Review, and projection-of-force neoconservative advocates like Paul Wolfowitz can happily cohabit, arguing specific issues while still agreeing it's more pleasant to be inside the tent spitting out than outside the tent spitting in (LBJ's original saying doesn't use the word "spitting," by the way).
If a specific individual took the Cornyn position before and takes the Dobson position now, then that individual is a hypocrite. But if you want to convince me, then show me the quotation. Until I see one, the case remains unmade.
So what -- you ask, wrenching the discussion back to the title of the post -- about Article VI, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution, which commands:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. [emphasis added, obviously]
What the heck is a religious test anyway? Come on, the answer should be obvious to everyone except a lawyer: a religious test, as used here, is a law or regulation that says something like "no Catholics shall be appointed to any position in this state government," or "only those professing a belief in God shall be allowed to file for elective office." That is, a religious test is an actual law or regulation that prohibits or requires a particular religious belief for public office. Arguments or even votes for or against a candidate or nominee on the basis of his religion do not constitute religious tests.
Even some of our best conservative and/or Republican thinkers raise this faux issue, alas. I say alas not because I'm religious, which I am not, but because this argument is an attempt to stifle legitimate discussion by invoking non-existent constitutional diktat. For example, Captain Ed writes:
Using religion as a test for a nomination gets us into dangerous territory, not to mention provides more than a dollop of hypocrisy for this administration. We do not want Congress opening a debate on people's religious beliefs and how that affects their approach to the job. It will create a mini-Inquisition on Capitol Hill for each nominee, who will be required to disavow their faith before proceeding to nomination. It's the kind of act that this administration has often decried, and for good reason.
Why would a nominee have to disavow his faith? If Sen. Charles Schumer argues that the nominee's "deeply held personal beliefs" means he cannot fairly judge, the nominee simply responds "I do not believe sincere Christians, Jews, and Moslems should all be disqualified from the bench" -- and Schumer looks like a religious bigot. No disavowal of faith required.
It's perfectly legitimate and appropriate for Sen. Schumer to make that argument; he absolutely has that right. Just as we absolutely have the right to point out to the nation what he is really saying. Considering the depth of religous belief in the United States -- for which I, as an agnostic, say thank God! -- any such argument can only help the Right and hurt the Left. Why stop the Democrats from pursuing political hara-kiri by the death of a thousand self-inflicted paper cuts?
This approach is consistent with the American way -- disparate ideas clashing on the battlefield of freedom of speech, and may the best argument win! Go ahead and argue for Harriet Miers or John Roberts on the basis of faith; don't feel ashamed. And let those who despise faith argue their case. I'm satisified in this case, as in nearly all others, to abide by the democratic process unless clear and explicit rights are to be violated... and of course, nobody has the "right" to be either a judge or a senator.
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